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U.S. attorney took down high-profile crooks

As he prepares to leave office, U.S. Attorney George Holding reflects on some of the major cases he's prosecuted in recent years.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — From former House Speaker Jim Black to CIA contractor David Passaro, U.S. Attorney George Holding and his staff have put some high-profile people behind bars.

In the coming weeks, President Barack Obama should receive recommendations for a replacement for Holding, who was appointed three years ago by former President George W. Bush.

"It's never a dull day," Holding said during a recent interview in which he reflected on his time as the top federal prosecutor in eastern North Carolina.

Holding started in the office in 2002 as a first assistant U.S. attorney. The following year, Black held onto a portion of his power in the House by wrangling a deal with former Rep. Michael Decker, putting in motion the events that led to Black's 2007 conviction on state and federal corruption charges.

"When Michael Decker came in and confessed about a bribe that he had taken to switch and vote for Speaker Black, that was an 'a-ha' moment," Holding said.

Passaro was convicted in 2006 of beating an Afghan detainee in 2003 who later died. The case landed in Holding's lap because Passaro lived in Lillington.

"He never thought he'd be held accountable for that. He thought he was way beyond the reach of America's laws, and he was not," Holding said.

Passaro recently appealed his conviction and eight-year prison sentence, saying the federal court didn't have jurisdiction in the case and that the jury received faulty instructions.

Holding declined to discuss whether his office was investigating allegations of weapons smuggling by the security firm formerly known as Blackwater. He also wouldn't confirm or deny reports that a federal grand jury is hearing evidence that former U.S. Sen. John Edwards used money from his presidential campaign to pay off his mistress.

He touted the success his office has had working with local law enforcement agencies to crack down on drug dealers and street crime and said the office could do more if it received more funding.

Holding said he has no regrets as he leaves his post, noting one motto has carried the office through a series of big cases.

"Just do the right thing right now, and you'll never have any problems explaining what you did," he said.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan's office established a four-person committee last month to screen candidates for key federal appointments, including U.S. attorney.

"I have promised the Obama administration that I will stay on until my predecessor is confirmed," Holding said.


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