Alabama Bribery Case Fiasco Analyzed

Eric HolderHarper's columnist Scott Horton revisits Alabama's federal courts for a harsh appraisal of the Justice Department's performance in a major political corruption case. Our information is that the prosecution, which helped a number of Republican office-holders in various ways, cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. The column rebukes also Obama Administration Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, at left, who, with his team, authorized what is currently fiasco for authorities.Horton's column is Justice Department Rolls Snake Eyes in Alabama Gambling Trial Below are excerpts followed by our national JIP news summary other other notable columns from Aug. 14 through 14:

The Justice Department’s public-integrity section was hit with another embarrassing setback Thursday, this time from the jury in the bizarre Alabama bingo case — Justice’s highest-profile political litigation since its botched prosecution of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer touted the case against the Alabama politicians as “astonishing” when he announced the arrests.

The jury, however, turned out to be quite unimpressed with the evidence offered. It fully exonerated two defendants, acquitted the others on a number of counts, and deadlocked on the rest. Jurors subsequently disclosed that the overwhelming majority — between eight and ten of them — had been prepared to acquit all of the defendants on all counts.

Below are significant articles for this two-week period on legal reform and related political, security and media factors. The articles, including a strong representation from independent blogs and other media, contain a sample of news. See the full article by clicking the link.

Aug 14

OpEd News, The Lesson of Mike Connell: Cutting Through Vote Fraud Claims, Hypocrisy, Andrew Kreig, Aug. 14, 2011. Recent events show why election theft deserves much more scrutiny than it receives from either government officials or news reporters. Most dramatically, a federal judge has released the 2008 testimony of GOP IT guru Michael Connell, above. The Ohio resident died in a mysterious plane crash that year after anonymous warnings he would be killed if he testified about his work with Karl Rove and others helping the Bush-Cheney ticket win in 2000 and 2004.

Aug. 13

Jersey Journal, Legacy of massive sting hard to assess; four Hudson pols have cases pending, Terrence T. McDonald, Aug. 14, 2011. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman told The Jersey Journal recently that the legacy of the government's massive sting operation that led to 46 arrests in 2009 will be hard to assess. Fishman hopes that potentially corrupt pols were paying attention.ddd

Aug 12

Legal Schnauzer, Bingo Jury Gives Obama Justice Department a Kick in the Crotch, Roger Shuler, Aug. 12, 2011.This might have been the most blatant political prosecution of them all -- and it happened on Obama's watch, which should give progressives considerable pause. The general allegation was that certain individuals tried to buy the votes of state legislators on bills related to electronic bingo. But the investigation, and the trial, focused only on those who were pro- bingo. It did not even begin to scrutinize those who were against bingo, led by former Republican Governor Bob Riley and his henchmen. Let's consider a few big lessons from this fiasco: It's All About the Bushies; Judges and Jury Instructions Matter; and Don't Let the Feds Bully You Into Guilty Pleas.What does the bingo trial teach us in a national sense?  The administration, to Obama's eternal shame, has adopted Bush policies on a number of key justice issues. Would it be nice to have a progressive candidate who actually believes in the 14th Amendment, in the guarantees of "due process" and "equal protection"? It sure as heck would, especially since Obama has shown that he doesn't care one flip about those constitutional issues.

Associated Press / Columbus (IN) Republic, Former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley registers as a lobbyist, Aug. 2011. Former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has registered with the Alabama Ethics Commission as a lobbyist. A Republican, Riley said the lobbying group is part of his efforts to continue work he did as governor and before that in three terms in Congress to bring new industry to Alabama and to improve education in the state. "We're going to be very active in trying to push education reform," Riley said. Riley, 66, registered his lobbying group as Bob Riley and Associates. Riley listed on his Ethics Commission lobbyist registration form that his clients include Austal USA. That's the company that is building warships for the Navy at its shipyard in Mobile. Riley also listed EADS North America as a client. EADS in February lost a competition with Boeing to build refueling tanker aircraft for the Air Force in Mobile.

Daily Kos, For-Profit Judge Ciavarella gets 28 years, Laser Haas, August 12, 2011. You may remember the case, of the 2 Pennsylvania judges who were sending children to prison needlessly - just to make a "kickback" profit. Well today, in one of those rarest of occasions, Justice was done after U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik rejected a pleas deal in January of 2009 of only 7 years -- as former Justice Ciavarella was convicted on 12 of 39 counts and sentenced to 28 years in prison. 

