Two East Tennessee Doctors Plead Guilty to Opioid Offenses

Two Tennessee doctors each pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Doug Overbey of the Eastern District of Tennessee, Special Agent in Charge Joe Carrico of the FBI’s Knoxville Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and Director David Rausch of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation made the announcement.

Samuel Mcgaha, M.D., of Sevierville, Tennessee, and Frank McNiel, M.D., of Knoxville, Tennessee, each pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance.  The charges stem from Mcgaha’s and McNiel’s roles in prescribing high doses of opioids with no medical legitimacy – McNiel from his home.  From 2015 until March 2018, Mcgaha and McNiel prescribed 212,226 and 59,712 opioid pills, respectively.  During this period, Mcgaha admittedly wrote opioid prescriptions that exceeded Centers for Disease Control guidelines and prescribed opioids even when patients tested positive for non-prescribed prescriptions and illicit substances.  McNiel admittedly wrote opioid prescriptions without evaluating patients and without obtaining medical records that would have justified the prescription of opioids.  Sentencing has been scheduled for March 26, 2020, before the Honorable Thomas A. Varlan.

The FBI,  HHS-OIG, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation investigated the case.  Trial Attorney Louis Manzo of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne Svolto of the Eastern District of Tennessee are prosecuting the case. 

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged more than 4,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for nearly $19 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

Individuals who believe that they may be a victim in this case should visit the Fraud Section’s Victim Witness website for more information.

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Author: October 18, 2019

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Chinese National Sentenced to 40 Months in Prison for Conspiring to Illegally Export Military- and Space-Grade Technology from the United States to China

On October 16, 2019, United States District Judge Diane J. Humetewa sentenced Tao Li, a 39-year-old Chinese national, to 40 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.  Li had previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to export military- and space-grade technology to the People’s Republic of China without a license in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. 

“This case is one of many involving illegal attempts to take U.S. technology to China.  Li attempted to procure highly sensitive U.S. military technology in violation of our export control laws.  Such laws are in place to protect our national security, and the Department of Justice will continue to vigorously enforce them,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers. “We don’t take these crimes lightly and we will continue to pursue them.”

“If you steal our military and space technology, you should expect to go to prison,” said Michael Bailey, United States Attorney for the District of Arizona. “But for the diligent work of HSI and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, our nation’s security would’ve been damaged by Mr. Li.”

“Li’s sentencing was the result of a highly successful joint investigative effort with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that prevented U.S. military technology from falling into the wrong hands,” said Bryan D. Denny, Special Agent in Charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Western Field Office.  “It also reaffirms our commitment to protecting America from this type of activity and, equally so, serves as a warning to those intent on illegally exporting our technologies that the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and its partners will pursue these crimes relentlessly.”

“This sentence is well deserved and further demonstrates the lengths of criminal activity by those who seek to engage in illegally obtaining sophisticated materials,” said Scott Brown, Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Phoenix. “One of HSI’s top priorities is preventing U.S. military products and sensitive technology from falling into the hands of those who might seek to harm America or its interests. We will continue to aggressively pursue violators wherever they may be.” 

Between December 2016 and January 2018, Li worked with other individuals in China to purchase radiation-hardened power amplifiers and supervisory circuits and illegally export them from the United States to China.  The electronic components sought by Li are capable of withstanding significant levels of radiation and extreme heat, and as a result, are primarily used for military and space applications.  Due to the technological capabilities of the electronic components sought by Li and the significant contribution that the components could make to a foreign country’s military and space programs, both parts required an export license from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security, prior to being sent out of the United States. Notwithstanding the licensing requirement, the Department of Commerce has a policy of denial to export these types of electronic components to the People’s Republic of China.

Between December 2016 and January 2018, Li, who resided in China, used multiple aliases to contact individuals in the United States, including representatives of United States-based private companies, to try to obtain the electronic components. Additionally, Li and his coconspirators agreed to pay a “risk fee” to illegally export the electronic components to China.  In furtherance of his request, Li wired money from a bank account in China to a bank account in Arizona.  Li was arrested in September 2018 at Los Angeles International Airport, as Li attempted to travel from China to Arizona to meet with one of the undercover agents. 

The investigation in this case was conducted by HSI and DCIS.  The prosecution was handled by Todd M. Allison and David Pimsner, Assistant United States Attorneys, District of Arizona, Phoenix, with assistance from Scott Claffee, Trial Attorney, Department of Justice National Security Division.

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Author: October 18, 2019

Former New York Business Owner Pleads Guilty to Tax Fraud

A former Auburn, New York, business owner pleaded guilty today in federal court in Syracuse to filing a false tax return, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith for the Northern District of New York. 

As alleged in court documents, Timothy Blackman, 48, was a self-employed contractor providing construction and remodeling services to customers. During the years 2007 through 2010, Blackman failed to file income tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and failed to pay income taxes. After learning of an IRS criminal investigation in June 2010 concerning his income taxes, Blackman filed his 2007 individual tax return late, and willfully falsified that return by understating his true business receipts and total income from his construction and remodeling business. Blackman previously pleaded guilty to felony tax evasion in the Northern District of New York on March 19, 2004, for which he received a sentence of 15 months’ imprisonment.

Senior United States District Court Judge Norman A. Mordue scheduled sentencing for Feb. 17, 2020. The charge to which Blackman pleaded guilty carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison, one year of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. A defendant’s sentence is imposed by a judge based on the particular statute the defendant is charged with violating, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other factors.

This case was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation, and it is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief John Kane and Trial Attorney Kathryn Sparks of the Tax Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Perry.

Additional information about the Tax Division and its enforcement efforts may be found on the division’s website.

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Author: October 18, 2019

Former Hopi Indian Reservation Ranger Convicted in Arizona on Sexual Assault Charges and Destruction of Evidence

A federal jury in the District of Arizona convicted Mackenzie Davis, 25, a former Ranger with the Hopi Resource Enforcement Services, of sexually assaulting a female arrestee in his custody and destroying evidence to cover up his crimes.

“Any law enforcement officer who uses his official authority to target and sexually assault a person in his custody will be held accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General Dreiband. “The Department of Justice commends the victim who came forward to report this reprehensible conduct, so that this officer’s crimes could see the light of day.” 

