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External Affairs Blog
External Affairs Blog
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.
The Office commemorated Denim Day this year in the Central District. 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.
Historically, a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court originally triggered the campaign where a rape conviction was overturned 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 and emboldened the California Senate and Assembly and Denim Day 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, well over a million people across the United States participated in Denim Day. This year the USAO for the Central District did its part.
This year the Office turned out in force to supported the LA County Bar Association’s Dialogues on Freedom program. Dialogues on Freedom engages high school students in lively debates on freedom, civil liberties and the American system of government in commemoration of Law Day in our country. United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy founded Dialogues on Freedom in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The program partners judges with lawyers to facilitate discussions in High Schools throughout Los Angeles regarding broad topics relating to constitutional rights and privacy/civil rights issues. There are no right or wrong answers, the goal is to get students thinking about these important issues and engaging in critical analysis. The facilitators use situation-based scenarios that are relevant to the students’ daily lives at home and school to challenge them to examine and discuss their perspectives on the balance of personal freedom versus security from crime. They explore American civil values and traditions, and help students understand how the values and concepts of freedom, law, and justice make each of them individually "American." This year, over a dozen AUSAs participated in schools around the district including Jennifer Chou, Cathy Ostiller, Elisa Fernandez, Monica Tait, Veronica Alegria, Amanda Bettinelli, Jonathan Galatzan, Geoff Wilson, Karen Ruckert, Catherine Ahn, Susan DeWitt and Tim Laske.
As part of our ongoing community outreach in cyber safety, AUSA Lisa Feldman and Director of External Affairs Tracy Webb conducted a series of cyber-crime presentations at two elementary schools in Compton. Coordinated by AUSA Susan Dewitt as part of the Violence Reduction Network (VRN) in Compton, Lisa and Tracy provided a dynamic presentation on digital reputation, Internet predators, cyber safety and digital citizenship to 4th through 7th graders.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals celebrated Law Day 2017 in the Central District of California. Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown, along with AUSAs Susan DeWitt and Amanda Bettinelli, attended the event that included high school students from around the district and focused on the topic of “Not to be Forgotten - Legal Lessons of the Japanese Internment.”
The event featured opening remarks by the Honorable Sandra R. Klein, a former Assistant United States Attorney in the Central Distict, nd a panel discussion moderated by the Honorable Jon R. Takasugi of the Los Angeles Superior Court. The panel featured the Honorable A. Wallace Tashima of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Patricia Kinaga, managing partner at LTL Attorneys; and Gary Miyatake, a photographer who shared photos he had taken while interned at Manzanar.
After the informative panel discussion, participants engaged in lively and interesting discussions with the students on a wide variety of topics. Discussion topics included conversations about what judges and attorneys do within the justice system, the meaning of the phrase “Equal Justice for All” engraved on the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C., and how the three branches of our U.S. government work.
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week was commemorated this year with various events around the region. Sponsored by the Office for Victims of Crime, the week is designed to raise awareness about victims of crime, victimization in the United States, specific types of crime and crime trends.
As part of this recognition, Acting United States Attorney Sandra Brown, along with AUSA and Chief of the National Security Division Patrick Fitzgerald, Law Enforcement Coordinator David Cons and Victim Witness Specialist Allison Stafford attended the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Memorial event. Held at the San Bernardino County Government Center Rotunda, the day focused on victims of crime and served as a time to celebrate our nation’s progress in serving those victims.
Fighting for victims is important every day of the year, but this week offered an opportunity to raise awareness in support of victims’ rights and to show victims that we care about their losses and that we realize their pain is something that lasts an eternity. It also reminds us all why we seek justice for victims of crime.
The week was further commemorated in Los Angeles with the “Recognition Walk – Helping Victims Become Survivors” sponsored by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office – Bureau of Victim Services. Law Enforcement Coordinator David Cons, Victim Specialist Allison Stafford and Director of External Affairs Tracy Webb attending the event on behalf of the Office.
The Anti-Defamation League awarded its 2017 Helene and Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate to the law enforcement team on the international terrorism investigation and prosecution in Orange County for United States v. Nader Elhuzayel and Muhanad Badawi. Assistant United States Attorneys Deirdre Eliot, Judith Heinz and Julius Nam along with paralegal Lee Paige were awarded the coveted award at the Above and Beyond Law Enforcement Awards ceremony. The award honors those law enforcement professionals who are so committed to their work that they make a significant difference in their communities and serve as role models for their departments. The team was recognized for their “relentless dedication to containing and minimizing the prevalence and severity of hate motivated behavior…. using innovative approaches to enforce or prosecute hate crime laws.” Congratulations to the team.
