By law, the OAG has the power to investigate and prosecute criminal matters relating to the public duties of state officials and employees; corrupt organizations; charges referred by a Commonwealth agency pursuant to such agency’s enforcement provisions; presentments returned by a Statewide Investigating Grand Jury; and, matters arising out of the Medicaid Fraud Control Section. In addition, the Criminal Law Division may prosecute referrals from a district attorney based on lack of resources or a conflict of interest, and may handle criminal appeals as the law provides.
The Criminal Law Division is headed by an Executive Deputy Attorney General (EDAG), who is the Director and has overall responsibility for ensuring that the functions of the Division are properly administered. The Criminal Division EDAG reports to the Attorney General and the First Deputy Attorney General. The Director of the Criminal Division is responsible for keeping members of the Executive Office advised of all non-routine or sensitive matters.
The Criminal Law Division has Regional Offices located throughout the Commonwealth to carry out its functions. In addition, the Grand Jury offices are in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Norristown. The attorneys in the criminal division are organized into nine sections with a Chief Deputy Attorney General (CDAG) in charge of each section. Each CDAG reports to the Criminal Division EDAG.
The sections in the Criminal Law Division are:
- Appeals and Legal Services (which includes the Capital Litigation Unit)
- Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering
- Child Predator
- Conviction Integrity
- Criminal Prosecutions
- Drug Strike Force
- Environmental Crimes
- Gun Violence
- Insurance Fraud
- Medicaid Fraud Control
- Organized Crime
- Public Corruption
- Special Litigation (which includes the Grand Jury Unit)
Appeals and Legal Services Section is responsible for representing the Commonwealth in all criminal appeals that involve the OAG and for advocating the position of the Attorney General on important issues in cases prosecuted by the county district attorneys.
In addition, the Appeals and Legal Services Section provides general legal and research support to the Criminal Law Division, coordinates and schedules all matters to be brought before the statewide investigating grand juries. Within this section is the Capital Litigation Unit.
The Asset Forfeiture & Money Laundering Section is responsible for the litigation of all asset forfeiture cases from law enforcement agencies with statewide jurisdiction, and the supervision of financial investigations leading to money laundering arrests and large property seizures. These cases are complex and often involve multiple defendants and numerous types of property. The Section consists of a Section Chief, litigation attorneys, legal support staff, and the Asset Forfeiture Administration Unit which is tasked with administering and liquidating all forfeited property. The litigation attorneys and legal support staff are located throughout the state in various regional offices. The Asset Forfeiture Administration Unit is centrally located in the Harrisburg area to assist in the storage and transfer of assets throughout the state.
The Section is primarily responsible for the litigation of asset forfeiture cases pursuant to Chapter 58 of the Judicial Code relating to Forfeiture of Assets. This Chapter provides for the forfeiture of property that was used to facilitate violations of the Drug Act as well as property representing proceeds of drug trafficking. Chapter 58 also applies to other statutory forfeitures, which include Sex Offenses, Chop Shops, Gambling and Liquor Code Violations, Trademark and/or Recording Device Counterfeiting. The cases usually involve the forfeiture of cash, automobiles, jewelry, bank accounts and other financial instruments, and real estate.
The seizure of property is made by law enforcement agencies with statewide jurisdiction such as the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control, the Pennsylvania State Police, and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. However, these agencies often work with police agencies with county, city, or municipal jurisdiction. In the event of multi-agency cases, this Section coordinates with the appropriate District Attorney’s Office to decide the equitable sharing of the assets. When the Office of Attorney General litigates the case, this Section sends the equitable share to the District Attorney’s Office after liquidation of the asset. When the District Attorney’s Office litigates the case, this Section requests the District Attorney’s Office send the equitable share to this office. Often, letters are exchanged between the two offices to determine the equitable sharing that is to take place.
The Section also is responsible for seeking the Attorney’s General share of forfeiture cases litigated by the various United States Attorneys’ Offices and/or any Federal Agency. The Section coordinates and completes the necessary documentation to the Federal Agency responsible for the seizure of the property. The initializing form is entitled “DAG-71” and every asset seized by the Federal Agency requires a completed form. This form is available through the various Federal Agencies websites. All federally forfeited assets are remitted directly to the law enforcement agency involved in the case and not to a District Attorney’s Office, unless the District Attorney’s Office itself was involved in the criminal investigation leading to the seizure of property.
The attorneys of the Section also supervise money laundering investigations and litigate the resulting prosecutions when appropriate. The attorneys of this Section, working in conjunction with financial investigators, have the expertise to trace hidden assets, expose straw buyers, analyze bank records and develop financial profiles; then successfully litigate forfeiture and money laundering cases.
In addition to these responsibilities, pursuant to Chapter 58 of the Judicial Code relating to Forfeiture of Assets, the Office of Attorney General is responsible for annually submitting a report to the Appropriations Committee and Judiciary Committee of the Senate and to the Appropriations Committee and Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives specifying all forfeited property for the fiscal year. Information pertaining to the proceeds derived from the sale of forfeited property, the use made of unsold property and the criminal case related to the forfeited property is likewise reported. To fulfill its obligation under the statute, the Office of Attorney General is responsible for adopting and maintaining the Asset Forfeiture Report and Auditing Guidelines.
An aggressive approach to the investigation and presentation/prosecution of asset forfeiture and money laundering cases has led to significant forfeitures of monies, automobiles, personal property and real estates; as well as convictions for felony money laundering crimes. The monies derived from the forfeitures are, in turn, used by law enforcement to help fund future drug and other criminal investigations as well as assist community-based drug and crime-fighting programs throughout the state.
In 1995 the Attorney General’s Child Sexual Exploitation Task Force was created to arrest child pornographers as well as investigate and capture child predators before they strike by using proactive, undercover operations.
In order for law enforcement to stay one step ahead of the Internet and sexual predators the Office widened the scope of the Attorney General’s task force into a larger, broader statewide Child Predator Unit. In January 2005, a dedicated Child Predator Unit was created using a group of specially trained agents and prosecutors across Pennsylvania to identify and capture online predators before they can harm children.
The growth of the Internet has been astronomical, and regrettably, predators are using the Internet as their primary means of contacting and communicating with their young victims.
The Attorney General established the Conviction Integrity Section in January 2020 to reinforce Pennsylvania’s commitment to the highest standards of fairness in our criminal justice system. The CIS will review claims of actual innocence state-wide. The CIS will bring substantial resources to review past convictions in collaboration with district attorneys, police agencies and victims to ensure justice.
The Criminal Prosecutions Section investigates and prosecutes a complete spectrum of crimes ranging from the simplest of misdemeanors, to complex corrupt organizations and conspiracies, to first degree murder cases wherein the death penalty is sought and sentenced.
The Section is staffed with attorneys, agents and support staff located in offices in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Norristown and Wilkes-Barre.
The jurisdiction of the Attorney General to investigate and prosecute criminal cases is found in Sections 205 and 206 (respectively) of the Commonwealth Attorneys Act, 71 P.S. §§ 732-205, 206.
The vast majority of cases investigated by the Criminal Prosecutions Section falls into three categories and under three provisions of the Commonwealth Attorneys Act.
- “Criminal charges against state officials or employees affecting the performance of their public duties or the maintenance of the public trust and criminal charges against persons attempting to influence such state officials or employees to benefit from such influence or attempt to influence.” 71 P.S. § 732-205(a)(1)Many of these cases are initially investigated by the Office of Inspector General and are then referred to the Office of Attorney General through the Governor’s Office of General Counsel. Other such charges are brought to our attention by “whistle blowers” and, on a number of occasions, state officials or employees have stepped forward to report a bribery attempt. Most of these cases would be directed to one of the lawyers in the Public Corruption Section. Examples of the kinds of public corruption cases this office has handled include allegations of bribery, job selling, misuse of confidential information, misuse of funds, theft and improper political activities. The goals of the Public Corruption Unit are both to punish wrongdoers and to restore the faith of our citizens in their public officials and employees.
- “Upon the request of a district attorney who lacks the resources to conduct an adequate investigation or the prosecution of the criminal case or matter or who represents that there is the potential for an actual or apparent conflict of interest on the part of the district attorney or his office.” 71 P.S. § 732-205(a)(3)These referrals from the district attorneys run the gamut from summary vehicle code offenses to criminal homicides. The majority of district attorneys in Pennsylvania do not have an investigating grand jury and may not have any county detectives. They genuinely lack the resources to handle certain complicated cases. In addition, potential conflicts of interest arise because of the district attorneys’ association with lawyers in private practice or a defendant’s relationship to staff members.
