Mon February 24, 2014
FBI Wouldn't Just 'Research' Louisville Metro Council Practices, Legal Experts Say
A former federal prosecutor says it is naïve to believe the FBI is interviewing members of the Louisville Metro Council just to learn about policies and procedures.
As WFPL and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting first uncovered, FBI agents have interviewed a number of city lawmakers over the past six months.
Federal investigators have asked about discretionary spending and the council's relationship to Jefferson County judges, a source said.
According to a council member recently interviewed by agents, specific questions have centered on Council President Jim King and his business dealings.
Kent Wicker, a defense attorney and former assistant U.S. Attorney, says the FBI is interested in more than just the basic workings of Metro Government or getting to know council members personally.
"The FBI doesn’t do research projects. The FBI investigates allegations of criminal behavior. So that’s what they’re doing. They’re not doing research," he says.
The FBI's Louisville field office has said that the bureau does not currently have an open investigation on a specific allegation or individual.
In September, FBI Agent Brett Johnson first approached a councilman and an aide for a meeting, a council aide said. Other council members acknowledged that Johnson was the agent who either interviewed or approached them.
Earlier this month, Johnson, who works in the Louisville bureau's white collar crime squad, wrote in the e-mail titled "Meet And Greet" that he wanted to talk to lawmakers about any issues of interest.
"The FBI doesn’t go out to form relationships with people it wants to interview," Wicker says. "It conducts two kinds of inquiries. It does a preliminary inquiry to decide whether there’s sufficient information to go forward on a full field criminal investigation, and then it does the criminal investigation. But they don’t go out just to meet council members."
In a statement, King said he has been advised that no council member—including himself—is a target or subject of an investigation. He said is his understanding investigators are trying to "improve their understanding" of the council.
"The goal, as reported to me, is for these investigators to improve their understanding of our council, both general, and so they may appropriately respond to citizen inquiries when they receive them," he said.
Neither Mayor Greg Fischer's nor Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell's offices say they have been contacted by federal investigators.
Agents have met with political activist Janice Rucker, however, who has filed ethics complaints against King. Investigators spoke with Rucker for over an hour last week and asked to review at least one of her complaints.
As KyCIR's Kristina Goetz reported Monday, King is arguing Rucker's complaint is harassment and suggests she be referred to the Commonwealth Attorney's office for possible prosecution.
Other legal experts who have dealt with the FBI in court cases say inquiring about city government is certainly within the bureau's jurisdiction, but they argue investigators aren't asking about City Hall without some larger incentive.
"Somebody has levied a complaint or has levied a statement or a document," says Louisville defense attorney Frank Mascagni.
He adds, "The United States government is not interested in my opinion in the local ethics charter of the Louisville Metro Council. They would be there reacting to some call to scrutinize their records."