Witness for the Prosecution

Bruce Udolf spent seven years arguing public corruption cases for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami. A report from the front lines.

How many prosecutors do you think are needed for the prosecution of public corruption cases in Miami?

I think eight is the right number, as it stands now. What's more important, though, is the type of people and the quality of the people, not necessarily the quantity. And it's my opinion that for security reasons it's important to have a smaller, closed group of people working together.

Keeping confidential information confidential?
Yeah. A lot of the stuff we do is extremely high-profile, and a lot of the matters we end up investigating turn out to be bogus. If information like that gets out, it could be very damaging to innocent people. A very small proportion of the matters that we investigate -- I'd say under twenty percent -- actually result in an indictment.

How do you make a case? How are they initiated?
Like any other investigation, generally: A defendant or a potential defendant in a criminal investigation begins to cooperate. We do either a historical investigation, in which we attempt to reconstruct past events with the testimony of witnesses and the use of documentary evidence, or we do a proactive investigation: undercover operations, or what's often referred to as "stings."

The other type of source is citizens' complaints, and some of those tend to be reliable and some not so reliable. We consider and check out all reasonable sources of information.

What's an example of a historical investigation?
The Raul Martinez case. Silvio Cardozo, a former Hialeah councilman, and Antonia Pardona, a former Hialeah housing commissioner, entered into plea negotiations with the government and began providing investigators with information about criminal conduct among city officials in Hialeah. And as a result of that cooperation, we were able to develop other witnesses and documentary evidence of crimes that were alleged to have been committed by other people, including former city councilman Andres Mejides and Mayor Raul Martinez.

That's one way we get tips: Someone cooperates. Another situation is where you develop leads from reading the newspaper, such as in Daoud.

Hialeah, too.
Hialeah also. Hialeah wasn't strictly a case that was developed by informants. The Miami Herald had already done a lot of work for us in its series "Hialeah: Zoned for Profit." That provided us with some sort of framework for our approach when we developed these cooperators later on. In the case of Daoud, the Herald had a series of articles on CenTrust Savings Bank and its CEO, David Paul.

Was all the information new, or had you already heard some of it?
I can't answer that.

How do you work an undercover informant, like Manohar Surana, Howard Gary, Daoud?

You're asking the wrong person. You should ask an investigator that question. I take part in the planning stage, but I don't take part in those meetings.

That raises an important point not understood by everybody: that the U.S. Attorney's Office doesn't make these cases alone. How do you coordinate your efforts with other agencies?

Well, in terms of the strict division of labor, it's often said that the Bureau [FBI] or other investigative agencies -- like IRS, Customs, internal affairs -- investigate cases and we prosecute them. Ideally we work together at every phase. It doesn't always work that way, but in the ideal situation we're involved from the outset. A person comes in and complains he's being solicited for a bribe. Our office will sit down with the federal agencies involved and come up with some sort of plan as to what we need to do to legally establish that a bribe has been solicited and what sort of evidence we would need to prove it. Every case has to be judged on its own merits. The decision whether or not to exercise prosecutorial discretion is the single most important one that a prosecutor can make.

How do you go from prosecuting a defendant to working with that person as a cooperator?

On a personal level?
Yes.
It's awkward but not impossible. It's mainly awkward for the defendant. I try not to take these matters personally. I try to remain objective, so I can be a better judge of how the jury's evaluating the evidence. It's more difficult for the defendant, though, because he has seen me as his persecutor. So we have to get beyond that. If there's a grudge on my end, it's usually aimed at the opposing attorneys. In the heat of battle it can get a little hot in there.

How consumed do you become by your trials?
Generally the work week is about a hundred hours, more or less. I get up about four-thirty in the morning, get to the office by six-thirty, start preparing for the witnesses who are going to testify that morning, get all the documents in order. Usually work through lunch, send out for lunch. Then at the end of the day, about five, five-thirty, you come back, you have witnesses show up to be prepped for the next day. Stay until about eight, go out to eat, back to the office, leave by ten-thirty, get home about eleven-thirty, try to sleep, go back and do it again. Weekends, try to give yourself a break one of the days: You work at least eight to ten hours Saturday and Sunday. I usually end up losing ten pounds. What usually happens is you start living off of adrenaline and at the end of it you get sick, sick as a dog. Your body catches up with you.

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