Posts Tagged ‘Central District of California’
Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer joined the top federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, Andre Birotte Jr., to announce charges on Wednesday against almost 100 individuals, many with ties to an Armenian street gang.

The defendants, including more than 80 associated with the gang Armenian Power, face charges that range from extortion and racketeering to kidnapping and fraud. Many of the defendants are from the Los Angeles area, but some hail from Denver and Miami. Authorities have arrested dozens of the individuals so far.

Lanny Breuer (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

“The crimes alleged in these indictments were calculated, wide-ranging, and sophisticated,” Breuer said in remarks prepared for a news conference in Los Angeles.

The group’s influence has grown over the past two decades, and it counts as its allies gangs stretching from Mexico to the former Soviet bloc, Breuer said.

Armenian Power, also known as AP, formed in the late 1980s as Armenian immigrants flocked to the Los Angeles area amid the last years of the Soviet Union.

The California indictments announced Wednesday list almost 400 alleged criminal acts, including extortion schemes, credit card skimming and check fraud. The alleged schemes brought Armenian Power millions of dollars and targeted thousands, according to DOJ officials.

In one of the Armenian Power’s alleged crimes, the gang members kidnapped a businessman and demanded a $500,000 ransom, joking that he could die of a heart attack, Breuer said.

“The Southern California indictments that target the Armenian Power organized crime enterprise provide a window into a group that appears willing to do anything and everything illegal to make a profit,” Birotte said in a statement. “These types of criminal organizations – through the use of extortions, kidnappings and other violent acts – have a demonstrated willingness to prey upon members of their own community.”

The law enforcement takedown, dubbed Operation Power Outage, involved the FBI among other federal and local law enforcement agencies.

On the Los Angeles set of cases are Assistant U.S. Attorneys E. Martin Estrada, Sarah Levitt, Stephen G. Wolfe and Joseph McNally, and Trial Attorney Cristina Moreno of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section.

In Miami, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Huynh and Cynthia Stone, Trial Attorney Margaret Honrath of the Organized Crime section and Trial Attorney Constantine Lizas of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section are handling the prosecutions.

Organized Crime Trial Attorneys Robert S. Tully and Joe Wheatley are handling the Denver case.

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

California Attorney General-elect Kamala Harris on Wednesday named two former federal prosecutors to her office, Black Voices News reported.

Jack Weiss will serve as chairman of the Gangs, Gun Crimes and Organized Crime Smart on Crime committee. Weiss, who worked in the criminal division of the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney’s office from 1994 to 2000, is now a managing director and head of the Los Angeles office of Kroll’s Business Intelligence and investigations practice. Before joining Kroll in September 2010, he served as a member of the Los Angeles City Council from 2001 to 2009.

Bill Lann Lee will serve as the chairman of the Civil Rights Enforcement Smart on Crime committee. Lee, who was the Assistant Attorney General for civil rights from 1997 to 2001, is now a shareholder at Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker, & Jackson, P.C. He previously was a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP. Lee also has worked as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Friday, November 12th, 2010

A former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles is among the ex-U.S. Attorneys scrutinized for excessive travel by the Justice Department Inspector General, The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

Thomas P. O'Brien (Paul Hastings)

Thomas P. O’Brien, who was the Central District of California U.S. Attorney from 2007 to 2009, is “U.S. Attorney D” in the Inspector General report released Monday that lists five unnamed former U.S. Attorneys who “routinely exceeded the government rate [for lodging], by large amounts, with insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification.”

The former U.S. Attorney exceeded the government rate at hotels six times with “insufficient justification,” the report says. The document notes that three of the hotels did not host the conferences the U.S. Attorney attended. One hotel, the Island Hotel in Newport Beach, Calif., was 20 miles away from the conference he attended in Anaheim, Calif.

For one trip at the end of his tenure, the ex-prosecutor did pay the difference between the government rate and his preferred hotel after a staffer at his U.S. Attorney’s office told him to pay for expenses above the government price.

“We concluded that some of U.S. Attorney D’s claims for reimbursement above the government rate were inappropriate and egregious violations of the travel regulations,” the report says. “We did not find the U.S. Attorney’s attempt to cast blame for these violations on his secretary to be credible or persuasive. His secretary said that she would not have known to book the U.S. Attorney at the particular hotels without his specific instructions, and that he told her to write ’sold out’ to justify being reimbursed for more expensive lodgings. We do not believe that the secretary would have taken these actions on her own initiative.”

O’Brien, now a partner at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP in Los Angeles, said he didn’t do anything wrong, but told the L.A. Times that he takes “full responsibility” for any errors that caused excessive spending. The former U.S. Attorney said he paid DOJ on Tuesday the amount of money to cover the hotel bills the Inspector General report identified as excessive.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and former Pittsburgh U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan were also identified as two of the five former prosecutors in the report.

Christie, who was New Jersey U.S. Attorney from 2002 to 2008, is “U.S. Attorney C” in the report. He spent more than double the government rate at upscale hotels in D.C. and Boston, according to the report.

Buchanan, who served as Western District of Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney from 2001 to 2009, is “U.S. Attorney B” in the report. She paid more than the government rate 11 times at upscale hotels in D.C., including the Mayflower, Renaissance, J.W. Marriott and Grand Hyatt, according to the report.

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Monday, August 23rd, 2010

A former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles will represent the ex-girlfriend of actor Mel Gibson in the increasingly complex case involving her estranged ex-boyfriend, TMZ reported Sunday.

Mary Fulginiti (ABC)

Mary Fulginiti, who worked in the Central District of California U.S. Attorney’s Office from 1996 to 2000, will handle the defense of Oksana Grigorieva, Gibson’s ex-girlfriend, who has leveled domestic violence allegations against the actor and is under investigation for extortion.

The former federal prosecutor handled homicide, narcotics, bank robbery and fraud cases in the Los Angeles-based U.S. Attorney’s office. She is now a ABC News correspondent, covering legal issues for “Primetime” and other ABC News programs.

She received her bachelor’s from Boston College and her law degree from Georgetown University.

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Friday, July 2nd, 2010

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on Wednesday tapped a top prosecutor from the Central District of California U.S. Attorney’s office for a state judgeship.

The governor appointed Central California Criminal Chief Christine Ewell to a seat on the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

David Schindler, who worked with Ewell as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, said Ewell is a dedicated public servant who is committed to justice.

“Christine bleeds red, white and blue,” said Schindler, a partner at Los Angeles law firm Latham & Watkins LLP.

Ewell started at the Justice Department in 1990 as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Texas, serving there one year. She next worked as of counsel at the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP in Los Angeles from 1997 to 2000, handling white collar criminal cases. Ewell rejoined the DOJ in 2002 to serve as a special assistant to then-U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang in Los Angeles.

In 2004, she became the chief of the Major Frauds Section in the U.S. Attorney’s office before ascending to Criminal Division Chief in 2007. The prosecutor successfully handled several fraud cases, including the prosecution of former television producer Joseph Medawar, who was convicted in 2006 of scamming millions of dollars from people to help create a nonexistent television show.

Ewell also worked on the extortion case involving Steven Robert Comisar, who wrote “America’s Guide to Fraud Prevention” in 1997. Comisar was convicted in 2007 of attempting to wrest $50,000 from a lawyer while he was waiting in jail for sentencing in a previous extortion case.

She found herself in the headlines in spring 2009 for e-mails she sent to her colleagues about medical marijuana dispensary prosecutions.

In February 2009, Ewell e-mailed office prosecutors an order issued by then-U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien to halt filing charges against the dispensaries – only days after Attorney General Eric Holder announced that medical marijuana prosecutions weren’t a priority for the Obama administration. She then followed up with an e-mail that instructed her coworkers to refrain from sharing the information in the memo with people who did not work at the U.S. Attorney’s office. The ban was lifted in the following days.

Ewell received her bachelor’s degree from Texas A & M University in 1983. She was awarded her law degree from Harvard University in 1986.

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. of the Central District of California will establish a section dedicated to civil rights and public corruption prosecutions, according to an office memo sent to staff members Friday and reviewed by Main Justice.

Andre Birotte (DOJ)

Birotte, who has led the Los Angeles-based office since March, wrote in the memo that he decided to create the section within the office’s Criminal Division after he consulted with Central District Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Justice Department officials and law enforcement members. The section is slated for a July 1 launch.

“The public needs to be able to rely on federal law enforcement to act as a watchdog for public institutions and the individuals who hold positions of trust in those organizations,” Birotte wrote. “The presence in this office of a vigorous section with a broad mandate – to investigate, and to prosecute when necessary, public corruption and civil rights violations in all their insidious forms – will fulfill this public need.”

The section will include about seven prosecutors led by Lawrence Middleton, a 20-year veteran of the office, who is currently Special Counsel to the U.S. Attorney.  Middleton helped handle the civil rights case against two Los Angeles Police Department officers convicted in 1993 on charges stemming from the beating of Rodney King.

The prosecutors will work closely with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section and their counterparts in Los Angeles area law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Attorney said.

“[T]he residents of this large and diverse district can look forward to having a dedicated team of expert federal prosecutors whose mission is to protect and preserve the fundamental civil rights of those residents and to bring to justice those public officials and public employees who violate the public’s trust,” Birotte wrote.

The U.S. Attorney also said he will fold the Domestic Security and Immigration Crimes Section into the Criminal Division’s General Crimes Section to make a “single, larger, and more flexible section.” He said the loss of a number of Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys, who handled a majority of the illegal re-entry cases, was a contributing factor to his decision.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Curtis Kin, who currently leads the Domestic Security and Immigration Crimes Section, will become the Chief of the  General Crimes Section after it is expanded next month. Assistant U.S. Attorney Rod Castro-Silva, who is currently the chief of the General Crimes Section, will become the office’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Chief.

