MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota’s new chief federal prosecutor said Wednesday he’s launching initiatives to combat human trafficking, heroin, fraud, violent crime and identity theft, and he’s already reaching out to local authorities statewide for their ideas.
It’s an ambitious agenda for U.S. Attorney Andy Luger, who was sworn in Feb. 14. He filled a post last held by B. Todd Jones, who juggled dual roles for two years as U.S. attorney in Minneapolis and acting head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Washington, until the Senate finally confirmed him as director last July. Jones’ critics, including a former head of the Minneapolis FBI office, complained that he was reluctant to prosecute violent gang, drug and gun crimes, leaving the problems to local authorities to solve — a charge Jones’ supporters disputed.
Luger had only praise for Jones. “He was asked to do two very difficult jobs at the same time, and he did them extremely well,” he said.
But Luger said in an interview with The Associated Press that he prepared himself to assume the job by seeking out the opinions of law enforcement leaders from across Minnesota, and a wide variety of other people, who helped inform his vision for the office.
Luger, 54, served as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York and Minnesota from 1989 to 1995 before going into private practice. He said his plan for a renewed emphasis on human trafficking is one initiative that came from his dialogue with law enforcement.
“There’s a real role for the federal government to play and for federal prosecutors to play in combatting both labor trafficking and sex trafficking in Minnesota,” he said.
And as cheap, high-purity heroin increasingly flows into the state, Luger said, his office will work closely with local prosecutors to try to prevent it from becoming as bad a problem in Minnesota as it has been elsewhere.
“Unfortunately, what we learned from other areas of the country is that once it really takes hold it’s very hard to uproot,” he said.
Another priority will be investment fraud, he said, saying he will focus on “these run-of-the-mill investment advisers who defraud 20, 30 people at a time out of their life savings by promising to invest their money wisely and then they essentially spend it on themselves.”
He said it’s rampant in Minnesota and heartbreaking to investigate. Quick prosecutions of these “con men in disguise” might not recover money that’s already gone, he acknowledged, but it will send them to prison.
Luger also pledged to use the resources of his office “to combat violent crime wherever we find it.” He said his prosecutors are working with local, state and federal anti-gang investigators, and he plans stepped up efforts against violent crime in Indian Country.
Identity theft is “quickly becoming the new wave of organized crime,” he said. While it’s time consuming and labor intensive to investigate organizations that traffic in stolen identity and bank account information, he said, his office will be dedicated to fighting them.
To advance those initiatives, Luger has assembled a mostly new leadership team and put veteran prosecutors in charge of his key priorities. For example, he said, the new chief of his criminal division, Tracy Perzel, has been an assistant county attorney, an assistant attorney general and an assistant U.S. attorney.
“She knows and understands how local, state and federal prosecutors can best work together, because she’s done it,” he said.
Luger said he plans to visit Duluth, St. Cloud and Rochester in the coming weeks and to travel to every Indian reservation in Minnesota “for a frank and fair dialogue about how this office can assist each community address their most serious criminal justice issues.”
He said he also plans meetings with leaders from a number of ethnic and other communities “so that they know who I am, that they know what I stand for.”
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