Attorney General Eric Holder dropped by Boston yesterday to see an old friend sworn in as U.S. Attorney.
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz first met Holder three decades ago when she was a student at George Washington University Law School interning at the Justice Department Public Integrity Section, the Boston Globe reported. Holder was then a trial lawyer in the section.
“Have we come a long way, huh?” Ortiz, the state’s first Hispanic and female U.S. Attorney said to Holder, the country’s first black Attorney General, according to the newspaper.
Holder praised Ortiz as a natural leader and well-rounded lawyer, The Globe said.
“Latinas have done pretty well over the last few months, and deservedly so,” the Attorney General said in an apparent reference to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, according to the newspaper.
Ortiz told hundreds of supporters and dignitaries packed into a John Joseph Moakley Courthouse courtroom that fighting terrorism is her “first priority,” according to The Globe. She also let the crowd know that she became engaged New Year’s Day to Thomas Dolan, who works at IBM, The Globe said.
Ortiz was officially sworn in on Nov. 9, a few days after the Senate confirmed her to succeed Michael Sullivan, who was the Bush administration’s top federal prosecutor in Boston. U.S. Attorneys often have a later ceremonial investiture with local, state and federal leaders in attendance. Ortiz’s swearing was the seventh such ceremony attended by Holder since he became Attorney General.
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Henry F. Schuelke III is nearing the end of his investigation of six Justice Department lawyers involved in the botched 2008 prosecution of then-Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), The Washington Post reports.
Judge Emmet Sullivan, of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, tapped Schuelke in April to determine whether the lawyers intentionally withheld material from Stevens’ defense. According to the Post, Schuelke has scheduled interviews with the six lawyers.
The interviews are expected to wrap up in January. Scheulke has already reviewed thousands of documents related to the case, which Attorney General Eric Holder moved to dismiss after learning of prosecutors’ lapses in sharing information and witness statements with the defense.
Earlier this week, Inspector General Glenn Fine said restoring confidence in the department in the wake of the Stevens case was among the department’s highest priorities. The Stevens debacle has prompted a series of reforms, including additional training for prosecutors.
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A former Justice Department official on Tuesday was sentenced to 30 days in a halfway house for accepting about $5,000 in meals, drinks and tickets from a lobbyist who worked with Jack Abramoff.
Robert Coughlin II, a former deputy in the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison, pleaded guilty in April 2008 to a felony conflict of interest charge. He admitted helping Kevin Ring, a longtime friend, lobby officials in the Justice Department and discussing possible employment at Ring’s firm while receiving the gifts.
Coughlin joined the department in 2001 and resigned in 2007. He also served as a special prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia and as a top aide to then-Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, but the conduct in question occurred while he was at OIPL.
U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle also sentenced Coughlin to three years supervised release and ordered him to pay a $2,000 fine. He faced up to six months in prison under sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors made no recommendation as to whether Coughlin deserved time behind bars, saying in court documents that his sentence “should be fashioned so as to recognize the seriousness of this offense.”
“I take absolute and full responsibility for my actions,” Coughlin said at the sentencing in Washington, D.C.
Ring has been charged with conspiracy, handing out illegal gratuities and scheming to deprive taxpayers of the honest services of members of the executive and legislative branches, including Coughlin. Huvelle, who also presided over Ring’s case, declared a mistrial in his trial last month, after jurors deadlocked on all counts. Prosecutors have said they intend to try him again.
Prosecutors planned to put Coughlin on the stand during Ring’s case, but during a mock cross-examination in September, Coughlin said that he felt he was unfairly targeted by the Justice Department and that he was not influenced by Ring’s gifts.
In pre-sentencing documents, prosecutors asked Huvelle to credit him for cooperating in the Abramof investigation, but their recommendation, known as a 5k motion, was tempered.
Huvelle called it the “the least enthusiastic 5k I’ve ever seen.”
Michael Leotta, the Appellate Chief in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, said Coughlin’s crimes were “severe,” and he took issue with several assertions in Coughlin’s sentencing memorandum, calling them “ad hominen and false attacks.”
In particular, he disputed the implication that Coughlin might not have been prosecuted but for recusals in the Public Integrity Section and the U.S. Attorneys’ offices for the District of Columbia and the Eastern District of Virginia. (Officials in charge of the Criminal Division and those offices were friends of Coughlin.)
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland vetted the case and obtained from the Public Integrity Section criteria used to charge others in the Abramoff probe, Leotta said.
