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Archive for October, 2008

Sad Tale of N.O. Federal Judge Only Half The Story

The sad tale of U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous, who has been accused of boozing, gambling and fibbing, is only half the story. His loyal staff is the other half. One even paid his gambling debts.

Judge Thomas Porteous/official photo

Judge Thomas Porteous/official photo

By Richard Rainey
New Orleans Times-Picayune
NEW ORLEANS — When the Judicial Council of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals effectively suspended District Judge Thomas Porteous last month, it quietly shuttered his chambers and laid off his staff of five, including a secretary who played an integral role in the financial history of the disgraced judge.
Rhonda Danos, described in private conversations as fiercely loyal to Porteous, lost a post she held in his front office for 24 years. Beyond the usual trappings of a secretary’s duties, she paid some of Porteous’ gambling and credit card debts and, according to testimony from one witness, delivered money to the judge from lawyers who had a case in his court.
“Tom Porteous says she’s a very fine lady and that he’s had her with him for many years, and he feels terrible that she somehow has been dragged into this,” said Porteous’ attorney, Lewis Unglesby. “And now with the 5th Circuit not even giving her a chance to defend herself, she has to lose her job.”
Porteous has been under investigation for six years, first by the U.S. Justice Department then by the 5th Circuit’s Judicial Council. The Justice Department decided in 2007 not to seek criminal charges, but the Judicial Council and U.S. Judicial Conference subsequently called for him to be impeached. The U.S. House Judiciary Committee formed a 12-member task force in September to consider it.
For Full Story

Can FBI Snitch Deliver in Ft. Dix Conspiracy?

Can Mahmoud A. Omar, a bankrupt, convicted felon who worked undercover for the FBI help the government makes its case in an alleged plot to attack Ft. Dix? Or will he prove to be too much of a con man to give the case credibility? Jury selection was completed last week and opening statements are scheduled later in the month.

wcbstv.com photo

wcbstv.com photo

By George Anastasia
Philadelphia Inquirer
Five years ago, he was a bankrupt felon with a conviction for passing bad checks.
He was facing deportation.
And he was living in a subsidized, low-income apartment complex in Paulsboro, scratching for cash by trying to sell used cars from the complex’s parking lot.
Today he is the central figure in the Fort Dix terrorism trial, an FBI informant who may have received more than $3,000 a month to wear a body wire and record conversations.
Mahmoud A. Omar, whose immigration problems appear to have gone the way of his financial difficulties, spent more than a year working undercover in the case.
While some details about his role have surfaced in pretrial documents, Omar’s actions and motivation will be the focus of what could be the most important testimony in the high-profile trial.

For Full Story

Read Ft. Dix indictment

U.S. Atty. Firings Bring Back The Bad Old Days of Politics At Justice

The endless controversy surrounding the independence of the federal justice system during the Bush years reared its ugly head again last week. The Justice Department’s Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility issued a blistering report concluding that political pressure led to the dismissals of several federal prosecutors in 2006.

As a former assistant U.S. Attorney, it’s disheartening to see how this conduct has damaged the remarkable progress made during the last quarter of the 20th Century to de-politicize the Department of Justice. This progress was reassuring for those us who took pride in the independence we enjoyed from politics and the executive and legislative branches. We felt immune from partisan pressure on employment, policy and prosecutions. Sadly, those principles have taken a severe beating.

The history of the Justice Department has not always valued political independence. As late as the 1970s, many of the 93 United States Attorneys’ Offices continued to hire and fire assistant federal prosecutors on a largely political basis. Offices employed the “broom” policy. A change in the political party in the White House inevitably resulted in the “brooming” out of prosecutors hired under the previous United States Attorney and the consideration. Political connections mattered. After several decades of improvement of this atmosphere, the politicized Bush Justice Department has taken several steps backward, and a result, damaged the public’s trust.