Aug, 11

Bob RileyJustice Integrity Project, Feds Lose Big In Alabama Bribery Acquittals, Hung Jury, Andrew Kreig, Aug. 11, 2011. Federal prosecutors suffered one of their most remarkable setbacks nationally in decades Aug. 11 when an Alabama federal jury failed to convict any of nine defendants on any count in a massive gambling corruption case against state senators and those accused of trying to bribe them. The federal probe grew out of opposition to legalized gambling by the administration of former Republican Gov. Bob Riley, left, who departed from office in January after two terms.

Fox News / Associated Press, No convictions in Alabama gambling trial, Aug. 11, 2011. Federal prosecutors didn't get a single conviction in Alabama's gambling corruption trial Thursday when jurors acquitted or failed to reach a verdict on all the charges against the nine defendants, including Victoryland casino owner Milton McGregor and two sitting state senators.

Legal Schnauzer, Lure of Football Tickets Helps Nab Deadbeat Dads, Roger Shuler, Aug. 11, 2011. In football-crazed Alabama, nothing gets the public's attention like the annual Iron Bowl game between the University of Alabama and Auburn University. Officials in Lee County, Alabama, home to Auburn, figured the thought of winning free tickets to the big game would be irresistible to quite a few folks. They figured right.  A sting operation featuring fake Iron Bowl tickets helped the Lee County Sheriff's Office apprehend a dozen individuals with outstanding warrants for unpaid child support. Those arrested owed some $270,000.

Aug. 9

OpEd News, U.S. Needs Fearless, Fighting MSM Reporters, Andrew Kreig, Aug. 9, 2011. The recent passing of longtime Hartford Courant reporter William Cockerham, one of the paper's most fearless and memorable reporters for nearly a quarter of a century, raises the question of what readers want in a news organization. Does the public really demand that MSM news managers retain reporters who care about "fairness for all?" Or is it better to keep reporters who understand that they not  let their  opinions affect the news except in narrowly circumscribed ways?

Truthout, Me and Piers Morgan: Hacked and Attacked, How Morgan's Fabricated Story Almost Ruined This Reporter, Greg Palast, Aug. 8, 2011. I am not surprised that Piers Morgan has been outed for hacking phones (listening, in one case, to personal messages between Heather Mills and Paul McCartney). I learned about the creepy antics of this one-man TV-host crime spree the hard way: as a victim of his crime-and-slime form of "journalism." On September 29, 1998, Piers Morgan's Mirror ran a screaming full page headline: SEX SCANDAL ROCKS LABOUR CONFERENCE. His paper had caught a rival paper's reporter who'd broken into the hotel room of a comely young rising star of the Labour Party. The reporter was caught there half undressed. I was that reporter. And the story was a complete load of crap.  But Piers Morgan, "editor" of the Mirror, ran the report on Page One, and pages 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6—even though he knew it was fabricated.  He knew because he had fabricated it.

Huffington Post, Leigh Stubbs, Mississippi Woman, Serving 44-Year Sentence Despite Discredited Testimony, Radley Balko, Aug. 9, 2011. Because jurors are ready to believe the fantastical feats preformed by the wondrous forensics computers they see on screen, an unscrupulous prosecutor armed with an expert willing to offer otherwise dubious forensics on the witness stand can cause a lot of damage. Witness Michael West. In the early 1990s, West, a dentist in Hattiesburg, Miss., was one of country's most prolific forensic bite-mark specialists. Mississippi prosecutors no longer use West as a witness, but state Attorney General Jim Hood continues to defend convictions won because of his testimony. One of those people is Leigh Stubbs, now 10 years into a 44-year prison sentence.

Aug. 8

Connecticut Watchdog, Pro-Active Reporting Is a Consumer Issue, Andrew Kreig, Aug. 8, 2011. The recent passing of longtime Hartford Courant reporter William Cockerham, one of the paper’s most fearless and memorable reporters for nearly a quarter of a century, raises the question of what readers want in a reporter and in a news organization. I suspect that consumers and good government advocates, on the whole, want at least a few of his kind of pro-active and occasionally judgmental voices as reporters, both on the streets and in corridors of power.

