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External Affairs Blog
External Affairs Blog
The Office hosted the 17th Annual United States Attorney Law Enforcement Awards ceremony on November 2nd at LAPD Ronald Deaton Hall to express our gratitude to an exceptional group of dedicated law enforcement professionals who have gone above and beyond in support of our collective mission to safeguard our communities and enforce the law.
This year’s ceremony honored 264 members of federal, state and local law enforcement from 26 law enforcement agencies including many local departments and multiple agencies from Canada. The LAPD Color Guard began the ceremony this year followed by a patriotic presentation by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) choir. United States Attorney Nick Hanna acted as emcee of the event and LAPD Chief Michel Moore provided welcoming remarks.
Congratulations and thank you to all this year’s awardees.
On October 25th, the Office’s Diversity Committee organized an informative panel discussion on the Sleepy Lagoon Trial of 1942 and the Zoot Suit Riots, events that marked two dark, but historic moments in Los Angeles’ Latino History. The panel, comprised of California Court of Appeal Justice Arthur Gilbert, UCLA Prof. Eric Avila, and journalist Beatriz Velasquez, discussed the intense media, judicial and public bias that surrounded these two significant events.
As part of the office’s ongoing commitment to raising awareness of the opioid epidemic, AUSA Ben Barron spoke at the Red Ribbon Week event on October 24th at St. Vincent School in South Los Angeles about the dangers of drug use. The Red Ribbon campaign was created in response to the murder of DEA Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. Around the country, members of the community and schools began wearing Red Ribbons as a symbol of their commitment to raise awareness of the killing and destruction caused by drugs in the United States. Each year, the Red Ribbon campaign serves as a catalyst to rally communities to educate youth and encourage participation in drug prevention activities.
Victim-Witness Specialist Allison Stafford was honored at Main Justice in Washington D.C. on October 24th with the coveted Attorney General Award for Excellence in victim services.
The Office, along with the FBI, and a coalition of law enforcement agencies and community organizations hosted the 10th Annual Cybercrime Prevention Symposium on October 15th at the California Endowment in Los Angeles.
The day-long event for more than 450 educators, parents, and middle and high school students marked 10 years of providing cutting-edge information on cyber safety and digital reputation.
This year’s Symposium addressed a wide range of cyber-related security and safety topics with speakers conducting informative discussions on issues that included online exploitation of children and teens, cyberbullying, the implications of digital communication on health, digital reputation, navigating peer pressure, cyber-abuse, internet dangers, and sextortion. The event this year also featured an interactive presentation on sextortion by students from the Theatre Department at California State University, Northridge as well as the traditional lunchtime appearance of surprise of a celebrity guest. This year attendees met and heard a presentation from 15-year-old actor Jack Dylan Grazer from the movie Shazam and Beautiful Boy. Jack took questions from the audience and shared his own experience being cyberbullied.
The Office participated in the 3rd Annual National Coffee with a Cop Day on October 3, 2018. Each year, this is our opportunity to go out into the community we serve and enjoy a cup of coffee with our local law enforcement partners to continue to build on those important relationships. U.S. Attorney Hanna spent the morning with deputies from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
USAO staff and AUSAs attended the Annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Night at Dodger Stadium on September 17th. First Assistant United States Attorney Tracy Wilkison was honored on the field along with federal and law enforcement agencies around the region.
This summer, the Office instituted a program to utilize therapy dogs to provide support and comfort to child and adult crime victims using the services of the non-profit Pet Prescription Team.
The mission and philosophy of the Pet Prescription Team is, “Healing Hearts Through Pets.” The therapeutic use of pets has gained increasing attention in recent years for a wide variety of situations – victims of crime, people with AIDS or cancer, the elderly, and the mentally ill.
The Office recognizes that, unlike people, with whom our interactions may be quite complex and unpredictable, animals provide a constant source of comfort and focus for attention. Animals bring out our nurturing instinct. They also make us feel safe and unconditionally accepted. Thus, our crime victims feel supported, they feel safe and our cases get better! Use of therapy dogs in prosecutorial agencies has shown that the successful prosecution of a victim case often depends on the ability of a victim to accurately report and then testify regarding the details of the victimization. With children—especially traumatized children—this can be extremely difficult. Trained therapy dogs help.
