Jim Letten today announced his resignation as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, effective on Tuesday, Dec. 11. The resignation will bring to a conclusion Letten's 11-year term in office, making him the longest-serving U.S. Attorney in the country. Letten will remain employed by the office for a "brief time," he said, to aid in the transition.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in a press release that Dana Boente, First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, will be appointed as interim U.S. Attorney in New Orleans.
"The decision was ultimately my own," Letten said. "It is, I believe, the best course of action under the circumstances."
(More after the jump)
U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk today sentenced former New Orleans City Councilman Jon Johnson to six months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit theft of federal funds and submitting false documents to a federal department. Johnson pleaded guilty and resigned from his District E City Council seat in July.
Johnson faced a maximum five year penalty for routing nearly $80,000 in FEMA funds through two charities and into a campaign fund for his failed 2007 bid for the State Senate. Johnson was not a public servant at the time of his crimes. He also admitted to submitting false invoices to the Small Business Administration justifying a low interest loan for work done on his home to repair flood damage.
Pleading for leniency at today's hearing, Johnson asked Africk to take his family situation into account. Johnson, whose wife died in 2011, is the sole caretaker of his 8-year-old daughter.
"I stand before you this afternoon simply saying that I made a terrible mistake that I regret," he said. "I have an 8-year-old daughter that I've been caring for for the past year-and-a-half ... Please be lenient and please consider my personal circumstances with my daughter."
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BP has agreed to plead guilty to 14 federal criminal counts related to the 2010 Gulf Oil Disaster — including 11 counts of felony manslaughter for the workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced at a New Orleans press conference today.
"BP has agreed to plead guilty to all 14 criminal charges including responsibility for the deaths of 11 people and the events that led to an environmental catastrophe," Holder said. "The company has also agreed to pay $4 billion in fines and in penalties. This marks both the largest single criminal fine — more than $1.25 billion — and the largest total criminal resolution — $4 billion — in the history of the United States."
The U.S. Department of Justice has also indicted two former supervisors on the Deepwater Horizon — Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine — for manslaughter. Kaluza and Vidrine are scheduled to be arraigned on Nov. 28.
"After nearly three years and tens of millions of dollars in investigation, the Government needs a scapegoat. Bob was not an executive or high-level BP official. He was a dedicated rig worker who mourns his fallen co-workers every day.m No one should take any satisfaction in this indictment of an innocent man. This is not justice," reads an emailed statement from Kaluza's attorneys Shaun Clarke and David Gerger.
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Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann has been demoted from her post as First Assistant U.S. Attorney and Chief of the Criminal Division, according to a Thursday morning press release from U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.
The fairly brief and carefully worded release says Mann did in fact post comments on NOLA.com, presumably in stories related to Fred Heebe, who accused Mann of defamation in a suit last week.
Heebe alleged Mann used NOLA.com (as did former federal prosecutor Sal Perricone) to make comments about subjects under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office. Mann's removal is the office's second high-profile departure following the online comment controversy — Perricone resigned in March.
Here's the release:
Immediately upon learning of the allegations contained in [Fred Heebe]’s lawsuit, I notified and maintained close contact with the appropriate U.S. Department of Justice officials in Washington, D.C. in order to determine the appropriate course of action. In accordance with well-established protocol, the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility was notified.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mann used NOLA.com to post comments. As of Monday night, November 5, 2012, AUSA Jan Maselli Mann is no longer serving in the supervisory positions of First Assistant United States Attorney or Chief of the Criminal Division.
Because this matter is now under review by the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., the release of any additional information by my office would not be appropriate.
The City of New Orleans has extended the deadline for companies to apply for a multimillion-dollar contract to track the progress of the proposed New Orleans Police Department consent decree. The city and the U.S. Department of Justice originally released a request for proposals (RFP) on Sept. 6, setting an Oct. 5 deadline. However, according to court filings, it seems they were unhappy with the responses.
Seven companies applied for the contract — for which Mayor Mitch Landrieu has set aside $2 million in his proposed 2013 budget and is expected to be worth as much as $10 million over the life of the consent decree — the Lens reported. 55 pre-identified likely respondents received a copy of the RFP, but only four of them actually responded.
According to a joint motion for extension filed by the city and the feds filed last week in U.S. District Court, other groups who wished to apply were not aware of the RFP.
Despite widely distributing the RFP and articulating the deadline for proposals, the Parties have learned that some interested entities were unaware that the RFP had been issued. The Parties are concerned that there may be additional entities that may have applied but were unaware that the RFP had been issued. This concern is bolstered by the fact the Parties received only seven applications for Monitor, substantially fewer than have applied to other monitoring requests for proposals, including quite recent ones.
