Treasury Department investigating US Attorney for leaking state Supreme Court Justice's tax returns
The Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility and the US Treasury Department are investigating allegations that a Bush-appointed US Attorney inappropriately shared private income tax information on one of his targets with a state judicial commission that included one of his relatives, according to court documents and a source close to the investigation.
Dunnica Lampton, the US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, is already under investigation for allegations of political prosecutions in his state. According to new documents viewed by Raw Story, Lampton allegedly shared the private income tax records of then-Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver E. Diaz Jr. with the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance and with one of its then-commissioners, his distant cousin Leslie B. Lampton.
The US Attorney also shared the tax records of Diaz's wife, Jennifer, and those were also allegedly shared without authorization, said a source close to the DOJ investigation. Documents shown to Raw Story relating to the case confirm that a criminal investigation is underway. These documents did not include the Diaz's tax returns themselves.
In addition to the Justice Department investigation, the office of the United States Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration is also probing Lampton's conduct, the source said. The special agent assigned to the case is said to be Kelly Sopko.
Reached by phone last Monday, a Treasury spokesperson would not confirm that Sopko worked for the Department or that there was an investigation.
Sopko also did not respond to repeated emails and calls for comment.
The Commission on Judicial PerformanceDunnica Lampton unsuccessfully prosecuted Diaz for bribery and then tax evasion in 2005 and 2006. Diaz was acquitted both times. Diaz's wife, Jennifer, pled guilty to tax evasion, but she has since said she was told she could lose her children if sentenced to prison after a jury conviction.
Diaz's case was named last spring by the House Judiciary Committee as one of several recent federal prosecutions in which charges were flimsy and politics appeared to have played a significant role.
Copies of Diaz's tax return were provided to the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, an ethics oversight body, in the summer of 2006 -- shortly after Diaz' second acquittal. The Commission's is comprised of seven members, including judges and two lay persons, appointed by the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court for a five-year term. The Commission's investigations are confidential.
Leslie Lampton, who is the CEO of Ergon Inc. -- a multi-billion dollar manufacturing and energy company -- was serving as a layperson on the panel at the time that it received the Diaz tax records. He was re-appointed to the Commission in January of this year for a term that was to run through December of 2012, but he resigned abruptly just a few months later, shortly after Diaz filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service in March relating to the alleged unauthorized disclosure of his income tax records.
Reached by phone last Monday, Leslie Lampton's Mississippi-based attorney Kevin Watson explained that Mr. Lampton retired from the Commission because of his age and categorically denied that the resignation had anything to do with the alleged tax breach.
"He is 84 years old," Watson said. "He's given enough of himself."
Asked about the allegations that Dunnica Lampton provided tax records to the Commission without authorization, Watson explained that his client and the US Attorney are "cousins four times removed and through adoption" and that they have "no long-standing relationship."
In addition, Watson said that if any income tax records were indeed provided to the Commission without authorization, the members of the Commission would not have known about it and would naturally assume that a federal prosecutor had gone through the proper channels to obtain authorization.
"Anyone would assume that a federal prosecutor has the authority to turn over documents to a judicial review commission," Watson said. "Mr. [Leslie] Lampton never saw any tax returns."
Diaz declined to comment in a phone call last week.
Tax returns had not been in the public recordRAW STORY reported earlier this year that the Justice Department was probing US Attorney Lampton for allegedly sharing confidential tax returns "of a target of one of his prosecutions with non-authorized individuals." At that time, sources did not disclose whose tax records were shared or with whom.
Diaz was initially unaware that his income tax records had been shared, the documents show. However, in the summer of 2006, the Commission notified Diaz that he was under investigation, and documents provided to the Commission by the US Attorney -- including Diaz's income tax returns -- were handed over to him as part of that ethics investigation. It is unclear what the Commission knew regarding the tax returns and the authorization needed.
The Commission did not respond to calls or emails requesting comment for this article.
The income tax returns allegedly provided to the Commission by Lampton covered the years 1996-2003 for Diaz, his wife Jennifer, and their then-business, the Green Oaks Bed and Breakfast.
The tax returns entered into the court record during Diaz's second trial did not include the years 1996, 2002 and 2003. These years were, however, among the documents allegedly provided by the US Attorney's office to the Commission.
In addition, Diaz's wife, who never went to trial, had only one tax return, for the year 2000, entered into the public record as part of her husband's case. Her tax records for other years, however, were also allegedly provided to the Commission.
Third attempt to remove Diaz from courtMississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver E. Diaz Jr. won re-election in 2000 to the state's highest bench against Republican-backed opponent Judge Keith Starrett. Dunnica Lampton, a long-time Starrett friend and colleague, was appointed by President George W. Bush as US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi in 2001 and took office in 2002.
Almost immediately after taking office, Lampton began investigating Diaz, along with Judge John Whitfield, Judge West Teel, and prominent Democratic Mississippi donor Paul Minor, for bribery and mail fraud. Minor had signed off as a loan guarantor for the judges' campaign, which is legal under Mississippi law.
Although no evidence of quid pro quo surfaced in the case, and Diaz had recused himself from all cases involving Minor and/or his clients, Lampton secured an indictment against Diaz.
A jury acquitted Diaz during his first trial. Within days, however, Lampton unsealed a second set of indictments against Diaz, alleging tax evasion by both Diaz and his wife. Diaz was acquitted again. His wife, Jennifer, pled guilty to lesser charges and agreed to testify against her husband, which she later said she did under duress. Mrs. Diaz was never called to the stand.
Lampton has said that he recused himself from the case, but no evidence of his recusal has been made public. Moreover, Lampton appeared with members of the prosecutorial team during the trial and as a part of press conferences.
(See the Raw Story ongoing investigation into Diaz's case in Parts IV, V, and VI of our investigative series into political prosecutions.)
Larisa Alexandrovna is managing editor of investigative news for Raw Story and regularly reports on intelligence and national security stories. Contact: [email protected].
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