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3 federal prosecutors in Mass. seek US attorney post

As is custom, former US Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz resigned in January, as President Trump took office.
As is custom, former US Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz resigned in January, as President Trump took office.(Steven Senne/Associated Press/File 2016)

Three federal prosecutors in Boston have been interviewed as possible replacements for former US attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, who resigned in January and will begin teaching in the fall at Boston College Law School, according to several lawyers with knowledge of the process.

The three candidates are William D. Weinreb, who has served as acting US attorney since Ortiz stepped down; Leah B. Foley, who prosecutes high-profile drug trafficking and sex trafficking crimes as a member of the office’s Civil Rights and Enforcement Team; and Andrew E. Lelling, a member of the Economic Crimes Unit, who recently prosecuted the $1 billion TelexFree pyramid scheme.

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They are believed to be the only internal candidates in contention for the position, but it is not known if any candidates from outside Massachusetts are also interviewing, according to several lawyers who requested anonymity so they could speak freely without interfering in the selection process.

No local committee or senior Republican is screening applicants, as has been past practice.

Republican Governor Charlie Baker, the state’s highest ranking Republican, did not endorse President Trump. The three prosecutors who have been interviewed — as well as others who applied — sought the job directly through contacts in Washington, according to several lawyers familiar with the process.

“Everything is being run out of Washington,” said one high-profile Republican lawyer who has been in contact with decision-makers.

By comparison, after President Obama was elected in 2008, the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy established a screening committee and recommended Ortiz for the post.

Weinreb, Foley, and Lelling would not comment for this article. The White House would only say that it will announce the nominee when one is chosen.

The candidates’ connections in Washington vary.

Weinreb, best known for the death-penalty prosecution of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is a Harvard Law School friend of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Foley worked for Senator Orrin Hatch, the senior senator from Utah, on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Lelling worked as an acting deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Department of Justice under President George W. Bush.

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Brian T. Kelly, a former prosecutor and the head of the public corruption unit in Boston, said all three candidates are respected lawyers.

“All three are veteran prosecutors who know the system,” said Kelly, a lawyer at Nixon Peabody who was seen as an early front-runner for the job before he decided not to seek the appointment.

Ortiz served for more than seven years under Obama before resigning in January. It is routine for a political appointment such as a US attorney to resign at the onset of a new administration from a different party.

Ortiz, who oversaw the Boston Marathon bombing trial and the conviction of James “Whitey” Bulger, was recently named the Jerome Lyle Rappaport visiting professor at Boston College Law School for the fall semester. The Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy at the school sponsors a program to have government leaders discuss societal issues.

Ortiz will teach a seminar class on national security as part of the Rappaport Distinguished Public Policy Series.

She told the Boston College Law School Magazine that she was excited by the opportunity “to work with law students in an exceptional program that seeks to build future leaders interested in serving the public and addressing the many challenges we face in this nation.”

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Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.