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Attorney General Eric Holder at the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces and Asset Forfeiture Program's National Leadership Conference
Washington, D.C. ~ Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good morning and thank you for inviting me to join you today. It is a pleasure to be here among friends and colleagues, many of whom I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with over the last 30 years during my time in the Department. There are too many familiar faces in the room to begin naming names, but as I have said many times in the last six months, it is great to be back.

These Leadership Conferences always present a great opportunity for us to learn from one another and for the Department to recognize your many significant accomplishments. This year’s conference is even more special, as 2009 marks the 25th year of the Asset Forfeiture Program. I am very pleased to join you in this Silver Anniversary celebration, and I share your pride in the Asset Forfeiture Program’s quarter-century of success.

I am also proud to be here today to honor the OCDETF Program, which is now in its 27th year. The OCDETF strategy recognizes that the most effective way to fight sophisticated criminal organizations is by leveraging the strengths, resources, and expertise of federal, state and local investigative and prosecutorial agencies. The OCDETF Program does this through the formation of prosecutor-led, multi-agency task forces that successfully target drug traffickers through cutting edge, intelligence-based analysis and investigative work.

Working together, the OCDETF and Asset Forfeiture Programs have a proven track record of destroying drug trafficking organizations by arresting and prosecuting their leadership and by seizing their financial infrastructure. I am delighted to be here today with the leaders of these great programs.

I’d like to begin by talking about OCDETF, which truly is the strategic centerpiece of the Department’s counter-narcotics effort. When I served as United States Attorney, I was fortunate to lead the OCDETF effort here in Washington, DC, and experienced first-hand the field-level effectiveness of the Program. Later, as Deputy Attorney General, I saw just how powerful the OCDETF model could be on a nationwide basis. Now, as Attorney General, I am proud to support your continued success. Through your constant innovation and steadfast commitment to cooperation with our state and local partners, you have enhanced immeasurably our nation’s counter-narcotics capabilities.

Two examples of OCDETF’s innovative and cooperative approach demonstrate the effectiveness of the OCDETF strategy: (1) the establishment of the OCDETF Fusion Center; and (2) the creation of permanent, co-located OCDETF Strike Forces.

The OCDETF Fusion Center was established to address a pressing need for reliable, in-depth intelligence – from both human and electronic sources -- to target and attack sophisticated international drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. Building on the OCDETF philosophy of cooperation and information-sharing, the Fusion Center brings together into a common database the unfiltered investigative information of each OCDETF member agency. Known as "Compass," this database allows analysts to connect investigative information from multiple agencies and to provide real-time analysis to agents and prosecutors in the field. The Fusion Center works in concert with the DEA-led Multi-Agency Special Operations Division to provide the most complete intelligence picture of criminal organizations currently available to U.S. law enforcement.

In recognition of the Fusion Center’s effectiveness and the value of the Compass database, the International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center -- or "IOC-2," as it is known – recently entered into a partnership with the OCDETF Fusion Center. The IOC-2 will add important new data sources to the Compass database as well as new analysts into the OCDETF Fusion Center. Through this partnership, we will broaden our capability to attack organized crime in all its forms.

A second illustration of OCDETF’s success is the creation of permanent, co-located OCDETF Strike Forces in Boston, New York, Atlanta, Tampa, San Juan, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego -- and soon in El Paso. Because they are both permanent and co-located, these strike forces foster close working relationships across agencies and facilitate multiple, wide-reaching, and highly effective multi-agency investigations. Moreover, these Strike Forces have taken innovative steps to leverage non-OCDETF resources to their great advantage. For example, working with the Asset Forfeiture Fund, OCDETF and the National Drug Intelligence Center have begun to place Document and Media Exploitation Teams in the Atlanta and Houston Strike Forces. These DOMEX teams allow Strike Force analysts and agents to capture and exploit evidence in complex, fast-paced investigations, and to develop trial exhibits for prosecutors quickly and effectively. We look forward to adding DOMEX teams to other co-located strike forces in the near future, beginning with those along the Southwest Border.

Collaborative and innovative efforts such as the OCDETF Fusion Center and the OCDETF Strike Forces are critically important if we are to succeed in our efforts to combat international drug traffickers and money launderers. The criminal organizations that OCDETF targets are as sophisticated as they are ruthless. Indeed, some of these groups have even aligned themselves with terrorist organizations. We have seen that Mexican drug cartels in particular, pose both a national security threat to Mexico and an organized crime threat to the United States. The cartels send seemingly endless supplies of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana and other illicit drugs across our borders and onto our streets. They operate seamlessly across local, state, and national boundaries. To combat this threat, we must also be seamless in our operations.

