N.Y. sex offender sues over mustard, ketchup packet nutrition labeling
While awaiting sentencing of 10 years to life, David Lettieri has filed 51 lawsuits since November engaging “in a pattern of abuse of the judicial process”
By Patrick Lakamp
The Buffalo News, N.Y.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — David Lettieri faces anywhere from 10 years to life in prison now that a jury in Buffalo has convicted him of enticement of a minor.
But the convicted sex offender currently in a Youngstown, Ohio, prison awaiting sentencing has another issue that he wants the federal courts to examine: the nutritional information on mustard and ketchup packets.
In separate lawsuits he filed recently in Ohio and New York, Lettieri, 36, complained that the ketchup and mustard packets he was given for his prison meals did not include sodium amounts or other nutritional information. And in a third lawsuit, the Broome County man said he couldn’t tell from the packaging what spices are in a bag of Whole Shabang potato chips.
The new lawsuits come on top of dozens of others Lettieri has filed this summer, most of them in federal court in Buffalo connected to his criminal case. He has filed 34 lawsuits since July, naming the FBI, prosecutors, his own defense lawyers, the New York State Police, the Department of Justice and the Federal Marshals Office, among others, as defendants.
In all, Lettieri has filed 51 lawsuits in two states since November. Nine have been dismissed so far.
In his mustard lawsuit, he accuses the mustard supplier of an “unconscionable act” by withholding information from a consumer.
“Because of being stuck in the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, it had made (me) unable to have substantial benefit from research, which the supplier knew because of supplying to a correctional facility,” Lettieri said in his lawsuit. “Because of no nutritional facts on the package, it is a form of deceptive acts that would be considered unlawful.”
While few of his cases have proceeded beyond the paperwork he filed, he is trying the court’s patience.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Vilardo — himself sued three times by Lettieri — expressed frustration in an order he issued Tuesday seeking to rein in the lawsuits.
“It seems that as soon as one is reviewed and administratively closed, several more are filed,” Vilardo wrote. “Upon examining this court’s docket, it is clear that David C. Lettieri has engaged in a pattern of abuse of the judicial process.”
Lettieri does not have a lawyer for his lawsuits. He fills out forms and then mails them to the courthouse to initiate the legal actions.
He also files “in forma pauperis,” shortened to IFP in court filings. That means that, as a poor person, he doesn’t have to prepay the $402 court filing cost for each lawsuit. Instead, the fee is to be paid to the court in installments by automatic deduction from his prison trust fund. But the prospects that his accumulating court fees will be paid seem unlikely. As of mid-August, he had 7 cents in his prison fund. His average account balance was $16.04 over the last six months, according to an Aug. 8 document that Lettieri filed.
In his order, Vilardo said the inmate should be prohibited from filing any more cases without prepaying the filing and administrative fees or submitting a complete motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis that includes a certification of his inmate trust account and a signed authorization.
Vilardo said he will give Lettieri an opportunity to show why that restriction should not be imposed upon him.
Vilardo noted that the court has repeatedly warned Lettieri that “if he continues to file complaints with insufficient IFP applications, he may be subject to sanctions.”
But the warnings haven’t stopped Lettieri from filing fresh lawsuits.
“The court cannot continue to allow Lettieri to file case after case with inadequate IFP motions and thereby waste valuable court resources, harming the constitutionally mandated functions of this court,” Vilardo said. “Therefore, the court will take the minimal step of preventing Lettieri from filing new actions without a properly supported IFP motion with a prison certification and a signed authorization unless Lettieri shows cause why the court should not do so.”
Vilardo said district courts may, in their discretion, impose sanctions against those “who abuse the judicial process.”
“In sum, given Lettieri’s propensity for filing case after case in this court and his obvious intent to continue filing cases without paying the filing fee or submitting a properly supported IFP motion, the court plans to direct the clerk of the court to immediately close any new cases filed by Lettieri if he does not prepay the filing fee or submit a prison certification and signed authorization form with his IFP motion,” Vilardo said in his ruling.
Lettieri has 14 days to reply in writing why he should not be so restricted.
“In addition, Lettieri is reminded that for each case in which he is granted IFP status, the filing fee for that case will be deducted from his inmate trust fund account over time,” the judge said.
Lettieri was convicted of traveling in October 2020 to a park in Wyoming County to meet a 13-year-old girl, with the intent of having sexual intercourse. He did not have sexual contact. Two others who know the girl confronted him at the park. The investigation by the Wyoming County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI uncovered communications between Lettieri and the then-eighth grade student, including photos of her on Lettieri’s phone. The girl told police she communicated with Lettieri for three to four weeks. Investigators searched Lettieri’s Facebook account and recovered conversations between Lettieri, the girl and the girl’s sister, which were sexual in nature.
He was arrested in November 2020 and filed his first federal lawsuit two years later while in pretrial custody. By the time his trial started in June, he had filed 17 suits. Since the jury’s guilty verdict on June 14, he has filed nearly three dozen lawsuits.
The lawsuits have piled up, and among them are claims that:
— His former defense lawyer provided ineffective counsel and “threatened and scared” away an alibi witness from testifying.
— Two FBI agents who investigated him destroyed phone records that he said would have proved his innocence.
— Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul Bonanno and Maeve Huggins, whose case against him prompted jurors to convict him after less than an hour of deliberations, violated his due-process rights.
— The Broome County Humane Society killed his pet rat.
— Vilardo did not give jurors proper instructions.
— U.S. marshals did not allow him to bring his legal papers during a jail transfer.
— The University of Rochester employee who conducted a competency exam disregarded his “major medical condition.”
Filing the lawsuits required Lettieri only to fill out a seven-page form, mostly checking boxes about whether he has filed previous cases, filling out identifying information and providing short answers about the constitutional basis. Generally, he wrote a one- or two-page letter for each case outlining how he was reportedly wronged.
He typically asked for millions of dollars in damages for each of the lawsuits.
Civil actions such as the ones Lettieri has brought are generally not available for criminal matters except in certain circumstances.
An appeal has not yet been filed challenging his June 14 conviction. Oral argument was held Thursday before Vilardo on his motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal on the assertion that the evidence at trial was insufficient. Vilardo reserved decision.
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