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 thirteen 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 Grand Jury
- Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering
- Child Predator
- Conviction Integrity
- Criminal Prosecutions
- Drug Strike Force
- Environmental Crimes
- Financial Crimes
- Gun Violence
- Insurance Fraud
- Legal Services
- Medicaid Fraud Control
- Organized Crime
- Public Corruption
The Appeals and Grand Jury Section litigates all appellate and post-conviction matters in cases that have been investigated and prosecuted by the Office of Attorney General, which include public corruption, human trafficking, large-scale drug dealing, and government fraud. In addition, counties refer homicide, sex assault, and other appeals to the section when local prosecutors lack sufficient resources or experience to handle the cases themselves. Litigation includes habeas corpus cases in the federal district courts and the Third Circuit. The section also regularly files amicus curiae briefs in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and other courts. Aside from these appellate duties, the section provides legal advice and assistance in pending prosecutions, and supervises the operations of specially empaneled statewide investigating grand juries.
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 Conviction Integrity Section (CIS) of the Pennsylvania’s Office of Attorney General (PA-OAG) is a statewide, extra judicial unit that reviews the integrity of past felony convictions when the following criteria are met: 1) actual innocence is claimed; 2) the person is incarcerated on the conviction in question; 3) litigation has been exhausted, and 4) the county where the conviction occurred does not have an active conviction review unit. A full post-conviction investigation is an extensive, collaborative process involving, but not limited to, local district attorney offices, law enforcement agencies, and victims. The PA-OAG protects victim privacy while balancing the integrity of any re-investigation to ensure fairness in the search for the truth. If a full investigation finds the conviction lacks integrity, the CIS will assist to seek a remedy for any miscarriage of justice. The CIS is not currently reviewing cases where litigation is pending or where the case involves claims of imperfect self-defense or excessive sentences.
The Criminal Prosecutions Section investigates and prosecutes crimes ranging from the simplest of misdemeanors to rapes, white collar crimes, and first degree murder cases. The vast majority of cases handled by the Criminal Prosecutions Section arise from referrals from the various local District Attorneys’ Offices across the Commonwealth. However, the Criminal Prosecution Section also initiates its own investigations and prosecutions under certain circumstances. The Section is staffed with attorneys, agents and support staff located in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Norristown and Wilkes-Barre.
The Drug Strike Force Section (DSF) provides on-site legal assistance and guidance to regional Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control agents; regional and county-wide drug task forces comprised of regional agents, and local, municipal task force officers; as well as to Pennsylvania State Police drug investigators. DSF prosecutors work collaboratively with drug investigators to develop comprehensive prosecutions against mid and upper-level drug traffickers and their organizations. DSF prosecutors assist investigators in the development and use of cooperating witnesses, sources, and informants; make extensive use of electronic surveillance; and utilize the statewide investigating grand jury in furthering long-term investigations. DSF prosecutors are responsible for prosecuting the resulting qualifying criminal cases in court.
The Office of Attorney General, Environmental Crimes Section investigates and prosecutes violations of state environmental laws including the Solid Waste Management Act, Clean Streams Law, Air Pollution Control Act, Radiation Protection Act and 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 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 Financial Crimes Section investigates and prosecutes crimes such as access device fraud, identity theft, theft by deception and dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activities. The priority of the section is to hold scammers criminally responsible for stealing from vulnerable Pennsylvanians. The section also handles the investigation and prosecution of cases of financial exploitation of senior citizens in excess of $20,000.
The primary mission of the statewide Gun Violence Section and the Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force (GVTF) is to investigate straw purchasers 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 State College, participate in ATF Task Forces and assist local departments in comprehensively tracing firearms and investigating crime guns recovered in Pennsylvania and the surrounding states. These cases are primarily prosecuted by county District Attorneys but large and complex gun trafficking organizations are often adopted by federal prosecutors in the Middle and Western Districts of Pennsylvania.
Philadelphia GVTF is a partnership dating back to 2007, between OAG agents, Philadelphia police officers and detectives and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. GVTF investigates crime guns recovered in Philadelphia and suspicious gun transactions. Most illegal transfer and straw purchase cases investigated by GVTF are prosecuted by Philadelphia Assistant District Attorneys. Complex and large-scale gun trafficking organizations can be prosecuted by GVTF Deputy Attorney Generals in state or federal court. Agents in GVTF are also assigned to investigate gun crimes with multiple federal agencies including the FBI, ATF and U.S. Marshals.
