The Legal Aid Society's Request To Be Relieved From The Pimentel Case Due To A Conflict Is Granted

After being informed of a conflict, The Legal Aid Society requested and received permission from the Court yesterday to be relieved from representing Jose Pimentel, who has been charged with terrorism, conspiracy and weapons possession.

Joseph Zablocki, a staff attorney in the Society's Manhattan Criminal Defense Office, had been assigned by the Court to represent Mr. Pimentel at his arraignment on Sunday night. On Monday, in response to The Legal Aid Society's request for information, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office advised Legal Aid that the Society is currently representing the person who has been described as a confidential informant in the Pimentel case. The other pending matter is unrelated to the Pimental case.

“Having been advised by the District Attorney’s office that we do represent the individual in another matter, we had no choice but to seek to be relieved,” Steven Banks told The New York Times. “We have not been told which of our clients is the person who law enforcement has identified as a confidential informant.”

Representing both Mr. Pimentel and the informant posed a conflict of interest, Banks said. Manhattan Criminal Court Supervising Judge Melissa Jackson granted the request.

The New York Times
November 22, 2011
In Terror Case, Legal Aid Society Exits Because Informer Was Client
By Joseph Goldstein

The Muslim convert accused of building pipe bombs for use in a terrorist plot was given a new court-appointed lawyer on Tuesday after it was determined that the Legal Aid Society, which initially represented him, has also served as counsel in a separate case for a confidential informer involved in the terrorism inquiry.

The informer was present with the defendant, Jose Pimentel, as he shopped for bomb-making ingredients and as he tried to assemble them into explosive devices, according to a criminal complaint.

On Monday, a day after Mr. Pimentel was arraigned, the Legal Aid Society asked the Manhattan district attorney’s office if Legal Aid might also have represented the informer.

The chief lawyer at the Legal Aid Society in the city, Steven Banks, said in a statement that the Manhattan district attorney’s office later informed his lawyers of the potential conflict.

“Having been advised by the district attorney’s office that we do represent the individual in another matter, we had no choice but to seek to be relieved,” Mr. Banks said. “We have not been told which of our clients is the person who law enforcement has identified as a confidential informant.”

The nature of the informer’s case was not revealed, and little has emerged about him. But his role in the terrorism inquiry made Federal Bureau of Investigation officials wary enough that they declined to join the New York Police Department’s case against Mr. Pimentel, who lived in Hamilton Heights in Manhattan. F.B.I. agents were concerned that the informer might have played too active a role in helping Mr. Pimentel, according to interviews with people briefed on the case.

In an interview on Tuesday, the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, declined to respond to a question about the F.B.I.’s concerns.

F.B.I. counterterrorism agents had been told of the investigation of Mr. Pimentel by the Police Department’s Intelligence Division on at least two occasions, said two people briefed on the matter. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the tense relations between the Intelligence Division and the F.B.I. and because the investigation was continuing. In each instance, the federal agents declined to join the inquiry, although they were invited, the people said.

But Mr. Kelly did say that the Intelligence Division, which has worked with the F.B.I. on cases in the past, was in communication with the F.B.I. about investigations. “We keep the F.B.I. informed,” he said, adding that he preferred cooperation over competition between his counterterrorism investigators and those of the F.B.I. “It’s always best to work together.”

Joseph Zablocki, the Legal Aid lawyer who initially represented Mr. Pimentel, was replaced on Tuesday by Lori Cohen, of the law firm Cohen & Funk. Ms. Cohen said she expected to meet with her client shortly.

“I believe incredibly strongly in every accused’s constitutional right to a zealous defense,” said Ms. Cohen, whose past cases include numerous homicides as well as the defense of an Egyptian banker charged with groping a housekeeper at the Pierre hotel this summer. That case received unusual attention in the New York news media, primarily because the banker was charged in the days after the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French politician, at another Manhattan hotel.

Christine Haughney and William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.

Wall Street Journal
Conflict in Bomb Case
November 22, 2011
By Sean Gardiner And Pervaiz Shallwani

The confidential informant who helped New York City police arrest a Harlem man accused of a pipe-bomb plot has an ongoing criminal case that on Tuesday temporarily halted the terrorism prosecution.

The Legal Aid Society, which is representing Jose Pimentel on terrorism, conspiracy and weapons charges, asked on Tuesday to be removed from the case because it also was representing the police informant, said Steve Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society.

Representing both Mr. Pimentel and the informant posed a conflict of interest, Mr. Banks said. Melissa Jackson, the supervising judge of Manhattan Criminal Court, granted the request, Mr. Banks said.

