Monday, March 16, 2009

Mary Beth Buchanan: Still There, and I'm Glad. *

President Barack Obama has been in office for 55 days as of this writing almost six months as of this 6/02/09 UPDATE (see below *), and the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania continues to be George W. Bush appointee Mary Beth Buchanan.

I think you're stuck with her, and I really couldn't be happier.

"I am open to considering further service to the United States," Ms. Buchanan said. (P-G, 12/04/08, Paula Reed Ward)

Somehow that statement got widely spun into a scandalous "refusal to leave". How one can refuse to do something that hasn't been asked of one is beyond me.

Obama seems cool with the Buchananator for now.

Now. Continuing.


Let's look at what just happened:

March 11, 2009: A California-based company that produced and distributed obscene materials and its owners pleaded guilty in federal court in Pittsburgh today to violating federal obscenity laws, United States Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan announced. (W. Pa. USA's office)

Federal obscenity laws.

Stuff that's on the books, like it or not.

Mr. Zicari and Ms. Romano were indicted in August 2003 for selling videos and clips online and through the mail. The videos feature graphic scenes of simulated rape, torture, defecation and murder.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft had made prosecution of pornography one of his top priorities. (P-G, Paula Reed Ward)

Attorney General Ashcroft, and more importantly, President Bush, made the enforcement of our obscenity statutes a high priority. They had every reason to believe they had a mandate to do so.

Personally, as a secular individual, I'm not entirely sure we need graphic scenes of simulated rape, torture, defecation and murder floating around through our society -- at least not via interstate commerce, by which any dumb kid can get a hold of it and take it back to the clubhouse.

I'm not sure George W. Bush's successor would disagree. I am sure that a U.S. Attorney takes direction from the President of the United States and the U.S. Attorney General.


Now you can say, well! There are more important things to prosecute.

Mary Beth was wasting a fair bit of the public's money and resources, wasn't she?

Federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh last year collected twice as much money through fines, restitution and seizures as it cost to operate the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The office for the Western District of Pennsylvania collected $20.4 million — mostly in so-called financial litigation recoveries, which include civil debts, defaulted loans, criminal fines, restitution and civil penalties. Forfeitures represented $5.4 million of that total. (Trib, Jason Cato)


The Department of Justice spent $9.5 million last year to operate prosecutorial offices in Pittsburgh, Erie and Johnstown. (Trib, ibid)

So she runs a big operation. It should be noted that she is by now familiar with the operation, and we should not treat that lightly.

Now, where did all that money come from?

The Pittsburgh office's best haul in the past decade was in 2001, when it collected more than $67 million. However, $61.3 million of that came from one case: A judge ordered financial manager John Gardner Black to repay money to 50 Pennsylvania school districts in a securities fraud case. (Trib, ibid)

Seeking restitution for school districts that have been ripped off by Wall Street executives. Raise your hand if you've got a problem with that.


In marking the one-year anniversary of the Western Pennsylvania Mortgage Fraud Task Force, the U.S. attorney's office today announced charges in eight separate cases.

A total of 16 people have been charged either by grand jury indictment or criminal information in a variety of counts related to mortgage fraud. (P-G, Paula Reed Ward)

Mortgage fraud would be big this year. Indicates that she's doing her job.

The task force was created to "combat the threat mortgage fraud poses to the country's housing industry and credit markets," said U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan. (P-G, ibid)

Clever to have had the foresight to formally organize these resources one full year ago. It reminds me of something we here in Allegheney County set up thanks to the innovation of Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen and the Court of Common Pleas.


Aaaaaaah, but you are thinking: Come off it, Bram.

Actor Tommy Chong, of the cult Cheech and Chong movies, has been sentenced to nine months in jail for selling drug paraphernalia over the internet.

He was also fined $20,000 (£12,500) for conspiring to distribute marijuana pipes and other equipment. (BBC News)

There go those pesky laws again.

Five years after taking the lead in "Operation Pipe Dreams," which prosecuted people who sold marijuana pipes around the country, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan is leading a similar investigation called "Operation True Test."

The newest project for Ms. Buchanan is looking into companies that sell "masking products" that are supposed to help drug-users pass employer drug tests. (P-G, Paula Reed Ward)

Okay, how about this:

O, GREAT PRESIDENT OF THESE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA!!! Hear my plea! Know that I cannot countenance any longer the enormous waste and cruel, arbitrary injustice that has always been part and parcel to this ancient, unchanging War on Drugs! It is by definition a war against the people, We the People, and it is waged with too little justice and much less mercy. This war -- this war that is earnestly and honorably waged by so many good law enforcement personnel --it pains me to say it, but this war is a dumb war, a costly war -- a war we did not enter into with clear objectives, and a war in which we still are not employing a winning strategy.

