Beam: Internet ends public careers

By By Jim Beam / American Press

Two recent high-profile events have

proved how irresponsible use of the Internet can bring down giants in

the public sector.

Jim Letten, one of the most effective crime and public corruption

fighters in Louisiana history, is the latest victim. David

Petraeus, the former CIA director and commander of U.S. forces in

Afghanistan, was the first.

Letten resigned last week after two of his deputies were involved in anonymous website postings that criticized judges and

made comments about pending cases. Petraeus resigned from his CIA post after announcing he had an extramarital affair with

his biographer. The unexpected resignation came after a Petraeus family friend went to the FBI after receiving threatening

i from the biographer.

Although there is no indication Letten knew what his lieutenants were doing, the damage was already done. Their e-mail antics

have given defense attorneys cause for seeking new trials for their clients who were prosecuted by Letten’s office.

Letten is a Republican who became

interim U.S. attorney in 2001. Former president George W. Bush gave him

the permanent job

in 2005, and he was reappointed by President Obama in 2009. The

state’s two U.S. senators — Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican

David Vitter — agreed Letten was the right man for the job.

As chief federal prosecutor for the

Eastern District of Louisiana, Letten produced perhaps the highest

conviction rate of

public figures in recent U.S. history. Letten gained national

recognition when he was an assistant U.S. attorney and secured

the racketeering conviction of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin W.

Edwards.

However, that was only the beginning of

a stellar career. His office secured conviction or guilty pleas from

three state district

court judges, four persons involved in corruption linked to the

family of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans,

two parish presidents, two high-ranking executives in Orleans and

Jefferson parishes, a state senator, a sheriff, city councilmen

in New Orleans and Gretna and a former mayor of Mandeville.

Former Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans appears to be the subject of a current federal investigation by Letten. It has already

resulted in guilty pleas by two businessmen who said they bribed an unidentified city official.

Rafael Goyeneche, director of the Metropolitan Crime Commission of New Orleans, said Letten was more than a public prosecutor.

“The public perception of Jim Letten

really transcended the position of United States attorney,” Goyeneche

said. “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.”

The Gambit newspaper said, “The public

liked him, too. Letten developed a reputation for putting justice above

partisan concerns.

His prosecutions cut across lines of race, class, geography,

political party and power. Crooked politicians of both parties

found themselves on Letten’s hook just as surely as did drug

dealers, fraudulent contractors and tax cheats.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder,

Letten’s boss, said, “As the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the

country today, U.S. Attorney

Jim Letten has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the people

of his district and the nation by working tirelessly to

make their communities safer through reducing violent crime,

fighting public corruption and protecting their civil rights.”

The next question is: Who comes next?

Times have changed, but it wasn’t uncommon in Louisiana’s past for some

U.S. attorneys

to look the other way when public officials in their political

party were engaged in questionable activities. We hope those

days don’t return.

Sen. Landrieu, as a Democrat, may have

more to say about the future than anyone else since President Obama, a

member of her

party, will make the next appointment. The senator will make

recommendations, and she said she wants to find “the most qualified

individual for the post.” Her constituents need to ensure that she

lives up to that promise.

Meanwhile, Dana Boente, first assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, will serve in Letten’s place on

an interim basis. He has been a federal prosecutor for 28 years. John Horn, first assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern

District of Georgia, has been named to get to the bottom of the Internet problems that brought Letten down.

The Times-Picayune spoke for many Louisiana citizens who hate to see him go.

“Despite the sad end to his tenure, Mr.

Letten’s office has been a beacon for Louisiana residents eager to rid

the public

realm of thievery and bribery,” the newspaper said. “It is a

tremendous disappointment that some of Mr. Letten’s staff apparently

let ego overcome their sense of ethics.”

Public officials at every level of

government should learn from this unpleasant turn of events. Everything

they do is held

up to public scrutiny, and the Internet is no exception. They

should realize by now that reckless use of the web can be extremely

damaging to their bosses, their associates and the people they

serve.

Letten is gone, and we ask that the next U.S. attorney take on this job with the same dedication and determination shown by

this dedicated public servant. He was a class act.

• • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com