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How $2K in Yankees tickets show Harvey Weinstein’s new trial strategy

  • JEENAH MOON/THE NEW YORK TIMES / 2018
                                Harvey Weinstein arrives for his arraignment in New York. Defense lawyers for Weinstein will seek to raise police misconduct allegations, including that a sergeant on the case accepted Yankees tickets from a lawyer for one of Weinstein’s accusers.

    JEENAH MOON/THE NEW YORK TIMES / 2018

    Harvey Weinstein arrives for his arraignment in New York. Defense lawyers for Weinstein will seek to raise police misconduct allegations, including that a sergeant on the case accepted Yankees tickets from a lawyer for one of Weinstein’s accusers.

NEW YORK >> When Harvey Weinstein was arrested on rape charges in New York more than a year ago, a police sergeant and a veteran detective, both of whom had investigated him for months, brought him to court in handcuffs and stood grimly beside him as he faced a judge.

But neither of the officers in the spotlight then are likely to testify for the prosecution when Weinstein goes to trial in January. Instead they may be called to testify by the defense.

Weinstein’s lawyers have made it clear one of their strategies will be to put police officers who investigated Weinstein on trial, raising recent allegations of misconduct in the Special Victims Division to undermine the case against their client, a once-powerful filmmaker who is one of the most prominent figures to be brought down in the #MeToo movement.

Last month, Weinstein’s team signaled it would seek to subpoena a New York City police sergeant who led a 10-month investigation of Weinstein and, according to two people familiar with the matter, has been accused of accepting a gift from the lawyer for one of Weinstein’s accusers.

The sergeant, Keri Thompson, is among a group of high-ranking officers in the Special Victims Division under investigation by the Police Department after they were accused of serious misconduct.

Among other things, internal affairs investigators are focusing on dozens of missing rape kits, misuse of time on the job and a badly damaged police vehicle belonging to the sergeant’s squad.

This year, the department was also looking into an anonymous tip that Thompson had accepted two tickets to a New York Yankees game worth $2,000 from David Godosky, a lawyer who represented an Italian model, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who accused Weinstein of groping her breasts in 2015 during an interview in his Tribeca office, people familiar with the matter said.

Thompson did not respond to several attempts to reach her this week by phone, email and through the police sergeants’ union. A police spokeswoman, Devora Kaye, said, “This investigation has not shown any member of the SVD received any gifts from David Godosky.”

Though the allegations remain unproven, defense lawyers for Weinstein will likely try to compel Thompson and possibly other officers to answer questions about the alleged misconduct, which might sow doubt about the entire investigation in the eyes of jurors.

“Any involvement she had in the case is fair game,” said Donna Rotunno, one of Weinstein’s lawyers. “Anytime there is a question of police corruption it is something that needs to be looked into.”

The tipster told investigators that Godosky had offered tickets to the sergeant as a thank-you gift after he won a financial settlement in a civil case against Weinstein, people familiar with the matter said. The sergeant had driven Battilana Gutierrez to appointments during the investigation, which the Police Department allows.

Godosky said in an interview that he had no memory of giving the sergeant Yankees tickets and that he had not been contacted by police investigators. “It was years ago,” he said. “I don’t have a recollection of that.”

The lawyer said he and Battilana Guitierrez had become friendly with the sergeant during the 2015 investigation. He said he last spoke to Thompson more than a year ago and described her as “an exceptional detective.”

In the end, the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, declined to prosecute Weinstein in 2015, even though Battilana Gutierrez had worn a wire and had obtained a recording of the producer apologizing when she asked him why he had groped her breasts.

Thompson, 43, has also been accused of leaking the audio recording of Weinstein to a reporter at The New Yorker, who used the recording for an article in 2017, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Police said the matter was under review.

A spokesman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

Vance’s decision not to prosecute Weinstein after Battilana Gutierrez made her complaint in 2015 started a long-running feud between the district attorney’s office and the Special Victims Division.

Critics of Vance suggested that Weinstein, 67, had received special treatment and noted that his lawyer at the time, Elkan Abramowitz, was Vance’s former law partner and had made large contributions to Vance’s campaigns for district attorney.

Many more women in late 2017 and early 2018 accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault and rape, and Vance came under heavy political pressure to prosecute him. In the spring of last year, Vance asked a grand jury to indict the movie producer on charges of predatory sexual assault, rape and criminal sexual acts for conduct related to three women.

Thompson and the veteran detective on the case, Nicholas DiGaudio, arrested Weinstein in May 2018.

But in October, a charge related to one of the women, Lucia Evans, was dismissed after prosecutors learned that DiGaudio had kept important information from them.

Evans, a former actress who is now a marketing executive, had told police that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him in his Tribeca office in 2004. But a witness came forward to say that Evans had also said at the time that she had performed the sexual act in exchange for an acting role.

Prosecutors were not expected to call the sergeant and detective to testify at trial because they were not involved in investigating the claims by the two remaining women in the current indictment.

Still, Weinstein’s lawyers sought to subpoena Thompson and DiGaudio to testify for the defense when the trial was expected to begin this month, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Now the trial has been delayed until January, but Weinstein’s lawyers are expected to again try to compel the officers to testify. The decision ultimately will be up to the judge overseeing the case, Justice James Burke.

Rotunno said problems arose in the investigation because police and prosecutors were under political pressure to prosecute Weinstein.

But legal analysts said that Weinstein’s defense lawyers will have to demonstrate to Burke that the officers were connected to the investigation that led to the current charges against Weinstein and that the allegations of misconduct are relevant to the case. Otherwise the judge might not order them to testify.

“A judge would be reluctant to let defense counsel go too far afield,” said Berit Berger, a former federal prosecutor and executive director of Columbia Law School’s Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity. “They will have to show a link between the actions investigated and the particular charges.”

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