BOSTON - A Danvers woman was sentenced today in federal court of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Melanie “Maria” Abbruzzese, 31, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard G. Stearns to one year and one day in prison to be followed by two years of supervised release. At today’s sentencing, Judge Stearns emphasized the need for general deterrence saying that the crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice strike at the heart of the justice system. Abbruzzese pleaded guilty in December 2011.
Abbruzzese knowingly and wilfully falsely testified under oath at a May 19, 2010, court hearing held in U.S. District Court in Boston. At the time the offenses were committed, Abbruzzese was a paralegal employed at Denner Pelligrino, and was part of the defense team for Eric Levine. Levine, a defendant in United States v. Eric L. Levine, et al., was tried and convicted by a jury before Judge George A. O’Toole, Jr. in 2010.
On the evening of May 18, 2010, during the Levine, et al. trial, Levine’s lead defense counsel learned that Abbruzzese had a phone conversation that evening with Joseph McGonagle, an inspector with the United States Postal Inspection Service who had been assigned to the prosecution team. Defense counsel learned that during that conversation, Inspector McGonagle told Abbruzzese that an Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting the case had just sent an email to his staff indicating the names of the defense’s witnesses which listed defendant Levine as a possible witness. The following morning, defense counsel alerted the government and the Court of the conversation between Abbruzzese and McGonagle.
Judge O’Toole held a hearing to determine whether there was any breach of confidentiality. Abbruzzese and McGonagle both testified at the hearing under oath. Abbruzzese was questioned about her phone call the prior evening with McGonagle, and more broadly, about her other interactions with McGonagle to include contact by email, phone or in person. Abbruzzese testified that she had no social out-of-office meetings with McGonagle, that her email contacts with him were limited to about four brief emails which were of a professional nature, and that they had only exchanged a few phone calls.
Contrary to her testimony, Abbruzzese had numerous social, out-of-office meetings with McGonagle during the Levine, et al. trial, including drinks on three occasions all within ten days preceding her May 19, 2010, testimony. Further, on the evening of May 13, 2010, following their visit to the Bell and Hand, Abbruzzese and McGonagle were observed by a co-worker in McGonagle’s car while parked in front of Denner Pelligrino’s office. In addition, documentary evidence, to include cell tower information from Abbruzzese’s cell phone, would have proven that Abbruzzese had overnight visits at McGonagle’s Danvers’ apartment the evenings of May 14 and May 16, 2010.
Furthermore, contrary to Abbruzzese’s testimony that there “maybe four brief emails,” there were actually 41 emails between the two work email accounts from Mar. 29 and May 18, 2010. The first three of those emails, dated Mar. 29 through Mar. 30, related to official business. The remaining 38 emails, dated April 12 through May 18, 2010, were all of a personal nature. Finally, although Abbruzzese testified that there were “one or two – maybe three calls, just returning a message,” cell phone records would have shown approximately 40 calls between the two between May 5 and May 19, 2010.
Abbruzzese’s false testimony concerned a matter material to the court’s inquiry in that her false statements hindered Judge O’Toole’s inquiry into the nature of the relationship between Abbruzzese and inspector McGonagle. Abbruzzese’s false testimony was intended to, and did, conceal the existence of her ongoing relationship with McGonagle and thus deprived the court of a fulsome inquiry into whether anything inappropriate, in terms of confidentiality, was passed from one party to the other.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz and Curtis Lembke, Area Special Agent in Charge, Special Inquiries Division, U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General made the announcement today. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane C. Freniere of Ortiz’s Public Corruption and Special Prosecutions Unit.