N.Y. court employee, lawyer charged with trading client referrals for cash

A businessman waits to cross a street in Tokyo
REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao
  • Court employee referred at least 45 criminal defendants to lawyer and got paid, prosecutors said
  • Men charged with bribery, making false statements to law enforcement

(Reuters) - A federal court employee referred criminal defendants in New York to a private defense lawyer for more than a decade in exchange for bribes, prosecutors said on Thursday.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan said Dionisio Figueroa used his position as a Southern District of New York court clerk to encourage criminal defendants, most of whom had free, court-appointed lawyers, to switch counsel and instead hire private lawyer Telesforo Del Valle Jr. in pending cases.

Figueroa, 66, was arrested and Del Valle, 65, surrendered earlier Thursday, prosecutors said. Lawyers for Telesforo and Figueroa declined to comment.

Figueroa referred at least 45 criminal defendants to Del Valle as possible clients from 2011 to 2022, and at least 20 ended up retaining him, prosecutors said in the indictment.

In return, Del Valle gave Figueroa referral payments in cash that totaled "at least tens of thousands of dollars," prosecutors said.

Figueroa's responsibilities as a clerk included criminal case intake and record-keeping, prosecutors said. He vouched for Del Valle when talking with defendants or their families as they appeared in court, in some cases giving them the lawyer's business card, and other times calling Del Valle's office himself to make the connection, prosecutors said.

Court rules prohibit clerks from taking outside work that would pose a conflict of interest, while Del Valle was subject to ethical rules governing lawyer conduct, prosecutors said.

The men were each charged with conspiracy to bribe a federal employee and pay illegal compensation to a judicial employee, bribery of a federal employee and illegal compensation to a judicial employee.

They were also charged with lying to federal law enforcement agents during the investigation. Figueroa denied making referrals except for on four occasions for friends or close relations and denied getting paid, prosecutors said. Del Valle denied having records on referrals or payments, they said.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Sara Merken reports on privacy and data security, as well as the business of law, including legal innovation and key players in the legal services industry. Reach her at sara.merken@thomsonreuters.com