Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Slots Enthusiast of the Day

I’ve been for slots for 20 years. It wasn’t any shock that I was for slots. There wasn’t anything to this. —Ex-Governor of Maryland Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., as quoted by Eric Lichtblau in "Former Prosecutor Says Departure Was Pressured"

Of course we're all for "slots." The question is, did Ehrlich or any of his 50 closest Republican friends get a payoff from the gambling industry? And did the Dept. of Justice under John Ashcroft squelch the investigation?

On the eve of hearings in both the House and Senate to investigate why the White House is firing U.S. attorneys willy-nilly, up pops a former federal prosecutor in Maryland who claims that something similar happened to him in 2005. He says he was fired over his investigation into links between "gambling interests" and powerful Republicans in Maryland politics.

Former U.S. attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio was appointed at the recommendation of Gov. Ehrlich but quickly proved to be a disappointment when he indicted the state Superintendent of Police for misuse of police money. But he says it was the gambling investigation that did him in—

Mr. DiBiagio pointed to tense conversations in 2003 and 2004 with advisers to the governor who, he said, intimated that the corruption investigations could derail his career....

The former prosecutor said he was particularly troubled by one visit in June 2004 in which, he said, a lawyer allied with the governor said the gambling inquiries were disrupting legislative consideration of the slots question and should be shut down.

Mr. DiBiagio said the lawyer inquired about his political future, asked whether he was interested in being a judge and suggested that his life could be closely scrutinized.

Mr. DiBiagio said he described the conversation in a memorandum for his records and reported it to an official of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Baltimore as a possible threat.

Now here's where it gets especially interesting—

The Justice Department publicly rebuked him in mid-2004 over a leaked memorandum that spoke of his desire to bring three “front page” corruption cases before November, a memorandum widely interpreted in Baltimore as an effort to pursue Democrats.

In response, the department said all public corruption cases in Maryland would have to obtain approval by superiors in Washington. Soon, the department initiated an unscheduled performance review of Mr. DiBiagio. Mr. Margolis said the review had shown deep resentment over the prosecutor’s aggressive management.

It looks as if the Justice Department may have implicated itself in a scandal.

The Repugs are trying to paint DiBiagio as a poor manager, but others in the U.S. Attorney's office are backing up DiBiagio's allegations—

Several officials in the Baltimore prosecutor’s office said that although Mr. DiBiagio had been an unpopular manager, the timing of the events leading to his departure appeared to be linked, at least partly, to the corruption investigations.

“We had several investigations that were very sensitive publicly, and what did him in was the probes into prominent Republicans,” said a former official involved in the inquiries who insisted on anonymity.

The state’s attorney in Baltimore, Patricia C. Jessamy, who worked often with Mr. DiBiagio, said she believed that he had alienated too many important people to succeed.

“He was a good prosecutor,” she said. “But he did not play politics well, and that was his downfall.”

This looks like a real scoop for the NY Times. But it also raises the interesting possibility that there have been other Justice Department firings that escaped attention because they occurred in isolation. Will other ex-prosecutors be stepping forward? Stay tuned.

As for Gov. Ehrlich, DiBiagio's departure came at the very time that Ehrlich was ordering state employees not to talk to two reporters from the Baltimore Sun because he didn't like the way they were reporting their investigation into another flimflam. So it certainly wouldn't seem out of character if he turned to the Department of Justice for relief from a meddlesome prosecutor.

Follow-up post
"An absolute fairy tale" (3/08/07)

Related post
Baltimore Sun reporters lose access to state government (2/15/05)


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