The Criminal Division comprises six sections: Violent Crime & National Security, Narcotics & Dangerous Drugs, Complex Frauds & Cybercrime, Public Integrity & Civil Rights, Money Laundering & Asset Recovery, and Appeals & Legal Advice. In addition, newly hired Criminal Division AUSAs are required to complete an intensive training program.
Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSAs) are assigned to each of these sections and prosecute cases and/or handle criminal appeals for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. AUSAs in the Criminal Division are charged with countering the threat of terrorism, reducing violent crime and promoting public safety, advancing the rule of law, integrity, and good government, and advocating for and protecting the rights of victims of crime, among other goals.
Violent Crime & National Security Section
AUSAs assigned to the Violent Crime & National Security Section (VCNS) are involved in a wide variety of prosecutions and initiatives that include the most important Department of Justice strategic goals and objectives. The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s highest priority is to prevent, disrupt, and defeat international and domestic terrorist operations before they occur – within this district and elsewhere. Other priorities include the investigation and prosecution of offenses involving the sexual exploitation of children, human trafficking, criminal civil rights violations, armed career criminals, use of arson and explosives, serial armed bank and commercial robberies, kidnapping, undocumented persons previously convicted of aggravated felonies, possession of firearms by convicted felons, firearms trafficking, and illegal possession of sawed-off shotguns and machine guns. AUSAs assigned to VCNS handle all of these matters.
AUSAs assigned to VCNS also enjoy a national and international reputation for their expertise in investigating and prosecuting those engaged in human trafficking and exploitation of children. For example, this office was one of only a few U.S. Attorney’s offices with a U.S. Attorney General Designated “ACTeam” (Anti-Trafficking Enhanced Coordination Team). Led by senior VCNS AUSAs, the team included members from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and Department of Labor, with collaboration from state partners including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia State Attorney General’s Office. The team’s mandate involved implementing a strategic action plan to combat identified human trafficking threats involving foreign-born victims and/or traffickers; focusing on identifying and dismantling human trafficking organizations; and coordinating law enforcement trainings and community forums to expand education about human trafficking indicators and best investigative practices. While the ACTeam program has ended, this office continues to maintain these multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional partnerships to combat human trafficking.
Narcotics & Dangerous Drugs Section
The mission of the Narcotics & Dangerous Drugs Section (NDDS) is to reduce the supply of illegal drugs in the Northern District of Georgia and elsewhere by investigating and prosecuting narcotics distribution and money laundering on a local, national, and international level. AUSAs assigned to this section work together with a variety of federal investigative agents and deputized state and local officers, using the most powerful and sophisticated investigative tools and techniques – including court-authorized wiretaps – to combat these networks that profit from drug trafficking.
NDDS focuses primarily on prosecuting drug trafficking organizations that import illegal drugs from other countries and use Atlanta as a distribution and money-laundering hub for the eastern United States. The majority of these cases rise to the level to be included in the “Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Forces” (OCDETF) Program, a nationwide initiative established by the Department of Justice to combat the flow of illicit drugs and drug proceeds by targeting the major drug organizations. NDDS prosecutions are thus designed to eliminate entire organizations, including the international leadership structure and financial networks involved in transnational crime. Investigations usually span many months and result in indictments charging violations of federal narcotics, firearms, and money laundering statutes.
As part of the section’s participation in the OCDETF program, NDDS, along with members of the OCDETF law enforcement agencies, operate the “David G. Wilhelm Atlanta OCDETF Strike Force,” a special cooperative drug task force named after a slain U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Special Agent in Charge who was killed in the line of duty. The OCDETF Strike Force is composed of members of the DEA, FBI, HSI, ATF, IRS, U.S. Marshals, and other agencies, and is designed to pool the resources of the partner agencies to investigate and prosecute the highest-level members of international drug cartels that have operations in metro Atlanta and throughout the United States. The Strike Force coordinates efforts with other OCDETF Strike Forces located throughout the country, as well as investigative agents operating throughout the world.
