Friday, January 22, 2021
Friday, January 22, 2021

U.S. Attorney William McSwain Resigns

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Philadelphia’s top cop has resigned, Your Content is first to report.

United States Attorney William M. McSwain, who has served as the chief federal law enforcement officer in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (EDPA) since April 6, 2018, will step down on January 22, 2021.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the EDPA is one of the largest U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the country, serving a population of nearly six million in Philadelphia and its eight surrounding counties.  U.S. Attorneys are Presidentially appointed and Senate confirmed officers; this resignation is a normal part of the transition from the Trump to the Biden Administrations.  Mr. McSwain will be returning to private law practice in Philadelphia.  Jennifer Arbittier Williams, who has served as the First Assistant U.S. Attorney during Mr. McSwain’s tenure, will become the Acting U.S. Attorney upon his departure. 

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“I want to thank President Trump for appointing me as U.S. Attorney, Senators Toomey and Casey for recommending me for the position, and Attorneys General Barr and Sessions for leading the Department of Justice during my service.  I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to serve as U.S. Attorney in the District in which I have lived most of my life, in the City in which I was born, and in the Office where I learned to be a trial lawyer as an Assistant U.S. Attorney,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain.  “My overriding focus as U.S. Attorney was on pursuing justice in order to protect the community.  I gave this job all that I had – all day, every day.  While we’ve had many significant accomplishments during my tenure, the credit for these successes belongs to the hardworking, dedicated professionals at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners.  For an attorney, there is no greater professional privilege than to represent the United States of America.  I will miss it dearly.”

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Below is a brief synopsis of some of the achievements of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during Mr. McSwain’s period of service.

Office Productivity and New Initiatives

In 2019, the first full fiscal year of U.S. Attorney McSwain’s tenure, the Criminal Division indicted 669 cases, a 40% increase from the previous year and the highest number of cases charged by the Office in a decade.  Similarly, the number of defendants indicted in 2019 – another measure of Office productivity and case complexity – saw a dramatic increase.  The Office charged 894 defendants in 2019, up from 599 in 2018, a 49% increase.  These effects were felt across the board in all of the Office’s criminal units:  the violent crime, narcotics, economic crime, government fraud, corruption, and national security units all logged significant increases in the number of cases and defendants charged.

Similarly, the Civil Division in 2019 opened a record number of False Claims Act investigations, which are designed to recover money on behalf of the U.S. government and taxpayers when they have been victims of fraud, and Controlled Substances Act investigations.  The same year, the Civil Division achieved a record number of affirmative civil enforcement resolutions, recovering approximately $125 million from companies and individuals that were under investigation for allegedly committing fraud against the United States or violating the Controlled Substances Act.

In 2020, the Office continued an aggressive pace in both criminal and civil matters, although year-to-year comparisons to 2019 are difficult to make in light of the pandemic, which caused at various times the temporary suspension of criminal grand juries and jury trials.  Still, in the past year, the Civil Division achieved nearly as many affirmative civil enforcement resolutions as it did in 2019, recovering over $200 million.  It also led a successful review under the Americans with Disabilities Act of all EDPA polling places in order to ensure equal access to voting, among other civil rights initiatives.

U.S. Attorney McSwain spearheaded the creation of several new units in the Office during his tenure.  First, the Office established a regional Health Care Fraud Strike Force, in conjunction with the Fraud Section at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., in order to pursue criminal penalties against fraudsters who steal from U.S. government health care programs.  Second, the Office established an Affirmative Civil Enforcement (ACE) Strike Force to focus on and expedite complex affirmative civil enforcement cases.  Third, the Office stood up a General Crimes unit in the Criminal Division, staffed with more junior criminal prosecutors, in order to maximize their training and development.  And fourth, U.S. Attorney McSwain established the Office of Public Affairs and External Engagement (OPAEE) in order to increase transparency and engagement with the community. 

While all areas of the Office have enjoyed increased productivity since 2018, U.S. Attorney McSwain prioritized two areas in particular – violent crime and public corruption.  Both are described more fully below.

Violent Crime

For the past three years, the Office has prioritized violent crime prosecutions throughout the entire Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  However, the deteriorating public safety conditions in Philadelphia necessitated that much of the prosecutions focused on the City, as a counterweight to the irresponsible criminal justice policies of the District Attorney’s Office that have fueled the violent crime and homicide crises in Philadelphia since early 2018.  

