Elie Honig (@eliehonig) is a CNN senior legal analyst, former federal and state prosecutor, Emmy nominee, podcast host, and columnist. He is the bestselling author of Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor’s Code and Corrupted the Justice Department, and his latest book is Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away with It.
What We Discuss with Elie Honig:
- How the rich and powerful exploit flaws in the justice system to evade accountability while being able to afford lengthy trials and secure better plea deals.
- Why using wiretaps and flipping complicit parties are essential tactics for gathering evidence against the people at the top.
- How intermediaries are used to shield the rich and powerful from being held responsible for crimes committed in their name.
- Why donations to political candidates can lead to special treatment during prosecution, indicating potential corruption.
- Why we shouldn’t completely abandon faith in the justice system despite its numerous imperfections.
- And much more…
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Ideally, when the boundaries of law are breached and somebody must be held accountable for their violation, the justice system would give everyone equal and fair treatment in the process of rooting out the guilty party. Unfortunately, as we all know, the rich and powerful not only play by different rules than the rest of us — they own the board on which the game is played.
On this episode, we’re joined by Elie Honig, a CNN senior legal analyst, former federal and state prosecutor, Emmy nominee, podcast host, and columnist. He is the bestselling author of Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor’s Code and Corrupted the Justice Department, and his latest book is Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away with It. Here, we discuss the loopholes that allow people with enough money and power to circumvent the legal system, how law enforcement pushes back against such abuses, and why we shouldn’t completely abandon faith in the justice system despite its numerous imperfections. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss our interview with broadcast journalist, political commentator, and 18-time Emmy Award winner Anderson Cooper? Catch up with episode 584: Anderson Cooper | The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty here!
Thanks, Elie Honig!
If you enjoyed this session with Elie Honig, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away with It by Elie Honig | Amazon
- Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor’s Code and Corrupted the Justice Department | Amazon
- Third Degree | Vox Media
- Up Against The Mob | Vox Media
- Elie Honig | Twitter
- Elie Honig | Instagram
- Elie Honig | Facebook
- Elie Honig | LinkedIn
- What Bill Cosby, Jimmy Saville, and Harvey Weinstein Have In Common by Tina Viju | Medium
- Jeffrey Epstein Plea Deal: Justice Dept. Faults Alex Acosta for ‘Poor Judgment’ but Finds No Misconduct | The Washington Post
- Sammy “The Bull” Gravano | Mafia Underboss Part One | Jordan Harbinger
- Sammy “The Bull” Gravano | Mafia Underboss Part Two | Jordan Harbinger
- Informants say Junior Gotti Colluded Legal Defense with Vinny Gorgeous | Five Families of New York City
- Paul Holes | Solving America’s Cold Cases | Jordan Harbinger
- Lawyers Make Closing Arguments in Genovese Murder/Racketeering Trial | Cosa Nostra News
- Last of 14 Gambino Crime Family Members and Associates Plead Guilty to Racketeering, Murder Conspiracy, Extortion, Sex Trafficking, and Other Crimes | FBI
- Orange County Choppers | Prime Video
- Judge Gives Gambino Associate 23-Year Sentence | Five Families of New York City
- ‘Don’t Worry’ Murray Doin’ Time | Bronx Times
- Better Call Saul | Prime Video
- Shadow Counsel | Wikipedia
- Are Public Defenders Generally Subpar Compared to Private Lawyers? What Makes Them Want That Job? | Quora
- How Cash Bail Works | Brennan Center for Justice
- Sam Bankman-Fried, Prosecutors Reach New Bail Agreement | Reuters
- Watch: Elie Honig Explains Why DOJ Prosecutors Recommend against Charging Rep. Gaetz | CNN Politics
- Note From Elie: Gaetz Skates — Prosecutorial Malpractice | Cafe
- Judge Who Presided over Michael Cohen Case Dies at Age 68 | AP News
- Andrew Tate Finds Romania Less Lawless Than He Hoped | The New York Times
- James Comey Struggled Over Whether to Prosecute Martha Stewart | Law & Crime
- A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey | Amazon
- Lil’ Kim Convicted of Perjury | Today
843: Elie Honig | How the Rich Get Away with Crime
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[00:00:14] Elie Honig: Even with the guys I prosecuted, I mean, I prosecuted John Gotti Jr. And he's written positively about me in his book and said I was a good prosecutor and fair and effective in front of the jury and all that. Because I never made it personal. It was business like I never was like, "I hate you when I'm going to destroy you." I was like, "You're a human being. I'm going to try to prove you're guilt. I probably will." And you know, I never wagged fingers in their faces or tried to humiliate them. I tried to prove their guilt and sent them to jail, but they respected that.
[00:00:45] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. Our mission is to help you become a better informed, more critical thinker through long-form conversations with a variety of amazing folks, from spies to CEOs, athletes, authors, thinkers, and performers, even the occasional former cult member, rocket scientist, or Emmy-nominated comedian.
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[00:01:59] Today, powerful people often get away with crimes, but how do they do that? How do they play the system so that they never face real accountability? Relax. We're not going to talk about Donald Trump or Hunter Biden's laptop, so everyone just take a deep breath, but we will talk about Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Jeffrey Epstein, the mafia, politicians, public defenders, prosecutors, and the FBI. As you know, I've got a legal background, but I think this is an interesting conversation, especially for non-lawyers, and I hope you enjoy this conversation. I found it quite insightful. Here we go with Elie Honig.
[00:02:35] So powerful people, they get away with a lot of crimes, or at least that's the impression we have as a society or that many of us have in society. And in fact, when I read news articles and stuff like that, it's like, "Oh, this guy's, nothing's ever going to happen to him." Or if something is happening to that person, it's wow, that took 30 years. And we'll talk about some of these examples, you know, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and when they finally got their due or are in the process of getting it, it's like, wait, there were reports about this guy in the early '90s doing this, or in the '80s doing this, or in the early aughts doing this. How come it took so long? I'm curious, you've got a lot of experience trying and putting powerful people in prison, so that might be a good place to start.
[00:03:18] Elie Honig: Yeah. So Jordan, what I try to do in this book is use my own experience as a prosecutor. I was a federal and state prosecutor for 14 years. The main type of cases I did were mafia cases.
[00:03:27] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:03:27] Elie Honig: And maybe interestingly or sadly, there's actually a lot of parallels between some of the tactics that I saw with mobsters and with famous or powerful people who are not mobsters. And you list a couple of good examples. If we look at the cases of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Jeffrey Epstein, one could look at them and say, "But they all ended up either in jail or doing some time in jail before being released," as in Bill Cosby's case. So none of them really got away with it because they all ended up getting their comeuppance, however, and you made this point. None of that happened until after the media and the public in general really brought light to it and put pressure on prosecutors. In fact, if you look at all three of those cases, the first time through the system, prosecutors either completely gave the cases away or let these guys off with ridiculously light punishments, and we can go through them, you know, each one at a time.
[00:04:19] Jeffrey Epstein, let's take that for an example. Jeffrey Epstein was prosecuted in federal court in Florida, or he was being investigated by the US Attorney's Office in Florida back in 2008. They had him dead to rights child sex abuse, child sex trafficking, and the US attorney at the time, the head federal prosecutor was this guy Alexander Acosta. He gets overwhelmed by Jeffrey Epstein's multimillion-dollar legal team, Alan Dershowitz, Kenneth Starr, all these former federal prosecutors, and they give the case away to where Epstein ends up pleading to a low-level state crime, a prostitution crime. He gets sentenced to 13 months, and he's allowed to spend his weekdays, day times at his lawyer's office, basically just hanging out. That's the entire punishment for Jeffrey Epstein.
[00:05:02] Now, he would've totally skated with that, except that 10 years later, he gets put in the cabinet by Donald Trump. That brings renewed attention from Congress, from the media, from prosecutors, and only then did my former office, the Southern District of New York, bring charges against him quite belatedly, really, 10 years after the fact. And then, of course, he's locked up and he dies in prison. Cosby got a pass the first time through. Harvey Weinstein got a pass the first time through. And in all those instances, these prosecutors only did even partially the right thing when enormous pressure was brought to bear.
[00:05:33] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I want to talk about those cases, but I want to back up a little bit and start with some of your mafia connection, or not connections, sorry, mafia connections that you have to putting mafia people in prison. I have to be careful how I phrase that.
[00:05:46] Elie Honig: There's a difference.
[00:05:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, there's a big difference. You dealt a lot with Gambinos, Genovese crime families. Let's hear about some of those cases because we've had people on this show for like Sammy the Bull and things like that, and I remember talking with some of these mob guys and you know they're afraid of the FBI and they're afraid of prosecutors. It seems like they're a bunch of fearless getaway-with-anything kind of guys, but no, they're trying to avoid talking to you ever. That's the idea.
[00:06:13] Elie Honig: And that's exactly right. They are allergic to heat. The one thing they do not want is heat.
[00:06:18] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:06:18] Elie Honig: Sammy Gravano was really among the first generation of big-time mob cooperators. I sort of got the next generation of Gambino and Genovese cooperators, including a guy named Joey D'Angelo, who was basically Sammy's adopted son, more or less. Same name, by the way, as the California killer, different guy. This is Joey D'Angelo from New York. I got the next generation of Gambino cooperators. I sort of learned how to flip these guys, and you're exactly right. You know, there was this approach to flipping people in the prosecutor's office of scare these guys, get in their face pointing.
[00:06:51] None of that worked for me. They're not going to be afraid of me. What am I going to do, you know? What they're afraid of is law enforcement heat. They're afraid of the laws, they're afraid of the sentencing guidelines. They're afraid of the mandatory minimums. And so I learned very early on that if you can bring a strong case for serious charges and you're straight up with them and you give it to them straight, you go, "Look, you can go to trial on this murder case, confident in our case if you lose your go to jail for life. But if you flip, I take care of my cooperators pretty good and I got a reputation for that." You can flip a lot of people that way and that's how you make new cases.
[00:07:20] So that was sort of the bread and butter of what I did. I flipped a lot of made guys, powerful guys. And as a result, solved a lot of murders, took down bosses, captains. And a lot of those lessons of some of the things that powerful mobsters do to insulate themselves really carry over to other contexts in a way that kind of surprised me when I actually sat down and laid it all out in the book.
[00:07:39] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I thought that was interesting because at first, I was like, oh, he is going to reach for this and that. And I was like, no, that's actually the exact same thing. Like you look at Enron or something.
[00:07:47] Elie Honig: That's spot on.
[00:07:47] Jordan Harbinger: I'm like, wow, these guys are just like mobsters.
[00:07:49] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:07:50] Jordan Harbinger: They just use Outlook instead of the hidden notes in an Italian restaurant or whatever.
[00:07:56] Elie Honig: Right.
[00:07:56] Jordan Harbinger: How do you get evidence on these people? You mentioned flipping people, but first of all, how do you even get evidence on these folks? Yeah. You go to the crime, or not you, but the police go to the crime scene and get a gun—
[00:08:06] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:08:07] Jordan Harbinger: —shell or a weapon or something like anybody else, but I'm talking more like testimony or them admitting something. How do you even begin to build a case on somebody like this?
[00:08:17] Elie Honig: The truth of the matter, you know, if all you ever did was watch TV shows and movies, you would think that prosecutors make cases based on all forensics, right?
[00:08:25] Jordan Harbinger: Right, and DNA evidence.
[00:08:25] Elie Honig: Lab magic and DNA and blood spatters and—
[00:08:28] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:08:28] Elie Honig: —psychoanalysis. Well, that's the biggest BS by the way of the world, the idea of a profiler. If anyone ever said in an actual prosecutor's office, "Hey, why don't we talk to a profiler?" You get laughed out of there. Like, that's not a real thing.
