US Attorney Michael Dunavant announces resignation

 US Attorney Michael Dunavant announces resignation

U.S Attorney for West Tennessee Michael Dunavant has announced his resignation effective February 28, 2021.

Attorney  Dunavant has served in office since September, 2017 after being appointed by President Donald Trump and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Dunavant supervised a total  office staff of 85 federal employees, including 45 Assistant U.S. Attorneys; managed,  oversaw, and implemented a total annual operating office budget of over $10 million; and  oversaw the investigation, prosecution, and litigation of all criminal and civil cases  brought on behalf of the United States in West Tennessee.

Some of Mr. Dunavant’s many highlights during his tenure as U.S. Attorney include the  following initiatives, priorities, and programs:

• He reinvigorated the Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) Task Force in Memphis,  recruiting the addition of new agents and resources from partner law enforcement  agencies. In the first year in office, he dramatically increased the number of federal  firearms cases filed by over 58%, and the number of defendants charged with  firearms offenses by over 68%, leading to a two-year total decrease of 13.1% in  overall violent crime and reported gun crime rates from 2017-2019.

• He led the DOJ Public Safety Partnership (PSP) Initiative with local team  stakeholders in West Tennessee to receive federal resources for law enforcement  training and technical assistance in an innovative framework to enhance data driven, evidence-based local strategies for violence reduction; and led and hosted  the National PSP Symposium on Violent Crime in Memphis in September 2019.

• He served on the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA)  Executive Board, which continued funding to implement and sustain the Heroin  Initiative, a joint coordinated effort between the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Shelby  County District Attorney’s Office, DEA, and the MPD Organized Crime Unit that  exclusively targets crimes and overdoses involving the distribution of heroin,  fentanyl, and prescription opioids. Also while serving on the HIDTA Executive  Board, Dunavant coordinated and supported a successful proposal to add and  designate Madison County, Tennessee as a new county in the Gulf Coast HIDTA  Region, which will significantly expand the law enforcement resource footprint in  West Tennessee for drug investigations and interdiction.

• He participated in the DOJ Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO)  Strike Force, working closely with other state and federal law enforcement agencies  to identify, investigate and prosecute cases involving healthcare fraud and  unlawful distribution and diversion of prescription opioids by medical  professionals, resulting in the indictments of 16 medical professionals in Memphis  and Jackson in 2019.

• He created and sustained a new Carjacking Initiative with ATF and local law  enforcement agencies for coordinated, targeted, and increased federal prosecution  of armed carjacking offenses in Memphis and Shelby County.

• He served on the Executive Board of the Multi-Agency Gang Unit (MGU), which is  comprised of federal, state and local law enforcement officials, with a common goal  of combating criminal gang activity in Memphis and Shelby County.

• He initiated and led a combined multi-agency law enforcement operation, “Bluff  City Blues” with the U.S. Marshals Service in Memphis and Jackson that resulted  in a total of 214 arrests, including 79 identified gang members, 65 individuals for aggravated assault, 34 individuals for homicide, 69 individuals for weapons  offenses, and 40 individuals for drug offenses, and the seizure of 28 firearms.

• He initiated and led the “Operation Crime Driver” anti-violence initiative in Tipton  County, TN, partnering with multiple state and local law enforcement agencies to  target violent offenders with outstanding arrest warrants. The operation resulted  in the federal indictments of six individuals from Tipton County, TN for firearms  and drug offenses, including Maurice Nash, A/K/A “Monster,” of Atoka, TN who  was sentenced as an armed career criminal to over 17 years in federal prison for  being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

• He hosted Attorney General Sessions, Attorney General Barr, and Acting Attorney  General Whitaker in Memphis for announcements of major DOJ initiatives,  including PSP, ATF Gun Strike Force & Crime Gun Intelligence Center, Project  Guardian, and Operation LeGend.

• After the Attorney General designated Memphis as one of a few select cities to  receive enhanced federal resources to combat violent crime, Mr. Dunavant led the  law enforcement efforts of both the Operation Relentless Pursuit and Operation  LeGend initiatives, coordinating with the ATF, FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals Service  (USMS), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to surge and deploy 40 new  temporary and permanent federal agents into Memphis to work with the Memphis  Police Department, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Multi-Agency Gang Unit, and  the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office in a sustained and systematic  task force model to fight high levels of violent crime.

• He secured the allocation of DOJ federal grant funding for local law enforcement  agencies in support of Operation LeGend and related efforts: City of Memphis  Police Department – $9,823,624 (COPS Hiring Program funds, to hire 50 new  officers); Shelby County Sheriff’s Office – $1,628,571 (Operation Relentless  Pursuit/Operation LeGend); City of Memphis – $500,000 (Real Time Crime  Center); Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office – $398,864 (Project  Guardian).

• He led public awareness efforts at the onset and throughout the COVID-19  pandemic to encourage reporting and investigation of hoarding and price-gouging  of critical medical supplies, PPP fraud, treatment and vaccine scams, and COVID  relief/stimulus fraud.

• He coordinated with federal, state, and local law enforcement to protect critical  infrastructure sites and mitigate threat risks to significant events, including  election security, federal buildings and property, and the 50th Anniversary of Dr.  Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination (MLK 50 – April 4, 2018).

