Richard G. Convertino stood outside U.S. District Court, smoking a celebratory cigar. It was June 3, 2003, a big day for the assistant U.S. attorney.
He’d just put two North Africans, Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi and Karim Koubriti, behind bars after arguing to a jury for six weeks that the men belonged to an Islamist terrorist sleeper cell.
Convertino’s tenacity had resulted in the first post-Sept. 11 terror conviction at trial. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft would cite the convictions as a sign that the government was protecting Americans and winning the war on terror.
But the trial hadn’t been a complete success. One alleged cell member, Ahmed Hannan, was found guilty only of document fraud and faced up to 16 months in prison, but has since served more than double that time; he is out on bond and living at a halfway house while the convictions are appealed. The fourth defendant, Farouk Ali-Haimoud, was acquitted of all charges. Elmardoudi faces up to 20 years in jail and Koubriti 10 years. They have not yet been sentenced.
Despite the mixed results, the convictions marked the zenith of Convertino’s 15-year career as a federal prosecutor, and he was going to enjoy it. Standing with him on that sunny afternoon were his colleague and friend, Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Corbett, co-counsel on the case, and a few FBI agents. Corbett also puffed a cigar. Later they would have drinks up the street at the Anchor Bar, where lawyers often go for a stiff one after a long day. But Convertino isn’t normally among them. He’s not much of a drinker. He doesn’t smoke either, except for the occasional cigar.
The 42-year-old clean-cut Italian Catholic is the prototypical hard-nosed prosecutor: intense, guarded, rigid — the polar opposite of Corbett, who is Convertino’s immediate supervisor and head of the Organized Crime Strike Force Unit in the Detroit U.S. Attorney’s Office. Corbett is the stereotypical Irishman — quick-witted, charming, a brilliant orator who’s been known to fly by the seat of his pants, making complicated legal arguments with little preparation.
Corbett joined Convertino on the terror case just months before it went to trial. Convertino had been on the case since six days after the 9/11 terror attacks, when he got a call from an FBI agent who’d arrested three Arab immigrants living in a southwest Detroit apartment. The agent found false identifications and other suspicious material. About a year later, the fourth defendant was picked up in North Carolina with a slew of false identity cards and $83,000 in cash.
The fastidious Convertino seemingly left no stone unturned. He traveled as far as Turkey and Jordan to collect evidence. This case was his baby, a possible launching pad for newer heights.
Defense attorneys complained bitterly throughout the trial that Convertino played dirty, wanted to win at any cost. Their protests seemed to fall on deaf ears.
The day the jury delivered its verdict was Convertino’s shining moment — almost too good to be true.
As it’s turned out, it was.
In the past year, Convertino has suffered a precipitous fall from grace. His misfortune seems of Shakespearean proportions. By all appearances, Convertino is now persona non grata at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The public first learned of the unraveling on Dec. 12, 2003, six months after the terror trial concluded, when Convertino and Corbett were called before U.S. District Court Judge Gerald E. Rosen to explain why they had failed to give defense attorneys a document that Rosen, the trial judge, deemed exculpatory “on its face.”
The document Convertino and Corbett are accused of withholding is a letter written by Milton “Butch” Jones, who founded a notorious Detroit drug gang, Young Boys Inc., and is awaiting trial on first-degree murder and drug charges. Jones occupied a cell at Wayne County Jail near Youssef Hmimssa, the government’s star witness in the terror case and the only one to testify that the defendants were Islamic “fanatics” who planned to attack the nation. The government’s case hinged on Hmimssa.
In the letter to the federal prosecutor on his own case, Jones wrote that Hmimssa, who was being held on credit card and identity fraud charges, had bragged that he’d “lied to the FBI.”
Travis Trammell also had a cell next to Hmimssa’s. In an interview at the Chippewa Correctional Facility in northern Michigan, where he is serving a life sentence for murder, Trammell tells Metro Times that Hmimssa led him to believe that, contrary to Hmimssa’s crucial testimony at trial, the terror defendants posed no danger.
Trammell says that Hmimssa, who stood accused of profiting from fabricating and selling fake identities to immigrants, told him he was angry at the terror defendants because they had stolen some of his false documents from him.
Hmimssa, an admitted liar, certainly had motives to accuse the terror defendants. He was charged with serious crimes himself. In fact, Hmimssa is the only one of the bunch in the country illegally. Hmimssa had a lot to gain by cooperating with the government. Not only would he avoid terror charges, his testimony would win him favor with federal prosecutors and possible leniency with Judge Rosen, who has the final say on Hmimssa’s sentence.
Defense attorneys have filed motions to have all the convictions overturned based on the Jones letter and other issues. They argue that they could have used the letter to impeach Hmimssa’s credibility and possibly change the outcome of the case.
Rosen ordered the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit to review all the material in the case to determine if there are other documents that Convertino and Corbett failed to disclose. No documents had been given to the defense by press time, but defense lawyers say they expect to receive them any day. Ashcroft, meanwhile, was compelled to appoint a special prosecutor from Cleveland to oversee the review.
Convertino is convinced the government is now out to get him. He believes his employer will do a “document dump” to make it appear he did not turn over pertinent records.
“They will give a stack of documents and say this should have been turned over,” he says.
Rosen must decide whether to vacate the convictions and grant the defendants a new trial, a decision that could take months.
The trial judge is not the only one who’s scrutinizing Convertino.
The DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is investigating Convertino for possible prosecutorial misconduct. The existence of the OPR probe of Convertino was leaked to the press earlier this year. That leak may constitute a crime in and of itself because the name of a confidential informant was disclosed. (A knowledgeable source tells Metro Times that the OPR is not investigating Corbett.)
And the bad news doesn’t stop there for Convertino. Earlier this month, a local daily reported that Convertino is the subject of a criminal investigation, which Metro Times has since confirmed as well. Attorney William Sullivan, who represents Convertino, would not comment on that assertion.
“When I read things in the newspaper that Rick was purportedly the focus of a criminal investigation, I knew such statements could not be true. …” says Sullivan. “Rick has always conducted himself as a conscientious and responsible prosecutor.”
But troubling accusations continue to emerge.
Mohamed Doudi, a Dearborn resident, tells Metro Times that Convertino pressured him to get his cousin, Ali Ibrahim Ahmed, to “cooperate” in the terror case. Ahmed was arrested on Jan. 10, 2002, for purchasing a fake social security card from Hmimssa. Ahmed was jailed for several months but was deported to Canada just days before the terror trial began. Doudi, who acted as a translator in some instances in his cousin’s dealings with authorities, says he believes his cousin was pressured to falsely testify at the terror trial, a claim Convertino vehemently denies.
