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Naturalization Ceremony Blog Post – “Welcoming New Partners to our Bold Experiment”
April 16th, 2014 Posted by

 

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This post is courtesy of Associate Attorney General Tony West.

On Tuesday, I had the privilege of speaking to hundreds of new citizens at a naturalization ceremony held at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, Va.  It was an incredible experience — one that made me proud of our country’s well-earned reputation as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.  Gathered in one place were 700 individuals from over 100 different countries, represented by different flags, different cultures and different systems of government.  These 700 took an oath in unison and in one single moment they all became Americans. 

Of course, their individual journeys to this day were much more unique, complicated and hard fought than could ever be captured in a moment.  Some came from across the globe — from nations like Brazil, Russia, India, China, Ireland, Ghana and Afghanistan.  Others came from our neighbors – Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.  Some of them are business owners, doctors, teachers, artists and engineers.  And some are parents caring for America’s next generation.  

Some are new citizens like Corporal Jorge Luis Cuji Villacis, who came here from Ecuador when he was 11 years old, went to school and then joined the U.S. Marine Corps because he wanted to make his family proud, serve this country and become a better person. 

And what I found so inspiring about this ceremony is what it reaffirmed about this country.  We are a nation bound together not by a shared race, a single ethnicity or a state-sanctioned religious faith.  We ask neither that such traits be inherited nor left behind.  Instead, our country is defined by our founding principles: freedom, equality and democracy.  The idea that you are free to control your destiny and help shape the future of this nation, no matter where you came from, no matter who your ancestors are and no matter what you look like.  More than a place on the map, that spirit is what the United States of America represents and it’s what these new citizens embody. 

Becoming an American citizen and taking part in our shared story is a precious privilege that no one in that auditorium took for granted.  So as we welcome these new partners to our bold experiment in self-government, we must work to improve the inefficient immigration system that hampered them, and so many other talented immigrants, from starting their lives here.

We know that we can improve that system by strengthening our borders, streamlining legal immigration, holding employers accountable and creating a firm but fair path to earned citizenship for those immigrants who are already contributing to our economy and society in so many ways.  

That’s why we remain committed to working with Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reforms that will do justice to our immigration system and the hard working, talented individuals who come through that system seeking the privilege of becoming an American.

The Department of Justice Recognizes National Consumer Protection Week
March 7th, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of Stuart F. Delery, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division

Those who violate consumer protection laws can cause devastating harm, often hitting our most vulnerable consumers the hardest. Victims of fraud, misrepresentation, and unsafe drug manufacturing and food production practices can lose significant amounts of hard-earned and much-needed money. But they also face a loss of trust in the marketplace, a loss of confidence in products we need like medicine or food, and a loss of security when we fall victim to a scam. That is why it is critical to expose these insidious practices and hold perpetrators accountable. Or as President Obama said in his proclamation of National Consumer Protection Week: “[O]ur Nation’s economy is only as strong as its people, and we recommit to fostering a sense of basic fairness in our marketplace.”

For that reason, I am particularly proud of the work the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch, a part of the Civil Division, is doing to enforce federal consumer protection laws and protect our communities. We employ all of the tools at our disposal—administrative, civil, and criminal—to protect consumers from the misdeeds that cause harm. But we also know this is a team effort. So, we collaborate with other federal agencies and state partners—sharing information, data and investigative practices where we can–and we engage in vibrant collaboration with the consumer advocacy community.

Without effective enforcement, those who prey on consumers will feel free to continue. So, we are fighting fraud and misrepresentation wherever they may lurk, recognizing that violations of the federal consumer protection laws come in all shapes and sizes. We continue to bring consumer cases involving financial fraud, including mortgage fraud, lottery scams, abusive and deceptive debt collection practices, and business-opportunity schemes. We are also pursuing new forms of telemarketing fraud, and immigration services fraud. We enforce laws against products that are unsafe for children – such as toys made with toxic materials. And we continue to investigate the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and violations of the rules for manufacturing and marketing of drugs, medical devices, and food.

The following are recent examples of the range of cases we bring to protect our most vulnerable consumers:

We prosecuted two Miami residents who owned and operated companies that targeted Spanish-speaking consumers with a fraudulent telemarketing scheme. The telemarketers lied to consumers about products they would receive and threatened them with false consequences for the failure to pay for shipments of products they did not order and did not want. Both defendants pled guilty and received significant prison sentences; one defendant was sentenced to nine years in prison, the other to ten years in prison.

The recent civil and criminal case against Ranbaxy USA Inc., a subsidiary of Indian generic pharmaceutical manufacturer Ranbaxy Laboratories Limited, demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that pharmaceutical companies comply with current good manufacturing practices so that the drugs they produce have the identity and strength and meet the quality and purity characteristics that they purport to possess. In this ground breaking case—because of its focus on overseas manufacturing —Ranbaxy USA pled guilty to felony charges relating to the manufacture and distribution of certain drugs made at two of Ranbaxy’s manufacturing facilities in India. Ranbaxy agreed to pay a criminal fine and forfeiture totaling $150 million.

