Khairullozhon Matanov could have said nothing. Instead, the 24-year-old taxi driver voluntarily told police what he knew about his friends Tamerlan and Dhzokhar Tsarnaev, the two brothers who set off bombs near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. He told police he had dinner with the Tsarnaev brothers the night of the bombing, but lied about some of the other aspects of his relationship to the brothers. Matanov changed his story about facts such as whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev lived with him and his family, and when they last prayed together.
While lying to the police can lead to charges of obstruction of justice, Matanov’s real troubles did not begin until he went home after speaking with the police. When he got home, he got on his computer, opened up his Internet browser, and erased the history of his searches and page views. That simple act – one that countless people do on their computers every day – could have resulted in Matanov receiving up to 20 years in federal prison.1
Fearing that he could spend decades in prison, Matanov accepted a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. In exchange for pleading guilty, the prosecution recommended that Matanov serve 30 months in prison.
The Scandal That Changed the Law
Matanov is facing charges of destruction of evidence under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a 2002 law that Congress passed in response to the corporate accounting scandals by companies such as Enron. The scandals involved “cooking” the books to hide billions of dollars in debt and failed enterprises. Once the truth about the failures came to light, investors lost billions as the companies’ stock prices fell.