Authorities searched a senior federal judge’s home as part of a Manhattan criminal investigation that led to felony charges earlier this month against his 49-year-old son, who is accused of surreptitiously recording women engaged in sexual acts in his Upper East Side residence.
Investigators seized three hard drives as well as a black binder and three spindles holding more than 150 DVDs from the home of Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy in the Binghamton area of New York’s Southern Tier — evidence that is now being used in a 29-count indictment handed down against his son, Daniel McAvoy, according to court records obtained by Gothamist.
The judge, first appointed to the federal bench in 1986 by then-President Ronald Reagan, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. A Manhattan grand jury indicted his son on September 7th, accusing Daniel McAvoy of illegally surveilling women as they disrobed or participated in sexual activity without knowing he had cameras rolling in his current and former apartments.
Judge McAvoy, through his judicial assistant, referred a request for comment on the case to Isabelle Kirshner, his son’s Manhattan-based attorney. Kirshner declined to speak.
“I’m not going to comment on anything,” she said in a brief phone call with Gothamist.
The indictment against Daniel McAvoy charged him with 29 counts of second-degree illegal surveillance, a non-violent felony in which a person secretly records someone in a private setting for their own or another person’s sexual arousal. If convicted, he would face at least one and a half to four years in prison and could be forced to register as a sex offender.
The charges focus on four women allegedly recorded in separate incidents between March 2017 and October 2021 at Daniel McAvoy’s current and former residences. As part of the case, Daniel McAvoy was ordered to stay away from two people and required to turn over any firearms he owns.
Although the case currently involves only four women, whose names are concealed in court documents, evidence seized by prosecutors suggests more women may have been secretly recorded. The DVDs had hand-written labels that included dozens of different first names and specific sex acts in explicit, pornographic terms, according to court records. In at least three cases, a first and last name were listed.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which is leading the investigation and prosecution, also seized at least six different cameras and various memory-storage devices from Daniel McAvoy’s current apartment.
“This investigation is ongoing,” said Emily Tuttle, a spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. She pointed survivors to the office’s Sex Crimes Hotline at 212-335-9373.
At his arraignment, McAvoy pleaded not guilty in front of Acting State Supreme Court Justice Michele Rodney, according to a transcript of the proceeding. Kirshner, Daniel McAvoy's attorney, rejected a plea deal on his behalf that would have required him to serve one to three years in prison and register as a sex offender.
Kirshner is a high-profile, Manhattan-based attorney who is known for representing prominent men in sex-crime investigations, including former state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and Dr. Robert Hadden, a former Columbia University OBGYN.
Thomas McAvoy, 84, is a long-time jurist who has served in high-ranking positions in New York’s Northern District, a wide-ranging judicial district that runs from the Pennsylvania line to the Canadian border in the eastern part of the state. A former private attorney and Broome County legislator, he was appointed to his current role 36 years ago at the recommendation of then-U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato.
At no point is Thomas McAvoy mentioned in any of the publicly available court documents associated with his son’s case. The records do not make any suggestion, one way or the other, if he was aware of his son’s alleged conduct.
During her client’s arraignment, Kirshner confirmed prosecutors executed search warrants at both Daniel McAvoy’s home and his parents’ homes. Court records show one of the searches took place at an East 89th Street apartment where some of the illegal recording is alleged to have happened. The other search took place at a Town of Kirkwood property that Judge McAvoy has owned since at least 1964, according to Broome County records.
One document — known as an automatic discovery form — lists all of the items that were seized from the judge’s Kirkwood home and his son’s Manhattan apartment.
In Kirkwood, authorities took the hard drives, DVDs, CDs, a Dell desktop computer, an electronic notebook and miscellaneous items, including a AAA membership card. Most of the DVDs labeled with sexually-explicit terms appear to have been seized at Judge McAvoy’s home, according to evidence records.
At Daniel McAvoy’s East 89th Street apartment, they seized at least four hard drives and a USB thumb drive, four SD cards, three camcorders, two GoPro cameras, a “Smart Wifi Camera,” and various electronics — including a laptop, Nintendo systems, an iPad and an iPhone. The district attorney’s office also seized a “white powdery substance” in a container, a variety of pills, and two pellet guns with cartridges at the Manhattan residence, according to court records.
The court documents do not make clear exactly when the searches took place. During the September 7th arraignment, Kirshner said the searches had occurred “about a month ago.”
Judge McAvoy has heard cases in Albany and Binghamton, where he maintains his chambers. From 1993 to 2000, he was the Northern District’s chief judge. He became a senior judge in 2003, a semi-retired status that allows a federal jurist to take on a reduced caseload.
He has ruled in thousands of issues over his decades as a judge, including a 1997 civil case in which he sided with boxer Mike Tyson in a multi-million-dollar dispute with his former trainer.
In 1995, the judge ruled then-Gov. George Pataki couldn’t withhold paychecks from thousands of legislative employees when the state budget was late. And he’s presided over major cases involving the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco empire and the National Rifle Association.
Daniel McAvoy, meanwhile, was released without bail ahead of his trial, because the felonies he was charged with are not eligible for bail under state law. But Judge Rodney did order him into supervised release, which requires McAvoy to submit to two check-ins a month — one by phone, one in person.
McAvoy is next due in court December 1st.
Christopher Werth contributed reporting.
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