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U.S. Attorney, scourge of real estate swindlers, is quitting

centralvalleybusinesstimes.com | April 21, 2016

The chief prosecutor of scores of swindlers who contributed to the housing collapse is resigning to enter private practice.

Benjamin Wagner will leave his post in Sacramento at the end of the month after six and a half years. He served as an assistant U.S. Attorney and supervisory assistant U.S. Attorney for over 17 years before that.

During his tenure as U.S. Attorney for the Central Valley, Mr. Wagner served for three years on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee under Attorney General Eric Holder, and was appointed to co-chair the White Collar Crime Subcommittee of the AGAC by Attorney General Loretta Lynch. He served on numerous other AGAC subcommittees, and for five years was a co-chair of the Mortgage Fraud Working Group of the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.

“Serving as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California has been the most fulfilling and exciting experience of my professional career,” says Mr. Wagner in a written statement Wednesday. “I have the greatest respect for the women and men in this office who seek to do justice each day, and I am proud of all that we have been able to accomplish together.”

“Ben Wagner has served the people of the Eastern District of California with distinction for nearly a quarter of a century, spending more than 17 years as a prosecutor in the office before becoming U.S. Attorney in 2009,” says Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “He has vigorously prosecuted cases of mortgage fraud, securing record sums from banks for their role in the 2008 financial crisis. And he has provided critical insight and valuable advice as a member of my Advisory Committee, where I appointed him co-chair of the Subcommittee on White Collar Crime.”

In civil and asset forfeiture cases, the Eastern District had several years of record recoveries under Mr. Wagner’s leadership. A few of the significant civil cases handled by the office over the past six years include the following:

• The recent $5.06 billion multiparty settlement with Goldman Sachs relating to the securitization and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities. The settlement included a $2.385 billion payment to the Department of Justice as a result of efforts by attorneys in the Eastern District — the largest civil recovery in the history of the district.

• The $13 billion multiparty settlement with JPMorgan Chase announced in 2013 relating to the securitization and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities. The settlement included a $2 billion payment to the Department of Justice as a result of the Eastern District’s work.

• The settlement with Sierra Pacific Industries announced in 2012, valued at approximately $122 million, relating to its role in the huge Moonlight Fire that damaged tens of thousands of acres of U.S. Forest Service land. The settlement agreement required the transfer of 22,500 acres of wilderness to the USFS in California.

• Health care fraud and false billing settlements against Adventist Health, Catholic Health Care West, Medtronic Inc., Biotronik, and Quest Diagnostics, resulting in total recoveries of nearly $40 million between 2011 and 2015.

In criminal cases, the office expanded its prosecution of financial and health care fraud cases, firearms trafficking, human trafficking and child exploitation cases. A few of the significant criminal cases handled by the office include the following:

  • The conviction of nearly 300 defendants in complex mortgage fraud cases, many involving schemes that fleeced homeowner victims of many millions of dollars. Sentences imposed ranged up to 30 years in prison.
  • The convictions and lengthy sentences obtained in the Wannakuatte and Vassallo cases, involving the largest Ponzi schemes in the history of the district, in which investors lost about $150 million.
  • The RICO conviction of Scott Salyer, CEO of SK Foods, and nine other officers of food product companies in a series of prosecutions involving fraud and commercial bribery in the tomato products industry.

During Mr. Wagner’s tenure, the number of assistant U.S. Attorneys in the Eastern District increased by over 12 percent. He established a National Security Unit within the office, created a Civil Rights/Human Trafficking Working Group, expanded the White Collar Unit in the Fresno Division, and opened a new branch office in Bakersfield. He also conducted extensive outreach to underserved populations in the district, including the Muslim, Sikh, Southeast Asian, and LGBT communities.

As of May 1, Phillip Talbert will assume leadership of the office as Acting U.S. Attorney. Mr. Talbert, who is currently the First Assistant U.S. Attorney, has been with the office for more than 13 years. He previously served as Appellate Chief and as a prosecutor in the Narcotics and Violent Crime Unit, and served in the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility before coming to the Eastern District of California. Before joining the Department of Justice, he was in private practice.




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