New Civil Enforcement Efforts Key for Federal Law Enforcement in Western Pennsylvania


New U.S. Attorney, in Briefing for Defense Counsel, Warns Emphasis on "Bringing Money In" From Government Contractors, Health Care Providers, and Energy/Environmental Concerns

The new United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, David J. Hickton, is ramping up civil enforcement efforts to collect money from area businesses and individuals. For the first time in decades, the federal government in Western Pennsylvania will focus on pursuing noncriminal violations of the law and assessing civil monetary penalties, instead of focusing enforcement efforts on federal prosecution of criminals. Chief among the tools for this initiative of the local Department of Justice office will be the federal "whistleblower" laws for fraud, and also environmental protection enforcement statutes, most notably in connection with Marcellus Shale gas developments.

To be sure, this does not mean the federal prosecutors' office is deemphasizing criminal prosecution as the core of its mission. But in recent briefings, Mr. Hickton, President Obama's appointee as the chief federal law enforcement official in Western Pennsylvania, has announced that initiating cases and assessing fines in civil enforcement matters would become his "high priority."

Sometime after a closed-door swearing-in this past August, Mr. Hickton instructed his new First Assistant, Soo Song, that "bringing money in" would be a primary focus of his administration. Ms. Song announced at a November 23, 2010 meeting of local federal criminal practitioners and judges that Mr. Hickton was reinvigorating the U.S. Attorney's Civil Division. Mr. Hickton has appointed a new Chief of the Office's Civil Division, Michael Comber, and has created a new, specialized Affirmative Civil Enforcement Section ("ACE") aimed at civil fraud enforcement.

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