CENTRAL ISLIP — It didn’t take long for fireworks to erupt in the fraud and conspiracy trial of two men accused of conning a dozen or more current and former pro hockey players out of as much as $ 30 million.
The attorney for one of the defendants, Phil Kenner, found himself on the defensive even before he could finish his opening statement Monday at the Alphonse M. D’Amato United States Courthouse.
U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bianco halted attorney Richard Haley’s statement and sent the jury out of the room, then upbraided Haley for a “completely improper” comment Haley made about the government’s case.
Describing government investigators’ six-year road to the current charges against Kenner and his wingman, Tommy Constantine, Haley had told jurors that a federal grand jury in 2009 had declined to return an indictment — a line that Bianco said would confuse the jury. The case was moved from the Southern District of New York to the Eastern District in 2012 after prosecutors in the Southern District focused on devoting resources to building a case against SAC Capital, the hedge fund that pleaded guilty to criminal insider trading charges in a $ 1.8 billion settlement.
“What made you think that was proper to put before the jury?” an angry Bianco asked, once the jurors were excused.
Haley began to explain himself but Bianco cut him off.
“You will not refer at this juncture to prior versions of this indictment,” Bianco said, adding that referring to previous, discarded indictments would force jurors to draw inferences before they’d heard any evidence.
“He has really just screwed, pardon the expression, the record, your honor,” said assistant U.S. Attorney James Miskiewicz.
After a 20-minute break, prosecutors in the case asked for a mistrial, which Bianco denied.
Meanwhile, Haley told the court that Kenner will take the witness stand, even though as a federal criminal defendant he is not required to testify on his own behalf.
“Phil Kenner will be testifying in this trial,” Haley promised jurors.
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