I was incarcerated under failed law. Now I push for consequences for bad prosecutors.

·4 min read
An exterior sign outside the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building in Washington on May 4, 2021.
An exterior sign outside the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building in Washington on May 4, 2021.

Eleven years ago, I was convicted by a federal jury of insider trading and went on to serve 7 1/2 years in prison. In 2014, my brother and alleged co-conspirator, Rengan Rajaratnam, was acquitted by a federal jury in the same district, based on the same evidence related to the same charges.

Last year, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, once featured on the cover of Time magazine for prosecutions against people like me on insider trading, convened an eponymous task force and concluded that “for too long, insider trading law has lacked clarity, generated confusion, and failed to keep up with the times.

Bharara was joined on his task force by a sitting federal judge who shared the same epiphany about the infirmities of the law, and this was the same judge who imposed an unprecedented $93 million penalty on me.

I'm not asking for one iota of sympathy, quite the contrary as I could not be happier with my current life and my loved ones, even with the challenges arising from my conviction. But I cannot look forward without reflecting on the stories I heard from countless inmates during my incarceration.

Raj Rajaratnam is a Sri Lankan-American former hedge fund manager and founder of the Galleon Group, a New York-based hedge fund management firm that managed billions of dollars.
Raj Rajaratnam is a Sri Lankan-American former hedge fund manager and founder of the Galleon Group, a New York-based hedge fund management firm that managed billions of dollars.

One common thread connected so many of these stories: the complete absence of any consequence for prosecutors who acted in bad faith, from minor indiscretions to major, life-altering corruption. I hope that I can play a small role by bearing witness to and advancing the discussions around criminal justice reform.

Exonerations needed too often

There is a growing buzz around this topic and for good reason. Muhammad Aziz and the late Khalil Islam – each of whom served prison time for decades – were recently exonerated in the killing of Malcolm X in the 1960s. Last March, three New York City men – George Bell, Rohan Bolt and Gary Johnson – were exonerated after spending more than two decades in prison for a double homicide conviction that came after key evidence was allegedly withheld by the prosecution. The district attorney even sought the death penalty for Bell, but, thankfully, failed at getting it.

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Texan Michael Morton spent nearly 25 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. The prosecution hid exculpatory evidence that would have proved his innocence. Ken Anderson, the prosecutor who cost Morton a quarter-century of his freedom, was sentenced to just 10 days for his corruption. Anderson’s sentence was remarkable – not for its brevity but because, as of the 2020 publication of an Innocence Project report, Anderson was the only prosecutor to ever be sentenced to any term of incarceration for prosecutorial misconduct.

Further, exonerations have been issued in nearly 3,000 wrongful conviction cases in America since 1989. And according to the National Registry of Exonerations, more than half of people who were eventually exonerated were put away because of, at least in part, official misconduct.

System makes trials too tough

As of 2018, 98% of federal criminal defendants' cases did not go to trial, with 90% of defendants being pressured to accept plea bargains rather than take the risks and costs associated with defending themselves, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

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The government has crafted over time an expedient system of lopsided justice that almost always ends with some form of a “voluntary” confession, an acknowledgment of guilt in exchange for a reduced sentence, and a public “victory” for the prosecution. These convictions allow prosecutors to sweep under the rug the weaknesses in their cases and the failings in their prosecutions.

When cases actually go to trial, prosecutors have been known to ratchet the stakes by training witnesses on exactly what to say on the stand. The cooperating witness offers the prosecution an opportunity for a kind of “redemption” that is difficult to take seriously. The successful testimony of the cooperating witness garners leniency in subsequent sentencing offered to that witness.

Indeed, conflicts of interest are implicitly woven into a broken system. And all too often, potentially exculpatory evidence – to which only the government enjoys access – is hidden.

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So how do we fix it? In the case of the three exonerated New York men, several law professors have tried to expose the prosecutorial misdeeds that led to the original convictions, and they were threatened by the city. They are still fighting for accountability, and we should hope they succeed.

For my part, I am committed to supporting incredible organizations – such as The Marshall Project, Equal Justice Initiative and The Innocence Project – that selflessly speak truth to power.

This problem should concern everyone because it’s about all of us: our barbers, our mail delivery people, our neighbors, the thousands of exonerated Americans. We need to be steadfast with dogged persistence to create a justice system that delivers fairly argued decisions rather than questionable or even phony prosecutorial victories.

Raj Rajaratnam is a Sri Lankan-American former hedge fund manager and founder of the Galleon Group, a New York-based hedge fund management firm that managed billions of dollars.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Consequences are rare for prosecutorial misconduct. That must change.