“I told him, ‘Don’t do it!’” Doudi says.
Ahmed, who is living in Toronto and is barred from re-entering the United States because he pleaded guilty to social security fraud, agreed to meet Metro Times in Windsor last week, but canceled at the last minute. He says he is afraid to tell his story because he fears reprisal.
Doudi says Convertino and FBI agents came to his Dearborn home to talk to Ahmed. He says Convertino told him that if he could convince Ahmed to cooperate, Ahmed could stay in the United States legally.
“I told him my guy [Ahmed] doesn’t know anything,” says Doudi. “I am positive my cousin knew nothing.”
Asked about Ahmed, Convertino says he does not remember him.
“As I sit here right now, that name does not ring a bell,” Convertino says.
Convertino calls Doudi’s allegations “preposterous.”
“I’ll tell you right now that this is absolutely absurd, ridiculous and untrue.”
Convertino denies acting improperly in the terror trial or other cases that the OPR is probing.
“I didn’t do anything wrong in this case,” he says. “If there were documents that were not turned over that should have been, it was a mistake, and I am perfectly capable of making mistakes. There was no intention or purposeful withholding of discoverable documents in this case or any case I ever had.”
Convertino contends he is being unfairly targeted.
“They came to me with cases because I’m aggressive. I work hard,” he says.
Convertino believes his aggressive style has “been twisted now into something perverted that leads to [allegations of his] withholding documents and pursuing people who are wrongfully accused, which is markedly untrue and unfair.” He adds, “I am confident beyond all peradventure that the people we convicted were planning and in pursuit of terrorist activities.”
Convertino insists the DOJ launched the OPR investigation in retaliation for his testimony last year before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who has a longstanding feud with the DOJ.
“In their minds, it [testifying] was a huge slap in the face,” says Convertino, who adds that he was unaware of any animosity between Grassley and the DOJ.
(Convertino is temporarily assigned to an investigative drug caucus within Grassley’s office, but is still an employee of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.)
“They were really at odds and I was in the middle,” he says.
It was not the content of his testimony that bothered the DOJ, says Convertino. It was that the department assumed Convertino had been complaining to Grassley’s office about what he felt was a lack of support he received on the terror case.
“They thought I was working with these people and was disclosing information about my displeasure with [Washington,] D.C., for months, which was totally untrue,” he says.
Convertino is striking back at his employer. He’s suing his supervisors in Detroit, the DOJ and Ashcroft under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act for invasion of privacy. The claim stems from the alleged leaking of the existence of the OPR investigation to the media. (DOJ filed a motion to dismiss part of Convertino’s lawsuit this month; Convertino has yet to respond to the motion.)
Convertino had complained repeatedly to his superiors and the DOJ about the lack of resources provided him for the terror case, according to his lawsuit. He also voiced frustration with how the DOJ allegedly micromanaged the case as it headed for trial.
“There would be a series of people [from the DOJ] who would ask me for the same information in a repetitive nature. It was extremely time-consuming,” says Convertino.
Yet in his testimony before the Senate committee, Convertino did not criticize the DOJ; he gave an overview of the terror case, according to the hearing transcript.
Convertino says after he received a subpoena at his home to testify before the committee, he sought counsel on the matter from Jeffrey Collins, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, and Alan Gershel, chief of the district’s criminal division. But he says they provided no guidance. He had no choice but to comply with the subpoena and testify, he says.
If the DOJ had wanted to keep him from testifying, it could have moved to get the subpoena quashed, says Convertino.
Collins and Gershel, who are named as defendants in Convertino’s lawsuit, would not comment; they, the DOJ, and all attorneys connected to the terror case are bound by a gag order issued by Rosen. (Last month, defense attorneys filed a brief with the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, seeking to have the gag order dismissed; they claim there is no precedent for post-trial gag orders, which they say violates their First Amendment rights.)
The gag order has not quieted Convertino, who spoke extensively with Metro Times.
Convertino says he is not violating the gag order, which he says prohibits disclosure of confidential information.
The OPR investigation involved allegations that are so damning that just leaking them to the press could damage Convertino’s reputation, legal career and future chance of employment. His attorney has asked DOJ’s inspector general to investigate and determine who leaked details of the OPR probe, and to determine who told reporters that Convertino is the target of a criminal investigation. Sullivan says the leaks are clear violations of DOJ policy, could interfere with ongoing investigations and possibly lead to obstruction of justice charges.
Corbett is outraged by the leaks and says nothing will come of the investigations into them.
“People leak because they know there is no consequence,” Corbett says.
Convertino believes the DOJ wants him out.
“They want me to quit, and I’m not doing that,” he says.
Caesar or More?
On a damp May afternoon, Convertino sits at the dining room table at his suburban home in jeans and a long-sleeved jersey. He calmly sips coffee, but is clearly on edge. He’s reluctant to talk with Metro Times. He says others who’ve been interviewed for this story have told him Metro Times intends to “hammer” him.
Also at the table is his wife, Valerie, who’d called Metro Times to voice concerns about the imminent story. It was she who arranged the face-to-face interview. Valerie is an ebullient, warm woman and loyal partner.
She met Convertino at a party when they were teens. She was a cheerleader and he was a football player, though they attended different high schools.
Convertino is the fourth of six sons born to a couple who owned an Italian bakery in Endwell, a small town in southern New York.
Valerie tells how Convertino picked her up for their first date in his brother’s 1978 Corvette. That night he promised he would one day buy her one, which she thought was odd. “I had just met him,” she says, laughing.
But he would keep that promise. The car sits in the driveway, along with Convertino’s treasured Yamaha Royal Star motorcycle.
The couple’s five children stream in and out of the dining room in search of a snack or to ask their mom a question.
The couple eloped in 1985, when Valerie was working on her master’s degree in nursing at Case Western Reserve University; Convertino later attended law school there. For their honeymoon, they went to a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game.
Convertino has many heroes, but Valerie is at the top of the list.
“I would literally be nowhere without my wife. Anyone who knows us well will tell you that,” he says.
Another hero was a family friend, Father Mychal Judge, who died in the Sept. 11 attacks. When the terrorists struck the World Trade Center, Judge, a New York City Fire Department chaplain, rushed to the scene. According to media reports, the Franciscan priest was administering to the dying when the first tower collapsed, killing him and many others.
Convertino’s says his brother, David Convertino, who is also a priest, met Judge in 1975.
