Russell DeFreitas who was convicted of planning to blow up John F Kennedy Airport allegedly made numerous threats against lawyers and witnesses involved in the case and even attempted to order hits from his Brooklyn jail cell, according to a letter unsealed Monday in federal court.
Russell Defreitas, 69, who was convicted in 2010 of conspiring to commit a terrorist attack, is serving a life sentence in federal prison. But before his trial in Brooklyn federal court, while incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center, he apparently told another inmate that he wanted to kill one of his defense lawyers, an unnamed prosecutor and at least two witnesses, the government said in the letter.
The letter, dated March 30, 2010, had been filed under seal to prevent tainting the jury pool, according to a motion filed by the government.
According to the letter, Defreitas told a fellow inmate that he wanted his defense attorney dead "because she is the reason his first attorney was removed from his case." The attorney is Mildred Whalen, one of Defreitas' court-assigned public defenders.
Whalen confirmed that she was the lawyer mentioned in the letter but said she believed Defreitas "had never made any kind of threat."
"I never had any concerns or fears," Whalen said Tuesday.
In May 2010 the court held a Curcio hearing, which is designed to determine whether there is a conflict of interest between a defendant and his attorney and if a defendant is willing to waive potential conflicts that could arise from the representation. In addition to addressing the alleged threats, the court heard evidence on whether Whelan could be called to testify about a meeting between Defreitas and the government.
The government in its motion denied there was an actual conflict that would prevent Whelan from adequately representing Defreitas but said it had requested the hearing out of an abundance of caution.
After consulting with an independent attorney, Defreitas decided to waive any potential conflicts with Whalen, according to a May 28, 2010, letter from his lawyers filed with the court. Whalen continued to represent Defreitas through sentencing in 2011.
Defreitas allegedly attempted to use the same inmate to orchestrate the murder of an unnamed federal prosecutor and a witness, the letter said. In a separate instance, the government said Defreitas had offered another inmate money to set up a hit on a potential witness.
The threats were never introduced or proven during the trial, and mention of the specific threats have been redacted out of court filings. Whalen said it was possible the inmates had fabricated the threats to gain favor with the government.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn declined to comment.
Defreitas, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Guyana who once worked as a cargo handler at JFK Airport, was convicted in July 2010 following a nine-week trial. During the trial, prosecutors said he masterminded a plot to detonate fuel lines beneath the airport in an attack designed to rival the damage done by the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center.
The plot ultimately fizzled and Defreitas was arrested in 2007. He was sentenced to life in prison, as were convicted co-conspirators Abdul Kadir and Kareem Ibrahim. A fourth member of the plot, Abdel Nur, was sentenced to 15 years.