WW has learned that the top prosecutor at the Oregon Department of Justice is out, following media reports of his controversial tactics, especially in the investigation into whether four Oregon Department of Energy Department employees steered a $60,000 subcontract to a company owned by Cylvia Hayes, the companion of Gov. John Kitzhaber.
Sean Riddell, who until today was the chief of the DOJ's criminal justice division, will take time off and rejoin the agency later this summer in a yet-to-be defined position.
Riddell joined the agency from the Multnomah County District Attorney's office in July 2009, shortly after the Department of Justice completed its troubled investigation of Portland Mayor Sam Adams.
Riddell, a hard-charging Marine Corps reserve officer and former gang
prosecutor, led the Energy Department investigation. Lawyers for former
Energy Department director Mark Long,
whose handling of the Hayes subcontract was a primary focus of the
investigation, made a major issue out of how Riddell conducted the
probe, criticizing him harshly in letters to then—Gov. Ted Kulongoski, AG Kroger and most recently, in a complaint to the Oregon State Bar.
"Mr. Riddell repeatedly and unequivocally lied to witnesses and coerced and intimidated them in order to deceive those witnesses into making statements that Mr. Riddell could then use to make unfounded charges against the targets of his investigation," says the complaint, filed by Bill Gary and Dave Frohnmayer, attorneys for Long, who was the primary target of the investigation.
"Defense counsel has made allegations of ethical improprieties during the course of the investigation," Kroger's spokesman Tony Green said in a statement on June 1. "We conducted a thorough internal review and have concluded that the allegations are baseless. We stand by the integrity of the investigation."
Riddell also came under fire from the Oregonian recently for his role in a controversial investigation into then-Umatilla District Attorney Dean Gushwa's conduct.
But today came the news that Riddell is stepping down. Here's the explanation his boss gave:
"We have made mistakes in a small number of high profile cases," Kroger said in a statement. "This week, I learned that in addition to these errors, Chief Counsel Riddell had deleted a large number of government e-mails under the mistaken belief that they had been backed up on computer tape. Although we were able to recover many of the deleted e-mails, an unknown number have been lost permanently. The Department of Justice must scrupulously uphold its obligation to preserve government records.
It was an outcome Riddell knew could happen. In fact, on Oct. 27, 2010, during the course of interviewing Shelli Honeywell, one of the four Energy Department employees who had been placed on leave Riddell anticipated his fate.
"I know I'm one bad public corruption investigation away from getting fired," Riddell told Honeywell in a taped interview. "You mess up a public corruption investigation bad enough, you're gonna be held accountable."
Below is an email sent to Department of Justice staff this afternoon by Deputy Attorney general Mary Williams, the No. 2 in the DOJ, about Riddell's departure.
I'm sorry to send this message out late on a Friday afternoon, but word has leaked out to the media and I didn't want you to hear from other sources. Today, Sean Riddell has stepped down from his position as Chief Counsel of the Criminal Justice Division. He will take some time off and then return to the Department in early August as an Assistant Attorney General in a new assignment. Darin Tweedt will act as Interim Chief Counsel. You may hear different things about why this change is occurring. I ask that you respect the fact that we often will not discuss why changes happen for a variety of reasons. But I will tell you that the Attorney General and I have the greatest respect for Sean. He has been a dedicated public servant in a number of roles and has done a great deal to invigorate the Criminal Justice Division and guide it through some very difficult budget times. We value him as a colleague and a member of the Department and look forward to his continued service with us. We hope that you support him as your colleague and Darin as he takes on his new assignment. MaryHere is the entire statement Kroger issued this afternoon:
I am announcing today that Sean Riddell, Chief Counsel of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Division, has resigned his management position. I have named Darin Tweedt as Interim Chief Counsel. Riddell will go on leave and return to the Department in August and be reassigned. Department of Justice attorneys successfully handle hundreds of legal cases with skill and professionalism every day. Since I took office in 2009, our consumer protection attorneys have taken legal action against over 140 companies and recovered over $66 million for Oregon consumers, investors and taxpayers. We have dramatically increased the number of cases brought against drug traffickers, mortgage fraud perpetrators, and government officials who violate the law. Our prosecutors have obtained convictions in more than 96% of the cases they have charged. And when the legislature asked us to cut $2 million in administrative overhead costs, we cut $11 million and returned the balance to state coffers. I am very proud of our record and of our attorneys’ integrity and commitment to public service. I acknowledge, however, that we have made mistakes in a small number of high profile cases. This week, I learned that in addition to these errors, Chief Counsel Riddell had deleted a large number of government e-mails under the mistaken belief that they had been backed up on computer tape. Although we were able to recover many of the deleted e-mails, an unknown number have been lost permanently. The Department of Justice must scrupulously uphold its obligation to preserve government records. As Attorney General, the buck stops with me. I take full responsibility for errors made under my leadership. Sean Riddell has been a dedicated public servant as a Multnomah County prosecutor, head of the Department’s Criminal Justice Division and a Marine who served two tours in Iraq. He has been a valued colleague and I am grateful for his service to our state and our country. I will not always be a perfect Attorney General. I cannot promise to never make mistakes. But, what I can promise is when there are errors in practice or judgment, they will be accompanied by accountability. As Attorney General, I will get up every day and work as hard as I can to protect Oregon and uphold the rule of law.