Break-ins plague targets of US Attorneys
|Larisa Alexandrovna, Muriel Kane and Lindsay Beyerstein|
Published: Thursday May 1, 2008
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The Permanent Republican Majority Part VI
MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA – In two states where US attorneys are already under fire for serious allegations of political prosecutions, seven people associated with three federal cases have experienced 10 suspicious incidents including break-ins and arson.
These crimes raise serious questions about possible use of deliberate intimidation tactics not only because of who the victims are and the already wide criticism of the prosecutions to begin with, but also because of the suspicious nature of each incident individually as well as the pattern collectively. Typically burglars do not break-into an office or private residence only to rummage through documents, for example, as is the case with most of the burglaries in these two federal cases.
In Alabama, for instance, the home of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman was burglarized twice during the period of his first indictment. Nothing of value was taken, however, and according to the Siegelman family, the only items of interest to the burglars were the files in Siegelman's home office.
Siegelman's attorney experienced the same type of break-in at her office.
In neighboring Mississippi, a case brought against a trial lawyer and three judges raises even more disturbing questions. Of the four individuals in the same case, three of the US Attorney’s targets were the victims of crimes during their indictment or trial. This case, like that of Governor Siegelman, has been widely criticized as a politically motivated prosecution by a Bush US Attorney.
The main target of the indictment, attorney Paul Minor, had his office broken into, while Mississippi Supreme Court Justice, Oliver E. Diaz Jr., had his home burglarized. According to police reports and statements from Diaz and from individuals close to Minor, nothing of value was taken and the burglars only rummaged through documents and in Minor’s case, also took a single computer from an office full of expensive office equipment.
The incidents are not limited to burglaries. In Mississippi, former Judge John Whitfield was the victim of arson at his office. In Alabama, the whistleblower in the Don Siegelman case, Dana Jill Simpson, had her home burned down, and shortly thereafter her car was allegedly forced off the road.
While there is no direct evidence linking these crimes to the US Attorneys’ office targeting these individuals, or to the Bush administration, there is a distinct pattern that makes it highly unlikely that these incidents are isolated and unrelated.
All of these crimes remain unsolved.
A FIRE IN ALABAMA
On Feb. 21, 2007, a private residence located at 1429 West Main Street in Rainsville, Alabama caught fire. The house belonged to whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson, a long-time Alabama Republican lawyer and political opposition researcher who was then preparing to come forward in connection with the conviction of former Alabama Democratic governor Don Siegelman and his co-defendant, Republican fundraiser and businessman, Richard Scrushy.
According to the police report obtained by RAW STORY, the east side of the building was completely damaged and the entire structure sustained damages of roughly 30 percent. (See attached report.) The cause of this fire is unknown and there has been no formal investigation to date. Simpson was not home at the time of the incident.
According to Simpson's attorney in Montgomery, Alabama, Priscilla Duncan, the timing of the fire at Simpson's home should raise questions.
Jill "was talking to Siegelman's attorneys about what she was witness to, discussing going public," said Duncan in a conversation late last week. "On February 15 she also sent a letter to Art Leach [Scrushy's attorney]."
Six days after Simpson sent the letter to Leach, her house caught fire.
According to Simpson's subsequent May 7, 2007 affidavit and her sworn testimony before the US House Judiciary Committee Sept. 14, Siegelman's prosecution was allegedly orchestrated by senior officials in the Bush administration, primarily former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.
Simpson testified that two weeks after the November 2002 election in which Siegelman was defeated by Republican Bob Riley, Republican operative Bill Canary -- who was serving as Riley's campaign advisor -- held a conference call with Riley's staffers about "how to handle Siegelman." As reported in Part I of RAW STORY's investigative series, Simpson alleges that during this call, Canary stated that "his girls" would "take care of Siegelman."
Simpson says she understood "his girls" to be a reference to Canary's wife, Leura Canary, the US Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, and the couple's long-time friend, Alice Martin, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. Both women had been appointed by George W. Bush in 2001 and had been investigating Siegelman since taking office. Siegelman would later be indicted in Leura Canary's district.
