Federal Prosecutors And Investigative Agencies

Below is a brief introduction to the law enforcement and support agencies that investigate and prosecute federal criminal activity in the D.C. federal court system. To learn more about federal charges and how they are prosecuted, consult with a DC federal criminal lawyer today.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) – This department oversees all criminal investigations and prosecutions for federal crimes.

The High Technology Investigative Unit (HTIU) is an investigative office within DOJ proper – as opposed to one of the department’s investigative bureaus.  It serves as DOJ’s lead computer forensics investigation arm. HTIU lends major support to a variety of high-tech crimes, including child pornography, identity theft, and white-collar crimes.  It also assists the Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service, and the Internal Revenue Service in their investigations.

HTIU also serves as a liaison between other bureaus’ criminal forensic arms (FBI, DEA, etc.) and DOJ decision makers.

This enables DOJ and its enforcement agencies to more efficiently manage many multi-jurisdictional investigative units. These units are comprised of federal, state, regional, and local investigations regarding violations of federal drug, pornography, fraud, immigration, weapons, and homeland security laws.

Prosecutions are conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s office within each federal jurisdiction.  The DOJ can exercise its authority to become the lead prosecutor in any local or state case where federal laws have been violated.  The United States Attorney for the District of Columbia is responsible for overseeing the prosecution of both federal and local crimes within the District of Columbia.  The Acting United States Attorney for DC is Vincent H. Cohen, Jr.

The DOJ contains many investigative units covering a wide range of federal offenses. All of the following federal investigative units – unless otherwise noted – are administered by DOJ’s Criminal Division.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – This federal law enforcement arm supports law enforcement efforts throughout the country. It works in conjunction with many other DOJ investigative and enforcement agencies to handle federal drug, pornography, fraud, immigration, kidnapping, and weapons violations.  The FBI also works with many foreign governments and INTERPOL to pursue criminals threatening American citizens or participating in crimes on foreign shores.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) – This unit investigates and enforces all federal drug laws and regulations.  It often works with other federal law enforcement units, such as the FBI, U.S. Customs, the IRS, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and other federal, state, and municipal investigative units handling crimes with a federal offense or interstate component.  It also supports many state and local criminal investigations when requested.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) – This agency investigates federal weapons violations.  It also works with the FBI, DEA, and Homeland Security’s Customs and Immigration division in cases with federal weapons trafficking components, such as human trafficking, federal prostitution, drug trafficking, or criminal conspiracies.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – This government agency is the lead investigative unit for all federal tax violations.  It also investigates many white-collar crimes—including a variety of frauds and federal criminal conspiracies of all types, because tax violations often lead to prosecutions for other federal (and state) crimes. The IRS often works with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on bank, mortgage, and securities fraud investigations. Federal tax violators are prosecuted through DOJ’s Tax Division.

The U.S. Secret Service (USS) – This agency investigates federal financial crimes such as identity theft, computer fraud, forgery, money laundering, and certain aspects of the Federal Asset Forfeiture program. It also investigates threats that are made against the safety of members of the federal executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The Secret Service works with virtually every DOJ investigative agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) – This federal agency regulates and enforces our nation’s investment security laws along with all traditional investment markets and exchanges—including U.S. chartered electronic securities markets and exchanges. It works with many of its fellow federal investigative bureaus to pursue white-collar criminal suspects.  Prosecutions can be handled by both the DOJ’s Criminal and Civil Divisions.

The Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigates all domestic threats to national security. It also collaborates with law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. and the world to target foreign threats. As an outgrowth of the War on Terror, DHS can become the lead investigative unit in any federal or state case if the criminal actions are believed to pose a danger to the welfare of the nation.

The DHS also pursues all forms of child predation and pornography through its Operation Predator campaign, run by DHS’ autonomous Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) unit (formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)), which became a part of DHS in 2002.  Two sub-agencies were created at that time.  They are:

  • The U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which handles immigration issues and investigations at our national borders
  • The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which performs the same functions within U.S. borders

Both sub-agencies work closely with the FBI and other investigative bureaus on a variety of immigration-related offenses that involve prostitution, child pornography, and human trafficking.  These investigations are conducted through the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and its Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS).

The DOJ’s HTIU also gathers and analyzes Internet child pornography traffic and searches for evidence of possession and/or distribution of child pornography. Though CEOS and HTIU units are administered internally, they often work closely with FBI technology investigative units, other federal law enforcement agencies, specialized multi-jurisdictional task forces, and local law enforcement in pursuit of child pornographers. The DOJ’s Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART) division also manages the National Sex Offender Registry and prosecutes those offenders who violate the conditions of their registration.

To that end, DOJ also leads the following multi-jurisdictional investigative units in the D.C. Metro area:

  • The Northern Virginia/District of Columbia Internet Crimes against Children Task Force is composed of many municipal and county law enforcement agencies, in addition to appropriate federal investigative units. It is one of 46 cooperative law enforcement organizations throughout the U.S. that pool their resources to more effectively pursue and convict child pornography. In Virginia, it is a prominent beneficiary of DCJ grant funds.
  • The Maryland/DC Internet Crimes against Children Task Force is comprised of the same federal criminal bureaus and 35 law enforcement agencies from around the state, including the Maryland State Police’s Computer Crimes Division. This group focuses on investigating reports of child sexual exploitation and pornography. It works in conjunction with appropriate federal agencies and is funded by federal, state, and local funds and grant monies.

Federal and multi-jurisdictional child pornography investigations are also supplemented by the efforts of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).  This private non-profit organization was created in 1984 by congressional act in response to the growth of child abductions and murders in the early 1980s.  It draws its funds from DOJ, corporate and private contributions, and various anti-crime grants.  NCMEC’s information database serves as a clearinghouse and education source for parents, children, law enforcement agencies, schools, and communities.  It also raises public awareness about the prevention of abductions, sexual abuse, and pornography of children. It also coordinates its investigative efforts with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.

Federal Multi-Jurisdictional Investigations of Identity Theft and Fraud Are Also On The Rise

Though it is primarily an outgrowth of the U.S. Secret Service, other federal agencies – most prominently, the FBI – are increasingly turning their investigative efforts towards identity theft and fraud crimes. The Washington D.C. Metro Electronic Crimes Task Force (ECTF) is a multi-jurisdictional organization that is composed of D.C. law enforcement and state enforcement agencies in Virginia and Maryland that investigate computer crimes involving identity theft and fraud. It is funded by federal, municipal, and state budgets.