Kenneth J. Gonzales Resigning as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE – Kenneth J. Gonzales is resigning as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico today in anticipation of taking his judicial oath as a U.S. District Judge tomorrow, Aug. 9, 2013.
Mr. Gonzales was commissioned as U.S. Attorney by President Obama on April 30, 2010, after the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed his appointment. He was sworn in as the 44th U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico on May 3, 2010. As U.S. Attorney, Mr. Gonzales served as the top federal law enforcement official in New Mexico and represented the United States interests in civil cases. He also served as the Co-Chairman of the Border and Immigration Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC) in addition to serving on the AGAC’s Native American Issues Subcommittee, Civil Rights Subcommittee, Environmental Issues Working Group, and Resource Allocation Working Group.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the United States and the people of New Mexico as U.S. Attorney and to work alongside the fine women and men of the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO), our partner federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, and the federal officials and employees we work with and represent on a daily basis,” said Mr. Gonzales. “I am profoundly grateful for the trust placed in me by the President and the Attorney General, and am humbled by the opportunity to continue to serve the public as a federal judge.”
Shortly after assuming the mantle of U.S. Attorney, Mr. Gonzales restructured the USAO’s Criminal Division in Albuquerque to enable the Office to more expeditiously prosecute reactive cases and devote more time and expertise to significant investigations and prosecutions. As reorganized, the Criminal Division was comprised of the General Crimes & Border Security Section (General Crimes), the OCDETF & Gangs Section (OCDETF), the Major Economic Public Integrity & Nation Security Section (Major Crimes), and the first Indian Country Crimes Section ever constituted in any USAO.
Although the Obama Administration and Justice Department identified public safety in Indian Country as a national priority, for Mr. Gonzales, who grew up in the vicinity of the Pueblos of Pojoaque, Tesuque and Nambe, this was a personal priority. Accordingly, one of his first acts as U.S. Attorney was to replace the USAO’s Violent Crimes Section with an Indian Country Crimes Section devoted solely to combating crime in New Mexico’s Indian Country pursuant to a community prosecution strategy. The strategy, based on the community policing model, requires immersion into in the community; getting to know the community’s leaders, police and social services providers; and developing a sense of confidence and trust in the community. By fostering relationships of trust and developing confidence in the justice system, Mr. Gonzales sought to create an environment that encouraged members of New Mexico’s Native communities to more readily report crimes, fact witnesses to come forward, and victims to trust that federal prosecutors would seek justice for them. To implement this strategy, Mr. Gonzales assigned Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSAs) in the Section as Tribal Liaisons to individual pueblos and tribes, and tasked them with getting to know their assigned communities so that the USAO was better equipped to meet the public safety needs of each pueblo and tribe. Examples of the cases routinely prosecuted by the Indian Country Crimes Section include a life sentence for Nathan Jack who was convicted of suffocating his common-law wife by packing her throat with dirt; a 40 year sentence for Reehahlio Carroll for the felony murder of a nun during a burglary; and a 50 year sentence for a Navajo man who kidnapped and sexually assaulted a disabled teenager.
Mr. Gonzales also implemented two Indian Country pilot projects and expanded on a third. The first was one of only three community prosecution teams funded by the Justice Department as part of its on-going efforts to increase engagement, coordination and action on public safety in tribal communities. Mr. Gonzales’ community prosecution team is stationed in the Eastern Agency of the Navajo Nation. The second was the Tribal Special AUSA Pilot Project sponsored by the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women in response to the epidemic of violence against Native women. Through this pilot project, tribal prosecutors are trained in federal law, procedure and investigative techniques to increase the likelihood that violent offenses against Native women are prosecuted in federal court or tribal court, or both. With respect to the third, Mr. Gonzales supported the Navajo Nation Department of Public Safety’s application to continue the Dlo’ ayazhi Indian Country Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) Pilot Project in the Crownpoint District and to expand the program to the Shiprock District. This project – the first PSN project in Indian Country – supports an anti-gang, anti-drug and anti-firearms violence school-based prevention program and a domestic violence reduction program.