I know that all of you are up to the challenge. Since the inception of the Consolidated Priority Organization Target (or "CPOT") List in 2002, your OCDETF investigations have dismantled 39 CPOT organizations and have disrupted 20 more. Further, you have dismantled or disrupted more than 1,160 CPOT-linked organizations. The success of your operations is impressive, but not surprising. We can expect to achieve these kinds of results when we work together in innovative ways.

Together with OCDETF, the Asset Forfeiture Program has made, and continues to make, a critical difference in the fight against crime. Through your work, the Asset Forfeiture Program provides vitally important funding for law enforcement as well as resources that can be invested in community-changing programs such as "Weed and Seed." And of course, by seizing criminals’ assets, you reduce the incentive to commit crime by taking money out of the hands of dangerous drug dealers and terrorists—money that now works for law enforcement.

As with the OCDETF Program, the success of the Asset Forfeiture Program is a direct result of your hard work and your unfailing commitment to cooperation and collaboration at all levels and across all organizational lines. As Deputy Attorney General, it was my privilege to testify before Congress in support of asset forfeiture legislation. In that testimony, I emphasized the critical role that asset forfeiture plays not only in the fight against illegal drugs, but in the broader fight against other types of crime. Almost ten years to the day since that testimony – and, appropriately, on the 25th anniversary of the Asset Forfeiture Program -- I am proud to say that the Asset Forfeiture Program remains a critical part of the Department’s efforts to reduce and deter criminal activity.

Since 1984, more than $13 billion in net federal forfeiture proceeds have been deposited into the Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund. During this same period, more than $4.5 billion has been equitably shared with more than 8,000 state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide, thereby supplementing their constrained resources without further taxing the public. Once left with no real opportunity to recover their losses, crime victims are now recouping greater sums than ever before. Approximately $500 million in payments have been paid to more 39,000 victims in fiscal year 2008 alone.

Yet, the impact of forfeiture is greater than just money. When we look back on the last 25 years of the program, we see a forfeiture regime that has been transformed from a collection of centuries-old laws designed to fight pirates, enforce customs laws and fight illegal contraband, into an array of modern law enforcement tools designed to combat 21st century criminals both at home and abroad. We now have the ability to deprive global criminals of their ill-gotten gains, to seize the instrumentalities of their trade, and to use the power of asset forfeiture to destroy their illegal enterprises.

Operation Honor Student, a case that will be honored here later tonight, illustrates the power of asset forfeiture and its devastating effect on organized criminal activity. In that case, a task force led by the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section of the Criminal Division, and the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations obtained the forfeiture of $2.7 million from the accounts of GeneScience, one of the largest biopharmaceutical companies in China that had been involved in the illegal distribution of Human Growth Hormone into the United States. To accomplish this forfeiture, the task force employed a new statutory vehicle -- 18 U.S.C. § 981(k) -- which permitted the Government to seize the funds, physically located in China, from the corresponding accounts of Chinese banks in New York. This was the first use of section 981(k), enacted as part of the USA Patriot Act, against a Chinese entity, and its success has helped pave the way for subsequent investigations using this groundbreaking authority.

But not to minimize these impressive legal results, the true impact of Operation Honor Student lies in its practical effect on the illegal hGH market in the United States. Task force agents estimate that at the time of the investigation, GeneScience manufactured approximately 90% of the hGH being illegally sold and distributed in the United States. As a direct result of this seizure, GeneScience has stopped all shipments to the United States. So, through the use of a section 981(k) seizure, we were able to eliminate a supplier that represented 90% of an illegal drug market. Ninety percent.

Asset forfeiture plays a critical role not only in drug cases, but across the law enforcement spectrum -- from national security investigations, to securities fraud cases, to healthcare scams. And, of course, we cannot forget the most important -- and sometimes least heralded -- purposes of our Asset Forfeiture Program – which is to make a meaningful difference in the lives crime victims by recovering stolen funds and property and returning them to their rightful owners.

When we look at the successes of both the Asset Forfeiture Program and the OCDETF Program, I cannot help but think about the possibilities, and challenges, for the next 25 years of these vitally important initiatives. While we have made great strides, international drug traffickers and money launderers continue to threaten our country. Criminal enterprises and terrorist networks continue to misuse our financial system for nefarious purposes. We can and we must do more. I am confident that under the leadership of those assembled here today, we will succeed.

The analysts, agents, and prosecutors of the OCDETF and Asset Forfeiture Programs are among the most talented and dedicated professionals in all of law enforcement. You protect this country day in and day out from the scourge of drugs and violence, and you do it with professionalism, creativity, and passion. I am proud to lead the Department of Justice, and am proud of each of you. Thank you for all that you do. Keep up the great work.

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