Dan Donovan

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Convicting Dangerous Felons Reducing “Plea Downs” Assembling a Diverse & Talented Staff Targeting DWI Offenders
Protecting Our Seniors Witness Protection Program Asset Forfeiture Program Cracking “Cold Cases”
Prosecuting Rape With DNA Domestic Violence & Child Abuse Protecting Our Public Servants Targeting Illegal Guns
Targeting Sex Offenders Advocating for Crime Victims Crackdown on Illegal Drugs Prosecuting Identity Theft

 

Issue: Convicting Dangerous Felons. Felony cases are, by definition, the most serious crimes in the justice system.

Donovan Initiative: Dan Donovan was elected in 2003 on a campaign pledge to bolster felony conviction rates. From 2001 to 2003, the Richmond County D.A. ranked last, fifth, and fourth, respectively, in felony conviction rates among the five Borough’s D.A.’s offices and the Special Narcotics Prosecutor. Since Dan Donovan took office, however, the Richmond County D.A.’s office has led the entire City of New York every year in obtaining convictions in indicted felony cases. In his first year in office in 2004, Donovan’s office landed a 94.8% felony conviction rate, followed by 94% again in 2005. The most recent data (the latest figures made available by the state) indicate that 2006 is no different at 94.7%. Again, these numbers from 2004-2006 rank first in New York City, proving that Dan Donovan’s office is prosecuting the most serious criminals, obtaining convictions, and putting those criminals behind bars.

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Issue: Reducing “Plea Downs”. Prior to Dan Donovan’s administration, a substantial number of people being arrested for felony charges were being allowed to plea bargain to lesser offenses.

Donovan Initiative: Under Dan Donovan’s tenure as D.A., criminals being charged with serious crimes are being convicted of serious crimes. In 2002, 41.9 percent of people charged with felonies pled down to offenses less than a misdemeanor – basically equating to a slap on the wrist. In 2005, that number was nearly halved to 27 percent. The statistics for Violent Felonies (1st Degree Assault, Murder, Armed Robbery, etc.) fare even better under Dan Donovan’s leadership. In 2005, almost 50 percent of those charged with a violent felony were convicted as such, while only 18.8 percent were convicted of offenses less than a misdemeanor – again almost half of the 31.4 percent who were charged with violent felonies in 2002 that pled down to slaps on the wrist.

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Issue: Building a Diverse & Talented Staff. Since taking office, Dan Donovan has made it his mission to raise the standards of the D.A.’s office to better reflect the Staten Island community they represent. As a result of his personal involvement in the recruiting and professional activities of his office, he has achieved striking results in terms of the diversity of his office, the talent hired, and its record in court.

Donovan Initiative: When Donovan arrived, there were no attorneys on staff who spoke a language other than English. His first two hires were fluent Spanish-speaking women and subsequently he has added Korean, Hindi, Italian, Mandarin and Cantonese speakers.

Donovan has also increased the representation of minority groups. Since taking office, in a county, which according to the 2000 Census is 77 percent white, over 35 percent of the new ADA’s are from communities of color. Also among Dan Donovan’s diverse management team is the first African-American prosecutor to serve as the Bureau Chief of his office’s Criminal Court Bureau. In addition, more than half of the bureau chiefs and deputy bureau chiefs are women.

Donovan’s work in enhancing the diversity of his office has been recognized by the Asian-American Bar Association of New York and the Association of the Bar of New York City, which honored him as a “2006 Diversity Champion.”

Nearly every one of Dan Donovan’s new hires has come from a top-tier law school and many ranked in the highest percentile of their graduating classes. Over 40 percent of Donovan’s 29 hires were graduates of “Top 7 Law Schools” (per the Law School 100 – LawSchool.com) and over 25 percent were graduates of “Top 4” Law Schools. Their courtroom results have been no less than spectacular, and these hires are another reason for the increased conviction rates mentioned above.

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Issue: Targeting Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). Under the previous administration, few if any repeat offenders were given jail time – only one in six repeat drunk drivers went to jail. Donovan made improving the prosecution of DWI crimes the cornerstone of his first year in office.

Donovan Initiative: As part of the District Attorney’s crackdown on drunk drivers, Staten Island prosecutors have sought jail time for repeat drunk drivers. Now, nearly one in three repeat drunk drivers is sentenced to jail time on Staten Island. Additionally, in 12 indicted felony DWI cases disposed of in 2004, the D.A.’s office asked for jail time in all 12 and received a sentence of jail in all but one. Under Donovan, in 2005 and 2006, 86 percent and 100 percent of felony eligible defendants received jail time.

