Posts Tagged ‘Office of Inspector General’
Monday, August 10th, 2009

Former Eastern District of Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan said he is “seriously considering” a run for Congress, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Saturday.

Patrick Meehan (DOJ)

Patrick Meehan (DOJ)

Meehan, a Republican, is eying the House seat being vacated by Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who is mounting a Democratic primary challenge against party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter next year. The Bush-appointed former prosecutor was previously considering a run for Pennsylvania governor in 2010.

Meehan served as the Philadelphia-based Eastern District’s top prosecutor from September 2001 until July 2008, when he resigned to explore a bid for governor. His deputy, Laurie Magid picked up the reins as interim U.S. Attorney. But Magid abruptly resigned in May, a month before her 120-day interim appointment was about to expire.

Laurie Magid (DOJ)

Laurie Magid (DOJ)

Magid reportedly wasn’t going to be reappointed by a district court amid controversy over a Justice Department Office of Inspector General investigation into her fund raising activities for Meehan and a negative DOJ review of her management. She held a $250-a-person fund-raiser earlier this year in her home for Meehan, who was eying the governorship at the time.  Jeff Miller, her husband, technically hosted the event and it was cleared by the Office of Special Counsel in Washington. But 20 prosecutors that Magid supervises were “invited.” Read our previous report here.

Interim U.S. Attorney Michael Levy replaced Magid and made several changes to his office’s leadership in June. Read our previous post here.

A Pennsylvania nominating commission has reached agreement on several U.S. Attorney candidates for Specter and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) to recommend to the White House. But the panel hasn’t divulged names yet. Read our previous report here.

Friday, August 7th, 2009

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) cannot vote on presidential nominations. But Smith is trying to hold up Justice Department Civil Rights Division nominee Thomas Perez until DOJ gives the House member more information about the dismissal of voter-intimidation charges against members of the militant New Black Panthers.

Tom Perez (maryland.gov)

Tom Perez (maryland.gov)

Smith urged the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today to put a hold on Perez. The House Judiciary ranking member said the Justice Department responses to letters he sent on May 28, July 9 and July 17 about the dismissal have been “overly vague, raising concerns about possible political interference in this case.” Read all of the letters from Smith and DOJ here.

Lamar Smith (Gov)

Lamar Smith (Gov)

Smith and other House Republicans have alleged for months that politics played a role in the case dismissal. The Washington Times reported last month that Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli, a political appointee, approved a recommendation by Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King to drop voter intimidation charges against members of the militant New Black Panthers.

But King, who’s been acting head of the division since January, told Perrelli she had “concerns” about the case during a regular review meeting, The Times reported. King recommended some of the charges be dismissed, and Perrelli agreed. Read our previous report about The Times article here.

The Justice Department has denied the accusations made by Smith. DOJ spokesperson Tracy Schmaler told Main Justice today “top career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division” made the decision that some of the charges be dismissed.

In a four-page letter sent July 13, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said DOJ officials will meet with Smith to further discuss the matter and he explained how DOJ handled each of the New Black Panthers members listed in the initial DOJ complaint.

King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson (Getty Images)

King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson (Getty Images)

The complaint said Malik Zulu Shabazz, Minister King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson brandished weapons and used “coercion, threats and intimidation” to harass voters, both black and white, at a Philadelphia polling place last Nov. 4. The defendants wore “military-style uniforms” including black berets and combat boots, the complaint said.

The Justice Department essentially won the case when the defendants failed to contest it. But DOJ decided to file for dismissal of the case instead of getting a default judgment. The dismissal did not extend to one defendant, King Samir Shabazz. Read the DOJ’s filing here. Read our original report on the “controversy” here.

“We assure you that the Department is committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of both the civil and criminal provisions of federal law that prohibit voter intimidation,” Weich said in the letter. “We continue to work with voters, communities, and local law enforcement to ensure that every American can vote free from intimidation, coercion or threats.”

