Biggest hits, misses from Cyrus Vance Jr.’s tenure as Manhattan DA

Manhattan will have a new top prosecutor in charge on Jan. 1 when Alvin Bragg takes over for outgoing District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., a fellow Democrat.

During his 12 years at the helm of the powerful office, Vance, 67, oversaw major cases and investigations, including the Harvey Weinstein trial and the ongoing probe into the Trump Organization.

But Vance, who decided not to seek reelection in 2021, was also plagued by controversy, with critics accusing his office of giving a pass to rich and famous defendants.

Here’s a look back at some of the biggest hits and misses of Vance’s tenure:

Harvey Weinstein

Vance will perhaps be best remembered for the landmark #MeToo case that saw the powerful producer get convicted of rape and sexual assault in February 2020. Weinstein, 69, was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

The career-defining win, however, came only after Vance’s office declined to prosecute Weinstein in 2015 for allegedly groping model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez.

The DA came under fire for the decision to spare Weinstein after a New Yorker expose revealed in 2017 that the movie mogul admitted to molesting the then-22-year-old model in a secret recording set up by the NYPD as part of its probe.

One of Cyrus Vance Jr.’s biggest highlights is the landmark #MeToo case that saw Harvey Weinstein get convicted of rape and sexual assault in February 2020.
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Reports that year of campaign donations made to Vance by defense attorneys with links to Weinstein raised further questions. But Vance maintained the campaign cash had nothing to do with his decision — and said the case would not have been provable.

Weinstein’s attorneys are attempting to overturn the 2020 conviction, and an appellate court is expected to make a decision on the matter in January.

Etan Patz

Vance, who had promised to tackle cold cases in his post, successfully prosecuted Pedro Hernandez in 2017 for one of the most notorious unsolved crimes in New York history — the 1979 disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz.

In remarks to the New York City Bar Association on Dec. 14, Vance looked back on his time as DA and gave special mention to the case of the kidnapped and killed boy.

“When I think back on all of the thousands of cases we handled over the last twelve years, I keep returning to Etan Patz and his family,” he said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.

“Because of our staff’s unmatched talents, we were able to solve one of the City’s most infamous and formative unsolved crimes … For Etan and for his family, our prosecutors never gave up.”

Hernandez was convicted by a jury at his second trial — his first in 2015 ended in a hung jury.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

In 2011, just two years after he was elected to his first term, Vance caught heat for dropping charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the then-head of the International Monetary Fund accused of raping a maid at the Sofitel New York hotel in Midtown.

The French financier admitted to the encounter but maintained the sex was consensual. Three months after his arrest, a judge tossed the charges against Strauss-Kahn based on a recommendation from the DA’s Office, which raised concerns about the credibility of accuser Nafissatou Diallo.

Just two years after Cyrus Vance Jr. was elected to his first term, the Manhattan DA caught heat for dropping charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Just two years after Cyrus Vance Jr. was elected to his first term, the Manhattan DA caught heat for dropping charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
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While Vance was initially slammed in the media over the case’s collapse, his decision was backed by several prominent New Yorkers, including then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his predecessor, former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

Jeffrey Epstein

Vance’s office got wrapped up in the Epstein saga years before the powerful pedophile’s 2019 arrest on federal sex-trafficking charges and subsequent suicide behind bars.

In 2011, a prosecutor in Vance’s sex-crimes unit forcefully argued in court that Epstein — who had been convicted of soliciting an underage prostitute in Florida — should have his sex offender status in New York reduced to the lowest level.

The shocking request only came to light in 2018. The DA’s office said Vance “was not aware” of the hearing until years later and had nothing to do with it.

Robert Hadden

In 2016, Vance’s office struck a widely-panned plea agreement that allowed Hadden, a prominent gynecologist, to avoid jail after being accused of sexually abusing six patients.

The dubious deal outraged dozens of victims who came forward — including former presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s wife, Evelyn Yang, who has said she was sexually assaulted by the former New York-Presbyterian Hospital doctor in 2012 when she was pregnant with her first child.

Hadden is now facing federal charges.

Sex Crimes Bureau

Vance faced public outcry and calls for his resignation as recently as last year over his office’s prosecutorial decisions in high-profile sex crimes cases.

Some of those calls came from a dozen city councilwomen who slammed Manhattan’s top prosecutor for failing “to protect and fight for survivors against rich, white, and powerful men who committed countless sexual assaults.” They specifically singled out his handling of the Epstein and Weinstein cases.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Vance maintained that his office has prosecuted many people of “power and authority” — and taken on thousands of sex crimes cases.

He said his lawyers always “try to get the right result,” while noting that he hired an outside consultant to look at how the sex crimes bureau operates.

As DA, Vance took aim at sex-trafficking, and ended the prosecution of prostitution and unlicensed massages. He also dedicated $38 million to help eliminate backlogs of rape kits nationwide — an initiative that earned him praise from “Law & Order: SVU” star Mariska Hargitay.

Malcolm X

The Conviction Integrity Program, created by Vance in 2010, re-examined cases involving wrongful convictions, including the Malcolm X assassination.

Last month, Vance went to court to clear the names of Muhammad Aziz, 83, and the late Khalil Islam after a review found they had wrongfully spent decades in prison for the 1965 slaying of the civil rights leader.

Trump v. Vance

In August 2019, Vance subpoenaed several years’ worth of Donald Trump’s personal and business tax returns, setting up a legal battle with the former president that went all the way up to the Supreme Court.

The DA’s office eventually won the records through the high court ruling and received the materials this year.

donald trump
In August 2019, Cyrus Vance Jr. subpoenaed several years’ worth of Donald Trump’s personal and business tax returns.
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Vance charged the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg with tax fraud last June, in an investigation the ex-commander-in-chief has blasted as a “witch hunt.”

Another grand jury was convened by Vance, but no other charges have yet been brought. His successor, Bragg, will inherit the probe.