“He became a good friend of our family for many, many years,” says Convertino, a devout Catholic who now wears the Franciscan ring that belonged to Judge. “He was a great man and dedicated his life to helping people.”
He says Judge taught him to do the same. But it was his parents who encouraged him to pursue his dream of being a lawyer.
“My parents inculcated us with the notion that whatever it is, whatever path we choose to lead, whether one devoted to God or one devoted to country, that we should do the very best we can,” says Convertino.
Joe Fisher, a retired assistant U.S. attorney who was co-counsel on Convertino’s first trial in 1990, says Convertino is a born lawyer.
“He was assigned to assist us,” says Fisher, who was surprised that Convertino had no trial experience considering how well he performed.
“He took to it like a fish to water. He was very, very able. He worked hard and demonstrated great trial skills,” he says.
Convertino loves a good fight.
For five years, he has studied Brazilian Jujitsu, which he describes as a combination of wrestling, karate and kick-boxing. He says he won gold medals in two events in 2000 in the Michigan grappling championship, a free-form event similar to ultimate fighting in which matches end only when one fighter quits.
“I came home with both eyes shut,” says Convertino.
Convertino says his interest in such an extreme form of competition grew out of his years on high school and college wrestling teams.
“It’s one-on-one and there is no one to rely on other than yourself, so if you are not prepared you pay an immediate consequence,” he says. “That form of self-disciplined activity is appealing to me. And it served me well. It is one of the few sports where if you screw up or succeed, you have one person to look toward and that is inward.”
It’s the same in the courtroom, he says.
“The stakes are high. If the defendant gets acquitted it is a heavy responsibility,” Convertino says.
It is a responsibility he embraces. He has little tolerance for those who won’t.
“‘He that hath no stomach for this fight, depart,’” he says, quoting Shakespeare’s Henry V, a favorite play. “That’s how I feel. If you aren’t going to fight, get out of the way.”
Convertino is also well-read. He says he’s reading Dante’s Inferno for the fourth time, and he quips, “I have a few more people who I think should be in the ninth circle of hell,” reserved for traitors.
He says Dante believed that “worse than the people who led a life of evil … are the people who are indifferent.”
Convertino believes his own passion has gotten him into trouble with the DOJ.
“This is where my problem lies. It always has,” he says. “You take a position and don’t waver and buckle, then your motives are attacked.”
What are Convertino’s motives? Justice? Ambition? Vengeance? All three?
Might he evoke Shakespeare’s gifted but flawed Julius Caesar, whose ambition did him in?
Or is he like St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, who was beheaded for standing up for his beliefs?
Convertino is a devotee of A Man for All Seasons, the classic play about More.
“He went to his death for his cause and beliefs,” says Convertino.
The final act of Convertino’s own drama remains unwritten.
Like many uncompromising people, Convertino is a polarizing character. He’s one who is either loved or despised. Many detractors, however, declined to comment on the record.
He enjoys the respect of many colleagues, particularly in law enforcement.
“There is nobody with a greater degree of honesty and integrity than Rick Convertino,” says Lt. Don Bailey, who has been with the Michigan State Police for 19 years, and has worked with Convertino on more than 20 cases. “He is what every prosecutor should aspire to be. His commitment and work ethic and knowledge of the system are beyond parallel.”
Convertino’s work on an Ypsilanti Township drug gang case, a four-year investigation that led to about 30 convictions, impressed Bailey.
“Agents would get transferred in and out … in the normal course of business. One constant was Richard Convertino,” Bailey says. “That case could have fallen flat, but he wouldn’t see of it. He saw the importance to the community and that neighborhood that was being terrorized in Ypsilanti Township.”
Bailey says Convertino worked tirelessly, regularly meeting with residents to update them on the case.
“In 25 years [in law enforcement], I never saw anything like that. He did it out of a sense of obligation because it struck him that these people couldn’t go out on their porch at night. He stepped up and made a difference; he made a change,” says Bailey.
“I would be over at his house frequently in the evenings to late in the mornings, typing up affidavits for search warrants, going over transcripts. … This would boggle my mind: He would transcribe, personally, conversations between cooperating individuals, informants and suspects. Quite obviously someone would think a clerical person would transcribe that, but most of that material was transcribed by Rick Convertino.”
(Former Attorney General Janet Reno wrote Convertino a letter congratulating him for his work on the case.)
Aside from his casework, Bailey notes that Convertino organized the “Blue Mass,” an annual event that provides spiritual support to law enforcement officers and prayers for those killed in the line of duty. The service is said to draw more than 400 people.
“Rick is the kind of guy we all need,” says Bailey, who tells how Convertino called him in 1997 to ask if he would help distribute hats and gloves Convertino had purchased for the homeless at Christmas. He says when he and Convertino would walk by homeless people on the street, Convertino “always” gave them money.
“He is a very dedicated family man. He is very dedicated to community, to ideas we all hold dear — family and justice,” says Bailey.
“I have worked with Rick on a number of cases,” says Greg Stejskal, the FBI bureau chief in Ann Arbor. “I know him to be a very aggressive and hardworking prosecutor. He can be very abrasive at times if he feels people are not working as hard and not up to his standards. All that being said, he is a good friend and an individual who is very loyal and [has] irreproachable integrity.”
Convertino even has friends among defense attorneys.
“I found him to be ethical and fair, and my experience with prosecutors have not always mirrored those sentiments,” says Thomas Moors, who has been a defense attorney for 20 years and has had extensive dealings with Convertino. “I’ve worked with hundreds, if not thousands of prosecutors, and he is simply one of the best.”
Defense attorney Richard Lustig says Convertino is intense but fair.
“It was like personal to him,” says Lustig, referring to a money laundering case that Convertino prosecuted. “He never liked to lose and was a hard fighter, but I never thought he did anything unconscionable. … He is just very aggressive.”
Lustig says Convertino was “extraordinarily arrogant” as a young prosecutor, but “toned down” as he matured.
“I was impressed with his skill and he grew as he got older. I didn’t find him ever to hold back stuff,” he says.
Convertino is commonly viewed as “aggressive” and “hard-nosed,” says defense attorney Clyde Ritchie, who has been practicing for 33 years. To illustrate his point, Ritchie describes a typical message Convertino would leave regarding a plea agreement. “He would call me, for example, and say, ‘If you don’t call me by Friday the deal is gone!’ — with a few cuss words in between.”
But Ritchie says Convertino’s word “was always good,” despite his “prickly” nature.
“He is not an enjoyable guy to talk to. You don’t share war stories over coffee,” he says. “But he is dedicated to the system … which I applaud.”
