Criminals beware: Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Brooker is after your toys.
Brooker, chief of the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, is on the hunt for the items criminals used in their crimes and for the proceeds of their misdeeds.
The U.S. Attorney’s office over the last few years seized cars, jet skis, computer equipment and a house that was used for drug dealing. In fiscal 2010, the office collected more money from criminal and civil asset forfeitures than any other U.S. Attorney’s office — $543 million.
And Brooker is looking to get more.
“Although we’ve done a lot of work over the last year, I think we’ve really set some groundwork for many more cases to come that are using forfeiture as an appropriate tool in our mission,” Brooker said in a recent interview with Main Justice at the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The assets seized by the office can come from a wide array of offenses, including fraud, drug crimes and child exploitation. The forfeited funds are used to support local law enforcement activities and provide restitution to crime victims.
The U.S. Attorney’s office has done asset forfeiture decades, but the asset-collecting efforts of the office received a boost under U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, said Brooker, a six-year veteran of the office.
Machen, who became U.S. Attorney in February 2010, turned what had been the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit into a standalone section within the office’s Criminal Division.
DOJ headquarters told Machen after he became U.S. Attorney that his office’s asset forfeiture work could use improvement, he said.
“By putting it as a standalone unit, we’ve really put a focus on it,” Machen told Main Justice. “We’ve put more resources there.”
The U.S. Attorney said he saw the power of asset forfeiture when he was a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP in D.C. He said a lot of his former clients were more concerned about holding on to their assets than staying out of prison.
“I’ve been on the side of the defense counsel where prosecutors have used it effectively and I’ve seen the power of asset forfeiture,” Machen said. “And I’ve been in other cases where it hasn’t been utilized. And I tell you, when it is utilized effectively and aggressively, it’s a tremendous tool for the government.”
Of the $543 million the U.S. Attorney’s office collected from criminal and civil asset forfeitures in fiscal 2010, $500 million came from a case against ABN AMRO Bank. The DOJ alleged the Dutch corporation defrauded the United States, had inadequate anti-money laundering practices and violated U.S. sanctions against Libya, Iran, Cuba, Sudan and other countries.
Of the remaining $43 million, $40 million came from a Ponzi scheme run by Isamu Kuroiwa, a Japanese citizen. Kuroiwa laundered the $40 million through U.S. and Japanese financial institutions to a U.S. broker for investment. The Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section at DOJ headquarters handled the case, but the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office processed the payments in the case.
The U.S. Attorney’s office collected the other $3 million from several cases, including some involving fraud schemes in which the office collected assets that were returned to victims. In at least two cases, defendants had to forfeit vehicles to help satisfy restitution orders.
“I think anything we can do, whatever tool we can use, to try to bring compensation and healing to victims, needs to be used,” Brooker said. “And when you’ve had your money swindled from you, you’ve been betrayed, perhaps you’ve had your life savings taken and your elderly, although we can’t erase the fact that you’ve been the victim of criminal conduct, if we can achieve some return of your stolen funds to you, I think that’s a very powerful tool on behalf of victims.”
Brooker, who has led the section since its establishment last year, relies on three, full-time Assistant U.S. Attorneys, in addition to DOJ lawyers working in her section on a limited or temporary basis, to help collect assets. They are assisted by paralegal and non-attorney staff, including a Deputy U.S. Marshal, who aids with the maintenance and disposition of assets gathered.
The Assistant U.S. Attorney said she looks at every criminal case the office handles a week or two after it is opened to see if the U.S. Attorney’s office can collect assets in the case. About 70 percent of cases have forfeiture potential, according to Brooker.
“I think individuals realize if they engage in illegal activity and they think they’re going to buy homes, buy cars, launder the money, we’re on to that and we’re going to aggressively pursue asset forfeiture and seizures from the beginning of a case and try to take that money back as quickly as possible,” Machen said.
The Western District of Arkansas U.S. Attorney’s Office this week secured the first conviction at trial of an individual under a 2009 law designed to give the federal government more tools to fight hate crimes, putting a spotlight on the office’s new U.S. Attorney.
William Conner Eldridge Jr., whom the Senate confirmed in December, heads one of the smallest U.S. Attorneys’ offices in terms of caseload.
A federal jury convicted Frankie Maybee under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for injuring and threatening five Hispanic men. Co-defendant Sean Popejoy has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the incident.
Popejoy allegedly yelled racial epithets at the men and brandished a tire wrench at them from the window of a truck that Maybee drove to chase after the men who were driving away from a gas station. Maybee rammed his truck into the men’s car several times causing the vehicle to crash into a tree and ignite.
