Federal focus on immigration may be good news for other criminal - News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

Federal focus on immigration may be good news for other criminals

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona prosecuted 18,724 criminal cases last year. Of those cases, 15,528 were immigration-related. (Source: CBS 5) The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona prosecuted 18,724 criminal cases last year. Of those cases, 15,528 were immigration-related. (Source: CBS 5)
Local and federal law enforcement officials who spoke to CBS 5 Investigates say they are frustrated by how difficult it can be to get federal prosecutors to take their cases. (Source: CBS 5) Local and federal law enforcement officials who spoke to CBS 5 Investigates say they are frustrated by how difficult it can be to get federal prosecutors to take their cases. (Source: CBS 5)
“The number of immigration cases is clearly driving the lack of resources to do other important cases,” said Paul Charlton, who is the former U.S. Attorney for Arizona. (Source: CBS 5) “The number of immigration cases is clearly driving the lack of resources to do other important cases,” said Paul Charlton, who is the former U.S. Attorney for Arizona. (Source: CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona prosecuted more cases than any other U.S. Attorney’s Office in the country last year.

But the office also declined to prosecute more cases than any other U.S. Attorney’s Office, according to data provided by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, with Syracuse University.

According to the data, the Arizona office prosecuted 18,724 criminal cases last year. Of those cases, 15,528 were immigration-related. And while the office declined prosecution in just 3 percent of the immigration cases forwarded by federal agents, the declination rate for cases forwarded by other federal law enforcement agencies was much higher.

TRAC data show prosecutors rejected 35 percent of the cases forwarded by the ATF, 41 percent of the cases forwarded by the DEA and 44 percent of the cases forwarded by the FBI.

[SPECIAL SECTION: CBS 5 Investigates]

Local and federal law enforcement officials who spoke to CBS 5 Investigates say they are frustrated by how difficult it can be to get federal prosecutors to take their cases. Some believe the declination rate is so because federal prosecutors in Arizona are ordered to take so many immigration cases.

“The number of immigration cases is clearly driving the lack of resources to do other important cases,” said Paul Charlton, who is the former U.S. Attorney for Arizona. “And you can name any number of other crimes that would be included in ‘other important cases’ - public corruption, child sex abuse cases,” he said.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is committed to the pursuit of all readily-provable cases that are presented for prosecution,” wrote Cosme Lopez, who is a spokesman for the office, in an emailed response to questions sent by CBS 5 Investigates. “We are currently emphasizing the prosecution of all readily-provable immigration offenses, but not to the exclusion of our other prosecution priorities,” he wrote.

Lopez wrote that he strongly disagrees with the premise that the office has a high declination rate, or that any declinations are caused by a focus on immigration.

The email stated that Lopez suspects the conclusions are based on “erroneous assumptions that are embedded in the particular statistical database” CBS 5 Investigates used for this story.

TRAC is a program connected to Syracuse University, which uses the Freedom of Information Act to collect data on federal law enforcement and judicial proceedings.

The organization website states, “The purpose of TRAC is to provide the American people — and institutions of oversight such as Congress, news organizations, public interest groups, businesses, scholars and lawyers — with comprehensive information about staffing, spending, and enforcement activities of the federal government.”

Last month, TRAC released a report that showed federal prosecutions for white-collar crimes had dropped to a 20-year low. Last week, the organization released another report that stated prosecutions of illegal border crossers had jumped 60 percent since January.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a formal policy to charge every illegal border crosser with a federal crime. Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen traveled to Nogales, Arizona and made a similar pledge.

[READ MORE: Sessions orders 'zero tolerance' policy for border crossers]

“We will refer every criminal border crosser to the Department of Justice for prosecution,” Nielsen said.

But Charlton, who was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona by President George W. Bush, says that mandating zero-tolerance policies in one area always lead to deficiencies in other areas.

“If you’re going to say we are going to dedicate more resources toward misdemeanor immigration cases, we’re going to own the fact that we are no longer going after, to the highest degree possible, felony public corruption cases, felony homicides, felony child sex abuse cases,” Charlton said.

A review of TRAC data shows federal prosecutors in Arizona have declined to prosecute nearly 600 cases so far this year, from agencies ranging from the FBI and Secret Service to Customs and Border Protection and the National Park Service.

[RELATED: Sessions: Zero-tolerance policy may split families at border]

Despite the fact that the District of Arizona prosecutes more cases than any other district in the country, the Arizona office has no acting or appointed U.S. Attorney. In fact, Arizona is the only district without an acting or appointed U.S. Attorney, which means most major cases, prosecutions or priority decisions come from Washington.

“The decision whether and when to appoint a new U.S. Attorney is the prerogative of the Administration. In the interim, our office continues to faithfully implement the Department of Justice’s enforcement policies and priorities as to immigration, violent crime, national security, health care fraud, financial fraud and illegal drugs,” wrote Lopez in the email to CBS 5 Investigates.

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Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards, two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award, and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. In October 2016, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School at Purdue University Global. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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