Corruption

Mary's Buggin'

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You may remember her from such hits as "the persecution of Dr. Bernard Rottschaefer," "the first federal obscenity case in 20 years," and "the railroading of Tommy Chong."

Now it seems U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan may have finally stepped in it but good. This week, a federal jury hung on the 41 public corruption charges Buchanan brought against Pennsylvania medical examiner Dr. Cyril Wecht. A majority reportedly voted to acquit. This after a two-year investigation, a very sympathetic judge, and a bizarre trial in which the defense rested without calling a single witness. A loss or even a hung jury is rare for a U.S. attorney. Their conviction rate is over 95 percent.

Wecht's attorneys—including former GOP Attorney General Dick Thornberg—say the case was entirely driven by politics (Wecht is an outspoken Democrat). They point out that the trial itself cost about $200,000, while the total amount of money Wecht is alleged to have used from his public position to aid his private practice amounts to about $1,700.

In one post-trial interview, the jury foreman seemed to agree. The feds immediately announced plans to try Wecht again.

What I'm wondering is how the Department of Justice can see fit to spend two years and likely seven figures in taxpayer dollars to investigate a medical examiner for sending personal faxes on his publicly-owned machine, but thus far has seen no reason to look into Mississippi's Dr. Steven Hayne.

I've argued before that the real scandal with this Justice Department is not that it fired a bunch of prosecutors who didn't share the administration's priorities and political agenda. The real scandal is just how screwed-up those priorities and that agenda actually are.

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  1. [Herbe Villachaize mode on]Zee men! Zee men!
    [HV mode off]

  2. C-MEN

  3. Perhaps the only solace that comes from a Democratic victory in November(seems McCain is trying to throw it), is the likely fact that payback for Mary Beth Buchanan will be a bitch.

  4. Alan – $5 says she gets a recess appointment as a federal judge before Bush leaves office. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to have seen or heard the last of her on January 21, 2009.

  5. I’ve been thinking about the Nixon justice department a lot lately.

    Does anybody know why?

  6. Alan – $5 says she gets a recess appointment as a federal judge before Bush leaves office.

    I’ll take that bet. Reid has been pretty good so far about keeping the Senate in session to prevent W from doing recess appointments these days

  7. It’s truly frightening how many people who conceive of themselves as great defenders of liberty and scourges of the government looked at the evidence that came out about this Justice Department over the past couple of years, said the magic words “Political Appointee,” and convinced themselves that everything was O.K.

    Radley, are you going to do a column on Don Seigelman, or what?

  8. the real scandal with this Justice Department is not that it fired a bunch of prosecutors who didn’t share the administration’s priorities and political agenda. The real scandal is just how screwed-up those priorities and that agenda actually are.

    Thank you for saying it, Radley.

  9. John Yoo has received fellowships from the Olin Foundation (for work on treaties and constitutional law) and the Rockefeller Foundation (for a book on the effects of globalization on American constitutional law). He has received the Bator Award for excellence in legal scholarship and teaching from the Federalist Society.

    Rockefeller foundation huh, does this surprise anyone?

    01/08/06 “revcom.us” — — John Yoo publicly argued there is no law that could prevent the President from ordering the torture of a child of a suspect in custody – including by crushing that child’s testicles.

    This came out in response to a question in a December 1st debate in Chicago with Notre Dame professor and international human rights scholar Doug Cassel.

    It’s so predictable….look at a resume and if you see
    Yale + Rockefeller then you can fill in the “= crushing innocent children’s testicles ”

    University of California, Berkeley
    Boalt Hall School of Law
    890 Simon Hall
    Berkeley, CA 94720
    Phone: (510) 643-5089
    Fax: (510) 642-3728
    E-Mail: yoo@law.berkeley.edu

    send him a email, call him up.

  10. @alan

    Perhaps the only solace that comes from a Democratic victory in November(seems McCain is trying to throw it), is the likely fact that payback for Mary Beth Buchanan will be a bitch.

    Don’t bet the ranch on it….

  11. She’ll get a Medal of Freedom and a cushy job at some “conservative” organization.

    G-Men

  12. I’ve said before, he has an advantage going into the general (people have been dismissing how strongly attached older feminist women are to Clinton, the alienation they feel being on the wrong side of the party split, and the degree they are needed for Democratic victories). However, McCain is determined to say the wrong things, in or out of context, like his support for the concept of preemptive war.

  13. Andrew and others, it is pretty well known in Pittsburgh that Mary Beth Buchanan has a hold placed on her in the senate preventing any appointment to a federal judgeship. Since she is connected with the Attorney General scandal, she was said to have weighed in on who to fire and who to keep per Kyle Sampson, I doubt she will make it near any appointment any time soon.

