Additional reporting by Greg B. Smith
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A former top deputy in Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr.’s office accused of withholding evidence contends she faced a “hostile work environment,” “bullying” and interference with pending legal cases.
“Because of the events over the past year, I am no longer convinced that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is a place that values obtaining justice for all New Yorkers above all else,” Assistant District Attorney Diana Florence wrote in her Jan. 21 resignation letter, which was obtained by THE CITY.
Vance’s office turned over to THE CITY a heavily redacted version of the letter — stricken of all criticism.
Shortly after Florence — the former head of Vance’s high-profile Construction Fraud Task Force — tendered her resignation, accusations publically emerged that she withheld evidence about a key cooperating witness in a series of bribery cases. Vance’s office is now reviewing those cases.
She defended herself in the letter, declaring, “I never feared turning over evidence.”
Florence, who started working at the DA’s office in 1995 under Robert Morgenthau, ended her run there Tuesday.
She told THE CITY in a statement: “I was fortunate to have a job that allowed me to work side by side with people seeking justice, making a difference and using the criminal law to positively impact the daily lives of New Yorkers. Being a prosecutor, for me, was the dream job of a lifetime.”
Emily Tuttle, a spokesperson for Vance’s office, said Florence’s letter “makes a variety of assertions that we strongly dispute.”
“Because the office cannot comment on open investigations or personnel matters, we will have to decline to comment further,” Tuttle added.
A ‘Do-Nothing-Else’ Order
In her letter to Vance, Florence charged she was ordered to stop investigating potential fraud committed by landlords in rent-stabilized buildings — a case she said “had the potential to be industry changing.”
Instead, Florence, then dealing with a badly fractured wrist, said she was told to assist a co-worker on the construction bribery cases.
“This ‘do-nothing-else’ order stunned me,” she wrote. “I questioned why the Office wanted me to delay work on this important investigation for a case someone else was now handling….
“This past week has been an example of the hostile work environment I have faced over the last year: raised voices, bullying conduct, exclusions from meetings, and no assistance at all with the work that needed to be done. I have put up with this atmosphere because I am passionate about the work,” Florence added.
She also wrote her task force was “stripped” of resources after multiple legal victories during her five years in the role Vance assigned her.
“It wasn’t due to a shortage of cases; our referral network hummed and we had a queue of nearly 80 investigations in line. It also wasn’t due to a lack of success. In 2019 alone, we recovered $4.3 million in stolen wages and restitution to taxpayers,” she wrote.
Florence was the lead prosecutor who won manslaughter convictions against contractors in the 2015 death of a 22-year-old Carlos Moncayo, an undocumented worker who was buried alive on a site in Manhattan. The case became a flashpoint for worker safety in the construction industry.
State legislators, in consultation with Florence, drafted a bill to raise the maximum penalty for contractors found criminally liable of workers’ deaths — Carlos’s Law.
The letter obtained by THE CITY stands in stark contrast to the resignation released by Vance’s office through a Freedom of Information Law request.
The DA’s office justified the censorship of “opinions or references by ADA Florence to Mr. Vance regarding her opinion on matters conducted within the office” by calling them intra-agency discussions allowed by law to remain private to ensure such discussions are candid.
Tap the annotations below to see the redacted text.
The office also claimed some of the hidden material was withheld to protect “investigative methods used which could give rise to a substantial likelihood that other violators could evade detection by deliberately tailoring their conduct in anticipation of avenues of inquiry to be pursued.”
Vance blacked out matters both big and small. Hidden are multiple paragraphs detailing Florence’s complaints about her treatment within the office.
The DA’s office even blacked out the word “historic” — an adjective Florence used to describe one of her cases.
Bribery Cases Fallout
The prosecutorial misconduct allegations centered on her sole cooperating witness in a major construction bribery case.
The witness, a mid-level city bureaucrat with the Department of Environmental Protection, testified that he’d received bribes of meals, Broadway tickets and more from engineering firms seeking insider information to win lucrative city contracts.
Long after several of the engineers had pleaded guilty to or been convicted of various bribery charges, the DA’s office on Jan. 6 turned over to defendants a tape in which the witness told city Department of Investigation probers under oath he’d never received any bribes.
After the prosecutorial misconduct allegations became public, Florence told a judge she had only “very, very recently” learned of the sworn statement. The DA’s office later revealed the tape had been put in its computer system in 2017.
Prosecutors also turned over 135,000 emails from the witness they said they’d only recently discovered.
So far, charges have been dismissed against one defendant, while two others were released from Rikers Island and a jury picked for an upcoming trial was disbanded.
As THE CITY previously reported, $7 million in forfeiture payments made by firms caught up in the bribery cases could be returned.
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