NDDS also includes Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys (SAUSAs) who are designated to work with the Atlanta High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force. This task force consists of federal and local agents who focus on identifying and arresting the most prolific regional drug traffickers operating in Barrow, Bartow, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, and Henry counties, which contain the highest concentration of large-scale drug traffickers in the district. As part of the HIDTA initiative, NDDS partners with agents based at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to prosecute couriers and organizations responsible for importing illegal narcotics into the United States by capitalizing on Atlanta’s operation of the world’s busiest airport.
In addition to fighting the distribution of illegal drugs in our district, NDDS is also committed to addressing the recent scourge in the community: prescription pill abuse. Like almost everywhere else in the United States, the opioid epidemic has devastated the Northern District of Georgia, brought on by the influx of highly addictive prescription pain medication. NDDS continues in its efforts to stave off the diversion of addictive painkillers and other prescription medication by ostensible pain management clinics with unscrupulous providers. NDDS, along with its law enforcement partners, has successfully investigated and prosecuted numerous “pill mills” and rogue doctors for illegally prescribing oxycodone and other addictive opioids.
Unfortunately, the increase in prescription opioid abuse has contributed to a spike in illegal drug use, including fentanyl and heroin, particularly by youth. As a result of the well-publicized opioid epidemic plaguing our district, NDDS has made it a priority to prosecute those whose distribution of fentanyl, heroin and other opioids has led to the death or serious bodily harm of another. Strategically Combatting Opioids through Prosecution and Enforcement (SCOPE) is an initiative that combines NDDS’s efforts with those of our law enforcement partners to, where possible, identify those who have suffered an opioid overdose – both fatal and non-fatal – and determine which dealers sold the dangerous narcotics. Prosecutions that punish the death or serious bodily harm trigger stiffer sentences. The goal is to deter the individuals who perpetuate the opioid/heroin epidemic through their distribution of the dangerous drugs that have become the number one cause of accidental death in United States.
Complex Frauds & Cybercrime Section
Fraud schemes are virtually unlimited in variety and devastating for victims. As one court has observed, fraud is as old as falsehood and as versatile as human ingenuity. The Complex Frauds & Cybercrime Section prosecutes a wide array of “white collar” offenses that cause economic harm to the government (such as COVID-related fraud, health care fraud, tax fraud, immigration and visa or passport fraud, government program and benefits fraud, and counterfeiting), financial institutions and businesses (such as corporate and securities fraud, bank fraud, and mortgage fraud), private individuals (such as Ponzi schemes, investment fraud, and identity theft), and society as a whole (such as environmental crimes and computer hacking). The section also leads the Elder Justice Initiative in our district.
On June 13, 2019, the Attorney General announced the establishment of the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, a joint law enforcement effort that brought together the resources and expertise of the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for six federal districts, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and other organizations. Our office was selected as one of the initial six districts on the Strike Force. The Strike Force, which expanded in 2022 to include 20 districts, focuses on investigating and prosecuting individuals and entities associated with foreign-based fraud schemes that disproportionately affect American seniors. These include telemarketing, mass-mailing, and tech-support fraud schemes.
The Elder Justice Initiative promotes investigations and prosecutions of all types of financial scams targeting the elderly. As part of that initiative, we have prioritized the prosecution of crimes involving elder fraud and abuse. For example, numerous defendants have been charged for operating call centers that seek to profit by exploiting United States residents, including the most vulnerable members of our community, by impersonating officials from the Internal Revenue Service or individuals offering fictitious payday loans. The call center operators threaten potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, or fines if they do not pay supposed taxes, penalties, or fees.
The prosecution of corporate and investment fraud has also long been a priority for the office. Our district continues to vigorously investigate and prosecute corrupt conduct by corporations and criminal insiders, with the conduct including accounting fraud, insider trading, market manipulation, securities fraud, and mail and wire fraud based on fraudulent misrepresentations regarding the nature of an investment opportunity.
In addition, our district partners with financial institutions, and federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, to prosecute identity theft. The office prosecutes offenses involving the manufacture, acquisition, and use of false and stolen identities to defraud citizens in Georgia and elsewhere. The office also focuses on educating law enforcement, victims, and the general public about all aspects of identity theft.
The prosecution of health care fraud is another important priority of our district. Criminal wrongdoing in the health care arena can, and often does, harm our nation’s most vulnerable citizens: the elderly, the ill, and the poor. The section prosecutes frauds against Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies. Medicare is the largest single payer of health care services in the U.S., and most federal health care investigations and prosecutions concern Medicare.
