Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who helped defend President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial this year, is representing a new criminal client who, in his own white-collar fraud case, is portraying himself as the next Michael Flynn.
Dershowitz’s client is Ari Teman, a Miami-based tech startup founder who was convicted in January of four federal criminal counts, including bank and wire fraud. Dershowitz is advising Teman’s legal team, which is seeking to overturn the conviction with claims that federal prosecutors withheld evidence that would have undermined the credibility of a key government witness.
“They sat on their hands, and the evidence that basically proves his innocence didn’t come up until after he was convicted,” Dershowitz said during an interview on Sunday with Joel Pollak, the editor at large of the pro-Trump media outlet Breitbart News.
Teman, a stand-up comedian and the founder of home-security technology startup GateGuard, has been tweeting up a storm about the criminal case against Flynn, the former Trump national-security adviser, comparing alleged prosecutorial misconduct in his own case to conservative claims that the Justice Department railroaded Flynn with trumped-up charges and perjury traps.
“Dirty prosecutors don’t just ‘win at any cost’, hide evidence, use witnesses they KNOW are liars, ‘prosecuted for something that doesn’t even seem to be a crime’ to famous ppl like @GenFlynn,” he wrote on Monday, posting an excerpt of Dershowitz’s interview with Pollak. He tagged Trump and Flynn attorney Sidney Powell, saying Flynn is “lucky to have” them fighting for him.
The allusions to the Flynn case—and a larger Trumpworld narrative of a Justice Department run amok and determined to take down the president and his allies—shows how the deep skepticism of and hostility to federal prosecutors in high-profile political cases is bleeding into other criminal matters pursued by the department. They also show how defendants are trying to capitalize on that hostility to boost their own legal efforts, and how the president’s allies are seizing on seemingly unrelated cases to build a narrative of widespread misconduct at DOJ.
On its face, the case against Teman doesn’t seem to have much to do with Trump, Flynn, or any other high-profile prosecution of a major public figure. It centered on GateGuard’s efforts to collect unpaid invoices from three of its clients: real-estate companies in New York that had installed GateGuard’s web-connected doorbell and camera systems at their properties.
When the three clients at issue refused to pay balances that Teman insisted they owed, he debited their bank accounts—without their knowledge or approval, they claimed—using payment mechanisms known as remotely created checks. Federal prosecutors said that amounted to stealing funds through counterfeit financial instruments.
Teman and his attorneys—who didn’t include Dershowitz at the time—insisted that the transactions were perfectly legal. The terms of service that all GateGuard clients are required to sign, they said, gave the company permission to withdraw funds from clients’ accounts to pay their outstanding invoices. Regardless of the details of the transactions, Teman’s attorneys said at trial that he didn’t believe that what he was doing was illegal. Without that criminal intent, there could be no crime, they argued.
The strongest evidence to the contrary came in the form of text messages between Teman and his attorney, who advised him in early 2019, a few months before the conduct at issue, that what he was planning was a “bad idea,” and possibly a federal crime. “You claim that your contract allows you to debit their accounts even after they explicitly protest. I’m just not sure it’s that simple,” the attorney wrote. “My opinion is that you are >50% likely to be arrested for the activities you propose. How you choose to proceed is up to you.”
Teman and his attorneys say the prosecution took those text messages out of context. But Teman proceeded with his plan, and sure enough, he was arrested and charged. In late January, a jury convicted Teman on four criminal charges: two counts of bank fraud and two counts of wire fraud. He faces up to 30 years in prison.
But that was not the end of the matter. In April, Teman’s attorneys filed a motion for a new trial on the grounds that the prosecution had withheld evidence showing the personal involvement by one of its key witnesses in a scheme to illegally evict an elderly, disabled tenant. That evidence would have undermined the witness’ testimony, the defense said, but prosecutors failed to disclose the information. The government says it wasn’t aware that that evidence existed, and that it turned over all evidence in its possession to the defense as required. The court is currently considering the motion.
Those allegations of prosecutorial misconduct appear to be what drew Dershowitz into the case and are the circumstances he has used to draw comparisons to Flynn and other ostensibly political prosecutions of people in President Trump’s orbit.
Dershowitz declined to comment on his involvement. But he told Pollak that he believed that the “get Trump” objective among members of the DoJ was overwhelming “any civil liberties, any due process, or the rule of law, and it’s just very dangerous.” Dershowitz was speaking generally, not about Teman’s case specifically. But Pollak proceeded to bring up Teman’s case in particular, calling it “another case in this context that I've become aware of.”
“If you look at the case,” Pollak said, “it looks like the prosecutors just decided they had to get a win at any cost, but they weren’t actually doing justice.”
Dershowitz insisted that Teman’s politics had nothing to do with his decision to represent him. Teman doesn’t appear to be highly politically active—there’s no record of him making any federal political contributions—but he proudly displays a photo on his social-media pages of an apparent meet-and-greet with Barack Obama.
Since his criminal case heated up, though, Teman’s social media has teemed with political content more typical of Trump’s legions of devoted online fans. “Treason,” he recently declared of Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-CA) investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. “But he’s got 16 years worth of Obama and Clinton nominees in Government to protect him from actual justice.”
That political posture also occasionally bleeds into some off-color jokes.
“Hillary Clinton is the Stevie Nicks of the DNC,” Teman tweeted late last year. “Nobody wanted her but she was fucking the guy they needed to lead the band, and then she got control, started awkward fights with everyone, took credit for other people’s work, destroyed lives, and people around her end up dead.” (Teman appears to have a particular aversion to the Fleetwood Mac frontwoman.)
Teman’s social-media activity nearly came back to bite him during his own trial, when he began promoting news stories and consumer advocacy reports critical of a landlord who testified against him—the same one at the center of his post-conviction motion. In one post, Teman described him as a “scumbag slumlord who lied to the police to have bank drafts reversed and me arrested.”
Federal prosecutors alleged that the post was an effort to “influence potential witnesses” in the case and asked the judge to bar Teman from any “direct or indirect” contact with witnesses. The judge demurred. “The Court does not believe these postings merit a change in existing bail conditions,” he wrote. “However, the Court encourages Mr. Teman to confer with his counsel before any future such postings, as such postings have the potential to adversely affect...Mr. Teman’s legal interests in this case.”
It wasn’t the only time the judge found himself chiding Teman. During his first arraignment hearing, the judge interrupted himself during a discussion of the case’s timeline.
“Mr. Teman,” he said, “it’s really unhelpful when you roll your eyes at the court.”