Sal Perricone, the federal prosecutor whose career imploded after revelations that he was making anonymous online comments about people his office was targeting, is now claiming that he posted many of those comments under the influence of the drug Ambien and does not remember doing it.
In a federal court filing this week in Baton Rouge, Perricone argued that he should be allowed to continue practicing law despite the commenting scandal. He apologized for his missteps but also blamed them in part on a side effect of the common insomnia medication.
“As embarrassing as it is,” Perricone wrote, “I do not remember making many of the comments ascribed to me.”
Though Perricone resigned from the U.S. Attorney’s Office more than two years ago, he had never before publicly claimed that his comments were drug-induced or made any other attempt to disown them.
In the years since they came to light, his often incendiary online postings have cropped up again and again in prominent federal cases, giving defense attorneys an opening to argue that prosecutors had attempted to gain an unfair advantage by waging a secret public relations battle against their clients.
Everyone from former Mayor Ray Nagin to Renee Gill Pratt, the former New Orleans city councilwoman, has tried to avoid jail time by raising the issue of Perricone’s comments. So far, the tactic has mostly failed, but when it has succeeded, the impact has been huge.
The government dropped a criminal probe into landfill owner Fred Heebe after Heebe unmasked Perricone and his boss, former First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann, as anonymous commenters. And a judge awarded a new trial, largely on the basis of the commenting by Mann and Perricone, to the five police officers convicted of shooting unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu even used the scandal to try to free himself of a federal court order spelling out mandatory reforms at the New Orleans Police Department, arguing that Perricone had tainted a federal investigation into the local force.
In his court brief this week, Perricone said most of his comments on The Times-Picayune’s website, nola.com — 99.56 percent of them, in fact — had nothing to do with his work as a prosecutor. “None of my comments contained secret information,” he wrote. “Nor did I betray any grand jury information.”
But his claims about using Ambien represented an entirely fresh twist on the drama.
His court filing refers vaguely to a “change in my behavior” in the past several years and says that he “never slept more than 3 or 4 hours a night” over the past six years. “I thought I could handle it on my own, but I was foolish,” Perricone wrote.
“I was prescribed a drug known as Ambien, but it had some side effects, which I never knew about,” he continued. “To put simply, one can do things and not remember it the next day. It happened to me many times.”
Though it was not clear whether the incident is related, Perricone was involved in a minor traffic accident in 2010 that also apparently involved some type of medical condition.
In that case, Perricone fled the scene after rear-ending another vehicle on St. Charles Avenue, according to a report by WWL-TV, but a later accident report said a traffic cop who eventually caught up with him “did not issue a citation” because of Perricone’s “medical illness.”
Perricone’s disclosure about his Ambien use came after Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson moved to cut both Perricone and Mann from the rolls of the federal court in the Middle District of Louisiana, a development first reported by WWL-TV. That step would bar either of them from practicing law there.
Back in May, both former prosecutors agreed to be removed from the rolls in the Eastern District, based in New Orleans, in lieu of other potential disciplinary measures stemming from the commenting scandal, but there was no indication at the time that they would be dropped in any other jurisdiction.
In any case, Perricone apparently is hoping to leave open the possibility of working as a lawyer somewhere in the future, urging Jackson to consider the entirety of his 27-year career in federal law enforcement.
“Again, I am sorry to have caused all this pain and work,” Perricone wrote. “My career was shattered and my life has changed. Today, I am trying to rebuild my life and pray this court allows me to stay enrolled as an active member.”