Legal Schnauzer, Is Our Country Rotting From the Inside Out? Roger Shuler, Aug. 8, 2011. We are used to writing about dubious prosecutions from the George W. Bush era. But the electronic-bingo case is a production of the Barack Obama Justice Department, and that truly is unsettling. Not only are we rotting from the inside, we are rotting from both sides of the political aisle--from the Republicans and the Democrats. The case went to the jury over the weekend, and a verdict could come at any moment.  Regardless of the outcome, the case has been emitting foul odors for weeks. A reasonable citizen might observe the strange proceedings and ask, "What in the name of Eric Holder is the U.S. Justice Department doing with my taxpayer dollars?"

Huffington Post, Mujahedin El-Khalq: Former U.S. Officials Make Millions Advocating For Terrorist Organization, Christina Wilkie, Aug. 8, 2011. The ornate ballroom of the Willard Hotel buzzed with activity on a Saturday morning in July. Crowded together on the stage sat a cadre of the nation's most influential former government officials, the kind whose names often appear in boldface, who've risen above daily politics to the realm of elder statesmen. They were perched, as they so often are, below a banner with a benign conference title on it, about to offer words of pricey wisdom to an audience with an agenda.

Bloomberg, News Corp. Director Leading Phone-Hack Probe Has Personal Ties to Murdochs, Ronald Grover and Tom Schoenberg, Aug. 6, 2011.  News Corp.’s independent directors, obligated to assess Rupert Murdoch and other top executives’ handling of the company’s phone-hacking scandal, are relying for guidance on Viet Dinh, a board member with personal ties to the Murdoch family. Dinh, 43, is point man between the independent board members and a panel that New York-based News Corp. created to cooperate with authorities probing phone hacking by the defunct News of the World tabloid and to evaluate company standards. A Washington attorney and Georgetown University Law Center professor, Dinh has been a friend of Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch’s oldest son Lachlan since 2003 and is godfather to Lachlan’s second child. In 1992, a decade before they met, the South China Morning Post, then owned by Murdoch, helped Dinh free his sister from a Hong Kong refugee camp. “Usually it’s required that an investigation like this is undertaken by a committee of independent directors,” said Jay Lorsch, a Harvard Business School professor who has served on the boards of four publicly traded companies. “It’s very hard to be objective if you’re involved in any way -- financially or emotionally -- with the family of the chief executive you are supposed to be supervising.”  Dinh will update directors on the scandal at an Aug. 9 board meeting in Los Angeles, two people familiar with the situation said. The “management and standards” committee, established by News Corp. last month, reports to board member and Executive Vice President Joel Klein, a former assistant U.S. attorney general and New York City schools chief, who then reports to Dinh, the company said in a July 18 statement.

Aug. 6


Politiva, Petters Fraud: The Scam and the Victims. It has been almost 3 years since the September 2008 FBI raids of the homes and offices of Tom Petters, a once prominent Minnesota businessman. Petters and a group of accomplices had orchestrated a massive Ponzi scheme, which had run successfully between the years 1995-2008, through his company Petters Companies, Incorporated (PCI).  The Ponzi scheme, which went all but unnoticed for more than a decade, was eventually pointed out by the vice president of operations for PCI, Deanna Coleman.  Today, investigations are still underway to uncover who the remaining players in this massive financial scam were and how a fraudulent operation this large went unnoticed for so long. So how did this $3.65 billion scam manage to operate successfully for so long?

Newark Star-Ledger, Former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell seeks to overturn bribery conviction, citing juror who 'misunderstood' case, Jason Grant, August 6, 2011. Former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell's lawyers are hoping to get Elwell's bribery conviction overturned because the lawyers say a juror said he misunderstood the case. Pointing to an outspoken juror who they say clearly "misunderstood or misapplied the law," the lawyers for former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell filed papers in federal court Friday seeking to overturn the mayor’s recent bribery conviction. The conviction came after an 11-day corruption trial and was rendered as part of a controversial and, according to the lawyers, "confounding" split verdict.