“A sexual assault is doubly devastating to the victim when perpetrated by a law-enforcement officer whose only duty was to protect her from such harm,” said Michael Bailey, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona. “It’s also a breach of the community’s trust, and an affront to work of the earnest and honest officers who sacrifice daily on our behalf.”

“The FBI will not tolerate officials who abuse their authority and violate the very people they were sworn to protect,” said Sean Kaul, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Phoenix Field Office. “We too commend the victim who came forward to report this crime. The FBI will continue to work alongside our state, local, federal, and tribal law enforcement partners to protect all of our communities and hold those who abuse their positions of power, accountable.”

Evidence presented at trial established that on Nov. 15, 2016, Davis arrested the victim for driving under the influence. During a nearly two-hour transport to a detention center, Davis pulled over onto the side of the road and sexually assaulted C.A. Another witness testified that he engaged in similar conduct with her five years prior, when he was not a law enforcement officer.   

A jury found Davis guilty of violating C.A.’s civil rights, abusive sexual contact in Indian Country, and destruction of evidence.

The defendant was remanded into custody and sentencing is set for Feb. 24, 2020. The defendant faces up to 23 years imprisonment.

The case was investigated by the Flagstaff Resident Agency of the Phoenix Division of the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Abbie Broughton Marsh, and Special Litigation Counsel Fara Gold and Trial Attorney Maura White of the Civil Rights Division.

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Author: October 17, 2019

Department of Justice Prosecuted a Record-Breaking Number of Immigration-Related Cases in Fiscal Year 2019

 The Justice Department today announced that in fiscal year 2019 (FY19), its U.S. Attorneys’ Offices prosecuted the highest number of immigration-related offenses since record keeping began more than 25 years ago. These numbers successfully reverse the trend in previous years of declining prosecutions for felony Illegal Reentry defendants, misdemeanor Improper Entry defendants and felony Alien Smuggling defendants.

“These record-breaking numbers are a testament to the dedication of our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices throughout the nation, especially our Southwest border offices,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen. “In addition to the usual workload of each case the Department prosecutes, this effort was made possible after our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices restored essential partnerships with national, state and local law-enforcement partners.”

The newly announced numbers show the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices charged 25,426 defendants with felony Illegal Reentry (8 U.S.C. §1326) in FY19, an increase of 8.5 percent from FY18.

80,866 defendants were charged with misdemeanor Improper Entry (8 U.S.C. §1325(a)), surpassing the record set just last year by 18.1 percent. 

4,297 defendants were charged with Alien Smuggling (8 U.S.C. §1324), an increase of 15.4 percent from FY18. 

The increased prosecutions are part of the Department of Justice’s commitment to enforcing America’s laws to address the crisis at the border. This announcement comes one week after the Department of Justice announced its Executive Office for Immigration Review completed 275,000 cases in FY19, the second highest number of completed cases in the court’s history.

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Author: October 17, 2019

Southern California Doctor Found Guilty in $12 Million Medicare Fraud and Device Adulteration Scheme

A federal jury found a southern California doctor guilty yesterday for his role in a $12 million scheme to provide medically unnecessary procedures to Medicare beneficiaries, upcode claims submitted to Medicare, and re-package single-use catheters for reuse on patients.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Nicola T. Hanna of the Central District of California, Assistant Director in Charge Paul Delacourt of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Timothy DeFrancesca of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Los Angeles Regional Office and Special Agent in Charge

Lisa Malinowski of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations’ (FDA-OCI) Los Angeles Field Office made the announcement.

After a six-day trial, Donald Woo Lee, 54, of Temecula, California, was found guilty of seven counts of health care fraud and one count of adulteration of a medical device.  Sentencing has been scheduled for March 19, 2020, before U.S. District Judge George Wu of the Central District of California, who presided over the trial. 

According to evidence presented at trial, from 2012 to 2015, Lee engaged in a scheme in which he recruited Medicare beneficiaries to his clinics, falsely diagnosed the beneficiaries with venous insufficiency and provided the beneficiaries with medically unnecessary vein ablation procedures.  The evidence further established that Lee billed these unnecessary procedures to Medicare using an inappropriate code in order to obtain a higher reimbursement, a practice known as “upcoding.”  In addition, the evidence showed that Lee repackaged used, contaminated catheters for re-use on patients.  These catheters had been cleared by the FDA for marketing as single-use only.  Lee submitted claims of approximately $12 million to Medicare for the vein ablation procedures he performed, and received $4.5 million as a result, the evidence showed.

This case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG and FDA-OCI, and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.  Trial Attorneys Alexis Gregorian and Emily Culbertson of the Fraud Section are prosecuting the case. 

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged more than 4,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for nearly $19 billion.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

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Author: October 17, 2019

Justice Department Settles Immigration-Related Discrimination Claim Against Texas-Based National Restaurant Franchise Owner

The Department of Justice announced today that it has reached a settlement agreement with MUY Brands LLC, a San Antonio, Texas-based owner and operator of approximately 78 Taco Bell restaurant franchises in six states, and a related management company, MUY Consulting Inc. The settlement resolves the Department’s investigation into whether the companies violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by discriminating against lawful permanent residents because of their citizenship status when verifying their authorization to work in the United States. 

“Employers cannot require that a worker provide more or different documents than necessary to legally prove work authorization based on the worker’s citizenship status or national origin,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to enforcing the Immigration and Nationality Act and rooting out unlawful discrimination in the employment eligibility verification process to help ensure equal employment opportunities.”

The Department’s investigation concluded that, from at least July 2015 to March 2017, MUY Brands and MUY Consulting required specific work authorization documents from all lawful permanent residents who worked at their Taco Bell restaurants, while not imposing a similar requirement on U.S. citizens. As a result, some lawful permanent residents lost work opportunities, even though they had presented sufficient documentation to prove their authorization to work. Federal law allows all work-authorized individuals, regardless of citizenship status, to choose which valid, legally acceptable documents to present to demonstrate their ability to work in the United States. The anti-discrimination provision of the INA prohibits employers from requesting more or different documents than necessary to prove work authorization based on employees’ citizenship status or national origin.

