Lee J. Radek, former chief of Justice Dept.’s Public Integrity Section, dies at 69

Lee J. Radek, a lawyer at the Justice Department and former chief of its Public Integrity Section, died Feb. 2 at the Inova HealthPlex medical facility in Alexandria. He was 69.

He had a heart attack, said his wife, Jill Radek.

Mr. Radek worked for the Justice Department for more than three decades, beginning in 1971 when he joined the criminal division as a trial lawyer. Five years later, he moved to the fledgling Public Integrity Section, which was created in the wake of the Watergate scandal and tasked with the investigation of corruption by public officials.

Over the next decade and a half, Mr. Radek helped handle high-profile investigations, including Operation Ill Wind, a Pentagon procurement scandal in the 1980s that led to dozens of convictions. He rose to deputy chief before a two-year hiatus as head of the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture office.

In 1994, he returned to the Public Integrity Section as chief. In that role, he became entangled in a politically charged debate over the investigation of fundraising activities by the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign in 1996.


Lee J. Radek in January 1996. (Ray Lustig/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Among other allegations, Vice President Al Gore was accused of illegally making fundraising solicitations from the White House and, subsequently, misrepresenting his knowledge of how the funds were to be used.

The attorney general, Janet Reno, declined to appoint an independent counsel to pursue the case, over the objections of several Justice Department officials, congressional Republicans and Louis J. Freeh, then director of the FBI .

Reno was reported to have made her decision relying heavily on advice from Mr. Radek, who was described by Time magazine in 1997 as “even-tempered,” “down-to-earth” and “known for his street savvy, lawyerly acumen and good judgment.”

In testimony before a Senate subcommittee in 2000, Mr. Radek compared his office after Clinton’s reelection to a “a pressure cooker.” But he added that the pressure was “to do the job, to do it vigorously and to do it well.”

In 2001, criminal division chief Michael Chertoff — later homeland security secretary under President George W. Bush — reassigned Mr. Radek to the department handling asset forfeiture and money laundering.

The Washington Post reported that then-U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, had pushed for Mr. Radek’s removal because of his role in the campaign finance investigation. Justice Department officials said the congressman had not affected Mr. Radek’s reassignment.

Some Democrats, as well as Justice Department lawyers who admired Mr. Radek, argued that he had been made a scapegoat because of Republicans’ lingering resentment over the fundraising investigation. Mr. Radek retired in 2005.

“I am, and always have been, a nonpolitical career prosecutor,” he said in his 2000 testimony.

Lee James Radek was born June 9, 1943, in Chicago. He was a 1965 economics graduate of Marquette University in Milwaukee and, after Army service in Korea, received a law degree from Loyola University Chicago in 1971.

Mr. Radek was the co-author of “The Prosecution and Defense of Public Corruption: The Law and Legal Strategies” (2011) and the recipient of the Justice Department’s prestigious Henry E. Petersen Memorial Award, according to his family.

A Springfield resident, he was a member of the Springfield Golf and Country Club and St. Bernadette Catholic Parish and volunteered with the Springfield Youth Club.

Survivors include his wife of 38 years, Jill Devitt Radek of Springfield; three children, Megan Radek of Springfield, Matthew Radek of Chantilly and Caitlin Radek of Burke; and a sister.

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.