- “Criminal charges investigated by and referred to him by a Commonwealth agency arising out of enforcement provisions of the statute charging the agency with a duty to enforce its provisions.” 71 P.S. § 732-205(a)(6).
The Drug Strike Force Section is charged with providing onsite legal assistance and direction to Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control Agents as they jointly develop complex cases for prosecution against narcotics traffickers and their organizations throughout Pennsylvania and across state borders.
Drug Strike Force lawyers routinely utilize the Statewide Investigating Grand Jury and electronic surveillance as investigative resources and prosecute their criminal cases in the various counties within their assigned region.
The Drug Strike Force lawyers provide similar assistance to the Pennsylvania State Police, upon request.
The Section is also responsible for coordinating investigations and prosecutions of drug diversion cases within the Office of Attorney General.
The Office of Attorney General, Environmental Crimes Section investigates and prosecutes violations of state environmental laws governing the processing, transportation, storage, or disposal of municipal, residual and hazardous waste. Most criminal prosecutions are initiated pursuant to the Solid Waste Management Act, Clean Streams Law, Air Pollution Control Act, Radiation Protection Act or Oil & Gas Act. In conjunction with environmental crimes, the Section prosecutes traditional Crimes Code offenses including, but not limited to, tampering with public records, forgery, unsworn falsification, reckless endangerment, criminal conspiracy, corrupt organizations, money laundering, vandalism, deceptive business practices and theft.
Due to the nature of environmental crimes cases, many investigations are conducted utilizing the Pennsylvania Statewide Investigating Grand Juries in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Norristown.
The staff is dedicated solely to environmental crimes investigations and prosecutions. All Special Agents in the Environmental Crimes Section have extensive training in the handling of residual and hazardous waste and often assist the Bureau of Narcotics Investigations with methamphetamine laboratory search warrants. Additionally, technicians employed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection regularly assist the Environmental Crimes Section with collecting waste samples. Most of these samples are analyzed by the Department of Environmental Protection’s laboratory in Harrisburg.
Pursuant to the Commonwealth Attorneys Act, the Office of Attorney General does not have original jurisdiction to investigate or prosecute environmental crimes. However, the Office can obtain jurisdiction over an environmental crime by a referral from either a district attorney or a state agency with enforcement duties pursuant to statute. See 71 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 732-205(a)(3) and (a)(6) respectively. The majority of criminal referrals are received from the Department of Environmental Protection, however local district attorneys, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania Game Commission have also been a source of criminal referrals.
The primary mission of the Gun Violence Section is to investigate and make arrests for straw purchases and illegal transfers of firearms by researching the origins of recovered crime guns. A straw purchaser of two or more guns is subject to the Brad Fox Law which requires a 5 year mandatory minimum. Agents in Erie, Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre and Harrisburg, assist local departments in comprehensively tracing firearms and work jointly with the ATF to pursue gun trafficking organizations within Pennsylvania and the surrounding states. These cases are primarily prosecuted by District Attorneys but larger scale gun trafficking groups can be prosecuted as corrupt organizations.
Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force is a partnership between OAG agents, Philadelphia police and Philadelphia DAO. The Task Force investigates all crime guns recovered in Philadelphia. Philadelphia DAs then prosecute offenders for illegal transfers and straw purchases. Agents (sworn as county detectives) also investigate felony background check denials by the State Police PICS system. Agents in the task force are also assigned to multiple federal agencies including the FBI, U.S. Marshals, and Homeland Security.
Insurance Fraud Section investigates and prosecutes insurance fraud and workers’ compensation violations pursuant to the Insurance Fraud Prevention Act (18 Pa. C.S. § 4117(h)(2)) (Act 166 of 1994). Financial support for this Section is provided by the Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority, which is funded by the insurance industry on an annual basis.
Medicaid Fraud Control Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting providers who have fraudulently participated in the Medical Assistance Program. Examples of such providers include nursing homes, hospitals, medical supply vendors and medical professionals (physicians, dentists, pharmacists, etc.). This Section also investigates and prosecutes violations of the Neglect of Care-Dependent Person statute (18 Pa. C.S.A. §2713 (d)(2)).
