Yesterday, the New York Times broke the news that former Brooklyn district attorney, Charles “Joe” Hynes, has been formally accused of misusing hundreds of thousands in funds from the state to pay for a political consultant during and before his unsuccessful 2013 reelection bid. Details are flooding in on what may prove to be the borough’s biggest political scandal this year, and there’s much to be sorted through. We’ve put together a more digestible breakdown of the investigation, which we will update as more information becomes available.
What is Charles Hynes’ background?
First, the 79-year-old Hynes is a native Brooklynite. Born and raised in Flatbush, he attended schools in Manhattan and Queens, receiving in J.D. in 1961 from St. John’s University. Two years later, he was hired to work for the Legal Aid Society, which provides free legal help to those who can’t afford lawyers, and in 1973, he became First Assistant District Attorney. Hynes is credited with launching the nation’s first Medicaid Fraud Control Unit during his time as First Assistant. His most famous case by far, though, is the investigation into and prosecution of the racially-motivated death of Michael Griffiths in 1987. Three years later, Hynes was elected to the office of Brooklyn D.A., which he held until December 2013.
What sparked the investigation and who issued the report?
Apparently, two as-yet-unnamed government entities filed complaints against Hynes with the Department of Investigation. The DOI is charged with investigations into crimes of fraud, corruption, and abuse by government employees and dug through 6,000 of Hynes’ emails to build their case.
What are the accusations being made against Hynes?
Hynes has been accused of misusing asset-forfeiture funds–money obtained by the State in drug and crime investigations–to pay a political consultant during his 2013 reelection bid. By law, asset-forfeiture funds can only be used for law enforcement purposes. According to the report, Hynes misused and spent $219,924 from the account. If formal charges are brought, he will stand accused of larceny, which is classified as a felony and carries up to 25 years of jail time.
Who else has been implicated in the investigation?
Mortimer Matz, political consultant: The nearly 90-year-old Matz is famous in political and legal circles for his role as an “inventive yet veracious mastermind of promotion and protector of reputations” and the inventor of placing a raincoat over the handcuffs of high profile offenders. Since 2003, he’s served as a political consultant for Hynes but according to the report: “It appears Matz provided few if any actual public relations and communications services to [Hynes]. DOI’s review suggests that Matz was serving primarily if not exclusively as a political consultant to Hynes personally.” The report estimates that Matz was paid about $1.1 million in all from the D.A.’s office through 2013.
Justice Barry Kamins, an administrative judge for the city’s criminal courts: The widely respected Justice Kamins is accused of undermining the judicial code of ethics by “offering legal advice and discussing matters that the district attorney’s office was actively prosecuting” with Hynes during his campaign. Justice Kamins has been relieved of his duties and may soon face an investigation led by the Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Staff members in the Brooklyn D.A.’s office: According to the report, many of Hynes’ senior staff members assisted him with the campaign during regular business hours, picking campaign stops and arranging meetings with constituents.
Besides misusing funds, what other scandals have surrounded Hynes?
In the past decade or so, Hynes has been implicated in two major scandals: First, the mishandling of sex abuse cases in the Hasidic community, and second, an emerging trend of wrong convictions prosecuted during his tenure. With the former, Hynes was accused of moving slowly when it came to convicting child molesters in the ultra-Orthodox community, and when he later formed the Kol Tzedek program (Hebrew for “Voice of Justice”) to address the problem, Hynes was charged with taking credit for dozens of arrests in sex abuse cases that he and the program had little to do with. As for the convictions, Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson recently opened an investigation into 90 murder cases involving defendants who may have been wrongly jailed. Many of the cases in question date back to the Hynes era. For more details, The Columbia Journalism Review recently ran a comprehensive report on the growing number of Hynes-related wrongful convictions early last month.
And finally, it should be noted that Hynes has not been formally charged yet, but the Department of Investigations did forward their report to the State Attorney’s office and several other agencies so a indictment could come down any day now. Check back here for updates in the case as it develops.
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