On March 2 the Office joined in the nationwide celebration of Read Across America. Law Enforcement Coordinator David Cons and Director of External Affairs Tracy Webb joined law enforcement, prosecutors and community leaders to commemorate the 113th birthday of Dr. Seuss. David and Tracy read Dr. Seuss books to the children of Wadsworth Elementary School.
On Thursday, February 16, the Federal Bar Association’s Inland Empire chapter recognized AUSA Joseph Widman as the outgoing president of the chapter. Congratulations to Joe on a job well-done.
The Office celebrated African American History Month with a lunchtime discussion on Journeys to the Court. The panel discussion was moderated by United States Magistrate Judge Karen L. Stevenson. The inspiring panel featured:
- Hon. Terry J. Hatter, Jr., United States District Judge for the Central District of California since 1979, who served as Chief Judge from 1998-2001 and who, prior to his appointment to the federal bench, served in a variety of roles, including, but not limited to, as an Assistant Public Defender, an Assistant United States Attorney, a law professor, and a Superior Court Judge;
- Hon. Consuelo B. Marshall, United States District Judge for the Central District of California since 1980, who served as Chief Judge from 2001-2005, and who, prior to her appointment to the federal bench, served as a Deputy City Attorney, Municipal Court Judge, and a Superior Court Judge;
- Justice Lamar W. Baker of the California Court of Appeal, who served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Central District of California from 2005-10 and who, prior to his appointment to the bench, held various positions with the Department of Justice, including as a legal advisor to President Obama, as well as Special Assistant and Associate Counsel to President Obama at the White House; and
- Kiry K. Gray, who has served the Federal Court with distinction for more than 30 years, and, in 2015, became the first African-American woman to be named clerk of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
On Friday, January 27, the Office celebrated 50 years as the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California with a reception in the atrium lobby of the new United States Courthouse. Over 400 judges, law enforcement guests, Office alumni, and current Office members attended.
KNBC News anchor Colleen Williams served as the master of ceremonies for the event which honored former United States Attorneys (most of whom were in attendance), AUSA Steve Wolfe for his 32 years of service, and Elaine Wong for her 45 years of service to the United States. Steve and Elaine each received a certificate and letter signed by all of the former United States Attorneys in attendance. The TSA chorus performed, and a video retrospective of the past 50 years of the United States Attorney’s office was shown.
8th Annual Cyber Crime Prevention Symposium
The United States Attorney’s Office co-hosted the eighth annual Cyber Crime Prevention Symposium for middle and high school students, teachers, administrators, and parents in November. This unique Symposium provides training and age appropriate workshops conducted by law enforcement and community experts on cyber safety, including child exploitation, cyber bullying, sexting, sextortion, malware and digital reputation. This year’s Symposium featured an exciting video welcome featuring US Attorney Decker along with FBI Assistant Director in Charge Deidre Fike, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer; District Attorney Jackie Lacey.; ICAN Executive Director Deanne Tilton Durfee, José Horacio Gómez, the Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck. In addition, Task Force partner Disney Television surprised the students with two stars from current Disney shows to share their stories on cyber safety and citizenship.
Law Enforcement Awards
For the 15th year in a row, the office was honored to host the Law Enforcement Awards ceremony for the Central District in October. This is our annual opportunity to say thank you and pay tribute to the many men and women of law enforcement who are dedicated and work tirelessly on behalf of the United States of America. This year the ceremony honored 301 recipients and the ceremony featured opening songs by the Transportation Safety Administration chorus in honor of their service and the tremendous loss of TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez killed by the LAX shooter in 2013.
Cyber Security Summit
As part of Cyber Security Awareness Month in October, the office held a Cyber Security Summit in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the University of Southern California, the Lares Institute, and the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance. Top officials from utilities/critical infrastructure, local government, banking, the motion picture industry, the software industry, universities and law enforcement were in attendance at the Summit. The Summit offered information on new and developing cyber threats, preventing cyber-attacks, and recognizing and remediating attacks when they occur. Attendees also participated in “table top” exercises in which participants analyze a cyber-attack, reflected on preparedness, and discussed the benefits of sharing data with law enforcement.
The Summit featured expert speakers on cyber intrusions and included an FBI briefing on the current threats to inform them of the most recent types of cyber-attacks and defenses to those types of attacks.