A recent injunction against Pennsylvania-based dairy firms and individuals illustrates our vigilance to make sure that the food on our tables is safe to eat. The Consumer Protection Branch obtained a permanent injunction designed to prevent the distribution of foods that contain excessive drug residue in a case concerning the sale of cows that contained antibiotic residues in their edible tissues. Excessive levels of certain drugs in the edible tissues of animals pose a significant public health risk. In this case, the defendants had received numerous warnings from both FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture that their conduct violated the law, and they failed to take steps to correct those violations.

Violations of the federal consumer protection laws may not always make the headlines, but they affects millions of Americans each year. As we mark National Consumer Protection Week at the Department of Justice, we reaffirm our commitment to using the authorities we have been given to protect consumers from all manner of harm that these legal violations can cause.

The Consumer Protection Branch leads the Justice Department’s efforts to protect the health, safety and economic security of the American consumer. The Branch, together with its partners in the Department’s U.S. Attorney’s Offices and in consumer protection agencies, fulfills this mission through civil and criminal enforcement of federal consumer protection statutes across the country. Since 2009, the consumer protection efforts of the Civil Division, working with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the country, have led to recoveries of more than $6.7 billion, to over 175 criminal convictions, and to total sentences of confinement exceeding 397 years. Visit www.justice.gov/civil for the latest Civil Division news, www.justice.gov/civil/cpb/cpb_home.html to learn more about the Consumer Protection Branch, or follow the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Twitter @TheJusticeDept.

2013 Record Year for Medicare Fraud Strike Force
January 28th, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of Mythili Raman, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division

Every day, the nation’s health care system is victimized by criminals intent on lining their own pockets at the expense of the American taxpayer, patients and private insurers. And every day, members of the Justice Department’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force aggressively investigate and prosecute these criminals, put them in prison, and prevent them from stealing millions from U.S. taxpayers.

Since its inception in March 2007, strike force prosecutors – under the supervision of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney’s Offices in nine cities across the country and in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services – have charged more than 1,700 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program more than $5.5 billion. In Fiscal Year 2013 alone, the strike force secured records in the number of cases filed (137), individuals charged (345), guilty pleas secured (234) and jury trial convictions (46). Beyond these remarkable results, the defendants who were charged and sentenced are facing significant time in prison – an average of 52 months in prison for those sentenced in FY 2013, and an average of 47 months in prison for those sentenced since 2007.

According to a recent report by the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for every dollar the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services have spent fighting health care fraud, we’ve returned an average of nearly eight dollars to the U.S. Treasury, the Medicare Trust Fund and others. And these actions have helped to deter other would-be criminals from even attempting to defraud the Medicare program.

We can all be proud of this remarkable progress, but this is just the beginning. We have made combating health care fraud part of our core mission at the Department of Justice, and we are determined to keep moving forward – to thwart ongoing fraud schemes, to hold accountable those who steal from the Medicare program and to prevent this conduct from happening in the future.

National Institute of Justice Challenge: Create High Speed Software Applications that Improve Law Enforcement, Community Safety
January 27th, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of NIJ Acting Director Greg Ridgeway, Ph.D.

Recently, I was pleased to be part of a discussion at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy about using open data to support the Department of Justice’s core responsibility: protecting public and officer safety.

It was part of a series of conversations that began in September 2012, when the White House held its first “Safety Datapalooza.”  At that event NIJ announced the first Justice Department Challenge, seeking innovative solutions for determining the performance of body armor.  In November we announced the winner of that challenge — the team from Purdue University’s school of Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering.

The Challenge process represents a unique approach to innovation for those of us in government, while it gives the field tremendous creative leverage to develop ideas and products to enhance our ability to meet our public service mission across the government.

The Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs has long been active in improving public access to data.  To date, OJP has released almost 700 datasets to Data.gov, covering 20 years of crime victimization statistics, 35 years of prisoner statistics, and 10 years’ worth of grant awards, among many others.  This has allowed developers and the public access to important criminal justice data in open and useable formats.

Keeping the momentum going, we issued another challenge: we’re looking for ideas for the design and creation of Ultra-High Speed Network (UHS)-compatible apps that measurably improve the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal justice and public safety services and operations. 

These could be apps that alert criminal justice and public safety agencies to threats and disasters and help avoid or mitigate the impact of those disasters.  They could be apps that provide simulation for law enforcement and first responders.  Or they could enhance training and provide new methods of analysis.

Protecting America’s law enforcement officers is one of our top priorities at the Justice Department.  Through body armor standards and testing programs, the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program and our VALOR training initiative, we’ve devoted substantial resources to keeping our law enforcement officers safe.

But we’re always looking for ways to do an even better job of protecting officers.  Our task is how to deliver the rich supply of data available to support public and officer safety quickly and in a manner that improves service delivery.

