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U.S. Attorney looks to support, work with local law enforcement | Local News

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Meet Cindy Chung

Cindy Chung, 46, was sworn in Nov. 23 as the 59th United States Attorney for the Western Dis…

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Cindy Chung is just over three months into her role as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

But while her job description may be new, the challenges of her office — which covers the 25 westernmost Pennsylvania counties, including Lawrence — are not.

Drug trafficking, of course, is high on the list.

Chung, 46, who was nominated by President Joe Biden last fall and confirmed by the Senate in late November, made a visit to New Castle on Thursday, along with members of her staff to meet with local law enforcement, the district attorney, county commissioners and common plea court judges, as well as to tour Arise.

“We do a lot of drug trafficking cases, opiates and now meth,” she said. “When I started with our office in 2014, meth was not really a problem. But we are really seeing not only an increase in meth trafficking, methamphetamines, but a much purer kind than what we used to see.”

It’s these types of cases, she said, when her office and local law enforcement often link arms.

“The cooperation has been ongoing for many years,” she said. “I think it has stepped up in the last few years. Around two decades ago, the FBI had a residential office here (in New Castle). It was re-established about three years ago, and there is an ongoing federal presence here with the FBI office.

“And we actually have a dedicated (assistant United States attorney) here in Lawrence County at the FBI office. He’s done a lot of good work.”

Just last year, she said, then-acting U.S. Attorney Steven Kauffman (now executive assistant U.S. attorney) worked with Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa on a 25-defendant wiretap drug takedown.

“Those are the types of cases that often go federal, these large-scale drug trafficking organizations,” Chung said. “They often start with local officers identifying people, then working together to get higher and higher up the chain in the drug organization.”

Still, drugs aren’t her only problem. Violence also commands her office’s attention, and indeed, Mike Warfield noted, the two issues are related.

Warfield is a retired Pennsylvania State Trooper who was based in Lawrence County and who worked closely with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. After retiring, he worked in Lamancusa’s office as an investigator before taking his current role as law enforcement coordinator with the U.S. Attorney’s Western District Office. He is also the current Aliquippa High School football coach.

Lawrence County, he said, is “similar to a lot of areas throughout our district. We’ve seen the increase in drug activity, which causes the increase in violence. I think that’s one thing Cindy and the staff want to make these smaller counties aware of, that our office is here and we’ll be here to help.

“A lot of times in the past, people might have had that persona of the federal government coming in and taking cases. But I truly believe that Cindy and the office really care about the outlying communities and want those people to know that we’re here to assist, not just periodically, but the whole year.”

And while a violent crime might not routinely rise to the level of federal crime, Chung says her office can still help local law enforcement deal with it.

“We can bring a firearm charge in a shooting,” she said. “If there’s a shooting or a murder, and none of the witnesses want to cooperate, but we can trace the firearm to a person, and we can actually say that the shooter had the firearm, then we can bring that case federally, because often that person is prohibited from having a firearm.

“Once they’re detained federally, that can do a lot to make the witnesses feel less afraid of cooperating with state cases, and that can help the state make the shooting or murder case. Or sometimes it’s because a different person who knows about it will then choose to cooperate against the shooters. We can help violence by that.”

Thursday’s visit by Chung and her staff also included a visit to Arise, at which domestic violence and human trafficking are among the top concerns.

“I think it would surprise people to hear that there is also an avenue for federal prosecution in domestic violence,” Chung said. “A lot of times, firearms are used in those crimes, and a lot of times, people should not have those firearms, so we can take a firearm case in those instances, which I think often makes victims feel more comfortable.

“That’s not the type of case where the victim has to testify. That’s really a law enforcement officer who recovered the firearm testifying that they recovered it. So that’s a good way to address that without the victim having to appear in court or to be blamed by her abuser.”

Cybercrime, another priority with the U.S. Attorney’s office, might also tie into a case of domestic violence.

“The use of computers and wireless technology to cyberstalk victims, or harass them, or threaten them, those are federal crimes that we sometimes take because our local law enforcement will say that this is a very dangerous abuser, who the victim is afraid of, the victim is afraid to testify against,” she said. “Well, if all those were done with a computer or the internet or the telephone, we can often charge that either as an interstate threat case, even though it’s intrastate, or a cyberstalking.”

Still, while the U.S. attorney’s office prosecutes matters on behind of the United States and its agencies, putting people in jail is not its only purpose.

“Another part of what we’re doing today is also meeting with the reentry services that are available here,” Troy Rivetti, First Assistant U.S. Attorney, said of the team’s visit. “One of the important messages that our U.S. Attorney is trying to get out there, in terms of addressing the crime problem, we also want to amplify those voices with an understanding that it’s not just arresting people, it’s addressing the whole community problem and supporting the services that are there, so that people understand the opportunities available to them.”

Chung echoed that statement.

“It’s definitely a priority for us to recognize that there is no way to prosecute your way out of crime,” she said. “That’s obviously a very important part and what we mostly do, but we want to really support efforts to make sure that it doesn’t happen.

“In Pittsburgh, we have a lot of disruption on the community level, to disrupt the violence before it even occurs. Also there is the re-entry, that we hope people don’t re-offend by highlighting the opportunities and providing the services people need to re-enter, because it can be tough.”

d_irwin@ncnewsonline.com



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