NEW YORK (TIP): U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on Wednesday, October 7 defended his efforts to publicize his office’s public-corruption cases, saying it is his “obligation” to discourage public officials from committing similar crimes.
Bharara, the top federal prosecutor for New York’s Southern District, spoke Wednesday, October 7 at the New York University School of Law, taking questions from a moderator and law students who made up the audience.
When asked about the high-profile corruption cases he’s brought against officials like now-former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the talk quickly shifted to criticism of Bharara’s office’s public handling of the cases, which had led the judge in Silver’s case to chide the prosecutor.
Bharara said the criticism often arises out of cases involving “very, very, very sophisticated and high-priced lawyers” who can “afford to make accusations like that.” He said it would be “ludicrous” to criticize a prosecutor for talking too much about the need for after-school programs and a strong education system to combat street crime, and the same standard should apply for public corruption.
“So to answer questions about why it’s happening – why is there corruption in Albany or the city council or anywhere else, and what ordinary people can do to make it better and to raise public awareness of this problem – I think is completely appropriate,” Bharara said. “And I would be in some ways remiss if I didn’t talk about these things.”
Public-corruption cases brought by Bharara’s offices have regularly captured headlines across the state, leading Silver’s attorneys to complain that the publicity efforts were hampering the lawmakers’ chances at a fair trial. A judge ultimately dismissed Silver’s arguments, but warned Bharara against going too far.
The hour-long talk at NYU touched on a variety of issues, including Bharara’s thoughts on mass incarceration and issues in the state’s prison system.
When it came to Bharara’s jurisdiction and its broad reach, the prosecutor said his office has long thought globally.
“Somebody once made the mistake of asking me, ‘What again is your jurisdiction exactly?'” Bharara said. “And I said, ‘Are you familiar with Earth?'”
He continued: “Long before I got there, we have a long tradition in the Southern District of thinking of the global reach that we have, because we do have a good amount of resources -not unlimited resources, but a good amount.”