A former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama is the lawyer for a bingo casino owner who is a defendant in a major public corruption case in the state, The Birmingham News reported Tuesday.
G. Douglas Jones, a Bill Clinton U.S. Attorney and partner at Haskell Slaughter Young & Rediker LLC, is representing Ronnie Gilley, who allegedly attempted to bribe state lawmakers to vote yes for a bill that would have let bingo casinos like his stay open. He also was a lawyer for former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D) in his public corruption case.
Jones said Gilley’s indictment and the charges brought against 10 other individuals — including four state lawmakers — in connection with the case are the result of politics.
“The Department of Justice killed the bill back when it was in the legislature,” Jones told the newspaper. “Now 30 days before an election they hustle this indictment up.”
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Criminal Division, who announced the indictments on Monday in D.C., said the upcoming election did not factor into the DOJ’s decisions on the case.
“In a case like this we had to go with where the facts and the law were and we had to make the decision at the appropriate time and that’s 100 percent what dictated the timing on this case irrespective of whether [an] election may or may not occur,” Breuer said, according to The Birmingham News.
Lawyers for a lobbyist who is representing an Alabama casino called on the Justice Department Friday to prohibit Northern District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Leura Canary from handling a probe of a bill currently before the state Assembly that would regulate and tax electronic bingo.
Federal and state law enforcement officials told key Alabama lawmakers Thursday that they have begun a public corruption investigation related to the bingo bill. Canary, a George W. Bush holdover, is married to Bill Canary, who has close ties to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, a vocal opponent of the bill.
“We strongly agree that, if there is any evidence of wrongdoing in regards to SB380, then it must be investigated,” Jarrod Massey’s lawyers wrote in a letter to the DOJ, according to The Birmingham News. “However, the investigation should not be performed under the direction of the current U.S. attorney, with her close political ties to Gov. Bob Riley, but rather by Main Justice in order to remove any hint of political influence.”
A Riley aide told The Associated Press that the governor was not a part of the probe. FBI Special Agent Angela Tobon told The News Thursday that the probe is being handled by the DOJ Public Integrity Section. She declined further comment to the newspaper.
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The Northern District of Alabama will have federal public defenders in the next year and a half, The Birmingham News reported Friday.
The district’s judges announced the creation of a federal public defender’s office this week after they voted unanimously last November to make federal attorneys available for indigent defendants. Currently, indigent defendants receive representation from a 62-lawyer panel chosen by the district’s judges.
The court plans to appoint a public defender, six assistants and other support staff. The proposal must still be approved by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and needs funding from Congress.
“I think the judges in this district have made a very courageous decision in instituting a public defender office,” U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance told the newspaper. “Quite frankly, things were working out well for us. We have a great [Criminal Justice Act] panel and there was not great momentum for change … The court is saying it is committed to the rights of defendants and I think that is a bold thing to do and something everyone should be proud of.”
The Northern District of Alabama, Southern District of Georgia, Eastern District of Kentucky and the Northern Mariana Islands are the only jurisdictions without federal public defenders. There are 94 districts across the country.
John England III has been named the First Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Northern District of Alabama, The Birmingham News reports.
Joyce Vance, who has been the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham since last August, selected England, spokeswoman Peggy Sanford told The Birmingham News. “It is the usual practice that new U.S. attorneys name their own first assistants,” Sanford told the newspaper. “A first assistant is the U.S. Attorney’s alter ego, so it’s important to have someone who is a good fit to the U.S. attorney’s personal style.”
England, who joined the U.S. Attorney’s office in 1999, most recently served as a criminal division deputy chief, according to The News. He also has headed the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force the newspaper reports.
England replaces Jim Phillips, who had been the First Assistant U.S Attorney for two years. Phillips will remain in the office as a deputy chief, overseeing terrorism, child exploitation and cybercrime cases. He will also oversee the office’s asset forfeiture unit, according to the newspaper.
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The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama told members of the U.S. Sentencing Commission that she is concerned about light sentences that the district’s judges are handing down in white-collar cases, The Birmingham News reported.
Joyce Vance said, according to The News, that the district’s judges usually use their discretion in sentencing wisely, but she said that lighter sentences in white-collar cases are “especially troubling.”
