For the second straight month, the Department of Justice has been caught exaggerating its record on prosecutions and convictions. The Inspector General conducted an audit of the DoJ’s claims on terror-related convictions and found that claims made for FY2009 and FY2010 were inflated — by 13% and 23%, respectively (via Gabriel Malor on Twitter):
Shoddy recordkeeping led to significant overstating of terrorism convictions and other inaccuracies by a Justice Department branch that coordinates U.S. attorneys’ offices across the country, according to a federal audit.
The audit by the department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, found that theExecutive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) overstated the number of terrorism-related defendants who had been found guilty in fiscal 2009 by 13 percent and then overstated the same statistic in fiscal 2010 by 26 percent.
The executive office, which oversees 93 U.S. attorneys’ offices, also overstated by 19 percent the number of defendants sentenced to prison in 2010, the audit found.
In sum, Horowitz said, his office found that EOUSA inaccurately reported eight categories of statistics by significant margins.
The IG assigns most of the blame to bad record-keeping, but the numbers make this a rather difficult explanation to take seriously. The DoJ classified 193 defendants in 2009 and 236 in 2010 as terror-related, which hardly seems like an unmanageable set of data to properly classify. The scale on this is much lower than, say, the average daily submissions in a state-based ObamaCare exchange. If the DoJ can’t keep accurate records on this scale, what are we to think about HHS?
The failures look rather suspicious, too. In the 2009 sample, the IG reviewed 103 cases, and found 11 failures. Nine of the eleven cases had been adjudicated in 2008, one of which turned out to be a drug case rather than terror, but somehow credit went to Eric Holder’s DoJ. Two of the cases were acquittals. That’s a pretty high rate of failure for just 103 lines in a database.
Nor does this come in a vacuum. Last month, Justice had to admit inflating conviction statistics in mortgage-fraud prosecutions, a particularly sensitive area for the Obama administration. They offered that admission in a Friday night data dump that Bloomberg caught, as they had long been suspicious of Justice’s claims:
The Justice Department made a long-overdue disclosure late Friday: Last year when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder boasted about the successes that a high-profile task force racked up pursuing mortgage fraud, the numbers he trumpeted were grossly overstated.
We’re not talking small differences here. Originally the Justice Department said 530 people were charged criminally as part of a year-long initiative by the multi-agency Mortgage Fraud Working Group. It now says the actual figure was 107 — or 80 percent less. Holder originally said the defendants had victimized more than 73,000 American homeowners. That number was revised to 17,185, while estimates of homeowner losses associated with the frauds dropped to $95 million from $1 billion. …
The government restated the statistics because it got caught red-handed by a couple of nosy reporters. Last October, two days after Holder first publicized the numbers, Phil Mattingly and Tom Schoenberg of Bloomberg News broke the story that some of the cases included in the Justice Department’s tally occurred before the initiative began in October 2011. At least one was filed more than two years before President Barack Obama took office.
Nor was that the first time, as Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil reminded us last month:
This was the second time, mind you, that Holder’s Justice Department had pulled a stunt like this. In December 2010, Holder held a press conference to tout a supposed sweep by the president’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force called “Operation Broken Trust.” (The mortgage-fraud program was part of the same task force.) As with the mortgage-fraud initiative, Broken Trust wasn’t actually a sweep. All the Justice Department did was lump together a bunch of small-fry, penny-ante fraud cases that had nothing to do with one another. Then it held a press gathering.
At least on that occasion, the Justice Department promptly provided me with a list of the defendants’ names and case details when I asked for them. That is how I was able to determine for a December 2010 column that the government’s Broken Trust numbers were inflated. Among the handful of cases on the list that I spot-checked, one defendant was sentenced to probation before the operation’s supposed start date. Another person on the list had no record of criminal charges. Other cases had nothing to do with any actions by the task force. The Justice Department still hasn’t restated the Broken Trust numbers — even though those statistics clearly were in error, too.
If this is inadvertently “shoddy record-keeping,” it looks like there’s a pattern to it at Justice — and a purpose.