Under the terms of the agreement, the companies will pay a civil penalty of $175,000, establish a $50,000 backpay fund to pay affected workers, and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements. Additionally, certain employees will be required to attend training on the requirements of the INA’s anti-discrimination provision. 

The Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA. Among other things, the statute prohibits discrimination based on citizenship status and national origin in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee; unfair documentary practicesretaliation; and intimidation

More information on how employers can avoid discrimination in the Form I-9 and E-Verify processes is available here. For more information about protections against employment discrimination under immigration laws, call IER’s worker hotline at 1-800-255-7688 (1-800-237-2515, TTY for hearing impaired); call IER’s employer hotline at 1-800-255-8155 (1-800-237-2515, TTY for hearing impaired); sign up for a free webinar; email IER@usdoj.gov; or visit IER’s English and Spanish websites. Subscribe to GovDelivery to receive updates from IER.

Applicants or employees who believe they were subjected to discrimination based on their citizenship, immigration status, or national origin in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee; or discrimination in the employment eligibility verification process (Form I-9 and E-Verify) based on their citizenship, immigration status, or national origin; or retaliation can file a charge or contact IER’s worker hotline for assistance.

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Author: October 17, 2019

Department of Justice Awards More Than $29 Million in Public Safety Funding to Northern District of Ohio

The Department of Justice today announced awards of more than $29 million to support public safety efforts in the Northern District of Ohio. The funding from the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) will support violent crime reduction, opioid/substance abuse reduction efforts, victim services, transitional housing for domestic violence victims, law enforcement activities, justice mental health, and juvenile justice.

“The Department of Justice is proud to announce funding for the Northern District of Ohio to further reduce violent crime, train judges and prosecutors, and serve victims of crime,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “We applaud U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman for his fine work there, and we are confident that his stewardship of the additional resources will yield tangible results in his community.”

“It was an honor to announce the Department’s awards in and beyond Cleveland today, and to meet with those working on the ground to end domestic and sexual violence,” said Laura L. Rogers, Acting Director of the Office on Violence Against Women. “During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is heartening to hear about efforts in Cleveland, including the high risk team’s use of innovative strategies to prevent domestic violence homicides. I am delighted to announce funding for specialized courts, prosecutors, law enforcement, and victims services providers who are working around the clock to protect and bring justice for victims.”

“Community safety and justice is a round-the-clock operation in communities across the country, including the Northern District of Ohio,” said Katharine T. Sullivan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs. “This is why the Office of Justice Programs is pleased to announce critical grant funding going to the Northern District of Ohio that will support opioid and substance abuse reduction, bolster law enforcement, create specialized courts to handle domestic violence cases, and give over $3 million toward the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative that addresses the growing number of unsubmitted SAKs in law enforcement custody and helps provide resolution for victims when possible.”

OVW Acting Director Rogers made the announcement at the Cuyahoga County Justice Center on Wednesday afternoon along with U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman and Judge Sherrie Miday. Acting Director Rogers also recognized U.S. Attorney Herdman and his work in the Northern District of Ohio. Corresponding with National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Acting Director Rogers and U.S. Attorney Herdman discussed the Department’s work in bolstering law enforcement and providing services in the District that victims need to find safety, stability, and justice.

“These funds will save lives, whether that is expanding a program that identifies the most dangerous abusers, provides emergency shelter to our most vulnerable victims, allows law enforcement to do a better job tracking and sharing crime data, just to name a few,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said. “These grant awards demonstrate the Justice Department’s commitment to working across the state and country, with jurisdictions large and small, to make our communities safer.”

The awards were made by the three grant-making components of the Department of Justice—OVW, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and the Office of Justice Programs.

A full list of COPS awards is available online at https://cops.usdoj.gov/grants. OJP awards, organized under specific grant programs, are available online at https://ojp.gov/funding/Explore/OJPAwardData.htm. For OVW awards, visit https://www.justice.gov/ovw/awards.

About the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services:

The COPS Office is a federal agency responsible for advancing community policing nationwide. Since 1994, the COPS Office has invested more than $14 billion to advance community policing, including grants awarded to more than 13,000 state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to fund the hiring and redeployment of approximately 130,000 officers and provide a variety of knowledge resource products including publications, training and technical assistance. For additional information about the COPS Office, please visit www.cops.usdoj.gov.

About the Office of Justice Programs:

The Office of Justice Programs, directed by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine T. Sullivan, provides federal leadership, grants, training, technical assistance and other resources to improve the nation’s capacity to prevent and reduce crime, assist victims and enhance the rule of law by strengthening the criminal justice system. More information about OJP and its components can be found at www.ojp.gov.

About the Office on Violence Against Women:

The Office on Violence Against Women provides leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to reduce violence through the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act and subsequent legislation. Created in 1995, OVW administers financial and technical assistance to communities across the country that are developing programs, policies and practices aimed at ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. In addition to overseeing federal grant programs, OVW undertakes initiatives in response to special needs identified by communities facing acute challenges. Learn more at www.justice.gov/ovw.

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Author: October 16, 2019

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband Delivers Remarks at Commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act

A peaceful Bible study at a historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina; worshippers at Shabbat morning services in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; an Islamic community in Victoria, Texas.  All interrupted by violence. 

And those are only a few of the countless modern headlines describing horrific shootings and arsons, death and destruction.  It is easy to think of hate crimes as a new problem. But sadly, hate is older than America itself.

Our values as a nation are rooted in our founding history and enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, which boldly proclaims — as a self-evident truth– that all of us are created equal.  Yet, for many, those values did not really exist.

As we approach Thanksgiving, we are reminded that our country was founded by Pilgrims and Puritans who left England because the English monarch denied them religious and other forms of freedom, harassed them, and sometimes tortured them for their religious beliefs. 

And yet, the Pilgrims and the Puritans who came to these shores did not always respect the religious freedom of others.  For example, in Boston in 1660, a woman named Mary Dyer was an English Puritan who became a Quaker.  By doing so, she violated a law that banned Quakers from the Massachusetts colony.  She suffered the ultimate penalty when she and others who shared her faith were executed on Boston Common for the crime of being a Quaker in Massachusetts. 

