Investigators Urged To “Go Deep” In Seizing Illegal Assets
Hickory, NC – Everyone thought Mebane’s Avedis “Mike” Djeredjian was a legitimate businessman. But when a federal jury in April of last year convicted him of a conspiracy to launder money from trafficking in contraband cigarettes, subjecting him to the forfeiture of over $4.5 million in proceeds on top of a long prison term, a different story unfolded, one revealing a multi-million dollar smuggling enterprise and demonstrating the power of federal forfeiture laws to cripple illegal enterprises. The Djeredjian case was just one successful prosecution cited by speakers at the Asset Forfeiture and Financial Investigation Training Conference which kicked off here today.
The United States Attorney from the Eastern District of North Carolina, the Chief Criminal Assistant U.S. Attorney from the Western District of North Carolina, Sheriff David Huffman of Catawba County, and Chief Tom Adkins of the Hickory Police Department were there to lend their support to this important topic.
Speaking to the over 150 federal, state, and local law enforcement professionals assembled here, Eastern District United States Attorney George E.B Holding exhorted attendees to embrace asset forfeiture as the way to break the back of criminal operations: “The law enforcement world has changed. We can’t lock all the criminals up, and the ones we do lock up, we can’t keep locked up forever. We can, however, strip them of their criminal infrastructure, making it very difficult for them to easily return to their illegal businesses.”
Conference participants have a full agenda of seminars, from prosecutors discussing the federal and state forfeiture laws to experienced professionals discussing investigative techniques — including vehicle searches and seizures, financial investigative techniques, pre-seizure planning, controlled substance tax seizures, and the sharing of federally forfeited funds with participating state and local law enforcement agencies.
“The forfeiture laws are a powerful weapon in law enforcement’s arsenal,” adds Anna Mills Wagoner, United States Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina. “In these troubled economic times, it is more important than ever that we use forfeiture to disrupt and dismantle criminal activity and enterprise, to divest criminals of the proceeds of their unlawful activity, and to recover assets for the victims of financial crimes.”
In the 25 years since the passage of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, a federal law which significantly broadened the reach of existing forfeiture laws, the seizure of the ill-gotten gains and instrumentalities of crime has become a standard part of federal criminal investigations and prosecutions. State-wide last year, joint law enforcement efforts yielded forfeitures of $32.5 million dollars, with over half of that going back to some 173 state and local law enforcement agencies.
Forfeiture is institutionalized in the corridors of federal law enforcement power. There is a special section in the Department of Justice devoted exclusively to asset forfeiture. There are asset forfeiture attorneys as well as support staff in every U.S. Attorney’s office. Practically all federal agencies have some kind of forfeiture authority. Prosecutors have to consider asset forfeiture in their indictments. Both individuals and their assets are now the targets of criminal investigations.
Moreover, forfeiture and the consequent sharing of seized property has been a boon to law enforcement cooperation. Federal, state, and local agencies readily share intelligence information, form joint task forces, and work together to seize assets.
In closing, U.S. Attorney Holding admonished attendees to “Go deep. Don’t leave assets on the table. Identify, seize, and forfeit all the instrumentalities and proceeds of crime. Take the profit out of crime.” Twenty-five years ago a cigarette smuggler like Mike Djeredjian might have served time but been left with a stash of cash and property to return to on release. Not today.
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