A top prosecutor in Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office accused of hiding evidence conceded a mistake was made — but insisted it was inadvertent.
Her voice at times shaking, Diana Florence rejected a defense attorney’s argument she deliberately sat on an audio tape that threatened to sink the credibility of a crucial prosecution witness in construction bribery cases.
“It was absolutely a mistake not to turn that over,” said Florence, the outgoing head of Vance’s Construction Fraud Task Force, said during a court appearance. “I didn’t know about it. When I discovered it, I immediately turned it over.”
She noted she’d worked for the DA’s office for 25 years, and that she always “speaks truth to power.”
“I’m not sure why I’ve become the subject of this case,” Florence said, adding she had “no intent or no intention to conceal evidence.”
“That has never been my practice to do that,” she said. “To suggest that the people have done anything unethical is just wrong.”
Witness’ Changing Story
As first reported by THE CITY, Florence stepped down as head of the task force Tuesday amid the evidence-withholding accusations, which have spurred bids to throw out cases.
The witness, Ifeanyi “Manny” Madu, a former city bureaucrat involved in hiring vendors for the Department of Environmental Protection, claimed he’d received bribes from several contractors in exchange for inside information on bids.
In the last two weeks, Florence turned over a 2015 taped interview with city investigators in which Madu swears under oath he never took bribes from any contractor. This evidence since has been provided to several defendants who have already pleaded guilty or been convicted.
Sources familiar with the matter say Florence resigned from the DA’s office, but is staying on for a few weeks to wrap up some cases. On Thursday, the DA’s office refused to discuss her employment status with THE CITY except to confirm she no longer leads the task force.
Convictions Gained ‘Fairly’
On Friday, Florence appeared before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus for a hearing on defendant Kyriacos Pierides’ motion to toss out his case. Charged in April 2018, Pierides wasn’t given the 2015 Madu tape until just before he was scheduled to go on trial Jan. 6.
Noting that she’s brought cases defended by some of the most prominent members of the criminal defense bar, she stated, “I’ve always secured convictions in those cases fairly.”
In court, Pierides’ attorney, Marc Agnifilo, noted Florence had initially turned over 14 emails she deemed relevant evidence shortly after Pierides’ arrest. But in the last week, she disclosed another 138,000 emails — including thousands to and from Pierides.
“Constitutional rights have been violated,” Agnifilo argued. “We believe that this has been intentional.”
The judge reserved decision on whether to dismiss Pierides’ case, but seemed disturbed by the way some of the evidence had been handled.
Eighteen months ago, another judge had ordered prosecutors to turn over all of Pierides’ emails. But Florence said she never got around to searching them “because I was awaiting guidance.”
Another Move to Dismiss
Meanwhile, another defendant has moved to get his conviction reversed.
Henry Chlupsa, a former executive of D&B Engineers, has insisted he never bribed Madu. But in October, Madu testified in Chlupsa’s non-jury trial that he’d received lavish meals and Broadway tickets from the executive in return for helping his firm win city contracts.
Just before Madu was to testify, Chlupsa’s attorney, Nelson Boxer, requested any additional statements by the prosecution witness. Florence told him none existed, the lawyer stated in court papers filed Friday.
Judge Thomas Farber found Chlupsa guilty of one count of bribery second degree. A few weeks later on Jan. 6, Boxer learned of the 2015 interview Madu did with probers from the city Department of Investigation.
In his court papers, Nelson asked the judge to vacate the conviction and dismiss the case “in light of the People’s systemic, egregious and perhaps knowing violations of the People’s discovery obligations.”
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