And another of America’s founding settlements, Jamestown, was responsible for beginning the importation of African slaves.  The violent legacy of that decision split our country, in the words of President Abraham Lincoln, four score and seven years after its founding, and cascades down through the centuries, touching us today.

After the civil war, the Congress enacted and the States ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.  The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, but it did not end race-related violence. 

Indeed, in May 1865, when ratification was nearly certain, former slave and civil rights activist Frederick Douglass warned that even after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, “Any wretch may enter the house of a black man, and commit any violence he pleases; if he happens to do it only in the presence of black persons, he goes unwhipt of justice.”

Mr. Douglass’ warning proved prophetic.  Later in 1865, in the very month that slavery was abolished, confederate veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee formed a club that soon evolved into the most violent terrorist organization the country had ever seen.  The Ku Klux Klan murdered thousands and intimidated tens of thousands of Americans, both in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and in its second incarnation in the Twentieth Century.  The Klan targeted Blacks, Jews, Catholics, and anyone who supported them. 

Lynchings by the Klan and by similar organizations occurred throughout the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, often unabated by state police or prosecutors. 

The federal government then had no tools to address the problem of bias-motivated violence.  Attempts by the federal government to prosecute such violent acts of bias were unsuccessful because existing statutes did not adequately cover nongovernment actors, and the courts read into such statutes a lack of federal authority to prosecute bias crimes under the 13th and 14th Amendments.

During the 1960s, Americans witnessed several racially-motivated murders, including the shooting death of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi; the murderous bombing by white supremacists of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and corresponding deaths of Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson, all age 14, and Carol Denise McNair, age 11; the executions of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Philadelphia, Mississippi; and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968.

As a result of all this violence, and the dedicated work of many civil rights activists, public officials, and other Americans, the Congress enacted and, one week after the assassination of Dr. King, on April 11, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed America’s first hate crime laws.  One statute made it a crime to use, or threaten to use, force to willfully interfere with any person because of race, color, religion, or national origin and because the person is participating in a federally protected activity, such as public education, employment, jury service, travel, or the enjoyment of public accommodations, or helping another person to do so.  A second statute made it a crime to use, or threaten to use, force to interfere with housing rights because of the victim’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; in 1988, Congress added protections for familial status and disability.

These laws were effective tools for the federal government, but did not end violence in America or empower the federal government to seek justice for all its incarnations.

These laws did not protect houses of worship, and in 1996, after Black churches burned across the South, Congress enacted the Church Arson Prevention Act. That law authorizes punishment for the defacement, damage and destruction of religious real property at any house of worship, be it a church, mosque, synagogue, or any other sacred building.  The Congress and the president amended the law last year to increase its effectiveness.

Yet, despite these laws, there remained a gap in federal law.  The 1968 laws required proof of both an act of violence and also proof that the defendant intended to interfere with a specified list of protected rights — for example, the right to own or occupy a dwelling. 

This meant that a defendant might be acquitted if he could successfuly argue that although he had assaulted his neighbor because of the color of his skin, the assault had nothing to do with the neighbor’s house; in other words, that he also would have assaulted his neighbor if he saw him at work, at prayer, or on the street.

Moreover, until 2009, only one federal hate crime law covered crimes against disabled individuals and none allowed prosecution of defendants who targeted the LGBT community.  Congress eventually decided that these individuals needed protection.   

In 1998, Matthew Shepard— a 21 year old student at the University of Wyoming –was robbed, tortured, tied to a fence along a country road and left to die by two men who offered him a ride home from a local bar.  The investigation into Matthew Shepard’s death found strong evidence that his attackers targeted him because he was gay.

That same year, James Byrd, Jr.—a 49-year-old African-American man who lived in Jasper, Texas—accepted a ride home from three men. They drove him to the remote edge of town where they beat him severely, tied him by the ankles to the back of a pickup truck, and dragged him to his death.  In the case of James Byrd, Jr., the three men responsible for his killing were well-known white supremacists.

But while the men responsible for brutally killing Matthew and James were later convicted of murder, none of them was prosecuted for committing a hate crime. At the time Matthew and James were murdered, neither Wyoming nor Texas had a hate crimes law, and existing federal hate crimes protections did not include violent acts based on the victim’s sexual orientation and only covered racial violence against those engaged in a federally protected activity, such as voting or attending school.

Ten years ago this month, Congress enacted and President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This landmark legislation greatly expanded the federal government’s ability to prosecute hate crimes. The law enables the Justice Department to prosecute crimes motivated by race, color, religion and national origin without having to show that the defendant was engaged in a federally protected activity. The Shepard-Byrd Act also empowers the department to prosecute crimes committed because of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender or disability as hate crimes.

When Congress enacted the Shepard-Byrd Act, it found: “For generations, the institutions of slavery and involuntary servitude were defined by the race, color, and ancestry of those held in bondage. Slavery and involuntary servitude were enforced, both prior to and after the adoption of the 13th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, through widespread public and private violence directed at persons because of their race, color, or ancestry, or perceived race, color, or ancestry. Accordingly, eliminating racially motivated violence is an important means of eliminating, to the extent possible, the badges, incidents, and relics of slavery and involuntary servitude.”

Congress determined that the incidence of violence motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim posed a serious national problem and that such violence disrupts the tranquility and safety of communities and is deeply divisive. 

Congress found that “existing Federal law is inadequate to address this problem,” and that “[a] prominent characteristic of a violent crime motivated by bias is that it devastates not just the actual victim and the family and friends of the victim, but frequently savages the community sharing the traits that caused the victim to be selected.”

Hate crimes are message crimes. These crimes both injure the victims and have special emotional and psychological impact on individuals and communities who share the trait targeted by the crime.  As Congress found, such crimes may intimidate other members of the victim’s community, leaving them feeling terrorized, isolated, and vulnerable.

Federal hate crime charges thus not only fill the gap when state prosecutions fail to address serious criminal intent, they also carry significant symbolic value. Such charges recognize that the crime committed was an attack against both a specific victim and an attack against an entire community that shares the victim’s protected trait. Federal hate crimes charges also send a message to members of targeted groups that they are valued members of society, and that their protection matters.

