U.S. Attorney’s Office Releases Annual Report
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California
SAN DIEGO – The United States Attorney’s Office today released its Annual Report, which details major cases and achievements of 2021 that took place despite extraordinary challenges to law enforcement and federal court operations in the district due to the ongoing pandemic.
“I am very proud of our significant accomplishments during another year of difficult conditions,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “Because of the excellent work of this office and our law enforcement partners, scores of violent criminals and large quantities of deadly drugs and guns are off the street, not only in this district, but around the world. This report provides a window into a few of the many civil and criminal cases we worked on this year as well as our significant community outreach efforts.”
In 2021, our Criminal Division charged approximately 3,850 felony cases and conducted more than 40 jury trials, all while operating in a maximum telework posture. Likewise, our Civil Division represented the United States and its agencies and employees in civil litigation in the district, managing a heavy caseload involving hundreds of depositions and court appearances, and pursued multiple affirmative enforcement cases.
Here are just a few highlights you will read about in this report:
- In response to a surge in violent crime in 2021, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and its law enforcement partners launched an effort to strategically prosecute the region’s most violent and prolific offenders who are believed to be most responsible for the spike, including those with criminal history and criminal gang affiliation who commit gun crimes. As a result, federal gun-related prosecutions in the Southern District of California increased in FY 2021 by almost 50 percent – to the highest levels seen in this office.
- The office addressed a disturbing increase in reports of hate crimes motivated by race, ethnicity and ancestry, and gender identity in 2021 on two fronts: Criminal prosecution and community outreach. The most notorious hate crime in recent memory in San Diego County concluded in 2021 with the sentencing of John T. Earnest, a Rancho Penasquitos man who entered the Chabad of Poway on April 27, 2019, opened fire and killed one woman, injured three others, and attempted to kill 50 others. He was sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison for his hate crimes. The office also led several outreach initiatives to educate the public about recognizing and reporting hate crimes, including a webinar in recognition of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) month. The webinar, titled “Understanding AAPI Discrimination in Our Past and Present to Reclaim our Future,” educated the audience on AAPI hate in America, lessons learned from past hate incidents, and how to actively stop hate toward this community.
- In 2021, there was a tragic wave of smuggling-related deaths in San Diego and Imperial counties. In less than a three-week span, four lives were lost and dozens of people had to be rescued from rough seas and hospitalized after multiple maritime smuggling events went terribly wrong. The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged a number of people in connection with those deaths and held an important news conference, imploring migrants not to trust their lives to greedy smugglers. Assistant U.S. Attorney Victor White was selected to be the co-chair of Joint Task Force Alpha, a law enforcement group that will marshal the investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Department of Justice, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
- Overdose deaths spiked again in San Diego County this year. Although the year-end statistics will not be finalized until early 2022, it is likely that fentanyl overdose deaths will have nearly doubled. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has continued to actively intake cases in which the distribution of fentanyl and heroin have resulted in death. During 2021, at least eleven defendants were charged with the distribution of fentanyl “resulting in death” which carries with it a 20-year minimum mandatory sentence. Those cases have included charges stemming from the death of a U.S. Marine as well as a California Firefighter. Significantly, two such cases were tried to verdict during 2021 and both resulted in swift guilty verdicts on the 20-year minimum mandatory charge; in both cases, the defendants will be sentenced in 2022. One of those cases related to a defendant who sold a cocaine/fentanyl mixture that caused the collapse of three individuals in the parking lot of a bar and grill, resulting in one death. In 2021, the office also secured multiple guilty pleas in these cases, including a guilty plea by a defendant who admittedly sold fentanyl that resulted in the death of a high school student knowing the individual was, in fact, a high school student.
- The office also pursued civil cases against doctors who, even in this climate of heightened awareness of the dangers of opioids, continue to overprescribe opioids. San Diego area pain clinic doctor Brenton Wynn, M.D., paid $200,000 to resolve allegations that he illegally prescribed opioids and other dangerous drugs to his patients. The civil settlement stems from the United States’ continued efforts to combat the opioid epidemic on all fronts, including this investigation of whether Dr. Wynn illegally prescribed opioids to his patients in violation of the Controlled Substances Act.
Also in 2021, the office prosecuted cases with worldwide impact – from Chinese hackers to corrupt Navy officials to criminal syndicates around the globe who used encrypted devices to go under the radar of law enforcement. The 500-plus arrests that took place during a worldwide two-day takedown in June were possible because of this unprecedented San Diego-based investigation. For the first time, the FBI operated its own encrypted device company, called “ANOM.” During the course of the investigation, while ANOM’s criminal users unknowingly promoted and communicated on a system operated by the FBI, agents catalogued more than 27 million messages between users around the world who had their criminal discussions reviewed, recorded, and translated by the FBI, until the platform was taken down. “It has been my pleasure to lead such a talented and dedicated group of professionals,” Grossman said. “I want to applaud all the lawyers and staff in our office, as well as our law enforcement partners, who continue to protect and achieve justice for our community. All of us in law enforcement are committed to maintaining public safety as we move forward and the pandemic hopefully becomes a distant memory.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cindy Cipriani (619) 546-9608
Updated January 20, 2022
Press Release Number: CAS22-0120