The perspective of the business community was represented by executives from Ernst & Young, Target Corporation, IBM and Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Hispanic Heritage Month
In late October, the Office commemorated National Hispanic Heritage Month. The Office hosted an all-star panel from the legal profession – United States District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez, Antonia Hernández, CEO of the California Community Foundation, Irma Rodríguez Moisa, Senior Partner at Atkinson, Anderson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, and Office alum Rod Castro-Silva, Senior Assistant County Counsel at the LA County Counsel.
USA Decker made the introductions, and Executive AUSA Wes Hsu moderated an interesting and informative panel discussion. The panelists each shared their experiences in the legal profession and encouraged audience members to contribute to their community. A large audience enjoyed Porto’s snacks at the lunch hour event.
Community Policing Week
As part of the Department of Justice’s commitment to building stronger relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve, the Office participated in over 14 events in support of community policing efforts around the country.
Community policing is a public safety philosophy based on partnership and cooperation between law enforcement and the communities that they are sworn to protect. At the center of community policing is the idea that all members of the community, both officer and civilian, have a stake in the safety of their neighborhoods where they live and work.
In keeping with President Obama’s designation of the week of Oct. 2-8, 2016, as National Community Policing Week, the U.S. Attorney and many Assistant United States’ Attorneys participated in a wide variety of events in communities around the region. From community fairs and “coffee with a cop” events, to read alongs and training presentations, this week was an opportunity for members of the office to be out in the community around the district, building relationships and continuing to open dialogues.
National Community Policing Week builds on President Obama’s efforts to engage with law enforcement and other members of the community to implement key recommendations from the 21st Century Policing Task Force report.
Heroin and Opioid Awareness Campaign
As part of the Department of Justice program addressing the issue of Heroin and Opioid abuse, the office launched an awareness campaign to coordinating educational outreach efforts at colleges throughout the Central District. The programs will educate college students on prescription drug abuse, including explaining what opiate prescription drugs are, the dangers they pose, the particular dangers posed by drug counterfeiting, and what to do in the event of a potential overdose.
The FBI video “Chasing the Dragon” will be incorporated into the presentations to help illustrate the real life issues presented. The presentation will be supplemented with a panel presentation by a medical doctor, FBI and/or DEA Special Agents and a local law enforcement officer.
Mass Casualty Training
In September, the office hosted a day-long training to bring together first responders and experts to provide their insights on last year’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino and important lessons learned that can be applied to other large-scale incidents. With a focus on the San Bernardino terror attacks of December 2, 2015 as the primary case study, the training featured presentations on the incident response and discussions on better serving the victim population after a large-scale event. The event examined the lessons learned from the coordinated response by first responders, the variety of issues that the victims will face, the need for victim-support teams, and how the victim-support teams can be most effective in their unique roles.
National Night Out
National Night Out in August is an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, more caring places to live. National Night Out has the goal of enhancing the relationship between neighbors and law enforcement while bringing back a true sense of community and provides a great opportunity to bring police and neighbors together under positive circumstances. This year, USA Decker and the External Affairs team spent the evening with the Pasadena Police Department. During the evening, Chief Sanchez hosted a tour of various Pasadena neighborhood events all designed to bolster the partnerships and good will between law enforcement and the community they serve.
Summer Night Lights
2016 marked the 5th year that the USAO-CAC staff participated in the City of Los Angeles Summer Night Lights (SNL) Program. SNL is a program sponsored by the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction & Youth Development (GRYD) as part of the City of Los Angeles continued violence reduction efforts. The program is implemented across 32 Recreation & Parks sites in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley and provides a safe space for local youth and their families by providing free meals, arts and crafts activities, and organized sports for all to enjoy during the summer months. This year USAOCAC Staff volunteered at the Highland Park Recreation Center in Northeast Los Angeles and the Jim Gilliam Recreation Center in South Los Angeles. The USAOCAC volunteers assisted with nightly program activities including serving up Ice Cream sundaes for the community to enjoy.
LGBT Pride Month event
The Central District of California Federal Family sponsored an event during the summer celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month with a brown bag lunch featuring Chief Judge Virginia A. Phillips. After an introduction by USA Decker, Judge Phillips spoke to the capacity crowd about her groundbreaking decision in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States et al., in which she held the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to be unconstitutional.
Attorney General Visit to Los Angeles
In June, the Office planned and coordinated United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s last leg of her National Community Policing Tour. Specifically, her visit highlighted the recommendations set forth in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing report – addressing the third pillar - Technology & Social Media. The two-day trip highlighted the advances and contributions by local law enforcement partners to this endeavor.
