Friday, March 7, 2014

David Barrett's Level of Cruelty | Last Word

We learned this week of the death of David Barrett, a name that may tickle the memories of longtime San Antonians.

Barrett was the independent counsel appointed to investigate whether former mayor Henry Cisneros had lied to the FBI while being vetted for appointment as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

By the time Barrett was appointed it was obvious that Cisneros had lied.

He had told the FBI that he had paid his former mistress, Linda Medlar (later Linda Jones), about $10,000 a year since their affair became public and Jones’s career as a political fundraiser was torpedoed.

That he had lied became clear because he had stopped making the payments to Medlar.

He couldn’t afford the payments on a government salary.

Medlar had responded by selling damning tape recordings she had secretly made of their phone conversations.

Before Barrett began work, Attorney General Janet Reno announced that Cisneros had paid Medlar between $42,000 and $60,000 a year.

Yet it took Barrett, armed with a staff of nearly 30, including six other lawyers, nearly five years and $10 million to squeeze a misdemeanor plea from Cisneros.

Cisneros served no time and paid a fine of $10,000.

Yet Barrett would go on for six more years at a cost of another $11 million.

He suspected that Cisneros had cheated on his taxes in connection with the Medlar affair.

But the statute of limitations had run out if he had, so Barrett futilely went after other Clinton administration officials for allegedly blocking his investigation.

If all Barrett had done was to waste $21 million of taxpayer money, I wouldn’t be moved to remark on his death.

Such waste is hardly front-page news.

But in his zeal to pursue Cisneros and other Clinton officials, Barrett showed a level of cruelty that still outrages.

Here, briefly, is the story.

Unable to continue as a political fundraiser in San Antonio, Medlar moved home to Lubbock with her teenaged daughter.

She couldn’t apply for a mortgage because she couldn’t list the money she received from Cisneros as her major source of income.

So Medlar’s sister and her husband, Patsy and Allen Wooten, applied for the mortgage and told the bank they would be living in the house.

Technically this is a crime.

But such crimes are not uncommon, mostly in the cases of homebuyers not disclosing that their parents are helping with the down payment.

Such cases are almost never prosecuted if there is no intent to cheat the bank and the bank loses no money.

In this case, the house was eventually sold and the mortgage paid off in full.

The Wootens cooperated with Barrett’s investigation after being told they were not targets.

Yet Barrett charged the Wootens with 28 counts of bank fraud and even money laundering.

His reason: He wanted to pressure Medlar after learning that she had lied when she said she had not doctored the telephone tapes.

This largely wrecked their value as evidence.

Medlar would spend 18 months in prison, and the Wootens would plead guilty to a felony count of conspiring to defraud a bank – a charge worse than what Cisneros pleaded to.

Their worst fear: They’d never be able to vote again.

But U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings was so outraged at Barrett’s handling of the Wootens that he pressured him into dropping all charges against them, including the charge to which they pleaded guilty under horrific pressure.

So this is David Barrett’s legacy:

He turned a modest opportunity to fight governmental corruption into a vicious exercise in governmental tyranny.

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