On Prize Day in the spring of 1980, Laurie Brecher '80 walked out with her hands full. Not only was she praised for her academic achievements in the Political Science Department, she also won the Joseph Dagget Prize for outstanding conduct and character and her public service contributions to the College community.
Fifteen years later, Brecher is still making contributions to her community. For the past eight years, she has been an assistant United States attorney, helping to put away some of New York's most brutal criminals. In one of her better-known cases, Brecher prosecuted a member of New York's Irish mob, known as the Westies. During one of the more disturbing days of the trial, Brecher listened as her lead witness described how he had committed certain murders and how other confederates in the Irish mob chopped up the bodies of the people they had murdered.
But Brecher hardly sees her work as a cops and robbers chase. To her, working as a prosecutor is a way of achieving her lifelong goal of participating in public service.
“Being a prosecutor is a rewarding form of public service,” Brecher says. “We are enforcing the laws that ensure
that our communities are safe. We're literally representing the people. Just because you're a prosecutor and working on the side of law enforcement doesn't mean you're not interested in justice or in protecting civil rights and civil liberties.”
Brecher says she was always interested in “participating in the issues that affect the environment I lived in.”
As a young girl, that meant playing the judge when a friend of hers broke a vase. (Brecher's brother was the prosecuting attorney.) In high school, that meant taking the bus once a week from her suburban home to an inner-city magnet school in Boston, where she was exposed to the world of civil rights. During her college years, that meant interning for New York State Senator Franz Lechter and serving as a volunteer campaign coordinator for U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas. Back on campus, she led the College's chapter of Amnesty International and worked with the admissions, tax, and orientation committees.
After graduating second in her class
from New York University's law school in 1983, she got her first taste of the courtroom by clerking for John 0. Newman, chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the highest federal court in New York. Although she spent three years in the private sector as an associate at two New York firms, Brecher says she knew she wanted to return to the courtroom as a prosecutor. “I wanted to be a real lawyer, I wanted to spend more time in court, and I definitely wanted public service,” she says.
The U.S. attorney's office has certainly satisfied all of those goals while giving her first-hand knowledge of the world of investigations and law enforcement. Working in the narcotics division, Brecher supervised a F.B.I.-New York
State Police investigation of a Colombian cocaine-trafficking ring that was coordinating its local operations from a horse ranch on Long Island. The two-year investigation included thousands of hours worth of wiretap recordings, and Brecher even picked up a bit of Spanish.
Of the eighteen people indicted, fourteen pleaded guilty. Brecher and a colleague prosecuted three of the defendants during a six-month trial; all were found guilty. The trial was afar cry from the two-day, $10 crack trial Brecher prosecuted when she first arrived at the U.S. attorney's office.
Just how did she catch the ring? “We had a cooperating individual, as well as tapes, visual surveillance and documentary evidence gathered by a team of investigators,” Brecher explains.
She also has prosecuted cases of securities fraud and insider trading. An investigation she and others conducted with the assistance of the Securities and Exchange Commission during 1992 and 1993 involved a managing director at Salomon Brothers who was prosecuted for making false statements in bids submitted for U.S. Treasury bond auctions.
“It's a real challenge to investigate a case and uncover credible evidence,” she says. “I love pulling all the pieces together and following the trails of evidence that develop as you corroborate witnesses during a long-term investigation.”
These days, ten months removed from giving birth to her first child, Brecher has shifted some of her responsibilities from the courtroom to management. As the recently-named deputy chief of the U.S. Attorney's General Crimes Unit, Brecher supervises the new crop of assistant U.S. attorneys.
“I'm still handling some of my own cases, but it is a nice change of pace.”