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An internal Justice Department investigation found that a former federal prosecutor in the District committed intentional misconduct during the 1994 trial of the Newton Street Crew crack-cocaine ring. The improper use of federal witness money by prosecutor G. Paul Howes was so widespread that DOJ investigators at one point considered bringing criminal charges, according to the 86-page report prepared by the Office of Professional Responsibility in 1998 and made public late last month. Defense lawyers have long argued that the Newton Street Crew prosecutions, which resulted in convictions of some of the city’s most notorious criminals in the 1990s, were tainted by prosecutorial misconduct. The OPR report serves as the most-detailed public explanation yet about what was happening behind the scenes at the federal courthouse and in the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the time. While the report found that witness testimony had not been compromised, it tells the story of an aggressive prosecutor who was praised by colleagues for getting results, but whose conduct raised red flags that were never fully addressed. Federal prosecutors had fought for years to keep the internal investigation of Howes and the Newton Street prosecution team confidential. But last month, the government dropped a final effort to keep the sensitive material under wraps when it withdrew its appeal of U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s order placing the documents on the public docket. The judge’s Nov. 12 order came in response to a motion filed by an attorney investigating alleged prosecutorial misconduct in a related case. In addition to the OPR report, the newly unsealed information contains hundreds of pages of Federal Bureau of Investigation summaries of OPR interviews with dozens of people associated with the case — informants, D.C. police officers, FBI agents, and U.S. Marshals. Included in those materials are reports of interviews with Howes himself, other line prosecutors, and former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., a partner at D.C.’s Covington & Burling who was U.S. attorney during the Newton Street trial. Holder told DOJ investigators in 1997 that he was “shocked” to hear that Howes spent about $142,000 in witness fees on the Newton Street case. Holder did say he was told by some of his managers about concerns they had over Howes’ handling of the cooperating witnesses. In response, Holder said he placed certain controls on Howes regarding witnesses. Other managers, however, reported that Howes immediately violated those orders, according to the OPR report. At some point, Holder told investigators, he gave the veteran prosecutor a “woodshedding” over the issue. Holder added that his office “put up” with a lot from Howes because he was a talented trial lawyer who won cases. In a statement to Legal Times last week, Holder clarified his 1997 statement. “We, I, put up with him (and others) who were talented, productive, but that never meant that anyone looked the other way when an allegation of impropriety was raised,” he stated. “To the contrary, the matter involving Howes was referred for action/supervision to his superiors and ultimately to OPR.” Holder added: “I was the head of a 350-lawyer office and relied on the supervisors lower down to police theses kinds of things in the first instance.” Also, in an interview last week, Holder said he does not remember many specifics about the Newton Street controversy, noting that the OPR investigation took place seven years ago. Howes, a partner at the San Diego office of Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, did not return calls seeking comment. J. Ramsey Johnson, who headed the Superior Court Section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office during the Newton Street case, told the OPR in 1996 he “was never aware of any unethical behavior on Howes’ part prior to the [Newton Street Crew] case.” According to the FBI summary of his statement, “Johnson said he believed that Howes did what he did on the [Newton Street Crew] case for the ‘good of the case’ and not for other reasons. It seemed to Johnson that in narcotics/homicide types of cases it is necessary to use every legitimate means to obtain convictions on the subjects.” Johnson, now a D.C. Superior Court judge, declines to comment. H. Marshall Jarrett, who served as the Criminal Division chief in the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the time of the Newton Street prosecution, declines comment through a Justice Department spokesman. Jarrett left the U.S. Attorney’s Office after the internal investigation was completed. Since 1998, he has been head of the OPR. A TIP FROM ‘BLUE TIP’ According to court papers, the DOJ launched its investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in the Newton Street trial in 1996 — more than a year after the final batch of defendants were tried and just months after Howes left the U.S. Attorney’s Office for private practice in San