New Orleans Radio Host Probes Prosecution 'Sock Puppet' Scandal

Tommy TuckerNew Orleans radio host Tommy Tucker of WWL is at the forefront of probing a new prosecution scandal in the office of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. For the second time this year, one of Letten's prosecutors has been implicated in a scheme to post comments in the city's major daily newspaper disparaging suspects authorities are probing.

Tucker, his WWL colleagues, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune are keeping up the pressure on Letten to describe why he failed to foster a more professional office environment during his tenure beginning in 2001 as a Bush appointee retained by President Obama.

Jim Letten

Letten, at left, announced on Nov. 8 he was demoting his First Assistant U.S. Attorney, Jan Morris, and was referring her to the Justice Department's Office of Responsibility for investigation. Letten's actions followed a civil suit filed Nov. 2 by landfill owner Fred Heebe asserting that Morris had used the false name, "eweman," to make reader comments to the Times-Picayune critical of Heebe, a suspect in a corruption investigation.

Letten declined to answer any questions on his probe of claims that Morris used "sock puppet" tactics early this year similar to those by another prosecutor, Sal Perricone, whom Letten fired. 

Perricone had been a senior federal prosecutor who confessed to authoring more than 500 anonymous web commentaries on civic affairs. Many of his harsh comments, made under the name "Henry L. Mencken1951," sought to shape public opinion in unprofessional ways about his own cases, colleagues, judges or defendants. 

The suit filed this month claims that Morris, who is married to another prosecutor in Letten's office, made reader comments under the sock puppet name of Ewe.

Tucker has invited me twice this week to discuss the case, with the next interview at 7:15 a.m. (Eastern Time) on Nov. 9.  His show on the CBS affiliate WWL is broadcast at 50,000-watts through five Gulf states, and is available live via Internet.

On Nov. 5, Tucker told his audience that he admire's Letten's career in general, but finds the repeated allegations of prosecution misconduct disturbing. Aside from the sock puppet claims, federal authorities allegedly hid evidence as they convicted four New Orleans policemen of covering up their wrongful killing of four Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005.

An appendix below lists background on these cases and on my previous appearances on the show to discuss how New Orleans experiences fit into larger national patterns.

 

Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment
 

 

Related News Coverage

New Orleans Controversies

New Orleans Times-Picayune, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann demoted after admitting online commentary, Gordon Russell, Nov. 8, 2012. Jim Letten demotes second-in-command, tries to quietly weather scandal. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten Thursday morning announced the demotion of his second-in-command, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann. The news came six days after landfill magnate Fred Heebe alleged in a civil suit that Mann had repeatedly used an online alias to slam him and other federal probe targets in comments posted on NOLA.com. Mann's demotion marks the second high-profile takedown of a federal prosecutor engineered by Heebe, who in March unmasked Sal Perricone, the office's senior litigation counsel, as a prolific and intemperate online ranter.

New Orleans Times-Picayune, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten refuses specifics, begs patience in latest online scandal, John Simerman, Nov. 5, 2012. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten broke a three-day blackout on Monday over allegations that his second-in-command posted caustic, anonymous online barbs against federal targets and others -- but only to say he wasn't ready to discuss it. "Do not construe my delay in making a public statement about this matter to be silence," Letten said. "As in all important matters like this, I am being deliberate and I am acting consistent with our internal protocols before making any statements to the public. As soon as the appropriate time arrives, I will make a statement on this."

Main Justice, No. 2 a New Orleans U.S. Attorney's Office Demoted, Elizabeth Murphy, Nov. 8, 2012.

NOLA.com / New Orleans Times-Picayune, 'Mencken1951' unmasked: It is federal prosecutor Sal Perricone, Staff report, March 15, 2012. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten confirmed this afternoon that Sal Perricone, one of his top prosecutors, has been using the handle "Henry L. Mencken1951" to bash landfill owner Fred Heebe and a raft of other local and national figures, including federal judges, in the comments section on NOLA.com. Perricone "'readily admitted" using the pseudonym, and the matter has been referred to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, Letten said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone 'readily admitted' using the pseudonym, and the matter has been referred to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, his boss, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, said.  It will be up to that office to determine Perricone's punishment, Letten said.  Perricone -- whom Letten called a "fine veteran attorney" -- has been recused from all matters that he discussed in comments on NOLA.com, Letten said. He said he could not enumerate which cases that might include.  He added that Perricone, 60, the office's senior litigation counsel, "knows the restrictions and laws under which we operate."
"All our folks know commenting on ongoing cases are things you're not supposed to do," Letten said.