[00:08:40] Jordan Harbinger: Right. It's like talking to a psychic and trying to get information.
[00:08:43] Elie Honig: Yeah. It's a borderline that, and then all the profilers say the same thing, "Whoever committed this murder was a male full of rage." Like no kidding. It doesn't help me make a case. But look, the reality is cooperating witnesses are the lifeblood of what we do as prosecutors, especially in the federal system because the state system is more your street murders, your one-offs. But in the federal system, you're looking at RICO enterprise, racketeering enterprises, mafia families, drug trafficking enterprises. And if you can get, usually we actually sort of solve them almost in reverse. For example, we flipped a guy in the Genovese family named Anthony Arillotta. Actually, I have my ongoing season of my podcast, focuses on this. And when we flipped Anthony Arillotta, he gave us the murder that we had charged him with based on the testimony of another cooperator. And he said, "There's two more you guys don't know about." And then we said, oh, and we went and found those. We actually dug up a dead body. He told us where this dead body was. That's pretty good corroboration.
[00:09:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:09:37] Elie Honig: A guy who'd been missing for seven years, he said, "We did that murder, I'll show you where the body is." Took us into the woods of Agawam, Massachusetts. We dug up that body and another one we found the victim who survived, and we talked to him, and then you backfill it. Then, you go through your forensics, you go, "Oh, okay. Here's the crime scene. We found shell casings at the crime scene." In one of the hits they did. Anthony told us, "You know, one of the guys on the hit team stayed at a hotel the night before." We went back in time, found the hotel records, found that the guy actually had stayed at a hotel right near the crime scene the night before. So every case is sort of unique, but really it usually starts with tips from cooperators and then you go back and try to back them up with documents, financial records, cell phone records can be very powerful with physical evidence, whatever helps prove it.
[00:10:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It seems very complicated to prosecute a case like this. First of all, though, wh when somebody says, "Hey, there's two more murders that you guys don't know about." I assume they don't just go, "Well, you got me. By the way, I killed a whole bunch more people." How do you—
[00:10:35] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:10:36] Jordan Harbinger: —broach the subject of, "You can tell us this and we're not just going to use it to nail you to the cross even harder"?
[00:10:42] Elie Honig: You've hit on a really important point, which is it is totally counterintuitive to these guys.
[00:10:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:10:48] Elie Honig: But this is the deal we say to them straight up, and a good defense lawyer is important to help explain this too. We will explain to a potential cooperator as well as a good defense lawyer, you have to tell them everything. We used to say, "Start when you were a teenager and you stole a candy bar from 7-Eleven, and we'll go from there and you're going to tell us everything, whether you're charged for or not, and you're going to plead guilty to it, by the way, if it's serious enough." Now you say, why would anyone do that? How's that in anyone's self-interest?
[00:11:12] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:11:12] Elie Honig: The answer is, it is well understood with prosecutors and with judges that you get an enormous benefit for cooperating. And we would flag to judges, we would say judge, like in the case of Anthony Arillotta, we charged him originally with murder, the first murder, murder A, he came in and admitted to murder A, but also he told us affirmatively, voluntarily about murders B and C, which we did not know about. And the reality is the cooperator in that case is going to get a heavy, heavy discount from the judge.
[00:11:40] I had a different cooperator, Genovese cooperator, who had been convicted of massive marijuana trafficking and he got 14 years with somebody else. Then, he cooperated with me, gave me a murder where he shot the guy and then gave us everyone else who was involved. So he pled guilty to a murder on top of marijuana and ended up getting a lower sentence than he would've just for the marijuana. So, you're right, it is counterintuitive and why would anyone do this? But in the final calculus, 99 times out of a hundred, they will do better.
[00:12:07] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting. So if I killed one person, that's a big problem. But if I killed three people and you just don't know who the other two are, I'm actually possibly going to be better off having told you that than just having killed the one person that you can prove
[00:12:20] Elie Honig: That actually could be correct.
[00:12:22] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:12:22] Elie Honig: I mean, you know, we're certainly going to value getting everybody involved in that first murder, but yeah. And look, you know, one thing that defense lawyers argue at trial is, this cooperator, this Sammy the Bull, whoever is just trying to please them, he's just trying to give them information that they're interested in. He's just trying to bend to their will. And that's why the corroboration, the phone records, the forensics, that all matters so much because you have to prove to the jury that this isn't made up. Here's the body.
[00:12:46] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yeah. If he says, here's where the body is. I remember the guy had weird tennis shoes on. You dig up a guy, I think this is the case in the book, right? He had bullet shells in his pocket—
[00:12:54] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:12:54] Jordan Harbinger: —and it's like—
[00:12:55] Elie Honig: You got it.
[00:12:55] Jordan Harbinger: —we put the bullet in his pocket and it's like, well you could only know that if you were there, did it yourself or if somebody really gave you a detailed version of the story and who was that person because that person was there.
[00:13:05] Elie Honig: Exactly. I got to say to the jury, you know, there's this expression, does so-and-so know where the bodies are buried? And what it means is, does this guy really know what he's talking about? Does he have the goods?
[00:13:15] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:13:15] Elie Honig: In this case, Anthony Arillotta literally knew where the body was buried. And you're right. All the details in that case, because basically the story Anthony told us was, "This guy who we killed, his name's Gary Westerman. He was a bad guy with us, but we thought he was cooperating. So we lure him into the woods. The way we lure him in we told him we are going to rob a marijuana dealer together, the four of us, and we're all going to put on our masks and our tasers, and we're going to go in the back door of this guy's house and we're going to tie him up and we're going to take his marijuana." Well, they get out in the woods and they kill him. That's what Anthony says, "And we dump him in a grave." When we dug the body up. The body went in, head down, feet up. And the first thing that we found with the back loader, when we were digging it out, the FBI, I wasn't physically there, but I was being kept up to date. The FBI hit the soles of a couple, can I say the brand?
[00:13:59] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, sure.
[00:14:00] Elie Honig: A couple of Nikes. And I said, wow, well, there it is. And I said, well, in a way that's sort of the best ad for Nike ever. I mean, seven years later, the Nikes are in perfect shape, even though they've been buried in the Massachusetts woods for seven years.
[00:14:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I'll get the sales team on that. Nike, hey, you should sponsor this show. You got a favorable shout-out about the durability of your products.
[00:14:18] Elie Honig: We have an unorthodox pitch for you, Nike.
[00:14:20] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:14:20] Elie Honig: Hear us out.
[00:14:21] Jordan Harbinger: Hear us out.
[00:14:22] Elie Honig: Exactly. But yeah, I mean, you know, the guy, as we dug him up, the ski mask was still on. He had a taser in his pockets. There were shell casings all around. They shot him. And this is by the way, people sometimes say, "How do you believe these guys? Why do you credit these guys?"
[00:14:36] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:14:36] Elie Honig: Anthony Arillotta is a perfect example because Anthony told us, "We start shooting him in the woods, but he wasn't dying." And it turned out that basically one of the silencers had malfunctioned. And so it was like slowing down the bullets—
[00:14:46] Jordan Harbinger: Uh-huh.
[00:14:47] Elie Honig: —on the way out enough that they were sort of venting the guy's skull but not killing him.
[00:14:50] Jordan Harbinger: Oh God.
[00:14:50] Elie Honig: And so Anthony said, "So we grabbed a shovel that we were going to use for the grave and bashed his head in," and I said to Anthony, "Who did that though? Which of the four of you hit him over the head with the shovel?" And Anthony said, "Me and this other guy, Emilio Fusco." And at that moment I knew Anthony was credible because there's no way we could've checked this. There's no surveillance footage. He could've easily said, "Oh, I wasn't one of the shovel bashers. It was Freddy and Emilio."
[00:15:13] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:15:14] Elie Honig: But he said, "Me and Emilio." And to me, it's like, why would he falsely say that?
[00:15:18] Jordan Harbinger: It's almost like the worse these guys are and the more stuff they cop to, the more credible they are because it's like, well, he's incriminating himself and all this horrible stuff, but at the same time, he's also incriminating this boss. So we kind of want to maybe believe that because the reality is he doesn't have an incentive to do, to lie. In this case, it's really against his own interest.
[00:15:40] Elie Honig: You said the keyword. You could have been a prosecutor. The word you said is incentive. And what defense lawyers will always argue as well, his incentive is to please these prosecutors.
[00:15:49] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:15:49] Elie Honig: He wants to make stuff up. He wants to tell them what they want to hear. We would counterargue, look, this is a self-interested guy, folks. He's not cooperating because he becomes altruistic. He's in this because he wants to get the best possible sentence. He told you that during his direct examination, the worst thing he could possibly do right now is lie to us because we're going to crosscheck him from a thousand different angles and if he lies to us or misleads us. He gets his, what we call 5K letter, his sentencing letter from us, gets ripped up and he's screwed because he's already pled guilty to all these murders. So his incentive now is to tell us the truth, for better or worse.
[00:16:21] Jordan Harbinger: That seems delicate. I assume you're talking with the defense lawyer and there's a lot of really good agreements in place and you don't really have an incentive to screw these guys over by shredding a letter unless you have a really good reason to do so because you want future mafia guys to cooperate and you don't want a reputation of, yeah, they'll give you a great deal and then they're going to figure out how to screw you out of it.
[00:16:40] Elie Honig: It's funny you mentioned that because when I was prosecuting these cases, the local New York City tabloids, you know, the Post and the Daily News would run these sort of what I think they intended as negative pieces towards me and the guys I worked with on the Gambino squad at the FBI or the Genovese squad. So for example, when Michael DiLeonardo, who was a powerful capo, he was close with Sammy the Bull, flipped for us. And I did Michael's sentencing. I put Michael on the stand in a bunch of cases. Mikey Scars was his nickname.
[00:17:06] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:17:06] Elie Honig: But he always pointed out, "Not because I inflicted scars on people, but because I got bit by a dog when I was a kid." So he had facial scars, although he did inflict scars on people. But the Post and the Daily News both ran these articles like, "Oh, the feds made an impassion to plea for the Gambino killer. And they shook his hand afterwards and they really went to bat for him. And the judge cut him this huge break and he only had to do time served, which was three years. And he walked out of jail." And I'm like, this is the best free advertising I could ever have. Because they all read the papers.
[00:17:34] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:17:34] Elie Honig: They're going to know that I go to bat for my cooperators who do it right. And I made sure they did it right or you have to make sure they get that—
[00:17:41] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:17:41] Elie Honig: —right off the bat. But I'm like, great. Tell the world. You cooperate with me and you're good, I will do all this for you.
[00:17:47] Jordan Harbinger: A lot of people view this as some kind of injustice. I mean, I would imagine you take a little bit of blowback. Like let's say someone, one of these guys kills your dad. And then he walks out with three years. It's like, well that sucks.
[00:18:00] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:18:00] Jordan Harbinger: But it's like, well, yeah, he killed a lot of people's dads and we were able to get all of the other guys that killed other people's dads because of him.
[00:18:06] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:18:07] Jordan Harbinger: It's a lot of horse trading that must be a little bit distasteful sometimes.
[00:18:10] Elie Honig: It is. It is. I will tell you two things. I used to get my haircut by this old-school Italian barber here in Manhattan. He was in the Woolworth building, right?
[00:18:18] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:18:19] Elie Honig: So this is like very madman era. It's like—
[00:18:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:18:21] Elie Honig: —the era when they would have like in an office building a little alcove on the first floor where the old barber would give you like a straight edge, right?
[00:18:26] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:18:27] Elie Honig: And when I did my first ever mob trial, I told them as I was getting my haircut, like this is my trial haircut, right? It's an important thing with us, prosecutors.
