A Long Island private eye who bribed an NYPD cop to get confidential information about witnesses for defense lawyers in criminal cases was sentenced to five years probation but escaped jail time in Manhattan federal court on Friday.
“I became too engaged and overwhelmed in trying to provide a zealous defense for my clients,” said Joseph Dwyer, his voice breaking with emotion as his wife and relatives cried and held hands in the front row of the courtroom.
When U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, moments later, told Dwyer, “I’m not going to hide the ball here. I’m not sending you to prison,” the knot of supporters erupted in shrieks and hugs drawing a warning from the judge to refrain from demonstrations.
“Yeah baby, Dwyers rock!” his sister Janet Dwyer, the oldest of six siblings, told reporters afterward as the family high-fived outside the courthouse.
Dwyer, 47, of Shoreham, an ex-cop and a well-known defense investigator on court appointed cases for 20 years, faced up to 5 years in prison for conspiring to pay now-retired NYPD Sgt. Ronald Buell $9,000 for information on 11 cases.
He pleaded guilty in January, but his case was complicated by his appearance last year as a witness for the Bronx district attorney in an exoneration case in which he revealed a tape that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office had held back, raising questions about the credibility of a federal informant.
The government did not initially urge Nathan to impose jail time, but after Dwyer’s lawyer brought up his role in the Bronx case and also appeared to question why defense lawyers who used the information Dwyer paid bribes for were never charged, prosecutors took a break to consult with supervisors and then adopted a sharper tone.
Prosecutor Hadassa Waxman told Nathan that the government had charged everyone they could, and that Dwyer had paid bribes to make more money as an investigator — $500,000 over four years — and not to help his clients.
“Mr. Dwyer is not above the law,” she said. “He put people at risk. He deserves a serious punishment. He does not deserve a slap on the wrist.”
Dwyer, a father of four, choked back tears as he denied the charge that he was more about money than getting justice for clients and beseeched the judge to let him remain with his family. “They are my life,” Dwyer said. “They are the air that I breathe.”
Nathan said she received more than 40 letters supporting Dwyer, ranging from family to criminal-defense lawyers vouching for his dedication in working for indigent clients.
The judge lectured Dwyer about how his actions contributed to “corruption and corroding” of the court system and could have put witnesses at risk, but said he had accepted responsibility by pleading guilty, had already destroyed his livelihood, and deserved some credit for providing a “public service” as an investigator.
“We are all more than the worst mistakes we make,” she said.