U.S. Attorney's Office Gets Called Out for Ethics Violations

By William Peacock, Esq. on August 27, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gregory Bartko, a lawyer-turned-convict just had his convictions upheld by the Fourth Circuit, and he may be the least interesting thing discussed in his appellate case. Despite Brady and Giglio violations by the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, the evidence against him was too convincing for even ethics to stand in the way of his 23-year prison sentence.

For the U.S. Attorney's Office, however, their repeated mistakes or misbehavior drew the attention of the Fourth Circuit. Whether the ethics violations draw additional scrutiny, and cost jobs or bar licenses, remains to be seen.

Bartko's Conspiracies - In Brief

Money laundering, fraud, securities violations, and more. Bartko worked with Scott Hollenbeck, a convicted conman who ripped off investors by promising them that their money would net high returns and would be insured.

According to an FBI Press Release, Hollenbeck made his contacts with investors through religious organizations, while Bartko set up money laundering corporations and at one point even represented to the court that he represented the investors that he was ripping off -- leading to an award of $2 million in attorney's fees.

He wasn't the only arguably unethical party in that courtroom, however. During his testimony, Hollenbeck lied about past promises made to him by the government. The US Attorney did not correct him. In addition, those promises, in the form of written agreements, as well as other written agreements with another co-conspirator witness, were not disclosed to Bartko in violation of Brady and Giglio.

Nonetheless, there was so much evidence against Bartko, and Hollenbeck had been so devastatingly cross-examined about his other instances of dishonesty, that there is no way that one more lie could've affected the verdict, nor could the other witness's paperwork.

Ethics Bench-Slapping

With three possible ethics violations in this case, it wouldn't be surprising to see the court discuss ethics. And it did.

It called out the entire U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina, citing a number of other "mistakes" that have occurred in recent Fourth Circuit cases, including:

These were the results of a "cursory" review, the findings of which made the court suspicious of intentional misconduct:

Mistakes happen. Flawless trials are desirable but rarely attainable. Nevertheless, the frequency of the "flubs" committed by this office raises questions regarding whether the errors are fairly characterized as unintentional.

The opinion goes on to discuss the dangers to the credibility of the court system when the government bets that its repeated discovery violations will either not be discovered, or as here, not result in a reversal.

It then orders the district court to "meet" with the USAO for the district to discuss remedying the problem, warns of future sanctions and disciplinary actions, and orders the clerk to serve a copy of the opinion to the Attorney General of the United States, as well as the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Department of Justice.

That won't comfort Bartco during his 23-year sentence, but it may do something to ensure honesty and ethics in future proceedings.

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