Alabama Scene

The U.S. Department of Embarrassment

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com.

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com.

The collapse of the case against Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, in 2009 has been described as a “profound embarrassment” for the U.S. Department of Justice and has raised troubling issues about the integrity of the actions of federal prosecutors who wield enormous power over people they investigate.

Stevens’s case was handled by senior officials of the department’s Public “Integrity” Section. These were the same folks who have been in Montgomery for the past two years spending $50 million in taxpayer money and using the power of the United States Government to ruin the lives of innocent people in a political investigation pushed by former Gov. Bob Riley who is currently under investigation himself by local Montgomery prosecutors.

Three Justice Department prosecutors were held in contempt by the judge in the Stevens case, including two, Brenda Morris and William Welch, who were also involved in the Montgomery Bingo trial.

Last week, a second jury convened by the federal prosecutors unceremoniously sent the feds packing back to Washington with a zero batting average. The score was 138-0 for the defense.

An FBI agent who worked on the Stevens investigation accused federal prosecutors and a fellow agent of willfully concealing evidence from Stevens’s lawyers.

The agent told the court that he had “witnessed or learned of serious violations of policy, rules, and procedures as well as possible criminal violations by the prosecution.”

The Bingo cases in Montgomery saw at least two prosecutors sent packing from the department and others reassigned. The trials in Montgomery were a cesspool of FBI and prosecutorial misconduct. One FBI agent was removed from the courtroom in the first trial last year for misplacing thousands of messages either written or on his e-mail. There was also evidence of prosecutorial influence in the grand jury room where the indictments took place. In spite of all this, the judge allowed the cases to continue.

But now it’s over and the question is whether or not the innocent, bankrupt, and deceased defendants, drained of their wealth, and in the case of one, his life, will attempt to recover the millions it cost to defend themselves from a runaway federal prosecution train.

They can, you know. It’s called a malicious prosecution lawsuit.

$1.7 million recovered in Louisiana case

In September of last year, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana ordered the United States to pay $1.7 million in such a lawsuit to Hubert Vidrine. The order was based on findings that the U.S. government had maliciously prosecuted Vidrine for alleged environmental crimes.

In September 1996, agents executed a search warrant on a refining company, where Vidrine worked as a manager. The search was based on the assertion that hazardous materials may have been illegally stored at the facility.

Over three years after the execution of the search warrant, Vidrine was indicted on one count of knowingly storing hazardous waste on the property of the refining company. In September 2003, more than seven years after the execution of the search warrant, the matter was dismissed in court.

In 2007, Vidrine filed a civil suit for malicious prosecution under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a statute allowing private parties to sue the United States in a federal court for most torts committed by persons acting on behalf of the United States. The court held that “probable cause did not exist to support the charges against Vidrine.”

The EPA agent who spearheaded the investigation and indictment, later pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and perjury relating to his false testimony during a deposition for the civil malicious-prosecution suit that led to the $1.7 million award to Vidrine. The agent lied about an affair that he was having with a female FBI agent also assigned to the Vidrine case.

The judge in the case stated that “the evidence strongly indicated the male agent deliberately used his investigation and prosecution of Vidrine to foster, further facilitate and cloak his extra-marital affair with the female agent, and perhaps, to exert improper influence over the manner in which she investigated and reported upon this case.”

Sounds a lot like some of the shenanigans that went on in the Montgomery trials.