NEW ORLEANS: New Orleans’ corruption-busting federal prosecutor resigned Thursday after two top deputies became embroiled in a scandal that threatens to undermine some of his biggest cases and damaged his standing as one of the most popular public officials in a city with a rich history of graft.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, whose successful prosecution of a former Louisiana governor and numerous other officials won him bipartisan praise for more than a decade, had been under mounting pressure ever since two veteran prosecutors admitted anonymously posting criticism of judges and comments about cases on a newspaper website.
At a news conference, Letten, 59, gave no reason for his resignation but said the decision “was ultimately mine.”
He did not address the allegations against his underlings. But he previously said he had no idea what they were up to until their online activities were revealed in court filings.
Until recently, Letten, a Republican-appointed holdover who has held the post since 2001, appeared to be a lock to keep his job during President Barack Obama’s second term. Instead, his departure ends his tenure as the nation’s longest-serving U.S. attorney.
Letten won fame as an assistant U.S. attorney when he secured a racketeering conviction of former Gov. Edwin Edwards in 2000. His office also successfully prosecuted corrupt judges, killer police officers, bribe-taking school officials and post-Katrina scam artists.
“The public perception of Jim Letten really transcended the position of United States attorney,” said Rafael Goyeneche, director of the Metropolitan Crime Commission of New Orleans, a watchdog group. “In many respects, he is the public face of what the people of Louisiana want to change about the pre-Katrina ways of doing business in Louisiana.”
Dana Boente, a first assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia, was appointed to Letten’s post in the interim.
Letten’s downfall was set in motion when one of his prosecutors, Sal Perricone, resigned in March after acknowledging he criticized judges and politicians and commented on cases in anonymous posts on the Times-Picayune’s website.
Among other things, Perricone described a federal judge in New Orleans as someone who “loves killers,” and charged that “Obama and his West Wing band of Bolsheviks have a master design to strangle America’s economy.”
Then, last month, Letten demoted his top assistant, Jan Mann, after she, too, confessed to posting anonymous comments on the site.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the postings.