News: CJ Exclusives

Federal Probe Urged Of U.S. Attorney’s Office

CJ reporting led assistant U.S. attorneys group to get AG Lynch involved

Citing reporting from Carolina Journal, the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys has asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to launch a formal investigation into the handling by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Raleigh of the prosecution of gang leader and contract killer Reynaldo Calderon.

“We are writing to express our grave concern about information that has come to our attention regarding the manner in which a recent death threat against then Assistant United States Attorney Denise Walker was handled by United States Attorney Thomas Walker and First Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bruce in the Eastern District of North Carolina,” wrote Steven Cook, president of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys.

Cook’s letter to Lynch dated Sept. 8, said, “We have corroborated much of what is contained in [the CJ] article,” and called “on the Department [of Justice] to expeditiously conduct a full investigation into this case, gather the facts, and proceed appropriately.” Cook is an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Tennessee.

In an interview with CJ, Cook said, “We had an ethical and legal obligation to report this. We will defer to the Justice Department for what an investigation reveals.”

Relying on court records, CJ’s Don Carrington reported in August that Calderon, who lived in Duplin County, had threatened to kill former Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Walker (no relation to Thomas Walker) for her work in prosecuting Calderon and members of his gang — and Thomas Walker approved a motion asking the judge presiding over the case to give Calderon a reduced sentence.

According to court records, a drug trafficker had hired Calderon’s gang to torture and murder another drug dealer; the drug trafficker thought the dealer had stolen $150,000 from him. The trafficker paid Calderon and his gang $10,000 to torture and kill the drug dealer.

Based on evidence and information gathered by Denise Walker, the lead prosecutor in the case, Calderon was captured, arrested, and pleaded guilty to several federal crimes, including kidnapping leading to death, drug trafficking, firearms violations, and various conspiracy charges. Based on federal sentencing guidelines, the plea should have resulted in a mandatory life sentence.

While Calderon awaited sentencing, a prison informant overheard Calderon threaten to harm or kill Denise Walker; the informant said he also overheard Calderon say he arranged to have a gang member who cooperated with prosecutors murdered.

When the U.S. Marshals Service learned of the threats, they immediately went to Denise Walker’s office, gave her a few minutes to gather her belongings, and sent her into hiding for six weeks. During that time she was under 24-hour protection from marshals and unable to disclose her location, even to family members.

Even with the threats to Denise Walker and the disruption of her life, Thomas Walker and his top deputy Bruce downplayed the peril she faced and asked the assistant U.S. attorney handling the sentencing phase of the trial to request a 30-year sentence for Calderon, based on information he provided to prosecutors that helped convict another gang member.

At the sentencing hearing, Faber rejected the request, calling Calderon’s crimes “a maximum offense; a cold, calculated, preplanned, self-serving murder committed for money. … A maximum offense calls for a maximum penalty. … [S]ince the government has elected not to pursue [the death] penalty … a life sentence [is] the maximum penalty [this court] can impose and I have done so.”

In his letter to Lynch, a Greensboro native, the NAAUSA’s Cook said, “The actions taken here — negotiating with a murderous gang leader, agreeing to hide information from the sentencing judge, and blaming the AUSA — breach the department’s most basic responsibilities to AUSAs and to the courts, and, if left unaddressed, will embolden criminals and jeopardize the integrity of the system and the lives and security of all AUSAs and agents.”

CJ has contacted Lynch’s office and Thomas Walker’s office for comment. At press time, neither had responded.

Rick Henderson (@deregulator) is managing editor of Carolina Journal.