On August 15, the Office provided two community outreach training sessions on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, also known as RLUIPA. The Civil Rights Section of the Office enforces this act in partnership with our colleagues from the Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C.
The morning session was held at LAPD Olympic Division station and the evening session at Mount Saint Mary’s University. RLUIPA experts speaking included AUSA Acrivi Coromelas from the Civil Rights Section and Ryan Lee, a trial attorney in the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division in Washington D.C.
The events were intended to provide information regarding RLUIPA and to hear from community members about how land use regulations affect religious groups and how to effectively combat any barriers to places of worship in the Central District of California.
In June 2018, the Justice Department announced the RLUIPA initiative to protect the ability of houses of worship and other religious institutions to build, expand, buy, or rent facilities. The overall goal of the initiative is to increase the Department’s enforcement of the statute. The initiative also seeks to strengthen awareness of the land use provisions of RLUIPA through community outreach, such as this event.
As part of the initiative, the Department has further worked to identify barriers that religious organizations encounter in developing places to worship. Educational materials were provided to the attendees at the events informing them about their rights under RLUIPA. The engagement of religious leaders and organizations will help the Office and the Department as a whole be more effective in bringing federal resources to bear on this important issue.
For more information, see https://www.justice.gov/crt/religious-land-use-and-institutionalized-persons-act
On August 14th, U.S. Attorney Hanna addressed the 27th Annual California Gang Investigators (CGIA) Conference in Anaheim. Each year, CGIA hosts nearly 700 local, state and international law enforcement officers and prosecutors in a multi-disciplinary training on gangs and gang violence issues from the national perspective. This year, in his welcoming remarks, the U.S. Attorney outlined the many successes our office has had over the past year in the prosecution of gang, gun and RICO cases in federal court. In addition, he renewed our commitment to work with our local and federal law enforcement partners to address the issue of gang and gun violence in our nation.
On August 2nd, the office celebrated National Night Out 2018 with events across the Central District. National Night Out is designed to enhance our partnership with law enforcement and the community. The goal is to heighten crime and drug prevention awareness, generate support for, and participation in local anti-crime programs, strengthen neighborhood unity and police-community partnerships, and send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back. Law Enforcement Coordinator David Cons attended the LAPD event in Olympic Division.
This summer marks the 8th year of the Office’s participation in the City of Los Angeles Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) Summer Night Lights program. Summer Night Lights (SNL) is a successful, nationally recognized anti-violence project in Los Angeles. SNL programs operate during the summer months in 32 parks and recreation centers throughout the city. A fundamental purpose of the program is to keep neighborhood parks open late into the night as safe havens of activities for young people and their families.
In 2011, at the behest of the City, the United States Attorney’s Office “adopted” the Summer Night Lights site located at Jim Gilliam Park and Recreation Center in the Baldwin Village neighborhood of South Los Angeles. Jim Gilliam Park was selected because South Los Angeles had a long history of high crime rates and gang violence and the Office volunteers wanted to make an impactful contribution to violence prevention in the neighborhood. In 2016, the Office added the Highland Park Recreation Center as a second site to provide more volunteer opportunities for USAO AUSAs and staff.
Each of the past 8 years, USAO personnel have volunteered at the parks, working side-by-side with GRYD staff, helping to run a variety of activities for local youth, including basketball games, a skateboard park, arts and crafts tables, dinner and ice cream stations and a popular face-painting station for kids.
This year, dozens of USAO volunteers attended summer night events at both parks, volunteering with the community and making a difference to the neighborhoods we serve in the Central District of California.
The positive results in each community have been significant. The City’s statistics indicate that crime rates in the Baldwin Village neighborhood typically drop during the Summer Night Lights program. Beyond statistics, United States Attorney’s Office volunteers have reported that the park and neighborhood have become safer every year that they have volunteered in the community. Perhaps most importantly, this outreach project provides an ongoing platform for community members, federal prosecutors and office staff to meet and engage outside the confines of the federal courthouse.
On July 26 and 27, the USAO sponsored the third in a series of VALOR training programs for law enforcement agencies. Funded and sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and co-sponsored by the Office and the Glendora Police Department, the program consisted of four sessions over two days instructing local and federal law enforcement officers on rescue tactics for community members and law enforcement personnel who need emergency medical assistance and treatment of traumatic injuries. This training was an intensive follow-up to the VALOR Survive and Thrive training conducted in May, 2018.
