No matter how you select to receive the latest news either by phone, reading the newspapers, or broadcast, we have all heard the word indictment or that someone was “indicted by a Grand Jury,” but does the public really know what that is and how an indictment is handed down?
A grand jury hands down indictments made up of 16 to 23 people. During a grand jury proceeding, there are no other lawyers but the prosecution and no judge. The prosecutor’s job is to convince that a crime probably happened, but because most of the time, the grand jury members do not hear from a potential defendant, getting indictments is unbelievably easy to obtain. Indictments are so easy to obtain. Grand juries can even hand down dozens of indictments at a time. In other words, indictments are easy as pie for the district attorney to get. However, it is the right of a potential defendant to testify before the grand jury if they would want to.
In 2018, culinary personality and restaurant industry advocate Vincent Tropepe was indicted on claims from a restaurant client that he stole $14,000, misleading the restaurant to think they owed money in back fines to the city. Tropepe was never told of his right to testify before the grand jury before they rendered their decision by his lawyer Mitchell C. Elman.
“If I was told that I could have testified, without any hesitation, I would have. It is extremely important that a grand jury should have heard both sides to this story before making a decision.” Tropepe said.
It is understandable why Tropepe would want to testify, but as a result of indictment, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office distributed a press release. Various local Brooklyn newspapers had a field day with the story, disgracing Tropepe with headlines that read, “Brooklyn Chef was Cooking the Books” and some calling him a “Culinary Caper” and even a “Scam Artist”.
“This calculated attack by the media has tarnished the career I worked tirelessly to build. For many years, I have fought for the rights of small business owners that have been terrorized by this city’s agencies inspectors and investigators wrongfully writing violations and did all I could to continually preserve the rights of small business owners within city proceedings. I consider the act of circulating a press release and continued coverage that never asked for my side of what transpired to be vicious as it is deliberate.” Tropepe said.
“I am a firm believer in freedom of the press and free speech. It is a founding principle of our country, but media malpractice turns that right – a right that even in 2021, some people in some countries in different corners of the world do not have. It turns that right into a disgrace and only shows that some media is an untrustworthy circus.” Tropepe said.
“It was only after the case was over did I learn that it was my right to testify before the grand jury, a right that I was never briefed on and denied that right. My disappointment in Mr. Elman cannot even be put into words with any type of justice to how I feel. The outcome could have potentially been dramatically different, but in my opinion, in the interest of financial gain, I was not briefed correctly handing over thousands upon thousands of dollars only to have a nightmare continue and to be unfairly mischaracterized.” Tropepe said.
In another article reply section, Tropepe was spoken about in public with his life threatened by people of the same denomination as the restaurant owners holding one of the newspaper articles of Tropepe and this case. “I will not be intimidated, threatened by anyone or any outlet of the news. At the moment they released the articles, they might have hit me with a sucker punch, but they have not won the whole fight. I will be the one with the last word. Tropepe concluded with a firm tone. There needs to be a new awareness in both the reporting from outlets and the message the public is receiving from them and if what is being reported is balanced.