New Federal Pirro Probe: Jeanine Cost Westchester County Millions

New Federal Pirro Probe -Jeanine Cost Westchester County Millions



by Frank Brady © 2007

Another serious criminal allegation against Jeanine Pirro has been added to the growing list of federal questions into her actions while Westchester County’s District Attorney, say sources familiar with the latest inquiry. During her 12 years in office, according to the allegations, then-District Attorney Pirro knowingly failed to recover millions of dollars in forfeited bail– monies that, according to state law, should have gone into Westchester County government bank accounts.

Bail is usually forfeited if a criminal defendant fails to appear for a scheduled court appearance. In courts everyday, though, many judges extend great latitude to defendants who have failed to appear, often negating “bench warrants” and “bail forfeiture” when certain facts are revealed to the court. “Failure to appear” determinations are excused when the judge is moved to accept the absence as unintentional, usually a result of a personal emergency or a simple mix-up of the scheduled date by the defendants, their attorney, court personnel or a computer. As one Manhattan criminal defense attorney explains, “If you have a good and honest reason for not showing up in court, judges are usually understanding,” adding, “but there are only two perfect excuses for not being in court–you’re dead, or in jail somewhere.” In short, if bail is forfeited, it is lost—gone. And the money goes to the county—except, as the newest allegations claim, in Jeanine Pirro’s Westchester County.


Numerous seasoned criminal defense lawyers interviewed for this article, and who demanded that their names not be used, were emphatic about their belief that except for only very rare exceptions, forfeited bail money is gone—and it gets deposited into the county coffers.

But the latest issue to haunt the former county judge, Ms. Pirro, alleges a different bail process in the criminal courts of Westchester County–that for a ten-year-plus period of time, and while she was the Westchester County District Attorney, Jeanine Pirro systematically prevented millions of dollars in forfeited bail monies from being delivered to the citizens of Westchester County.


According to criminal court documents obtained in one case, The People of the State of New York vs. Edickson Herrera, Ms. Pirro’s office failed to file the necessary paperwork to insure that the Westchester County government would receive $250,000.00 in forfeited bail money. The defendant had failed to appear in court on October 5, 1995, and though the court issued a bench warrant that day, the bail forfeiture became effective 5 days later on October 10, 1995. To make sure Westchester County received the $250,000.00, the District Attorney was simply required to file a copy of the forfeiture order within 60 days.

In a decision and order issued almost two years later, and dated September 5, 1997, the Honorable Mary H. Smith ruled, “While it may be lamentable that the People’s unexcused failure to follow the mandate of CPL 540.10(2) will result in a windfall to the petitioner and a $250,000.00 loss to the People of the State of New York, this Court is powerless…”

As a result of District Attorney Pirro’s failure to simply file a copy of the forfeiture order within the then-required 60 days, the Judge was forced to return the $250,000.00 to the petitioner, the Frontier Insurance Company.


In another 1997 case, The People of the State of New York vs. Melvin Gonzalez, Supreme Court Justice James R. Cowhey was similarly required to order the return of forfeited bail money, which in this case totaled $100,000.00. In his April 16, 1997 dated decision and order, Judge Cowhey ruled that “The People (D.A. Pirro) concede that they failed to have a judgment entered within sixty days of the bail forfeiture.” The Court also wrote, “Clearly, under the facts of this case the People have not complied with the statutory obligations of the statute. Subdivision 2 specifically imposes on the People the unconditional obligation to proceed against the surety within sixty days of the date the Court orders forfeiture of the bail.”

There are two common elements to the Gonzalez and Herrara bail forfeiture cases, and which were among papers submitted to prosecutors—the district attorney involved in both cases was Jeanine Pirro, and the surety that financially gained in both cases was the Frontier Insurance Company. In these two cases alone the failure of Ms. Pirro to follow a basic state law of procedure resulted in a $350,000.00 loss to Westchester County, and a $350,000.00 windfall to the Frontier Insurance Company. (Note: On October 20, 1998, an amendment to New York State law 540.10(2) doubled the filing time from 60 to 120 days in which a district attorney must file a copy of the forfeiture order.)

A former federal prosecutor who reviewed the documents and allegations against Ms. Pirro was quick to point out that, “Although there may be issues with the statute of limitations on the older bail forfeiture cases, the current focus may be on the pattern of criminal behavior by a group of individuals, and who for personal gain over many years, systematically acted to defraud the citizens of Westchester County out of millions of dollars.” He added, hesitantly, “It is equally unsettling that though they were required to follow the law concerning the D.A.’s failure and return the money, the judges involved were duty-bound to report Pirro’s failures to a half-dozen or so state and federal governmental entities.”


A White Plains-based New York State employee familiar with the allegations, and who requested that his name not be used in this article, supplied information which has been confirmed by documents submitted to federal prosecutors. He says, “It was common knowledge that Jeanine was up to something with the bail bond people…certain clerks were told NOT to file certain papers…this went on for years, and it was business as usual–right up until the time she left the D.A.’s office in January of ’06.” He added that, “The investigators have their work cut out for them…court documents and entire files have a way of disappearing in Westchester County.”

“This Bail Scam appears to be a well-hatched combination of a multi-million dollar white-collar crime and the corruption of one or more public officials who were in a position to exploit the lack of accountability,” noted a CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) who reviewed court documents, and who asked not to be identified by name. “The fact is two separate courts determined that cash bail totaling $350,000.00 was forfeited and, accordingly, the money should have made its way to the county,” adding, “But if the county finance department doesn’t know it should be getting the money, that deficiency would never be revealed in any financial review or audit. If true, it is quite a clever scam. The New York State legislature needs to tighten the law by formulating a procedure so that there is accountability from the time bail money is forfeited until such time as the county financial officer takes possession or control of those funds.”

The former federal prosecutor advises that, “It will take some time to review all the material cases during the ten-year period, but the prosecutors will determine who was involved, and who ultimately profited in the scheme to prevent those monies from going to the county.” With a laugh he adds, “Follow the money.” © 2007


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