A whistle-blower whose criticism of the FBI's crime laboratory led to a major shake-up in the world's most famous forensic facility will get $1.16 million from the bureau as part of a court settlement.
Frederic Whitehurst, 50, was also restored to agent status, given back his gun and badge and given a work assignment as part of the deal. But after working Thursday and Friday, he will leave the FBI to operate a private watchdog facility that will monitor controversial cases.Whitehurst lawyer David Colapinto said the forensic scientist had mixed emotions about leaving the FBI. But Colapinto criticized the bureau's handling of the matter.
"Unfortunately, in the beginning the FBI decided to shoot the messenger instead of fixing the problem," he said. "Today they finally got the message that they should treat people who raise concerns the way the laws passed by Congress intended they be treated."
Whitehurst had been suspended with pay since January 1997 and was the subject of an FBI probe of leaks of some of his charges to news organizations. That investigation will be ended as part of Thursday's agreement.
The FBI issued a statement Thursday saying Whitehurst would voluntarily resign after being reinstated but gave no details of the payments to him or the agreement to use federal money to pay more than $250,000 in legal bills Whitehurst had accrued.
"Dr. Whitehurst played a role in identifying specific areas to be examined and some of the issues he noted resulted in both internal and external reviews," the bureau statement said.
That greatly understated the devastation wrought on the proud forensic-laboratory culture within the FBI by Whitehurst's charges, first leveled in late 1995.
In April 1997, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich issued a scathing report that was the outgrowth of Whitehurst's charges.
Bromwich found that some of the major criminal prosecutions in recent U.S. history, including the World Trade Center bombing, the Oklahoma City bombing, the mail-bomb death of a federal judge and "several hundred others" relied on tainted FBI laboratory findings that were biased against defendants.
In the wake of the report, several FBI forensic experts were forced out of the laboratory, five are appealing disciplinary action, and the bureau has announced extensive changes in how the laboratory operates.