News and Press Releases

U.S. Attorney Wagoner Announces Resignation

August 5, 2010

Greensboro, NC – United States Attorney Anna Mills Wagoner announced today that she is resigning her position as United States Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina effective on Friday, August 6, 2010. Ms. Wagoner intends to run for elected office in Rowan County.

Ms. Wagoner was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and sworn in as U.S. Attorney for the Middle District on November 16, 2001. The Middle District consists of 24 counties in central North Carolina. As U.S. Attorney Ms. Wagoner ably managed the activities of approximately 24 Assistant U.S. Attorneys and a similar number of staff operating from offices in Greensboro and Winston-Salem and representing the United States in criminal, civil and appellate matters before the federal courts. Ms. Wagoner is one of the last Bush-appointed U.S. Attorneys continuing to serve the Obama administration.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve two Presidents and the people of the Middle District of North Carolina as U.S. Attorney,” said Wagoner in announcing her resignation. “I am proud of the commitment and professionalism demonstrated by the U.S. Attorney’ s Office staff and the federal, state and local law enforcement officers with whom we have worked. Together we have made our local communities and our nation a better, safer place to live, ensured the firm but fair enforcement of the criminal laws, and protected the interests of the United States.”

With federal, state and local law enforcement partners, the office under Ms. Wagoner has worked diligently to investigate and prosecute drug traffickers, online child predators, violent and repeat offenders, firearm violators, white collar offenders engaged in schemes such as identity theft and fraud, and others. During Ms. Wagoner’s tenure more than 3,500 criminal cases were filed in the Middle District charging more than 4,500 defendants with federal criminal violations. Violent crime prosecutions increased dramatically during that time and comprised 58% of all criminal prosecutions in the current fiscal year. The conviction rate during Ms. Wagoner’s tenure averaged 93% and fewer than 6% of the cases charged in the district proceeded to trial, the remainder being guilty pleas. During her time with the office more than 93% of all convicted offenders were sentenced to active terms of imprisonment.

In related proceedings under Ms. Wagoner’s leadership, the office seized and forfeited currency and property representing the proceeds or instrumentalities of criminal conduct valued at more than $69 million, and collected more than $15 million in criminal fines, penalties and restitution.

On the civil side, the office defended the United States in personal injury, wrongful death and employment discrimination lawsuits, and collected more than $57 million in civil judgments and other debts owed to the United States, including more than $49 million in health care fraud recovery.

Programs and cases of particular note include the following:

Narcotics prosecutions – Since Ms. Wagoner became U.S. Attorney, the office has initiated and completed eleven Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigations which resulted in the arrest and conviction of 146 defendants. Among those arrested were the leaders of the Cirilo Lopez organization, the Valderrama Organization, the Zuniga Organization, and the Juan Lopez Organization. The highest level members of these organizations were responsible for smuggling thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States, and subsequently into the Middle District of North Carolina. These organizations were identified as cells (or subsidiaries) of Mexican drug cartels, and were located in various counties within the Middle District. Defendants from these organizations were prosecuted for money laundering and firearms offenses, as well as drug trafficking crimes. Dozens of lower-level drug offenders have also been convicted during Ms. Wagoner’s tenure.

Project Safe Neighborhoods – Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is a comprehensive, multi-faceted, data and front line knowledge driven approach to deterring and reducing violent gun and gang related crime. Criminals and gang members who engage in violence are aggressively prosecuted under federal, state, or local laws, depending on which jurisdiction can provide the most appropriate punishment. In addition, federal prosecutors and agents work with state and local law enforcement, prosecutors, probation, academicians, service agencies and community leaders to deter and prevent gun crime through community outreach and assistance. PSN ensures that all partners receive appropriate training so the work can be done efficiently and effectively. Under Ms. Wagoner, PSN has successfully implemented, modified and replicated across nine sites in this district the concept of focused deterrence initially pioneered by David Kennedy in the mid 1990's. Focusing limited resources on prevention, intervention, prisoner reentry and prosecution of the population that causes the most gun and gang related violent crime has shown dramatic results. Since PSN’s inception in 2001, federal prosecutions of gun crimes have increased 76%. At the same time, violent crime rates have plunged to a 30-year low. Across the Middle District, PSN task forces have partnered with their communities to achieve reductions in violent gun and gang related crime which significantly exceed the national results. In High Point, for example, violent crime reductions of over 50% have been sustained for over 10 years. The High Point Drug Market Intervention has been nationally recognized as a best practice and has been replicated across the Middle District, the state of North Carolina and the United States. “We are proud of the partnerships PSN has developed with our local community leaders in Alamance, Cabarrus, Davidson, Durham, and Orange Counties and the cities of Greensboro, High Point, Salisbury and Winston-Salem,” Wagoner commented. “All of these communities are safer because of the PSN approach.”

