Charles Kleinberg, Muted Prosecutor With a Sharp Calculus, Dies at 71

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Charles Kleinberg earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics, which may explain why, in nearly 40 years as a federal prosecutor, his examination of hostile witnesses and negotiations with defense lawyers were meticulous and calculating.

Typically, his precision and professorial demeanor would prove to juries and judges — and sometimes even to the opposing lawyers themselves — that the government’s evidence added up perfectly.

Mr. Kleinberg died on May 22 in a Brooklyn hospital. He was 71. The cause was the new coronavirus, his wife, Judith Adams Eschweiler, said.

“Charley’s trademark approach was prosecuting wrongdoers while simultaneously or subsequently suing the stuffing out of their corporate alter egos,” Richard P. Donoghue, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in an email.

In one case, Mr. Kleinberg and several colleagues in the Eastern District reached a $2 billion settlement in 2018 with Barclays Capital, which had been accused of misleading investors in deals backed by overvalued subprime home mortgages. He was also involved in the insider trading investigation of Michael Lohan, the father of the actress Lindsay Lohan, and the prosecution of Local 1 of the International Union of Elevator Constructors for racketeering.

Perhaps Mr. Kleinberg’s most prominent court appearance came in 2012, in the prosecution of Dr. Cecilia Chang, a dean at St. John’s University in Queens, on charges involving fraud and embezzlement.

Dr. Chang was accused of exploiting her position to dispense honorary degrees as patronage and to recruit scholarship students from overseas, promising them a free education but then forcing them to clean her seven-bedroom home in Jamaica Estates, Queens, hand-wash her laundry and shuttle cases of liquor to her room at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut.

Against the advice of her lawyers, she testified in her own defense, which exposed her to hours of withering cross-examination by Mr. Kleinberg.

The case ended in a mistrial after Dr. Chang killed herself.

Charles Steven Kleinberg was born on Dec. 8, 1948, in Brooklyn to Sam Kleinberg, a manager for the S. Klein department store, and Doris (Cohen) Kleinberg.

After graduating from Samuel J. Tilden High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Brooklyn College in 1969 and a master’s in math as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Yale. But he realized he was more interested in politics and government, so he enrolled in the New York University School of Law and graduated first in his class in 1976.

He married Ms. Eschweiler in 1981. In addition to her, he is survived by their daughter, Wendy April Kleinberg, and his sisters, Sharon Kleinberg and Debbie Bancroft Kleinberg.

Mr. Kleinberg worked for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the New York State attorney general before he was named an assistant United States attorney in 1980.

He kept up his scholarly side, earning a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University in 1994. After he retired in 2018, he re-enrolled in Brooklyn College to study for a graduate degree in physics.

He tried more than 70 cases and argued more than 70 appeals during his nearly 38 years in the civil and criminal divisions.

“His cross-examination style was to speak slowly and precisely and never raise his voice, like an old professor,” said Kevan Cleary, the senior trial lawyer in the office’s civil division. “He used logic against witnesses and common sense, and he used his scientific mind to dissect a case to the essential elements and destroy a witness’ credibility.”