Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales at the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) & Asset Forfeiture Program National Leadership Conference

July 31, 2007

Thank you. I got into public service because I wanted to do something with my life where I could make a positive difference. Sometimes those positive changes occur through individual effort—sometimes they occur through partnerships. I'm pleased to be here today to recognize the accomplishments of two of the Justice Department’s most successful law enforcement partnership efforts – the OCDETF and Asset Forfeiture programs.

Twenty-five years ago, when President Reagan created the OCDETF program, it became the centerpiece of the Department’s drug enforcement strategy. It still holds that position today, and it continues to serve as a model of public service.

When the program was created, it was a novel idea. In fact, it was commonly referred to as "The Task Force" because there were no others. OCDETF was based upon the simple idea that federal, state and local law enforcement agencies working together can accomplish what the same agencies working separately cannot. You veterans in the audience know that over the last 25 years, the illegal drug trade has changed immensely.

We have seen trafficking patterns shift westward – mainly to the Southwest border – in large part due to our effective enforcement efforts in South Florida.

We have witnessed the rise of a new and devastating drug scourge: methamphetamine.

We’ve made great strides in keeping drug dealers out of our legitimate financial systems, only to see the rise of bulk cash smuggling as a means of repatriating their profits.

And now we must face a new threat -- the use of the internet for illegal distribution of prescription medication.

Throughout all these changes, one thing has remained constant: the key to successfully stopping these criminal enterprises is multi-agency cooperation, coordination, and information sharing.

The leadership of this program has always understood that concept, and that's why OCDETF has delivered outstanding results. Indeed, the program has never been healthier or better equipped to handle the important job it was created to do.

Likewise, the Asset Forfeiture program has never been stronger. Established in 1984, the program was created to punish and deter criminal activity by depriving criminals of their ill-gotten gains and the instruments of their trade.

More than two decades later the program has surpassed all expectations. Over $10 billion in assets have been surrendered by criminals, including more than a billion dollars last year alone. Over and over again, forfeiture has proven to be a powerful and effective tool in pursuing drug dealers and in disrupting and dismantling their criminal organizations. Our efforts have been aided by programs that share the seized assets with state and local law enforcement and with foreign governments. We've split more than $4 billion with approximately 6,000 state and local agencies. That’s a powerful incentive to increase cooperation. Our partners at the state and local level know we aren't coming into town to use up their meager resources and we aren't imposing an unfunded mandate on them.

On the international side, the Department has shared over $228 million with 36 countries. As a result, we've been able to build a global coalition to fight illicit drugs and crime, with the benefits extending across the law enforcement spectrum. Our law enforcement cooperation with Mexico, for example, has never been better. That makes our communities safer for all Americans. And there is a certain poetic justice in taking the assets of criminals and reinvesting them back into our communities in the form of enhanced law enforcement.

Both the OCDETF and the Asset Forfeiture programs have developed innovative strategies in the pursuit of criminals and their organizations. Today, I'd like to share my perspective about one of them in particular … the CPOT strategy.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, this Administration set out to improve the ways we go about law enforcement. All of our agencies took important steps to increase information-sharing and to use our resources efficiently. We simply had to move beyond the walls that previously existed and the old attitudes and rivalries that had limited our effectiveness too often.

One of the tools we developed was a unified national law enforcement list of the most significant and sophisticated drug and money laundering operations -- the Consolidated Priority Organization Target list. These are the organizations and people most responsible for supplying our Nation with illegal drugs.

As you know the CPOT program allows OCDETF agencies to focus on the worst of the worst. We draw upon the expertise of each agency, with the officers, agents, and prosecutors all doing what they do best, and all acting together to dismantle these organizations and their financial operations from top to bottom.

There are currently 50 CPOTs on the list of America’s "most wanted" drug trafficking and money laundering organizations, and 38 of them are now under indictment in the United States. Since the list was created in 2002, 24 CPOTs have been completely dismantled, and an amazing 738 organizations linked to CPOTs have been disrupted or dismantled by you and your colleagues.