Vance, who was sworn in to the job Aug. 27, appeared last Friday in Austin, Texas, at a regional public hearing of the Sentencing Commission. The panel is holding a series of hearings to mark the 25th anniversary of the Sentencing Reform Act, which created the guidelines judges use in crafting sentences. “We have noticed an increasing number of below-guidelines sentences in white-collar cases,” Vance told the commission, according to the Birmingham newspaper.
She added: “A potential white-collar thief could reasonably conclude that fraudulent conduct in the Northern District of Alabama is actually cost-effective.” She said the 2005 Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Booker — which made sentencing guidelines recommended, but not compulsory — might be having unintentional effects by establishing contradictory sentences, according to the newspaper.
Vance, in an interview with The News, cited a order by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals directing the district court for the Northern District of Alabama to re-sentence former HealthSouth executive Ken Livesay in an accounting fraud case. U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre sentenced Livesay to five years’ probation in 2008 after the circuit court overturned two previous sentences of five years’ probation, The News said.
The district judge gave Livesay leeway because of time the former executive served during his original probation sentence, which he received in 2004, according to the newspaper.
“I believe Booker has made sentencing less uniform and thus less predictable for prosecutors and defendants alike,” Vance said in her testimony to the Sentencing Commission, according to The News.
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The Justice Department opposes an appeal from former Alabama Democratic Gov.Don Siegelman for the Supreme Court to reconsider his 2006 conviction on corruption charges, the Associated Press reported yesterday.
Siegelman, who is out on bond pending his appeal, is asking the Supreme Court to review an earlier decision by a federal court in Alabama that let most of his conviction stand. Siegelman, who served as governor from 1999-2003, was sentenced in 2006 to seven years in a federal prison on bribery and mail fraud charges brought by Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Leura Canary. Canary still serves in that post, as a holdover from the Bush administration, while the Obama administration works on getting its own nominee in place. Her then-counterpart in the Northern District of Alabama, Bush U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, also pursued charges against Siegelman, but was unsuccessful.
Members of Congress and 44 former state attorneys general have questioned the conviction, which many critics have claimed was the politically motivated work of then-Bush aide Karl Rove and other Republican officials. We reported last month that the Justice Department Office of Special Counsel found no evidence to support a whistleblower’s claims that the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Middle District of Alabama acted inappropriately in the prosecution of the former governor and his co-defendant, former HealthSouth Corp. CEO Richard Scrushy, who is serving a sentence of almost seven years arising from the 2006 conviction.
Siegelman and Scrushy have maintained their innocence. Their attorneys have argued that donations the health care business executive made to the then-governor’s lottery fund and Scrushy’s later appointment to the Alabama health board wasn’t criminal, just ordinary politics.
DOJ recommended that the Supreme Court not hear the appeal, court papers filed Friday night said, according to the AP.
“Under a standard that requires not just a quid pro quo, but one that is verbally spelled out with all ‘i’s dotted and ‘t’s crossed, all but the most careless public officials will be able to avoid criminal liability for exchanging official action for campaign contributions,” the DOJ argued, according to the AP.
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Attorneys General rarely venture out of Washington to attend swearing-in ceremonies for new U.S. Attorneys, according to former Justice Department officials. But Eric Holder has done so three times — deploying the power of his office to anoint rising stars or draw subtle contrasts with the Bush administration.
So far this year, Holder has attended the ceremonial investitures for U.S. Attorneys Joyce Vance in the Northern District of Alabama, B. Todd Jones in Minnesota and Preet Bharara in the Southern District of New York. Both Vance and Jones run offices that were in turmoil during the Bush administration, and Holder — who has said he wants to restore professionalism to the Justice Department — emphasized the department’s new direction by attending the ceremonies.
At the same time, Jones is also an old friend of Holder, while Vance is a respected veteran who is considered an up-and-comer in the department.
And in Manhattan, Bharara heads the largest and most prestigious U.S. Attorney office outside Washington, which prosecutes high-profile financial fraud and national security cases. Bharara is also close to an important Democratic ally on the Hill, Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Bharara was Schumer’s chief counsel before he was confirmed as U.S. Attorney.
