A week after the Manhattan DA's office dropped one of the sexual assault charges against former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, another problem with the prosecution has come to light. In a letter sent to Weinstein's attorney and released to the media today, Special Counsel to the DA Joan Illuzzi-Orbon has revealed that the former lead NYPD detective in the case, Nicholas DiGaudio, allegedly told one of Weinstein's accusers that she could delete messages from her cellphones before handing them over to prosecutors.
Last week, an attorney for the woman, who says Weinstein raped her in his Manhattan hotel room in 2013, contacted DA Cy Vance's office to make the disclosure. According to the attorney, the witness had complained to DiGaudio about prosecutors' request for cellphones she may have used to communicate with Weinstein.
The woman said she was uncomfortable that the cellphones had personal information she didn't want to to reveal, and after conveying this concern to DiGaudio, the detective allegedly told the woman to "delete anything she did not want anyone to see" before turning over the phones. DiGaudio allegedly added, "We just won't tell Joan."
According to Illuzzi-Orbon's letter, the woman did not ultimately delete anything from her phones and turned them over to prosecutors unaltered. A spokesperson for DA Vance declined to say how prosecutors are certain nothing was deleted.
The NYPD Special Victims Division has repeatedly been at odds with Vance's office over the Weinstein case. NYPD detectives were so frustrated with Vance's previous refusal to prosecute Weinstein that detectives reportedly went so far as to hide Weinstein accuser Ambra Battilana from prosecutors, because they feared the DA's office was trying to undermine the case.
Vance has also been criticized for accepting campaign donations from attorneys associated with Weinstein after initially dropping charges against the producer. Citing anonymous sources, the Daily News reports today that "FBI agents are probing the Manhattan district attorney’s office over its handling of high-profile cases that were dropped once lawyers for the well-connected subjects made donations."
Vance's spokesman said he is unaware of any FBI investigation.
It's unclear how this latest disclosure by prosecutors will affect the case against Weinstein. In September, Illuzzi-Orbon informed Weinstein's attorney that DiGaudio had admitted to withholding information from a witness he interviewed in February. That witness, a casting director, told DiGaudio that Weinstein accuser Lucia Evans informed her she consensually performed oral sex on Weinstein after he offered to get her an acting acting work. This account was allegedly not passed along to prosecutors, and the Evans part of the DA's case was dropped last week.
DiGaudio was removed from the case last week. Page Six also reports that a second member of the Weinstein prosecution team quit the Manhattan DA’s Office last month, for unknown reasons.
Weinstein’s attorney, Benjamin Brafman, told the AP that the latest allegation against DiGaudio “even further undermines the integrity of this already deeply flawed indictment of Mr. Weinstein.”
In a statement, NYPD Lieutenant John Grimpel said, "The evidence against Mr. Weinstein is compelling and strong. The NYPD will continue its work with the prosecution to deliver justice for the courageous survivors who have bravely come forward."
UPDATE, 10/18: In a statement, Detectives’ Endowment Association President Michael J. Palladino defended DiGaudio:
"The Manhattan DA’s office needs to enter the 21st century. This is the age of technology. People keep loads of personal info on their phones that they prefer remains confidential.
"A woman should not have to surrender confidential intimate information that is immaterial to the case to defend herself against a sexual predator. That’s being victimized twice. Detective DiGaudio was sensitive to that.
"I am not impressed by ADA Illuzzi’s letter. The most important part is paragraph six, which indicates Detective DiGaudio did not influence the victim’s evidence or testimony. The rest of her letter says an awful lot about nothing.
"This appears to be just another smear campaign against Detective DiGaudio to cover up the Manhattan DA’s own incompetence.”