WASHINGTON – The head of the Justice Department's fraud section, Joshua Hochberg, will be named acting U.S. attorney in charge of the Enron case, and a white collar crime specialist from San Francisco will lead a national task force investigating the company.
The department announced the appointments Friday, a day after Attorney General John Ashcroft disqualified himself from the criminal investigation. Like President Bush, former Sen. Ashcroft has received campaign contributions from company executives.
The task force will be looking into possible fraud based on Enron's heavy reliance on off-balance-sheet partnerships that masked the company's financial problems before its collapse last fall.
The investigation will be headquartered in Washington and in Houston, Enron's hometown, although prosecutors in Houston have disqualified themselves, too, because of family ties to the company and its executives.
On Friday, Texas Attorney General John Cornyn withdrew from his office's inquiries into Enron. Watchdog groups had complained that Enron's political contributions to Cornyn cast doubt on his impartiality.
Cornyn said the first assistant attorney general, Howard Baldwin, a career government attorney who has worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations, will take over the state inquiry.
The Justice Department, meanwhile, is considering whether to house the Houston operation at the Houston office of the FBI, which is still involved in the investigation.
Hochberg is a career department attorney who has headed the fraud division since 1998. He will report to Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, head of the criminal division.
For the investigating task force, the department recruited Leslie Caldwell, a federal prosecutor who heads the criminal division in the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco.
Caldwell will divide her time between Washington, San Francisco and Houston.