Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Department of Justice Honors O’Brien, 11 Others
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California announced yesterday that two of its members received the Justice Department’s highest award, and that 10 others were honored at the department’s 55th Annual Awards Ceremony held yesterday at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.
Acting Attorney General Peter D. Keisler and Acting Deputy Attorney General Craig S. Morford presented the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas P. O’Brien and Alexander A. Bustamante for their roles in successfully prosecuting four gang members who conspired to assault and murder African-Americans in the Highland Park neighborhood.
The award is given to recognize an extraordinary act of courage and voluntary risk of life during the performance of official duties.
O’Brien, chief of the office’s Criminal Division and the president’s nominee to replace U.S. Attorney George S. Cardona, obtained the indictment against the members of the Avenues gang. Bustamante, along with a Justice Department trial attorney, secured the gang members’ conviction.
Special Agent Jerry E. Fradella of the Los Angeles Field Office of the FBI also received the award for his role in the case.
Each gang member was sentenced to life in prison without parole, and the case marked the first time that federal hate crime statutes have been used to prosecute racial violence carried out by members of a street gang, the office said.
The department also awarded five prosecutors from Los Angeles and from the Orange County branch office the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service—the department’s second-highest award for employee performance—for their roles in the ongoing prosecution of members of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark R. Aveis, Joey L. Blanch, Mark Childs, Terri K. Flynn and Stephen G. Wolfe were honored for their work on what the office said is believed to be the largest racketeering case in terms of number of defendants ever brought in the United States. Approximately 30 members of the gang have been convicted so far, the office said.
Special Agent Michael T. Halualani of the Los Angeles field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was similarly honored for his role in the case.
The department also gave the distinguished service award to Assistant U.S. Attorney Dorothy C. Kim for her work on a team that obtained the largest-ever criminal penalty in a case involving deliberate pollution from ships. Overseas Shipholding Group paid $37 million for discharging polluted waters from several of its cargo ships, the office said.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gary Plessman, David K. Barrett and Cathy J. Ostiller, along with auditor Jeffrey A. McVicker, all members of the office’s Civil Fraud Section, received the Attorney General’s Award for Fraud Prevention for their work on a case that led Tenet Healthcare to pay $900 million to settle allegations that it overbilled the Medicare program.
The fraud-prevention award is given to those who demonstrate exceptional dedication and effort to prevent, investigate and prosecute fraud.
Cardona, who has been filling in as U.S. attorney since Debra Wong Yang resigned last year to join Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, commented that the large number of recipients in the office demonstrated the high quality of work being done by every attorney and member of its staff.
“The members of this U.S. Attorney’s Office, which serves more residents than any other office, have consistently dedicated the extraordinary time and effort required to pursue the biggest and most challenging cases,” he said.
The 12 local award recipients were among 191 department employees and 26 other individuals honored at the ceremony.
Commenting on the honorees, Keisler said:
“Today’s award recipients are extraordinarily dedicated and talented men and women. They’ve made incredible sacrifices, and achieved great successes, working on the front lines of the Justice Department on behalf of the American people. I’m proud to have them as my colleagues as we work to advance the Department’s mission.”
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company