[00:18:34] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:18:35] Elie Honig: Superstition. And when it was done, I went back in three weeks later and he said, "I read about your case. Congratulations. We got a conviction." He goes, "Just one thing, did you have to do it with rats?" And I'm like, oh boy, this guy's like, you know, got this straight blade on me. People inherently don't like that. And you hit on such an interesting point is when it comes time for sentencing, any sentencing, in any case, the victims and the family of victims has the right to be present. And when it comes time to sentence the guy you convicted at trial, great. The victim's family's with you. They say, "Hell with him. He should rot in hell." And we're like, "Yes." But then when it comes time for your cooperator to be sentenced, exactly the dynamic you just said, the victim's family says, "Hell with him too and hell with the government for giving him a break." And our response is, I totally understand and respect that.
[00:19:18] Michael DiLeonardo is a good example. Look at Michael DiLeonardo. He was involved in three different murders sometimes just by passing a message. But he pled guilty to three different murders, but he helped us bring down 80-something mobsters. I think he helped us solve a dozen unsolved murders. He testified at 15 trials, and so yes, it's a little bit cold mathematical utilitarian calculus, but I think it's fair to say more good than bad on the scale.
[00:19:44] Jordan Harbinger: Does it make a difference if the person killed other mobsters or if they killed just random people while robbing them, or let's say, cops?
[00:19:53] Elie Honig: Yeah, I think it does. I think all that matters. You know, the vast majority of mafia murders are other gangsters.
[00:19:59] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:19:59] Elie Honig: Or other people who, who have intermingled with the mob. I mean, the mob is smart, right? They are very cost-benefit, and it doesn't do them any good or make any sense for them to just kill a civilian. In fact, they're not supposed to kill civilians. They're not supposed to kill anyone without the boss's permission. But mobsters know that every murder comes with a ton of risk because murders are how murder charges happen. Murder charges are how cooperators happen. But you do want to, I mean, I'll give you an example. I opened the book with a story of a guy named Frank Hydell, who was an informant with the cops.
[00:20:31] And he was around the Gambino family, not part of it, but the Gambino family sort of set him up using his best friend to lure him out to a strip club in Staten Island. And then out in the parking lot, another one of his friends ran up and shot him and his uncle, Frank Hydell, the victim's uncle, was this guy, Danny Marino, not the NFL player, but the gangster, Danny Marino, who authorized the murder. And to me, the fact that Frank Hydell was 31 years old, the fact that his uncle had authorized the murder, the fact that it was done in such a cold-blooded manner makes it a little different than two captains in a turf war or something like that. So I do think it makes a difference who your victim is and what the circumstances are.
[00:21:08] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting. I figured it had to make, because it's a little distasteful if somebody, let's say they were just a butcher and they killed a bunch of civilians, or they liked it. They took a lot of pleasure out of killing someone's whole family or something. It would be harder to give that person a plea deal than somebody who just killed—
[00:21:23] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:21:23] Jordan Harbinger: —nine, like Sammy the Bull killed 19 people or whatever he's copped to, but he basically said, everybody I killed was a bad guy just like me. That's what he told me.
[00:21:33] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:21:33] Jordan Harbinger: And I guess I believe that.
[00:21:35] Elie Honig: Yeah. I'm not sure they're all as bad as Sammy, but—
[00:21:38] Jordan Harbinger: Probably not.
[00:21:39] Elie Honig: Right. I mean, that would be hard to do.
[00:21:40] Jordan Harbinger: But not like, just random. It wasn't like, "Oh, we wanted to hit this guy's jewelry, so we killed him and then we killed all of his kids too." It was more like, "Yeah, this guy was another gangster and so I killed him. I mean, he is not exactly a saint."
[00:21:51] Elie Honig: I don't know if I would flip somebody who, who was involved in killing a civilian but I'll tell you the closest I came to that. I did a case where the Genovese family was putting together home break-ins, home invasions, right? Violent home invasions where people got zip-tied and beaten, never killed. And what they would do is they weren't just randomly going to homes. They were targeting either drug dealers who they knew kept a lot of cash or drugs in their home, or owners of cash businesses. And in fact, this is all public. I can say this. Do you remember the TV show Orange County Choppers?
[00:22:21] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah. The motorcycle guys, right? Yeah.
[00:22:24] Elie Honig: Yeah, with the cutoff sleeves. So they were among the victims. So this crew of Genovese guys, again, I'm not speaking at our school here, there's public record on all this. They did a whole string of robberies. But one of the people they targeted, they got a tip that, his name was Paul Teutul, the owner of Orange County Choppers was keeping hundreds of thousands of dollars from like t-shirt sales. They would go to these motorcycle shows and make cash sales of merchandise. And then rather than reporting it and paying taxes—
[00:22:50] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:22:50] Elie Honig: —keep it like in a pillowcase. So these guys got a tip that this was happening. And so they would put together these crews, in fact, they would subcontract essentially the home invasions to Albanian gangsters.
[00:23:00] Jordan Harbinger: Oh wow.
[00:23:01] Elie Honig: And so these teams of four, five, or six Albanian gangsters combined with younger Genovese guys would go in, whoever was in the house would get tied up and usually beaten sometimes pretty badly. And then they would steal whatever they could steal. We flipped one of the guys who was involved in doing that. And you know, that was tough because that they were targeting innocent civilians. They didn't kill them thankfully. That was never part of the plan, but that made it a tougher trial, a tougher case because like it or not, you're sort of getting in bed with these guys—
[00:23:31] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:23:31] Elie Honig: —in front of a jury, and you own them. You own what they did. So that's definitely trickier.
[00:23:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that's, wow, that's really interesting. I remember when I was really young, I helped a friend's dad. He sold, literally, he sold like Backstreet Boys t-shirts at concerts in one of those vendor cart kind of situations.
[00:23:50] Elie Honig: Mm-hmm.
[00:23:50] Jordan Harbinger: And I remember we were helping him take the money back to his car, and I'm thinking, this is really unsafe. And at one time had worn, you know, those Dockers pants that were popular in like the early '90s?
[00:24:02] Elie Honig: Of course.
[00:24:02] Jordan Harbinger: I had those on and I probably had $35,000 shoved in the pockets, my other pockets in a bag and I was just thinking, there's got to be a better way to do this.
[00:24:14] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:24:14] Jordan Harbinger: And there is, by the way, but yeah.
[00:24:16] Elie Honig: It's called doing it through bank accounts and electronic transactions, but then you got to report it. So I'm not going to say whether your friend's dad was reporting his backstreet sales.
[00:24:23] Jordan Harbinger: Probably not. But also maybe an armed guard would've been a good idea with a bag or a box or—
[00:24:28] Elie Honig: Yeah. That's what these guys were doing, man. And they had a scrap metal dealer, but drug dealers were their big targets. Because what are you going to do? You're a drug dealer, you get robbed, you're going to call the cops, right?
[00:24:38] Jordan Harbinger: Absolutely not.
[00:24:39] Elie Honig: Absolutely not. I mean, drug dealers rob each other all the time. Yeah.
[00:24:41] Jordan Harbinger: You know, I think he was 2020 hindsight. I do believe the plan was he dropped it in an after-hours cash drop at a bank, and it was all in these weird zip bags.
[00:24:53] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:24:53] Jordan Harbinger: That I remember were very specifically something that I had never seen and they locked, but we only had a few of those, and the rest of it, it was like, shove all these hundreds of dollars into your pockets and try not to drop any.
[00:25:06] Elie Honig: They'll rob those by the way as well. I did a case against some Gambinos who were specialized in stealing those after-hours bank dropboxes. They would use a gaffing hook, which is the fishing—
[00:25:17] Jordan Harbinger: What is that?
[00:25:17] Elie Honig: —device.
[00:25:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:25:18] Elie Honig: Not really but it's basically like a long pole with a hook on the end.
[00:25:22] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:25:23] Elie Honig: And one of my friends did this trial. I was supervising him and they had that as evidence in front of the jury. And apparently one of the breaks, the defendant goes, "You're holding that thing all wrong. Like, let me show you. The way you do is you hold it like this and you leverage it in," but they'll steal anything, man. They'll steal, they'll uproot those things right out from the bank drive-through.
[00:25:39] Jordan Harbinger: Geez. Oh, I see. They were reaching in there with that thing to get the bag.
[00:25:42] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:25:42] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, that's pretty clumsy but clever I suppose.
[00:25:45] Elie Honig: It's primitive, but it used to work for them. Yeah.
[00:25:50] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Elie Honig. We'll be right back.
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[00:29:45] Now, back to Elie Honig.
[00:29:48] What about wiretaps? How do these work? Because you hear about this all the time and you think like, okay, they're sitting in the equivalent of NASA mission control, and it's all very futuristic, but I doubt it.
[00:29:58] Elie Honig: There's two kinds of wiretaps, just generally speaking. You get up on someone's phone, you have to go to a judge. It's a pain in the ass. You have to establish probable cause, whole long affidavit.
[00:30:08] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:30:08] Elie Honig: And you have to show basically that you have probable cause that you will get evidence of an ongoing crime being discussed on that wiretap. It actually is kind of NASA-ish. Like if you've ever been in the wire room at 26 Fed, which is the FBI headquarters in Manhattan, it's basically like dozens of individual carrels. You know what I mean? Like desks, cubicles, and you're live on that phone and it's boredom, it's long stretches of just reading the paper and—
[00:30:31] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:30:32] Elie Honig: —eating Doritos and then boom, it rings and you put on the headphones, I'm wearing goofy headphones like that and you're listening and recording in real-time and sometimes they're dud, sometimes you go up on a phone that's already been dropped. I once went up on a phone that was the guy just used it to talk to his girlfriend. Nothing, you know? But especially in drug cases, you'll get really good conversations. In drug cases, they like to use, they use code.
[00:30:53] Jordan Harbinger: I was going to ask you about that. What happens if somebody's like, "I want four t-shirts." Like, okay, you know what they're talking—
[00:30:58] Elie Honig: Yeah. Well, that's funny. You mentioned like they're not going to go, "I need four kilos."
[00:31:00] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:31:00] Elie Honig: The most common slang is three things — t-shirts, tickets, and girls. So they'll go, "Hey, do you have any girls?" "Oh, I got six girls coming in tomorrow, but I only have one right now." We did one case where they were saying, cars, "Oh, I have 14 cars." "I only need four cars." And in one instance, the guy's like, "Hey, how many cars do you have?" And the other guy's, like, "I got two and a half cars right now." It's like, all right. That one I think you're probably not talking about actual cars.
[00:31:26] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:31:26] Elie Honig: Mob wiretaps are kind of tricky because they're never going to say anything. The most they're going to say is, "Hey, did you talk to the guy?" "Uh-huh." "All right." Hey, did you do that thing?" "Uh-huh." I mean, so it can help a little bit. The other kind of wiretap, which is a little different legally, is when someone's wearing a wire for you. Now, it's not like the movies where they actually have a physical, you know, you rip open their shirt and you, "Ah, he's wearing a wire." There's much more sophisticated technological ways now, but I've had guys wearing who are wired up for us for six months at a time. And we would tell them when you go out, you just hit on, and when you get home, you hit off, don't mess with it in between. And so you end up with hours and hours of recordings. And this one guy who flipped for us, wore a wire, a driver, a longtime driver for the Gambino family. First of all, we had these like Austin Powers moments where you'd be listening to the tape and you just hear him like, we're relieving himself.
[00:32:12] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:32:12] Elie Honig: You know, taking the leak, going, "Oh," we'd be like, "Howie, you don't have to be like, so expressive."
[00:32:17] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:32:18] Elie Honig: But he did get a guy to confess a full murder. He decided to take a shot. Now, you don't ask questions in the mob, right? Like, if you and I were both in the mob and I was like, "Hey Jordan, did you ever, were you ever involved when they killed that guy? Were you involved?" Like if I asked you that, you'd be like, "This guy's a rat right away."
