The Criminal Division is comprised of over 110 prosecutors and 70 support staff members dedicated to protecting the public safety. While shouldering one of the heaviest criminal dockets in the country, the Criminal Division prosecutes a wide variety of criminal offenses including complex fraud, international and domestic terrorism, child exploitation, transnational drug trafficking, immigration, and other serious offenses. The Criminal Division is organized into seven sections or units:
- Reactive Crimes Section
- General Crimes Section
- Major Frauds and Special Prosecutions Section
- Criminal Enterprises Section
- National Security and Cybercrimes Section
- Appellate Section
- Asset Forfeiture and Financial Litigation Units
The Reactive Crimes Section (RCS) is comprised of the Intake Unit, including our El Centro Branch Office; the Grand Jury Unit; the Fast-Track Sentencing Unit; and the Trial Team Unit. One of the busiest sections in the Criminal Division, RCS prosecutes 90% of all reactive cases presented for prosecution, including bank robberies, drug trafficking offenses, immigration cases, and fraudulent document cases. The four components of RCS have related missions. The Intake Unit is responsible for the initial screening and intake of 3000-4000 reactive cases, while the Grand Jury Unit evaluates and negotiates pre-indictment resolutions for these matters. The Fast-Track Sentencing Unit handles litigation and issues related to the sentencing phase for matters resolved prior to indictment. For all other reactive cases, the Trial Team Unit represents the United States in district court, trying about 80 cases a year.
The General Crimes Section (“GCS”) oversees investigations and prosecutions of individuals and organizations charged with violating a variety of criminal offenses, including violent crime, firearms and narcotics offenses, sex trafficking, civil rights offenses, child pornography, human and labor trafficking, alien smuggling, fraud and public corruption. Investigations and cases routinely employ a variety of proactive investigative techniques, including search and seizure warrants, undercover operations, confidential sources, grand jury proceedings, tracking warrants, Title III intercepts and other methods of obtaining evidence both in the United States and abroad. AUSAs in GCS fill five dedicated coordinator positions, including Project Safe Neighborhood, Project Safe Childhood, Border Corruption, Civil Rights and Bankruptcy Fraud; these coordinators are responsible for not only prosecuting such offenses, but also coordinating and assessing all such prosecutions within the office. In addition, AUSAs provide training to law enforcement agencies and other prosecutors regarding the subject matter involved in their varied investigations and prosecutions.
Due to the concentration of Navy and Marine Corps installations in the District, many of the Major Frauds and Special Prosecutions Section’s (MFSPS) cases involve fraud perpetrated on the military in its procurement of goods and services, and often require an understanding of the government contracting, billing, and procurement bureaucracy. MFSPS also conducts parallel proceedings with administrative and regulatory bodies such as the SEC, and with the Civil Division of our office. Sensitivity to the particular interplay between law enforcement and non-law enforcement proceedings is critical to the successful investigation of MFSPS cases.
A significant portion of MFSPS’s investigations involve corporations and other business entities, thereby requiring an understanding of the principles governing corporate criminal liability, the attorney-client privilege in the corporate context, the ethical rules concerning contact with represented parties, and commonly raised corporate defenses (such as reliance on counsel). MFSPS prosecutors possess expertise in a broad range of white collar areas, including corporate search warrants, grand jury proceedings, court-authorized wiretaps, and the securing of electronic and other evidence from various sources.
MFSPS hosts five dedicated coordinator positions: the Financial Fraud Enforcement Coordinator; the Health Care Fraud Coordinator; the Mortgage Fraud Coordinator; the Defense Procurement Fraud Coordinator; and one of the Office’s Discovery Coordinators. These coordinators assist supervisors in assessing and monitoring the progress and oversight of all investigations and prosecutions in the corresponding program areas. In addition, a MFSPS prosecutor serves as a member of the District’s Environmental Crime Task Force.
