Criminals beware. Delaware County’s Patrick Meehan has a jail cell with your name on it.
For all his interest in starching white-collar crime, Patrick Meehan has yet to shed his salt-of-the-earth work ethic. The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania still mows his own lawn in Drexel Hill.
Even the antique desk Meehan’s 6-foot-2 frame dwarfs has blue-collar roots. It belonged to his paternal grandfather, a bank security guard. Meehan’s father, Leo, passed it on when his son was elected Delaware County’s district attorney in 1995—a term most memorable for its successful prosecutions of the John E. du Pont and Aimee Willard cases.
“He didn’t use it at work—only at home,” says the 51-year-old Temple University alum of the heirloom. “Now I’m proud to work from his desk.”
With the view Meehan enjoys, you’d think it would be easy for anyone in the justice field to be inspired—if not a little distracted. From the wall of windows in his 12th-floor office, he can look out onto Independence Hall on the corner of 6th and Chestnut streets, with the Liberty Bell just across the street.
Once inside, amid dark leather seats and couches, encased ship models and a wall-mounted baseball bat, you’ll find many pictures of Meehan’s sports-crazed sons, 13-year-old twins Patrick and Jack and 12-year-old Colin, who swim, ski and play water polo, lacrosse and baseball. You’ll also find more than 200 lawyers and support staff. At the moment, they’ve just nabbed the National Archives & Records intern who was stealing historical documents and selling them on eBay. CNN is on hold, waiting for Meehan’s comment.
“It could rival anything else we’ve had come out of this office,” says Rich Manieri, Meehan’s public affairs director.
It’s clear that who Meehan is drives him—maybe in a different way than his predecessors, who served this district beginning with Francis Fisher Kane in 1913. All 28 have portraits in black-and-white (like the law they upheld) hanging on the outside lobby’s wall alongside color portraits of George W. Bush and his embattled attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. On June 11, Gonzales averted the political posturing of a no-confidence vote in the U.S. Senate, which stemmed from his controversial firing of eight of Meehan’s equals earlier this year.
Since his appointment by the president in 2001, Meehan has boosted his office’s visibility and vigor. “He’s a tall man, so he looks good in a suit,” says Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe McGettigan before getting serious. “He’s Action Jackson. He has passion, takes on difficult cases—and he’s been willing to step forward and take the difficult role in public. He knows he’s the executive.”
WHEN PAT MEEHAN IS looking at you—or out for you—you know it.
He has a stereotypically reddish Irishman’s face and pronounced eyebrows that are much darker than his almost white hair.
“He’s not just a place-holder,” says Laurie Magid, his first assistant U.S. attorney. “He’s not just taking cases as they come in, but looking at cases that can make the most difference. It’s important, though, to understand that when Pat is out in the press, he wants to make it known that if you do that [crime], too, you will be caught, too. Don’t take bribes—you’re going to get caught.”
Both McGettigan and Magid followed Meehan from the Delaware County district attorney’s office to the U.S. attorney’s office, whose jurisdiction covers Philadelphia and its four immediate surrounding counties, plus Lancaster, Berks, Lehigh and Northampton counties. Magid was teaching law at Villanova University when Meehan first tapped her to handle the high-powered du Pont appeal. “Immediately, I found Pat to be so interested and engaged,” she says. “The more I worked for him, the more I wanted to.”
Largely it’s funding—and, subsequently, staffing—that allows Meehan to expand beyond routine crime and into white-collar corruption and fraud cases. “Now, it’s a joy to have the resources we do,” Magid says.
Thus far, it’s led to lots of headlines.
Meehan’s office has already jailed former City of Philadelphia treasurer Corey Kemp and former Philadelphia Councilman Rick Mariano. He’s also announced indictments of state Sen. Vincent Fumo and Philadelphia Mayor John Street’s brother, Milton Street. Meehan has charged Fumo, a powerful Democrat whose trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 8, 2008, with 139 counts—mostly fraud, tax and obstruction of justice offenses.
“When you prosecute those kinds of cases, it affects corruption because it impacts the entire community,” Meehan says. “When a businessman thinks it’s not worthwhile to invest in the community, or invest in a project because the game is rigged—or he has to pay someone off first—we’re all affected. We’re attacking it on multiple fronts, not just the big guys. ‘Pay to play’ is not in the best interest of anyone.”
Yet Meehan has taken a well-rounded approach to administering justice, whether it’s identity theft, gang activity along the Route 222 corridor from Allentown to Harrisburg-York, human trafficking and immigration, or crimes against women and those he terms “uniquely vulnerable”— seniors and children (particularly with regard to Internet safety).
His agenda literally goes from the cradle to the grave. One day, it’s victims of violence; the next, it might be nursing-home care, predatory lenders or retirees paying too much for prescription drugs.
