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New Orleans: FBI Agent Broke Mold by Courting Media

Politics doesn’t mix well with FBI probes
The Times-Picayune
Sunday, May 04, 2008
By Gordon Russell, Staff writer

Four years ago, a group of federal agents serving a search warrant battered down the door of the French Quarter townhouse of Jacques Morial, the youngest son of New Orleans’ first black mayor and carrier of one of the city’s most prominent political surnames.

The next week, a group of about 30 African-American ministers — heading some of New Orleans’ largest congregations — led an angry protest against a federal probe into City Hall that had just begun to burst into public view.

Politics and race were central to the argument. The investigation was “intended to plant fear into the minds of black citizens of this city,” said one minister, the Rev. Zebadee Bridges. Jacques Morial’s attorney, Pat Fanning, accused leading Republicans of seeking political gain by orchestrating a probe led by a Republican U.S. attorney into the dealings of a prominent family in Democratic politics.

That was the volatile political climate that greeted Jim Bernazzani a year later when he stepped off a plane and took charge of the FBI’s Louisiana operation, overseeing about 300 employees and a raft of investigations into allegedly corrupt officials.

The investigations rolled on, and many residents hailed Bernazzani as the feds marked several notable successes. In August, former City Councilman Oliver Thomas, widely considered the front-runner for New Orleans mayor in 2010, admitted to federal authorities he had taken bribes five years earlier. Thomas’ conviction came in the wake of guilty pleas from a former high-level city official and a member of the mayor’s inner circle.

Last week, five months after Thomas began a 37-month prison sentence, Bernazzani made two television appearances suggesting he might run for mayor of New Orleans. His superiors acted swiftly, removing him from his position three days later and ordering him to report to Washington.

“The bureau didn’t have any choice,” said Charles McGinty, a retired FBI agent from New Orleans who considers Bernazzani a friend. “Did he break the law? I don’t think so. Should the bureau have removed him? Without a doubt.”

Bernazzani, who would have been ineligible to run for mayor because of a City Charter provision requiring five years of residency, told his staff on Monday that he would take a couple of weeks to contemplate his next move. He also apologized for sparking the controversy.

Despite the quick removal of Bernazzani, the furor seemed to reignite the view among some prominent African-Americans that the investigations are politically motivated.

“For a guy to be essentially an announced candidate for mayor at the same time he’s investigating and locking up most of his key opposition — that smacks of conflict,” said lawyer Ike Spears, who represents recently indicted political operative Mose Jefferson, the brother of New Orleans Congressman William Jefferson.

Spears isn’t alone in his sentiments.

As Bridges, one of the 2004 protest’s leaders, asked pointedly in a letter to The Times-Picayune last week: “Would Councilman Oliver Thomas have been the subject of an intense FBI investigation and sentenced to over three years in prison if he had not been a potential candidate for mayor of the city of New Orleans?”

McGinty said the fallout is unfortunate but predictable.

“It’s going to hurt the New Orleans office for a while,” said McGinty, who was a longtime supervisor of the FBI’s local public corruption squad. “People are going to say, ‘See, I knew it.’ ”

Not so simple

The reality, McGinty and others said, is that federal investigations are more complex than the public might recognize.

For instance, Bernazzani had little to do with Thomas’ downfall; the councilman’s admission of bribe-taking grew out of a debriefing of another defendant in the City Hall case the feds had been investigating since 2002 — two years before Bernazzani arrived in New Orleans.

Even Fanning, who often suggested political motives for the federal investigation of former Mayor Marc Morial’s administration, noted that those theories take hold in part because the public doesn’t understand how the FBI works. He said he doesn’t believe Bernazzani’s interest in politics changed the outcome of anything the bureau did.

“Being the top guy, the SAC (special agent in charge) doesn’t initiate the cases,” said Fanning, a former federal prosecutor. “He’s pretty much reactive. His agents come and say, ‘We’ve got this lead and this lead.’ He doesn’t make decisions about who he wants investigated.”

In other words, it would be essentially impossible for Bernazzani to aim FBI agents at a potential rival, at least without clear cause. But as the agent in charge, he would be privy to potentially damaging information about various politicians received by the bureau. In fact, the lead special agent must personally approve every public-corruption investigation.

Even if Bernazzani never used any of that knowledge in a campaign, the idea that a man in his position could do so is a sensitive matter for the FBI. It took the agency a long time to repair the damage wrought by former Director J. Edgar Hoover, who used bureau intelligence to intimidate adversaries in the 1950s and ’60s.

