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Sunday Sit Down: U.S. Attorneys William Ihlenfeld, Booth Goodwin

October 1, 2011
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Ihlenfeld: It's the best job I've ever had, every day is something new, you never know when you come in to work what might come through the door or what you might get via a phone call or an email that sends you in a completely different direction than you've expected. It's been a wonderful experience, everything I've expected plus a whole lot more. I would say working with my staff has been one of the highlights, I'm blessed to have great people to work with, great AUSAs, extremely talented and dedicated, and an administrative and support staff that do a fantastic job. They're going to be here long after I'm gone and this office will always be in good hands when you have people like that. ... It's been great and hope to keep doing it for awhile.

Goodwin: It's obviously a fantastic post, the only downside to it is that it's term-limited. I'm only here at the will and pleasure of the president. I think that any U.S. Attorney would agree with me that it's one of the best jobs out there, especially one of the best jobs in the law, because you really feel every day you're making a difference in people's lives and you're not really doing your job unless you are making a difference in people's lives. That's what I enjoyed as assistant U.S. Attorney before I took this job and now as U.S. Attorney, directing the priorities of the office, that's very rewarding.

"The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all, and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.

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As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the two-fold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor - indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one."

What does that mean to you?

Ihlenfeld: That quote is something that was presented to me and other U.S. attorneys when we went through our orientation ... in September 2010 in Washington. Marshall Jarrett's the director of the (Executive Office for United States Attorneys) and he read that to us and asked us to think about it. ... The position of U.S. attorney comes with a lot of responsibility, a lot of power, there's a lot you can do. ... You do have to be careful. You don't want to go too far with it. ... We have to prosecute people, we have to put them away, but there are a lot of other things that I think a U.S. attorney should do. I think we should be community problem solvers, I think we should look at an issue in the community - let's says it's a drug problem, something I deal with on a daily basis - and not just look at how can we lock up the dealers and not have to worry about them again. I think we have to look at how can we address the drug problem? How can we address the addiction we see in our community? How can we prevent young people from becoming addicted to illegal substances? That's why I've tried to do a lot of community outreach, a lot of education with children in middle schools, high schools, children in juvenile detention facilities, we're going to the prisons now, hoping that when inmates get out they don't go back into a life of crime. There's a lot that goes on with the position, so we try and solve problems ... in whatever way we can. A lot of that is through more than what you typically think of as a prosecutor.

Goodwin: It's a statement, an idea that we try to live by every day, both as the United States Attorney, and each of my assistants take that very seriously as well. Our pay isn't any different whether we prosecute a case or not, and in fact we prosecute far fewer cases than come through our door. ... We should strike hard blows, but we should not and we are not at liberty to strike foul ones. We have to, each and every day, think of what is the just result rather than we can convict someone or not of a crime. Should we, or should we not prosecute that case. Is it a community crime problem, something that is of concern to our populace. Those are the sorts of crimes that we should prosecute. Being a United States attorney and even as an assistant U.S. attorney, that ability to make those judgments, and being entrusted to make those judgments, is a remarkable obligation and it truly is an honor.

Ihlenfeld: I would say the leading issue is heroin. We see it in the Northern Panhandle, we see it in North Central West Virginia, Morgantown, Clarksburg. I was just over in Martinsburg the other day, it's a huge problem over there. I was told that over a six-month period in Berkeley County there were 17 overdose deaths. Those numbers are scary.

There are other things that come as a result of the heroin problem. We're seeing it here in this part of the state. Here in Ohio County we're seeing a rash of break-ins, we're seeing home invasions, we're seeing people that are bold enough and brazen enough to go into a home on Archbold Avenue in the middle of the day, and the homeowner chase the person out. We like to think that if someone wants to use heroin, that's fine, let them do damage to their own body, it's not going to affect the rest of us. It's not true, and I see it getting worse and worse. And through in the prescription pill problem, we're seeing robberies of pharmacies on the uptick, not just in Wheeling but in other parts of the district. Over in Martinsburg, when I met with the head of their drug task force, she told me something that happened the other day at a supermarket, where a heroin addict who was going through the withdrawal symptoms and was feeling sick and feeling desperate went up to a woman ... and pulled out a gun, in the middle of the day, and took the lady's purse and ran off with it. So we're seeing all these other things that are occurring as a result of the heroin addition. Prostitution is on the upswing in Martinsburg. Those are the types of things that we have to try to get our arms around, not just by prosecuting but also by trying to educate the community and educate the young people to try to steer them away from that type of lifestyle.

