Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Case dropped after alleged ‘Brady’ violation

Peter Vieth//May 23, 2021

Case dropped after alleged ‘Brady’ violation

Peter Vieth//May 23, 2021

Acknowledging a lapse in pretrial disclosures, federal prosecutors in the Western District of Virginia agreed to dismissal of all charges against a woman convicted by a jury of providing contraband to her jailed boyfriend.

The move followed a dispute over the government’s failure to disclose statements by witnesses about how cellphones were making their way into the hands of jail inmates. A lawyer for the defendant contended the statements tended to show other ways the inmate might have obtained the phone at issue.

After a second look by a different prosecutor, the government moved to dismiss “in the interest of justice and given the specific facts and circumstances of this case.” In the motion, the government conceded the documents at issue should have been disclosed.

Judge Michael F. Urbanski dismissed the case May 14 in United States v. Raya, No. 7:19-cr-9.

Jailhouse smuggling

Amany M. Raya had been the “longtime girlfriend” of a Roanoke man now sentenced to 20 years in prison for drug trafficking, according to a motion filed by her lawyer. After the arrest of Monta Jordan in 2017, Raya reportedly rebuffed investigators’ efforts to get her to provide information on Jordan’s activities. She was never charged in the Jordan drug case.

In 2018, officials at the Roanoke jail recovered a contraband cellphone from Jordan and intercepted a package with another cellphone, a smart watch and marijuana. The package was labeled “legal mail.”

An investigation led to charges against Raya. Text messages incriminated her in the “legal mail” ruse, the government said. A jury acquitted her of smuggling marijuana to Jordan, but convicted her of conspiracy to provide contraband to Jordan over a two-month period and charges related to her citizenship application.

Jordan tipped Raya’s then-attorney, Michael Hemenway of Charlottesville, that he should ask the government about certain witness statements, according to Raya’s motion. Jordan believed the government was keeping the lid on exculpatory information as part of a larger pattern of misconduct, according to a motion in Jordan’s case.

Motion for relief

In a motion filed by her new lawyer, Harrisonburg’s Aaron L. Cook, Raya said the government had information from at least two witnesses referring to a rumor that “someone at the jail” was helping get cellphones to inmates. A third witness reportedly pointed the finger at another possible smuggler. Raya sought a new trial or outright acquittal.

Raya contended the information “certainly” would have opened avenues to investigate before trial and to craft strategy for trial. The government responded that Raya was caught “red handed” and said she failed to offer any suggestion as how the disputed information could have helped her case.

“Even assuming…that the statements are ‘newly discovered’ evidence, they are at best cumulative of what the jury already knew, that is, that ‘others’ may have played a role in delivering cell phones to Jordan on other occasions,” the government wrote in its response. The statements did not negate Raya’s culpability for the smuggling plot she was charged with, the prosecution said.

Judge Michael F. Urbanski
Judge Michael F. Urbanski

Urbanski heard arguments from the parties May 5. Just over a week later, the government moved to dismiss all charges with prejudice.

“After careful review of the record in this matter by new counsel, the government agrees that the documents at issue…should have been disclosed in the course of discovery. While the government believes that the suppression of these documents did not affect the result of the proceedings or put the case in such a different light as to undermine confidence in the verdict, in the interests of justice and given the specific facts and circumstances of this case, the government believes the appropriate resolution of this matter is dismissal of all charges with prejudice,” the government said. The motion was signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Lee, chief of the office’s criminal division.

“I am pleased for my client’s sake that the case has concluded correctly. She has been carrying the burden of this prosecution for a long time,” Cook said May 17.

“The public doesn’t understand the enormous power of the criminal prosecutor in our system – it is even greater than the power of the judge,” he continued. “And we have to figure out a way to check that power other than just trusting that they will always ‘do good.’”

Cook said he appreciated Urbanski’s willingness to “hold their feet to the fire” and the U.S. attorney for “stepping in at the last minute to do the right thing.”

The Western District’s current acting U.S. attorney is Daniel P. Bubar. His office declined to comment through a spokesperson.

Verdicts & Settlements

See All Verdicts & Settlements

Opinion Digests

See All Digests