Meehan’s work in healthcare fraud is nation-ally recognized: His office has achieved total settlements of more than a half-billion dollars over the last two years against several of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefits managers. It’s not the monetary figure that’s significant. Rather, it’s the end result: The industry is now self-policing itself.
“I have to try to affect all issues at one time,” Meehan says. “I have to take a bigger-picture approach. It’s how I get inspired.”
In implementing the Department of Justice’s signature Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative, Meehan has earned unprecedented cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies throughout his district to bring far-more-severe federal prosecution penalties—many involving gun crime. He’s also teaming with the City of Philadelphia on its Youth Violence Reduction Project, which targets young people at risk of killing or being killed.
Murder statistics are one thing, but Meehan’s focus remains “behind the curtain.” He must address what’s wrong with the system. Typically, violent crime involves 18- to 24-year-old males (or younger), usually from impoverished backgrounds and bad homes. But what about children with parents in prison? Statistics show that the offspring of incarcerated adults are among the most likely to go to jail themselves. And what about unmarried teenage mothers and their kids? They have an increased risk of becoming entrenched in poverty, family dysfunction and future trouble.
“We need to change these cycles,” Meehan says, pointing out that doing so requires a coordinated approach and joint ownership of the “challenge in leadership,” all while knowing his office can always do more “as the feds, so to speak.”
U.S. attorneys can steer their offices in certain directions, but they don’t send out teams to “find cases,” says Magid. And no one is targeted, Meehan emphasizes. Rather, assistant U.S. attorneys go where incoming evidence takes them. Everyone and everything is a potential leak.
“We don’t say, ‘Let’s see if we can get this guy,’” Meehan says. “But, yes, we target drugs and violence. And we use this office’s resources to ensure that the political system is honest, clean and fair.”
Meehan views his style as reasoned, deliberate and thoughtful. He doesn’t just leap, yet he has instinct and a precise, measured “surgical” vision he articulates with an infectious confidence. He’s an enabler and a communicator—and he’s not afraid to fail.
Nonetheless, Meehan is an appointee subject to termination at the whim of the president. U.S. attorneys serve four-year terms, but not necessarily as long as a given president serves. Meehan’s second term will extend beyond Bush’s. Others in his office—aside from supervisors—are entitled to jobs with or without Meehan.
Bill Clinton fired all 93 U.S. attorneys at the beginning of his first term, and there needn’t be a reason for Bush to fire Meehan, just as eight others lost their jobs in the highly public brouhaha surrounding Gonzales, allegedly because they wouldn’t investigate Democrats. Meehan calls the recent firings a “self-inflicted wound.” In fact, he’s insulted by the assumption that any of his colleagues’ offices could be politicked or bought. “The Justice Department is responsible for creating confidence,” he says. “But now that we’ve opened those doors, we have to allay those concerns.”
SOME HAVE IMPLIED THAT President Bush may have directed Patrick Meehan to go after Vincent Fumo. “That’s not the Pat Meehan I know,” says Arthur Donato Jr., a defense attorney in Media who served on Meehan’s transition team when he became district attorney.
While Donato might disagree with Meehan on all political issues, he believes Meehan’s views are “heartfelt”—and “he’s not toeing the line for someone else.”
Donato is representing three (and perhaps as many as six) of those subpoenaed by the grand jury in the Fumo case, though not Fumo himself. “The case has everything,” Donato says.
But Donato wouldn’t go so far as to call it Meehan’s most ambitious work. “He’s more concerned with quality-of-life issues,” Donato says. “You’ll see him at a press conference after a drug bust or after taking guns off the streets. He wants you to be able to walk down the street without ducking behind the bushes—or to go into the corner bar and have a beer and sandwich, if that’s what you want to do.”
Meehan has such a capacity for humanity that it’s sometimes hard to believe he’s a lawyer. “He can be a lawyer, but he can also be anything he wants to be,” Donato says. “He’s an ambitious guy. He wants to go places. I’ve met lots of guys who want to go places, but the difference with Pat is that, as a DA, he knew his role; as a U.S. attorney, he knows his role. He’s never tried to carry an agenda to a [political] extreme. He has a wise and mature view of political realities, which is rare.”
Meehan will only say that when he does leave office, he’ll continue his career in public service—with an emphasis on the word “public.” His wife, Carolyn, a private-duty nurse in some of Philadelphia’s worst neighborhoods, shares his blue-collar commitment to service. “She laughs at me,” he says. “She sees the real problems. Each night’s a very grounding experience for me to see her so engaged.”
After Meehan earned his justice degree from Temple University School of Law in 1986, he was an associate with the law firm of Dilworth Paxson. Even as a young man, he was conscious of what it meant to grow up in Cheltenham with two loving parents, Leo and Julia, and to pursue an education in a country with numerous freedoms. Without doubt, Meehan inherited his sense of ethics from his parents.
“You think of a thousand things—like the first time I took quarters from my father’s bureau,” says Meehan, the second of three sons (he also has a sister).
