Court Clerk and Defense Lawyer Are Charged in a Cash-for-Clients Scheme

For over a decade, a federal court clerk for the Southern District of New York abused his position to steer over 45 criminal defendants to one defense lawyer who paid him for drumming up the business, prosecutors said.

The clerk, Dionisio Figueroa, encouraged defendants to hire Telesforo Del Valle Jr. as their lawyer, claiming that Mr. Del Valle was “especially equipped” to assist them, according to prosecutors.

In one instance, in 2018, Mr. Figueroa told the family of a defendant waiting to post bail that he “knew of a good attorney” who could get them “out of trouble”; he wrote down Mr. Del Valle’s name and phone number on a piece of paper, according to an indictment filed this week.

Many of the defendants whom Mr. Figueroa referred already had free, court-appointed attorneys, prosecutors said, but he “encouraged those individuals to change counsel.”

In exchange for Mr. Figueroa’s services, Mr. Del Valle, who according to his firm’s website has “been a frequent lecturer and panelist for the American Bar Association on the topic of Legal Ethics,” paid him tens of thousands of dollars, prosecutors said.

When questioned in November, Mr. Figueroa denied referring clients to Mr. Del Valle, telling investigators: “I don’t get no money. I don’t have business with nobody.”

“I’m not doing business with no lawyer,” he said, according to court papers, adding, “never in my life, never in my life.”

Mr. Del Valle, 65, also denied having received client referrals from Mr. Figueroa or making payments to him, according to court filings.

An attorney for Mr. Figueroa, Karloff Commissiong, declined to comment. A lawyer for Mr. Del Valle had not responded to a request for comment as of Friday afternoon.

“The public, the court and the bar all rely on the integrity and honesty of the professionals who work for the court and the lawyers who appear there,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “For years, Figueroa and Del Valle allegedly violated their duties and undermined the fair administration of justice, all for their personal gain.”

Mr. Figueroa, a 66-year-old New Yorker whose given name was also spelled as “Dionicio” in court papers, had worked as a federal court clerk since about 2002 and was prohibited from “receiving payments, gifts or other benefits” from people who have business before the court, prosecutors said.

Mr. Del Valle, who is from Leonia, N.J., graduated from New York Law School in 1982, according to his firm’s website, and practices in both state and federal courts.

Some of the business between the two men was documented in ledger entries and emails by people at Mr. Del Valle’s law firm, according to the indictment. Of the defendants whom Mr. Figueroa referred to Mr. Del Valle, at least 20 hired him, prosecutors said.

The men are charged with conspiracy to bribe a federal employee and pay illegal compensation to a judicial employee; bribery of a federal employee; illegal compensation to a judicial employee; and making false statements.

If convicted, their maximum sentence for bribery is 15 years in prison, while the other charges carry up to five years in prison.

They were arraigned on Thursday before Andrew E. Krause, a federal judge of U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., and released on unsecured bonds of $150,000.

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