• He developed and launched three new video public service announcements (PSAs)  providing targeted messaging to educate and inform the public to raise awareness  and increase reporting about the Department of Justice priority areas of violent  crime, elder fraud, and opioids.

• He joined with ATF and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) to  launch the “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” public awareness campaign to warn about  the seriousness of the crime of purchasing a firearm for someone who cannot  legally do so, and to deter potential straw purchases.

With a focus on aggressively prosecuting cases involving violent crime, child exploitation,  immigration offenses, health care fraud, embezzlement, identity theft, public corruption,  gang conspiracies and racketeering, drug trafficking organizations, and unlawful firearm  possession, prosecutorial highlights and case examples during Mr. Dunavant’s tenure  include:

• Patricia Parsons, of Brighton, Tennessee, was sentenced to sixty months in federal  prison for aiding and abetting solicitation to commit the kidnapping of a State  Court Judge and County Sheriff.

• Jeremy Drewery, former Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy, was sentenced to 63  months in federal prison for Hobbs Act Extortion, Receipt of a Bribe by a  Government Agent, and Solicitation to Tamper with a Witness.

• Byron Montrail Purdy, a/k/a “Lil B” or “Ghetto,” of Jackson, Tennessee, was  sentenced to 360 months imprisonment and five years of supervised release for  leading and conspiring to participate in a racketeering enterprise, as part of a large  RICO conspiracy case known as “Operation .38 Special”, charging and convicting  a total of 16 members of the Gangster Disciples criminal enterprise with  racketeering and other crimes, resulting in the disruption and dismantlement of  the Gangster Disciples organization, including several governors, enforcers, and  ranking members of the gang.

• Marvin “Pookie” Foster, of Lauderdale County, TN, was sentenced to 300 months  in federal prison for distributing heroin resulting in a fatal overdose.  • Deon Brown, Sr., a/k/a/ “Pleezy,” of Bolivar, TN, was sentenced to 275 months in  federal prison for conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of actual  methamphetamine (ICE).

• WellBound of Memphis agreed to pay a $3,246,000 settlement of a False Claims  Act complaint against the healthcare company for false claims to Medicare,  TriCare, and TennCare for services rendered to home dialysis patients that were  due to illegal inducements paid in violation of the Anti-Kickback statute.

• Quenton Irwin White, former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee  as well as the former Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction,  was sentenced to federal prison for a mail fraud scheme to defraud black farmer  clients.

• Cornelius Richmond, of Memphis, was sentenced to 324 months in federal prison  for committing armed robberies of a Brink’s Armored Truck and Circle K store.

• Calvin Bailey, Sandra Bailey, and Bryan Bailey, of Milan, TN, were sentenced to a total of 249 months in federal prison for Conspiracy to defraud Medicare, Medicaid  and Tricare resulting in millions of dollars of loss to federal health care programs.

• Gloria Harris, of Memphis, was sentenced to 64 months in federal prison on bank  fraud charges arising from her theft of approximately $292,500 from her former  employer, Crescent Medical Corporation.

• Ronda Hopkins Richards, owner of Ronda’s Travel Corner, in Jackson, TN, was  sentenced to federal prison for a wire fraud scheme in which she defrauded  approximately 100 clients/victims of funds related to their travel, with a total loss  of approximately $410,280.25.

• Dimitar Petlechkov, a Bulgarian national, was sentenced to federal prison for mail  fraud in a scheme to defraud FedEx, resulting in over $800,000 in financial losses.

• Cleve Collins, aka Milton Cleve Collins of Memphis was sentenced to federal prison  for major fraud involving a scheme to defraud the United States on a construction  contract valued at approximately $1.5 million administered by the General  Services Administration for the replacement of the roof and the air conditioning system at the Ed Jones Federal Courthouse and Post Office in Jackson, TN.

• Guy Randal Stockard, a/k/a Randy, owner of Southern Meat Market in Memphis,  was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison for defrauding the federal  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food  Stamp Program, of more than $1.2 million over an approximately 28-month  period.

• Antonio Hawkins, of Memphis, was was sentenced to 360 months in federal prison  on five counts related to sex trafficking, including sex trafficking of a minor victim  and sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion.

• Michael Jay Harris, of McNairy County, TN, was sentenced as a career drug  offender to life imprisonment for methamphetamine trafficking.

• Kevin Coleman and Terrion Bryson, both former Memphis Police Officers, were  sentenced to federal prison for narcotics, weapons, and extortion offenses  committed while on duty.

• Zachary M. Baker was sentenced to federal prison in connection with theft of over  $800,000 from his former employer, Masterson Farms, a horse breeding farm  located in Somerville, Tennessee.

• Michael Beamish, of Obion County, was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison  for solicitation and enticement of a minor for sexual activity.

• Brian Black, former Crockett County 911 Director, was sentenced to 57 months in  federal prison for embezzlement of $178,000 from the trust account of a decedent’s  estate.