The Criminal Enterprises Section (CES) investigates and prosecutes international and domestic narcotics trafficking organizations. CES works closely with all federal law enforcement agencies tasked with investigating drug offenses, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Internal Revenue Service, the United States Marshals Service, the Department of Homeland Security, and the United States Coast Guard. CES also collaborates with narcotic task forces comprised of federal, state, and local officers to prosecute those individuals whose drug trafficking activities have a major, negative impact on the local communities of San Diego and Imperial Counties.
Money laundering crimes, tax violations, firearms offenses, and official corruption related to drug trafficking are prosecuted as vigorously as the narcotics crimes themselves. CES prosecutors begin their work from the earliest stages of the investigation and continue their efforts until the successful completion of the prosecution, either at trial or by way of pretrial resolution. Mexican and Colombian drug cartels, domestic drug producers and distributors, including maritime drug smuggling organizations, violent street gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs have all been prosecuted with great success by CES.
CES is skilled in leading federal grand jury investigations and in using specialized investigative tools such as court-authorized wiretaps, undercover operations, and search warrants. CES prosecutors regularly participate in multi-district prosecutions, attacking large-scale organizations operating in locations throughout the United States and in other countries, often under the auspices of the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force ("OCDETF"). OCDETF assists federal prosecutors in prioritizing national and international targets and in funding the long-term and wide-ranging investigations that are required to prosecute sophisticated criminal organizations. CES works closely with the Department of Justice Special Operations Division (SOD), which coordinates investigations through multiagency cooperation and multidistrict wiretaps. In conjunction with SOD, CES has prosecuted and dismantled poly-drug trafficking organizations that move tons of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine through the United States, as well as millions of dollars in drug proceeds out of the country.
The National Security and Cybercrimes Section (NSCS) handles matters involving international and domestic terrorism (including threats and hoaxes), counter-espionage, counter-proliferation (i.e., violations of law involving exports of military or dual use items, as well as exports to embargoed nations), and cyber intrusions. NSCS works closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, Defense Criminal Investigative Services, Secret Service, and the multi-agency Joint Terrorism Task Force, among other law enforcement agencies. NSCS matters are often handled in coordination with the Counterterrorism, Counter-espionage, and Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property sections at the Department of Justice. NSCS prosecutors typically become involved at the outset of an investigation and are experienced in managing complex matters, using a wide array of investigative tools, coordinating multi-district and/or international investigations, and navigating novel legal issues.
The Appellate Section supervises all appellate litigation before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, including the filing of briefs and the presentation of oral arguments. In addition, lawyers for the Appellate Section work with the Department of Justice and the Solicitor General to coordinate such issues as potential government appeals, petitions for rehearing en banc, and U.S. Supreme Court litigation in all cases involving the government in the Southern District.
Each year, the Asset Forfeiture Unit successfully forfeits millions of dollars in money and property from narcotics traffickers, money launderers, and the perpetrators of fraud. The Asset Forfeiture Unit is integrally involved in all forfeiture cases and issues within the office. The Unit handles all civil forfeitures and monitors all ancillary hearing procedures. The Unit provides advice and assistance to prosecutors with forfeiture or potential forfeiture issues in their criminal cases. In addition, the Unit regularly provides training to ensure that Criminal Division personnel remain current on asset forfeiture law and trends to facilitate the successful resolution of forfeiture matters.
The Financial Litigation Unit (“FLU”) is responsible for vigorously litigating and enforcing the recovery of debts owed by defendants due to restitution orders, fines, and judgments owed to the United States. The FLU advocates for the rights of crime victims and all funds recovered through restitution enforcement are paid directly to the victims or to the National Crime Victims Fund, which disburses grants to various victims’ groups across the country. The FLU uses various remedies to secure the payment of debts in the criminal context, and also files civil suits to obtain judgments on defaulted government loans such as student loans, mortgages guaranteed by federal agencies, and small business loans. Where appropriate, the FLU uses forfeiture laws to restore seized proceeds of criminal activity to the victims of crime. In Fiscal Year 2015, the FLU for the Southern District of California recovered approximately $17 million for victims and the United States.