Machen moves on, proud of prosecutions and community ties

WASHINGTON — D.C. is home to the largest United States Attorney’s Office in the country, and it has been busy.

In five years under Ron Machen’s leadership, the office has prosecuted some of the most high-profile cases in the country. Among them were Walter and Kendall Myers, convicted of a 30-year conspiracy to provide secrets to Cuba, and Stewart Nozette, a scientist serving time for trying to sell classified information to a person he believed to be an Israeli intelligence officer.

Machen announced earlier this month that he would step down effective April 1 and return to private practice. By April, 45-year-old Machen will have served longer as U.S. attorney in the District than anyone since 1979, when Earl J. Silbert stepped down.

Also under Machen’s tenure, four members of the Los Zetas Cartel were convicted of the 2011 murder of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime Zapata and the attempted murder of ICE Special Agent Victor Avila in Mexico.

In addition to the drug convictions and counter-espionage cases, “where we’ve always been a player,” Machen tells WTOP, “we’ve done a lot of terrorism work — we have 13 related terrorism convictions during that time.”

The office is now seeking to bring to justice those responsible for the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The alleged ringleader, Ahmed Abu Khatallah, is in custody and facing charges in Washington.

According to documents provided by Machen’s staff, the office is handling, at any given time, about 150 international terrorism cases and investigations and other acts of violence committed against Americans overseas.

From international espionage to corrupt city officials, the office under Machen’s leadership in the last five years has been busy.

With more than 350 assistant U.S. attorneys and more than 350 support personnel comes a heavy responsibility, not only for the prosecution of all federal crimes, but for the prosecution of all serious local crime committed by adults in the District of Columbia.

Among them are six people, including former D.C. City council members, prosecuted for wrongdoing and a continuing investigation into the 2010 election of Vincent Gray for D.C. mayor.

Machen said he “can’t talk about” the status of the Gray investigation.

Machen’s team has also been very active in sanctions. On March 25, Schlumberger Oilfield Holdings Ltd. (SOHL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Schlumberger Ltd., agreed to enter a guilty plea and pay a more than $232.7 million penalty to the United States for conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by willfully facilitating illegal transactions and engaging in trade with Iran and Sudan.

“This is a landmark case that puts global corporations on notice that they must respect our trade laws when on American soil,” said Machen. “Even if you don’t directly ship goods from the United States to sanctioned countries, you violate our laws when you facilitate trade with those countries from a U.S.-based office building.”

The sometimes-solemn and all-business exterior has a softer side. In his last interview, Machen was eager to talk about his commitment to community relations.

Connections with communities have emerged as a key element in the Department of Homeland Security’s campaign.

“We have a youth summit every year. The first was down at Barry Farm at a basketball tournament, and I spoke to the crowd and I was nervous — worried about how it would be perceived.”

But the event was a hit with the crowd, and became a part of his legacy as U.S. attorney.

“We’ve done it every year and it’s grown — now, we have hundreds of kids. The whole purpose is to talk about decision-making,” says Machen. But, he said, it’s also designed “to make sure the youth understand that law enforcement is here to work for them, and to attack this anti-snitching subculture that we see in urban environments.”

It appears to be working.

“To see how this summit has grown over the years has made me proud,” says Machen.

J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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