Maryland United States Attorney Erek L. Barron Announces New Civil Rights Section on the First Anniversary of His Appointment as U.S. Attorney

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FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Department of Justice Building is pictured

Baltimore, Maryland – On the first anniversary of his appointment as United States Attorney for the District of Maryland, Erek L. Barron, announced that after a year-long assessment of the needs of the office and collaboration with the leadership of both the Civil Division and Criminal Division, the office is establishing the Civil Rights and Special Victims Section.  Sarah A. Marquardt and Paul E. Budlow have been appointed as Co-Chiefs of the new Section and Charles D. Austin has been appointed as Deputy Chief. 

“This section will be a beacon for protecting civil rights and addressing victim-related crimes requiring specialized skills,” said Erek L. Barron, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.  “Sarah Marquardt, Paul Budlow, and Charles Austin will lead a team of prosecutors, legal professionals, and investigators that represent the office’s best,” said United States Attorney Erek L. Barron.

The Civil Rights and Special Victims Section will be staffed by Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSAs) from the Civil Division and Criminal Division.  The Criminal Division’s Major Crimes Section AUSAs and support staff will be incorporated into the new section.  The new section will continue Major Crimes’ strong focus on cases involving vulnerable victims and federal criminal civil rights enforcement, including child exploitation, human trafficking, and identity theft.   The new section will also enforce a wide spectrum of federal civil rights laws in order to protect the constitutional rights of Marylanders and affirm equal opportunity for all, regardless of one’s race, ethnicity, sex, color, disability, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation.  The section’s civil rights work will focus on prosecuting hate crimes, eradicating discrimination in housing, preventing voter suppression, prohibiting discriminatory employment practices by state and local government employers, ensuring equal opportunity for Marylanders with disabilities, and investigating denials of equal protection to students by public schools and institutions of higher learning.

Today’s announcement is the culmination of a year of accomplishments, including the hiring of a diverse group of 19 new Assistant United States Attorneys, the appointment of the most diverse group of supervisors in the history of the Office, and the Office’s selection to be part of two national fraud task forces—the COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force and the Transnational Elder Fraud Task Force.  The COVID-19 Strike Force teams will deter, detect, and disrupt pandemic fraud.  The task force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts.

As part of the Office’s continuing efforts to protect older adults and to bring perpetrators of fraud schemes to justice, the Transnational Elder Fraud Task Force is dedicated to disrupting and prosecuting foreign-based fraud schemes that target seniors, including “grandparent scams,” romance scams, and advance-fee schemes.  The office also has a robust outreach effort to make seniors and their family members aware of how to spot and avoid financial scams.

Reducing violent crime is one of the highest priorities for the office.  U.S. Attorney Barron previously announced the formation of the Violent and Organized Crime Section, which combined the Violent Crime and Narcotics Sections into one unit.  In addition, U.S. Attorney Barron announced an unprecedented level of state funding to support the USAO’s violent crime reduction efforts, including the hiring of 30 additional personnel.  The U.S. Attorney further announced that prosecutors will use all available resources to investigate and prosecute repeat violent offenders—specifically utilizing a federal school zone statute that makes it a crime to possess a gun within 1000 feet of a school and looking at any wrongdoing that meets office priorities, including COVID-19 CARES Act fraud, in particular unemployment insurance fraud, Paycheck Protection Program fraud, Economic Injury Disaster Loan fraud.

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Community outreach is another way the office tries to reduce violent crime.  The Office’s reentry program has sponsored or assisted with reentry fairs around the state to provide resources and assistance to returning citizens and their families.  In addition, the Office has begun outreach to schools and youth programs in an effort to prevent young people from becoming victims or perpetrators of crime.

“I am proud of the accomplishments of the office to date, and I look forward to continuing to do all I can to serve Marylanders—keeping our communities safer through outreach and holding criminals accountable,” said United States Attorney Erek L. Barron.

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