Coughlin’s lawyer, Joshua Berman of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, said Tuesday that his client was led by prosecutors into making the statements before the Ring trial. Coughlin, he said, was speaking “from his heart.”
But Coughlin was not excusing his conduct, Berman added.
For his part, Coughlin said he butted heads with prosecutors, but he apologized for tarnishing the department.
“I love the department. I love everything it stands for. I loved working there,” he told Huvelle.
Coughlin is the only Justice Department official to be prosecuted in the wide-ranging influence probe. Two other justice officials were investigated in the probe, one of whom was reprimanded internally.
“We ask a lot of our public servants, and we should ask a lot of our public servants,” Huvelle said, though she added that sentencing Coughlin presented a “very hard situation.”
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The Justice Department has cleared Kevin Koonce, a former aide to Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), of wrongdoing in the influence-peddling probe focused on Jack Abramoff and his associates.
Koonce’s lawyers, Joshua Berman and Glen Donath of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, said the department contacted him on Thursday, according to The Washington Post. (Berman also represents Robert Coughlin II, who pleaded guilty to a conflict of interest charge in connection with the probe. His sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday.)
Koonce was under investigation in connection with allegations that he accepted tickets, meals and drinks in return for official actions while he was working as legislative director for Gregg.
The Post and other news outlets reported on the investigation in February, while Gregg was briefly President Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of commerce. Gregg later asked Obama to withdraw his nomination for unrelated reasons.
Koonce was identified as ”Staffer F” in court documents accompanying the plea agreement of Todd Boulanger, who admitted to honest-services violations earlier this year.
The Public Integrity Section was handling the investigation.
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During his trip to Las Vegas last month, Attorney General Eric Holder avoided Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), going out of his way to ensure that the two would not be in attendance at the same event, Politico reports. Holder, who let his hair down a bit during his visit, was in Las Vegas to attend several events, including the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 2009 American Heritage Award Dinner.
Holder was scheduled to appear on stage during the Oct. 17 dinner with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Ensign. However, the event came weeks after the disclosure that Ensign had tried to help find lobbying work for Doug Hampton, a former top aide to Ensign whose wife, Cindy, had a nine-month affair with the senator from 2007 to 2008. Although Ensign has admitted to the affair, he has denied trying to help Hampton find work.
Politico reports that a Justice Department official called the ADL before the event and told them Holder would not attend the dinner if Ensign would also be there. Ensign “graciously agreed” to the request and compromised that Ensign would appear at the event via video, Politico reports.
One of the reasons Holder might have wanted to avoid a run-in with the senator is that DOJ is considering whether to launch a criminal probe into the Ensign matter, Politico reports. DOJ will not confirm whether a probe will take place, although department officials “signal that the case is a low-priority matter for them,” according to Politico. No one close with either Ensign or the Hamptons has been contacted by DOJ investigators, Politico reports.
According to Politico, “Launching a criminal investigation of Ensign based on Hampton’s accusations is fraught with legal and political difficulties for DOJ.” Among them are the fact that only one member of Congress — Republican Bob Ney of Ohio — has ever been convicted of violating the lobbying ban for a former top aide, Politico reports. In addition, the department’s Public Integrity Section “has taken a battering this year,” according to Politico. Doug Hampton also has made numerous public statements about Ensign, which calls into question whether he could be considered a reliable witness, according to Politico.
If DOJ opts not to take up the Ensign case, his future will lie with the Senate Ethics Committee, which has begun a “preliminary review”of the case, according to Politico. Because the panel and DOJ rarely conduct simultaneous investigations, the committee’s steps hint “that DOJ is standing down its own investigation, at least for the moment,” Politico reports.
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The Justice Department on Thursday published the job announcement for Public Integrity Section chief, touching off a nationwide search for the next leader of the Criminal Division’s corruption-fighting squad.
William Welch II, who had been chief since early 2007, stepped down last Friday. He returned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts, where he was an Assistant U.S. Attorney for more than a decade. Raymond Hulser is serving as acting chief of PIN.
Welch is under criminal investigation for his supervisory role in the public corruption case against then-Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). The Justice Department moved to dismiss the case earlier this year, after prosecution errors came to light. Brenda Morris, the former principal deputy chief, moved to Atlanta in September for personal reasons. Morris, who is also under investigation, remains a trial lawyer in the Public Integrity Section.
According to the announcement, the chief’s job fetches between $117,787 and $177,000 a year. The application period closes on Dec. 2.