[00:32:32] Jordan Harbinger: Uh-huh. Yeah.
[00:32:32] Elie Honig: But Howie gave it a shot and he said to this, this one guy Todd LaBarca, again, this is all public record. They had gotten hot dogs on the street from like a hot dog, dirty water, hot dog vendor. And Howie just goes, "Todd, I got to ask you. Like, no offense, like, let me just ask you like, do you know anything about the murder?" This guy Martin Bosshart had been murdered. "You know anything about the Bosshart murder?" And LaBarca just goes, "Yeah, I was in on it. It was me and this guy, and this guy." We were like, "Holy crap." So, we solved the murder that way. So wiretaps are a lot of work, but that is a golden source of evidence.
[00:33:02] Jordan Harbinger: God, that seems so blatant that he just like, did he have a reason? "Eh, I read about this in the paper and I want to know who killed this guy." Like that's a little bit of a stretch.
[00:33:11] Elie Honig: Exactly. I mean, we said to Howie like, "Are you nuts? "And he goes, again, our cooperator, Howie was like, "I just had a feeling. Todd is not a hard ass. I had a feeling Todd wanted to brag about it. I just thought I could get it out of him." Actually, when he is done after that recording, Howie gets back in his car and he is going to turn off the device and you're supposed to do a little standard preamble, postamble, say, "Howie Santos, February 9th, 3:00 p.m., signing off." Now, he goes, "Howie Santos, whatever date, just solve the Bosshart murder, signing off."
[00:33:42] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:33:43] Elie Honig: Like, you know, you don't quite want him being that entrepreneurial but—
[00:33:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:33:47] Elie Honig: —he got the job done for us. I mean, Todd LaBarca is in jail now for a long time for that murder based on that one conversation he had while eating a hotdog.
[00:33:53] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:33:55] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:33:55] Jordan Harbinger: It does make sense that there's a whole lot of nothing on there. I would imagine. There's a lot of juicy stuff though, occasionally. Is there anything that's funny? I mean, besides dudes taking giant pisses on there. There's got to be a few of the funnier stories.
[00:34:07] Elie Honig: So there's a hell of a lot of nothing. I mean, it's 98 percent nothing. It's just like, to an extent, like when they would get together, it would just be the same as any group of 11 dudes hanging out on a Sunday. So they were all like degenerate sports gamblers.
[00:34:19] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:34:19] Elie Honig: So like we have an entire record. I'm a Philadelphia Eagles fan, and so there was one recording where they were watching the game where the Eagles lost to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship game. The Cardinals then played the Steelers in the Super Bowl, like, Larry Fitzgerald. But I'm listening. I'm like, oh sh*t, this is that game. Like I got to relive this game where my team lost the NFC championship game. There's all sorts of stupid talk about drugs. You know, they're vain, these guys, they're very concerned with hair dye and getting manicures and tans. I mean, you know, maybe somewhat stereotypical, but there's a lot of talk about that and getting their chest waxed and stuff. Like you're just listening, this is what they care about. I'll tell you one other thing that I love. These guys are actually pretty sophisticated legally.
[00:35:02] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:35:02] Elie Honig: I can't remember who it was, I think it was Howie, the guy I'm talking about. There's one conversation where one of their friends had been convicted in the Southern District of New York, and someone's like, "Well, now, he gets to appeal, he's in the third circuit." And someone else goes, "No, no, no. Philly's the third circuit. New York's the second circuit." And I'm like, well, that's exactly right.
[00:35:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:35:19] Elie Honig: They know the federal circuits. So I'm like—
[00:35:21] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:35:21] Elie Honig: —impressed by that. Yeah.
[00:35:23] Jordan Harbinger: That's a guy who's been through a lot of trials and had a lot of lawyers.
[00:35:26] Elie Honig: Yeah. Yeah. Listen, they know who the prosecutors are, they know who the judges are. Like they're sophisticated consumers of this system.
[00:35:35] Jordan Harbinger: That would be a little scary. Did it ever concern you that there were guys on wiretaps being like, "Ah, that Elie Honig guy? Yeah, you got to watch out for him. But I'll tell you what, he flipped so-and-so, he must have offered him a good deal." It's like, I don't know if I want these guys to know much about me.
[00:35:51] Elie Honig: There were definitely wiretaps of guys talking about me and the FBI agents I would work with. There's one where they're calling him [indiscernible] whatever. But I mean, I am not, you know, I've never really been afraid by these guys. Partially because what we were talking about before, one of the mob rules, the mob has its rules and some of them are really observed. Some of them, well, let me put it this way, a lot of them are broken. You're not supposed to deal in drugs. A lot of them deal in drugs. They think it's beneath them, but there's so much money in it. They do it. You're not supposed to mess with another guy's wife or sister. That one gets broken from time to time, but one of the ones they don't break is you're not supposed to deal with a prosecutor. You're not supposed to threaten or go after a prosecutor, a cop, or a judge. And that's not because they're good guys. That's because it's bad business, right?
[00:36:33] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:36:33] Elie Honig: If you take out a prosecutor, it's not like the case goes away, they'll just plug in the next prosecutor and all holy hell will reign down on you. The entire FBI will come, you know, swarm your house and your parent's house. And you know, they used to do this a little bit in the '70s, but that hasn't happened in a long time. And also, strangely, Jordan, I had pretty good relationships even with the guys I prosecuted. I mean, I prosecuted John Gotti Jr. And he's written positively about me in his book and said I was a good prosecutor and fair and effective in front of the jury and all that because I never made it personal. It was business like I never was like, "I hate you when I'm going to destroy you." I was like, "You're a human being. I'm going to try to prove your guilt. I probably will." And you know, I never wagged fingers in their faces or tried to humiliate them. I tried to prove their guilt and send them to jail, but they respected that.
[00:37:19] Jordan Harbinger: I guess if you still show the so-called respect that they pretend to appreciate, then—
[00:37:23] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:37:23] Jordan Harbinger: —you know, whatever, at that point.
[00:37:25] Elie Honig: Oddly.
[00:37:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Oddly.
[00:37:26] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:37:26] Jordan Harbinger: Back to the code thing, I, it seems really dumb to say girls because then it just sounds like a prostitution operation that's still worth investigating.
[00:37:33] Elie Honig: Yeah. Yeah. I guess you're right, exactly. Like, "We're selling girls. Do you have any girls?" Yeah, I mean, lower level crime, I guess they would gladly plead to that if they could because penalties for drugs much higher.
[00:37:42] Jordan Harbinger: But like, why use any crime when you can be like, do you have any potatoes?
[00:37:46] Elie Honig: Right. Yeah.
[00:37:47] Jordan Harbinger: I got a bunch of potatoes. You know, like, no one cares about that.
[00:37:49] Elie Honig: That's a very good question. That's a very good question. Yeah. I don't know.
[00:37:52] Jordan Harbinger: 14.5 cars or t-shirts doesn't, yeah, nobody wants half a t-shirt, half a car.
[00:37:57] Elie Honig: Yeah. $10,000 for half a t-shirt. Crazy.
[00:37:59] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Wow. These must be really, what are they? Dolce & Gabbana. I mean, I guess when the jury hears that you don't need to break the code, because the whole myth is like, well now, they can't prove you're talking about drugs. And it's like, well—
[00:38:11] Elie Honig: No.
[00:38:12] Jordan Harbinger: —he got caught with 14 and a half kilos and the day before he said, I have 14.5 cars.
[00:38:17] Elie Honig: Exactly right.
[00:38:18] Jordan Harbinger: We can't say directly that he copped to it, but you as a non-moron can probably infer that now t-shirts\ means drugs.
[00:38:26] Elie Honig: Exactly right. And you know, that's an element of the criminal justice system that people don't always understand is you, as a non-moron, you're allowed to use common sense. I mean, judges tell juries, "You are allowed to use your common sense. You know, you are allowed to draw inferences." Like the example judges always give juries is, "Look, you can look out the window and see raindrops falling. You will know it's raining. But let's say that all the shades were drawn and you saw someone walk in the back door of this courtroom wearing wet boots and shaking out an umbrella. You are allowed to infer from that that it's raining." You are allowed to use, maybe a sink exploded on them while they happen to be, who knows? But like, you can use your common sense. People think juries are sort of mechanical or robotic, but no, I mean, common sense is one of the most powerful tools that juries have and they're supposed to use.
[00:39:08] Jordan Harbinger: I'm curious about mob lawyers. Lawyers work for their client usually, right? So if your client is the whole mob, who are you loyal to the mob or the guy who you're representing?
[00:39:21] Elie Honig: So I write about this in the book because this is a perfect example of something the mob does, but so do a lot of corporations and powerful politicians. First of all, It's funny that a lot of lawyers who represent a lot of mobsters, most lawyers who I consider mob lawyers get really pissed if you say, if you refer to them as mob lawyers.
[00:39:39] Jordan Harbinger: I would assume so.
[00:39:39] Elie Honig: With some exceptions.
[00:39:40] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:39:40] Elie Honig: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's not super flattering. Although there is a guy named Murray Richman, who's sort of a legendary figure, 85 years old. His nickname is "Don't Worry Murray." Legend is they modeled Better Call Saul after "Don't Worry Murray," but Murray, I interviewed him on my podcast. I did a murder trial against Murray. He represented a boss of the Genovese family, and I asked Murray straight up, I said, "Do you get offended by being called the mob lawyer?" He said, "No. Why? Why would I? I represent mobsters." But most of them do. But you know, one thing that is very common in the mob is the family and the bosses will select and pay for the lawyers for everyone else around them. Now they do that to make it essentially impossible for these guys to flip because even if they want to flip, even if it's in their best interest, they know I can't go to this lawyer, he'll just report me up the chain.
[00:40:23] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:40:24] Elie Honig: And so, I told a story in the book about a time when a lower ranking guy wanted to flip but knew he couldn't do it through his lawyer. So he sent his girlfriend on a sort of like backdoor mission to tell us that he wanted to flip. And we had to go into court and do this sort of cloak-and-dagger thing called shadow counsel, where the judge secretly appoints a lawyer who does not have a conflict of interest. And that's what happened in this case. And we managed to shake this guy loose, but it was really tough. But corporations do this all the time, and it's not necessarily bad or evil. If there's an investigation of a large corporation, usually the company itself will pay for lawyers for the employees. Now, a lot of times employees want that. It's expensive to get a lawyer, but it also has the natural effect of making it really difficult to cooperate because where's the loyalty to. Is the lawyer truly looking out for the best interest of the individual or the organization?
[00:41:12] And here's another point that I make, you know, I'm critical of prosecutors in the book to an extent as well. The Justice Department, the United States Justice Department, up until 2008, their policy was if you're a corporation or a political organization and you are providing attorneys for all your people, we're going to count that as a strike against you when it comes to deciding whether you've been cooperative or not, because we know that that makes it less likely and more difficult for those people to cooperate. But in 2008, DOJ just changed that policy. They said, "Actually, we're fine with it. You can do it, no penalty." And that has been the policy of DOJ from 2008 through now, through the Obama administration, through the Trump administration, through the Biden administration. And what that does is it helps bosses and powerful people protect themselves, and it makes it harder for prosecutors to flip the underlings.
[00:41:56] Jordan Harbinger: It seems quite confusing that, okay, so you're a mobster. You get arrested, you don't choose your own lawyer, the Gambino lawyer or whatever just shows up. And then you're not going to flip because if you even thought about flipping or talked about flipping or entertained the idea of talking to the feds, your lawyer's just going to go, "Yeah, he is trying to cut a deal," and you never make it out of jail or you never make it to the courthouse. So the shadow counsel, I assume that's only in very special cases. And does their counsel then try to fight that? Because it seems like if you're a mob lawyer you don't want shadow counsel, you're going to be like, this is unconstitutional or something.
