When U.S. Attorney in Boston Carmen Ortiz announced she was conducting a federal investigation of the Boston Public Schools and Boston Latin as requested in a letter written by the NAACP, ACLU and others Boston Public School teachers and staff should be aware that you may be in peril. As members of a group that is under investigation your situation has changed. There are federal laws governing what you can and cannot do during a federal investigation which do not apply in other aspects of life.
These are draconian laws. Some providing for penalties of up to twenty years in prison. The Boston U.S. attorney has shown a willingness to enforce these laws. She has no problem subjecting people to the potential loss of their professional license and being put in the position they have to prove their innocence by expending extraordinary amounts of time and money to defend themselves.
I suggest you treat every encounter with a federal agent with the following laws in mind. I suggest that federal investigators are not your friends. They are investigating you and your fellow employees. If you have any question as to what you should do I suggest you may want to consult an attorney who is familiar with federal investigators. If you are a member of a union and it has attorneys in its employ or uses them they may be able to provide you with some guidance. The best advise anyone can give you is to keep your mouth shut unless you protect yourself.
You may want to be represented by counsel at any and all meetings with federal officials. You want to make sure that any encounter is recorded or witnessed. The federal agents will sometimes not record their interaction with you. They will then reduce what you told them to writing at some subsequent time. It will be their memory of what you said that is put down and not necessarily what you said. It is very important to protect yourself against this. You do not want to be in a position if the federal agent fails to properly record your conversation to say the federal agent is lying. The best way to protect yourself and to ensure 100% accuracy is not to make any statements without it being recorded.
Here are the federal laws that you should be aware of:
18 U.S. Code § 1512 – Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant
(b)Whoever . . . corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, . . . with intent to— (3) hinder, delay, or prevent the communication to a law enforcement officer . . . of the United States of information relating to the commission or possible commission of a Federal offense . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
Whoever conspires to commit any offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.
The federal prosecutors set up a lawyer under this law. They instituted a civil rights case — similar to the one the Boston Public Schools. They had a cooperating witness. With an FBI agent sitting next to him he called the lawyer to tell him the FBI wanted to speak to him. The lawyer told him to ignore them. The attorney was indicted for attempting to obstruct the investigation.
18 U.S. Code § 1oo1 – (Lying to a Federal Agent)
[W]however, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive . . . branch of the Government of the Unites States, knowingly and willfully – (2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representation, . . . shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years. See here for a discussion of it.
Under the ruse of a civil rights investigation the FBI asked the target if he had shown a woman he was overseeing some sexually suggestive pictures on his iPhone. He denied doing it. He was indicted for lying to the agent and lost his job.
18 U.S. Code § 1505 – Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees
Whoever corruptly, or by . . . communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, . . . Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, . . .
Remember Martha Stewart who was investigated for insider trading. She wasn’t indicted for that but for obstruction of justice. She ended up in the can. The present FBI Director Comey said of her indictment: “”This criminal case is about lying — lying to the F.B.I., lying to the S.E.C., lying to investors.” One legal analyst said after her conviction: “The story she told investigators after she made the stock trade simply didn’t add up.” Stewart’s co-defendant who got seven years said: “Never break the law. Never lie to the U.S. government., And if you’ve broken the law, don’t talk to the U.S. government.”
18 U.S. Code § 242 – Deprivation of rights under color of law
Whoever, under color of any law, . . . willfully subjects any person . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States,. . . by reason of his color, or race, . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both;
This is all serious stuff. Do not take it lightly. As public employees it may be easy to come up with a case against you especially one involving someone’s civil right.
The U.S. Attorney in Boston plays rough. It is a shame you have been put in this position; it will not advance the teaching of the school kids; to be warned is to be forearmed.
Some would put it more bluntly: “Lawyer Up. You’re dealing with a stacked deck.”