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Jack Keeney, longest serving federal prosecutor in U.S. history, dead at 89

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
updated 8:01 PM EST, Mon November 21, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John C. "Jack" Keeney joined the Justice Department as a rookie lawyer in 1951
  • He spent most of his career fighting organized crime
  • He played a key role in the Watergate investigation in the 1970s

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- John C. "Jack" Keeney, the longest serving federal prosecutor in the nation's history, has died at the age of 89, one year after he finally retired from the Justice Department.

Keeney's death was announced Monday by the Justice Department in a statement, but the statement did not provide details such as when the death occurred.

Keeney is a legend among the hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officials, prosecutors and lawyers across the country who have known him, worked with him, or simply read about him for 60 years.

"For the last six decades, Jack Keeney served the Department of Justice with dedication, integrity and an unshakeable commitment to the rule of law," said Attorney General Eric Holder.

Keeney rose from rookie lawyer in President Harry Truman's Justice Department in 1951 to his final job as deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division.

Keeney spent most of his career fighting organized crime and played a key role in the Watergate investigation in the 1970s. He received the Justice Department's highest honors.

In 2000, Attorney General Janet Reno and her then-deputy, Eric Holder, named a Justice Department building in downtown Washington in Keeney's honor, but he kept working.

Before becoming a lawyer, Keeney was a B-17 bomber pilot shot down and captured by the Nazis in the final months of World War II.

"Although Mr. Keeney will be sorely missed, his legacy will live on in the Justice Department building that bears his name, in the standard of excellence that he established in the Department's Criminal Division, in the work of countless attorneys that he mentored though his career, and in the inspiration that he will continue to provide public servants across our nation," Holder said.

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