One of the hallmarks of Attorney General Lynch’s tour to Los Angeles was the implementation of a “Virtual Ride Along” (VRA) hosted in partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). The VRA allowed community members to utilize social media outlets Twitter and Facebook to witness in real time the Attorney General’s tour and interact with her via those social media platforms. The visit included touring the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) Real Time Analysis & Critical Response Division (RACR) and viewing first-hand how the use of technology further provides situational awareness and deployment of law enforcement resources. The use of technology and social media is also being utilized to further strengthen community relations and provide real time updates to the community on varying issues. Over the course of two days, Attorney General Lynch met with local law enforcement partners, community members and local area youth to discuss police - community relations and efforts implemented to maintain and strengthen the ties between community and law enforcement. The tour concluded with a Facebook Live Event at the Los Angeles home of Facebook in Playa Vista hosted by Attorney General Lynch and actor Michael B. Jordan that further emphasized the use of various policing strategies and innovative resolutions to build mutual respect and coordination between law enforcement and members of the community.
Asian Pacific Heritage Month
Asian Pacific Heritage Month was celebrated in the Office on June 15th with a well-attended panel discussion on issues facing the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community sponsored by the USAO-CAC Diversity Committee. After an introduction by USA Eileen Decker, Executive AUSA Wes Hsu moderated an interesting panel discussion.
The panel featured Commander Blake Chow from LAPD, Manjusha Kulkarni, the immediate past Executive Director of the South Asian Network, Stewart Kwoh, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and Carol Lin from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The panel provided fascinating background on issues facing the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community from the law enforcement and community perspectives, and one of the many highlights of the discussion was Carol Lin making the point that AUSA’s are the “super heroes” for our community.
Law Day 2016
The Office participated in Law Day 2016, a commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona. AUSA Lawrence S. Middleton, Chief of the Criminal Division, was joined by Federal Public Defender Hilary Potashner to discuss the current impacts of Miranda on federal criminal cases. The event also featured remarks from Loyola Law School Professor and Office alum Laurie Levenson and Captain Carroll Cooley who investigated and arrested Ernesto Miranda.
National Rebuilding Day
Office staff Anne Gannon, Ashwin Janakirm, Monica Morales-Guzman, Shaton McDaniel and organizer Erik Silber participated in National Rebuilding Day by helping to paint a mobile home in Orange County for owners that could not accomplish it themselves. The sacrifice of these AUSAs and staff members’ personal time for this charitable cause is a testament to their amazing character and true dedication to public service.
The office participated in Denim Day this year in support of victims of sexual assault. Since 1999, the Denim Day campaign has been one of the national hallmarks of Sexual Assault Awareness Month each April. It has helped raise awareness about the misconceptions surrounding sexual assault, as well as methods for preventing violence and resources available to victims. Denim Day was originally established 1999 when an Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction because the victim wore tight jeans. The court concluded that the victim must have helped her attacker remove her jeans, from which they inferred consent. Within hours, the women of the Italian Parliament protested by wearing jeans to work, and later that year the first Denim Day event was organized. On Denim Day, those who wear denim stand united in support of survivors of sexual violence and wear jeans to underscore that this type of violence is unacceptable and should never be tolerated.
National Victim's Rights Week
The Office commemorated National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, a time to honor crime victims, the surviving families of homicide victims, and those who work directly to assist victims of crime. This year, the theme for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week was "Serving Victims. Building Trust. Restoring Hope.” The theme underscored the importance of early intervention and victim services in establishing trust with victims, which in turn begins to restore their hope for healing and recovery. In honor of crime victims, the Office participated in a special memorial at the San Bernardino County Government Center Rotunda organized by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. The memorial featured the Redlands East Valley Choir. The singers performed in honor of the county’s fallen victims. During the memorial, the District Attorney’s Office presented the Award for Exemplary Service to Victims of Crime to Rose Madsen of Family and Friends of Murder Victims. A bagpipe tribute was held beside the bronze “Officer Down” statue in honor of San Bernardino County’s fallen officers.
Baker to Vegas
The United States Attorney’s Office ran in the Baker to Vegas Law Enforcement Relay Race and “mugged” (finishing in the top half of our division). Despite suffering an early injury to a runner, the office team finished ahead of teams from the FBI, LAPD, and LASD! Congratulations to Geoff Wilson, Nathan Nguyen, Terrence Mann, Brandon Fox, Collin Duffy, David Harris, Joe Widman, Stacey Fernandez, Billy Essayli, Steve Cazares, Rebecca Evans, Isa Ascencio, Vicki Chou, Vib Mittal, Garrett Coyle, Mark Solte, Puneet Kakkar, Luis Alarcon, Jamie Lang, Jonathan Galatzan, Beth Stratton, Chris Park, George Cardona, Aliah Cadena, Shaton McDaniel, Dominic Wells, Nellie Yu, Greg Scally, and Chris Ferrer for running, supporting the team, or both!