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.
The Legal Services Section provides general legal and research support to the Criminal Law Division, particularly with respect to the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act and the Office’s handling of criminal records. It also presides over appeals from determinations by the Pennsylvania State Police relating to criminal history record information and firearms.
The Medicaid Fraud Control Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting providers who have defrauded the Medical Assistance Program by, for example, billing for services not rendered, billing for more expensive services than those provided, or providing and billing for medically unnecessary procedures (Medicaid Fraud, 62 P.S. §1407). Providers may include nursing homes, hospitals, medical supply vendors, ambulance and transportation companies, counselors, home care workers, and medical professionals (physicians, dentists, pharmacists). This Section also investigates and prosecutes Neglect of Care-Dependent Persons (18 Pa. C.S.A. §2713), Abuse of Care-Dependent Persons (18 Pa. C.S.A. §2713.1), and Financial Exploitation of an Older Adult or Care-Dependent Persons (18 Pa.C.S. §3922.1).
The Organized Crime Section investigates and prosecutes complex criminal enterprises comprised of both traditional and nontraditional organized crime members. The organizations investigated and prosecuted by the Section are involved in the commission of various criminal offenses including drug trafficking, gun trafficking, gambling, loansharking, extortion, insurance fraud, theft, money laundering, intimidation of witnesses, and murder. The Section makes extensive use of cooperating witnesses, electronic surveillance, and a statewide investigating grand jury in furthering long-term investigations.
The Organized Crime Section is also responsible for the investigation and prosecution of Human Trafficking offenses occurring within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The prosecutors and agents of the Organized Crime Section work to dismantle commercial sex trafficking operations, in addition to disassembling organizations engaged in labor trafficking and worker exploitation.
The Public Corruption Section investigates and prosecutes crimes involving state officials and employees for offenses ranging from conflicts of interest and corrupt influence to theft related offenses and money laundering. Investigations often arise from referrals from various State Agencies and Commissions, such as the State Ethics Commission, the Department of State and the Office of the Auditor General, as well as from local District Attorneys that may have a conflict or a lack of investigative resources. This section focuses on long-term investigations and often utilizes the Statewide Investigating Grand Jury.
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.
The Drug Diversion Unit is a specialized unit within the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control and Drug Strike Force Section. The mission of the Drug Diversion Unit is to prevent, detect, and investigate the diversion of controlled pharmaceuticals and listed chemicals from legitimate sources. Diversion investigations involve, but are not limited to, physicians who sell prescriptions to drug dealers or abusers; pharmacists who falsify records and subsequently sell the drugs; employees who steal from inventory and falsify orders to cover illicit sales; prescription forgers; and individuals who commit armed robbery of pharmacies and drug distributors. The Drug Diversion Unit is headed by a Section Director who supervises more than two dozen Diversion Agents and a Director of Diversion who oversees all prosecutions which are carried out by DSF prosecutors.
The Asset Forfeiture & Money Laundering Section Chief also administers the Office’s Witness Relocation Program. In 2002, the Office of Attorney General established a Witness Relocation Program for witnesses and their immediate household members who are threatened as a result of testifying in a felony case utilizing grant funds provided by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the US Department of Justice’s, Office of Justice Programs. Thereafter, in July of 2005, the Pennsylvania Legislature agreed to continue the Program by funding the Witness Relocation Program in the Attorney’s General operating budget.
The Program assists all law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth in the relocation of witnesses and their families, when necessary. While the referring agency determines the need for relocation, this Office has final authority to determine entry into the Program. The criminal prosecution remains with the initiating agency and the District Attorney’s Office. The Program provides for both short and long-term housing; the actual costs of relocation such as rent, truck rental, and subsistence; as well as assistance with school and housing voucher transfers. Participation in the Program is strictly voluntary by the witness, however, the Office may terminate a witness’s participation if agreed upon rules are violated during the relocation process.
Entry into the Program is initiated by the completion of three forms, completed and signed by the witness and a representative of the District Attorney’s Office, and sent to this office for approval. The forms are available by contacting the Chief of the Asset Forfeiture & Money Laundering Section of the Office of Attorney General.