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There have probably been lots of times in the last four years that Vince Gray wished U.S. Attorney Ron Machen would resign. But the news today that Machen will leave his job as the District’s top prosecutor—-and his unofficial position as Gray’s archenemy—-at the end of the month leaves the Gray investigation unresolved.
Citing his more than five years in office, Machen says in a statement that he’s returning to private practice. For now, he’ll be replaced as U.S. Attorney by Vinnie Cohen Jr., who acted as Machen’s lieutenant in prosecutions against District officials.
Machen leaves office with three councilmembers taken down under his term, along with, as he notes in his press release, ex-Councilmember Jim Graham‘s chief of staff, Ted Loza. More than four years after the Gray investigation began, Machen has managed to secure guilty pleas from scores of people associated with Gray’s 2010 run and financier Jeff Thompson, but he still hasn’t charged the ex-mayor. Machen doesn’t name Gray in his goodbye press release, but he does refer to the “ongoing” federal investigation.
Chuck Thies, who managed Gray’s failed 2014 re-election bid, blamed the loss on Thompson’s guilty plea, which came less than a month before the primary. After securing a cozy cooperation deal with prosecutors, Thompson—-who pleaded guilty not just to masterminding the 2010 shadow campaign, but for several other local and federal election schemes—-could serve just six months under house arrest.
“If anyone in Washington, D.C., ever stole an election, it’s not Vince Gray,” Thies says. “It’s Ron Machen, and he stole the election of 2014. Now he’s going to ride into the sunset. Well, good riddance.”
Gray attorney Bob Bennett insists that Gray, who reportedly rejected a plea offer in September, is innocent of his alleged campaign crimes: “I would hope that the US Attorney’s Office would take this occasion to finally close the investigation.”
Read Machen’s press release below:
United States Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. to Step Down
Vincent H. Cohen Jr. to Become Acting U.S. Attorney
WASHINGTON –Ronald C. Machen Jr. announced today that he is resigning as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, effective April 1, 2015, ending more than five years of leading the nation’s largest U.S. Attorney’s Office.
U.S. Attorney Machen, 45, said he intends to return to private practice. Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney Vincent H. Cohen, Jr., 44, a native Washingtonian, will become Acting U.S. Attorney when Mr. Machen leaves office.
“During more than five years as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, Ron Machen has distinguished himself as a skilled leader, a devoted public servant, and a forceful champion of justice on behalf of the American people,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Throughout his remarkable tenure, Ron has applied his boundless talent and consummate judgment to protect the safety and security of all Americans in cases involving violent crime, national security threats, and public corruption. As one of Ron’s predecessors as U.S. Attorney in Washington, I know firsthand the unique demands of leading the nation’s largest U.S. Attorney’s Office. But Ron has never been deterred by a difficult challenge, nor slowed in his pursuit of a safer, stronger Washington. I was fortunate to be able to hire Ron as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Office in 1997, and I see in him now the exceptional qualities that I saw in him then: unassailable integrity, relentless determination, and a passion for law and justice. I congratulate him on the outstanding results he has achieved as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. I thank him for his inspiring service. And I look forward to all that he will accomplish in the next stage of his already extraordinary career.”
“After more than five years as United States Attorney, it is time for me to step down,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “Serving as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia has been the highest honor of my professional career. I am tremendously grateful to the President, Attorney General Holder, and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton for placing their trust in me. The men and women of this office are among the most dedicated and talented public servants in the country. I am proud of the work we have done together to achieve justice in the courthouse and to build bonds of trust with the community that we serve. I leave this position confident that my extraordinary colleagues will continue to pursue justice and protect the residents of the District and this great nation.”
After nomination by President Obama and unanimous Senate confirmation, Mr. Machen was sworn in as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia on Feb. 18, 2010. With more than 300 attorneys, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia is the largest U.S. Attorney’s office in the country, and is unique in that it prosecutes local offenses as well as federal crimes.
Mr. Machen first joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia in January 1997. He was hired by Mr. Holder, who was then the U.S. Attorney. Mr. Machen worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the office for almost five years. In 2001, he entered private practice, where he handled white-collar criminal defense, corporate internal investigations, and civil litigation until 2010, when he became the 56th U.S. Attorney in the history of the District of Columbia. Upon resignation, he will be the longest-serving U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia in over 35 years.
During Mr. Machen’s time as U.S. Attorney, the office secured convictions of terrorists and spies who threatened national security; prosecuted corrupt public officials; successfully convicted scores of violent offenders; and secured over $2 billion in financial recoveries for American taxpayers. Mr. Machen also championed a host of initiatives, including community outreach and youth engagement; a Cold Case Unit, to investigate and prosecute older homicide cases; a Conviction Integrity Unit, to investigate claims of actual innocence; and a Cyber Unit to prosecute high-tech crimes that threaten national security, intellectual property, and personal privacy.
National Security. Over the last five years, the office has secured convictions against dozens of defendants who harmed Americans and American interests, including 13 convictions in terrorism-related cases. The office has repeatedly been called on to handle some of the Justice Department’s most sensitive and significant cases, including the current prosecution of Ahmed Abu Khatallah for his alleged participation in the 2012 attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans.
