Indicted Attorney Alleges Misconduct at U.S. Attorney’s Office in Louisiana
[This is a joint post by Patterico and DRJ. DRJ’s contributions to the post cannot possibly be overstated. — Patterico]
Did a prosecutor in the New Orleans U.S. Attorney’s Office commit misconduct which could jeopardize the conviction of former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards? Did a defendant who turned state’s evidence against Edwards bribe Congressman William Jefferson to influence the former U.S. Attorney to get a better deal for himself? Did the Department of Justice ignore evidence of these claims?
These are the allegations made by James G. Perdigao, a Louisiana attorney indicted in 2004 on theft and fraud charges, when he filed a motion to recuse the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Louisiana from prosecuting his criminal case. Perdigao’s motion contains detailed allegations of corruption by members of the U.S. Attorney’s office. Perdigao claims he brought these allegations to the attention of higher level prosecutors in the Bush administration, who ignored them.
Perdigao’s allegations include numerous facts that should be easily verified or disproved. In this post, patterico.com exclusively reveals that one of Perdigao’s claims is at least partially verified by a public records search.
Specifically, Perdigao claims that an Assistant U.S. Attorney handling part of the case against Governor Edwards “had acquired joint ownership of property in Alabama with Guidry’s defense counsel while the Edwards case was still in litigation.” As set forth in detail below, this particular allegation appears to be confirmed by property records available at an Alabama local government website.
The U.S. Attorney’s office says DoJ has already looked into Perdigao’s allegations and determined them to be without merit. However, the U.S. Attorney’s office has filed the proof under seal — and has sought without success to convince the judge to seal Perdigao’s allegations.
Either Perdigao and his lawyer are making very serious allegations without sufficient proof, or DoJ did an inadequate investigation as to possible corruption by a local U.S. Attorney’s office . . . or, perhaps, willingly overlooked an apparent conflict of interest.
Only time will tell whether Perdigao’s allegations are true and are as serious as the motion makes them out to be, or whether they are simply the maneuverings of an attorney trying to avoid entering a guilty plea.
In the meantime, here are some details of the allegations.
Let’s start with this introduction from the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
A man charged with stealing roughly $30 million from the large New Orleans law firm that employed him asked in a court motion filed Thursday that U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office be recused from his case because of alleged conflicts.
The filing by Jamie Perdigao claims that after he was arrested in 2004, the former Adams and Reese partner provided federal authorities with juicy leads about other criminal activity he knew of — some of it involving key players in the case against former Gov. Edwards.
The feds didn’t pursue any of it, Perdigao’s motion claims, because Letten’s office has a conflict in the Edwards case.
Letten’s office responded by filing a strongly worded motion Monday pointing out that, despite serious doubts about the validity of Perdigao’s claims, the office already recused itself in 2006 from investigating the leads. The tips were referred to the Department of Justice in Washington, which agreed to handle the investigation.
The Perdigao story has its roots in the May 2000 conviction of Governor Edwin Edwards for accepting bribes in return for influencing or controlling who was awarded riverboat gaming casino licenses in Louisiana.
One of the people who turned state’s evidence against Edwards was Robert Guidry, a Louisiana tugboat operator who testified he paid bribes to Edwards in return for a casino license. The Louisiana legislature limited the number of riverboat casino licenses issued to 15, so they were very valuable. Perdigao “represented Guidry in civil matters at the time of the Edwards trial,” according to the Times-Picayune.
Edwards filed several appeals of his conviction to the 5th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court that resulted in opinions in 2002 and 2006. In the latter appeal, Edwards unsuccessfully argued that the U.S. Attorney failed to provide Edwards’s defense with all exculpatory evidence of Guidry’s deal with the U.S. Attorney. There were also concerns that the U.S. Attorney’s office let Guidry escape with a minimal punishment (5 months in a halfway house) and retain significant funds from his brief tenure in the casino business.
Property Transactions by an AUSA
One of Perdigao’s allegations can be checked out, in part, by reference to property records. Perdigao alleges:
That the AUSA had acquired joint ownership of property in Alabama with Guidry’s defense counsel while the Edwards case was still in litigation. The AUSA also failed to make proper disclosures on his Public Disclosure Forms with the Department of Justice.
