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Oregon’s Conflicts Must Stop, Ms. Rosenblum Please Set a Higher Standard

Monday, March 23, 2015


Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has a unique opportunity to put Oregon ahead of personal ambition and financial gain. She should affirm her elected position as the top law enforcement official and announce she will not be a candidate for Governor in the 2016 election.

Rosenblum is widely believed to be an honorable person, but the conflict of her husband’s business is raising questions. Rosenblum’s husband, Richard Meeker is an owner and publisher of Willamette Week, the weekly alternative newspaper that has been one of the most aggressive media outlets in unveiling the misdeeds of John Kitzhaber’s administration.

Sound familiar?  Husband and wife not aware of conflicts (or perception of conflict) and economically and politically gaining.  

In the days before John Kitzhaber’s resignation, Governor Kitzhaber requested that Rosenblum appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Kitzhaber/Hayes situation. 

Attorney General Rosenblum rejected the Governor’s request for an independent counsel and simultaneously then announced that she had opened her own criminal probe.  

Days later, the Governor resigns - opening the door for Rosenblum to run for Governor in a 2016 election and miraculously, Rosenblum that announces she will defer to the criminal prosecution to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Federal Prosecutor for Oregon Amanda Marshall. Low and behold, Marshall is removed from office for allegedly being a creepy stalker to one of her staffers.

On February 27th, Rosenblum wrote, “"I reiterate my prior statement that Oregonians deserve a thorough review of the allegations surrounding now former-Governor Kitzhaber and Ms. Hayes. I fully support the efforts of the federal authorities. We share the ultimate goal of protecting the integrity of our state institutions through a comprehensive investigation. My decision to temporarily defer our state investigation is in line with this shared goal. At the appropriate time, we will review the facts, and investigate further if necessary, to ensure that any violations of state law are addressed."

With the U.S. Attorney’s office in chaos and suffering from a void of leadership, Rosenblum should reassert jurisdiction and fulfill her elected obligation.

The Oregon Attorney General’s office is not a small organization. It has a mammoth staff and budget. “The Department has a biennial budget of approximately $280 million and a staffing authorization of approximately 1200 employees, most of whom are located in Salem,” claims the Department’s website.

Kitzhaber is out of office, much of the issues were unveiled by Rosenblum’s husband’s newspaper, and the pathway is open to a run without having to manage the investigation and upset donors or interest groups that supported Kitzhaber over the past two decades in clear. But, that political strategy would be just that - political.

Oregon residents would be well served if Rosenblum announced she will not seek the Governor’s office in 2016 and re-establish her responsibility as Oregon's prosecutor.

Oregonians deserve a serious and comprehensive review of the Kitzhaber/Hayes case without conflict and political motivation.


Related Slideshow: Feds Probe Kitzhaber and Hayes: 10 Things to Know

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It Could Cost Millions

Defense fees for a federal investigation will rack up quickly, more so if the investigation turns into a trial.  

“The fees can be exuberant. You can’t do one of these cases for less than half a million dollars,” Solomon Wisenberg, a defense lawyer from Washington D.C. said. 

These cases can cost around $2 million in legal fees, according to Wisenberg.  

For example Robert Urciuoli, convicted in 2008 for federal charges of conspiracy and fraud in a case involving a former Rhode Island state senator, had $2.15 million for legal expenses. 

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FBI Resources

The FBI may have years of records to comb through, but they have the resources to do so—much more than a state criminal investigation would. 

A federal investigation is given millions of dollars and a vast supply of manpower. Attorneys say the feds also have more expertise and experience in handling corruption investigations. 

If there is something to be found, the FBI has the tools and time to look for it. 

Photo: FBI Headquarters in D.C. 

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FBI Undercover Investigation a  Possibility  

Although a subpoena was delivered on Feb. 13, it does not mean the FBI has just started looking into Kitzhaber and Hayes.  Joel Bertocchi, a white-collar criminal defense attorney in Chicago, said federal investigations often involve an undercover stage in the beginning.   

Special agents are often recording information and meeting with people long before subpoenas are issued. 

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Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud and Corruption

Experts agree Kitzhaber and Hayes are most likely being investigated for breaking federal statutes of mail and wire fraud, as well as corruption.  

Because Hayes may have used government resources for her personal gain, such as not disclosing conflicts of interest while using government phones or email services for her paid contracts and speaking appointments, it would fall under those statues.  

Federal statutes have a broader reach of power than state statutes, according to Wisenberg, giving more options for prosecution.   

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11 State Departments Subpoenaed

In the subpoena from the U.S. Department of Justice to the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, a number of state departments were listed. 

The following eleven departments are believed to have documents or records that are of interest to the investigation: 

-The Office of the Governor

-Government Ethics Commission

-Housing and Community Services Department

-Oregon Department of Justice

-Department of State Lands

-Oregon Department of Revenue

-Department of Administrative Services

-Business Development/Business Oregon

-Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development

-Department of Energy

-Department of Environmental Quality 

Photo: Oregon's Department of Administrative Services was served a comprehensive subpoena into outgoing Governor Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes. 

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 Hayes’ Contracts are the Focus of the Subpoena

Records pertaining to Kitzhaber and Hayes, as well as a number of other individuals are listed on the federal subpoena. However, it appears Hayes’ contracts and dealings with energy groups are the focus of the investigation. 

Federal investigators are requesting records involving private companies Hayes and 3E Strategies conducted business with, such as Demos and Clean Economy Development Center, as well as government projects Hayes was involved with. 

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 Feds Focus on Cases They Can Win

If the federal government is moving forward with the investigation, it most likely means they have a strong case. 

Like most prosecutors, Bertocchi said federal investigators focus on cases they know they can win. 

“I don’t think anybody, unless they were nuts, would seek to charge a recently-sitting governor,” Bertocchi said. “It doesn’t mean they can’t lose, but you have to take them seriously.” 

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A Grand Jury Will Decide to Indict Kitzhaber and Hayes

The documents and wittiness gathered by the FBI’s investigation will be presented to a grand jury of 23 Oregonians in a United States District Court.

Proceedings and information from the grand jury are supposed to be kept secret, but Bertocchi said sometimes the information is leaked.

After hearing the evidence, the grand jury will decided whether or not to indict Kitzhaber and Hayes and bring formal charges. 

The grand jury will start procedings on March 10, 2015. 

Photo: "The Jury" by John Morgan via Wikimedia CC. 

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Federal Investigations Tend to Favor the Prosecution

Federal investigations tend to favor the side of the prosecution, according to Wisenberg. 

The history of corruption in a state can also impact the jury. Bertocchi said in Chicago, where political corruption is a common theme, juries are more cynical and less likely to give guilty verdicts.

However, it might be the opposite in a state like Oregon, where big-time political corruption is more unusual, Bertocchi said. It is more likley the defense will have more convicing to do. 

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It Could Drag on for Years

Even though the grand jury begins hearing evidence in less than a month, the final outcome could be years away. Tom Hagemann, who served as Assistant U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, said a very document-intensive case  like Kitzhaber and Hayes'  could drag on. 

If criminal investigations and proceedings do last years, it will make it difficult for Kitzhaber and Hayes to move on with their lives, or find a steady job.


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