The Dick Thornburgh Papers

The Collection

United States Attorney for Western Pennsylvania (1969–1975)

Extent: 18 linear feet

Richard Thornburgh was sworn in as the United States Atorney for Western Pennsylvania on June 4, 1969. “Marking, as it did, my first ascendance to full-time public office, the ceremony was particularly memorable for me and I felt a special sense of awe in swearing to ‘uphold the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,’ a challenge that was to prove worthy of my every effort over the next six years” (Evidence draft, p. 145).

Coincidentally, the Pennsylvania Crime Commission released a major report on organized crime in the commonwealth the very day Thornburgh’s appointment was announced, thus making fighting organized crime Thornburgh’s top priority from the outset. Organized crime was deeply entrenched in many facets of Western Pennsylvania business and politics including $4 million to $6 million said to be paid illegally to Allegheny County law enforcement officials. Thornburgh “set forth plans for stepped-up antiracketeering efforts, including better coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local agencies, as well as the use of a special strike force to concentrate federal efforts” (Evidence, p. 41). “By the time I left office in mid-1975, we had mounted an unprecedented effort against corruption at the federal, state, and local levels” (Evidence, p. 48).

Among the high-profile cases handled under Thornburgh's tenure was the case of official corruption of Pittsburgh District Attorney Robert Duggan, who ultimately took his own life rather than face prosecution. Other major cases included names such as Grosso, Mazzei, Hilton, Ferraro, Iannelli, Ferrone, La Rocca, Torquato, and Bruno. In addition to racketeering and public corruption, the illegal drug traffic issue was a major target, as were civil rights/police brutality cases and environmental litigation. “These public corruption cases were a high priority for the office and for me personally as I felt that betrayal of the public trust was so subversive of our democratic processes. I was equally proud that Democrats and Republicans alike were, if corrupt, pursued with equal vigor, as we sought in all cases to truly ‘follow the evidence wherever it leads’” (Evidence draft, p. 195).

Public recognition of Thornburgh’s success as U.S. Attorney was evidenced by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's article entitled "Silver Knight of Area Law Enforcement.” This and other such favorable publicity about Thornburgh’s prosecution of corruption and racketeering cases, in particular, led to his appointment in March 1975 as assistant attorney general and head of the Criminal Division in Washington, an opportunity he could not pass up. “The six years I spent in the U.S. Attorney’s office had not only developed my professional lawyering skills, but had given me new insights into the challenges of public management ... [and were] the happiest of my professional life” (Evidence, pp. 60 and 219).

The files are arranged in twelve sections: “Speeches,” “News Releases,” “Public Statements,” “Events,” “Correspondence,” “USA Thornburgh’s Files,” “Memoranda,” “Attorney General’s U.S. Attorneys Advisory Committee,” “Strike Forces Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s U.S. Attorneys Advisory Committee,” “Subcommittees of the Attorney General’s U.S. Attorneys Advisory Committee,” “USA Office Cases,” and “Issue References.”


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