Ritchie represented about a half dozen defendants whom Convertino prosecuted. He calls him a “true believer.”
“You don’t want to draw him [as an opponent] on a case,” Ritchie says. “No one is afraid of him, but you know you won’t get any breaks.”
Hugh “Buck” Davis gives Convertino mixed reviews. He recalls a 1993 case in which a jury convicted his client, Anthony Palazzolo, of money laundering.
“I thought it was a contrived prosecution,” says Davis. “I thought he stretched the evidence based on preconceived conclusions,” then displayed “unwillingness to back away when it was clear he was wrong. Some of the defendants got off, my guy didn’t.”
After the trial, Davis says Convertino kept as a souvenir a piece of evidence, a sign from the Detroit Sausage Co., where Palazzolo worked.
“To me, it was trophy hunting, as opposed to doing justice,” he says.
Convertino denies taking the sign, saying, “That’s absurd. That never happened. I don’t know what he’s talking about.”
But on another case, Davis says, Convertino chose not to indict Davis’ client, a young woman caught up with the wrong people and arrested for credit card fraud.
“She got picked up and cracked immediately and told [the authorities] everything she knew,” says Davis. “I think [Convertino] believed her and could see she was reformed from drugs and was a pawn, and he never indicted her. In my view, he saved her life.”
“With respect to Rick, he hits hard, but I felt most shots were above the belt,” says William Daniel, who represented a defendant in the prosecution of Jack Tocco, accused of being a Detroit mob boss; the jury found Tocco and three of the four co-defendants guilty after a four-month trial.
“He does everything he can to win …” says Daniel. “He doesn’t give a heads up until he has to. Every edge a lawyer could get, he sought to get.”
But Daniel says Convertino did do something he thought was “a little out of line.” Convertino was responsible for preparing a key witness, Angelo Polizzi, who testified for the prosecution. When Polizzi walked into the courtroom to testify, he was flanked by two FBI agents, according to court records.
“Like he needed security and his life was in danger,” says Daniel. “We had no knowledge beforehand that he would walk the guy in that manner and I thought that was a little out of range.”
Convertino received a “Special Achievement” award from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for “outstanding performance” in the Tocco case.
Convertino says he was asked to prepare Polizzi about a month before the trial because another lawyer had left the case. Gershel, whom Convertino is now suing, sent him an e-mail in 1998, praising him for his work.
“You have really come to the rescue. Let me know whenever you need help,” wrote Gershel.
Convertino denies instructing agents to escort Polizzi into the courtroom. “This [allegation] has been around for years since it happened. I had absolutely nothing to do with how the guy got in the courtroom. I knew nothing about it. I was surprised as everyone else,” he says.
Defense attorneys asked for a new trial, in part because of the Polizzi security escort, which they claimed prejudiced the jury; the judge denied the motion. That issue, among others, was appealed, but the appellate judges affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
Friends, then foes
One of Convertino’s most fervent critics is Steve Fishman, a Detroit criminal defense attorney. But this wasn’t always the case. About three years ago, when Convertino was being considered for a federal judgeship, he asked Fishman if he could include him as a reference. Fishman agreed, but now says he regrets doing so.
Fishman first met Convertino about a decade ago when Fishman was representing Gerald Wiedyck, who was indicted for, among other things, receiving kickbacks from an employee benefits plan. Convertino prosecuted the case. At the time, Convertino was working as a prosecutor out of Washington, D.C., but he was frequently assigned Detroit cases.
Fishman moved for a mistrial, claiming that Convertino had asked a government witness questions that implied that Wiedyck was connected to a convicted felon who had nothing to do with the case. The judge denied Fishman’s motion and the jury found Wiedyck guilty of soliciting and receiving kickbacks and making a false statement.
Fishman appealed the conviction to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, accusing Convertino of prosecutorial misconduct; he claimed the questions Convertino asked the government witness were prejudicial.
The Court of Appeals ruled that, “The questions were improper but insufficient to merit reversal of the denial of motion for a new trial.”
Though he didn’t prevail, Fishman at the time held no grudge.
“I assumed he was an overly aggressive kid who was trying to make a name for himself,” he says.
Fishman recommended Convertino to Gershel for a permanent job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.
“I told Gershel he is a talented trial lawyer — and he is,” says Fishman.
But his friendship with Convertino soured during the highly publicized Chris Webber case. The Sacramento Kings all-star forward was indicted in 2002 for lying to a grand jury about receiving money from University of Michigan basketball booster Ed Martin. Webber was a member of the “Fab Five” U-M team when Martin allegedly gave him $280,000, a violation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. Martin, the government’s key witness, died before the case went to trial.
Last year, Webber pleaded guilty to criminal contempt for lying to a grand jury about repaying Martin $38,200; charges were dropped against Webber’s father as part of the plea agreement.
Fishman represented Webber; Convertino and Corbett prosecuted the case.
Fishman says Convertino agreed to notify him in advance if he planned to indict Webber.
“He gave me his word. Not only would he not leak it, he would discuss it with us first,” says Fishman, who wanted advance notice because he had promised Webber that he would not learn of any indictment from the press, but from him.
Fishman says he learned of the indictment from Webber’s agent and the media.
Convertino insists he had nothing to do with the way the news was delivered.
“I didn’t leak it to anyone,” says Convertino. “Fishman knows that.”
He says his secretary tried calling Fishman to alert him of the indictment, but could not reach him.
Fishman says he had met with Convertino and Corbett about two weeks before the indictment was announced.
“The way we understood it was we were going to have one more meeting [to try and convince them not to indict],” he says.
But the meeting never transpired, says Fishman.
“If we said we would meet with him before the indictment, we would have met with him,” says Convertino, adding that Corbett was the lead attorney on the case.
Court records show, however, that Convertino was lead attorney.
Fishman believes Convertino indicted Webber in an attempt to further his career.
“How is that going to further my career?” asks Convertino, who adds, “I have no desire to be anything but an assistant
Fishman believes the leak was an attempt to drive a wedge between him and Webber so his client would choose a less-qualified defense attorney.
“What other motive could there be?” asks Fishman, who nonetheless remained Webber’s counsel.
A disputed document
On Sept. 17, 2001, less than a week after terrorists struck New York and Washington, D.C., Convertino says an FBI agent called him about three Arab men who had been arrested at an apartment on Norman Street in southwest Detroit. They were picked up because they had false identification documents, the agent said.
The FBI had gone to the apartment looking for Nabil Almarabh, who had once lived there and who was arrested days later in Chicago. At the time, law enforcers considered Almarabh to be an associate of Osama bin Laden and a member of Al Qaeda. Almarabh was charged with entering the country illegally, and has since been deported to Syria.
