New U.S. attorney’s focus on terrorism

As the newly confirmed U.S. attorney for the Baton Rouge-based nine-parish Middle District of Louisiana, Walt Green’s title may have changed but his priorities and resolve haven’t.

Green, who had served since July as acting and then interim U.S. attorney until his U.S. Senate confirmation on Wednesday, is tasked with carrying out the U.S. Department of Justice mission to combat terrorism and threats to national security, violent crime and public corruption, and to protect the public from hate crimes, human trafficking and exploitation.

The 49-year-old Green, a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve who served two tours of duty in Iraq, is no stranger to carrying out missions for his country.

At his office Thursday at the Russell B. Long Federal Courthouse on Florida Street, Green said his focus remains terrorism, striving to reduce human trafficking, continuing to work closely with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies on firearms, drugs and violent crimes, and prosecuting health care fraud.

“Terrorism is always going to be our priority,” the Middle District’s chief law enforcement official stressed.

“Baton Rouge has no current threats to people or property,” he acknowledged.

Green, a native of Ferriday, said his predecessor, Don Cazayoux Jr., who left the U.S. Attorney’s Office for a position with a private law firm, also “left this office in wonderful shape.”

He credited Cazayoux with building a strong working relationship — one that Green said he maintains — between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s and Sheriff’s offices and Baton Rouge Police Department.

“We (the various law enforcement agencies) talk on a weekly basis. There’s a lot of mutual respect,” noted Green, who has been with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baton Rouge since 2000. “Our relationship with the DA’s Office has never been better.”

Green’s office is part of the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination project, or BRAVE, which focuses crime-fighting efforts on notoriously violent areas in the Capital City. BRAVE receives federal funding.

Modeled after the nationally acclaimed Operation Ceasefire, BRAVE employs a scientific approach to tracking and preventing violent crime. Law enforcement, citizens and social service providers work together to identify gang members and offer them resources and alternatives to a life of crime

“We need to offer people more opportunities than they have so they don’t feel trapped,” Green said.

Louisiana State Police and federal law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, also are involved in BRAVE, he said.

“The federal, state and locals are sharing more (information and resources) than ever before,” Green said.

Green said prosecutors in East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III’s office far outnumber the prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but Green said the money and other resources at the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s disposal uniquely positions his office.

“We can do longer-term investigations,” he said.

When the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a District Attorney’s Office encounter a defendant with overlapping state and federal charges, Green said his office consults with the District Attorney’s Office to determine which office can deliver “a bigger punch.” Federal firearms charges, for example, often carry stiffer penalties than state gun charges.

Another area of criminal activity that has kept the U.S. Attorney’s Office busy is health care fraud. Green said he has three prosecutors in his office assigned solely to handle such fraud.

“We have so many large Medicare and Medicaid fraud cases in our district,” Green said, adding that the Middle District has had a “disparate” number of such cases.

“Nobody’s able to say (why). For whatever reason, it is a robust industry in Baton Rouge,” he said.

Human trafficking also is on the rise in the Baton Rouge area, but Green said his office is committed to rooting it out.

Earlier this year, Erick Jermaine Banks, 32, of Baton Rouge, was sentenced to nine years in federal prison for selling a 15-year-old runaway into prostitution. Banks pleaded guilty last year to a federal charge of conspiracy to traffic a child in the commercial sex trade.

“No one really wants to be a prostitute,” Green said. “Prostitution is not a victimless crime.”

Green delivered a firm message to human traffickers and would-be traffickers.

“If you’re trafficking children, you’re very likely going to be going to jail for a significant period of time,” he said.

Violators of the public trust also can expect time behind bars, he warned.

“We think we’re uniquely qualified to handle public corruption,” he said of his office being based in the seat of state government.

Green pointed to recent convictions of several statewide officials, including Richard Chambers Sr., a deputy commissioner for the state Department of Insurance, and Gail Ray Dignam, who directed the federally funded Louisiana Governor’s Program on Abstinence.

Chambers, of LaPlace, was convicted of racketeering and sentenced to 30 months in prison in August. He was snared in an FBI sting known as Operation Blighted Officials. That sting also resulted in felony convictions for four area mayors, a police chief and a city councilman. Dignam, of Diamondhead, Mississippi, was found guilty of mail fraud for diverting public funds to bank accounts she controlled and was sentenced to 70 months in March 2012.

Green’s office also is prosecuting Delrice Augustus, director of auditing and compliance for the state Department of Children and Family Services. He was charged last month with federal program fraud. Augustus, of Baton Rouge, is accused of using government money to buy a large number of items for himself, including games, iPad digital devices, Dyson vacuums, hotel rooms and fuel. He is on leave from his state job.

Green also serves as executive director of the National Center for Disaster Fraud, which was previously known as the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Command Center in Baton Rouge. Green said the center sees all sorts of “blatant fraud” stemming from hurricanes, the BP oil spill and other disasters.

Green was thrust into the spotlight twice earlier this year, first when he stopped a burglar from breaking into a neighbor’s home in March, and again when an attorney for a Mandeville businessman being prosecuted by Green’s office for alleged wire fraud complained about Green’s wife working for the federal judge presiding over the case.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, who employs Green’s wife as her civil law clerk, refused last month to disqualify herself from the case of Raymond Reggie. Dick pointed out in her ruling that since Katherine Green’s hiring in May, the clerk has been barred from working on any cases in which the United States is a party.

“It’s not the judge or I that have any conflict,” Walt Green said Thursday. “If a clerk has a conflict, it’s his or hers.”

“My wife and I do not discuss work at any time,” he added.

As for wrestling the burglar in March, Green said, “Instincts just sort of took over.”

The Middle District of Louisiana comprises Ascension, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes.

Green, a former first assistant U.S. attorney, said he has not yet named his first assistant. He has, however, appointed Corey Amundson and Catherine Maraist as chiefs of his criminal and civil divisions, respectively.