As has pretty much become the norm for every hearing in the case of the U.S. v. Raniere Et Al, today’s Status Conference saw much posturing and complaining from the defense attorneys representing Keith Raniere and Clare Bronfman – and not much of anything from the attorneys representing Allison Mack, Lauren Salzman, and Kathy Russell.
Oh – and it also included another bombshell announcement from the lead prosecution attorney, Moira Kim Penza, who seems to enjoy using these sessions to disclose major developments in the case.
Today’s bombshell: The prosecution is in plea deal discussions with three other defendants.
Assuming the current discussions result in plea deals, this means that two-thirds of the original defendants will have chosen to plead guilty to at least one felony charge rather than go to trial.
And it means the remaining two defendants will likely be facing some pretty devastating testimony from at least some of their former co-defendants.
So, let’s try to figure out which of the remaining defendants are in negotiations with the prosecution.
Based on the body language at today’s Status Conference – and the demeanor of Marc Agnifilo, Keith’s lead attorney and Mark Geragos, Clare’s lead attorney – it seems quite clear that none of them are involved in the current plea discussions.
It’s also been reported that upon hearing about the new plea deal negotiations, Mark Geragos muttered: “Well, I guess that leaves my client and Raniere”.
So, what happens if Allison, Lauren, and Kathy all take plea deals?
Well, nothing very good if you’re Keith or Clare.
Much of today’s hearing involved arguments regarding a variety of pending motions in the case. These include the following:
• The motions for separate trials that have been filed on behalf of Clare, Allison, Lauren, and Kathy;
• The motion for the release of discovery materials that has been filed on behalf of all the defendants;
• The various motions to suppress evidence that have been filed on behalf of all the remaining defendants; and
• The motion to exclude the prosecution from utilizing new expert witnesses.
Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis indicated that he wanted to deal with the severance issue first – and gave the defense attorneys until Friday, March 22nd, to submit their final arguments on that topic. Thereafter, the prosecution will have a week to submit its response to the defense filings.
The Magistrate Judge, Vera M. Scanlon, has apparently submitted a 40-page report and recommendations to Judge Garaufis regarding some of the evidentiary issues. Presumably, Judge Garaufis will be issuing his decision on those issues sometime in the next couple of weeks.
One other major battle that erupted today had to do with the new charge of Possession of Child Pornography against Raniere that was included in the second superseding indictment.
Not surprisingly, the existence of that charge was cited by Allison, Clare, Lauren, and Kathy as another reason they want separate trials from Raniere.
Agnifilo pointed out to the court that he has not yet had a chance to forensically examine the child pornography evidence. Given that’s apparently only one or two videos, that shouldn’t take very long to do.
Agnifilo also raised the question of whether the child pornography charge should be severed from the EDNY case and tried separately in the Northern District of New York (NDNY) – which would seem to make sense from a jurisdictional standpoint.
Although the prosecution pointed out that the child pornography charge was also cited as one of the predicate acts for the Racketeering count, it acknowledged that it could also be tried in the NDNY.
For now, Judge Garaufis is holding to April 29th as the “start date” for the trial – and he’s already lined up a prospective jury pool of 500from which to select the jury that will likely determine the fates of at least Raniere and Bronfman.
But given all the unresolved issues – and the current plea deal negotiations – no one should be shocked if the trial gets postponed.
Given the judge’s preference for not holding trial during the summer months – and/or during holiday periods – the next possible “start date” might be right after Labor Day.
We’ll have a later post on how each of the defendants looked at today’s hearing – and the outcome of the Curcio hearings that were held for Keith and Clare.