A Prosecutor Sexually Harassed Women Across The Federal Government, A Watchdog Agency Found
WASHINGTON — A federal prosecutor sexually harassed multiple women he worked with over the span of several years — including an intern, a fellow prosecutor, an FBI analyst, and a postal inspector — according to a report from the Justice Department inspector general’s office obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The allegations confirmed by the inspector general’s office included one instance of physical harassment — the assistant US attorney (AUSA), whose name is redacted in the report, touched the intern’s breast while reaching for a law book “and stared at her the entire time,” according to the report. The IG’s office also described a wide array of “inappropriate” and “sexually charged” comments and messages the AUSA directed toward the intern and other women he encountered in the course of his work.
The verbal harassment included comments about the women’s romantic relationships and physical appearances, sending inappropriate messages after being asked to stop, and suggesting the women were having extramarital affairs or should have them. The women who reported being harassed told investigators that the AUSA’s behavior interfered with their work and that they made arrangements to avoid meetings or other contact with him.
The inspector general’s office publicly announced the conclusion of the investigation in November, but the one-page summary was light on details, as is the office’s usual practice. The office provided the full 11-page report to BuzzFeed News through a Freedom of Information Act request. It’s heavily redacted but includes new details about the allegations and what investigators found. It states that although investigators determined the physical harassment of the intern likely violated state law, the AUSA would not face federal or state charges.
The name of the lawyer and other identifying information about him is redacted. His office is also redacted, but one section includes a reference to “USAO-NDOH,” which suggests the lawyer worked for the US attorney’s office for the Northern District of Ohio, which has sites in Akron, Cleveland, Toledo, and Youngstown. The November announcement and the unredacted parts of the recently released report didn’t specify when the events at issue took place or the AUSA’s employment status; other inspector general reports have noted when the subject of an investigation left their job.
A spokesperson for the Northern District of Ohio did not return a request for comment on Monday about whether the AUSA is still employed with the Justice Department and whether he faced any disciplinary action. Asked about the reference to the Ohio office, the inspector general’s office notified BuzzFeed News that the information was “inadvertently disclosed” and should have been redacted.
In keeping the prosecutor’s name secret, the inspector general’s office cited privacy exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act. The IG’s office has withheld the names of Justice Department officials even after confirming allegations of sexual harassment and other serious misconduct against them. In 2019, a federal judge in New York ordered DOJ to release the name of a former US attorney who was the subject of a sexual misconduct investigation after BuzzFeed News sued. The inspector general’s office also redacted the name of a senior DOJ official who was found to have harassed and assaulted multiple women who worked under him, and it withheld the name of a federal prosecutor who used anti-gay slurs and other abusive language when he was arrested for drunken driving.
According to the latest report, the inspector general’s office opened an investigation after getting a complaint that the AUSA may have physically and verbally harassed an intern, including brushing his arm across her chest. As that investigation unfolded, investigators discovered the allegations of sexual harassment involving other women.
The intern, whose name is redacted, told the inspector general’s office that her communications with the AUSA started as “jovial, back-and-forth banter,” but that he began to make “sexual comments” that made her uncomfortable and interfered with her ability to do her job. He sent messages to the intern discussing his sexual relationship with his wife, making other references to sex, and asking her why she “haunted his dreams,” and sent her pictures of himself working out and not wearing a shirt. She reported that one time he “brushed his arm” against her breast while he was reaching for a law book and stared at her.
The intern said the AUSA’s behavior made her so uncomfortable that she moved to other workstations to avoid him. Investigators spoke with multiple witnesses (their names are also redacted) who said the intern told them about being harassed by the AUSA and her discomfort; one witness said the intern told them that she didn’t want to report the AUSA “because she was concerned it may have a negative effect on her ability to obtain future employment.”
The inspector general’s office noted that it had reviewed sexually explicit text messages between the intern and the AUSA. Another witness said the AUSA had told them that he’d made a mistake sending the messages to the intern but denied “in an unsolicited comment” that he’d groped her.
The AUSA spoke with investigators and denied touching the intern, but admitted sending messages about her relationships; he claimed it wasn’t inappropriate because she’d initiated the conversation. One witness recalled learning that the AUSA had messaged the intern implying she should give him a sexual favor in exchange for a recommendation letter; the AUSA told investigators he “may have asked her what he would get out of it, but he said he was referring to possibly lunch or drinks with her, not sex.” He also said he “probably” messaged her about her body, but said it was to “help her low self-esteem.”
“[REDACTED] admitted he should not have engaged in this type of communication with [REDACTED] and explained he has a character flaw when women flirt with him,” the report states.
The inspector general’s office concluded that the AUSA had sexually harassed the intern in violation of federal regulations and Justice Department policy, and credited her allegation that he touched her breast. Investigators concluded that the AUSA likely committed “sexual imposition,” a misdemeanor offense, but federal and state prosecutors declined to bring charges.
The report also includes new details about the allegations of sexual harassment involving the three other federal employees. An FBI financial investigative analyst, whose name is redacted, reported witnessing the AUSA inappropriately touch a female server’s buttocks during a retirement party and shared that he’d made inappropriate comments to her over the span of several years. The analyst said she ended up making arrangements for another person to go to in-person meetings with the AUSA.
The AUSA’s Facebook and Instagram messages to the FBI analyst included comments about wanting to touch her during a yoga class; saying she was “gorgeous” and had a “body that does not quit”; writing that there was “nothing better than pleasing a woman”; questioning her about a “new guy”; and asking, “Why t u ignoring me?? [sic].” The AUSA admitted sending the messages and said he knew they made the analyst uncomfortable; he explained that he might have sent them when he’d been drinking or late at night.
“[REDACTED] stated that he was not sure why he continued to send these types of messages after she sent him several subtle messages asking him to stop sending them,” according to the report.
The inspector general’s office confirmed an allegation that the AUSA made other inappropriate comments suggesting that a woman assistant US attorney was having an extramarital affair with a colleague, both to the woman and to another person. The woman AUSA said that he also bought her jewelry, which made her feel uncomfortable. The AUSA admitted making comments about the woman AUSA, but said it was meant as a joke, and that he didn’t think the jewelry was inappropriate because “they were very good friends.”
The final harassment allegation involved a postal inspector, who said she had been working on a case that brought her into contact with the AUSA. Over lunch with a third person, she said, the AUSA had asked if she was married and said her husband should give her a “pass” to have an affair. The postal inspector said the comments made her uncomfortable and that she made sure not to meet with him alone in the future. The AUSA — in what the report described as a “compelled interview”; the report indicated other interviews had been “voluntary” — admitted asking the postal inspector about her husband but “reasoned they were general, inoffensive questions.”
In addition to the sexual harassment complaints, the inspector general’s office found that the AUSA lied about not using his government computer to access Facebook and Twitter; investigators had been looking into his social media activity because of the allegations that he used those platforms to send harassing messages.
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June 1, 2021 at 04:53PM