It may be unusual for a defendant to advertise to find victims of prosecutorial misconduct, but that is what I did. I placed ads in my own newspapers seeking people who had been wrongly targeted by Assistant US Attorney Anthony Bruce – the man who indicted me.
I reasoned that if he had concocted phony charges against me, he had probably done it to others.
I got quite a few responses. Some of the cases were as outrageous as my own. I wanted to understand what kind of culture exists at the Department of Justice that would allow such things to happen. I learned that, like everywhere else, there are good and bad actors. What makes us think a senator can be corrupt and a prosecutor can’t?
I knew Bruce’s prosecution of me was utterly corrupt. He knew I was innocent but that did not matter. But had he done this before?
That was what my advertising campaign was all about.
In response to my ads, defendants and convicts and those who were acquitted contacted me to paint a picture of their prosecution under Bruce.
Collectively, they painted a fascinating tale of corruption and a reckless disregard for the truth.
I think these cases, where innocent people were prosecuted by Bruce, are worthy of publication, for the education of the public. If one such as Anthony Bruce exists somewhere, are their others?
Since there are so many people who believe that corruption exists almost everywhere else – from police to bankers to Wall Street to congressman to the president – but can never imagine a prosecutor – who has so much direct power over targeted individuals – could ever be corrupt – these true stories about one corrupt prosecutor, Anthony Bruce, might serve for a greater basis of debate on whether America needs more checks and balances on prosecutors – like we do with everyone else.
One of the cases brought to my attention was how AUSA Bruce went after a group of middle-aged white bikers in Western NY.
Bruce was with the Department of Justice for 38 years before retiring in 2016. His last indictment was my indictment. And several years prior to this, he had one of his most famous cases. It was the indictment of some 20 members of the Chosen Few motorcycle club.
Here are the facts.
In 2004, Chosen Few member David Ignasiak, with three other members, threw two homemade firecrackers at the clubhouse of the Lonely Ones, another local motorcycle club.
It appears this had something to do with a woman. Lonely Ones’ member Theodore C. Sparks, who was central to this dispute, was alone in the clubhouse at the time. While he was scared, he was uninjured. The firecrackers were not thrown at him but at the building.
Indeed, this was an illegal act – that qualifies somewhere around the range of disturbing the peace, malicious mischief, harassment or any suitable charge at the state level.
But Bruce had long contemplated making a federal case from out of the fabric of bikers and their clubs. It makes good headlines.
Shortly after the firecracker episode – in which no one was hurt – Bruce guided four FBI agents to file [and probably wrote their] affidavits to get court-authorized listening devices and hidden cameras secretly installed inside the Chosen Few’s clubhouse in Depew NY.
Over the next few years, the feds watched and listened as club members gathered and drank at their clubhouse. While members talked big and bragged a lot about various exploits, all the while imbibing beer and other spirits, there was no evidence gathered of any crimes.
In July 2006, however, Bruce got the break he needed.
David Ignasiak, the man who threw firecrackers at the Lonely Ones’ clubhouse, got in trouble with the law on an unrelated matter.
In return for not being prosecuted, he agreed to become an FBI informant.
He turned out to be a dud. This could be simply because he was the only criminal in the club.
But two whole years passed, and Ignasiak was unable to provide info on a single crime committed by the Chosen Few.
It was not surprising. Most of the members were in their 40s and 50s. They all had good jobs. Most of them were married with children; some had grandchildren.
They liked to ride. They liked the company of other bikers and to get together in their clubhouse and spin yarns and enjoy the prestige, the imprimatur of being in a bikers’ club – and the concept of being tough. But they all made good livings and did not need to commit felonies to survive.
For Ignasiak, the lack of crime was beginning to be a problem. The feds let him off the hook for his previous crimes on the promise he would deliver some crimes that Bruce could move forward on and make a big bikers federal case.
Bruce was getting impatient.
There was, happily for Ignasiak, the annual Bike and Blues festival at Como Park in Lancaster NY, where lots of biker clubs pitched large tents near each other and gathered and listened to blues and drank beer and showed off their bikes and their patches.
Ignasiak lived only a few hundred yards away from the park. After the park closed one night, Ignasiak vandalized his own club’s tent.