Anti-Defamation League Helene & Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combatting Hate
The Anti-Defamation League awarded its coveted Helene & Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate to the law enforcement entities who responded to the San Bernardino terrorist attack. The United States Attorney’s Office was one of the entities recognized with the award. More than 100 Assistant United States Attorneys and staff contributed to the response to San Bernardino.
Assistant United States Attorney Sworn in as President of the Federal Bar Association's Inland Empire Chapter
On February 25, 2016, Assistant United States Attorney Joseph Widman, Chief of the Riverside Branch Office, was sworn in as the President of the Federal Bar Association's Inland Empire chapter. Congratulations to AUSA Widman, and best wishes for a productive and successful year.
African American Heritage Month
In partnership with the Federal Public Defender’s Office, the office held a special event to commemorate African American Heritage month in January. The lunchtime event was standing room only and featured inspirational words from the Honorable Otis D. Wright II, the Honorable Karen L. Stevens and former United States Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. Each offered their perspectives on how diversity in the legal profession affected their careers.
On October 24, 2015, several members of the US Attorney's Office converged in Long Beach to participate in Make a Difference Day 2015. This remarkable group volunteered for Rebuilding Together Long Beach and, along with HOPE (Home Ownership for Personal Empowerment), the Surfrider Foundation and Long Beach Water Department, planted drought-tolerant and ocean-friendly landscaping at low-income housing in Long Beach.
On September 25, 2015, volunteers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office participated in the Annual YMCA Stair Climb in Los Angeles. These intrepid athletes climbed 1,664 steps (75 stories) to support subsidized program participation for children, teens, families, and seniors in some of the most under-resourced neighborhoods in the City of Los Angeles.
The United States Attorney’s Office has partnered with the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office to provide volunteer assistance to the City’s award- winning Summer Night Lights program, a nationally recognized anti-violence project sponsored by the City of Los Angeles’ Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD). Summer Night Lights programs operate during the summer months in more than 30 parks and recreation centers throughout Los Angeles; keeping the 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.
Dozens of lawyers and staff from the all over the Office volunteer at Jim Gilliam Park and work 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, and a popular face-painting station for little girls and boys. Other volunteers work with GRYD staff to help cook and serve hundreds of meals for neighborhood residents during the course of a typical Summer Night Lights evening.
Since 2013, the Office has also conducted a youth tennis clinic on the Jim Gilliam Park tennis courts. Office volunteers run the clinic and have recruited a USTA certified teaching professional to lead the instruction. Hundreds of boys and girls have participated in the clinics. In 2015, the Office volunteers went even further and a group of federal prosecutors successfully petitioned the City of Los Angeles to resurface and refurbish the aging Jim Gilliam Park tennis courts. The beautification of the Baldwin Village tennis courts is a permanent testament to the impact that engagement efforts can have on a local neighborhood.
The results in the community have also 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 and federal lawyers and staff to meet and engage outside the confines of a federal courtroom.
On February 18 and 19, 2015, President Barack Obama hosted the “White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.” Senior administration officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, federal, state and local law enforcement officials, including Acting United States Attorney for the Central District of California, Stephanie Yonekura, and community members and stakeholders from Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Boston all participated in the Summit. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo also joined the participants. Click on the picture above to access a link to an original eleven-minute Film entitled Countering Violent Extremism: The Los Angeles Model, which was created by Ken Arlidge of AeroFilm, in association with the Los Angeles Police Department and members of the Los Angeles Community. The Film was unveiled to the public at the White House Summit as part of the overall presentation by the Los Angeles Community. The fourteen-page Los Angeles Framework For Countering Violent Extremism and the accompanying one-page CVE Fact Sheet can be viewed at links below.
On Thursday, July 26, one of the longest and most beautiful evenings of the year, the United States Attorney’s Office launched their annual volunteer partnership with the City of Los Angeles’ Summer Night Lights Program (“SNL”) at Jim Gilliam Park in the Baldwin Village neighborhood of Los Angeles. USTA Teaching Pro, Marty Woods, and AUSAs Dennis Mitchell, Heather Gorman and Bruce Riordan led the Youth Tennis Clinic on the tennis courts of lower Jim Gilliam Park, running dozens of neighborhood youth through tennis training drills. Community Relations Specialist Gymeka Williams coordinated CDCA volunteers Shaton McDaniel (and her husband), Richard Cordero, Sarah Spielberger, Pat Myles, and Daryl Meigs at the upper level of the Park – where they helped to cook and serve hundreds of hamburgers to neighborhood residents. The SNL Program Managers described the CDCA’s effort as “amazing.” The SNL Program will continue at Jim Gilliam Park throughout the summer and the CDCA will provide volunteers every Thursday night.
