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Eye Opener: Feds (allegedly) behaving badly

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Updated 4:20 p.m. ET

Happy Wednesday! (Unless maybe you live in Rio.) Perhaps it's just unfortunate coincidence, but there are at least four cases of former federal employees in trouble with the law this week for allegedly committing acts against the government. Let's review (in alphabetical order):

P. Leonardo Mascheroni: Investigators have seized the physicist's property, telling him it's part of a criminal investigation into possible nuclear espionage. He was laid off in 1988 and has ever since championed an innovative type of laser fusion, which seeks to harness the energy that powers the sun, the stars and hydrogen bombs.The investigation appears to center on whether he broke federal rules in discussing his proposed laser with a man who called himself a representative of the Venezuelan government.

Gale Norton: A federal grand jury has subpoenaed records from Royal Dutch Shell PLC as part of a Justice Department investigation into corruption allegations against the former interior secretary. That's a sign that the investigation has escalated. The investigation focuses on whether Norton violated a federal law barring government officials from overseeing any process that could financially benefit a company that the official is negotiating with for future employment.

Stewart David Nozette: The former NASA employee worked on the Star Wars project at the Energy Department's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The Justice Department alleges he tried selling classified Star Wars secrets to Israel. (Earlier versions incorrectly reported that Nozette once served as a Stanford University professor.)

Richard Lopez Razo: The former State Department employee was a program manager in Iraq. He's charged with accepting tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks in exchange for steering contracts to Iraqi construction firms, according to court documents. This appears to be the first time a federal employee had been charged in federal court in connection with fraud in the multibillion-dollar U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq.

Four criminal investigations of does not signal a trend among current or former federal employees. Still, these cases will likely help feed the negative perceptions of public employees.

Know of any similar cases? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Cabinet and Staff News: Adm. Stephen Rochon, chief usher at the White House, and Dale Haney, superintendent of the White House grounds, find the perfect White House Christmas tree. Former Homeland Security Secretary candidate Bernard Kerik sent to jail. A profile of the White House's Sudan envoy. Joseph Biden's latest version of events regarding how he became VP. Is anybody listening to Paul Volcker anymore? Hillary Rodham Clinton hosts women senators. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. hosts the 57th Annual Attorney General Awards Ceremony Tuesday at DAR Constitution Hall.

Secret Service strained as leaders face more threats: Meant to post this Tuesday: An important Boston Globe report: "New demands are leading some officials...to raise the possibility of the service curtailing or dropping its role in fighting financial crime to focus more on protecting leaders and their families from assassination attempts and thwarting terrorist plots aimed at high-profile events."

Interior Dept. seeks review of oil shale contracts: Secretary Ken Salazar has asked the department's inspector general to investigate a controversial set of contract amendments, finalized in the waning days of the Bush administration, that locked in industry-favorable royalty rates and environmental regulations for a series of oil shale leases on federal land in Colorado and Utah.

FDA's food label crackdown: Sugar cereals are 'Smart Choices'?: The agency said nutritional logos from food manufacturers may be misleading consumers about the actual health benefits of cereal, crackers and other processed foods and plans to crack down on inaccurate food labeling.

Government watchdogs are given their due: The awards distributed Tuesday at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium honored achievements much more noble than "best supporting actor" or "best on-screen kiss." They heralded the federal inspectors general who last year investigated and audited their way to taxpayer savings.

Smell like a G-man: The FBI Recreation Association, which sells official FBI merchandise here and at FBI field offices, is selling an official FBI cologne called "Integrity." Ah, the sweet smell of a predawn raid.

Defense has vested interest in tracking flu: It's the result of hard lessons learned nearly a century ago, when illness proved as potent on the battlefield as howitzers and chemical weapons. Half the U.S. troops who died in World War I were felled by the 1918 influenza virus that swept the world.

Watchdog excoriates execution of TARP: A key $700 billion bailout program has damaged the government's credibility, won't earn taxpayers all their money back and has done little to change a culture of recklessness on Wall Street, Neil Barofsky said in an interview.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | October 20, 2009; 6:20 PM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Comments

What negative opinion will public perception take with the Congress and hill staffers giving themselves a raise.

Posted by: pkillam | October 21, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I have to wonder how civil servants are selected for investigation and prosecution. I have been involved in appeals and hearings after two employees of the U.S. Forest Service offered me $20,000 to withdraw from a federal civil service selection in Alaska because, as a veteran with preference rights, I was blocking a hiring certificate for a less qualified non-veteran who the agency bosses wanted to hire. The money was to be misappropriated from funds budgeted for equipment purchases. During the hearing, two witnesses committed perjury recorded officially for the record. Later hearings for my appeal against the U.S. Geological Survey for blacklisting me for employment in reprisal for reporting the Forest Service bribe offer produced conclusive evidence of even more perjury, as well as obstruction of justice. The decisions by the Merit System Protection Board were fraudulent, and when challenged, they were overturned but replaced by even more fraudulent decisions. In spite of absolute proof of the above felonies, I have not been able to get any federal agency with enforcement duties to even look at the criminal acts committed. In comparison, the evidence in the above matters, except perhaps for that gained by entrappment of one individual for spying, seem flimsy, and the crimes seem to be more technicalities than the results of conscious criminal acts. After my personal experiences, I can only wonder whether certain people are picked for prosectuion for reasons that are not revealed, while criminal gangs within government agencies are protected from all consequences for committing clearly criminal acts.

Posted by: cwheckman | October 21, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

In addition, I would like to ask the prosecutors of Gale Norton why they chose a nebulous act like negotiating for a job after leaving the Interior Department when the Department he headed was rigging each and every civil service hiring selection for scientific personnel in order to staff agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, with unqualified people. The U.S. Geological Survey is supposed to perform research to assist the government in dealing wisely with vast areas of natural environment in the West. By staffing such agencies with unqualified lackeys of the political bosses at Interior, the government officials with the power to reward their friends in private business are able to cover up numerous violations of environmental law when they give away enormous amounts of resources entrusted to them by American public for safe-keeping. This is far more tangible corruption than alleged negotiating for a future job. What is being done is like arresting a violent robber who shot up a bank only for littering because some of his spent shell casings fell on the sidewalk.

Posted by: cwheckman | October 21, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

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