U.S. House panel still concerned over Wecht prosecution
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A congressional panel today released a report that said the prosecution of Dr. Cyril H. Wecht by "politically connected" U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan of Pittsburgh "continues to raise concern about selective prosecution."
However, the report by the House Judiciary Committee's Democratic majority staff shed no new light on the inner workings of the Wecht prosecution and did not come to any conclusions about whether the case is politically motivated.
The Wecht case is one of three cited by committee in which concerns about political motivation behind prosecutions are "especially intense."
Dr. Wecht is charged with 41 public corruption counts involving wire fraud, mail fraud and theft from an organization receiving federal funds. Prosecutors say he misused his former public office as Allegheny County's coroner for private gain.
The report describes Dr. Wecht, a Democrat, as "an outspoken critic of Republican candidates, office-holders, and policies."
Ms. Buchanan, a Republican, told the committee that she has never brought corruption charges against a GOP official, including former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum "for allegedly defrauding a local community by claiming residency when he and his family resided in Virginia," the report said.
However, in addition to Dr. Wecht, the committee noted, Ms. Buchanan has prosecuted two other high-profile Democrats -- former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy and former county Sheriff Pete DeFazio.
In 2006, Ms. Buchanan announced that Mr. Murphy would not face charges following a lengthy investigation into his handling of a firefighters' union contract. And that same year, Mr. DeFazio pleaded guilty to one count of macing.
The committee said the Justice Department blocked efforts to obtain information.
"Mary Beth Buchanan, the United States attorney responsible for the Wecht investigation, was interviewed on the record by committee majority and minority staff in connection with the broader U.S. attorney purge investigation, but the department (and committee minority staff) objected to questions regarding the Wecht matter and only limited information was obtained," the report stated.
As a result, the committee wrote, "key facts remain unknown and reliable final judgments cannot be made.
"However, given the troublesome facts identified to date, it is clear at a minimum that current and former department leadership has been derelict in failing to review these matters and reassure the American people that federal law enforcement is impartial and fair."
In a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the committee asked for extensive documents regarding the Wecht case.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
First Published April 17, 2008 3:53 pm