Karl Rove has publicly denied any involvement in the investigation and prosecution of Siegelman but refuses to testify to this under oath. Neither Bill nor Leura Canary has offered a comment for any of our articles in the investigative series.
THE CAR ACCIDENT
Less than two weeks after her house caught fire, Simpson's car was allegedly forced off the road. She was rushed to Marshall Medical Center South and was treated for bruising on her arms and chest. According to the police report of the accident, Simpson was heading northbound on U.S 431 when a "non contact" vehicle made an improper lane change into her lane. Simpson swerved to avoid hitting the vehicle, almost going into the ditch, and struck a car parked in a driveway. (In the police sketch of the accident below, Simpson's car is marked #1. The parked car is marked #2.)
According to the police report, the driver of the non-contact vehicle was Mark Roden of Rainbow City, Alabama.
Ms. Simpson told RAW STORY several weeks ago that a state trooper interviewed Mr. Roden at the scene of the accident, and "when the trooper asked him for his employment information, Mr. Roden said that he was a officer with the Attalla police department. He was then allowed to leave without a citation."
The city clerk for the city of Attalla, Alabama confirmed to us that Mark Roden was indeed a former police officer with the Attalla Police Department, but she could not provide additional information. Calls left for the Attalla police chief were not returned.
Repeated attempts to reach Mark Roden at the residence listed on the accident report have been unsuccessful.
According to Priscilla Duncan, on the day of the car accident Simpson had met with Richard Scrushy, the co-defendant in the Siegelman case, to discuss coming forward as a whistleblower.
"It is definitely coincidental," Duncan said.
FORMER GOVERNOR'S PRIVATE RESIDENCE BURGLARIZED -- TWICE
Simpson was not the only one involved in the Siegelman case to fall victim to crimes. According to Governor Siegelman's daughter, Dana Siegelman, their family returned home from a summer trip in 2004 to find the house unlocked and the doors open. Nothing had been taken, although the home contained computers, stereos, and jewelry. Ms. Siegelman explained that the only things disturbed were in Siegelman's office, including his papers, which seemed to have been rifled and were in disarray.
Ms. Siegelman says that her family experienced this once more in the summer of 2004 and that the timing of the two burglaries appeared strange, because it was during this period that charges were brought against her father by the office of US Attorney Leura Canary.
According to Siegelman's daughter, the family did not report these incidents to the police at the time because they already felt targeted by the US Attorney's office and the FBI, as well as being uncertain as to what had actually occurred.
"It was only later, when we realized how deceitful our government really could be," Dana said, "that we suspected our house might have been bugged or Dad's files had been sifted through -- when the same thing happened to his lawyer, Susan James."
SIEGELMAN'S ATTORNEY'S OFFICE BROKEN INTO
Don Siegelman was sentenced to over seven years in a state penitentiary in June 2007. He was not allowed out on bail during his appeal, but was immediately shackled, manacled and moved out of state without his lawyers being informed. The severity of the sentence prompted 44 former state attorneys general of both parties to write a letter to Congress, asking them to investigate Siegelman's prosecution, which they describe as having "sufficient irregularities as to call into question the basic fairness that is the linchpin of our system of justice."
Montgomery attorney Susan James immediately prepared to file an appeal on Siegelman's behalf with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. James had handled much of the sentencing part of Siegelman's case and was now part of the appeal team.
On July 1, 2007, James' office was broken into. As with Siegelman's home, no computers or office equipment were taken or anything of any value. James told the Associated Press, "They went through our client files."
James expanded on the break-in in a recent interview with RAW STORY. She said the burglars went through several file cabinets with documents filed under the letter "S," which might have included Siegelman's files if she had not moved them earlier after a previous break-in.
"This burglary is unusual," said James. "File cabinets were left open. Drapes were closed and the blinds were pulled down."