Certainly, for more than a century many effective prosecutors served under this system, but the practical downside was stretches of inefficiency during a political turnover while largely young and inexperienced hires learned the ropes. The terms of these attorneys were usually limited to two or three years. Consequently, a multi-year investigation of a complex federal crime was extremely unlikely, and the great majority of cases involved reactive offenses. The de-politicization of the hiring process not only provided continuity for investigations and prosecutions, but ushered in an era of career prosecutors who developed the expertise to handle increasingly complex cases.

No one expected that this change would affect the selection of United States Attorneys. The Constitution and federal statutes make clear that they are appointed and serve at the pleasure of the President. Still, some recent Presidents have left in place exceptional United States Attorneys appointed by the previous administration. Moreover, the involvement of special search committees has increasingly emphasized experience and competence as important factors in the process.

Even before this week’s report, the Justice Department’s practices were highly suspect. This past July we learned that, contrary to federal law and Justice Department policy, politics had been a primary influence in the hiring of many career prosecutors and immigration judges. An Inspector General’s report found that The Department’s White House liaison officer Monica Goodling used politically based evaluations of the applicants’ Republican and conservative credentials and loyalty to make hiring decisions. Although Ms. Goodling worked out of his office, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez was strangely detached from this activity.

This week’s Inspector General’s report extends this partisan meddling from employment matters to policy and prosecution decisions. Midterm loyalty tests by the political operators of the White House have severely damaged the integrity and credibility of the Justice Department. Their disingenuous explanations and the Attorney General’s seemingly conscious avoidance of the truth has only served to further tarnish the Department’s reputation.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey has an opportunity to blunt some of these perceptions and reverse, at least to some extent, the ugly trend toward a return to a politicized Justice Department. The appointment of the well respected federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy to continue the Inspector General’s investigation is a step in the right direction. The Attorney General’s insistence that she have the authority to compel production of White House documents and to subpoena administration officials such as Karl Rove will be critical to this objective.

Whether Attorney General Mukasey fully supports the investigation will go a long way in determining the current credibility of the inspiring words carved on the Justice Department Building that we enjoy a government of laws and not of men:

No Free Government Can Survive that is not

Based on the Supremacy of the Law.

Where Law Ends, Tyranny Begins.

Law Alone Can Give us Freedom.

ICE Detaining Illegals Too Long In Virginia

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is detaining illegal immigrants in Virginia far too long because, as a judge says, “the system is broken.”

By Nick Miroff and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
WASHINGTON –– Illegal immigrants detained as part of the stepped-up enforcement effort in Virginia stay in the country far longer than they should because of a detention and deportation system beset by waste and dysfunction, according to lawyers, detainee accounts and observations of courtroom proceedings.
Detainees are often held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for weeks, if not months, after they have consented to deportation. Federal officials regularly misplace files or fail to bring detainees to court hearings, resulting in needless additional jail time at taxpayer expense.
In some cases, detainees are transported round trip between Arlington County and jails in central Virginia to appear for a few minutes before an immigration judge via videoconference, even though the immigration court is just down the street in Arlington.
For Full Story

Indicted New Orleans Congressman Wins Primary

There’s something to be said for loyalty. Despite his pending indictment on federal public corruption charges,  Rep. William J. Jefferson managed to muster up enough votes Saturday to come in first in the primary. He now faces a runoff in the  November general election. The FBI raided his homes in New Orleans and D.C.  on Aug. 3, 2005. In 2006, he won re-election and several months later he was indicted. He has yet to go to trial.

