Since being sworn in as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee on November 21, 2017, I have been working diligently to support the Department of Justice (DOJ) priorities outlined by United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions as well as the mission of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
Currently, the top five DOJ priorities include: reducing violent crime; establishing a lawful and constitutional immigration system that makes us safer and more secure; combatting the drug/opioid addiction crisis; protecting our national security; and, enforcing the rule of law. To aid in the enforcement of these priorities, Attorney General Sessions has announced several new tools, initiatives, and programs as well as enhancements to existing programs for U.S. Attorney’s offices and federal, state, and local law enforcement.
In May 2017, Attorney General Sessions issued a memo establishing DOJ charging and sentencing policies. This guidance reestablished the longstanding DOJ policy, trusting our federal prosecutors to use their discretion and judgment to apply the law to the facts of the investigation and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense(s) supported by the facts of the case.
Attorney General Sessions has also repeatedly reinforced his commitment to assist law enforcement in performing their duties, celebrating the noble, honorable, essential, and challenging work of law enforcement communities, while always seeking to affirm the critical role of police officers in our society. Supporting our law enforcement partners and the excellent work that they do as well as promoting coordination and cooperation between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, will also continue to be a top priority in East Tennessee.
The nation is currently facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history. Unfortunately, East Tennessee is not immune to this problem. In fact, statistics show that Tennessee is one of the “hot spots” for drug abuse and overdose related deaths in the country. Combatting this drug/opioid crisis is a top priority for President Trump and his administration as well as Attorney General Sessions. Accordingly, the U.S. Attorney’s office will continue to take every action available to address this crisis, including working with our federal, state, and local partners, to target and prosecute those who are unlawfully furthering this epidemic.
In August 2017, the Attorney General announced the formation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, a new Department of Justice program to utilize data to help combat the devastating opioid crisis. The Eastern District of Tennessee received one of 12 experienced Assistant U.S. Attorney positions allocated across the country to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting health care fraud related to prescription opioids, including pill mill schemes and pharmacies that unlawfully divert or dispense prescription opioids.
In October 2017, Attorney General Sessions announced the expansion of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), which encourages U.S. Attorneys’ offices to work with the communities they serve to develop customized crime reduction strategies. Originally launched in 2001, one study showed that, in its first seven years, PSN reduced violent crime overall by 4.1 percent with case studies showing reductions in certain areas of up to 42 percent. The PSN program has always been strong in the Eastern District of Tennessee and will continue to thrive during a reinvigoration of the district’s crime reduction strategy incorporating lessons learned since its inception. I am fully onboard with making our neighbors, schools, and communities free from illegal drugs and crime.
Also in October 2017, the Attorney General announced Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force’s (OCDETF) National Gang Strategic Initiative promoting creative enforcement strategies and best practices to assist in developing investigations of violent criminal groups and gangs into enterprise-level OCDETF prosecutions. MS-13, identified as one of the most violent and ruthless gangs on the streets today, was designated as a priority, allowing federal law enforcement to utilize an expanded toolkit in its efforts to dismantle the organization.
While the current administration has made great progress toward establishing a lawful and constitutional immigration system to make us safer and more secure, the threats we face from terrorists are diverse and evolving. A report released in January 2018 by DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealed that between September 11, 2001, and December 31, 2016, three of every four individuals convicted of international terrorism-related charges in U.S. federal courts were foreign-born. During this same period, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 1,716 aliens with national security concerns. Further, in 2017 alone, DHS encountered 2,554 individuals on the terrorist watch list (also known as the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database) traveling to the United States.
There is no higher DOJ priority than protecting the nation against acts of terrorism and other threats to national security. The hard work of DOJ professionals and our partners at home and abroad have enabled the disruption of numerous terrorist plots and the successful prosecution of those involved. We will use every available tool to continue these efforts.
In the Eastern District of Tennessee, the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council (ATAC), established after the terrorist attacks in September 2001, serves as a conduit for information sharing about suspected terrorists among federal, state and local law enforcement entities. The ATAC operates as an umbrella organization of local, state, and federal agencies that coordinates activities, develops policy, implements strategic plans, and provides training to combat terrorism. It also coordinates with the other ATACs around the nation and works closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). Member agencies include those from law enforcement, public health, emergency planning and response, the military, and the intelligence community.
Finally, Attorney General Sessions has pledged that it is his duty to ensure that the laws of the United States are enforced and that the Constitutional order upheld. Enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers, and prevents human suffering. Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence, and even terrorism. During my watch as United States Attorney, the experienced prosecutors and other professionals in our office will continue to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States, ensuring the fair and impartial administration of justice for the people of East Tennessee.
J. Douglas Overbey
United States Attorney
Eastern District of Tennessee