James said that the only reason that someone would need to close the drapes and pull down the blinds was if they wanted to turn the lights on to look for something. She asserted that the office next door to hers was not burglarized, even though it also had computers and equipment.
When asked what she made of the cases described in this article, James said she'd not been aware of the number of break-ins and the similarities between them.
"The entire scenario appears to be a pattern unrelated to just random burglaries and random crimes," James said. "Our break-in was treated as a routine burglary but when you add the facts of what appear to be other similar burglaries together, this is something that definitely bears further investigation."
Dana Siegelman says that her family now has "little doubt as to why or who was behind it," but did not elaborate.
ALABAMA BUSINESSMAN'S OFFICE APPEARS BURGLARIZED - WHILE HE IS UNDER INVESTIGATION BY US ATTORNEY
Sometime between Sunday, March 2 and early the next morning, the office of Montgomery insurance executive and life-long Republican, John Goff was vandalized by persons unknown.
"We came in to work one day and the window was knocked out," Goff told Raw Story in a phone interview. Goff explained that the $400 window described in the police report was the sliding glass front door of his office. According to the police report obtained by Raw Story (See attached report.), a large pane of glass was smashed.
At the time the of the incident at his office, Goff was the subject of what he alleges is a politically motivated prosecution orchestrated by the US Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Alabama, Leura Canary, in retaliation for a politically embarrassing lawsuit he filed against the State's well-connected Republican governor, Bob Riley, last year.
Leura Canary’s husband, Bill Canary, served as a campaign advisor to Riley when he ran against Siegelman in the 2002 election. In essence, the US Attorney appears to bringing charges against the perceived enemies of her husband’s client.
A month after the incident at Goff’s office, a grand jury indicted Goff on charges of embezzlement, mail fraud, and conspiracy. The charges stem from a dispute between Goff and two reinsurance companies over insurance premiums Goff collected from clients. The original dispute was settled by arbitration and litigation several years ago. The arbitration panel agreed that Goff had failed to pay what he owed.
Goff reached a settlement with the Alabama Department of Insurance for complaints arising from the same dispute in the spring of 2005.
It is not clear why federal prosecutors decided to revisit the matter in 2007 and launch a criminal investigation against Goff, indicting him in 2008.
Goff and his lawyers maintain that federal prosecutors with close ties to Riley are rehashing settled business in order to punish Goff for blowing the whistle on an alleged attempt at extortion by lobbyists for Riley.
They alleged that US Attorney Leura Canary has a conflict of interest because her husband, Bill Canary, is on the list of witnesses to be deposed in Goff’s lawsuit against Riley and others in his administration.
The US Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Alabama did not return repeated calls and emails seeking comment.
MISSISSIPPI SUPREME COURT JUSTICE'S HOME BROKEN INTO
The break-ins and arson are not, however, restricted to Alabama. In Mississippi, there was another alleged political prosecution, a bribery case brought by the Bush-appointed US Attorney for the Southern District, Dunnica Lampton, against attorney Paul Minor and three judges, including Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver E. Diaz Jr., Minor and two of the judges have also fallen victim to break-ins and arson.
On May 14, 2004, while Judge Diaz and his family were out of town, a neighbor noticed an intruder and called the police. According to the police report, the front door of the Diaz home appeared to have been kicked in and a window broken. (See attached police report.)
In a striking similarity to the Alabama cases, the Diaz burglars appeared not to have been interested in valuables of any sort.
"Our door was kicked in and our documents were rummaged," Diaz said in an extensive interview for Part V of our investigative series. "Televisions, computers and other valuables were not taken, despite the fact that we were out of town for several days and the home was left open by the burglars. We could not figure out a motive for the burglary and reported it to the Biloxi Police Department. The crime was never solved."
A FIRE IN MISSISSIPPI
In the early morning of Sept. 15, 2003, the Biloxi, Mississippi office of another of the defendants in the Paul Minor case, former Mississippi judge John Whitfield, was set on fire.
