Kendall Coffey: Lead investigator in Trayvon Martin Case ignored

On Feb. 26, George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin at an apartment complex in Florida’s Sanford County.  According to Zimmerman, the killing resulted from an act of self-defense. According to prosecutor Angela Corey, it was second-degree murder, which is what she charged him with April 11.


Initially the ‘facts’ were mere speculation and bits and pieces were released to an inconclusive end. MSNBC reviewed the case with Miami political commentator and former US Attorney Kendall Coffey in an interview following the crime.


The day of the killing, Sanford Police Chief, Bill Lee and State Attorney Norm Wolfinger overruled lead investigator Chris Serino’s request for the arrest of George Zimmerman. “…The lead investigator, the person that normally law enforcement would say is in the best position to assess whether or not there’s probable cause [for arrest, was] effectively overruled by people sitting back at the office,” said Kendall Coffey, adding that the scenario raised questions. Though it is not apparent whether Zimmerman is guilty or innocent, the police didn’t so much as detain the suspect after it was confirmed that he killed a 17-year-old boy.


This case is far from simple, especially considering Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law that permits victims of violent situations to forcibly attack their assailants in the presence of danger or an imminent threat. ‘Stand your ground’ is the type of law that could alleviate the legal turmoil an individual would face for having protected himself in a dangerous situation. However, it is also the kind of law that allows guilty individuals with histories of violence to escape the consequences the legal system would impose.


The principle query raised by the actions of the Sanford police department the day the crime took place is, “How can you so quickly dismiss what the lead investigator said when you have somebody dead – an unarmed somebody – that was killed by somebody with a gun?” said Kendall Coffey.


Though no definitive answer has emerged, the case continues to unravel, triggering emotional responses from those following the case.

Why doesn’t George Zimmerman want Judge Lester?

Apparently George Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara, is pushing pretty hard to get a different judge for his client.  But it’s not really Judge Kenneth Lester’s fault, after all, Zimmerman did lie to him about his financial circumstances during an early hearing.

But because of Lester’s scathing comments about Zimmerman’s honesty, O’Mara is pushing to have him disqualified.  Mainly because if the case goes to a Stand Your Ground Hearing, having an unfriendly judge almost doesn’t make it worth it.

Which is why Kendall Coffey thinks that the case might not go to a SYG at all if Lester stays on the case.  It might be “better to avoid such a hearing, which would subject Zimmerman to cross-examination and, if unsuccessful, could negatively impact his chances for a trial,” Miami lawyer Kendall Coffey explained to John Capeheart in an interview

But Kendall Coffey also thought that it would be unlikely that O’Mara would end up disqualified, even if the request went to an appeal.  As he explained, “judges are allowed to say someone’s untruthful. That’s their job. To say this manifests bias or prejudice is routinely rejected. ”


Kendall Coffey on the Pat Santeramo trial

It’s not just the big businessmen who still from their companies.  No, occasionally public servants get into the game as well.

We’re talking specifically about Pat Santeramo who used his position as the former president of the Fort Lauderdale based Broward Teachers Union to skim more money than we actually thought a teachers union had access to.  Over the course of several years Santeramo apparently stole nearly $300,000 of union funds, at least according to the nine month police investigation into him.

“We… have the benefit of a very extensive police investigation, which we suspect may well serve as a road map for our recovery efforts,” Kendall Coffey, the lawyer representing BTU explained. 

How did Santeramo possibly do all of this?  Some of the embezzlement was simple, using company credit cards for personal use, for example, or reimbursing union members or associates (including himself) for contributing to political campaigns- never minding that is incredibly illegal.  But the majority of his scheme required at least one other person, David Esposito, the owner of Marstan Construction of Coral Springs.


Santeramo allegedly booked Esposito for more projects than were really needed, everything from dealing with ants to dying the carpet in his office.  Esposito charged him more than was necessary for the job and, when the union paid the bills, kicked money back to Santeramo to the tune of anywhere between $1,000 and $20,000.

That’s where the board became suspicious, seeing the same company over and over again.  Eventually the police department stepped in and led a nine month investigation into Santeramo’s dealings.