Today, we celebrate Congress’s historic decision, and honor those whose years of advocacy and activism made passage of the Shepard/Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act possible. 

In a speech last Friday, Attorney General William Barr reminded us of the danger of tyranny if our government becomes “too controlling.” He also explained that “unless you have some effective restraint, you end up with something equally dangerous – licentiousness – the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good. This is just another form of tyranny – where the individual is enslaved by his appetites, and the possibility of any healthy community life crumbles.”

Hate crimes threaten the health of our community life, and a decade after passage of the Shepard-Byrd Act, and more than twenty years after the brutal murders of the men for whom it was named, prosecuting hate crimes remains a top priority for the Department of Justice. Since its passage ten years ago, the Department has used the Shepard-Byrd Act to charge more than 100 defendants in approximately 50 hate crime cases, and has secured federal convictions against more than 80 of those defendants, with some cases still pending.   These prosecutions are a key part of the Department’s overall hate crimes prosecution program, which in the last 10 years has charged more than 330 defendants in more than 210 hate crimes cases.

Since January 2017 alone, the Department of Justice has charged more than 70 defendants for committing crimes motivated by hate.  For example:

In 2017, the Department of Justice brought charges for the murder of Mercedes Williamson, who was targeted because of gender identity.  The defendant pleaded guilty in federal court in Mississippi and received a sentence of 49 years.

In another case, the Department sent a federal criminal civil rights prosecutor to work with Iowa state prosecutors to try two men for the murder of Kedarie Johnson, a high school student attacked because of gender identity.  That case resulted in convictions and life sentences of both defendants in two separate trials.

In August 2018, a defendant was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to federal hate crimes and firearm charges for shooting three men at a bar in Olathe, Kansas.  The defendant shot and killed an Indian engineer named Srinivas Kuchibhotla and attempted to kill an Indian co-worker and a third man who came to their aid.  The crime was motivated by race, color, and national origin bias.

This past year, the Department moved swiftly to seek an indictment after a deadly attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  A superseding indictment charged Robert Bowers with 63 counts, including federal hate crime charges.   The attack took the lives of 11 people at worship, and injured seven others. Four police officers were among the wounded. 

This past Spring, after a shooter killed one, and wounded three others, at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue, and set fire to the Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque, both in Southern California, the Department charged John Earnest in a 113 count indictment that included numerous hate crimes charges.

This summer, James Alex Fields, Jr. was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to numerous hate crimes, including the hate crime murder of Heather Heyer and the attempted murder of 28 others. Fields drove his car into a racially and ethnically diverse crowd of individuals engaged in a peaceful demonstration in Charlottesville in August 2017.

Importantly, the Department’s commitment to combat hate crimes extends beyond prosecutions.  In 2017, the Department created a Hate Crimes Subcommittee as part of its Task Force on Violent Crime Reduction, which has since been transformed into a freestanding, Department-wide Hate Crimes Enforcement and Prevention Initiative.

Led by the Civil Rights Division, the new Initiative coordinates the Department’s efforts to eradicate hate crimes, and facilitates outreach to law enforcement agencies and the public.

For example, this summer, the Department hosted a day-long Summit on Combatting Anti-Semitism featuring remarks from federal leaders from across government. Panel presentations focused upon hate crimes prosecution, anti-Semitism on campus, and how to combat anti-Semitism while respecting the First Amendment, among other issues. 

In August 2018, the Department’s Hate Crimes Initiative convened the first-ever seminar on Investigating and Prosecuting Hate Crimes and Domestic Terrorism, bringing together 70 civil rights and domestic terrorism prosecutors and agents to discuss how to collaborate better when investigating and prosecuting hate crimes that also constitute acts of domestic terrorism.

And, a year ago this month, in October 2018, the Department’s Hate Crimes Initiative convened a law enforcement roundtable on hate crimes. The day and a half–long event, highlighted in a forthcoming report, brought law enforcement and other leaders from around the country together with DOJ officials to explore successful practices and challenges in identifying, reporting, and tracking hate crimes.

At the event, the Department announced the launch of a comprehensive new hate crimes website designed to provide a centralized portal for the Department’s hate crimes resources for law enforcement, media, researchers, victims, advocacy groups, and other related organizations and individuals.  The website, https://www.justice.gov/hatecrimes, has attracted over 200,000 visitors since the launch. 

Also announced last year was the extension of significant technical assistance to help state, local, and tribal law enforcement with hate crimes prosecution and prevention through the Collaborative Reform Technical Assistance Center – a partnership with the International Association of Chiefs of Police and nine leading law enforcement leadership and labor organizations. 

Throughout the Roundtable, as discussed in a forthcoming report capturing input from the event, representatives from diverse law enforcement agencies and national policing organizations engaged in collaborative brainstorming and action planning with federal government leaders.

At the Roundtable, law enforcement told us that the single most important tool that the federal government could provide to improve investigation and reporting of hate crimes was hate crimes training at all levels of law enforcement.

Today, I am proud to announce that the Department is supporting development of a comprehensive hate crimes training curriculum for law enforcement.  The Department’s COPS Office is working with the Collaborative Reform Initiative to develop a training opportunity designed to support law enforcement response, investigation and reporting of hate crimes consistent with the Administration’s guidance. The course when developed and made available will be focused on increasing the capacity and competency to investigate and accurately report hate crimes; and pursuing the best option for prosecution of perpetrators.

Feedback from the Law Enforcement Roundtable on Improving the Identification and Reporting of Hate Crimes has obviously been an important catalyst for change.  Law enforcement Roundtable participants told us that positive relationships between law enforcement and the community encourage the reporting of hate crimes, and that they need assistance in building and sustaining strong community-police relationships. In response, we developed an outreach and engagement program entitled “United Against Hate: Cultivating Community Partnerships.”  The 2-phase program aims to address the underreporting of hate crimes by community members to law enforcement. In the second phase of the program, U.S. Attorney’s Offices will have the opportunnity to facilitate trainings across the country, convening a wide array of community groups, such as advocacy organizations educators, and local leaders (including religious leaders) to discuss the impact of hate crimes and explore strategies to build trust with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement. The ultimate goal of the program is to further hate crimes prevention efforts, and improve the accuracy of hate crime statistics, as more people become willing to report hate crimes to law enforcement. 