On May 21, 2014, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California and the Federal Public Defender’s Office co-hosted a special diversity event to mark the annual celebration of Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The full-capacity event was held during the lunch hour in the Training Room inside the USAO’s Civil Division. Acting First Assistant United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura introduced the keynote speaker, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Cho, a former Assistant United States Attorney and Chief of General Crimes in Los Angeles. Judge Cho’s heartfelt words about the significance of culture, public service, and family were warmly received. Collective efforts by Special Emphasis Program Managers Cedina Kim and Ivy Wang, along with members of the Office’s Diversity Committee, made the occasion possible. Finally, all of the potluck contributors and food donors deserve special thanks for providing the food and beverages which were thoroughly enjoyed by the guests
On Saturday, April 26, Community Relations Specialist Gymeka Williams led a group of CDCA volunteers’ participation in “National Rebuilding Day” in Long Beach, California. The effort was a part of the Rebuilding Together Long Beach (RTLB) program, a very active local branch of the national Rebuilding Together organization that brings volunteers together to help beautify and restore our nation’s communities. Ms. Williams was the “House Co-Captain” for the project and she and the volunteers donated their time and skill to restoring a house on Maine Avenue in Long Beach. The daylong effort brought together volunteers from all over the local area, including the various worlds of law enforcement, business and education, and it demonstrated that a focused and dedicated group of volunteers can make an enormous difference in their communities. Participants from the CDCA included, in addition to Ms. Williams, Frances Cintron and her husband, Edwin, Richard Cordero, Linda Lapham, Peggy Martin, Jennifer McNabb, Vib Mittal and wife, Nikki, Erik Silber, and Chi Tran.
On Friday, March 14th, United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. and the Central District of California hosted the 2014 United States Attorney’s Office Law Enforcement Awards Ceremony at the Ronald F. Deaton Civic Auditorium adjacent to the headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department. At this year’s ceremony, the U. S. Attorney’s Office recognized the extraordinary efforts made in the seven counties of the District by more than 250 federal, state and local agents, officers, and investigators who worked on cases in every Division and Branch of the Office. The ceremony opened with the singing of “God Bless America” by Robert Dugdale, the CDCA’s Criminal Division Chief, and USA Birotte and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck delivered welcoming remarks. Both U.S. Attorney Birotte and Chief Beck noted the outstanding relations that exist in the District between federal, state and local law enforcement and pledged to continue those partnerships. Numerous volunteers from the CDCA, led by AUSAs Jennie Wang and Melanie Sartoris on stage, and David Herzog in the control booth, worked behind the scenes to make the ceremony a success.
January 2014 has been proclaimed National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month by President Obama (see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/12/31/presidential-proclamation-national-slavery-and-human-trafficking-prevent). In addition to efforts to investigate and prosecute human trafficking violations, law enforcement has also been proactive with respect to outreach, education and prevention efforts in local communities. To that end, on Saturday, January 11, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California and the Los Angeles Field Office of the FBI co-hosted an Anti-Human Trafficking Summit to assist local prevention efforts and help raise awareness about the many facets of human trafficking. The all-day Summit was held at the National Council of Jewish Woman/Los Angeles (NCJWLA) in Los Angeles and featured presenters and participants from federal and local law enforcement, as well as local community stakeholders and victims’ services organizations. Presenters included prosecutors, investigators, subject matter experts, victims’ advocates and victims who were survivors of human trafficking. United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. and FBI Assistant Director in Charge Bill Lewis also participated, along with AUSAs Daniel Ackerman, Lane Dilg, Joe Widman, and Bruce Riordan. Community Relations Specialist Gymeka Williams planned and organized the Summit, along with assistance of volunteers from the Expediente Rojo Project, Inc. (http://www.expedienterojo.org/ [external link]) and the NCJWLA.
Effectively fighting fraud requires strong partnerships between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and one of the strongest partnerships in the Central District of California is the bond between the US Attorney’s Office and the local police departments of the District. This collaboration was on display at the International Law Enforcement Auditors Association (ILEAA) Conference held in Los Angeles at The California Endowment on January 8, 2014. The ILEAA Conference was hosted by the LAPD and it focused on the vital role that law enforcement auditors play in both fighting crime and assessing risk. United States Attorney André Birotte Jr., a former Inspector General for the Los Angeles Police Commission, and LAPD Chief of Police Charlie Beck both spoke at the conference and they emphasized ever-growing role played by forensic auditors at law enforcement agencies. The event was attended by forensic auditors from all over the nation.