Aug. 5

Huffington Post, Obama U.S. Attorney Nominee David Barlow Is Tea Party Senator's General Counsel, Dan Froomkin, Aug. 5, 2011.  President Barack Obama dismayed fellow Democrats on Tuesday when he announced his pick to be the next U.S. attorney for Utah is David Barlow, currently the general counsel to freshman senator and Tea Party favorite Mike Lee (R-Utah). It's unclear whether Barlow shares Lee's more extreme legal theories about the limits of federal power. But what is known about Barlow is that he has no significant criminal law experience -- he was a corporate lawyer practicing pharmaceutical defense, toxic tort and product liability law before starting to work for Lee in January -- and he's a registered Republican who contributed $300 to Obama's opponent, Sen. John McCain, in 2008. One answer is that Obama's leeway when it comes to successfully nominating U.S. attorneys and federal judges is severely limited by intransigent Republicans -- and by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.). The Vermont senator has insisted that either senator from a nominee's home state can block the nomination simply by refusing to signal support. The end result is that Obama, in many cases, is working off a list of candidates drawn up and considered acceptable by Republicans, rather than the other way around.

OpEd News, Punishment for NSA & DOJ Overclassification in Drake Case, Jesselyn Radack, Aug. 2, 2011. Today's New York Times reports that former classification czar J. William Leonard filed a formal complaint with his former office - the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) - requesting punishment for the National Security Agency (NSA) and Justice Department officials who improperly classified documents in the Espionage Act case against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake. Leonard articulates the significance of his complaint in the Times: “If you’re talking about throwing someone in jail for years, there absolutely has to be responsibility for decisions about what gets classified.”

Daily Kos, Drake's First Op-Ed Since Sentencing, When The Judge Slammed The Justice Department, Jesselyn Radack, Aug. 1, 2011. The Espionage Act was meant to help the government go after spies, not whistle-blowers. Using it to silence public servants who reveal government malfeasance is chilling at best and tyrannical at worst.  This administration's attack on national-security whistle-blowers expands Bush's secrecy regime and cripples the free press by silencing its most important sources. It's a recipe for the slow poisoning of a democracy.

Adweek, Rupert's Worst Nightmare Come True? 'Guardian' reporter Nick Davies arrives in U.S., Lucia Moses, Aug. 1 2011. Here's Rupert Murdoch's worst nightmare: Nick Davies, the tenacious investigative reporter for the Guardian who has broken much of the Hackinggate story, comes to the U.S. in search of News Corp. crimes and coverup. Well, it's come true. Davies arrives in New York today. He'll be there until Friday, and then he's going to Los Angeles in pursuit of hacking-type practices that might have been carried out on U.S. soil by Murdoch’s U.S. reporters, by his U.K. reporters working in the U.S., or by private detectives hired by News Corp. If such crimes were committed here, that could mean real trouble for News Corp.—the legal system here is more tenacious and remedies more draconian than in the U.K.

Washingtonian, William Welch: Obama Administration’s Point Man to Stop Leaks, Shane Harris, July 20, 2011. The prosecutor has been called a tenacious and tough-as-nails lawyer, but also overzealous. On June 10, one of the biggest cases in the Obama administration’s campaign to stanch leaks of sensitive government information to the press collapsed when the Justice Department dropped espionage charges against Thomas Drake, a former senior official at the National Security Agency. But just three days before the trial was scheduled to begin, the lead federal prosecutor, William M. Welch II, told the judge that he couldn’t proceed without revealing details in court about classified systems that NSA uses to eavesdrop on global communications. Welch is now the administration’s point man in its historic anti-leaks campaign. He is prosecuting a former CIA officer, Jeffrey Sterling, and he has subpoenaed James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter, to testify about whether Sterling was the source for the journalist’s book State of War, which revealed that the CIA may have botched classified operations against Iran.

Huffington Post, Liberty And Justice For Some: State Budget Cuts Imperil Americans' Access To Courts, Amanda Terkel, Aug. 2, 2011. Brian and Patty Baxter's daughter wasn't even two years old yet when they moved into their place in New Hampshire in 1996. The Baxters filed suit in 2001, when the effects of the lead poisoning became more apparent in their daughter. Ten years later, their case still hasn't been heard.  "My clients are besides themselves," said attorney Chris Seufert of Seufert Law Offices, who is representing the Baxters. "Their child is ready to graduate from high school. She was poisoned when she was 18 months, and now she's going to be a high school graduate! I mean, come on!"  And this sort of lag time is not unique to the Baxters or the state of New Hampshire. But it is becoming increasingly common, a trend that worries everyone from judges to legal aid workers to businesses who want to bring their own claims to court. The American Bar Association and has established a Task Force on Preservation of the Justice System, which has been conducting hearings and gathering stories for a report about the funding crisis facing the courts.