Russoniello Reportedly to Quit U.S. Attorney’s Post
U.S. Atty. Joseph Russoniello, the outspoken and controversial chief federal prosecutor in coastal Northern California for the last seven years, said he expects to leave office soon.
A legal newspaper, The San Francisco Banner Daily Journal, quoted Russoniello on Tuesday as saying he believes that he will resign shortly after finishing his defense of immigration workplace raids in search of illegal aliens. Trial of the case began Tuesday in San Jose and is likely to last several months.
If he is not appointed to a Justice Department post in the Bush Administration, Russoniello said, his options include running for state attorney general or mayor of San Francisco.
Last July, he said he had been offered a high-ranking Treasury Department job, with supervisory authority over the Secret Service and Customs Service, but the offer had been withdrawn because of his plans to denounce a proposal to drop drug charges against Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega.
Russoniello, 47, a former county prosecutor in San Francisco, was appointed U.S. attorney by President Reagan in 1982. He was reappointed in 1986 for a term that expires in September, 1990.
Russoniello personally handled the retrial of former Peoples Temple member Larry Layton and won his conviction on charges of conspiring with the Rev. Jim Jones to murder Rep. Leo Ryan after the California congressman’s fact-finding visit to the cult’s jungle headquarters in 1978. After Ryan’s death, Jones and 912 followers died in a murder-suicide ritual.
Russoniello’s office also successfully prosecuted former Navy radioman Jerry Whitworth on espionage charges as a member of the John Walker spy ring, which sold Navy communications secrets to the Soviet Union.
One of Russoniello’s first acts in office was to order an investigation of suspected illegal voting by non-citizens by asking local election officials to send him a sampling of applications for bilingual ballots.
The investigation produced no prosecutions but prompted a lawsuit by civil rights groups alleging that Russoniello tried to intimidate minority voters. The suit was eventually dismissed.