Government & Politics
 

Free expression or feds’ folly: Comment-gate likely to widen

New evidence suggests the online comment scandal involving the local U.S. Attorney’s Office is more widespread than thought.

First, let’s review some territory covered previously:

In March assistant federal prosecutor Sal Perricone resigned after a lawsuit filed by landfill magnate (and federal target) Fred Heebe linked him to comments written by “HenryL.Mencken1951” at NOLA.com. Perricone eventually admitted to writing hundreds of comments over the years under three additional handles, “legacyusa,” “campstblue,” and “dramatis personae.” My investigations linked Perricone to a fifth NOLA.com handle, “martyfed,” and implied that recent comments made by “jack” sounded a lot like Perricone as well.

Today, Doug Handshoe, the author of the Slabbed blog, confirmed my findings about “jack.” (Boldface is mine):

But there is more because of Mark Moseley’s recent Lens column on internet commenter Jack, whom most everyone that is paying attention has deduced is Sal Perricone myself included.  It is no secret I want to visit with Sal and to the extent he honors his ethical obligations as an attorney, he has the same rights as everyone else to express his opinions as he sees fit.

Doug’s right. Ethical obligations are the core concern here, as Gambit columnist Clancy Dubos noted at the outset of the scandal, when he wrote:

Attorneys have a legal duty to refrain from making “extrajudicial comments” about ongoing cases. Prosecutors have an added duty not to make comments “that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused.” Perricone did both with alacrity. 

Handshoe goes on to say the feds—presumably the ones brought in to investigate comment-gate—are looking at his blog. He adds that, as the administrator of an investigative blog, he’d like to highlight certain comments at Slabbed written by Perricone. Handshoe writes:

Jack, post employment of course, had other handles that he used on Slabbed and what the guy had to say, I thought was highly enlightening.  So I have a conundrum, do I out Jack’s other alias to make a very important, albeit self-serving point or do I leave it be and file it under the sanctity of commenting on Slabbed.  I mean Perricone was way on the inside of the investigation back in the day so his observations about certain matters tangential to it must be accorded great weight.

That last link subtly outs Perricone as Slabbed commenter “ccjames,” who wrote “the truth is beginning to emerge”—a favorite catch-phrase of Perricone’s. One wonders how many other handles Perricone used, how many other blogs he commented on, and whether his free expressions revealed information that betrayed his duties as a servant of the law. Also: How the blazes did Perricone find the time to write it all?

Perricone has claimed that the hundreds of comments he wrote under what appears to be at least seven different usernames were “his secret.” While I doubt that’s true, one thing is for sure: He was not alone. In November, Heebe linked First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann to the “eweman” username. Heebe’s lawsuit claimed a “unique typographical error” was common to writing by both Mann and “eweman”: “superfluous spacing before punctuation.”  Also, “eweman” commented on many of the same threads as Perricone.

Heebe’s disclosure about Mann, and her apparent false statements about her comment-writing, led to U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s retirement in December. Mann retired at the end of the year, as did her husband, Jim Mann, another assistant federal prosecutor.

Many have wondered if Jan Mann signed on under usernames other than “eweman.” I wondered the same thing after reading old NOLA.com comments by “bowatch,” a user who seems to share Mann’s penchant for “superfluous spacing before punctuation.”

For example, note the lead sentences in the first, fourth and seventh paragraphs in this “bowatch” comment on a 2009 letter to the editor penned by Sen. David Vitter concerning Letten’s reappointment. See how the extra spaces precede some of the commas? In addition to the punctuation errors that link Mann’s “eweman” alias to “bowatch,” there’s her recurring claim that former U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan slept on the job.

In this January 2012 posting “eweman” wrote: “Eddie Jordan is as pathetic as Edwards is evil . Luckily Jordan was sensible enough to keep his mouth shut for the entire trial. Even EWE said Jordan slept the whole trial.

Compare that to “bowatch’s” 2009 comment:Jordan was a credit taker not a job doer and YES he did literally FALL ASLEEP while in charge. Jordan was finally exposed as the incompetent that he was when he became DA, which he was able to keep somewhat concealed ( not from the USA staff though) while he was USA because he was surrounded by sharp prosecutors like Letten at the USA’s office.”

”Bowatch” posted a second, rather scathing, comment in the same thread, in response to a user named “Gulfaaron” who dared to suggest that Letten be replaced with federal prosecutor Maurice Landrieu. Then, guess who jumps into the thread to carry on “bowatch’s” attacks? None other than Perricone writing as “martyfed”!

Are we supposed to believe that nobody in the U.S. Attorney’s Office knew about these episodes? Are we supposed to believe this was merely an example of ships passing in the fog—highly trained federal investigators simply exercising their “freedom of speech” in comments on the same threads, about the same job-related topics, often written during weekday working hours? Are we supposed to believe this practice continued in mutual ignorance for years until one of their federal targets was exposed?

I don’t think so. That defense strains credulity, and deepens my laugh lines.

