When David Soares burst on the Albany political scene back in 2004, he was touted as the guy who took on the vaunted Albany Democratic political machine – and won.
In a race that was also the coming-out party for the then-fledgling Working Families Party, Soares defeated Paul Clyne in the Democratic primary election for the position of Albany County District Attorney (Whoever wins the Democratic slot for most elected positions in Albany County is also the winner of the general election). Clyne had been hand-picked by his predecessor, Sol Greenberg, who had retired after 25 years in office, and was the incumbent.
During his initial foray into politics, Soares focused his attention on the draconian Rockefeller drug laws – which imposed harsh mandatory minimum sentences on anyone convicted of drug-related charges.
Soares proclaimed that, if elected, he would use his “prosecutorial discretion” to determine which drug offenders would be prosecuted – and which would be diverted to programs that would not result in incarceration.
Even after Clyne was endorsed by the Albany County Democratic Party – which is usually tantamount to election in the primary race – Soares continued his challenge.
And along the way, he got several big breaks.
First, Clyne promised to continue enforcing the Rockefeller drug laws to the fullest extent possible – which turned off a lot of voters, especially those in minority communities.
Second, the Working Families Party dumped a boatload of money into Soares’ campaign coffers – and supplied him with an army of veteran campaign staff who knew how to turn out the vote on Primary Day.
Third, local leaders of the Democratic party and Clyne did not treat Soares’ challenge as a serious threat until it was much too late to overcome the support he had built up (This was the first time in decades that anyone had challenged the local Democratic machine in a County-wide primary).
Total Lack of Qualifications Was Overlooked
One of the biggest issues in the 2004 campaign really had nothing to do with Soares or his opponent. Instead, it had to do with the question of whether a political party could get involved in another political party’s primary campaign.
The ensuing litigation led to the overturning of a state prohibition against such cross-party activity – which, in turn, greatly boosted the political power of groups like the Working Families Party and, more recently, the Democratic Socialists of America.
But with all the attention focused on bigger political issues, little, if any, attention was focused on Soares’ qualifications – or lack thereof – for the office of Albany County District Attorney.
Many voters falsely assumed that since he had served as an Assistant Albany County District Attorney for several years, Soares would have “learned the ropes” just like everyone else who ever started out that way.
But the truth was that David Soares never did all that much legal work when he was an Assistant D.A.
Even though he technically supervised three other Assistant D.A.s in Albany City Court, there was not much he could do to help them because of his own very limited courtroom experience (It’s impossible to track down records as to how many cases Soares actually tried as an Assistant D.A. but most courtroom observers in the Albany area think it was fewer than ten).
Rather than having an assigned caseload like every other Assistant D.A., Soares’ main assignment was to develop outreach programs to the communities and neighborhoods that were most affected by drug addiction and the criminal prosecution of drug cases.
In essence, Soares functioned much more like a community organizer and social worker than an attorney as he built up relationships with local ministers, medical clinics and neighborhood associations in the poorest sections of Albany County.
Ironically enough, it was these alliances he developed while masquerading as an Assistant D.A. that made Soares such a formidable foe in the 2004 Democratic primary race for Albany County D.A.
As It Turns Out, Nothing Really Changed Over the Years
Although you might assume that a guy who has been Albany County D.A. for more than 15 years would have picked up some significant courtroom experience along the way, that apparently is not the case with respect to Soares.
In a decision that was handed down on March 6, 2020, New York State Supreme Court Justice Peter A. Lynch documented just how little legal work Soares has ever done.
The case involved an appeal by a man named Edward Mero – who had been found guilty of two counts of Murder in the Second Degree and two counts of Tampering with Physical Evidence.
Mero’s appeal was based on his claim that he was deprived of his constitutional rights to effective assistance of counsel and fundamental due process rights – and that there was a conflict of interest between his defense attorney, Cheryl Coleman, and the Office of the Albany County District Attorney.
At the same time that she was defending Mero in a case being prosecuted by the Office of the Albany County District Attorney, Coleman also hired Stephen Sharp, another Assistant Albany County D.A., to write appellate briefs for her on other cases.
Mero testified that Coleman never told him about her business relationship with Sharp. Coleman, in turn, testified that she did make such a disclosure but admitted that she had no proof to back up that claim.
Meanwhile, Sharp testified that he never told anyone in the D.A.’s office about his work for Coleman because he knew that Soares disliked her (That dislike probably goes back to her endorsement of Paul Clyne back in 2004).
During the course of the Mero’s appeal, Soares was called to testify.
Here are some of the gems from that testimony that are recounted in the March 6th decision:
Q: Do you as a general matter of practice, personally handle cases in trial courts?
A. I do not.
Q. What about personally handling appellate issues?
A. I do not.
Q. Do you typically appear on the record.
A. I do not.
Q. Have you ever appeared on the record since you became D.A.?
A. No, I don’t think I have.
Soares also testified that there is “an unwritten policy prohibiting ADAs from performing criminal defense work” – and agreed that “a violation of that prohibition creates an appearance of impropriety”.
But under cross-examination, Soares was forced to admit that he “…never advised ADA Sharp about the policy” – and that he “…did not have any record to substantiate he ever communicated the terms of the unwritten policy to any individual prosecutor”.
Sharp testified that he had never been told about Soares’ “unwritten rule” about no outside defense work – and that he was aware of another Assistant D.A. who maintained an active outside criminal defense practice.