The week of July 16th, the female prosecutors from the USAO Cyber Section joined the FBI to support the Cyber G-Girl Summer Camp at the Orange County Discovery Cube. Twenty four middle school girls were mentored by a team of female FBI special agents from around the region and learned cyber –related STEM skills. Under the guidance of EAUSA Stephanie Christensen, FAUSA Tracy Wilkison, AUSAs Jennie Wang, Lisa Feldman, Robyn Bacon, Ellen Lansden, Cameron Schroeder and Vicki Chou, and Director of Communications and Public Affairs Tracy Webb, the girls investigated a cyber-criminal and presented the case to the “Grand Jury” (AKA their parents) on the final day of camp. The week culminated with an award ceremony where FBI SAC Voviette Morgan presented each girl with a special certificate.
This year on July 13, 2018, the Office hosted the First Annual USAO “Bring your Child(ren) To Work” Day.
The goal of the event was to provide a forum for employees’ children to better understand where their parents work and the significance and importance of their jobs to the communities we serve. It was also an opportunity for career exploration for the children and a chance to experience a day out in the “real world” with their grown-up.
Each of the 88 children in attendance was treated to a day in the life of a USAO employee. They received a “pretend” ID badge, participated in a “Quest for Justice” scavenger hunt throughout the office, met the office therapy dogs and experienced a mock federal trial – United States v. The Big Bad Wolf.
The Office commemorated LGBT Pride Month in a co-hosted event with the Federal Public Defender’s Office on June 28, 2018. The office Diversity Committee coordinated the event with AUSA Abby Evans moderating a discussion featuring expert speakers Andrew Park and Jessica Stern.
Each speaker provided expertise in international LGBT issues. Mr. Park focused the discussion on the intersection of public opinion, economics and legal change in countries around the world. Ms. Stern focused on the current trends in LGBT rights across the world, including advancements and setbacks. She provided interesting statistics and anecdotes about criminalization of homosexuality in 72 countries around the world, as well as the crackdown on free speech, associating, financing and legal identification of LGBT advocacy/support organizations from the international perspective.
The Office had the honor of participating in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office Project LEAD program again this year. Project LEAD (Legal Enrichment and Decision Making) is a school-based program that teaches 5th grade students about the criminal justice system and helps them understand that the choices they make today may affect their lives forever.
Coordinated this year by AUSAs Reema El-Amamy and Amanda Bettinelli, the program sent over 25 AUSAs to volunteer an hour a week in Lorena Street Elementary School and Gratts Learning Academy classrooms acting as role models to teach the students about their professional backgrounds, law-related concepts and the benefits of making good life choices. Volunteers included AUSAs Jeff Mitchell, Joe Woodring, Scott Paetty, Melanie Sartoris, Carol Chen, Roger Hsieh, Karen Escalante, Joe Axelrad, Allison Westfahl-Kong, Dennis Mitchell, Lindsey Dotson, Alex Wyman, Eddie Jauregui, Jill Feeney, Sheila Nagaraj, Monica Tait, Robyn Bacon, Chris Kendall, Bryant Yang, Alexander Schwab, Ellen Lansden, Aron Ketchel, Shaurish Appleby-Bhattacharjee and Poonam Kumar.
The semester culminated on June 1, 2018, with a mock trial in the United States Courthouse in which the students’ role played as trial participants. The trial this year involved issues of bullying and possession of a gun. In the scenario, a student who was being bullied was found to have a firearm and bullets in a backpack. The student claimed that he/she did not know that the gun was in his/her backpack, and that it was put in there by a gang member cousin who had borrowed the backpack the day before. Judge Gutierrez and Judge Marshall presided over the two mock trials.
Following the trial, the students were treated to a pizza party and heard from speakers including United States Attorney Hanna, DEA and ATF special agents, and several LAPD officers.
This year on May 18, 2018, the office celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with a lunch event and an interesting panel discussion with three distinguished speakers, Magistrate Judge Shashi Kewalramani of the U.S. District Court, Judge Rupa Goswami and Judge Rob Villeza of the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Coordinated by AUSA Puneet Kakkar - the office’s Asian American Pacific Islander Special Emphasis Program Manager, and co-chairs First Assistant United States Attorney Tracy Wilkison and AUSA Reema El-Amamy, the theme for this year’s commemoration was “Unite Our Vision by Working Together.” This theme is crucial to not only our celebration of the heritage and contributions of Asian Americans but for us as individual members of society and as public servants providing vital service to our national interest.