I ask that you take action to end it! I ask that you (as soon as the economy is doing okay, and we finish Bin Laden) form a Task Force that will submit legislation to the Congress that would substantially scale back criminal prohibitions on controlled substances wherever it may be appropriate to do so. In the meanwhile, if Mary Beth Buchanan can be put to good use going after unscrupulous business people or public malefactors of any kind, I bid you guide her as well as you can in that direction. And if she be insubordinate, I bid you chastise her as you would a stubborn lamb.


Yes, but. But but but but but.

Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh, has long been the subject of questions as about partisan prosecutions. But in 2006, Buchanan raised more than a few eyebrows when she went after former Allegheny county Corner Dr. Cyril wecht, indicting him on multiple counts of various federal crimes, including theft from an organization that receives federal funds. (Salon "War Room", Alex Koppelman)

Sheeeeee's partisan! She's a Republican hack!

A federal grand jury today indicted a state Superior Court judge for bilking two insurance companies out of nearly a half-million dollars, federal prosecutors said. (Trib, Jason Cato)

Judges shouldn't bilk insurance companies, but continuing...

Joyce also claimed in paperwork submitted to the insurance companies that he had received the Republican endorsement and nomination for the 2002 Pennsylvania Supreme Court race, the indictment states. Buchanan's release said he'd received neither. (Trib, ibid)

He's a Republican. She indicted him.

You don't care, do you?

Sheeeeee's partisan! And she's petty!

What, exactly, did Wecht do? Apparently, his transgressions included the improper use of the coroner's fax machine for private work. There was no evidence "of a bribe or kickback" and no evidence that Wecht traded on a conflict of interest. (Salon, ibid)

Okay, this is where problems tend to arise.

First of all, there were originally about a thousand counts in that indictment, about the very least of which involved a fax machine. Feel free to do your own research -- I'd humbly suggest starting with the limousine service and working your way around from there. The concept that the prosecution was pushing was that Mr. Wecht generally helped himself to whatever he wanted from the government.

The other two problems of "no evidence" of a bribe or kickback and no evidence that he "traded" on a conflict of interest is that A) it's a matter of interpretation to say the least, and B) it does not define the universe of illegal activities.

Innocent until proven guilty? How about indicted until acquitted.

Let's proceed, and allow a judge to be done with it. If it takes a new judge, a new venue, whatever -- and if it doesn't, just as well. But let's proceed already.


However -- this is where problems tend to arise.

Since Dr. Wecht was indicted in January 2006, the case has been wrought with sarcasm, hostility and snide remarks from all sides. (P-G, Paula Reed Ward)

Indeed? You don't say.

In the meantime, Dr. Wecht's attorneys and the government had been working with Judge Lewis in an attempt to reach a civil settlement in the case -- something very rare in the world of criminal justice.

However, this week, Judge Lewis said those negotiations had broken down.

"In this matter, one side did not exhibit the interest, desire or willingness to participate in as meaningful a way as the other," he said. (P-G, ibid)

"One side", said the judge.

Yesterday, Defense Attorney Jerry Mcdevitt said it appeared talks had stalled since U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan had not responded to e-mails or phone calls to schedule a negotiation since early October.

"We never heard from her again, nor did that office respond to Judge Lewis last week, when he tried to establish a time for further discussions," he said. (P-G, ibid)

Oh, really?

However, after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called seeking comment from Ms. Buchanan on Mr. McDevitt's allegations, both attorneys joined in a conference call, saying there had been a miscommunication because of demanding schedules. (P-G, ibid)

See? It was the Wecht camp that was conducting itself with a lack of seriousness -- I'd stake my blog on it. They were stalling.

"In the last month, we have seen the collapse of the national economy, with taxpayers having to foot the bill for over a trillion dollars amidst widespread allegations that such a financial disaster could not occur without widespread criminal fraud. The Justice Department and FBI stated in the New York Times that it lacks sufficient manpower to investigate and prosecute those responsible, yet now want to dedicate substantial resources for a mulligan prosecution of nickel-and-dime charges against Dr. Wecht that nobody wanted reprosecuted even before this economic disaster," he said. (P-G, ibid)

OBJECTION! Irrelevant. It even reads like a filibuster.

We don't let people off the hook in this country because they can exhaust us. This is the United States government.

