VFR exclusive: Vance ignored urgent advice of Sex Crimes Unit chief that he avoid rush to judgment in DSK case

As was reported today by the New York Times, at least one of the prosecutors involved in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case doubted the maid’s truthfulness and strongly opposed proceeding with the rapid indictment of DSK last month. But District Attorney Cyrus Vance overruled the advice, leading to the fantastic mess in which the DA now finds himself.

As VFR has now learned, there’s even more to it than that. According to an exclusive source, the prosecutor who argued against indicting Strauss-Kahn was not just any assistant DA, but Lisa Friel, the long-time head of the Manhattan DA’s Sex Crimes Unit—who, moreover, has just announced that she is leaving her job.

A former employee of the Manhattan’s District Attorney’s office writes:

You wrote:

“So now we’re finding out for the first time that some members of the DA’s office thought it was not wise to rush to indict him. But those who wanted the quick indictment prevailed, even though, in that first week after the incident, the prosecutors already had some doubts about the accuser’s veracity.”

Would it surprise you to learn that the very prosecutor, Lisa Friel, who fought vigorously (shouting match) against rushing to judgment in the DSK case, was the same prosecutor who was just forced to retire because of the recent HBO documentary, “Sex Crimes Unit” in which she was interviewed? She was called on the carpet by Vance because she was the supervisor in the case involving the two police officers who were just acquitted of rape. Interestingly, the comments made in the police case (said during the course of the filming) were made by the two investigators, not Lisa, and were left on the cutting room floor.

Lisa did not think the DSK victim was credible and wished to investigate further. Vance’s minions, seeking publicity, moved the case quickly to indictment, even appearing on the steps of the DAs office to have a press conference. This was something Morgenthau would never have done. Ironically, Vance’s hunger for publicity, which has been his mode of operation from his first days in office, has him hoist on his own petard. He is way over his head.

In my opinion, her being forced to retire had little to do with the HBO documentary.

LA replies:

It is extraordinary to learn from the commenter that the person who doubted the accuser’s veracity and was against proceeding with an indictment so quickly, but whose judgement was rejected, was the head of the Manhattan DA sex crime unit. As explained in this article about the documentary, “Sex Crimes Unit,” Lisa Friel is in charge of 40 senior assistant district attorneys. So for her judgment to be rejected, it had to have been Vance who did it.

Story from the June 29 NYT:

Sex Crimes Chief in Office of Prosecutor Is Leaving Post

Lisa Friel, the chief of the Manhattan district attorney’s sex crimes unit for nearly a decade, is leaving that post, according to a memorandum circulated in the office on Wednesday.

The announcement comes at a pivotal moment, as the office handles one of its biggest sex-crimes prosecutions ever: the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

After nearly three decades in the district attorney’s office, “Lisa Friel has informed us of her decision to explore other professional opportunities outside the office,” said an e-mail to prosecutors in the office from Karen Friedman Agnifilo, the chief of the trial division.

“During the next two months, she will transition out of her role as chief of the sex-crimes unit,” Ms. Friedman Agnifilo wrote.

It remains unclear exactly what prompted Ms. Friel’s decision to leave the office and when she will do so. The district attorney’s office declined to comment on the matter. A phone message left for Ms. Friel on Wednesday evening was not immediately returned.

Martha Bashford, a co-chief of the forensic science and cold case unit, will step in as acting sex crimes chief on Thursday.

Although Ms. Friel made a court appearance early in the Strauss-Kahn case, she did not remain on the investigating team, several people with knowledge of the case have said. [cont.]

Also here’s a story from a website saying, unlike the Times (which says the reason for her departure is unknown) that Friel was fired for being interviewed in the HBO documentary and discussing current cases including the cops rape case.

I should add that the commenter has also told me in an earlier conversation (before this astounding reversal in the DSK case) that while the DA’s office under Morgenthau was very liberal politically, they always strove to do the right thing in dealing with cases. The commenter said that a change happened when Vance came in and many of the Morgenthau people were no longer wanted and were pushed out. It sounds to me as though, while the DA’s office are liberal (as before), they are no longer always striving to do the right thing in dealing with cases.

LA to correspondent:

Has it been published anywhere that Friel was the person opposing rushing forward with the indictment? Or is that information (so far) just from your inside info at VFR?

Former employee of New York DA’s office replies:

I heard it directly from a reporter who is covering the case, but it has not been published yet. He is writing a backgrounder on Friel. He got it directly from someone at the DA’s office. He called me for more info because he knows me. If you read between the lines in other reports it says that Friel was initially supervising the case, but then it was transferred to other assistant DAs.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 02, 2011 07:00 PM | Send

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