During Mr. Machen’s tenure, the office successfully prosecuted a State Department official who carried out a 30-year conspiracy to provide secrets to Cuba, as well as a government scientist who tried to sell classified information to a purported Israeli intelligence officer. The office also secured guilty pleas from four members of a Mexican drug cartel that murdered a U.S. agent in 2011. In December 2012, the office successfully prosecuted a Chinese-owned nuclear construction company, marking the first time that a People’s Republic of China corporate entity had pled guilty in a U.S. criminal export matter. In October 2014, the office obtained guilty verdicts against four former Blackwater security guards involved in the mass killing of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisur Square.
Following a special assignment from the Attorney General, Mr. Machen also led the investigation of the illegal disclosure of classified information relating to a terrorist plot by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to conduct a suicide attack on a U.S.-bound airliner. That investigation led to the successful prosecution of a former FBI analyst who received the longest prison sentence ever in a leak case in a federal court.
Public Corruption. U.S. Attorney Machen placed a high priority on investigating cases involving public corruption in both the federal and District of Columbia governments. Since 2010, the office has obtained trial convictions or guilty pleas from more than 160 defendants, making it a national leader.
During Mr. Machen’s tenure, the office secured felony guilty pleas from three sitting members of the District of Columbia Council – Harry L. Thomas Jr., Kwame Brown, and Michael A. Brown – in addition to Ted G. Loza, the Chief of Staff to a fourth member of the Council. Loza and Michael Brown were each convicted for taking cash payments from individuals seeking favorable treatment from the D.C. government. Thomas was convicted for stealing $350,000 in taxpayers’ money. Kwame Brown was convicted of bank fraud and became the first public official in D.C. history to plead guilty to a criminal campaign finance violation. Mr. Machen also led the ongoing investigation into a criminal conspiracy in the 2010 D.C. mayoral election. To date, that investigation has resulted in the felony convictions of six people associated with a 2010 mayoral campaign.
Mr. Machen also focused on corruption in the federal government. During his tenure, the office obtained convictions of 20 individuals and one company as part of an investigation into the largest domestic bribery and bid-rigging scheme in the history of federal contracting. That investigation led to the convictions of numerous corrupt public officials, executives of government contractors, and others who conspired to cheat taxpayers. The office also obtained the conviction of former Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. for conspiring to defraud his campaigns of almost $750,000 in funds that were used to pay for personal items and expenses. In addition, the office secured the conviction of former Congressman Trey Radel for cocaine possession.
Violent Crime. Over the past five years, working with the Metropolitan Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, the office has obtained convictions of over 375 murderers. The total includes five men who were found guilty by a jury of murder, conspiracy, and other charges stemming from a series of violent crimes that culminated on the night of March 30, 2010 with a deadly mass shooting on South Capitol Street. Targeting the area’s most violent offenders and networks of drug distributors, the office has obtained convictions of more than 75 members of over a dozen gangs and crews, including MS-13.
Under U.S. Attorney Machen’s leadership, the office launched a Cold Case Unit, comprised of a team of veteran prosecutors that works to investigate and prosecute older murder cases. Over the past several years, more than 20 people have been convicted in these older homicide cases, dating to the 1980s and 1990s. To assist with these and other cases, Mr. Machen appointed the office’s first Special Counsel for DNA and Forensic Litigation. In that role, an experienced prosecutor works full-time on forensic issues to ensure that the office makes use of all available technologies to solve murders and other crimes.
The office also has earned national recognition for its work with the FBI, MPD and other agencies in targeting cases involving child sex offenses and exploitation. Over 80 defendants have been convicted of such crimes over the past five years, including Eric Justin Toth, a former private school teacher and camp counselor, who was apprehended in Nicaragua in 2013 and is now serving 25 years in prison on child pornography and other charges.
Financial Recoveries. Under Mr. Machen’s leadership, the office has sharpened its focus on financial recoveries, generating nearly $2.5 billion for the federal government over the last five years through civil and criminal collections and asset forfeiture. For example, the office has obtained more than $1.5 billion in recoveries from European banks – including ABN Amro Bank, ING Bank N.V., Standard Chartered Bank, and Commerzbank AG – that have admitted moving money illegally through the U.S. financial system on behalf of sanctioned countries and entities. Reflecting the importance he places on this mission, Mr. Machen established an Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section in 2010 within the office’s Criminal Division. Similarly, as the District of Columbia has seen a growing number of qui tam lawsuits filed under the False Claims Act, Mr. Machen doubled the number of civil attorneys dedicated to filing affirmative cases on behalf of the United States to recover from those who defraud the American taxpayer. Among other successes, those civil litigators obtained a $93 million settlement with a telecommunications company that overcharged the government. Many of the cases pursued during Mr. Machen’s tenure focused on fraud on federal health care programs, including the arrests of more than 20 individuals in the largest health care fraud takedown in the history of the District of Columbia and a $34 million civil and criminal settlement with an international pharmaceutical company for off-label marketing of one of its drugs.
Community Outreach. Within the community, U.S. Attorney Machen led an expansion of the office’s outreach efforts, sponsoring youth summits, neighborhood town halls, a clergy ambassador program, domestic and senior abuse seminars, and other events designed to build bonds of trust between citizens and law enforcement. The office has been hailed as a national leader for its robust and sustained efforts to engage at-risk youth, address the root causes of crime, and enlist faith and community leaders as allies in responding to public safety challenges. Mr. Machen also focused extensive resources on re-entry programs for returning offenders, seeking to connect them with housing, employment, and other services in order to reduce recidivism and allow them to begin contributing to the community.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery