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Cyril Wecht's case to be investigated by Rep.Conyers

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U.S. House panel seeks Wecht prosecution documents

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

By Paula Reed Ward, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The House Judiciary Committee has sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the U.S. Department of Justice asking for documents related to three high-profile prosecutions of Democratic officials, including that of former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, the chairman of the committee, sent the letter yesterday, requesting that "certain critical documents and information relating to U.S. Attorney's offices that may have initiated prosecutions against public officials and others based on their political affiliation" be turned over by July 27.

"Allegations that even one of the nation's 93 U.S. Attorneys is improperly prosecuting or failing to prosecute Democratic officials based on their political affiliation have the potential to taint and undermine the legitimacy of our entire criminal justice system," Mr. Conyers wrote.

The committee is continuing its investigation into the firings of nine federal prosecutors late last year.

Investigators have already interviewed U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan of Pittsburgh, who previously served as the director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys and as chair of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee.

Now the committee is requesting documents from the Wecht investigation, "in particular any memoranda, analysis, or other communications discussing whether and to what extent criminal charges should be and were pursued."

Rep. Conyers also asked for any communication with White House staff, congressional members or staff or local or state political officials related to the investigation.

In the letter, the committee specifically refers to the fact that the U.S. attorney's office in Pittsburgh has indicted only Democratic officeholders since 2001.

"Yet U.S. Attorney Buchanan has not brought charges against at least two Republican officials who, like Dr. Wecht, are alleged to have misused their office staff."

The other cases for which the committee is seeking records include the conviction last year of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman; and the conviction of Georgia Thompson, a Wisconsin state procurement officer.

Mr. Siegelman, a Democrat, was convicted of bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud. He was indicted in 2004, two years after losing the closest governor's race in state history.

Ms. Thompson, who was charged with improperly awarding a contract to a travel agency whose director contributed to the Democratic governor's campaign, had her conviction thrown out in April by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the evidence against her was "beyond thin."

Congress wants answers in Wecht probe

By Karen Roebuck


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee is investigating whether the federal prosecutions of former Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht and other high-profile Democrats by Republican U.S. Attorneys were politically motivated.

"I am grateful that the committee is looking into it," Wecht said today. He referred other questions to his lawyer, Jerry McDevitt, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

The committee has asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who has been criticized for the firings of nine U.S. Attorneys, to turn over

documents and information regarding the prosecutions of Wecht, former Alabama Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman and Wisconsin state procurement officer Georgia Thompson.

"As you are well aware, the bedrock principle of our federal criminal system is that justice must be served objectively, on a non-partisan basis, and without fear or favor. Our investigation into the U.S. Attorneys scandal, however, has raised serious concerns about efforts to undermine this basic principle," committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., D-Mich, and three other committee members said in a seven-page letter dated Tuesday.

"Evidence suggests that at least some of the nine terminated U.S. attorneys were forced out due, in part, to their reluctance to pursue charges against Democratic officials, or their willingness to move forward in investigating or prosecuting Republican officials," the committee members said. While other U.S. attorneys were considered for firing, most were allowed to keep their jobs and described as "loyal Bushies," they said in the letter.

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, who in 2005 served as the director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, was drawn into the controversy over the firings. Congressional investigators interviewed her to find out what role, if any, she played in her colleagues' dismissals.

Buchanan is in Washington today and could not immediately be reached for comment.

In January 2006, a grand jury indicted Wecht, 75, of Squirrel Hill, on 84 counts of fraud and theft. Federal prosecutors accuse him of using the coroner's office for personal gain. The case has been on hold since September, pending the outcome of several appeals.

Siegleman is in prison on a 2006 bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud conviction. Thompson was convicted in June 2006 after the federal prosecutor there claimed she improperly awarded a contract to a travel agency whose executive was a political contributor to the Democratic governor. An appeals court threw out her conviction in April, saying the "evidence is beyond thin."

Karen Roebuck can be reached at kroebuck@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7939

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