As part of his anti-DWI public relations campaign, Donovan has spoken at nearly every Staten Island High Schools on the dangers of underage drinking and drunk driving; he’s filmed Public Service Announcements on Time Warner Cable; teamed with the Century Council and Heineken to limit DWIs and teen drinking; and met with representatives of the Staten Island restaurant and livery driver industries to do the same.

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Issue: Protecting Our Seniors. The senior population of Staten Island is exploding, with the segment made up of seniors 80 and older outpacing other segments. Senior Citizens are often the most vulnerable members of society for criminals to prey on. Therefore, it is important to not only aggressively prosecute those who seek to take advantage of seniors, but be proactive in helping to prevent those crimes in the first place.

Donovan Initiative: Dan Donovan marked his 120th day in office by announcing a new anti-crime initiative aimed at protecting senior citizens from being scammed. Called Smart and Safe Seniors, the program’s goal is to educate the elderly about consumer fraud, telemarketing and sweepstakes scams, home break-ins, home improvement scams, travel safety, telephone and internet fraud and crime- reporting tips. The program is sponsored by a national organization of funeral homes and cemeteries. Trained personnel visit senior centers and friendship clubs around the borough, providing helpful tips and educational material that could save a life.He has taken an innovative approach to crimes against senior citizens. For instance, in late 2005, two individuals were indicted under the state’s Hate Crime Law for a home invasion and robbery of a 94-year old man. Under New York State Law, a hate crime may be charged on the basis of age when the victim is over the age of 60. This is used as a prosecutorial tool to deter anyone who is thinking about committing a crime against the senior community. People convicted of hate crimes receive enhanced criminal sentences.

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Issue: Witness Protection Program. Prior to the Donovan administration, Staten Island was the only borough without a formal witness protection program. Former District Attorney William L. Murphy had told the New York Times that 70 percent of his cases had been dismissed due to witness intimidation.

Donovan Initiative:Following through on another campaign pledge, Donovan created a permanent witness protection program in 2004. Through belt-tightening and reallocation of resources, the office spent $217,436 on the program in 2004, compared to $48,613 in 2003 under the previous administration. In addition, the D.A.’s office has spent $238,166 from 2005-2006 protecting witnesses. The majority of this funding has come from D.A. Donovan’s asset forfeiture program. The consequential increase in witness programs is in part responsible for the increased conviction rate in both Criminal and Supreme Courts. “We’ve been able to find money in the budget,” Donovan was quoted as saying. “There is no one on Staten Island who shouldn’t come forward if they have been the victim or a witness to a crime because they feel intimidated. We will protect them.”

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Issue: Asset Forfeiture Program. Under the state Criminal Procedure Law Rules, police and prosecutors each get to keep 27 percent of forfeited assets for use on practically any crime prevention measure but paying salaries, with the balance given to the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. When Dan Donovan took office, Staten Island was the only borough that did not routinely require all defendants who plead guilty to execute a forfeiture agreement relinquishing their rights to the identified instrumentalities and fruits of their crimes. Staten Island was also the only borough that was not participating in certain city-wide (anti-money laundering) investigative efforts leading to the seizure of substantial funds.

Donovan Initiative: Donovan has taken asset forfeiture to new heights in achieving ambitious goals in the face of budget cuts. The Forfeiture Fund requires criminals entering into a plea bargain to turn over any profits from illicit activities to the D.A.’s office.

In 2003, Richmond County D.A. Forfeiture Deposits were a mere $92,000. Since Donovan took office, they have skyrocketed to $193,000 in 2004; $247,000 in 2005; and $371,000 in 2006. As stated above, most of the forfeiture money goes toward the witness protection program. However, Dan Donovan has used forfeiture funds to hire expert witnesses, purchase wireless headphones for playback of audio evidence in court, run the truancy program, print educational literature, keep a summer camp for 100 6-12 year olds in Mariners Harbor operating, and support many local charities – including the Staten Island Children’s Campaign. All done at no cost to anyone except to convicted criminals.

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Issue: Cracking Cold Cases. A cold case is any criminal investigation by a law enforcement agency that has not been solved for (generally) at least one year and, as a result, has been closed from further regular investigations. A cold case may be closed for various reasons such as: previously available technology was not able to adequately analyze the evidence in order to form a conclusion; witnesses were hostile and uncooperative; various time constraints hindered the investigation; the originally assigned detectives had a heavy workload; a lack of worthwhile leads stalled the case.

