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Whistleblower seeks probe into N.D. child abuse cases

Whistleblower seeks probe into N.D. child abuse cases

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WASHINGTON - The FBI whistleblower who accused agents of stealing a Tiffany crystal globe from the World Trade Center ruins is going public with new allegations that the bureau mishandled a child sexual abuse complaint by failing to interview the victim.

The accusations involving a 1999 case in Indian country in North Dakota are the latest chapter in a long-running battle between FBI management and Jane Turner, a career agent who retired last week after 25 years with the bureau.

Turner and the private National Whistleblower Center are asking Attorney General John Ashcroft to authorize an independent investigation into the FBI's alleged failure to protect children on American Indian reservations.

Turner's separate allegations last year triggered an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department's inspector general into how a Tiffany globe from the Sept. 11 Ground Zero site wound up in the Minneapolis FBI office.

The FBI says it vigorously investigates as many as 600 accusations of child abuse a year on Indian reservations. Ernst Weyand, the FBI's acting chief of the Indian Country Unit, said his agency does "a tremendous amount of training on investigating sexual abuse."

"The bureau has a very unique responsibility on Indian reservations and agents are meeting some unique challenges working major crime cases, including child abuse, in very remote locations," Weyand said.

In the North Dakota case cited by Turner, the suspect - Minot TV broadcaster John Vigested - pleaded guilty and was sent to prison, but Turner alleges neither the FBI nor local law enforcement officers interviewed the 9-year-old victim.

U.S. Customs Service agent Anthony Onstead testified in a lawsuit by Turner that "it was really puzzling to us" why local authorities hadn't questioned the 9-year-old. After all, the child "might be aware of other victims," testified Onstead, who worked on the case. Local law enforcement officials said they were concerned about traumatizing the boy.

Turner says the FBI didn't interview the boy either, and that the bureau didn't interview boys from a nearby Indian reservation who had spent time with the suspect and might have been victims.

"The bureau did not do its job," Turner said Thursday in a telephone interview. "Child abuse is a significant problem on Indian reservations and we need to do better."

In another case cited by Turner, she said she intervened in an investigation by the Bureau of Indian Affairs of injuries suffered by a 3-year-old boy on the Turtle Mountain reservation in North Dakota. Investigators labeled the injuries as being caused by a car accident.

Acting on a doctor's comment that the boy's injuries were from sexual abuse, Turner reinterviewed witnesses before being pulled off the probe by her superiors. The suspect, the boy's father, later confessed following a polygraph examination.

Turner is scheduled to speak tonight in Minot, at the annual meeting of the Minot Commission on the Status of Women. She won praise from federal prosecutors who worked cases with her.

"When it comes to Indian country you probably got one of the best in the nation" in Turner, Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter testified on her behalf in a lawsuit Turner brought against the bureau.

But FBI supervisors say Turner repeatedly circumvented the chain of command and clashed with colleagues and local law enforcement officials.

Turner alleges in a lawsuit that she is a victim of discrimination, harassment and retaliation by the FBI dating back to 1995, but an FBI manager testified in the suit that Turner's job performance was unacceptable and that if it had been up to him, he would have fired her.

FBI managers transferred Turner out of Indian country to Minneapolis in May 2000.

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