[00:42:28] Elie Honig: Yeah. Shadow counsel is a very tricky process. And the whole point is you're doing it secretly. So normally rule of thumb is you are not allowed to go to a judge, what we call ex parte, meaning as a prosecutor in case you can't individually contact the judge unless the defense lawyer is there and vice versa.
[00:42:44] So what we had to do in this case is, this guy who wanted to flip his name is Anthony Russo. He sent his girlfriend secretly to the FBI agent. FBI agent comes to me one day. He goes, guess what? Russo wants to flip, but his girlfriend says he can't do it because of this lawyer. So I had to draft up papers for the judge saying, you know, under seal papers saying, "Here's the deal, judge. We have a good faith reason to believe Anthony Russo wants to flip. His girlfriend informed us of this." And the judge signed it and the judge was like, "Tell me what happens. I'm interested." And so the judge secretly appoints another lawyer off what we call the CJA wheel, meaning like established trustworthy defense lawyers that the court will use.
[00:43:22] And he had this lawyer, Jim Devita, who was a former prosecutor, Jim Devita, secretly met with Anthony Russo. Anthony Russo said, "Yes, I do want to flip. They're right." Devita came back and reported to the judge and us, "They're right. He does want to flip," and the judge said, "Okay, I'm appointing you, the shadow counsel. Now, you're the lawyer. The other guy's out."
[00:43:40] Jordan Harbinger: Huh?
[00:43:40] Elie Honig: We whisked him out of jail in the middle of the night like we were like, whoop. We pulled him right out and put him right in the witness protection program and basically stolen away, not stolen, but took him out of the clutches of the mob.
[00:43:51] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. That does seem a little bit cloak and dagger, like you said. So if somebody—
[00:43:54] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:43:54] Jordan Harbinger: —from a mob family though, if they're in prison, they're in jail, how do you even get shadow counsel to go and talk to them without everybody else knowing it? Because—
[00:44:03] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:44:03] Jordan Harbinger: —if you're in prison and they're like, "Whoa, that's one of the Gambino guys like, don't mess with that guy." And it's like, oh yeah, there's other Gambino associates and affiliates in here, and the cops are—
[00:44:12] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:44:12] Jordan Harbinger: —maybe sort of, you're not sure about them. How do you then have so-and-so trustworthy defense lawyer? It's like, "That's not the Gambino lawyer. Why is he here? Oh, he must be flipping like you." That's putting two and two together. You talked about inferences. That's a wet umbrella with wet boots if I've ever heard it.
[00:44:27] Elie Honig: It's a great question. And to add to that point, Jordan, everyone in prison knows every single thing that everyone else does.
[00:44:33] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:44:34] Elie Honig: I mean, I remember I had a cooperator once say to me, "If you take a piss in a different urinal than you usually use, everyone's going to know it and think something's up," right?
[00:44:40] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:44:41] Elie Honig: Like they are so in each other's business. I don't actually know exactly what Devita did in this case. I would guess he either, you know, if you have a lawyer meeting, I mean, there's a special room there, but like you get privacy, but people would see him sitting with Jim.
[00:44:53] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:44:54] Elie Honig: So I suspect either prison officials have sort of off-bounds rooms, you know, where that can't be seen. But if they pulled Anthony into one of them, people would know.
[00:45:01] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:45:02] Elie Honig: I suspect that they might have done it through the phone. In other words, you could set it up so that Anthony, you know, the inmate doesn't have to say anything, you just have him call the number and then you do ask him questions where all he's got to say is yes, no, yes, no. So that people around him listening to his phone call can't hear him. So if I was the lawyer, I'm just thinking, I'm just hypothesizing here, I maybe would have him call my number or call his girlfriend, and I would be with the girlfriend and I would say, "Anthony, my name is Jim Devita. The court has appointed me as your lawyer. Is it true that you're interested in cooperating?" "Yes." "Is it true that you don't feel like you can trust so-and-so who your current lawyer is?" "That's right." "Okay. Do you want me to go back to the prosecutors and the judge and tell them this?" "Yes." "Okay. Got it." You know what I mean? I'm guessing, I'm guessing.
[00:45:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:45:44] Elie Honig: I don't know specifically how they did it, in this case.
[00:45:46] Jordan Harbinger: It's got to be kind of tricky, like, oh, you're going to go talk to your lawyer on the phone. Okay. So you get a private little legal cabin, we don't know who you're talking to. And yeah, man, it seems very dangerous, right?
[00:45:56] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:45:56] Jordan Harbinger: Because then you got to hope like your girlfriend isn't being monitored by these other guys, or—
[00:46:00] Elie Honig: Yep.
[00:46:01] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man.
[00:46:02] Elie Honig: No, we were terrified. Look for the couple of days it took to get this done, we were terrified he would get killed. Like word would leak out somehow or someone would see something. I mean, people get killed in jail, but we couldn't move him until we had confirmed and as soon as we did, we just, boom. Pulled them out of there, threw them upstate, far away from here.
[00:46:17] Jordan Harbinger: I want to talk a little about public defenders because you mentioned this before, but they kind of have a rep like, "Oh, you took the free lawyer. This is bad." But I've heard people say, I've heard actual lawyers say that a lot of times, some of the pricey 500 plus dollars an hour lawyers, they'll call a public defender or a former public defender to come and consult on a case and just farm it out and take the difference because they don't know what to do. Meanwhile, public defenders had a thousand cases that are just like yours.
[00:46:43] Elie Honig: Public defenders are really, really good at what they do. The federal public defenders in Manhattan are as good as we are and we are an arrogant bunch. So that is saying something. There's a lot less of them as part of the problem, but you know how often it happens that someone gets a really good public defender, or what I said before that CJA wheel, which is sort of like very established lawyers who are willing to take cases for a court amount fee. It's like 150 bucks an hour. So it's sort of quasi-public defender. You know how often I've seen a defendant get one of those lawyers who's really, really good and then fire him and then go pay $40,000 for some schnook?
[00:47:17] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:47:18] Elie Honig: I mean, it happens all the time. State-level and county-level public defenders, who I dealt with in my time is a state prosecutor, also, there's plenty of them who are excellent, but they have to deal with a problem, which is just overwhelming caseload. And a lot of times they're just treading water. And just imagine if you had 200 clients, like how could you possibly give each of them individualized attention? So it is a little bit of more of just like, like a conveyor belt in the state and county system of just guilty plea, set it up, guilty plea, guilty plea, guilty plea. But by and large, I think it's absolutely false and a bum rack to say that for people who believe that public defenders are somehow subpar. I mean, there are some private lawyers who are fantastic, but there are by and large, like you're in good hands, especially if you get a federal public defender.
[00:48:02] Jordan Harbinger: This seems like this still doesn't wipe out the advantages that wealthy people have. Can we talk about that? How do rich people have an advantage in the justice of the criminal justice system?
[00:48:11] Elie Honig: So, first of all, you can pay for whatever lawyers you want, and I don't always believe that more expensive with lawyers are better. I mean, there's plenty of examples. I use some in the book of guys who spent millions and millions of dollars — El Chapo, Chapo Guzman, Joaquin Guzman spent five million dollars on his lawyers. He's doing life. I mean, there's nothing, you know, no lawyer could have got him out of that. Raj Rajaratnam, who did a major insider trading case and was convicted by my office, not me, but my friends years ago, spent $40 million, four-zero—
[00:48:38] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:48:38] Elie Honig: On his defense, he was convicted and got 11 years, which I think at the time was the highest or second highest sentence ever in a securities fraud case.
[00:48:45] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:48:46] Elie Honig: So spending more money on lawyers doesn't always mean better representation, but it sure is how means more representation. I mean, and the fact of the matter is, going to trial, hiring a defense lawyer is crazy expensive. I think more than most, I mean, if you went to hire a half decent or better private defense lawyer in Manhattan, you're going to start with a quarter million dollars.
[00:49:06] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:49:06] Elie Honig: And then, they usually charge you double that if you're going to go to trial. And so we would know, as prosecutors, we would've cases where we would go, this guy can't even, sometimes defense lawyers would tell us, they would go, "Yeah, I'm retained through trial, but no way he's going to be able to pay me to do a trial." So now how does that play out? It doesn't really have much of an impact when a defense lawyer is pounding the table going, "We'll see you at trial if you're like, yeah, I know he can't afford trial." You know what I mean? So that tends to tilt the leverage in the negotiation table. You know, there's other advan paying for other lawyers. I said, right, like, paying for your own lawyers is fine. But the real powerhouses pay for lawyers for everyone around them to keep them from flipping.
[00:49:41] You can post bail. I mean, a lot of our states have cash bail-based systems where no matter what crime you're charged with, you're going to get some cash bail. And if you're rich, you can pay it even if you're a risk. Even if you're no risk, you get stock behind bars. Those are other advantages. I had cases where Danny Marino, the guy I talk about in the book who we convicted of murder, had also got hit with a one-million-dollar fine, basically a forfeiture, and his lawyer brought to sentencing a check for one million dollars—
[00:50:09] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:50:09] Elie Honig: —and handed it to me. I didn't even know what to do with it. Usually, you're just supposed to give it to the marshals. I was like, oh my God, I'm holding a check for one million dollars. Like how easy was it? I was like, we should have got 10 times more. How easy was it for this guy to pay? So money definitely has its advantages, as does the insulation from sitting at the top of the pyramid, which we talked about before. And there's advantages to being politically powerful as well.
[00:50:30] Jordan Harbinger: When you have to post bail — and I feel like I should know this, but don't they give you an outrageous amount, but you pay 10 percent of it? How does that kind of, how does that work?
[00:50:38] Elie Honig: So there's different ways that you do that. In the federal system, no one actually, like everyone just heard that Sam Bankman-Fried for example, right?
[00:50:43] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:50:44] Elie Honig: He had to post 250 million bail. He didn't post $250 million. Basically, they just took properties worth that. And you sign them over like as a surety, right? So if you don't show, but typically in a state cash bail system, if someone's held on a million dollars bail, what they was do is go to a bail bondsman post 10 percent of that, the bail bonds company then actually in some cases doesn't even post it, it's just sort of released on credit. There's a cozy relationship with the bail bonds in the courts. But yeah, usually what you have to do is post 10 percent of it. We changed that system. We overhauled the whole system in Jersey when I was there, we went from a cash bail system to a risk-based bail system, which has actually been in contrast to New York, which completely screwed it up. We did it right in New Jersey because we have a tougher system where you're allowed to hold on to dangerous people. And so we've had a great success in Jersey. I wrote an op-ed entitled, "New York, you're doing it wrong. Do it how we did it in Jersey." New Yorkers don't like to take advice from New Jerseys, but they should have here.
[00:51:37] Jordan Harbinger: That's true. I mean, I'm going to New York in a few days and people keep saying like, "It's more dangerous now cause of the bail thing."
[00:51:43] Elie Honig: Well, I agree that there's a real crime problem in this city. I mean, I think it's over-attributed to the bail reform. Bail reform has been a disaster in New York. There's no question about that. And again, we tried to warn them, but yeah, no, look, the city is, it's true empirically, but I'll tell you, just walking through the streets here, I mean even touristy Penn Station type areas, like there is an air of menace and you will see people being aggressive. I mean, you'll smell weed everywhere you go here, you know, like vaping or whatever. It could use a little bit of a return to normalcy. I do think that's due.
[00:52:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I moved 10 years ago and back then it was still kind of like post-Giuliani, before Giuliani was whatever it is now.
[00:52:21] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:52:21] Jordan Harbinger: But it was like almost the whole city felt relatively safe, even Alphabet City, which is supposed to be terrible, which was kind of like, all right, it's fine. You know, wouldn't walk around at 2:00 a.m. but it's fine.
