Advertisement
News

Senate targets local FBI agents

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has opened a probe into whether FBI agents in Baltimore committed perjury during the investigation into the mysterious death of federal prosecutor Jonathan P. Luna in 2003.

In a letter to the director of the FBI, committee Chairman Arlen Specter and ranking member Patrick J. Leahy wrote that a confidential report indicated that FBI officials gave "conflicting stories during interviews with agents of the FBI's Internal Investigations Section."

Advertisement

The Sun first disclosed the Department of Justice inspector general's report in January. It raised questions about whether an FBI supervisor in the Baltimore office improperly ordered the interrogation of a junior agent rumored to have had an affair with Luna.

Citing a story published in The Sun in January, the committee leadership requested and reviewed a copy of the inspector general's report. In the May 10 letter, the senators told FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III they needed additional documents to judge whether agents might have given false statements or lied under oath.

Advertisement

"We have received the letter, and we will be responding to the senators," Michael R. Kortan, section chief of the FBI's office of public affairs, said yesterday.

The unsolved death of Luna, a 38-year-old assistant U.S. Attorney in Baltimore, continues to haunt the FBI. His body was found more than two years ago, on Dec. 4, 2003, with 36 stab wounds, lying in a remote Pennsylvania creek.

While a Lancaster County, Pa., coroner ruled Luna's death a homicide, other law enforcement sources familiar with the probe raised the question of suicide, noting Luna's knife found at the scene, his substantial credit card debt and his failure to take a polygraph test for an internal investigation into $36,000 missing from a drug case he prosecuted.

In the midst of its high-profile investigation of the death, the FBI was forced to question its own officials because a Baltimore-based FBI agent accused her supervisor of misconduct.

She complained that fellow agents inappropriately grilled her about unfounded rumors of an affair with Luna, the internal report said.

The female agent later filed an internal complaint charging that the FBI's then-acting special agent in charge of the Baltimore division, Jennifer Smith Love, improperly ordered two agents to interrogate her and later approved an illegal search of her computer.

Futile to complain

In a previously undisclosed memo to FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole in June 2005, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine concluded that evidence showed Love approved the computer search even after the female agent had revoked her consent.

Advertisement

Evidence also showed, according to Fine's memo, that Love told the female agent that filing a complaint would be futile because Love would handle it as a performance matter.

The interview of the agent conducted by acting assistant Special Agent in Charge Linda B. Hooper and Special Agent Marina Murphy in Baltimore boxed out the investigators assigned to lead the probe into Luna's death, according to the inspector general's report. It also focused on the private sexual life of an FBI agent who had been ruled out as a likely suspect, officials wrote.

Investigators concluded that the treatment of the female agent sparked dissention in an FBI field office under enormous pressure to find out how the federal prosecutor died.

Despite the internal tumult, senior FBI officials cleared Love, as well as the two agents who conducted the interrogation, of misconduct and took no disciplinary action. Love and Murphy, who both denied any wrongdoing, received promotions before the internal investigation reached its conclusion.

In August 2004, the inspector general's office of the Justice Department intervened, eventually finding enough "credible evidence" of wrongdoing to conclude that the case should have been sent through the FBI's formal disciplinary process, rather than handled as a less severe performance issue.

Pressed again about the issue, the FBI reopened the investigation in 2005, sending it through its disciplinary process. Once again, senior FBI officials concluded that no action was warranted against Love, Murphy and Hooper. Hooper has since retired from the FBI, officials said.

Advertisement

Officials familiar with the congressional probe said that a referral for criminal charges against FBI agents was not a likely outcome. Instead, they said, the senators were exercising their oversight role of the nation's largest law enforcement agency.

In 2002, the Justice Department's inspector general concluded that "the FBI suffered and still suffers from a strong, and not unreasonable, perception among employees that a double standard exists within the FBI." An independent commission report in February 2004 echoed those concerns about the image of lenient treatment of supervisors while junior agents face more severe discipline.

FBI officials in Washington have said that reforms recommended by the commission have been implemented. Egregious cases cannot be dismissed out of hand and are now automatically referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility for possible discipline, officials said.

Questions for Mueller

In the bipartisan letter, Specter, from Pennsylvania, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, from Iowa, both Republicans, join Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, in raising new questions for Mueller about the internal investigation surrounding Luna's death.

They asked Muller if he had been aware of conflicting statements made by supervisors about Love's actions. According to the letter, the senators also want to know which agents were promoted while they were under investigation and whether those agents had been reviewed first for a "lack of candor."

Advertisement

The senators set a deadline of May 26 for the FBI to hand over the documents. They told Mueller they also want FBI staff to meet with them about the lingering questions from the internal investigation.

"Anytime you have reports of conflicting statements by FBI agents, it's a serious matter and needs some attention" Grassley said in a statement released last night. "We look forward to getting the documents from the FBI so we can get to the bottom of this."

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com


Advertisement