The lead prosecutor in the government’s botched case against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens has resurfaced in a controversial federal corruption investigation in the Middle District of Alabama.
Brenda Morris, a veteran trial lawyer in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, was among a group of federal law enforcement officials who met with Alabama legislators on April 1 to inform them of the probe, which is related to a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would legalize electronic bingo.
The investigation has inflamed tensions between state Democrats and Republican-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, who prosecuted former Gov. Don Siegelman (D) and whose husband has close ties to Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who strongly opposes the amendment. Canary’s office and the Public Integrity Section are jointly investigating bingo proponents’ quest for votes in support of the bill, which the state Senate passed on March 30.
The state House of Representatives has yet to vote. Alabama Democrats sent a letter to Lanny Breuer, the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, charging that the “unprecedented” disclosure of the investigation was meant to have a “chilling effect” on state legislators who otherwise might have voted for the legislation.
Lobbyist Jarrod Massey, who represented a bingo casino owner, alleged in a letter to the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility that he was harassed by federal agents, and Massey requested that Canary’s office be barred from participating in the investigation because of her husband’s political ties to Riley.
At the April 2 meeting in which the probe was disclosed, Morris and Peter Ainsworth, senior deputy chief in the Public Integrity Section, represented the Criminal Division. Canary’s Criminal Chief, Louis Franklin, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Feaga were also present, according to an April 2 letter from C.E. Higginbotham, FBI supervisory senior resident agent, to the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
FBI Special Agent Angela Tobon in Mobile told The Birmingham News last week that the Public Integrity Section was leading the investigation.
The letter is the first sign that Morris has continued investigating corruption since April 2009, when a federal judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether she and five other Justice Department lawyers violated criminal contempt statutes in their handling of evidence in the Stevens case. (That probe, as well as a separate investigation by OPR, has nearly run its course, as Main Justice reported here Friday.)
Morris was principal deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section until September, when she moved to Atlanta for personal reasons. She remains an employee of the Criminal Division — her title is senior litigation counsel — but is based in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia.