April 20, 2016 - U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner for the Eastern District of California has announced his resignation effective midnight on April 30. U.S. Attorney Wagner has served as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California for six and a half years and he served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) and Supervisory AUSA for over 17 years before that.
During his tenure as U.S. Attorney, he served for three years on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC) under Attorney General Eric Holder and was appointed to co-chair the White Collar Crime Subcommittee of the AGAC by Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. He served on numerous other AGAC subcommittees and for five years was a co-chair of the Mortgage Fraud Working Group of the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.
“Serving as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California has been the most fulfilling and exciting experience of my professional career,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “I have the greatest respect for the women and men in this office who seek to do justice each day and I am proud of all that we have been able to accomplish together.”
“Ben Wagner has served the people of the Eastern District of California with distinction for nearly a quarter of a century, spending more than 17 years as a prosecutor in the office before becoming U.S. Attorney in 2009,” said Attorney General Lynch. “Throughout his career with the Department of Justice, he has accepted a wide range of responsibilities – from coordinating his district’s anti-terrorism and hate crimes efforts to representing the department overseas as our Resident Legal Advisor in Indonesia. As U.S. Attorney, he has worked tirelessly to combat the most serious offenses, including gang violence and child exploitation. He has been a leader in the department’s outreach to Arab and Muslim Americans, helping to ensure strong relationships and defend against bigotry. He has vigorously prosecuted cases of mortgage fraud, securing record sums from banks for their role in the 2008 financial crisis. And he has provided critical insight and valuable advice as a member of my Advisory Committee, where I appointed him co-chair of the Subcommittee on White Collar Crime. I am grateful to Ben for his outstanding record of service to the Department of Justice and to the American people and I wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”
In civil and asset forfeiture cases, the Eastern District had several years of record recoveries under U.S. Attorney Wagner’s leadership. A few of the significant civil cases handled by the office over the past six years include the following:
- The recent $5.06 billion multiparty settlement with Goldman Sachs relating to the securitization and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities. The settlement included a $2.385 billion payment to the Department of Justice as a result of efforts by attorneys in the Eastern District — the largest civil recovery in the history of the district.
- The $13 billion multiparty settlement with JPMorgan Chase announced in 2013 relating to the securitization and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities. The settlement included a $2 billion payment to the Department of Justice as a result of the Eastern District’s work.
- The settlement with Sierra Pacific Industries announced in 2012, valued at approximately $122 million, relating to its role in the huge Moonlight Fire that damaged tens of thousands of acres of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land. The settlement agreement required the transfer of 22,500 acres of wilderness to the USFS in California.
- Health care fraud and false billing settlements against Adventist Health, Catholic Health Care West, Medtronic Inc., Biotronik and Quest Diagnostics, resulting in total recoveries of nearly $40 million between 2011 and 2015.
In criminal cases, the office expanded its prosecution of financial and health care fraud cases, firearms trafficking, human trafficking and child exploitation cases. In the area of narcotics enforcement, the office focused on the prosecution of high-level and violent offenders, while seeking more lenient sentences for lower-level and nonviolent offenders. A few of the significant criminal cases handled by the office include the following:
- The conviction of nearly 300 defendants in complex mortgage fraud cases, many involving schemes that fleeced homeowner victims of many millions of dollars. Sentences imposed ranged up to 30 years in prison.
- The convictions and lengthy sentences obtained in the Wannakuatte and Vassallo cases, involving the largest Ponzi schemes in the history of the district, in which investors lost about $150 million.
- The RICO conviction of Scott Salyer, CEO of SK Foods and nine other officers of food product companies in a series of prosecutions involving fraud and commercial bribery in the tomato products industry.
- The conviction of approximately 70 leaders of the hyper-violent Nuestra Familia criminal organization in a series of prosecutions in both Fresno and Sacramento. Most defendants received lengthy prisons sentences.
- The extradition and prosecution of Shiraz Malik, the leader of an international drug trafficking organization, who was based in Poland.
During U.S. Attorney Wagner’s tenure, the number of Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the Eastern District increased by over 12 percent. He established a National Security Unit within the office, created a Civil Rights/Human Trafficking Working Group, expanded the White Collar Unit in the Fresno Division and opened a new branch office in Bakersfield. He also conducted extensive outreach to underserved populations in the district, including the Muslim, Sikh, Southeast Asian and LGBT communities.
As of May 1, Phillip A. Talbert will assume leadership of the office as Acting U.S. Attorney. Talbert, who is currently the First Assistant U.S. Attorney, has had a distinguished career in more than 13 years in the office. He previously served as Appellate Chief and as a prosecutor in the Narcotics and Violent Crime Unit and served in the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility before coming to the Eastern District of California. Before joining the Department of Justice, he was in private practice. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the UCLA School of Law.
As a supervisor and line prosecutor in the office before becoming U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney Wagner worked in all three units of the criminal division and prosecuted a wide range of cases, including investment fraud, tax evasion, violent crime, public corruption, money laundering, domestic terrorism, and hate crimes. He tried 19 cases to verdict and argued numerous appeals in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. At various times he served as the district antiterrorism coordinator, the hate crimes and civil rights coordinator and the Violence Against Women Act coordinator. He was awarded a national Director’s Award for Superior Performance by an AUSA three times and was also presented with the national IRS-Criminal Investigation Chief’s Award and with a Meritorious Honor Award by the State Department. In 2005 to2006, he was stationed in Jakarta as the first Department of Justice Resident Legal Advisor in Indonesia.
Some of the notable cases which U.S. Attorney Wagner handled as an Assistant U.S. Attorney include the prosecution of Blue Shield of California in an audit obstruction case; the prosecution of reproductive health care clinic serial arsonists Rachelle Shannon and Richard Andrews; the prosecution of the leaders of Anderson Ark & Associates, an international money laundering and tax evasion organization; the prosecution of 10 defendants including doctors, a CPA and an attorney, in three offshore tax evasion scheme cases; the prosecution of 17 defendants, including a CPA and an attorney, in seven investment fraud cases; the prosecution of two corrupt State Department employees and several others in a scheme to obtain visas through bribes; the hate crime prosecution of the Williams brothers, who torched three synagogues in Sacramento; the public corruption prosecution of Monte McFall and various officials from San Joaquin County, including the elected sheriff; the prosecution of five defendants, including three attorneys, in an asylum application fraud scheme; and the prosecution of two cross-burning cases.
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