FBI agents arrested a promising young U.S. prosecutor Thursday and charged him with stealing more than $450,000 worth of heroin and cocaine from a safe used to store evidence in the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.
While saddened colleagues looked on, Rudolph W. Giuliani, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that Daniel N. Perlmutter, 29, an assistant U.S. attorney for more than two years, had been seized by FBI agents with his girlfriend, Stacy L. Honeycutt, 22, an unemployed actress. Giuliani began the investigation over the weekend when other prosecutors who were labeling evidence for a trial found that the narcotics were missing.
“It is distressing for all of us in law enforcement to announce the charges brought today,” Giuliani said. “These are the most difficult and heart-rending investigations to conduct if you are a law enforcement officer.
“It has had a devastating impact on the morale and sensibility and feelings of this office.”
Giuliani said that when FBI agents searched the Park Avenue apartment that the couple shared, they discovered evidence bags, drug paraphernalia, lactose to dilute drugs and material to process cocaine. In a wastebasket, according to court papers, the searchers also found the combination to the safe in the narcotics unit of the U.S. attorney’s office.
Giuliani said it was the first time that a prosecutor employed by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan had been arrested.
Officials declined to say how Perlmutter got the combination to the safe. Only four prosecutors, not including Perlmutter, had been given the combination, but Giuliani said no other lawyers in the office were implicated in the case.
“There are ways to get combinations,” Giuliani said. “The explanation does not involve wrongdoing. I have a very educated notion how he did it.” He declined to elaborate.
On Tuesday, Perlmutter told U.S. District Judge Edward Weinfeld that heroin to be used as evidence in a case he was prosecuting had been “misplaced.” By Thursday, when the jurors returned to court, Weinfeld announced that Perlmutter had been arrested. The trial was delayed until Monday so a new prosecutor could be appointed.
The FBI investigation began on Sunday night, after Giuliani received a phone call at home reporting that the narcotics, which had been put in the safe on Friday or Saturday, could not be found. The missing evidence included 186 grams of 90%-pure heroin, 63 grams of street-quality heroin and 832 grams of cocaine. Giuliani estimated its total worth on the street at between $450,000 and $500,000. A special task force of a dozen FBI agents and two U.S. Customs Service agents began looking for suspects.
On Wednesday, the agents interviewed Perlmutter and his girlfriend. They also questioned several of Honeycutt’s friends, who, according to court papers, said she had a cocaine problem. A search warrant was obtained for the couple’s apartment, and early Thursday they were arrested while drinking coffee in a restaurant.
Later in the day, they appeared before U.S. Magistrate Harold J. Raby. After their handcuffs were removed, Perlmutter and Honeycutt stood side by side before the bench. At one point, they kissed in court. Giuliani asked the magistrate to hold Perlmutter until a hearing Monday and while negotiations with defense lawyers could take place over how Perlmutter could “get some form of treatment"--an indication that he might also have a drug problem.
‘Worked Very Hard’
“Up until several months ago, he had been very, very effective and worked very hard,” Giuliani said when the arrest was announced. “He was exceptionally effective and productive.” The U.S. attorney did not say why Perlmutter’s performance had declined.
Defense lawyers said that Honeycutt’s parents were willing to sign a $25,000 bond, and Raby agreed to release her under conditions that the bond be signed and she surrender her passport to the court.
Perlmutter, a graduate of Williams College and the New York University Law School, earned $41,000 a year. He and Honeycutt face a maximum of 25 years in prison on charges of theft and possession of narcotics.