They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

Former Prosecutor: Disbanding LA USA Public Corruption Unit "Sends A Message"

The former prosecutor didn't think that this move would derail any of the investigations ongoing in the unit -- such as the Lewis investigation, which has stalled at times. Only a number of the larger U.S. attorney offices in the country have a public integrity unit (like, as Eliot Spitzer knows full well, the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan).

O'Brien has headed Los Angeles' U.S. Attorney's Office since July of 2007. The former longterm U.S.A., Debra Yang, left abruptly in late 2006, a departure that frequently aroused suspicion in the context of the U.S. attorney firings' investigation. O'Brien had been the Chief of the Criminal Division in that office before taking over.

But the importance of such units is in the creation of new cases, the attorney explained: "The corruption cases are driven more by the prosecutors than by law enforcement. The assistant U.S. attorneys are following these issues and call the FBI when they see something and say 'maybe we should take a look at this.' Without that core group of prosecutors looking at that stuff, you may lose those opportunities."

The FBI has made public corruption a major priority (Attorney General Michael Mukasey has been less clear on that points), and O'Brien's spokesman stressed to The Recorder that "if the FBI has got a good case they want to investigate, there are still plenty of people in the U.S. attorney's office who will want to run with it." That may be the case. But all the same, crooked California politicians can breathe a little easier.