DA Vance Announces Trial Conviction of Lawyer and Paralegal for Bribing Public Servant


May 31, 2016

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced the trial conviction of JOSE NUÑEZ, 49, a former paralegal and BENJAMIN YU, 37, a former defense attorney, for bribing a public servant to steer potential clients to them. The defendants were convicted by a New York State Supreme Court jury of the top charge of the indictment against them, Bribery in the Second Degree, as well as Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree and multiple counts of Rewarding Official Misconduct in the Second Degree. They are expected to be sentenced on July 13, 2016.

DWANE SMITH, 58, also a former defense attorney, previously pleaded guilty to one count of Bribery in the Third Degree in a second New York State Supreme Court indictment, and was sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation. 

“These defendants bribed a public servant with inside information to steer clients their way, expediting more than 100 arrestees’ cases for their own profit in the process,” said District Attorney Vance. “By subverting the arrest-to-arraignment process to receive tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, they compromised the integrity of our criminal justice system. My Office’s Public Corruption Unit will continue to root out bad actors who undermine the principle of equal administration of justice that is essential to fairness in our courts.” 

As proven at trial, and according to SMITH’s guilty plea, NUÑEZ, SMITH, and YU bribed an employee of the New York City Criminal Justice Agency (“CJA”) to persuade arrestees to retain their services. 

Typically, after an individual is arrested, he or she is taken to the local precinct, and from there, to Central Booking. A defendant may, by law, wait up to 24 hours in holding before an arraignment, though a backlog in the arraignment parts can cause a delay. CJA is tasked with assisting courts and the City of New York with reducing unnecessary holding time by pre-screening defendants. This includes interviewing arrestees awaiting arraignment to determine their ties to the community, and making recommendations to the Court based on the likelihood that they will return if released on bail. 

Instead, under the direction of the defendants, the CJA employee exploited his access and used those interviews to determine which arrestees were likely to be able to afford to retain a private attorney who could expedite their arraignments. 

According to SMITH’s guilty plea and statements made on the record in court, from August 2013 through September 2014, the CJA employee sent SMITH text messages containing arrestees’ information following interviews, and then used his position within the court system to persuade the arrestees to hire SMITH, promising a shorter holding period. SMITH paid the CJA employee directly in sums ranging from $200 to $1,000 to develop the profiles, recommend arrestees, and steer them to SMITH.

Similarly, as proven at trial, from September 2013 through September 2014, the CJA employee also sent text messages containing arrestees’ information to YU and NUÑEZ, YU’s paralegal, and persuaded the arrestees to hire YU by promising a shorter holding period. NUÑEZ paid the CJA employee between $200 and $1,000 each week on YU’s behalf to develop profiles, recommend arrestees, and steer them to him. 

Assistant District Attorneys Samuel Levy and Charles Linehan, Deputy Chief of the Public Corruption Unit, tried the case under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Luke Rettler, Chief of the Public Corruption Unit, and Executive Assistant District Attorney David Szuchman, Chief of the Investigation Division. Assistant Chief Rackets Investigator Michael Wigdor, Supervising Rackets Investigator Alexander Farrugia, and Senior Rackets Investigators Patrick O’Brien and Edward Johnson assisted with the investigation under the supervision of Chief Investigator Walter Alexander. Investigative Analysts Samuel Burns and Benjamin Cabranes also assisted with the case. 

District Attorney Vance thanked Inspector General Sherrill Spatz of the Office of Court Administration’s Office of the Inspector General, as well as the New York City Criminal Justice Agency for their cooperation. 

Defendant Information:

JOSE NUÑEZ, D.O.B. 10/5/1966
Yonkers, NY

Convicted:

  • Bribery in the Second Degree, a class C felony, 2 counts
  • Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony, 1 count
  • Rewarding Official Misconduct in the Second Degree, a class E felony, 13 counts

BENJAMIN YU, D.O.B. 7/2/1978
New York, NY

Convicted:

  • Bribery in the Second Degree, a class C felony, 2 counts
  • Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony, 1 count
  • Rewarding Official Misconduct in the Second Degree, a class E felony, 13 counts

DWANE SMITH, D.O.B. 10/2/1957
Nyack, NY

Convicted:

  • Bribery in the Third Degree, a class D felony, 1 count

Sentenced: 

  • 6 months in jail
  • 5 years of probation