Attorney is endangering the nation's only jury conviction
of terrorists since 9/11. Tuesday, three men convicted in
the first post-9/11 terror trial were supposed to be sentenced.
Instead, these members of Detroit's "sleeper cell"
may go free.
Their defense attorneys are getting help from an unlikely
source - U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Collins, the Justice Department's
top official in Detroit, who is leading the way to overturn
Convertino, the star prosecutor of the Detroit U.S. Attorney's
Office, won the case - and Collins' actions may cost Convertino
litigator, Convertino helped prosecute the infamous Bank and
Credit Commerce International (BCCI), put a corrupt Oklahoma
state senator behind bars and got convictions against Detroit's
Mafia and gang leaders.
the same aggressive stance against the terrorists, who were
arrested less than a week after 9/11. But Collins and Justice
Department bureaucrats back in Washington were more worried
about taking risks, justifying budgets and preserving fiefdoms
than stopping terror. They opposed and sabotaged Convertino's
prosecution of the terrorists every step of the way.
to several of his colleagues, Collins' political ambitions
also played a role: Popularity with Detroit's large Muslim
community would be an asset in any future run for political
colleagues say Collins was infuriated to see subordinate Convertino
win headlines with the prosecution.
had another reason to oppose the prosecution. Two of the convicted
men received thousands in funding for commercial driving lessons
and attempts to get hazardous hauling certificates from Access,
the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services.
The Muslim welfare group gets millions in federal money for
such "job training."
would embarrass Access leaders, who meet with Collins monthly.
That includes Noel Saleh, Access' vice president and attorney,
who stated in Collins' presence, "I could be convicted
of terrorism," because he funded Hezbollah.
June conviction of the terrorists caught the attention of
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa),
who wanted Convertino to testify at a hearing on false identity
documents and terrorism. When Convertino informed his bosses,
they pulled him off the terror-cell case. Also removed: co-counsel
Keith Corbett, chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force and
a 25-year federal prosecutor.
had to subpoena Convertino and hailed him as a "hero"
at the hearing. Collins responded by trying to demote Convertino
and Corbett. He had staff search Convertino's previous case
files, including that of the sleeper cell trial, looking for
what Grassley calls the "slightest foot-fault" in
Convertino's stellar career.
only comment: "This whole situation is ridiculous and
unnecessary, and unfortunately has caused considerable embarrassment
to the Department of Justice."
attack on Convertino has seriously jeopardized the terrorism
convictions. His staff found a letter they claim was improperly
withheld from the terrorists' defense attorneys, giving them
grounds to file a motion for a new trial. That motion prompted
a long Dec. 12 hearing smearing Convertino and Corbett.
have to turn exculpatory evidence over to defense attorneys.
But the rambling, nonsensical letter accused the Bush family
of being drug dealers and claimed that the prosecution's key
witness planned to overthrow the U.S. "electorally."
Its author is convicted drug dealer Butch Jones, who's facing
the federal death penalty and looking to make a deal. He has
suddenly clammed up.
becoming U.S. attorney, Collins represented Jones, one of
the nation's most notorious drug kingpins and gang leaders,
and is privately fighting his Washington superiors on their
insistence on the death penalty for him. (Justice Department
sources say that, in an internal memo, he's now trying to
claim Jones as a source of anti-terror info.)
Schwartz, former head of the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission,
which investigates ethics violations by attorneys, said the
letter was not "exculpatory at all" and a "proverbial
tempest in a teapot where there was no impropriety in failing
to turn over what turned out to be a fairly useless document."
complication: Attorney General John Ashcroft repeatedly commented
on the trial on national TV - violating a gag order in the
case, for which the judge admonished him Tuesday. This may
make it harder for Ashcroft to intervene to stop Collins'
Collins' zeal to defame Convertino and Corbett is matched
only by questions raised about both his desire to stop terrorists
and his ethics. He refused to cancel his appearance as guest
of honor and keynote speaker at a November dinner co-hosted
by a Hamas money launderer and author of an anti-Semitic book.
At an awards luncheon, he was the "date" of a man
videotaped raising money for a terrorist group (the Popular
Front for the Liberation of Palestine), calling him, "a
office discovered that two defense attorneys in the terrorism
trial stole a federal judge's stationery and forged the judge's
signature, Collins overlooked the crimes.
is pursuing the issue of Collins' retaliation against Convertino,
sending four letters and making several phone calls to Ashcroft
and Collins, saying it "will not be tolerated."
He has yet to receive a satisfactory response from either
and has threatened hearings.