news commentary
March 16, 2007

 

Are Shields’ legal problems connected
to the U.S. attorney scandal?

by Tom Bogdon

Some local politicos are saying that political motivations in the U.S. Justice Department under President George W. Bush had an effect in Kansas City’s mayoral primary election as Katheryn Shields, a potentially formidable candidate, was fatally weakened by what Shield supporters call a “trumped up” criminal indictment of Shields on a charge unrelated to her three terms as Jackson County Executive.

Shields, who finished 11th of 12 candidates in the Feb. 27 mayoral primary election with less than two percent of the vote, was indicted Jan. 4 on charges of mortgage fraud on the sale of the home of Shields and her husband, Phillip A. Cardarella. Both protested their innocence and Shields requested a trial before the election to clear her name, which was denied.

The case against Shields and her attorney husband was brought by Bradley J. Schlozman, acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, a Justice Department official from Washington who was appointed Acting U.S. Attorney last March by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Schlozman has never been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

As U.S. Attorney, Schlozman succeeded Todd Graves, brother of Republican U.S. Rep. Sam Graves of the 6th Missouri District. Todd Graves had carried on an intensive and lengthy investigation of Shields’ conduct as Jackson County Executive but Shields was never charged. Todd Graves resigned early last year as U.S. Attorney. Todd’s wife and her brother each operated lucrative Missouri license fee offices under appointment from Republican Gov. Matt Blunt. Both fee offices are in the Western District, which raised conflict of interest questions for Todd Graves.

Besides the war in Iraq, the hottest political issue out of Washington at the present time is evidence that Gonzalez fired eight U.S. attorneys in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and the state of Washington. Allegations are flying that the fired U.S. attorneys did not sufficiently investigate Democratic elected officials and candidates, particularly leading up to the November 2006 election.

There are widespread bipartisan demands in Congress that Gonzalez resign because of “politicization” of the Justice Department, but so far President Bush has stood by his man.

But what about the flip side of the question concerning the motivations of the U.S. Attorney General Gonzalez? Do the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys mean that the other 100 or so U.S. attorneys were sufficiently political in their prosecutions of Democratic elected officials and candidates? Did President Bush’s first Attorney General John Ashcroft also require U.S. attorneys to toe the party line?

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat and former Jackson County prosecutor and Missouri state auditor, expressed her outrage about these perversions of the criminal justice system in a March 14 telephone news conference with Missouri radio reporters.

“Having served as a prosecutor, fundamentally understanding the importance of independence in our criminal justice system when it comes to the decisions made by prosecutors, I cannot express how offended I am that there would be attempts by the White House to manipulate our criminal justice system in this country for political purposes,” McCaskill said.

“It’s very clear that’s what has happened,” McCaskill continued. “The American people should be as upset about this as they have been about anything that has happened in this administration because it really fundamentally erodes the criminal justice system that is the envy of the rest of the world, a criminal justice system that we are now trying to teach the Iraqis to model after. The irony is that we have men and women losing their lives right now in order for the Iraqi people to participate in the kind of justice system we have here in America at the same time this administration chips away at the independence of prosecution in the country. There is something terribly wrong with that.”

While the legitimacy of the mortgage fraud charges against Katheryn Shields will only be determined when the case goes to trial, from the standpoint of political profiling for prosecution, Shields, a loyal Democrat, would make a tempting target for an ambitious Republican prosecutor. A well-placed political observer close to Shields, and who requested anonymity, explained Shields’ candidacy for mayor of Kansas City as follows:

“In December, before anyone heard about (Mark) Funkhouser, if you were handicapping the mayor’s race, you would have said Alvin Brooks and Katheryn Shields would have come through the primary based on name identification and ability to raise funds,” the observer pointed out.

“Shields has a history of raising money for other Democrats and as mayor would have been a very vocal supporter for Democratic issues like health care and the environment,” the observer continued. “By indicting her and refusing to let her go to trial immediately, her campaign was torpedoed. She couldn’t raise money and her supporters started looking for a second choice.

“You don’t have to be a conspiracy nut to see how this evolved exactly the way (Alberto) Gonzalez wants U.S. attorneys to intervene in local politics,” the observer stated. “(Bradley) Schlozman was sent to Kansas City by Gonzalez to do the sort of thing that Gonzalez removed the U.S. attorneys from New Mexico and Washington state for refusing to do — using indictments to affect elections.”

The observer said the criminal violation that Justice Department attorneys commit in pursuing political prosecutions is the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials or employees from using their government position to affect an election outcome.

Don Ledford, spokesman for Acting U.S. Attorney Schlozman, responded: “I can tell you that this office does not bring criminal charges against any defendant based on political motivations. Like every defendant Katheryn Shields is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but we are confident that the facts in this case will support the allegations of wrong-doing that are contained in the federal grand just indictment.”

Asked about the concern by Sen. McCaskill and others about prosecutions for political purposes, Ledford said: “I know there is controversy in Washington about the U.S. attorneys. In this district (the Western District of Missouri) no allegations have been made.”

Asked why Shields and her husband were indicted for mortgage fraud when mortgage brokers, not homeowners, are usually the defendants in these cases, Ledford said, “Politics had nothing whatsoever to do with the investigation or indictment. A lot of individuals are being investigated for mortgage fraud. And, frankly, I don’t know the political affiliation of 99.9 percent of them.”

Tom Bogdon is a Kansas City-based writer. He can be contacted at tjbogdon@yahoo.com.


              
              
                 

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