Criminal Justice News

Monday, October 15, 2018

Attorney General Sessions Announces New Measures to Fight Transnational Organized Crime


Attorney General Jeff Sessions today announced a series of measures to dismantle transnational criminal organizations.

“The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, President Trump sent me an executive order to dismantle transnational criminal organizations—the gangs and cartels who flood our streets with drugs and violence,” Attorney General Sessions said.  “We embrace that order and we carry it out every single day.  Today, to increase our effectiveness, I am putting in place new leadership to drive our transnational organized crime efforts and forming a Transnational Organized Crime Task Force of experienced prosecutors that will coordinate and optimize the Department’s efforts to take each of these groups off of our streets for good.”

The Attorney General has appointed Associate Deputy Attorney General Patrick Hovakimian to serve as the Department’s first Director of Counter Transnational Organized Crime.  Hovakimian has served in Department leadership since early 2017 and also as an AUSA in the Southern District of California, where he is co-lead counsel in a series of transnational public corruption and fraud cases.  In addition to his duties as federal prosecutor, earlier this year the President nominated and the U.S. Senate confirmed Hovakimian to serve as a Commissioner of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States.

Attorney General Sessions has appointed Adam Cohen as the new Director of Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).  Cohen is currently the Chief of the Criminal Division Special Operations Unit’s Office of Enforcement Operations and has served in the Criminal Division for 10 years.  He has also served as an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) for five years and as a state prosecutor in Florida for seven years.  He also led the National Gang Targeting Enforcement and Coordination Center for nearly three years and has served as a Deputy Chief of the Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Section.  He is a past recipient of the Assistant Attorney General’s Award for Reduction and Deterrence of Violent and Organized Crime, as well as the DEA Administrator’s Award for his work to counter narcotics trafficking.

On February 9, 2017, President Donald J. Trump issued Executive Order 13773, which directed the federal government to “ensure that Federal law enforcement agencies give a high priority and devote sufficient resources to efforts to identify, interdict, disrupt, and dismantle transnational criminal organizations[.]”

Following this Executive Order, Attorney General Sessions directed the FBI, DEA, OCDETF, and the Department’s Criminal Division to identify top transnational criminal groups that threaten the safety and prosperity of the United States and its allies.  As a result of that review, the Attorney General is designating the following criminal groups as top transnational organized crime threats:

     MS-13

     Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG)

     Sinaloa Cartel

     Clan del Golfo, and

     Lebanese Hezbollah.

The Attorney General’s TOC Task Force will be led by the Deputy Attorney General and will be composed of experienced prosecutors.  It will be organized into one subcommittee for each of the target groups.

The subcommittee on MS-13 will be led by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.  AUSA Durham has played a significant role in the FBI’s Long Island Task Force, which has arrested hundreds of MS-13 members.

The subcommittee on Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion will be led by Trial Attorney Brett Reynolds of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section of the Department’s Criminal Division.  Reynolds has led or co-led several investigations into the Cartel that have led to indictments of some of its highest ranking members.

The subcommittee on the Sinaloa Cartel will be led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Sutton of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.  AUSA Sutton prosecuted several Sinaloa kingpins and led multiple international investigations targeting Sinaloa Cartel leaders, resulting in seizures of millions of dollars in drug proceeds and thousands of kilograms of illicit drugs.

The subcommittee on Clan del Golfo will be led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Emery of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  AUSA Emery has secured convictions against the top leadership of Clan del Golfo, including kingpin Henry de Jesus Lopez LondoƱo, who commanded over 1,000 armed men for the cartel.

The subcommittee on Lebanese Hezbollah will be led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ilan Graff of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  AUSA Graff is overseeing the prosecution of two alleged members of Hezbollah’s External Security Organization, the first such operatives to be charged with terrorism offenses in the United States.

Attorney General Sessions has ordered each of these subcommittees to provide specific recommendations within 90 days on how to disrupt and dismantle TOC, whether through prosecution, diplomacy, or other lawful means.

This new Task Force builds upon work that Attorney General Sessions has already done to dismantle these groups.  On January 11, 2018, Attorney General Sessions established the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT), a group of experienced international narcotics trafficking, terrorism, organized crime, and money laundering prosecutors.  HFNT prosecutors and investigators are tasked with investigating individuals and networks providing support to Hezbollah, and pursuing prosecutions in any appropriate cases.  The new subcommittee—which will be staffed and led by HFNT members—will aid the ongoing work of the HFNT.

On October 23, 2017, Attorney General Sessions formally designated MS-13 as a priority target for OCDETF.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Delivers Remarks Regarding the Importance of Combatting Transnational Criminal Organizations


Thank you, Jessie, for that introduction.  I am grateful to you and your team here at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., for all of the vital work that you do in support of the Department’s mission.

To our colleagues and law enforcement partners here today, thank you for joining us for these important announcements about the Department’s fight against transnational organized crime.

Looking around this room, I see many people I know from our years working together, investigating and prosecuting crimes.  We are all fortunate to have one of the most rewarding legal jobs:  The pursuit of justice.  You do it every day.  You do it professionally, with humility, and often without much recognition.