Until now, we’ve been limited by Web-based technology pipelines, which are subject to buffering and other delays and restrict the amount of data that can be transmitted.  The expansion of UHS networks gives us increased opportunities for the development of “disruptive” criminal justice apps – apps that actually change the way services and information are delivered to criminal justice and other public safety practitioners. 

New UHS apps have the potential to provide ubiquitous, real-time, individually tailored information and decision support for criminal justice and public safety practitioners in rapidly evolving emergency situations.  Some of these changes have already taken place in citywide and local networks in the US, where they have given startups and students  the same opportunity as industry and researchers to develop, test and deploy next-generation apps and services. 

The Challenge is open to everyone who has ideas about ways to use ultra-high-speed apps to keep law enforcement and communities safer. Please accept this Challenge, and create innovative software applications that employ freely available government data to advance public safety.

Learn more about the UHS Challenge, including deadlines and announcement dates.

Training Law Enforcement to Respond to Active Shooters
October 31st, 2013 Posted by

Tragic events such as the September 2013 mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard and last year’s mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, have continued to increase the demand for training that shows law enforcement how to best respond to active shooter situations. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the FBI have partnered with Texas State University to expedite and increase the delivery of this critical training to state and local law enforcement throughout our country.

At the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University, officers receive critical active shooter response training to effectively and safely respond to an active shooter event. The ALERRT curriculum is dynamic force-on-force, scenario-based training. It has been adopted by the FBI as the national training standard for active shooter response, and has been provided to more than 40,000 police officers nationwide.

As Attorney General Eric Holder commented in his remarks earlier this month to the International Association of Chiefs of Police:

“The reality is that police don’t always have the luxury of time to get their most highly-trained, best-equipped officers on the scene. To save lives, the first officers to arrive must sometimes be the ones to directly engage an active shooter. That’s why all law enforcement officers must have the best equipment and most up-to-date training to confront these situations. We owe these officers nothing less.”

The training and support provided at the ALERRT Center is a critical component of the VALOR initiative, a response to the increase in assaults and violence against law enforcement. ALERRT training is designed to help prevent violence against law enforcement and ensure officer resilience and survivability. Watch this video http://youtu.be/sJ2ZtegiRp4 to see what people are saying about ALERRT training and the difference it’s making in preparing our first responders for tomorrow’s challenges.

The Third Annual Summit on Preventing Youth Violence
September 27th, 2013 Posted by

Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason

For the past two days an extraordinary group of people gathered to understand and to develop strategies to address a serious and complicated problem: the surge in violence committed by and – perhaps more troubling – against our young people.

The impact of this violence is greater than it appears on the surface. We can see the immediate physical damage it does, and we know it causes emotional trauma in the kids it touches. But we don’t always appreciate the full toll it takes on a child’s body and mind and on the families and communities he or she belongs to. A growing body of research in developmental psychology and neuroscience is showing us that trauma does great harm to the brain and can have life-long consequences. But there is good news, too. Just as research is showing us the extent of the negative effects of violence, it is also shedding new light on what we can do to counter those effects.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Munoz stressed the Administration’s commitment to this crucial issue as they opened the third annual Summit on Preventing Youth Violence, where mayors, police chiefs and youth from 10 cities shared their strategies to reduce violence and gang activity and mitigate its impact on our children.

Thursday morning, youth leaders told participants what they are doing in their communities to ensure brighter futures for themselves and their peers. The youth were from Chicago, Memphis, Tenn., New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Salinas and San Jose, Calif., the communities involved in the Administration’s violence prevention initiatives, including the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, Defending Childhood, Community-Based Violence Prevention and Striving To Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE).

Later, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary led mayors and other city leaders from Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Salinas and San Jose in a discussion about putting and keeping in place a comprehensive plan to address youth violence. The officials described how they align this work with other federal initiatives and how federal efforts are helping them achieve success and confront remaining challenges.

No discussion of a public safety issue can take place without considering the role of the media. What makes the news? What are people talking about on television and in print and social media? Why does it matter? A panel of journalists and youth leaders tackled these questions and more as they discussed how media coverage of youth violence affects the community’s response – and how the media can be utilized to build support for prevention and promote positive social change in a community.

Other workshops and panels during the two-day meeting addressed such issues as faith-based and law enforcement partnerships, street outreach programs like Cure Violence and CeaseFire, the essential need for public/private partnerships and more. Near the end of the summit, an interactive panel discussion helped participants understand trauma’s impact on child and adolescent development. A trauma-informed approach to violence holds tremendous promise because it focuses our collective efforts on a major root cause of violence and clearly outlines when and how we can respond to get young people off the path of poor choices and self-destructive behaviors.

The exhaustive examination of the problem of youth violence from so many angles left all participants with a renewed sense of purpose, and belief that, collectively, we are on the right path towards removing this social scourge from our communities.

The author is the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs of the Department of Justice

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