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Judicial nominations are often political campaigns, laden with deals, compromises and agendas that can throw them off course. But Michael Chertoff’s path to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May met with one of the strangest turns yet in the back rooms of the Senate and the Department of Justice. The Senate Judiciary Committee, as it was set to approve the nomination on May 22, was approached by the conservative group Judicial Watch, which claimed it had “important evidence concerning the misuse of organized crime operatives” in New Jersey while Chertoff was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey from 1990 to 1994. The material submitted to the committee suggested that Chertoff may have turned a blind eye to stock fraud committed by a Mafia informant for the FBI. Judicial Watch was careful not to accuse Chertoff of wrongdoing. Rather, it urged that he be investigated to see whether wrongdoing occurred. Senate investigators listened to a two-hour presentation by Judicial Watch, but the committee approved Chertoff that day. Judicial Watch denounced the process as a “whitewash.” It said in a statement that the Senate “could not possibly have scratched the surface.” The committee declined to disclose what it heard, stating flatly that there was “no credible evidence linking Chertoff with any of the wrongdoing alleged by Judicial Watch.” However, the Judicial Watch dossier — comprised of Justice Department memos and transcripts of taped telephone conversations — is fascinating reading. It purports to link Chertoff to a former marijuana smuggler; a Clinton family campaign-finance scandal; a Hollywood fund-raiser accused of bilking charity events sponsored by pop group ‘N Sync, actor Michael J. Fox and singer Rod Stewart; and an American businessman held in a Brazilian jail. The man whom Chertoff is accused of not reining in is Stanley Myatt, who between 1969 and the 1980s was accused of smuggling marijuana in private planes, embezzlement and interstate transport of stolen securities. It is not clear, even to law enforcement officers, whether Myatt — who uses more than one name — was ever convicted. As one prosecutor says, “he’s not one of those guys who leaves an accurate trail.” Part of that trail can be found in Strikeout, the 1988 autobiography of Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain, who was convicted of racketeering. McLain described Myatt thus: “He was a big guy, about 6-3 and 240 pounds, had black hair and carried the biggest handgun I’d ever seen … Myatt kept an even bigger weapon, a submachine gun like an Uzi or something, in his car, which had tinted glass so nobody could see in. This guy was right out of ‘Miami Vice.’” Myatt was forced into the public eye in February 2001, when a former private-plane pilot, James Pritchett, was arrested in the parking lot of an Applebee’s restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., trying to pay a hit man $2,500 to kill Myatt. The hit man turned out to be an undercover sheriff’s deputy, who arrested Pritchett on the spot. West Palm Beach Assistant State Attorney Jim Martz says Myatt had an odd reaction to being the victim of an attempted homicide: “He wouldn’t talk to us at all and hooked us up to his attorney.” The lawyer, Jay Levine of Miami, did not return calls seeking comment. According to Martz, Pritchett claimed that he and Myatt were drug smugglers who had made millions before Pritchett came to believe Myatt had double-crossed him out of $3 million, and he vowed to kill his former partner. Pritchett was sentenced to 15 years in April 2002 for trying to kill Myatt. There was something else odd about the case: No other law enforcement authorities were interested in Myatt, even though he seemed like an ideal candidate for investigation. “We don’t have anybody screaming about Myatt,” says Martz. Messages left at Myatt’s home, the luxury Cricket Club Condominium tower in Miami, were not returned. PETER PAUL AND MARVEL At the same time as the Pritchett-Myatt case was unfolding in Florida, Judicial Watch lawyers were retained by another businessman who had a problem with Myatt: Peter Paul, who made his name by persuading Marvel Comics impresario Stan Lee to form his own Internet company. The company, Stan Lee Media, flopped when the dot-com bubble burst, leaving its investors without their money. Paul was then indicted in California and New York on charges of defrauding Lee’s company of $3 million in a check-kiting scheme. Paul fled to Brazil and has been imprisoned there while U.S. authorities try to extradite him. Paul claims that Myatt was an investor in Stan Lee Media and had made as much as $11 million by selling his stock before the crash, according to Judicial Watch president Thomas Fitton. But Myatt did not get back his initial — much smaller — stake in the company and threatened Paul if he did not pay back the full sum, Fitton says. In March 2001, Fitton and Paul met with prosecutors in Newark, N.J., to discuss a possible plea deal in the Stan Lee matter. At the meeting was Jim Nobile, the special prosecutions chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark; FBI agent Ron Moretti, who Fitton says is Myatt’s handler; and representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern District of New York and Central District of California. Myatt had arranged the meeting, Fitton says. Nobile did not return a call for comment. The meeting occurred because Paul believed that in return for leniency in the Stan Lee matter he could offer the new, Republican-controlled Justice Department testimony about campaign-fundraising irregularities involving Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. Paul had once spent almost $2 million on a lavish party for Sen. Clinton in Hollywood, Fitton says. The evening attracted dozens of stars, including Michelle Pfeiffer and the cast of “Ally McBeal,” and culminated with Bill Clinton, then president, playing the saxophone in a pair of Ray-Bans. Paul was never repaid, and the $2 million was never reported to the Federal Election Commission, Fitton alleges. But after communications between Judicial Watch and Chertoff’s Washington staff, Fitton and Paul were told that the prosecution was going ahead without a deal. On Sept. 19, 2001, the Justice Department’s organized crime and racketeering chief, Bruce Ohr, wrote to Judicial Watch: “It is impossible to arrange another meeting between you and Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff … nothing has changed in relation to his involvement in the Peter Paul matter. Mr. Chertoff will continue to be involved in the case and will have to approve any disposition of this matter.” Ohr declines to comment. Paul — aided by Judicial Watch — sued the Clintons in 2001 to get the money back. The Stan Lee fiasco was not the first time a company had been exploited by Myatt, according to Fitton. In 1984, Fitton says, Myatt “took control” of a video jukebox company called Entertainment Video. The jukeboxes were wired by the FBI and used to monitor the Philadelphia mob. In a 2001 racketeering trial, ex-Philadelphia mob boss Ralph Natale testified that Myatt was a friend of his. “He was a Wall Street scam man,” Natale told the court. “He got into the marijuana business, and went away for a couple of years. He came back, went to live down in Florida. And he made a big connection with the Russian mob.” As Natale testified, the court was shown photographs of Myatt sitting with mob-connected figures in the Greenhouse Restaurant in Margate, N.J.. Myatt was able to do that because he was working as an informant for the FBI in nearby Atlantic City, Fitton says. In 1995, Myatt infiltrated a California money-transfer company, Supermail. “Myatt looted the company for approximately $10 million in stock sales and the [New Jersey] Strike Force, looking the other way, used information from Myatt’s involvement to indict the principals of the company,” Fitton says. Three Supermail executives were convicted in 2000 of money-laundering charges in federal court in California. In a nutshell, Fitton’s claim is that Myatt milked these companies for millions while the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office seemed not to notice. “The Strike Force and Chertoff have failed to take any action against Myatt for his repeated acts of stock fraud and manipulation, going so far as to assure Myatt and his associates that they would be immune from prosecution,” Fitton says. Chertoff denies this. “I hope you’ve gotten a hold of the joint statement issued by Senators Leahy and Hatch, which I think fully addresses these issues,” he says, referring to the Judiciary Committee’s findings in May. Chertoff, whose temporary chambers are in Washington but who commutes to Trenton, N.J., to handle cases, declines to comment further. HOLES IN THE STORY There are other problems with Judicial Watch’s story, especially the timeline. Chertoff was U.S. Attorney between 1990 and 1994. Even if the allegations of Myatt’s misdeeds were true, they fall before and after Chertoff’s tenure in the New Jersey district. Law enforcement sources say they are puzzled by the notion of a Chertoff-Myatt connection. Moretti, the Atlantic City FBI agent that Judicial Watch claims supervises Myatt, says he’s never heard of Myatt. “This is the first I’ve heard of any of this, to be truthful,” he says. He declines to comment further. Of course, Moretti supervises organized-crime informants and testified at mob trials in the early 1990s and thus has an interest in protecting his sources. More generally, U.S. Attorneys do not make decisions about — or even know the identities of — confidential informants who deal with the FBI. Even if Myatt had been out of control on Chertoff’s watch, Chertoff would not likely have heard about it unless Myatt had been used as a trial witness. Perhaps the weakest part of Judicial Watch’s dossier is the section on Supermail. The Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case, Rob Villeza of the Central District in California, has never heard of Myatt. “That name doesn’t ring a bell,” he says. So why was Judicial Watch so willing to go out on a limb against Chertoff? Given that judicial nominees are all about politics, there is one potential answer: It was payback time. Before his nomination and the Peter Paul matter, Chertoff, as head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, rebuffed Judicial Watch twice. First, when Chertoff was appointed to head the Criminal Division, Judicial Watch asked him to end an Internal Revenue Service audit of the organization initiated by the Clinton administration, and urged Chertoff to investigate the Internal Revenue Service for politically motivated audits. Chertoff told the group he did not believe an investigation was warranted, according to conservative pundit Robert Novak, who wrote about Judicial Watch’s woes in an April 2002 column. In May 2002, Judicial Watch held a press conference with Robert Wright, an FBI whistleblower who claimed that his pre-Sept. 11 warnings to bosses about Muslim extremists raising funds in the United States for terrorists were ignored. At the press conference, Judicial Watch’s general counsel, Larry Klayman, said he had contacted Chertoff to talk about the FBI’s terrorism intelligence failures. According to Klayman, Chertoff replied, “We’ve had enough of conspiracy theories. We’re not interested in talking to Special Agent Wright.” So, was the stumbling block in the nomination created to punish Chertoff for failing to help Judicial Watch with Peter Paul, the IRS and Robert Wright? “That’s ridiculous,” says Fitton “We don’t operate like that. Where would it get us?” The Chertoff-Myatt intrigue may end there, except, the California state attorney general’s office is investigating Paul’s associates who helped organize the Clinton party. One associate, Aaron Tonken, was sued in March by California to recover money he had allegedly stolen from celebrities at other charity balls he had organized. He received financial backing from Myatt, Fitton says. A spokesman for the California attorney general’s office says only, “We are in this case looking for all recipients of improperly diverted charitable donations.”

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