Holder’s visits show his willingness to deploy the authority of his office for public relations purposes and to build internal morale. But it remains fairly unusual for an Attorney General to attend swearing-in ceremonies, according to ex-U.S. Attorneys.
The Justice Department doesn’t keep formal count, according to a DOJ spokesperson. It’s unclear how many — if any — ceremonies President George W. Bush’s first AG John Ashcroft attended. Ashcroft told Main Justice in that he couldn’t recall. Also, many of the federal prosecutors who were sworn in under Ashcroft arrived not long after the 9/11 terrorist attacks — not a time for pomp and circumstance. Still, Bush’s first AG commended Holder for attending investitures.
“The more you attend, the better,” Ashcroft said, adding that during his four years of service, he eventually visited about half of the U.S. Attorneys offices.
Ron Woods, National Association of Former U.S. Attorneys executive director, told Main Justice that Attorneys General have attended investitures for the District of Columbia U.S. Attorney in the past. But he said their appearances at swearing-in ceremonies outside of Washington are “fairly rare.”
“Our members recall the Attorney General making office visits during their term, but not individual investitures,” said Woods, who served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas from 1990 to 1993. “Keep in mind that there are 93 U. S. Attorneys and most of the investitures will occur within a few months of each other. That would be a significant commitment of time and travel by the Attorney General.”
Holder developed close relationships with the federal prosecutorial community while serving President Bill Clinton as District of Columbia U.S. Attorney and later as Deputy Attorney General, former prosecutors interviewed by Main Justice said. Only three of the last 10 Attorneys General worked as federal prosecutors before becoming the nation’s top cop.
One of the prosecutors Holder got to know was Jones, who was the Minnesota U.S. Attorney during the Clinton administration. Shortly after Jones returned as U.S. Attorney in August, Holder named him chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, an influential policy-making and advisory body that serves as the voice of the U.S. Attorneys in Washington.
But an Attorney General does not show up to an investiture just to say hello to an old friend, according to former DOJ officials. The nation’s top federal prosecutor also attends swearing-in ceremonies for political and public relations reasons.
An official trip to a U.S. Attorney’s office by an Attorney General for an investiture or another event will often attract the media, which will draw attention to the office. It is also an opportunity to energize prosecutors in the field. ”When the Attorney General shows up, it shows the importance of the work being done,” Ashcroft told Main Justice.
A Justice Department spokesperson told Main Justice in August that Holder’s first trip to a U.S. Attorney investiture was part of ongoing effort by the Attorney General to reach out to the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices.
“The Attorney General is making it a priority to visit U.S. Attorneys’ offices around the country to personally meet with prosecutors and other staff to hear firsthand about the cases they’re working on, the issues they face, and ways in which he can help them do their jobs,” spokesperson Hannah August said this summer. “The visit to the Northern District of Alabama was made to coincide with U.S. Attorney Vance’s swearing-in.”
Regardless of the Attorney’s General reasons behind a trip to a U.S. Attorney’s office, former prosecutors told Main Justice that a visit by the nation’s top federal prosecutor has a major impact on the office. ”It is very meaningful when the Attorney General visits,” said John Richter, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma from 2005 to 2009.
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Attorney General Eric Holder’s trip to Birmingham, Ala., last month for the swearing-in of Northern District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance was freighted with symbolism.
Vance was taking over an office that had been in some turmoil during the tenure of her predecessor, Alice Martin, who’d been accused by Democrats of pursuing politically motivated prosecutions. (Martin has denied the allegations). Holder’s presence at Vance’s investiture was seen as a quiet rebuke of the Martin era.
Moreover, Birmingham was the scene of important civil rights battles in the 1960s. And Holder, the first African-American to lead the Justice Department, has made enforcement of anti-discrimination laws against minorities a priority, after it was downplayed during the Bush administration. Vance is the daughter-in-law of an appellate judge who was killed by a nail bomb mailed to his home by a man who’d also targeted the NAACP.
So, maybe it’s a little snarky to ask … you know … how much it all cost. Fortunately, The Birmingham News did the deed for us. In a blog item posted earlier today, The News revealed the taxpayer’s tab for Holder’s Aug. 27 trip was $17,038.
