In early June, The Open File covered the in-court reprimand of a federal prosecutor who failed to disclose the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) involvement in a drug bust that put two Colombian nationals on trial in Miami.
According to John Pacenti of the Daily Business Review, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke accused Assistant US Attorney Andrea Hoffman of breaching her ethics as a prosecutor and forgetting that she represents the people of the United States in her prosecution of the Columbian nationals.
The case is covered in a six-part series by Clarence Walker for the Drug War Chronicle, which today released a feature article on Andrea Hoffman.
Walker highlights four different cases in which AUSA Hoffman has allegedly withheld Brady evidence from defendants or overlooked exculpatory evidence in order to pursue convictions.There is something rotten in Miami. A federal prosecutor there, Assistant US Attorney Andrea Hoffman, seems to have problems staying within the bounds of the law as she attempts to prosecute major drug cases. As a result, cases are coming undone, and some Colombians are going home, some who likely were innocent. And Hoffman’s pattern of prosecutorial misconduct has so far come without serious professional consequences.
Here is a summary of Hoffman’s role in the highlighted cases:
- Winer and Buitrago: In May, defense attorneys uncovered evidence that the DEA was making payments to Colombian narcotics police to “bust” Winder and Buitrago, but Hoffman denied having any knowledge of the arrangement. The DEA undercut that denial when a Columbian police officer said he was part of discussions about money with Hoffman and a DEA agent. The DEA later acknowledged as much. The judge accused Hoffman of prosecutorial misconduct for violating Brady and tampering with witnesses. She is yet to be disciplined.
- Bustos: In the Winder & Buitrago case, defense attorneys also accused Hoffman of failing to disclose a letter that indicated that a Columbian witness for the state, Daniel Bustos, had paid money to another drug defendant to collect information and feed it to Bustos so that he could use the information to testify falsely against Winer and Buitrago in exchange for leniency from the federal government.
- Ortega Bonilla: As part of the same operation that led to the arrest of Winer and Buitrago, Carlos Ortega Bonilla was arrested for drug trafficking. His attorney told the court that he had discovered irrefutable evidence that the DEA had misidentified his client’s voice on the wiretaps. Yet Hoffman still argued to the judge that she had a witness, a co-defendant, who was willing to testify that Carlos Ortega Bonilla was the right guy. Instead of calling the mystery wintess, Hoffman dropped the charges on August 31.
- Gil-Perenguez: In a 2006 arrest, Willy Gil-Perenguez was taken to a DEA office in Colombia and threatened with 30 years in prison if he didn’t cooperate with the US government. He maintained his innocence and was extradited to Miami in 2008 to face drug charges that carried a maximum sentence of life in prison. While awaiting trial, he encountered another defendant who told him that he was pressured by Hoffman to implicate Gil-Perenguez but had refused because he knew he would be fabricating testimony against an innocent person. When Gil-Prenguez’s lawyer went to Hoffman with the information, she said she had other witnesses — but it turned out they didn’t exist. Gil-Perenguez filed a $10 million wrongful arrest lawsuit against the US government but the 11th Circuit threw it out, ruling that the US lacked jurisdiction and couldn’t be sanctioned for “any claims arising in a foreign country.”
- Shaygan: Dr. Ali Shaygan was charged with overprescribing narcotics and acquitted. He later won a $600,000 judgment against Hoffman who had attempted to influence witnesses and withhold exculpatory evidence. In his ruling, the judge called Hoffman’s conduct (and the conduct of another federal prosecutor involved in the case) so “profoundly disturbing that it raises troubling issues about the integrity of those who wield enormous power over the people they prosecute.” The 11th Circuit later overturned the ruling.
Walker concludes:In the meantime, Hoffman is still on the job in Miami and, if her work on the big drug investigations is any indication, still bumping up against the rules without serious professional consequence. Prosecutorial misconduct still seems to be a bridge too far for the American criminal justice system to address.
Read the entire article here for more details.
No ruling has been issued by Judge Cook on whether or not Hoffman will be sanctioned for her misconduct in the Winer and Buitriago case. We will watch closely for updates.