Court of Appeals Appoints Yale University Appellate Law Clinic to Represent Tony Viola
Court of Appeals Appoints Yale University Appellate Law Clinic
to Represent Tony Viola
- Appointment follows FBI and Justice Department admissions of Making False Statements Under Oath about Evidence
- FBI claims it was unaware of its own records for a decade
- Appellate Brief to be Submitted in the Spring
- Oral arguments in the Court of Appeals Upcoming
- Court considers Referring Misconduct for Criminal Investigation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CLEVELAND, OHIO – January 24, 2023 – FreeTonyViola.com announced today that The Yale Law School Appellate Clinic and the Law Firm of Wiggin and Dana are now representing Tony Viola on a Pro Bono basis in litigation concerning missing evidence, voice recordings made by Dawn Pasela and documents shifted from the US Attorney’s Office in Cleveland to a multi-jurisdictional Task Force location before criminal trials, Viola v. Department of Justice, et. al., case number 22-2186, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Tony Viola was tried twice on identical charges by a federally funded Mortgage Fraud Task Force on allegations he duped banks, including JP Morgan Chase, into making 'no money down' mortgage loans. Following a conviction in federal court, Tony proved his innocence at a second trial in state court, on identical charges, prosecuted by the same prosecution team, using evidence prosecutors said didn't exist, but that was given to Tony by the Task Force's Office Manager, Dawn Pasela. Ms. Pasela offered to testify at the second trial about prosecutorial misconduct, but Prosecutors Mark Bennett and Dan Kasaris threatened Ms. Pasela with indictment and federal prison if she appeared in court. Ms. Pasela never testified and was found dead in her apartment shortly after her scheduled testimony, but no investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death has ever taken place.
In 2015, Tony filed suit against the Justice Department and the Task Force, alleging that prosecutors Bennett and Kasaris, along with FBI Agent Jeff Kassouf, used the structure of the Task Force to shift exculpatory evidence between locations and jurisdictions to hide it before his first trial. The DOJ and Task Force responded that the Task Force was a purely local endeavor, and the federal government was not responsible to search for evidence stored at the Task Force, or for any misconduct that took place there. Those statements were contradicted by the government’s own documents, which showed that the FBI repeatedly forwarded federal evidence to the Task Force location, and that the Task Force was federally funded and staffed by multiple federal agencies. Because the government’s own documents contradicted the government’s statements in its court pleadings, The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected the Justice Department's contention that evidence relocated to a Federal-State Task Force is not subject to disclosure by the government. In 2019, the Justice Department was ordered to conduct a new search for records, which resulted in both the FBI and Justice Department admitting that each make false statements about evidence in Tony’s case, requiring three years of additional litigation in the United States District Court, Viola v. Department of Justice, et. al., case number 15-cv-242, Western District of Pennsylvania.
According to the FBI, it only became aware of evidence in its own records system “when it received those records” from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and “discovered that they had not been processed ... The FBI investigated why the records were not initially processed and found that, when it had initially searched for and gathered records, it had inadvertently failed to obtain all portions of the responsive records. … The FBI intends to process the additional records” totaling nearly 10,000 pages “expeditiously,” Docket number 99, Page: 2. In addition, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Colville informed the federal judiciary that the Executive Offices for United States Attorneys also made false statements in sworn affidavits and discovered additional evidence it previously failed to produce, and that he “regrets those inaccuracies and the resulting inconvenience.”
In 2022, Task Force Chairman Donald Cleland stated under oath that he directed Ms. Pasela to remove hard drives from the Task Force location for storage at her home. These hard drives, containing evidence in over 1,000 criminal cases, later went missing, according to Cleland. Also, in 2022, the Justice Department blamed former federal prosecutor Mark Bennett for false statements about evidence. Bennett was fired by the Justice Department and is currently undergoing disbarment proceedings, Disciplinary Counsel v, Bennett, case number 2022-034; DOJ Inspector General Report Number 21-005.
