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The San Francisco U.S. Attorney’s Office is under investigation for firing a high-ranking official who complained about office management. Administrative Officer Caroline Krewson — the highest-ranking nonlawyer in the office — received a termination letter in July after about six tumultuous months in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and just days after she was called up for active military duty. A colonel in the Air Force Reserve and a 24-year federal bureaucrat, Krewson started working for a top Pentagon official shortly after receiving her final firing letter in July. Around that time, Krewson filed a complaint with the independent Office of Special Counsel, which investigates claims of improper employment practices at federal offices, as well as claims of retaliation against federal workers called up for military service. Butch Perkins, the OSC investigator assigned to the case, said Tuesday that he couldn’t discuss the investigation, or even say whether it is near completion. “I’m not at liberty to say one way or the other,” he said. Only about 10 percent of complaints to OSC result in a formal investigation, an OSC spokeswoman said. Confidential termination documents reviewed last week by The Recorder detail a months-long power struggle between top office management and Krewson that took place during a time of ongoing personnel turmoil. The office has lost a string of experienced prosecutors over the past year, including some critical of U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan’s management. In a proposed termination letter issued to Krewson last June by Cynthia Caporizzo — then the office’s top administrative lawyer — Krewson is accused of a litany of counts of “conduct unbecoming a federal employee in your position,” along with failure to follow directions, lack of candor and misrepresentation. Most of the counts stem from Krewson’s complaints to co-workers and Department of Justice officials that she was not being allowed to do her job, and was forced to seek permission from Caporizzo — who quit her position this month for personal reasons — to execute even basic functions of her office. Krewson — who declined to be interviewed for this story — submitted a written response to Eumi Choi, the first assistant U.S. attorney and Ryan’s second-in-command. “I expressed my frustration at not being allowed to fully perform the functions described in my position description at a level of independence I felt warranted at my grade level,” Krewson explained to Choi. Replying to an accusation that she sent an e-mail with a “disrespectful tone,” Krewson wrote that the message “reveals the strong feelings I have about Ms. Caporizzo requiring me to get her approval for even the most minor of actions involving my subordinates.” A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Wednesday that he could not comment. “As a general matter, we cannot comment on employee matters, given potential privacy issues,” Luke Macaulay said. Among other charges, Krewson was accused of: pointing out to others in the office that Caporizzo had no management experience; saying at a meeting that her superiors were depriving her of her authority and that all the administrative staff were “twisted up like pretzels to get along with executive management;” and telling someone outside the office that she was being subjected to a hostile work environment. Krewson was also accused of failing to copy Caporizzo on e-mails she sent to Choi and Ryan. Krewson argued she had not been ordered to copy Caporizzo until after those messages had been sent. Several of the charges against Krewson result from actions that occurred after she received her initial termination letter in early June. This includes the misrepresentation claim, which accuses Krewson of not being forthright about going to meet her attorney during work hours to discuss her impending firing. That and other charges, Krewson wrote in her response, “relate to my efforts to defend myself against the original set of charges and specifications, e.g. meeting with my attorney, contacting agency employees for statements (after advising you I would be doing so),” Krewson wrote in her letter to Choi. She also noted that there had been no progressive discipline leading up to her termination. After Krewson submitted her response to the firing proposal, Choi wrote a July 22 letter upholding the proposed firing, and denying Krewson a lesser penalty or transfer to another DOJ office. “It is unacceptable that someone in your position would so seriously undermine the office’s senior management and demonstrate such serious disrespect,” Choi wrote. “The fact that you continued to engage in conduct unbecoming a federal employee in your position and that you made knowingly false statements to AAUSA Caporizzo, even after you received the notice of your proposed removal, demonstrates to me that there is little, if any, possibility of rehabilitation,” Choi said later in the letter. Choi said she could not comment on the matter. While Perkins, the OSC investigator, wouldn’t comment on the Krewson probe, he did say that the majority of complaints to the office “are resolved at the entry level,” before resulting in a full-scale investigation. The 10 percent or so of complaints that do spark an investigation can have profound effects for federal managers. “If there’s merit to the allegation, then there’s corrective action and there’s proposed disciplinary action,” Perkins said. “Everybody can be disciplined or terminated. It depends on the seriousness of the allegation and whether it’s meritorious.” Brad Yamauchi, a partner at Minami, Lew & Tamaki in San Francisco who has represented employees in disputes with the San Francisco U.S. Attorney’s Office, said full-blown OSC investigations are rare, and generally a good sign for the employee who files a complaint. “If the OSC is investigating something, they have a strong feeling there’s something there,” especially in recent years, Yamauchi said, since staff cutbacks have forced the office to be more selective in the cases it takes. “You can get all the remedies you want through OSC,” he added. These include wiping clean an employee’s record, awarding monetary damages, and sanctioning an agency.

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