Blues and blood

Why does US attorney Michael Sullivan keep rewarding a wayward prosecutor with big-stakes public-corruption cases? Plus, remove that tattoo, son.
September 6, 2006 2:15:34 PM

REWARDING BAD BEHAVIOR: US Attorney Michael Sullivan’s handling of a corrupt prosecutor paints “a grim picture of blatant misconduct.”

Something is rotten in Beantown — and the stench is emanating from the local branch of the Department of Justice (DOJ). An assistant US attorney, who hid evidence and then lied about it, has been put on the prosecution teams in — ready for this? — the corruption and perjury trials of several local officials. As the number of federal judges who question this guy’s trustworthiness grows, it seems, the more responsibility the DOJ hands him to prosecute corruption cases.

On August 10, the Massachusetts federal Court of Appeals affirmed a 2005 decision by Federal District Judge Mark Wolf, who had rebuked Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Auerhahn for lying under oath in his overzealous and unethical prosecution of mobster Vincent “The Animal” Ferrara. (The feds made up the moniker to vilify Ferrara, who was on trial for the murder of Vincent Limoli. It’s doubtful they’ll come up with one for Auerhahn.) Auerhahn believed he had a prime witness against Ferrara in the mafia murder-and-racketeering case. But that witness, Walter Jordan (the brother-in-law of Ferrara’s co-defendant Pasquale Barone), eventually recanted his testimony. Yet rather than acknowledge the dissolution of his case, Auerhahn hid Jordan’s recantation from both Ferrara and his lawyer. Under intense pressure, Ferrara pleaded guilty to a crime he likely didn’t commit, in exchange for a lesser sentence, only because he feared the jury would believe Jordan’s testimony — which Auerhahn knew was false. In fact, it is highly likely that Ferrara was innocent of that murder, despite his admitted involvement in other mafia-related crimes.

After Judge Wolf fingered prosecutor Auerhahn for hiding and lying about the Jordan recantation, the Department of Justice and US Attorney Michael Sullivan could have suspended Auerhahn, at least temporarily, from his position as an active federal prosecutor. After all, Auerhahn’s behavior was arguably criminal. They didn’t. Instead, they appealed Wolf’s decision and kept Auerhahn in his position, as if it were business as usual. Not only that, but they then turned around and assigned the accused perjurer to the perjury prosecution of former Massachusetts House Speaker Thomas Finneran. “Freedom Watch” noted the irony: here was a prosecutor accused of committing perjury as well as other crimes while prosecuting a likely innocent defendant, now entrusted with a case involving a controversial political leader himself accused of lying (see “Animal Crackers”). We charged Sullivan with having “a severe case of cognitive dissonance,” for displaying “unwavering support” of Auerhahn while waxing indignant about Finneran’s alleged perjury on a minor matter during a deposition in a civil case.

The three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals was no kinder to Auerhahn than Judge Wolf had been. The panel even signaled its support for Wolf by calling him “the able judge” — a message likely aimed at Auerhahn’s boss, Sullivan. Jordan’s recantation, said the Court of Appeals, was “plainly exculpatory” and should have been turned over to Ferrara and his lawyer rather than used to trick Ferrara into pleading guilty to a crime for which the government lacked significant evidence. Auerhahn’s conduct and the government’s effort to cover it up “paint a grim picture of blatant misconduct,” concluded the appellate panel, unanimously affirming Judge Wolf’s order, which released Ferrara from the final nine years of his 22-year sentence.

But that hardly ends this woeful tale of prosecutorial malfeasance and hypocrisy. Just two days before the Court of Appeals ruling, Auerhahn appeared once again on the public stage — this time as a member of the federal-prosecution team of three Boston cops allegedly involved in a drug-trafficking scheme in Southern Florida.

So now we have a federal prosecutor, deemed an obstructer of justice and perjurer by four federal judges, pursuing not only the former House Speaker, but Boston police officers charged with corruption as well. Do as I say, not as I do. Indeed, if the Bush-administration Department of Justice’s marching orders are never to admit error or wrongdoing, be it intentional or not — providing advice, say, on the legality of torture or on ways to justify official lies — it appears that the US Attorney’s office in Boston is in lockstep, just doing its job.

Oh, and one more thing: it was announced last Friday that US Attorney Sullivan has been named acting head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in Washington — a considerable promotion — and it appears likely that he will get the permanent post.

Forced tattoo removal?
At first glance, it seemed like little more than another ghastly instance of racial violence deserving harsh punishment. In November 2002, Josiah A. Spaulding III — blue-blood son of the president of the Wang Center for the Performing Arts and grandson of a state Republican Party leader and founder of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital — engaged in what Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office called a “vicious, unprovoked attack” on two black women. Spaulding, 23 at the time and in the company of skinhead friends, was alleged to have spewed racial epithets at two black teenage girls while beating them with a riot baton.

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