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FBI whistle-blower leaves, gets $1.16 million

Whitehurst
Whitehurst will receive more than $1 million from the FBI   
February 27, 1998
Web posted at: 12:16 p.m. EST (1716 GMT)

In this story:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Frederic Whitehurst, the whistle-blower who triggered an overhaul of the FBI's world-renowned crime lab and claimed he was singled out for retaliation, leaves the bureau on Friday with a settlement worth more than $1.16 million.

The chemist and lab supervisor who once was the FBI's top bomb residue expert returned to work Thursday after a yearlong paid suspension. Whitehurst's voluntary resignation a day later comes as part of a deal that also settles his charges that the bureau targeted him because he pointed out the lab's failings.

A senior FBI official, requesting anonymity, said, "This was the right thing to do and it allows us to move on to building a new lab under our new lab director," former nuclear weapons scientist Donald Kerr.

Settlement details

In the 16-page settlement the FBI agreed to pay $1.166 million now to purchase annuities that would pay the 50-year-old chemist-agent annual amounts equal to the salary and pension he would have earned had he kept working until normal FBI retirement at age 57.

Whitehurst will receive:

  • $260,000 immediately

  • $95,000 for each of the next seven years (until age 57)

  • $50,000 for each of the following five years (until age 62)

  • $25,000 a year for life, after age 62

The FBI also will pay $258,580 in legal fees to Whitehurst's lawyers, and the Justice Department will stop considering disciplinary action against him.

In a brief statement acknowledging Whitehurst's return to work and his decision to resign as of Friday, the FBI said, "Dr. Whitehurst played a role in identifying specific areas (of the lab) to be examined, and some of the issues he noted resulted in both internal and external reviews."

The FBI admitted no liability or fault in the settlement document, which called the payments compensation for any economic damage Whitehurst might suffer by leaving the bureau before retirement age.

Vindication

Lab
Although Whitehurst won the right to return to the FBI, he chose instead to resign immediately as part of the deal   

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that oversees the FBI, has been harshly critical of the bureau's handling of the allegations of problems in the crime lab.

He praised the settlement as vindication for Whitehurst. icon (100K/9 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

"The FBI would have preferred to get rid of the messenger" Grassley added. He hailed Whitehurst for "immense public service" and said he had been "unfairly attacked by the FBI and Justice Department's inspector general."

Whistle-blower got results -- and criticism

For 10 years Whitehurst complained mostly in vain about lab practices. But his efforts finally led last April to a scathing 500-page study of the lab by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich.

Bromwich blasted the famed lab for flawed scientific work and inaccurate, pro-prosecution testimony in major cases, including the Oklahoma City and World Trade Center bombings.

Bromwich recommended major reforms, discipline for five agents that is still under consideration and transfer of Whitehurst to other duties.

But he also criticized Whitehurst for "overstated and incendiary" allegations of intentional misconduct that Bromwich did not find.

Whitehurst had been suspended with pay since January 1997 and was facing disciplinary action for refusing to cooperate with an investigation of how some of his allegations leaked to a magazine.

What's next

Whitehurst is to become founding director of the National Whistleblower Center's Forensic Justice Project, which will review past FBI lab work for trial errors and will monitor the FBI's ongoing effort to obtain its first accreditation of the laboratory by outside experts.

Although dropping his claims of FBI retaliation, Whitehurst continues to press lawsuits alleging the FBI and Justice Department violated his rights under the Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act. Those cases are in mediation.

Hoping to identify defendants who may have been harmed by flawed lab work or testimony, Whitehurst and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers are suing to obtain data from the Justice Department investigation.

The FBI has asserted that no prosecutions will be lost because of the lab problems. Justice Department officials have said none have been lost so far but the final outcome remains to be seen.

Government witness lists were revised in the Oklahoma City bombing and other prosecutions and at least one count in another trial was dropped, all after word of lab errors or mistakes came out.

Reporter Terry Friedan contributed to this report.

 
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