U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Thyer Announces Resignation
LITTLE ROCK—As requested by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, United States Attorney Christopher R. Thyer, 47, of Jonesboro, announced his resignation effective March 10, 2017. Mr. Thyer, who has made serving the needs of the poor and crime-affected citizens of eastern Arkansas a priority during his tenure, has been the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas since December 31, 2010.
Patrick C. Harris, 64, of Little Rock, who has served as the First Assistant United States Attorney for the past four years, assumed leadership of the office as Acting United States Attorney effective immediately upon Mr. Thyer’s resignation.
“Our laws and our law enforcement agencies are meant to do two things: to allow citizens of the United States to fully realize the pursuit of peace and prosperity, and to arrest and prosecute those who criminally interfere with those freedoms,” said Mr. Thyer. “I have seen communities where drugs and violence have stolen even the freedom to go for a walk or play in a park because of the brazenness of violent drug dealers. For more than six years I have had the privilege of working with local, state and federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors to fight these violent drug dealers. This has been a highlight of my professional life for which I am thankful.”
During his tenure, Mr. Thyer has led the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas in doing just that. He served on the executive board for the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, as well as the executive board of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, and has been a key voice in expansion of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) in Arkansas. What Mr. Thyer has said that he is most proud of is his office’s work helping disadvantaged communities to take back their neighborhoods from violent drug dealers. Under Mr. Thyer’s leadership, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas has succeeded in prosecuting many violent drug organizations.
In October 2011, less than a year after Mr. Thyer was sworn in, a Grand Jury indicted 71 defendants in “Operation Delta Blues,” the first of many cases prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas aimed at tackling the dual epidemic of drugs and violence in eastern Arkansas and the Delta. “Delta Blues” dismantled an international cocaine ring operating out of West Memphis, Helena, and Marianna, that included five corrupt police officers. The case ended with the conspiracy leader, Sedrick Trice, receiving a 40-year sentence, Demetrius Colbert, who shot an FBI agent, receiving life plus 10 years in prison, and all police officers convicted. Other operations in the same area included “Operation Delta Crossroads” (19 defendants) and “Operation Plastic Castle” (47 defendants).
Under Mr. Thyer’s leadership, the crime-ridden areas where local police most needed federal assistance received that assistance, including Mississippi, Craighead, Crittenden, Phillips, and Lee counties. Since 2013, multiple joint operations between local law enforcement and federal agencies such as the Arkansas State Police, DEA, FBI, and ATF have resulted in arrests of hundreds of criminals and the dismantling of drug networks in those areas. In the past three years in Blytheville alone, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas has teamed with the ATF, DEA, and FBI in four major operations that resulted in the arrest of 127 individuals, including 70 in 2015’s “Operation Blynd Justus.” Also during Mr. Thyer’s tenure, his office successfully prosecuted multiple cases involving Mexican drug cartel members.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas was on the forefront of recognizing the opioid epidemic in Arkansas. In May 2015, Little Rock was the regional hub of a national DEA effort dubbed “Operation Pilluted.” Mr. Thyer’s office returned six indictments in which 113 defendants were charged, including five doctors, four nurses, and five pharmacists. These multiple cartel and large-defendant drug cases are why the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas has routinely ranked among the top-producing OCDETF districts in the nation for its size.
The focus on partnership between federal and local law enforcement agencies has been a hallmark of Mr. Thyer’s tenure. Four years ago, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas reinstituted and coordinated free training for local law enforcement agencies. Under the leadership of Mr. Thyer, the office revamped the Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee’s quarterly newsletter, focusing on activities and achievements of local law enforcement agencies in the district.
In September 2016, Mr. Thyer hosted the national Violence Reduction Network (VRN) 2016 Fall Summit in Little Rock and welcomed Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who delivered opening remarks. The VRN, which focuses in Arkansas on the cities of Little Rock and West Memphis, is a comprehensive approach to reducing violent crime in communities around the country through a hands on approach between local and federal agencies, furthering Mr. Thyer’s efforts in the use of collaborative law enforcement approaches to tackle serious crime.
Mr. Thyer’s local outreach has not been limited to law enforcement agencies. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas recently implemented the district’s first-of-its-kind reading partnership with the Little Rock School District. Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSAs) also regularly meet with prisoners in federal correctional institutions as part of interdisciplinary prisoner reentry programs.
Combatting public corruption has also been a focus of the U.S. Attorney’s Office under Mr. Thyer’s leadership. Always emphasizing the need to earn and keep the public trust, Mr. Thyer has overseen the prosecution of multiple corrupt political figures and law enforcement officers, including:
• Martha Shoffner, former Arkansas State Treasurer, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison for extortion and bribery after directing $2 billion in taxpayer money in bond business to a broker for a series of $6,000 payments.