At approximately 3:30 am, Whitfield's secretary, Michele Herman, was awakened by a call from the fire alarm company informing her that the office was ablaze. Herman was the first of Whitfield's associates to arrive at the scene. Her boss and other colleagues joined her soon after.
Herman described what happened after she arrived.
"I rushed to the office to watch the fire department put the fire out. It was contained to my office because we close doors between offices when we leave," Herman wrote in an email. "Just about everything I had was destroyed -- over 20 years worth of my research and books and photos and paintings and such."
From the outset, the Biloxi fire and police departments treated the fire as a case of arson. Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms were also involved, as were investigators from the US Attorney's office. However, the only suspect in the arson case was Whitfield himself.
"It was us, me and John [Whitfield] and a former cop that worked with us, and Mike [Crosby, Whitfield's attorney] that kept telling the fire officials that it looked like something was splashed all over the wall of the outside of the house that we used as an office," Herman stated. "They ignored us until John hired an independent fire inspector/arson expert."
According to Herman's recollection, local authorities announced that same day that they intended to confiscate files and documents that had survived the blaze. Whitfield's lawyer, Mike Crosby strongly objected to this, since he was concerned that privileged information -- including Whitfield's defense file and the case files of his clients -- would fall into the hands of the FBI and the ATF and be used against Whitfield in his upcoming trial.
In a letter obtained by RAW STORY, dated Sept. 19, 2003, Crosby wrote to the judge overseeing the seizure of files and hard drives to register his strenuous objections. The files and disks contained information that was critical to the operation of Whitfield's law practice as well as his defense file for the Diaz/Minor case. Crosby explained that he'd offered to make copies of all the materials for the investigators, if only he could have the originals back. The authorities refused. (See attached letter.)
Repeated attempts to reach Crosby for comment have been unsuccessful.
"No one has ever been charged with the crime, as far as we know," Herman added. "They dropped it after they investigated John -- he was their suspect, you know. Only problem was, he didn't own the building, had nothing to gain -- no motive for destroying the building."
YET ANOTHER MISSISSIPPI BREAK-IN
Also charged by US Attorney Dunnica Lampton was Paul Minor, a successful trial lawyer and the largest individual Democratic campaign donor in Mississippi. Minor was convicted of bribery and mail fraud and is now serving time in a federal penitentiary in Florida.
In the summer of 2003, Minor's Biloxi, Mississippi law office was allegedly broken into. According to his secretary, Janet Miller, a brick was used to shatter her office window and the break-in targeted only her office.
"I panicked because they took my whole computer -- it had all of my bookkeeping on it and I had an old back up that I had not updated since March," Miller said.
"It had a lot of Paul [Minor]'s personal stuff on it, his business, and of course it had all of the accounting for the law firm on it from 2000 forward."
Miller said that files were also rummaged through, but she could not say for sure if anything was taken because it was so chaotic. No other office in Minor's suite of offices were disturbed.
This crime, like the others, remains unsolved.
HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF?
John C. Villines, ICPS, CPP, has studied crime causation and crime prevention for 30 years. As a security consultant, he has provided services to private industry, the United States Government, law enforcement agencies, community organizations and others. He is the Director of John C. Villines LLC, often appears as an expert witness criminal cases, and was up until recently the Chairman of the Georgia Board of Private Detective and Security Agencies.
Villines was asked in the most general terms what he makes of this series of crimes. He was not provided with the names of the individuals or any information that would identify the Alabama and Mississippi cases.
"I would avoid drawing conclusions based upon the amount of information you have provided," Villines wrote in an email response. "But it would be reasonable to expect that the burglar or burglars is seeking information."
RAW STORY asked Villines if these crimes could be identity theft-type crimes or something similar.
"Certainly, identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States," Villines responded. "However, a series of burglaries and arsons such as you have described would not be the primary crimes I would expect to see associated with attempts to steal personal identifiers."