The Central District of California has one of the largest Asian-American and Pacific Islander constituencies in the country. Our office is proud to serve these communities, and is proud that our talented staff and AUSAs reflect this diversity.
As part of an ongoing effort to provide training for our local law enforcement partners in the district, the office partnered with the Bureau of Justice Assistance to host the second in a series of Survive & Thrive trainings. On May 8th and 9th, the office provided training to nearly 100 law enforcement officers from around the district. The event, co-hosted by the Glendora Police Department, is an effort to improve the immediate and long-term safety, wellness, and resilience of law enforcement officers. Through a multifaceted approach that includes delivering training, developing and providing resources, and establishing partnerships that benefit law enforcement officers, the VALOR Initiative seeks to provide our nation's law enforcement officers with innovative, useful, and valuable resources.
National Police Week was May 13 – 19 this year. During that week and throughout the month of May, the office engaged in a host of activities to support and honor our law enforcement partners.
To begin the commemoration in honor of our law enforcement partners, on April 23rd, working in partnership with our local ATF and USMS Office, U.S. Attorney Hanna and office staff participated in tactical entry, shoot, no-shoot scenario training. The training enabled personnel to become more aware of the types of scenarios officers and agents face every day. Moreover, it allowed an opportunity for senior leadership to better understand the training needs of law enforcement within our district.
On May 3rd, U.S. Attorney Hanna and office staff participated in the annual Los Angeles Police Department Memorial Service to honor fallen officers killed in the line of duty.
On May 8th, U.S. Attorney Hanna attended the FBI’s Fallen Agent Memorial Service to honor fallen agents. On May 8th and 9th, the office hosted a BJA-sponsored VALOR Survive & Thrive Training for over 100 law enforcement officers from throughout the Central District. The training was cohosted by the Glendora Police Department and the Western States Information Network. AUSA Aron Ketchel gave welcoming remarks.
On May 10th, U.S. Attorney Hanna highlighted our district’s violent-crime strategy and opportunities for increased collaboration at the International Latino Gang Investigators Conference in Ontario. U.S. Attorney Hanna also provided opening remarks at the California Narcotics Officers’ Association’s annual dinner that evening.
On May 11th, U.S. Attorney Hanna and office personnel celebrated those who have chosen to serve the public at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Recruit Graduation. On May 23rd, U.S. Attorney Hanna attended the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Memorial honoring deputies killed in the line of duty.
The office participated in this year’s DEA National Prescription Drug Take back day on April 28th, during which the DEA in Los Angeles collected over 32,000 pounds of unwanted prescription drugs! That’s 32,000 pounds of drugs that won’t end up in the hands of children, drug traffickers, or in our water supply. The National Prescription Drug Take Back Day aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, while also educating the general public about the potential for abuse and medications.
The office proudly participated in Denim Day this year on April 25th. For the past 18 years, the Denim Day campaign has been one of the national hallmarks of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Each April, our office along with community members, businesses, students and government
officials makes a social statement by wearing jeans as a visible sign of support for the victims of sexual violence.
According to denimdayinfo.org, a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court in the 1990s originally triggered the campaign when it overturned a rape conviction because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped her rapist remove her jeans, thereby implying consent. Enraged by the verdict, within a matter of hours the women in the Italian Parliament launched into immediate action and protested by wearing jeans to work.
This call to action motivated the California Senate and Assembly and Denim Day in California was born. Over the years, Denim Day has helped raise awareness about the misconceptions surrounding sexual assault, as well as methods for preventing violence and resources available to victims. Last year, estimates are that well over a million people across the United States participated in Denim Day.
On April 13, 2018, the Office participated in an Operation School Bell outreach program this school year with the Assistance League of Los Angeles, LAPD Southeast Division, the Los Angeles Unified School District and Operation School Bell volunteers. U. S. Attorney Nick Hanna along with First Assistant USA Tracy Wilkison, Executive Assistant USA Stephanie Christensen, Chief of the Tax Division Tom Coker, Chief of the Civil Rights Section Joanna Hull, AUSA Lisa Feldman, Law Enforcement Coordinator David Cons and Director of External Affairs Tracy Webb teaming with Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School in South Los Angeles distributing new shoes, backpacks, school supplies, books, and school uniforms to the elementary school children, many of whom were homeless.
