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Tag: Suicide

Authorities Say Kentucky Census Worker Committed Suicide

Census Bureau logoBy Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — When Kentucky Census Bureau worker William E. Sparkman was found dead in September — with the word “FED” scrawled on his chest — everyone assumed the obvious: He was murdered.

Not so,  state and federal investigators said Tuesday.

The Washington Post reported that authorities believe Sparkman committed suicide. He was found in eastern Kentucky, his hands, feet and mouth loosely bound with duct tape and a rope loosely tied around his neck, the paper reported.

Investigators concluded that he had written “FED” on his chest. People told investigators he was suicidal, the Post reported.

What’s more, shortly before his death, he had taken out two life insurance policies totaling $600,000, which would not pay out for suicide, the Post reported. The money reportedly was to go to his son.

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Nearly 6 Years Later –Fed Prosecutor Jonathan Luna: Murder Victim or Suicide?

Jonathan Luna
Jonathan Luna/fbi photo

By Jeffrey Anderson
For ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — For nearly six years now the death of congenial and free-smiling Baltimore federal prosecutor Jonathan Luna has remained a mystery. Theories still range from suicide, to accident, to murder by an informant, and yes, even by a federal agent, as an author of a book on Luna suggests.

One constant has been the refusal of federal authorities to comment much beyond the pat response, insisting that Luna, who was found face down on Dec. 4, 2003, in a shallow creek in Lancaster County, Pa., with 36 shallow stabs and pricks, is still the subject of an “open investigation.”

A recent letter from the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office has breathed new life into that assertion. Yet it also has added tantalizing detail beyond what the feds will confirm, and raises questions about what is really going on with the so-called Luna investigation.

The letter, written by Lancaster County Assistant District Attorney Susan E. Moyer on May 6, is addressed to William Keisling, author of the conspiracy-minded tome “The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna,” and explains why the office can’t provide Keisling with the Luna autopsy results.

“Conversations with the Chief of the Violent Crimes Unit for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania have revealed that the Luna investigation is an open and ongoing federal criminal investigation in which the leads are continuously being developed and additionally that the Luna case is part of an open federal grand jury investigation.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Webb, the Philadelphia-based chief of the violent crimes unit whom Moyer is referring to, says his office’s policy is to not comment on such matters. And the existence of a federal grand jury investigation is supposed to be secret.

The questions are: Is the Lancaster County D.A.’s office interpreting the conversation with the feds correctly when it says “leads are continuously being developed” in a federal grand jury investigation? And was the U.S. Attorney’s Office really being forthright? Some skeptics wonder.

The Luna case continues to be one of federal law enforcement’s more painful and confounding mysteries. Investigators hate to see cases go unsolved. They doubly hate it when it involves one of their own.

But to add to the confusion, the D.A.’s statement flies in the face of a different reality acknowledged by Luna’s former colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore: Despite a ruling by the Lancaster County Coroner that Luna’s death was a homicide, for years now they say there has been no active federal investigation; and classifying it as “open” amounts to a legal fiction that simply preserves sensitive aspects of the case and respects the memory of Luna and the feelings of his family, particularly the father, Paul Luna, who insists that his son was murdered. He’s not buying the theory the FBI in Baltimore has long subscribed to that Jonathan Luna committed suicide.

“That’s not true,” Luna’s father told the now-defunct Baltimore Examiner eight months ago. “He was killed.”

Furthermore, although there is no consensus – and the evidence defies a conclusive theory – there is a grudging acceptance among those who knew Luna that he most likely killed himself – either intentionally or unintentionally.

“It’s tragic, and sad, and we may never know what really happened, but the reality is there are no credible leads to suggest he was murdered,” says a veteran high-ranking prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore, who says there is no indication that leads are being developed “continuously” or otherwise. “But closing the case would be a slap in the face to his family and to those who feel strongly to the contrary. So the decision, as I understand it, is to leave the case open and do nothing.”

“Like everyone else we all thought it had to be murder at first, but now it appears more likely he committed suicide,” says another top prosecutor in the office, pointing to Luna’s troubled personal and professional life. “He was suspected of theft, he had run up credit card bills, there was some other shady stuff, and eventually even his friends reluctantly concluded it was suicide. Some resist that conclusion, others resist talking openly out of respect for his family, but the reality is the case has been open but inactive for a long time.”

