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Jim Letten, U.S. Attorney, Resigns
Updated 12 p.m.
In the end, it seems Jim Letten couldn't take out Fred Heebe's trash at his office. The local U.S. Attorney, who has been the center of an effort to bring corrupt politicians to justice around the New Orleans metro area over the last decade, announced he is stepping down amid revelations about some of his top Assistant U.S. Attorneys commenting on nola.com.
At a press conference this morning, Letten said his resignation would be effective Tuesday, ending his 28 year career with the feds and 11 year tenure as the U.S. Attorney.
Letten said he made the decision "after very careful and extensive consideration and discussion with colleagues, superiors and family."
"The decision is not an easy one or taken light," Letten said. "This is the best course of action under the circumstances for this office, the people we serve and for me personally.
The resignation comes as those superiors at the U.S. Department of Justice and federal judges are investigating the extent to which his former lieutenant Jan Mann posted on nola.com comment boards about ongoing cases. Sal Perricone, another top prosecutor in Letten's office, resigned last year after he was found to be commenting under the pseudonym Henry L. Mencken1951.
Both of the revelations came in lawsuits filed by trash magnate Fred Heebe, who is assumed to be the target of a federal probe into his expansion of the River Birch landfill and other associated dumps. Heebe has never been charged with a crime, and the Heebe probe was handed up to the federal DOJ following Perricone's demise.
Letten found out just how uncomfortable things were going to get last week when U.S. Judge Kurt Engelhardt ordered a new investigation into the commenters. Englehardt made the order in connection with a move to get a new trial by the police officers who were convicted in the Danziger Bridge killings. Today, the DOJ said John Horn, a top prosecutor in the Georgia U.S. Attorneys' office would look into the leaks as ordered by Engelhardt, and report directly to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General.
Today, Letten made no mention of the commenting scandals directly, but said he never wanted to "divert or distract" attention from the mission of his office.
"I believe therefore, and I think my colleagues agree- it's time to move on, move forward, so that this tremendous, storied U.S. Attorney's office can move forward together and propel ahead with newly invigorated leadership and devotion," Letten said.
U.S. Attorneys are presidential appointments, leaving the choice for the next person to sit in Letten's seat in the hands of President Barack Obama. Letten, a Republican, was appointed by President George W. Bush, but survived into Barack Obama's term. Dana J. Boente, who currently serves as First Assistant U.S. Attorney in Virginia, will serve as interim U.S. Attorney in New Orleans until a permanent replacement has been picked.
Along with the Heebe probe, Letten's office is also knee deep in an investigation into former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin. Just yesterday, a City Hall contractor plead guilty to bribing a public official widely believed to be Nagin. The move seemed to leave the door open for Nagin's indictment.
Public officials rushed out statements as the news trickled out.
“I want to thank U.S. Attorney Jim Letten for his long career of service to the Eastern District and our state. While the recent revelations of wrongdoing within his office are indeed troubling, his record of rooting out public corruption is to be commended...Today’s personnel changes within the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District are a necessary step toward maintaining public trust in an institution charged with fighting corruption and keeping the people of the Eastern District safe," said Senator Mary Landrieu.
Showing her sway over the selection of Letten's permanent replacement, Landrieu said she would forward a short list of candidates for the job to the DOJ and the White House "in the coming weeks."
“Jim Letten is a friend," Mayor Mitch said in a statement. "He has been a great partner for the City of New Orleans as we fight public corruption and violent street crime. I look forward to working with President Obama and Senator Landrieu so that the next United States Attorney can be an effective prosecutor against public corruption and street crime.”
With a reminder that Mencken ultimately began the stream of events that appear to have brought Letten down from his post, here's a quote from the real H.L. Mencken that Letten may be thinking about today:
Dead Huey Long, Emma Boyce, Ian Hoch, Sarah Esenwein, Will Dilella, Chris Rinaldi, Lianna Patch, Phil Yiannopoulos, Cate Czarnecki, Jonas Griffin, Jennifer Abbot, Mary Kilpatrick, Elaina Patton, Mike Horst, Devin Bambrick, Katherine McGuire, Norris Ortolano, Joe Shriner
Michael Weber, B.A.
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