This is important also because of the number of hate crimes that constitute domestic terrorism. Individuals adhering to racially motivated violent extremism have been responsible for the most lethal incidents among domestic terrorists in recent years. Violent extremists are increasingly using social media for the distribution of propaganda, recruitment, target selection, and incitement to violence. Strong law enforcement and community bonds are critical to identifying and stemming this kind of extremism.

As stated, hate crimes are message crimes. Our recognition of the tenth anniversary of the Shepard-Byrd Act today also sends a message; namely, that the Department of Justice will not tolerate violence that targets individuals based on actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.  

The passage of the Shepard-Byrd Act was the culmination of a struggle that lasted more than a decade. The cause endured only because of the families of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, along with other interested persons and organizations who toiled for years, many of whom are with us here today.

The continued importance and impact of the Shepard-Byrd Act is possible only through the incredible efforts of these people, and those in the law enforcement community, both those on the front lines and at the Department of Justice prosecution teams, here in Washington and in U.S. Attorneys offices across the country.

It is our privilege today to honor those who work day and night to ensure that the promise of the Shepard-Byrd Act – protecting all communities against the scourge of hate crime – is fulfilled.  Let us move forward with a renewed commitment to the principle that every American should enjoy equal protection of the laws, and should be free to live and worship in safety.  I thank you for your service to your communities and to your country.

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Author: October 17, 2019

Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy Beth A. Williams Delivers Remarks on the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking Demand at the 2019 JuST Conference

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Brittany, for that kind introduction.   I’d like to thank Shared Hope International for inviting me to speak at this conference on a topic about which both the Attorney General and the Department of Justice care deeply: combating human trafficking. It’s an honor to address all of you who are here in attendance this week, with each of you having unique and important roles in our shared mission. What makes this conference so special is even with the diversity of our roles, our experiences, and our backgrounds, we are all here for one common purpose: to stop the epidemic of human trafficking.

First, a bit of background. I serve as the Assistant Attorney General leading the Office of Legal Policy, or OLP. OLP is sometimes described as the “think tank” for the Department of Justice. Unlike almost all of the other attorneys across the Department, although we do give legal advice, we do not handle cases or even directly oversee them. Instead, we are able to take a high-level view of what is happening across the Department and to synthesize current challenges, initiatives, and other activities into coherent proposals for Department leadership on issues that are top priorities for them. That high-level view also gives us the perspective to develop new approaches—to identify new partnerships, both inside and outside of the government, that would be useful—and to propose new policy ideas that advance Departmental priorities. Another part of my role is to help get the word out about what the Department is doing. And I have found that after speaking to stakeholders outside of the DOJ, and to the public, I often go back to my office with fresh perspectives and new ideas. That is why I am grateful to be a part of this conference and to be invited to address this important matter.

Today, I’d like to address efforts the Department is making to combat human trafficking and to announce a new Department initiative focusing on sex trafficking demand reduction. This initiative will complement the Department’s existing extensive efforts to fight human trafficking. It will also underscore the importance of deterring and punishing those who drive the market for sex from children and vulnerable persons—those most likely to be victims of human trafficking. The Department is not alone in this mindset. I see from reviewing today’s upcoming events that addressing demand is a shared focus. I look forward to hearing from these presenters and panelists later today, and learning more from all of you.

Many have asked, why is demand reduction important? Well, there are two main reasons. First, Congress has clearly stated that buyers of commercial sex acts from sex trafficking victims are violating federal law. The Department has for some time prosecuted sex-trafficking customers, particularly individuals who have knowingly sought commercial sex with children. More than 15 years ago, the FBI carried out sting operations in Operation Turnaround to combat demand for so-called “child sex tourism,” i.e., travel by U.S. citizens to foreign countries for the purpose of engaging in sex with minors. Ten years ago, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri initiated Operation Guardian Angel to identify and catch individuals who attempted to purchase sex with children. These convictions were the first of many convictions under Section 1591 of individuals who attempted to purchase sex with children.

Congress recently reaffirmed the importance of customer-focused prosecutions in the Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017, which the President signed into law. That Act makes clear that a person who knowingly purchases a commercial sex act with a trafficking victim is just as culpable as the person who provides the trafficking victim for commercial sex.

Second, to address any type of crime problem, you must look at it holistically. Targeting demand is the other half of the crime – on one hand, you have traffickers who recruit and provide victims for commercial sex. On the other hand, you have people who buy sex from trafficked victims and minors. In the online child exploitation context, the Department not only focuses on those persons who produce images of child abuse, we also prosecute the end users: the persons who receive, distribute or possess child pornography. Targeting the demand, in conjunction with existing efforts to target the traffickers, provides the most comprehensive strategy to fight this dehumanizing and horrific crime.    

Trafficking in persons is an offense against human dignity. Victims – or survivors – are treated like commodities, and are bought and sold repeatedly over a period of days to often times, years. These survivors are often denied basic human needs and more often denied their dignity and freedom and are forced to live at the mercy of their traffickers. They endure psychological, physical, and mental abuse. When survivors are recovered, some live with the physical, mental, and emotional scars of the abuse for the rest of their lives. For many, it is a lifetime burden that must be dealt with every day.

