Department of Justice Seal

Remarks by Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson
to the
OCDETF Core City U.S. Attorneys and
AUSA Regional Coordinators
July 26, 2001
2:00pm - 3:30pm
Washington Court Hotel
525 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
Ballroom 3 (Lower Level)

I appreciate the time that each of you has taken to meet with me today to talk about the OCDETF Program.

As one of the original Core City U.S. Attorneys when the OCDETF Program was created in 1982, I remember the power that this Program once wielded in going after the most sophisticated drug trafficking organizations and their money launderers. Harold Rosenthal was the leader of a large cocaine smuggling operation that smuggled five tons of cocaine into the United States during a 15-month period between 1982 and 1983. He was also an admitted Marxist and an associate of the M-19 guerilla movement in Columbia. He wrote the following in a letter that was intercepted by law enforcement: "I hate all governments so much. I want to destroy them. I guess in my own way, sending drugs into the U.S. was one of my ways of fighting." We need to direct the tremendous federal law enforcement resources at individuals like this who, if unchecked, will wreak havoc on our nation.

Drug trafficking is one of the Attorney General's top three priorities. The AG and I believe that a renewed, vigorous OCDETF – restored to its original blueprint is the key to addressing this continuing scourge on our society. There is a reason that OCDETF is the only drug task force program to withstand two decades of changing drug threats, strategies and diminishing resources. The original OCDETF vision of yesterday remains the model for effective team building today – with the guidance of prosecutors at the front end of investigations that are expanded to infuse the talent and resources of multiple agencies, all collaboratively aimed at bringing down well-insulated and otherwise invulnerable trafficking organizations.

This Administration also is placing great emphasis on prevention and treatment efforts, but we cannot have a one-legged stool. As critical as stepped-up demand reduction is, it cannot be effective without law enforcement combating the major drug trafficking organizations supplying our cities. Government studies have shown that recovering addicts are more likely to relapse in the face of cheap, plentiful drugs. WE are the critical, first stage of demand reduction and the direct route for many into coerced treatment through prosecution and sentencing.

All of you in this room have much to be proud of in OCDETF. But the program has its own challenges ahead. Last year's Management Study, requested by Congress, observed that over the past eight years, OCDETF has been reduced to a passive funding mechanism -- and a crippled funding mechanism at that, with the OCDETF budget flat-lined for the past 8 years. With the continued lost resources, energy for the program flagged. As a result, the financial investigations and asset forfeitures that should go hand in glove with the real dismantlement of drug organizations have been so diluted that only 1 out 10 OCDETF investigations includes any financial investigation. Many of our cases failed to target major trafficking organizations. Only 21 % of our OCDETF investigations succeeded in prosecuting the leadership level of major trafficking organizations.

OCDETF was never intended to address all drug trafficking violations. It was created to enhance agency resources already devoted to investigations of major drug trafficking organizations. It was created as the priority mechanism to dismantle and disrupt major drug trafficking organizations and their money launderers -- the same strategy and goals set by the Reagan Administration that proved successful and are still adhered to by the Bush Administration. Equally importantly, the Program was designed to be field driven, ensuring that these sophisticated drug organizations are in the capable hands of the most experienced senior agents and prosecutors -- with the U.S. Attorney playing a central role in coordinating the efforts of multiple law enforcement agencies and in keeping everyone on track to meet the common goal of eliminating drug organizations.

Just as government agencies are being directed to return to their core mission, so must OCDETF. I cannot promise you additional resources at this point. But I can promise you that OCDETF is the priority drug program for the Department and my office. This is our clear message to each of the U.S. Attorney nominees when the Attorney General and I meet with them.

You will have my attention and the guidance from my office in our combined effort to restore the focus and vitality of OCDETF in the field. Leadership of OCDETF has been returned to the Deputy's office, just as OCDETF resided in the leadership offices of the Department for its first 12 years. However, no one should construe this shift in leadership as a movement away from the Criminal Division or its project -- the Special Operations Division. To the contrary, we are working closely with both and expanding their operational roles in OCDETF.

In coordination with you and the law enforcement agency leadership, we will be developing a strategic plan for OCDETF to implement the goals and objectives of the Department in drug trafficking and money laundering enforcement.

I realize that many of you are either serving or representing U.S. Attorneys in an interim capacity, in most cases pending the Presidential appointment of others. But, we cannot wait until the Fall to take these critical steps in fine tuning OCDETF. The Department needs you to actively voice our vision for the program now and push forward on Program reforms with the other U.S. Attorneys and law enforcement SACs at your Regional Advisory Council meetings.

