The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Republican member is questioning why the Justice Department decided not to prosecute an Assistant U.S. Attorney after investigators found child pornography on the attorney’s work computer.
In a press release issued by his office Thursday, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa expressed concern over the decision to drop the case, even after the DOJ’s Inspector General found at least one image of child pornography and the attorney acknowledged spending a “significant amount of time” viewing adult content during work.
Grassley sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder questioning the decision not to prosecute and asked him to provide information on the types of cases the attorney handled.
“This report contained what appears to be an inexcusable mishandling of serious allegations against an Assistant United States Attorney which calls into question the DOJ’s internal controls and prosecutorial discretion,” Grassley wrote.
The OIG investigation of the attorney lasted from October 2010 to March 2011, and the office released its report two months later.
The attorney remained employed by the government for at least two months after the OIG investigation concluded, according to the release.
“This is simply unacceptable and compounds the questions raised by the fact that this AUSA was found to have ‘at least one image of child pornography’ on his government computer and yet he was not charged with a crime,” Grassley said, quoting the OIG report.
He has also asked the department to detail what steps it has taken to update its computers and keep pornography off limits.
Furious over the acquittal of Casey Anthony on murder charges, some people have started a petition drive to have her charged with federal civil rights violations in connection with the death of her daughter, Caylee, an effort that one legal analyst deemed certain to fail.
“Casey Anthony violated her daughters (sic) basic civil right to emergency services and life saving techniques,” one petition reads in part. Meanwhile, the defendant was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday and fined $1,000 for each of four counts of lying to investigators, The New York Times reported.
But Anne Bremner, a Seattle lawyer and frequent analyst for media organizations, said civil rights charges are impossible in this case. “You can only violate someone’s civil rights if you’re acting on behalf of the government,” Bremner explained in an interview with The Huffington Post. “The violation would have to have been committed by law enforcement, the state or some other government agency.”
Since she has been jailed for nearly three years while awaiting trial, Anthony may be released soon, given time off for good behavior. Indeed, the Associated Press reported that she is to be released on Wednesday.
The verdict has stunned and infuriated many people in central Florida, as The Orlando Sentinel reported. They cannot accept the defense’s story that Casey Anthony, a single mother, panicked after her daughter drowned in the family swimming, and that she and her father then decided to put the body in a patch of woods to make the death look like a murder committed by someone else.
Those angered by the verdict are apparently unwilling to accept remarks by lawyers and others who followed the trial that an acquittal does not necessarily mean that jurors found Anthony “innocent,” but rather may mean that prosecutors did not prove her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, as a report in The Times, which credited ABC News, made clear.
“At least one juror, Jennifer Ford, a 32-year-old nursing student, has said that while the panel was not convinced that Ms. Anthony was innocent, there simply was not enough evidence to convict her. ‘I did not say she was innocent,’ Ms. Ford told ABC News. ‘I just said there was not enough evidence. If you cannot prove what the crime was, you cannot determine what the punishment should be.’”
The acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has not become a maverick who has struck out on his own to defend himself against allegations concerning a bungled gun smuggling operations, his personal attorney said Thursday.
Richard Cullen of McGuireWoods LLP says too much has been made out of Kenneth Melson’s decision to be interviewed by congressional investigators earlier this week concerning the controversial ATF gun smuggling operation called “Fast and Furious.”
In an interview with Main Justice Thursday, Cullen said Melson’s interview with investigators for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 4 focused only on telling ATF’s side of the story and that everything was done according to department rules.
“What drove the interview was that Mr. Melson wanted very strongly to be able to represent ATF and tell ATF’s story to the congressional committees as soon as possible,” Cullen said.
Cullen came with Melson to the interview, led by Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). In it, Melson admitted that ATF had made mistakes with the operation and told investigators that DOJ higher-ups had known about them in April of this year, as well as broad communications bungles by several agencies regarding Fast and Furious, according to a letter written by Issa and Grassley.
Cullen said Melson never indicated higher-ups knew about the operation before April.
Melson came under sharp criticism last month – including comments made by Issa that he should step down – for the ATF’s role in Fast and Furious, which allegedly approved the sale of firearms to straw purchasers and allowed them to be trafficked to Mexico.
The Wall Street Journal even reported in June that the Justice Department was taking steps to oust Melson amid the growing scandal, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter.
Melson’s potential replacement, Andrew Traver, who was nominated to head ATF by President Barack Obama last year, met with Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole soon after the reports began.
But Cullen rejected any apparent rift between Melson and the department.
“I don’t think this is a question of breaking away at all,” he said. “The committee … asked him to come in, and it was totally proper procedure under the department’s own rules.”
