US Attorney Jim Letten today confirmed that one of his office's employees — Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone — has been commenting on The Times-Picayune's Nola.com using the handle "Henry L. Mencken 1951."
"On Tuesday, March 13, 2012 following press accounts of a legal filing in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, Assistant United States Attorney Salvador Perricone acknowledged for the first time that he has in fact been the sole user of the Nola.com identifier Henry L. Mencken 1951," Letten said, reading from a prepared statement.
Letten said he confronted Perricone after it was reported that River Birch landfill owner Fred Heebe filed a defamation suit against Perricone. Heebe hired a forensic linguist to analyze the comments. The linguist determined that Perricone was likely "Mencken," a prolific commenter who frequently used the site to weigh in on stories about investigations and prosecutions his own office was involved in.
Perricone has been recused from all cases upon which he commented, Letten said. However, as reported by the T-P, he was present this morning at a hearing in the federal fraud case against River Birch executive Dominic Fazzio.
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"He was already prepared for a hearing in that case," which had to happen, and the USAO's Office felt it was appropriate to allow that to go on, Letten said.
Letten would not comment in detail on the substance of any of the Mencken posts, many of which included disparaging remarks about the federal prosecutors' office and federal judges:
The federal judiciary isn't spared from "Mencken's" critical lens. Berrigan, in his view, coddles criminals — and is in the pocket of Heebe. U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle is "Ivan the Terrible."
"We do not criticize judges," Letten said. Asked whether he was concerned that some judges who were commented upon may now view federal prosecutors unfavorably, he said he was not. "We depend on those judges and count on those judges to rule based on the law."
Letten said he does not believe that the revelation about Perricone will damage any closed or ongoing cases. The matter, he said, has been turned over to the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility for investigation.