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Pair-a-dice...Guam's DOJ Gamble

Duke Falconer
Original Publication Date
Guam Gamble

Previous articles in our continuing series on the US Attorneys: The Gonzales Seven; The Alberto Gonzales Appointments: How the Process Has Changed and Why this is so Important; Alberto Gonzales: Gaming the System Again in Arizona?

Long before the public was familiar with Kyle Sampson and his role in the firing of U.S. Attorneys Ryan, Lam, Charlton, Cummins, Iglesias, McKay, Bogden or Chiara by the Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department, his name surfaces in the shakeup that brewed thousands of miles away in the Territory of Guam. In light of what has surfaced with the recent U.S. Attorney firings, was the Bush administration testing the waters on that tiny island four years ago and pushing the envelope to see just how far it could go injecting politics into the U.S. justice system?

In 2002, President G.W. Bush's Administration abruptly removed the Acting U.S. Attorney in Guam, U.S. Attorney Frederick A. Black from his post. Black had been the Acting U.S. Attorney for Guam since 1991 when he was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, the current President's father.

Black was in the midst of investigating what might have touched on the lobbyist Jack Abramoff's influence peddling with government officials. Evidence exists that suggest that just prior to Black's demotion, Jack Abramoff, who was ultimately convicted of defrauding of American Indian tribes and corruption of public officials, was actively seeking Black's replacement. From The Nation, Attorneygate in Guam:

"I don't care if they appoint bozo the clown, we need to get rid of Fred Black," Abramoff wrote to colleagues in March 2002.

The day after Black announced he was launching an investigation into then-governor Carl Gutierrez and his ties to the now-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff himself, Black was informed he would be replaced by Leonardo Rapadas, whose recommendation was apparently made directly to Karl Rove, by Fred Radewagen, a lobbyist under contract to then-governor Gutierrez. The confirmation process for Rapadas was supposedly "well under way" when his nomination was first announced on November 19, 2002 and was completed by the U.S. Senate in May 2003.1

The Department of Justice had initially sent Russell Stoddard to Guam to fill the position of First Assistant United States Attorney, intending to name him as "interim" US Attorney, to fill in the gap between the removal of Black and the Senate confirmation of Rapadas.

Stoddard's selection was handled by EOUSA and Rapadas. Margolis told the OIG that given Black's reluctance to relinquish his position to the new U.S. Attorney, and given Margolis' assessment that Rapadas was competent but not exceptional, Margolis believed that a top-notch First Assistant United States Attorney would be needed in Guam. He said he asked EOUSA to find one for Guam. The Director of EOUSA suggested two people to Rapadas, and Rapadas told the OIG that he ultimately selected one of the recommended candidates, Stoddard, an AUSA from the U.S. Attorney's office for the Middle District of Florida. Stoddard is a career prosecutor with no significant prior ties to Guam.

The interim appointment process was never completed because the Chief Judge in Guam holds the appointment authority for an interim US Attorney post. Yet, Stoddard continues to serve as First Assistant in Guam -- a "temporary duty assignment" complete with per diem, that has lasted for over three years. Stoddard, according to the FBI, is also in charge of all public corruption cases in the small island territory.

At the time of Black's sudden demotion in November 2002, the White House was quick to point out that Black's assignment was never meant to be permanent, even though he'd been in the post eleven years. The appointment of a new federal prosecutor was simply a procedural move and there wasn't any "political" motivation behind the replacement; thus, it was appropriate to replace him with a permanent, senate-confirmed US Attorney.

Despite these public statements by the White House, Black was reportedly "distressed that he was being replaced" and made no secret of the fact that he felt his demotion was politically motivated. In fact his allegations of wrongful dismissal eventually made it to the Office of the Inspector General(OIG).

The OIG learned of Black's allegations in July 2005 from Noel Hillman, at that time the Chief of the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice (DOJ). Hillman notified the OIG that Black had recently been interviewed by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agents assigned to DOJ's investigation into Abramoff's activities. In that interview, Black stated that he believed he had been replaced as the U.S. Attorney because of political controversy he caused in the fall of 2002 by calling for an investigation of lobbying fees that the Superior Court of Guam had paid to Abramoff. Black also alleged that he may have been replaced in order to prevent the implementation of a recommendation contained in a May 2002 security report prepared by a DOJ security specialist regarding the applicability of federal immigration law to the CNMI, which Black supported and Abramoff allegedly opposed. During the FBI interview, Black also raised various concerns regarding the appointment of Rapadas as the U.S. Attorney and the management of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Guam and the CNMI (USAO-Guam) after Rapadas' appointment.