Convertino says he believed from the outset there was more to the case than false identifications, and he wound up charging the men arrested at the apartment with providing material aid to terrorists.
About two weeks later, the FBI arrested Youssef Hmimssa in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and charged him with several counts of document fraud. Hmimssa, who is from Morocco and knew the men who’d been arrested in Detroit, had been in the country illegally for seven years. He had a lengthy criminal record, with felony charges against him in Michigan, Illinois and Iowa. Court records indicate he initially denied having any information about any terrorists.
In November 2001, Hmimssa was facing decades in prison for credit card and document fraud.
By March 2002, Hmimssa was ready to make a deal. In exchange for Hmimssa’s cooperation in the case, Convertino agreed to recommend a reduced sentence.
During about 30 hours of interviews with Hmimssa, Convertino instructed FBI agents not to make any notes. That unusual directive was raised repeatedly during the terror trial by defense attorneys, who suspect Convertino did not want a record of Hmimssa’s statements that could be used to impeach him as a witness. Convertino himself told the jury in closing arguments that they should acquit the defendants if they felt he had acted improperly in telling the agents not to take notes; Convertino turned his own notes over to the judge.
Convertino also tells Metro Times he never required Hmimssa to submit to a polygraph to gauge the truthfulness of his claims.
Hmimssa awaits sentencing at Milan Federal Correctional Institution. Under the plea agreement, his multi-jurisdictional cases have been consolidated, so he faces no more than 47 months in jail and may be released with time served, depending on when he is finally sentenced; he could be deported.
While in jail, Hmimssa has been quite chatty.
Travis Trammell was at Wayne County Jail with Hmimssa in 2001.
“We were in two different wards together,” says Trammell.
The first time was for about a month around January 2002, in the maximum-security unit; the next time was in April 2002, he says.
Only bars separate inmates, making it possible for them to converse. They also are let out of their cells, one at a time, for an hour each day to shower and walk the cellblock, he says.
Trammell says Hmimssa would sit outside Trammell’s cell. “He would go take a shower and we would talk, play chess,” Trammell says.
He says Hmimssa confided in him because Trammell complained to guards when other prisoners threw urine at Hmimssa, who was derided by inmates as a terrorist at the time. Trammell had an interest in Islam, which may also explain why Hmimssa liked him. He converted to Islam about a year ago and adopted the name Azariah Malik El-Shabazz.
“I guess you could call us friends,” Trammell says.
Asked if Hmimssa ever told him the defendants he testified against were terrorists, Trammell says, “He led me to believe they just wanted to get money from [phony] credit cards, the same way he [Hmimssa] was getting money.”
He says Hmimssa, who once lived with three of the terror defendants, told him his roommates had stolen some phony documents from him and wouldn’t return them.
“I told Hmimssa to do what he had to do to save his ass, to get out of his trouble. I think that was his main concern, to do what he had to do. He was scared,” says Trammell.
Hmimssa testified at trial that he was afraid of his roommates. He called them fanatics who wanted to buy “Stinger missiles.”
But in a June 3 letter to Metro Times, Trammell wrote that Hmimssa “never said he was afraid of his roommates, he spoke as if they were all cool, until they took his stuff and wouldn’t return it.”
Trammell says Milton “Butch” Jones was housed near him and Hmimssa around January 2002.
Hmimssa made similar claims to Jones, according to a Dec. 30, 2001, letter Jones sent to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Allen, who is prosecuting Jones.
The letter, which was given to defense attorneys six months after the terror trial had concluded, was the subject of a four-hour hearing Dec. 12, 2003, before Rosen. Rosen questioned several prosecutors, including Allen, who said he received the letter from Jones in February 2002, more than a year before the terror trial started, and immediately gave it to Convertino. Allen says he also told their supervisor, Gershel, about it. He said Gershel later told him he had instructed Corbett to disclose Jones’ letter to the terror defendants’ lawyers. Gershel confirmed at the December hearing that he had told Corbett to disclose the Jones letter to the defense. Corbett testified that he did not recall Gershel ordering him to do so.
“I’m not suggesting the conversation didn’t take place,” Corbett testified. “I have no recollection of the conversation.”
Corbett — who went to work on the case months after Allen had given Convertino the Jones letter — said he first saw the letter during the trial and decided to not turn it over because of a notation in the corner of it.
Rosen would not allow Corbett to discuss the notation in open court and asked him to submit an affidavit about it; the affidavit has been sealed from the public.
As the terror trial progressed, Allen testified, he grew concerned that the defense had never introduced Jones’ letter in an effort to impeach Hmimssa’s testimony.
Convertino admitted during the hearing that Allen had given him the Jones letter. But he said he gave it little weight. “The letter struck me as absurd,” Convertino testified.
In addition to claiming that Hmimssa had lied about the terror suspects, Jones wrote that Hmimssa had accused the Bush family of dealing drugs. Hmimssa also claimed to have played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks and said he intended to help bring down the United States, according to the letter.
But when Rosen asked Convertino why he failed to disclose the letter, the prosecutor responded that he was dealing with thousands of documents at the time and “it slipped through the cracks.”
And then when Rosen asked why Convertino didn’t turn the letter over to the judge for inspection, Convertino responded that he “didn’t think the references were of any value or importance.”
Rosen retorted that this was not for Convertino to decide.
“On its face, the letter contains exculpatory information, and that’s not a decision the prosecution makes,” Rosen said.
“I don’t disagree,” Convertino responded. “If someone said, ‘Turn it over,’ I would. It’s no value to the defense by my estimation.”
Convertino told Rosen nobody from the U.S. Attorney’s Office ever instructed him to turn the letter over to the defense.
Convertino tells Metro Times he believes that Corbett would have disclosed the Jones letter if Gershel had instructed him to do so.
“There is no way Keith [Corbett] would have violated this,” says Convertino.
Furthermore, he says, “I showed [the letter] to Keith twice. He is the final arbiter. If he said turn it over, I would.”
Convertino says that before Rosen convened the December hearing, he and Corbett were excluded from a meeting attended by Gershel, Allen and others. Convertino says he suspects they met to get their stories about the Jones letter straight.
Though Convertino assigned no legitimacy to the Jones letter, he admits that some of his fellow federal prosecutors did. He contends that the letter was used, without his or Corbett’s knowledge, by colleagues to show that Jones was cooperating with authorities in the terror case and therefore deserved leniency.
“If at any time someone came to me and said to me they used the letter to try and get Butch off the death penalty and assigned credibility to it, it’s not a question, you turn it over,” says Convertino.