Holder was in Birmingham from 10:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., The News reported. He flew on a government airplane and was accompanied by his counselor, Monty Wilkinson, and a press aide, Hannah August. An advance man, Vin Fazio, flew commercial.
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The office of Northern District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance rejected allegations that some of its prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory information about a government contractor, according to a motion filed today.
The U.S. Attorney’s office urged the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama to deny a motion for criminal sanctions against former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and government employees involved with the investigation and prosecution of Defense Department contractor Alex Latifi.
Lawyers for Latifi said Martin and two Assistant U.S. Attorneys should be held in contempt of court for allegedly violating their Brady obligations by withholding information from the defense. Read our previous report about the defense team’s motion here.
“[The defense team's] accusations are serious because the penalties for criminal contempt— fines, imprisonment, or both — are serious,” Vance wrote in a court filing today. “But those penalties are not warranted just because [they] have requested them.”
Latifi, CEO of military parts manufacturer Axion Corp., was acquitted in October 2007 of charges he violated the Arms Export Control Act. Prosecutors alleged that Latifi falsified a report to the Defense Department and sent a drawing of a Black Hawk helicopter part to China.
The Latifi legal team of Henry Frohsin, James Barger Jr. and J. Elliott Walthall from Frohsin & Barger said they have “explicit, unequivocal evidence” that Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Estes and Angela Debro and Army investigators David Balwinski and Marcus Mills allegedly conspired with trial witness James Oglesby to conceal evidence and defraud the court.
Latifi’s lawyers said a series of e-mails between the prosecution and a lawyer for Oglesby’s employer, metal manufacturer Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, purportedly contradict Oglesby’s testimony and allegedly show a conspiracy by the government. Oglesby was a plant manager for the Tungsten Products unit of Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, which did business with Latifi.
Oglesby’s testimony was central to the false report charge, the defense team said. The e-mails — which include Tungsten Products records previously unknown to the defense — were obtained last month through a related lawsuit.
“The … e-mails demonstrate that the government was well aware of the import of these documents and was desperate to have them explained before the trial,” the defense motion said. “Yet, upon receiving whatever explanation was forthcoming, the Government elected to bury this evidence. Instead, the government called Oglesby not once, but twice, to offer misleading half-truths as well as outright lies.”
Vance wrote in her court filing today that the defense team’s claims were “little more than speculation.” Martin told Main Justice earlier this month that the motion from Latifi’s lawyers was “baseless.”
DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility is already investigating a complaint from Latifi that prosecutors mishandled the case. Vance wrote in the filing that OPR was “an appropriate forum” for reviewing allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.
Some Alabama lawyers have raised questions about whether politics motivated the prosecution against the Iranian-born Latifi, who has donated money to Democrats.
Martin’s critics have accused her of targeting Democrats, including ex-Gov. Don Siegelman (D) in a bid-rigging case. Her office dropped the case after a judge barred crucial evidence. Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, however, later successfully prosecuted Siegelman on corruption charges. The former governor is attempting to appeal his conviction, alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
Martin, who served as Northern District of Alabama U.S. Attorney from 2001 to June 2009, has denied the allegations.
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Northern District of Alabama prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory information about a government contractor who stood trial in 2007 on arms control charges, defense lawyers said in a court filing last week, citing newly disclosed emails.
Lawyers for Alex Latifi wrote in a motion filed Sept. 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama that former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and two Assistant U.S. Attorneys violated their Brady obligations by withholding information from the defense. Latifi was acquitted in October 2007 of charges that he violated the Arms Export Control Act.
Prosecutors alleged that Latifi falsified a report to the Defense Department and sent a drawing of a Black Hawk helicopter part to China. He is CEO of Axion Corp., which manufactured military equipment, including Humvee machine-gun mounts. Axion has struggled to secure contracts since the case was brought.
The defense team of Henry Frohsin, James Barger Jr. and J. Elliott Walthall from Frohsin & Barger said they have “explicit, unequivocal evidence” that Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Estes and Angela Debro and Army investigators David Balwinski and Marcus Mills allegedly conspired with trial witness James Oglesby to conceal evidence and defraud the court.
