A longtime District-based defense lawyer was convicted Friday of conspiring to obstruct justice by fabricating evidence and inducing perjury in the hopes of winning a client’s drug trial.
Charles F. Daum, 66, showed no reaction when U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler announced her verdict to a packed courtroom, finding Daum guilty of six of seven felony charges after a 23-day trial. The judge also found two of Daum’s private investigators — Daaiyah Pasha, 61, and her 32-year-old daughter, Iman Pasha — guilty of conspiring to obstruct justice.
The three, who had waived the right to have a jury hear the case, are scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 19. All could face prison time.
Daum and the Pashas declined to comment after the verdict.
“We are disappointed and surprised, given some of the findings,” said Iman Pasha’s attorney, Gladys Weatherspoon.
When Daum and the Pashas were indicted last year, the unusual charges sent shock waves through the local defense community. On Friday, Kessler said it had been “a difficult, almost painful trial” that went to “the heart of any lawyer’s obligation to uphold the law.”
Nevertheless, Kessler said during a 90-minute hearing that the evidence against Daum and the Pashas had been overwhelming. It included testimony not only from four “core witnesses” who participated in the conspiracy, but also from jailhouse phone recordings that implicated the defense lawyer.
The judge found Daum guilty of conspiring to obstruct justice, three counts of obstruction of justice and two counts of inducing perjury. She acquitted him of a count of witness tampering. The Pashas were convicted of conspiring to obstruct justice, the only charge they faced.
Kessler, who took a deep breath before issuing her ruling in a hoarse voice, said Daum orchestrated a conspiracy to help a 28-year-old drug dealer, Delante White, during a September 2008 trial on a charge of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine.
Just a few months earlier, D.C. police had raided the Northeast Washington apartment of White’s grandmother and seized 124 grams of crack cocaine, $2,000 in cash, a digital scale and a pair of Gucci boots. Authorities quickly pinned the stash on White, who faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted. (He would later admit that the drugs and supplies were his).
Daum, a gray-haired veteran of local and federal courts, tried to work out a plea deal, but White rejected it, according to trial testimony.
As the trial neared, Kessler ruled, Daum directed his investigators, White, and White’s girlfriend and relatives to create fake evidence and lie in court. The relatives and investigators, Kessler ruled, staged photographs meant to show that the drugs had belonged to White’s younger brother. They also forged a lease agreement to make it appear as if White was living somewhere other than where the raid occurred, Kessler said.
White’s girlfriend even made a last-minute trip to New York to buy a pair of Gucci boots to make it seem like the ones police seized belonged to White’s brother, Kessler said. The purchased boots, which were smaller than those police seized, were introduced at White’s trial by Daum. The lawyer instructed the girlfriend to lie when she testified that she had found the boots that very morning in her closet and that they had belonged to White, Kessler found.
It is not clear whether the fake evidence and perjury played a role in White’s September 2008 trial. The jury deadlocked — 11 of the 12 jurors voted to convict him — and U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman declared a mistrial.
Eventually, federal prosecutors figured out what had occurred and charged White and his relatives in the obstruction-of-justice scheme. White pleaded guilty to drug dealing, tampering with witnesses and obstruction of justice.
His girlfriend, Candice Robertson, and two of his brothers, Jerome and Christopher, pleaded guilty to charges ranging from witness tampering to perjury. They have not been sentenced. They all agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of their plea deals.
Defense attorneys attacked the credibility of those witnesses during their clients’ trial, saying they pinned the conspiracy on Daum and the Pashas to get out of trouble. In fact, they argued, White had masterminded the entire thing.
Kessler conceded that the four witnesses — White, his brothers and his girlfriend — were “hardly model citizens.” But the judge said they “all told the same basic story” — that Daum had directed the conspiracy.
“A scheme of this sophistication and magnitude could not be dreamed up and carried out by Delante White from a jail cell,” Kessler said, noting that the drug dealer was incarcerated before and during his 2008 trial.
Kessler said that there did not seem to be a clear reason why Daum cheated, adding that “it’s often difficult to understand why ordinary people conduct criminal acts.”
Defense attorneys had said prosecutors had failed to prove a motive — Daum made only $6,000 on the case, hardly enough, they argued, to risk his career over. Prosecutors, however, suggested during the trial that Daum was an egomaniac who wanted to win.
“In his zeal to defend his client, Mr. Daum betrayed his profession and obstructed justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, which prosecuted the case. Breuer added in a statement that “it’s astounding that a lawyer could commit these crimes, which undermine the integrity of our criminal justice system.”