The Jones letter disturbs defense attorney Neil Fink, who has been practicing law for 30 years and represented a couple of defendants whom Convertino prosecuted.
“Rick is a very tough guy, but I found him to be very honorable,” says Fink. “He keeps his word.”
Fink says the same of Gershel. (The many attorneys Metro Times interviewed for this story say Gershel is a man of his word.)
Fink also thinks highly of Corbett.
“The whole thing is very disturbing because when you like all the parties it makes it difficult to be objective. You want to see everybody’s version reconciled,” says Fink.
Ahmed and Doudi
More than three months after the FBI arrested the defendants and Hmimssa, they took Ali Ibrahim Ahmed into custody, according to court records. At the time, he was living in Dearborn with his cousin, Mohamed Doudi, 38, who fled Sudan in 1989 because of the political unrest there. Doudi sought and was granted asylum in Canada in 1994.
Doudi has been a Canadian citizen since 1997, but has been living and working as a certified public accountant in the United States since 1999 on a North American Free Trade Agreement visa. Doudi lives in Dearborn with his wife and three daughters. He also owns a house in Toronto, where Ahmed now lives.
Ahmed, 33, fled Sudan in 1991 and lived in other African countries until he went to Canada in 1998, and became a Canadian citizen this month, according to Doudi. Doudi says Ahmed visited him in Dearborn around August 2001 and again in December 2001. Ahmed stayed at Doudi’s home when Doudi and his family returned to Sudan for a two-month visit, Doudi says.
FBI agents arrested Ahmed at Doudi’s home on Jan. 10, 2002, and accused him of “misuse of a social security number,” court records show. He was transported to a jail in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Ahmed was scheduled to go on trial May 7, 2002, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, according to court records.
While Ahmed was in jail, he was interviewed on a “material witness warrant,” according to an affidavit filed in the terror case by FBI Special Agent Mike Thomas, who’s based in Detroit and worked with Convertino on the case.
The affidavit is attached to a motion (which was sealed at the time) to have Ahmed returned to Michigan after his Iowa trial.
The April 16, 2002, material-witness motion is signed by Convertino. (The affidavit and motion were unsealed this past March.)
The motion asks Rosen to have Ahmed transported to Detroit after his Iowa trial because “there is probable cause to believe Ali Ibrahim Ahmed has information material to the criminal matter of the United States v. Karim Koubriti, et al, and that his testimony is necessary and material to the case,” according to Thomas’ affidavit.
The affidavit says Ahmed told Koubriti he “was finding it difficult to obtain employment because he needed ‘papers.’ Koubriti advised he had a friend, who could provide Ahmed with the required documents to obtain work papers. Koubriti provided Ahmed with the phone number of this individual. This individual was subsequently identified as Youssef Hmimssa through the use of a photograph.”
Convertino feared that Ahmed would be deported to Canada if Rosen did not grant the motion.
“It is the belief of United States Government officials that if a material witness arrest warrant is not issued at this time, the testimony of Ali Ibrahim Ahmed will probably be lost and will not be available,” wrote Convertino.
Rosen consented. According to the Linn County Correctional Center in Cedar Rapids, Ahmed was released Aug. 7, 2002.
He was booked into Wayne County Jail in Detroit seven days later, records show. It is unclear where Ahmed was during the interim.
Ahmed was released from Wayne County Jail on Oct. 30, 2002, and confined to house arrest at Doudi’s Dearborn home, according to court records.
Doudi says Convertino agreed to let his cousin stay with him.
“I developed a good relationship with him. He respected me,” says Doudi of Convertino, who he says treated him with “dignity.”
Doudi says Convertino and an FBI agent came to the Dearborn home three times to talk to Ahmed; he says they also took Ahmed from the house several times to interview him. Ahmed spoke to Convertino through an FBI agent who translated, Doudi says.
Doudi says Convertino pressured him to convince Ahmed to help with the prosecution of the terror defendants.
Convertino promised to let his cousin stay in the country if he cooperated, but Ahmed didn’t have the information, says Doudi.
Doudi says he suspects the prosecutors were under enormous pressure to get a terror conviction.
“I understand they want to protect their country, but it is a hell of a mistake to go after innocent people,” says Doudi.
Convertino says Doudi’s allegations are not true, and that he does not remember Ahmed or Doudi. He hangs up and calls FBI agent Mike Thomas to refresh his memory and calls Metro Times back within a half-hour.
“The information he had, Ali [Ahmed] had, the agents brought to me was, he received phone cards, fraudulent phone cards from Koubriti and was introduced to Elmardoudi and Hmimssa by Koubriti, that was the information we had,” Convertino says. “When we interviewed him, the agents and me and the interpreter, there came a point in the interview when he [Ahmed] said, ‘I will say whatever you want to stay in the country.’ We cut the interview off and he was deported. We said, ‘That’s it, that’s not what we want.’ I think I met with him once. I can’t recall. I can’t even remember him. Mike [Thomas] thinks he met him twice or three times. Mike has a vivid recollection of that meeting.”
Convertino later adds that Ahmed was seeking both phony social security and phone cards.
Metro Times called Thomas seeking comment, but he did not respond.
Convertino says he never meets with witnesses alone precisely because such allegations could be raised. “I have never tried to get a witness to say any thing that wasn’t truthful ever since I was sworn in with the Department of Justice. Ever, period!” says Convertino.
Ahmed was deported after spending seven months at the Linn County Correctional Center, two months in the Wayne County Jail and six months under house arrest at Doudi’s home, according to court records and jail staff.
Doudi says the last time he heard from Convertino was after his cousin was deported. Doudi says Convertino called while the trial was under way and asked him if he would convince Ahmed to come to the States and testify for the prosecution.
“Then in 24 hours, he calls back and says he doesn’t want him,” recalls Doudi, who was puzzled by Convertino’s request. “That is what I can’t understand, because he knew what my cousin was going to say. So, I don’t understand it and is a big question mark over my head.”
Convertino tells Metro Times that during the trial he told defense attorneys Ahmed was available to testify.
“I remember telling defense attorneys after he [Ahmed] was deported that we could have him contacted and he would come back,” says Convertino. “I told them that in the judge’s chambers and that was through his cousin.”
But defense attorneys never responded, he says.
None of the terror defendants’ attorneys could respond to Convertino’s assertion without violating the gag order.
Attorney Stephen A. Swift represented Ahmed in Cedar Rapids. He says his client pleaded guilty to social security fraud and his seven-month detention in Iowa was within sentencing guidelines. The additional jail time in Detroit and home confinement may have been to secure his testimony as a material witness, says Swift, who would not discuss the details of Ahmed’s case, citing client-attorney privilege.