*-6/02/09 UPDATE: We let people off for things like not having attached a supporting affadavit of probable cause to a search warrant. See the Post-Gazette and Paula Reed Ward.


There may be some amongst us who continue to have reservations. Surely, it is exceedingly uncomfortable having a Republican prosecutor running around amok in broad daylight.

Do you understand what we mean?

Alright. For our friends just joining us:


In Pittsburgh, we have had Democratic mayors since 1933.

We have had Democratic unanimity on Pittsburgh City Council since as far back as anyone can remember.

The Allegheny County Chief Executive, Dan Onorato, is a Democrat who operates with a strong majority of Democrats on County Council. He is seen by many as the likely successor to Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, also a Democrat.

I've been a Democrat all my life, but there can be too much of a good thing. I'll let you do your own researches as to our local and state situations.

I will, however, get you started with a little-known recent item:

Pittsburgh's suspended development chief resigned Wednesday and used his exit to criticize Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration for fostering a "culture of deception and corruption."

Pat Ford, leaving his post as executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said he lost faith in Ravenstahl's administration, which he said forced him "to serve as a scapegoat for the inappropriate affairs and activities of others" and sullied his reputation as a city planner.

"It is clear to me that as long as I continue to fight to have my name restored by this administration, I will only be further tarnished by this culture of deception and corruption," Ford said in his two-page letter to Yarone Zober, the URA's chairman and city chief of staff. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

This caused Mayor Ravenstahl to scamper back to Pittsburgh from the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO, before casting any votes as a Pennsylvania delegate.

The mayor responded to the accusations, but here's how it has turned out so far:

The URA -- which has been paying Mr. Ford since he went on leave in April pending a state Ethics Commission review, will continue paying him $9,822 a month through the end of June -- a total of some $93,000 -- and cover his health insurance.

In return, the agency and the city get a guarantee that Mr. Ford won't sue, nor publicly speak ill of, his former employers.
(P-G, Rich Lord)

So we're still paying him, a full year after he left city government -- and we will continue to do so for several more months hence.

City Controller Michael Lamb called it "a horrible decision on the part of the URA.

"We shouldn't be paying people to shut up about what's going on in these organizations. We should be encouraging them to talk about what's going on in these organizations." (P-G, ibid)

In a perfect world. Like I said, welcome to Pittsburgh.


It is not as though we are entirely without law enforcement capacity in these parts. We do frequently avail ourselves of the services our Allegheny County District Attorney -- Gov. Ed Rendell appointee Stephen A. Zapalla, Jr.

The Obama administration hasn't approached Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. about his interest in the U.S. attorney's post in Pittsburgh, even though his name circulates as a candidate, Zappala said Wednesday.

"It's a very powerful office. You can coordinate a lot more assets. I'm very interested in how that office works," Zappala said. "But I'm not sure about the job." (Trib, Greenwood and Kerlik)

The idea is, he may not be interested in the job personally, but he'd be happy to make some recommendations. Far be it from me to begrudge the Zappalas a chance to flex their political muscles -- entirely legitimate.

U.S. attorneys are appointed by the president, and Buchanan, appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, almost certainly will be replaced. (Trib, ibid)

That's the contention I'd like to contest. I'm no attorney myself, but I can find no evidence at all to support that -- and I see absolutely no need to execute the maneuver.


What do we know about Barack Obama? We know he is dead set against duplicating the errors of his predecessors. That he wants to fundamentally heal what ails our politics.

George W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton both sought to order the Justice Department in a politcally partisan manner. So we should accept this as standard practice?

We know President Obama has some tough choices ahead.

The Western District of Pennsylvania may be an ideal opportunity for Obama to demonstrate some things. Perhaps what the nation truly needs right now is right here in Pittsburgh, PA.

Mr. Katz, 50, who has owned more than 100 properties in Allegheny County since the early 1990s, has defaulted on numerous mortgages worth millions of dollars.

He owes the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority nearly $800,000 on loans he has not repaid to develop the main business district in Beechview. Many Beechview residents and politicians whose districts include the South Hills neighborhood blame Mr. Katz for eroding the quality of Broadway Avenue.

"It's great," state Rep. Chelsa Wagner, D-Beechview, said of Mr. Katz's name appearing as a target. Ms. Wagner and her office compiled a detailed report that was given to federal authorities about Mr. Katz's real estate dealings and associates. (P-G, Jonathan D. Silver)

Great is great.