The public may not know you, but they see the fruits of your hard work. Neighborhoods and communities made safer.  Wrongs made right.  Victims made whole.

The job of serving as a prosecutor has become more complex since I started in this business 28 years ago.  It is more challenging.  The threats do not just come from our own cities.  They also come from foreign nations, thousands of miles away.

Transnational Criminal Organizations — whether they are gangs, drug trafficking cartels, or terrorist groups — are a scourge.  They sow violence and sell poisonous drugs.  They bribe public officials and fuel corruption.  They terrorize law-abiding citizens.

And they are increasingly smart about how they commit their crimes.  They use the financial system and modern technology —cell phones, social media, encryption, and other tools — in support of their illicit activities.

We sometimes refer to transnational criminal organizations as TCOs. TCOs operate on multiple fronts.

And so must we.

We need to use every tool in the government’s arsenal to combat them.  Investigations, prosecutions, financial penalties, sanctions, and collaboration with foreign partners.

We need to strike at TCOs wherever they are, and with whatever means are at our disposal.  Dismantle their command and control structure.  Recover ill-gotten gains.  Cut them off from opportunities to commit crimes.

As we redouble our efforts and target more TCOs, they will feel the full weight of the U.S. government and its partners.

We are here to announce what is just the beginning of a multi-front campaign against TCOs. 

I am joined here by two people who will be integral to the Department’s efforts. First, Adam Cohen.  Adam serves as Director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, our nationwide program to fight drug trafficking.  An experienced narcotics and gang prosecutor, Adam most recently served as Chief of the Special Operations Unit of the Office of Enforcement Operations in the Criminal Division.  Adam also led the National Gang Targeting Enforcement and Coordination Center and served as a Deputy Chief of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section.  His wealth of experience will serve the Department’s mission well.

We are also joined today by Patrick Hovakimian, a federal prosecutor who investigates and prosecutes transnational public corruption and fraud.  Patrick joined us last year in Main Justice, where he now serves as an Associate Deputy Attorney General. In that capacity, Patrick also will serve as the Department’s first Director of Counter-Transnational Organized Crime. Patrick is working with the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to build a whole-of-government initiative to dismantle TCOs.

Everyone in the law enforcement community should know that you have the full support of the Attorney’s General and the Department of Justice.  We know that the long days and nights you spend make a difference.  They matter to us and to the people of the United States.  And you will continue to have our full support

Now it is my distinct honor to introduce a man who has dedicated his distinguished career to upholding the rule of law.  Before becoming Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, United States Attorney, state Attorney General, and United States Senator. He is a public servant of the highest order.  He is not here just to carry on business as usual. He is here to deliver on President Trump’s commitment to make America safe. We at the Department are fortunate for his leadership and for the example that he sets every day.  So please welcome the 84th Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Man Receives 106 Year Sentence After String of Violent Convenience Store Robberies in the Triangle


GREENVILLE – The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Robert J. Higdon, Jr., announced that today, Senior United States District Judge Malcolm J. Howard sentenced JOHN DEVERE BATTLE, 25, of Durham, to 1,272 months imprisonment followed by 5 years of supervised release.  He was also ordered to pay $35,791.00 in restitution.  BATTLE was convicted on May 17, 2018, after a four-day jury trial, of 12 counts including Conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act Robbery, Interference with commerce by robbery and aiding and abetting, four-counts of Brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and aiding and abetting, Interference with commerce by robbery and aiding and abetting,  Taking motor vehicle by force, violence and intimidation with intent to cause serious bodily injury, and aiding and abetting,  Bank robbery and aiding and abetting, two-counts of Possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon.

The evidence at trial showed that on May 14, 2016, BATTLE and others robbed the Kangaroo gas station located at 1807 North Harrison Avenue in Cary at gunpoint. On June 15, 2016, BATTLE and others robbed the Quality Mart gas station located at 7411 Chapel Hill Road in Cary at gunpoint. On June 16, 2016, BATTLE and others committed a home invasion in Cary. During the home invasion, BATTLE and others robbed the victims at gunpoint, tied up the victims and threatened to kill them.  One of the victims was pistol-whipped.  BATTLE and others took one of the victims at gunpoint to a bank in Cary and forced the victim to withdraw money.  The evidence also established that BATTLE was arrested on June 17, 2016 after the execution of a search warrant at a home in Wendell, NC.  During the execution of the search warrant, a handgun was recovered along with numerous stolen items taken from the home invasion.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone.   Attorney General Jeff Sessions reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of the Department’s renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally-based strategies to reduce violent crime.

In support of PSN, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina has implemented the Take Back North Carolina Initiative.  This initiative emphasizes the regional assignment of federal prosecutors to work with law enforcement and District Attorney’s Offices on a sustained basis in those communities to reduce the violent crime rate, drug trafficking, and crimes against law enforcement.

The investigation of this case was conducted by the Cary Police Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), Durham Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wake County Sheriff’s Office, Wendell Police Department, City County Bureau of Identification and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.  Assistant United States Attorneys Peggah B. Wilson and Ethan A. Ontjes represented the government in this case.