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Stuck in detention for years while case lingers

June 26, 2012 3:03:47 PM PDT
He's being accused of serious "cyber crimes" and although there's been no trial, the defendant has already served 5 years and counting. An immigrant from the former Soviet bloc is finding out America's wheels of justice grind slowly.

At a detention center in Lower Manhattan, native Ukranian and businessman Vadim Vassilenko is under round-the-clock monitoring. He's charged with running a $4 million dollar online stolen credit card data scheme and is being held with no bail and no trial for nearly five years.

"Hearing after hearing, postponed, dismissal, argument, re-argument, dismiss charges, reinstate charges other arguments, year after year after year," Vassilenko said.

Records show 45 court appearances since 2007 and each time bail is denied and Vassilenko is put back in jail. Last year, desperate to draw attention to his case, he arranged to have a banner flown along the Hudson River demanding his right to his day in court:

"The accused has the right to a speedy and public trial. Period. Speedy. What means speedy? Maybe not a year, maybe not even two. But at some point, the judge or the prosecutor has to step in and say NO, we've got to try this guy," he said.

But here's where speedy trial meets judicial reality. Soon after Vassilenko was locked up for using "stolen credit card data" to launder money, a Supreme Court Judge tossed out the heart of the District Attorney's case, the charge of ''criminal enterprise." The D-A appealed and in a split decision (opinion of the court), the upper court reinstated the case. But all of that took nearly three years.

"This is really quite unusual," Prof. James Cohen said.

Cohen is a criminal defense attorney and law professor at Fordham University:

"I've never seen a case in which the length of time between an arrest and a resolution is this long," he said.

Adding to the delay, Vassilenko himself, who is now appealing the split decision to reinstate the key charge rather than go to trial and face the possibility of 45 years behind bars.

"Before I came to the U.S. If someone would have told me, listen, the government can come and put you in jail for 5 to 6 years before they try you, I wouldn't believe it. I would say they don't know what they're talking about. That's impossible," he said.

To be clear, there's no violation of Vassilenko's right to a speedy trial. The District Attorney had every right to appeal the Judge's decision which tossed out the most serious charge. But as Vassilenko's attorney points out, the D-A could have proceeded to trial back in 2008 on the remaining charges of money laundering. Meanwhile, the D-A's office says it does not comment on on-going cases.

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