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Washington-After Jack Abramoff stepped before a District of Columbia federal judge to plead guilty to tax evasion, mail fraud, and a conspiracy “involving public officials” recently, the face of the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) was Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, who appeared before the cameras at a post-hearing news conference and declared that “combating public corruption is a top priority of mine.” But one person the newly appointed Fisher didn’t credit during her victory lap was Mary Butler, the lawyer who actually quarterbacked the DOJ team during its 18-month investigation of Abramoff. Butler, 49, is a career prosecutor with extensive experience handling public corruption cases. The Justice Department denied a request to interview Butler, but friends, former colleagues, and defense lawyers who have squared off against her, describe her as a determined and evenhanded prosecutor who immerses herself in her job. And that may be bad news for anyone caught up in the Abramoff investigation. “She’s one of the special ones who will turn over every piece of paper, look at every credit card receipt and phone bill,” said Joshua Berman, a partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal who worked with Butler at the DOJ’s public integrity division. “She’s really good at crossing t’s and dotting i’s.” That meticulousness has helped extract guilty pleas from both Abramoff and his associate Michael Scanlon, a former public relations executive. Those pleas have focused public attention on lawmakers with ties to the pair, which so far includes representatives Tom DeLay, R-Texas; Bob Ney, R-Ohio; John Doolittle, R-Calif.; and Dana Rohrbacher, R-Calif.; and senators Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Harry Reid, D-Nev. A veteran’s path Butler has gone after public officials before. She got her start as a prosecutor in 1987, in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, a region as rich in corruption cases as it is in saw grass. During her 12-year tenure there, Butler helped run a tax evasion and money laundering case against executives of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, won the conviction of a Drug Enforcement Administration supervisor for the theft of $1 million in undercover funds and nailed a local banker for lying to a grand jury about bribes paid to the mayor of Miami Beach, Fla. Her toughest assignment came in 1995, when she took on an investigation known as “Operation Greenpalm,” a massive corruption probe focused on Miami’s City Hall and Miami-Dade County’s municipal government. The case involved a year-long undercover investigation by the FBI and local police, and resulted in the convictions of Miami’s city manager, a local lobbyist and a number of city and county commissioners. “She’s a very tough advocate,” said Martin Goldberg, a former federal prosecutor who ran Operation Greenpalm with Butler. “We would spend days and weeks and months just immersed in the investigation.” Soon after that investigation wrapped up, in 1998, Butler moved to Washington, one of a number of Florida prosecutors who came to the District of Columbia during Janet Reno’s tenure as attorney general. She took a job in the office of Independent Counsel Carol Elder Bruce, who was probing Bruce Babbitt, then-secretary of the Interior, and his department’s decision to reject an Indian casino project opposed by tribes that contributed more than $350,000 to Democrats during the 1996 campaign cycle. Of those on Bruce’s staff, Butler had the most experience investigating public corruption, and she was assigned to oversee the investigation of the operations of the Department of the Interior, a mammoth task that involved obtaining and reviewing huge amounts of internal communications.

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