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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Siegelman Prosecutors Used Threats Against Witnesses

Prosecutors in the Don Siegelman case discussed the possibility of filing a bar complaint in order to obtain the desired testimony from a cooperating witness.

Prosecutors also appeared to condone the unlawful removal of documents from an off-site facility. And they openly discussed and laughed about a plan to obtain proffer testimony from defendant Richard Scrushy, seeking a plea agreement without advising his attorneys that their client had already been named in a sealed indictment.

Those are three of many revelations in a letter from whistleblower Tamarah Grimes to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder about prosecutorial misconduct in the Siegelman case. Grimes' letter is dated June 1, 2009, and she was fired eight days later from her position as a paralegal in the Department of Justice's Office in the Middle District of Alabama.

Holder so far has taken no public action regarding what appears to be clear retaliation against a government whistleblower who used proper channels to reveal improper, and possibly criminal, conduct.

The complete Grimes letter to Holder can be viewed here:

Grimes Letter to Holder (PDF)

The threat of a bar complaint involved witness Lorree Skelton, an attorney. It was essential, investigators said, that Skelton's testimony support that of Nick Bailey, who was scheduled to testify about a meeting between then-Governor Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. Bailey was to testify about the exchange of a check and a supposed conversation between Siegelman and Scrushy, information that would prove critical to obtaining convictions in the case.

Grimes writes to Holder, however, that Bailey was not at all certain about what he had witnessed. "Mr. Bailey repeatedly said he did not know and he was not sure," Grimes writes. "The prosecutors coaxed and pressured Mr. Bailey to 'remember' their version of alleged events. Mr. Bailey appeared apprehensive and hesitant to disappoint the prosecutors."

Similar pressure was applied to Loree Skelton. Writes Grimes:

The prosecutors also threatened to revoke the plea agreement of another cooperating witness, Loree Skelton, unless the witness agreed to testify in a certain manner to support Nick Bailey's meeting-check-conversation testimony. The prosecutors told the attorney for Ms. Skelton that under the plea, she was required to provide "full cooperation," and it was within their discretion to decided what constituted "full cooperation." If Ms. Skelton did not testify in the desired manner, her testimony would not be considered "full cooperation." The prosecutors threatened to revoke the plea unless Ms. Skelton testified in the desired manner. Loree Skelton was a lawyer, and there was discussion of filing a bar complaint as leverage to obtain the desired testimony."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen P. Feaga was lead prosecutor on the case, with close assistance from fellow AUSA J.B. Perrine and acting U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin. Grimes describes Feaga in almost Napoleonic terms. "Mr. Feaga would frequently comment, 'Gentleman, we are making history here,'" Grimes writes. "Unfortunately, the lines between fact and fiction became hopelessly blurred as a result of these tactics."

Questionable tactics also were used against Scrushy and his attorneys. Writes Grimes:

Before trial, I heard Mr. Feaga, AUSA Perrine and Mr. Franklin openly discuss and laugh about a plan to obtain proffer testimony from defendant Richard Scrushy, seeking a plea agreement without advising his attorneys that their client had already been named in a sealed indictment. Richard Pilger from Public Integrity and Joseph Fitzpatrick from the State AG's Office were more hesitant to engage in this particular conduct but even more hesitant to challenge the authority of Mr. Feaga."

Franklin eventually removed Grimes from "The Big Case" after she and coworker Janie Crooks voiced concern about the removal of documents from the Waste Management hazardous landfill at Emelle, Alabama. Company officials had prohibited removal of documents from the site, but Grimes and Crooks arrived to find FBI Agent Tyler McCurdy and contract employee Vallie Byrdsong loading boxes of numbered documents into their vehicles:

I asked FBI Agent McCurdy about this. He replied that Mr. Franklin had approved the removal of the documents and instructed Mrs. Crooks and me to assist. We declined to participate in this particular activity because we felt it would be criminal theft of property.

What happened to a member of the Siegelman prosecution team who voiced concerns about criminal theft? In Grimes case, she was removed from the team:

Mr. Franklin advised me not to come back to the off=site facility because I made to many complaints to too many people and my presence was a distraction. Mr. Franklin's words to me were, "There is only one problem here, and that problem is you!"

In other words, I was the only person questioning the propriety of certain routine practices, and I was the only person unwilling to do "whatever it takes," regardless of the ethical or legal implications of the conduct.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why would Feaga claim to be making history if this were a simply a political corruption/bribery case? How was Feaga making history?