We brought down the founders of the Cali cartel and won a forfeiture of $2.1 billion from them. We indicted 50 members of the narco-terrorist FARC, and just last week we extradited from Colombia one of the leaders of the Norte Valle cartel.

Over the past quarter century, drug traffickers have not only become more sophisticated, but also become increasingly involved in terrorist activity. That trend creates a disturbing new threat, and it's one I know all of us are taking very seriously.

For example, drug lord and CPOT Haji Baz Mohammad was arrested in Afghanistan in 2005, and later that year became the first person to be extradited from Afghanistan to the United States. Baz Mohammed was charged with conspiracy to import approximately $25 million worth of heroin into the United States and other countries over a 15 year period.

He reportedly said that selling heroin in the U.S. was a "jihad," in which he was taking the Americans' money, and the heroin was killing them. He also reportedly was closely aligned with the Taliban and other Islamic extremist groups, which he supported with drug proceeds.

Those who have been targeted are dangerous… they run extremely complicated and efficient organizations … and their business is drug smuggling, money laundering, intimidation, and murder. In dozens of cases like these, the CPOT approach makes it easier for federal law enforcement to tear down their operations.

Now, we know that our adversaries are smart. And to fight them we need to bring together all of our smartest people -- the cops, the lawyers, and the accountants. It takes a lot of expertise and effort, and there's no room for egos and turf battles if we are serious about making our neighborhoods safer.

As the drug threat has changed over the years and as cartels developed more advanced techniques to conceal their assets, both the OCDETF and Asset Forfeiture programs have evolved as well. That evolution is thanks to leaders like you.

In years past, criminals could exploit the weaknesses of law enforcement – the limited resources, the crevices between jurisdictions, the limitations of the tools at our disposal. But today we are better organized and better equipped, and we have filled in the jurisdictional gaps.

Because of these two programs, we are seeing successes in our fight against these criminals. But with our existing and potential intelligence-sharing capabilities, I believe we can do even better.

We now have the potential to use intelligence to target drug threats from the local to the global level, and eliminate those threats -- staying a step ahead of the drug traffickers. I ask you to make this part of your mission as you move the OCDETF and Asset Forfeiture programs forward.

Those who would criticize our work may question whether we are really "winning" the war on drugs. And I know that sometimes when you see the size of some of your seizures you’re reminded about those shipments you did not stop, when it seems that your work is never-ending, you may question whether we are making a difference. I am here to tell you that your efforts have a tremendous impact on our society, and that impact will be felt for generations to come.

You affect the lives of children like Romeo, a four-year-old boy from Colorado. Romeo’s parents were running a meth lab in their home.

One day, at five o’clock in the morning, a SWAT team was making the final preparations to execute a search warrant on the lab. As the final checks were made, one of the detectives on surveillance reported that he saw a “skeleton” coming out the front door.

His fellow officers thought he must have been hallucinating. But then his colleagues got a better look and saw the same thing. It was Romeo, dressed in a skeleton costume and looking up and down his street. The officers at first thought he was acting as a lookout for his parents.

An officer later approached Romeo. He asked Romeo why he was dressed in a skeleton outfit and standing on his front porch. And why was he looking up and down the street at such an early hour in the morning.

Romeo’s eyes lit up as he explained that later that day his nursery school was holding a Halloween party. As he told the story, his shoulders slumped. He told the officer that he really wanted to go to the party but he hadn’t been able to wake up his mom for the last few days and didn’t know where the bus stop was. Romeo said he thought that if he got up early enough and put his costume on, he might be able see the bus and catch it as it drove by.

Every time you slap the cuffs on a drug dealer … and with every drug and money seizure … you save lives like Romeo's.

You make it more difficult for these criminals to poison our children with cocaine, marijuana, meth, heroin, and prescription drugs. And you give back hope to those parents desperate for help in protecting their greatest treasure.

To my way of thinking, saving lives—especially the lives of our children -- is a pretty good measure of success, and a true public service.

With every life that you save, with every child who grows up free from drug abuse -- you win. We all win. I believe the parents in this Nation are grateful to you for all your hard work and for the many sacrifices made by you; and I'm proud to serve alongside you.

May God bless each and every one of you, and may He continue to richly bless the United States of America.