Thank you, Justin for that kind introduction and thank you for your leadership as United States Attorney. This office is doing remarkable work that is being noticed at Main Justice and throughout the law enforcement community.
I want to thank:
- Mayor Jackson,
- Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams,
- DEA Special Agent in Charge Tim Plancon,
- FBI Special Agent in Charge Steve Anthony,
- Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Steve Francis, and
- Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley.
Thank you for being here and for all of your hard work to protect the people of Northeast Ohio from dangerous drugs.
Nationwide, 72,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2017 – the highest drug death toll in American history.
That is the equivalent of the population of Canton, Ohio dead in one year just from overdoses.
This is a national crisis. And there is no question that Ohio has suffered from this epidemic more than most states. Ohio is second in the nation in overdose deaths, with a rate more than double the national average. From 2014 to 2016, drug deaths in Ohio increased by 60 percent. For opioids it was 73 percent. Fentanyl deaths tripled.
In Cleveland last year 128 people were murdered. That was enough to put Cleveland in the top five in the nation for murder rate.
But drugs killed more than five times as many Clevelanders as homicides.
And that’s in addition to those who overdosed and survived. Last year, first responders in Cleveland reversed more than 1,300 overdoses that otherwise might have been fatal.
And according to one estimate from Ohio University and the University of Toledo, more than 500,000 years of life expectancy have been lost because of drug overdoses—in Ohio alone.
This is a daunting situation. That is why, under President Trump, the Department of Justice has taken historic new steps to end the drug crisis.
This summer, Attorney General Sessions sent three more prosecutors to this office to focus on violent criminals like the gangs who sell drugs.
Just a few weeks later, Attorney General Sessions began Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge, or Operation S.O.S. He sent prosecutors to 10 districts in America—including both Northern and Southern Ohio—and ordered those districts to prosecute every single synthetic opioid trafficking case they can. As the Attorney General pointed out, these drugs are so powerful that there really is no such thing as a small fentanyl case.
In August, the Attorney General stood at this very spot and announced the arrest of three defendants we believe were the number one and number three most prolific online fentanyl dealers in North America. He also spoke about the guilty plea of the Euclid, Ohio fentanyl dealer who sold fentanyl online just down the street from a Catholic school.
Justin and his team are doing remarkable work. Some of the most important drug cases in the country are being investigated and prosecuted right here in this district and by people who are in this room.
This office indicted 959 defendants over the last 12 months—a 50 percent increase over the previous year and the most in 12 years. That includes 393 defendants charged with narcotics offenses—a 69 percent increase over the previous year and the most in 13 years.
Over the same timeframe, this office increased violent crime prosecutions by 53 percent and charged the most violent criminals in 14 years.
As a career prosecutor myself, I know good work when I see it. And this is certainly excellent work.
We are working every day at Main Justice to make you more effective—and I believe that we have successfully done that over this past year and a half.
Today I am announcing our next step to do that. I am announcing that Cleveland will soon be the home of an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force—or OCDETF.
As the officers in this room well know, OCDETF brings together a broad law enforcement coalition:
- Assistant U.S. Attorneys,
- Drug Enforcement Administration,
- Federal Bureau of Investigation,
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives,
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement,
- Homeland Security Investigations,
- Internal Revenue Service,
- Department of Labor Inspector General,
- Postal Service Inspectors,
- Secret Service,
- Marshals Service, and
- Coast Guard.
These agencies have diverse capabilities and jurisdictions—but they all have one mission: to go after drug traffickers and criminal organizations at the highest levels.
OCDETF brings together just about every federal law enforcement agency there is. Attorney General Sessions has called it “the Swiss Army knife of law enforcement.” It has everything you need to put a drug trafficker behind bars.
If you want to investigate tax crimes, with OCDETF you have the IRS. If you want to investigate counterfeiting, you have the Secret Service. For mail fraud, you have the postal inspectors. And so on. Whatever is needed to find the kingpins and the cartel leaders, OCDETF has it.
The idea behind the Strike Force is as straightforward as it is simple. More than 100 agents from the federal alphabet soup – FBI, DEA, HSI, IRS, ATF, Postal Inspectors, the Marshals and Border Patrol – will be in one open office with dozens of Cleveland police officers, task force officers from HIDTA, Ohio State troopers and prosecutors from our office and Cuyahoga County.
Additionally, several suburban departments have agreed to participate in the Strike Force.
It is our hope and belief that each agency will bring their own particular area of expertise to the table, combining the best of technology and equipment with street-level intelligence, crime analytics and sharing of data and information.
Areas of emphasis include:
- Violent crime, particularly gang violence, retaliatory shootings, carjackings and commercial robberies
- All drug trafficking, including opioids, everyone knows has hit this region like few others. That will include everything from responding to overdose scenes and trying to work a case back up to the dealer to interdicting packages of drugs coming in the mail from overseas to disrupting dealers who use the Dark Web to sell drugs to anyone with a cell phone and bitcoin.
The Department of Justice is committed to giving the Strike Force the resources needed to meet its mission, including offices with the capacity for multiple wire rooms to be running at the same time.
Last week, the Attorney General appointed new leadership at OCDETF. At the national level, it will be led by Adam Cohen. Adam has served in our Criminal Division at Main Justice for a decade, most recently as Chief of the Special Operations Unit’s Office of Enforcement Operations. He has also served as an Assistant United States Attorney for five years and as a state prosecutor for seven years. He led the National Gang Targeting Enforcement and Coordination Center for nearly three years and has served as Deputy Chief of the Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Section.
The Attorney General and I are confident that Adam is going to make OCDETF even more effective than ever. That will benefit the people of Cleveland, and the nation.
The Cleveland OCDETF Strike Force will feature a prosecutor with a team of law enforcement agents.
The Strike Force will not be housed in this building but in a building of its own. Officers from over two dozen different agencies and departments will be under one roof and in one open space, constantly sharing information and working together.
OCDETF’s primary purpose is to go after drug traffickers. But any prosecutor will tell you that violent crime follows drug. This new Strike Force will also provide federal, state, and local law enforcement with critical information that will help us prosecute violent criminals as well.
With today’s announcement law enforcement in Greater Cleveland will now be better equipped than ever to take drug traffickers off our streets.
Under President Donald Trump, the Department of Justice will continue to arm our prosecutors and our officers with resources and the tools they need to give the people of Cleveland—and every American city—safety and peace of mind.