Federal prosecutor under fire for anonymously commenting on news website

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An anonymous commenter has been unmasked, and a federal prosecutor is in trouble.

Since Aug. 15, 2011, Louisiana prosecutor Sal Perricone has posted more than 600 comments on Nola.com, the website for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Nola.com reported. The sharply opinionated comments, under the name Henry L. Mencken1951, shared negative viewpoints on federal workers ranging from New Orleans district judges to President Obama.

Perricone also commented on stories covering his own continuing cases, including the one that led to his unraveling: a sweeping probe of a landfill just outside New Orleans in which he was one of the leading prosecutors. That landfill’s owner, Fred Heebe, hired a former FBI profiler and forensic linguist specialist to compare the language Mencken1951 used with to that in a legal brief Perricone filed against the landfill, according to the Times-Picayune. After the investigator found similarities, Heebe filed a petition last week to unmask Mencken1951.

Jim Letten, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, confirmed Thursday that Perricone and Menken1951 were one and the same, and he recused Perricone from all cases the prosecutor had discussed in the comments section of Nola.com, the site reported. Perricone “readily admitted” to using the pseudonym, Letten told the site.

The Justice Department’s manual for federal prosecutors forbids employees from engaging in outside activities that would appear to create a conflict of interest.

Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility will handle any further punishment for Perricone, according to Nola.com. But as a 2010 USA Today investigation revealed, OPR has a dismal record of following up on employee misconduct complaints: of 1,204 complaints received in 2010, the office followed up on only 183; of the 105 investigations closed that same year, the office found professional misconduct in 24 cases. OPM receives more than 1,000 such complaints annually.

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