WASHINGTON — An internal Justice Department investigation dismissed Friday as "unfounded" allegations of corruption by a federal convict and government witness against the current chief and a former chief of the federal organized crime strike force in Los Angeles.
Michael E. Shaheen Jr., counsel of the department's watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility, said he had found nothing to support the allegations that James D. Henderson, head of the strike force since 1978, and Richard P. Crane Jr., chief of the strike force from 1973 to 1975, had ties to organized crime.
Shaheen summarized his findings on the allegations of Jerry Vann, whose real name is Gerald Van Hoorelbeke, in a 22-page letter to Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, which sparked the investigation. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Times.
Shaheen said his office had found that Vann's allegations, which Rangel's committee referred to the Justice Department in November, 1983, were "unfounded. Neither Strike Force Chief James Henderson nor any other Strike Force attorney--current or former--engaged in any of the alleged misconduct."
Henderson said Friday that he was pleased that he had been formally cleared. Although he has no "definitive plans" to leave government, he said, "it's the kind of thing you think about a lot" after 13 years as a strike force prosecutor.
Crane, now a private attorney in Los Angeles, said he was "pleased by the results (of the investigation), but not the least bit surprised."
"From the beginning I said there was nothing to this, and the investigation has borne this out," he said.
Assistant Atty. Gen. Stephen S. Trott, who knew of Vann when Trott served as U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, said: "Based on my knowledge of Vann and the cases in question, it was clear to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was off on a disgusting personal vendetta designed to smear honest men."
Vann said Friday from a prison pay phone: "I didn't expect very much of these people because they live in the core of mendacity."
The House committee's chief of staff, John T. Cusack, said: "Our position is that we accept nothing until we have a letter report" to review. The letter was sent by messenger to the panel Friday but the offices were closed for Good Friday, Cusack said.
Vann, who is scheduled to be released from a federal prison in the Midwest in October, has been waging a four-year battle against the strike force, which he blames for not obtaining a reduction in his 16-year sentence for assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer and conspiracy after he served as a government witness in some arson and drug cases.
Through newspaper reports and the House committee, Vann alleged that past and present members of the strike force have ties to organized crime. Shaheen's letter said Vann tried to portray Crane as a "Las Vegas, mob-connected lawyer who uses his relationship with Henderson to obtain breaks for his clients."
Shaheen noted that Crane has represented various clients tied to the Las Vegas casino industry but that no information had been developed indicating the clients are organized crime figures.
"We found no evidence to support the various allegations made regarding the relationship between Henderson and Crane," Shaheen said. "Some of the statements made by the Select Committee and Jerry Vann regarding Crane are simply incorrect."
"Likewise, certain claims made about Henderson were wrong--that he was Crane's subordinate when Crane was strike force chief and that he and Crane are close personal friends," Shaheen said.
Vann also charged that Henderson had failed to act on information that "Arab money was used to ensure the election of Gov. George Deukmejian as attorney general in 1978" and that "former Gov. Jerry Brown, through a political aide, had fixed a narcotics case in Hawaii for $10,000."
Agents from the FBI's Los Angeles office interviewed Vann about the allegations on Oct. 7, 1982, Shaheen said, and then reported to FBI headquarters that they would conduct no investigation "because of the time which had passed since the alleged acts had taken place and because the allegations (in the report's words) 'cannot be corroborated independently of Horrelbeke's (sic) statements.'
" 'Van Hoorelbeke has been known to be a name dropper in the past to lend credibility to his statements and to further his own desires,' " Shaheen quoted the FBI summary as saying.