Birotte also announced a number of other promotions, which are slated to happen July 1 including:

-Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office Gang Division Chief Bruce Riordan, a 15-year veteran of the office, will return as Special Counsel to the U.S. Attorney.

-Assistant U.S. Attorney Dorothy Kim, who will become a Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division.

-Assistant U.S. Attorney Rupa Goswami, who will become a Deputy Chief in the General Crimes Section.

-Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Willet, who will lead the Santa Ana, Calif., branch of the U.S. Attorney’s office.

-Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Searight, who will become a Senior Litigation Counsel and serve as an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force attorney.

-Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the acting Chief of the National Security Section, will become the permanent Chief.

-Assistant U.S. Attorney Beong-Soo Kim, the acting Chief of the Major Frauds Section, will become the permanent Chief.

-Assistant U.S. Attorney Conseulo Woodhead, an acting Deputy Chief in the Major Frauds Section, will become a permanent Deputy Chief.

Monday, June 7th, 2010

The Senate confirmed two former Justice Department prosecutors on Monday for federal judgeships.

Audrey G. Fleissig (Washington University)

Lucy Koh (Harvard University)

The Senate confirmed former Eastern District of Missouri U.S. Attorney Audrey G. Fleissig for a seat on the U.S. District Court by a 90-0 vote. The Senate also confirmed former Central District of California Assistant U.S. Attorney Lucy Koh for a judgeship in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California also by a 90-0 vote.

Fleissig led the St. Louis-based U.S. Attorney’s office from 2000 to 2001. She also spent about 10 years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in St. Louis.

Koh was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Major Frauds Section at the Los Angeles-based U.S. Attorney’s office from 1997 to 2000. She also served as a special assistant to the Deputy Attorney General from 1996 to 1997, and as a special counsel at DOJ headquarters in D.C. from 1994 to 1996.

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian R. Michael has joined the Los Angeles office of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, the firm announced in a release. He will serve as counsel in the office’s business trial, securities litigation and enforcement, and investigations and criminal litigation groups.

Michael was an Assistant U.S. Attorney from 2003 to 2010, working in the U.S. Attorney’s offices in Los Angeles and Manhattan. Before becoming a federal prosecutor, Michael spent three years as a litigation associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in New York. He also previously served as deputy director of congressional affairs for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the Justice Department.

“Brian’s experience investigating and prosecuting large complex cases, together with his extensive trial and courtroom experience, will enhance our ability to handle our clients’ most significant and high-stakes matters,” Randall Lee, partner-in-charge of WilmerHale’s Los Angeles office, said in a release.

Lee said Michael joins two other former Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the Los Angeles office.

Monday, March 15th, 2010

A former FBI agent from the Central District of California charged with unlawfully using his authority to obtain information has resigned, The Orange County Register reported.

Peter H. Norell Jr. faces a misdemeanor charge stemming from a 2005 incident in which he allegedly used a computer to retrieve information he was not authorized to obtain. He pleaded not guilty on Monday. Several FBI agents were at the courtroom Monday to support Norell, who formerly led the FBI’s white-collar crime unit in Santa Ana, Calif., according to the newspaper.

“It’s a sad, sad day,” Thomas S. McConville, Norell’s lawyer, said. “We’ll let this case see its way through the justice system.”

McConville declined to further elaborate on his client’s case. Northern District of California Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Finigan, who is prosecuting the case, also declined to comment to The OC Register.

Further details on the case are scarce as prosecutors have filed only a few short court documents. (The court records can be found here, here and here.)

Norell faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Although he pleaded not guilty, Norell will likely change his plea to guilty at another court hearing, according to the newspaper.

This story was corrected to reflect that Norell pleaded not guilty. The original version said he had pleaded guilty.

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Andre Birotte Jr. (gov)

Andre Birotte Jr. was sworn in as the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Thursday morning during a private ceremony, according to a news release.

Birotte, the former inspector general of the Los Angeles Police Department, replaced Thomas P. O’Brien, who resigned Sept. 1, 2009, to join the white-collar criminal defense practice in the Los Angeles offices of the Paul Hastings law firm. The Los Angeles-based district’s most recent acting U.S. Attorney wass George S. Cardona.

U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. administered the oath in his Los Angeles courtroom.

After the ceremony, Birotte said, “It is my great pleasure to be leading what is widely considered to be one of the nation’s premier public law firms,” adding, “This United States Attorney’s Office has a long tradition of handling some of the most significant cases in the nation, and my goal is to further enhance that tradition.”

The Los Angeles-based U.S. Attorney’s office is the largest outside of the District of Columbia.