Written by Peter Calleri
Tony Pellegrino serves as an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) in the Southern District of New York, where he is assigned to the Complex Frauds and Cybercrimes Unit of the office’s Criminal Division. His work has included, among other things, litigating the fallout from the high-profile Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, which was the largest fraud in history. Through his work with the Department of Justice and the Madoff Victim Fund, qualifying victims have now recovered more than 80% of their losses, making this the largest Ponzi scheme recovery in U.S. history. More recently, Tony indicted two Iranian nationals for their involvement in a cyber-espionage campaign designed to intimidate and influence American voters, in an attempt to undermine voter confidence in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.
Tony graduated from Villanova University in 1996, where he was a cadet in the Army Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) program, and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in Field Artillery. Even then, however, Tony knew that he wanted to attend law school, so after his commissioning, he returned to his native Syracuse, where he obtained an educational deferment from the Army to attend the College of Law. Tony says that his time in ROTC prepared him for law school because of the Army’s emphasis on planning and time management. Balancing his military training with his studies and social activities at college prepared Tony for the more rigorous reading, writing, and time commitments required to succeed at the College of Law.
Following graduation, Tony served on active duty as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Honors Program, where he litigated cases brought against the Army. It was during his time with the Army that Tony was first exposed to the many U.S. Attorney offices around the country, which gave him an early glimpse into the area of work he would eventually go on to pursue.
Following his time with the Army, Tony worked as an associate in Milbank, Tweed, Hadley, & McCloy LLP’s New York offices, where he represented insurance companies and mutual fund clients. In 2010, Tony joined the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, where he had the opportunity to work closely with agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on some of the first civil and criminal cases brought against manufacturers involved in the opioid crisis. After seven years with the Civil Division, Tony transferred to the Criminal Division, where he continued his work on the opioid crisis, the Madoff matter, and now, complex cybercrime issues such as national security-related cyber intrusions.
As a former member of the Syracuse Law Review, Tony says that he often draws on what he considers to have been a “very formative” experience with Law Review. The level of precision and detail required from Law Review members stays with you throughout the rest of your legal career, Tony says. Throughout his time as an AUSA in the Southern District of New York, Tony has appreciated how much he still draws on those skills he first learned on Law Review: “everyone [in the Southern District] has that same ethos that the footnotes matter, the details matter, the formatting and the font matter because the federal courts expect that level of presentation. It’s always subtly more persuasive when you can present a very polished product in support of your arguments.”
Further reflecting on his time at the College of Law, Tony also recognizes how impactful the College of Law’s clinic programs were, describing them as “tremendous opportunities.” He enjoyed the exposure to the outside world the clinics provided, and especially valued the practical knowledge the supervising attorneys were able to offer. Tony also fondly remembers classes with Professor Samuel J. M. Donnelly and former College of Law Dean Daan Braveman.
For students looking to pursue a similar career path, Tony recommended completing some form of public service during or after graduation, with a particular emphasis on federal experience. Students especially interested in becoming an AUSA should explore interning for a U.S. Attorney’s Office, or clerking for a federal judge, which offers graduates valuable insight into how judges think through problems and the type of dockets handled by the federal court system. Whatever the career path, Tony notes the importance of demonstrating a commitment to a diversity of experience, and notes that virtually every AUSA hired in the Southern District of New York has prior clerking, military, agency counsel, or Assistant District Attorney experience, as the Office does not hire prosecutors directly out of law school.
Tony’s commitment to his current role is grounded in his belief that the federal judiciary remains a place to seek the truth. He says his experiences at the U.S. Attorney’s Office on the Madoff case, and more recently with the Iranian election interference case, have reaffirmed his belief that the facts matter, particularly when the issue is one involving public interest or is the subject of spirited public debate. As citizens increasingly receive their news and viewpoints from fragmented sources, he says he believes it is important for a democracy to have a baseline of what the truth actually means. More than ever, indictments and trials perform this essential role in our democracy by serving to illuminate “what really happened.” Tony believes that wherever a prosecutor’s office maintains a rigorous commitment to fairness and to bringing cases without “fear or favor,” it will continue to play a vital role in defining public debate on some of the most important issues of the day.