Though he can’t recall the penalty, he knows his dad taught him about honesty. Then, with age and worldly experience, he turned to other role models, including Arlen Specter, John Heinz, Ron Castille and Ernie Preate, all of whom were so deeply engaged in the challenges of our time—“ones they didn’t step back from, but rather moved into to become agents for change.”
At first, though, it seemed Meehan would gravitate toward a sports career. After playing ice hockey at Bowdoin College in Maine, he put off law school to pursue an officiating career in the National Hockey League. He spent two years on the NHL staff (and has group photos in his office to prove it), though he only worked preseason games. “If there were injuries, I was ready,” he says.
The lessons in officiating were formative. He still officiates in his office every day. “Until it happens, no one knows what it’s like to have 15,000 people unload on you,” says Meehan of his time as an official. “You stand confident, have a sense of what’s right, and recognize that you’ll have the respect in the long run if you’re fair and call it straight.”
Outside the hockey rink, Meehan got involved in political campaigns, including a Philadelphia mayoral race for David Marston in 1979 and Roy Zimmerman’s bid for attorney general a year later. He’d eventually serve as Specter’s senior counsel and executive director.
Then, as Delaware County’s district attorney, Meehan created the Special Victims Unit for Domestic Violence, which saw to it that prosecutions could proceed without victims having to testify while also encouraging them to apply for protection from abuse. He was instrumental in expanding the number of Youth Aid Panels for first-time offenders, and in establishing a truancy project to cut daytime crime. Meehan’s efforts led to the establishment of the Department of Justice’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in Pennsylvania.
But not everyone was so impressed with Meehan—at least not at first. Donato joined Meehan’s transition team with few expectations. “I found out that he’s just a high-quality guy,” Donato says. “He’s fair-minded, very charismatic and knows what he’s talking about. His issues have substance, and he sees other human beings as valuable. When he laughs, he’s happy. It’s not an act.”
When Meehan came to the Delaware County office, he didn’t have a wealth of prosecutorial experience. But within a year, he’d “categorically proven himself as a good, smart lawyer and administrator,” says Donato.
Over the years, Donato has had cases against Meehan’s deputies and assistants, and he has few complaints. “It all comes from the top,” Donato says. “His office is respectable, even to the adversaries. He’s as fair with defendants as you can ask.”
Not surprisingly, Meehan agrees that he’s fair, honest and provides due process—but he also holds defendants accountable. “Criminals are not fools,” says Meehan. “They know when they’ve been justly convicted.” Through it all, Meehan has always believed he’s owed his wealth of opportunities a debt of service. “Each person asks, ‘What can I do?’” he says. “I didn’t immediately say I’d get involved in elected office, nor years ago did I think I’d become a U.S. attorney. But I did make a pledge to become engaged in something I found an affinity for. This job fulfills that obligation.”
Meehan’s tenure as a U.S. attorney began on Sept. 17, 2001, six days after 9-11 and a day ahead of the Washington, D.C., anthrax scare. From the start, Meehan—and the nation—had immediate challenges. “There was a great deal of uncertainty,” he says. “We were protecting ourselves against a repeat [attack].”
During that first year, under a presidential executive order, Meehan formed his district’s Anti-Terrorism Task Force. Later renamed the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council, it was a coordinated partnership in all districts among federal, state and local law enforcement and emergency responders. “As a nation, we were thrown into the fire,” Meehan recalls. “The good part is that there wasn’t a repeat. The bad part is that we’re living in a dangerous world—a world where people strap bombs to their backs. And we’re going to face this reality into the future.”
IT’S MID-APRIL AND the guest speaker at the Interfaith Housing Development Corporation of Bucks County’s 20th anniversary dinner is enjoying a hearty round of applause. “I wish I was running for something,” Meehan says.
He begins his speech by touching on the massacre at Virginia Tech, which happened just two days earlier. He calls on all those in attendance—and beyond—to return to their communities and “command a sense of comfort.”
It’s been a breakfast-lunch-and-dinner day, starting with a meal at Greater Philadelphia Cares before moving onto lunch in Wayne at Valley Forge Military Academy & College, where he and his three boys attended a jazz band concert.
The next morning’s highlight: a training session for Security on Campus, Inc., the locally based, nationally heralded clearinghouse established by Bryn Mawr’s Howard and Connie Clery after their daughter Jeanne was brutally raped and murdered at Lehigh University. “[The timing] is horribly relevant,” says Meehan, before praising the Clerys. “They were the first ones who had the courage to take this on—and to encourage best practices [on campus].”
Meehan has his own way of mustering the courage to tackle the issues he faces. He focuses on a problem in the morning so that, by the time he goes to bed, he’s confident he’ll be able to make a difference.
“I know I’ll try,” says Meehan. “But let the people judge if I did or didn’t succeed.”