United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington
U.S. Attorney’s Annual Report to the Community
As U.S. Attorney I am honored to serve as the chief law enforcement officer for the Western District of Washingon, an area that includes 19 counties west of the Cascade Mountains, running from the Columbia River to the Canadian border. The attorneys and staff in the U.S. Attorney’s Office are committed to keeping the entire district safe, secure and thriving. It is a diverse district that includes urban areas and vast open lands, National Parks and National Forests. It is home to the largest military base west of the Rockies (Joint Base Lewis-McChord) and 25 federally-recognized Indian Tribes. We share a water and land border with Canada and have two of the ten busiest sea ports in the United States. With all the trade passing through our district, we are alert to threats posed by human trafficking, smuggling of contraband, and the risk of international terrorism. The Western District is home to a variety of high-tech businesses which increases demand for sophisticated cyber-crime investigations and intellectual property protection.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is leading law enforcement efforts in the district with more than 700 defendants prosecuted in 2011. We also defend the United States in actions against federal agencies. Our priorities include:
- Combating terrorism, both homegrown and from abroad
- Targeting violent crime and gun crimes
- Stopping cybercrime and protecting intellectual property
- Protecting civil rights and vulnerable communities
- Fighting financial crimes
- Recovering victim’s property and taxpayer dollars from those who commit fraud
Here are some brief summaries of our work in these critical areas from 2011.
A plot to attack the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Seattle was disrupted in June 2011. Inspired by anti-American rhetoric from overseas, two men sought to attack the innocent men, women and children in the South Seattle facility. Quick work by the Seattle Police and FBI disrupted the plot. One defendant has pleaded guilty, a second goes to trial this year. You can read more about this case here.
The final defendant in the ideologically motive arson of the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture was arrested and entered a guilty plea. The arrest and conviction of Justin Solondz marks the final defendant in a crime involving the radical Earth Liberation Front. Solondz was sentenced in March 2012 to seven years in prison. You can read more about this case here.
We prosecuted threats of violence to our elected officials in 2011. Charles Habermann was sentenced to eight months in prison for death threats he made to U.S. Representative Jim McDermott, his family and staff. You can read more about the case here. In addition we prosecuted members of the “Sovereign Citizens” movement who refuse to comply with state and federal laws. Some engage in tax fraud schemes as part of their anti-government orientation. Some have threatened our local elected officials. In December 2011, a Kirkland man was sentenced to more than three years in prison for threats he made to the Kirkland Mayor, City Attorney and Police Officers. Read more. In early 2012, a Mt. Vernon man was sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud. You can read more here.
TARGETING VIOLENT CRIME
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is leading an effort to make our communities safer. Using the “hot spot” model, local, state and federal law enforcement concentrated on battling crime in one geographic region. Operation “Center of Attention” focused on the White Center area of South King County. Over three months law enforcement seized 68 guns and more than 60 pounds of meth, cocaine and crack cocaine. Learn more about “Operation Center of Attention” here. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, local law enforcement, and elected officials remain committed to working with the community to help prevent crime, not just prosecute criminals after the fact. An unprecedented community meeting occurred immediately after the culmination of Center of Attention, and, at the time, I said:
“We know that we cannot arrest our way out of the crime problem. Long-term solutions require bringing together a variety of resources and community efforts, and I commend the White Center community for continuing to step up. We will work together to address the most persistent issues in the community and identify resources for lasting growth. Long-term success depends on the people in this room.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office seeks to thwart gun crime by diligent enforcement of gun laws. Felons who continue to illegally carry firearms received stiff sentences. Working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) the U.S. Attorney’s Office lead an initiative to improve community safety by ensuring those selling firearms at gun shows were selling in compliance with federal law. As part of the Gun Show Initiative, the ATF made sure sellers knew the rules about federal licensing. Despite that notice, four defendants, including a retired police officer, continued to sell in violation of the law. The four defendants were convicted of illegally selling firearms, and have been sentenced to sentences ranging from 18 months to two years in prison. You can read more about that initiative here.