Mr. Gonzales charged the General Crimes Section with prosecuting immigration, firearms, bank robbery and non-Indian Country violent crime as well as reactive narcotics cases and discrete white collar crime cases thus enabling the OCDETF and Major Crimes Sections to focus on long-term, proactive investigations and prosecutions. The Section also prosecutes cases brought under “the worst of the worst” anti-violence initiative implemented by Mr. Gonzales in summer of 2010. Under this initiative, the USAO and federal law enforcement agencies work with New Mexico’s District Attorneys and state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to target violent or repeat offenders for federal prosecution with the goal of removing them from communities in New Mexico for as long as possible. Examples of the cases routinely prosecuted by the General Crimes Section include a sentence of life imprisonment for Jeremiah Jackson for killing two women while fleeing the scene of a bank robbery; 40 and 35 year sentences for two El Salvadorans for the felony murder of a cook at a Denny’s Restaurant; the conviction after trial of an El Paso man for possession of 32 pounds of heroin with a retail value of $2.9 million, one of the top ten heroin seizures in the U.S. that year; and a 40 year sentence for an Albuquerque armed career criminal convicted on drugs and firearms charges. In addition, AUSAs in this Section and in the Las Cruces Branch Office prosecuted more than 2500 felony immigration cases and more than 2400 misdemeanor immigration cases.
The OCDETF Section was charged with targeting and dismantling large-scale drug trafficking organizations, prosecuting gang violence, and facilitating enforcement actions against prescription drug trafficking. AUSAs in this Section and in the USAO’s Las Cruces Branch Office lead the investigation and prosecution of major drug trafficking organizations through the OCDETF Program, the centerpiece of the DOJ counter-narcotics strategy that uses prosecutor-led, multi-agency task forces to combat the most serious drug cartels. Given statistics reflecting that, per capita, New Mexico has the nation’s highest heroin and prescription drug overdose death rates and that its drug addiction rates are among the highest in the nation, Mr. Gonzales worked with federal law enforcement agencies and partnered with state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to investigate and dismantle the drug trafficking organizations that distribute narcotics within New Mexico. Their accomplishments included investigations that resulting in the arrests and prosecution of: 84 defendants in Chaves County on narcotics and firearms charges in Sept. 2011; 20 members of a methamphetamine ring operating in Eddy County in Nov. 2011; eight members of an Albuquerque prescription drug trafficking ring in Feb. 2012; 15 members of an Albuquerque methamphetamine trafficking ring in March 2012; ten members of a Las Cruces methamphetamine trafficking ring in May 2012; 14 members of a Santa Fe cocaine trafficking ring in June 2012; 25 defendants from San Miguel County on drug trafficking charges in Aug. 2012; 18 defendants from Lincoln and Otero Counties on drug trafficking charges in Aug. 2012; 20 individuals on marijuana and cocaine trafficking charges in Sept. 2012; nine defendants on methamphetamine trafficking charges in Oct. 2012; 19 members of an Albuquerque drug trafficking and money laundering ring in Dec. 2012; 21 individuals in Albuquerque on prescription drug charges in Feb. 2013; and 29 individuals from Dona Ana County on drug trafficking charges in May 2013.
Significant accomplishments in the area of political corruption by the Major Crimes Section include a 70 month sentence for Laurie Chapman, the former facilities manager for the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD), for soliciting and accepting bribes in exchange for steering NMCD jobs to a roofing company; the conviction after trial of former Albuquerque Police Officer Brad Ahrensfield for obstruction of justice; the convictions after trial of Joseph and Elizabeth Kupfer on tax evasion charges, and Joseph Kupfer and Armando Gutierrez for theft of $2.5 million in federal “Help America Vote Act” funds and obstruction of justice charges; guilty pleas from the former Executive Director of the Taos County Housing Authority and her husband for stealing more than $785,000 in federal funds; and the indictment of former Santa Ana Pueblo Governor Bruce Sanchez for allegedly embezzling $3.6 million from the Indian Pueblo Federal Development Corporation.
