Alaska DispatchThe Alaska Dispatch published a story yesterday that reveals how the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) condones misconduct and punishes those who speak out for the truth. The story by investigative reporters Amanda Coyne and Tony Hopfinger is called, “Why is the lead agent in the botched case against Ted Stevens still working for the FBI?” The lead agent in question is Mary Beth Kepner.  The whistleblower is Chad Joy, who was Kepner’s partner during the 2008 Stevens investigation.  In an eight page whistleblower disclosure, Joy alleged that Kepner (1) hid information that Stevens’ legal team should have been entitled to review, (2) leaked grand jury testimony of a government witness, (3) didn’t document interviews, (4) acted inappropriately with sources, and (5) failed to properly document for a judge an application for a wire tap. Joy alleged that the prosecution also failed to disclose evidence and transported a witness back to Alaska to make him unavailable to testify at the trial. Coyne and Hopfinger reference a newly released Department of Justice report that confirmed Kepner’s misconduct in the Steven’s investigation. The report is dated August 2011. Kepner is still on the job at the FBI.

The Stevens’ case was Joy’s first case as an FBI agent.  “I don’t want to be punished for coming forward,” he wrote. In 2009, the FBI removed him from all criminal cases. Coyne and Hopfinger say this, “effectively end[ed] his career.” In early 2010, he resigned. Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Anchorage, Alaska, launched an investigation led by Frank Russo. Russo found that Kepner’s lapses were minor, and then nitpicked Joy’s work.

Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblowers Center, told Coyne and Hopfinger that Russo’s investigation into Joy’s complaint was illegal. Kohn explained that  procedures require investigations to be forwarded to the Inspector General for the Department of Justice. DOJ officials refused to answer Coyne and Hopfinger’s questions about the Russo investigation.

“This all very troubling. If someone blows [the whistle] on an issue, they are going to face retaliation,” Kohn said. “Part of the defense is always to discredit the witnesses. That’s why it’s necessary to take the whistleblower case out of the hands of the locals. Kohn called for the Inspector General to look into Joy’s original complaint and begin an investigation into how the complaint itself was handled.

FBI rules bar a supervisor from taking retaliatory action against a whistleblower. Kohn said that because Joy’s whistleblower memo helped trigger the investigation — one that ultimately led to Stevens essentially be exonerated — the review of the charges and the decision to take him off of criminal cases was a “retaliatory action.”

Former FBI agent and NWC board member Jane Turner also suffered retaliation. She blew the whistle on agents who took mementos from Ground Zero following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She won a jury verdict against the FBI over her treatment.
Turner said that agents who violate the FBI’s code of silence are undercut and isolated. “They do everything they can to get you to quit” she said.

When you blow the whistle on the FBI, “it’s death by a million paper cuts,” she told Alaska Dispatch.