The Hispanic men were injured in the crash. One man had life-threatening injuries.
“We thank the jury for their careful consideration, and for their verdict. It is horrific that acts of violence are committed against complete strangers because of their race,” Eldridge said in a statement. He added: “In the Western District of Arkansas, we will continue to prosecute acts of violence that are motivated by hatred of another’s race.”
George Beck, the Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney nominee, handled the successful 1977 prosecution of Bob Chambliss for his participation in the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. The racially motivated attack killed four black girls and blinded another black girl.
The church was a meeting place for leaders of the civil rights movement and the bombing was considered one of the major crimes of the civil rights era.
Beck, a former Alabama deputy attorney general, reopened the case in the early 1970s, at the request of then-Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley (D). “Birmingham police either could not or would not solve this heinous act,” Beck said.
Beck (Auburn University, University of Alabama Law School) was nominated on March 31 to replace U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, who has led the Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney’s Office since 2001. She is one of five U.S. Attorneys still in office who were confirmed by the Senate and appointed by President George W. Bush.
The White House had considered Michel Nicrosi, who lost a bid for Alabama attorney general in 2010, and defense attorney Joe Van Heest for the U.S. Attorney post in Montgomery. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who supported another candidate, contributed to the slow pace of the process.
- Born in Enterprise, Ala., in 1941.
- Has been a shareholder at the law firm of Capell & Howard PC in Montgomery, Ala., since 2004.
- Has been a managing member of 21st Sentry LLC in Wetumpka, Ala., since 2006.
- Has served as the president of Chosen Oils Inc. in Wetumpka since 2000.
- Was president and sole shareholder at the law firm of George L. Beck PC in Montgomery from 1986 to 2003.
- Was a partner at the law firm of Baxley, Beck, Dillard & Dauphin in Montgomery from 1982 to 1986.
- Was a sole practitioner from 1979 to 1982.
- Served as Alabama deputy attorney general from 1971 to 1979.
- Was an associate at the law firm of St. John & St. John LLC in Cullman, Ala., from 1966 to 1971.
- Was a law clerk at the law firm of Clement, Hubbard & Waldrop in Tuscaloosa, Ala., from 1964 to 1966.
- Served stints in the Alabama Army National Guard, U.S. Army Reserve and the Judge Advocate General Corps from 1966 to 2001, rising to colonel.
- Has been an Alabama Democratic Party member “since birth.”
- Has tried about 850 cases, serving as sole counsel in 10 cases, serving as sole counsel for 450, chief counsel for 150, associate counsel for 150 and sole counsel for 100 administrative matters.
Read his full Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire here.
On his Senate Judiciary financial disclosure, Beck reported assets valued at $9 million, including almost $2.8 million in cash on hand and in banks, and $409,500 in liabilities mostly from mortgages, for a net worth of $8.6 million.
On his Office of Government Ethics financial disclosure, he reported making about $270,000 as a shareholder at Capell & Howard since January 2010.
This story has been updated.
The city of Portland, Ore., will contribute to an anti-terrorism partnership with federal and state authorities on an “as-needed basis,” following a six year absence from the venture, The Oregonian reported Thursday.
The Portland City Council unanimously endorsed the “as-needed” participation with the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force, allowing the police chief to put officers on cases after consulting with the police commissioner. But Portland will not sign an official memorandum of understanding with the FBI.
The city pulled out of the task force in 2005 over worries about insufficient supervision and civil liberties protections. But the arrest of Somali-born U.S. citizen Mohamed Osman Mohamud on charges that he tried to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland restarted a debate in the city over the task force, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Oregon U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton welcomed the city council’s decision to participate in the task force.
“Everywhere I went early on in this process, cynics and skeptics said to me, ‘Council will never do anything serious. It’s just not that kind of place. It won’t get done. It will get lost in the weeds.’” Holton said, according to The Oregonian. “And you’ve proved them wrong, and I’m deeply, deeply grateful for that.”
Former Nevada U.S. Attorney Gregory Brower is running in the special election for the House seat that is vacant now that Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), has been appointed to the Senate, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Brower, a Republican, filed paperwork to run for Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District, which covers most of the state and includes Reno and part of Las Vegas. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) appointed Heller to serve the remainder of outgoing Republican Sen. John Ensign’s term, which ends January 2013. Ensign announced his resignation last week. The special House election has not yet been scheduled.
“As a proud Republican, I am excited and humbled to enter the race for CD2.,” Brower said, according to KOLOTV.com. “I do not take this step lightly and want to be very clear that I am in this important race to win. I believe Nevada is best represented by a strong conservative voice in Washington, DC, and I am committed to see that we have it.”
Brower served as U.S. Attorney from 2007 until 2009. He became U.S. Attorney after U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden was fired along with eight other U.S. Attorneys in late 2006.
He has served in the state Senate since January, representing Reno.
A federal judge in New Mexico refused to order an investigation into alleged Justice Department misconduct in a police-corruption case, the Tulsa World reported Friday.
U.S. District Judge Bruce Black of New Mexico rejected motions from Tulsa police officers who claimed that First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Duke of the Eastern District of Arkansas infringed on their constitutional rights by identifying them as unindicted co-conspirators in a case against officers Bill Yelton and Jeff Henderson.
Yelton and Henderson face civil rights, perjury and witness tampering. Henderson also faces drug distribution and conspiracy charges.
The officers who filed the motions, Shawn Hickey and Frank Khalil, never were charged. But an FBI agent testified in court that Khalil and former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Brandon McFadden bagged drug money during stings. The FBI agent also said Hickey and Henderson were together when evidence in a case was moved around.
Black wrote in his order that he would review evidence brought up at trial to decide whether it was admissible for prosecutors to list the unindicted co-conspirators. He also left open the possibility that the officers could refile their motions at the end of the trial.
The trial for Yelton and Henderson is scheduled to start June 20.
Duke has been the lead prosecutor on the police-corruption case since 2009, when then-U.S. Attorney David O’Meilia of the Northern District of Oklahoma, which is based in Tulsa, recused himself. She led the Little Rock, Ark.-based U.S. Attorney’s office on an acting basis from 2007 until U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer was sworn in in January. Duke now serves as the No. 2 official in the office.
Two U.S. Attorneys from the George W. Bush administration are at opposite ends of a legal quarrel over control of a glass-bottomed walkway that stretches out over the edge of the Grand Canyon, The Arizona Republic reported Thursday.
On one side of the dispute is former Arizona U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, who represents the Hualapai tribe which allowed the Grand Canyon Skywalk to be built on their land. On the other side is former Colorado U.S. Attorney Troy Eid, who is representing Grand Canyon Skywalk Development LLC, which built and operates the tourist attraction that opened in 2007.
The tribe is trying to void a revenue-splitting contract with Skywalk Development that is estimated at $100 million and take control of the attraction. A representative of the tribe told the newspaper that Skywalk Development hasn’t finished construction or supplied utilities as stipulated by contract. Skywalk Development has urged a federal judge stop the tribe’s effort to invalidate the contract, claiming that members of the tribe broke the contract and embezzled money from the venture.
Charlton, who was one of nine U.S. Attorneys ousted during the firing scandal, served from 2001 to 2007. He is currently a shareholder at the law firm of Gallagher & Kennedy PA in Phoenix.
Eid, who was U.S. Attorney from 2006 to 2009, is a shareholder at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig LLP in Denver.
President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated a replacement for one of the few remaining U.S. Attorneys appointed by President George W. Bush.
Obama tapped George Beck to replace U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, who has led the Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney’s Office since 2001. She is one of five U.S. Attorneys still in office who were confirmed by the Senate and appointed by Bush.
Canary irked several Democrats in Alabama for what they considered a politically motivated prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D).
At one time, the White House considered Michel Nicrosi, who lost in a 2010 bid for Alabama attorney general, and defense attorney Joe Van Heest for the Montgomery-based U.S. Attorney post. Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby (R), who backed another candidate, contributed to the slow pace of the process.
Beck is currently a shareholder at the law firm of Capell & Howard P.C. in Montgomery. He previously was a sole practitioner from 1986 to 2003.
The nominee also was a partner at the law firm of Baxley, Beck, Dillard & Dauphin from 1979 to 1982 after serving eight years as deputy attorney general for the state of Alabama.
From 1966 to 1971, he was an associate at the law firm of St. John & St. John LLC.
Beck received his undergraduate degree from Auburn University in 1963 and graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1966.
The Senate has confirmed 76 of Obama’s U.S. Attorneys thus far. Including Beck, there are five U.S. Attorney nominees waiting for consideration by the Senate. There are 93 U.S. Attorney posts across the nation.
Although jockeying over candidates by the state’s congressional delegation has complicated matters, Obama administration officials say the president still intends to make nominations for the four U.S. Attorney positions in Texas.
Responding to concerns raised by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), White House spokesman Reid Cherlin told Main Justice that the administration remains committed to filling the four slots. “This is a priority for us and we hope to nominate candidates soon,” Cherlin said.