During the course of his testimony before Judge Lynch, Soares also testified that he never spoke to Sharp about the Mero case.
He also confirmed that he served as president of the New York State District Attorney’s Association in 2018 and 2019. What he did when he was in that position will be detailed in Part II of this series.
Soares’ NXIVM Connections
As many Frank Report readers know, Soares has had long-standing ties to the NXIVM criminal enterprise that was recently taken down by federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York (EDNY).
Those ties extend all the way back to when Soares was just a lowly Assistant Albany County D.A. – which is when two of his sisters and the husband of one of them started taking classes at NXIVM’s old headquarters at 455 New Karner Road.
But the connection really heated up after Soares took office on January 1, 2005.
The NXIVM Connection: Part 1
After meeting with Clare Bronfman – and hearing her tale of woe regarding the complications the cult was having in trying to take down Joe O’Hara, a former NXIVM consultant who had stumbled upon some of the cult’s illegal operations and quit working for them – Soares agreed to do everything that he could to help Clare and her NXIVM cronies.
Even though most D.A.s will not get involved in a dispute that has already resulted in civil litigation, Soares was more than happy to help out his new and very generous friend, Clare Bronfman.
And so Soares agreed to open a criminal investigation regarding O’Hara – and to allow NXIVM to assign one of its inner-circle members to work in his office as a Legal Intern (Soares himself had served as a Legal Intern in the same office when he was attending Albany Law School).
Of course, this particular Legal Intern was a high school dropout rather than a student at Albany Law School – and she was only assigned to work on one matter: the O’Hara criminal investigation.
But having someone working inside Soares’ office also made it much easier for NXIVM to pursue its civil claims against O’Hara.
According to O’Hara, Soares’ office “…subpoenaed my bank records – and then turned them over to the law firm that was representing NXIVM in its civil lawsuit against me”.
And just to help his NXIVM friends out a little more, Soares also indicted O’Hara on trumped-up criminal charges involving his prior dealings with NXIVM.
All those charges were dismissed at the very first court hearing – and, despite receiving both pleas and threats from Bronfman and Raniere, Soares refused to re-indict O’Hara.
The NXIVM Connection: Part 2
Aside from helping NXIVM take down O’Hara, Soares also protected the NXIVM criminal enterprise in every way that he could.
Complaints from individuals who felt they had been ripped off by the cult were buried in the bureaucracy of his office.
Concerns that were voiced by the family and friends of women who got caught up in the NXIVM morass were placated rather than resolved.
Inquiries from federal and state agencies were put off with assurances that there was nothing illegal going on within NXIVM.
Referrals from whistleblowers were met with hollow promises about investigations that never took place.
Raniere had a friend at 6 Lodge Street – and knew that he could get away with just about anything in Albany County.
The NXIVM Connection: Part 3
But it was in late 2012 that Soares really stepped up to help out the NXIVM criminal enterprise.
In mid-December of that year, the Office of the New York State Attorney General – and the Office of the Saratoga County District Attorney – both declined to prosecute any of the people that were alleged to have illegally accessed NXIVM’s website.
At that point, the investigation into the alleged computer trespass – which was being headed-up by another NXIVM stooge, New York State Police Senior Investigator Rodger Kirsopp – was about to be shut down.
But out of nowhere came David Soares – and his trusted First Deputy D.A. David Rossi – to the rescue.
Even though the alleged computer trespass crime had taken place in Saratoga County – which is where the server that hosted the NXIVM website was stored – Soares was willing to bring criminal charges against the alleged perpetrators in Albany County.
And so it was that Kirsopp received a phone call from Rossi on January 9th in which Rossi said that after speaking with Mike McDermott, the Office of the Albany County D.A. had decided to pursue the prosecution of the people who had allegedly accessed NXIVM’s website via the appointment of an Albany County Special District Attorney (McDermott was one of NXIVM’s attorneys – and had been Rossi’s supervisor when he served as First Deputy D.A. for Soares).
Fast forward two years to February 27, 2015 – and the Albany County Special D.A. is happily walking out of the Grand Jury Room with indictments in hand for O’Hara, John Tighe, Barbara Bouchey, and Toni Natalie.
With the exception of Tighe – who was forced to plead guilty to one count of criminal computer trespass in order to resolve a separate federal charge that he was facing – the defendants all refused the plea deals that were immediately offered by the Albany County Special D.A.
And fast forward another year to February 10, 2016 – and all the charges against O’Hara, Bouchey, and Natalie are dismissed via “Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal” (ACOD) deals.
Those ACOD deals came about when the defendants were able to prove that Albany County had no jurisdictional basis for bringing any charges against them because the server that hosted the NXIVM website was in Saratoga County at the time of the alleged trespasses (As previously reported, the Frank Report was subsequently able to locate an eye witness who had observed the NXIVM server after it had been surreptitiously moved to Albany County).
Stay tuned for Part II of this series when we’ll explore how Soares became the spokesperson for all the District Attorneys in New York State even though he has never actually made an appearance in any case since becoming the Albany County D.A. – and how he turned his back on the political groups that had propelled him into office and kept him there for more than 15 years.
We’ll also be looking at Matt Toporowski, the man who is now challenging Soares in the upcoming Democratic primary for Albany County D.A. – and looking at what sort of jobs Soares may pursue if he’s knocked out of office.