Sock puppets—Internet lingo for pseudonymous commenters—seem to have abounded in the federal prosecutor's office. graphic: Matt Buck
Sock puppets—Internet lingo for pseudonymous commenters—seem to have abounded in the federal prosecutor’s office. graphic: Matt Buck

Former assistant U.S. attorney Sal Perricone retired in March after businessman Fred Heebe filed a defamation lawsuit claiming Perricone authored anonymous online rants about targets of federal investigations, politicians, attorneys, judges, among other topics.

In August, Perricone spoke publicly for the first time since he admitted to his boss, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, that he wrote comments on under the pseudonym “Henry L. Mencken 1951.” Perricone confirmed to that he also used the handles “legacyusa” and “dramatis personae,” just as Heebe’s lawsuit alleged. He said he didn’t remember using “campstblue.” In the interview Perricone blamed “stress” for his inappropriate online remarks. He said he was sorry “if” he offended anyone, and planned to visit the people he maligned on an “apology tour.”

My question is: How can you make a proper apology if you’re not upfront about what you wrote?

It defies belief that Perricone can remember using “dramatis personae” for a few weeks in 2011, yet can’t remember writing six hundred posts as “campstblue” from 2007 to 2009. A simple comparison of the tone, topic and writing style between the two handles should’ve been enough to jog Perricone’s memory.

The obvious answer is that he’s embarrassed by his “campstblue” screeds, and doesn’t want to own up to writing them.

In the interview Perricone maintained his comments were his “secret.” That has always seemed ridiculous to me. Perricone postured online as if he had an audience of familiars. As if he were showing off to friends and colleagues. And yet Letten apparently bought  Perricone’s claim and for months characterized his underling’s pseudonymous rants as the actions of a lone wolf in the prosecutor’s office.

That explanation held up until Heebe filed a lawsuit that identified First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann as online commenter “eweman.” The suit also noted how many of “eweman’s” comments were on the same threads as “Mencken,” (and abruptly stopped after Perricone was outed). Letten demoted Mann a week ago, although she has not publicly admitted that she wrote as “eweman” .

Yesterday I looked at the implications of Perricone and Mann’s online folly, and how it has weakened the federal prosecutor’s office. I also said it was important to remember that no officeholder should be assumed to be above the law, as Letten and his gang were in the early glow of their considerable achievements as corruption busters.

Again: Letten and Perricone’s recent successes have been astounding. I think part of their success is due to their experience leading federal strike forces that target organized crime. The interview  with Perricone reminded us of one of their previous triumphs:

[Perricone and Letten] interviewed notorious Mafia “hit man” Samuel “Sammy the Bull” Gravano in a witness-security program, as part of [a] federal case.

The debriefing ultimately helped the feds thwart a three-mob family plot to infiltrate the fledgling video poker industry in Louisiana.

Letten is currently the nation’s longest serving U.S. Attorney. His record was so strong that despite the Perricone debacle, despite Letten being a Republican, and despite Obama’s re-election, everyone expected Letten to be reappointed.

If memory serves, the last public call for Letten to be replaced came from then mayoral candidate John Georges at an Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee forum in 2010. Georges yelled, “I voted for Barack Obama [in 2008], so I could have a new U.S. Attorney!” Later he said it was a joke. Heh. That Georges… what a clown. He amuses me. I wonder if he cast his 2012 vote for the same reasons.

But now, after the disclosures about Mann, Letten’s office is playing defense—and badly.  Perricone wasn’t the lone wolf he claimed to be. And, as T-P columnist James Gill noted, Mann likely wasn’t fully candid with Letten or with the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, issued a letter today that implied Letten might need to be removed.

These unforced errors by Mann and Perricone might be the downfall of Letten. The irony is that Letten’s office had a sterling reputation when they wrote their rants. The press was in Letten’s pocket. But Perricone and Mann had to push it. Apparently they had to vent their spleens on, in an effort to further sway local public sentiment in favor of their office. Now, because of their unprofessionalism and half-truths, they’ve permanently besmirched the federal prosecutor’s shop.  Worst of all, Letten—who probably never wrote an online comment in his life—may have to suffer the consequences.

As I’ve repeatedly bragged, in March I noted how commenter “brlawyer” once suspected that “legacyusa” might be a current, not former, U.S. attorney. I was interested to learn that exchanges between “brlawyer”, “eweman” and “Mencken” figured into Heebe’s recent lawsuit against Mann.

This week, I did more research on Perricone’s “campstblue” alias (let’s abbreviate it to “Camp”). This time, much longer than the 10 minutes I devoted to the task previously. I looked at “Camp’s” responses to T-P columnist Stephanie Grace and James Gill’s columns in 2009, and found some interesting things.

First off, absolutely nothing that I read from “Camp” indicated he was anyone other than the ranter signing on as “H.L. Mencken1951” or “legacyusa.” The similarities in style and word choice were so strong, Perricone might as well have put his thumbprint on them. The Camp profile page claims the author is a “female attorney.” Yeah, right. “Camp’s” distinctive writing style is about as feminine as John Wayne.

Now look at this comment exchange below Grace’s April 23, 2009 post on Meffert. The highlighting is mine. (The spellings and grammar, here and elsewhere, are the commenter’s.)

THis city and state has been a corrupt morass since they’ve been founded. Now we are in the advent of a new political season which will lead the lemming voters of this city to the polls to vote for, yes, another honest candidate for mayor. One who will fill the pot holes, bring economic development, JOBS, reduce crime (can’t wait to see that one) and levee the city from another hurricane. BS. We are going nowhere fast. WHY? Because the next mayor is from the same DNA and political culture which spawn all our previous mayors.

