By David Brand
Queens criminal defense attorney John Scarpa Jr. was indicted in federal court in Brooklyn Tuesday for allegedly bribing a witness who testified in his client’s murder trial.
Scarpa allegedly plotted with Charles Gallman to bribe a witness to give false testimony in a trial for Scarpa’s client Reginald Ross who was charged with two unrelated murders in Suffolk County. The alleged bribery is a violation of the Travel Act.
“Defense attorneys do all they can to help their clients fight criminal charges, which is everyone’s right by law,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Richard Sweeney. “However, Mr. Scarpa allegedly broke the law trying to get his client off the hook for murder charges by bribing a witness. Everyone accused deserves the best defense, but attorneys cannot use illegal methods to win in court.”
The woman who answered the phone at Scarpa’s law office — located across from the Queens County Criminal Courthouse — hung up immediately when asked for comment by the Eagle. A second person who identified themselves as a receptionist said they could not make comment but said they would share the request with Scarpa.
Scarpa was released on $500,000 bail Tuesday afternoon.
Ross was convicted for murdering a road crew flagman in May 2010 and another man in October 2010. The two murders were not related.
The witness, Luis Cherry, participated in the second murder and pleaded guilty. Ross mistook the murder victim, John Williams, for Williams’ brother, who he intended to kill
In January 2015, Gallman, a self-styled private investigator who worked out of Scarpa’s office, visited Cherry at Downstate Correctional Facility and spoke to him about testifying at Ross’ trial, federal prosecutors say.
Gallman allegedly told Scarpa that Cherry was open to bribes.
“Anything we need, he’s willing,” Gallman allegedly told Scarpa in a recorded conversation. “Whichever way you wanna play it, he’s willing.”
Later in the conversation Scarpa asked, “So this guy is willing to do whatever?”
Gallman responded by saying, “Whatever you need, John. Whatever you need.”
Prosecutors say Gallman added that there was a “bunch of stuff I wrote down that [Cherry] wants.”
During Ross’ trial, Scarpa called Cherry to the stand and, according to the indictment, “led Cherry through perjurious testimony relevant to the Williams murder.”
Cherry said he committed the murder alone after he crawled from the driver’s seat and exited through the passenger side of his vehicle with firearms in both hands despite physical evidence that indicated two gunmen were involved in the killing. During cross-examination, Cherry said he and Gallman had not talked about the murder case when Gallman visited him in prison.
“As alleged, the defendants bribed a witness to commit perjury in an effort to help Scarpa’s client, who had committed two execution-style murders, escape justice,” said U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue in a statement.
In a letter to the court, Donoghue also said Scarpa called an alibi witness who said she earned a 3.897 GPA in law school. The woman had not attended law school.
During the trial, Scarpa accused the prosecution of “purchas[ing] testimony” and called the practice “repugnant,” Donoghue said. Ross was eventually convicted on both murder charges.
Scarpa was arrested early Tuesday and arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven L. Tiscione. His attorneys are Anthony Colleluori and Thomas Kenniff.
A wiretap on Gallman’s cell phone also revealed that he worked with other lawyers, including Scott Brettschneider, to bribe and intimidate witnesses.
Brettschneider was indicted in federal court in May after he was allegedly heard on a wiretap conspiring to fabricate a letter that would release a client convicted for selling drugs from prison on the false pretext that he needed to enter drug rehab.
In July, Gallman pleaded guilty for bribing a witness in a different trial before Justice Joseph Zayas in Queens Criminal Court. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Gallman, 55, tried to pay witnesses to change their testimony from 2013 to 2015. Gallman also attempted to intimidate witnesses in order to stop them from testifying against a man charged with gun possession.
“Witnesses of crimes must be protected from outside interference that might affect their testimony,” Brown said in a July statement. “My office will not tolerate the intimidation of, or tampering with, witnesses and is committed to the vigorous prosecution of those who engage in such conduct.”