Judge Susie Morgan granted the motion over the weekend, and the new deadline is Nov. 16.
Former federal prosecutor Sal Perricone yesterday removed a defamation suit — filed against him by River Birch landfill owner Fred Heebe in Orleans Parish Civil District Court two months ago — to U.S. District Court.
Heebe's lawsuit stems from comments Perricone posted to Nola.com stories under several aliases including "Henry L. Mencken1951." Those comments were posted while Perricone was an acting prosecutor involved in the investigation and eventual prosecution of River Birch executive Dominic Fazzio. (That case is unrelated to River Birch, at least for the moment.) According to Heebe's lawsuit, Perricone made false statements indicating that Heebe is guilty of crimes — including payouts to public officials and local press — for which he has not been convicted, or even charged.
Perricone has moved to take the case federal, according to court filings, because the allegations involved his actions while an acting U.S. government official. (If this feels familiar, there's good reason.)
Read the original lawsuit: HeebeComplaint.pdf
Read Perricone's removal notice: Removal.pdf
The citizens' group Community United for Change today filed a notice of appeal in U.S. District Court challenging federal Judge Susie Morgan's decision to block them, as well as three other groups, from intervening in the (still proposed and not finalized) federal consent decree between the New Orleans Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The following is from an emailed CUC statement:
As many of you know, CUC filed Intervention petitions to insure the rights and protection of the only injured and abridged parties to the “Crisis of Corruption” perpetrated by the NOPD, that being the citizens of New Orleans.
It is important to note that CUC was among other community organizations that petition the federal government for relief from the murder, corruption, deprivation of rights, and organized terror the NOPD has been dispensing upon the City of New Orleans for at least 50 years.
CUC is the second group to seek an appeal in the ongoing case. On Sept. 19, two days before a fairness hearing on the proposed decree, the Fraternal Order of Police appealed the same decision.
The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is yet to schedule a hearing on the FOP appeal.
Earlier this month, CUC and FOP both submitted requests to be included in monthly status conferences on consent decree progress.
Read the Community United for Change filing: CUCStatement.pdf
Read the Fraternal Order of Police filing: FOPStatement.pdf
A federal grand jury has charged Telly Hankton and 12 associates with 22 criminal counts, including murder, racketeering, drug distribution and obstruction of justice.
Hankton's alleged co-conspirators include his mother Shirley Hankton, who was arrested along with most of the others this morning, WWL-TV reported. The other defendants are Walter Porter, Nakia Hankton, Thomas Hankton, Troy Hankton, George Jackson, Derrick Smothers, Andre Hankton, Kevin Jackson, Netthany Schexnayder, Sana Johnson and Terrell Smothers.
Porter's alleged crimes include shooting John Matthews, who testified against Telly Hankton for the 2008 killing of Darnell Stewart. Hankton was convicted and sentenced to life in prison last year. Porter is also charged with murdering Matthews' brother, Curtis Matthews, following Hankton's conviction. Porter turned himself into police shortly after being identified as a suspect in the murder, but District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro dropped local charges, citing a request from the federal government in May, The Times-Picayune reported.
Read the indictment: Hankton.pdf
According to a filing today in the ongoing federal lawsuit against the sheriff's office, retired New Orleans Judge Terry Alarcon has agreed to help the city, Gusman, as well as the plaintiffs in the suit — the U.S. Department of Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center — reach a deal.
Here's the summary of a private status conference held this morning in U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk's chambers:
The Court was advised that the parties require more time to attempt to resolve outstanding issues.
IT IS ORDERED that an additional status conference is scheduled for November 27, 2012, at 7:30 a.m. in the chambers of the undersigned U.S. District Judge. In the interim, Judge Terry Q. Alarcon, with the consent of the parties, has agreed to attempt to facilitate a partial resolution of the issues pending before this Court.
Final negotiations on a consent decree improving conditions at Orleans Parish Prison now hinge on funding, according to court documents filed over the past several days in a federal class action lawsuit against Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. To resolve a dispute between city government — which is reluctant to "write a blank check" to cover the costs of jail reforms — and the other parties to the suit, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk has said he will appoint retired Criminal District Court Judge Terry Alarcon as special master to arbitrate.
The plaintiffs — the Southern Poverty Law Center and the U.S. Department of Justice — have agreed to a special master.
But a statement filed by assistant city attorney Sharonda Williams today asks Africk to reconsider, indicating that the city wants a full discovery process followed by an evidentiary hearing on appropriate funding levels and sources.
The statement also offers this warning:
As the City stated during the last status conference held on Monday, October 15, 2012, the City is keenly interested in obtaining additional information on the issue of funding as the City is not prepared to “write a blank check." The additional funding being sought by the Sheriff would have a crippling effect on the City’s operations.
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