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Colonial case moving to trial as parties argue over evidence

The Colonial in Binghamton reopened over the weekend. It's one of three downtown restaurants whose management the Binghamton Police Department and Broome County District Attorney's Office is investigating. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)
Jillian Forstadt
The owners of the Colonial restaurant and bar in downtown Binghamton appeared in court Thursday ahead of next month's trial.

The men accused of sex and drug crimes that spurred protests and the eventual shuttering of two bars in downtown Binghamton appeared in court Thursday, setting the stage for the case to go to trial next month.

Yaron Kweller and Jordan Rindgen, part owners of the bars, were charged with sex crimes stemming from allegations that the two drugged and raped a woman in November 2021.

Trial Moving Forward

Prosecutors from the Broome County District Attorney’s office had sought to delay the trial as they appeal the dismissal of charges against a third defendant, Leor Kweller, Yaron’s brother.

Judge Carol Cocchiola denied the motion. She states that the ADA’s motion cited incorrect case law and that granting the stay would unfairly prolong the proceedings.

“They shouldn’t have criminal charges hanging over their heads as the people appeal charges, potentially for years,” Cocchiola said.

The drug charges against Rindgen were dismissed earlier this year as well after Cocchiola took issue with the presentation to the grand jury on those counts.

Missing Evidence?

A majority of Thursday’s hearing was spent arguing over the existence and admissibility of evidence in the case. The arguments shed light on some of the details behind the allegations.

Lawyers for the defendants argued that parts of discoverable evidence hadn’t been turned over by the district attorney’s office. One of the components the parties argued over was the existence of data from one of the accusers’ phones. The accusers in the case remain anonymous, only being referred to by their initials by the attorneys.

A phone belonging to one of the accusers had been wiped before authorities could extract data, including text messages about the incident. The same accuser told prosecutors she isn’t able to access any cloud data stored from the phone because she forgot her password.

Attorneys for the defendants argued the iCloud data could be recovered with a warrant.

Before the phone was wiped, the same accuser took a number of screenshots of messages related to the case. A set of screenshots were turned over to Binghamton Police. Lawyers for the defendants stated that one of the accusers also previously provided copies of screenshots to an attorney, Thomas Saitta.

Congdon said the accuser maintained that the screenshots provided to Saitta were the same as those provided to the police.

Despite knowledge that Saitta is likely in possession of the screenshots, prosecutors declined to ask him for the potential evidence. Saitta’s retainer with the accusers ended in March 2023.

Judge Cocchiola, who was visibly frustrated with the prosecutors throughout the nearly two-hour hearing, questioned why prosecutors didn’t ask for the evidence.

“This is mind boggling to me,” Cocchiola said.

Paul Battisti, one of the defense attorneys representing Kweller, said he requested copies of the screenshots from Saitta, but his calls weren’t returned. Battisti, who is running for district attorney, said he would present the judge with a proposed subpoena order to retrieve any documents in Saitta’s possession.

Expert Witnesses Dropped

Cocchiola rejected prosecutors' request to introduce expert witnesses during trial. She questioned Congdon for blowing weeks past the deadline to provide defense attorneys with details on the witnesses she intended to call.

“I hope it’s because you’re unfamiliar and don’t understand,” Cocchiola said.

Cocchiola said prosecutors failed to present a name for one of the witnesses they intended to call to testify on the psychological effects of sexual assault.

Jury selection for the case is set to begin in July.

Corrected: June 23, 2023 at 11:32 AM EDT
This story has been updated to clarify that the drug charges against Rindgen have since been dismissed, and that the sex crimes charges against Kweller and Rindgen stem from accusations by one woman.
Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.