CRIMINAL DIVISION BANNER

Criminal Division

The Criminal Division has primary responsibility for the prosecution of more than 900 federal crimes. Federal crimes are defined by acts of Congress and are distinguished from criminal offenses established by acts of city, county or state legislatures. These latter offenses are prosecuted by, respectively, the City Attorney, the District Attorney or the State Attorney General. Responsibility for the prosecution of federal offenses in this District is assigned to the Criminal Division of the United States Attorney's Office.

The Criminal Division is organized into seven departments which consist of the General Crimes Trial Section, the Major Frauds Section, the Narcotics Enforcement Section, the Reactive Crimes Section, the National Security and Cybercrimes Section, the Appellate Section, and the Financial Litigation Unit.  Criminal cases are assigned to a particular section based upon the criminal violation under investigation.

 

General Crimes Trial Section

The General Crimes Trial Section is comprised of four teams of trial attorneys who are responsible for the prosecution of all border-related crimes, to include narcotics violations, violations of U.S. immigration laws (e.g., illegal entry/reentry, alien smuggling, document fraud), assaults on federal officers, border-related corruption cases, and crimes involving the smuggling of items into the United States (e.g., pharmaceuticals, contraband merchandise). All federal offenses not prosecuted by the Narcotics Enforcement, Major Frauds, or National Security & Cybercrimes Sections are the responsibility of the General Crimes Trial Section. In addition, the General Crimes Trial Section handles a large number of proactive investigations, to include various program fraud investigations (e.g., bankruptcy fraud, social security fraud), as well as federal firearms violations, violent crimes, gang-related crimes, and child pornography and sex trafficking violations.  The Section includes one Chief and four Deputy Chiefs (one for each trial team), the Project Safe Childhood Coordinator, the Border Corruption Coordinator, the Project Safe Neighborhood Coordinator, and the Civil Rights Coordinator.

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Major Frauds Section

The Major Frauds and Special Prosecutions Section conducts complex investigations and trials involving all types of financial frauds, including bank fraud, corporate fraud, government procurement fraud, health care fraud, mortgage fraud, securities fraud and tax fraud, as well as related money laundering and forfeiture offenses. The Section is also called upon to handle public corruption, organized crime and other “Special Prosecutions” that -- while sensitive or complex -- do not fall squarely within the description of “financial frauds.”

The Section hosts three dedicated Coordinators: the Financial Fraud Enforcement Coordinator, the Health Care Fraud Coordinator, and the Mortgage Fraud Coordinator, each whom assists management and the Department of Justice with assessing and monitoring the progress and oversight of prosecutions in the corresponding program areas. In addition, Section attorneys host the region’s Procurement Fraud Working Group and serve on several regional task forces, including the Environmental Crimes Task Force and the Health Care Fraud Task Force. Due to the concentration of Navy and Marine Corps installations in the District, many of the Section’s cases involve fraud and corruption against the military.

Many of the Section’s investigations involve corporations and other business entities, and consequently, involve the principles governing corporate criminal liability, the attorney-client privilege in the corporate context, and the ethical rules concerning contact with represented parties. AUSA’s in the Section employ a variety of investigative tools, including search warrants, grand jury proceedings, Title III interceptions, undercover operations and other methods of securing of electronic and documentary evidence.

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Narcotics Enforcement Section

The Narcotics Enforcement Section ("NES") investigates and prosecutes international and domestic narcotics trafficking organizations. The NES works closely with all federal law enforcement agencies tasked with investigating drug offenses, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Internal Revenue Service, the United States Marshals Service, the Department of Homeland Security, and the United States Coast Guard. The NES also collaborates with narcotic task forces comprised of federal, state, and local officers to prosecute those individuals whose drug trafficking activities have a major, negative impact on the local communities of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Money laundering crimes, tax violations, firearms offenses, and official corruption related to drug trafficking are prosecuted as vigorously as the narcotics crimes themselves. NES attorneys begin their work from the earliest stages of the investigation and continue their efforts until the successful completion of the prosecution, either at trial or by way of pretrial resolution. Mexican and Colombian drug cartels, domestic drug producers and distributors, violent street gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs have all been prosecuted with great success by the NES. The organizations targeted by the NES are diverse, but similar in that their scope and reach are always significant and deleterious.

