Does hotel maid in Strauss-Kahn case need a defense lawyer, too?

Officials assert that the alleged victim in the sexual assault case against ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn lied on her tax returns, asylum application, and on other occasions. Is she now in legal trouble?

David Karp/AP
Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves New York State Supreme court with his wife Anne Sinclair, Friday, in New York.

The hotel chambermaid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn, ex-chief of the International Monetary Fund, of sexual assault may need a lawyer – and not just to sue him.

Instead, she could be facing legal troubles of her own, ranging from immigration fraud to perjury to tax evasion. The district attorney's office in charge of prosecuting the case against Mr. Strauss-Kahn indicated last week that the alleged victim herself is a less-than-credible witness, enumerating instances of apparent untruthfulness.

Lawyers are divided over whether it would be good policy to prosecute someone who claims to be a victim of a sex crime. It could prevent other victims from coming forward because they wish to avoid such scrutiny, they say. Others, however, say some of the maid’s alleged transgressions “theoretically” could be prosecuted, especially because they are now so visible.

“It’s probably in her interest to have a defense attorney advising her, if she does not already,” says James Keneally, a partner with the law firm Kelley Drye & Warren in New York. “My guess is she does already."

On Tuesday, the housekeeper sued the New York Post for libel after the newspaper, citing anonymous sources, alleged she was collecting money from hotel guests for sexual services. “Defendants falsely, maliciously and with reckless disregard for the truth stated as a fact that the Plaintiff is a ‘prostitute,' ‘hooker,’ ‘working girl’ and/or 'routinely traded sex for money with male guests' of the Sofitel hotel located in Manhattan,” said the lawsuit.

The hotel maid's grand jury testimony remains sealed, so it's not known whether she lied under oath.

On Friday, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said there were enough doubts about her credibility as a witness to let Mr. Strauss-Kahn out of home confinement and with no bail. Defense lawyers are reported to be meeting Wednesday with Mr. Vance, who is said on the verge of dismissing the charges against the French politician.

Inconsistencies in the woman's account of the alleged attack and her own life occurred mainly during interviews at the District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan – some of which could expose her to new legal problems.

For example, a statement from the district attorney claims that the woman, who is originally from Guinea in west Africa, submitted a false statement in connection with her request for US political asylum in 2004. The statement had to do with the arrest, torture, and eventual death of her husband, plus her own flight from Guinea in fear of her life.

“She stated that she had fabricated the statement with the assistance of a male who provided her with a cassette recording of the facts contained in the statement that she eventually submitted,” wrote assistant D.A. Joan Illuzzi-Orbon. “She memorized these facts by listening to the recording repeatedly.”

The D.A. also said that as part of her statement to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the woman said she had been subjected to a brutal gang rape in Guinea, but that during questioning by the D.A.’s office she acknowledged that account was fabricated. However, she told prosecutors that she had been raped in Guinea in a different incident.

The INS does have the ability to revoke an immigrant's so-called green card, which gives him or her the right to work in the US, if the individual lied on the application for asylum, says Maxine Lee, a lawyer familiar with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

“They do have that ability, especially if she admitted her statements were lies,” says Ms. Lee, an immigration lawyer based in Edison, N.J. “The law says an asylum seeker may lose their status if there is fraud in their application.”

During questioning by the District Attorney’s Office, the hotel maid also lied during the sessions, wrote Ms. Illuzzi-Orbon.

However, it's doubtful she would be prosecuted for making false statements, say some experts. “If they think she is still credible on the ultimate incident of forced sex, they are not going to prosecute her" for false statements, says Joel Cohen, a former prosecutor at the law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan in New York. “Part of the reason is they don’t want to appear to be prosecuting a legitimate victim; that would be very bad for justice.”

One worry, says Mr. Cohen, is that the woman has “done serious harm for legitimate victims of sexual assault, since they will be afraid they will be subject to this kind of scrutiny.”

Even if the woman lied to the grand jury, the district attorney may still decide not to prosecute, says Mr. Keneally. “These cases can be very expensive to go forward,” he says, citing the prosecution of former baseball star Barry Bonds. “The question is whether it’s a real falsehood or something she remembered incorrectly and then informed the prosecution. Can you prove intent? Can you prove materiality?”

If someone falsely reports a crime that gets someone into a lot of trouble, it might be worth prosecuting that person to deter future claims, Keneally says. But “you have to be real careful. You don’t want to send a signal to real victims that if you misremember something we will prosecute you and hold you to it.”

The D.A.’s office also says it has discovered that the woman for the past two years has claimed a friend’s child, in addition to her own, as a dependent on her tax returns, for the purpose of increasing her tax refund, according to a letter the District Attorney’s Office wrote to Strauss-Kahn's lawyers last week. The D.A.'s Office is required to disclose exculpatory evidence it discovers during its investigation.

Even if this were a violation of the tax code, the Internal Revenue Service is not likely to pursue it as a criminal case, says Cal Bomar, a tax attorney with Atlanta-based Bomar & Phipps.

“They would simply assess against her the tax she should have paid, then add interest and penalties,” says Mr. Bomar, formerly with the IRS Office of Chief Counsel. “They would not seek to prosecute.”

The main targets of prosecution involve “very affirmative” acts of fraud, such as moving money offshore, or a celebrity or a tax protester who declares the tax code unconstitutional and refuses to pay federal taxes, he says.

However, news reports claim that investigators with the D.A.'s office discovered that $100,000 in cash was deposited to her bank account from around the country – and, if true, that would attract the attention of the IRS.

“They might do an audit,” says Bomar. “It’s possible it could be tax evasion, especially if it’s linked to a boyfriend or husband or criminal enterprise.”

The office of Kenneth Thompson, the woman's lawyer, referred calls about her legal vulnerabilities to a public relations firm, Sunshine Sachs. That firm did not return calls for comment nor answer an e-mail asking if she has hired a defense lawyer.

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