Rep. Jefferson/official photo

Rep. Jefferson/official photo

By Kevin McGill
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — U.S. Rep. William Jefferson overcame the stigma of a federal bribery indictment in Louisiana’s Democratic primary on Saturday, garnering enough votes in his New Orleans-based congressional district to secure a spot in a Nov. 4 runoff.
Jefferson, seeking his 10th term in Congress, faces a December trial on charges that he took bribes, laundered money and misused his congressional office for business dealings in Africa.
With about 72 percent of the vote counted, Jefferson was leading with 25 percent of the vote and appeared headed toward a runoff, most likely with former broadcaster Helena Moreno.
Jefferson sounded confident as he addressed a few dozen family members and supporters at a restaurant in eastern New Orleans. “We look forward to a rigorous campaign but a successful outcome,” Jefferson said.
For Full Story

Updated Election Story (New Orleans Times-Picayune)

The Politics Of A Unique Contest (New Orleans Times-Picayune)

Bolivia Prez Implies DEA Is Spying On His Nation

Bolivia President Evo Morales turned up the rhetoric Saturday, telling the DEA that it not only doesn’t need its help fighting drugs but suspects its involved in spying.

By Dan Keane
Associated Press Writer
LA PAZ, Bolivia –President Evo Morales said Saturday that Bolivia does not need U.S. help to control its coca crop, stepping up his anti-Washington rhetoric days after rejecting an American request to fly an anti-drug plane over the South American nation’s territory.
Morales also compared U.S. counter-drug efforts in the country, including Drug Enforcement Administration flights, to espionage.
“It’s important that the international community knows that here, we don’t need control of the United States on coca cultivation,” the president told a gathering of coca farmers. “We can control ourselves internally. We don’t need any spying from anybody.”
U.S. Embassy spokesman Eric Watnik said the DEA makes periodic requests to fly a plane transporting U.S. and Bolivian anti-narcotics personnel around the country. The aircraft is not used for surveillance, he said.
For Full Story

FBI Testing Atty-Client Privilege In Maryland Probe

The FBI is stepping into some unchartered territory in the probe into a state senator. Attorneys are up in arms over what the FBI is seeking.

Sen. Ulysses Currie/senate photo

Sen. Ulysses Currie/senate photo

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
As part of an ongoing probe of Sen. Ulysses Currie, federal prosecutors are seeking to force the lawyer who gives ethics advice to the Maryland General Assembly to testify before a grand jury, a move that state lawyers have vigorously resisted as a breach of attorney-client privilege.
A subpoena served on William G. Somerville, the legislature’s ethics counsel, sought testimony and “any and all” documents related to paid consulting work performed for a grocery chain by Currie, a powerful Prince George’s County Democrat.
Somerville’s job, which the legislature created as part of a 1999 ethics reform package, requires him to provide private counsel to legislators on potential conflicts of interest arising from their outside business dealings. The position is considered unique among state legislatures.
Currie’s work for Shoppers Food and Pharmacy, which was not disclosed in ethics filings, is the focus on an investigation that became public in May when FBI agents raided Currie’s home and the company’s Lanham headquarters.
In a letter to federal prosecutors, state lawyers representing Somerville wrote in July that he declined to testify because his conversations with Currie, the chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, are considered privileged under Maryland law.
For Full Story

Bet On It: Mob Museum Will Open in Las Vegas

Las Vegas has a museum you can’t refuse. Even the FBI is backing it.

Al Capone/fbi photo

Al Capone/fbi photo


By Oskar Garcia
Associated Press
LAS VEGAS--The Las Vegas City Council unveiled the name of its planned mob museum this week, along with logos resembling court documents with material blacked out – The (redacted) Museum: The Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement.
The first redaction obscures the word “mob.”
Mayor Oscar Goodman, a former criminal defense lawyer who represented organized crime figures before representing voters in City Hall, has pushed for the museum since 2002. It is expected to open in spring 2010 in downtown Las Vegas, at the site of a former federal courthouse where Goodman tried his first case.
As city officials unveiled the plans, council members tossed around T-shirts that said: “There is no such thing as a mob museum nor have I ever been there.”
Plans for the museum are supported by the FBI, which has pledged to locate organized crime artifacts in Washington and lend them for displays. The former head of the Las Vegas FBI office, Ellen Knowlton, is chairwoman of the museum’s board.
For Full Story