“All of these individuals sought to present false evidence to the court with the hope of convicting defendants of a crime they knew defendants had not committed,” the defense filing says.
The testimony of Oglesby, a plant manager for the Tungsten Products unit of metal manufacturer Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, was central to the false report charge, the defense team said. Oglesby told the Army investigators that Axion did not receive parts from Tungsten Products until January 2004, and that if Latifi said otherwise he was “lying,” according to court documents.
The defense lawyers said a series of e-mails about the purportedly false report contradict Oglesby’s testimony and allegedly show of a conspiracy by the government. The e-mails were obtained last month through a related lawsuit.
The government did not disclose to the defense that there were Tungsten Products records endorsed by Oglesby that contradicted his testimony, the motion said. The defense said it was not made aware of alleged conversations between Debro and Oglesby about the records before the trial began, according to the motion, which cited emails between the prosecution and a lawyer for Allegheny Technologies Incorporated.
“The … e-mails demonstrate that the government was well aware of the import of these documents and was desperate to have them explained before the trial,” the motion said. “Yet, upon receiving whatever explanation was forthcoming, the Government elected to bury this evidence. Instead, the government called Oglesby not once, but twice, to offer misleading half-truths as well as outright lies.”
Frohsin told Main Justice that the actions allegedly perpetrated by the government in his client’s case “cannot be condoned in our society.”
“We think that the pending charges are extremely serious,” Frohsin said.
Martin’s successor, Joyce Vance, has been ordered by the court to respond to the motion by Sept. 28.
Vance’s office emailed the following statement to Main Justice:
This office recently learned that defense counsel for former defense contractor Alexander Latifi and his company, Axion Corporation, intended to file accusations against former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and two current assistant U.S. attorneys, as well as two U.S. Army criminal investigators and a prosecution witness, U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance said.
Latifi and Axion were indicted and subsequently acquitted in a 2007 trial.
This filing by defense counsel is, of course, an advocate’s point of view, Vance said. The United States will file its response, as ordered by the court, within 14 days, explaining why we disagree with defense counsel’s interpretation of events, she said.
Martin told Main Justice the motion is “baseless” and that she will file a written response with the court. The former U.S. Attorney added in a brief interview that she has no regrets about the case.
The DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility is currently reviewing an earlier complaint from defense lawyers regarding a meeting Martin attended in which AUSA Estes allegedly said: ”We don’t care if Latifi is innocent. Our goal is to put him out of business,” according to an ABA Journal report.
Some Alabama lawyers have raised questions about whether politics motivated the prosecution against Latifi.
The Internal Revenue Service investigated Latifi for a donation he made in 2005 to an an Iranian charity for medical evacuation helicopters. Latifi, a naturalized American citizen who was born in Iran, pledged the money because he had a nephew who was unable to make it to a hospital in time, the ABA Journal reported.
Jerome Gabig, Latifi’s business lawyer, told the ABA Journal in an October 2008 interview that the “check rang warning bells with Dave Estes at exactly the wrong moment.” There were heightened concerns about national security in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Barger also told the ABA Journal last year that the first entry in the lead investigator’s official notebook identified Latifi’s political affiliation and said that he “gave $30,000 to a Democratic politician’s charity for abused children.”
Martin’s critics have accused her of targeting Democrats. Matin, who served as Northern District of Alabama U.S. Attorney from 2001 to June 2009, has denied the allegations.
One controversy involved her attempt to prosecute ex-Gov. Don Siegelman (D) in a bid-rigging case, which her office dropped after a judge barred crucial evidence. Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, however, later successfully prosecuted Siegelman on corruption charges. The former governor is attempting to appeal his conviction, alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
Vance became the interim U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama in June, two months before she was confirmed by the Senate. Martin told Main Justice in June that the Obama administration did not force her out early, and that she recommended Vance to be her successor. Vance was an Assistant U.S. Attorney and head of the appellate section in the Birmingham office.
Attorney General Eric Holder made a special trip to attend Vance’s swearing in ceremony last month and kissed her on the cheek at the event.
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