In a December post the Open File reported on former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s resignation following a scandal involving two of his senior prosecutors. First Assistant Jan Mann and senior litigation counsel Sal Perricone were improperly commenting on cases out of their office under fake names on Nola.com. One of those cases involved Fred Heebe, who was under investigation for possible public corruption surrounding the River Birch landfill. Only March 9, Nola.com reported that the prosecution has abruptly dropped the investigation against Heebe and others:The local U.S. attorney’s office, meanwhile, is still reeling from the damage it suffered as a result of taking on perhaps the wealthiest would-be defendant ever in its sights. Though he was never charged, Heebe went on the offensive, and he hit pay dirt, unearthing evidence that two of then-U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s top prosecutors were making inappropriate comments online using aliases. The resulting scandal ended the careers of both prosecutors, and ultimately was the undoing of Letten, until then the nation’s longest-tenured U.S. attorney.
Following the scandal involving the two prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt issued an order in November last year chastising Letten’s office – which had followed the outing of the first prosecutor’s by promising that he was acting alone, only for Letten’s #2 to then be implicated – and suggesting there should be a probe by independent counsel into the matter. Letten resigned soon after the November hearing.
Now, with the demise of the Heebe case, commentators are suggesting that the probe into Letten’s office subsequently carried out by Atlanta federal prosecutor John Horn may have something to do with the charges being dropped. Horn was supposed to file a report with Engelhardt at the end of December, but was granted an extension until January 25, 2013.
Nola.com offers former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg’s take:I cannot remember a situation where the government has charged an individual, filed superseding indictments, and then litigated aggressively up until the eve of trial, and then decided to voluntarily withdraw the indictments…Whether that report has made it to the higher echelons of the Department of Justice, and they’ve made a decision they don’t want to deal with prosecutorial misconduct charges like those that led to the charges being thrown out against (U.S.) Sen. (Ted) Stevens — well, it’s certainly a reasonable conjecture.
This view is supported by Bennet Gersham, who Nola.com refers to as an expert on prosecutorial misconduct from Pace University,I’d have to guess there’s more to this than we’ve seen in terms of irregular conduct by the people on the government’s side,” Gershman said. “There’s got to be something that would embarrass the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney’s office if the case were to continue and go to trial.
It is not clear whether or not the report has been turned in by Horn or not, but the Open File will provide an update once more revealed.