  14. “The real scandal with this Justice Department is not that it fired a bunch of prosecutors who didn’t share the administration’s priorities and political agenda. The real scandal is just how screwed-up those priorities and that agenda actually are.”

    Yes, the increased attention to human slavery is an absolute shame. Somebody call The Hague.

  15. Wecht’s tenure as Allegheny County Coroner was not without controversy. While he was responsible for significant upgrades in the professionalism and technology of the coroner’s office during his service in that office from 1970 to 1980, making the Allegheny County Coroner’s office one of the best in the nation, Wecht’s political career proved as controversial as many of his forensic findings. In 1979, Wecht was accused of depositing autopsy fees into a personal account rather than the Coroner’s office account. He argued that the charges were politically motivated as he was running for Allegheny County Commissioner at the time. He faced criminal charges for the incident but was acquitted when the case went to trial in 1981. The county then sued him seeking $390,000. After losing the case in 1983, he appealed and after a nine year battle, the case was finally settled out of court in 1992 after Wecht agreed to pay $200,000 in damages.[34]

    A former histologist with the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office who also worked for former Coroner Cyril H. Wecht, pleaded guilty to theft from an organization receiving federal funds, failing to file a tax return and making false statements to FBI agents. Prosecutors say Hollis cost county taxpayers more than $50,000 by performing work for Wecht’s private consulting business while on duty at the coroner’s office.

    Yeah, clearly this is just politics eun amok. When a medical examiner can’t deposit official fees into his personal account and emebezzle money to his friends via a ghost payroll — well, if that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.

    Look over there! John Yoo is researching the legal status of terrorists!

  16. Although, to be fair, the Tommy Chong case was a travesty.

  17. this Justice Department

    But that other one was great.

  18. But that other one was great.

    Yes, the greatness of the Clinton administration is always the point of posts criticizing the Bush administration.

    You are incredibly mature and insightful!

  19. for a partial list 100 pages long, of crimes committed by FBI agents see
    campusactivism.org
    click on home in upper left
    click on forum in upper right
    scroll down to FBI WATCH

  20. TallDave, you should do more thorough research, because you are not fully aware of the issues of the case. In 1980, the county case you reference resulted in an acquittal of Dr. Wecht on all charges. Years after trial, Dr. Wecht settled pleading without admitting guilt with the county on other charges so that he could become a public figure again. The county wanted him to be the coroner again and this cloud of crap from the 80’s was hurting the chances.

    As for George Hollis. He plead guilty to a criminal charge and then agreed to testify against Dr. Wecht in exchange for a plea bargain. During Wecht’s trial the prosecution refused to call George Hollis. Having seen other bought witnesses such as the ones in the Rottschaefer trial be proven to give perjurer testimony from deals per the coercion of Ms. Buchanan’s office staff on them, I understand why they would not bring this SOB on the stand.

    In the end, everyone agrees that there were minor billing errors on over 7 million in revenue billings. These billing errors resulted in $1,600 in misappropriated money. When brought to his attention, Dr. Wecht was willing to pay for the costs as he had done in the past. Dr. Wecht was not willing to plead guilty to a criminal act of embarking on a conspiracy to defraud, because he did not. Understand, public corruption cases are to involve quid for pro payoffs and other such exchanges, not pennies for faxes.

    What you also failed to find in your research was the real reason for the case against Dr. Wecht. Cyril is an opinionated a-hole at times. A few years back he was called in to investigate a suspicious death at the hands of local police officers. Cyril ruled the man was suffocated by th police and recommended homicide charges. The local DA refused to go against the blue wall. Realizing someone was killed and no one would be held accountable, Cyril published his results. Cyril later testified against the police officers and the county in a wrongful death suit by the victims family. When the county lost the case, the DA vowed that he would see Cyril destroyed for his involvement in the case. The DA was friends with Buchanan and next thing you know, the paper starts getting wind of this federal investigation.

    Here are links to background on the Wecht case
    http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A39852
    http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A40439

  21. Personally, I am angered by the cost to taxpayers for this investigation and case. The US attorney tied up resources on this case since 2004. The trial alone is estimated to cost $204,000 not county the cost of the prosecutor and the investigators. Then there is the issue of what cases were passed up due to the feds going after the coroner’s office use of a fax machine.

    As a local tax payer, I am angered by the costs that I and others now have to be billed with. As county coroner, Dr. Cyril Wecht took a salary of only $60,000 annually. Now the new coroner is reported to take a salary of $120,000 to $150,000. Cyril’s staff at the county office took reasonable salaries from the county since they also did part time work on Cyril’s payroll. Cyril’s private business usually handled some of the complex cases of the county and overflow work for free that other counties would employ him for (i.e. expert testimony, etc.). Now our county has to pay for these services. The county also had to employ a new staff at the county office since most people were only working there to be around Cyril since he was a thoughtleader in the forensic field.