Donovan Initiative: Since Dan Donovan took office, he has been turning the heat up on cold cases. Three particular cases stand out:

  • Andre Rand. Holly Ann Hughes, then a 7-year old girl, was last seen on July 15, 1981 near Richmond Terrace and Park Avenue on Staten Island. Andre Rand, a mentally incompetent convicted child sex offender from New York, was charged with first-degree kidnapping in connection with Hughes’s disappearance in 2001. Rand was convicted of kidnapping Hughes in October 2004. He was never charged with the child’s murder due to a lack of evidence. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He is also serving 25 years to life for another kidnapping. The second sentence makes it extremely unlikely that he will ever be freed. Holly Ann Hughes has never been found.
  • James Russell. On July 14, 2005 Donovan announced the unsealing of an indictment of James Russell, 37, on one count of 2nd Degree Murder, for the April 1992 murder of Joshua Stulick, then aged 19, of Parkview Loop. The murder is alleged to have occurred in April of 1992. The victim was found wrapped in the interior lining of an automobile trunk, his throat slashed, within the confines of Ingram Park. The car was operated by the defendant and registered to his mother. This case is still pending.
  • Wayne Decker. Wayne Decker, a reputed drug-gang enforcer, was sentenced to 25 years to life in November of 2005 for the baseball-bat bludgeoning death of Victoria Mason, 31. Decker became a suspect almost as soon as Mason’s battered body was found on a couch inside her West Brighton apartment Dec. 3, 1987. He was sentenced to four years in prison for the robbery, according to state records, but it was not until 2002 that Decker was arrested on the murder charge based on jailhouse confessions to fellow inmates.

Dan Donovan himself summed up best his office’s commitment to investigate cold cases: “The passage of time will not be a barrier to our willingness to take cases to trial. If you have committed a crime in this borough, and if the statute of limitations has not expired, we will find you, you will be prosecuted, and we will convict you.”

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Issue: Prosecuting Rape with DNA. In 2003 city officials allocated funds to test DNA samples in unsolved rape cases approaching the statute of limitations – dubbed New York’s “John Doe Indictment Project.” A John Doe indictment essentially freezes the clock on the statute of limitations. To secure an indictment, prosecutors need a viable DNA sample, and the alleged victim must testify before a grand jury. State law requires that most felony prosecutions, including rape, be brought within five years of the crime or within 10 years if the suspect’s identity is unknown. Under New York law criminals convicted of any number of offenses must submit their DNA to a statewide database. In addition, then-Gov. Pataki signed a law requiring DNA samples from all convicted sex offenders. Prosecutors can also compare samples to a national DNA index system as well.

Donovan Initiative: : In July of 2004, Donovan’s office indicted the first DNA specimen in Staten Island history, just days before the 10-year statute of limitations expired. Authorities did not know the suspect’s name at the time and charged him as “John Doe.” Two months later Joseph Pellegrino was identified and indicted, after the sample matched his DNA profile in a data base. He subsequently pleaded guilty to attempted first degree rape and sentenced to 2- 6 years in prison. The second person indicted on DNA evidence was Victor Cruz. Cruz was about to be released from prison in April of 2005 when Staten Island prosecutors charged him in connection with the September 1995 knifepoint rape of a 19-year old girl. A sample of Cruz’s DNA, on file in a state database for felony offenders, matched a specimen from the victim. He pleaded guilty in April 2006 to a first degree sexual abuse, and was sentenced as a second violent felony offender to 2 �-5 years in prison.

Lee Calvin was arrested in October 2005 for the 1999 rape of a 15-year old Staten Island girl. He was linked to the crime by a match of DNA taken from the victim’s rape kit and matched to a sample of his DNA on file in the New York State’s DNA database. Calvin, a three-time convicted felon, was convicted in March 2007 and sentenced to 4 to 8 years in prison. The statute of limitations could have expired after five years had it not been for the DNA evidence.

As is the case with cold cases on Staten Island, justice delayed is not always justice denied.

District Attorney Donovan has also donated “swab dryers” to Staten Island hospitals. Officials say these dryers dramatically slash the time needed to dry DNA samples taken from alleged rape victims and helps hospitals maintain those specimens. By preserving evidence quicker, contamination is eliminated and more evidence is retained.