“It’s not that (Bernazzani) skewed any investigations one way or the other; I think he would have been incapable of doing that,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the nonprofit Metropolitan Crime Commission. “He crossed the line in terms of the appearance that he had an alternative political motive.

“All they had to do was review those two interviews. He violated one of the principles of being an FBI agent. You cannot create an appearance of impropriety.”

Loyola Law School professor Tania Tetlow, a former federal prosecutor, said the Justice Department makes every effort to prevent its motives from being called into question.

That’s why all proposed indictments of politicians get high-level review from Washington bureaucrats, she said. It’s also why President Bush’s 2006 firing of U.S. attorneys over what appeared to be political differences caused a furor.

“Justice bends over backwards to never appear political,” Tetlow said. “That’s part of what made the U.S. attorney firing scandal seem so horrendous: There seemed to be actual impropriety, not just an appearance of it.”

Conspiracy claims common

To that extent, the reaction from Washington probably would have been the same whether Bernazzani was special agent in charge of New Orleans or Omaha, Neb.

But Bernazzani’s clumsy flirtation with politics was without question made more awkward by his position as the face of the agency in a city with a busy public-corruption docket, a history of colorful politics and a fair amount of mutual suspicion between the races. Both Bernazzani and U.S. Attorney Jim Letten are white.

Letten, a veteran prosecutor promoted to the top post by President Bush, is familiar with the claims of persecution coming from politicians targeted by the feds. Among them: former Gov. Edwin Edwards, whom Letten helped convict on racketeering charges.

fter the jury came back with a guilty verdict, Edwards said: “The Chinese have a saying that if you sit by the river long enough, the dead body of your enemy will come floating down the river. I suppose the feds sat by the river long enough, so here comes my body.”

Though such rhetoric rankles Letten, he tries to take it as a backhanded compliment.

“The slings and arrows that law enforcement has to endure has a direct correlation to the heat that we give out,” Letten said. “The more active we are, the more predictable it is that you’re going to get these wild assertions of prejudice and agenda.”

The skepticism about federal motives is especially intense in New Orleans, with its racial and political riptides. It doesn’t help the feds’ case for objectivity that many of their recent political scalps have belonged to African-Americans.

As Xavier University political scientist and pollster Silas Lee noted, black residents around the country tend to view law enforcement with more suspicion than white residents do.

“Many African-Americans feel that they are disproportionately targeted for prosecution,” said Lee, who is black. “Given that backdrop, and swirling of the conspiracy theory out there that he (Bernazzani) has a lot of say as to who gets investigated, this presented a very delicate situation.”

That said, Fanning said he doubts New Orleans’ singular dynamics had any impact on the case.

“I think if he had never handled a single political corruption case, you’d see the same result,” he said. “Those guys up there (in Washington) are square. They don’t have a sense of humor.”

The rock stars

Bernazzani’s flirtation with politics also put a new twist on the news conferences where the tough-talking G-man fashioned his local reputation.

Well before Bernazzani publicly contemplated becoming the city’s chief executive, members of the local defense bar — and their clients — had been rolling their eyes at those events.

“Most people I know, both within the law enforcement community and in the defense community, think these weekly press conferences seem to be more about promoting these individuals than about reporting significant activity,” said Tim Meche, co-counsel for Mose Jefferson.

Special agents in charge typically are wallflowers, Meche said.

“These guys are supposed to be in the background,” Meche said. “I mean, does anyone remember the name of the special agent in charge during the Edwards case?”

Bernazzani, by contrast, was a household name in New Orleans, in large part because of his propensity to serve up colorful sound bites laced with borderline threats, all delivered in a thick Boston accent.

He was omnipresent, too, working the rubber-chicken circuit, talk radio and television all at once. In April alone, along with three news conferences to discuss developments in corruption cases, he spoke to the Metropolitan Women’s Republican Club and the Algiers Kiwanis Club.

He even appeared on television to warn would-be tax cheats that the FBI was watching.

The high visibility made Bernazzani something of a celebrity. But it might have hastened his exit too.

As Fanning, Morial’s attorney, put it: “I think his downfall was he fell in love with the camera.”

Personal political motives might not have been the only explanation for the tough talk.

Goyeneche said he thinks the Justice Department encouraged Bernazzani and Letten to publicize their crackdowns as much as possible, in part because of the flow of billions of dollars in federal aid to the region after Katrina.

“I think Bernazzani and Jim Letten have been doing what they were instructed to do by their superiors in Washington,” he added. “While some people might have found it over the top, I think most in this community found it invigorating.”