The primary mission of the Organized Crime Section (OCS) is to investigate and prosecute complex criminal enterprises, comprised of both traditional and nontraditional organized crime members. The organizations investigated and prosecuted by the OCS are involved in the commission of various predicate criminal offenses which have included drug trafficking, gambling, loansharking, extortion, identity theft, insurance fraud, auto theft, money laundering, intimidation of witnesses and murder.
The OCS makes extensive use of cooperating witnesses, electronic surveillance and the Statewide Investigating Grand Jury in furthering the section’s long-term investigations. The OCS maintains a close working relationship with both the U.S. Attorney’s offices in the Eastern and Western Districts of Pennsylvania and has prosecuted several major organizations in federal court. The section also works closely with the Pennsylvania State Police’s Organized Crime Division throughout the Commonwealth.
The Public Corruption Section investigates and prosecutes crimes involving public officials and employees for offenses ranging from conflicts of interest and corrupt influence to theft related offenses and money laundering. This section focuses on long-term investigations and often utilizes the Statewide Investigating Grand Jury.
Investigations often arise from referrals from various State Agencies such as the State Ethics Commission and the Office of the Auditor General as well as referrals from local District Attorneys arising from conflicts or lack of investigative resources. Public Corruption Section also conducts joint investigations with the FBI and other federal agencies.
The Special Litigation Section (“SLS”), which is staffed by a Chief Deputy Attorney General and one support person, handles complex state and federal litigation that involves or otherwise impacts on criminal prosecutions, including the activities of the statewide investigation grand juries. This includes federal habeas corpus and class actions filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 which challenge the constitutionality of criminal justice procedures, such as execution protocols, at both the trial and appellate levels. SLS also routinely reviews and, where appropriate, takes suitable steps to litigate, the issuance of compulsory process seeking production of OAG criminal investigative and administrative records, including grand jury materials, and/or testimony of Criminal Law Division (“CLD”) personnel, in both civil and criminal cases. It also aids in reviewing and responding to Right-to-Know requests affecting the CLD.
The Section prepares amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs for filing in the United States and Pennsylvania Supreme Courts in important criminal cases. It also reviews amicus briefs prepared by other States in criminal cases before the Supreme Court of the United States which have been circulated by the National Association of Attorneys General (“NAAG”), and makes recommendations to the Attorney General about joining the same.
The Section regularly provides assistance, occasionally in-depth support, to county prosecutors with respect to federal habeas corpus cases, most frequently involving capital sentences, and provides training for prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement officers. From time to time, at the direction of the Attorney General, First Deputy Attorney General or the Director of the CLD, the Section undertakes special projects designed to air or inform Pennsylvania’s prosecutors and others. Recently addressed topics include firearm pre-emption and Pennsylvania’s mandatory reporting statutes. As is topically appropriate, SLS also assists in the review and drafting of proposed legislation.
Bureau of Criminal Investigations consists of Special Agents that investigate all criminal offenses within the jurisdiction of the OAG other than narcotics offenses. It works primarily with the following Sections: Criminal Prosecutions, Environmental Crimes, Gaming, Insurance Fraud, Medicaid Fraud Control and Organized Crime
Bureau of Investigative Services is composed of those units and programs which provide support in the areas of intelligence gathering and analysis, including special operations program, computer forensics, electronic surveillance, and technical services. The Child Predator Section is also a part of this Bureau as well are responsibilities including amendments to the agent manual, development of agent training programs, and implementation of office-wide security initiatives.
Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control has sworn narcotics agents and is mandated by law to enforce the provisions of the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act (35 P.S. §780-113 et. seq.) and other related statutes. It exists as one of the largest agencies in the nation devoted exclusively to drug enforcement. Additionally, through the Municipal Drug Task Force Program, the OAG encourages joint participation and involvement of local and state law enforcement personnel in the investigation, apprehension and prosecution of drug traffickers and drug trafficking organizations within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. To support and encourage joint participation, funding is available to reimburse municipal law enforcement personnel for overtime with related benefits and authorized case expenses while assisting the OAG in designated task force investigations. Equipment and training related to drug enforcement are also available through the OAG or presented by qualified Bureau personnel. Funding for Municipal Drug Task Force operations is provided to municipalities under the Drug Control Assistance Program. Funds are also provided to District Attorney administered Task Forces.