Top Justice Department officials this week announced two major public corruption cases impacting federal jurisdictions controlled by U.S. Attorneys heldover from the George W. Bush administration. But only one of the U.S. Attorneys attended a news conference in Washington for the big unveiling of the investigation.
U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, who has led the Puerto Rico U.S. Attorney’s office since 2006, appeared beside Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday at Justice Department headquarters as he announced the arrests of more than 100 individuals in Puerto Rico, as part of the largest law enforcement corruption probe in FBI history.
But earlier in the week, Leura Canary, who has been the Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney since 2001, was not on hand for a news conference at DOJ headquarters when Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Criminal Division announced the arrests of 11 individuals in Alabama – including four state lawmakers – in a major investigation involving vote-buying and electronic bingo. Her office was mostly recused from the investigation.
Rodríguez-Vélez, whose U.S. Attorney nomination was never confirmed by the Senate, and Canary, who was appointed by Bush in 2001, are among about 10 U.S. Attorneys who have been in office since the previous administration. Canary prosecuted former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D) on a public corruption charge that many Democrats said was politically motivated. The U.S. Supreme Court in June sent Siegelman’s case back to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals for review after the high court limited the use of the honest services statute under which Siegelman was convicted.
President Barack Obama has not nominated replacements for Rodríguez-Vélez and Canary. Holder on Wednesday declined to comment about a possible successor to Rodríguez-Vélez.
“All I’m here to announce is the results of a great investigation and the wonderful work that has been done by the great U.S. Attorney,” Holder said.
This story has been updated.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday announced the arrests of more than 100 individuals in Puerto Rico as part of the biggest law enforcement corruption investigation in FBI history.
Indictments were unsealed in Puerto Rico against 89 police officers and 44 other individuals, who allegedly provided security in undercover drug deals for hundreds of dollars in payments. About 1,000 members of the FBI worked on the investigation, including 750 agents from around the United States who assisted in the arrests Wednesday morning.
“This department has one message for anyone willing to abuse the public trust for personal gain: you will be caught; you will be stopped; and you will be punished,” Holder said during a news conference at Justice Department headquarters. “The Department of Justice is committed to holding those who swear to protect and serve their fellow citizens accountable. In our work to root out corruption and safeguard public resources, we will follow the facts where they lead, and we will do so without fear or favor.”
Puerto Rico U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, who joined Holder at the news conference, said her U.S. Caribbean territory has a “major drug problem.” She said that law enforcement officials in the past have faced charges similar to those announced on Wednesday.
Rodríguez-Vélez, who has led the San Juan-based U.S. Attorney’s office since 2006, said the announcements have made Wednesday “a very sad day” in Puerto Rico.
“Badges were sold and honor was compromised for drug money many times during this investigation,” Rodríguez-Vélez said. “But today is also a day of hope in the fight against drug trafficking and the violence it generates in Puerto Rico.”
Holder and FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry of the Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch expressed pride in the ability of the bureau to involve hundreds of agents in an investigation without raising any eyebrows.
Henry said their success was the result of “good logistics.” Holder said the two-year investigation was “law enforcement at its best.”
“There was not one disclosure during the course of that investigation and that’s an indication of the seriousness with which this was taken and the professionalism in which this was conducted,” Holder said.
The announcement on Wednesday is the second time this week the DOJ has revealed a major public corruption investigation. On Monday, the DOJ announced the arrests of 11 individuals in Alabama — including four state lawmakers — as part of a probe into a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would legalize electronic bingo.
Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001, was not in attendance at the Monday news conference because her office was mostly recused from the bingo probe.
At a meeting of the President’s Puerto Rico Task Force Tuesday, Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli said the White House was open to the idea of the U.S. territory becoming a state.
“The president strongly believes that the status question is a significant one. He also believes that Puerto Rico’s status must be based on self-determination by the people of Puerto Rico,” said Perrelli in remarks opening the meeting. “And we on the task force are here with open minds on this issue.”
Perrelli, who co-chairs the task force, said that the public hearings were being held because of President Barack Obama’s pledge that the government be open, transparent and accountable. “That’s why as part of the process we have undertaken with the task force on Puerto Rico’s status, everyone around this table agreed that we needed to hold public hearings,” said Perrelli.
The hearings will continue throughout the afternoon, and are streaming on the White House website.
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A former federal prosecutor in Puerto Rico filed a lawsuit against his ex-boss for allegedly treating him differently than women at the commonwealth’s U.S. Attorney office, the Suits & Sentences blog reported last week.
Ex-Assistant U.S. Attorney Juan E. Milanes alleges that acting U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, a Bush holdover, retaliated against him when he complained about a “hostile work environment,” according to a court filing. Rodriguez-Velez allegedly treated Milanes differently than members of the “Girls Club,” an informal group of the U.S. Attorney’s office friends, the court document said.
D.C. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler summarized the allegations in an opinion below on her decision to transfer the case from the D.C. U.S. District Court to the Puerto Rico U.S. District Court. Milanes filed the lawsuit in D.C.
Plaintiff was assigned to the Narcotics Unit while in Puerto Rico, where his superior was the Unit’s Deputy Chief, Jeanette Mercado. Plaintiff alleges that Mercado created a hostile work environment. When Plaintiff complained about his work environment, Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, allegedly retaliated by denying Plaintiff’s children the benefit of having the Department pay for them to attend an English-language school in Puerto Rico, while still giving that benefit to her friends in a ‘Girls Club’ at the office. Plaintiff allegedly was further retaliated against when Mercado assigned him the oldest and weakest narcotics cases, threatened him with disciplinary action, and attempted to sabotage his trial work.
Milanes said he tried to leave the office to work on an assignment in Kosovo. But Rodriguez-Velez stopped him from leaving when she submitted a written reprimand on the day he was scheduled to leave, according to the court document. His overseas assignment was then retracted when Rodriguez-Velez accused Milanes of threatening her, the records said. The former Assistant U.S. Attorney was subsequently put on administrative leave and forced to resign in June 2008, according to the court filing.
Rodriguez-Velez was nominated by President Bush to be the U.S. Attorney for Puerto Rico in January 2007. She was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but was never voted on by the full Senate. She was criticized at the time for spearheading a politically-charged investigation into former Puerto Rico Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, a Democrat.