Thompson, Larry D. 1945–
Larry D. Thompson 1945–
Federal deputy attorney general
Larry D. Thompson is the deputy attorney general of the United States. He was appointed to this position in 2002 by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the United States Senate. In this role Thompson has assisted Attorney General John Ash-croft in the administration of the United States Department of Justice. In particular, Thompson has been responsible for the Corporate Fraud Task Force, which oversaw the prosecution of high-profile corporate crime cases, such as the Enron and WorldCom scandals. Prior to this position, Thompson served the federal government in other capacities.
Thompson was a United States attorney for the Northern District of Georgia for four years during the 1980s and he also served for four years in the 1990s as an independent counsel investigating favoritism in the Department of Housing and Development during President Reagan’s administration. When he was not serving the government, Thompson spent much of his career in private practice at the prestigious law firm of King & Spalding in Atlanta, Georgia. Through his work in the private sector as well as the federal government, Thompson has earned a reputation as a tough but fair lawyer. Thompson gained national attention for his support of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during a sexual harassment investigation. Like Thomas, Thompson is a conservative African American who has demonstrated that not all African Americans think alike. He is a moderate Republican who is also well-respected among Democrats for his legal credentials.
Larry Dean Thompson was born on November 15, 1945, in Hannibal, Missouri, to Ezra Thompson and Ruth Robinson Thompson Baker. He attended Culver-Stockton College, where he graduated cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in 1967. Thompson then moved to Michigan to further his education. He earned a master of arts degree from Michigan State University in 1964 and a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1974. While attending law school, Thompson worked as an industrial relations representative for Ford Motor Company. He married his wife, Brenda Anne Taggart, on June 26, 1970, and the couple had two sons, Larry Dean, Jr. and Gary Thompson.
At a Glance…
Born on November 15, 1945, in Hannibal, MO; son of Ruth Thompson Baker and Ezra Thompson; married Brenda Taggart, June 26, 1970; children: Larry Dean Jr., Gary E. Education: Culver-Stockton College, BA, 1967; Michigan State University, MA, 1969; University of Michigan, JD, 1974. Religion: Presbyterian.
Career: Ford Motor Co., industrial relations representative, 1969-71; Monsanto Corp., staff attorney, 1974-77; King & Spalding law firm, associate, 1977-82, partner, 1986-2001; United States attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, 1982-86; Department of Housing and Development investigation, independent counsel, 1995-99; United States Department of Justice, deputy attorney general, 2001–.
Memberships: American Bar Association, National Bar Association, Georgia Lawyers for Bush.
Awards: Distinguished Alumni Award, Culver-Stockton College, 1983; A.T. Walden Award, Gate City Bar Association, 1984; Outstanding Achievement Award, Federal Bar Association, 1992.
Address: Office— United States Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20530-0001.
Upon completing his law degree, Thompson returned to Missouri. He passed the Missouri state bar exam in 1974 and he landed a job as a staff attorney for the Monsanto Corporation in St. Louis. It was at this first legal job that Thompson met the future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In 1977 the Thompsons moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where Larry began working as an associate for the King & Spalding law firm.
In 1982 Thompson was called to government service when he was appointed United States attorney for the Northern District of Georgia during President Ronald Reagan’s administration. In this capacity Thompson fought hard against the cocaine trade that was moving northward from Florida into Georgia. He was able to unite competing prosecutors into a regional drug task force called the Southeastern Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. He quickly earned a reputation as a hard and humble worker who was not looking for public recognition. Kent B. Alexander, who held the United States attorney position in Atlanta during the Clinton administration, praised Thompson’s work as a United States attorney. “He set the gold standard in this district for U.S. attorneys, one that I tried to follow,” Alexander told the New York Times in February of 2001. “He just had impeccable character. He’s trustworthy, smart, has good instincts, everything you look for in a good lawyer.”
In 1986 Thompson returned to private practice as a partner at King & Spalding. He worked with many prominent government figures, such as Griffen Bell, who was attorney general under former President Jimmy Carter’s administration, and former senator Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat. Thompson handled several high-profile white-collar crime cases. In 1991 he won a case for a Coca-Cola executive who was charged with bribing a union organizer. He represented the Lockheed Corporation in a bribery case in 1995. In 2000 Thompson represented an Atlanta investment banker charged with fraud in his handling of the city’s pension fund. That same year he also handled a settlement against the Coca-Cola Company in a racial discrimination case.
From 1995 to 1999 Thompson served as an independent counsel investigating favoritism in contracts awarded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development during former president Ronald Reagan’s administration. Thompson assumed the position when prosecutor Arlin M. Adams stepped down after winning 16 convictions and $2 million in fines in the inquiry. Thompson was responsible for the case against Interior Secretary James G. Watt, who was charged with 25 felony counts in the case. Thompson negotiated an agreement that let the former Interior Secretary plead guilty to one misdemeanor charge of trying to influence a federal grand jury.
