Details revealed of FBI agent's complaint against Stevens prosecutors

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 15, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- One of the FBI agents assigned to investigate corruption in Alaska politics has accused his lead agent in the inquiry of unethical behavior, including leaking information about the inner workings of the agency to outsiders and seeking a job for her husband from people who were sources that led to the conviction in October of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

The allegations against FBI Special Agent Mary Beth Kepner were first introduced last month, when Special Agent Chad Joy's whistle-blower complaint surfaced as part of Stevens' appeal. Until Wednesday, however, much of Joy's complaint was blacked out, leaving people to speculate about the identity of the whistle-blower and the Justice Department co-workers he had accused of wrongdoing.

Joy also remained unnamed until Wednesday, when U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan held a court hearing to decide whether to allow the public to see additional blacked-out sections of the eight-page document. Joy, who began working for the FBI in 2003, was assigned to the public corruption probe soon after arriving at the Anchorage office in January 2004.

In his complaint, Joy largely focuses on Kepner's relationship with her sources in the investigation. One of those sources, which is still redacted, "gave Kepner's husband his current job as a security guard at the Port of Anchorage," Joy wrote. Joy also accuses her of accepting artwork of her dog painted by the wife of another unnamed source, as well as house-hunting help when she moved from Juneau to Anchorage.

In his complaint, Joy mentions the day Kepner wore a skirt to Stevens' trial as an example of Kepner's too-close relationship to her sources. Joy said Kepner told him the skirt was for the benefit of the star witness in the Stevens trial: former Veco Corp. CEO Bill Allen, who pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers but hasn't yet been sentenced.

"Kepner does not wear skirts," Joy wrote in his complaint. "She advised it was a surprise/present for Allen."

He also accused Kepner of telling her husband about the bureau's "shock room," where agents would bring people who they wanted to cooperate with their investigation. In the corruption case of state Rep. Tom Anderson, for example, Anderson went to FBI headquarters thinking he was getting an award. Instead, he was taken to the shock room and shown blown-up surveillance photos of himself and others.

Joy did not return a telephone call to his cell phone. Kepner had no comment about Joy's complaint.

The Anchorage FBI office had little to say publicly about the latest revelations and how they may affect the ongoing federal investigation into public corruption in Alaska. Eric Gonzalez, the chief division counsel for the Anchorage FBI office, would say only that the government intends to "litigate in the courts all matters, including these allegations, related to the jury's conviction of Senator Stevens."

In court Wednesday, William Welch, head of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, said the Justice Department wants to counter some of the allegations in the document, as well as those in some of the filings by Stevens' attorneys. The government doesn't want filing deadlines pushed back, he told the judge.

"We want to file, we want to respond to this," Welch said.

Justice Department prosecutors, who initially fought to allow the complaint to be made public, were the ones during the hearing to ask for an even more revealing version of the document to be filed publicly. Their aim was to make it easier to respond to a motion filed by Stevens' lawyers to dismiss the case or to win a new trial, Welch said.

"For practical purposes, it's going to be difficult to respond to the motion to dismiss using pseudonyms," Welch said.

Stevens' defense team has always sought to make Joy's complaint public, as part of its post-conviction effort to overturn the former senator's conviction. Wednesday, the lawyers asked for and received more time to re-file their original motion to dismiss the case.

When the original, redacted complaint was filed Dec. 22, Stevens' attorneys seized on it as evidence that Stevens deserves a new trial. The government "cheated and lied in order to obtain a verdict against Sen. Stevens," his attorney, Robert Cary, wrote at the time. Joy's complaint also claims that prosecutors deliberately withheld and covered up evidence favorable to the former senator, an accusation that counters what they told the judge at the time during the trial.

Some portions of Joy's complaint remain blacked out, including a section that alleges Kepner had "inappropriate" relationships with reporters. The names of three reporters remain blacked out; Joy complains that Kepner had "extensive communication" with one of the reporters about Allen and a source of his.

Welch said Wednesday that his team had been contacting all of the Justice Department employees named in the complaint to see whether they objected to their names being disclosed. With only one exception, none did, he said.

During Wednesday's hearing, Welch also told Judge Sullivan that Joy's name could be revealed because the agent didn't qualify for whistle-blower status under federal guidelines. Such status is granted to protect federal employees who come forward with evidence of wrongdoing from retaliation. That was news to Sullivan, even though he said in his own ruling last month that he was more inclined to release a more complete version of Joy's complaint.

Wednesday, Sullivan wanted to know when exactly the Justice Department attorney on the case knew that Joy wasn't granted whistle-blower status. Had he known that Joy didn't qualify for anonymity when he held the Dec. 19 secret hearing about the redactions, Sullivan said he would have treated the document much differently. He would have been less inclined to release a heavily redacted version of the complaint, Sullivan said.

"I would have done things completely differently had I known he'd been denied status," Sullivan said. "It would have made a significant difference."

Brenda Morris, the lead prosecutor in Stevens' case, said she was unaware of the exact date they learned he didn't have whistle-blower status -- but said she had to seek the information out herself. She also indicated it was a matter she had some discomfort with, because it was being handled by the Justice Department's internal investigative units, the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Inspector General.

"We didn't have any contact with Agent Joy, we still haven't," Morris said in court.

Sullivan, who frequently displayed annoyance with the Justice Department's handling of the case during the trial, ordered Morris and Welch to seek a signed declaration by Attorney General Michael Mukasey detailing exactly what the attorneys knew -- and when -- about Joy's whistle-blower status.

"I want a paper trail, and I want an information trail," he said.

Reporters Lisa Demer and Richard Mauer contributed to this story.

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