Perdigao does not name the AUSA or Guidry’s defense counsel. However, he does state that the AUSA “became the Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division.” The Times-Picayune article linked above indicates that the AUSA in question is Fred Harper:
Perdigao’s motion alleges that Letten’s office, too, is riddled with conflicts and corruption. It says that, at some point during the Edwards case, Guidry bribed the prosecutor who is now deputy chief of the office’s criminal division in hopes of getting leniency.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Harper, a veteran prosecutor, holds that position now.
Perdigao also declines to name Guidry’s defense counsel — the one who supposedly “acquired joint ownership of property in Alabama” with the AUSA (whom the Times-Picayune suggests is Fred Harper). However, a published court decision tells us that one of Guidry’s defense lawyers was a man named Ralph Capitelli.
So, did Fred Harper acquire joint ownership of property in Alabama with Ralph Capitelli? Public records suggest that he did.
Property records for Baldwin County, Alabama, reveal that a Fred Harper, sometimes referred to as Fred Harper Jr., owns or has owned at least two pieces of property jointly with a Ralph Capitelli. Those records show that on May 10, 2005, four individuals, Fred P. Harper, Laura Jean Todaro, and Ralph and Linda Capitelli, purchased a piece of property in Baldwin County. On the same date, those same 4 people jointly took out a mortgage in the amount of $355,500. The records also show that those same 4 people bought what appears to be a second piece of land on July 15, 2005, with a down payment of $280,000.
At the time of those property purchases (May and July 2005), litigation over a petition for habeas corpus filed by Edwards was still pending. Edwards’ habeas filing was not resolved until this ruling of the U.S. Fifth Circuit dated March 1, 2006. That appeal must have been filed some time shortly after December 14, 2004, when, according to sources cited at White Collar Crime Prof Blog, a district court judge ruled on a motion to clear the way for the appeal.
It is not clear whether Harper played any role in opposing the habeas petition filed by Edwards. The Fifth Circuit opinion lists only a Stephen Higginson representing the United States in the appeal. A DoJ press release indicates that Higginson is an Assistant U.S. Attorney in New Orleans who was on the team, with Fred Harper, that prosecuted Edwards. It was not until September 13, 2006 that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans recused itself from handling the allegations made by Perdigao, according to a letter filed along with U.S. Attorney Letten’s response to Perdigao’s motion.
Was the “Fred Harper” whose name appears on the property records the same Fred Harper who worked for the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Louisiana? It would appear so. The key fact here is that one of the names listed on the deed with Harper was Laura Jean Todaro. It turns out that Laura Jean Todaro was Harper’s girlfriend.
Similarly, the “Ralph Capitelli” whose name appears on the property documents with Harper and Todaro appears to be the same Ralph Capitelli who represented Robert Guidry. In the case of U.S. v. Robert Guidry, the court docket in PACER shows that the defendant was represented by Ralph Capitelli, of the law firm Capitelli & Wicker, 1100 Poydras St., New Orleans. The Ralph Capitelli listed on the decision linked above is based in New Orleans. This 8-K SEC filing, from October 20, 2004, sets forth a stock purchase agreement to which Ralph Capitelli and T. Carey Wicker III are among the parties. The filing lists both Capitelli and Wicker as having the same address: “1100 Poydras St., Suite 2950, New Orleans, LA 70163” — the address of the Capitelli & Wicker law firm, according to the Capitelli & Wicker firm’s web site.
The SEC filing further states that Ralph Capitelli and Linda Capitelli are husband and wife, and Louisiana residents. The couple were also notables at a New Orleans event in November 2007. Further evidence comes in the form of campaign finance records showing that Linda Capitelli lists her address care of the Capitelli & Wicker firm for the purposes of her campaign contributions.
From all of this, we know that Ralph Capitelli, the New Orleans criminal defense lawyer who represented Robert Guidry, is married to Linda Capitelli. And Ralph and Linda Capitelli are the people whose names are listed on the deed with Fred Harper and Laura Jean Todaro.
This evidence appears to strongly indicate that AUSA Fred Harper and Guidry defense attorney Ralph Capitelli jointly purchased land during the pendency of Edwards’s habeas matters, just as Perdigao alleged.
(Interestingly, Capitelli apparently was still representing Guidry, in connection with obtaining controversial liquor licenses, as recently as March 2008.)
Allegations against Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA)
In his motion to recuse, Perdigao also raises claims that involve Congressman William Jefferson, his elder brother Mose Jefferson, and former US Attorney Eddie Jordan — the predecessor to Jim Letter, the current U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. From the Times-Picayune report:
Among the wide-ranging claims, Perdigao’s motion claims that he told federal investigators that former riverboat casino owner Bobby Guidry, whose testimony helped convict Edwards, paid more than $1 million in bribes to U.S. Rep. William Jefferson around the time of the trial. Edwards was found guilty of racketeering and is more than halfway through a 10-year sentence in a Louisiana federal prison.