In February of 2001 Thompson returned once again to government service when he was appointed deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush’s administration. A month earlier President Bush had appointed John D. Ashcroft, former state attorney general, governor, and senator of Missouri, to serve as U.S. attorney general—the head of the United States Department of Justice and the chief law enforcement officer of the federal government. During the Senate confirmation hearing for attorney general, Ashcroft was severely criticized by Democrats for his record on issues of race and civil rights. For example, Ashcroft opposed school desegregation in St. Louis and he also opposed an improved voter registration process in Missouri that would have significantly increased the number of black voters in Missouri.
According to David A. Vise and Dan Eggen of the Washington Post, Thompson’s nomination to the position of deputy attorney general was “a move designed in part to counter criticism that Attorney General John D. Ashcroft is insensitive to race.” Thompson was a desirable candidate because he was a moderate Republican who was well-respected by Democrats because of his legal credentials. In 1988 he was the chairperson for an organization called Georgia Lawyers for Bush. In 1991 he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the United States Supreme Court. Thompson was a supporter of affirmative action and he even resigned from the Southeastern Legal Foundation in 1999 because the group challenged affirmative action programs. Thompson had written several opinion articles for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution where he criticized black leaders for treating African Americans as victims. He brought public attention to the fact that political and social views among the African-American community are diverse. According to Kevin Sack of the New York Times, Thompson told the Senate Judiciary Committee during the hearings for Clarence Thomas that “Black Americans need not and should not all think alike.”
As the deputy attorney general of the United States, Thompson is responsible for advising and assisting the attorney general, as well as supervising all subordinate units in the Department of Justice. More specifically, Thompson has been assigned to investigate several high-profile corporate fraud cases. In 2001 and 2002 the financial stability of the country was rocked by a series of scandals in major corporations that resulted in the loss of investor confidence in the stock market. In particular, one of the country’s largest energy companies, Enron, filed bankruptcy after years of hiding the company’s debt and inflating earnings. As a result, thousands of employees lost their retirement savings. The Enron investigation led to other revelations of corporate fraud among several other companies, such as the Arthur Andersen accounting firm and WorldCom, Incorporated. Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from these cases because he had received political contributions from Enron and WorldCom in the past and he did not want to be accused of conflict of interest.
Thompson was not only in charge of the Enron investigation, but he was also assigned to lead a new Corporate Fraud Task Force created by President Bush in July of 2002 to investigate and curb corporate crime. “As we are well aware from the business scandals of the past months, attack from foreign terrorists is not the only threat to our nation’s well-being,” Thompson explained in a speech to the Michigan federal bar association in October of 2002. “Our financial markets have been shaken by a wave of criminal conduct at the highest levels in American corporations. [A]nd the Administration is taking swift and certain action to punish the wrongdoers and restore confidence to investors.”
The Corporate Fraud Task Force consists of Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert S. Mueller HI, two assistant attorney generals, and seven United States attorneys. They are charged with overseeing securities fraud investigations and all other corporate crime cases, including ongoing investigations into Adelphia Communications, Global Crossing, and Qwest Communications. Thompson advocated tougher penalties to deter executives from defrauding shareholders and the public. “These people who abuse the public trust and adversely affect the lives of millions of Americans have to be appropriately punished,” Thompson was quoted as saying in the New York Times in December of 2002.
Thompson’s work on these high-profiled corporate cases has thrust the quiet and humble lawyer into the spotlight and under public scrutiny. Thompson has been questioned about a possible conflict of interest in the Enron and Anderson cases because these companies were represented by Thompson’s former employer, King & Spalding. In August of 2002 Thompson was also sued by a public interest group called Judicial Watch for corporate fraud. The group accused Thompson of profiting from the sale of stock for Providian Financial Corporation, a company of which Thompson was formerly a director, just before Providian announced the company’s financial troubles to the public. Thompson made between $1 and $5 million in the transaction. He maintained that he sold the stock for ethical reasons when he accepted the position of deputy attorney general. In response to media inquiries into the Providian scandal, Thompson told Anitha Reddy of the Washington Post, “I think my integrity and my record of public service speaks for itself.”
(Editor) Jury Instructions in Criminal Antitrust Cases 1976-1980, American Bar Association, 1982.
“Conservatives Fight Black-on-Black Crime,” Atlanta Journal and Constitution, June 24, 1987.
“Thomas an Asset to Bench. He Offers Strong Values, Keen Intellect to Court,” Atlanta Journal and Constitution, July 7, 1991.
Carroll’s Federal Directory, Carroll Publishing, 2002. Complete Marquis Who’s Who, Marquis Who’s Who, 2001.
Who’s Who Among African Americans, 15th edition, Gale Group, 2002.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, April 6, 2001.
Business Week, July 22, 2002.
Jet, March 5, 2001; February 4, 2002.
New York Times, June 2, 1995; February 15, 2001; August 14, 2002; December 19, 2002.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 31, 2001.
Washington Post, February 12, 2001; August 2, 2002.
“Larry Dean Thompson,” Biography Resource Center Online, www.galenet.com (February 13, 2002).
“Remarks of Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson,” United States Department of Justice, www.usdoj.gov (March 22, 2003).
—Janet P. Stamatel
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