For this reason, human trafficking is a top priority of the Department of Justice and for the Administration. The Department fights trafficking through our law enforcement capabilities, our prosecutors, our partnerships with non-governmental organizations and private industry, and through our courts. The Department could not do such important work without these relationships and strong partnerships with private industry and NGOs. The FBI is on the frontlines with our state and local partners in law enforcement. Through the implementation of Innocence Lost human trafficking task forces and specialized Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams, or ACTeams, in select Districts, the FBI works side by side with our federal, state, tribal, and local partners to identify victims and bring to justice traffickers, customers, coconspirators, and facilitators who are involved in this horrific crime. Department prosecutors work hand in hand with law enforcement to bring justice for the victims while holding traffickers accountable. Our prosecutors in the field are comprised of the Assistant United States Attorneys, or AUSAs, in each of the 94 United States Attorney’s Offices. Each office has a designated human trafficking coordinator and a Project Safe Childhood Coordinator to facilitate, coordinate, and supervise the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases. The Department of Justice created a specialized Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit (HTPU) within its Civil Rights Division in 2007 to consolidate human trafficking prosecution experience. HTPU provides subject matter expertise on forced labor, transnational sex trafficking, and sex trafficking of adults. The Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), created in 1987, provides subject matter expertise on the sexual exploitation of minors in any form, including foreign and domestic child sex trafficking, technology-facilitated child sex trafficking, and child sex tourism. These experienced trial attorneys from HTPU and CEOS partner on the investigation and prosecution of cases all over the country, providing training, outreach, and guidance.  

These prosecutors are busy. In Fiscal Year 2018 alone, the Department brought 230 human trafficking prosecutions, charged 386 defendants and secured convictions against 526 defendants. The vast majority of those cases were for sex trafficking of minors and adults by force, fraud, or coercion.

Before I move on with my comments, I’d like to address recent reports of the declining numbers of human trafficking cases brought by the Department. While it is true that the number of cases and the number of defendants charged were down from FY2017, crucially, the number of sex and labor trafficking convictions was up. In FY2018, the Department had 526 convictions for trafficking offenses, compared to 499 in FY2017. More of the guilty were brought to justice.  Additionally, the Department has increased the number of defendants charged with child sex trafficking from 857 charged in FY2016 to 952 in FY2018. That is more than a 10% increase.

Some other context to the recent figures is important. First, federal cases typically take 2-3 years to prosecute, so longer (and, likely, more significant) cases would not be counted as “new” prosecutions when they are carried over from year to year. Prosecutors must continue to work diligently on these larger and more significant cases, but that work is not necessarily reflected in the statistics. Moreover, in a positive turn, state statutes on human trafficking have gotten stronger over the past several years, which means more cases are likely being prosecuted by our state counterparts with stronger penalties than the states previously had. Having our state counterparts armed with stronger state laws and penalties for human trafficking similar to our federal laws provides another forum for law enforcement to bring cases. It is an important complement to our federal commitment.

We have not limited our focus to just prosecution of these important cases. In FY2018, the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) granted more than $67 million to fight trafficking at the national, state, local, and tribal levels. Included in these efforts are Office of Victims of Crime (OVC) programs, which support services to survivors of human trafficking. The Department is funding these important programs at record levels. Additionally, the Department has made approximately $30 million dollars available over the last two years to support Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force investigations, operations, equipment, training, and technical assistance. Next year’s budget requests an additional $5 million dollars to that investment so that ICAC task forces can continue to do their important work, which often gives us crucial leads to recovering human trafficking victims.

In addition, the Department has hosted significant training programs and has literally written a book on how to best investigate and prosecute these cases. The Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA), in collaboration with the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, published an issue of the U.S. Attorneys’ Bulletin dedicated to human trafficking in November 2017. The 185-page issue featured 17 articles on such topics as securing mandatory restitution for victims, proactive case identification strategies, child sex trafficking among children missing from foster care, financial crimes in human trafficking cases, and forced labor in supply chains, among others. Each June for the last several years, the Department has hosted the National Law Enforcement Training on Child Exploitation in Atlanta, Georgia. This past June, over 1400 federal, state, and local investigators, prosecutors, computer forensics and victim/witness specialists, and other professionals attended this three-day training conference where subject matter experts provided free training on cutting edge issues related to child sexual exploitation and child sex trafficking. In a few weeks, the Department is hosting a three-day seminar for all Department prosecutors around the country who work on human trafficking to provide cutting-edge training and education on this topic.

The Department is also committed to tackling obstacles that stand in our way of preventing and uncovering these crimes. Last week, the Attorney General hosted a summit in Washington, DC on the lawful access to electronic devices as it relates to child exploitation and trafficking. Lawful access means that when law enforcement has established probable cause that a crime has been committed, and gets a warrant from a court to search for evidence, they can actually access the electronic devices and media at issue. In many cases, law enforcement officials are unable to access data due to general privacy and security measures (e.g., encryption) despite the issuance of legal process (e.g., subpoenas and search warrants). In human trafficking investigations, this obstacle prevents the identification of current and historical victims and of potential victims a trafficker may be recruiting and exploiting online; prevents identification of co-conspirators; prevents collection of evidence that may be helpful in bringing traffickers to justice; and may prevent the removal of harmful online data or images of the victims, which causes revictimization to exploited and trafficked persons by allowing harmful data to remain online and be viewed in perpetuity.

At the summit, we heard about a case from December 2018, where the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC, received a cyber-tip from an electronic service provider concerning an infant being sexually abused by an adult male. After running the images and videos through their databases, NCMEC realized this was new material, meaning the images had not been seen before, which only meant one thing: the infant was in imminent danger. NCMEC traced an IP address for the sexually explicit material to a possible location in San Jose, California, and quickly dispatched that lead to law enforcement. Within 3 hours, police located the five month old child, arrested the adult male and rescued 11 other children from the home. The Department recognizes the importance of responsible encryption, but if end-to-end encryption is implemented with no exception for detecting sexual exploitation, the abuse of this five month old child and countless others would remain hidden. And those who impose harm like this on children and vulnerable victims would never be brought to justice for these heinous crimes. The Director of the FBI has called this a “dream come true” for child predators. We need the help of technology companies to fix this.

I was fortunate to moderate a panel presentation discussing why lawful access is necessary to identify and prosecute child predators and exploiters. John Clark, the CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Lianna McDonald, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, and a parent of an exploited victim each provided first-hand accounts on why having lawful access is critical in our fight against human trafficking and exploitation. Mr. Clark said that without lawful access to this criminal evidence, “it’s not just a game changer, its game over.” Specifically in relation to child exploitation cases, the panel expressed that the preclusion of lawful access has made the choice plain – “children don’t matter… and we are not going to protect them. It’s that simple.” The Department will continue its efforts to proactively engage the private sector to join us in the fight against human trafficking and exploitation and educate the public on our ongoing efforts.  

