Strauss-Kahn Prosecutors Seeking More Answers Before Decision to Drop Case
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. must complete key elements of an investigation before deciding whether to drop the prosecution of Dominique Strauss- Kahn because of lies told by the maid who accused him of sexual assault.
Prosecutors are continuing to investigate, Daniel R. Alonso, chief assistant district attorney, said July 3 in an interview. Once his office has the facts, Vance must decide whether to go before a jury with an accuser who admitted lying to investigators and under oath to a grand jury.
If he doesn’t prosecute, based on weak or contradictory facts turned up in his investigation, he must drop the case and decide whether to charge his key witness with lying to the grand jury that indicted Strauss-Kahn based on her false testimony, defense lawyers and former prosecutors said.
There’s a “strong likelihood” the case will be dismissed at Strauss-Kahn’s next court appearance, on July 18, said Paul Callan, a defense lawyer and ex-Brooklyn, New York, prosecutor.
“They’re just going to want to walk away from this case and forget it ever happened,” said Callan, who represented a woman charged with perjury for falsely accusing a man of raping her at knifepoint in 2005.
The work before prosecutors includes going “word for word” through a phone call recorded the day after the arrest, in which the housekeeper discusses the incident with a friend incarcerated in Arizona, said a person familiar with the matter who declined to be identified because the matter isn’t public.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, the former International Monetary Fund chief, was taken off an Air France flight by Port Authority police at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on May 14, the day of the alleged attack at the Sofitel in midtown Manhattan. He was turned over to detectives from the New York police Special Victims Squad the next day.
Considered a front-runner for the French presidency before his arrest, Strauss-Kahn, who has pleaded not guilty, resigned as head of the IMF four days later.
He was released from home confinement July 1 after prosecutors told a judge the case had been hurt by “substantial credibility issues” with the accuser. His $1 million bail and $5 million bond were ordered returned. He is no longer required to remain under armed guard and electronic monitoring.
In a letter filed the same day with the court, prosecutors said the 32-year-old maid admitted lying to the grand jury about her actions immediately after the alleged attack, declaring a friend’s child as her own for two years to boost her tax refund and misrepresenting her income to maintain her housing.
The woman also admitted lying on an asylum application after coming to the U.S. from Guinea in January 2004, prosecutors said.
She said in the application that she and her husband were persecuted and harassed by the regime in Guinea, prosecutors said. The woman said she had been gang-raped by Guinean soldiers, her house was destroyed and her husband died while in jail, according to the letter.
The woman told district attorney’s investigators that she fabricated the statement with help from a man who provided her with a cassette recording of the facts in the statement that she eventually submitted, according to the letter.
By June 28, the district attorney’s office had discovered $50,000 to $100,000 had been deposited in the woman’s bank account over less than two years, according to a person who declined to be identified because the matter is still under investigation. The deposits were made from at least two states, Arizona and Georgia, the person said.
Friend in Jail
The housekeeper claimed the deposits were the result of someone else’s using her account, the person said. That was the friend jailed in Arizona, being held in connection with the possession of 100 pounds of marijuana, the person said.
The woman on June 28 changed her story about what happened immediately after the Sofitel incident. Prosecutors the next day obtained a summary of a recorded phone call on the day after the alleged attack, in which the maid discussed the incident with the friend incarcerated in Arizona, according to the person familiar with the matter.
A paralegal in the office had taken notes as an interpreter translated the conversation in a Guinean language called Fulani. A digest of the translation showed the woman talked about the incident and what happened in the hotel room, the person said. The next step is for prosecutors and the interpreter to go through the call “word for word,” the person familiar said.
The accuser is quoted as saying on the call, “Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing,” according to another person who declined to be identified because the person was not authorized to speak publicly.
The pair talked about the incident in the hotel, and he asked her if she was all right, the person said.
There is no evidence so far to support a report by the New York Post, citing defense sources, that Strauss-Kahn’s accuser is a prostitute or targeted him for financial gain, prosecutor Alonso said.
Strauss-Kahn’s attorney, Benjamin Brafman, yesterday declined to comment. Kenneth Thompson, a lawyer representing the housekeeper, didn’t immediately return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment. Today, Thompson filed a libel lawsuit on behalf of the accuser against NYP Holdings Inc., a unit of News Corp. (NWSA) that does business as The New York Post, in New York State Supreme Court in the Bronx. Suzi Halpin, a spokeswoman for the newspaper, said it stands by its story.
“The DA acted absolutely properly,” Dershowitz said in a July 1 interview with Bloomberg Television. “He investigated her, he discovered she had credibility gaps, and he did what many DAs don’t do. He came into court and admitted the case was collapsing.”
Dershowitz said he wished Vance had dismissed the case.
“This case will never go to trial,” he said. “It should never go to trial.”
Thomas J. Curran, a Manhattan assistant district attorney from 1995 to 2001, said Vance should drop the case if there are doubts about the maid’s account of what happened in the Sofitel.
“Whether they could try the case or not or obtain a conviction or not, that’s not the issue,” he said. “They have an obligation not to roll the dice.”
Vance ought to dismiss the case or appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the accuser, who might be charged with lying to a grand jury, tax fraud or lying on an asylum application, a federal crime, said Marvyn M. Kornberg, a Queens, New York, criminal-defense attorney.
After Day One
“The people’s case is never as strong than on the day the defendant is arrested,” Kornberg said. “From that day on it all goes downhill. You don’t make your case after the arrest. You make it before the arrest. On the day DSK was arrested, all they had was a he-said, she-said. If that’s the strongest their case ever was, they should never have arrested him so quickly.”
The woman might also be deported, said Kornberg, who represented a New York City police officer who pleaded guilty to sodomizing Haitian immigrant Abner Louima with a broom handle in 1997.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Immigration came after her and deported her,” Kornberg said. “I’ve seen people deported for much less, including marijuana possession.”
It’s more likely that the housekeeper will be deported than prosecuted for lying to the grand jury, said Callan, the ex- Brooklyn prosecutor.
“There’s been a history of rarely prosecuting sex-crime victims for perjury,” he said. “It tends to discourage victims from coming forward.”
Vance’s office moved faster than necessary with the case, given the woman’s “shaky background” and could have delayed the grand jury presentation, said Callan.
“They tried to do an honorable thing, and that is to protect the rights of a poor hotel maid telling a story of sexual abuse by one of the most powerful men in the world,” Callan said. “But they jumped the gun and they moved too quickly because he was about to get on a plane.”
It’s unlikely that the maid will sue Strauss-Kahn if the criminal case doesn’t go forward, said Callan, who successfully represented the estate of Nicole Brown Simpson in a civil suit against O.J. Simpson after his acquittal for her murder.
The case is People v. Strauss-Kahn, 2526/11, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).
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