The NES is skilled in leading federal grand jury investigations and in using specialized investigative tools such as courtauthorized wiretaps, undercover operations, and search warrants. NES attorneys regularly participate in multidistrict prosecutions, attacking largescale organizations operating in locations throughout the United States and in other countries, often under the auspices of the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force ("OCDETF"). OCDETF assists the NES to prioritize national and international targets and to fund the longterm and wideranging investigations that are required to prosecute successfully sophisticated criminal organizations. NES works closely with the Department of Justice Special Operations Division ("SOD"), which coordinates investigations through multiagency cooperation and multidistrict wiretaps. In conjunction with SOD, NES has prosecuted and dismantled polydrug trafficking organizations that move tons of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine through the United States, as well as millions of dollars in drug proceeds out of the country.

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Reactive Crimes Section

The Reactive Crimes Section consists of the Intake Unit, including our El Centro branch office, the Grand Jury Unit, and the Fast-Track Sentencing Unit.  The Section handles over 90% of the cases prosecuted in the District, and is responsible for: the initial screening and intake of all reactive cases; all Magistrate Court matters (e.g. arraignments, bail setting, detention hearings, removal hearings, guilty pleas); pre-indictment resolutions of these reactive cases, including all Fast-Track cases; and the sentencing of all Fast-Track cases.  

 

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National Security and Cybercrimes Section

The National Security and Cybercrimes Section handles matters involving international and domestic terrorism (including threats and hoaxes), counter-espionage, counter-proliferation (i.e., violations of law involving exports of military or dual use items, as well as exports to embargoed nations), and cyber intrusions. NSCS works closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, Defense Criminal Investigative Services, Secret Service, and the multi-agency Joint Terrorism Task Force, among other law enforcement agencies. The section’s matters are often handled in coordination with the Counterterrorism, Counter-espionage, and Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property sections at the Department of Justice. NSCS attorneys typically become involved at the outset of an investigation and are experienced in managing complex matters, using a wide array of investigative tools, coordinating multi-district and/or international investigations, and navigating novel legal issues.

Appellate Section

The Appellate Section supervises all appellate litigation before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, including the filing of briefs and the presentation of oral arguments. In addition, lawyers for the Appellate Section work with the Department of Justice and the Solicitor General to coordinate such issues as potential government appeals, petitions for rehearing en banc, and U.S. Supreme Court litigation in all cases involving the government in the Southern District.

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Financial Litigation Unit

While the Collection Unit's responsibilities remain separate from the Asset Forfeiture Unit, both are now part of one Financial Litigation Unit (FLU) located within the Criminal Division.

Asset Forfeiture Unit

The Asset Forfeiture Unit has functional responsibility for all forfeiture cases and issues within the office. The unit handles all civil forfeitures and provides advice and substantial assistance to Criminal Division attorneys with forfeiture or potential forfeiture issues in their criminal cases. The unit works on proactive criminal and financial investigations and cases, trains Criminal Division AUSAs and support staff on forfeiture-related matters, handles and/or monitors all ancillary hearing procedures, and provides training to ensure that Criminal Division personnel remain current on asset forfeiture law and trends in order to facilitate the successful resolution of forfeiture matters.

The office has developed a successful practice of closely coordinating the criminal prosecution of an individual or a group with the forfeiture of their assets. The asset forfeiture unit, in consultation with criminal prosecutors, selects the best forfeiture method (civil judicial, criminal judicial, or administrative) for obtaining the criminal proceeds of illegal activity.

The asset forfeiture unit is responsible for traditional asset forfeiture functions, such as the collection and maintenance of statistical and forfeiturerelated information in automated and other records systems, the implementation of Department of Justice policy, the development and implementation of District wide forfeiture policy, and the liaison and coordination with client agencies and Department of Justice entities on all forfeiture matters.

Each year the asset forfeiture unit successfully forfeits millions of dollars in money and property from narcotics traffickers, money launderers, and the perpetrators of fraud.

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Collections Unit

The Collections Unit is responsible for collecting money in criminal cases resulting from the imposition of fines, restitution orders, and judgments on Criminal appearance bonds when a defendant fails to appear in court or otherwise violates the conditions of bail. In civil cases, the Office collects judgments rendered in favor of the United States. These civil judgments often involve federally insured student loans, tax liabilities and Veterans Administration and Social Security overpayments.

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