NEW ORLEANS – An assistant U.S. Attorney is in fact the commenter on the NOLA.com web site who penned comments under the pen name "Henry L. Mencken1951," according to U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.
Letten said that assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone admitted on Tuesday that he made the nearly 600 postings under that name.
Perricone's postings as Henry L. Mencken1951 included criticisms of judges and of Letten himself and there were some concerning the River Birch probe.
River Birch co-owner Fred Heebe claimed in a court petition that the comments made by “Henry L. Mencken1951” were actually made by Perricone.
"This is an awkward place to be," said Letten, when asked about whether comments made by Perricone could jeopardize cases in which he was involved. Letten said that he didn't think any of the previous cases would be imperiled.
Letten said that neither he nor anyone in his office had knowledge prior to this week's story, that Perricone was making comments under the pen name.
Letten said the Department of Justice has been notified and an investigation will take place on a larger level. He said Perricone has been recused from any cases that he had commented on the web site.
However, Letten admitted that Perricone was part of a hearing on River Birch Thursday morning. Letten called the decision to let him proceed, “judiciously economical.” He said Perricone would continue to work on other cases that he didn’t comment on, pending the outcome of the investigation.
"We learned, in my office, when I asked him shortly after we had knowledge of this," said Letten. "Sal Perricone admitted he was Henry Mencken1951.
“My concern, my emotional concern, is dealing with this crisis, this issue, properly, dealing with it honestly, trying to get some kind of message out to you all in the public that we serve, that helps to keep the trust you’ve placed in us.”
Letten said he personally contacted the Department of Justice and that the Office of Professional Responsibility is now investigating whether Perricone’s comments constitute misconduct.
In his petition requesting depositions with Perricone and Assistant U.S. Attorney James Mann, Heebe used a former FBI profiler to analyze the posts to the website nola.com and found strong similarities to court filings signed by Perricone, one of the lead prosecutors in the River Birch case.
Heebe has never been charged with a crime or named by federal authorities, but has been considered a primary target ever since Former state Wildlife and Fisheries Commissioner Henry Mouton pleaded guilty last year in the River Birch case. Mouton confessed to accepting more than $460,000 in bribes from River Birch to lobby for closure of the Old Gentilly Landfill, a River Birch competitor.
Former FBI profiler James Fitzgerald, who helped crack the code of the infamous Unabomber and identify him as Theodore Kacynski, “strongly indicates that Mencken is in fact a member of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.”
In his 11-page report, Fitzgerald stated that legal language and insider knowledge of the U.S. Attorney’s office point to Perricone. According to Fitzgerald, Mencken1951 has a “highly distinctive writing style” that is “eerily similar to that of a nine-page pleading filed by the government” and signed by Perricone, Mann and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Kennedy.
-- In the nola.com comments, Mencken1951 uses the words “dubiety” and “redoubt,” both of which appear in legal documents filed by Perricone and the River Birch prosecutors.
-- Mencken1951 and the River Birch prosecutors make liberal use of alliteration. For example, in a Dec. 27 court document, prosecutors wrote, “River Birch has many progenitors, progeny and prongs.” In a Jan. 17 post, Mencken1951 wrote “Puerile Pandering Politician,” in reference to a local official’s Martin Luther King Day speech.
-- Perricone was born in 1951. Among the 598 reader comments by Mencken1951, Heebe’s attorney Kyle Schonekas cites several that he claims are defamatory.
Mencken wrote that ‘Heebe comes from a long line of corruptors,” in a Sept. 3 post.
“Mencken displays detailed knowledge about and antipathy for Mr. Heebe throughout the posts,” Schonekas stated in the petition.