Sunday, October 25, 2009

William Welch Resigns Post of Chief of Public Integrity Section


The head of the Washington, D.C.-based team that investigated and prosecuted public corruption in Alaska for more than six years has announced that he will leave his job.

Since March of 2007, William M. Welch II has been chief of the U.S. Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section, an elite unit of about 30 federal prosecutors who combat public corruption around the country. In that capacity, he supervised the “POLAR PEN” investigation, a probe of public corruption in Alaska that started in the summer of 2003. That investigation has produced criminal charges against 12 people—eight public officials and four lobbyists and power brokers.

The Public Integrity Section has not lost any of those cases in front of a jury, but did have the highest-profile case—against U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens—thrown out on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct after the jury rendered guilty verdicts. Two other defendants—former State Reps. Pete Kott (R.-Eagle River) and Vic Kohring (R.-Wasilla)—have been released from prison while a judge sorts out allegations of government wrongdoing in the trials which led to their convictions.

Welch is one of six prosecutors under investigation themselves as a result of the bungled handling of the Ted Stevens case. There are actually two probes of those prosecutors: an internal investigation by the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility and a highly unusual probe by a special prosecutor looking at whether the prosecutors committed criminal contempt of court.

The departure of Welch means that most of those six prosecutors have now left the jobs they held during the Ted Stevens trial.

Welch said that he would be returning to his native Massachusetts, where he will remain an employee of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division.

Lanny A. Breuer, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, told the Washington Post that Welch is "a dedicated public servant who's devoted his entire professional life to serving the American people." Breuer said that he and Welch had come to a "mutual decision" about what was best for the prosecutor and the division.

Welch’s lawyer issued a prepared statement that said “While the ultimate result in the Stevens case has been highly disappointing professionally and personally, Bill knows that his management decisions, where permitted, comported with his own and the department's highest ethical standards."

The Washington Post, which broke this story late last week, said that Raymond Hulser would be the acting chief of the Public Integrity Section upon Welch’s departure on October 30. The newspaper said that a nationwide search would be launched to find a new chief for the section.

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