Inquiry Is Set on Alleged Quashing of Official's Indictment
WASHINGTON--A House subcommittee is investigating allegations that the former U.S. Attorney for Washington, Joseph diGenova, engaged in political favoritism by quashing a criminal case his office was pursuing against Madeleine C. Will, the Education Department's assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services.
The allegations surfaced publicly for the first time last week in a television news report on WUSA-TV here. In that broadcast, the station reported that Mr. diGenova had decided not to bring charges against Ms. Will two years ago even though a top prosecutor in his office had recommended continuing the case.
The Justice Department had been investigating allegations that Ms. Will allowed a former aide to become a "ghost employee'' on her office payroll. The aide, Elease Greenhalgh, continued to receive a government salary for nearly four months after she had stopped working in the office.
In a civil settlement with the Justice Department last May, Ms. Will paid back $12,000 of the $15,000 in unearned wages drawn by Ms. Greenhalgh. (See Education Week, June 10, 1987.)
She also reimbursed the government later for $537 in improper expense claims and for using a government car and driver for personal business.
At the time, Ms. Will--who is the wife of the syndicated columnist George F. Will--denied any wrongdoing and blamed the "crush of paperwork'' for her inattention to such administrative details. She also said the improper expense claims were prepared by a secretary she trusted.
The assistant secretary last week declined to comment on the new charges of political favoritism made in the television report.
"The report deals with allegations over what did or did not go on in the Department of Justice,'' said Loye Miller, a spokesman for Secretary of Education William J. Bennett. "Our only knowledge was that this was settled with Justice over a year ago.''
The news report was disputed, however, by Mr. diGenova, who resigned his post as U.S. Attorney earlier this year to become a lawyer in the private sector.
"The suggestion that there was any type of political interference is totally outrageous, without foundation, and an insult'' to his former office, he said.
Mr. diGenova said that prosecutors in his office had disagreed on whether the case should be pursued as a civil or criminal matter. He said he told them to reach a consensus and report back to him. They recommended handling the case as a civil matter, he said, because "there was not sufficient evidence to obtain a criminal conviction.''
Mr. diGenova said he was never contacted about the case by either of the Wills, the White House, the Justice Department, or the Education Department.
"The only people I spoke to about this case were my employees,'' he said. "We don't change the standards because someone is prominent.''
Ms. Will's husband is a frequent luncheon companion of Nancy Reagan and helped prepare President Reagan for debates during his election campaigns.
The matter is expected to get a public airing on June 23 during a hearing scheduled by the House Subcommittee on Human Resources and Intergovernmental Relations, which is chaired by Rep. Ted Weiss, Democrat of New York.
An aide to Mr. Weiss said the primary focus of the hearing will be operations in the Education Department's office of the inspector general, which conducted its own investigation of Ms. Will last year.
Staff Writer Julie Miller also contributed to this report.