It is the Advisory Council – with the U.S. Attorneys and SACs within each region – that forms the backbone of this program. We will look to your leadership to fully energize the Regional Advisory Council --

We all know that Washington can set the tone, direction and priorities, but it is you who must pick up the mantle and carry it forward to implement and actively manage this program in the field.

Money Laundering - Financial Investigations

I want to spend a minute talking about money laundering. In the words of then-Associate Attorney General Stephen Trott in 1987, and who is now a Judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, "It is not enough to follow drug trails; it is also necessary to follow "the money" in order to reach high levels in drug organizations." No one can tell us definitely how much drug money is laundered in the U.S. – but we do know that users in the U.S. spent at least $63 billion dollars on drugs last year.

In the face of that staggering figure and the success of our financial investigations from those early OCDETF cases -- I was especially disappointed to see that money laundering investigations are no longer part of the fabric of the overall drug investigation. I was disappointed to hear that it was not uncommon for money laundering counts to be dismissed or not brought at all simply because the sentencing guidelines for drugs eclipse those for laundering. We have missed the big picture and I need you to bring it back into focus.

I don't think I could state it more clearly than Attorney General Thornburg did in 1989 when he described the financial investigation mission of OCDETF. Although his examples may be somewhat dated, the principles remain the same:

"I spoke this morning to a group at breakfast, using the analogy of the Chrysler Corporation, in explaining why it is important for us to concentrate as we do on seizing the assets of incapacitated leadership with lesser emphasis on simply seizing substances.

"If, for some reason, you wanted to put the Chrysler Corporation out of business, you would not begin by seizing one LeBaron at a time. You would begin by focusing on Lee Iacocca and the Executive Vice Presidents, and shutting down their bank accounts across the country and around the world. And that simply is the only way that we can effectively deal with the major drug cartels. Focus on their leadership, their executive structure, their organizations, interrupt their money laundering operations, seize the profits, seize the assets, and in many cases, turn them back upon themselves through the equitable sharing program that puts those assets to work for law enforcement."

This approach has been lost in many cases. I am looking to you to restore it so that each region looks beyond the biggest bang for the buck at sentencing and truly dismantles the organization through its financial underpinnings.

Performance Measures - Case Impact

We have other significant challenges in this program. Looking back over the past two decades of OCDETF, I was struck that we are struggling with the same issues today that plagued the program in its early days – chiefly, measuring and reporting our performance. Part of developing an effective strategic plan for OCDETF necessarily includes meaningful measurements of our performance – not just "outputs" such as the raw seizure, arrest and conviction statistics. We have an interagency group working on those measurements now. And, I will be consulting with OMB to ensure that we have captured our real performance.

At a minimum, we must be able to quantify the number of organizations disrupted and dismantled -- a measurement that surprisingly was not collected until this year. But, the focus of OMB and Congress is on our "impact" on the supply operations of international cartels and the availability of drugs in the U.S. At the beginning of OCDETF, Congress asked us for drug supply and production estimates and how we reduced that supply, as well as treatment admissions, overdose death figures and the price and purity of drugs. These are all measures that we must look at carefully again, along with current performance indicators.

In sum, Congress is looking for a return on their investment. Our performance measurements will be the report card for true success in this program. And, in this age of performance based budgeting, it will be the ultimate key to receiving any of the additional limited resources.

The recently revised OCDETF Closing Report is the first step in capturing more meaningful measurements of our work. We are all familiar with the term "garbage in, garbage out." I will look to you to ensure that the field has correctly and timely provided this measurement information for each OCDETF case. The value of the Closing Report to this program is immense. It should not be delegated to support staff – the report must be prepared with the same care and attention that was paid to the case that it reflects.

Conclusion – DAG's Executive Committee

I fully expect that we will have some growing pains as we get back to the basics of what this program was designed to do. I will chair the Executive Committee for OCDETF to work through these issues with the leadership from the OCDETF member agencies, the Director of EOUSA, and AAG Chertoff from the Criminal Division. I know we will have to take another look at the OCDETF Guidelines. And, we will have to tackle accountability for the current allocation of all OCDETF resources to ensure that these are properly directed and focused to most effectively implement the goals and objectives of this Program. Gone are the days reflected in the Management Study – where some U.S. Attorney's Offices were not assigning their most experienced prosecutors to OCDETF, and other offices had assistants who didn't even know whether or not the investigations they were working on were OCDETF.

You have the mandate of the Attorney General, our full commitment and support for the OCDETF program, and the leadership platform through your Advisory Councils to drive home the OCDETF strategy. With your direction to your counterparts in the field, I am confident that OCDETF will be restored to its prior strength -- you are the operational key to our success.