Here in the district, in addition to the pill trafficking and the heroin trafficking, financial crimes has been a priority of mine, I've created a financial crimes task force and also a working group. The task force is a big group that works on all types of cases throughout the district, the working group is a smaller group that works on larger cases that might have more national or international implications. From the beginning, I wanted to be proactive in looking at financial crimes. So we have this group, and we get together on a regular basis to look at documents generated because of the bank secrecy act. The BSA requires (agencies) to generate documents if a certain type of financial transaction occurs. ... We're following the money and we're being extremely proactive in doing that, probably more proactive than has ever been done before in this district. It's exciting to actually see an almost real-time look at where the money's going and then try to determine what the crime is. ... We have to determine ... why this money is going from West Virginia to say Central America, or why money is going from West Virginia to China.

Goodwin: The number one priority is the ... number one crime problem in our district, and that's prescription drug abuse and the crimes that flow from prescription drug abuse. We've devoted a significant amount of resources not only in prosecuting drug dealers ... but also to try and do something about the demand side as well. We've convened a summit that tried to not only look at the supply side but also come up with concrete solutions to getting people into drug treatment, getting more resources devoted to those pursuits. I think we're making strides in that regard, but it really is an epidemic in our district. We're doing everything we can about it, we've prosecuted 60 such drug dealers since the beginning of the year, but more work needs to be done.

Ihlenfeld: With regard to the health care end, a lot of the pills that we see up here that are being moved illegally, in other words not through a doctor, that are just being moved on the streets, a lot of those are coming from other states. We've got a big case we're prosecuting right now that was indicted some time ago, we've had most of those individuals enter guilty pleas, there are a few still awaiting trial. As part of that investigation, we are working on identifying the physicians who were involved in writing the prescriptions that led to the pills coming up here. We're also looking at the businesses that gave the MRIs to these individuals, because we believe the MRIs were actually doctored, they were manipulated to show that someone had an injury that they actually didn't have. ... Ninety-nine percent of the doctors and health care workers are good and they do what's right, but there's that ... one percent ... that's fueling all this. We're working with those jurisdictions where the doctors are actually located, Florida, South Carolina. There's actually one doctor involved who's on the run. ... I think that will help to stop some of what we're seeing, it won't fix it all but it will help.

Goodwin: This is even a more difficult problem than your so-called street drugs ... because there are so many different sources of supply. It's not just doctors turning out millions of dollars worth of pills on the streets - that is happening, mainly out of Florida, Detroit - but it's also ... fully 68-70 percent of the diverted prescription narcotics come not from a dirty doc or a drug dealer on the street. It comes from people's medicine cabinets. ... We've not only looked at more prosecutions and been more aggressive in our prosecution stance, but we've also tried to advance prescription drug takeback programs. In conjunction with the DEA, we've had two such takeback days. ... As a result, we took a ton and one-half of drugs out of people's medicine cabinets. Now, there are community drug takeback programs that are ... out there and doing drug takeback programs on their own as well, and I think they have to make an enormous difference.

Ihlenfeld: When the new administration came into place in the White House, they made it a priority to go after individuals who were defrauding our health care system. They have strike forces set up throughout the country. What we worked on here wasn't part of a strike force investigation, but it's the same idea. They're encouraging us to go out and look for this type of fraud and try and get money back to the government. ... We work with Health and Human Services agents, we also work with other agencies, state agencies, we have a health care fraud task force that meets on a regular basis to stay on top of these cases. It's something that's become more of a priority. ... It really has become more important for the Department of Justice to go out and try and collect money that the government was defrauded of.

Goodwin: The DOJ has placed a great deal of emphasis on it and partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services in doing so. And really, because a great deal of federal money goes to service these programs, appropriately so. But a great deal of federal money often leads to a great deal of waste and abuse. I know that Bill (Ihlenfeld) here in the Northern District has placed a great deal of emphasis on it ... and we are as well in the Southern District. More than anything, it's important for people to recognize that this is something that we need to keep an eye on.

Ihlenfeld: There's only so much we can say. What I can tell you is this: we have the FBI, my office and other agencies as part of a joint terrorism task force. And any time we have a threat or a perceived threat, it's something that's monitored ... very closely. We just got past 9/11, and thankfully there were no major incidents anywhere in the country. ... We got past that, but we have to remain vigilant. We're always looking, we're always listening. There are always matters that the FBI is looking at in the Northern District of West Virginia and throughout the state. But I think because the structure's in place, the architecture that was put into place after 9/11 by the Bush Administration and that's continued on with the Obama Administration, I think we've got everything in place to keep everybody safe.