The U.S. Treasury and government programs frequently are targeted by criminals. Most recently, Georgia has been hit hard by criminals stealing and fraudulently obtaining assistance funds intended for citizens and businesses suffering as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2020, our office has brought numerous indictments against defendants who fraudulently obtained Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), and unemployment insurance benefits. To further the effort, our office participates in the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force, partnering with agencies across government to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The section further prosecutes all areas of government program fraud, including Treasury check theft and fraud, Social Security fraud, procurement fraud, and counterfeiting.
Protecting the integrity of our federal tax system is of paramount importance as well. The section investigates and prosecutes a wide variety of criminal tax crimes and related financial fraud, including the evasion of individual taxes, corporate taxes, and payroll taxes. Our office also works with federal law enforcement partners to combat those who seek to conceal both legal source and illegal source income through various means, including the use of individual or corporate nominees, offshore trusts, and money laundering transactions.
The section is also dedicated to investigating and prosecuting cyber-criminals who operate from all corners of the globe. Our office has been nationally recognized for charging, extraditing, and convicting some of the world’s most prolific computer hackers who caused millions in losses to victims in this district and elsewhere.
Working closely with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners, AUSAs in the section aggressively investigate and prosecute computer intrusions, national security cyber-attacks, business email compromises, ransomware attacks, and other schemes targeting individual victims and our municipalities. Recognizing the emerging use of the Dark Web to facilitate criminal activity, our office prosecutes Dark Web administrators and merchants who profit off the sale of illegal drugs, firearms, and stolen personal data.
In addition, the section handles significant counter-proliferation investigations, targeting those who threaten our national security by illegally exporting military and other sensitive technology. Further, the section investigates and prosecutes the theft of intellectual property and economic espionage.
Public Integrity & Civil Rights Section
The Public Integrity & Civil Rights Section (PICR) is dedicated to investigating and prosecuting public integrity violations to: (a) obtain retribution for the public and victims of public integrity offenses; (b) expose official misconduct; and (c) effect advances in public policy, government oversight, and ethics rules. PICR also has a robust civil rights program that is dedicated to enforcing civil rights statutes that prohibit discrimination based on race, national origin, sex, religion, disability, and other protected classes. Based on the nature of its cases, the section handles some of the most sensitive and high-profile matters in the district – several of which have gained national attention and recognition. In close partnership with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, as well as community groups, PICR focuses on the following areas:
- Public Corruption – as a general matter, corruption cases arise when a local, state, or federal public official receives things of value in exchange for performing or failing to perform official acts. The public grants authority to its officials and, in return, citizens are entitled to receive honest services from all who serve in the government. PICR prosecutes officials – such as politicians, law enforcement officers, government executives, and correctional officers – who violate the public’s trust in exchange for self-enrichment and personal financial gain. Typical prosecutions involved charges of bribery, extortion under the color of official right, embezzlement, and fraud against the government.
- Civil Rights – the section also handles the prosecution of criminal civil rights cases that result in violations of individuals’ constitutional rights. Criminal civil rights cases frequently involve prosecutions involving the use of excessive force by law enforcement under the color of law or private individuals who commit violent crimes motivated by bias – commonly known as hate crimes. Hate crime laws recognize and defend the rights of all individuals, regardless of their race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. In addition to criminal prosecutions, the section also enforces civil federal civil rights and anti-discrimination statutes, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, as well as laws that protect servicemembers’ rights and religious freedom.
- Election Crimes and Special Matters – in addition, PICR investigates and prosecutes cases that: (a) involve election fraud, campaign finance crimes, voter intimidation, and threats against election officials; (b) are particularly sensitive; (c) have a special significance to the district; and (d) can meaningfully affect the citizens of the district.
Money Laundering & Asset Recovery Section
The Money Laundering & Asset Recovery Section (MLARS) is dedicated to prosecuting criminals who launder money obtained through criminal activity, depriving criminals of any ill-gotten gains resulting from their illegal conduct and ensuring that criminals pay their debts to the United States and the victims of their crimes. MLARS carries out this mission in three main ways.