Diego. The allegations were levied by Newton Street informant Robert “Blue Tip” Smith, who claimed that the incarcerated witnesses had access to drugs, alcohol, and sex in the federal courthouse in the District during the six-month trial. Smith also accused Howes of improperly paying informants and their family and friends with witness money. Upon receiving the OPR findings, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who presided over the trial, recused himself from the case in 2000. And in May 2002, after defense lawyers pressed the misconduct issue, the government agreed to reduce the prison sentences of the gang’s leaders — Mark Hoyle, John McCollough, Mario Harris, and Anthony Goldston. According to their lawyers, Hoyle and McCollough will be released from prison in about eight years. The newly unsealed material, however, shows that several people within the U.S. Attorney’s Office — including Howes’ supervisors and his fellow Newton Street prosecutors — had questioned Howes’ handling of witnesses and his use of federal witness vouchers prior to the time that Smith came forward. And efforts by at least two of Howes’ supervisors to have the veteran homicide prosecutor reined in were stymied by other managers in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, according to the unsealed court documents. According to its report, the OPR reviewed 719 federal vouchers used to make payments to individuals who were supposedly witnesses in the Newton Street case. Howes signed — or approved — more than $140,000 to 132 witnesses. Justice Department investigators say some of those voucher recipients had no apparent relation to the Newton Street case or were in prison on the days the voucher claimed they were testifying or were being interviewed. And some witnesses were given vouchers bearing Howes’ signature after Howes left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1995, the OPR report states. One woman and her three children received nearly $4,000 in Newton Street witness vouchers from Howes. OPR investigators found no evidence that this woman was involved in the Newton Street case and had, in fact, met Howes years earlier when Howes prosecuted a man who had raped her. The man was acquitted. “Howes . . . who was described by some supervisors as aggressive and rather disdainful of the bureaucracy, simply used the witness voucher system as his own discretionary fund, regardless of the regulations,” the report states. When questioned by OPR investigators in 1997, Howes explained how he used vouchers. He said he would issue a fact-witness voucher to an informant who came to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in person, or telephoned, with information about the case. He also said he would use vouchers for witnesses who met with police officers on the street and provided information. Howes also said that he tried to steer money to informants when they were released from prison in an effort to help them stay out of trouble. The OPR report states that it considered prosecuting Howes for making false statements, false claims, and false certifications, but ultimately decided it could not convince a jury of his guilt. “[W]e concluded that the case would be virtually impossible to prosecute successfully because of the defense that everything Howes did was intended to further the interests of justice and was not for his personal benefit. “He would be able to point to his impressive accomplishments, hard work, and dedication to achieving convictions in very difficult cases involving extremely violent drug dealers and murderers,” the report adds. “He undoubtedly would portray himself to a jury, as he has to us, as a beleaguered lone wolf battling a stifling and uncomprehending bureaucracy.” The OPR report states that there was no evidence of misconduct on the part of Howes’ co-counsel: Jeffrey Ragsdale and Lynn Leibovitz. Ragsdale, who is still with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Leibovitz, now a D.C. Superior Court judge, decline comment. The report also concluded that one witness may have had sex in the courthouse, and that marijuana found on the sixth floor of the courthouse had been traced back to a Newton Street informant. In addition, the OPR found that several witnesses watched a “sexually explicit” video at the courthouse. However, the report states that the OPR did not find any evidence that any Justice Department employee was aware of, or allowed, such behavior to occur. The unsealed material portrays the U.S. Attorney’s Office under Holder as unfamiliar with multidefendant narcotics cases. There was no clear policy on the management of incarcerated government witnesses in the courthouse nor on the use of witness vouchers. Many supervisors had varying opinions on who was eligible to receive such payments. In 1999, the DOJ implemented formal guidelines on the issuance of fact-witness vouchers, says Channing Phillips, chief of staff to U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard Jr. In 2000, then-U.S. Attorney Wilma Lewis issued an officewide