Every year since Hurricane Katrina, Gambit has honored individuals and groups who have helped our city recover from the greatest man-made and natural disaster in U.S. history. This year we again pay tribute to a hero of the recovery, but, for only the second time in our history, we honor someone from the public sector (the first was Lindy Boggs, who received the honor upon her retirement in 1991).
For all the governmental failures during and after Katrina, one branch of the federal government stands out for having risen to the occasion time and again to help the city and the region right itself. From helping local prosecutors when the local criminal justice system fell apart to aggressively pursuing fraudulent FEMA, Road Home and Red Cross claims to ferreting out entrenched political corruption, the U.S. Attorney's Office under Jim Letten has lifted the standards — and the hopes — of post-Katrina New Orleans.
The mere mention of Letten's name sends shivers down the spines of crooked pols and evokes cheers from citizens, but he gives all the credit to his staff, fellow prosecutors, the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies. While his office has amassed an impressive record on many fronts since Katrina, 2009 was a banner year for Letten and his team of modern-day Untouchables: more than a dozen high-profile criminal indictments and trials against political crooks from every corner of southeast Louisiana — and major investigations are, says Letten in his best Eliot Ness game face, "ongoing."
All of which makes U.S. Attorney Jim Letten an easy choice for Gambit's 2009 New Orleanian of the Year.