Goodwin: You always have to be vigilant, and especially with terrorism, it's something different and we approach it differently from any other crime problem. The FBI has really (become) and bureau of prevention rather than a bureau of investigation ... because we can't afford to have another 9/11 occur. A great deal of resources are necessarily expended to try to identify terrorism before it can show its ugly head. To answer your question, you always have to be circumspect ... because terrorism is always a threat. And the terrorism threat from the international perspective and the domestic perspective is equally problematic. We have a terrorism squad that covers the entire state of West Virginia ... (and) we always are on the lookout for terrorism and signs of terrorism. ...

Ihlenfeld: We are aware of some, we monitor it, we talk about it with our partners. ... We're always keeping an eye on them.

The number one way to take down an organized crime group is through a drug conspiracy. That's the number one charge you see used, because typically there's some type of illegal drug activity that helps to fund a group like that. You might also see guns, gun trafficking, drug trafficking. You might see some type of financial fraud involved as well, sometimes you see more sophisticated types of ways to fund those types of groups, credit card fraud, those types of things.

Goodwin: Whenever you have a collection of individuals who are devoted to engaging in criminal activity, that poses a risk. ... It is a very critical issue that we always have to address. The Pagan motorcycle gang is involved in criminal enterprise and they also were involved in enforcement of criminal activity. We will address when we see it but is it an overwhelming problem in my district? It is not.

Ihlenfeld: I would say ... maybe my biggest overall priority has been working more closely with local and state law enforcement, whether that's with this task force that I mentioned, we bring in locals on every case we look at, the Mountaineer Highway Interdiction Team is a combination of federal, state and local agencies working together to interdict cars and traffic on the highway to stop the flow of drugs in and out of the state. ... We've had a number of charges as a result of the MHIT initiative. In fact, as we sit here, there's a commercial interdiction initiative going on on I-70 and other roads here in the area. ... We're working more closely with the state and the locals, that's been a big part of what I wanted to do as U.S. attorney. We've also started an environmental crimes working group, bringing together federal, state and locals to keep an eye on all that's going on around us with the natural gas drilling boom. ... I've also started a special assistant United States attorney program. We've appointed somebody in this division (Ohio County Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Barki), we've appointed someone in Martinsburg and we're going to have somebody in the Morgantown area to help keep up with the additional caseload. Those are partnerships with county prosecutors and county commissions who allow us to use their prosecutors to help out in federal court. ... We see it as a two-way street. They let us use one of their talented assistants to come and handle cases up here, and the way it helps them is we're taking maybe some of their workload, helping them prosecute cases that maybe are better prosecuted in federal court. ... We're helping them, they're helping us.

Goodwin: In West Virginia, none of us have the resources we truly need. So we have to rely on each other to enforce the criminal laws in the state. It seems to me that state and local law enforcement has always worked well with federal law enforcement, and that's only getting better. We all realize we have similar missions and especially since the terrorism threat has reared its ugly head, we've had to work hand in glove better than ever before. ... Our state and local partners are amazing in their abilities to leverage the resources they have. I rely on our state and local partners because they are closest to the communities affected by crime problems. For instance, in Huntington there was a significant crime problem that we had in a particular pocket of (town). The chief of police identified it ... and reached out and said is there something the federal government can do to help us. So we started with a Weed and Seed grant that's designed to devote certain resources to weed out the bad element and also to seed new development. And it worked, to a point. But what the police chief was still seeing were open air drug markets. ... We addressed that very aggressively on one side but we also included the community on the other side. As a result of that drug market intervention, we've seen drug crime fall by 60 percent, violent crime fall by 80 percent and all other crime by 40 percent in that area. ... You can't achieve those sorts of gains without the commitment, without the engagement of the community. That's what I'm talking about when I say we have to all work together and choose placed where our resources are going to be needed and do the most good.

Ihlenfeld: I just try to have as much fun as I can. Every day is fun, there's always something new to get into. There's so much flexibility in this position, there's so much going on in the civil division, the criminal division. ... I'm just trying to enjoy it.

I do see myself continuing to serve the public in some capacity in the future, I don't know what capacity but I'd like to continue to do this. I've done it for 13 years as a county prosecutor and now I've been here for just over a year, so I'd like to continue serving the public in whatever way I can.

Goodwin: Fortunately I was an assistant U.S. attorney since 2001, so I really had a good many ideas going into the post. We've been fortunate to have a very successful year, in my estimation, and look to have an even more successful one moving ahead. You can't focus on the end of the term, you always have to be thinking this is my last day in office, my last week, because that's the way you push things forward. That's kind of the nice thing about having a head of an office as rotating. They're appropriately accountable to the people, you have to look at what the crime problems are in the district and direct the resources to that. It's not a political job in that respect. It is the province of the president to select who it is that's going to lead it but in no way is crime fighting political.

 
 

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