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Working on both sides of the law

Bill Aronwald
Attorney Bill Aronwald.

When it comes to white collar crime, White Plains attorney Bill Aronwald has been on both sides of the law.

For years, Aronwald was a prosecutor, trying crimes against organized crime in the 1970s and 1980s, making him one of the biggest enemies of the Colombo crime family. Later, he became a defense attorney, representing high-profile figures like Sandy Annabi and former Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro.

Aronwald, a partner at Aronwald & Pykett, has been an attorney since 1966, graduating from the Brooklyn Law School. He began working as an assistant district attorney in New York, frequently prosecuting white collar crimes like tax fraud, mortgage fraud and business fraud.

Aronwald said he wanted to work in New York City because it had one of the finest DA offices in the country. He started investigating organized crime and relished being in the courtroom trying cases.

“It was where I was most comfortable,” Aronwald said. “I didn’t want to be doing wills or patent cases. It was exciting.”

He became involved in bringing down New York’s famed Five Families, the mafia families that controlled organized crime in the city. While he convicted many mobsters, it also led to personal tragedy.

In 1987, a hit was put out on Aronwald by the Colombo crime family. Mobster Joel Cacace ordered two men to kill Aronwald and gave them a piece of paper with the name Aronwald on it.

Aronwald’s father, George, was a judge who worked in the same office as his son, and the mobsters went after him instead. George Aronwald was killed March 20, 1987, outside of a laundromat. Cacace was convicted of the murder in 2004.

“Cacace was a coward who didn’t have the guts to do it himself,” Aronwald said. “He never knew me; he did it as a favor to another lowlife. It weighs on you all the time. I had the satisfaction of speaking at his sentencing and knowing he will spend the rest of his life in maximum security prison.”

Such killings are rare and Aronwald said it was a result of the hard-hitting prosecution and significant cases, including investigations in Munich and meeting with Vatican officials for another case.

“You draw attention when you’re doing your job in an aggressive manor,” Aronwald said. “We were able to indict and bring down criminals. That’s what our objective was.”

Today, Aronwald does general criminal defense work, with no specialization, though he is frequently called upon for white collar cases. Aronwald said he does not believe the economic recession has led to more white collar cases.

“There are always people looking for shortcuts,” Aronwald said. “There will always be motivation to commit business fraud, whether it be during prosperous times or a recession.”

Aronwald often gets high-profile figures and cases, yet he says every case to him is important and no two cases are alike. He represented Pirro while she was being investigated for allegedly secretly recording her husband to find out if he was having an affair. An indictment was never filed.

“This investigation never should’ve been conducted,” Aronwald said. “The investigation closed when the government realized that she hadn’t done anything wrong. It caused her a lot of anguish. It’s very difficult to live down the stigma of being investigated.”

Currently Aronwald is representing Kerry Kennedy after she was charged with driving with ability impaired by drugs, following a car accident on I-684. Aronwald said that defense attorneys are often mischaracterized as the bad guys.

“We ensure that every person accused of a crime is given due process, a fair trial and that their rights are enforced,” Aronwald said. “If defense attorneys are not there, the constitutional rights of the accused would not be protected.”

Representing famous figures often puts Aronwald under the public microscope. When representing a Kennedy or a Pirro, Aronwald said you learn to be careful and guarded when dealing with the media.

“The media can be sensational or prejudicial,” Aronwald said. “When the trial begins, the jury has already been poisoned. The last thing you want is to allow your client to speak to the media; it puts them at a disadvantage.”

Aronwald said that win, lose or draw, if a defense attorney has gotten their client a fair trial, then she has done a good job.

“Do we want to win? Sure,” Aronwald said. “It’s often been said that it’s better a guilty person be set free than an innocent person convicted of a crime.”

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