To complement the extraordinary efforts made by Department prosecutors to prosecute the demand, in 2015, Congress clarified that buyers could, and should, be charged with sex trafficking under federal law. Congress amended Section 1591 to add “patronizes” and “solicits” to the list of acts criminalized in the statute, when other required elements are met. It noted that the amendment was intended to make it clear “that criminals who purchase sexual acts from human trafficking victims may be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted as sex trafficking offenders when this is merited by the facts of a particular case.”

For the last several years, the Department has initiated other high-profile sting operations designed to target adults seeking commercial sex with children. In several cases prosecuted in the Central District of California, for example, defendants responded to fake online advertisements offering commercial sex acts with minor girls. In a notorious case in Arizona, law enforcement conducted a sting using a bogus sex-slave auction. More than 100 individuals contacted an undercover website created and operated by the FBI, and four eventually travelled from their homes to a facility in Phoenix where they expected to obtain sex slaves. All four pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms from seven to nine years.

Some may think prosecuting buyers in sex-trafficking cases is straightforward. In many cases, law enforcement finds and disrupts a customer interacting with a victim or encounters the buyer in an undercover operation. But these cases are not simple. Often times a victim does not think or him or herself as a victim. They are often fearful or wary of law enforcement. Victims may sympathize with their trafficker or with a buyer. They may feel shame or take blame for their victimization. All of these reasons, and many more that I have not listed, make the prosecution of these cases far from simple.

Prosecutions involving children under the age of 18 can be easier to prosecute because the governing statute does not require proof that the buyer knew the victim was a minor, if the person had a “reasonable opportunity to observe” the minor victim. Indeed, some offenders will respond to an ad for commercial sex with a minor, whereas very few, if any, will answer an ad for an adult being forced into commercial sex.

Recent cases include the successful prosecution of a 71-year-old San Diego realtor who had engaged in commercial sex with two minors beginning when they were 11 and 13 years old. They also include the successful prosecution of a Washington, D.C. HIV-positive man who established contact with a girl online and began paying her for sex. There are many other examples of cases prosecuted by the Department against customers with minor victims.

With these challenges, the Department will not shy away from combating, disrupting and preventing human trafficking. Following the momentum of this work, I’m pleased to announce today that the Department is launching a Demand Reduction Initiative to target those who purchase sex from minors and from victims of trafficking by force, fraud or coercion. As I mentioned, this initiative is intended to complement the Department’s existing efforts to combat human trafficking and to emphasize the importance of punishing the demand for commercial sex from children and vulnerable victims, in conjunction with our state, tribal, and local partners.

The Department’s Demand Reduction Initiative has five related priority actions. I’d like to provide a brief overview of each.

First, the Department will continue to dismantle and disrupt the online marketplace for sex trafficking. Targeting the online marketplace that feeds sex trafficking has the potential to drive down demand by removing one of the most frequently-used channels for obtaining victims. Indeed, the Department’s takedown and prosecution of Backpage.com—once the dominant website for advertisements that facilitated sex trafficking—appears to have significantly disrupted the online marketplace. The Department will, where appropriate, pursue investigation of other websites to which advertisements may have moved and initiate appropriate prosecutions of them.

Second, the Department will look to launch the next phase of Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams, or ACTeams. The ACTeam Initiative is a multi-agency initiative launched eight years ago under the leadership of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit. The Initiative is a collaborative effort of the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Labor as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Through this initiative, interagency teams of federal agents and federal prosecutors are convened in select Districts, designated through a competitive, nationwide, interagency selection process, to develop high-impact human trafficking investigations and prosecutions involving forced labor, sex trafficking of adults, and international sex trafficking.

The ACTeams are highly regarded for their demonstrated success. During Phase I, from 2012-2013, cases filed increased 119%, the number of defendants charged increased 114%, and the number of defendants convicted increased by 86% in ACTeam districts compared to the two previous years. While ACTeam districts constituted less than 7% of districts, they accounted for 58% of the national increase in cases filed during those two years.

During Phase II, in 2018, ACTeams saw increases of 10 percent in cases filed, 75 percent increase in defendants charged, and 106 percent increase in defendants convicted compared to a 1% increase in the number of defendants charged and a 36% increase in defendants convicted nationwide during the same period. As part of a deployment of additional ACTeams, the Department may incorporate training to federal investigators and prosecutors on the investigation and prosecution of buyers, including as a method to create accountability for larger sex trafficking networks.

Third, the Department will issue new Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, or SORNA, regulations to facilitate prosecution and deter child sex tourism. My office has prepared proposed regulations that provide a clear and comprehensive articulation of the registration obligations of sex offenders under SORNA. Publication of this proposed rule, and finalization following public comment, will improve compliance with and enforcement of sex offender registration requirements. Specific benefits related to trafficking demand reduction include (i) strengthening compliance and enforcement with respect to sex offenders, and (ii) enabling the U.S. Attorney’s Offices to prosecute sex offenders who fail to report international travel, an important provision enacted by International Megan’s Law to combat child sex tourism.  

Fourth, the Department will target key locations where we suspect human trafficking occurs—especially places with vulnerable populations, like Tribal women and girls.

Fifth, the Department will focus on the international border and its equivalent for international cases. These operations will work with our federal partners at the border to identify potential buyers of trafficked sex.

I am proud to work for an Attorney General and a Department of Justice that care so much about this fight. I look forward to working with Department components to implement this Demand Reduction Initiative over the next year and will provide whatever support and resources on a policy level to address this heinous crime. Stopping human trafficking is a very big goal—and it’s one that the Department of Justice takes seriously. We plan to continue to do this work—to continue to find ways to be ever more effective, efficient, and creative in building cases, convicting traffickers, buyers, and facilitators, and doing our part to help victims recover—until we have won the fight against this profoundly dehumanizing crime. We are mindful of and grateful for the work that many others at this Conference are doing to combat human trafficking as well. Again, I thank Shared Hope for inviting me to come speak, and for hosting this conference on this very timely and critical topic. I very much look forward to hearing the presentations today. Thank you.

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Author: October 17, 2019