- Ken Kurson, a former New York newspaper editor and close friend of Trump White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, pleaded guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges in a case where he was accused of cyberstalking his ex-wife.
- Kurson's plea comes more than a year after then-President Donald Trump pardoned the political consultant in a federal criminal case where he had been charged with cybercrimes against other individuals.
- The New Jersey resident ran the newsroom of The New York Observer newspaper, now published online as Observer, when it was owned by Kushner, the wealthy scion of a New York real estate clan and the husband of Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump.
- He also has worked as a consultant for people such as Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, top federal prosecutor, and personal lawyer for Trump.
Ken Kurson, a former New York newspaper editor and close friend of Trump White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, pleaded guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges Wednesday in a case where he was accused of cyberstalking his ex-wife.
Kurson's plea in Manhattan Supreme Court comes more than a year after then-President Donald Trump pardoned the 53-year-old political consultant in a federal criminal case where he had been charged in late 2020 with cybercrimes against other individuals.
Under the plea deal, Kurson will be required to perform 100 hours of community service, with the expectation that the charges will be reduced to a violation in a year, the Manhattan District Attorney's office told CNBC.
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The New Jersey resident ran the newsroom of The New York Observer newspaper, now published online as Observer, when it was owned by Kushner, the wealthy scion of a New York real estate clan and the husband of Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump.
He also has worked as a consultant for people such as Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, top federal prosecutor, and personal lawyer for Trump. Kurson helped run Giuliani's failed 2008 presidential campaign.
Kurson was arrested in August on felony charges of eavesdropping and criminal trespass for having allegedly accessed his then-wife's communications in 2015 and 2016 while working as editor-in-chief of Observer Media Group.
Prosecutors at the time said Kurson used spyware to obtain passwords and log into his wife's Gmail and Facebook accounts, and also illegally acquired and anonymously shared private Facebook messages.
On Wednesday, Kurson pleaded guilty to attempting to commit both crimes with which he was originally charged. The attempt charges themselves are misdemeanors.
As part of his plea, Kurson agreed to perform 100 hours of community service at an organization subject to the approval of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.
If he performs that work, and does not commit another crime in the meantime, the DA's office said it will agree to him withdrawing his guilty plea, and replacing that with a harassment violation. That violation could never be sealed from public view, under the terms of that deal.
Assistant District Attorney Alona Katz told Judge Josh Hanshaft that the DA's office reached the deal after extensive discussions with Kurson, as well as with his ex-wife's lawyer, the prosecutor's office said.
Katz also noted that six years had passed without Kurson committing another crime, and that he has taken steps to lower his chance of re-offending.
Kurson's lawyer Marc Mukasey did not reply to a request for comment by CNBC.
Kurson had founded cryptocurrency and blockchain technology website Modern Consensus. He was on the board of cryptocurrency company Ripple as recently as 2020.
Deborah Copaken, a writer who has published an article in which she detailed Kurson's alleged sexual harassment of her, called his punishment a "slap on the wrist."
"Community service. For cyberstalking. Okay, fine, but what's the incentive to keep anyone now from cyberstalking anyone else if this is the result?" Copaken wrote in a message to CNBC.
"Plus let's remember: there are other victims, many of whom I've spoken to. The three victims from the crime for which he was arrested then pardoned by Trump was a completely different crime and worse, in many ways, because it wasn't just cyberstalking. It included in-person stalking. He harassed a doctor at her place of work! Showed up at her home. And worse."
"As for me, I was sexually harassed by him, which is not a criminal offense, though it should be. Sexual harassment steals a woman's livelihood. Meanwhile, a purse snatcher will go to jail for stealing $5 from me while sexual harassers face no such consequences," Copaken wrote.
"I understand that the judge spoke to Kurson and his wife about all the steps he's taken to better himself in the six years since, and I applaud and encourage all efforts at personal transformation. But any efforts to reform oneself must include making amends to those he's harmed, and so far, I'm still waiting for my apology."
The same DA's office in Kurson's case is investigating Trump's company, the Trump Organization, for possible crimes related to hush money payments made to women who said they had sex with Trump, as well as possible tax, bank and insurance fraud.
The DA's office last summer criminally charged Trump companies and the Trump Organization's chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg with a scheme to avoid paying taxes on executive compensation.
The defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Kurson was federally charged by prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office in the Eastern District of New York in October 2020 with allegedly cyberstalking three people.
The 2020 federal criminal complaint in a footnote says that in addition to the three victims in that case, "FBI Special Agents have also obtained evidence revealing that Kurson engaged in a similar pattern of harassment in relation to his divorce proceedings against other individuals between approximately September 2015 and December 2015."
The criminal complaint says that Kurson blamed one of the victims, whom he had been friends with for more than 20 years, "for the dissolution of his marriage." The second victim was a co-worker and supervisor of the first victim, the complaint says.
That conduct allegedly included "accessing email accounts and social media accounts without their knowledge or authorization; installing software on one individual's computer to monitor that individual's keystrokes and website usage without his/her knowledge or authorization."
There was also evidence that Kurson contacted victims' employers to make claims that include a "false allegation of improper contact with a minor," according to the complaint.
Trump granted Kurson a pardon on Jan. 19, 2021, his last night in office, before the case went to trial. It was in a wave of last-minute pardons by the one-term president that he granted to political allies, friends of friends and others as he prepared to leave the White House.
In 2018, The New York Times noted that the FBI had investigated allegations that Kurson harassed a doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. The doctor was a long-time friend of Kurson and his then-wife, who were getting divorced at the time.
His first arrest came two years after he withdrew his name from consideration for a Trump administration appointment to the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Before he withdrew his name, in March 2018, Copaken wrote an article in The Atlantic entitled "How to Lose Your Job from Sexual Harassment in 33 Easy Steps."
Copaken wrote that during a job interview at the Observer, Kurson commented about staring at her breasts.
Copaken also wrote that after she began writing articles for the newspaper, Kurson sent an email that said, "How come you never asked me out?"
The New York Times later in 2018 reported that Copaken was contacted by someone who told her about Kurson's alleged harassment of staffers at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Copaken told The Times that FBI agents interviewed her in June 2018 as part of a background investigation related to Kurson's would-be appointment to the National Endowment for the Humanities board.