    In the end, the county coroner’s office is in shambles, does not get the same work done as it did before, quality is not the same, and it costs taxpayers more.

    I’m glad we took care of the fax criminal.

  22. The Pittsburgh Tribune Review ran an article this morning about how the FBI are harassing the former jury in the first Wecht trial. The article notes how many lawyers disagree with US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan’s assertion that the FBI contacts of the jury are routine.

    Additionally, please note that the prosecution has already decided to retry the case without polling the jury. There really is limited reason they should be contacting the jury now since the retrial decision was already made.

    Also, please understand the judge in the Wecht case improperly told the jury to refrain from talking about the case to anyone (even though they lawfully could). I’m sure having the FBI contact them would never intimidate a jury after the judge’s statements to them.

    Here is the link to the article. It also notes that the majority of the jury felt the case was political.

    http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/cityregion/s_561792.html

  23. The fact that they decided to retry Wecht IMMEDIATELY, before even polling the jury, says a lot. The jury was deadlocked with a majority voting not guilty. I really don’t see the prosecution finding a jury of 12 Pittsburghers all ready to convict Wecht. Also, we’re just finding out this morning that the FBI called and questioned jurors about why they were deadlocked. Legal or not, the jurors told a local paper it was “intimidating.” Most of Pittsburgh will hear that story today and probably have that in the back of their minds if they are unfortunate enough to be called to serve for a second trial.

  24. “TallDave, you should do more thorough research, because you are not fully aware of the issues of the case ANYTHING”

    værsgo

  25. Well, if Wecht could cover up the JFK assassination, he can cover this one pretty easily…

  26. ‘dumb cunt’ trifecta in play!

  27. Perhaps the only solace that comes from a Democratic victory in November(seems McCain is trying to throw it), is the likely fact that payback for Mary Beth Buchanan will be a bitch.

    Didn’t she hold on to her job through one Democratic administration already?

  28. And what are the odds that either Obama or (especially) Hillary would fire a woman USA?

  29. A loss or even a hung jury is rare for a U.S. attorney. Their conviction rate is over 95 percent.

    Do they only bring slam-dunk cases or is the deck stacked against defendants that badly?

  30. James,

    Sorry, I’m going to take the multi-sourced Wikipedia article over 2 friendly op-eds.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyril_Wecht

    Read the entry. There are a dozen actual NEWS articles cited.

  31. it probably has something to do with how much taxpayer money the Feds have at their disposal. I think that 95% reflects some screwing of the taxpayers.

  32. I mean, really. Has a Democrat being prosecuted by a Republican ever NOT claimed it was just about politics?

    “Billing errors?” Bwahahahaha! Please. I live in Chicago. I’ve heard this a thousand times before.

    Wecht is a greedy publicity-hound who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

  33. Didn’t she hold on to her job through one Democratic administration already?

    I suspect you might have confused her, as I did initially, with Mary Jo White, who was a longtime, highly-respected career U.S. Attorney in New York.

    But TallDave is right – the fact that this is a Democrat complaining is all you need to know to conclude that the case was 100% legit.

  34. I will buy and sell your worthless ass TallDave, with my $1600! MUhahahaha!

  35. TallDave, perhaps you should doe further research than a Wikipedia site. The articles I presented were not oped. They were actual news coverage. You may also go to the Pittsburgh Channel’s continued coverage of the case or the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s continued coverage of the case.

    I am from Pittsburgh and we here have all followed the case. The case is nothing more than a bunch of bull.

    As for your claims of Wecht getting rich off the county, Wecht had his own private practice prior to, during the time he was coroner, and today in which he gets 95% of his income from.

    The issue that brought about the prosecution of Wecht was politics. Wecht ruled a death a homicide at the hands of the police. This action sparked a storm against Wecht for not going with the police. As a result, an investigation started to bring Wecht down that eventually led to this debacle.

    I realize you don’t know these facts and back stories because you are not from the area. All I ask is that you read up on the case from real news agencies opposed to Wikipedia prior to giving your opinion.

    First seek to be informed then seek to inform others.

  36. Also, I read the wiki entry you sent me. From what is there, I do not see what you are getting at.

  37. The articles I presented were not oped. They were actual news coverage.

    Perhaps you should reeasrch the difference between news and analysis. Straight news articles do not look like this:

    “Already, the case has provided more twists and turns than an episode of The X-Files.”

