DOJ Paralegal Convicted of Witness Retaliation and Obstruction of Justice-Related Crimes

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Earlier today, following a one-week trial, a federal jury in Brooklyn returned a guilty verdict against Tawanna Hilliard, the mother of a 5-9 Brims gang member, on charges of witness retaliation, conspiracy to commit witness retaliation, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.   At the time of her crimes, Hilliard was a paralegal working in the Civil Division of another United States Attorney’s Office.  Hilliard’s co-defendant and son, Tyquan Hilliard pleaded guilty in November 2020 to witness tampering conspiracy related to the same scheme and was sentenced to 63 months’ imprisonment.

Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and 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 verdict.

“As found by the jury, the defendant, a paralegal in a federal prosecutor’s office, obstructed justice to retaliate against, harass and jeopardize the safety of suspected cooperating witnesses against her gang member son,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “Those who brazenly commit such acts, including through the anonymity provided by the use of social media and the internet, will be investigated and prosecuted.” 

Mr. Peace thanked the Office of Inspector General for their assistance in the investigation and prosecution. 

“Hilliard released information obtained in the discovery of a case involving her son in an effort to harass and retaliate against potential cooperating witnesses, which resulted in threats being made to those individuals. This type of behavior, especially from our public servants, won’t be tolerated,” stated Assistant Director-in-Charge Driscoll. 

The evidence at trial proved that in May 2018, the defendant’s son, Tyquan Hilliard, 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”).  Following the robbery, all three individuals were arrested by local police.  John Doe and Jane Doe separately made video-recorded post-arrest statements to law enforcement (the “Videos”), including to federal task force officers investigating a string of commercial robberies committed by 5-9 Brims members. 

In August 2018, the defendant received the discovery in her son’s robbery case, which included the video-recorded statements of John Doe and Jane Doe.  She thereafter discussed the Videos in detail over recorded phone calls with her son, who was incarcerated following his arrest for the robbery.  On August 5, 2018, as captured on a recorded jail call, the defendant’s son asked his mother to upload one of the Videos to the internet, and they discussed possible titles for the video.  During the same call, the defendant’s son also spoke to another one of his associates and referred to the Videos as “ammunition.” 

On August 5, 2018, the defendant uploaded the video of John Doe’s statement to YouTube.  The video was uploaded from a Google account with username primetime59brim on Gmail and on YouTube.  The video was entitled, “NYC Brim Gang Member SNITCHING! Pt. 1.” 

Also on August 5, 2018, the defendant’s son asked the defendant to send the video of Jane Doe’s post-arrest statement to one of his gang associates over a recorded jail call.  The defendant and her son also discussed “tagging” John Doe in the video, to make it clear he had also “snitched.”   Later that day, a different user uploaded the video of Jane Doe’s statement to YouTube with the title, “NYC Brim Gang Member Girlfriend SNITCHING ([Facebook name of John Doe]).”  The video of Jane 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.  John Doe also received numerous death threats in prison, both in Sullivan County and, when he was arrested and charged federally, in the Bureau of Prisons. 

This case was brought as 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.  As part of the program, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices work in partnership with federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement and their local communities to develop effective, locally based strategies to reduce violent crime.   

The government’s case is being handled 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 Celine Laruelle.

The Defendant:

TAWANNA HILLIARD
Age:  47
Brooklyn, New York

Defendant Previously Sentenced:

TYQUAN HILLIARD
Age:  32
Brooklyn, New York

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