On April 11, 2018, the office held its Annual Victim Service Awards ceremony to honor prosecutors and federal law enforcement personnel who consistently strive to provide a focused, victim-centered approach to supporting victims of crime and next of kin. Awardees this year were AUSAs Vanessa Baehr-Jones, Joey Blanch, Indira J. Cameron-Banks, Jeffrey M. Chemerinsky, Jennifer Y. Chou, Christopher C. Kendall, Jeff P. Mitchell and Sean D. Peterson. The ceremony was spearheaded by the Office’s Victim Witness Assistance section led by Supervisor Allison Stafford
and including Dolores Perez, Mark Villasenor, Clayesha McElwee, and Amybeth Lake.
In observance of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, On April 10, 2018, the Office hosted a presentation and resource fair to honor victims and survivors. The office, in partnership with Mount Saint Mary’s University, hosted a victim rights presentation and a resource fair with the goal of ensuring that every crime victim has access to services and support. The event honored victims and their advocates, and highlighted services available to victims of crime.
United States Attorney Nick Hanna was joined at the event by AUSA Lana Morton-Owens, Human Trafficking Coordinator and representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles Police Department, and non-profit victim support service organizations. The Pet Prescription Team made a presentation on how therapy dogs can provide vital support to crime victims. The speakers emphasized how law enforcement, mental-health professionals, community-based organizations and local residents can work in tandem to support crime victims. The Resource Fair included representatives from the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking; the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office, Crisis Response Team (CRT); Strength United; the YWCA of Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center.
The USAO commemorated Women’s History Month in March with a fascinating discussion from the perspective of our female former U.S. Attorneys.
Our first female U.S. Attorney Andrea Ordin was joined by the Honorable Nora Manella, Debra Wong Yang and Eileen Decker. Unfortunately, the Honorable Lourdes Baird was ill and unable to attend. The informative panel was moderated by former Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura and covered a wide range of topics including how times have changed and the evolving role of women in the legal profession.
On March 20, 2018, AUSAs Liz Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui along with former AUSA Brandon Fox received the coveted 22nd Annual California Lawyer of the Year (CLAY) Award for their stellar work in the successful United States v. Baca and the related LASD corruption prosecutions.
The CDCA once again participated in the annual Baker-to-Vegas run, fielding two teams in this year’s event. This year 52 staff and AUSAs participated and out of 275 teams, our fast squad took 81st place overall. And our 16:18:32 finish put us at 11th place in our 50-team division.
Awesome!! Our fun squad took 47th place in our 50-team division. And, no penalties were incurred by any of our 40 runners or the follow vans. Running for team #231 were Terrence Mann, Carolyn Small, Nathan Nguyen, Rob Small, Erik Silber, Aliah Cadena, Erendida Calderon, Lawrence Leyden, Eric Chang, Sue Bai, Robyn Bacon, Kerry Quinn, Matthew Barragan, Ricardo Flores, Jennifer McCollough, Nellie Yu, Alessandra Serano, Ben Balding, Bryant Yang and Vicki Chou. They were ably supported by Isa Ascencio, Stacey Fernandez, Tammy Loveland, Ashwin Janakiram, David Kim, Eva Ahuja and Sandy. Team #141 was made up of Joe Widman, Greg Scally, Mark Villasenor, Luis Alarcon, Veronica Alegria, Paul LeBlanc, Harrison York, Tim Biche, Ryan Crosswell, Catherine Ahn, Vib Mittal, Jehan Pernas, George Pence, Mark Pfizenmayer, Khaldoun Shobaki, Puneet Kakkar, Adrianna Ahumada, Jamie Lang, Jonathan Galatzan and, last but certainly not least, office alum George Cardona. The team was supported by Chris Park, Liz Herrera, Shaton McDaniel, Rebecca Evans and Dominic Wells. Congratulations, CDCA B2V Teams!
On March 15th and 16th, First Assistant USA Tracy Wilkison and AUSAs Elisa Fernandez, Monica Tait, Erik Silber, Richard Park, Matthew Barragan, and Cathy Ostiller participated in the Constitutional Rights Foundation and Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Dialogues on Freedom event this year. This was a great opportunity for attorneys and judges to interact with nearly 3,000 high school students from 19 local high schools on a variety of timely topics including civil rights, judicial reform and constitutional issues.