Project Safe Childhood – Ms. Wagoner contributed significantly to improving federal law enforcement efforts in many areas, but perhaps nowhere was it more evident than in the child exploitation arena. She is a long time advocate of state and local cooperation in child exploitation cases, and virtually every federal prosecution in the Middle District of North Carolina involved some component of local law enforcement. With the assistance of ms. Wagoner, in 2008 the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office was one of 23 agencies in the nation and three in North Carolina to receive a grant to fight child exploitation, designed to fund innovative programs that allow agencies to establish and/or enhance strategies to combat child pornography. The office vigorously participated in Project Safe Childhood, a Department of Justice initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. Since the start of Project Safe Childhood in 2006 the office has indicted and sentenced more than 20 individuals for crimes involving the sexual exploitation or abuse of children, including Charles Childers, the former Landis (NC) Police Chief and 27-year law enforcement veteran, who in February 2008 was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison on child pornography charges, and Richard “Chip” Williams, a former NASCAR publicist who was sentenced in June 2006 to more than 26 years in federal prison for unlawful contact with a minor female. “The sexual exploitation of children is an abomination. By raising public awareness and vigorously prosecuting violators, our goal is to reduce the number of child victims to zero,” said Wagoner. “I am proud of our efforts in this area and confident that prosecutors and law enforcement will continue to confront this problem aggressively.”

White collar crimes – White collar prosecutions were also a significant component of Ms. Wagoner’s overall crime reduction efforts. Many significant white collar prosecutions were undertaken during her eight years as U.S. Attorney, and the office was in the forefront nationally of the mortgage fraud crisis of the early 2000’s. At least twenty-two people were indicted in the Middle District between 2003 and 2005 in connection with three mortgage fraud schemes, including six associated with American Homes of High Point and thirteen connected to Oasis Mortgage of High Point. The individuals indicted included several attorneys and local businessmen. Other significant white collar prosecutions included: U.S. v. Manlin Chee (former immigration lawyer sentenced a year and a day in federal prison for submitting false documentation to the U.S. government); U.S. v. Marko Rudi (Rudi, a consultant with the Baltic branch of accounting group Ernst and Young, was one of the first defendants ever extradited from Estonia, after his arrest there in 2008 by Interpol. Rudi was convicted of major fraud against the United States and sentenced in June 2010 to 33 months in federal prison); U.S. v. Ernest Pitt, et al. (convictions against three men stemming from a Winston-Salem land deal completed in 2003 in which East Pointe Developers bought 23 lots in the Lansing Ridge subdivision for $285,000, then sold them to the housing authority's nonprofit wing two days later for $414,000, a 45 percent return); and U.S. v. Veselin Vidacak and U.S. v. Ugljesa Pantic (two men convicted of lying about serving in the Republic of Srpska's Zvornik Brigade when applying for refugee status. The brigade was responsible for the massacre of thousands of Muslims in the village of Srebrenica in July 1995).

Eve Carson murder – Ms. Wagoner supported pursuit of the death penalty for Demario James Atwater in connection with the March 2008 murder of UNC student body president Eve Carson. Atwater eventually pleaded guilty and agreed to accept a sentence of life imprisonment. Sentencing is set for September 23, 2010. “Eve Carson was a bright and giving young leader who positively impacted the lives of her family, friends, and community,” said U. S. Attorney Wagoner. “The plea assures that Atwater will be appropriately punished for his senseless act of violence, because a life sentence in the federal criminal justice system means just that: life without the possibility of parole or early release.”

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