- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating complaints that the federal prosecutors office in Maryland — under then-U.S. attorney, now Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Lynne A. Battaglia — destroyed evidence and leaked secret grand jury testimony in order to sustain misconduct and criminal allegations against a state trooper.
A Justice Department attorney confirmed the inquiry in an April letter to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, who until recently was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees such matters.
The family of Sgt. Michael R. White of Mechanicsville sought the probe more than a year ago, but heard little until February, when the U.S. Attorney Generals Office notified them that an investigation had been opened.
By then, Ms. Battaglia had been appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening as the newest judge on Marylands highest court.
"I believe [former Attorney General Janet] Reno took over nine months to even respond to my complaint … to allow Governor Glendening to appoint Lynne Battaglia," said John D. White, Sgt. Whites brother. Mr. White said he believes his brother is being targeted because of an incident in the early 1990s, when he and another trooper pushed for the prosecution of domestic-abuse charges against a high-ranking police official with connections to Ms. Battaglia.
Sgt. White has not commented on the case.
Sgt. Whites complaint was not the first by a law enforcement officer about the U.S. Attorneys Office under Ms. Battaglias leadership.
Last summer, a high-ranking federal agent swore in an affidavit that Ms. Battaglia threatened to get him transferred for complying with a congressmans request for data about her offices prosecution record. Such information is covered under the Freedom of Information Act.
Ms. Battaglia said she only called the agent — Larry Stewart, then the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms special agent in charge for Baltimore — to let him know she was "unhappy."
Although a federal jury acquitted Sgt. White of mail fraud Dec. 17, 1999, on charges that hed done secret inspections for a salvage operation that sold cars rebuilt with stolen parts, state police are pursuing administrative charges against him.
Sgt. White has been on emergency suspension from police duty since March 12, 1997, awaiting a hearing before a Maryland State Police panel on evidence the federal jury found insufficient.
Much of the prosecutions case against Sgt. White rested on a report produced by Lt. James Steven Wright, whom Maryland State Police assigned to the U.S. Attorneys Office to help prosecute Clinton Auto Sales owner Basem Najjar, now serving an 11-year prison sentence for trafficking in stolen cars and auto parts.
On Sept. 30, 1997, Lt. Wright interviewed Sgt. White about inspections he performed at Clinton Auto Sales.
Tapes of Lt. Wrights interview of Sgt. White, conducted in the presence of Sgt. Whites attorney, mysteriously showed up blank despite Lt. Wrights testing them as the interrogation began.
Maryland State Police have produced no chain-of-custody documentation on the tapes.
According to Sgt. Whites attorneys, Lt. Wright said he couldnt remember any identifying information about the secretary at internal affairs to whom he said he gave the tapes for transcription. Briefs by Sgt. Whites attorneys state that Lt. Wrights friend and colleague, Sgt. Vincent Maas, testified that Lt. Wright gave the tapes to him and that he relayed an "unknown" secretarys finding that they were blank.
Sgt. Whites defense argues that presentation of Lt. Wrights report in lieu of the interview tapes allowed Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart A. Berman and Lt. Wright to "insert lies within the [report] necessary to support Wrights perjury to the grand jury and the [trial] jury."
In a signed Sept. 12 letter, Mr. Berman told Maryland State Police Capt. K.E. Ward that Ms. Battaglias office did not object to his review of "previously released" grand jury transcripts of Lt. Wrights testimony.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale Kelberman said Sgt. Whites attorneys were given copies of the grand jury testimony as part of required discovery.
But a Feb. 14, 2000, letter from Ms. Battaglias office to Sgt. Whites criminal attorney, Harry J. Trainor Jr., and civil attorney, Byron L. Warnken, stated that rules of grand jury secrecy prohibit disclosure of those transcripts in civil or administrative proceedings.
Ms. Battaglia demanded that the transcripts and tapes be returned — a demand that prevented Sgt. White from having the tapes analyzed at an independent lab for evidence of tampering.
Sgt. Whites brother said Ms. Battaglia also refused to release results of the FBIs September analysis of the tapes.
Sgt. Whites hearing on administrative charges before a Maryland State Police panel is scheduled for July 16.
But Charles County Circuit Court Judge Christopher C. Henderson ruled May 7 that Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. David Mitchell must show that he and the department didnt violate Sgt. Whites rights by filing charges without probable cause and by not filing the charges through proper channels and on time.
That hearing is scheduled for June 25 in Charles County Circuit Court.
Sgt. White has notified the state he intends to file a $10 million civil suit.
After the jury acquitted Sgt. White, Maryland State Police investigated Lt. Wright for filing a false report on Sgt. White.
That investigation concluded with the finding of one violation, "dealing with the appropriate method for chain of custody" on the mysteriously blank tapes, according to a May 14 letter to Mr. Warnken from Maj. Donald G. Lewis.

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