    “Tacked to my cubicle wall is a letter the former Allegheny County Coroner sent us back in 2001.”

  38. The issue that brought about the prosecution of Wecht was politics. Wecht ruled a death a homicide at the hands of the police. This action sparked a storm against Wecht for not going with the police. As a result, an investigation started to bring Wecht down that eventually led to this debacle.

    No, he was prosecuted for a Hobbs violation, as he used his coroner position to argue for a private practice case.

    I realize you don’t know these facts and back stories because you are not from the area.

    I realize you are politically sympathetic to Wright and can’t tell the difference between analysis and news, but you clearly have less grasp of the facts than the Wikipedia article.

  39. Wright?

    Wright who?

    The gentleman’s name is Wecht. So, who were you thinking of, TallDave?

    Just as long as you’re letting your partisan filter cloud your perception of the case.

  40. Oopsie, I forgot to write “not.”

    Funny how things like that happen. They can be quite suggestive.

  41. TallDave, it is unfortunate that you are letting your personal biases cloud your judgment. The case of Dr. Wecht is political.

    The Hobbs Act is in place to prevent public servants from taking bribes and kickback, not having ones secretary send 20 faxes over a public fax machine.

    Additionally, Dr. Cyril Wecht was not indicted for a Hobbs Act violation at all.

    I really wish you would read the entire coverage of the case in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, the Pittsburgh News Channel, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and the Pittsburgh City Paper. All these outlets covered the case from multiple angles and two ran a minute by minute blog on the trial testimony.

    Also, please stop attempting to argue that I do not know the facts of the case. I have been following this case for three years and am well versed in the nuances of the case. It is nice you can quote Wikipedia, yet you fail to understand that Wikipedia is not a relevant source at all.

  42. TallDave, I am sorry that I sent the Pittsburgh City Paper article to you since the reporter added some analagies in there. What I should have sent to you was this link:

    http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/specialreports/wecht/trial/

    and this link

    http://www.thepittsburghchannel.com/Wecht/index.html

    There are about 100+ stories on the day by day case coverage. I just felt it would be better to provide you a consolidated viewpoint outlined in the Pittsburgh City Paper.

    Well anyway, enjoy the read.

    Oh, I noticed on the Wikipedia entry you provided to me, the Hobbs act reference you noted is being taken from the Pittsburgh City Paper article you have an issue with.

    Oh well, I guess it is a bad reference only when it does not serve your viewpoint.

  43. To R. C. Dean:
    With the inauguration of a new president, U.S. Attorneys, like Cabinet secretaries, resign. They are all political appointees.

  44. “When a medical examiner can’t deposit official fees into his personal account and emebezzle money to his friends via a ghost payroll — well, if that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.”

    Ah, buddy, A JURY FOUND THE GUY INNOCENT OF THESE CHARGES. An ALLEGATION OF A CRIMINAL ACTIVITY IS NOT IN ITSELF PROOF OF GUILT.

    Here is background on the case. In 1979, the county controller informed Dr. Wecht that he owed the county $100,000 for using the county morgue for his own private practice. Wecht countered and said that he did not. Because of refusing to cooperate with the controller and county, Wecht started a long drawn out battle with the county that sparked into criminal charges being filed.

    Of the multiple criminal charges brought against Wecht, all charges were dismissed except one. A jury acquitted him of this remaining charge. That means the jury found that the allegations were not proven. Wecht not proven to be embezzling funds and no one accused him of creating a ghost payroll. If he had created a ghost payroll, the case would have ended with a different result.

    After the criminal trial, the issue still stood that Wecht used county resources. Since a jury decided Wecht did not have criminal intent in the use of the resources, basically decided he did not intend to embezzle funds, the issue remained that Wecht still had to compensate the county for using county resources. In the subsequent civil proceedings, Wecht continued to argue over the amount he owed. A jury awarded the county an amount greater than estimate $100,000 first put forth. Wecht and his lawyers disagreed, so the appeals process began. In the end, the county settled out of court with Wecht prior to the appeal being decided. Wecht paid the county back $200,000 and admitted no guilt.

    Many know the case in the area and feel that the issue was created by Wecht and his staff’s poor book keeping and Wecht’s unwillingness to back down from a fight.

    When Wecht was voted back into the coroner’s office, the concern was raised about repeating this whole debacle again. Wecht and the County worked it out that he needed to pay all county employees a separate salary for any work they did. Wecht also kept an office next door to the county office that was fully outfitted to handle the private cases.

  45. These links send you to a local paper op-ed as well as letters to the editor on the case. It pretty much speaks to the predominant sentiment in Pittsburgh about this one.

    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08104/872531-149.stm
    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08104/872530-35.stm

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