A former federal prosecutor and colleague of Luna who now practices criminal defense law in Baltimore, agrees.

“I’m not sure closure was ever reached, as the investigation was removed from the Baltimore office and transferred to Philadelphia [to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania]. Our understanding was that the investigation stopped short of an official announcement. They can legitimately say it’s open so if new information arises they can look at it. But if it’s true that his death was self-inflicted, then they did not want any more public pronouncements. It’s a law enforcement respect issue at this point.”

The 38-year-old prosecutor, a bootstrap kid from the Bronx, disappeared on the night of December 3, 2003. He had been at the office late in downtown Baltimore, working out a plea agreement in a major heroin trafficking case and was expected to return shortly before midnight to his two-story townhouse on a cul-de-sac in Howard County, outside of Baltimore, where he lived with his wife Angela, a physician, and their two young children.

Instead, authorities believe he drove north on Interstate 95; crossed into Delaware; made a cash withdrawal south of Philadelphia; stopped for gas in King of Prussia, northwest of Philly; continued west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and exited south of Reading about 3:30 a.m., according to a toll ticket. In the morning, an employee of a well-drilling company in Brecknock Township, in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch country, about 100 miles north of Luna’s office, spotted Luna’s 1999 silver Honda Accord in a ditch with the lights on and the engine running.

Luna's car/fbi photo
Luna’s car/fbi photo

The car was smeared with blood and Luna, still in a suit, overcoat and tie, with his electronic security pass around his neck, lay face down in the shallow creek, stabbed and pricked 36 times with a knife.

A murder investigation ensued, yet the evidence failed to lead investigators to a likely suspect in Luna’s late night, three-state odyssey, despite the Lancaster County Coroner’s ruling, which concluded that it was a homicide by multiple traumatic wounds and drowning.

Disparate pieces of a vexing puzzle began to surface, and the investigation bogged down with distractions and red herrings. Incompetence and overzealousness may have played a role. Luna’s reputation was tarnished.

Jayne Miller, chief investigative reporter for WBAL in Baltimore, recalls an early theory was that someone in Luna’s drug case had something to do with his death.

“Those guys aren’t going to go to Amish country,” Miller says. “That theory didn’t go anywhere.”

Meantime, it became apparent that Luna, known as a doting father, whose looks were likened to Tiger Woods, had hit a bumpy patch in his life. His boss, U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio, who Luna disliked and privately criticized, was moving to fire him. (DiBiagio did not return a call and an email seeking comment.)

Luna also was having financial trouble, and may have been a suspect in the disappearance of $36,000 that was evidence in a bank robbery case he had handled. A colleague had taken a polygraph and Luna was scheduled to take one in a few days, but instead he was found dead.

News reports stated that Luna had credit card debt and multiple credit cards, some of which his wife did not know about. He had withdrawn a loan application shortly after the bank robbery money went missing.

Other reports portrayed him as living a secret life, in search of sexual encounters. Luna’s widow Dr. Angela Hopkins-Luna, an obstetrician and gynecologist in suburban Baltimore, declined to comment for this article.

Luna’s zig-zag path up to the final destination in Pennsylvania suggests he did not end up there against his will, says Miller. In other words, if he were being held against his will, the abductor or abductors would have likely taken a more direct route.

“He took a bizarre route,” Miller says of his meandering trip, northeast to Philadelphia, then west to Lancaster County.

In time, when it seemed as if investigators were stumped, the suicide theory seemed to surface.

The theory surfaced in the media after Pennsylvania State Police and the Lancaster County Coroner cleared the crime scene, and the FBI claimed to have found evidence not previously discovered: a penknife that matched Luna’s stab wounds.

That discovery, leaked to the media, tended to fuel speculation that Luna’s wounds may have been self-inflicted, and that either he intended to kill himself and make it look like a homicide, or that he intended to stage a non-fatal attack and inadvertently severed a major artery and bled to death by the side of the road. Missing were any defensive wounds on his arms or hands.

