NEW ORLEANS (CN) – A federal prosecutor’s identity as blogger “Henry L. Mencken 1951” was confirmed by the U.S. attorney on Thursday, days after a landfill owner filed a lawsuit claiming that someone in the U.S. Attorney’s Office had defamed him repeatedly using the pseudonym of the famous writer.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said in a Thursday afternoon press conference that the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington had been notified that one of his top prosecutors, Salvador Perricone, 60, admitted using the pseudonym to bash Frederick Heebe, among others, and to discuss open cases.
Heebe, who is part-owner of a suburban landfill and was being investigated by Perricone, is the subject of hundreds of posts by the pseudonymous Mencken.
Letten said Thursday that Perricone had been removed from any cases that were a subject of the Mencken 1951 comments.
In his complaint in Orleans Parish Court, Heebe claims he hired a former FBI agent and forensic linguist, James Fitzgerald, to analyze Mencken’s comments on Nola.com, a website of the Times-Picayune.
Heebe said in his complaint that all evidence pointed to Perricone, including the prosecutor’s 1951 birth date. The complaint claims that Mencken 1951 made 598 comments on the Nola.com website, many of them disparaging Heebe and his family and referring to his case.
“Starting on August 15, 2011, an anonymous person, writing under the pen name ‘Henry L. Mencken1951’ (Mencken) has posted a series of defamatory comments about petitioner Frederick R. Heebe and his family on the Times-Picayune website, Nola.com,” the complaint states.
“Petitioner does not know Mencken’s true identity with certainty and therefore cannot serve a civil complaint on him at this time. But the evidence discussed herein and more fully examined in the attached report by forensic linguist and former FBI profiler, James R. Fitzgerald … strongly indicates that Mencken is in fact a member of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana (‘USAO’), acting outside the scope of his employment. …
“In the course of six months, Mencken has submitted comments to Nola.com on a near-daily basis, posting some 598 comments to the site to date, the latest on March 11, 2012 at 12:41 p.m. Of the comments posted through February 7, 2012, roughly half relate in some way to active USAO investigations or past matters the office has handled. A substantial portion of these comments discusses Mr. Heebe, his family, and his company (River Birch, Inc.), River Birch CFO Dominick Fazzio (a defendant in a criminal matter being prosecuted by the USAO), the USAO’s investigation of Jefferson Parish officials whom the government has sought to tie to Mr. Heebe, or other persons connected to these investigations or Mr. Fazzio’s criminal case.
“In addition to containing a number of false and defamatory statements about Mr. Heebe, the Mencken posts reveal a level of knowledge about the inner workings of the USAO that is well beyond what could be expected of even the most diligent outside observer.
“The most conclusive proof of Mencken’s true identity, however, comes from comparing his distinctive writing style with language in a 9-page pleading filed under the signatures of three Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSAs) on December 27, 2011 in the pending criminal case against Mr. Fazzio. As Mr. Fitzgerald’s report discusses in greater detail, the pleading and the Mencken posts share many similarities, including the use of particular archaic words — e.g., ‘dubiety’ and ‘redoubt’- as well as distinctive punctuation and frequent use of the rhetorical technique of alliteration. After analyzing the posts and comparing them to the pleading, Mr. Fitzgerald has given his professional opinion that the Mencken posts and the December 27, 2011 pleading display the same ‘highly distinctive’ writing style, which, in turn, suggests a high likelihood of common authorship between the two pieces.
“One additional clue suggesting that Mencken is a member of the USAO comes from his full screen name: “Henry L. Mencken1951.” AUSA Salvador R. Perricone, one of the AUSAs who signed the December 27, 2011 pleading, was born in 1951.
“Mencken displays detailed knowledge about and antipathy for Mr. Heebe throughout the posts.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
After citing numerous posts by “Mencken,” the complaint adds: “The author of both writings also has a penchant for the rhetorical technique of alliteration – i.e., repeating words with similar-sounding first syllables. For example, the December 27, 2011 pleading contains the following alliterative phrase: ‘River Birch has many progenitors, progeny and prongs.’ … The Mencken posts contain many more examples: ‘Your fabulous fabulist is finished.’ … ‘Puerile Pandering Politician.’ … ‘this bedecked, bedazzled bafoon [sic]’.”
The complaint adds: “Clues about Mencken’s identity come from his obvious emotional investment in the USAO’s investigation of Mr. Heebe and his high degree of knowledge both of the investigation and the USAO in general. …
“Mencken also displays a keen awareness of internal office politics at the USAO and routinely expresses dismay that the office – and in particular the line AUSAs – does not get sufficient credit in the public’s eye for its work.”
Heebe adds: “Aside from the subject matter, the Mencken posts are notable for their distinctive writing style-a style that is eerily similar to that of a 9-page pleading filed by the government and signed by Perricone, AUSA James R. Mann, and AUSA Gregory Kennedy on December 27, 2011.”
Heebe claims that Mencken’s comments are “of a character that have harmed Mr. Heebe’s reputation, lowered his status in the estimation of the community, deterred others from associating or dealing with him, and otherwise exposed him to contempt and ridicule.”
As such, “Mr. Heebe wishes to depose Messrs. Perricone and Mann, whose names appear on the December 27, 2011 pleading, for the purpose of asking whether either individual has posted or contributed to posts issued under the name of Mencken or otherwise knows Mencken’s identity.”
The Times-Picayune reported that Perricone confessed on Tuesday to U.S. Attorney Jim Letten that he is Mencken.
Letten did not immediately make Perricone’s confession public.
“Mencken1951,” had been a prolific commenter on NOLA.com but briefly stopped commenting after Heebe filed his lawsuit.
But at 6:15 a.m. Wednesday, he posted a comment on Nola.com in reference to a story about Heebe’s lawsuit. “I’m here. Watching our rights erode,” Mencken wrote.
Letten announced Perricone’s confession at a press conference Thursday – two days after Perricone’s confession and the day after Mencken’s last online comment.
“Perricone has been recused from handling all matters which were discussed in the Nola.com comments,” Letten told the Times-Picayune. He said the Department of Justice in Washington will decide what comes next for Perricone.
Henry Louis Mencken, who died in 1956, was a powerful journalist and prose stylist, one of the most influential editors and writers of the first half of the 20th century. He wrote extensively for The Baltimore Sun, founded and edited “The American Mercury” magazine, wrote the well-regarded book, “The American Language,” and was known for his scathing attacks on politicians, the South, and religious fundamentalists. His last great foray was covering the Scopes trial, in which a high school teacher in Tennessee was accused of illegally teaching the theory of evolution. Mencken called it “the monkey trial.” The teacher, John Scopes, was convicted, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.
Heebe is represented by Kyle Schonekas, with Schonekas, Evans, McGoey & McEachin.