Albany District Attorney Criticized in Steroid Case
By RAYMOND HERNANDEZ
As the district attorney for Albany County, P. David Soares has made a name for himself around the state by investigating top New York public officials, most recently weighing whether to prosecute Gov. David A. Paterson on perjury charges.
Albany’s district attorney, P. David Soares, left, at a 2007 press conference, with Senator Charles E. Schumer.
But now Mr. Soares is confronting questions about whether he himself acted improperly in his effort to prosecute the operators of a pharmacy in Florida at the center of a national steroid scandal that implicated major sports figures.
A federal judge in Florida has allowed the operators of the company, Signature Pharmacy, to proceed with a lawsuit that accuses Mr. Soares and his office of federal civil rights violations.
In denying Mr. Soares’s motion to dismiss the suit, the judge, Gregory A. Presnell, used biting language to criticize Mr. Soares, saying he had led a case riddled with flaws, including arrests that potentially were illegal, as Mr. Soares sought to attract maximum media attention.
More broadly, Judge Presnell said he failed to understand why Mr. Soares believed he had a legal basis to pursue the investigation, noting that Signature had no offices in New York and that the people charged had never set foot in the state.
“New York simply appears to have been just one of the many states to which Signature shipped or filled prescriptions,” the judge wrote in a ruling issued in June.
“In short, there is nothing in the record to suggest that Signature had any unique or particular nexus to the State of New York or Albany County. That the Albany D.A.’s office would participate in an investigation — and later attempt to prosecute a case — of this magnitude is baffling.”
The lawsuit centers on an investigation that Mr. Soares initiated several years ago that ultimately led to a highly publicized raid on Signature Pharmacy in Orlando, Fla., which prosecutors had alleged was the supplier of at least $10 million of controlled substances sold to customers in New York.
The raid, in February 2007, led to the arrests of five people associated with Signature: Naomi and Robert Loomis, the couple that owns the pharmacy; Kenneth Michael Loomis, Mr. Loomis’s brother and a pharmacist at the company; and two former employees, Kirk Calvert and Tony Palladino.
Judge Presnell also questioned the legality of the arrest warrants because they were obtained based on an original indictment against the defendants and not on a second superseding indictment.
The judge also questioned whether Mr. Soares even had jurisdiction to conduct an inquiry in Florida, noting that the defendants were arrested based on warrants issued in New York and not in Florida.
He also described the extent to which the Albany district attorney’s office sought to orchestrate media coverage for the raid, saying that Mr. Soares and a top deputy on the case, Christopher Baynes, “appear to have been focused in significant part on ensuring that plaintiffs’ arrests and the raids would be covered by the media.”
In his ruling the judge also appeared to go out of his way to note that, as of April 2009, Mr. Soares, who was first elected district attorney in 2004, had never prosecuted a felony case as a lead attorney, had never presented a case to a grand jury and had never secured a sealed indictment. The indictments against the Signature defendants were obtained by Mr. Baynes.
The ruling by Judge Presnell was the second setback Mr. Soares faced in the Signature case. In 2008, a judge in Albany threw out criminal indictments against the five Signature defendants, citing a series of blunders and missteps by Albany County prosecutors that he said had prejudiced the case.
On Thursday, Robert Bonner, a private lawyer representing the Albany district attorney’s office, defended Mr. Soares’s conduct in the case and said that Judge Presnell’s decision had been appealed. He also noted that Mr. Soares’s office had filed new charges against the same five defendants from Signature Pharmacy.
But Amy Tingley, a lawyer representing the Signature plaintiffs, said the judge’s decision buttressed their case. “We feel very satisfied that the federal judge recognized the improprieties of these prosecutors’ conduct and the damage it caused,” she said, adding that Signature lost so much business as a result of the case that it was forced to shut down in 2008.
Joel B. Rudin, a lawyer in Manhattan who specializes in cases of prosecutorial misconduct, called Judge Presnell’s order unusual and said it was highly damaging to Mr. Soares.
“It lays out a very strong case of misconduct in the investigation and arrest of the plaintiffs,” he said, “and shows a persistent attempt to orchestrate the media to damage the reputation of this company and its owners.”
Mr. Soares has described Signature as being at the center of a nationwide ring of shady Web sites and unethical doctors who had made steroids and other controlled substances easy to obtain over the Internet.
Prosecutors charged that the Web sites enabled doctors to provide prescriptions to a host of people — including professional baseball and football players seeking to improve performance — they had neither met nor diagnosed. Signature Pharmacy, prosecutors said, filled the prescriptions.
Mr. Soares has been at the center of several high-profile cases involving New York political figures in the last few years.
Most recently, Judith S. Kaye, the former chief judge of the State Court of Appeals, issued a report saying that Governor Paterson misled state ethics regulators while testifying under oath about tickets he had obtained to a New York Yankees’ World Series game last year.
But she left it to Mr. Soares to decide whether to pursue perjury charges against the governor.
One of Mr. Soares’s more high-profile cases involved an investigation into the way the administration of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer handled the politically sensitive travel records of a rival, Joseph L. Bruno, a former Republican Senate majority leader.
Mr. Soares drew criticism for his handling of that investigation after issuing conflicting assessments of the case and after interviewing Mr. Spitzer and other officials informally, rather than under oath. He ultimately filed no charges.