Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Rybicki of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division Delivers Remarks at the Alaska Wellness Summit 2.0: Confronting Alaska’s Crime Wave
Good afternoon. And thank you Senator Sullivan for that gracious introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here in the great State of Alaska to participate in the Alaska Wellness Summit 2.0.
I also want to thank Senator Sullivan for his leadership in convening this important event, along with everyone whose hard work went into organizing it.
Senator Sullivan is a long-time public servant and former Attorney General of Alaska, and I know he has a great appreciation for our men and women in law enforcement.
It is also a pleasure to be here with my friend and colleague, U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder, who is doing a tremendous job leading the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska.
U.S. Attorney Schroder and I have worked together on violent crime issues and I applaud his leadership in Alaska’s law enforcement community.
As this event recognizes, crime—especially violent crime—remains a significant problem throughout our country, including here in Alaska.
We also face an ongoing crisis involving opioids and other dangerous drugs.
We have violent gangs terrorizing communities across our country.
Criminals in the United States and overseas are targeting Americans in financial fraud schemes that destroy people’s hard earned savings, often taking a particular toll on our seniors.
Cyber criminals are stealing our private information, hacking into our online accounts, and stealing intellectual property from our businesses.
And criminals are coming up with new schemes every day to steal taxpayer dollars from our federal health care programs, like Medicare, Medicaid, and the TRICARE program that provides healthcare to our military families.
But we are making progress.
Under the leadership of President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, we are taking an all-hands approach to law enforcement.
Last June, Attorney General Sessions announced the largest surge in federal prosecutors in decades. Across the country, we are hiring more federal prosecutors, including right here in Alaska.
In the Criminal Division at the Justice Department, where I work, we recently marked a particularly important milestone—our Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, was just confirmed by the U.S. Senate a few weeks ago.
Under his leadership, we will continue the Division’s commitment to the rule of law and protecting our citizens, working more closely than ever with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners.
Partners like the Coast Guard, which under Admiral Shultz is our primary defense to drug smuggling on the high seas and which works closely with DOJ’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs Section.
DOJ is working with State Attorneys General, like Jahna Lindemuth, not only to investigate and prosecute cases, but also to educate the public and prevent crime through programs such as our Elder Justice Initiative. Under that initiative, which was announced by Attorney General Sessions in February, we now have an Elder Justice Coordinator in each of our 93 U.S. Attorney’s Offices, including here in Alaska.
I know this is a particularly important issue for U.S. Attorney Schroder as well, who has made it a priority to prosecute elder fraud cases, working together with FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the State of Alaska’s Office of Elder Fraud and Assistance.
Just this past December, his office secured a 10-year sentence against a Washington State man who defrauded Alaskans out of approximately 2.7 million dollars as part of an advance-fee scheme that preyed upon the sick and elderly.
In connection with the focus on elder justice that I just mentioned, this February Attorney General Sessions announced the coordination of a nationwide elder fraud sweep that involved approximately 200 criminal defendants who were engaged in a variety of fraud schemes, ranging from mass mailing to telemarketing and investment scams, targeting seniors in Alaska and around the nation.
In my current role as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Department’s Criminal Division, I am tasked with overseeing the Organized Crime and Gang Section. I’m in a position to see all of the great work that our 700 federal prosecutors in the Criminal Division are doing each day to protect the American people across the country, often with prosecutors in U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and with federal, state and local law enforcement, to bring violent gang members to justice—members of gangs like MS-13.
Fighting violent crime is a top priority of this Attorney General and this Administration—and I know it’s a priority for all of our citizens, and particularly for the people of Alaska. Between 2014 and 2016, the national violent crime rate increased by around seven percent, and the murder rate went up by roughly 20 percent. As of the most recent FBI statistics, in 2016, Alaska had the highest rate of violent crime per capita of any state at approximately 800 offenses per 100,000 persons.
Under U.S. Attorney Schroder, the U.S. Attorney’s Office here has doubled down in its efforts against violent crime. Bottom line is that Bryan’s office went from 154 violent crime cases filed in calendar year 2016, to 186 cases filed in calendar year 2017. That’s a 20.7 percent increase. The number of defendants charged went up even more, from 198 in calendar year 2016, to 243 in calendar year 2017, a 22.7 percent increase.
