Analysis of Congressman Collins’ Indictment

Updated 8/14/18 to include comments in the Buffalo News

Congressman Chris Collins’ indictment has been the subject of several news stories, both local and national, since it was announced. Criminal defense attorney Barry Covert spoke to WGRZ, WIVB and the Buffalo News about the case, what the indictment shows, and what details are being provided by the United States Attorney’s office. The full story is available on the WGRZ, the Buffalo News, and the WIVB websites.

Collins most likely notified

Mr. Covert explained that, although the news of the indictment may have been a surprise to the legal community, “there’s no reason to believe that [Collins’] lawyers weren’t on notice that there was an investigation and that, if he didn’t engage in some type of plea negotiations, there would be an indictment.” He said that, because there are cooperating witnesses, it is very likely that the FBI reached out to the Congressman, his family, the codefendants, and anyone else involved in the case to notify them that criminal charges were pending.

Innocent until proven guilty

While Mr. Covert reiterated that Congressman Collins is presumed innocent until proven guilty, he told both news outlets that these are very serious charges. “Two of the counts against him have a statutory maximum of 20 years’ incarceration,” he explained. Mr. Covert went on to say, however, that “because of [Collins’] criminal history category, the way that the federal guidelines are figured out he wouldn’t be looking at 20.”

“But, again,” Mr. Covert said, “that’s premature for us to go to. [The indictment] is surprising, but we do have to presume him innocent here and make sure that the government proves their case.”

Mr. Covert told the Buffalo News that “it is very unusual in a white collar crime case for someone to be sentenced to the statutory maximum.” He explained that Collins and his co-defendants, if they are convicted on all counts, may face sentences in the range of four to six years.

“Some of the other factors that are looked at in determining the guideline sentencing range are the defendant’s role in the crime–whether he was a leader or not,” Mr. Covert explained. “Other factors would be whether the defendant was in a position of trust, how many people were involved in the crime, how sophisticated the crime was, and whether justice was obstructed.”

Speaking indictment

Mr. Covert explained that the indictment is what is known as a speaking or talking indictment. “In other words,” he said, “an indictment that tells a story as opposed to being skeletal. So they wanted to make sure that the story is out there, out on the record.” He went on to say that this level of detail is not required. “They can just basically give us an indictment that just gives the element of the offense without giving much more information,” Mr. Covert said. “This is just their version,” he said, “and he gets the opportunity to show that they can’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, but they purposely want to make sure the public was well aware of all the facts regarding their Congressman.”

Several details about the case have been made public through avenues such as the speaking indictment and a news conference with the U.S. Attorney’s office. Mr. Covert explained that the FBI is “ethically bound by exactly what they can say. They can’t try to sway the potential jury that’s going to be, if there’s a trial, on the case against [Collins].”

About Barry N. Covert

Mr. Covert is a senior partner in Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area. He is known for his aggressive representation of clients in the areas of New York State and federal criminal trials and appeals; driving while intoxicated; constitutional law, including First Amendment, civil rights actions, and federal False Claims Act; defending against allegations of scientific misconduct and fraud, research misconduct and fraud, plagiarism, and fabrication of evidence; and professional licensing defense. Mr. Covert frequently provides legal analysis for WGRZ and other media outlets.