Thursday, November 20, 2008

ERIC HOLDER CONT'D

Stephanie Mencimer, Washington City Paper, 1997 - After three and a half years on the job, Holder is still revered in the city's halls of power and widely respected by his peers in the legal field. He is the presumptive nominee to replace outgoing U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, a major plum position. He is infinitely qualified by all accounts, and his appointment would be a historic one, since the position has never been held by an African-American. But for all the love Holder has engendered in the community as U.S. Attorney, he has had precious little impact on the city's endemic municipal corruption. Barry has returned to his old tricks, nudging contracts and city jobs to old cronies and new girlfriends. Holder is apparently leaving, and he hasn't thrown a punch.

It isn't for lack of targets. Since Holder was sworn in on Oct. 16, 1993, federal investigators have opened at least a half-dozen major probes of District government fraud and corruption, including investigations of allegations that:

- in 1995 Cora Masters Barry arranged to launder campaign money through the 17-year-old son of her housekeeper to pay cash to her brother Walter;

- in 1995 Korean businessman Yong Yun performed renovation work on the Barrys' house in exchange for a sweetheart deal on a city lease;

- last year the police department subverted city procurement regulations to give former members of Barry's security detail city contracts to install a fence and security system at Barry's home;

- the directors of IPACHI, a now-defunct nonprofit group, misappropriated more than $1 million in federal and District money;

- the executive director of JMC Associates Inc., the bankrupt mental health contractor, used money from city contracts and the Social Security benefits of mentally ill clients to buy fur coats, wedding dresses, and a condo on Martha's Vineyard;

- the 27-year-old director of Kedar Day School misappropriated city money intended for educating special-education students;

- and that employees of the lottery board were running businesses out of the board's office and steering contracts to friends of the mayor.

Not one of these cases has resulted in an indictment so far. And the list doesn't reflect a sickening array of other government-related wrongdoing during Holder's watch that seems to have gone unpunished, including voter fraud, allegations of widespread corruption at the taxicab commission, allegations of rampant bribe-taking in the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and dozens of reports of graft within the public schools.

Holder, whose sheriff's badge was forged by taking down corrupt public officials, has not had a single high-profile D.C. public corruption case since he became U.S. Attorney. By comparison, during his 5-year tenure diGenova successfully prosecuted two deputy mayors and a dozen lower-level city officials. Holder may have had his way with the media and kept the community at bay, but now that he seems to be moving on, people are wondering why he isn't leaving behind a more honest, or at least more chaste, D.C. government. . .

Just because Holder's office hasn't produced any indictments in these cases doesn't mean they won't be coming eventually. But the lack of any visible prosecution has people wondering why Holder hasn't lived up to all the hype about his credentials. More importantly, they worry that by not prosecuting cases quickly, he has reinforced D.C. government's reputation as a culture without consequence.

Former D.C. Auditor Otis Troupe is willing to wait and see, to a point: "He came into his job with a mandate for reform, and in that sense his job is unfinished. I hope he is just biding his time. He's a homeboy. He has reason to know many of the city's structural problems. If all he's doing is taking his time, more power to him. But I haven't seen too many cases.". . .

Former D.C. Corporation Counsel Fred Cooke and others have suggested that Holder is running a low-key office because he wants to keep his head down so that he can get in line for a federal judgeship. While New York City mayor and former prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani used indictments as a way of getting headlines and winning voters, he never actually convicted many people in court. But Cooke says Justice Department jobs or seats on the federal bench are won by keeping an even keel, doing a respectable job, and not ruffling too many feathers by taking risks. . .

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