The end of Jim Letten – Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten made a name for himself by taking down some of Louisiana’s most corrupt public officials. Among his legal triumphs against corruption, he toppled former Gov. Edwin Edwards and decapitated leadership in Jefferson Parish and his office had former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin firmly in its crosshairs when his own office became ensnared in scandal.
What took down Letten, a man supremely powerful and popular? Internet comments on nola.com. Two of his top lieutenants, Sal Perricone and Jan Mann, under a cloak of supposed anonymity allegedly enjoyed commenting on-line on public officials, local lawyers and even federal cases.
Perricone allegedly used several handles or pseudonyms, such as “Henry L. Mencken1951,” and he admitted to making more than 600 posts under the fake names. Mann is believed to have used the handle “eweman” for commenting on the site.
The pair was unmasked by the target of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Fred Heebe. Heebe, once a contender for Letten’s job, filed a petition, claiming that he was defamed in anonymous comments on nola.com and that those comments came from someone inside the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Heebe hired former FBI profiler James Fitzgerald, who helped indentify the Unabomber, Theodore Kacynski, to investigate the comments, and he concluded that evidence “strongly indicates that Mencken is in fact a member of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.”
Perricone was first commenter uncovered and the first leave, resigning in March. Never personally implicated, Letten resigned in late November after 28 years as a federal prosecutor. Mann and her husband were the last to leave, retiring in mid December. Perricone and Mann aren’t in the clear yet and still face possible legal woes from their alleged on-line behavior.
A number of cases could be compromised due to the on-line comments. Aaron Broussard, the former Jefferson Parish president who pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, filed to have local prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office removed from his case due to the on-line comments. He could be the first of many defendants looking to have their convictions and cases reexamined in light of the scandal.
“The Chinese have a saying that if you sit by the river long enough, the dead body of your enemy will come floating down the river. I suppose the feds sat by the river long enough, so here comes my body,” said Edwin Edwards at the time of his conviction. It was the feds' third attempt to prosecute him.
On the news of the scandal at the U.S. Attorney’ Office that doggedly pursued him and the end of Letten’s reign at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Edwards said, “Sit by the river long enough, I did.”
- Criminal target Fred Heebe files suit against anonymous commenter
- Fed at center of blogging scandal resigns
- Letten: Assistant U.S. Attorney was commenter on NOLA.com
- U.S. Attorney's office hit with more accusations of inappropriate web comments
- Broussard seeks recusal of local U.S. Attorney's Office from case