[00:52:30] Elie Honig: Yeah. This is a problem that DA's, and I'm friends with the DA here, he's a former Alvin Bragg. He's a former colleague of mine. On day one in his job, man, I like Alvin, he issued a memo that ended up being sort of disastrous announcing certain crimes that would not be prosecuted. Certain crimes that would not, they would not seek high bail amounts on. I mean, even if that's your policy as a prosecutor, you do have the right and the ability to say, "We're not going to go after certain crimes because we don't think they're a good investment of resources." But why announce that?
[00:52:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:52:55] Elie Honig: I mean, right, why tell people it? It's a free for all. So I think things are slightly improving, but. There's a real issue here.
[00:53:03] Jordan Harbinger: So one of the advantages that wealthy people have is they can afford to go to trial. It sounds like what you're saying. So if you get a bad deal on the table, you say, "Fine, I'll just go to trial." But if they, if the prosecutor knows you can't afford a trial, then they're like, "Yeah, sure. You'll go to trial and you'll get a better deal."
[00:53:17] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[00:53:17] Jordan Harbinger: But if you can't afford it, then the prosecutor has to go, "Crap, I'm going to spend two years back and forth with this guy in hundreds of hours and then prove it. Or I can just sweeten the deal for him right now in this very room and give him a little bit of a lesser, a lighter punishment."
[00:53:32] Elie Honig: You're exactly right. So a couple of factors there. One is I said before how state-level, county-level public defenders have enormous just case pressure, caseload pressure, so do prosecutors, now much more on the state and local level. When you're a fed, it's like you're living the good life. Like you can control how many cases you have. You can spend eight months, a year and a half investigating a case. It's all on your timetable when you're a fed, not when you're a state and county level. Cases just fly at you. Whatever the cops pick up that day is yours. And as a result, there is pressure to plead out cases rather than spending the time, the resources, the energy, trying cases. And I tell the story, and especially if you know the difference in the intensity of representation from highly paid, big firm representation to just like solo practitioners.
[00:54:16] I mean, I tried cases in front of solo practitioners or two-man shops where they were very good lawyers and know how to argue in front of a jury and formidable adversaries. I did one case against the big firm that had a lot of former federal prosecutors in it, and they tortured us every single day. Motions, motions, motions. It was every night they would file a motion to dismiss at 2:30, four in the morning. And I remember I told a story in the book about one morning during the trial I went to a little convenience store right by the courthouse and I saw the paralegal for the firm and I said, "No motion last night? What's up?" It was like, you know, it was like seven o'clock in the morning. He goes, "Check your email when you get into the office." Sure enough at 6:45, there was another motion to dismiss. I mean, they had like five or six people on their defense team, they were spilling onto two tables. I mean, we won that case. We got a conviction, but it was very close and I thought we might lose it.
[00:55:07] And if you just added up the number of hours, manpower hours that went into that case, I'm sure it was 10 times a lot of solo practitioners can put in. You know, again, it doesn't necessarily equate plainly with winning and losing, but given the choice, sure, as hell helps.
[00:55:24] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Elie Honig. We'll be right back.
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[00:59:41] Now for the rest of my conversation with Elie Honig.
[00:59:45] What about donating money to political candidates to get special treatment? I know you mentioned that in the book, but it just seems, how is that not blatant corruption? You know, how does this work? I assume the donor doesn't just say, "All right, I'm going to pay for some campaign dinners, but you shouldn't prosecute me for the child trafficking that I'm doing."
[01:00:02] Elie Honig: Right. That would be a quid pro quo.
[01:00:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:00:04] Elie Honig: But the point is, as you say, like nobody ever does it that way. And so, you know, I was lucky in that I only ever worked for appointed, not elected prosecutors. All federal prosecutors are appointed. New Jersey happens to be one of, I think it's seven states where the governor picks the AJ. It's not elected, but most state and county-level prosecutors, DAs, AGs are elected. And to me, the mix of politics and fundraising with prosecution is just toxic for all the reasons you say.
[01:00:33] I mean, I tell stories in the book about Cy Vance, who was the Manhattan DA I'm very critical of. He took donations from defense lawyers and he oftentimes then would give their clients favorable deals or no prosecution at all. And now, look, even if one does not believe, and I don't think there's any reason to think Cy Vance was bribed per se, he's not a criminal. He's not a maniac. But still it looks horrible. How do you know that on some level, he's not maybe giving people slightly more favorable treatment? He actually tried to give back the donations after it came out, and then he took bigger donations from the same people later, which is so ridiculous.
[01:01:05] And also you would ask the question, what do you think these defense lawyers are getting out of this? What do they think they're getting out of this? They're not like why are they giving money? And it just creates conflict of interest left and right. Like, if you're investigating someone who then goes and hire someone who did donate to you, if you're investigating somebody who donated to your opponent or whose lawyers donated to your primary opponent or, I mean, there's so much potential there. And so actually, we're actually seeing slightly more DAs who are saying, "I will not take donations from other lawyers or other things," which I guess which do mitigate the risks a bit, but to me, I am very much against, there's nothing we can do about it, but if I ruled the world, I would absolutely get rid of elected prosecutors and judges for that matter. The notion of elected judges is crazy to me too, for exactly these reasons.
[01:01:51] Jordan Harbinger: I agree with you there. I've seen some elected judges who are woefully unqualified or just do really bad stuff, but are good at campaigning or are like charming.
[01:01:59] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[01:01:59] Jordan Harbinger: And you're just thinking like, oh look, holy crap, this moron has a memorable name. That's the only reason he is up here.
[01:02:04] Elie Honig: Also, I can't imagine you have to make very consequential decisions when you're a prosecutor or a judge. Prosecutor, do I charge this guy or not? Do I give him a plea deal or not? Judges, do I, do I, you know, uphold this conviction or not? What do I sentence this guy to? You cannot tell me that in the back of their heads. They're not thinking about, forget about donations, but just how will this play with the voting public?
[01:02:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:02:25] Elie Honig: Will this be popular or unpopular with the voting public? And your job as a prosecutor or a judge is not to please the masses. Your job is to administer justice.
[01:02:33] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned before, knowing where the bodies are, sometimes literally, and showing how bad or evil these cooperators can be on the stand. Do you present this to the jury? You have to do this in a specific way, right? Because you would want to frame it in your way, not have the opposing counsel be like, "You're going to trust this guy. Wait until I tell you what this guy did."
[01:02:53] Elie Honig: Absolutely. We prosecutors, we get to go first. We put our cases on first. We get to examine the witnesses first. And so as a matter of strategy and tactics, we will put all the dirty laundry out there. First, our pitch to the jury is this guy is an open book. And that's why it's sort of counterintuitive. But if you ever see a prosecutor putting on testimony from his own cooperator, it'll be like, "Tell me about the first crime you ever committed. Tell me about all the murders you committed." And you're like, "Why is the prosecutor eliciting this from his own witness?" Because you have to put it out. You have to be able to tell the jury, we, he's an old book. We brought that up. You can't just wait on it. And then the defense lawyer comes up on cross and the jury's going, "Oh my God." And you know, there are standard lines of argument.
[01:03:34] The way we always would argue it to a jury is you heard testimony in this case from Anthony Arillotta. This isn't about, if Anthony Arillotta's a sinner or a saint, he's a sinner. He'll tell you he's a sinner. And it's not about whether you like Anthony Arillotta, you shouldn't like him. You don't need to like him. It's about whether you believe his testimony. And when we say believe his testimony, it doesn't just mean do you believe him watching him sitting there, it means the other evidence back him up. How on earth could Anthony Arillotta have known that somebody stayed at the Rye Marriott Hotel? And look at this, here's a record showing the co-conspirators stayed at the Rye Marriott Hotel that night. And so that's how you have to build it. Like it's not about whether you like this guy, you shouldn't like him, you shouldn't want him to babysit your kids. It's about whether you credit him given all the other evidence.
[01:04:15] And then, defense lawyers say he's sleaze, he's a criminal. He's just trying to look out for himself. He's making things up. And I should say, I never had an experience or even heard of an experience in my office where a cooperator falsely implicated somebody in something. But what is common is they like to leave people out. So if the cooperator, let's say, committed a crime and people, you know, A, B, C, and D were involved, but D is maybe his best friend, or D is maybe his father-in-law and he doesn't want that person to get in trouble, they will leave people out. And when I got a little more experienced, I learned how to deal with this. You don't want them lying to you. And so I would say, "If there's somebody who you are reluctant to tell me about, don't lie to me about it. We'll call a timeout. You'll talk to your lawyer. Your lawyer will tell me there's someone here he doesn't want to talk about. We'll work it out." Like usually he'll give the person a pass. Usually, it's like the wife, not a murder, but the wife had some role in handling money for them or something and if it's a cooperator, you can usually give them a pass on that. But it is way more common for prosecutors. It's quite common for them to leave people out where they don't want to implicate.
[01:05:13] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting. I hadn't thought about that, but you kind of have to agree to that because no one's going to go, "Yeah, it was me and these four guys, one of which is my son. So I'm not going to tell you that."
[01:05:22] Elie Honig: Right.
[01:05:23] Jordan Harbinger: "But I might rat on these other." It's like, okay, fine. Just we'll leave out the fact that it was this. We'll take the other three guys because otherwise, we're not going to get anything.
[01:05:30] Elie Honig: Yeah, but their story has to be the full story. They'll have to testify and then the cross will be, but they gave your son a pass and the guy will go, yeah, they did. And yeah, we did. That was part of the deal.
[01:05:39] Jordan Harbinger: It's kind of like how Eminem was in that rap battle in 8 Mile where he mocks himself relentlessly and then the other guy comes up and he is like, "Crap, what am I going to say now?"
[01:05:48] Elie Honig: Okay, I'm stealing that and I'm going to use that from now.
[01:05:50] Jordan Harbinger: Steal it.
[01:05:50] Elie Honig: But it's true. We call it pulling the sting, right? It's like, "Ooh, it stings, but you got to get the thing out of there." That's exactly what, that's his technique. Yes.
[01:05:57] Jordan Harbinger: That's a good idea, I would think, because you tell the jury, like, you don't want cross-examination to be, "Well, you just heard from this guy, but did you know this guy killed 19 people and here's how he did it and da, da."
[01:06:06] Elie Honig: Right.
[01:06:06] Jordan Harbinger: It's like you want him to go, "Yeah, I killed 19 people. I'm not proud of it, but that was my job in the mafia." "Okay, well, who are these people? Da, da."
[01:06:12] Elie Honig: Yeah. I'll give you one example of when we didn't do that exactly right. We had a guy who testified to all these horrible crimes and we spent two and a half days with this guy on the stand. "Yes, I did this. Yes, I did." And we thought we covered everything. Defense lawyer stands up, first question to this cooperator, "Did you kill a dog?" We didn't even cover this. The guy goes, "Yeah." And we're like, oh God, damn it. We're like, of all the things he did, like he killed a dog.
[01:06:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:06:36] Elie Honig: And like we forgot to ask, you know, like you have a standard thing, did what extortions were, but you don't want to ask like, did you kill a dog? And then, the follow up, the defense lawyer goes, "Why did you kill a dog?" And the guy go, the cooperator goes, "What do you mean?" He goes, "Well, did you have a problem with the dog?" He goes, "No, I don't care about the dog. I had a problem with the owner." And we were like, oh, for God's sake. I mean, we got conviction in that case, but that was like, you know, it's hard because you're trying to exhaust the universe and these guys have been committing crimes for 15, 25, 30 years. So it's like—
[01:07:02] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:07:03] Elie Honig: It's almost impossible. That's why we're so like you spend hours and days going, "Is there anything else? Did you ever—?" So from then on I was like, and I'll tell you another thing I learned to do, you got to check these guys' tattoos. Because I had a cooperator once who had a tattoo on his back of like an image of a judge, a jury, a knife, and a gun. And it was like some saying like, I don't know, some something like about killing judges and jurors. So now I learned, like with all my cooperators, I'm like, let's see your tats, pull up your prison thing. You know, like what does that mean? What does that mean? Because you want to have it all in advance.
