LBKM-led legal team obtains dismissal of all charges for World Trade Center contractors indicted in bribery scheme
On Friday, July 23, 2021, Justice Maxwell Wiley of New York State Supreme Court for the County of New York dealt a significant blow to an attempt by the New York State Attorney General’s Office to radically expand the scope of public corruption law when the Court dismissed all counts of an indictment pending against James Luckie, Michael Garrison and Paul Angerame (People v. Luckie et al., NY County Indictment No. 1644/2019). The case began in May 2019 when the three men were indicted by the office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who, in a press release, accused the three men, who worked on or supervised electrical maintenance work at the World Trade Center site, of conspiring to defraud the Port Authority and of engaging in a bribery scheme leading to the hiring of seven allegedly unqualified workers. On Friday, the Court found that the conduct by the three men was not criminal and shot down the Attorney General’s unprecedented expansion of the scope of the New York public bribery laws.
The New York Attorney General’s indictment was predicated largely on the premise that Mr. Luckie, an employee of the private company Cushman & Wakefield, a large international property management corporation that had been contracted to manage portions of the World Trade Center site, was a “public servant” under New York law due to his employment as a mid-level manager overseeing electrical maintenance of the WTC site. The Attorney General argued that because Cushman & Wakefield was contracted by Port Authority to manage the site, Mr. Luckie had become a “public servant” as defined in the New York Penal Law, and that business entertainment expenditures provided to him by Mr. Angerame and Mr. Garrison constituted bribery of a public official. This theory, had it been accepted by the court, would have constituted a massive expansion of New York’s public servant bribery and gratuity laws that previously had applied to elected officials, government employees or individuals performing a traditional public function, like police protection or collecting revenues on behalf of the state. Had the Attorney General prevailed, any private employee working in a public building or pursuant to a contract with a government agency, such as individuals providing janitorial or building management services, would have been subject to public bribery and gratuity laws.
In preparing the defense, the legal team, led by LBKM partners Anthony Capozzolo and Adam Kaufmann, was able to use to their advantage New York State’s new discovery rules, which required prosecutors to share minutes from the grand jury hearing and other evidence. The discovery in this case revealed several problems in the prosecution’s presentation. For example, the legal team found instances of hearsay, which is not admissible under grand jury rules, as well as numerous other defects in the grand jury presentation.
In the end, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley flatly rejected the Attorney General’s position and held that Mr. Luckie was simply an employee of a private company performing a non-governmental or “proprietary” function, like a landlord would, on behalf of the Port Authority. The Court’s opinion is unusual in the degree to which it described how the activity prosecuted by the Attorney General was not criminal. In essence, the Court exonerated the three men, all of whom had lost their employment and had been publicly vilified in the Attorney General’s press release. The Court described the benefits provided to Mr. Luckie as appearing to be nothing more than typical business entertainment expenses commonly provided in private business. The Court also noted that the expenses had been submitted to and approved by Mr. Garrison’s and Mr. Angerame’s supervisors at Hatzel & Buehler, one of the oldest electrical contracting companies in America. The Court also rejected application of New York’s commercial bribery statute to the case, finding unequivocally that the Attorney General had not presented any evidence in the grand jury that there was any agreement between the three men to commit bribery. The Court even held there was insufficient proof that the workers were unqualified. This was a sweeping and categorical rejection of the New York Attorney General’s theory of prosecution.
Paul Angerame was represented by Adam Kaufmann and Anthony Capozzolo of Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss pllc, Michael Garrison was represented by David Smith and Brian King of Smith & King, and James Luckie was represented by Daniel McGillycuddy.