New allegations hit Minnesota's U.S. attorney at federal level

Accusations involve how B. Todd Jones ran Minneapolis office.

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B. Todd Jones

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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New complaints against Minnesota’s U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones have surfaced in Washington, D.C., alleging mismanagement, abuse of authority and reprisal against an assistant U.S. attorney for engaging in whistleblowing “or other protected” activity.

The charges are being investigated by the U.S. Special Counsel, an independent agency that examines whistleblower cases, according to documents obtained by the Star Tribune.

Jones, acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF), is President Obama’s choice to become permanent director, but has come under fire in recent months for his work with the ATF and his leadership of the U.S. attorney’s office in Minneapolis.

The assistant U.S. attorney who alleges he was unfairly disciplined is Jeff Paulsen, sources with direct knowledge of the case have told the Star Tribune.

Paulsen, a well-regarded prosecutor, was among recipients of the St. Paul Police Chief’s Award in 2011 for the conviction of two men in a brutal 2007 triple homicide. He was the first assistant under former U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose.

Paulsen has been reassigned from prosecuting high-profile criminal cases to spending a large amount of time on cases under appeal. He declined to comment on the whistleblower case.

Jones declined to comment on the allegations Wednesday. “Todd is not making any public statements pending his confirmation hearings,” said Jeanne Cooney, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office.

Cooney declined to confirm that Paulsen was suspended or that he filed allegations with the Special Counsel. She said the office does not comment on personnel issues as a matter of policy.

Letter mentions allegations

The whistleblower allegations are mentioned in an April 12 letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which is weighing Jones’ nomination. Carolyn Lerner, who heads the office of the Special Counsel, wrote the letter in response to an inquiry by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Grassley is the ranking Republican on the committee and a critic of Jones’ work with the ATF.

Lerner wrote that an assistant U.S. attorney, whom she does not name, alleged that a member of Jones’ staff was suspended and received a “lowered performance appraisal … in retaliation for protected whistle-blowing or other protected activity.”

The allegation was lodged March 12. After an initial review, the counsel decided on April 12 to conduct an investigation.

Lerner wrote that her office is also reviewing a second allegation by the same attorney, who “alleges gross mismanagement and abuses of authority in the Narcotics Violent Crime Section” of the Minneapolis office.

She said no decision had been made whether to refer the case for investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Her letter mentions Grassley’s inquiry about an anonymous letter critical of Jones dated July 20, 2012, and signed by “Employees of the U.S. attorney’s office, District of Minnesota.”

Lerner wrote that her office turned the letter over to an analyst, then closed the case on Aug. 30 because it “did not have enough information to initiate a substantive inquiry into the concerns raised by the letter.”

Cooney said, “We will not comment on the anonymous letter which may or may not have been written by anyone in this office.”

Nomination all but on hold

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