The feds want to protect their investment in the area, and anti-fraud measures are one way to do that; both the local FBI and U.S. attorney’s offices got extra resources and “loaner” employees after the storm. The agencies also teamed up to prosecute penny-ante cases they wouldn’t have touched in normal times, such as $2,000 FEMA frauds, as a way of sending a message that the feds were watching.

“They’re trying to use these press conferences as a deterrent, so that people can see the federal government is being vigilant and aggressive, and that no one is above or below their scrutiny,” Goyeneche said.

However, he noted, the media briefings were cast in a new light in the wake of Bernazzani’s political musings.

“When you have Jim Bernazzani do what he did last week, it fuels the argument” that politics are in play, he said. “That’s why the Justice Department didn’t let grass grow under their feet.”

http://www.nola.com/news/t-p/frontpage/index.ssf?/base/news-10/1209879149312150.xml&coll=1&thispage=6

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1 Comments

  1. Stephanie McKnight July 10, 2017

    Who do you contact when the crimes are continuing and old, simultaneously? Michael Johnson crisscrossed states to commit horrific crimes as an “educaring” person. The reality is that he liked to take children on field trips to force them to sleep with him, while he was actually an imposter. By not forcing proper standards of fingerprinting and blood testing, the local school board allowed a horrifying criminal access to children locally.

    Former Superintendent Michael A. Johnson is an imposter. He began working as a principal at Science Skills Center in New York, fraudulently appearing in on-line docs as creating the school when he did not in order to effectively receive grant monies, it appears. He began working there after a three-day conference that gave me an administrative paper trail, which he falsified into credentials to become a superintendent in New York City and City of Albany, NY; Tallulah, LA; and Washington, DC. He utilized on-line diplomas and credentials from other Michael Johnsons’ resumes, available back then, to obtain these jobs. He also blackmailed extensively a group of vicious individuals in order to hide his field trips with small, under 5’0″ children, mainly African-Americans, whom he took on field trips, whereby he had an ability to sleep with them. He usually engaged in these field trips fraudulently posing as a person fully credentialed as a superintendent, specifically as a doctorate in education on a number of occasions. He would even offer to pay those he highly favored, if they would go with him on these out of town/state hotel sprees. These children would only be allowed to go, in fact he refused to take seniors. His preference dictated the victims have a similar stature. He, himself, is a short male. His victims were all preferred to be under five foot, even when he assaulted as an opportunist. He sodomized white females only when drugged, and the state of New York paid out a multi-million dollar settlement for one white female that he purportedly attacked in mid-90’s. Michael Johnson went on to teach in Washington, DC, with the aide of a local group of white supremacists in Madison Parish, who provided extremely plausible and loving credentials for him to receive a job in the nation’s capital.

    Michael Johnson is a Muslim, per his website past claims, with a past history of utilizing fake identification, inclusive of the state of Louisiana, as did his son, which was realized by police when Jr. killed an off-duty deputy in NY. Michael Johnson blackmailed a group of wealthy Ku Klux clansmen in Madison Parish into giving him references after his heavy metal poisoning radiated McCall Jr. High (local African-American school) to unhabitable levels that the school board left open despite the building inspectors stringent lethal warnings against doing so. This led to a multi-hundred-million dollars lawsuit the building inspectors union won for their dead members, technically against Hibernia, the local bank that kept allowing the building to stay in operation ultimately since it operated on a trust or loan.

    Michael Johnson’s radiation and fatal sex disease (Hep C) are known to be the most toxic version even man-made, per CDC and CID. There was a news conference regarding his disease’s genotype two summers ago, and it is considered worst than HIV/AIDS.

    He repeatedly recreates himself conveniently with the help of the fake database entries in the DOT licensing group that allowed him to recreate himself here in Madison Parish, as well as with the judge’s permission that his lawyer borrowed, which Judge Karen Hayes did not find offensive in any way, as she admitted to allowing his lawyer to use her computer with her user name and password in open court. This helped him to avoid prosecution.

    Michael Johnson utilized the white supremacists in this area’s DOE that forced continued segregated school populations, even to the point of decades of falsifying reports to the US government–even now the school is still listed as Tallulah Academy Delta Christian (TADC). TADC is in the state of Mississippi, listed as a school in the mpsa.org grouping, which is factually a lie. Yet, it to this day is listed as a Mississippi school, and receives fraudulently the enormous funding support from that state, as if the court case never happened and its principal was never dead in prison. Tallulah Academy (TADC) is and has for decades been falsely annexed out to the state of MS in order to avoid desegregation. TADC principal’s guilty verdict & death in prison in 1990’s should have ended this segregated community, but did not. This resulted in Madison Parish becoming a “gladiator” school with the largest payout in DOJ history to the minorities sadistically injured in cannabilism, sex abuse, murders, and suicides in the Madison Parish School Board run TCCY scholastic program after Madison Parish School Board’s cannabilism shut down its Thomastown School site, as the LSD made the school site uninhabitable–even now. It is still condemned, and is one of six multi-million dollars government buildings the school board has destroyed just since 1997.