In 2019, the violent crime unit charged more cases than any other unit in the Office.  It charged 208 cases as compared to 136 in 2018, which is a 53% increase.  And in Philadelphia’s most dangerous neighborhoods, the prosecutions skyrocketed.  The Office focused its efforts on Project Safe Neighborhood (PSN) target districts – areas that police statistics identify as “hot spots” for violent crime and narcotics trafficking in Philadelphia.  In 2019, the violent crime unit charged 143 cases (and 195 defendants) in PSN districts as compared to 82 cases (and 92 defendants) in 2018.  That is a 72% increase in the number of cases that the Office charged federally, and a 112% increase in the number of defendants prosecuted.

Many of these cases in 2019 (and in 2020) involved situations in which the U.S. Attorney’s Office stepped in to supplant the District Attorney’s Office after the DA’s Office had mishandled the matter.  For example:

  • The Office secured a conviction and sentence of over 14 years against Jovaun Patterson, after he shot Mike Poeng, a West Philadelphia deli owner, confining him to a wheelchair.  The DA’s Office had given Patterson a plea deal that involved as little as 3 ½ years in prison.
  • The Office charged Khalif Tuggle with the brutal carjacking murder of Thomas Pedersen, which carries a potential life sentence.  The DA’s Office had agreed not to prosecute Tuggle for either first- or second-degree murder, thus eliminating the possibility of a life sentence and making him eligible for parole in only 10 years.
  • The Office charged John Kane, who had previously been convicted of two homicides, with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon after a firearm was allegedly found on him during a traffic stop.  The DA’s Office had voluntarily dismissed all charges against Kane stemming from the traffic stop.
  • The Office charged Hassan Elliott, Bilal Mitchell, Khalif Sears and Sherman Easterling with the murder of Philadelphia Police Sergeant James O’Connor, who was killed while serving a warrant with his SWAT unit.  The federal charges make Elliott eligible for the death penalty.  The irresponsible charging and bail policies of the DA’s Office had put Elliott on the street in the first place, enabling him allegedly to shoot Sergeant O’Connor.

Furthermore, as part of its anti-violence efforts, the Office also aggressively prosecuted narcotics cases – as drug trafficking and drug gangs are often the root of violence in the community.  In June 2019, the Office executed one of the largest drug busts in U.S. history, seizing the massive cargo vessel MSC Gayane, which had over 20 tons of cocaine hidden on it.  And in February 2019, in response to Philadelphia’s plans to open the nation’s first ever supervised heroin injection site, the Office filed a civil lawsuit to prevent its opening.  The lawsuit asked the court to declare that the site would violate federal drug laws and argued that such sites would normalize heroin use, thereby exacerbating Philadelphia’s drug and opioid crisis.  U.S. Attorney McSwain personally argued the case in November 2020 in front of a three-Judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  Earlier this week, the Third Circuit ruled in the Government’s favor, holding that it is a federal crime to open a supervised injection site for illegal drug use.

Public Corruption

U.S. Attorney McSwain has prioritized the fight against public corruption, which erodes the public’s trust in its elected officials and government.  During the past three years, the Office has brought charges for corruption and/or fraud and embezzlement against dozens of elected officials, public office holders and public employees. 

Examples include: John Dougherty, the Business Manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Robert Henon, Philadelphia City Council Member; Kenyatta Johnson, Philadelphia City Council Member, and his wife, Dawn Chavous; Christian Dunbar, Philadelphia City Treasurer; Leo Dignam, Assistant Philadelphia Managing Director; Jeffrey Blackwell, an employee in the Philadelphia City Controller’s Office; and Jarredd McQueen, Demarys Natal and Nicole Mixon, employees in the Philadelphia Revenue Department.  The Office also brought corruption charges against Philadelphia-area political consultant Kenneth Smukler; and election fraud charges against former U.S. Congressman Ozzie Myers of South Philadelphia.

Additionally, the Office obtained significant prison sentences for corruption offenses committed by Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski (15 years); Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer (8 years); Bucks County Magisterial District Judge John Waltman (6 ½ years); Philadelphia Sheriff John Green (5 years); Philadelphia-area educational consultant David Shulick (5 years); and Allentown-area political consultant Michael Fleck (5 years). The Office obtained a re-sentencing of 10 years in prison for corruption offenses committed by U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah. Finally, the Office secured the conviction and/or sentencing of several law enforcement officers, including Philadelphia Police Officers Stanley Davis, Brian O’Neill and Brian Smith.

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