In fact, the Department of Justice's Inspector General (IG) did investigate the matter (in 2005 and filed the report in June of 2006) and concluded that there was no impropriety involved. But in light of recent revelations about the internal workings at the DOJ, some in the blogs and other arenas in the public sphere have expressed doubt about the veracity of that report. Again from The Nation:

But the IG report, which leaned heavily on Administration testimony, including that of the now-discredited Sampson, failed to include crucial information backing up Black's claims.

After taking office, Rapadas immediately recused himself from the ongoing investigation of the Gutierrez administration, as he was a cousin of one of the "main targets" of the investigation.

Though Black's complaints involved an accusation of an Abramoff relationship with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and his Chief of Staff, David Ayres, the OIG Report failed to find that this relationship played any part in Black's removal and Rapadas' appointment.2

Was the removal of Black, just as he opened an investigation into Jack Abramoff, coincidental or were there politics at play?

According to a New York Times article:

The announcement came only days after Mr. Black had notified the department's public integrity division in Washington, by telephone and e-mail communication, that he had opened a criminal investigation into Mr. Abramoff's lobbying activities for the Guam judges, the colleague said. The judges had sought Mr. Abramoff's help in blocking a bill in Congress to restructure the island's courts.

"Whatever the motivation in replacing Fred [Black], his demotion meant that the investigation of Abramoff died," said a former colleague in Guam.

And, the Abramoff investigation did die, a very quick and unnatural death. The Guam investigation into Abramoff was separate from a federal grand jury investigation initiated in Washington in July of 2005. According to an article in the August 7th, 2005 LA Times[note: article no longer available at LA Times online. Archived copy from Boston Globe]:

In 2002, Abramoff was retained by the Superior Court in what was an unusual arrangement for a public agency. The Los Angeles Times reported in May that Abramoff was paid with a series of $9,000 checks funneled through a Laguna Beach, Calif., lawyer to disguise the lobbyist's role working for the Guam court. No separate contract was authorized for Abramoff's work.

So to recap the key points about what transpired on Guam: U.S. Attorney Black launched an investigation into the Guttierez administration and its ties with Jack Abramoff, and on November 19, 2002, issued a grand jury subpoena for the documents relating to the Superior Court's transactions (including bills and payments) with Mr. Abramoff. A day later, Frederick Black was demoted.

Again from the LA Times article:

The acting US attorney was a controversial official in Guam. At the time he was replaced, Black was directing a long-term investigation into allegations of public corruption in the administration of then-Governor Carl Gutierrez. The probe produced numerous indictments, including some of the governor's political associates and top aides.

Kyle Sampson, a name that is now familiar to all of us, was a featured player in the Black scenario. According to statements made in the OIG Report, it was Sampson who "shepherded" the Rapadas nomination through to confirmation, and all the while "interested parties" were kept in the loop.

Again, from the OIG Report:

Sampson said that he believes that after the Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General concurred, he then obtained approval for the Rapadas nomination from the White House Counsel, pursuant to the normal practice. Sampson said he believes he then asked EOUSA to prepare paperwork consisting of a one-page data sheet, a resume, and a picture of the candidate. Sampson said he believes he presented Rapadas' candidacy to the President, and the President approved the nomination, pending successful completion of a background investigation.

E-mail records provided to the OIG by Rapadas suggest that those who submitted Rapadas' name to the White House were kept apprised of the progress on his nomination. [...] On February 17, 2002, Sablan wrote an e-mail to Rodriguez and Mehlman stating that Radewegan had informed him that Rapadas "got the nod from all concerned."

Frederick Black still serves as a staff attorney in the Guam office and is now responsible for analyzing security and terrorism risks in the tiny island territory. Incidentally, the study he ordered cited "substantial security risks in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands."

The questions surrounding Black's dismissal -- and its ties to the defunct Abramoff investigation -- have never really been answered. But, as repeated continuously over the last several weeks, U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, and when the president is displeased ...

Once again we are left with more questions than answers. Was Black's dismissal a precursor to the purge of December 2006? And, more importantly was it an early example of the removal of a U.S. Attorney for political payback?


1US attorney's demotion halted probe of lobbyist, By Walter F. Roche Jr., Los Angeles Times. online here

2Report of Investigation into Allegations Relating to the Selection of the U.S. Attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, Special Report, June 2006, Office of the Inspector General.

About the Author: Duke Falconer is editor and founding member of Migra Matters: Progressive Immigration Reform; a researcher-writer for Downing Street and founding member of Iraq Fact Working Group

ePluribus Media Researchers, Contributors, Fact Checkers & Staff Writers: avahome, cho, roxy, wanderindiana, luaptifer, GreyHawk, standingup