After a yearlong investigation into charges that the Anti-Defamation League built a national intelligence network through illegal spying, Dist. Atty. Arlo Smith agreed Monday not to prosecute the organization in exchange for its payment of up to $75,000 to fight hate crimes.
The prominent Jewish civil rights group, which had denied allegations of illegally receiving confidential data from police sources, also pledged not to engage in improper information gathering activities in California.
The settlement represents a significant victory for the Anti-Defamation League, which had become caught up in an embarrassing case that highlighted its extensive intelligence operation and its infiltration of political and ethnic groups.
Under the settlement, the group will not regain possession of documents that contain privileged police information on about 1,400 groups and individuals. The materials had been seized from the group by San Francisco authorities during the investigation.
The Anti-Defamation League, which has long denied any wrongdoing, praised the agreement and said it would further the group's goal of combatting bigotry.
"The agreement we have reached confirms our consistent position that ADL has engaged in no misconduct of any kind," said national Chairman Melvin Salberg and national Director Abraham H. Foxman in a joint statement issued by their New York office.
However, individuals who had been targeted by the Anti-Defamation League accused the district attorney of caving in to political pressure and letting the group off too lightly. Often, ADL critics have said, people were spied upon simply because they took public positions at odds with the government of Israel.
"This demonstrates once again the enormous political clout of the Israeli lobby in America," said former Republican Rep. Pete McCloskey, who was a target of ADL information-gathering and has filed one of two civil suits pending against the group. "It's an unusual result for what appeared to be an ironclad case. One wonders whether all defendants are treated the same under the law."
The settlement came as a San Francisco County grand jury was about to call Anti-Defamation League employees to testify in a criminal investigation spearheaded by prosecutor Smith.
Smith, who initially said he would follow the investigation wherever it led, could not be reached for comment.
But a source close to the probe said prosecutors were hampered by a recent civil court ruling that the Anti-Defamation League had certain legal protections as a journalistic organization because it publishes reports among its many functions.
The prosecution's case also was jeopardized by a contention that FBI wiretaps of key figures were not conducted legally, the source said.
The intelligence gathering activities of the Anti-Defamation League came to light last year when the FBI stumbled onto the fact that Roy Bullock, an ADL operative, and San Francisco Police Officer Tom Gerard, a former employee of the CIA, were selling information to the South African government.
After questioning by the FBI, Gerard fled to the Philippines, leaving behind a briefcase filled with false IDs and information about death squads in Central America, where he was once stationed. He later returned to the United States and was arrested in San Francisco, where he is the only one facing charges in the case.
Voluminous documents released by prosecutors last spring revealed that over decades, Bullock, a San Francisco art dealer, had gathered information on nearly 10,000 individuals and more than 950 groups, spanning the spectrum from the Ku Klux Klan to the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.
Bullock's techniques included infiltrating groups, sorting through trash of target groups and trading information with police agencies up and down the West Coast.
Bullock admitted joining with Gerard to sell information to the South African government on people such as House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ron Dellums (D-Berkeley), receiving $16,000 in cash over a four-year period.
Under the settlement, no charges will be brought against Bullock, whom Anti-Defamation League officials have praised as "damn good."
Under the agreement, the Anti-Defamation League will pay up to $50,000 in reward money to solve hate crimes and as much as $25,000 more to train Smith's prosecutors how to teach schoolchildren about the evils of bigotry.