With his knife, he put the initials of the Kingsmen Motorcycle Club on the Chosen Few’s tents that he vandalized to make it look like it was done by the Kingsmen. There had been no trouble between the two clubs for more than a decade.
When asked by leaders of the Chosen Few, the Kingsmen denied vandalizing the tents. They had no motive. There was no trouble between them.
But Ignasiak did his best to persuade his fellow members of the Chosen Few that the Kingsmen were lying and that the Chosen Few could not afford to take this lying down. Otherwise, their reputations as tough guys would be lost.
A feud was in the offing – created by Bruce’s informant – and quite possibly with Bruce’s guidance.
Chosen Few president Alex Koschtschuk was angry about the tents. He was president; he had to look tough.
As the Feds secretly recorded conversations at the clubhouse, Koschtschuk said, “We’re not going to play games with these guys . . . We’re taking them down . . . Baseball bats, whatever you want, however you want.”
This was tough talk. Koschtschuk, 58, with a gray beard and gray hair slicked back into a ponytail, a big, burly man looked like he could wreak some havoc with a bat or his bare fists. But it was all talk. He had a good job working for the Thruway Authority. He had decades in and pension on tap. He had a wife and children.
Time passed and nothing happened.
Again, Ignasiak was on the spot. He still hadn’t delivered.
Then one night, in the dead of night, after everyone had gone home and the Chosen Few clubhouse was empty, someone fired a shotgun at the clubhouse. It so happened to be aimed to disable the wire that powered the Chosen Few’s own surveillance cameras. Nothing was stolen.
Ignasiak was first to tell his brother bikers that he had information that the Kingsmen were behind it.
Yet, it seemed odd. Someone must have tipped them off because the location of the wiring that powered their surveillance cameras was hidden, known only to members of the Chosen Few, including Ignasiak. How did they know to shoot out those wires?
A few days later, Ignasiak, wearing a wire, encouraged three Chosen Few members to take a ride with him in a car to where a Kingsmen, Eugene Siminski, a man Ignaisak said was behind the shotgun fire, would be riding on his motorcycle.
Chosen Few members Bradley Beutler, Paul Roorda and Martin Whiteford went with Ignasiak.
When Siminski stopped at a red light, Ignasiak led them and they got out and hit Siminmski with the handle of an ax. He was knocked to the ground but was not seriously injured.
The next day, Ignasiak delivered to the Feds his recording of the assault. From the recording, it was clear Ignasiak gave the orders to Roorda to maneuver his vehicle close to Siminski so that they could get out and hit him.
Ignasiak is heard on the recording saying, “Hurry up! — get behind him — pull up — ready, let’s go!”
When AUSA Bruce presented the evidence to the grand jury, he declined to tell the grand jury that Ignasiak had planned [maybe with Bruce’s help] and led the attack.
On April 28, 2009, Bruce examined FBI Special Agent Jensen.
Bruce: “My understanding, Mr. Ignasiak was along for the ride but did not participate in the incident?”
FBI SA Jensen: “Yes, in a manner of speaking.”
In May 2009, Bruce indicted 20 members of the Chosen Few motorcycle club, including its president, Alex Koschtschuk, charging them with federal racketeering in connection to the feud with the Kingsmen.
Koschtschuk and Beutler were held without bail.
Friends, wives and families of the indicted men were mortified. Some of them through their lawyers tried to reason with Bruce. These were not gang members but middle-aged guys with families and jobs, hardworking men who loved motorcycles. They weren’t criminals.
There was no racketeering. No extortion. There were no dead bodies. There were no drugs. No stash of cash. It was mischief and tough talk. Occasionally a brawl. But not organized fighting. The so-called feud was no feud at all. This was at best a case of assault and battery, not federal racketeering which comes with penalties of up to 20 years.
The men looked tough, sure — although in their 40’s and 50’s – and not prepossessing to some – they had scruffy beards, tattoos and long ponytails. But as far as committing bombings, arson, assaults and murder, it simply did not happen.
But Bruce, with Ignasiak as his star witness, indicted claiming “Death threats, beatings, guns and explosives against the Kingsmen.”
Indicted were: Alan Segool, 48, James Lathrop, 56, Bradley Beutler, 36, Clyde Utz, 50, Brion Murphy, 52, Gerald Rogacki, 47, Matthew Watkins, 33, Dennis Rogowski, 43, Norman Herzog, 43, Lionel Carter, 53, Gary Phillians, 44, Paul Roorda, 48, Robert Treadway, 41, Martin Whiteford, 37, Charles Kuznicki, 38, Robert Geiger, 42, Donald Diana, 47, and Robert Summerville, 46 – all living in the greater Buffalo area.
Bruce laid out an indictment that filled 76 pages of accusations. None of them provable; none of them were ever proven.
The sheer volume of accusations was enough to make it seem like this was a serious and dangerous racketeering enterprise. Bails were set high. Two men were not granted bail.
It was five years after the first act – the throwing of two firecrackers at the Lonely Ones’ Clubhouse. The indictment was unsealed just in time to make the statute of limitations.
In Bruce’s indictment, he elevated the firecracker episode into three sets of charges. First, he charged Koschtschuk with building “pipe bombs”. Then he charged six club members with setting off the “bombs” at their own clubhouse to “test them”. Then he charged the three members who went with Ignasiak when he threw the firecrackers, with being at the scene when bombs were thrown at the Lonely One’s clubhouse.
He chose not to charge Ignasiak, the man who threw them.
When describing the homemade firecrackers, Bruce called them “Molotov Cocktails”. Then he charged the men with attempted murder because Sparks was in the clubhouse, although completely uninjured, and not likely to have been injured. The firecrackers weren’t thrown at him.
Bruce seeking to embellish the case to attempted murder and mayhem claimed members also tried to shoot a man named David Carine twice. But somehow they always missed. And he alleged that the Chosen Few shot a Kingsmen named William Slater in May 2005. Again, this was unproven to be connected to the Chosen Few.
[Bruce said that Slater admitted he shot the Chosen Few clubhouse and was charged with reckless endangerment and received no prison time. Contrast this with the charges Bruce leveled against the Chosen Few for throwing two firecrackers.]
Bruce alleged the Chosen Few conspired to kill his informant, Ignasiak. First, by trying to run him over with a pickup truck, and then trying to shoot at him. They had Ignasiak’s word alone for the charges. He was not injured either by truck nor gun.
There were other allegations. Bruce alleged that a Chosen Few member beat a man named Jason Stucke with a baseball bat and that someone from the club threatened to murder a Kingsmen named David A. Koch. No one got hurt and none of it was proven.
Various defense lawyers were retained by the defendants. Two men took plea deals, but the vast majority – some 19 men stood united.
A hearing in connection with the defense’s claim of “outrageous government conduct” was held in the spring of 2011 – two years after the indictments.
When it came down to producing evidence, it appeared that Bruce and Ignasiak essentially worked together to fabricate crimes.
Based upon the evidence developed during one of the hearings, defendant Martin Whiteford sought disclosure of portions of the grand jury proceedings. Bruce opposed the motion. Oral argument was held. The motion was granted.
After the grand jury minutes were made public, it became clear Bruce lied to the grand jury.
Magistrate Judge Jeremiah McCarthy wrote in his decision. “While I am reluctant to conclude that … an Assistant U.S. Attorney may have knowingly elicited [false] testimony, the evidence submitted to me thus far is troubling, to say the least.”
It came out during questioning at the hearing that FBI Special Agent Jensen admitted Ignasiak was a participant in the attack of Siminksi and not “just along for the ride” as he had testified in the grand jury.
At oral argument, AUSA Bruce argued that neither he nor Jensen lied.
“Well, ‘participated,’ ‘attacked,’ to me it is the same thing,” Bruce said.
Judge McCarthy thought otherwise. “Given that admission, I can see no innocent explanation for how he could have suggested to the grand jury on April 28, 2009 that Ignasiak was merely ‘along for the ride’ and did not participate in the August 20, 2008 assault on Eugene Siminski… Ignasiak clearly ‘participated’ in the incident at a level sufficient to render him ‘punishable as a principal’ as an aider and abettor of the assault.”
Bruce pushed back, arguing “the decision of what to indict and who to indict and all of those various things are decisions that are left exclusively to the executive branch of the government (i.e., him and not the judge, or the grand jury). . . [The grand jury] can ask questions, they can suggest things — quite frankly, that does not usually happen but that is the way it goes.”