Either way, one theory was that Luna created this bizarre attack to put off the scheduled polygraph test involving the missing $36,000 from the bank robbery case – perhaps with the thought the impending exam would be delayed and perhaps, eventually forgotten.

The theory that Luna’s wounds were self-inflicted had the effect of placing the young prosecutor under the microscope.

At one point, the FBI in Baltimore, which remains the lead investigative agency, suspected Luna of having an affair with one of its agents. No evidence surfaced to suggest there was anything to that. But that hunch resulted in a diversion that created a whole mess unto itself.

The FBI searched the agent’s computer without her consent, violating her privacy and civil rights, and causing a storm. The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General found that the FBI acted inappropriately. U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter, leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sought records in the matter and were rebuffed by the Justice Department. Luna’s death remained a mystery.

Says another veteran federal prosecutor in the Baltimore office: “The FBI screwed up. The Lancaster County Coroner screwed up by missing the penknife. Those factors changed the whole tenor of the investigation. Now the FBI won’t close the case because they don’t want to deal with [public records] requests. It’s an embarrassment to the bureau.”

To get a sense of just how no one really wants to deal with this case, all you have to do is call the Justice Department and the FBI.

“We’re not commenting on the Luna case any longer,” says Richard Wolf, an FBI spokesman in Baltimore. “That’s coming from above.”

He directed questions to the Department of Justice. Ian McCaleb, a spokesman for the Justice Department’s criminal division responded by saying: “I don’t know why you are being directed here,” before referring a call to FBI headquarters in Washington.

At headquarters, FBI spokesman Bill Carter said: “I’d have to defer to the Baltimore field office.”

Interestingly, author William Keisling, the person responsible for the most bizarre theory of Luna’s death is also responsible for the recent assertion that there is a federal grand jury and that leads are being “continuously developed.”

In 2005, Keisling authored “The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna.” The book, based largely on court documents from the drug case Luna was handling, points to a convoluted conspiracy in which an FBI informant was out of control, money from a bank robbery case was missing and Luna posed a threat to someone at the bureau who might have had a motive to kill him.

Keisling doesn’t identify a would-be perpetrator, but he hasn’t given up the ghost, either.

This past April 22, Keisling filed a request with the Lancaster County District Attorney under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law. He sought copies of all autopsies and forensic records related to Luna’s death. Assistant District Attorney Susan Moyer denied the request in writing on May 6, citing an ongoing federal grand jury investigation.

Asked to confirm the source of that information, Moyer says she spoke with the chief of the violent crimes unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, who instructed her not to use his name and to refer to him by his title.

“He didn’t say ‘Use these words,’ but he told me what I could disclose in the letter [to Keisling],” Moyer says. “If it’s in that letter, then it came from that source. I understand that the letter could be interpreted in different ways. Perhaps I could’ve used the word ‘continually,’ as opposed to ‘continuously.’ But it’s a synopsis of my conversation with that source.”

Moyer declined to identify the prosecutor by name; Assistant U.S. Attorney David Webb confirms that he is the chief of the violent crimes unit, but declined to discuss or acknowledge any conversation with Moyer.

Richard Manieri, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Michael L. Levy in Philadelphia offers this much: “It’s still very much an open investigation. If information comes in, it is pursued and followed up.”

Like several people interviewed for this article, TV reporter Jayne Miller says she would not be shocked if it were to be proven that Luna committed suicide – or that he was murdered. Certainly the autopsy would be a key component of any conclusive theory, she says.

And, Miller notes, since the controversy began, Lancaster County has a new coroner. She interviewed him in 2007.

“He told me he saw no reason to reverse the call of the previous coroner,” Miller says. “I asked if it was a homicide or a suicide and he wouldn’t answer the question. But he said the autopsy contains surprises. I came away from that with a different impression of the case,” she says, stopping short of offering her own theory.

An intriguing detail, she adds, is a piece of the puzzle that the FBI aired publicly on March 12, 2004, when the bureau offered a $100,000 reward for information to help solve Luna’s death: Investigators said at the time they had evidence that Luna may have had contact with another person between midnight and the time his body was found. “That’s an interesting loose end,” Miller says.

For now, any hope of seeing the autopsy report has been dashed. On June 29, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records made a Final Determination, in effect denying Keisling’s appeal of the Lancaster County D.A.’s Office’s decision to withhold information.