As I hope I have demonstrated above, by all fair measures, Ms. Buchanan has proven herself to be a fundamentally competent, responsible, tenacious and sincere U.S. Attorney -- who is now a highly experienced and accomplished one. Let's not waste this resource by rushing to install yet another Democrat in these environs. Frankly, she has never been given a fair shake, anyhow.

Now, if Buchanan cannot reconcile herself with adhering to the priorities of Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration, rest assured mine will be the among the first voices calling for her ouster. In the meanwhile, in the absence of any problem, let her do her job.

Because let's face it, Pittsburgh. You want her on that wall. You need her on that wall. Let the President know about it right now.



  1. Buchanan's term ends in September per her last appointment. It is highly unlikely that she will be kept on. The anticipation is that Pittsburgh will have a new U.S. Attorney by June.

  2. Great post Bram ! I was not inclined to give Buchanan the benefit of the doubt, believing her to be just another right wing crony of Cheney & Co., but you have made a compelling argument for keeping her on board. The President will probably announce her replacement before Memorial Day, but hey you made a believer out of me.

  3. After reading Bram's article, there was much missing that causes it to be clearly bias towards one viewpoint. Anyhow, here is a link to other reviews of Buchanan that cover the cases mentioned above in more detail:

    a link to the Wiki site on Buchanan:

    and a link to one of here many controversial cases where many have questioned her judgment outright:

  4. Don't get me started on bias when it comes to MBB -- and definitely don't get me started on that Wikipedia entry.

    As to the Reason article about Dr. R., I owe somebody a more full response, but for now just I'll say: if anyone is calling her judgment into question in that case, one really ought to be directing outrage at the judge, the grand jury, and the appeals court judges that keep siding with her. They'd also be making assumptions about WHEN those witnesses were lying and WHEN they were telling the truth; who's to say they weren't truthful *initially* and then changed their story once the unarguably vast anti-Buchanan attack machine got a hold of them? Don't you think it's interesting that *all* of the witnesses separately chose to take Dr. R. to court in civil suits? What are the odds, if he was actually non-abusive?

    But my purpose here is not to pass judgment on Dr. R. - I wasn't on the jury, after all, and I only have the information from that good City Paper article and that Reason article which makes several strong assertions without citing its evidence.

    Let me put it this way -- if after eight years of public service and hundreds of prosecutions, the "controversy" around the conviction of Dr. R. is the best that MBB's partisan tormentors have to nail her with, I am not aroused.

  5. Bram,

    Once again you show you do not understand the case and your bias is causing you to be blind to the issues and facts of the case.

    "Don't you think it's interesting that *all* of the witnesses separately chose to take Dr. R. to court in civil suits?"

    Pretty good since the Assistant US Attorney heading up the Rottschaefer case referred them to the same lawyer. This information is available in the court depositions from the civil trials.

    As for the civil, Dr. Rottschaefer won every case. Two witnesses dropped their cases the minute they were informed that their sealed medical records would be released to the judge and jury. The judge in the case went further in his opinions in which he stated that witnesses clearly lied and it is clear that their cases had no merit.

    It is also telling that none of the witnesses claimed the "sex" allegations in their civil proceedings and that they all waited until the outcome of the criminal trial to file the charges.

    "What are the odds, if he was actually non-abusive?"

    Please site the evidence. To date the accusations of such are based on the words of five known liars. When they have been outted as such in the court record where they AFFIRMED THEY WERE LYING. That is right Bram, they said I LIED UNDER OATH IN THE TRIAL OF DR. ROTTSCHAEFER, Buchanan has said it does not matter since she was able to find a doctor that disagreed with Dr. Rottschaefer's care. Of course Buchanan overlooked the fact that multiple other Physicians have prescribed the same medications for the same ailments to these patients that the Doctor was charged with for prescribing for no legitimate medical reason.


    "I wasn't on the jury, after all, and I only have the information from that good City Paper article and that Reason article which makes several strong assertions without citing its evidence."

    Both Charlie Dietrich of the City Paper and Radley Balko of Reason have covered the case of Dr. Rottschaefer extensively and they have reviewed the court records and motions that they often site within their articles. Copies of some of the motions are available on pain management organization websites such as the AAPS and Pain Relief Network.

    "the conviction of Dr. R. is the best that MBB's partisan tormentors have to nail her with, I am not aroused."

    Sorry, you are wrong. It is unfortunate that you clearly are attempting to push up Buchanan at the expenses of the truth.

    Everyone makes mistakes and the Rottschaefer case is a mistake made by Buchanan's department.

