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Project Safe Neighborhood

This nationwide initiative called for U.S. Attorney’s Offices to focus their resources on violent offenders, violent street gangs, leaders of drug organizations and financial crimes. U.S. Attorneys were asked to identify the most serious violent crime concerns in communities within their individual districts and, by working together with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, concentrate their efforts on these concerns.  Heroin distribution, firearms offenses and prescription drug abuse are at the top of the priority list for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.  Therefore, vigorous prosecutions, as well as substantial sentences and forfeitures of crime-derived assets, will be the objectives in all such federal cases in the District.

Combating Violent Crime

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania has adopted a renewed strategy for reducing and preventing violent crime in the Middle District of Pennsylvania focusing on the Harrisburg, York, Wilkes-Barre and Williamsport areas.  Federal, state and local law enforcement officers will join forces to coordinate their activities in high-crime areas and vigorously enforce the laws which punish gun offenses, gang activity, drug-related crimes and other acts of violence.

The anti-violence strategy consists of the following key elements:

  •  identifying communities which are most in need of anti-violence solutions;
  •  targeting high-priority offenders in those communities for aggressive prosecution;
  • conducting regular meetings of federal and local law enforcement officials to collect reliable data on local violent crime trends, share intelligence, screen cases for potential federal prosecution and coordinate joint enforcement activities;
  • expansion of existing prevention and post-conviction reentry programs.

Federal law carries severe penalties for prohibited individuals who possess firearms and for those individuals who commit violent crimes or serious drug offenses while possessing or using firearms.

Since 2014, federal, state and local officials have partnered and operated a pilot program based in Harrisburg focusing on firearms offenses committed by recidivists or individuals using firearms in connection with drug offenses, or other violent crimes.  Due to the success of that program it was recently expanded to include firearms offenses in York, Williamsport and Wilkes-Barre.

Violent crime damages and destabilizes our neighborhoods, challenging or citizens as they strive to raise their families and be productive members of society.  By coordinating efforts with our state and local law enforcement partners, we can ensure that limited law enforcement resources are being brought to bear in the most effective way possible to protect the people we serve.

Heroin Trafficking

The United States Attorney’s Office announced a new policy for bringing more severe charges against persons who distribute heroin in Central Pennsylvania and for tougher sentencing recommendations by federal prosecutors in heroin cases.

Heroin today is not a life style or a business – it is a killer.  The steep increase in heroin trafficking and the alarming rise in deaths due to heroin overdoses, particularly in young people, are a state-wide and national problem, but also a deep personal tragedy for many families.  Much of what must be done will be through education, additional funding, medical help, counseling and rehabilitation.  But those who sell or otherwise put heroin in the hands of others, are knowingly dealing in possible death or serious harm to users and should pay heavily for their greed and callous indifference.  The new policy is intended to emphasize that point.

The guidance for heroin cases in the District’s three offices includes the following:

  • In heroin cases, all available charges should be considered.In addition to charges under the Controlled Substance laws and firearms charges, particular attention should be paid to statutes relating to continuing criminal enterprises; maintaining drug-involved premises; endangering human life while illegally manufacturing controlled substances; distribution to persons under age 21; distribution or manufacturing in or near schools and colleges and employing children to distribute drugs near schools or playgrounds and other prohibited places; and employment or use of persons under 18 years of age in drug operations.

  • Money laundering charges and forfeiture allegations should be part of all charges where there is evidence of substantial proceeds from the illegal activity and/or assets that can be seized and forfeited.

  • Many heroin cases involve defendants with ties to large-scale drug trafficking organizations, gangs, or cartels.Many defendants in heroin cases are leaders, organizers, managers, or supervisors of others within an organization.Other defendants have significant criminal histories or use violence, weapons, and minors in the operation of their business.These factors indicate that a drug weight should be charged that will trigger a mandatory minimum sentence when a reasonable argument can be made that it applies.

