The Brooklyn district attorney's office will ask a court to vacate 90 convictions based on the work of a former NYPD detective now facing perjury and other charges.
DA Eric Gonzalez's office said Wednesday it did not find any misconduct in the 27 felony and 63 misdemeanor convictions, nor did it find that any of the defendants were innocent. Regardless, the office said it had lost confidence in cases where Det. Joseph Franco was considered an essential witness.
“I cannot in good faith stand by convictions that principally relied on his testimony,” he added.
The decision to vacate the dozens of drug convictions comes weeks after DA Gonzalez asked the state court to erase hundreds of prostitution related warrants. He said both moves reflect a desire to make sure prosecutors are focusing not only on winning cases, but on justice.
"We have to make sure the things we do as prosecutors don't cause additional harm in the community," he said.
Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s criminal defense practice, lauded Gonzalez’s decision to vacate the convictions. She urged other district attorneys in the city to perform similar reviews.
Franco “touched thousands of cases throughout New York City, and we may never know the full extent of the damage he caused and lives he upended,” Luongo said in a statement.
The decision drew a sharp rebuke from Franco’s lawyer, Howard Tanner. He said it was “baseless and irresponsible” and would “create a toxic atmosphere” that could harm his client’s right to a fair trial in the Manhattan case.
During a virtual hearing on Wednesday morning, a judge began the process of vacating the cases at the request of defense attorneys.
Franco is facing perjury and other misconduct charges in Manhattan stemming from a 2019 indictment for allegedly framing people in drug deals, the DA's office said.
The cases in question were based on drug sale or possession arrests between 2004 and 2011. All but one conviction came from guilty pleas, and the DA's office said most of the low-level felonies resulted in sentences of six months to a year in jail.
Maryanne Kaishian, an attorney at Brooklyn Defenders Service, which represented many of the drug defendants when they were originally accused, said they often felt the system was rigged, so the clients pleaded guilty.
"The system credits the word of police officers far more than they credit the words of people who are arrested by the police, and people know that," Kaishian said. "And so people make rational decision honestly in deciding whether or not to take a plea or to fight a case."
The New York Police Department fired Franco in April 2020, about a year after the detective was indicted on perjury charges.
A lieutenant who supervised Franco testified at his disciplinary trial that he was “one of the best detectives” and had a “sixth sense” for locating drug dealers. A fellow detective testified that he regarded Franco as the best cop he’d ever worked with. Another said he worked on dozens of drug busts with Franco and never had reason to doubt him.
By contrast, prosecutors alleged the detective lied in testimony and made false statements in court papers, leading to three unlawful arrests.
Charging documents said Franco, working as a plainclothes detective in 2017 and 2018, “falsely claimed to observe individuals engaging in narcotics transactions.” Security camera footage contradicted Franco’s claims in each of the four arrests covered in the indictment, prosecutors said.
Franco has pleaded not guilty and the case is pending. The three convictions that resulted from his alleged actions have been vacated.