Feds see Jewish coroner as ‘flight risk

A Jewish coroner charged with fraud is a “flight risk to Israel,” according to a U.S. federal prosecutor.

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan opposed allowing Cyril Wecht, the former coroner in Allegheny County, Pa., now charged with fraud, to turn himself in.

Attorneys for Wecht are alleging that Buchanan targeted the Jewish coroner – a prominent Democrat well known for his testimony in celebrity murder cases – because of his party affiliation.

The charges come as Democrats, who now control Congress, are investigating allegations that the Bush administration has politicized the Justice Department through groundless prosecutions of Democrats and by firing U.S. attorneys who have refused to play along.

Talking Points Memo, a liberal investigative blog that reported the case Monday, said Buchanan is one of the ringleaders of efforts to fire prosecutors who resisted orders to target Democrats.

Wecht’s top lawyer, Dick Thornburgh, a former U.S. attorney general in a Republican administration, plans to testify in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday about what he believes to be the political motives in his client’s case. According to Thornburgh’s affidavit, posted on Talking Points Memo, he met with Buchanan, who is based in Pittsburgh, and other prosecutors in January 2006 to discuss the case.

Thornburgh tried to dissuade Buchanan from taking the case, saying the fraud allegations were best left to an ethics commission. According to defense lawyers, the allegations of improper travel expense accounting amount to less than $1,800. Buchanan said she would persist in the prosecution, calling it “one of the worst cases” of corruption she had encountered.

Thornburgh asked if Wecht could turn himself in and save himself the humiliation of arrest.

“To my surprise, Ms. Buchanan rejected my request, and indicated that she felt that Dr. Wecht was a ‘flight risk to Israel,’” Thornburgh wrote.

Thornburgh appealed to Buchanan’s superiors at the Justice Department, who allowed Wecht to turn himself in.

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