The Court of Appeals found that Tony was likely to prevail in the case, and was entitled to counsel. The Court then appointed the Yale Law School Appellate Law Clinic and the Law Firm of Wiggin and Dana to submit a brief addressing “the agencies’ disclosure decisions.” The Court also forwarded a Motion to Refer Government admissions and misconduct to the DOJ Inspector General, and a Motion for a Criminal Referral, to the merits panel of three judges for further consideration.
The Yale Appellate Clinic and Pro Bono Counsel at Wiggin and Dana will be coordinating their efforts with Cleveland-based attorney Kimberly Corral, who is moving to vacate Tony Viola’s federal conviction and also submitting a filing detailing newly discovered evidence that further supports Tony’s innocence claims.
“It is a great honor to be represented by the Yale Law School, the attorneys at the Wiggin law firm and Kim Corral,” said Tony Viola. “I am very grateful for everyone’s assistance and commitment to justice. Law enforcement officials often use Task Forces to prosecute American citizens but, here, the Task Force was utilized to screen witnesses and shift evidence between locations and jurisdictions, often beyond the control of the judges overseeing federal and state prosecutions. This case may finally create concrete rules about how evidence and records can be shifted between government agencies and clarify the government’s duty to search Task Force locations for records and evidence.”
“In addition to rules governing Task Forces, we are also asking for a full investigation into the death of Dawn Pasela and ask that all records concerning Ms. Pasela be made public at once. The US Attorney’s Office in Cleveland mishandled and destroyed evidence and used false testimony as part of its ‘win at all costs’ style of prosecuting American citizens, but the evidence Mark Bennett stashed at the Task Force not only impacts my case but may result in hundreds of criminal convictions being reviewed."
ABOUT THE YALE LAW SCHOOL APPELLATE CLINIC: The Yale Law School Appellate Litigation Project provides legal representation to pro se appellants with meritorious civil cases pending before the court. For additional information about the clinic, please visit www.law.yale.edu/clinics/our-clinics.
ABOUT APPOINTED COUNSEL: David Roth is a Visiting Clinical Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School and Counsel in Wiggin and Dana’s Litigation Department. Mr. Tadhg Dooley is a Visiting Clinical Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School and an associate in the Appellate and Complex Legal Issues Group at Wiggin and Dana LLP in New Haven. Wiggin and Dana is a full-service law firm with more than 160 attorneys. With offices in Connecticut, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Palm Beach, the firm represents clients throughout the United States and globally on a wide range of sophisticated and complex matters. Additional information is available at www.wiggin.com.
ABOUT ATTORNEY KIMBERLY KENDALL CORRAL: Kimberly Kendall Corral has successfully and aggressively defended a wide range of criminal cases from misdemeanors to capital homicide cases. Kim represents clients at all levels of criminal justice advocacy. This includes investigation, indictment, pre-trial motions practice, trial, direct appeals, post-conviction remedies, jurisdictional appeals, habeas corpus, and wrongful conviction litigation. Kim was invited to the Oval Office to discuss a client’s pardon with the President of the United States and White House Counsel. She was honored as a Rising Star in 2019 by Super Lawyers. Additional information about Attorney Kimberly Corral’s law practice and recent accomplishments can be found on her website, www.kimlawcrimlaw.com.
ABOUT FREETONYVIOLA.COM: FreeTonyViola.com’s mission is to shine a bright spotlight on the ‘win at all costs’ tactics, prosecutorial overreach and misconduct the United States Department of Justice employs when prosecuting American citizens. Tony Viola was investigated by the Cuyahoga County Mortgage Fraud Task Force, a multi-jurisdictional task force comprised of state, local and federal agencies, and prosecuted in parallel federal and state cases. He lost the federal case but won the subsequent state trial. The website, originally created to solicit leads for Tony’s investigative team, has evolved into a tool to keep the public informed about critical developments in his case, and to share information that could potentially assist others who have been wrongfully ensnared by our criminal justice system. For additional information, visit http://www.FreeTonyViola.com, friend us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tony.viola.9212, or follow us on Twitter @TonyViola.
# # #