The Major Crimes Section’s accomplishments also include a 70 month sentence for a Washington, D.C.-based financial consultant following his conviction after trial on wire fraud charges; a 12 year sentence for Doug Vaughan for operating a Ponzi scheme that defrauded more than 600 investors of $74 million; a 27 month sentence for Albuquerque real estate developer Vincent Garcia for bank fraud; and the indictment of Governor Susana Martinez’s former campaign manager on computer intrusion and false statement charges. On the national security front, the Major Crimes Section recently secured guilty pleas from a former Los Alamos National Laboratories scientist and his wife for violating the Atomic Energy Act and other charges relating to their communication of classified nuclear weapons data to a person they believed to be a Venezuelan government official, and the indictment of a scientist formerly employed by Sandia National Laboratories for allegedly using U.S. government resources and equipment to conduct research for Chinese research institutions.
Mr. Gonzales developed a strong partnership with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division that resulted in the joint prosecution of several significant cases and initiation of numerous investigations. This partnership extends not only to criminal matters, but also to civil matters and Mr. Gonzales established a Civil Rights Unit, comprised of AUSAs from both the Criminal and Civil Divisions, to support this important partnership and facilitate its work. Significant accomplishments in the civil rights arena include the conviction of three Farmington men for the racially-motivated assault on a young disabled Navajo man which included the branding of a swastika into the victim’s arm – this was the first case brought under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. They also include the conviction of three former corrections officers in Albuquerque for beating a DUI suspect and attempting to obstruct the investigation into that beating. On the civil front, the USAO obtained a favorable settlement for a disabled tenant in a Fair Housing Act case against his landlord, and reached a settlement with an Albuquerque restaurant under the Americans with Disabilities Act that ensures equal access for individuals with disabilities who use service animals. The USAO’s Civil Division, together with the Special Litigation Unit of the Civil Rights Division, is investigating allegations that Albuquerque Police Department officers engaged in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights. In addition to case related work, attorneys from the Civil Rights Division and USAO have collaborated in community outreach activities by making presentations at civil rights and Indian Country conferences and training programs, and have participated in community meetings relating to civil rights concerns within the District of New Mexico.
The USAO’s Civil Division, together with the Justice Department’s Commercial Litigation Branch secured an $11.75 million payment from Science Applications International Corporation to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by charging inflated prices under federal grants to train first responder personnel to prevent and respond to terrorism attacks. It also has developed an affirmative environment justice practice and works with the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division in representing the United States in matters concerning the stewardship of the nation’s natural resources and public lands.
Under Mr. Gonzales’s stewardship, the USAO’s prosecution of cases brought under Project Safe Childhood (PSC), a Justice Department initiative that combats the epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse, increased by almost 60% and the number of defendants sentenced to prison terms exceeding 60 months increased by more than 230%.
In July 2011, Mr. Gonzales established a new Asset Recovery Unit staffed with USAO and U.S. Marshal Service personnel and tasked the Unit with responsibility for the USAO’s criminal and civil forfeitures and financial litigation. The new Unit was part of Mr. Gonzales’s multi-pronged approach to combating and dismantling criminal organizations; targeting individuals who were profiting from their illicit activities; and putting the USAO in a stronger position to recover debts owed to the people of the United States. The Asset Recovery Unit’s success is best demonstrated by the $9,841,037 it collected in calendar year 2012, including $8,735,655 collected for criminal and civil fines, penalties and debt, and $1,105,382 from criminal and civil forfeitures, which is almost tripled the amount collected by the USAO in 2011.
Mr. Gonzales, a native New Mexican from Pojoaque, received both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of New Mexico. After graduating from law school, he served as a Judicial Law Clerk to New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph F. Baca and then joined Senator Jeff Bingamans Washington Office as a Legislative Assistant. From 1999 to May 2010, when he began his tenure as U.S. Attorney, Mr. Gonzales was an AUSA in the USAO for District of New Mexico and prosecuted a wide range of federal offenses. Since 2001, he has served as a Judge Advocate in the United States Army Reserve, and currently holds the rank of Major. He has served as Senior Trial Counsel for the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, 18th Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He presently is assigned to The Judge Advocate Generals Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he is an Adjunct Professor of Criminal Law.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico is charged with enforcing federal criminal laws in New Mexico, and with representing the federal government in civil litigation in the District. The Office is staffed by 76 AUSAs, four Special AUSAs, 66 support staff members and 14 contractors at offices in Albuquerque and Las Cruces. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven C. Yarbrough will be Acting U.S. Attorney until a new U.S. Attorney is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.