Ceremony Honors Western Pennsylvania Victims Rights’ Advocates
PITTSBURGH, PA – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania honored seven individuals and a task force for their exceptional service to victims of crime during the annual Victim Advocate Recognition Ceremony in the Joseph F. Weis Jr. United States Courthouse on Friday, April 26.
"Whether a victim of sexual assault, stalking, hate crimes, domestic violence, elder abuse or financial fraud, all crime victims need and deserve to be protected and comforted as much as possible, and to be assured that those who caused their suffering will be brought to justice," said U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady. "The people we are recognizing have made an impact in the lives of crime victims, and they continue to work to ensure that every victim is empowered to recover and become a survivor."
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed National Crime Victims’ Rights Week to bring greater sensitivity to the needs and rights of victims of crime. Each April, the office joins U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country to observe National Crime Victims’ Rights Week by honoring victims of crime and those who advocate on their behalf. In addition, the offices participate in events to bring awareness to the services available to victims. This theme of this year’s observance is "Honoring Our Past: Creating Hope for Our Future."
The U.S. Attorney’s Award for Dedication and Extraordinary Contributions in the Service of Victims was presented to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Smolar and Assistant U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song.
AUSA Smolar has prosecuted multiple child exploitation cases and more than 15 human trafficking cases in conjunction with the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, United States Postal Inspection Service, Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, Allegheny County Police and Pennsylvania State Police, among other law enforcement agencies. Ms. Smolar served as the Project Safe Child (PSC) Coordinator and Human Trafficking point of contact for approximately eight years. Through her work, she has brought help, hope and healing to crime victims and their families.
AUSA Song’s work with victims is long and varied. Over her 15 years with the office, she helped to establish the Veterans Treatment Court, one of the first federal courts of its kind. As the district’s Gang Coordinator, she charged more than 60 defendants in a series of cases that helped to clear unsolved homicides and reduce violence in Mon Valley communities. During the timeframe that she led the Crimes Against Children Task Force for Western Pennsylvania, the district’s child exploitation prosecutions constituted nearly one in 10 of criminal cases filed. She served for a time as the office’s Violence Against Women Act coordinator and organized a Victim/Witness Roundtable for Western Pennsylvania local, state and federal victim/witness advocates. She strengthened protocols for crime victim notification, advocacy and restitution in federal court, including corporate victims of cyber intrusions.
U.S. Attorney Brady also recognized Ana Valero-Silva of the United States Attorney’s Office for her work as a legal assistant in the criminal division and her invaluable support in child exploitation cases. Ms. Valero-Silva performed all of her responsibilities on these difficult cases with a patient manner, a calm demeanor, and excellent organization skills.
Members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Opioid Task Force (WPOTF) were honored for their work to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations that have caused western Pennsylvania to have the second highest rate of opioid-related deaths in the United States. The WPOTF is comprised of local, state and federal participants who work in partnership to target all levels of distribution routes, including upper- and mid-level local opioid suppliers, interstate opioid traffickers, postal/mail opioid traffickers and internet-based opioid traffickers. Since its formation in 2016, the WPOTF has netted 43 Federal Indictments, recovered over 9.5 kilos of fentanyl and 3.4 kilos of cocaine, and seized 107 guns.
Retired Pennsylvania State Trooper Mike Warfield was honored for his work as a DEA Task Force Officer, for helping the office build successful cases against violent drug organizations. His efforts led in part to the dismantlement of the Samuel and Wayne McCracken heroin and fentanyl trafficking organizations, the Aaron Taylor cocaine network, the Christian Stevens heroin trafficking organization, a notorious Beaver County heroin distribution ring. Most notable was his work on the Jelani Solomon violent drug trafficking organization, in which Solomon hired Claron Hanner to murder the father of a cooperating witness. Mr. Warfield’s efforts led to the convictions of Solomon and Hanner for murder, and Solomon’s life sentence.
Lorraine M. Bittner, Chief Legal Officer for the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, was recognized for providing direct legal representation for domestic violence survivors for 40 years. Women’s Center and Shelter provides specialized care and support for women who have experienced all types of intimate partner violence from physical to emotional through Emergency Shelter, Legal Advocacy, a 24-Hour Hotline, Support Groups and more.
Two advocates for the Center for Victims - Patrice El-Waaga, Director of Advocacy and Court Services, and Anita White, a Counselor and Advocate, who works primarily with the elderly – were recognized for providing stellar support in myriad federal cases, working side by side with the USAO’s Victim/Witness Coordinator to ensure victims were kept updated on the status of their case, received resources and referrals, and were provided support during court hearings. Center for Victims is the largest, most comprehensive provider of services in Pennsylvania, providing advocacy and education for victims.