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MIAMI (AP) — Federal prosecutors in New York acknowledged telling a “flat lie” to a criminal defendant’s legal team while trying to downplay their mishandling of evidence in the botched trial of a businessman accused of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The embarrassing revelations about what many consider the U.

S.’ top criminal investigating office were contained in a dozens of private text messages, transcripts, and correspondence unsealed Monday, over the objection of prosecutors, at the request of The Associated Press.

The release of the records followed a ruling last week in which U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan urged the Justice Department to open an internal probe into possible misconduct by prosecutors in the terrorism and international narcotics unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

While Judge Nathan found no evidence that prosecutors intentionally withheld evidence from lawyers representing an Iranian banker, Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, she said they made a “deliberate attempt to obscure” the truth and attempted to “bury” a key document that might have helped the defense.

The mistakes were serious enough that even after winning a conviction, prosecutors dropped all charges against Sadr.

The documents unsealed Monday provide a detailed look at how the case against Sadr began to unravel in the span of a few, turbulent hours last March as the trial was nearing completion.

On a Friday night, a bank record surfaced that the line prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Kim, wanted to introduce as evidence. But she realized she hadn’t yet shared it with Sadr’s attorneys, a potential violation of rules intended to ensure a fair trial.

Kim initially suggested turning it over immediately to the defense. But a colleague, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Lake, recommended they “wait until tomorrow and bury it in some other documents.”

The trick didn’t work. Sadr’s attorneys identified the document as new within an hour. They complained to prosecutors, saying the document — a letter from Commerzbank to the U.S. Treasury Department’s office charged with enforcing sanctions — would’ve helped in their defense.

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The prosecutors, believing the document had no exculpatory value to the defense, then made up an excuse, telling the attorneys they thought the record had been previously produced.

By late that Sunday night, Judge Nathan had given prosecutors one hour to explain themselves.

The unit’s supervisors, Emil Bove and Shawn Crowley, then got involved. In a exchange of text messages, Bove acknowledged that the initial excuse the trial lawyers had given to Sadr’s attorneys was a “flat lie.”

Crowley, realizing the gravity of the mistake by her subordinates and anticipating a stiff reprimand, confides to Bove that instead of looking at prosecutors’ closing arguments she was going to “devote the rest of the night to cleaning out my office.”

“Ugh. These poor guys. This is going to be a bloodbath,” she wrote in a moment of frustration early Monday before appearing in court.

Bove concurs and acknowledges that the trial team had “done some pretty aggressive stuff here over the last few days.”

“Yeah we lied in that letter,” Crowley responds.

Amid the back and forth with his team over the evidence disclosures, Bove talked of how prosecutors were going to “smash” the defendant, and made a lewd comment about the defense attorney, Brian Heberlig.

“These disclosures expose the underbelly of a failed prosecution that never should have been brought,” Heberlig, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, told the AP.

Crowley, who has since entered private practice with Kaplan, Hecker & Fink in New York, did not respond to a request for comment. Bove did not respond to an email request for comment.

Stephen Gillers, an ethics professor at the New York University School of Law, said the conduct of prosecutors in the case, as described by the judge, was “alarming.”

“If it can happen in what many lawyers consider the nation’s premier prosecutorial office, where can’t it happen?” said Gillers. “The behavior here is what one might expect of an overly aggressive lawyer representing a private party. But prosecutors have a duty to do justice ahead of any desire to win.”

A spokesperson for the Southern District of New York declined to comment but pointed to past comments by acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss detailing actions her office has taken to address the court’s concerns.

In December, Strauss said her office had adopted policy changes, expanded training and enhanced use of technology to mitigate the risk of “poor communication” and facilitate better supervision.

“This Office holds itself to the highest ethical standards,” Strauss wrote the court. “Even conscientious and hard-working prosecutors and agents can make mistakes. When such problems do arise, the Court should expect our AUSAs to disclose them promptly and work diligently to fix them — and the Office to do its part to identify and address the errors’ root causes.”