AUSA Damaris Diaz was a guest panelist at a Human Trafficking event held at USC on February 21, 2018.
The evening featured a screening of a short film about human trafficking called “Lalo’s House” that tells the story of two sisters in Haiti who are abducted and thrown into an underground prostitution ring disguised as an orphanage. Following the film, panelists, including the screenwriter, the star of the film, a trafficking survivor and AUSA Diaz discussing outreach efforts to combat these crimes.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California held a roundtable discussion On February 13, 2018 at Mount Saint Mary’s University as part of a collaboration with the Justice Department Civil Rights Division to spread the word about options to help individuals experiencing sexual harassment within the seven districts that compose the Central District of California.
Organized by AUSA Joanna Hull, community organizations, such as legal services offices, fair housing organizations, shelters and transitional housing providers were in attendance and learned to identify the misconduct and recommend that individuals report sexual harassment to the Justice Department.
In 2017, the Justice Department recovered for harassment victims more than $1 million in damages. However, many instances of sexual harassment in housing continue to go unreported. Investigations frequently uncover sexual harassment that has been ongoing for years or decades and identify numerous victims who never reported the conduct to federal authorities.
The Justice Department encourages anyone who has experienced sexual harassment in housing, or knows someone who has, to contact the Civil Rights Division by calling (844) 380-6178 or emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
The U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, enforces the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the Act.
Sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, and others with power over housing often affects the most vulnerable populations – single parents, individuals who have financial difficulties, and people who have suffered sexual violence in their past. These individuals often do not know where to turn for help.
The Office continued our outreach on Human Trafficking and conducted a training on Human Trafficking Awareness for the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks staff. AUSA Lana Morton-Owens spoke to the attendees about human trafficking, ways to spot victims of human trafficking and what to do if they encounter a victim.
As part of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the Office participated in the Department of Homeland Security’s Wear Blue Day to show our solidarity with victims of human trafficking and raise awareness on the issue.
The 2nd Annual California Opioid Policy Summit was held in San Diego, California, hosted by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of California. Acting US Attorney Sandra R. Brown moderated a panel titled “Law Enforcement: Effective Use of Cutting Edge Analytics and Innovative Partnerships to Investigate Drug Diversion and Bad Actors.” The panelists included AUSA Benjamin Barron as well as San Diego Deputy AUSA Mark Conover, and US Attorney Phil Talbert, from the Eastern District of California, who presented on tools and strategies in targeting corrupt pharmacies engaged in opioid diversion and related health care fraud. The panel further addressed a range of other topics, including trends in the illicit sale of synthetic opioids and the DOJ’s recent creation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit.
IRS-CI held its Inaugural Awards ceremony to honor many AUSAs and staff who have contributed by outstanding assistance and support to the investigation and prosecution of IRS Criminal Investigation cases this past year and in recognition of the integrity, commitment, and outstanding service provided to IRS Criminal Investigation and the people of the United States of America
Special Agent in Charge R. Damon Rowe presented the awards to AUSA Monica Tait, AUSA Ranee Katzenstein, AUSA Robert Conte, AUSA Poonam Kumar, AUSA Charles Parker, AUSA Jennifer Weinhold, AUSA Damaris Diaz, AUSA Lindsey Dotson, AUSA Charles Pell, AUSA Ruth Pinkel, AUSA Benjamin Barron, AUSA James Hughes, AUSA Christopher Kendall, AUSA Valerie Makarewicz, AUSA Matthew O’Brien, AUSA Ryan Weinstein, DEA Diversion Investigator Kevin Buntrock, AUSA Chris Brunwin, AUSA Carol Chen, AUSA Vicki Chou, Paralegal Isa Ascencio, Paralegal Gemma Flores, Paralegal Judee Guzman, AUSA Steven Welk, Senior Paralegal Tina Keleshyan, AUSA Will Rollins, AUSA Ann Wolf, AUSA Vibhav Mattal, AUSA Joseph McNally, AUSA Paul Rochmes, AUSA Cassie Palmer, AUSA Kristen Williams, and AUSA Cathy Ostiller. Congratulations to all the worthy recipients from the Central District of California.