Judge McCarthy disagreed, “As contemplated by the Fifth Amendment, it is the grand jury — not the government — which calls the shots…. (T)he fact remains that AUSA Bruce’s question to [FBI] SA Jensen mentioned his ‘understanding’ that Ignasiak was not involved…
“But for AUSA Bruce’s question and SA Jensen’s answer, the grand jury might well have decided that Ignasiak himself should be indicted for his role in the August 20, 2008 assault… Thus, but for the government’s decision not to prosecute him, there is no apparent reason why Ignasiak was not indicted for his participation in the August 20, 2008 assault. If he had been, this might be a much different case….”
More information leaked out. It became clear that Ignasiak committed the original vandalism that ignited hostilities between the Chosen Few and the Kingsmen – while he was an informant for the FBI.
“We believe David Ignasiak started a war between the Chosen Few and the Kingsmen because he wanted to make himself more valuable to the FBI as an informant,” Angelo Musitano, who represented one of the defendants, told the judge. “In 20 years of practicing law, I’ve never seen this kind of misuse of an informant.”
Bruce said Musitano’s claims were “baseless”.
At another point, while they were awaiting trial, Ignasiak accused one of the defendants, James Lathrop, Jr., who was out on bail, of stalking and making threats against him.
U.S. Magistrate Judge McCarthy held a hearing. The Judge refused to revoke bail, ruling that Ignasiak was “not credible”.
More allegations came out that suggested that Bruce provided misleading information to the judge who authorized the original listening devices planted inside the Chosen Few clubhouse.
Bruce was ordered to respond. He dodged the judge’s order.
Magistrate Judge McCarthy said the U.S. Attorney’s Office played “Russian roulette” with a court-imposed deadline, and Bruce made a “conscious decision to disobey my order as written, and roll the dice”.
The FBI tried to distance themselves from Ignasiak calling him a “loose cannon”.
Motion papers by defense lawyers Paul Cambria, Herbert Greenman, Joseph LaTona and Angelo Musitano showed further evidence that Bruce and Ignaziak had essentially fabricated, prompted and created the entire case.
Bruce held on, claiming he had plenty of evidence that the Chosen Few were involved in crimes. But it all was for naught.
Bruce’s boss, U.S. Attorney William Hochul, with his office under increasing scrutiny [something they don’t like], decided to drop the indictment against the Chosen Few, “In light of information that recently came to light.”.
Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny granted the government’s application to dismiss the case.
When asked by reporters how Bruce had blown a case that he said he was so certain to be a slam dunk, US Attorney Hochul declined to comment.
The case was thrown out. Bruce was not punished.
Had it not been for a competent defense team, Bruce would have been pleased to see innocent men go to prison.
Meanwhile, Bruce had his consolation. Koschtschuk and Beutler had been jailed without bail for three years. Twenty defendants had years taken out of their lives. Most of them lost their life savings hiring attorneys. Some lost their jobs.
An indictment itself is a tremendous punishment and is completely in the hands of prosecutors with no checks and balances.
The supposed check and balance against overzealous prosecutors is the grand jury. But over time, the grand jury has been neutered. It is nothing more now than a toothless entity unrecognizable from what it was in its glorious past.
Grand juries are led by the nose by prosecutors and so this ancient and venerated institution has almost zero purpose today. It was well said by one judge that “a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich” if the prosecutor tells them to do so.
When the charges were dismissed, Koschtschuk and Beutler were released from jail. They and the other defendants were left sadder and wiser.
Bruce went on, as if nothing happened, ready, as any other psychopath would, to go after other innocent men and women.
He might have been pleased, however, that while he did not get a conviction, he ruined the lives of at least 20 innocent men and caused great hardship to their families. The financial harm he did may have deprived children of college educations, of a comfortable retirement. Some lost their jobs and their pensions because of the indictment.
As for the informant, David Ignasiak was never charged with anything and was paid in excess of $80,000 for his services by the DOJ. Ignasiak left town to start a new life.
Today, Bruce is a criminal defense attorney with the law firm of Andreozzi Bluestein LLC and collects his retirement pension from the taxpayers for his decades of faithful service.