Government Tactics Questioned In Case Against Boston Attorney
Update at 12:30 p.m.: Robert George has been sentenced to 42 months in prison, WBUR’s David Boeri reports from the courthouse. Update at 5:30 p.m.: More on sentencing.
BOSTON — One of the highest-profile defense attorneys in Boston will find out Wednesday how long he is going to prison.
Robert George, a zealous advocate for accused murderers and mafia figures, was convicted in June of helping an undercover informant launder $200,000 in drug money in return for a $20,000 fee.
But his prosecution and conviction has brought keen attention to government tactics and the decision to go after George in the first place.
When the jury came back in less than four hours, George thought he’d been acquitted. He was shocked to his shoes. Just like shock and dismay had hit his fellow defense attorneys when George was arrested in March 2011.
“I have always believed that this was just an effort to silence a very loud mouth,” said prominent longtime defense attorney Elliot Weinstein, who says George’s crime was created by the government and prosecuted as a vendetta.
“He had offended the government with his bluster and boisterousness and challenged their wrongful efforts at prosecution over the years,” Weinstein said.
Swagger and headlines were George’s companions. Defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro says he took difficult — if not impossible — cases, often at financial sacrifice.
“In order to do a zealous job as an advocate, one has to be a true adversary and that often puts one at loggerheads with the prosecution,” Shapiro said.
Some defense attorneys say in confidence that George was too brash, which drew hostile attention from prosecutors.
In requesting funds to go after George on the suspicion of money laundering, DEA agents in Boston told headquarters:
George is a prominent and well known defense attorney in Massachusetts with ties to organized crime.
The document sent from the DEA’s New England division to DEA headquarters in Washington and obtained by WBUR further states that:
Given the target’s position … the U.S. Attorney’s Office … has been very keen on developing this investigation.
The result was a sting and 37 recorded conversations between a government informant and George about money laundering.
An Incentive To Lie
The informant was a former client of George with a grudge. His name is Ronald Dardinski, a career criminal with a 20-page record, a swindler and a self-proclaimed leg breaker for the mob. He’s had two wives, six children he hasn’t supported and 11 restraining orders, one after he almost strangled his girlfriend.
In total, the government has paid Dardinski $75,000 for his “services” as an informant.
“Mr. Dardinski is a pretty classic example of the way the United States creates and uses and rewards criminal informants,” said Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and the author of “Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice.”
She reviewed invoices obtained by WBUR documenting the $28,000 the DEA paid Dardinski to be a witness against George, a practice which Natapoff says is an incentive to lie.
“In a sense, we’re running a black market of criminal justice by paying off criminals against one another and buying information in the informal and secretive way that we do,” Natapoff said.
A few days after George was arrested, for instance, a DEA invoice shows Dardinski was paid $6,700.
“And if that isn’t proof positive of paying a lowlife to satisfy the government’s investigative zeal, nothing could be,” said defense attorney Weinstein.
The DEA paid Dardinski in cash. At trial he testified he hadn’t paid income taxes in 15 years and was six years behind in child support. It’s the kind of government benefit Dardinski came to expect.
And even after WFXT-TV put the spotlight on Dardinski in February 2012, calling him a “career criminal with a longtime side job as a government informant,” the local DEA gave him $2,000 the next day.
“Mr. Dardinski could well expect there would be more, even greater rewards upon the conviction of Mr. George,” Natapoff said.
Indeed, the government even gave Dardinski 10 percent of the assets forfeited by Robert George’s co-defendant when he plead guilty.
“Dardinski is exhibit A for the phrase ‘a professional rat,’ ” Weinstein said.
But a number of defense attorneys say they are troubled that George was still associating with Dardinski — it made him vulnerable.
Robert Sheketoff, a well-respected veteran defense attorney, says because the government uses such disreputable witnesses “that’s why they wire these people up, because they know that these people are not credible unless they have an audio tape of what occurred.”
And the tapes Dardinski recorded talking to George about money laundering were highly embarrassing and damaging to George. He showed bad judgement, some fellow attorneys say; they didn’t want to go on the record.
If the government was fishing for George, even though he had declined a number of times, he had taken the bait, some say.
The jurors who quickly convicted him said they found the tapes convincing. The prosecutor who first targeted George in 2004 said the proof was the words from George’s own mouth.
He’ll be sentenced Wednesday in what defense attorneys are calling a sad day.