[01:07:35] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. Yeah. Does it ever become too much for a jury to bear? Like the crimes are just so gross—
[01:07:39] Elie Honig: Yes.
[01:07:39] Jordan Harbinger: —the jury goes, "Okay, you're credible, but you're so repulsive I can't even, I just don't want anything to do with you.
[01:07:45] Elie Honig: Yes. And I give an example of that, I think it was in one of my books. I forget which one. One of John Gotti's main henchman was this guy John Alite, who was a psycho.
[01:07:53] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:07:53] Elie Honig: I mean like by his own admission and committed all these murders. And I remember John Alite was testifying about this story where he basically, okay, so his neighbor told him, "Hey John, when you were away for a week," he was having worked on his house. He said, "The contractor was having sex in your room. Like I looked up into your room and the contractor was having sex with like his wife on your bed." So John Alite didn't like this, and Alite is telling the jury this because it's something he did. He goes, "So I got the guy to my house. I lured him there. I told him I wanted to look at something. I put him at gunpoint. I tied him up in the garage. I had an attack dog, another dog. Then I tied up and I kept the dog just beyond like where the dog could reach him. And I left him in there for like an hour and he was freaking out. Then I untied him," and Alite had like a pond in the back of his house. He goes, "I marched him into the pond. I made him get undressed. It was freezing out, and I made him stand in the middle of the pond and I started shooting out." He goes, "I wasn't going to hit him, I didn't hit him, but I scared him to death." And I just remember like glancing over at the jury and you could just see, they were like, "That's it. Like he's a psycho." And with that case ended up hanging meaning they were not unanimous. It was six, six. And a big part like they don't believe John Alite is a liar. Why would he make this up about himself? They're just like, at a certain point it's just too much and they're like, sorry. Like you just can't make a deal with this guy.
[01:09:06] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting. Yeah. So it's, he's so repulsive that they're mad at you for making a deal.
[01:09:11] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[01:09:11] Jordan Harbinger: To get him on the stand. Interesting.
[01:09:13] Elie Honig: Yes. And you have to sort of, you know? There's no science behind it. You just have to use your gut. I mean, I'll give you a high-profile example. I do talk about this in the book. In the Matt Gaetz investigation, these prosecutors flipped this guy, Joel Greenberg, who was involved in, he pled guilty to sexual abuse of minors to stalking, to falsely accusing another person of sexually abusing minors. And I wrote a piece basically saying like, look, I can flip murderers all day long. I'll put a murderer on the stand, but a convicted liar and a convicted child sex offender, I'm not doing that ever.
[01:09:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, Matt Gaetz is, what is it? Congressman, who was, I forget what he was charged with, but something with like sex trafficking or—
[01:09:50] Elie Honig: Nothing.
[01:09:51] Jordan Harbinger: Nothing?
[01:09:51] Elie Honig: The allegation was that he was involved with Joel Greenberg with this, and this is what makes it even worse. The prosecutors give Joel Greenberg this big break and then they don't even charge anyone off of it basically. So to me, that's like double prosecutorial malpractice. Like A, you don't flip a guy like that. B, if you're going to, you better make a big case off him. So I wrote an article where I say this is malpractice, basically.
[01:10:13] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So you can flip someone and then you just don't need them. And they're like, "See you, suckers," because they have immunity.
[01:10:19] Elie Honig: If you're horrible at your job as a prosecutor, you can. Yeah, I would never do that.
[01:10:23] Jordan Harbinger: Geez.
[01:10:23] Elie Honig: I mean, if one of the people I supervise said, "Here's the deal. There's a really bad guy. He's a child sex trafficker. We're going to flip him, but we're not really sure if we're going to do anything with this information," and say, "Oh no. We're going to have a plan and we're going to be damn sure we're going to use this information and it's credible and we're going to get something substantial out of it."
[01:10:40] Jordan Harbinger: I would imagine that defense lawyers would take the tact that like, "Hey, this guy's a lying crook. He just has a beef with this guy." But the problem is, if you're dealing with a gang of lying crooks like the mafia, then everybody's a lie, then they're not wrong. Like your witness is a lying crook.
[01:10:56] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[01:10:56] Jordan Harbinger: Because everybody in this guy's orbit is a piece of crap.
[01:10:59] Elie Honig: Lie down with dogs, you get fleas.
[01:11:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:11:00] Elie Honig: That's right. And it goes both ways, right? It goes both ways. When like they would go, the defense would always go, "They chose this guy as a cooperator. They put this guy?" And we would always get back up and say, "We didn't choose him. The defendant chose him. The defendant chose him when he pricked his finger and the defendant chose him when he gave this guy that hit," you know? So it's a back and forth.
[01:11:17] Jordan Harbinger: Right. I guess it's hard to find an altar boy/school teacher to testify in a mafia trial.
[01:11:24] Elie Honig: This is another standard line that we would use to say, we would say, "Look, we would love to call nurses and school teachers to come in here and testify to you about the mafia, but guess what? Nurses and school teachers can't take you inside the Lucchese family. Only a gangster can do that. Yeah.
[01:11:37] Jordan Harbinger: Do gangsters try to intimidate the jury? I mean, you hear about this, but it seems like it would be really tough to do. I mean, but you could seat, I forget what it's called, the gallery. Couldn't you just stuff your side—
[01:11:47] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[01:11:47] Jordan Harbinger: —with a bunch of really, really scary-looking dudes?
[01:11:50] Elie Honig: Yes, you can. I tell stories about that, and the way it worked in the southern district is the jury would have to walk from the jury box, maybe 30 feet back to the jury room through the gallery. And so there are absolutely cases where they would've guys, scary-looking guys come in, sometimes even stand right on that aisle where they knew the jury walked. But even if they're not trying to, jurors are scared. I mean, I actually write it. There's a chapter about this in the book. I mean, jury service, even under normal circumstances is really scary. There's actually research on this that I found that is completely consistent with my own experience. Even in the most run-of-the-mill case, jurors are terrified. I mean, imagine this, like you're not a lawyer, you don't know what this system is. You're brought into a room. There's a judge, there's a defendant, there's cops, there's marshals with their handcuffs, clinking.
[01:12:30] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:12:31] Elie Honig: And this guy who's accused of a crime, like his fate rests in your hands. That's scary. And add to it, if it's a mob case, I mean, I tell a story about a time we almost lost a verdict because during deliberations, a juror sent a note out saying to the judge, "Judge, I need to talk to you." And the juror came out and he goes, he just sort of blurred out in front of the judge and the lawyers. It was a murder case. He goes, "We're about to convict him, but I'm too scared to vote guilty." And I was like, "Well, this is a good news, bad news scenario."
[01:12:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:12:57] Elie Honig: And the judge basically was like, "There's no reason to be afraid. There's no threat to any juror." And the guy goes, "But he is a mobster. He's charged with murder." And the judge is like, "But there's no threat to you and the jury." Actually, the juror was very smart. He goes, "Why are we anonymous then?" Because in certain cases of really dangerous people—
[01:13:13] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:13:14] Elie Honig: —you can ask the judge. And we got it in this case. And so this guy was juror number five, nobody knew his name. And we were like, "Oh, that's a pretty good point." And the judge basically just like basically the equivalent of like slapped him across the face, the judge was just like, "Look, can you do this job or not? If you can't, we're going to have to start all over. It's going to be a disaster. And if you can, get back in there," and the guy's like, "I guess I can." And like 10 minutes later they were like, we have a verdict. I was like, I think I know what this is going to be. So yeah, they convicted him. But jurors' fear, you know, one of the themes of my book is like, people think that our institutions are mechanical and robotic — prosecutors, courts, judges, juries — but they're not. It's all human exercise and every one of those participants is subject to prejudice and fear and self-aggrandizement. And it's very much a human process.
[01:13:59] Jordan Harbinger: That's actually good news, right? Because it means there's more flexibility in the system.
[01:14:03] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[01:14:03] Jordan Harbinger: I've heard that the Department of Justice requires a higher standard or more approvals when dealing with high profile people, which I guess makes sense, but also seems to go against the whole justice is blind kind of thing. I mean, if you can make a decision to prosecute somebody who's a big nobody like me, but then, oh, but if you want to go after an actual famous person, well, I kind of need to run this up the flagpole. What does that mean for the system?
[01:14:29] Elie Honig: You're absolutely correct, and this is not even a matter of opinion. You can go online. Anyone can go online and look at the justice manual, which is the guidance, the official guidance to all federal prosecutors across the country. And in several different places it says if your subject is a public official or if your subject is likely to draw media attention, which is going to be any famous whatever, it has to go to higher, higher levels for approval. And as a natural result of that, it's harder to charge, right? Because if one person can sign off, that's one thing, but if you need six levels of approval, it's that much harder. And as you say, I don't mean to suggest that this is necessarily ill-intentioned. It's important because you have to protect your office's reputation and credibility.
[01:15:09] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:15:09] Elie Honig: If you screw up one high-profile case that does more damage than properly doing a thousand regular cases will do. It's just the reality of it. Think about Cy Vance. He screwed up the Harvey Weinstein case. He screwed up a case involving the Trump children. Both of those overshadow the thousands upon thousands of legitimate good cases that he did.
[01:15:28] And I give an example in the book. I had a case when I was doing a Gambino case where a guy who was then a major league baseball player. I don't say his name in the book. He made a couple of All-Star teams. I'll put it that. He's not in the Hall of Fame, but he made a couple of All-Star teams. How about that? If he had been prosecuted, it would've been on the front page of the Post and the Daily News. He was just involved at a very low level with gambling. He wasn't gambling on baseball, but basically, he was a bookmaker. He had a handful of wealthy guys who would put in bets through him. He would funnel them up through the family. If this guy was not well known, if this was just a butcher or contractor, I would've made this decision. I was like a third year prosecutor at the time, third or fourth year, I would've made that decision myself. No one would've given it a second thought. But because this guy was famous and good at baseball, it had to go up to my deputy chief, my unit chief, the criminal division deputy chief, the criminal division, I mean, four or five layers. Now, ultimately the decision in this case was not the charge. I think that was probably right, given just how, who cares about gambling on its own? But this guy got way more consideration than he would've got if he was just a, an average Joe.
[01:16:25] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting. So it's for reputation management, but I guess it also has some benefit for a crime boss or a celebrity. Because if you're a celebrity, all your defense lawyer has to do, and I say that lightly, but it's not really that light, they could throw some idea. Like, hey, this is going to look really bad because we actually have a pretty credible defense and you guys are going to look like idiots when we broadcast this, and you're going to look like you went after my client because of reasons that are not fair. And we're going to do our best to push those buttons because that's what I'm doing as a defense attorney. So why don't you just drop this crap? And he'll either cooperate or it will go away, and you can go after somebody who's a real criminal.
[01:17:04] Elie Honig: Especially in a case with political implications, right? It's a little hard to make that argument, although they'll say you're headhunting, you're just looking for a boldface name. You just want to make your name. But in a case that has any potential political implication, they're going to say, it doesn't matter, Republican, Democrat, whatever, they're going to say, you're just looking to make a name. You're looking to settle a political score here. And what happens a lot of times, it's called a reverse or a proffer. Defense lawyers will come in and they will say, "Here's why it's a mistake for you to charge my guy. And if we beat you, if you lose this case, prosecutors, it's going to be more than egg on your face. It's going to be a disgrace to you and your office."
[01:17:38] And look, I mean, I use this as an example. This wasn't a failed case, but as an example of the fact that one case can stick with a person forever, a judge who I appeared in front of many, many times named William Pauley, a federal judge here in Manhattan, ended up getting the Michael Cohen case. There was nothing really super controversial about Michael Cohen's case. He pled guilty. All that Judge Pauley had to do was sentence him to 30 months, which was not as particularly sensational sentence either way. When Judge Pauley died in 2021, Judge Pauley had presided over hundreds, I'm sure, thousands of cases on civil rights and equal protection and anti-discrimination and education, I mean, all these important issues, his obituary in the New York Times was like 60 percent about Michael Cohen. The point was, here's this guy who had this long, illustrious career and all that anybody will remember about him if you Google him, if you look at his obituary as this one high-profile case. So there's a real disproportionality about it and that leads to sometimes the favorable results for powerful people.
[01:18:36] Jordan Harbinger: It seems like this is also a little bit of a double-edged sword, right? Because if you are a celebrity and you're in jail and there is a good case against you, you all have to nail him to the cross. And I'm thinking of Andrew Tate in Romania, right, of all people, but this guy now, he has to be in deep sh*t because it's going to be really embarrassing for them if he just walks out. And, you know, Romania not necessarily bound by constitutional restrictions that another country might be. But it seems like then, okay, if you're in jail and you get charged now it's, well, they must have a really strong case because this went all the way up the flagpole and they still decided to prosecute. So here we are.
[01:19:13] Elie Honig: I think that's probably right. And you know, there is such thing as the opposite effect where when I was brand new at the US Attorney's office, defense lawyers would grumble sometimes publicly that we were just out there headhunting looking for big names. Like for example, the Martha Stewart prosecution happened right before I joined. I mean, I think that sentencing happened like within weeks of when I started. But defense lawyers would say would and people in the media would say, "Would they really have pursued a normal person who did what Martha Stewart did?" I mean, Martha Stewart went in to meet with a prosecutor and FBI agent and lied to them about a financial stock transaction. But there was a question raised, and Jim Comey, who, who authorized that case when he was US Attorney, again, I don't know James Comey, but he was US Attorney right before I got there. He wrote about it in his bestselling book that he wrote, and he's defensive about that. I mean, you know, he makes the case, but he says, "I understand the perception that we went after her because he's famous. But I studied all these cases and I concluded that."
[01:20:08] And shortly after that, my office prosecuted Lil' Kim, the rapper. Also on a perjury case because she went into a grand jury, basically like said she didn't see, there was a shootout outside a radio station and said she didn't see anybody when she obviously did see people or something like that. But again, there were allegations at trial and in the media that this is this office full of hot shots and they're all just trying to get a celebrity under their belt here. So I guess it can push the other way as well.
[01:20:32] Jordan Harbinger: Do you have any regrets from your career, like not getting somebody you really wanted to nail behind bars?
[01:20:38] Elie Honig: Hmm, that's a great question. I mean, I guess there's a difference between regret and disappointment.
[01:20:43] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:20:43] Elie Honig: I open the book with the story of Danny Marino and I do say like, to this day, I wonder whether I handled that case right. We ended up, I'll just say that the resolution, we pled the case out for a number that I'm not super proud of. And I say in the book, on the one hand, we had guts to even charge him a lot. Most prosecutors and FBI agents wouldn't have even charged him. On the other hand, it's light and he's out. Now, he's free.
[01:21:05] But I will also tell you, there's a couple of cases where I do feel like I went too hard on somebody, not mob cases. You know, there's a case when I first started that got re-re-reassigned to me. By the way, anyone out there who's going to be a prosecutor, if a case is being re-re-reassigned to you and you're like the fourth prosecutor on that case run because prosecutors know how to dump a dog off on the new kid. This was a case of sort of a sad sack guy who actually tried to extort the University of Miami football team. He was like this loner who lived with his mom and he hated, for some reason the Hurricanes football team. And he threatened them. And he said, "I'm going to write a horrible book about you." It was the guy was half off his rocker. We ended up pleading him out for like 18 months or something. And I will say he got really badly hurt in jail.
[01:21:52] Jordan Harbinger: Oh wow.
[01:21:53] Elie Honig: He got beaten up in a bad way. And I think if I was older when I got that case, I started as a prosecutor when I was 29, when I had this case, I was either 29 or 30. I'm 47 now. I mean, I think if I would've got that case four or five years into my career when I had a little more legs under me, I would've said, "This is bull. We're not, no way, we're dismissing this. Or we're given probation or something. This is not a jail case. This guy doesn't need to be locked up." So I do have minor regrets in cases like that, that maybe I should have been a little more merciful really. But I don't really have too many regrets about guys we missed. I mean, we missed on John Gotti Jr. We didn't convict him, but I felt like that was a fair trial where we had a fair fight and we didn't get him. So that's fine. I can accept that.
[01:22:34] Jordan Harbinger: What takes so long with some of these celebrities, like Bill Cosby, and we touched on this in the beginning of the show.
[01:22:40] Elie Honig: Yeah.
[01:22:40] Jordan Harbinger: Why does it take like 30 years of reports to get Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, we already talked about Epstein. What is the deal here? I mean, he's not donating to powerful politicians, so what the hell, what's wrong with the system?
[01:22:53] Elie Honig: There is a fear factor. There is a circling of the wagons. I mean, Cosby is such an interesting example because there were rumors for a long time that he was doing this. And then Hannibal Buress does his standup set, and I think it's 2014, where he just lace into Cosby. And bizarrely enough that then led to some op-eds by victims saying, "Bill Cosby assaulted me." And there's sort of this growing momentum. But there was a real denialism about that. And in the book, I do a deep dive into this. When the allegations first came to the Pennsylvania County detectives, I forget, I think it's Montgomery County. They interviewed the first accuser and they talked to her on the phone, which is the absolute way you do not do. When you're talking to a sexual assault complainant, you do it face to face. It's hard enough to build trust, never mind on the phone. Then when it came time to interview Bill Cosby, they drove from Montgomery County into Manhattan, met Bill Cosby in the comfort of his lawyer's office, and the statement that the police chief made when he was walking out, he said, "Oh, Cosby was, he was great. He was wearing his typical Cosby sweater and I don't see any reason to doubt anything. He's openly fawning—
[01:23:56] Jordan Harbinger: Fanboying, yeah.
[01:23:57] Elie Honig: —overbuilt Cosby.
[01:23:58] Jordan Harbinger: Geez.
[01:23:58] Elie Honig: Yeah, because I mean, Bill Cosby, and you remember, Jordan was a deity. I mean, the guy had a 100 percent approval rating in the '80s, right?
[01:24:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:24:04] Elie Honig: And the '90s. So I think there is this fear factor and this just reluctance to take on a guy like that, and it takes until the reporting and the public pressure gets to a certain critical mass to take some of this stance.
[01:24:16] Jordan Harbinger: A lot of people see these verdicts, especially not guilty, and they're like, "Oh, we're so screwed. Our system is broken." Tell us why we shouldn't lose faith in the justice system. What do you think?
[01:24:26] Elie Honig: Yeah, I don't think our justice system is perfect, but I think our justice system, our prosecutors in courts have done a very good job for the most part. I mean, the whole thing is we have a process and as long as the process is respected, as long as prosecutors are left to use their independent judgment, and I argue in my first book that, that for a time that was not the case at DOJ, then I think all we can do is base our assessment on the process itself and not the result. As long as we're giving defendants all their constitutional due process rights, as long as we're going through the jury process, the sentencing process, the appeal process, then that's what really matters.
[01:25:03] And I do urge people, let's not be results-focused, let's be process-focused because the results are always going to be all over the map. You're never going to be 100 percent satisfied in all the results but it's not about that. Our system's not about ensuring results. We wouldn't have an adversarial process if that was the case. So I do have a lot of faith in our judicial system. I think it's held up remarkably well, well before I was involved and will hold up remarkably well long after I'm gone. Not perfect and subject needs at times to be reformed and revised, but I do have faith in it.
[01:25:34] Jordan Harbinger: Elie Honig, thank you very much, man. Really interesting inside look. Even as an attorney, I'm like, I've never heard of half of this, so I appreciate it.
[01:25:41] Elie Honig: Thanks, Jordan. I really appreciate that. Thanks for having me.
[01:25:45] Jordan Harbinger: You're about to hear a preview of The Jordan Harbinger Show with one of the most recognizable names in journalism.
[01:25:51] Anderson Cooper: My great, great, great grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt, who made two fortunes, one based on steamships, one on railroads. You know, he died with a hundred million dollars, which in 1877 meant that he controlled one out of every $20 in circulation. Nobody could believe it.
[01:26:09] My mom was Gloria Vanderbilt and she inherited a couple of million dollars in 1941. My mom drank and my brother ended up jumping off her balcony in front of my mom when he was 23, and I was 21. The next day my mom and I went to the funeral home to view his body and there were reporters waiting outside the funeral home to get video of us going in. And I remember in that moment sort of hating the camera people who were doing that. I do know what it's like to be on the other end of the lens, and I don't want to make somebody else feel like this.
[01:26:38] I couldn't get a job at ABC or CBS. I thought my very nascent career in broadcasting was never going to get started. The director kindly made me a laminated press card, which was totally made up, and I got one of their cameras, small little camera, ended up just spending the next two or three years going to a war zone, some disasters.
[01:26:59] You never know exactly how people are going to react to something. You know, we all think, oh, well, you know, if I was there, this is what I would do. You can intellectually think you know who you are, but I'm telling you when the lights go out and there's no air condition and it's really frigging hot and you don't have food and there's crazy stuff going on around you, you've become a different person very, very quickly. Sometimes you become the person that you never thought you'd be. You become a superhero and you risk your own life to help other people. Some of the people who thought they would be the heroes, end up punching women in the face in order to scale a wall to get to safety. You don't know who you are until everything is at jeopardy.
[01:27:42] Jordan Harbinger: To hear more from Anderson Cooper about traveling through war zones and how we got his start in broadcast journalism without relying on family connections, check out episode 584 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:27:55] I want to be clear, this is not a eulogy for our justice system. It is simply an awareness campaign to show how people exploit the flaws and features of our justice system so that decision-makers can be made aware of how this happens. I think it's interesting how being at the top of a crime group or even a corporate organization insulates you from charges.
[01:28:12] Basically, you were able to place intermediaries between you and sketchy things because then it's harder to pin on you. When other people do the dirty work, you can always say you didn't know, you weren't aware, and it's better to do it verbally, never in writing. That's a common mafia tactic, really a lot in the book about the mob politicians, et cetera. I found it quite fascinating. This is stuff you kind of learn about or hear about as a lawyer or in law school, but with somebody on the front lines like Elie is, it's a whole different ballgame.
[01:28:35] All things Elie Honig will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com or just ask the AI chatbot. Transcripts in the show notes. Advertisers deals, discount codes, and ways to support the show all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. I've said it once, but I'll say it again. Please consider supporting those who support the show. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, or also connect with me on LinkedIn.
[01:28:57] The best things that have happened in my life and business have come through my network and I am teaching you how to do the same thing for yourself in our Six-Minute Networking course, it is a hundred percent free. It is not gross. It is not schmoozy. You can find it for free on the Thinkific platform at jordanharbinger.com/course. I want you to dig the well before you get thirsty. I want you to build relationships before you need them. So come join us, you'll be in smart company, all at jordanharbinger.com/course.
[01:29:23] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. And if you know somebody who's interested in the law, power, how people get away with stuff, I think this episode was insightful. So share this episode with them if you don't mind. And in the meantime, I hope you apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you learn, and we'll see you next time.
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