Smith also requested in the July 9 letter that the DOJ Office of Inspector General investigate the matter. Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote in a July 21 letter that he forwarded Smith’s request to the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility. Fine said OPR — not OIG — was the appropriate office to handle Smith’s request.

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have not jumped on the dismissal like Smith has, but they have not been too keen on Perez.

Perez was reported out of committee June 4 by a 17-2 vote. Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) were the only senators to oppose the Civil Rights Division nominee in committee.

Jeff Sessions (Getty Images)

Jeff Sessions (Getty Images)

Sessions, the ranking member of the committee, called into question last month Perez’s prior work on the board of CASA de Maryland, an influential immigrant advocacy group that has come under fire by anti-immigration groups.

Coburn said last month that Perez, former director of the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has supported providing translators to illegal immigrants who are receiving medical care. The Oklahoma senator, a medical doctor who operated on people without U.S. citizenship, said providing illegal immigrants with interpreters would “wreck health care.”

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Coburn and Sessions got a “much clearer view” of the Civil Rights Division nominee from a meeting they had with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Perez. Sessions said it was “a good meeting.”

A Republican spokesperson for the Senate Judiciary Committee did not respond to a request for comment.

Joe Palazzolo contributed to this report.

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Funding for the Justice Department Community Oriented Policing Services was at its lowest during the Bush administration but it received a boost from Recovery Act money this year, according to a DOJ Office of Inspector General report released today.

The COPS program was established in 1994 to help state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies hire officers, purchase new equipment and train cops. After funding topped out at $1.6 billion in 1998, the yearly COPS allocation went as low as $220 million in 2006, according to the report. In addition, most of the Bush-era COPS grants were used for new equipment and methamphetamine initiatives, the report said.

(DOJ)

This year, the COPS program is on the rebound. President Obama requested $761 million for the program on top of the $1 billion COPS already received from the Recovery Act. The DOJ also created the COPS Hiring Recovery Program to help hire more police officers.

“The nature and amount of the Recovery Act funding represents a significant change from COPS’ recent grant program history, both in the amount of funding and in the program to be implemented,” the report said.

The IG report did, however, make some suggestions. The IG recommendations come first, followed by comments from COPS Acting Director Timothy J. Quinn in italics.

-We believe COPS should consider developing guidance to help grant administrators identify the activities that should be provided through contracts rather than through grants or cooperative agreements.

[W]ith regard to awarding funds for technical assistance and training activities, a grant or cooperative agreement is typically the legally appropriate funding instrument, with a cooperative agreement allowing for COPS to have substantial involvement in the assistance/training content or agenda.

-We believe that grantee compliance could be improved by collecting more information from grantees and through requiring high-risk grantees to demonstrate that they understand key grant-related responsibilities.

In addition to the general government-wide clarifications and assurances, the COPS Office ensured that the COPS Hiring Recovery Program application contained specific certifications pertaining to the award requirements regarding the nonsupplanting of federal funds, retention of officer positions following the conclusion of federal funding, and payment of only entry-level salaries and fringe benefits for officers.

-We also observed that COPS could improve upon its ability to identify high-risk grantees by increasing the number of and providing more guidance to the components that participate in the grantee vetting process.

Every vetting list includes the contact information of a COPS staff member available to answer questions, and work closely with components on their re5ponses, and who can conduct further probing of the information provided, if necessary. In additi0n, COPS continues to add information to our website with up-t0-date and relevant materials concerning the vetting process. As a pan of this endeavor, COPS will be posting Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) pertaining to vetting on our website, which will provide further guidance on the vetting process to better inform components about this activity and the ramifications of their responses.

-COPS could improve its grant monitoring efforts by developing recurring and mandatory training programs for all grantees, especially those that may be at higher risk for compliance issues, and by using Internet-based methods to implement that training.

The COPS Office agrees with the [Office of Inspector General] that the use of the Internet is an efficient and cost effective means for implementing grantee training. As noted previously, in preparation for the COPS Hiring Recovery Program, COPS has awarded funding to establish a CHRP “eLearn Center” to deliver both grants management training and community’ policing training to grantee agencies.

