Defense Lawyer Has a Case for FBI Frame-Up

     CHICAGO (CN) – The United States must face claims that FBI agents manufactured evidence and recruited criminals to frame a defense attorney in a bribery plot, the 7th Circuit ruled.
     In July 2006, the FBI began investigating Indianapolis criminal defense attorney Michael Alexander in connection to a bribery scheme involving his longtime investigator, Jeff Hinds. Hinds paid witnesses to withhold or change their testimony in several of Alexander’s cases.
     According to Alexander’s complaint, FBI Agents Neal Freeman and James Howell arranged for Stanley Chrisp and Adrian Kirtz, a “father-son criminal duo” under investigation for arson, to meet with Alexander and discuss the bribes.
     Alexander says he denied knowledge of the scheme in the meeting, which was allegedly recorded.
     After Mark McKinney was elected state prosecutor, the investigation became an opportunity for retribution since Alexander was a vocal critic of McKinney’s service on the City of Muncie/Delaware County Drug Task Force, according to the complaint.
     Alexander says Freeman and Howell manipulated audio recordings, falsely attributed incriminating statements to Alexander, and suppressed the 2006 audio recording made by Chrisp and Kirtz. The FBI agents then used the allegedly false evidence to arrest and charge Alexander with bribery.
     At trial, one alleged bribe recipient confirmed that he had never interacted with Alexander and said the entire scheme had been fabricated. A jury acquitted Alexander in March 2009 after just over an hour of deliberation.
     Alexander then sued the United States for malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
     U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker dismissed the case, however, after finding that Alexander had not sufficiently alleged malicious prosecution and that his emotional distress claims were time-barred.
     In a unanimous reversal last week, a three-judge panel for the 7th Circuit revived Alexander’s lawsuit.
     “In our view, the court asked too much of Alexander,” Judge Diane Wood wrote for the panel.
     “Whatever the floor may be, these allegations are comfortably above it: they are more than sufficient to assert a causal link between the agents’ actions and the subsequent prosecution,” she added.
     Speculating that the shocking nature of Alexander’s allegations may have contributed to Barker’s dismissal, Wood highlighted “the notion that federal agents would participate in a retaliatory prosecution by fabricating evidence and committing perjury is surely a shocking one, and the District Court may simply have found the allegations too difficult to credit, at least absent additional allegations to suggest some sort of motive.”
     “Unfortunately, in a world where public corruption is hardly unknown, we cannot agree that Alexander’s complaint is too implausible to hold together absent allegations of this sort,” she added. “We might wish to live in a world where such an egregious abuse of one’s official position would be unthinkable, but experience suggests that we do not.”
     In reinstating Alexander’s emotional distress claims, Wood noted that the alleged witness intimidation and perjury during Alexander’s trial could provide the basis for a timely claim.
     “Regardless of whether we view the agents’ conduct as a continuing wrong or as a series of discrete, independently actionable harms, some of which occurred within the limitation period, we conclude that Alexander’s IIED claim is timely,” Wood wrote.
     Hinds was found guilty of bribery in December 2008.

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