• Former state judge Michael Maggio, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for accepting bribes.
• Former state representative Hudson Hallum, who, along with West Memphis City Councilman Phillip Wayne Carter and former West Memphis Police Officer Sam Malone, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit election fraud in what was the first case in the United States in which state election law violations have been prosecuted under the Travel Act.
• Lu Hardin, former University of Central Arkansas president, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering.
• Former Arkansas State Police Lieutenant Sedrick Reed, who was sentenced to 135 months in prison for his role in a cocaine conspiracy.
• Former Little Rock police officer Mark Jones, who was sentenced to 104 months in prison for his role in a marijuana conspiracy.
• Former Searcy Police Chief Jeremy Clark, who resigned and pleaded guilty to possession of hydrocodone.
• Former Bald Knob Police Chief Erek Balentine, who pleaded guilty to possession of a stolen firearm.
• Former Saline County Sheriff Bruce Pennington, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud.
Child exploitation is another area that has received top priority. Under Mr. Thyer’s guidance, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas successfully prosecuted the district’s first human sex trafficking case, which resulted in defendant Jermaine Roy receiving a 15-year prison sentence in 2013. Other sex-trafficking convictions soon followed, including Amber Johnson (144 months), Andre Kimball (120 months), and Dana Deffenbaugh (pending sentencing).
Mr. Thyer’s office has been responsible for significant civil award settlements. In 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office handled numerous cases involving complex issues of medical treatment and alleged wrongful death, resulting in saving the government approximately $27 million in damages in 2013 alone. In the past five years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas has recovered approximately $193 million in false claims settlements and civil enforcements, as well as more than $11.5 million in criminal and civil collections.
With a focus on prosecuting cases involving large-scale drug dealing, violent crime, child exploitation, public corruption, healthcare and financial fraud, and civil rights, some of the other notable prosecutions during Mr. Thyer’s time as United States Attorney include:
• To date, 14 people have been indicted in a wide-ranging scheme to steal U.S. Department of Agriculture funds intended to feed hungry children. Eleven people have pleaded guilty and admitted to stealing more than $10 million from at-risk children’s feeding programs, and three are scheduled for trial in a case that is believed to involve more than $20 million in fraud.
• Wallando Onezine received a 10-year sentence for the distribution of heroin which led to the deaths of two Cabot residents.
• Jason Barnwell (20 years), Gary Dodson (15 years), Jake Murphy and Dustin Hammond (54 months) all received significant sentences for civil rights crimes after the firebombing of an interracial couple’s home.
• Lacey Moore received a 16-year prison sentence and was ordered to pay $12.5 million restitution after displacing 79 people by setting seven separate fires at Forrest Place Apartments in Little Rock.
• Dr. Robert Barrow was sentenced to a two-year term of imprisonment following his guilty plea to healthcare fraud after admitting to $2.2 million in fraudulent billing.
• Stephen K. Parks was sentenced to over two years in prison for wire fraud and forfeited money and property worth more than $9 million.
• Kevin Lewis was sentenced to 121 months in prison for bank fraud and ordered to pay $39.4 million in restitution.
• Matthew Hiner received a 25-year prison sentence for sexual exploitation of a minor by a parent.
• Joshua Thornton received a 30-year prison sentence for production of child pornography.
Prior to his federal appointment in 2010, Mr. Thyer had been a partner at Stanley & Thyer, P.A., since 2007, and a partner at Halsey & Thyer, PLC from 2005 to 2007. Thyer was with the Mooney Law Firm, P.A., from 1997 to 2005, and a solo practitioner from 1995 to 1997. Thyer also served in the Arkansas House of Representatives as a State Representative for the 74th District from 2003 to 2009. Mr. Thyer graduated from Arkansas State University in 1991 and from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1995.
Harris, whose distinguished career with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas has spanned the past 31 years, served as the U.S. Attorney’s Office First Assistant for the past four years and Criminal Chief for six years prior to that. He attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the William H. Bowen School of Law. Harris has also served as an adjunct law professor at the Bowen School of Law for ten years.
“I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the people of Arkansas and continue to carry out the mission of this office,” Harris said. “I also want to thank Chris Thyer for his commitment to this office for the past six years. I look forward to working with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the new administration as the Department of Justice renews and strengthens its commitment to combat violent crime.”
The United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Arkansas includes five divisions and 41 counties within Arkansas. Its primary office is in Little Rock.