Here’s the job summary:
The incumbent serves as the Chief of the Public Integrity Section, reporting under the general supervision of the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division and direct supervision of a Deputy Assistant Attorney General. The Chief provides leadership to the section within the Criminal Division that is responsible for overseeing the federal effort to combat abuses of the public trust by government officials.
The Public Integrity Section investigates, and, when warranted, prosecutes, corruption offenses involving public officials at all levels of government, election crimes, and campaign finance offenses. The Section leads the enforcement and regulatory communities in a coordinated, nationwide response to reduce public corruption across the country; develops and supports effective corruption reducing strategies and programs that can be deployed around the country; drives policy, legislative and regulatory reform; provides expert counsel in enforcement matters; and effectively collaborates with the 93 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and with federal, state, and local law enforcement partners. The Section develops law enforcement networks and relationships, and by doing so, leads a dynamic, nationwide process that brings continuous improvement to the integrity of government.
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When a federal judge declared a mistrial in the government’s case against Kevin Ring last month, some asked, “What went wrong?”
We caught up with two of the jurors this week for some insight. Lucky us, one voted to convict (on all but one count) and the other to acquit.
First, a bit of background: The Justice Department has drawn 17 guilty pleas in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling probe, but prosecutors have suffered setbacks in the two cases in which defendants have opted for trial.
Ring is charged with conspiracy, handing out illegal gratuities and scheming to deprive taxpayers of the honest services of members of the executive and legislative branches. After nearly eight days of deliberation, the jury in Ring’s trial hung on all eight counts.
Prosecutors have said they intend have another go at it. Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, scheduled trial for June 21, after the Supreme Court hears arguments in three cases exploring the reach of the “honest services” law, with which Ring is charged.
Ring’s lawyers say he was a skilled lobbyist who used legal — if at times unseemly — methods to advance his clients’ interests. Prosecutors say he lavished public officials with meals and tickets to concerts and sporting events in return for helping Ring’s clients.
Our first juror — hereafter, Juror No. 1 — is 50 years old and a retired member of the Air Force. On Wednesday, he discussed his experience with us on the condition that he not be named.
JUROR No. 1
Main Justice: Let’s start with an outline of the deliberations.
Juror No. 1: We went through each count without a unanimous decision. Then we tried to do what we thought was the easiest one, which was count eight. [On the sixth day of deliberations, the jury informed Huvelle it had reached a verdict on this count, which involves a payment of $5,000 to a credit union account controlled by the wife of former Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.). The jurors voted to acquit but later split.] We reached a tentative verdict, but as we talked more and we better understood our own thoughts, some people just changed their minds on how they voted.
MJ: What was the vote on count eight?
Juror No. 1: It was really close. I think it was five [convict], six [acquit] and one [undecided].
MJ: And the other seven?
Juror No. 1: The rest, I believe, were eight [convict] and four [acquit]. [Click here for a copy of the indictment.]
MJ: How did you vote?
Juror No. 1: I voted not guilty on all counts.
MJ: Were the disagreements specific to each count or was there some common theme?
Juror No. 1: Everything required us to judge what he was thinking. We had to determine his state of mind, and that was a common thread through all the charges. That’s where we got hung up. That, in my mind, is almost an impossible task.
MJ: The government relied heavily on emails, many of which portrayed Ring and his colleagues gloating about lobbying victories and talking about handing out tickets and meals to public officials. How did his defense get past that?
Juror No. 1: He could have had a lot of intentions, and those emails weren’t enough to spell them out. He could have just been plying them with everything he needed to continue his access and influence, as lobbyists do. If the prosecution could have discriminated betwen lobbying and corrupt lobbying better, then they would have made their case. Even though [the government] had a mountain of evidence, it wasnt helpful in showing us what Kevin Ring was thinking.
MJ: Did you have any preconception of lobbyists? Did you at point before the deliberations have an idea of which way you were leaning?
Juror No. 1: I was really ignorant of the lobbying thing. I wasn’t able to prejudge. I was just like a sponge. And even when the trial and closing arguments were over, I didn’t know how I would decide until we actually had a conversation and looked at the counts.
MJ: Judge Huvelle kept saying you were one of the best juries she’s seen. What was the climate like in the jury room? Were you guys at each others’ throats?
Juror No. 1: No. This was a really intelligent group and they were great to work with. We ended up being a hung jury because we had irreconcilable differences, but everyone was respectful. We had an outstanding foreman. [The foreman, by the way, had some lobbying experience.]