Perdigao represented Guidry in civil matters at the time of the Edwards trial; Perdigao also testified in the case. His motion claims that the bribes Guidry allegedly paid were “to be used by Jefferson to illegally influence then-U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan,” a Jefferson ally, to treat Guidry leniently. Guidry eventually pleaded guilty to paying bribes to Edwards to get a riverboat casino license. In 2001, he was sentenced to a halfway house for five months.
The motion does not say how Perdigao knows of the alleged bribes, or whether he has proof.
Also in hopes of influencing Jordan, the motion claims, Guidry loaned $300,000 in August 2000 to Mose Jefferson, the congressman’s brother. The loan paperwork was drawn up by the Adams and Reese law firm, where Perdigao was employed, the motion says.
Eddie Jordan is another in a long line of interesting Louisiana politicians. He was appointed by President Clinton as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana and he served until 2001 when he was succeeded by his first assistant, Jim Letten, who was lead prosecutor in the Edwin Edwards prosecution.
Thereafter, Jordan ran for and won election as New Orleans District Attorney, but he stirred controversy when one of his first acts in 2003 was to fire most of the white employees in the D.A.’s office. In late 2007, Jordan resigned after effectively bankrupting the D.A.’s office from the $3.5 million judgment resulting from a jury verdict that he racially discriminated against white employees. As a result, the D.A.’s office faced seizure of its office assets and disruption in paying staff salaries.
According to a June 2007 Times-Picayune article, Mose Jefferson was reportedly the source of bribes paid to former Orleans Parish School Board president Ellenese Brooks-Simms, and Jefferson has been indicted for bribery in that case. This supports Perdigao’s claim that Mose Jefferson was involved in bribery. (In an interesting side-note, Ralph Capitelli represented Brooks-Simms in that case.)
Page 5 of the Times-Picayune article notes the close relationship between Congressman William Jefferson and “Jefferson allies including District Attorney Eddie Jordan … ,” providing support for Perdigao’s claim of an alliance between William Jefferson and Eddie Jordan.
Other allegations in the motion to recuse
Another claim alleged in Perdigao’s motion to recuse raises questions about the adequacy of investigations conducted by the Department of Justice:
In October 2006 Guidry’s son-in-law informed Perdigao that Guidry was aware of Perdigao having contacted the Public Integrity Division of the Department of Justice informing it of the dealings between William Jefferson and Guidry. Guidry’s son-in-law relayed a threat to Perdigao from Guidry that he “better watch what he says.” Perdigao was also told that Guidry knew the IRS was, for the first time, investigating Perdigao.
The U.S. Attorney’s office filed this response strenuously opposing Perdigao’s motion, based in part on the fact that the U.S. Attorney’s office had already voluntarily recused itself from investigating Perdigao’s allegations, turning the matter over to DoJ, which took over that investigation in September 2006. The response by the U.S. Attorney’s office strongly rejects all of Perdigao’s allegations, and points out that its recusal was made in anticipation that Perdigao would raise such claims as the date neared to finalize his criminal case. Furthermore, the response filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office represented to the court that Perdigao’s claims had been investigated by DoJ, and found to be without merit:
[E]ach accusation about the U.S. Attorney’s office including the claim that Perdigao’s cooperation was being leaked were contemporaneously referred to the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) which determined there was no merit in them and closed their investigation in April 2007.
The U.S. Attorney’s office also included a (redacted) letter stating that the Department of Justice “has agreed to handle the criminal investigation and its impact, if any, on the Edwards prosecution.” The U.S. Attorney’s response also notes that Perdigao directly communicated his claims to “to the former Attorney General of the United States who afforded his lawyers the opportunity to present the allegations directly to the head of the DOJ Public Integrity Section.”
Adams and Reese, which is also implicated in wrongdoing by Perdigao’s motion, has also issued a strong denial, according to this story:
Adams and Reese managing partner, Charles Adams, Jr. tells 9NEWS, “Perdigao is lashing out at those who are holding him accountable for his actions – our firm who caught him and the government who is prosecuting him. Adams and Reese categorically denies Perdigao’s allegations of wrongdoing.”
