New Orleans U.S. Attorney Jim Letten on Monday ended a three-day silence over allegations his No. 2 is also involved in an online commenting scandal that has already forced one longtime federal prosecutor to resign. But details were sparse, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.
“Do not construe my delay in making a public statement about this matter to be silence,” the U.S. Attorney said. “as in all important matters like this, I am being deliberate and I am acting consistent with our internal protocols before making any statements to the public. As soon as the appropriate time arrives, I will make a statement on this.”
Letten did not say whether he has determined if First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann was behind online persona “eweman,” which posted a number of disparaging online comments on Nola.com from November 2011 to March. Many of the posts targeted defendants and attorneys in federal criminal cases. The owner of River Birch Landfill, Fred Heebe, filed the against Mann on Friday in New Orleans federal civil court. The landfill and its owners are the targets of a long-running federal probe headed by the New Orleans U.S. Attorney’s office.
Letten said Mann is still with the office.
“Oh, definitely she is. She is. Other than that, I’m not at liberty to say anything,” he told the New Orleans newspaper.
Heebe filed a similar lawsuit in March, which unmasked Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone as the author behind the moniker Henry L. Mencken1951, posting countless comments on Nola.com about federal cases. He took aim at a number of law enforcement officials in the New Orleans area, including his own boss, Letten.
The Times-Picayune gave the following timeline of Letten’s handling of the Perricone matter, suggesting he doesn’t move precipitously:
- Perricone confessed to Letten on March 13 after the media began to report that he was behind the “Mencken” online persona.
- On March 14, “Mencken” commented, “I’m here. Watching our rights erode.”
- On March 15, Letten held a news conference to announce that “Mencken” was Perricone.
- The same day, Menken sat at the prosecution table across from one of the River Birch defendants.
- On March 20, Perricone formally resigned.
Heebe’s new lawsuit alleges that Perricone and Mann worked in tandem. The suit says that more than 60 percent of comments from “eweman” were posted to stories in which Perricone’s “Henry L. Mencken1951″ also commented. “Eweman” also stopped commenting in March, right around the time Perricone’s online identity was revealed, the suit says.
Allegations initially surfaced that Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Mann, Jan Mann’s husband, helped Perricone with his comments. Letten said Perricone acted alone.
The New Orleans U.S. Attorney’s office has since recused itself from the cases associated with the River Birch landfill probe. Public Integrity Section attorneys from Justice Department headquarters have since taken up the cases.