Thursday, August 14, 2008
The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg
Samuel Israel Not Permitted To Plead Guilty In
Federal Court In Unusual Turn Of Events
United States District Court, White Plains
U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Margaret Smith/U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas Presiding
Last Wednesday morning, August 6th at 9:30am, Samuel Israel III, who readers will recall faked a suicide plunge from the Bear Mountain Bridge on June 9th, the day he was scheduled to surrender to federal authorities to begin serving a 20-year sentence for fraudulently converting, as manager of a hedge fund, more than $450 million of investors’ funds to his own use, appeared in United States District
Court, White Plains.
Initially, before Magistrate Judge Lisa Margaret Smith, he was accompanied by Attorney Barry A. Bohrer, partner in the firm of Morvillo,
Abramowitz, New York City. Upon entering the courtroom, Judge Smith told Israel, “This is not a trial. You indicated that you wish to plead guilty. This proceeding is a preliminary procedure. I want to be sure that you hear, and understand, everything I say.”
She then proceeded to instruct Israel with respect to his Constitutional rights, stating, “You have an absolute right to remain silent. You have the right to consult with your attorney before answering any of my questions.”
She then cautioned, “If you knowingly make a false statement, it will be perjury, punishable by five years and a $250,000 fine.”
Smith then asked Israel if he had “any drug or alcohol addiction issues.”
He responded that he underwent treatment for substance abuse six years ago, explaining that he had surgical rods and plates in his body, and that he is currently “withdrawing from methadone, and, it’s difficult.”
At the Judge’s instruction, her Court Clerk, Mr. Galvin, showed Israel a Waiver Of Indictment for purposes of identifying his (Israel’s) signature. Israel confirmed it.
Then, because she was not procedurally available to try Israel, Judge Smith instructed Galvin to randomly pull another judge’s name “off the wheel.” Judge Kenneth Karas was drawn.
Galvin then asked the Defendant, “How do you plead?” to which Israel replied, “Guilty as charged.” At that point, Judge Smith broke in and advised him that he “must plead not guilty at this point,” and that he would be able to “enter a guilty plea before Judge Karas,” if he
At that point, Israel was led away by two federal marshals to the holding area in the courthouse for two and a half hours, after which he would then appear before Judge Karas.
At 12:30pm Israel appeared before Judge Kenneth Karas. Following brief identification appearances, by Defense Attorney Bohrer, and Assistant United States Attorney Sarah Krissoff, and introductory remarks, Judge Karas opened with, “As I understand it, we are here
because Mr. Israel is going to plead to a One-Count Information.”
Karas’ law clerk proceeded to swear in the Defendant. Then Karas told Israel, “I realize that this is a very important decision for you. If you need time out...” He went on, “Having been sworn, you should understand that your answers to my questions are subject to the penalties of perjury.”
After answering a series of basic identification interrogatories from the Judge, in response to which Israel revealed, amongst other things, that he was 49 years old, and had attended Tulane University, he then pointedly revealed that he had rods and plates and screws in his neck, declaring additionally, “I’m taking methadone in a detox program.” To that revelation, Karas responded, asking, “What percentage would you say your perceptions are?”
Israel said, “About seventy percent.”
At that point, Judge Karas turned to Israel’s attorney and asked, “Mr. Bohrer, would you or I want to try a case before a jury that was at seventy percent of its competence?”
Bohrer immediately responded, “No, Your Honor.”
But Israel then broke in, addressing Karas with, “I don’t think you should put it off, Your Honor. I’m capable of understanding what is going on here.” Karas turned to the Prosecutor, Assistant United States Attorney Krissoff, soliciting her opinion. She assured the Judge, “The government is comfortable going forward today. This is not a very complicated elocution.”
However, the bell had been rung, when Israel said he was operating at “70 percent” under methadone. And, there would be no unringing that bell for Judge Karas, who told Krissoff, “Even if the elocution is simple, it is a very serious charge with a potential ten-year sentence.”
Israel, apparently wanting to get things over with, then said, “Next week I won’t be any better than I am today.” Attorney Bohrer then weighed in with, “I understand from Your Honor’s perspective that a conservative course, and a prudent course, might dictate that
we wait a few weeks.”
Israel then strained to explain to the Court that he started out at 120mg of methadone to wean him from opiate pain killers, and that the authorities had been dropping his dose by some 10mg every five to seven days, to where he was now at 60mg.
The Judge listened closely, and then told Israel, “Perhaps you are competent today; but it seems to me it would be prudent to wait.” He went on, “Acceptance of responsibility has been clearly established, and this is too important to do under these conditions.”
Summing up, Karas said, “It is certainly in the interest of justice that Mr. Israel be given enough time to be weaned off the opiates before proceeding.” He then set September 16 at 11am as the new pleading date.
Judge Karas was clearly acting in the interest of justice in postponing Samuel Israel’s pleading. He was also mindful that the Defendant before him had clearly established his slipperiness and his weasel-like tendencies, both in his dealings with investors and with the Federal Court System. Given those considerations, he was not about to place judicial resources in further jeopardy by creating any appealable issues around a pleading that could just as well be executed a few weeks down the road.
As far as Samuel Israel’s apparent preference to get the pleading over with, it just might be that he wanted to finally settle down in whatever federal prison he will likely call home for the rest of his life because the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal holding facility in New York City, leaves a great deal to be desired.