  • The evidence must be analyzed as to each defendant individually.A defendant is responsible for drugs involved in his own activities or those he encouraged others to undertake.A defendant is also responsible for drugs involved in the activities of co-conspirators if those acts are "reasonably foreseeable. "We will charge defendants in heroin cases accordingly when the argument can be made that reasonable foreseeability applies to the scope of that particular defendant’s responsibility.

  • Repeat offenders, particularly those involved in heroin trafficking, are appropriate candidates for sanctions which generally double any applicable mandatory minimum sentence.When a defendant involved in heroin trafficking is a repeat offender and the conduct falls within the sanctions, we should not hesitate to seek the enhancement.

  • Because of the seriousness of heroin-related offenses, plea agreements that call for dismissal of the most serious charges in heroin cases are highly disfavored and will only be approved in the most extraordinary circumstances.Defendants who wish to reduce their sentence must fully cooperate and then they should not expect a sentencing reduction of more than fifty percent from the otherwise applicable mandatory minimum sentence or guideline range, whichever is higher.

  • Because heroin cases present a greater risk of harm to individuals and the community, we will advocate for applicable guidelines enhancements that will increase the sentence.These include possession of a dangerous weapon; use of violence; maintaining drug premises; aggravating role; use of a minor; obstruction of justice; commission of offense while on release; and criminal livelihood.

In addition to seeking enhancements, there may be heroin cases where a sentence at the high end of the applicable guideline range or even an upward departure above the guideline range is called for. 

  • Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the decision to recommend a guideline departure based upon a defendant's "substantial assistance" to law enforcement is one of the most significant judgments facing any prosecutor.Heroin cases should be treated no differently than any other cases in this respect.We should make an assessment of the significance and usefulness of the defendant's assistance in making our recommendation to the court for a sentence departure on this basis.When defense counsel seeks a variance below the applicable guideline range in a heroin case, we will generally oppose that request unless extraordinary circumstances exist.

  • A sentencing memorandum should be filed by the prosecution in heroin cases, particularly when we are advocating for a sentence more serious than otherwise would be imposed if another drug was involved in the offense of conviction.In order to support and strengthen our approach to these cases, when appropriate we will include the grim statistics and other information that reflect the current nationwide heroin epidemic.

Opioid Strategy

On December 1, 2016, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued a district specific opioid strategy to address the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic plaguing our nation and the Middle District of Pennsylvania. More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes or homicides and Pennsylvania has the eighth highest rate of overdose deaths in the United States.  The Middle District is committed to doing everything we can to address this growing problem.

On September 21, 2016, the Department of Justice issued its national strategy to combat the rising public health challenges caused by the abuse of prescription opioids and the concomitant heroin epidemic engulfing our nation.  Although prescription opioid and heroin abuse is a national problem that requires a national strategy, the Department of Justice recognizes that its efforts must be tailored to the needs of each region and implemented by those who know their communities best. 

The Middle District’s strategy rests on three interrelated pillars: prevention, enforcement and treatment.  In the area of prevention, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue its efforts to raise public awareness by developing a community education plan which will not only incorporate some of the office’s prior community outreach activities (such as the heroin and prescription drug symposium held on September 19, 2016) but will also add new features such as creating a formal multi-media presentation highlighting the dangers and warning signs of opioid abuse and offer tangible solutions.  The presentations will be made throughout the Middle District by experienced prosecutors, law enforcement officers, medical professionals and other appropriate individuals to schools, businesses, civic organizations, and prisoners soon to be released into the community.

In the area of enforcement, opioid cases, particularly opioid cases resulting in death, will take the highest priority and such cases will be prosecuted aggressively to ensure maximum deterrence.  This not only includes prosecuting the members of drug trafficking organizations but also includes rogue health care providers, pharmacists and pharmaceutical employees who contribute to the available supply and overuse of prescription opioid painkillers.

In the area of treatment, the Middle District will coordinate with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to identify individuals most in need of treatment and direct those individuals to appropriate treatment providers and facilities at the earliest time.

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For further information concerning Project Safe Neighborhood, please contact Dawn Mayko at 717-221-4458/

Updated July 11, 2018