MJ: Thank you, sir.
Juror No. 1: Glad to help.
JUROR No. 2
The second juror, Joy Stevenson, is an administrative assistant at Job Corps. We talked with her on Thursday.
Main Justice: Can you give me a sense of the divisions among the jury?
Stevenson: It was really heated at points. One gentleman, an attorney, he got up and he paced the floor and he was adamant that we could not prove Mr. Ring was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He and three or four others. There was an older lady…who just couldn’t see herself taking people out to dinner or to a game to influence them and so she couldn’t see Mr. Ring doing it. Overall, we formed relationships. We became friends. But some people took it personally.
MJ: How so?
Stevenson: It got to the point that [some of the jurors who favored acquittal] would fold their hands or read the paper. They would have side conversations while we were trying to deliberate. They weren’t even trying to change their minds.
MJ: What convinced you Ring was guilty?
Stevenson: The email traffic. You had Ring and the guys he worked with talking about how they they did this and that, how they loved the look in [a public official's] eyes when they knew they had them. They were very shrewd. They were very careful, and a lot of things they didn’t say. Their plan was very strategic, and that’s why they were so successful….It was very interesting to me how our laws and decisions are made based on power and money. If you’re speaking to the right person and you have the money, they you can influence them. They’re swayed. And I saw that. It was really something.
MJ: But it’s tough trying to get into someone’s mind, to prove intent.
Stevenson: It was kind of frustrating at times because we couldn’t find anything specifically to say, “Ring did this, or he did that,” based on the emails. And Judge Huvelle told us that there was no restriction on giving at the time. You had [Greenberg Traurig's] rules…but, legally, it felt like there was nothing we could use. It was like we were up against a brick wall.
MJ: Before the trial, did you have any preconceptions about lobbyists?
Stevenson: Not really, no. Going into that trial, for me, was like a refresher course [on civics]. It was great. I learned a whole lot.
MJ: Talk about the government’s case. How did the prosecutors do?
Stevenson: I think the government, I think those guys were great. I was very impressed with all of them….But I was looking for them to pull it all together at the end. You know, bam! There was no clincher.
MJ: Thanks, Ms. Stevenson.
Stevenson: Thank you.
A note about the jury list: Huvelle ask jurors to contact her if they wished to have their names release to the news media. Three jurors gave their consent. The others remain anonymous.
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Bill Allen, the government’s chief witness in its case against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday, the Justice Department said.
Allen, 72, was also ordered to pay a $750,000 fine and given three years of supervised release. Allen is the former CEO of VECO Corp., an oil services company. He pleaded guilty in May 2007 to charges of conspiracy, bribery, extortion and honest services mail and wire fraud.
Allen’s lawyer, White & Case partner George Terwilliger III, argued that no more than a six-month sentence was warranted, owing to Allen’s cooperation in a wide-ranging corruption investigation that eventually enfolded the longest-serving Republican in the Senate. The Justice Department had asked for a prison sentence of 46 months.
A former vice president of VECO, Richard Smith, 64, was also sentenced on Wednesday to 21 months in prison and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.
The Justice Department says Allen and Smith conspired with at least five members of the Alaska legislature to provide other state officials with financial benefits in return for their support on pending legislation. They also admitted to giving out about $395,000 to public officials in connection with the scheme.
A federal judge set aside Stevens’s 2008 conviction at Attorney General Eric Holder’s request. A department review found instances in which prosecutors improperly withheld information from Stevens’ defense team, including statements Allen made to federal investigators before the trial. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan appointed a special counsel,Henry Schuelke III, to examine whether prosecutors did so intentionally.
That investigation, as well as probe by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, is ongoing.
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A federal judge has scheduled a retrial for Jun. 21 in the case of Kevin Ring, a former associate of imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle declared a mistrial in the case on Thursday. Jurors failed to reach a verdict after more than a week of deliberations.
Ring is charged with conspiracy, handing out illegal gratuities and scheming to deprive taxpayers of the honest services of members of the executive and legislative branches. Ring’s lawyers say he was a skilled lobbyist who used legal tools to advance his clients’ interests.
At a hearing today, prosecutors requested a January or February trial date, but Huvelle wanted to wait for the Supreme Court’s review of the scope of the federal “honest services” fraud statute, which was used to charge Ring, The Associated Press reported. The Court is scheduled to hear arguments on Dec. 8.