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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Prosecutors Offer Plea Deal to NYC Lawyers Who Firebombed Police Vehicle

Federal prosecutors have offered a plea deal to two New York City lawyers accused of fire-bombing a police car and distributing Molotov cocktails to rioters during protests that followed the death of George Floyd last summer. 

The defendants, Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman, were offered plea bargains on Feb. 11, according to a letter prosecutors submitted to a federal trial court on Saturday. Prosecutors and defense lawyers were set to participate in a status hearing on Tuesday morning, which was rescheduled in light of the new developments. 

“The parties are engaged in plea negotiations which they believe are likely to result in a disposition of this case without trial,” the letter reads. 

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The details of the offer are not public and may change as attorneys negotiate. The letter is signed by Mark Lesko, the number two federal prosecutor for the district covering Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Long Island.

Mattis is a Princeton-educated corporate lawyer and Rahman attained pretrial release with the help of a former Obama administration official. She’s also retained a top defense lawyer to represent her in court. Friendly reports from NPR and BuzzFeed News cast the pair as “idealistic attorneys hoping to change the world,” who were “living the American dream their immigrant parents had aspired for them.”

Whether the prospective deal includes guilty pleas to felony charges will have significant professional consequences for Mattis and Rahman. Lawyers in New York state are automatically disbarred if they are convicted of a felony. Mattis was an associate at Pryor Cashman, a midsize corporate law firm. Rahman was a public interest lawyer practicing with Bronx Legal Services.

It is an open question whether a Biden-appointed U.S. attorney will continue prosecuting the case against Mattis and Rahman. Some legal observers have questioned whether the case is appropriate for federal court, since it involves purely local conduct. The acting U.S. attorney supervising their case, Seth DuCharme, advised senior officials in the Trump Justice Department before former attorney general William Barr picked him to serve as acting U.S. attorney last summer. A spokesperson declined to comment as to when DuCharme will step down, though it doesn’t appear he will be among those U.S. attorneys who will resign at the end of this month at President Joe Biden’s request.

Surveillance video captured Rahman lighting a Molotov cocktail and tossing it into an empty police vehicle in May 2020. She then retreated to a minivan, which Mattis drove, and fled the scene. A witness told authorities that Rahman tried to distribute Molotov cocktails to others “in furtherance of more destruction and violence,” according to federal prosecutors. 

“The defendants’ criminal conduct was extraordinarily serious,” prosecutors wrote in a letter pressing a trial court to keep them in jail as the case proceeds. 

Both defendants face seven felony charges, including civil disorder, arson conspiracy, and federal explosives charges. Such convictions could carry lengthy jail sentences. 

The Washington Free Beacon was first to report that a former Obama administration intelligence official, Salmah Rizvi, guaranteed a $250,000 bail for Rahman. Rizvi will be liable for a quarter-million dollars if Rahman fails to comply with the conditions of her pretrial release. At the time, Rizvi was a litigation associate in the Washington offices of Ropes & Gray. She is currently a law clerk for Judge Theodore McKee of the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to LinkedIn. 

Citing the “willingness of family and friends to sign on as suretors,” a federal trial court released Rahman to home confinement and GPS monitoring while the case proceeds. Prosecutors fought that order and sought to have her detained, but the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision. 

Rahman has retained a highly respected defense lawyer, Paul Shechtman, to represent her in court. Shechtman is a protege of the legendary Manhattan prosecutor Robert Morgenthau, was an aide to former New York governor George Pataki (R.), and held leadership posts with the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. 

The case is USA v. Mattis et al in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Kevin Daley covers the Supreme Court for the Washington Free Beacon. He has covered the Supreme Court since 2016. His email is [email protected]


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