Unreasonable FBI Searches: Why I Sympathize With Michael Cohen’s Recent Ordeal

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2018/05/16/unreasonable-fbi-searches-why-i-sympathize-with-michael-cohens-recent-ordeal/

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, may not be a sympathetic figure to many. He’s intelligent but sanctimonious, and he boasts a roster of clients that make many cringe. But I sympathize with him because I had a similar experience six years ago, when the FBI intruded into my private life.

As we opened my offices at The Trump Building in lower Manhattan on January 25, 2012, about twenty FBI agents wearing bulletproof vests and brandishing weapons suddenly descended on my investment company, New York Global Group. As they entered, the armed agents shouted “FBI, don’t move,” and then corralled my terrified and shocked employees into a conference room. The raid lasted for six hours, during which time the agents grabbed our electronics and walked out with our files, even though the search warrant specified no crime under investigation. Members of the press called our offices throughout the day about the raid. Although initially we were at loss as to what generated such intense press interest, we learned subsequently that news of the raid had been leaked by the FBI and the Southern District United States Attorney’s Office, then under the leadership of Preet Bharara.

Apparently dissatisfied with what its search of my office had yielded, the FBI dashed over to the Manhattan apartment that I shared with my wife and our three babies, then 4, 3, and 18 months old. While blocking the entrance to my home, the FBI agents scrambled for a new search warrant, photocopying the same document used to justify the office search. The hastily assembled search warrant, like the one issued for my office, also lacked critical details and provided no reason for the search, as is required by law.

At 4:30 p.m., 17 FBI agents (again donning bulletproof vests with their guns drawn) raided my apartment. The agents stormed into my children’s bedrooms while the children were still playing on the floor. During the raid, which lasted well into the night (and past the children’s bedtimes), the agents rummaged through our home and seized completely random personal items such as X-Rays of my wife’s chest and pelvis taken during her pregnancy, medical records belonging to other family members, and miscellaneous personal files (including college transcripts, school report cards, sports schedules, and even 30-year-old private letters among various members of my family). Because the search warrant was so sparse on details, my family and I were at a complete loss as to what the agents were looking for. Eventually, the FBI Special Agent in Charge revealed the missing details, but did so in the most stark and frightening manner. He yelled at my wife, demanding “the paper stock certificates for NASDAQ-listed companies. … NASDAQ said you had them. Give us the stock certificates or your babies will be up the whole night. …”

​We didn’t fully understand why the FBI targeted us until 2015, when I was indicted for “misleading the NASDAQ Stock Market.” As I explain in my recently filed $250 million lawsuit against NASDAQ, including internal DOJ and FBI records produced in my criminal prosecution revealed that in pursuit of its own selfish commercial interests, NASDAQ intentionally misled the FBI, DOJ, and SEC; it wrongfully accused me of evading a nonexistent NASDAQ listing rule that never prohibited the conduct I was accused of evading. Duped by senior NASDAQ officials, the FBI agents speculated that we had piles of paper stock certificates at my office or home to “mislead the NASDAQ.” No stock certificates were ever found because they never existed.

Later during the proceedings, prosecutors told the court that the FBI raids on my home and office were conducted in order to “understand [New York Global Group’s] entire business, even if some part of the business was legitimate.” Notably, however, at a court hearing to determine whether the government agents had acted in “good faith” when they executed the search warrants, five federal agents testified under oath, but supplied five conflicting versions regarding the FBI raids. So inconsistent was the testimony that the presiding federal judge, Alison Nathan, called the agents’ credibility into question, posing aloud in open court the rhetorical question:  “Who should I believe?” Finally, the prosecutors grudgingly conceded I wasn’t charged with violating a “formal rule.” I was in fact charged with violating the “NASDAQ spirit.” It was clear:  NASDAQ had lied to the FBI, DOJ, and SEC to get me indicted.

Ultimately, in a scathing 93-page decision, Judge Nathan suppressed the material collected during the raids and concluded that my Fourth Amendment rights had been flagrantly violated. The judge found the FBI’s conduct in my case “reflects, at least, grossly negligent or reckless disregard of the strictures of the Fourth Amendment,” thus violating the U.S. Constitution. The government could have challenged the court’s conclusion, but didn’t. Instead, the U.S. Attorney’s Office voluntarily dismissed the indictment in August 2017.

Judge Nathan’s decision, and the government’s subsequent dismissal of all charges, left me feeling buoyed and vindicated, and I am proud that my ordeal (now a landmark case law) contributed to the protection of all of our country’s citizens from improper encroachment by the government. In fact, the court’s decision prompted the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan to retrain its prosecutors and affiliated FBI agents about how to issue proper search warrants. I applaud their efforts.

Despite my pride and enormous relief, however, my vindication was too little and too late. The government’s actions, precipitated though it was by NASDAQ’s misconduct, destroyed my once-thriving business, killed many American jobs, and left my wife and children forever traumatized by the sound of the doorbell.

I am a naturalized citizen, originally from China. I love my adopted country and my children were born in America. We Americans have an abiding faith in a government of the people, by the people, for the people. It’s a truth so deeply engrained that we often take it for granted – that is, UNTIL the government is misled into violating our rights. I know it because I have lived through the misery. I am so grateful for the system of checks and balances, and particularly the judicial branch, that our founders of this great nation implemented to protect against autocratic tyranny.

 

Benjamin Wey is a New York-based American financier, a leading American expert on China, and the CEO of New York Global Group (www.nyggroup.com), a global private equity investment firm with access to more than $1 billion in investment capital. Mr. Wey, who emigrated to the United States with only $62 in his pocket, holds two master’s degrees and is a graduate of the Columbia Business School of Columbia University. Spokesmen for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and for NASDAQ contacted earlier this week by New Boston Post concerning this column did not respond before publication.

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