AP reporters followed the paper trail of an Alabama state trooper now facing child rape charges. He used a forged FBI letter and lied on his application to get hired after previous allegations of sexual misconduct at the bureau.

In a classic case of keeping an open mind during reporting, the story that AP’s Jim Mustian and Kim Chandler thought they had initially was not the story they ended up with.

The pair reported exclusively that an Alabama state trooper, arrested on charges he raped an 11-year-old girl, had been kicked out of the FBI amid a string of sexual misconduct allegations. He was hired by the state agency anyway — with the help of a fake bureau letter that scrubbed his record clean.

New York-based federal law enforcement reporter Mustian, who has reported extensively on sexual misconduct within the FBI, received a tip soon after Alabama Trooper Christopher Bauer was arrested: Bauer had been removed from the FBI months earlier amid serious sexual misconduct allegations that had never been made public. Mustian quickly began reporting to find out the details of those allegations and what, if anything, Alabama officials knew about them.

He soon confirmed the sexual misconduct allegations against Bauer while at the FBI, including a claim by a co-worker that he raped her at knifepoint — Mustian was even able to interview that woman. He also obtained, through a Freedom of Information Act request, a letter with the FBI seal that Bauer presented to Alabama authorities, making no mention of sexual misconduct but noting his decade of “creditable” service and deeming him “eligible for rehire.”

Mustian had seen this kind of thing before, and it appeared this was yet another case of the FBI allowing an agent who was accused of sexual misconduct to quietly move on with his career. But just as Mustian was about to publish, the FBI begged him to hold up — it had reason to believe the FBI letter was a fake.

After a daylong delay, the FBI came back with an on-the-record statement that the letter was “not legitimate.” In the meantime, Chandler, AP Montgomery statehouse reporter, tracked down Bauer’s application for the trooper job, in which he said he was still employed by the FBI and had never been forced to resign because of disciplinary action.

Mustian has reported extensively on sexual misconduct within the FBI, but this was not just another case of an accused agent allowed to quietly move on with his career.

Instead of a story about the FBI covering up for one of its agents, this became a story of the former agent, and perhaps others, falsifying his record.

Mustian and Chandler’s story, accompanied by a mugshot of Bauer and a copy of the letter in question, scored strong play on a busy Thursday and ranked as one of the top stories of the week on AP News, with nearly 200,000 pageviews. It also featured prominently on major news websites, including The Washington Post, MSN and NBC.

For deep reporting that followed the story wherever it took them, Mustian and Chandler earn AP’s Best of the States award.

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