Messenger - Vol. 2, No. 2, Page 28
Winter 1993
Alumni Profile: From poppy fields to boxing rings

     Alighting from a helicopter into a Thailand opium field, taking a
deposition from world heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield and
going eyeball-to-eyeball with Peter Chong-the John Gotti of Asian organized
crime-are not common experiences for your average American attorney.
     But to Leighton Lord III, Delaware '86, these are just a few of the
challenges he has experienced since September 1991, when he signed on as a
staff counsel with the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on
Investigations (PSI).
     Working in the Russell Senate Office Building in the nation's capital
is a dramatic change from rural Georgetown, Del., where Lord was born and
     Lord's parents are both Delaware graduates and attending the Newark
campus had always been a "given." He initially majored in communication,
thinking he might go into journalism or broadcasting. Later, after working
as an intern in the Delaware lieutenant governor's office, he decided to
add political science to his major.
     A series of jobs with Republican candidates enhanced to his
experience. Most important was a 1984 election-year stint as personal
assistant for Sussex County lawyer Battle Robinson when she made her bid
for the lieutenant governor's post.
     "I was her driver and volunteer coordinator. I was with her every day,
all through the campaign," Lord says. Working closely with one of the first
women in Delaware to run for a statewide office was his "greatest
experience," he says.
     Several years later, after earning a law degree from Vanderbilt
University, Lord took a position with a Wilmington corporate law firm,
working there until, through a combination of hard work, luck and
persistence, he received a call from Dan Rinzel, chief counsel to Delaware
U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr. An opening had occurred, his resume was on
file and, within weeks, he was working one block from the U.S. Capitol.
     Lord explains that the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations serves
as the eyes and ears of Congress, looking at everything that goes on in the
executive and judicial branches.
     "Congress truly exercises the checks and balances that are an
important part of the Constitution," says Lord. "Congress can't legislate
effectively if it can't keep an eye on the executive branch and the rest of
     Lord says in some instances the subcommittee discovers areas of waste
and abuse that need correction and, through its public hearings, brings the
issues to the attention of the American public.
     Several of the subcommittee's public hearings are in the history
books, including the McCarthy hearings on loyalty to the government in the
1950s and the Valachi hearings on organized crime in the 1960s.
     The late Robert F. Kennedy once held the chief counsel position, when
he conducted his investigation of Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters union.
     Today, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations' inquiries include
Asian organized crime, money laundering, corruption in boxing and
international drug trafficking-topics that make the front pages of the
country's largest, and smallest, daily newspapers. Eventually, Lord says,
the subcommittee hopes to zero in on health-care fraud.
     He says he and his colleagues summarize their objectives with three
words: waste, fraud and abuse.
     To complete his assignments, Lord has traveled to places his corporate
colleagues would never dream of visiting, unless they were on an exotic
vacation. During the recent professional boxing investigation, he conducted
interviews in the smelly gyms of North Philly and Trenton, N.J., as well as
the glitzy casinos of Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
     Immediately after Lord took a deposition from Peter Chong, the Asian
crime lord fled the country with the FBI hot on his heels.
     The necessity to get everything during that one, single interview adds
to the pressure of the job, Lord says, "but it's good pressure. It forces
you to know everything and learn all you can possibly learn. You can never
know enough about the topics."
     Computer searches on new topics provide thick stacks of printouts that
Lord and fellow investigators review prior to critical interviews. He
explains that he must become extremely well-versed regarding the background
of the specific individual and general topic of every investigation.
Otherwise, he may be unable to determine if the witness is being
cooperative or simply providing useless or erroneous information that might
jeopardize the entire investigation.
     One of his most satisfying experiences resulted from his work on Asian
organized crime. "When the law enforcement guys give you a call and say
your hearings did a lot of good," says Lord, "it means the most. It really
     He says lawyers who have been experienced prosecutors are usually
chosen as subcommittee counsels. In his case, he says, a combination of
factors-including his varied experience in the local political process, his
good grades at Delaware and in law school and his periodic inquiries into
the position-were important factors.
     "I've never had any situation where persistence hurt you," says Lord.
"If you keep going back, it shows that you're not a quitter and that you
will keep fighting for something you want. I don't think what you do is as
important as how you do it, as long as you do it well."
                                   -Ed Okonowicz, Delaware '69 '84M