The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) is composed of each of the 73 Federal Inspectors General (IGs) as well as several other government ethics and law enforcement officials. Every year, in recognition of excellence in the pursuit of the IG communities’ mission to combat fraud, waste, abuse, and to improve the economy and efficiency of federal program operations, CIGIE recognizes outstanding accomplishments of the IG Community. On January 7, 2014 Civil Division AUSAs Dorothy Schouten and Geoffrey Wilson, together with their HUD OIG investigation team, were recipients of the 2013 CIGIE Award for Excellence in Multiple Disciplines for their work on the Terrill Meisinger Foreclosure Rescue and Rent Skimming Scheme. Terrill Meisinger was the mastermind behind a massive rent-skimming scheme involving hundreds of properties and the collection of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit rents. Over the years, his scheme ruined the credit of many distressed homeowners and even led some scam victims to become homeless. Meisinger had eluded prosecution for more than a decade while the colossal scope of his scheme earned him the moniker, the “Skimming King.” However, the “Skimming King” was finally brought to justice when AUSAs Schouten and Wilson obtained a $5,000,000.00 judgment against him, one of the nation’s largest Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act, 12 U.S.C. §1833a (“FIRREA”) civil penalty judgments against an individual to date. Kim Randall, Director of HUD OIG’s Joint Civil Fraud Division (JFCD), and Mike Powell, Special Agent in Charge of HUD OIG’s JCFD presented the award to AUSAs Schouten and Wilson on behalf of CIGIE at a ceremony held in Los Angeles.
With Veterans’ Day approaching, United States Attorney Andre Birotte Jr and others from the CDCA joined with consumer protection experts and advocates from all over California at the State’s first Consumer Protection Summit focused entirely on the needs of our Military Service Members and their families. The day-long Summit took place on November 6 in downtown Los Angeles at The California Endowment and was hosted by Jackie Lacey and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and Brian Stiger and the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs. The California Consumer Affairs Association sponsored the Summit, which was attended by over 100 representatives of the Military and Military JAG services. US Attorney Birotte delivered one of the event’s keynote speeches and AUSA Richard Robinson, the Chief of the CDCA’s Major Frauds Unit, appeared on a law enforcement panel. Gymeka Williams, the CDCA’s Community Relations Specialist, and AUSA Bruce Riordan, Special Counsel to the US Attorney, both assisted with in the preparation of the Summit and attended on behalf of the CDCA.
On Saturday, October 26, volunteers from the United States Attorney’s Office participated in the Rebuilding Together Long Beach Program (RTLB) and helped clean-up a Long Beach residence in serious need of assistance. Volunteers from the Office, including United States Attorney Birotte, joined volunteers from the Long Beach Police Department, including Chief of Police Jim McDonnell and Commander Randy Allen, the Long Beach Fire Department, Cal State Long Beach and others, to help rebuild a residence in North Long Beach. The day-long project included a variety of tasks, including painting, construction and general clean-up. At the end of the day, the residence was sparkling clean and the street corner was transformed, demonstrating the power of collective community engagement. The CDCA’s involvement was arranged by the Office’s Community Relations Specialist, Gymeka Williams, who also served as an RTLB Project Captain.
On October 23, 2013, United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. and the CDCA hosted a special event to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month featuring the Honorable Ninth Circuit Judge Richard A. Paez and Honorable District Court Judge Philip S. Gutierrez. The event took place in the courtroom of the Honorable District Court Judge S. James Otero in the Spring Street Courthouse where both Judge Paez and Judge Gutierrez regaled the audience with stories from their upbringing and careers and then engaged in a Q & A session. The crowded house included attendees from all over the Courthouse – The United States Attorney’s Office, the Federal Public Defenders Office, U.S. Probation, the Court Clerk’s Office and the Federal Judiciary. Afterwards, light refreshments were provided for the attendees. Special thanks for the coordination of the celebration goes to Special Emphasis Program Manager, Cristina Wilson, and the CDCA’s Diversity Committee.
