01/26/2012 08:57 pm ET Updated Mar 27, 2012

Greg Kelly Rape Investigation Creates 'Ethical Minefield' For New York District Attorney

NEW YORK -- Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance may face pressure to tap an outside prosecutor to investigate rape allegations against the son of New York City's police commissioner as a result of his office's deep ties to the police department, legal experts said Thursday.

The probe began after a young woman filed a rape complaint against Greg Kelly, 43, at a police station in Manhattan late Tuesday or early Wednesday, according to The New York Times, which broke the news of the investigation Wednesday night.

The alleged sexual assault occurred in October, the woman told police, after she and Kelly had drinks together.

Kelly, a local television news anchor and son of Ray Kelly, the NYPD commissioner, maintains his innocence, according to his attorney, Andrew M. Lankler. "Mr. Kelly strenuously denies any wrongdoing of any kind," Lankler said in an email.

The NYPD handed over the rape complaint to Vance because it was filed against the commissioner's son, an NYPD spokesman told news outlets on Thursday. Kelly has not been charged with a crime.

As the investigation proceeds, Vance might face pressure to turn over the case to an outside prosecutor because of the close working relationship between the district attorney's office and the police department, according to former prosecutors and defense attorneys.

"There's precedent for bringing in an outside prosecutor, and I think that in this case some people will probably call for that," said Paul Callan, a former New York City prosecutor and criminal defense attorney.

Mark Geragos, a prominent Los Angeles defense attorney, said Vance's close working relationship with Ray Kelly creates an appearance of conflict of interest. "It's clearly a valid concern," he said.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office declined to comment.

But Callan said he expected Vance's office would resist calls to relinquish the case. "Historically prosecutors fight tooth and nail to hang on to these cases, to prove that they can be fair," he said.

Holding on to the Kelly case could prove politically risky for Vance, experts said, and scrutiny of his performance will be extraordinarily high in the wake of last year's failed prosecution of Dominique Strauss-Kahn on sexual assault charges.

Vance's office charged Strauss-Kahn, the former International Monetary Fund chief, with attacking an immigrant hotel maid last May, only to see the case collapse after his accuser repeatedly lied in official statements. Yet despite the damaged credibility of Strauss-Kahn's accuser, some city criticized the district attorney for refusing to put the case before a jury.

Others, meanwhile, questioned Vance's judgment in bringing criminal charges against such a high-profile defendant before carefully investigating his accuser's claims.

The Kelly case will only be further complicated by the intimate working relationship between Vance's office and the NYPD.

"Clearly it's an ethical minefield," said Geragos. "He's going to try to play it exactly like he would treat anybody else, but that's just fraught with danger."

Details of the allegations against Greg Kelly remain sketchy, but according to police sources cited by The New York Times and other news outlets, Kelly allegedly met his accuser, a young woman in her late 20s or early 30s, on the street last October. The woman reportedly told police that she and Kelly had drinks at a waterfront restaurant, then proceeded to a law office in lower Manhattan where she worked.

A police source quoted by the New York Daily News said the woman reported that the rape occurred at the office, while she was highly intoxicated.

The woman's boyfriend learned about the alleged assault and eventually confronted Ray Kelly, the NYPD commissioner, at a public event, NYPD spokesman Paul J. Browne told the Daily News. The boyfriend told the commissioner that his son "ruined my girlfriend's life," Browne said.