NOLA.com / New Orleans Times-Picayune, 4 former officers convicted in Danziger case ask for new trial, saying prosecutors hid evidence, Brendan McCarthy, May 14, 2012.  Attorneys for four former New Orleans police officers convicted recently in the Danziger Bridge shootings and cover-up are asking for a new trial, alleging that federal prosecutors hid evidence and relied on false testimony in the high-stakes case. The motion makes two main claims: that federal prosecutors only recently turned over key videotaped evidence, and that the government knowingly used witness testimony that the video proved was false. The motion, filed Friday by the attorney for convicted Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, was later adopted by attorneys for Anthony Villavaso, Robert Faulcon and Robert Gisevius. The court filing states that a video shot by a CBS News affiliate in Miami on the Danziger Bridge walkway shows no bullet casings. The video was shot on the day of the shooting, some time before James Brissette's body was removed from the scene. Former officer Jeffrey Lehrmann testified at trial that Bowen kicked casings off the walkway weeks after the shooting as part of an effort to cover up what happened on the bridge. But Bowen couldn't have kicked the casings if they weren't there, according to Bowen's attorney, Robin Schulberg, a federal public defender.

 

Other Justice Department News

Eric HolderLegal Times, In Law School Talk, Eric Holder Assesses His Future Plans, Mike Scarcella, Nov. 8, 2012. Two days after President Barack Obama won re-election, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said in remarks today in Baltimore he will assess whether he wants to continue his service at the helm of the U.S. Justice Department. Holder spoke about his plans for a few minutes in a wide-ranging discussion today at the University of Baltimore School of Law. The dean, Ronald Weich,a former top DOJ official in Holder's administration, bluntly asked Holder during a question-and-answer session this afternoon: "What's your plan?" "That's something that I'm in the process now of trying to determine," Holder said. "I will have to think about—can I contribute in a second term?" He said he would talk with his family and the president. He did not outright say he wants to remain on board. Holder said he would "really ask myself the question about, 'Do I think that there are things that I still want to do. Do I have gas left in the tank?' It's been an interesting and tough four years. I just really don't know. I don’t know at this point." (A link to video of Holder's remarks is here.) Holder said he's proud of the work he's done at Main Justice, calling the revitalization of the Civil Rights Division one of the hallmarks of his administration. "I think in many ways the Civil Rights Division is the conscience of the Justice Department," he said. "You can really assess how good a Justice Department is by how effective its Civil Rights Division is."

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Kansas Supreme Court allows live streaming, tweeting from state courtrooms, Lilly Chapa, Nov. 8, 2012. An amendment to Kansas court rules now lets journalists use laptops and cell phones to report from the courtroom. Reporters still need permission from the presiding judge, but the recent amendment to Rule 1001 clarifies that such devices may be used by journalists. Before the amendment was added, there was no mention of laptops or smartphones in the rule, and judges assumed such devices were not permitted, according to court spokesman Ron Keefover.

Consortium News, Democracy on the Ballot, Joe Lauria, Nov. 5, 2012. What’s left of American democracy is on the Nov. 6 ballot, with the Republicans hoping that a combination of voter suppression and attack ads bought by billionaires will secure the White House and Congress. Investigative reporter Greg Palast describes the strategy in a new book. With opinion polls heading into Tuesday’s election a dead heat, the decision could come down to a controversial counting of ballots in a replay of Florida 2000. That would put the focus on how Americans vote, a story that has so far been a subtext to this presidential race. The news media tend to concentrate on the horse race rather than the complicated issues surrounding how the winner will be determined. But the public is evidently interested. It has catapulted to bestseller status a humorous new book that probes the questionable techniques developed over the past 20 years to influence the outcome of national elections. The humor to be sure is black. Having taught statistics at Indiana University, author Greg Palast is well aware that a dry political science study of the subject would not have sold nearly 20,000 copies in its first four weeks. Illustrated with a 48-page centerfold of Ted Rall comics, and with an Introduction and a chapter by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps (Seven Stories Press, 284 pps.) reached the top 10 on the New York Times list. Clearly outraged, Palast’s flippancy, however, risks taking the edge off the issue’s deadly seriousness.

Selected Justice Investigations

USA Today Series USA Today, Misconduct at the Justice Department, Kevin McCoy and Brad Heath, USA TODAY, Dec. 11, 2010. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Kent unexpectedly found himself in the legal cross hairs in 2003…."The so-called ethics police violated the same rules they falsely accused me of violating," says Kent, now 66 and retired. "They created false evidence and hid exonerating evidence. How can that system be trusted?"  The case spotlights questions about the Office of Professional Responsibility, the Justice Department watchdog agency that can save or ruin a federal prosecutor's career as it enforces legal and ethics rules.  For full USA Today series begun on Sept. 23, 2010, see Index

The paper's multimedia documentation included:

VIDEO: Wrongfully jailed man: 'It can happen to you'
EXPLORE CASES: Investigate the misconduct cases we identified
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: Prosecutors must brush up on duties
CLOSER LOOK: Prosecutor misconduct can take many forms
FULL COVERAGE: Federal prosecutors series