US attorney: Priorities include anti-terrorism and child exploitation
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
Nationwide, the top five priorities of the U.S. Department of Justice are anti-terrorism, violent crime and drugs, public corruption, child exploitation over the Internet and border protection.
“In the western district of Tennessee, we are focused on four of those five. We don’t have the border issues,” said David Kustoff of Memphis, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.
Kustoff was guest speaker Friday at a weekly luncheon of the Union City Rotary Club at Hampton Centré.
“I will tell you that West Tennessee is not immune to acts of terrorism. I know some of you are thinking, ‘Are we really going to be attacked by al-Qaida here in West Tennessee?’ I want to emphasize that one reason we have not had an attack on our mainland since 9-11 is because the priority of anti-terrorism has catapulted it to the No. 1 position,” he told Rotarians.
His address also included a brief update about law enforcement efforts to curb methamphetamine manufacture and trafficking in West Tennessee and to prosecute those involved in it.
Kustoff was appointed to the feds’ top cop post in West Tennessee by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He took the oath of office on March 27, 2006.
“It’s an honor to be nominated and it’s an honor to be confirmed,” he told Rotarians.
Kustoff is a 1989 graduate of the University of Memphis Fogelman School of Business and a 1992 graduate of the University of Memphis Cecil L. Humphreys School of Law.
The Western District of Tennessee is made up of 22 counties in an area from the Mississippi River on the west to the Tennessee River on the east. “I work with six district attorneys general, including Tommy Thomas (of the 27th Judicial District made up of Obion and Weakley counties),” he said.
Speaking to Thomas, who was in the audience, Kustoff said, “I appreciate the job you do and the cooperation you give all of us in the U.S. Attorney’s office. It means a lot to me and it means a lot to all federal law enforcement.”
As U.S. attorney, Kustoff promotes the initiatives of the U.S. Attorney General and the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Our main office is in Memphis. We have a field office in Jackson,” he said. “We have about 40 assistant U.S. attorneys between Memphis and Jackson.”
Kustoff said the Federal Bureau of Investigation special agents, “our premier law enforcement (agency) across the country,” has about half its special agents dedicated to anti-terrorism.
“That gives you an indication. Law enforcement has to be alert, has to have its ear to the ground,” he said. “As U.S. attorney, I’ll tell you what I see 6 1/2 years past the terrorists’ attacks (of Sept. 11, 2001),” he said. “I think we as a people have become more complacent about terrorism and terrorism threats than we were right after 9-11.”
And it’s important not to forget what happened that dark day when Arab militants hijacked four civilian passenger jets.
“One thing you can take to the bank, as it relates to terrorist groups like al-Qaida: Eight years prior to the (9-11) attacks, in 1993, there was an attack on the World Trade Center,” he said. “There was an eight-year span between the first attack and the second attack. These groups are patient, very deliberate, well financed and they plan (their operations) very well. I think the one reason we haven’t had an attack here since 9-11 is that law enforcement is much more proactive.”
Methamphetamine, Kustoff said, has become the prominent drug of choice in West Tennessee. Two things have happened to help law enforcement in its fight against the illegal drug: The state legislature passed a law restricting over-the-counter sale of pseudofed, a key ingredient in “cooking” meth.
Kustoff thanked state Sen. Roy Herron, who was in the audience, for helping get the legislation on the books.
And the second thing that helped is the Western District got a grant to create a Meth Task Force. All sheriffs and district attorneys general are members.
“We’ve seen the number of meth labs decrease in West Tennessee since 2005. There are fewer people actually cooking the stuff,” Kustoff said. “But it’s coming in stronger now; it’s being trucked in from Mexico. It’s stronger than it was when it was being cooked. That’s the Catch 22. We’ve cut down the number of labs but we’ve still got a big meth problem here in West Tennessee.”
A major priority of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s office in West Tennessee is public corruption, Kustoff said. The main public corruption investigation of 2005-07, “nationally ranked in the top five,” was the Tennessee Waltz, a codeword for an investigation of Tennessee legislators and local politicians.
“The majority of public officials here in West Tennessee and across Tennessee are good, honest people,” he said. “They are good public servants. I’m convinced they try to do the right things for the districts they represent. But there’s no doubt there’s a small portion of them who were doing things over the course of several years that certainly (were) unethical and probably illegal.
“As part of the Tennessee Waltz, there were 12 state officials and local officials who were indicted. As of a few weeks ago, the last of the 12 pled guilty. So all 12 have either been found guilty by a jury of their peers or they entered guilty pleas.”
Kustoff said he frequently hears the comment that no way will a jury in Memphis convict (so-and-so).
“These juries were racially mixed and gender mixed and made up of all ages,” he said. “The common thread that I saw and heard is that nobody wants to see their elected officials on the take. Everybody wants to believe in the concept of good government and that their government is not for sale.”
Kustoff said there has been “an absolute explosion” of child pornography on the Internet.
He made reference to the NBC series, “To Catch a Predator.”
“If you have seen that series, you have seen one guy who will walk in and say, ‘I’ve seen Dateline. I knew I was potentially walking into this trap.’ But they can’t help themselves,” he said. “It all goes back to the Internet, the pornography these people who take photos of children and put them on the Internet. If I hear the argument that these people are innocents or victims, I want to prosecute (the person who said it). These children are not innocent when they’ve had their images flashed on the Internet.
“We’ve interviewed children. It is up there for the entire world to see. It’s up there forever. They’ve had their privacy violated and there may be sexual images up there.”
In West Tennessee, the FBI operates a project, “Internet Crimes Against Children,” where an agent is profiled as a 12- or 13-year-old. “You would not believe how many solicitations they’ve had,” he said.
Kustoff advice to parents and guardians?
“You have to do whatever you can to monitor your child’s Internet use. That means what Web sites they visit and where they place their profiles. There are people out there ready to pounce (on them). They may be 30 or 40 years old, but they disguise themselves,” he said.
Published in The Messenger 1.28.08