Cullen said that congressional Republicans and the DOJ have made too much out of Melson’s decision to appear before investigators with personal counsel rather than DOJ lawyers, and that both sides had blown the decision out of proportion in a series of letters sent earlier this week. Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich even questioned in a letter why Issa and Grassley had failed to mention a three-hour interview that was not transcribed as part of the formal testimony.
But Cullen said that time was “more of a meeting than a deposition,” used to brief congressional staffers about the nature of Melson’s testimony before he gave it.
“I don’t think it would have changed one bit whether I was there or whether a DOJ lawyer was,” Cullen said. “That speculation is really not on target.”
Employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission are under investigation for doctoring a lease agreement and now the case has been referred to the Justice Department.
On Wednesday, Reuters reports, SEC Inspector General David Kotz told the House Transportation and Infrastructure public building subcommittee that he has asked the DOJ to investigate whether employees changed the date on the agreement to make it appear as if they were more in compliance with agency standards.
In preparation for enforcing the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law, the SEC entered into an agreement to lease new office space for its expanded duties and made a 10-year, $556.8 million deal. But when the agency realized that they might not get as much funding for the bill as they had originally thought, they tried to cancel the deal and the office space’s owner demanded $94 million in damages for the SEC’s reversal.
Kotz believes agency officials violated rules that require more careful preparation for leasing. A document that justifies the attempted lease is dated several days after the lease was made, but he told Congress that he believes that date has been altered and was originally a month later.
“We will follow up with the Department of Justice as they see fit with respect to any criminal liability,” Kotz said, Reuters reported.
A DOJ spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter.
Pressed by subcommittee chairman Rep. Jeff Dunham (R-Calif.) SEC Chairman Mary Shapiro also testified on Wednesday and said that she is ultimately responsible for the agency’s action and that she is trying to lessen reduce the costs of the aborted deal. She added that the SEC plans to give the General Services Administration responsibility for its leasing activities, according to Reuters.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. has admitted it took part in bid-rigging in connection with municipal bond sales and has agreed to pay $228 million to federal and state agencies for its wrongdoing, the Department of Justice announced on Thursday.
JP Morgan acknowledged that “from 2001 through 2006, certain former JPMorgan employees at its municipal derivatives desk entered into unlawful agreements to manipulate the bidding process and rig bids on municipal investment and related contracts,” the DOJ said in its announcement.
“By entering into illegal agreements to rig bids on certain investment contracts, JPMorgan and its former executives deprived municipalities of the competitive process to which they were entitled,” said Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney, in charge of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division.
JPMorgan reached agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve Board and 25 state attorneys general requiring the payment of penalties, disgorgement of profits from the illegal conduct and payment of restitution “as well as other remedial measures,” the DOJ said.
In a companion announcement, the SEC said JPMorgan’s securities division “won bids by entering into secret arrangements with bidding agents to get an illegal ‘last look’ at competitors’ bids,” according to Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “Municipal issuers and investors didn’t stand a chance against the fraudulent strategies JPMS and others used to guarantee profits.”
Somewhat oddly, in view of the DOJ’s statement, the SEC said that JPMorgan’s securities division was neither admitting nor denying the allegations contained in the SEC complaint. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for New Jersey, alleges that over an eight-year period at least 93 transactions involving sales of more than $14 billion were rigged, “generating millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains.”
The SEC action also issued an administrative order barring James L. Hertz, a former vice president of JPMorgan’s securities unit, from working in the securities business, based on his guilty plea last year to conspiracy and wire fraud related to the bidding process.
A former high-ranking Justice Department official was disbarred Wednesday for his role in the scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the Blog of the Legal Times reported.
The official, Robert Coughlin II, served as Deputy Chief of Staff to former Criminal Division chief Alice Fisher along with his various other positions in his six-year DOJ career. While he was working in the department’s Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison, Coughlin accepted about $5,000 worth of gifts from lobbyist and longtime friend Kevin Ring, who worked for Abramoff. Both Abramoff and Ring were convicted of corruption charges and in 2009, Coughlin was sentenced to thirty days in a half-way house on a felony conflict of interest charge.
Couglin agreed to be disbarred.
Legal Times reports that Coughlin, who has been under interim suspension of his legal license since June of 2008, was disbarred by the D.C. Court of Appeals.
When he was sentenced in 2009, Coughlin said he took and full responsibility for his actions.
“I love the department. I love everything it stands for. I loved working there,” Coughlin told U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle at his sentencing.
Indeed, despite his misdeeds, Coughlin has received the praise and support of former top DOJ officials, even after his crimes were known.
A security company that submitted false claims for its work guarding the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, while company employees cavorted in brothels is paying $7.5 million to the United States to resolve claims under the False Claims Act, the Department of Justice announced on Thursday.
The settlement with Armor Group North America Inc. and its affiliates resolves U.S. claims that in 2007 and 2008 AGNA guards violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act by visiting brothels in Kabul, and that AGNA’s management knew about the guards’ activities.
