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Press Release

Robert J. Higdon, Jr., United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina Steps Down This Weekend

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina
Comments on Transformation and Success in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina 2017-2021

RALEIGH, N.C. - This weekend Robert J. Higdon, Jr., United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, will step down, along with all remaining Presidentially-appointed United States Attorneys across the country, in response to a request from the President.

First Assistant United States Attorney Norman Acker will assume the role of Acting United States Attorney upon Mr. Higdon’s resignation.  Mr. Acker will serve in that capacity until a new Presidentially-appointed United States Attorney is named by the current Administration and is confirmed by the United States Senate. 

Mr. Higdon was appointed as United States Attorney by former President Donald Trump in 2017, following the recommendation of North Carolina’s United States Senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis.  He has served for more than 28 years as a federal prosecutor.

Mr. Higdon commented: “It has been my great privilege to serve the people of eastern North Carolina as United States Attorney and as the Chief Federal Law Enforcement Officer over the last three and a half years.  I am grateful to President Trump and to Senators Burr and Tillis for their trust in me and for their constant support and encouragement.  I am also grateful to Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr for their leadership, their confidence in me and for the opportunity to serve the people of this State as we look for solutions to some of the most intractable problems plaguing communities all across the Eastern District.  To serve in this way has been the greatest honor of my career.”

During Mr. Higdon’s tenure as United States Attorney, federal criminal prosecutions and civil litigation saw dramatic transformation and success with a sharp focus on the mission of the United States Attorney, commitment to the priorities laid out by the Department of Justice and reliance on the exceptional men and women who serve in the United States Attorney’s Office.

Prior to stepping down Mr. Higdon highlighted some of the key accomplishments over the last three and a half years:


Regarding criminal prosecutions, Mr. Higdon noted:  “Early in 2017, the United States Department of Justice, and the 94 United States Attorney’s Offices, were directed to (1) undertake all necessary and lawful action to break the back of criminal cartels that have spread across our nation; (2) reduce violent crime across the country; and (3) stop crimes of violence against law enforcement officers.” (See, Executive Orders issued on February 9, 2017.)  “Indeed, upon our appointment, each United States Attorney was personally directed by the Attorney General to embrace these goals and to show meaningful and substantial results within the federal district each was chosen to lead.”

Mr. Higdon continued:  “In the Eastern District of North Carolina (EDNC) we embraced the goals set out by the President and we reorganized and rededicated ourselves in order to make a difference in the safety and security of communities all across the eastern half of North Carolina.  This effort involved the renewal of frayed relationships with federal, state and local law enforcement, the addition of a large number of new federal prosecutors and support staff who shared the vision of the new leadership and the aggressive and strategic prosecution of those who would violate federal criminal law.”

“Since 2017 the attorneys and staff of the office have prosecuted record numbers of offenders, particularly violent and drug offenders, have charged more defendants annually than at any time in the District’s 231 year history – a more than 125% increase over 2016 annually -  and have partnered with federal, state and local law enforcement in ways leading to  a sustained and measurable decline in crime rates all across the District.”

“In our effort to serve all 44 counties within the Eastern District, we have worked to move our attorneys and staff out into the District and away from a concentration in Raleigh; we have opened a staffed office in Wilmington for the first time in the District’s history; and, we have conducted regular office hours throughout the District for the purpose of meeting with law enforcement, providing advice and guidance and for the intake of cases and matters for federal investigation and prosecution.  We have also worked to strengthen our relationships with the elected District Attorneys and those working with them throughout the District.”

-National Security

The EDNC is an area with substantial but vulnerable assets that are often the targets of threats to the national security.  These threats come from outside the United States, from within, and are often from mixed sources.  However, at the beginning of 2017 the United States Attorney’s Office had no meaningful national security apparatus despite its shared responsibility for the security and integrity of the four military bases residing in the EDNC, significant portions of the Research Triangle Park, substantial research universities and facilities, significant critical infrastructure and our easily accessible coastline and transportation corridors.  To bring the office back into partnership with national security agencies the USAO:

 -stood up a National Security Section which now includes 5 experienced Assistant United States Attorneys who prosecute significant security threats;

-included the prosecution of illegal aliens found in the district who are committing other crimes as part of our national security mandate; this focus included the addition of an immigration crime analyst with substantial investigative experience related to large scale immigration crimes;

-partnered with the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL) to increase resources in this area of prosecution;

-added a dedicated cybercrimes attorney in the National Security Section with responsibility to aid other litigating divisions of the office;

-conducted focused and targeted outreach to vulnerable communities (based on ethnicity, race, national origin, faith, etc.) to ensure equal access to the court and justice system, to provide for individual and group safety and security, to develop prevention skills and techniques and to develop a level of trust between these individuals and the law enforcement community.

-Violent Crime

Like so many other districts around the country, the EDNC saw a dangerous increase in violent crime rates between 2013 and 2016.  This period coincided with a reduction in the Department of Justice’s support for and commitment to the prosecution of violent offenders across the country.  Following the direction of the President and the Attorney General, in late 2017 and early 2018, the USAO worked to revitalize the District’s Project Safe Neighborhood program and augmented that effort with the development of the “Take Back North Carolina Initiative”.  The programs, working in tandem, included:

-the regional assignment of federal prosecutors to work closely with federal, state, and local law enforcement to identify those individuals driving the violent crime and drug problems in a particular community, develop prosecutions against them, and remove them from the area;

-empowering federal prosecutors to accept cases for prosecution directly;

-emphasis on the prosecution of those who were driving criminal activity in a particular area;

-close coordination with the elected District Attorneys;

-charging the most serious, readily provable offense in every case;

-encouraging all offenders to cooperate against those higher up in the criminal activity of which they were a part;

-sustained focus on a community or region until the crime rates began to decline;

-use of outreach and community development efforts to provide an alternative to criminal activity;

-sustained focus on criminal gangs and gang related activity;

-the prosecution of any offender who risks the life or safety of law enforcement officers if their crime is a violation of federal criminal law;

-working to highlight the work of the office, as a deterrent, whenever possible through appropriate media outlets;

-Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force

By 2016 the District’s drug prosecution efforts had fallen to record lows.  Beginning in late 2017, the office reorganized and reenergized its efforts to disrupt and dismantle key drug trafficking organizations through its Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) by:

-reappointing an experienced and skilled attorney to lead the effort;

-rebuilding the task force from four attorneys to a team of 14 Assistant United States Attorneys and Special Assistant United States Attorneys focused solely on attacking transnational and international drug trafficking organizations operating within the EDNC;

-inclusion of the OCDETF attorneys in the District’s “Take Back North Carolina Initiative;”

-focusing aggressively on the opioid and heroin epidemic through aggressive prosecution of offenders distributing these substances and through community outreach and education; development of a Heroin Education Action Team (HEAT) to provide information and counseling to users of these substances or those faced with the chance to begin using them;

-charging the most serious, readily provable offense in every case;

-sustained, strategic focus on criminal gangs and gang related activity;

-more than tripling the number of active, funded, and authorized OCDETF investigations underway in the District;

Working to highlight the work of the office, as a deterrent, whenever possible through appropriate media outlets;

-Economic Crime

In the last four years the District, like so many other locations in the country, has faced challenges and hurdles in the form of a pandemic, natural disasters, and other types of adversity where governmental agencies step in to provide assistance and help.  In each and every case there is an element of fraud and misuse that occurs, and which undermines the goals and purpose of the assistance.  In the EDNC we have developed standing and ad hoc task forces which have addressed fraud issues in these and other areas.  We have organized a task force to focus on fraud related to the pandemic and to address issues related to the hording of personal protective equipment (PPE); we have trained thousands of senior citizens on elder fraud scams and prosecuted numerous perpetrators in federal court.  We have also attempted to deter fraud associated with disaster relief through aggressive prosecutions and community outreach and awareness.

Our economic crime attorneys have prosecuted some of the most prolific financial crimes in the District’s history and have recovered millions of dollars in loses which have been returned to the victims of crime.


The attorneys and staff of the USAO who focus on civil matters – the representation of the United States as plaintiff or defendant in civil litigation – have continued to perform at record setting levels.  These professionals routinely handle some of the most complex and impactful litigation in the country.  In the last four years the Civil Division has:

-functioned at twice or better the national average in terms of matters handled per attorney;

-seen record recovery of assets which are the proceeds of, or which have facilitated criminal activity;

-partnered with the Criminal Division in the effort to fight the opioid pandemic through the investigation and litigation against medical providers and pharmacists who step away from their professional obligations and have aggravated this problem;

-participated actively in the fight against program fraud, fraud associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and fraud following natural disasters;

-continued to handle all civil commitment litigation of dangerous sex offenders in federal prison for the entire country (Adam Walsh litigation);

-responded to the hundreds of requests for compassionate release by prisoners in federal prisons due to the pandemic;

-maintained a sophisticated civil litigation docket to include medical malpractice defense, employment matters within federal agencies, bankruptcy litigation, asset forfeiture, tax matters and litigation associated with a wide range of federal agency functioning.

Administrative and Organizational

The Administrative Division of the United States Attorney’s Office assists the United States Attorney in overseeing an operation with an annual budget approaching $20 million, with more than 130 employees and contractors and with some 40 Special Assistant United States Attorneys.  During the last four years the Division, in addition to its substantial daily responsibilities, also led efforts to move the office’s headquarters from the Federal Courthouse in Raleigh into private space, the opening of a staffed office in Wilmington, the closing of an unnecessary and underutilized office in Greenville, the improvement of facilities in New Bern, Greenville and Elizabeth City and the rebuilding of space in the federal courthouse in Wilmington following two hurricanes which rendered the space unusable.  The Division also continued its active and critical support of the litigating functions of the office. 

Relationships With Law Enforcement

Over the last three and a half years, the USAO has made a concerted effort to provide support to law enforcement all across the District.  Through the “Take Back North Carolina Initiative”, moving our attorneys and staff out into the District on a daily basis, careful listening to and respect for the expertise of law enforcement officials all across the District who know their communities and who know who and what to pursue in order to drive down our crime rates and make our communities safer and more secure, and, by aggressively prosecuting any offense that places the life or safety of a law enforcement officer in jeopardy.  With the encouragement and support of the President and the Attorneys General, we have attempted to be as supportive as possible of our law enforcement communities.  Through both words and actions, we have attempted to say, “We have your back and you have our thanks.”


Finally, Mr. Higdon commented: “It has been a deeply humbling privilege to serve alongside the men and women of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina and with law enforcement all across the District.  To serve as the 47th Presidentially-appointed United States Attorney for this half of North Carolina is an opportunity I never anticipated and never expected.  But, to have the chance to work with these exceptional professionals and the brave heroes who serve us in uniform has been a true blessing.  I hope that we have served the people of this District, this State, and this Country well.  I am proud of the work we have done together.  And, I hope and pray for the continued success of these fine public servants in the years to come.”

Updated February 26, 2021