In response to the rapidly changing situation surrounding the coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19), the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee is implementing the Contingency Plan and Guidance of the Department of Justice, White House Task Force, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Office of Management and Budget, and Office of Personnel Management to mitigate risks to individual employees and the general public.
U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant said, “In uncertain times, the rule of law is more important than ever. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee is committed to the continuity of operations and the critical mission of the Department of Justice.”
Specifically, the U.S. Attorney provides the following update regarding the operational status of the Department of Justice and other agencies and components:
(1) Our mission to protect the citizens of West Tennessee and the United States is not changed by the COVID-19 outbreak. While we have adapted operations to optimize the health and safety of our employees, we have ensured that those employees have the resources and flexibility to continue to safeguard the District and the American people from violent crime, opioids and other dangerous drugs, financial and sexual exploitation, threats against our national security, and other criminal activity.
Our offices in Memphis and Jackson remain open, and we are working closely with our federal, state, and local partners to protect the public and ensure that mission-critical law enforcement operations continue uninterrupted. Based upon guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., we are maximizing the telework program and options for our employees. Non-high risk employees will continue to cover office and court responsibilities as needed and on a rotating basis. All non-mission critical travel by employees has been suspended.
(2) Yesterday, the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee issued the following notice and Administrative Order: Due to exigent circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, all civil proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee are continued until after April 17. All criminal proceedings other than initial appearances, arraignments, bond and detention hearings, and other in-person criminal proceedings presided over by magistrate judges, are continued until after April 17. All civil and criminal jury trials scheduled to commence now through April 17 are continued until further notice. Courthouses otherwise remain open for business. Please see Administrative Order 20-12 for further details: https://www.tnwd.uscourts.gov/pdf/adminorders/20-12.pdf
(3) For the next 30 days, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will implement nationwide modified operations to maximize social distancing and limit group gatherings in their facilities. Other issues, including social, legal, and volunteer visits, inmate movement, tours, and staff training and travel has been suspended. Enhanced health screening of staff, contractors, and inmates has been implemented, and facilities are well prepared with on-site medical professionals to test, treat, and isolate symptomatic inmates with exposure risk factors.
The BOP is coordinating with the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on these initiatives to ensure that those agencies can adjust for impact to their operations. BOP will also be sharing this guidance with its private prison contractors.
For more information regarding COVID-19, and the BOP’s Modified Operations, see the following link: https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/covid19_status.jsp
(4) Unfortunately, because criminal activity does not engage in social distancing or voluntary quarantine, federal law enforcement agencies and components must continue their duties in criminal investigations, enforcement operations, and response to critical public safety incidents during this challenging time. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is continuing to closely coordinate with all federal law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Marshals Service, FBI, ATF, DEA, HSI, ICE, CBP, USPIS, and U.S. Secret Service to safely and effectively execute our mission and uphold the rule of law. Additionally, during this national emergency, DEA Diversion Control Division is working with registrants to ensure the nation’s drug supply is adequate and uninterrupted. See this link for more information: https://deadiversion.usdoj.gov/coronavirus.html
(5) Attorney General William Barr has directed U.S. Attorneys to make it an absolute priority to detect, deter, investigate, prosecute, and punish all criminal conduct related to the coronavirus crisis. In particular, there have been reports of individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud, reports of phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and reports of malware being inserted onto mobile apps designed to track the spread of the virus. Other scams and exploitation schemes include price gouging and price fixing, as well as antitrust violations involving the manufacture, distribution, and sale of public health products. The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division remains open for business, and will continue to carry out its mission to protect competition and the American consumer. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announces-antitrust-civil-process-changes-pendency-covid-19-event
Citizens should remain vigilant and discerning– scammers and fraudsters never let an opportunity to scam and defraud go to waste. When it comes to the COVID-19 situation, whether it’s a fake “charitable” cause or a fake “cure,” don’t be duped. Use common sense, never give out your personal or banking information or Social Security number, and never buy a gift card because someone wants to be paid “right now.” Protect yourself and do your research before donating or contributing to a crowdfunding campaign.
If you suspect a coronavirus treatment of cure scam, please report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov You can also learn more about the signs of a scam here:
Report any suspicious activity, fraud, and attempted fraud at FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at: https://www.ic3.gov
The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public fear and panic, and this conduct will not be tolerated. This office will be working with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to ensure that all appropriate enforcement tools are made available to stop and punish wrongdoers.