Swift says he never spoke to Convertino about the case, though he left several messages with him. “I dealt predominately with the local U.S. attorney” in Iowa, says Swift.
Ahmed was not the only alleged Hmimssa customer arrested and jailed on a material witness warrant after purchasing phony social security cards.
Cedar Rapids attorney Charles Nadler represented two others who had purchased phony social security cards from Hmimssa. He says material witness warrants are used to hold witnesses who may testify against a defendant in a criminal case.
Nadler suspects there were many more.
“It is hard to know the exact number, but I can tell you there were about 200 social security cards in the mail box of the person who was doing this,” he says.
The mailbox belonged to Hmimssa, who was the “ringleader,” says Nadler.
“He rented a mailbox, or one of his people did, in Iowa City. Hmimssa had arranged for all of that,” he says.
Hmimssa implied at trial that Elmardoudi, who would be convicted of conspiring to help terrorists, was in charge of the phony document enterprise. Hmimssa testified that the other defendants introduced him to Elmardoudi, who wanted false identity documents so he could bring “brothers” into the country. Hmimssa said he followed Elmardoudi’s orders because he was afraid and wanted to get back documents that the defendants had stolen from him.
The government routinely has used material witness warrants to hold people in identification fraud cases, says attorney Anjana Malhotra, a fellow with the ACLU Human Rights Watch in New York City.
But since 9/11, she says, “The government has imposed an unprecedented amount of secrecy around the detention of material witnesses. All arrest records are sealed and judicial proceedings are closed.”
Malhotra says this enables the government to sidestep constitutional rights. She says witnesses are entitled to legal representation, but that the law is not as established for witnesses as it is for criminal suspects.
“It is a way to detain a suspect and interrogate them and investigate them as a suspect while holding them as a witness,” she says.
Doudi says Ahmed did not have an attorney present when he was interviewed by Convertino and the FBI. Doudi says he and Ahmed asked for an attorney but that Convertino said they would have to hire one. But Doudi says neither he nor Ahmed could afford one. Doudi says Convertino also told him that Ahmed was a material witness and wouldn’t need an attorney because he was not being charged with a crime.
Asked if Ahmed had an attorney when he met with him, Convertino tells Metro Times, “I don’t remember if he did or not.”
He also says, “I can tell you if someone said they wanted an attorney, I would never try to hinder that in any way, shape or form.”
On Dec. 10, 2003, defense attorneys filed a motion for a new trial for Koubriti, Elmardoudi and Hannan. Attached to the motion is a memo by defense attorney William Swor, who represented Elmardoudi. The memo, dated Dec. 27, 2002, details phone conversations between Swor and an immigration attorney, Bethany McAllister. (Her married name is McAllister Armenteros.)
Swor’s memo lays out the following chronology: Doudi contacted McAllister on behalf of Ahmed. McCallister did not feel competent to represent Ahmed since his case appeared to include criminal matters, and she called Swor to ask him to represent Ahmed.
“Her principle concern arose from the fact the client was on home confinement from a material witness warrant, that he had been promised some kind of assistance from the FBI and she did not understand how that would impact on the immigration case,” wrote Swor.
Swor quickly realized that Ahmed was a potential witness in the terrorist case and told McAllister he could not represent him because his representation of Elmardoudi posed a conflict of interest. He offered to help McAllister find someone who could. Swor also disclosed that he told McAllister that he wanted to interview Ahmed, according to the memo.
An interview was tentatively scheduled for Dec. 23, 2002, the memo states. However, on the day of the appointment, McAllister called Swor to say the meeting was canceled because Ahmed had been picked up for questioning by FBI agents that morning.
“According to Mrs. McAllister, Mohamed [Doudi] told her that the agents came to the house and told Mr. [Ahmed] that they needed him downtown at 8:30 [a.m.],” Swor wrote. “Apparently, although this was unusual, agents had come to the house before and taken Ahmed to talk to him, so the family didn’t think too much of it. Mrs. McAllister expressed concern to me that the agents had taken her client and that they were interviewing him without counsel being present. … I suggested she contact the FBI,” wrote Swor.
McAllister later called Swor and said the FBI had told her they had not picked up Ahmed, nor were they interviewing him because Ahmed was in Grand Rapids visiting friends.
“Mrs. McAllister found this very odd, especially since she had confirmed with the client that he was available to meet with us 10:00 Monday morning, telling her specifically he had no plans for Monday. I indicated to Mrs. McAllister my skepticism and my concerns that the government was in fact tampering with the witness,” wrote Swor.
On that same day, McAllister advised Swor that she had received a call from Convertino, who said the agents had not picked up her client and were not interviewing him, according to the memo.
Convertino indicated that “he did not see any need for her client to have an attorney since they had a very good relationship and the government was working with him,” wrote Swor.
McAllister called again and told Swor that her client’s cousin, Doudi, “had called her shortly after she hung up from me and had advised her, in language identical to that of Convertino, that he and his cousin had decided that his cousin had a good working relationship with the government and that they would not need her services to protect [Ahmed] after all. It was clear to Mrs. McAllister that this was the result of government prompting and she was irate,” states the memo.
Swor asked McAllister to write a memo regarding the conversations, but she apparently never did.
Metro Times contacted McAllister, but she would not comment.
Doudi says Ahmed initially spoke to McAllister, who is an acquaintance of Doudi’s wife. Doudi does not know what Ahmed and McAllister discussed. But Doudi confirms that he ultimately told McAllister that Ahmed would not need her services. Doudi says he told McAllister this because Convertino called him and was “upset” when he learned that Ahmed had spoken to an attorney. He says he and Ahmed had an “agreement” with Convertino that they would not retain a lawyer because the terror case was a “sensitive” matter. Doudi says he also had the distinct impression that if he and Ahmed retained a lawyer, Convertino would could “by law” have Ahmed jailed again.
“That never happened,” says Convertino. “Nothing even close to that ever happened.”
Convertino says he did not read Swor’s motion for a new trial or the attached memo. He also says he does not recall talking to McAllister., “I don’t recall the conversations with her [McAllister] or who the attorney was,” he says.
Soon after the terror trial concluded, Convertino was taken off the case. Convertino says his boss, Jeffrey Collins, head of the Detroit U.S. Attorney’s Office, told him he had been instructed by his DOJ superiors to reprimand him. When Convertino was taken off the case, Corbett asked to be removed, Convertino says.