With less than two years in his term remaining, President Barack Obama has yet to appoint Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorneys for the state, leaving the top federal prosecuting jobs in one of the most populous states with temporary appointees. He made one U.S. Attorney nomination for Texas so far, but John B. Stevens Jr. last year withdrew his name from consideration for the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Texas after the Senate Judiciary Committee stalled on his confirmation.
Cornyn told reporters this month that he hasn’t heard anything definitive about U.S. Attorney nominations for his state. The senator said filling the U.S. Attorney posts isn’t a priority for the Obama administration.
However, a newspaper reported that some progress is being made. The Justice Department has started to vet candidates to fill the four U.S. Attorney jobs, The Dallas Morning News reported this week. But the list of candidates is still broad, according to the newspaper.
The nomination process in Texas has been messy. Traditionally, home-state senators recommend candidates to the White House — unless both of the state’s senators are of different parties than the president. That is the case in Texas, where Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison are Republicans. In such cases, the president often relies on House members who are members of his political party.
In 2009, the state’s senators sent Obama one list and the Texas House Democrats sent him another. Since then, the senators and the House Democrats, led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett have battled over who gets to recommend candidates to the White House, providing Obama with only a couple of bipartisan options for the U.S. Attorney posts.
Stevens and Michael McCrum were the only candidates on both the Republican and Democratic lists released to the public and sent to the president in 2009. But McCrum, who was recommended for Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney, withdrew his name from consideration, saying he no longer could wait for the president to send his nomination to the Senate.
In addition to Stevens, the Texas senators suggested the current leader of the Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office, John Malcom Bales, as a candidate for a permanent appointment to that office, which is based in Beaumont. U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Pitman got the senators’ endorsement too, joining McCrum on their list of candidates for the Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is based in San Antonio.
The senators also recommended that Obama nominate Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson to lead the Houston-based Southern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana to take the reins of Dallas-based Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Doggett’s publicly released list in 2009 did not include any candidates for the Northern and Southern districts. But the congressman said last year that he recommended U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeff Kaplan for Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney.
Cornyn has been vocal about his support for Saldana, telling The Dallas Morning News last year that he would “go to the mat” for her. Saldana has faced opposition from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) over concerns about the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s successful public corruption prosecution of former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill (D) and former state Rep. Terri Hodge (D), according to The Dallas Morning News.
Of the 93 U.S. Attorney posts across the country, 17 remain in office because a replacement has not yet been nominated by Obama or confirmed by the Senate. The president made four U.S. Attorney nominations so far this year. But the Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to consider the nominations.
President George W. Bush had Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney appointees in place at the four Texas U.S. Attorney’s offices by April 2002, a little more than a year after he took office. His job no doubt was made easier by his having served as the state’s governor, making him familiar with the political landscape.
President Bill Clinton had two Senate-confirmed Texas U.S. Attorney appointees in place less than a year after he became president. But the Eastern District of Texas did not get a Senate-confirmed leader appointed by Clinton until fall 1994, and the Western District of Texas didn’t receive one until November 1997, nearly four years after he took office.
The Texas U.S. Attorney posts have not been held by Senate-confirmed appointees since at least April 2009.
Johnny Sutton, whom Bush appointed in 2001, stepped down as Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney in April 2009. John E. Murphy has led the office since then.
Rebecca A. Gregory, whom Bush appointed in 2007, resigned as Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney in April 2009. Bales has headed the office since her departure.
Richard Roper, whom Bush appointed in 2004, stepped down as Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney in December 2008. James T. Jacks has led the office since then.
Don DeGabrielle, whom Bush appointed in 2006, resigned as Southern District of Texas U.S. Attorney in November 2008. Jose Angel Moreno has headed the office since February 2010.
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Is Wyoming still the Wild West?
The state’s former U.S. Attorney, who is now the governor, is grappling with a version of that issue as he weighs whether to sign into law expected legislation allowing residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
Gov. Matt Mead (R) will decide his course of action once the bill comes to his desk, a spokesman for the governor told Reuters. Mead has been a supporter of gun rights and has handled firearms cases as a prosecutor, according to Reuters. Mead was U.S. Attorney from 2001 to 2007 and became governor this year.
The Wyoming House was scheduled to vote on the bill Friday, The Associated Press reported. The state Senate has already passed the legislation.
If the bill becomes law, Wyoming would become the fourth state to allow residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit, following Alaska, Arizona and Vermont.
Some law enforcement officials have expressed opposition to the legislation, according to Reuters. But Bryan Skoric, prosecuting attorney for Park County, told Reuters that he backed the legislation and did not anticipate a significant spike in the number of residents with concealed weapons.