MLARS investigates and prosecutes money laundering offenses, with a special emphasis on complex international money laundering schemes and organizations where there is the potential for significant forfeiture. MLARS has overall responsibility for forfeiture in the office. Specifically, AUSAs in the section ensure that forfeiture is sought and obtained, whether through civil forfeiture litigation or litigating and handling forfeiture in criminal cases. The work of MLARS, therefore, encompasses and touches nearly every type of case brought in the office, including drug trafficking, fraud, child exploitation and firearm trafficking. AUSAs is in the section also seek to use the monies obtained from the sale of forfeited property in civil and criminal cases to compensate victims of crimes.
MLARS is responsible for the collection of civil and criminal debts owed to the United States and victims of crime. Specifically, MLARS enforces criminal debts owed by defendants to victims and the United States, including restitution, fines and special assessments, through asset identification and investigation, among other collection tools. MLARS also collects and enforces civil debts, arising from small business loans, housing loans, fraud and other civil settlements and judgments, among other things, owed to the United States through the initiation and litigation of civil lawsuits.
In addition, MLARS oversees the office’s Financial Litigation Program (FLP), formerly known as the Financial Litigation Unit or “FLU.” FLP is responsible for the collection of civil and criminal debts and judgments, including restitution, fines and special assessments owed to the United States and victims of crime. Specifically, MLARS seeks to maximize recovery through fair but tenacious collection efforts, including through asset investigation to identify defendants’ assets that may be sold in order to satisfy criminal debts – particularly to make victims whole. FLP also initiates and litigates civil lawsuits to collect and enforce civil debts owed to the United States arising from small business loans, housing loans, fraud and other civil settlements and judgments.
Appeals & Legal Advice Section
The core mission of the Appeals & Legal Advice section is to manage appellate litigation for the Northern District of Georgia in filing timely, persuasive, and articulate pleadings and presenting compelling and effective oral argument. AUSAs in the section: serve as legal counsel to the office, offering advice to management and line prosecutors that reflects the most current legal authority and Department positions; provide legal advice to the office’s prosecutors, including on an emergency basis, on various legal issues in charging and trying cases – frequently involving the most timely, pressing, and complex legal issues faced by the office; review all pleadings before they are filed in the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals; act as a resource by making legal authority and litigation materials available and accessible to prosecutors to ensure the office handles cases efficiently and accurately; and provide training on developing legal issues as well as on written and oral advocacy skills, to improve the quality of the representation of the United States in every level of our office’s practice.
AUSAs assigned to the Appeals & Legal Advice Section have typically (though not exclusively) served as prosecutors in other sections of our office for several years before joining the appellate team. The section drafts a significant portion of the office’s appellate briefs and other filings and regularly participates in, and helps prosecutors in the office prepare for, oral arguments before the Eleventh Circuit.
In addition, the appellate team liaises with the Department of Justice’s Criminal and Civil Divisions, and with the Office of the Solicitor General, with respect to emerging legal issues, court decisions, and potential legislation, and with respect to the adverse decision process on cases from our office. The section also coordinates with corresponding appellate practices in the Eleventh Circuit and with U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country to develop best practices to further improve our representation of the public.
Training Program for New Criminal Division AUSAs
All newly hired Criminal Division AUSAs participate in an extensive training program designed to provide targeted instruction and supervision. New AUSAs have wide-ranging backgrounds, including experiences in clerkships, private practice, state prosecution, federal civil practice, and federal criminal prosecution in other districts or with the Department of Justice. So participation in the training program can last for a period of six to 18 months based an individualized assessment of an AUSAs previous experience and the office’s needs.
AUSAs in the training program are assigned a variety of cases for prosecution, including cases involving immigration, firearms, drugs, and fraud offenses, as well as crimes involving victims of violence and sexual exploitation. In complex prosecutions, new AUSAs are assigned to work with senior prosecutors.
The program, overseen by a senior AUSA and training coordinator, regularly holds sessions to train new AUSAs on office administrative procedures, criminal procedure, ethics, investigative and trial techniques, sentencing, and post-conviction relief. New AUSAs must also attend specific trainings at the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, South Carolina.