In January 2004, the Detroit Free Press reported that Convertino is being investigated by the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
Mark Corallo, the DOJ’s public affairs director, would not say what was contained in the OPR probe or even if such an investigation was under way.
“We have not even acknowledged if there is an OPR investigation. There is a judicial gag order in the case,” says Corallo.
Convertino, however, confirms that he is being investigated by the OPR. He says he learned the details of allegations against him from the newspaper article.
He and his attorney have since inquired, but have not been provided much information, he says. Convertino’s lawyer also requested that the leak to the newspaper be investigated.
“The Justice Department continues to pursue a course of retaliation and reprisal against him, which has been joined now by defense attorneys whose clients were properly convicted through Rick’s diligence in protecting the community,” Sullivan says. “Both these groups have an ax to grind and have manufactured these bogus allegations against him for their own gain, their own purposes. We believe that so strongly that we asked the Inspector General of Department of Justice to open two investigations and I look forward to those results, which I am confident will vindicate Rick.”
The newspaper account of the OPR probe cited several allegations, including that Convertino had arranged the release of an illegal Lebanese immigrant, Marwan Farhat, 34, in December 2001 to become a confidential informant in the terror case. Farhat is a convicted felon who was awaiting trial on drug charges. Convertino says Farhat provided information to several law enforcement units. He says Farhat also summarized Arabic-language tapes found at the terror defendants’ apartment; the tapes were evidence in the terror case. Convertino, who prosecuted Farhat, recommended that his sentence be shortened by 90 percent without the approval of his supervisors, including Collins, who must sign off on sentence reductions of 50 percent or more, according to the newspaper account.
Convertino denies deviating from sentence-reduction policies. He says the informant got the sentence he deserved based on the assistance he provided the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“He was working with several agencies. He was indicted and cooperated for a long time and doing important work,” says Convertino.
Another reported OPR allegation is that Convertino, in an attempt to dig up dirt on a defense witness in the terror trial, told a pre-trial services employee at U.S. District Court that he was prosecuting that witness.
Convertino denies the accusation.
“It’s complete garbage,” he says. “I never met the pretrial services guy before that day. Just using common sense — I’m meeting a guy for the first time and I’m trying to get him to do something improper? Why are we hearing it now? It supposedly happened April 2003 and comes out December 2003.”
The news account states that Convertino is suspected of withholding from the defense FBI reports that reflect interviews with a witness in the terror case; the reports are interviews with Brahim Sidi, who raised doubts about Hmimssa’s credibility. Convertino turned the reports over to the defense on May 5, 2003, more than two weeks after Hmimssa had finished testifying.
Defense attorneys say the suppression of the reports prevented them from adequately cross-examining Hmimssa, according to their motion for a new trial. They also accuse the government of deporting Sidi to Morocco to deprive “the defendants of his testimony at trial.”
Sidi, who was arrested in Iowa with Hmimssa, pleaded guilty to document fraud and served about seven months in jail before his deportation.
Convertino tells Metro Times he did not intentionally withhold the FBI reports on Sidi.
“I can’t explain in words how bad I felt. … I went to the defense attorneys [and said,] ‘There is no excuse for this,’” says Convertino, who could not recall where he found the Sidi reports.
In an affidavit filed last year, Swor accused Convertino of trying to extort him when he picked up the Sidi records. The affidavit is part of a motion for a new trial and says Convertino told Swor in a conference room at the U.S. Attorney’s Office that the FBI “had opened a file” on Swor regarding a conversation Swor had had with the court’s trial translator in violation of a court order.
During the trial, Swor spoke to the translator about a videotape that the government said proved the defendants were extremists. The affidavit says Convertino asked Swor if he was “going to go after him” about the FBI reports on Sidi. Swor says in his affidavit that Convertino told him “If you go easy on me, I’ll go easy on you.” Swor says he later learned the FBI had not initiated an investigation into his conversation with the translator, according to the affidavit. Swor’s allegations also are part of the OPR investigation of Convertino, according to the news account
Convertino says when Swor picked up the Sidi reports, he knew a defense attorney had tried to influence the court translator, but did not know it was Swor.
“I didn’t know Swor was the person until after the trial was over,” says Convertino, who believes Swor’s allegations were an attempt to lay “the groundwork for us not to go after him.”
He also says Swor’s allegations are nonsensical since it was Convertino who came forward with the Sidi reports.
“I brought [the Sidi reports] to the attention of the court and said there was no excuse and [it] was a mistake on my part and [I] take full responsibility. I did that and then apologized to the defense attorneys. Why would I possibly say go easy on me for doing that? Go easy on me for what? I didn’t shirk behind a veil of excuses.”
The OPR accuses Convertino of trying to get help in the terror case from Abed Makalda, who was being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Sauget on drug charges; Sauget allegedly learned Convertino had been talking with Makalda during a sentence hearing, when Convertino showed up and attempted to have Makalda’s sentence reduced.
According to the sentencing transcript, Makalda’s attorney asked for a reduced sentence because of his client’s “substantial assistance” in the terror trial. Sauget objected and said he would provide documents to defense attorneys in the terrorist trial that would impeach Makalda, because he “kept coming up with fairy tales.” Convertino says Sauget and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration were aware that he’d talked to Makalda. He also says Gershel approved the reduced sentence. “If this is remotely true, Gershel would not have approved it,” says Convertino.
Sauget would not comment because of the gag order.
Convertino says Corbett was preparing Makalda as a witness for the terror trial, not him.
“That is Keith’s witness,” says Convertino. “Again, Keith did Makalda, not me, so to say that I kept this secret from [Sauget] is even more absurd.”
Convertino is frustrated that fingers are pointed at him when Corbett was co-counsel in the terror case. Why is Convertino being singled out?
He says it is because Corbett did not testify before Congress, and Convertino did.
One employee of the U.S. Attorney’s Office who is familiar with the controversies swirling around Convertino says, “I think there are a number of factors” driving the investigations. “Testifying [before Congress] could be one, but it’s speculation on my part. I don’t think it is the only factor,” says the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
On Sept. 2, 2003, a staffer for U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, asked Convertino if he and Hmimssa would testify about the case at a congressional hearing. Grassley was interested in the link between terrorism and false identification documents, according to Convertino’s whistle-blower lawsuit.
Gershel, who was first assistant U.S. attorney for the Detroit office under Collins at the time, called Convertino at home the following day and advised him to talk to David Nahmias, special counsel to the assistant attorney general, about Ann Mullen is a Metro Times staff writer and can be reached at 313-202-8015 or firstname.lastname@example.org