Publicity, Not Justice

cartoon1 Publicity, Not Justice

In the predawn hours one morning in late March, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed up at Michael Steinberg’s apartment on the Upper East Side and placed him under arrest. He was handcuffed and brought downtown to federal court, where he formally entered a not-guilty plea on insider-trading charges.

The knock on the door was unexpected, but the charges were not. Mr. Steinberg knew that federal prosecutors were investigating his rise to prominence at SAC Capital Advisors, which has been awash in accusations of insider trading.

Mr. Steinberg offered to surrender to authorities at FBI headquarters. He often spent the night in hotels, so that if the feds showed up one morning with cuffs in hand, Mr. Steinberg’s two children would be spared the sight of seeing their father arrested in their home.

The government refused Mr. Steinberg’s offers. Instead, agents waited until Mr. Steinberg and his family returned from a vacation in Florida. That’s when they moved in.

The drama was completely unnecessary. Mr. Steinberg was well aware of what was about to happen and was willing to turn himself in. Prosecutors chose instead to send agents to his home in the predawn darkness.

The incident smacks of grandstanding and prosecutorial overreach. Let’s remember that Mr. Steinberg is presumed to be innocent, just like any other suspect—‘suspect’ being the operative word—in any other criminal case. The feds made a conscious decision to embarrass Mr. Steinberg in front of his family, and for what? Drama sells. Predawn raids make for great copy. The feds got the story they wanted.

Mr. Steinberg may well be guilty of the charges the government has filed. But that’s for a court—not a prosecutor and certainly not the FBI—to decide. In the meantime, Mr. Steinberg and his family are entitled not only to their rights but to a certain degree of humanity as well.

The federal government’s record in finding and prosecuting those responsible for the collapse of the nation’s financial industry has been spotty at best. Perhaps that’s why Mr. Steinberg and other tangential figures have had to endure the grandstanding of ambitious prosecutors.

Predawn raids on suspects prepared to surrender are unnecessary and unfair. It’s time that prosecutors put justice ahead of headlines.