Bomb Suspect Accuses Former Attorneys of Betraying Him; He Says They Violated Standards of Confidentiality, Resulting in Illegally Obtained Evidence; PUBLIC SAFETY

By Patrick, Robert | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 27, 2012 | Go to article overview

Bomb Suspect Accuses Former Attorneys of Betraying Him; He Says They Violated Standards of Confidentiality, Resulting in Illegally Obtained Evidence; PUBLIC SAFETY


Patrick, Robert, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


CLAYTON - Just one day after a near-fatal bombing in a parking garage in Clayton in 2008, a lawyer named Alan Cohen contacted investigators with a tantalizing clue: He said he believed that a former client, Milton "Skip" Ohlsen III, had done it.

Five months later, Jeff Witt, another attorney who had represented Ohlsen, informed authorities of the same suspicion.

Ohlsen, 40, now claims in court that those lawyers betrayed their duty to him, thus negating key evidence that prosecutors plan to use against him in trial next month on federal explosives charges. He wants the case tossed out of court.

In a hearing in July, Cohen testified that he acted within rules that exempt concern about a future crime from attorney-client confidentiality.

"I thought it was possible somebody could be injured, maimed, or God forbid, lose their life, which is why I made a phone call," Cohen said.

Cohen may have feared more violence because he - and authorities - believe the bomb missed its intended target, a lawyer named Richard Eisen who had represented Ohlsen's wife in an acrimonious divorce.

The blast on Oct. 16, 2008, in a gift basket left beside a car nearly killed another lawyer, John L. Gillis, who kept an Acura TL almost identical to Eisen's in a parking spot one level above at the garage at 190 Carondelet Plaza. Eisen was out of town when the bomb was left there the day before.

Attorneys for Ohlsen, who has pleaded not guilty, insist that Cohen and Witt breached their "duty of confidentiality." The result, the defense argues, was a cascade of tainted searches of Ohlsen's SUV and downtown St. Louis loft that produced evidence that should be ruled inadmissable.

"Our theory of the case is that ... everything flows from the fruit of the poisonous tree," Ohslen attorney Gil Sison said at a hearing July 18 in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, according to a transcript.

Among his claims is that one of the former lawyers was "actively working with law enforcement as an informer." Officials deny that.

Cohen did not give an extensive interview to investigators until March 2009; Witt came forward at that time. Before they talked, both consulted Michael Downey - who teaches ethics at both the Washington University and St. Louis University law schools - about whether they could.

Downey said in a recent interview that the issue was whether there was a "continuing threat." Lawyers, he explained, may disclose client information "to prevent death or substantial bodily harm."

Cohen and Witt denied in court that they provided any privileged information about Ohlsen. Magistrate Judge Nannette Baker must rule on the motion to exclude evidence before the trial, which is set for Sept. 17.

Since Ohlsen's indictment June 30, 2011, on five explosives- related charges, such motions have shed new light on an investigation so wide-ranging that forensics experts even looked at whether the DNA from Ohlsen's two cats matched animal hair found at the crime scene.

The hair did not match, but court documents show that the DNA of Ohlsen's ex-girlfriend was "consistent with" cells found on the mouths of two wine bottles filled with gasoline and used in the bomb. It had two triggers connected to rocket igniters inside a black powder can and was surrounded by nails, glass, steel wire and steel wool that "were propelled in all directions at significant velocities."

Ohlsen's attorneys and prosecutors declined to comment for this story.

But in court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Costantin called Ohlsen's claims a "fishing expedition." In an Aug. 1 filing, she said no attorney-client privilege violation occurred - and that evidence would not be affected if it did.

In a 2010 interview with the Post-Dispatch from federal prison, where Ohlsen was serving time for mortgage fraud and gun-related convictions, he denied any role in the bombing.

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