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Press Release

Attorney General Eric Holder Welcomes Denise O'Donnell as Director of Bureau of Justice Assistance

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Eric Holder today welcomed Denise O’Donnell as the Justice Department’s Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). O’Donnell was sworn in today following President Obama’s appointment in December 2010.


“I am pleased to welcome Denise back to the Department of Justice,” said Attorney General Holder.  “She will play a critical role in providing the necessary tools and resources to state, local and tribal authorities to strengthen communities and our criminal justice system.”


The BJA Director advises and assists the Attorney General and the Department of Justice in formulating and implementing departmental policies and programs to better support state, local and tribal law enforcement across the country. BJA provides leadership, services, and funding to communities by streamlining the administration of grants; offering training and technical assistance to prevent crime, drug abuse, and violence; and developing collaborative partnerships between federal, state, local and tribal authorities.


In 1985, O’Donnell joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York as a criminal prosecutor. She was promoted to Appellate Chief in 1990 and named First Assistant U.S. Attorney in 1993. As First Assistant, O’Donnell worked on the national investigation that developed crucial evidence against Timothy J. McVeigh, who was convicted of orchestrating the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.


O’Donnell was appointed U.S. Attorney by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and became the first woman ever to hold the position of top federal prosecutor in upstate New York. She served as vice chair of the U.S. Attorney General’s Advisory Committee in Washington, D.C., where she was a member of the Investigations & Intelligence, Northern Border and Civil Rights subcommittees. In her role as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, O’Donnell helped establish a program to prevent housing discrimination and was instrumental in creating the first Hate Crimes Task Force in the Western District of New York.


O’Donnell entered private practice in 2001, becoming a litigation partner at Hodgson Russ LLP. At Hodgson Russ, she concentrated on government investigations; health care law; civil fraud and false claims act litigation; money laundering and financial crimes; and corporate ethics and compliance.


In recent years, O’Donnell has served as the New York State Deputy Secretary for Public Safety, overseeing 11 homeland security and criminal justice agencies. She also has served on the Conviction Integrity Advisory Panel for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office; the Criminal Justice Council of the New York City Bar Association; and the Criminal Justice Section of the New York State Bar Association.


O’Donnell has also taught at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo and served as a lecturer with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Education.


A native of Buffalo, N.Y., O’Donnell was the first person in her family to graduate from college. She obtained a master’s degree in social work from SUNY Buffalo, and she graduated summa cum laude from the University at Buffalo Law School.

Updated September 15, 2014

Press Release Number: 11-727