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Burglary at office of ‘Committee’ lawyer

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

The Long Island office of the attorney representing Sean McPhilemy, author of the controversial book “The Committee,” was recently broken into. But nothing was stolen.

However, an assistant to Montauk attorney Russell Smith discovered files littering the office floor and office computers switched on.

Smith, who is defending McPhilemy in a $100 million libel action brought by two Northern Ireland car dealers, was in Northern Ireland at the time of the Sept. 19 break-in.

The break-in was reported to the police in nearby Easthampton. That report was confirmed to the Echo by Capt. Todd Sarras of Easthampton police.

Sarras said that the incident was not under active investigation because there was no sign of a forced entry and because nothing had been stolen.

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Sarras said that his department had received a report on Sept. 21 from a Dennis Cassidy, Smith’s assistant, that computers in the office, which had been off, were switched on, and that a radio that had been left on was found to have been switched off. Cassidy told police he had left the premises for three hours, Sarras said.

Cassidy, a native of Derry, is a trainee paralegal working for Smith.

According to Smith, the intruder, or intruders, entered the upper level of the two-story house, which is fronted by a wooden deck. Entry was gained by removing a screen. The window behind the screen was unlocked. The upper level is Smith’s living area. His office is on the ground floor.

There was no sign of any attempt to steal anything from the living area, and despite the mess downstairs, nothing was missing from the office. Smith said that police investigators who came to the house had been “mystified” by the break-in.

Smith is representing McPhilemy and publishers Roberts Rinehart in Washington, D.C., Superior Court in a case brought by David and Albert Prentice.

Both men are named in “The Committee,” a book that has not been published in Ireland or Britain because of strict libel laws in both jurisdictions.

The book alleges that a secret committee comprising Unionist establishment figures, RUC officers and members of the British security forces have conspired over a period of years to murder Catholics in Northern Ireland.

According to Smith, he left New York on Sept. 19 to spend a week in Northern Ireland interviewing people in preparation for the case.

“I had spoken to Sean over the phone,” Smith said. “He was at his home in Oxford in England. I made a calculated decision not to hide details of my trip even though we know that Sean’s phone is tapped and he is under heavy surveillance.”

Smith said that Cassidy had entered the office and had discovered files dumped on the floor and the computers on. However, nothing had been stolen despite the fact that there was a considerable amount of valuable computer equipment in the office and stereo equipment upstairs.

Smith acknowledged that it was possible for someone to download the computer hard drives without leaving any clear sign of such tampering.

Smith said that he was not aware of any other break-ins in the area at the time. Sarras confirmed that there were no other such reports for the area on that date.

Smith’s house/office is on a quiet dead end street somewhat removed from the busier parts of Montauk, a popular summer vacation village at the northern tip of Long Island. Smith has lived in the house for two years and has had no security problems up until now. There was no alarm on the premises, he said.

Smith said that he suspected the intrusion might be connected to the libel case and was a possible attempt to intimidate him.

“I’m flattered more than anything.” he said.

Smith said that the office and computers contained material relevant to the libel case and that while anyone interested in the material might have gleaned “a window on our strategy,” such knowledge would not alter the outcome of the case which is still in the discovery phase.

Smith indicated that once the discovery phase was over, he would be seeking a dismissal. In the case, the Prentice brothers are suing for libel, false invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

McPhilemy has accused the brothers, both members of “The Committee” alleged in the book, “of seeking “to wage a war of financial attrition.”

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