Former Federal Prosecutor Faces Defamation Lawsuit Over Alleged Anonymous Internet Attacks On Landfill Owner

Fred Heebe, a Louisiana landfill owner, has filed an interesting defamation lawsuit against a federal prosecutor who he claims has used anonymous identities to trash him on the Internet. Using a former FBI forensic linguist expert, Heebe has shown remarkable similarities between language used in filings by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone and statements written by someone on media websites under the name “Henry L. Mencken1951.” With the finding that the language overlap “strongly indicates” Perricone, Heebe has filed suit and issued subpeonas. The federal case involves alleged bribes (including an almost $500,000 bribe to a state official) to close a rival landfill in Gretna, Louisiana. Heebe however was never charged with a crime. Perricone, 61, has since resigned after 21 years as a prosecutor but an investigation continues at the Justice Department as well as the civil lawsuit. He recently admitted to posting hundreds of comments.

The former FBI profiler James Fitzgerald noted the repeated use of alliteration and obscure words, such as “dubiety” and “redoubt” as pointing to the prosecutor. Notably, Perricone was also born in 1951.

The comments relate to cases handled by the U.S. attorney’s office and discuss a fine level of detail of those cases. Notably, the lawsuit criticizes Letten for appearing to take credit for cases at the expense of assistant U.S. attorneys and FBI agents. It also contained allegedly libelous statements such as “Heebe comes from a long line of corruptors,” or “If Heebe had one firing synapse, he would go speak to Letten’s posse and purge himself of this sordid episode.” The poster also alleges that Heebe had bought the silence of Parish President Aaron Broussard by paying for his defense in a fraud investigation. [Note: there was an earlier reference to a critical comment directed at Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann in the lawsuit. Mann, who was the most senior prosecutor in the office, is not criticized in the lawsuit and indeed is referenced in one of the cited comments as “the brains” behind one of the cases).

District Judge Tiffany Chase has been asked to issue subpoenas for Perricone and Assistant U.S. Attorney James Mann.

Private counsel often complain about federal prosecutors leaking information to the media to pressure or harass targets. The Justice Department is notorious for its lack of effort to investigate such claims. However, faced with the lawsuit and the forensic evidence, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten has asked the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate.

Notably, Perricone also attacked public figures like referring to President Obama’s “West Wing band of Bolsheviks.” He also wrote that one federal judge “loves killer [sic]” and “We all know that Federal judges are NOT selected for their erudition but for their relationship with politicians.” Such comments would be entirely protected in anonymous posting as his private opinion in my view. However, there were other allegations that under the name “legacyusa,” Perricone has urged gun-owners to visit the Park Island home of then-Mayor Ray Nagin.

We recently saw a Michigan prosecutor fired for his online attacks on a college student. Andrew Shirvell, a former Michigan assistant attorney general, was hit with a $4.5 million damage award recently from a jury who found that he defamed and caused emotional distress to Christopher Armstrong, a University of Michigan 2011 graduate. Shirvell campaigned against Armstrong, who is openly gay, after Armstrong became University of Michigan’s student body president. Notably, Shirvell had refused to settle the matter with an apology and retraction. He is quoted as saying “There’s no way I could possibly ever pay such a judgment.” For more on that story: ABA Journal. For me the case raised free speech questions but also involved conduct that came close to stalking.

I do believe that prosecutors have the right to free speech, particularly in anonymous postings that do not rely on information from or their position with the government. That is not the case in the Louisiana matter where the former prosecutor is being accused of harassing a target and using information from his investigation. However, it is worth noting that the information appears to have been publicly available and not derived from the grand jury (which would constitute a crime under Rule 6(e)).

In his most recent comments, Perricone said that he resigned a few days after disclosing his conduct to the U.S. Attorney. He says that he wants to return to practicing law and is writing a fictional book with some “strangely familiar” characters. If so, he might want to get a legal review before triggering another defamation lawsuit. While it is unclear what the book is about, there are a long line of “fictional” works that are the basis for defamation lawsuits by people who say characters were a bit too “familiar.”

Source: NOLA

9 thoughts on “Former Federal Prosecutor Faces Defamation Lawsuit Over Alleged Anonymous Internet Attacks On Landfill Owner”

  1. Under the Hatch Act of 39, after a cursory reading, yeah its probably not acceptable behavior. In the Military, I gave up some rights, especially the right to criticize my Commander-in-Chief regarding military actions. Kind of sucks being a government employee. Why do we do it?

  2. Unlike many folks here Mike I reread your comment. We may be on the same page. I agree the AUSA has a general right to anonymous comment, but under no circumstances on a case where they’re involved. They’re an officer of the court and attorney of record. It’s unethical.

  3. Mike, I think you’re wrong on this. The prosecutor is an officer of the court and assigned to this case. If he/she makes any comments on this case they need to be within the confines of the court w/ real name attached. I agree this prosecutor does not waive the right to anonymous comments but certainly should not be commenting on their own case anonymously or even any case in the US Attorneys office. All Federal employees give up their right involving politics via the Hatch Act.

  4. I agree that prosecutors should have the right to anonymous free speech. However, if they use any material from their investigations, whether or not that information has become public, then they are violating their trust. The proper forum to air the results of a criminal/civil investigation is within the context of our legal system and if an investigation does not result in a court case, then the prosecution has no right to pursue it extra-legally. The potential for disgruntled prosecutors harassing their investigatory targets, who they have failed to make a case against, is too large for this to become common practice.

  5. The case involves a lawyer billing scam supervised by a federal judge. In the apparent scam, a Dallas business owner (the “victim”) had all possessions seized, without any notice or hearing, prohibited him from hiring a lawyer, and essentially ordered him into a bizarre civil lockdown. Jeff has been under this civil lockdown order for nearly two years, and is prohibited from having a lawyer, from owning any possessions, from freely traveling, from working, etc… How many Civil Rights violations can one court treat on? has details about this disturbing case and some quotes from the judge:

    THE COURT: “I’m telling you don’t screw with me. You are a fool, a fool, a fool, a fool to screw with a federal judge, and if you don’t understand that, I can make you understand it. I have the force of the Navy, Army, Marines and Navy behind me.”

    THE COURT: “You realize that order is an order of the Court. So any failure to comply with that order is contempt, punishable by lots of dollars, punishable by possible jail, death”
    Click the link for a YouTube video:

    We need your support to report this horrible act before all American Citizens fall into this trap

  6. Some of the nastiest prosecutions in Federal Courts involve pollution. Some of these prosecutors take on a religious zeal and even personalize ala this case. Disturbing.

  7. Not a very bright prosecutor……then again….the barrel is full of em…..

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