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Issue: Protecting Public Servants. After taking office, Dan Donovan announced a policy that he would not plea bargain assault cases against teachers, police officers, court officers, emergency service technicians, and other city and state employees.

Donovan Initiative: : The policy has worked and has reaped tangible benefits visible in two cases from his first year in office. Deroy Woods, 22, pleaded guilty to the top count of Assault in the 2nd Degree, a felony, for his admission of guilt of an assault on a court officer in Staten Island Family Court. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

In the second case, LaShawn Harvey, 17, also pleaded guilty to the top count of an indictment, Assault in the 2nd Degree. Ms. Harvey assaulted a teacher who missed 11 days of work, was in a soft neck brace for two weeks and suffers from muscle spasms in the neck and back. Harvey received a sentence of up to 90 days in jail and five years probation.

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Issue: Targeting Illegal Guns. Illegal guns continue to be a menace in this community and across the nation.

Donovan Initiative: : In early 2006 Donovan began a program that restructured the plea bargaining process for gun offenders. Prosecutors would not enter into plea negotiations if a defendant refused to tell prosecutors who supplied the gun, and in cases of cooperation, the defendant must agree to plead guilty to a felony gun charge.

Then in October 2006, Donovan teamed with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn to seek stiffer sentences in illegal gun-possession cases. Prosecutors are evaluating every new gun arrest in the borough and deciding whether to bring the case in state court or federal court, where sentences are often tougher and the criteria to establish a felony case are sometimes less burdensome. 93 illegal guns were seized in 2004, compared to more than 150 in 2006.

An example of this partnership came when Tommy Rice rejected Staten Island prosecutors’ offer to plead guilty, his case was moved to federal court. Rice was indicted in August after he was arrested following a police search of his house that netted a loaded 9-mm pistol and a loaded .38 caliber revolver, as well as cocaine and heroin. Not all gun suspects can be prosecuted under federal statutes, but the drugs the police found in his home made him a candidate. To take the case, federal prosecutors must have jurisdiction over the crime, or the suspect must satisfy certain criteria.

Donovan answers critics of his teaming with the feds by saying, “If I can get a guy off the streets for eight years rather than for five years, then I will.”

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Issue: Targeting Sex Offenders. New York State’s Megan’s Law became effective in 1996 and requires a convicted sex offender to register with the State’s Sex Offender Registry; currently there are over 40 registerable offenses and more than 24,000 sex offenders registered by New York State.

Donovan Initiative: : Since Dan Donovan took office in 2004, the Richmond County D.A.’s office has been at or near the top in New York City in both conviction and incarceration rates for those arrested on Staten Island for failing to register as sex offenders under the terms of New York State’s Megan’s Law. Donovan takes very seriously the reporting requirements for dangerous sex offenders and the threat that they pose to children. If a convicted sex offender is released from prison and fails to register under Megan’s Law, law enforcement will hunt them down, and the D.A.’s office will prosecute them and see that they are convicted and returned to jail.

In March 2006, Dan Donovan testified at a special state Senate panel in support of a bill that would end the statute of limitations on rape cases. The bill gave prosecutors the same freedom they have in probing murders or kidnappings. The impetus for the bill is the ever-more sophisticated DNA analysis which has allowed prosecutors to target “cold cases.” Dan Donovan has been on record many times indicating his support for ending the limitations and was lauded by the Staten Island Advance for his lobbying efforts when the bill was finally enacted during the 2006 legislative session.

D.A. Donovan also was a vigorous supporter of civil confinement legislation. Civil confinement legislation allows for the extended detainment of the “most dangerous” sex offenders after the completion of their prison sentences. If, after review and unanimous decision by jury, offenders are found to be a danger to society, sexual predators can be held in mental health facilities for an indefinite period. Dan Donovan testified at various legislative hearings in support of the legislation and authored several “op-ed” pieces on the issue which appeared in New York City newspapers. After nearly a decade of legislative impasses, this legislation was enacted in 2007.

Furthermore, Dan Donovan’s office had the first felony conviction in New York State under “Stephanie’s Law.” Stephanie’s Law seeks to protect against voyeurs who destroy personal privacy and dignity by secretly videotaping or photographing unsuspecting individuals. The Staten Island D.A. obtained jail time in this case in which a retired firefighter secretly videotaped his girlfriend’s teenage daughter undressing.

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Issue:Advocating for Crime Victims. Too often we, as a society, neglect victims of crime, who are involuntary participants in the criminal justice system.

