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Press Release

Former DOJ Paralegal Sentenced to 33 Months in Prison for Witness Retaliation and Obstruction of Justice-Related Crimes

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of New York
Defendant Exposed Identities of Suspected Cooperating Witnesses Online

Earlier today, in federal court in Brooklyn, Tawanna Hilliard was sentenced by United State District Judge Pamela Chen to 33 months in prison.  The defendant was previously convicted, following a one-week trial, of witness retaliation, conspiracy to commit witness retaliation, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.  The evidence at trial showed that the defendant, who was the mother of a 5-9 Brim member and had long-standing ties with other members, was responsible for uploading the post-arrest statements of witnesses suspected of cooperating against the gang to YouTube—knowing that violent consequences were likely to follow.  At the time of her crimes, Hilliard was a paralegal working in the Civil Division of another United States Attorney’s Office.  Her co-defendant and son, Tyquan Hilliard, pleaded guilty to witness tampering conspiracy in November 2020 and was sentenced to 63 months’ imprisonment.

Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and Keechant L. Sewell, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD) announced the sentence.

“The defendant, whose job it was to serve justice, instead threatened the integrity of our justice system and the safety of government witnesses,” stated United States Attorney Breon Peace.  “Today’s sentence reflects the seriousness of her crimes and serves as a warning that obstructive and retaliatory conduct by anyone will not be tolerated and will be punished.” 

Mr. Peace thanked Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General for their assistance in the investigation and prosecution of the case. 

In May 2018, the defendant’s son, a member of the 5-9 Brims, participated in an armed robbery of a cell phone store in Monticello, New York, with another individual (John Doe) and that individual’s girlfriend (Jane Doe).  All three were arrested by local police, and John Doe and Jane Doe thereafter made video-recorded post-arrest statements to law enforcement, including to federal task force officers investigating a string of commercial robberies committed by members of the 5-9 Brims.  In August 2018, the defendant received discovery in her son’s robbery case, which included the video-recorded statements of John Doe and Jane Doe.  The defendant discussed the videos in detail over recorded phone calls with her son, who was incarcerated pending trial for the robbery. 

On August 5, 2018, the defendant uploaded the video of John Doe’s post-arrest statement to YouTube, through an Internet Protocol address assigned to the defendant’s account at her home address in Brooklyn.  The video was entitled, “NYC Brim Gang Member SNITCHING! Pt. 1.” 

Also on August 5, 2018, over a recorded jail call, the defendant’s son asked the defendant to send the video of Jane Doe’s post-arrest statement to one of his gang associates.  The defendant and her son also discussed “tagging” John Doe in the video, to make it clear he had also “snitched.”   Later that day, the video of Jane Doe’s statement was uploaded to YouTube with the title, “NYC Brim Gang Member Girlfriend SNITCHING ([Facebook name of John Doe]).”  The video of John Doe’s statement quickly garnered over 10,000 views, and a substantial amount of attention on social media, including comments that included threats of violence against Jane Doe and John Doe. 

Shortly thereafter, Jane Doe began receiving numerous death threats and reported hearing gunshots outside her apartment.  She was relocated by law enforcement as a result.  John Doe also received numerous death threats in jail. 

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone.  The Department of Justice reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of the Department’s renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally-based strategies to reduce violent crime.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Organized Crime and Gangs Section.  Assistant United States Attorneys Nicholas Moscow and Lindsey Oken are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Paralegal Specialist Celine Laruelle. 

The Defendant:

Age:  48
, New York

Previously Sentenced Defendant

Age:  32
, New York

E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 19-CR-358 (S-1) (PKC)

Updated March 14, 2023

Project Safe Neighborhoods
Public Corruption