A few days ago Lee Bentley, the acting chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida, gave a remarkable speech outlining the goals, aspirations, new developments and criminal investigation commitments for his federal prosecutors over the next few years. This is important information for every criminal lawyer and especially for their clients who may be facing federal charges, federal investigations or federal grand jury indictments in the Middle District of Florida an area which encompasses such cities as Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Safety Harbor and Pinellas Park even though the federal courthouse is located in Tampa.
Although federal indictments may be thought to originate from federal grand jurors who meet on Tuesdays at the federal courthouse in Tampa to examine evidence and testimony of possible federal unlawful conduct, never forget that any possible charges always originate not with a federal grand jury but with the federal prosecutors and federal agents who actually have responsibility to present the cases. It is the federal prosecutors who determine when or if cases move forward and whether those cases will lead to a federal indictment. It’s often been said that a federal prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich if so desired, but that’s not true in Tampa. It’s much more likely to be a fresh toasty hot cuban sandwich they’d enjoy indicting.
So how did I find out about the chief prosecutor’s speech? My contact, let’s face it, my mole within the prosecutor’s office is a gaunt, pale, exhausted intellectual fugitive of his own Justice Department who hates his disheveled little office with it’s old pentium Gateway, yet despises going into federal court where things can get ugly fast even more. He asked that I neither give him up as the source for this post, nor to divulge my means of payment for this exclusive information. So I’ll only suggest that the evidence was eaten and therefor stands free from threat of future federal indictment.
The following is the gist of the priorities for the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Middle District of Florida:
1. Simple drug cases will be handled by state rather than federal prosecutors. This makes since as all too often the federal drug sentencing guidelines result in an unfairly harsh sentence. Further, at least the State of Florida is using drug court as a solution to free people from addiction while not branding them for life as criminals. In Pinellas County the drug court judge does her best to make sure people make it thru the program rather than being sent to prison.
2. Major Drug Trafficking cases such as the Panama Express cases from the coast guard will still be handled by federal prosecutors. The federal prosecutors, DEA agents and FBI agents have the means to successfully prosecute these major complex drug conspiracy cases that would present difficulties to state prosecutors.
3. More financial fraud cases not involving mortgage fraud will be handled by federal investigators and funneled into the purview of the U.S. Attorney’s office. Clearly fraud cases involving sums of loss over a million dollars will be a specific target for federal agents and prosecutors to justify their increase in funding even as the Federal Public Defender’s Office is cut.
4. More medical fraud such as medicare and medicaid fraud will be investigated by federal agents and taken to the federal grand jury in Tampa. A recent report established significant government monetary losses due to doctors allegedly over-billing the government and insurance companies. Many otherwise law abiding doctors, administrators of medical offices and their staffs will now be exposed to federal criminal indictments, search warrants, investigations and arrests. Further, they will be pushed to the wall to quickly plead guilty and co-operate against co-defendants or find themselves charged with additional federal criminal charges such as conspiracy, mail fraud, scheme to defraud, grand theft and giving false information to a government agent.
5. Seventeen new assistant United State’s Attorneys have been hired, eight of whom will be working exclusively on new federal criminal cases while two will be working on criminal appeals.
Although it wasn’t mentioned in the speech, it’s also known that federal Firearm indictments are being ramped up.
Over the next two years the recalibration of the objectives of the U.S. Attorney’s office will result in more federal criminal investigations, federal grand jury indictments and federal arrests in the Tampa Bay area. In many of these cases there will be little if any indication that you or someone you care about is under federal investigation. In some cases the federal prosecutor may send what is known as a Target Letter, which lets someone know that he or she is the target of an investigation. Either way it’s always important to find a federal criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to make sure you obtain the best possible results.