David Joseph: U. S. Attorney for the Western District of LA

David Joseph is a dedicated public servant who is passionate about breaking the cycle of violence in Louisiana as well as protecting people from the growing number of scams taking advantage of innocent victims. In this episode of Discover Lafayette, you have the opportunity to understand the role of the U. S. Attorney in combatting federal crimes and the man leading the office.

Joseph serves as U. S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, which encompasses 42 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes. His office works on cases involving white-collar crime, public corruption, as well as cases referred by the FBI, ATF, DEA, Homeland Security, and the IRS. There is quite a bit of overlap between state and federal laws regulating criminal behavior and while many can be tried at either the state or federal level, the U. S. Attorney’s office is oftentimes directed cases from local law enforcement when they think a federal crime is involved.

Joseph previously served as an Assistant U. S. Attorney and was assigned financial crime cases and those involving long-term investigations. As a member of the National Guard, he was called up during the Iraq War and served three years as an Officer in the JAG Corps. He also worked with the FDIC after the market crash in 2008 when many banks failed; his work included prosecuting directors and officers of banks that failed due to high-risk, imprudent lending practices which caused the loss of investors’ money. A favorite quote from the interview that David shared: “When the tide goes out, you see who’s not wearing their bathing suit!”

With Louisiana having the highest homicide rate in the U. S., Joseph is focused on trying to reduce the violent crime rate. (Even if you “took New Orleans out of the state,” Louisiana would still have the highest homicide rate.) In particular, Shreveport, Monroe, and Alexandria experience the highest rates of violence as a result of gang activity related to the drug trade and domestic violence. Fortunately, Lafayette, Lake Charles and the rural parishes don’t suffer from this high rate of violence.

One initiative undertaken by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to reduce violent crime and get “alpha criminals” off the streets is the nationwide initiative called “Project Safe Neighborhoods.” The U. S. Attorney’s office partners with all levels of law enforcement to identify the most violent offenders and strategically remove them from the streets where they influence other felons and wreak havoc. As an example, Joseph explained there may be times when local law enforcement is not able to make a case on a suspected perpetrator of a homicide, but the DOJ can step in and arrest the felon caught with a firearm. The felon is prosecuted under federal statutes and incarcerated in federal prison for a few years, thus preventing them from influencing others Shreveport has seen great progress as a result of Project Safe Neighborhoods.

The U. S. Attorney’s office has prioritized educating youth on the damages that firearms can cause to their families, friends, and of course, themselves. Youngsters can be easily influenced by alpha criminals who dominate their neighborhoods and as discussed above, removing these untenable actors is also high in importance in effectively breaking the cycle of violence by removing those who are negative influences on vulnerable youths.

Scams affecting the elderly are a continuing problem that affects at least 10% of older Americans each year. The Elder Justice Initiative addresses elder abuse, neglect, financial fraud, and scams that target our nation’s seniors. In particular, investment scams and romance scams are problematic. “Con” men will inspire confidence in their victims and abuse that trust in order to steal from them. Investment scams can deplete a senior’s retirement savings; under the Bank Security Act, banks are required to report suspicious activity to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network known as “FinCen.” Joseph shared that typically the huckster will take money from the victim and then sent the funds to an account in another jurisdiction, with Nigeria being a favorite place to park the money. There is a whole category of fraud called “Nigerian Fraud Schemes.”

“Phishing schemes” are commonly used to rip off people of all ages. A common scare tactic is to scare people to share their personal information by being told that the IRS is going to come after you unless you cooperate and provide personal data. Never provide your personal data such as SSN, bank account information or any other data unless you know the source to be trustworthy.

Louisiana hasn’t been hit by the opioid crisis like the Northeast U. S. and Appalachia, yet there is still cause for concern and Alexandria has seen a significant number of drug overdose deaths. Heroin users who become addicted after prescription opioids are cut off are at a particular risk of overdose due to cheap fentanyl being laced in with the heroin. Joseph spoke of the mass production of methamphetamine and fentanyl by large factories instead of the small-time operators of yesteryear. Just about every illegal drug except marijuana is being smuggled into the U. S. through our Southern border.

A significant victory was achieved by Joseph’s office in May 2019 when the pharmaceutics distributor Morris & Dickson agreed to pay a $22 million civil penalty to resolve claims that it failed to report suspicious orders of hydrocodone and oxycodone. More people died last year from drug overdoses than were killed during the Vietnam War, and 40% of these deaths are attributable to prescription drugs. Doctors, pharmacies, and pharmaceutical manufacturers all have an affirmative duty to report suspicious activity and orders. The government’s efforts to stop the illegal distribution and sale of opioids is dependent on this compliance and in Morris & Dickson’s case, DEA Diversion Agents identified more than 12,000 suspicious retail pharmacy orders that should been reported. As part of the settlement, Morris & Dickson also agreed to spend millions to upgrade its compliance program and implement new protocols to ensure compliance with federal law.

Thanks to U. S. Attorney David Joseph for taking the time to visit and share his dedication to enforcing our nation’s laws! For more information on the office, please visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdla.