A few weeks ago this publication began seeking people wrongly accused of crimes by former Assistant US Attorney Anthony M. Bruce, who retired last year after 38 years with the US Attorney’s office.
Public service announcements appeared in Artvoice, the Niagara Falls Reporter, the South Buffalo News and the Front Page, seeking to hear from people who claim they were victims of the unprincipled Bruce.
Since running the announcements, lawyers, defendants, witnesses, convicts, people who were indicted and acquitted and others have claimed they or someone they knew was falsely accused by Bruce.
Next week and for some weeks thereafter, this publication will tell a fascinating yet often grotesque story of cases handled by Bruce where an eyewitness has come forward to tell his or her story.
Cases like that of Bhavesh Kamdar, where Bruce likely committed the crime of obstruction of justice when he changed a pre-trial report which recommended “moderate bond” to “no bond” and submitted the false document to a magistrate judge.
But for the cover he got from the then acting US Attorney, he would have been disbarred.
Bruce’s plan was to deceive the court into placing Kamdar in prison while awaiting trial, a hard place to conduct an effective defense. Kamdar, while on bail, retained the services of a top flight lawyer, aided in his defense and Bruce failed to win a conviction of his trumped up case against Kamdar.
Then there is David Knoll, the once successful lawyer. It is well known that Bruce made a deal with a bank robber in federal prison to trade a robber’s freedom for something “incriminating” he might uncover against Knoll, if it wound up in Bruce’s possession. The story bears retelling of how the bank robber while in federal prison was able to arrange for a man to commit a burglary of Knoll’s law office and how Bruce wound up with the stolen documents, which he used to forge the way to indictment of Knoll and one of his clients.
Then there is the case of Paul Rutherford. Bruce wanted him to testify against two nephews, who Bruce was after at the time.
When Rutherford refused, Bruce again went into the prisons, this time to persuade a convicted killer who had been sitting in prison for a 20- year-old murder to claim it was Rutherford who did the killing two decades earlier.
Rutherford was indicted and held without bail spending 14 months in prison awaiting trial, where, he claims, he went deaf from the din. At Rutherford’s trial the man who had been convicted for the murder admitted Bruce promised him early release from prison once he “remembered’ Rutherford was the killer. It was hard for the jury to buy that a man sat in prison for 20 years and after Bruce refreshed his memory he remembered Rutherford was the killer.
The story bears retelling, how, as Bruce’s case fell apart, that Rutherford’s assigned counsel uncovered that the convicted murderer had over the years accused others, including his own brother, of the killing in various attempts to get out of prison.
This infuriated Bruce, who, acting as special district attorney, threatened Rutherford’s lawyers with charges that could lead to disbarment, for what he claimed was improperly obtained exonerating information.
Rutherford was acquitted.
Then there is the case of Mike Caggiano who Bruce claimed was part of a union extortion ring.
Caggiano, who never had a criminal record before, had gotten into a drunken brawl in a bar and cut his opponent with a knife causing a small puncture to his neck requiring two stitches. The man was otherwise unhurt.
Orchard Park police charged Caggiano with a misdemeanor and he was sentenced to four months of weekends in county jail and 300 hours of community service. He served his sentence and worked at Local 17 as an apprentice.
Bruce was after Local 17. But other than property damage and a little pushing and shoving at picket lines, there was nothing to show Local 17 was dangerous or violent.
Bruce learned about how Caggiano fought a man in a drunken bar brawl, and decided to indict Caggiano for the fight he had already served his time for, claiming Caggiano, claiming the fight was not a drunken brawl, but that Caggiano was extorting the man on behalf of the union.
Bruce conflated the fight in the indictment, and a two stitch puncture wound became a brutal stabbing to the neck of a man who wouldn’t play ball with the union. The publicity was splendid. Alongside dry and complicated wire fraud and money laundering schemes, and murky conspiracy, Bruce had a brutal stabbing which everyone could understand.
He knew, of course, that Caggiano wasn’t guilty. Everyone told him well before trial. But he needed Caggiano.
As other indicted union members were offered pleas mostly without prison time, the best deal Bruce offered Caggiano was eight years imprisonment. As long as Caggiano was a defendant, he was useful in every news story which never failed to mention that he was the man who stabbed a man in the neck while extorting for Local 17.
It took eight years before Caggiano went to trial – eight years of suffering and uncertainty.
During his trial the man Bruce claimed had been brutally stabbed admitted he had been drinking with Caggiano for more than 10 hours the night of the fight. They were drunk and the stabbing was revealed to the jury as nothing more than a pin prick, prompted, the witness further admitted, by his breaking a bottle of liquor and threatening Caggiano with its jagged edges.
Bruce must have known the jury would acquit Caggiano; he knew it all along. But he had gotten convictions out of Local 17.
He had pretended Caggiano was an enforcer and his acquittal seemed irrelevant to Bruce. He had served his purpose.
The acquittals of Jeffrey Peterson, Thomas Freedenberg, Gerald Bove, and Michael Eddy, also of Local 17, seemed also irrelevant to Bruce.
He got the man he sought. To get one conviction, he would trade four acquittals of innocent men.
“The verdict was a mixed verdict,” Bruce said when four of five men he tried to put in prison were acquitted in the Local 17 trial.
For Bruce, the man he sought, Mark N. Kirsch, the leader of the union, was convicted. That four innocent low level union members were falsely charged was the sacrifice Bruce required of them to make his case better, more smoke for an alleged fire.
And if he lucked out and got an innocent man convicted, that might just be the finest testimony of his talent, and one more stroke of good fortune for a man who lived it seemed only for himself.
The case of the Chosen Few, the motorcycle club, which is well known in legal circles for Bruce suborned perjury.
It was not as much reported that he was almost disbarred and how he managed to escape that is a story in itself.
For 38 years, Bruce enjoyed conscienceless antipathy to Blackstone’s ratio of “it is better one that 10 guilty men go free, than one innocent suffer.” In Bruce’s world, innocence and guilt seemed of little concern. He was concerned with pleasures which to men and women of good will could be described as sadism and savagery. He wanted to win, at all cost; lying and cheating was nothing to pay.
He feared no one, not even judges, certainly not defense lawyers, nor colleagues or juries. Not his bosses at the Department of Justice which as long as he disgraced the place, was aptly named the Department of (In)Justice.
He was above the law, giddy with power. A man one could picture putting an innocent in prison, then going home to pastoral Orchard Park to eat robustly, and sleep like a baby, only to rise in the morning, with a wild eye, hovering on the brink of madness the torment that bedevils all tyrants. One sees him ready at a moment’s notice to tyrannize the innocent, or the guilty, and never to worry overmuch, which was which.