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Seymour Glanzer, Watergate prosecutor, dies at 91

Seymour Glanzer in his Washington, D.C., office in

Seymour Glanzer in his Washington, D.C., office in an undated photo. Credit: The Washington Post / Keith Jenkins

Seymour Glanzer, a lawyer whose five decades of practice ranged from the prosecution of the original Watergate break-in defendants to the defense of the American convicted in the Washington, D.C., car-bomb attack that killed former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier, died April 3 at a hospital in Washington. He was 91.

The cause was heart ailments, said a daughter, Judy Slate.

Glanzer was an assistant U.S. attorney and had more than a decade of federal legal experience dismantling business scams and frauds when he became one of three prosecutors of the initial Watergate defendants.

In his 11 months in that role, he helped win convictions or guilty pleas from all seven of the men charged in the 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters. The men, linked to the Nixon White House, were attempting to plant eavesdropping devices at the DNC offices located at the Watergate building complex.

After the first Watergate trial, Glanzer participated in the investigation of the “cover-up conspiracy,” which led to the indictments of Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell, Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, White House counsel John Dean and presidential aide John D. Ehrlichman. The fallout from the prosecution ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in August 1974.

As a Watergate prosecutor, The New York Times reported that Glanzer had a “reputation as a ‘buzz saw’ when interrogating a witness.” One friend told the paper that he was so thorough in his prosecutorial preparation that he “never goes into a courtroom without the handcuffs ready.”

In 1974, Glanzer became a partner in the law firm of what is now Dickstein Shapiro and maintained his affiliation with the firm until his death. His clients included Frank Fitzsimmons, who succeeded the imprisoned James R. Hoffa as leader of the Teamsters union; and Michael V. Townley, a U.S. citizen accused of conspiring with Chile’s secret police to assassinate Letelier.

Letelier had served as a diplomat and foreign minister under Chile’s Marxist leader Salvador Allende, who was ousted in a military coup in 1973, and was an outspoken opponent of the coup leader turned dictator Augusto Pinochet.

On Sept. 21, 1976, Letelier and an American co-worker, Ronni Moffitt, who was riding with him, were killed when their car exploded — at the time, one of the first terrorists acts committed on U.S. soil.

Glanzer negotiated with prosecutors an agreement that, in exchange for a guilty plea and a promise of cooperation with the government, Townley would be immune from further prosecution and would serve a minimum prison sentence.

After serving 62 months in prison for the murder conspiracy, Townley was paroled in 1983 and placed in the federal witness protection program. He testified for the government in the prosecution of other conspirators involved in the Letelier bombing and was granted immunity from extradition to Argentina, where he was wanted in another car-bombing murder.

Glanzer said little on the record about his role in the Townley-Letelier case other than the observation that “a lawyer’s job is to handle hot potatoes, and some potatoes are hotter than others.”

Seymour Glanzer was born in New York on May 22, 1926. During World War II, he served in the Army in the Philippines. In his youth, his passion was for clarinet and saxophone, but, after graduating in 1956 from Juilliard music school in Manhattan, he realized his musical ambition exceeded his talent. Four years later, he obtained a degree from New York Law School.

He became a lawyer for the Securities and Exchange Commission before joining the U.S. attorney’s Washington office, rising to chief of the anti-fraud section. He specialized in white-collar crime, tax and antitrust cases, financial fraud, and home repair and improvement scams in which low-income homeowners were swindled.

He won guilty pleas and jail sentences of four men who were accused of defrauding the Navy of $4 million in a defense contracting scheme in which they tried to conceal the money in secret Swiss bank accounts. He won a case to compel manufacturers of dietetic ginger ale to get sugar out of their products, in an effort to protect diabetic customers.

In 1957 he married a Julliard contemporary, Rita Preisman, a pianist. In addition to his wife, of Washington, survivors include two children, Steve Glanzer of San Francisco and Judy Slate of Bozeman, Montana; and four grandchildren.

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