Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes’ prosecutors used hotel rooms as private jail cells to hide away reluctant witnesses and coerce them into giving false testimony, a bombshell court filing claims.
The attorney for Jabbar Collins — who was freed after 15 years in prison for the murder of a rabbi after a federal judge found prosecutorial missteps by Hynes’ office — filed court papers yesterday claiming the witness-badgering tactic was part of widespread misconduct in the DA’s Office and was a clear violation of constitutional protections.
Lawyer Joel Rudin, who has already filed a $150 million wrongful-prosecution suit against the DA’s Office, cited a deposition of a former Hynes employee who said investigators “were trained to bring material witnesses directly to the DA’s Office, instead of to court, for investigative questioning, and they would later be held against their will at hotels.”
“Hynes’s office was running a private jail system where witnesses were illegally interrogated and forcibly detained indefinitely,” Rudin wrote in the Brooklyn federal-court filing.
The explosive new allegations expand upon a wide range of similar charges Collins made two years ago in a federal civil-rights lawsuit, where he says such illegal tactics played a central role in his wrongful conviction.
Collins’ suit charged that a rogue Hynes prosecutor “would gain the involuntary custody of witnesses from which he would coerce false statements and testimony,” often using unethical methods to secure a court order sanctioning the detention.
Collins has accused Hynes of turning a blind eye to his investigators’ misconduct during the high-profile probe into the killing of Rabbi Abraham Pollack in Williamsburg during a 1995 armed robbery.
His lawsuit claims that two key prosecution witnesses in the murder case against him were coerced.
One was Angel Santos, who later told a federal judge that he had been threatened by Hynes’ Rackets Bureau chief, Michael Vecchione, after Santos balked at taking the witness stand at Collins’ trial.
“He told me he was going to hit me over the head with a coffee table or lock me up for a couple of years for perjury,” Santos told a federal judge at a 2010 hearing.
Collins’ lawsuit alleges that Santos was “unlawfully imprisoned” in a Bronx jail as “a material witness,” and threatened with physical harm if he did not testify as directed.
“Santos was locked behind bars at the Bronx House of Detention, housed with accused criminals, for more than a week,” the lawsuit charges.
Another witness, Edwin Oliva, was coerced into becoming a prosecution witness and hidden away in an upstate jail, the lawsuit claimed.
“Oliva was sent to Ulster Correctional Facility. He was informed that he would remain imprisoned upstate until he agreed to ‘cooperate’ with the DA’s Office,” Collins says in his 2011 lawsuit.
Two weeks ago, Rudin asked Brooklyn federal Judge Frederic Block to order the DA’s Office to produce evidence about “material witnesses held in ‘Hotel Custody’ and/or against their will” and a wealth of other information as part of the mandatory evidence exchange process that precedes a civil trial.
The judge has not yet ruled on the issue, but Hynes’ office has argued that some of this material is private and cannot be released. Several sealed court hearings have focused on this struggle over evidence in Collins’ federal civil-rights case.