Now in his fourth year of a 12-year federal prison term, Ross Mandell, former CEO of Sky Capital, is seeking information that could get him released from federal prison.
Mandell filed a lawsuit today in the Southern District of Florida (he is incarcerated at the Miami Federal Prison Camp) against the Securities & Exchange Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Justice claiming that they are withholding information that has the potential to overturn his conviction. Mandell’s suit relates to the failure of these government organizations to produce records related to several Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests. So what is Mandell looking for and why?
Mandell was indicted in July 2009 and went to trial in June 2011 where he was found guilty on all counts. He was represented at trial by Manhattan attorney Jeffrey Hoffman. As the jury was being questioned prior to determining if they would be part of the jury (Voir Dire), U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty read aloud the names of the government witnesses, part procedure and partly to make sure none of the potential jurors knew any of them. Among those Judge Crotty named was Steven Altman, an attorney who had done work for Sky Capital and who referred Mandell to Hoffman when the case turned criminal. Mandell was taken aback that Altman was a government witness and was unsure why he would be a government witness.
By the time of the trial, Mandell was already at odds with Hoffman, who had tried to withdraw from representing Mandell just a few weeks prior to trial over a dispute of fees owed. Judge Crotty intervened and sat both Mandell and Hoffman down to settle the issue. Crotty informed Hoffman that he would not allow him to withdraw and told him to put on the best defense that he could, setting aside his financial differences with Mandell until after the trial. No defendant wants to be at odds with their defense attorney when a trial looms. Mandell’s guilty verdict only worsened his relationship with Hoffman. Once in prison, Mandell filed a 2255 for ineffective counsel, claiming that Hoffman threw him under the bus with the government and instead helped Altman avoid indictment in the Sky Capital case. Crotty denied Mandell’s 2255 but Mandell still believed that more documents existed that would prove his case.
Determined, and with all other legal remedies expired, Mandell asked the government (FBI, SEC and DOJ) for their files relating to Altman. If Altman were a government witness, then somebody must have spoken to him during the investigation. For over two years, the government has yet to produce information on Altman, specifically FBI and US Attorney notes from any meetings held with him. Mandell states that he has information that there are multiple files on Altman that have not been turned over as a result of his FOIA request.
This latest lawsuit was a result of guidance from an investigator at the Disciplinary Committee of the New York State BAR who is also looking into Mandell’s claims. Mandell is represented by Mark G. Astor, a government transparency and media lawyer who has represented journalists and others get court records, quash subpoenas for sources, defend against defamation claims, and fight unconstitutional gag orders. If Hoffman accompanied Altman to meetings with the government, as Mandell claims will be revealed, then we have a case where one lawyer is representing two people in the same criminal case … not only unethical, but illegal.
The fact is, Hoffman was representing Altman in an SEC case, unrelated to Sky Capital, at the same time as Mandell’s criminal case. Whether Hoffman and Altman’s conversations/representation spilled over into matters relating to Sky Capital is not known and something that Mandell is quite certain about. The outcome of the SEC’s case against Altman resulted in an eighteen (18) month suspension from practicing law by the New York State BAR and a life time suspension for practicing before the SEC.
Ross Mandell has also learned that Altman was an un-indicted co-conspirator in his criminal case. Altman was the only co-conspirator who was never arrested, charged or prosecuted. There is no doubt that Altman was close to the Sky Capital case. He was listed as a “Related Case” in Government produced documents and his name was raised over two hundred (200) times during Mandell’s trial. Mandell believes that Altman was a cooperating government witness.
The counsel for Mandell has tried to get this information for years but stepped up efforts on November 7, 2017. His attorney was directed by Assistant United States Attorney Andrew Ken-Wei Chan (SDNY) who pushed the request to AUSA Darian Hodge. Hodge suggested they make a FOIA request for the Altman files, which Mandell’s team did. Similar requests were made to the FBI and SEC … they too did not responded. Finally, on August 13, 2018, Mandell’s attorney spoke with FOIA Branch Chief Aaron Taylor at the SEC who confirmed that there were “two boxes of information consisting of thousands of pages of information some of which is confidential in nature and therefore not subject to release.” Taylor would later say that the files would be reviewed and released by the end of September.
Mandell also sent a letter to Judge Crotty telling him about the information he hopes to receive from the government, “This evidence will demonstrably prove that Hoffman had a severe Conflict Of Interest in his representation of Movant [Mandell] and the Government has known this the entire time. This constitutes a Sixth Amendment Constitutional violation of Movant’s rights.”
As of the posting of this (October 16, 2018), no information has been released to Mandell regarding his request for information.
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