    In twenty years, the same small group of people have repeatedly caused this one parish to be listed repeatedly as one of the worst places in the nation to get an education per the DOE, and per the United Nations (2001), Madison Parish was on the same level as North Korea for sadistic human rights abuses, the only populated place in the United States to have this dubious reputation. It is and was highly criticized in the UN and Amnesty International held conferences in NYC, which is probably when this information fell to Michael Johnson as an out, as he began being published as a superintendent, which is unfortunate, as he never actually received that level of education, as the state of NY required after its Highly Qualified Act of 1996 changed requirements regarding new posts’ credentials and educational requirements.

    Even now, he still appears as a fake Dr. Michael Johnson on Columbia University website. He repeatedly puts himself up as an “architect” and had on his website (majmuse.net) listed himself as the architect of the capital. Even now, he still appears in an AIA conference t-shirt from 2009 when he began appearing as a doctor in architecture. No one seems to care, but this is serious. He is an imposter with a fatal STD and a history of recreating himself wherever convenient. He has in the past pretended to be the Dr. Michael Johnson who worked with First Lady Nancy Regan in order to fraudulently receive a standing ovation from Congress. In case you did not notice, the place that he stood in our Legislature became so radiated that the marble from that place was removed, forcing school children to be unable for the first time in decades to visit the Congress over the summer, and the scaffolding from that deconstruction project was still in place when President Trump took office. The irony is that he began appearing in DOJ websites as the real Superintendent Michael Johnson with the help of local FBI Agent Robert King, who is the same FBI agent that helped ensure the lack of prosecution for the local Ku Klux Klan responsible for the most aggressive damages against the DOJ and DOT due to the drugs and abuses in Madison Parish, who have also been found in Legislative Audits to have been paying Agent Robert King kickbacks through local school infirmary accounts tied to the local Madison Parish Hospital, which sent Robert King payments via the LSU Hospital at Shreveport. In addition, the background of Agent King is questionable. The Mississippi-raised agent was published in the news as the son of a local Mississippi doctor who was found guilty of killing African-American patients in a civil lawsuit when he did not provide similar treatments to white patients, resulting in a strangely racist difference in treatment that resulted in a number of deaths among his African-American patients. The continuing horror show in this has been the catastrophic loss of minority children’s lives.

    Michael Johnson in the few years he lived in Madison Parish resulted in 16% of one grades’ population, but this MFP report statistic does not show that all were African-American males from McCall Jr. under 5 feet. It also provides an unequal distribution in real world terms, since the white supremacists’ schooling was not affected at all. He was not allowed to visit their schools. Mr. Michael Johnson’s radiation has blown up our local crematorium/funeral parlor, and Mayor Beckwith, who died from the radiation exposure he suffered due to these local frauds and abuses, was found not guilty post-mortem. Michael Johnson’s radiation was also found in the all-black cemetery along the Mississippi River, forcing our little Madison Parish to take on a nuclear reactor due to the excessive radioactive seeds transferred, per the Dept of Interior report on radiation along MS River Basin’s waterways that showed only our Tensas National Park area, which this cemetery resides in, to be the origin of this disaster along the MS river, albeit matching a similar type of destructive radiation. Apparently, Westchester County, New York has a nuclear reactor that spat out similar garbage in 2002, which a DOC report found affected prisoners at the Westchester County Prison Farm in greater levels than injuries suffered at other prisons in New York. The Westchester County Water Dept has similar findings as can be matched to the state of Louisiana case suing the insurance co. in Beckwith Funeral Home made available online and that also matches the findings available in archived Vicksburg Post documents regarding their own toxic meltdown when the Warren County located Vicksburg Power Plant’s intake valve blew up, due to radiation from its up-river neighbor–Tensas and Madison Parishes. We have an ecologically disaster. He gets to run free with a sterilizing amount of radiation. He used fake names to get out of prison. He used fake names to get jobs. When does he get real justice?

    The sodomized children died horribly. They deserve justice. He deserves execution.

    Sincerely,

    Stephanie McKnight

    Reply

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