You know if you are a regular reader I have trouble with some of the things done with the approval of the U.S. attorney in Boston, Carmen Ortiz. I had never heard of her before she was appointed to that post. The Patriot Ledger did an interview of her after she was sworn in. Like Whitey Bulger she grew up in a housing project. She said she always wanted to become a prosecutor because it “was a way of ensuring that the law was abided by, not just by citizens you would investigate and prosecute, but (also) by law enforcement that you would work with as well.”
She was appointed the U.S. attorney in February, 2010. Her prosecuting experience prior to that was as an assistant DA in Middlesex for four years, 1991-1994, and an assistant U.S. attorney for 12 years, 1997-2009.
She is not in the news because of anything that bothers me. It is because Aaron Swartz who was arrested in January 2011 committed suicide while waiting trial on charges filed against him by her office. He was facing up to 35 years in prison for entering onto MIT’s premises and taking from MIT’s computer academic files maintained by JSTOR that MIT offered for sale to the public. Aaron believed these documents were paid for by the taxpayer and should be free.
Aaron was by all accounts brilliant and had the benefits and deficiencies associated with that gift. He had been and would continue to have been a treasured asset of the United States for his knowledge and skills. Those who knew him best described him as having , “insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; . . . his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable’ made the world and their lives ‘far brighter.’ “
He committed a crime through his sense that things weren’t right. His intent was not malicious and he had no desire of personal gain of any kind involved in his act. Carmen Ortiz’s office using its powers to indict piled up on him charges that made him face 35 years. Imagine being a naive to the ways of the world albeit a brilliant young man engaged in what he believed nothing more or less than a prank to make a point and facing that time. Imagine him being thrown into the world of lawyers, even his own, with their bluster, puffing and bullying thinking he might go to prison where the worst people in our society are sent and he would be deprived of what he most valued, his freedom to create.
But here’s the rub, Aaron was not really facing the 35 years the prosecutors piled on him. That was done to force him to enter a plea of guilty or was available to punish him if he asserted, as he did, that he did not commit the crime. If he threw in the towel, it seemed according to his lawyer, he was going to have to do 6 months in prison and pay a one million dollar fine. This he was facing even though the victim, JSTOR, had asked that the charges be dropped in July, 2011.
They weren’t. The prosecutors either being pressured by MIT or by pressuring MIT ensured the case continued on. Why were the prosecutors going to all this trouble of harassing this highly skilled and extraordinary young man even after the victim asked them to drop the charges if all that was at stake was six months in jail? It seems no one in the prosecutor’s office stopped to ask what would be gained by sending this young man to jail.
One of my complaints with Carmen Ortiz is her handling of the Catherine Greig case. She was the girlfriend who went off with Whitey Bulger shortly after he was indicted for racketeering in 1995 and lived with him during his 16 years on the lam. In 1999 Whitey would be indicted for 19 murders. Even though the federal probation office calculated that she should be sentence to 27 to 33 months in prison under sentencing guidelines Ortiz asked the judge to sentence her to ten years, almost four times the normal amount. She received 8 years for this even though she had no criminal record. She was sentenced as if she was an accessory after the fact to his criminal acts which was not charged because it could not be proven.
It didn’t make a difference to Ortiz whoh said she was pleased “with today’s sentence, one of the longest sentences ever imposed for a harboring charge.” At her press conference afterwards she suggested Greig deserved the sentence because she was protecting a man charged with murder. Yet there was no showing that Greig knew of those charges, had anything to do with them, or if she knew that she believed them.
But that’s not all about Ortiz’s prosecutorial discretion that is bothersome to me. And all of this is aside from her curious adamantine attitude on the recusal issue relative to Judge Stearns. The RICO charges in the probation case are much too much overkill where the probation commissioner is facing more than 20 years in prison for patronage-type hirings. She is now going after legislators. Ortiz is criminalizing what is as much a part of America as the Fourth of July, patronage, the assisting by politicians of people who worked for them and helped them get elected.
Then there’s the Caswell Motel case where she’s trying to grab a million and a half dollar property from a guy who has worked hard to earn a living and save for his retirement. This is so the cops can buy new police equipment. Her basis is that once a year over a twelve-year period some drug activity took place in this motel.
The death of Aaron Swartz has cast a light on the doings of the U.S. attorney in Boston. The cases that I’ve discussed, the ordinary people like Russ Caswell, Probation Commissioner O’Brien and his two co-defendants, and Catherine Greig, do not command the attention of Aaron’s case. Aaron’s death at such a young age is a huge loss to America as would be the loss of any person with his brilliance. I only hope it causes Carmen Ortiz to recognize she has immense power and the injudicious use of them is as much a crime as those committed by the criminals who she seeks to protect us from.