From all this, one thing is clear: Luna’s former colleagues are not holding their breath waiting for answers. To many of them, a federal grand jury or the assertion that leads are being “continuously developed” are purely abstract notions.

“I didn’t see too many people calling for more investigation,” says the former federal prosecutor in Baltimore now in private practice. “It seemed that red herrings kept popping up. And all of it contributed to some people’s unhappiness. It was tough to see Jonathan dragged through the mud any further.”

As for Luna’s final stop in life, which happened to be rural Pennsylvania, the attorney says:
“There’s a good chance that he wanted to make it ambiguous.”

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft Issues Statement on Dec. 4, 2003 About Luna

A Timeline of Luna’s Final Hours

Former Dep. Atty General Commits Suicide in D.C. Law Office: He Was About to Lose Job

Mark Levy

Mark Levy

This sad story, which happened on Thursday,  seems reminiscent of the Great Depression: Job losses and suicides.

By Del Quentin Wilber and Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writers
WASHINGTON — A 59-year-old lawyer with an Atlanta-based firm who was about to lose his job because of the economy was found dead in his Washington office yesterday of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to police.

Mark I. Levy, a Bethesda resident who was a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration, was discovered by a co-worker about 8 a.m. in his 11th-floor office at Kilpatrick Stockton, in the 600 block of 14th Street NW, police said. They said evidence indicates that Levy shot himself in the head with a .38-caliber handgun.

The firm would not comment on his death beyond issuing a statement calling him a “highly respected” colleague and offering condolences to his family.

Kilpatrick Stockton, which employs scores of people in offices in the United States, Europe and the United Arab Emirates, announced Tuesday that 24 lawyers would be laid off.

For Full Story

Georgia Lawsuit Says Fed Prosecutor Drove Woman To Suicide

For a prosecutor who pressures someone to testify, for a reporter who exposes someone’s wrongdoing, the end results can sometimes be deadly.

By STEVE VISSER
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA — A federal prosecutor drove a woman to suicide by threatening to indict her to get her to incriminate her husband in a massive investigation of a Norcross dietary supplement company, according to a lawsuit.

The Fulton County Superior Court lawsuit filed last week contends Aaron Danzig kept Jessica Holda “in a state of terror and dread.”

Two years ago, Holda took a .40-caliber Ruger pistol and shot herself in the head.

The lawsuit contends she killed herself after Danzig threatened to prosecute her for selling a luxury car that the government had targeted for seizure if she didn’t assist in the federal investigation.

“I hope Aaron Danzig feels some kind of remorse,” Holda wrote in her suicide note. “I blame him for my struggles with wanting to live.”

For Full Story

Man Hanged Self In Va. Jail Hours Before Pleading in Fed Court to Child Porn Charges


Don Douglas was just one of the scores of people nationwide facing child pornography charges. The Internet has opened opportunties never seen before.

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A 40-year-old Springfield man killed himself just hours before he was scheduled to plead guilty in federal court on child pornography charges, sheriff’s officials said today.
Don Douglas was discovered by guards during a routine check Jan. 12. He had hanged himself in the shower and was pronounced dead at Inova Alexandria Hospital after efforts to revive him failed, sheriff’s officials said.
For Full Story

D.C. Man Charged in Historical Minnesota Fire Commits Suicide

A tragedy ends with another tragedy.

By Clarence Williams and Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writers
WASHINGTON –A 64-year-old Northwest Washington man who was charged with causing the largest wildfire in Minnesota in 90 years apparently shot and killed himself yesterday in his back yard.
Stephen G. Posniak, an outdoorsman, retired federal employee and former advisory neighborhood commissioner, died at his home on Windom Place, according to police sources and his lawyer.
The apparent suicide came the day after a federal magistrate judge in Minneapolis denied motions challenging key aspects of the charges filed in the 2007 Ham Lake fire, which burned for days, destroying more than 75,000 acres.
According to the Justice Department, Posniak was charged Oct. 20 in Minneapolis with setting timber afire, leaving a fire unattended and unextinguished, and giving false information to United States Forest Service officers. A trial was to begin next month.
For Full Story

Read Indictment

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