On May 17, the United States Attorney’s Office again hosted a class of fifth grade students from the Utah Street Elementary School in Central Los Angeles as part of an ongoing program known as Project LEAD (“Legal Education and Decision-Making”). The 30 students participated in a complete "mock" trial before United States District Judge S. James Otero at the United States Courthouse in Los Angeles. Judge Otero presided over the hour-long criminal jury trial which represented the summation of the students’ year-long course of studies in the justice system. A team made up entirely of Assistant United States Attorneys from the Central District of California, Kevin Rosenberg, Jennifer Williams, Nick Trutanich, Martin Estrada, Robyn Bacon, Ben Barron and David Kirman, were the instructors for the class. For the trial, Utah Street students played all the roles, including the prosecuting and defense lawyers, the witnesses, the bailiff, the jury members and even the accused, and they were proctored throughout by the AUSAs. During the course of the year-long class, the students worked closely with the AUSAS, met FBI special agents and other local law enforcement professionals, and studied all aspects of the criminal justice system. At the conclusion of the May 17 trial, United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. offered congratulations to the class, and handed out Project LEAD graduation certificates to the students. He also hosted a pizza lunch for the students in the Daniel S. Goodman Conference Room at the United States Attorney’s Office where he and the AUSA proctors talked with the students about the benefits of an education and future careers in the law and law enforcement.
The close link between public safety, public health, and consumer protection is a vital one in the Central District of California and on April 23 US Attorney André Birotte Jr. addressed this subject at the Health Care Consumer Protection Summit in Los Angeles County, a half-day Summit convened at The California Endowment in downtown Los Angeles. The event was co-hosted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs, California Consumer Affairs Association, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and it featured the presence of numerous not-for-profit stakeholders and legal services like the Community Clinic Association of LA County, the Wise & Healthy Aging Services and the Los Angeles Neighborhood Legal Services. Well over 120 persons from the various agencies and organizations attended and participated. In his opening remarks, U.S. Attorney Birotte called on federal and local law enforcement to work closer than ever before with state and local health services and stakeholders in both the public and private sector in order to educate consumers about the increasing dangers and perils of health care fraud in today’s society. AUSA David Kirman, one of the CDCA's Health Care Fraud Coordinators, appeared on a panel with representatives of the FBI, the FDA and HHS, and the Office of the California Attorney General. AUSA Bruce Riordan and Community Relations Specialist Gymeka Williams helped organize the event, the first of its kind in the region, along with Rigoberto Reyes, Chief Investigator for the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs.
“Cultivate mentors,” was the message delivered by United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. to students attending the Federal Court “Power Lunch Program” held on March 15, 2013 at the Roybal Federal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. U.S. Attorney Birotte added: “And if you want to find good mentors, then all you have to do is look around this room today.” The Federal Court Power Lunch Program is modeled after a program conducted by the Los Angeles County Superior Court and it aims to bring local students together with federal judges and lawyers to talk about future careers in the law. The March 15 Program featured 30 students from the New Designs Charter School at University Park in Los Angeles and it included Judges and Magistrates from the Federal District Court and the Federal Bankruptcy Court, as well as Judges and Commissioners from the Los Angeles Superior Court. AUSAs Nili Moghaddam, Cathy Ostiller and Bruce Riordan participated along with U.S. Attorney Birotte and other representatives from the Federal Public Defenders Office and the federal bar. The New Designs Students played a spirited game of “Legal Jeopardy,” hosted by United States Bankruptcy Judge Sandra Klein, showing off their impressive knowledge of, and interest in, the practice of law. Given the enthusiasm of the New Designs students, the future of the legal profession would appear to be in very good hands.
On Friday, January 11, 2013, United States Attorney André Birotte Jr., hosted the Central District’s first South Asian Diversity Event, celebrating diversity in the United States Attorney’s Office, the federal courthouse, and the broader Los Angeles community. The event was held in the courtroom of Federal Judge Otis D. Wright. A number of federal judges including, Judge Manuel Real, Judge Terry Hatter, Judge Ronald Lew, and Judge George Wu attended, as did Sean Kennedy, the Federal Public Defender for the District, and several Deputy Federal Public Defenders. The event featured three speakers from the local legal community: The Hon. Halim Dhanidina of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, the first Muslim judge appointed to the bench in the State of California; Laboni Hoq, Esq., a civil rights attorney and the Litigation Director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center; and The Hon. Jay C. Gandhi, United States Magistrate Judge for the Central District of California, the first South Asian federal judicial officer in California’s history. Two AUSAs from the CDCA also made presentations: AUSA Alka Sagar and AUSA Rupa Goswami. In addition to highlighting the progress and diversity of the South Asian Community, the event also addressed the subject of hate crimes committed against South Asians and other persons – a focus area for the Department of Justice. The South Asian Community include persons whose families emigrated from the greater South Asian subcontinent, namely, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.