Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Maid Likely to Be Focus
Strauss-Kahn Defense Teams Gears Up to Challenge Credibility of Hotel Worker.
It's a classic he-said, she-said case. And now the he appears to be gearing up to challenge the credibility of the she.
Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested May 14 after a maid, who works at the Sofitel New York, told police he had sexually assaulted her earlier that day. Mr. Strauss-Kahn has maintained his innocence.
It's not yet known what tactics Mr. Strauss-Kahn's defense team will use if the case goes to trial. But his defense lawyers have intimated that he plans a consensual-sex defense. And for that to work, experts say his lawyers must seek to undermine the credibility of the maid, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea.
Defense attorneys for Dominique Strauss-Kahn asserted in a letter last week to the Manhattan District Attorney's office that "were we intent on improperly feeding the media frenzy, we could release substantial information that in our view would seriously undermine the quality of the prosecution and also gravely undermine the credibility of the complainant in this case."
It remains to be seen exactly what information Mr. Strauss-Kahn's lawyers possess. But experts in the investigations field predicted that investigators for the former IMF chief will check out everything the maid has done from around the time she turned 14 or so until now.
"There's not a lot of rocket science to this. They're going to be looking to discredit her," said John Cutter, vice president of the investigative firm Beau Dietl & Associates and a retired New York Police Department top official.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn's defense team has hired Guidepost Solutions to handle at least part of the investigative duties. Guidepost was founded by Bart Schwartz, former chief of the Criminal Division in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office. Last year, the company acquired SafirRosetti, the investigative firm co-founded by former NYPD Police Chief Howard Safir. Guidepost didn't respond to calls seeking confirmation that it was working on the case. Investigators who spoke to The Wall Street Journal said the defense investigation just of the maid could easily cost half a million dollars or more.
For those accused of a serious crime and who have the money to afford it, these type of investigations of the alleged victim have become commonplace; the goal is to make the accuser end up as the accused.
"When you have money you can put up a good defense for what should be indefensible," said Anne Seymour, who works at Justice Solutions in Washington, D.C., and has worked as a victim's advocate for the past 29 years. "It means you can hire high-profile attorneys and in many cases they will rip the poor victims to shreds and go into her background and completely question her lifestyle and go deep in her personal life and find things that have absolutely nothing to do with the case."
Law-enforcement sources have said that Mr. Strauss-Kahn's DNA matched semen recovered from the maid's shirt. But that could still be consistent with a consensual-sex defense.
"At the end of the day, it's a he-said, she-said situation," Mr. Cutter said. "Just because they have evidence of DNA doesn't mean there was no consensual sex. If you had bruising, torn clothes, things like that, then the defense would be really worried. But he's saying it's consensual and she's saying it's nonconsensual."
The first thing that Mr. Strauss-Kahn's investigators may do, Mr. Cutter said, is run a computer check using databases to get her birth date, address, work location, past residences. They'll check to see if the maid has an arrest record. Has she ever had money problems, filed for bankruptcy? Does she have a history of drug or alcohol abuse? Has she broken her lease, does she move every couple of months, are there any liens on her?
Among the things that investigators uncovered in the case of William Kennedy Smith, who was accused of raping a woman in the Kennedy family's Palm Beach estate in 1991, was that his accuser had three abortions and used drugs in the past.
"They brought up just about everything, talking to everyone who ever knew her," said Ms. Seymour, who attended the trial and provided emotional support to Mr. Smith's accuser. "Her past sexual history, medical history, personal things like she wasn't a good mother, which she was, or whether she was a party girl, which she was not."
The information was reported in the media but most of the information wasn't brought up during the trial. Mr. Smith was acquitted of the rape charges.
At the same time as Mr. Strauss-Kahn's investigators look in the maid's past, a second parallel defense investigation, most likely by a separate team, could be delving into Mr. Strauss-Kahn's own life, said executives in the investigation industry.
"You absolutely have to know what they have against your own guy," said an executive at an internationally known investigative firm. "You cannot rely on what your guy is telling you either about his own background and also about what went on in that room. You've got to figure out the universe of people who are going to be called as witnesses and learn what they might say as soon as possible."