During the closely watched proceedings, Futerfas learned that a high-ranking Colombo hit man had worked for decades as an FBI informant, and that his FBI handler was under investigation for leaking information that may have fomented the Colombo war. Prosecutors had not disclosed those details until after some of the defendants had been found guilty of murder and racketeering.
Futerfas devised a new defense, arguing that the government had deliberately tried to create a “divisive conflict which would enable the FBI to make, it hoped, dozens of arrests and convictions,” as the New York Times reported at the time.
The theory was an “unqualified success with juries,” the New Yorker said in a story on the case. More than a dozen alleged Colombo family members were acquitted of all charges stemming from the war, and others won new trials or had their convictions thrown out.
The victories helped establish Futerfas as a sought-after defense lawyer for accused mobsters. He started his own firm the same year and expanded it over the years to cover a range of white-collar prosecutions, federal investigations and cybercrime cases.
On Monday, Futerfas confirmed he had been tapped to represent Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, in the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, as The Washington Post has reported.
“I know there are some optical issues that people are fixated on at the moment, but the reality is, nothing happened. We will get through the process,” Futerfas told The Post Monday night.
The revelation came after the Times broke the story over the weekend that Trump, who has not been charged with any crime, had met with a Russian lawyer during the presidential race who offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
As Trump and the White House offered shifting explanations about the meeting’s purpose, the Times reported Monday that Trump had been informed via email that the information was part of an attempt by the Russian government to boost his father’s campaign. Futerfas said in a statement that Trump believed he was being offered details about “alleged wrongdoing” by Clinton and called the meeting “much ado about nothing.”
Reached by phone Monday night, Futerfas declined to discuss the matter in detail, saying only that he had met Trump recently.
“You meet someone and they vet you a little bit, find out what your thoughts are and how you would approach things. And that’s what happened here,” Futerfas said. He added that he had never met the president.
At least eight people affiliated with the president, as well as the president himself, have hired lawyers to handle the Russia probes, by The Post’s count.
Unlike the president’s attorneys, who have relatively little experience in white collar criminal matters, Futerfas is an accomplished defense lawyer who has spent nearly three decades working such cases. A former assistant district attorney in Manhattan described him to Reuters as a “top-flight lawyer” who is both “high-powered and low-key.”
Futerfas, who was born in Miami, did not start out on a traditional legal path. As an undergrad, he attended the Juilliard School in Manhattan, where he studied bass trombone. He graduated in 1984 and continues to play the instrument in the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, which has performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, and played a nine-date tour in China in 2011. Founded in 1999, the symphony is made up of top-level amateur musicians, many of whom work in law, finance and medicine by day (one of its violinists is a hedge fund manager).
Despite his musical skills, Futerfas made law his profession. After Juilliard, he studied at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and worked briefly with attorney Jay Goldberg, who later served as President Trump’s divorce lawyer, as Reuters reported. When he graduated in 1987, he took a job with his mentor, Gerald Shargel, a celebrated defense attorney famous for his work on behalf of Mafia members, including the mob boss John Gotti, whom he helped get acquitted of murder in 1990.
One of the most high-profile cases the pair worked on was the 1992 trial of Vittorio Amuso, the alleged head of the Lucchese crime family, who was accused of ordering nine slayings. Coverage of the case at the time shows that Shargel and Futerfas tried to prove Amuso’s innocence by attacking the credibility of two former mobsters who testified for the government, calling them “psychopathic killers” who sought to cover up their own crimes. Amuso was ultimately convicted on racketeering and murder charges.
After several years under Shargel’s wing, Futerfas started his own firm, where he continued to focus on defendants alleged to have organized crime ties. In addition to the Colombo case, he has represented clients accused of working with the Gambino and Genovese crime families, news archives show. Last year, he represented a New York pizza shop owner and his son who were convicted of importing more than 50 kilograms of cocaine from Costa Rica, as Reuters reported.
As his practice grew, he picked up different clients. In the early 2000s, he was involved in the corporate looting case against former Tyco International chief executive L. Dennis Kozlowski, who was indicted and later convicted of a range of financial crimes. Futerfas represented Kozlowski’s art consultant, who was under investigation but was not charged.
In recent years, he delved into cybercrime, representing a member of an alleged hacking ring accused of stealing customer data from JPMorgan Chase and using it to artificially inflate penny stock prices that were illegally sold at huge profits. The Post reported that the alleged cybercrime scheme was one of the biggest the financial sector had seen to date. He also defended a Russian citizen convicted of creating malware that infected some 40,000 computers worldwide.
Futerfas was guarded in his comments about Donald Trump Jr., but said he plans to represent him with the same vigor he would any other client.
“If you’re a careful lawyer who cares about what you do, each representation is an awesome responsibility,” he said.
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