MIAMI – A man who spied on his co-defendants after penning a plea deal with prosecutors has been barred from testifying against them.
Prosecutors, federal agents and the man’s own lawyer kept the plea deal secret for two months, and allowed their “mole” to attend meetings and plot strategy with his three co-defendants and their attorneys, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami heard.
U.S. District Court Judge Darrin Gayles described the actions of prosecutors as “extraordinary,” but only the latest of a “series of incidents that is affecting the credibility” of the U.S. Attorney’s office.
One former federal agent and trial expert is not surprised at the actions of prosecutors, but described the use of a spy in the defense camp as something different.
Michael Devine, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent, said he has been in the business for five decades, and “has seen it all.”
“The question is, are there are prosecutors who act as though they are above the law?” Devine said to the Florida Record. “And the answer is yes.”
The former agent said he has been involved in cases where “criminal informants who have committed all types of crimes, including homicide, are protected by prosecutors.”
On the Florida prosecution, Devine said, “It’s different in the sense that they appear to be actually engaging in spying.”
Whether the prosecution collapses depends on the facts, and how aggressively the judge investigates. “It is up to the judge to delve into this,” said Devine.
Defense attorneys asked Gayles to dismiss the charges, but the judge ruled the trial would go ahead in May, though he barred the mole from testifying, potentially causing damage to the prosecution's case.
The prosecutors, H. Ron Davidson and Elijah Levitt, argued in court that they wanted to protect their cooperating witness because he was also helping in a related case against another individual. They did not want his cover blown.
Further, the prosecutors argued, the defendant, 49-year-old John Leon, was told not to ask questions or request evidence linked to anything after the May 2015 indictments were handed down.
But Gayles responded, "I don't know what's happening at the U.S. Attorney's Office. This is the latest of a series of incidents that is affecting the credibility of this office.” He added: "Someone has got to look at this thing … There's a problem here that needs to be rectified in some way,” according to the Broward County-based Sun-Sentinel newspaper.
The case centered on a sweepstakes fraud targeting mainly elderly people that netted the crew close to $25 million, according to prosecutors.
Matthew Pisoni, 43, of Fort Lauderdale, Marcus Pradel, 40, of Boca Raton, Victor Ramirez, 37, of Aventura, and Leon, of Wilton Manors, were indicted in May 2015 on mail fraud, money-laundering and conspiracy charges.
The four men pleaded not guilty, and signed an agreement that they and their lawyers would work together to examine the evidence and come up with defense strategies, according to court records seen by Sun-Sentinel.
They further agreed to give 48 hours notice if any wanted to walk away from the agreement.
But it emerged in court that Leon and his attorney secretly signed a plea agreement in February. Details of the agreement remained secret until April.
Leon was told by prosecutors he should continue to attend meetings. Attorneys for the other defendants told the court that he continued to ask questions and request defense records. Gayles said the prosecution had to have known, or suspected, what Leon was doing.