Much more likely, I’d contend, there was widespread awareness of online chicanery in the federal prosecutor’s office. Indeed, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Manger testified that he had notified supervisors (but not top brass) about his suspicions that Perricone was commenting under the “legacyusa” handle.

So it’s no great leap to suppose that there were other online commenters in the U.S. Attorney’s Office besides Mann and Perricone. Federal investigators recently requested more information from Nola Media Group about comments made by 11 NOLA.com users. One of the usernames listed in that story is “FSU1982.” According to the NOLA.com archives, “FSU1982” ceased writing at the site 11 months ago, a couple of months before the news about Perricone broke. The archives also show that the first comment from “FSU1982” was made in response to a user named “painman11” in a thread to a story about then-St. John the Baptist Parish President Bill Hubbard. The exchange goes as follows:

painman11
Southern Louisiana is becoming “rat central.” Everybody is unloading on each other, that’s good, let them all go to jail!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009, 9:18:38 AM

FSU1982
Painman11, you are right, there is no honor among thieves!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009, 10:51:06 AM

Both “painman11” and especially “FSU1982” are users of interest, in my book. (A quick scan of the topical focus in FSU1982’s archives should make anyone suspicious.) Their comments sound like they come from insiders, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s soon revealed that the authors of these handles also worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. As an aside, I’d point to this absolutely fascinating comment thread about investigations into the shootings on Danziger Bridge. Notice the interaction between “painman11” and “legacyusa,” where they talk about the NOPD.

As more usernames (and users) are exposed on news sites and blogs, I think we’ll find scores of inappropriate, unprofessional and unethical comments made about investigations and trials, from insiders in the justice system. If this goes beyond the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as some have suspected, and into the judiciary, the potential ramifications are mind-boggling. As Perricone likes to say, “the truth shall emerge.”

And I dare say it won’t be pretty.

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  • JPchirper

    Holy Moley,

    Pericone would have to be the most stupidest “former sesquipedalian attorney” for continuing to blog durring the investigation , kiss that license good-by , that’s why I don’t belive it without more proof !

    May I point out a real issue now as I have done before, many have complained about the TP noloa.com censorship by deletion yet an alleged posting by Perricone to invite people to Park Island with guns stayed along with some others that clearly violated site rules that should have been deleted also but weren’t ,my theory is once deleted it’s un- retrievable hence why it wasn’t . There is also a likely hood if you have the ability to obtain the IP addresses without a subpoena you may also have the ability to plant statements which Perriocone has lamented . And I also doubt the paper is outing it’s self as an act of good will more than likely some public filings are in the works on Pacer regarding the subpoena.

  • Randall Cajun

    Real-Malice has a summation of Slabbed posts on The Wino leaks, and the next installment of the Vandenweghe series. Just imagine Sal and Anne-Marie meeting at the Winn-Dixie 8601 Jefferson Highway. But then again, Harahan is a small place. http://real-malice.blogspot.fr/2013/01/the-slabbed-nation-part-1c-unslabbed.html

  • http://www.levees.org Sandy Rosenthal

    I have been saying loudly and repeatedly, from the day this story appeared, that the activity in Jim Letten’s office is the tip of the iceberg.

    I have said many times publicly that the practice of hiding one’s identity, pretending to be an impartial observer and using nola.com’s community features (comment section) to defame a person or group is rampant and is going on every where every day.

    Again, I caught the Army Corps of Engineers doing exactly this in December of 2008 and WWL TV reported on it.

  • JPchirper

    Well Randall Cajun ,
    I am leaning heavily towards jackassery because regurgitating known facts while attempting to discredit AMV’s motive for coming forward certainly is far from being brilliant in fact it’s quite disturbing. You see Randall people don’t care about the politics that brought AMV to come forward. What they do care about is the dozens of parish employees that knew about it all (and probably more) that didn’t come forward. Historically the few whistleblowers in Jefferson Parish that have come forward always face serious retribution by the politico’s. So Theriot’s attempt to use taxpayer money to stop a local bloger or the lack of intelligence in filing a SLAPP suit out of country , or the misguided attempt of wealthy individuals who hire professional online trolls still can’t stop the truth from coming out . I for one don’t believe in happenstance when people are facing long internments in a FED Hotel Six, I expect them to use every resource available to avoid those stays and certainly it appears that there is a growing crowd of sociopaths circling wagons together and communicating with one goal in mind as Mr. Lemann would say “ Create Reasonable Doubt” for the “Chimpanzee Jurist”.

  • Randall Cajun

    Jackassery may abound, but there’s no facile regurgitation of known facts in this post: “a foundation of straw.” “Comment gate” will widen, and the focus will shift, or perhaps more correctly, broaden. There’s a start to some new coming posts at http://real-malice.blogspot.fr/2013/02/a-foundation-of-straw-analyzing.html

    Who knows where investigative blogging involving Doug Handshoe and Anne-Marie Vandenweghe will lead? JPChirper, you’re right about one thing, you can’t stop the truth from coming out.

    Sacre bleu!