A Real Case Of Snakebite
How a trophy terrorism prosecution morphed into a big mud fight
It is unclear what weight Judge Rosen is giving that letter compared with the Jones letter, as he considers the many questions about how evidence was handled. At Rosen's request, Attorney General Ashcroft has asked a three-member Justice Department team headed by "special attorney" Craig Morford, the U.S. attorney from Cleveland, to examine all the documents in the case. Rosen's concerns appear to have some merit. U.S. News has learned that Morford is giving Rosen many classified documents, including some from the CIA, that were not made available at trial. Even Convertino and Corbett may not have known about these documents, federal sources say, because the FBI may never have made the prosecutors aware of them. Rosen will have to decide whether the documents must now be shared in some form as Brady material with defense attorneys and whether he should grant the defense motion for a new trial because of the government's failure to turn over all relevant documents. The FBI has begun conducting security-clearance investigations of the defense attorneys so that they might have access to some of the classified documents. But at least a couple of the defense attorneys have had legal problems of their own. El Mardoudi's attorney, William Swor, for instance, admitted to using cocaine and got two years' disciplinary probation in 1989 for negligence in handling client funds. Another attorney in the case was accused of trying to smuggle pills to an inmate in a federal penitentiary but never prosecuted.
Limbo. As for Convertino, he has filed a response to the Office of Professional Responsibility complaint by U.S. Attorney Collins. In the civil suit he has filed in federal District Court in Washington, Convertino charges that Ashcroft, Collins, Gershel, and another Detroit official leaked the OPR complaint to the Detroit Free Press in an effort to ruin his reputation and career. And Convertino alleges that they further tried to damage him by illegally leaking the name of an FBI confidential informant with whom he was working. Collins declined to comment on that allegation. Convertino also has denied Collins's OPR allegation that he tried to obtain information from a court investigator to discredit yet another jailhouse snitch who testified for the defense against Hmimssa.
Convertino has little faith, he says, in the three-member Justice team that's reviewing the case documents because two of the three team members, Straus and Capone, are mentioned in the lawsuit he has filed and play a key role in the allegations made against him to the OPR. "One of the first things that should be done is recusing people who are caught in the middle of this," says Kolesnik of the National Whistleblower Center, to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
For now, Convertino remains in limbo. Grassley has had him detailed to work for the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control to prevent him from being fired by Justice. Convertino says he can't fathom how this case has turned his life into such a nightmare. "I love the Department of Justice," he says. "I don't want to leave it. It's my life."
Convertino didn't plan on getting into a nasty public brawl with his superiors in Washington, he says, but he felt he had no choice once the complaint against him to the Office of Professional Responsibility was leaked to the press. "I thought that airing out our dirty laundry," he adds, "was a pathetic way to go about this." Perhaps it was. But there's no going back now.
With Nancy Bentrup, Carol Hook and Monica Ekman