Until Mr. Pimentel gets a new attorney, prosecutors are essentially unable to take the case to a grand jury to try to secure an indictment.

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office said no court hearing has been set yet to appoint a new attorney for Mr. Pimentel. Reached by phone, Mr. Pimentel's sister, Lucia Pimentel, said the family was "in the process" of obtaining a new attorney Tuesday night. She declined to comment on her brother's case. A law-enforcement official said Mr. Pimentel was expected to have a new attorney by Wednesday.

Mr. Pimentel, 27 years old, of Harlem was arrested on Saturday after authorities said he had begun manufacturing pipe bombs. Authorities accused Mr. Pimentel of planning to blow up police cars and post offices, and of targeting members of the military.

Authorities said Mr. Pimentel, a Muslim convert, followed the teachings of the now-dead al Qaeda propagandist, Anwar al-Awlaki, and wrote a defense of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on a website. Mr. Pimentel has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.

The Legal Aid Society, which handles more than 230,000 cases a year involving indigent individuals, was assigned to Mr. Pimentel. His initial attorney, Joseph Zablocki, said the government was overreaching with its terrorism conspiracy theory.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to pursue the case, in part because it considered the informant a potentially shaky trial witness, law-enforcement officials have told The Wall Street Journal.

Steve Miller, a former federal prosecutor, said using an informant accused of a crime is a common practice and doesn't necessarily raise red flags about the probe.

"Such people inevitably have dirty hands, but that is rarely a barrier to conviction," said Mr. Miller, a white-collar defense lawyer at the firm Reed Smith in Chicago. "Criminals will be comfortable talking to other criminals. They won't be talking about their scams, scores or terror plots with priests, rabbis or college professors."

New details about Mr. Pimentel's life in Schenectady emerged on Tuesday. Born in the Dominican Republic, Mr. Pimentel moved to New York City with his mother, who said she arrived in 1987. John Della Ratta, a Schenectady attorney who defended Mr. Pimentel in a 2005 arrest, said Mr. Pimentel was attending Manhattan Community College in 2004 but moved to Schenectady where other members of his family lived, Mr. Della Ratta said.

He also attended Schenectady Community College at the time of his arrest in November 2005 on charges of using stolen credit-card information to buy a computer, the attorney said.

In March 2006, Mr. Pimentel married Heidy Santos Pimentel, 31. The two have a son together but have since separated. According to court documents, Mr. Pimentel owes $9,100 in child-support payments.

According to Mr. Della Ratta's notes, Mr. Pimentel told his defense attorney that his family was "Catholic." Nothing about Mr. Pimentel back then suggested that he was "an al Qaeda sympathizer."

"He wasn't low intelligence, but he wasn't an articulate guy either," Mr. Della Ratta said. "I just view him as a guy who was short of words. If anything, he seemed to be calm. He did not stick out as somebody who seemed to be troubled."

Legal Aid Society no longer represents accused NY plotter
(Reporting by Joseph Ax)

NEW YORK, Nov 22 (Reuters) - The Legal Aid Society has withdrawn as defense counsel for Jose Pimentel, the suspected New York militant, citing a legal conflict with the confidential informant who authorities say supplied evidence that Pimentel was building a pipe bomb.

Patricia Bath, a spokeswoman for Legal Aid, said the organization asked the Manhattan district attorney's office to check on whether it represented the informant, who has not been named, in any other matters. Late on Monday, prosecutors told Legal Aid the organization did in fact represent the informant in a pending unrelated case, posing a conflict of interest.

On Tuesday, Supervising Judge Melissa Jackson of Manhattan Criminal Court agreed to discharge Legal Aid's court-appointed lawyer, Joseph Zablocki. A new lawyer was not immediately assigned.

Pimentel, 27, is accused of trying to assemble a homemade bomb using instructions from an online magazine published by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to authorities. Police say he is a devotee of late American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

Pimentel made his first court appearance Sunday night in Manhattan on state terrorism charges. Among the targets Pimentel considered were New York police cars, a New Jersey police station and a post office, police said.

The U.S. citizen, who was born in the Dominican Republic, was arrested Saturday at his home in Manhattan after more than two years of police surveillance, authorities said. The police informant recorded meetings with Pimentel over several months this summer and fall.

The case marks the second prosecution brought this year by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance under New York state's anti-terrorism laws, which were passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

In May, prosecutors charged an Algerian and a Moroccan-born U.S. citizen with conspiring to bomb synagogues and churches in Manhattan. That case is still pending, with attorneys for the two men claiming they were entrapped by police and a confidential informant.