A federal judge yesterday unsealed records revealing that the lead FBI agent in the criminal case against Dr. Cyril H. Wecht was disciplined elsewhere for forging other agents' names and initials on chain-of-custody forms, evidence labels and interview forms.
Further, in September 2001 Special Agent Bradley W. Orsini was demoted and received a 30-day suspension without pay for a series of policy violations that occurred from 1993 through 2000, which included having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate; making improper vulgar and sexual comments; threatening a subordinate with violence; and improperly documenting the seizure of a weapon and ammunition from a search.
"We're pleased this information is now available to the public for its own analysis and understanding of its impact on the case," said Dr. Wecht's defense attorney, Jerry McDevitt. "The report speaks for itself."
The U.S. attorney's office filed Agent Orsini's records under seal on April 7, 2006, asking U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab to determine if it was required to turn them over to Dr. Wecht's defense attorneys.
What followed was a 15-month legal battle that ended this week when the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a final order in the case, making the disciplinary reports public.
Judge Schwab unsealed the records late yesterday afternoon. He also vacated a previous decision in which he'd ordered a contempt hearing for the defense attorneys for their failure to follow his orders.
He wrote "this Court considers the 'time-out' caused by the interlocutory appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit as providing an opportunity for a 'fresh start.'"
He also ordered a hearing in Dr. Wecht's case on Sept. 18 that will allow the defense to use the Orsini reports in their examination of him.
Agent Orsini has been an agent for more than 18 years, and he has spent much of that time, including in Pittsburgh, working public corruption cases. All of the allegations included in the two disciplinary reports occurred while he was working in the FBI's Newark, N.J., office.
U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan would not comment on the reports' release. It was unclear if she was aware of Mr. Orsini's background before he became the lead agent in the case against Dr. Wecht, who is charged with 84 counts of misusing his public office for private gain.
The first time Agent Orsini was disciplined was Nov. 2, 1998. He received a five-day suspension without pay for signing other agents' names to evidence labels and custody forms from May 1995 to January 1997.
He explained that he and another agent, on limited occasions, signed each other's names on evidence "to save time."
Though the investigator from the Office of Professional Responsibility found that Agent Orsini did not intend to jeopardize the evidence or cases involved, his actions could have called the integrity of the bureau into question, he wrote in his report.
A 28-page report issued Sept. 24, 2001, by the assistant director of the Office of Professional Responsibility described additional transgressions.
The first violation listed dated to Nov. 2, 1993. Agent Orsini failed to obtain the proper consent form while searching a man's home for illegal firearms and failed to properly document the ammunition seized.
Agent Orsini was found to have falsified at least six FBI interview forms in 1993 and 1994 by writing other agents' initials on them.
He said in a statement that he didn't believe there would be a problem with that provided the information in the body of the interview form was accurate.
"I have no idea how many times I may have done so," he said. He said he did so for "convenience and a shortcut."
Throughout the Wecht case, defense attorneys have argued that the government based part of the charges against their client -- that he exchanged unclaimed bodies from the county morgue for lab space from Carlow University -- on a single interview form filled out by Agent Orsini.
The disciplinary report next goes into great detail about a relationship Agent Orsini had with a subordinate agent, from April 1998 through early 2000.
The document indicates that other agents in his squad believed Agent Orsini was favoring the woman and gave her premium assignments. It also details gag gifts exchanged at the squad's Christmas parties in 1998 and 1999. One, given to the woman, was a pet collar, with a note that said, "If found, return to Brad Orsini."
"By their very nature, the public notoriety attached to the gag gifts would have put even the most insensitive person on notice of this perception of favoritism," the assistant director wrote.
By January 2000, when supervisors in the Newark office learned of the relationship, Agent Orsini was reassigned.
But before that, he approached one of the agents in his squad and accused him of revealing the relationship. During the meeting, Agent Orsini threatened to hit his subordinate but quickly added that he was kidding.
Newark's assistant agent in charge reported that Agent Orsini "has an aggressive personality, and I would characterize him as a bully."
Other substantiated allegations in the report included that Agent Orsini punched at least one hole in the wall in the Newark office, and threw and broke chairs. He also jokingly called fellow supervisors "homosexuals," and even used a bullhorn to make his comments.
For those actions, the Office of Professional Responsibility said he failed to prevent the development of a "locker room atmosphere" in his squad that repressed professional conduct.
In addition to the suspension and demotion, Agent Orsini was ordered to serve 12 months' probation and to attend mandatory sensitivity training.
Ray Morrow, special agent in charge of the FBI's Pittsburgh office, defended Agent Orsini yesterday, calling him one of the best investigators he's seen.
"Early on in his career, he made some bad decisions," Agent Morrow said, noting that nothing Agent Orisini did was criminal. "He has deeply and dearly paid the price -- both personally and professionally."
Paula Reed Ward can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-2620.