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Press Release

U.S. Attorney Brendan V. Johnson To Step Down

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of South Dakota

Sioux Falls, South Dakota – Brendan V. Johnson announced this morning that he will step down as the United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota effective March 11, 2015.  Johnson was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate on October 15, 2009.  He is among the longest serving U.S. Attorneys in the history of South Dakota.

“I am proud of what we have accomplished during my tenure,” said U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson.  “We attacked the horrific crime of human trafficking on a scale that is unprecedented for a state our size, and we worked shoulder-to-shoulder with our tribal partners to reduce violence against Native American women and children.  Our efforts helped put away some of South Dakota’s most violent drug dealers and notorious tax cheaters.  In short, this office upheld the public trust at all times and distinguished itself as a national leader within the United States Department of Justice.  I leave comforted with the knowledge that our tremendously skilled First Assistant United States Attorney Randy Seiler will continue to build on this record of accomplishment.  Finally, I want to thank President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for the opportunity to serve the people of South Dakota.”  

"During Brendan Johnson's tenure as United States Attorney for South Dakota, he has distinguished himself as an exemplary leader, a passionate advocate for his fellow citizens, and an extraordinarily dedicated public servant," said Attorney General Holder.  "As a lawyer and as a leader, Brendan has set a standard of excellence that will not soon be surpassed.  Particularly with regard to public safety challenges on tribal lands, he has served as a key advisor to senior Justice Department officials—including me.  As past Chair of the Native American Issues Subcommittee, he is not only a respected champion for tribal justice in his own right, but a critical national leader—offering sound guidance, wise counsel, and candid advice on a host of pressing issues.  In standing against violent crime, fraud, drug trafficking, violence against women, and countless other threats, Brendan's fierce and determined service, on behalf of the people of South Dakota, has been without equal.  Although he will be greatly missed, his many contributions will endure.  I thank him for his outstanding service—to South Dakota, and to our nation—and wish him all the best as he takes on new challenges and opportunities."

Mr. Johnson is a graduate of the University of South Dakota and the University of Virginia School of Law.  Shortly after his confirmation in 2009, Johnson was selected by the Attorney General of the United States to chair the Department of Justice’s Native American Issues Subcommittee.  In this capacity, Mr. Johnson strengthened relationships between the Department of Justice and tribal communities across the country.  He has been a national leader in implementing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which contains provisions that significantly improve the safety of Native women, and allows federal and tribal law enforcement to hold more perpetrators of domestic violence accountable for their crimes.  Since the passage of VAWA, federal prosecutors nationwide have convicted more than 140 defendants under the law’s enhanced federal assault statutes.   
Mr. Johnson’s leadership also brought national attention to the District of South Dakota’s efforts to strengthen relationships with tribes in the state.  During Johnson’s tenure, the Attorney General of the United States, the Deputy Attorney General, and the Associate Attorney General of the United States all visited South Dakota tribes to review the innovative programs implemented in the state.  Some of the programs Johnson implemented include a juvenile diversion program to keep Native American children out of the federal criminal justice system, designated tribal prosecutors as Special Assistant United States Attorneys, arranged the first in the nation state-wide tribal listening session, organized the first in the nation state-wide conference on violence against Native women, conducted town-hall meetings on public safety on South Dakota reservations, and assigned a prosecutor to each reservation tasked with the responsibility of building trust and confidence with tribal members.  The efforts produced results.  On South Dakota’s largest reservations, the number of criminal prosecutions increased by approximately 131 percent on the Rosebud Reservation, and 82 percent on the Pine Ridge Reservation, while the office’s declination rate dropped dramatically.   

Mr. Johnson also led South Dakota’s response to the growing epidemic of human trafficking.  During Johnson’s time in office, more than 30 men were prosecuted for human trafficking.  Of that number, there was more life sentences handed down in the District of South Dakota than any other federal district in the country.  South Dakota also leads the nation in the number of men who have received federal mandatory minimum sentences for attempting to purchase sex with a child.  Johnson created the state’s first law enforcement human trafficking task force, and in 2014, he convened one of the nation’s largest anti-human trafficking conferences in Sioux Falls, SD.  He also personally argued the case of United States v. Jungers to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, obtaining the precedent setting decision that buyers of sex acts with minors are committing crimes of sex trafficking under federal law. 

On October 12, 2014, Johnson received the prestigious Pathbreaker Award from Shared Hope International for his Anti-Trafficking Leadership.  “Brendan Johnson is a force of determination, initiative, and skill that should leave buyers terrified to purchase sex with a minor in South Dakota,” Shared Hope International President and Founder Linda Smith said in announcing the award.  “By creating a threshold for buyer accountability, he sets a national precedent that, if applied, will make significant strides in reducing tolerance for purchasing sex with a minor.”

In 2012, Johnson was also selected by Attorney General Holder to serve as one of thirteen United States Attorneys on the Attorney General Advisory Committee (“AGAC”).  The AGAC advises the Attorney General on criminal justice matters throughout the nation.  Johnson also served on the Department of Justice Terrorism-National Security Subcommittee and the Child Exploitation Subcommittee.  He co-chairs the South Dakota Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee and is a member of the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Executive Board. 

Mr. Johnson also brought the issue of synthetic drugs to the forefront by raising public awareness across the state, through educational presentations to various groups, organizations, and classrooms.  As synthetic drug use was on the rise nationally, in 2012 he held a press conference with law enforcement partners reflecting a shared commitment to take analogue drugs and the people who sell them off the street.  Approximately 14 people were prosecuted for this crime under Johnson’s watch.  Health care fraud was another area of focus for Johnson, with the creation of a Health Care Fraud Task Force aimed at educating providers, as well as prevention.  Another example of how crime does not pay was reflected in the District Office’s Financial Litigation Unit (FLU) collections.  FLU is responsible for activities related to the collection of civil judgment debts owed to federal agencies, as well as the collection of restitution.  In FY 2013 alone, FLU collected $24.6 million in civil judgments and criminal payments, averaging $2 million per month.  

According to the Administrative Office Statistics Division of the U.S. District Courts, the District of South Dakota was ranked among the top 20 most productive Federal District Courts in America in 2013.  Also released in the FY 2013 data, the District had the second highest number of criminal trials in the country.

Mr. Johnson’s determined efforts to make South Dakota a safer place were recognized by several organizations.  He was honored with the University of South Dakota Women in Law 2013 Attorney of the Year award.  Johnson’s nomination by the group was driven by his successful efforts in creating a South Dakota Domestic Violence Coordinating Committee, sponsoring and participating in regional Native American Youth Leadership listening conferences, spearheading the creation of a special domestic violence prosecutor on the Standing Rock reservation, sponsoring a Civil Rights Conference, and bringing human trafficking to the forefront. Also in 2013, the South Dakota Domestic Violence Coordinating Committee chose Johnson as its Prosecutor of the Year, citing his leadership on human trafficking, domestic and sexual abuse, and increasing prosecution rates in these areas.

“It has been an honor to serve as United States Attorney.  My goal when I started was to make South Dakota a safer place.  I believe that goal has been achieved.  But make no mistake, nobody does this job alone, and I’ve had the benefit of great partners.  The credit for any accomplishments during my tenure is shared with South Dakota’s law enforcement officers and the career professionals in this office who did great work before I arrived, and will continue to do great work long after I’m gone,” stated Johnson.

Following his resignation, Mr. Johnson will return to private practice in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he will establish a new South Dakota office for a national law firm.    

Updated June 22, 2015