Benjamin Richard Civiletti, born in Peekskill, NY on July 17, 1935. With thoughts of becoming a doctor, he headed to Johns Hopkins University where he quickly realized a career in medicine was not for him. He received a bachelor's degree in psychology then attended the University of Maryland Law School where he obtained his law degree in 1961. Straight from the classroom, a 26 year old Ben Civiletti landed a job as a law clerk for Maryland Federal judge Calvin Chestnut.
A year later, he became an assistant US Attorney serving under newly appointed US Attorney for Maryland, Joseph Tydings. Banking scandals apparently have become Civiletti’s specialty since the good old days. He successfully prosecuted high profile savings and loans cases securing a fraud conviction of the then speaker of the house in the Maryland State legislature, Gordon Boone.
In 1965 Civiletti joined firm of Venable, Baetjer & Howard adding his name to the firm’s plaque. There he became one of the pioneers in the field of “private prosecutions”. His early work included investigations of Baltimore jails and a probe into official abuses by a local judge.
In 1977, Civiletti left Venable to resume his prosecutorial career, now as an assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department Criminal Division in Washington. According to Civiletti, he was persuaded to leave a lucrative private practice by the then Attorney General Griffin Bell, who explained to the 42 year old lawyer that he could make much more money after serving in the high government post.
In 1978, Civiletti was commissioned to investigate the cocaine case involving White House Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan and Steve Rubell, one of the owners of the New York nightclub Studio 54. “That was an awful case” said Civiletti in an interview. “I had to determine whether or not there was any credible evidence that a federal crime had been committed and whether there was a need for further investigation. Counsel for Steve Rubell, one of the owners of the New York nightclub Studio 54, had said he had sensitive information about a high government official. The nightclub owners were under investigation for tax evasion, and Rubell's lawyer said that if we did not prosecute then Rubell would not disclose the information. We told them to go to hell, but I had to investigate the allegation under the Independent Counsel Statute. I immediately began a 90-day investigation and had FBI agents interrogate everyone involved. We found that the people who said they had such information were bums. The witness who allegedly saw and had a tape recording of Hamilton had a criminal record for narcotics violations. I was able to determine there was no credible evidence of a federal crime. But there were alleged witnesses who had not been interviewed or who claimed they had other evidence, so we had to seek a special prosecutor under the law. Fortunately Arthur Christy was appointed by the court. He did a quick and quiet investigation and no prosecution ever resulted.”
Civiletti himself became a subject of media scrutiny in connection with the investigation of Carter’s brother, Billy Carter, who acted as an agent for Libya but failed to register as a foreign agent, as required by law. At a press conference, when asked if he talked to the president about his brother’s investigation, Civiletti said “no”. That was a lie. Much later, Civiletti admitted that lying to the press about his conversations with the president was “a bad mistake.”
Documents in the Senate Subcommittee investigating Carter’s brother Billy, suggest that Civiletti ordered the Justice Department investigators to hold the investigation.
In 1979, Bell recommended Civiletti to Carter as his heir for the post of US Attorney General. His nomination was vigorously opposed by members of the Latino community because Civiletti refused to seek indictments of Texas policemen in a widely reported case of police brutality and violations of civil rights. The Senate however confirmed Civiletti’s nomination and he served as the US Attorney General until 1981.
When Carter lost re-election, Civiletti returned to Venable.
Civiletti is the American Bar Association representative to the United Nations and heads a commission on the international criminal court. He also enjoys serving on corporate boards, such as Bethlehem Steel, MBNA, and Wackenhut.
Married to Gaile Lundgren Civiletti and has three children. — END
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