The same story says that the government has until May 9 to file a substantive response, and that Edwards’s attorney planned to meet with him last week to discuss their options in light of Perdigao’s allegations.
It is important to emphasize that there may be absolutely nothing to Perdigao’s allegations of corruption. Perdigao admits in his motion that Guidry actively sought to discover the vulnerabiliities of the AUSA. It is a possibility that he and Guidry collected information about the AUSA, such as the property records information discussed in this post, with the thought of using that information to support future allegations of corruption.
Still, the fact that OPR’s assessment was filed under seal is interesting and raises questions of its own. There remains the possibility that OPR found something true in Perdigao’s allegations, but determined that it was irrelevant to his specific claims of corruption.
Perdigao’s motion for recusal also alleges:
- That the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI failed to follow up on Perdigao’s debriefing of misconduct related to the Edwards case or to evidence of misconduct involving members of Perdigao’s law firm.
- That Perdigao told the U.S. Attorney’s office that Guidry was the “source of significant misrepresentation of facts upon which the U.S. Attorney’s office relied in order to secure its conviction of Edwards.”
- That the details of Perdigao’s debriefings were promptly shared with Guidry, which Perdigao claimed led to threats against him.
- That Perdigao passed an FBI polygraph examination regarding his claims.
- That the authorities failed to investigate a shooting attack on Perdigao that occurred after he was warned not to assist the government and just prior to his meeting with government officials.
Perdigao’s motion concludes that, “rather than wanting defendant’s testimony about these criminal matters, the [U.S. Attorney’s] office was trying to avoid exposing these facts as the trial of former Governor Edwards had been a high publicity case for the U.S. Attorney’s office, and negative information about the chief witness could jeopardize that conviction.”
According to the Times-Picayune, the U.S. Attorney’s office initially asked the federal district judge to seal Perdigao’s motion to recuse, but the judge refused. That does not mean the court will grant Perdigao’s motion to recuse or even a hearing on the motion, but it does mean this potentially explosive story could be on its way to national attention.
Thus, as the story develops, a key issue will be whether Perdigao’s seven assertions raised in his motion to recuse are proved true or false:
1. a. Did the AUSA lie under oath in his divorce proceeding in Jefferson Parish near the time Guidry testified in the Edwards trial?
1. b. Did the AUSA use an office “paralegal to gather information on his wife’s private investigator”?
1. c. Has the AUSA “forged his father’s name on legal and banking documents”?
1. d. Has the AUSA “misrepresented his attorneys’ fee bills in connection with an award of attorney fees in his divorce dispute”?
1. e. Does the AUSA register “his car in Alabama to save on car insurance even though he lives in Louisiana”?
2. Has Guidry given money to the AUSA?
3. As set forth above, the Ralph Capitelli listed in the Baldwin County, Alabama records appears to be the same Ralph Capitelli who has represented Robert Guidry. The question now becomes: did Harper disclose his joint property ownership with Ralph Capitelli to the DoJ?
4. Did the AUSA send a message to Perdigao’s attorneys on August 24, 2006, to the effect that “he better take the deal; it’s not going to get any better” and that, if he did not, “the government would move to indict him on multiple charges, have him arrested and move for pre-trial detention”?
5. Is there evidence that Congressman William Jefferson was paid funds of up to $1M by Guidry?
6. Do the records of Perdigao’s law firm, Adams and Reese, reflect the creation of Guidry’s “RJG Trust in the Cook Islands, 1900 miles northeast of New Zealand … initially funded with a deposit of $5 million by wire to Bank von Ernst in Switzerland”? Is there evidence that a “sham annuity was also purchased by Guidry to help hide the money”?
7. Do the records of Perdigao’s law firm, Adams and Reese, include documentation of a $300,000 loan from Guidry to Mose Jefferson? If so, did the loan occur at or near the time the U.S. Attorney’s office prepared the sentencing recommendation for Guidry? Have there been significant political contributions from the Guidry family and Adams and Reese partners to Congressman William Jefferson?
Either the allegations are true or they aren’t. Either way, someone ought to find out. We’ve done what we can here to verify one aspect of Perdigao’s claims, and that claim appears to be true.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans should stop trying to seal the documents relating to this matter. The allegations are all now in the public domain, and the public has a right to hear the government’s side of the story. In particular, U.S. Attorney Letten should respond clearly and directly to the allegations regarding the Alabama property transactions. There is no justification for hiding behind sealed and redacted filings.