Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. is blaming the coronavirus pandemic to justify dropping charges in a major construction fraud case tainted by allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, THE CITY has learned.
In what appears to be the first instance of COVID-19 knocking out a high-profile criminal prosecution in New York City, Vance revealed in court papers filed Monday that he won’t put a key bribery case back before a grand jury.
That’s because the actions of sitting grand juries have been suspended and no new panels have been convened since mid March when the coronavirus forced the shutdown of much of the state’s court system.
The case dropped by Vance involved one of several defendants in a wide-ranging construction bribery prosecution that’s now the subject of an internal review. At issue are accusations that the lead prosecutor in the case, Diana Florence, withheld evidence undermining her star witness.
One of those defendants was Henry Chlupsa, a former executive of an engineering firm charged with bribing the witness, a city bureaucrat, for inside information to win multi-million-dollar contracts.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Thomas Farber convicted Chlupsa in November following a three-week non-jury trial. Weeks later, Chlupsa’s attorney, Nelson Boxer, learned that the DA’s office had failed to turn over thousands of internal emails and interviews with the informant in which he claimed he never took bribes from anyone.
In January, Nelson asked Farber to vacate the conviction and dismiss the indictment.
In a court filing Monday, Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Moore Jr. agreed the conviction should be vacated, conceding the DA’s office hadn’t handed over the disputed material as it should have.
Moore insisted, though, the criminal charges against Chlupsa were still viable. But because of the COVID-19 restrictions on grand juries, the DA decided not to bring a new case against the now 77-year-old Chlupsa, Moore said.
“In an effort to conserve resources, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and for the other reasons described below, the People will not be seeking to re-present new charges against the defendant to a new grand jury,” Moore wrote.
“In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, no new grand juries will be convened for the foreseeable future,” he noted.