Bove, who still co-heads the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit, is responsible for overseeing high profile cases including the prosecution of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and top allies on drug charges and the investigation of Cesar Sayoc, a supporter of Donald Trump who admitted to sending 16 pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and CNN in 2018.

Additional misconduct surfaced after the trial when prosecutors admitted to obtaining documents from hundreds of FBI searches of evidence compiled through search warrants in a separate investigation authorized by the state of New York. Such warrants limited the searches to evidence of state crimes only, not federal violations. Had that fact been disclosed before trial, the evidence may have been banned from being used against Sadr.

Dick Gregorie, a retired assistant U.S. attorney in Miami, said any misrepresentation in a court is a serious offense that should be treated accordingly.

“This is the sort of stuff that gets you fired,” said Gregorie, who himself was a supervisor and early in his career indicted Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega. “When you are an officer of the court, you better be absolutely certain that what you’re saying is accurate and you’re not playing games.”

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AP Writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

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Butler leads Heat to 4th straight win, 116-108 over Raptors

MIAMI (AP) — Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat are continuing to claw their way back from a brutal start to the season.

Butler scored 27 points, 14 of them in the final quarter, and the Heat won their fourth consecutive game by topping the Toronto Raptors 116-108 on Wednesday night.

Butler also had 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Heat, plus a season-high three 3-pointers — two of them in the final minutes. Bam Adebayo had 19 points and 12 rebounds for Miami, Duncan Robinson added 17 points and Goran Dragic scored 15 in his return from an ankle injury.

It was the eighth win in the last 11 games for the Heat, who started the season 7-14.

Kyle Lowry, returning from a thumb injury, scored 24 for Toronto. Fred VanVleet also had 24 for the Raptors, Norman Powell scored 17 and OG Anunoby had 14 for Toronto.

Powell made a 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring to get Toronto within 100-98 before Butler had the game’s next three plays of any significance — a 3-pointer, a steal on the ensuing possession and a layup to push Miami’s lead back to seven.

Another 3-pointer by Butler with 3:23 left restored the seven-point edge, and Miami kept the lead the rest of the way.

Lowry scored 12 of Toronto’s first 20 points in the opening 6 ½ minutes, and he made a 31-footer over Miami’s zone midway through the second quarter to tie it at 48.

The next 2:51 belonged to Miami.

The Heat went on a 17-2 spurt in that time, six players scoring during the run, to open a 15-point lead and wound up taking a 66-56 lead into the locker room for halftime.

Toronto scored the first 10 points of the second half, erasing that entire deficit, but a 17-6 answer by the Heat helped them take a 92-85 lead into the fourth.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Pascal Siakam got his fourth foul with 1:18 left in the half, after Miami successfully used its challenge to overturn a blocking call that became a charge. It was the second time in his career that he had four fouls by halftime, the other coming Dec. 18, 2016, at Orlando. … Toronto fell to 1-5 on the second night of a back-to-back this season.

Heat: Tyler Herro (hip) remained sidelined. … Capacity was increased for this game, and the Heat had about 3,000 fans in the arena including some in the upper deck for the first time this season. … Andre Iguodala was 4 for 5 on 3-pointers for Miami. … It was the 10th time in the last 14 meetings between the clubs that the final margin was less than 10 points.

SPO KNOWS

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra now has 667 wins, including playoffs, with Miami. That ties Red Holzman of the New York Knicks for the fifth-most by any coach with one franchise. The only others with more: Gregg Popovich with San Antonio, Jerry Sloan with Utah, Red Auerbach with Boston and Phil Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers.

SEE YOU

The Heat won the season series over Toronto, 2-1. Miami has also finished its regular-season series against Washington, Oklahoma City, Sacramento and the Los Angeles Clippers. Toronto has also finished its season series with Milwaukee, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Sacramento and Minnesota.

UP NEXT

Raptors: Host Houston on Friday.

Heat: Host Utah on Friday.

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