“The settlement also resolves allegations that AGNA misrepresented the prior work experience of 38 third country national guards it had hired to guard the Embassy, and that AGNA failed to comply with certain Foreign Ownership, Control and Influence mitigation requirements on the embassy contract, and on a separate contract to provide guard services at a Naval Support Facility in Bahrain,” the DOJ said in its announcement.
James Gordon, a former director of operations with AGNA, will receive $1.35 million of the proceeds under the whistleblower lawsuit that he filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the DOJ said.
“These contracts are put in place to provide essential support to personnel who are serving in our missions overseas,” said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will actively pursue its legal remedies where contractors falsely claim taxpayer dollars for services that fall short of material requirements in their government contracts.”
“Americans deserve to know that their tax dollars are being spent wisely and consistent with our values,” said the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald C. Machen Jr. “With this settlement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has now recovered more than $140 million in False Claims Act cases so far this year.”
The Justice Department has denied scathing accusations from two key Republicans that it planned to let the acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Kenneth Melson take the fall for a controversial ATF probe.
In a letter sent to Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa of California and Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich rejected charges that the department had deliberately obstructed a congressional investigation led by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into the ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious.
“We reject entirely any suggestion that our extraordinary efforts have been designed to limit – rather than facilitate – the Committee’s access to information,” he wrote.
Issa and Grassley made their accusations in a letter sent July 5 to Attorney General Eric Holder.
In it, they provided their interpretation of an interview with Melson on July 4 that revealed broad communications blunders among multiple agencies and accused Justice Department officials of setting Melson up as a “fall guy” for Fast and Furious, which allegedly allowed firearms to be sold to straw purchasers in Arizona and trafficked into Mexico.
For support, Issa and Grassley wrote that the department had failed to tell Melson he could appear before congressional investigators with his personal lawyer, rather than with DOJ counsel. But Weich said he found it hard to believe Melson was unaware of that option after serving as a long-time Assistant U.S. Attorney and watching several lower-level ATF agents ask for representation.
In addition to a transcribed interview, Melson also provided the committee a three-hour interview that was not transcribed, and which department officials only learned about when Melson notified them after-the-fact, Weich wrote.
Weich wrote he was particularly puzzled by the criticism after Issa said at a hearing on June 15 that the department had helped his committee make a “breakthrough” on the case by producing information.
“Yet, just a few weeks later and notwithstanding the Department’s continued production of documents, that ‘breakthrough’ has been re-characterized as an effort to prevent the Committee from receiving the information it requested,” he wrote.
Weich also pointed to the department’s willingness to voluntarily provide witnesses for the committee, saving the it from issuing subpoenas.
In an effort to protect ongoing criminal cases surrounding the shooting of Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry, which has been linked to the ATF operation, Weich wrote that the department has been reviewing hundreds of thousands of documents and produced more than 2,000 pages to the committee – a fact Issa and Grassley seem to have ignored in their July 5 letter, he wrote.
“Unfortunately, your letter completely ignores the department’s equities on that issue,” Weich wrote.
A Mexican national convicted of killing a U.S. Border Patrol agent was sentenced to life in prison last week, despite the defendant’s claims that his confession was coerced by Mexican law enforcement.
The Associated Press reports that in January of 2008 in California’s Imperial Sand Dunes, Border Patrol agent Luis Aguilar, 32, was attempting to stop a fleeing Hummer filled with drugs by laying spike traps for it when the vehicle ran into him and killed him. The driver of the vehicle escaped. Several days later, however, Mexican police arrested Jesus Navarro and interrogated him about the killing.
He signed a detailed confession, admitting that he had driven the car that killed the agent. After some miscommunication between Mexican and U.S. authorities, Navarro was finally extradited in 2010 and put on trial in San Diego. The jury found Navarro guilty after two hours of deliberation.
U.S Attorney for the Southern District of California Laura Duffy said she was “very gratified” by the life sentence.
Navarro maintains that he is innocent of the crime. He was stopped in 2007 with a truck filled with 980 pounds of marijuana but managed to escape in a Border Patrol vehicle. After that failed effort, Navarro claims he was banned from the drug smuggling organization and stopped running drugs across the border. He says he only confessed to the killing of Aguilar after Mexican police beat and threatened him.
Still, witnesses who were trafficking co-conspirators at the trial testified to Navarro’s continued smuggling involvement and eyewitnesses said he was the man driving the Hummer that struck Aguilar.
The AP reports that 23 Border Patrol agents have been killed in the line of duty since 1990. In May, two agents were killed when their car was struck by a train as they were pursuing marijuana smugglers. The 2010 killing of agent Brian Terry, whose attacker used a gun the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had allowed to be trafficked across the Mexican border, is at the center of the Fast and Furious scandal.