Utah lawyer says Obama's A.G. pick behind cover-up
Accusation » Attorney general-nominee led effort to kill investigation into prisoner's death.
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A Salt Lake City lawyer who claims his brother was tortured and murdered in a federal prison is alleging that Attorney General nominee Eric Holder played a role in covering up the crime.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee members, lawyer Jesse Trentadue acknowledges the paper trail on Holder's actions "is scant," but claims he was the "point man" in an effort to persuade Congress to not investigate his brother's death. He is asking that Holder be questioned at his confirmation hearing next year about his alleged attempt to block efforts "to obtain a certain measure of justice for my brother's murder."

The Department of Justice, where Holder served as deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, referred a request for comment to the Presidential Transition Team (PTT). A statement issued by an Obama transition aide denied Trentadue's allegations.

"Multiple independent investigations have found that Kenneth Trentadue's death was a suicide," the statement said. "There is simply no evidence to support the claims in this letter."

The body of Kenneth Trentadue, who had served time for bank robbery and was being held on an alleged parole violation, was found hanging in his cell at the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City on Aug. 21, 1995.

Several investigations by state and federal agencies ruled the death a suicide, but his survivors believe Kenneth Trentadue was strangled with plastic handcuffs by guards who mistook him for an accomplice in the Oklahoma City bombing. Jesse Trentadue has filed several lawsuits alleging the Justice Department and the FBI are withholding records concerning his brother's death, which he requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

In his Dec. 19 letter, Trentadue says Justice Department e-mails show Holder planned to meet with Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch on Oct. 9, 1997, to defuse Judiciary Committee oversight and media inquiry into what happened the night Kenneth died. Hatch, then-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, announced the day after the meeting that he intended to schedule a hearing in the matter but never did, Trentadue writes.

In addition, Trentadue alleges that an FBI delegation, at the "apparent" urging of Holder, approached Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles to ask for assurances that there would be no Senate oversight.

Nickles said Monday that he was sympathetic to the Trentadues and at first was leaning toward their position, but he became convinced the death was a suicide and that there was no cover-up after inspecting Trentadue's prison cell, talking to the medical examiner and meeting with FBI agents in late 1997 and early 1998.

"I do remember reviewing the case and wanting to get to the bottom of it," said Nickles, now chairman of The Nickles Group, a Washington, D.C., consulting company. "This is the only case in my 24 years in the Senate which I was ever involved."

Hatch said Tuesday that at the time the case came to his attention, "federal officials were operating a formal investigation into the details of this issue and a Senate Judiciary Hearing would have been premature and counter-productive."

pmanson@sltrib.com

Family offers reward for information

A Salt Lake City attorney is offering a $250,000 reward for information that leads to the conviction of the person who allegedly killed his brother in a federal prison in Oklahoma City.

Jesse Trentadue and his family have announced the offer on the Internet at http://www.kmtreward.com, in newspaper ads in Oklahoma and Washington, D.C., and in a notice in Prison Legal Times, which circulates throughout the federal correctional system.

The death was ruled a suicide but family members believe Kenneth Michael Trentadue was murdered in 1995 after being mistaken for a conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing.