- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

A Justice Department investigation into a 1997 retirement dinner for former FBI Deputy Director Larry A. Potts said senior bureau executives used a sham conference at the FBI training academy in Quantico, Va., to justify using taxpayer funds for cross-country travel to Washington.
A report by the department's Office of Inspector General, scheduled for release this morning, said five senior FBI executives, including Assistant Director Van A. Harp, who now heads the bureau's Washington field office, attended the dinner and made false statements on documents they submitted for travel reimbursements.
More than 140 people went to the Oct. 9, 1997, dinner, while only five showed up the next morning for the "Integrity in Law Enforcement" conference which lasted about 90 minutes, including lunch.
Despite a General Accounting Office report last year showing that FBI Senior Executive Service (SES) agents improperly sought $3,217 for travel reimbursements, nobody ever was disciplined other than to receive letters of censure, although similar actions by rank-and-file FBI agents would have led to their firing.
The report said Mr. Harp, a 32-year FBI veteran named in April 2001 to head the Washington office, submitted documents justifying his travel to Washington from Cleveland, where he was in charge, by saying he was meeting with the FBI's career board and with at least two other bureau officials.
But the report said no career board was meeting at the time, that one of the officials was on leave and the other did not recall any meeting.
Mr. Harp yesterday denied any wrongdoing, noting that the matter had been investigated fully.
"After almost 33 years of dedicated service, I've never been disciplined. In this instance under SES rules, I had no avenue to appeal factual inaccuracies in the inspector general's report, so I reimbursed the government fully to set the record straight," he said.
Records show Mr. Harp's involvement in the Potts case has been reviewed by FBI Directors Louis J. Freeh and Robert S. Mueller III and by Attorney General John Ashcroft, all of whom approved his promotion from Cleveland to Washington and have since extended his appointment by a year. He now heads the FBI's anthrax investigation.
The inspector general's review was requested by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, after the GAO findings were released.
They said the GAO suggested a double standard of discipline and asked the Justice Department to review the Potts case to determine any disparity for like offenses between FBI executives and the rank and file.
Government sources indicated that the inspector general's report says the "appearance and perception" of a double standard of discipline continues despite Mr. Freeh's March 1997 order directing that disciplinary measures involving the FBI's senior managers were to conform "as closely as feasible" with the rank and file. He modified that order in August 2000 to revise disciplinary procedures for senior managers "to mirror those for all other employees."
The report said little effort was made to ensure that the Quantico conference was not used to justify travel reimbursements for senior agents, who otherwise would have been on personal business. It said the conference was scheduled on short notice, no effort was made to encourage or monitor attendance and no information or documents were distributed.
In addition to Mr. Harp, other executives named in the report were Robert Walsh, who was head of the San Francisco office; Victor M. Gonzalez, who was in charge in New York; James C. Frier, who was head of the Jackson, Miss., office; Jack C. Dalton, who was in charge in Atlanta; Herbert l. Collins Jr., who was head of the Chicago office; and Don K. Clark, who was chief of the Houston office.
All but Mr. Gonzalez, who was unavailable last night for comment, and Mr. Harp retired before the investigation was completed.
In September 1999, the FBI's Law Enforcement Ethics Unit said in a report there was "little question of voucher fraud and lack of candor" on the part of senior FBI executives who attended the dinner. The report said a board of FBI executives who reviewed the matter ignored warnings by Mr. Freeh in a 1994 "bright line" memo that voucher fraud and lack of candor lying or making false statements would result in dismissal.
The board had recommended only letters of censure.


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