A former director of the Minneapolis FBI office sent a letter this week to members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee denouncing B. Todd Jones' performance as U.S. attorney in Minnesota as they prepare to consider his nomination to director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Donald E. Oswald, 54, a self-declared Democrat and supporter of President Obama, said he felt "morally compelled" to alert the committee about what he describes as Jones' "atrocious professional reputation within the federal law enforcement community" in Minnesota.

"He was, and still remains, a significant impediment for federal law enforcement to effectively protect the citizens of Minnesota from violent gang, drug and gun activities," Oswald wrote in an eight-page, single-spaced letter.

Oswald said he decided to go public with his concerns because active law enforcement officers in Minnesota are afraid to do so. "What I hope would happen is that the Senate would subpoena some of these people to come in and talk," Oswald said in a telephone interview from his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Jones declined a request for comment Thursday.

Minnesota's U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both sit on the Judiciary Committee and said that they would review Jones' record and all information provided to it during the nomination process.

"As a former prosecutor, Sen. Klobuchar takes enforcement of violent crimes very seriously. She had a positive working relationship with Mr. Jones on these issues when she was Hennepin County attorney and knows they are important to him as well," said Brigit Helgen, her spokeswoman.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement that "Mr. Oswald provides some very disturbing allegations in his letter that we'll be looking into. I hope others, who Mr. Oswald mentioned, will not be intimidated to talk with us about [Jones'] leadership skills and his ability to run an agency that is in disarray."

Asked Thursday about Jones' leadership, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman gave a positive review. "My dealings with him have been first rate," he said. "He's treated us fairly."

Office decisions questioned

A number of state and federal law enforcement officers have complained privately for at least a year about the handling of drug, gun and violent crime cases by the U.S. attorney's office in Minnesota.

Oswald oversaw FBI operations in Minnesota and the Dakotas as special agent in charge of the Minneapolis Division from May 2011 through May 2012, when he retired to practice law in Florida.

In an interview in December, however, Jones characterized the complaints as a reaction to his decision to shift priorities away from street-level crimes to more complex crimes involving drug cartels and to time-consuming white-collar crimes and terrorism cases.

Oswald disputed that in his letter to the committee and included charts that he said showed "Mr. Jones' statistical accomplishments for FY 2012 are down in every category."

Jeanne Cooney, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Minnesota, responded with a chart that she says shows prosecutors in the office working longer hours.

"So while the number of defendants has gone down, work years have gone up substantially," she said. "Less easy cases, more harder cases."

Oswald's letter further criticizes Jones for his support of Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol Kayser, 51, the daughter of one of his mentors at the Minneapolis law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, where Jones had been a partner, and a major financial contributor to Democratic politicians. Kayser came to the office in 2008 from the U.S. attorney's office in Atlanta.

Jones appointed Kayser as head of the violent crime and drug section after she worked in the office for less than a year, Oswald said. He said she lacked management experience and while he was running the FBI's office in Minneapolis, he received numerous complaints about her "abrasive interactions" with agents and their supervisors, who described her as antagonistic and inconsistent in her reasons for rejecting cases.

"I've come to believe that Ms. Kayser is single-handedly responsible for the disenfranchisement and destruction of relationships between the [U.S. attorney's office] and the federal agencies involved with guns and drugs," Oswald's letter says.

He said that he and his counterparts in other federal agencies complained to Jones at their monthly meetings, but Jones reacted defensively and "vehemently" defended Kayser.

Oswald concluded that Jones did so because he was close to her father, Thomas C. Kayser, 75. Campaign finance records on file with OpenSecrets.org show that Thomas Kayser and his family members have given more than $352,500 to Democrats since 1990.

Kayser and his wife, Marlene, have given more than $17,000 to Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. They gave $14,464 to Klobuchar between 2006 and 2011, and $1,000 to Franken in 2012. Carol Kayser gave $340 to Obama in 2011. "It's evident that Jones protects Ms. Kayser at all cost to ingratiate favor with others in the Democratic Party," Oswald wrote.

The U.S. attorney's office declined to make Kayser available for comment.

Thomas Kayser, a former managing partner at Robins Kaplan, said Thursday he had no knowledge of the complaints about Jones or his daughter. But he said he's known Jones for 10 years and considers him the right kind of person to run the U.S. attorney's office or the ATF.

"I've seen Todd in very difficult situations. He handles them beautifully," Kayser said.

He said his political contributions had nothing to do with Jones being appointed U.S. attorney and noted that his daughter was already working in the office when Jones was sworn in for his second stint at U.S. attorney.

Kayser said Oswald's remarks about his daughter were offensive. Kayser said his daughter was one of five people who made the final cut for a federal magistrate judge position in Atlanta. "I think that's pretty impressive. I'm very proud."

Big cases rejected?

Oswald's letter supports complaints by a number of law enforcement sources that Jones and Kayser refused to prosecute criminal operations over the past two years despite wiretap evidence and seizures of drugs, recovered firearms and large amounts of cash.

Since the FBI Safe Streets Task Force was formed about two years ago, agents and local law enforcement have brought at least 10 large conspiracy cases to the office and then had them turned down for federal prosecution, according to people with direct knowledge of those cases.

Jones said in an earlier interview that some cases were rejected for further investigation. Cooney said the task force has had problems recognized by an independent review.

At least three of the rejected cases involved widespread gang activity in St. Paul.

Oswald's letter cites one case in which starting in 2010 investigators bought more than 16 pounds of methamphetamine, recovered at least $500,000 and proved the connection to the La Familia Michoacan. The case was prosecuted in October by the Hennepin County attorney's office, and Pedro Ayala was sentenced in December to 30 years in state prison, the longest drug sentence in state history. The remaining 19 defendants are being tried by the county attorney.

The case left agents and attorneys bitter and mistrustful when Jones and Kayser reportedly defended their actions by saying investigators had originally "undersold" the case, according to Oswald and other investigators.

Cooney, at the U.S. attorney's office, said the investigators firmed up their investigation before taking it to Hennepin County. The case might well have been accepted had they referred it again for federal prosecution, she said.

Freeman acknowledged that his office has taken on some of those cases, "but I understand offices have their own priorities."

He noted that Jones made a priority of the $3.65 billion fraud case against Tom Petters and other big white-collar crime cases.

"I can't argue with his priorities," he said.

dbrowning@startribune.com • 612-673-4493 pmcenroe@startribune.com • 612-673-1745