"It would seem more reasonable to expect that the burglar(s) have targeted information related to specific individuals, and that the value of the information is related to a personal motivation (either on the part of the burglar(s) or someone who has contracted their services, as in the famed Watergate burglary). Possible motives (speculation): acquire damaging information about a third party, or recover personal information to keep it from being discovered by others."
The pattern of break-ins and other crimes in Alabama and Mississippi and the serious questions surrounding possible intimidation tactics are not without precedent. From the 1960's to the 1980's, similar tactics were used by the Nixon and Reagan administrations to spy upon and demoralize their political opponents.
In 1971, a group of anonymous activists broke into FBI headquarters in Media, Pennsylvania and made off with more than a thousand documents, which were then mailed to major newspapers and politicians. The documents revealed the existence of a secret counterintelligence program -- known as COINTELPRO for short -- dedicated to investigating, undermining, and discrediting anti-war and civil rights groups. As part of this program, violent attacks against activists by right-wing groups were sometimes allowed to go forward or even incited by FBI informants within those groups.
The death of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1972 and strict new guidelines passed by Congress in 1976 were believed to have put an end to such abuses. Two high FBI officials were even convicted in 1980 of having ordered agents to break into the homes of friends and relatives of members of the Weather Underground, including the sister of Bernadine Dohrn.
These safeguards, however, broke down during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, who pardoned the two officials and had their convictions expunged. The FBI was once again a political tool, which not only investigated liberal members of Congress, such as Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Christopher Dodd, but also paid right-wing groups, including the followers of Reverend Moon, to spy upon and disrupt individuals and organizations opposed to the Reagan administration's support for right-wing dictators in Latin America.
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Ross Gelbspan wrote in Break-ins, Death Threats and the FBI (1991) about "the mystery of the little-publicized epidemic of low-grade, domestic terrorism. It includes break-ins, death threats, and politically motivated arson attacks which have plagued hundreds of activists and organizations across the country for the past seven years. While the FBI has repeatedly denied any role in these activities, the Bureau has, at the same time, refused scores of requests to investigate what is clearly an interstate conspiracy to violate the civil liberties of the victims.
"From 1984, when the first reports of mysterious political break-ins and death threats began to surface, the list of such episodes has continued to escalate. ... Of nearly 200 political break-ins and thefts of files reported by Central America and Sanctuary activists, not one has been solved."
Whether or not the recent cases in Alabama and Mississippi actually represent the reemergence of COINTELPRO tactics from the past remains unclear. There is no solid evidence tying any of the cases to one another. But there does appear to be a common pattern, both in who is being targeted and also in how the burglars have conducted their operations.
Larisa Alexandrovna is the Managing Editor of Investigative News for Raw Story and regularly reports on intelligence and national security matters. She has been covering the US Attorney Scandal for over six months. Her essay on the Siegelman case appears in a newly published anthology, Loser Taker All: Election Fraud and The Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008, edited by New York University professor Mark Crispin Miller, which features a collection of essays from prominent journalists, activists, and scholars. Contact her at [email protected].
Lindsay Beyerstein is an investigative reporter for Raw Story, regularly covering national issues relating to civil liberties, corruption, and women’s rights. She writes regularly for other publications, such as In These Times, and her photography has been published in The Austin Chronicle, Aftenposten (Norway's second largest newspaper), and Earth Island Journal. Lindsay can be reached at [email protected]
Muriel Kane is the Research Director for Raw Story Investigates.
The Permanent Republican Majority Series and Related Raw Story Articles
Part One – The Political Prisoner
Part Two – Exclusive interview with jailed governor’s daughter, Dana Siegelman
Part Three – Running Elections from the White House
Part Four – How Bush pick helped prosecute top Democrat-backed judge
Alabama station drops 60 Minutes expose on Don Siegelman prosecution
Interview with Dana Jill Simpson and alleged Rove smear campaign
Karl Rove’s Next Move: A million dollar home on Florida’s Emerald Coast
Part Five – Mississippi Justice: Bush US Attorney targeted my wife, supporters and friends