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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

MD Federal Prosecutor Recommits to Fighting Violent Crime

U.S. attorney renewing commitment to fighting violent crime

The Associated Press, Jan. 3, 2006


Maryland's top federal prosecutor is recommitting his office to fighting violent crime, and he plans to expand the office and reorganize his staff.

U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said he would start this month by restructuring his criminal division as part of an effort to coordinate better with local and federal law enforcement agents.

"It's a question of accountability," Rosenstein told The (Baltimore) Sun.

Rosenstein said he has no intention of scaling back the office's efforts to root out corruption in public life, which was the top priority of his predecessor, Thomas DiBiagio.

But he added: "Violent crime remains one of my top priorities."

Starting this year, federal prosecutors handling criminal cases in Baltimore will be required to focus on either terrorism and national security, fraud and public corruption, violent crime, drugs or major crimes _ a catchall designation including civil rights violations and child pornography. They'll be expected to stay in their respective areas for at least two years, Rosenstein said.

The division's managers have all been asked to reapply for their jobs.

Rosenstein said he expected to have four new federal prosecutors working in the office by early 2006. During the last fiscal year, ending in September, there were 565 criminal cases, up from 490 cases the previous year.

Other new staff members include an investigator for financial crimes and a specialist in asset forfeiture.

The moves come five months into Rosenstein's tenure. His staff describes him as a genial and intense leader known for his thoroughness and prolific e-mails.

"He's a very proactive person, wanting to know how things work here and what he needs to do," Clerk of the Court Felicia C. Cannon said. "He's just a good guy."

The office has scored several high-profile indictments and convictions under Rosenstein. Thomas Bromwell, a Democratic former state senator from Baltimore County, has been charged with accepting bribes from a construction company president vying for millions of dollars worth of state contracts. Prosecutors also targeted Bromwell's wife, Mary Pat, and former Poole and Kent Co. president W. David Stoffregen.

In addition, seven people have either been convicted by jury or pleaded guilty to trying to kill a North Baltimore activist because she reported their drug dealing to police. Large-scale indictments of criminal organizations included the case in Greenbelt against 19 suspected members of the gang MS-13.

There have been setbacks. Rosenstein and Mayor Martin O'Malley had planned for the city to give $200,000 directly to federal prosecutors to go after criminals who use firearms to commit crimes. But Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy threatened to recall a city prosecutor assigned to the U.S. attorney's office, and the plan was abandoned.

Rosenstein said he and the mayor are working on a new gun-prosecution strategy expected to be formally announced early this year.

James Wyda, the federal public defender for Maryland, praised Rosenstein for his new hires and complimented the quality of his staff. But Wyda said Rosenstein would be judged, in part, on how he handles the substantial number of capital murder cases that have been transferred into the federal system in Maryland.

"There are pretty routine state murder cases and by bringing those cases into the federal system, you start the whole death penalty machinery, which seems inconsistent with the way most people in Maryland feel," Wyda said. "Rod hasn't had an impact on that, but I'm anxious to see what happens in the future."