    But hey, I guess we could go with your argument summarized as follows:

    "I did not read up on the case, but since Buchanan prosecuted it, it must be fine and hey if it is not, then it is the jury's or judge's fault, not the prosecution's office the enticed witnesses to lie for plea agreements and concealed records from the defense" - Bram

  6. I should point out that the release of the medical records that were sealed proved that the prosecution witnesses lied in relation to their addiction claims, lied in relation to their allegation of not suffering from any ailment necessitating the medications, and lied in regards to their statements that they were not still seeking treatment for the ailments or taking the same medications from other physicians.

    The disclosure of such proves they lied at the criminal trial of Dr. Rottschaefer and would expose them to perjury charges and revocation of their plea agreements with the government.

    To date, Buchanan's office has refused to revoke the agreements or even investigate the witnesses for perjury.

    Understand, the witnesses affirmed in sworn statements in the civil proceedings when confronted with the records, that they lied under oath in a court of law.

    The records also showed that the patients were concealing exculpatory evidence.

    Unfortunately, do to a rule of law, the records can not be entered into an appeal since they were readily available to Dr. Rottschaefer's trail lawyers if they had simply served a subpoena. Of course they would have had to know that the records of these patients contining treatment/seeing other doctors while seeing Rottschaefer, were in existence. Since the witnesses denied such and the prosecution and investigators backed the lies, you would be pretty hard to believe that they were doing such things.

    Oh well, these witnesses don't have to worry. It is not like Buchanan will ever file perjury charges after all.

  7. "But my purpose here is not to pass judgment on Dr. R."

    But you have done that now in two separate postings

    "the "controversy" around the conviction of Dr. R. is the best that MBB's partisan tormentors have to nail her with" - Bram

    "I think the "controversy" about the case surrounding the pill-distributing doctor is pretty thin" - Bram

  8. Anon (RB?) - So I see not only do you have no qualms sitting in authoritative judgment of Dr. Rottschaefer's legal case, but you also feel medically qualified to determine what these medical records to which you have not linked "PROVE".

    Is it your contention that if a patient has been prescribed pain medication for a real condition at some point in the past, he or she cannot develop an addiction and continue seeking them out long after that condition has subsided? Seems to me that is how it usually works.

    And even if you are correct that MBB referred these women to an attorney for civil suits, they were sure eager to take her up on that suggestion. Although that proves to me nothing, it definitely warrants caution of the conspiracy theories.

    Finally, you seem conspicuously prepared to trust the witnesses when they "AFFIRMED THEY WERE LYING" at a later date and largely by themselves -- yet not when they were under oath and being exhaustively cross-examined by professionals. Why do you leap to that conclusion?

    I'm not going to make any claims about how well I understand the case, but with what you bring before me, I'm content to trust the judge and jury and appeals courts. That is why I say the controversy does not impress me. Meanwhile, if you're out to expose "bias" may I humbly suggest turning your examination inward as well.

    Personally, instead of focusing narrowly on one case I attempted in this post to take a look at U.S.A. Buchanan's entire career. Around it I have found little besides A) vicious ideological bias against her and B) surprising competence, effectiveness and professionalism. I hardly think she is undeserving of a forthright public defense at long last.

  9. Bram,

    Please read up on the case before you make a bigger ass out of yourself. The women were seeing physicians prior to Dr. Rottschaefer for the treatment, the women were also seeing doctors after Dr. Rottschaefer for the treatments, and the women in some cases were given the medications and diagnoses by other physicians while they were sing the Dr. Rottschaefer.

    Second, the patients/women, affirmed they were lying during cross examinations under oath during the civil depositions when confronted with the full medical records. The full medical records were unavailable during the criminal trial since the witnesses for the prosecution refused to release them.

    In the end, read up on the case prior to pushing your ideological bias for what is clearly incompetence.

    As for your claim of addiction, it was never substantiated by anything other than the patients word and since the patients continued with the same medications after Dr. Rottschaefer's care and through his trial and to today, the addiction claims are pretty flawed.

    As for you claiming I am bias, I have red up on the case. You clearly have not. Good day and please in the future do research.

    The records are all available in the Allegheny Court House and the Federal Court House downtown. You can also get them through PACER at a fee of $.35 per page.

  10. That dog is still in place? Someone (Obama) needs to kick her to the curb.

    Let her find a nice gig as a corporate whore for the GOP.

  11. Buchanan's term ends in September per her last appointment. It is highly unlikely that she will be kept on. The anticipation is that Pittsburgh will have a new U.S. Attorney by June.

    I certainly hope you're right.

    I'm with pudge.