However, Santeramo wasn’t done.  He resigned in December, but submitted falsified documents to collect approximately $122,000 of unused sick and vacation days that he wasn’t entitled to.  Luckily, according to Kendall Coffey, his termination agreement contained a specific carve-out that the union can seek the money if there was any kind of fraud committed that will help the union recover that money.

He, and the union plan to “take whatever action may be appropriate to try to recover the funds.”

Santeramo surrendered to the main jail in downtown Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday to face 20 criminal charges that include racketeering and money laundering.



Kendall Coffey on the Peter Madoff Case

Peter Madoff expected to plead guilty to fraud

It is likely that the brother of Bernie Madoff will plead guilty tomorrow to involvement in what is the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.  According to the Today Show Peter Madoff, as the Chief Compliance Officer of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC , was essentially the firm’s second-in-command.  As Bernie’s kid brother he was the one left in charge when Bernie was out of town or otherwise occupied.


Kendall Coffey at Coffey Burlington

Kendall Coffey at Coffey Burlington

Bernie Madoff himself has continually insisted that he worked alone in the $65 billion fraud, likely to protect his wife, sons, and brother who all worked for the firm.  Until Peter Madoff, all of them have claimed to have no knowledge of the massive scheme that Bernie orchestrated.


But although Peter is the only family member to be charged so far with fraud, that doesn’t mean that his guilty plea lets the rest of the family members off of the hook.  The prosecution remains active, and there will likely be further investigations.


As part of his guilty plea, Peter will not only spend 10 years in jail, he will also forfeit all of his possessions.  Prosecutors value those to be about $143.1 billion dollars.  But legal experts caution that this is likely a symbolic number.


“While he would be agreeing to a forfeiture of $143 billion, in the real world that’s a paper number,” Kendall Coffey explained to the Today Show.  “The victims should be expecting little if any of that to be coming to them from Peter Madoff.”


Kendall Coffey Quotes

Kendall Coffey


Trayvon Martin in the Court of Public Opinion

The Trayvon Martin case continues, although the court of public opinion seems undecided on whether or not George Zimmerman is guilty.  While the initial decision by the media seemed to be that Zimmerman was an aggressive vigilante who had of course shot Martin unprovoked, the public seems to have changed its tune in the last couple days.


Kendall Coffey on the George Zimmerman trial

Kendall Coffey on the George Zimmerman trial

According to Joy-Ann Reid over at, the change is partially based on the photos that were taken of the wounds on the back of Zimmerman’s head.   News groups like ABC have suggested that these wounds may give enough credence to his claims of self-defense that perhaps the second degree murder charges should be dropped.


But, that’s really just speculation.  Legal experts like Kendall Coffey say that the pictures don’t prove that  Zimmerman is innocent by a long shot.


Kendall Coffey says pictures might not prove anything

Kendall Coffey says pictures might not prove anything


“What it proves is that [he’s] got credible evidence on one of the elements of Stand Your Ground,’ which is the claim that he was in reasonable fear of serious bodily injury. But that doesn’t answer the question of who stated the fight, or the other critical question: did Zimmerman have to finish the fight by killing Trayvon Martin?”

Just because someone strikes you does not mean that you are justified in shooting to kill, even under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.  And as Catherine Crier, a former distict court judge and TV legal analyst, explains, “”There’s an interesting provision right at the end of the statute [that says] you can’t use ‘Stand Your Ground’ if you initially provoke the use of force, unless that person is coming at you with such great force that you really are fearful for your life, and you’ve exhausted every other means of escape other than force.”

“You’re telling me that George Zimmerman — armed — has a gun, and he is terrified that Trayvon Martin is going to get him, and he has really tried to run?” Crier asks.

Of course, before the media starts calling for prosecutors to drop the case against Zimmerman they should probably remember that the prosecution has already seen those images.

“They were fully aware of that information, and yet reached a conclusion that they could prove second degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt,” Coffey explained.  “Rushing to judgment that Zimmerman is innocent is equally as wrong as rushing to judgment that he is guilty.”

As it stands now, the group representing Zimmerman is taking steps to try to quell the media sensation that has arisen, although it might well be too late.  They’ve urged the public to remember that “the only proper place to determine the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman is in court,” partially because the only people who will have all of the information at their fingertips will be the jury.