What does that mean? Simply put, the candidates will have to kiss the right butts on the right occasion with the right words (and money) to get the votes. They will have to visit every pulpit pimp in the city and promise JOBS and contracts to the man of the cloth and derivitively, his flock. Anything new there? NO. He or she will have nothing new to work with also. He/she will, no doubt, bring in “outside” talent. Yea, like Jindal. Remember Levine? This outside talent will be immersed in the New Orleans way of doing things and will either quit or succumb—after all the next mayor wants to get re-elected. It’s all about votes and power—not about progress. Indeed, progress is a nasty word for some folks. It means that their largess from Perdido Street is over. No more contracts. No more access. No more free tickets to sports functions and the Essence Festival.

The Indians sold Manhatten for $24 worth of beads. Indexed for inflation, New Orleans has been sold over and over, for less.

A commenter named “thetruthisit” replies:

campstblue – or U.S. Attorney whatever your name is …

The real problem is that for 270 years white mayors ran New Orleans into the ground with corrupt practices, and no one said a word. NOT ONE WORD!!! Corruption was expected, and the great Streets of this city were based on corrupt contracts and on shenanigans.

Suddenly … it’s time to do something. “These people” ARE GETTING AWAY WITH SOME OF THE THINGS THAT OUR ANCESTORS DID!!!”

Stop it!

Why don’t you run for office instead of getting a welfare check from government? Yes, it’s about power and votes. Always has been, and as long as this nation is dominated in terms of power by those whose ancestors created contracts to steal land from native Americans and to enslave people despite a Constitution that prohibited it, it will always be about power and votes.

Ask your Republican friends. Ask Vitter ask Meffert, ask Gingrich, ask Thurmond, ask DeLay, ask Stevens, ask Bush, ask Cheney, …

Based on “Camp’s” history of comments, “Truth” is quite confident that “Camp” is a right-wing U.S. Attorney. “Camp” doesn’t take the bait, though, in his reply. He says “Truth” is focused on race instead of issues of substance. Then he insults “Truth’s” intelligence and tells him to “have a nice day in the hood.” (A month later Camp would write this colorblind masterpiece, which explicitly links the decline of New Orleans to the rise of African-Americans in local public office.)

Again, the year is 2009. “Camp” already knows other users suspect he works in the U.S. attorney’s office. Yet Perricone continues to write screeds on—same tone, same style, same topics—for three more years. The only thing he did was occasionally change usernames. Very stupid, very reckless.

Now, about those usernames. Perricone claims he commented to relieve stress, and that he changed usernames over the years because he forgot his passwords. That made sense since there was little overlap among the four handles associated with Perricone (“campstblue,”  2007-2009; “legacyusa,” 2009-11; “dramatis personae,” three weeks in 2011, and “Henry L. Mencken 1951,” 2011-12.)

Well, my research indicates that Perricone used at least one more handle in addition to the four that have so far been disclosed. Mann was identified, in part, because she—and perhaps she alone—repeatedly used the term “fender lizard.” Similarly, “Camp” liked the term “pulpit pimp.” I highlighted one instance above. In a reply to an April 29, 2009, Gill column “Camp” wrote that reverends “pimp their flocks to get money from [mayoral aspirants]”. .

Then In a reply to a Gill column from April 10, 2009, “Camp” wrote:

Now we are about to approach the political season where all the wannabe mayors are going to be jockeying for poll position for mayor. They are seeking support from all the pulpit pimps (ministers), community groups and other politicians.

In addition to the pulpit pimps, “Camp” would also focus on former mayor Marc Morial’s antagonism to Letten’s office. In response to a Grace column from March 31, 2009, which discussed Sen. Mary Landrieu’s dithering about supporting Letten’s reappointment, “Camp” says:

Well, Grace, you finally hit one out the park.

The answer to your question(s) is that Mary hasn’t figured out how any appointment will benefit her or her brother. They are still huddling and weighing all possibilities.

The other factor, you should know, is Marc Morial. This inveterate racist perceives Letten as a prosecutor who pursues only black, which is ridiculous. He pursues the evidence and if the other states had a US Attorney like him, things would be a lot better.

Now compare those comments to user “martyfed’ who made this comment in a post by Gill also on the topic of Senatorial support for Letten’s reappointment:

Letten’s only enemy is the pulpit pimps…the ministers. As we read this, some of them have their flocks swaying and singing and praying that Letten goes. Oh wait..I am wrong. Letten has another enemy… Marc Morial. I am sure Mary will allow him to get to Obama, thus terminating the only thing that works in this city.

One thing to consider, Mary. This is not the NEW ORLEANS US Attorney, but the Eastern DIstrict of Louisiana. Thirteen parishes, NOT one.

Same points about pulpit pimps and Marc Morial, same tone, same style. I would say “campstblue” and “martyfed” are written by the same author—Perricone.

Here’s another bit of evidence: “Martyfed” and “campstblue” also used the term “Ango” in apparent reference to Anglo-Saxon. Here is one (insulting) instance by “Camp,” and here is another by “martyfed”.

Here “Marty” and “Camp” “team up” on the same post—if you can call writing under different usernames toward the same end “teaming up”—to defend Letten in comments to a letter to the editor that dared tout a lawyer who might serve as a good replacement.

That’s not an instance of blowing off steam. It’s a sneaky attempt to shape online debate using different identities. “Martyfed’s” user history overlaps with “campstblue” and raises the possibility that, early on, Perricone was using multiple aliases to shape discussions. He wasn’t confident enough being a highly esteemed prosecutor in a highly esteemed office. He wasn’t content to rant pseudonymously and vent in threads. He had to tilt the scale further and use sock puppet identities like “martyfed” to further support his office.

Perricone apparently thought his online rants from multiple sources would help Letten’s chances to stay on the job and do good work for the city. Instead, these reckless acts may have led to Letten’s demise.

Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and...