Since 2013, USAO staff have assisted with home renovation projects for low-income and/or disabled individuals through Rebuilding Together. Rebuilding Together is part of the 2017 Make a Difference Day. AUSAs and staff, including Kim Meyer, Ashwin Janakiram, Jehan Pernas, and Andrea Caston spent a day helping paint the exterior of a mobile home for a Long Beach resident.
As part of the office’s participation in Red Ribbon Week this year, AUSA Ben Barron spoke to elementary school students at St Andrew Elementary School about the dangers of drug use. The theme of this year’s events was “Your Future is Key so Stay Drug Free.” Since its beginning in 1985, the Red Ribbon campaign has touched the lives of millions of people around the world. In response to the murder of DEA Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, parents and youth in communities across the country began wearing Red Ribbons as a symbol of their commitment to raise awareness of the killing and destruction cause by drugs in America.
Today, the Red Ribbon serves as a catalyst to mobilize communities to educate youth and encourage participation in drug prevention activities.
Five AUSAs, along with many law enforcement partners, were honored in Washington D.C. with the Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Furthering the Interests of U.S. National Security for being part of the federal team that responded to the San Bernardino terrorist attack. Many AUSAs and staff in this office contributed significantly to the response.
The AUSAs receiving the Attorney General’s Award from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein were: Patrick R. Fitzgerald, Chief of the National Security Division; Christopher D. Grigg, Chief of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section; Deirdre Z. Eliot of the Santa Ana Branch Office; Melanie A. Hanson, of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section and Jay H. Robinson of the Riverside Branch Office. Congratulations to all!
AUSAs and staff participated in the DEA’s 14th Prescription Take-Back Day – an opportunity to turn in unused or expired prescription medications for safe disposal. Law enforcement agencies and businesses around the district got involved at collection sites throughout the region.
This event collected a record number of unused and potentially dangerous prescription drugs. In total, with the help of over 4,200 local and tribal law enforcement partners, a record-setting 912,305 pounds – that translates to 456 TONS of expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs were collected from over 5,300 collection sites around the nation.
According to the DEA, the initiative addresses a vital public safety and public health issue. Medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse and abuse. Rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. are alarmingly high, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs. Helping people to dispose of potentially harmful prescription drugs is just one way the USAO and the DEA are working to reduce the addiction and overdose deaths plaguing this country due to opioid medications.
The Office collaborated with the FBI, the Los Angeles City Attorney, ICAN, LAPD and other community and law enforcement organizations to host the 9th Annual Cyber Crime Prevention Symposium. The event presents a wide variety of cyber related topics to middle and high school students, parents and educators including Internet safety, child exploitation, cyber bullying, the implications of digital communication on teen health, digital reputation, navigating peer pressure, social media, sexting, and sextortion, among other topics.
This year’s Symposium featured a youth panel presentation on social media, a SnapChat geotag and a special surprise appearance during the lunch break by the celebrity stars of the Disney television show Bizaardvark. Participants from the Office include Cyber Task Force Co-Chairs AUSA Lisa Feldman and Tracy Webb along with Task Force member AUSA Jennie Wang and presenters AUSAs Anil Antony and David Kowal from the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes section.
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the office sponsored a lunchtime event featuring a distinguished panel of bench officers who shared their experience and insight on a variety of issues including a discussion of the Mendez, et al v. Westminster School District of Orange County case that that challenged racial segregation in the school system in Orange County. The panel featured Former Ambassador Carlos Moreno, and former office alums Judge Peter A. Hernandez and Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos. AUSAs Reema El-Amamy and Elisa Fernandez, who also served as moderator of the interesting panel, planned the well-attended event.
AUSA Monica Tait and Victim Witness Assistant Amybeth Lake attended a Senior Fraud Forum along with experts on how to prevent senior fraud. The event was co-sponsored by our office along with the District Attorney, the U.S. Postal Inspector, LAPD, the Federal Trade Commission and community organizations. In addition to the presentations on how seniors can protect themselves from fraud the day held exhibits on fraud prevention. At the event, Amybeth Lake was presented with a Certificate of Recognition from the City of Los Angeles for her work with victims of fraud.
AUSAs and office staff participated in National Coffee with a Cop day this year. Created by Hawthorne Police Department in 2011, Coffee with a Cop is an opportunity for police officers and residents to enjoy a cup of coffee, learn about each other, form bonds and build vital community relationships that help weave the fabric of a better community. AUSAs attended events in Vernon, LAUSD School Police in West LA, Inglewood and Rancho Santa Margarita.