Donovan Initiative: : The rights of crime victims is a top priority for Dan Donovan. The Richmond County’s D.A.’s office contains a unit within named the “Victim Impact Unit.” The Unit’s main priority is to keep crime victims and surviving loved ones informed throughout every step of the criminal process. For example, when families appear before the NY State Division of Parole to make a victim impact statement asking for denial of parole for convicted prisoners, the Victims Impact Unit aides them every step of the way. Other assistance may include videotaping a person’s statement whom is too ill to appear before the Division of Parole in Albany.

In addition, in 2005 Donovan sponsored a competition among Staten Island’s high schools to create a mural commemorating victims of crime that is now permanently displayed in his office. The competition coincided with the 25th anniversary of Ronald Regan declaring the first National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The annual remembrance promotes victims’ rights and services in all sectors of our society.

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Issue:Crackdown on Illegal Drugs. It is essential that our law enforcement officials not only enforce our drug laws and take dealers and users off the streets, but go after the big drug rings that are the source of the problem.

Donovan Initiative: : Since taking office, Donovan has had a hand in busting and prosecuting four major drug rings on Staten Island. These convictions have put a major dent in the flow of narcotics on Staten Island. Some of the bigger ones included:

  • In July 2004, 20 people were arrested in conjunction with the break-up of a South Shore based cocaine ring, whose key players included a New Dorp elementary school teacher and a Brooklyn man found with a cache of arms and homemade bombs. The ring sold cocaine in powder and crack form, and raked in about a half a million in annual sales.
  • Also in July 2004, more than 50 suspected drug dealers were arrested in “Operation Good Neighbor” following a 6 month investigation. The drug dealers and buyers were operating out of the lobby of the public housing facility the “Stapleton Houses.” The dealers had turned to lobby into a marketplace for crack, marijuana and PCP.
  • In April 2005, parolee Edward (White Boy Eddie) Janis, 36, and 22 of his henchmen were arrested for their roles in a vicious, $3.5 million drug ring that stretched from Staten Island to Pennsylvania. The ring was responsible for at least five shootings on the North Shore. After an 11-month investigation, Janis pleaded guilty to a charge of 2nd degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and received 13 years in prison.

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Issue: Identity Theft. Stealing someone else’s identity for the purpose of monetary gain or other criminal purposes is the crime of identity theft.

Donovan Initiative: A major issue during Donovan’s tenure was a “Jury Duty” ID Theft Scam. Donovan teamed with the County Clerk to warn Staten Islanders about a nationwide Jury Duty identity theft scam whose perpetrators target victims by representing themselves as representatives of law enforcement. The perpetrator would call an individual and claim that they had not yet responded to a mailed jury duty notice, and ask for personal information to “verify their inquiry.” Some victims have unknowingly provided the identity thief with their SSN’s, birth date, or even credit card numbers. Prosecutors from the D.A.’s office regularly visit community groups to educate participants on how they can protect themselves.

In addition to these education efforts, Donovan’s office has pledged to vigorously enforce the law and prosecute anyone who preys on innocent victims in this fashion.

Finally, as mentioned in the Seniors’ Safety section above, Donovan has worked to educate seniors about the dangers of Identity Theft and regularly provides tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.

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Issue: Domestic Violence and Child Abuse. The issue here is self explanatory, preventing domestic violence and child abuse, and prosecuting those who break the law.

Donovan Initiative: In May 2006, Donovan teamed with Assemblyman Mirones, the Richmond County Savings Foundation and Time Warner Cable to fund a program aimed at child abuse prevention on Staten Island. Donovan contributed $15,500 to the Child Abuse Prevention Program (CAPP) – which came out of the Asset Forfeiture fund. The program brings a message to children to come forward and seek help when they have been victimized; as well as train school and law enforcement professionals to respond to these situations. This program yielded dividends in July 2006 when a 9 year-old girl came forward after a presentation to disclose her 20 year-old uncle had molested her and her brother.

For more information about CAPP, visit: www.childabusepreventionprogram.org.

In terms of combating domestic violence, Donovan hosted a Domestic Violence Summit at Wagner College in January 2007 to address an alarming rate of domestic abuse cases in the borough. About two dozen caretakers, service providers, legal and law enforcement professionals, and a domestic abuse survivor took part. Donovan and his staff listened for two and a half hours to suggestions about how to further combat domestic violence.

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