-COPS also could improve grantee monitoring by increasing its information sharing with [Office of Justice Programs] and [Office on Violence Against Women], the other DOJ grant administering components.

[B]ecause the COPS Management System (CMS) utilized for award administration is not a web-based system, access to CMS is only available within the physical location of the COPS Office or via remote access through the Justice Secure Remote Access (JSRA) connection using a COPS-issued laptop computer. However, any and all grantee information within the system can be provided as customized reports to [OJP Office of Audit, Assessment, and Management] and [OJP Office of the Chief Financial Officer] upon request by either office, and such requests are processed on a routine and timely basis.

-We also believe that COPS grant program performance could be improved by tracking outputs related to the individual grant programs, and by providing grant recipients with assistance and guidance specific to the individual grant programs.

[T]hree performance measures specific to the Recovery Act have been created by the COPS Office and approved by [Office of Management and Budget]. These measures — the average community policing capacity of COPS Hiring Recovery Program grantees, the number of jobs created, and the number of jobs preserved — will be measured through quarterly progress reports assessing the number of new sworn officer jobs created and/or preserved, as well as through an annual survey that gauges the community policing capacity implementation rating of grantees.

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and other House Republicans urged the Justice Department Inspector General today to investigate whether politics improperly played a role in the dismissal of voter-intimidation charges against members of the militant New Black Panthers.

The New Black Panthers evolved from the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the 1960s-era black-power group founded in Oakland, Calif., by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. Its communist-influenced vision of civil rights as a military-style separatist movement hasn’t really been in vogue since the 1970s. It’s kind of laughable the GOP can’t find some better theme to ride.

The Black Panthers began as a militant black power group in the 1960s.

The militant black power group dates to the 1960s.

We previously reported that the Justice Department disputed the accuracy of a Washington Times article that said Obama administration political appointees overruled career Civil Rights Division attorneys in dismissing the case. The DOJ said a career attorney had the final say in the lawsuit dismissal.

The Republicans wrote in a letter to Inspector General Glenn Fine that the DOJ has not not responded to previous letters from Smith and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) questioning the dismissal. The Republicans wrote in the letter today that probing the dismissal should be a priority.

“As Inspector General of Justice Department, you spent more than a year investigating allegations of wrong political influence in the removal of several U.S. Attorneys,” they wrote. “Allegations of wrongful political influence by Obama administration officials in the dismissal of a voting rights case are equally important and should be subject to an equally thorough investigation.”

Those signing onto the letter include:

-Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas)
-Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.)
-Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.)
-Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
-Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.)
-Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
-Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)
-Rep.  John Culberson (R-Texas)
-Rep.  Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.)
-Rep.  Jo Bonner (R-Ala.)

The original DOJ complaint for the case said Malik Zulu Shabazz, Minister King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson brandished weapons and used “coercion, threats and intimidation” to harass voters, both black and white, at a Philadelphia polling place last Nov. 4.  The defendants wore “military-style uniforms” including black berets and combat boots, the complaint said.

The Justice Department effectively won the case when the defendants failed to contest it, but opted to dismiss the case instead of getting a default judgment.

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Chicago-based National Training and Information Center, a group devoted to supporting grassroots organizations, will pay the U.S. government $550,000 to settle a lawsuit that claims the group inappropriately used about $207,000 in Justice Department grants to lobby lawmakers about the awarding of more grants, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald said today in a statement.

Patrick Fitzgerald (DOJ)

Patrick Fitzgerald (DOJ)

NTIC received more than $3.1 million in grants between 2000 and 2002 through the DOJ Office of Justice Programs to run a Community Justice Empowerment Project in certain communities, according to the statement. During that time, NTIC received disbursements from DOJ grant funds to allegedly pay for food, lodging and transportation for a lobbying trip to D.C., which is illegal, the statement said.