In October last year, he announced the Office’s Anti-Violent Crime Strategy, which brings together city, state, and federal authorities to combat rising crime in Alaska. He did it as part of the Attorney General’s October 2017 renewal of “Project Safe Neighborhoods,” a nationwide program that partners federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
A key part of the anti-violent crime strategy here in Alaska involves greater collaboration with local law enforcement. Here in Anchorage, the FBI has assigned a Special Agent to work full time with the Anchorage Police Department’s homicide unit.
The Anchorage Police Department is also using the Integrated Ballistic Identification System, a national system hosted by the ATF that allows local law enforcement to quickly enter ballistics information and search against evidence from their jurisdiction, neighboring ones, and others across the country.
I’d like to switch gears now and address a few of the other significant threats to public safety and public health that Attorney General Sessions has made a priority for federal prosecutors.
Health Care Fraud.
We’re working to protect the federal health care system that benefits Alaskans and all Americans. The success of the Department’s approach to health care fraud was on full display a few weeks ago when Attorney General Sessions and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Azar announced the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action in history.
This year’s takedown involved charges against 601 defendants across 58 federal districts, including 165 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving more than $2 billion in false billings. These are cases that impact every American taxpayer. When a criminal in Miami steals money from Medicare, it impacts taxpayers in Anchorage.
As a result of our focus on health care fraud, in Miami and Detroit, we have seen a 20 percent drop in Medicare Part A and B billings. That amounts to over $2 billion in savings for all taxpayers annually.
Just as important as the fraud charges, 162 defendants, including 57 medical professionals, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics.
The opioid epidemic has hit Alaska hard.
Admissions for treatment of opioid abuse increased almost 60 percent in 2014. Recent data show that over 200,000 Alaskans out of a state population of around 740,000, obtained prescriptions Schedule 2 controlled substances, including opioids—that’s 27 percent of the population. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 80 percent of heroin users reported starting their addiction with these kinds of prescription opioid painkillers.
While the majority of those opioids were initially prescribed in good faith by doctors trying to do right by their patients, the data indicate that there is unfortunately no shortage of medical professionals only too willing to prescribe opioids for any reason, or for no reason all—and that’s a crime.
By investigating and prosecuting corrupt doctors and pharmacists who are illegally prescribing and distributing prescription opioids, we can stem the flow of these dangerous narcotics onto our streets. As we reduce the flow of prescription opioids, we seek to prevent the next generation of addicts.
We are also attacking other cases involving opioids, including by charging suppliers in China who are manufacturing deadly fentanyl that is being sold over the internet to people in the United States.
And we continue our work in dismantling drug trafficking organizations and cartels that continue to flood our streets with deadly poisons here and in the lower 48.
On the cyber and child exploitation front, in April of this year, the Department announced charges against seven individuals and the seizure of Backpage.com, the internet’s leading forum for prostitution ads, including ads advertising the prostitution of children. Backpage was allegedly used as a platform that allowed human traffickers to thrive.
Also this year, prosecutors in our Organized Crime and Gang section charged 36 cybercriminals from the United States and 17 countries on five continents who participated in a transnational cyber enterprise called “Infraud.”
Members of the Infraud Organization used the forum to coordinate and conduct online criminal activities that included identity theft, bank fraud, wire fraud and computer crimes, resulting in more than $530 million in losses to financial institutions, merchants, and private individuals in all 50 states.
Our prosecutors work day and night, across the country, side by side with our law enforcement partners, as we tackle these problems that are so important to the Department, the people of Alaska, and the nation.
While many of our investigations are taken out of the public eye, know that we are here, we are dedicated, and we will not waiver in our mission of protecting the American public. Our goal is simple—we will use every lawful tool available to ensure that our citizens, our businesses, and our country can thrive, without fear of crime.
As federal prosecutors, we are not here to fill up the prisons or manage crime — that’s not our goal. Our goal is to reduce crime — to bend that trend curve downward in Alaska and across the nation.
Thank you for your time today. I look forward to the remainder of the program.