Senate targets local FBI agents

Judiciary panel opens probe into possible perjury related to Luna case

May 13, 2006|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN REPORTER

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."

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.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Saturday's editions on a congressional probe into the FBI's investigation of the death of federal prosecutor Jonathan P. Luna misidentified an FBI agent who was promoted. Acting assistant Special Agent in Charge Linda B. Hooper was promoted before an internal investigation had been concluded.
The Sun regrets the error.

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.

"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.

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.

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.

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