The Office participated again this year in the Operation School Bell outreach program with the Los Angeles Unified School District. Acting U. S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown along with ASUAs Justin Rhoades, Chief of the Violent and Organized Crime Section, Executive Assistant United States Attorney Tracy Wilkison, Law Enforcement Coordinator David Cons and Director of External Affairs Tracy Webb spent the morning at the YES Academy in South Los Angeles with officers from LAPD 77th Division distributing new shoes, backpacks, school supplies and school uniforms to the elementary school children.
In commemoration of LGBTQ Heritage Month, the office sponsored an interesting and compelling discussion of recent legal developments and the many challenges facing LGBTQ youth. We had the pleasure of hosting M. Currey Cook from Lambda Legal and LAPD Assistant Chief Bea Girmala for this lunchtime event, moderated by AUSA Susan DeWitt.
For the second year in a row, USAO AUSAs and staff attended the annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Night at Dodger Stadium. This is the Dodgers opportunity to salute local, state and federal law enforcement personnel. Acting United States Attorney Sandra Brown was honored on the field along with LAPD Chief Beck, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnel, CHP Chief Chris O’Quinn and others, including Duke the LASD explosives canine officer.
The 16th Annual USAO Law Enforcement Awards ceremony was held at LAPD Deaton Hall honoring the dedicated work of 280 of our law enforcement partners. Agents and law enforcement officers representing 26 federal agencies and 17 state and local departments were honored in this year’s ceremony.
LAPD Color Guard began the ceremony this year followed by a patriotic presentation by the LAPD Pipe and Drum Corps. Acting USA Sandra Brown and Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala gave welcoming remarks. Our congratulations to all the awardees.
This month the Office recognized Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and hosted a panel discussion on “The L.A. Riots: 25 Years Later.” To commemorate the significant impact that the riots had on the AAPI community, the office hosted a panel discussion moderated by AUSA Puneet Kakkar. The distinguished panel included Professor Edward Chang from UC Riverside, who studied the impact of the riots on the AAPI community and Angela Oh, an attorney and activist who served as the spokesperson for the Korean American community during the L.A. riots and subsequently served as Special Counsel to the California Assembly Special Committee on the L.A. riots.
The discussion explored the impact that the riots and their aftermath had on the growing AAPI community and examined the role that history plays in shaping the AAPI community’s role in Los Angeles today. The well-attended event included delicious Chinese refreshments.
Many thanks go to AUSAs Diana Kwok and Puneet Kakkar for exemplary planning and perfect execution of the event.
AUSAs Reema El-Amamy, Ben Barron, Chris Kendall, Jamie Lang, Aron Ketchel, Alexander Schwab, Ryan White, and Joe Axelrad participated this year in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office Project LEAD. Project LEAD is a law-related education program established by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in partnership with the Constitutional Rights Foundation. Prosecutors volunteer to teach 5th graders that the choices they make today can affect their lives forever.
Since its inception in 1993, Project LEAD has touched the lives of tens of thousands of students in public schools throughout Los Angeles County. It also has been replicated in several other states and foreign countries. Project LEAD teaches students about our government, the criminal justice system, techniques for resolving conflict and resisting peer pressure. The lessons promote tolerance and respect for diversity, the role of education in achieving economic stability, the financial benefits of staying in school and acquaints students with basic household budgeting. The program concludes with students performing a mock trial, this year in Judge Gutierrez’s court, putting into practice what they have learned about the criminal justice system. This year the mock trial focused on gun possession and the AUSAs said the students did a remarkable job. The program ended with a pizza party and an opportunity for the kids to meet and ask questions of Acting USA Brown and a DEA agent.
May 14-20 this year marked 2017 National Police Week. In acknowledgement of Police Week, Acting USA Sandra Brown, along with LEC David Cons and Director of External Affairs Tracy Webb, traveled to Ventura and Santa Barbara counties to participate in local ceremonies commemorating those who serve to make our communities safer, especially those who have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. They attended the Ventura County Peace Officers Memorial event and the Santa Barbara Police Department Ceremonial Badge Pinning ceremony as well as meeting with the Ventura and Santa Barbara County Sheriffs and the Santa Barbara District Attorney.