STOPPING CYBERCRIME AND PROTECTING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
Cyber crime is a growing threat to our citizens and our communities. In 2011, the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted a number of defendants who used cyberspace to commit crimes. A computer hacking ring that stole identities, money and equipment from more than 50 businesses was dismantled in 2011. Read more here.
The Electronic Crimes Task Force, in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, devoted special emphasis to a huge increase in “skimming” incidents. Organized criminal groups with ties to Eastern Europe were placing electronic devices on bank automatic teller machines, to clone debit cards and steal personal identification numbers. With this information, thieves could quickly drain customer bank accounts. A series of prosecutions in Western Washington has made a significant dent in skimming activity. You can read about the skimming cases here
The U.S. Attorney’s Office works closely with federal law enforcement agents to protect intellectual property rights. Two defendants pleaded guilty to a longtime scheme to sell counterfeit Microsoft software. Wayne Shu was sentenced to three years in prison. More here. In addition, two Seattle area men were charged with criminal copyright infringement for illegally uploading movies, television shows, computer software and games to their website. Read more.
PROTECTING CIVIL RIGHTS AND VULNERABLE COMMUNITIES
Protecting civil rights is a key mission of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Throughout 2011, the U.S Attorney’s Office worked with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice on a Pattern and Practice Review of the Seattle Police Department. The investigation revealed constitutional violations by SPD in its use of force and concerns about discriminatory treatment of people of color. Throughout 2012, the Department of Justice will continue to work proactively with the City of Seattle, the Seattle Police Department, and the community to address problems identified by this independent investigation. Read more here.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted a racially motivated assault from Vancouver, Washington. Zachary Beck was sentenced to 51 months in prison for an assault on an African-American man in a bar. Read more here.
In 2011, the U.S. Attorney’s Office aggressively prosecuted those who exploit children through child pornography and molestation, sex trafficking or failing to register as a sex offender. More here.
Our environmental crimes section prosecuted cases of illegal dumping into rivers and streams, the theft of old growth timber and the false labeling of seafood sold to consumers. Read more here.
In Indian Country, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is augmenting resources to prosecute violent crimes and sexual assaults on vulnerable victims. In 2011 we filed cases charging homicide, aggravated domestic abuse, and sexual assault of minors. For more on our work in Indian country go here.
FIGHTING FINANCIAL CRIME
In 2011, the U.S. Attorney’s Office indicted ponzi schemers, mortgage fraudsters, and corrupt investment advisors. In one case alone, Darren Berg defrauded investors of more than $100 million. Berg was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Read more here.
Shawn Portman was indicted for a mortgage fraud scheme that brought down a Tacoma area bank. He is scheduled for trial later this year. You can read more about the case here.
Financial adviser Richard Finger pleaded guilty to defrauding clients of as much as $7 million. Read more here.
RECOVERING VICTIMS’ PROPERTY AND TAXPAYER DOLLARS FROM THOSE WHO COMMIT FRAUD
The U.S. Attorney’s Office focused on a variety of benefit fraud cases in 2011, designed to safeguard taxpayer money. The cases range from prosecuting stores seeking to profit from food stamp fraud, to long term frauds of the Social Security Disability program. You can read more here and here.
In 2011 the U.S. Attorney’s Office captured a record amount of resources for victims of crime and U.S. Taxpayers. Through enforcement of restitution orders and criminal forfeiture, the office collected more than $74 million for victims and taxpayers. You can read more about those collections here.
Attorneys in the Civil Division sought to recoup tax dollars from medical entities that had overcharged the government for medical services. In 2011, a medical billing company paid more than $565,000 to settle claims it inappropriately charged the government for services that were not rendered. Attorneys continue to pursue claims against an oncologist who overbilled for services rendered. Read more on the Chan case here.
The Civil Division also works to enforce the rights of returning servicemen under Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). In 2011, civil attorneys reached a settlement on behalf of Dave Axtell with James J. Williams Bulk Transport Inc. over its failure to appropriately re-employ the reservist. Read more here.
We will continue to focus our efforts on key priority areas in 2012 to enhance our communities and keep improving safety in our corner of the Pacific Northwest. I look forward to working with our community to do justice for all the people of Western Washington.
Jenny A. Durkan
United States Attorney