memorandum explaining the guidelines and established more oversight over the use of witness vouchers, Phillips explains. On Jan. 7, Howard issued a similar memo. “What happened in Newton Street could not happen today,” Phillips said in a statement to Legal Times. The 1998 OPR report stated that the DOJ would refer Howes’ conduct to the three jurisdictions where he is licensed to practice law — the District of Columbia, New Mexico, and California. Other court papers recently unsealed show that no referral was made until early last year. Court documents note that the D.C. bar opened an ethics investigation into Howes’ conduct. California also opened an investigation, but quickly closed it, pending the outcome of the D.C. Bar inquiry. New Mexico bar officials were given some redacted OPR documents. D.C. Bar Counsel Joyce Peters did not return a call seeking comment. BUILDING THE CASE The firsthand accounts of government officials that appear in the OPR report and other unsealed documents fill in many details about how the government brought the Newton Street Crew to trial. From the perspective of the dozen cops interviewed by DOJ investigators, Howes was instrumental in making the case. Several police say they reached out to Howes, an aggressive D.C. Superior Court homicide prosecutor, after noticing a pattern of a series of murders throughout the city. They believed many of these murders could be traced back to a crack-cocaine ring operating out of the Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods in the District. Initially, Metropolitan Police Department brass would not provide much monetary or technical support, so police officers used their own money, video, and photo equipment to document undercover drug buys, according to the OPR and FBI reports. Howes told investigators that he too used his own money to fund the Newton Street probe in its early stages. Howes said he often spent time on the street investigating with the police, and that the Newton Street Crew “players” knew who he was. In his 1997 interview with the OPR, Howes claimed he had a knack for finding cooperators and gained a reputation among the drug dealers and addicts as the “blond motherfucker who won’t come for you until he is ready.” One of Howes’ key informants was a person Howes convicted of murder in an earlier trial and who Howes later persuaded to assist the government’s Newton Street case. Another was a crack addict who was the brother of a chief target. The case picked up steam in 1990 when the FBI launched project “Safe Streets,” which funneled cash and personnel to the investigation. Two years later, indictments were handed up and nearly two dozen defendants were arrested. Howes remained the lead prosecutor even though the case became a federal conspiracy matter in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The case was broken up into about five separate trials. United States v. Hoyle, which put the gang’s four main leaders on trial, started in spring 1994 and continued into the fall. Nearly every day during trial, Howes directed the U.S. Marshals to pick up his cooperating witnesses — almost always the same five, who were being held at various jails outside the District. They were brought to the courthouse, taken to the sixth floor, and placed together in a witness room. At the courthouse, the witnesses were allowed to use the court’s telephone to make local and long-distance calls without being charged. They received visits from family and friends. Almost daily, police and prosecutors contributed money out of their own pockets to buy these cooperators food from fast food restaurants such as Domino’s Pizza and Popeye’s Chicken. The police also rented movies from Blockbuster for the witnesses to watch. Officials at the U.S. Marshals Service eventually lodged complaints with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, saying the agency was burdened by the task of shuttling prisoners back and forth from jail to the courthouse. In particular, officials noted that these witnesses were not being called to testify on many of the days that they were at the courthouse. At least three officials in the U.S. Attorney’s Office also complained about Howes’ handling of the informants. Howes argued that he needed his witnesses in one place for morale purposes and said the fringe benefits they were receiving were noted in open court. Howes was eventually ordered by U.S. Attorney Holder to get approval from deputy narcotics chief William O’Malley before having a prisoner transferred to the courthouse. Howes immediately violated that order, the OPR material states. O’Malley declines comment. In his 1997 interview with OPR investigators, Howes complained that he never received any support from his superiors. At the same time, he said they never took complaints about his conduct seriously. Howes said Criminal Division chief Jarrett once circulated a memo requesting that Howes be punished for insubordination. Howes told OPR investigators that Holder just “laughed it off.”

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