U.S. Attorney in Hot Seat as Politics and Law Clash

Article excerpt

Serious questions have surfaced regarding a bus driver, a Clinton appointee and a search warrant.

Apartment manager Jenni Burk is fuming. Five months have not cooled her anger. "I thought about marching down there to her office and giving her a piece of my mind! " the angry mother of three says. "I was amazed. I couldn't believe that with all the evidence they had they couldn't get a search warrant. I can't understand why that woman with all her power wouldn't stop children from being hurt."

"That woman" is U.S. Attorney Janet Napolitano. And the 56-year-old Burk isn't alone in wondering what led the controversial Clinton appointee to refuse investigators with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, or USPIS, a warrant to search the one-bedroom Phoenix home of one of Burk's residents, James Moore, an admitted child pornographer and molester. Republicans, including presidential candidate Bob Dole, also are demanding to know why Napolitano declined to act against Moore, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is investigating claims aired in May on the ABC program 20/20 that she refused the warrant because it was part of a sting operation targeting homosexuals.

As far as Burk and USPIS Inspector Karen Cassatt are concerned, there were clear grounds for searching Moore's apartment: He was receiving suspicious-looking videos from known child-porn and adult videomakers such as Spartacus, an overseas distributor, and the Hollywood-based IVC. The specter of frightened-looking Mexican boys, some possibly as young as 9, who frequently were spotted with Moore also was troubling. On several occasions Burk asked the openly homosexual Moore who the children were and where they were from. "He always said they were the children of friends," she tells Insight. "I knew he was gay I had no problem with that -- there are a lot of gay men living here. But I was worried about the children. There was one boy -- he must have been about 13 or 14 -- and I could see he was scared to death." Burk also noted that Moore's apartment was full of photographs of young boys, most of them nude from the waist up.

The Phoenix Police Department agreed there was "probable cause" for further inquiry and, after Napolitano refused in January 1996 to have anything to do with the case, a state judge was approached and promptly granted a search warrant. A motherlode of child-porn evidence was discovered and Moore, a bus driver, admitted to having had sex on numerous occasions with boys. He was charged with sexually exploiting minors by a local county prosecutor, a charge that under Arizona state law carries a sentence of 10 to 24 years on each count. He is awaiting trial on a vast variety of charges, some of which he is contesting.

In a press conference the day after 20/20 broadcast an interview with an outraged Cassatt, Napolitano flatly denied that she had blocked the Moore search warrant on the grounds that it was part of a nationwide federal undercover operation targeting gays. She labeled the Cassatt allegation "fundamentally offensive," declaring: "It's just not true. It's just flat wrong." According to Napolitano, there were clear legal grounds to decline the warrant.

Attorney General Janet Reno and the White House have defended Napolitano. They maintain she has become an election-year political target and that Republicans are using her in a bid to knock President Clinton's crime-fighting credentials in the run-up to November. Napolitano supporters also argue that conservatives have been keen to get the US. attorney ever since she served as one of Anita Hill's lawyers during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991. Indeed, Senate confirmation of Napolitano's appointment as Arizona's U.S. attorney was extensively delayed in 1993 when Republicans raised questions about her role in the Thomas hearings.

But previously undisclosed evidence obtained by Insight, including an audiotape of a tense hour-long conversation between Cassatt and Napolitano assistants Mary Murgea and Sharon Novitsky, raises new questions about Napolitano's decision to refuse the Moore search warrant. …

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