“We are committed to ensuring that Justice Department grant monies allocated for worthwhile community initiatives are expended for the purposes that were approved, and are not used for any impermissible costs, such as lobbying Congress to provide more money in the future, as alleged in this case,” Fitzgerald said in the statement.

You can read the full settlement here.

A March 2008 DOJ Office of Inspector General audit report that led to the case against NTIC reveals more about the group’s questionable actions including the notes and agenda from the lobbying trip.

The report said:

  • The official agenda for the second and third days of the July 2000 conference indicated that attendees would participate in training sessions on “How to Market the Community Justice Project” and role-playing activities. However, the internal planning notes indicated that NTIC trained sub-grantees on lobbying skills on the second day of the conference. Using these new skills, NTIC-led teams of sub-grantees participated in lobbying on Capitol Hill on the third day of the conference.
  • The official agenda for the second and third days of the July 2001 conference indicated that sub-grantee attendees could participate in two workshops, one on “Fundraising or Working with the Media” and the second on “Marketing the Community Justice Empowerment Project,” and travel to Capitol Hill via bus on the third day. However, the planning agenda for the conference clearly indicated that the conference would adjourn at noon on the second day, OJP officials would depart, and lobbying strategy sessions as well as sessions in which participants practiced their lobbying skills through role play would begin. Finally, post conference feedback documents included specific statements regarding the lobbying such as “lobby period too short.”
  • An e-mail from NTIC’s Executive Director regarding the September 2002 conference said, “Do we need to cover our [posterior] on our agenda for Monday at 1:00 pm and do fund raising or can we hokey up a title for a workshop ‘understanding how our government works’ or whatever?”

The DOJ Office of Inspector General audit report also claimed that NTIC did not keep complete, federally-mandated records on groups that applied for or received grants. The Requests for Proposals are supposed to have detailed information on prospective grantees including “organizational capability, soundness of the proposed strategy, qualifications of the project staff, clarity and appropriateness of the program implementation plan, and program budget,” the report said.

Instead of getting federally-required information on potential grantees, NTIC was more interested in the ability of a prospective grantee to lobby lawmakers on funding decisions so NTIC could keep its earmark status, according to the report. They even tried to cover up their actions, the report said quoting a “a key NTIC official.”

“We need to manage…covering our [posterior] with Justice on getting RFPs out to groups…and accommodating key congress people on [Appropriations Committee] by considering groups they recommend,” the official said.

NTIC was a driving force in the creation of the Community Reinvestment Act, which makes banks give loans to groups in underserved communities, Chicago Tribune’s Chicagonow.com reported.

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine and Attorney General Eric Holder presided over an awards ceremony in the Great Hall today for OIG employees. Among the winners: Staffers who investigated the Bush administration politicization of the Justice Department.

They include:

  • Nina S. Pelletier, investigative counsel. Merit Award. “In recognition of her outstanding efforts in leading the investigation and producing an in-depth report concerning the removal of nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006.”
  • Jon A. Anders, administrative support assistant. Honor Award. “In recognition of his outstanding contributions in supporting the Division’s investigation of politicized hiring for career positions, including creating and updating a database of responses to a 484-person survey.”
  • Mark S. Masling, investigative counsel. Honor Award. “For his exceptional work in leading an investigation of allegations of politicized hiring by Monica Goodling and others in the office of Attorney General that resulted in a report that found significant misconduct and led to changes in Department policy.”
  • Dominic N. Russoli, paralegal specialist. “For his outstanding skill and initiative in providing paralegal support to a variety of OIG projects, includign the 358-page report examining the Department’s removal of nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006.”
  • Cynthia A. Schnedar, counselor to the Inspector General. Honor Award. “In recognition of her outstanding contributions as Counselor to the Inspector General and her management of a wide range of legal, media, congressional, and agency liaison duties. In addition, during this period Ms. Schnedar led the review that examined politicization of the Attorney General’s Honors Program and the Department’s Summer Law Program. “

It is also the 20th anniversary of the OIG. Thirty-four employees who have served continuously with the OIG since its inception in 1989 were honored as well.

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