• Michael and Tawni Boutin, featured marijuana farmers on a television show called  “Weed Country” in Oregon, were both sentenced to federal prison for conspiracy  to distribute high-grade marijuana from Oregon to West Tennessee.

• Marlon Pruitt a/k/a “Big Putt”, of Memphis, was sentenced as an armed career  criminal to 15 years in federal prison for being a convicted felon in possession of a  firearm and drugs.

• Marcus Danner a/k/a “Poncho”, of Memphis, was sentenced to 352 months  imprisonment for his leadership role of an armed robbery crew and a member of a  drug trafficking organization.

• Cortez Armstrong, of Memphis, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for  distributing a lethal dose of fentanyl resulting in a fatal overdose.

• Christino Alcazar-Ortiz and Armando Alcazar-Ortiz, of Union City, were both  sentenced to 120 months imprisonment for conspiracy to distribute and possess  with the intent to distribute 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine and  Illegal Reentry into the United States after having been previously deported.

• Jason King, a former employee and cast member of the TV series, the “Deadliest  Catch,” was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison for possession of a firearm as  a convicted felon.

• Willie Somerville, of Tipton County, TN, was sentenced to life in federal prison plus  10 years for his leadership role in the home invasion attempted robbery and  murder of Timothy Edwards in Covington. Co-defendants Armoni Hall, Eddie  Poindexter, Christian Sherrill, and Darrell Owens were also convicted for their participation in the robbery, and each received significant federal sentences.

• Brandon Albonetti, of Memphis, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for  the armed robberies and attempted robberies of five CVS stores and one Burger  King during the summer of 2018.

• Marlon “Jazz” Taylor, of McKenzie, TN, was sentenced to life in prison for his  leadership role in a conspiracy to distribute multiple kilograms of actual  methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, and firearms.

• James Nelson, of Memphis, was sentenced as an armed career criminal to 405  months in federal prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm he used in the  domestic shooting death of his child’s mother.

• Roland Jackson and Taveyon Turnbo, both from Chicago, Illinois, were sentenced  to a total of 109 months in federal prison for transporting and possession of 366  stolen firearms taken from the United Parcel Services (“UPS”) facility in Memphis.

• SK Engineering & Construction Co. Ltd. (SK), one of the largest engineering firms  in the Republic of Korea, pled guilty to wire fraud in connection with a fraudulent  scheme to obtain U.S. Army contracts through payments to a U.S. Department of  Defense contracting official and the submission of false claims to the U.S.  government, resulting in the payment by the defendant of $60,578,847.08 in  criminal fines, the largest fine ever imposed against a criminal defendant in the  Western District of Tennessee.

• James Jackson, of Memphis, known as the “Father of Identity Theft”, was  sentenced to 17 years in federal prison for multiple counts of mail fraud, aggravated  identity theft, access device fraud and theft of mail resulting in losses to victims of  over $300,000.

• Olufolajimi Abegunde, an extradited citizen of Nigeria residing in Atlanta, and  Javier Luis Ramos-Alonso, a citizen of Mexico residing in California, were  sentenced to federal prison for an international cyber fraud scheme involving online dating and business email compromises.

• Sequna Copeland a/k/a “Cutthroat”, of Ripley, Tennessee, was sentenced to 120  months in federal prison on two counts of being a convicted felon in possession of  a firearm that was used in the murder of a pregnant woman.

• Michael Love, of Horn Lake, MS, was given multiple life sentences in federal prison  after having been found guilty of kidnapping and sexually assaulting six women in  Memphis and attempting to kidnap and rape a seventh between 2008 and 2015.

• Jamal Cherry and Wendy Thomas were sentenced to federal prison for robbery of  mail, money or other property of the United States and use of a firearm during and  in relation to a crime of violence, arising out of the armed robbery of a United  States Postal Letter Carrier.

• Johnny Lee Nixon, Jr. was sentenced to 160 months in federal prison for  Conspiracy to Commit multiple business robberies, Hobbs Act business robbery,  possession of a firearm during a robbery, and receiving firearms while under indictment during 3 business robberies and 2 shooting incidents in the  Brownsville, Haywood County area.

• Isaiah Miller, of Memphis, was sentenced to 300 months in federal prison for  participating in multiple (4) armed carjackings and brandishing a firearm during  crimes of violence.

• Keith Norris, of Weakley County, was sentenced to 23 years in federal prison for  leading a drug trafficking organization in a conspiracy to distribute  methamphetamine.

• Gene Allen Howell, of Selmer, Tennessee, was sentenced to 38 years in federal  prison for two armed bank robberies in McNairy and Henderson counties.

• Calvin Cole a/k/a “Fathead,” of Jackson, TN, was sentenced to 170 months in federal prison for being a leader in a conspiracy to distribute controlled substances  from a residence in Alamo, TN.

• Argel Hernandez-Escobar was sentenced to federal prison for possessing a firearm  as an illegal alien which was used in the fatal shooting of his minor child, and  illegally re-entering the United States.

• Cortez Young was sentenced to a total of 52 years in federal prison for committing  nine (9) armed business robberies across Memphis over a period of 44 days. • Richard Farmer, a psychiatrist in Memphis, was sentenced to 4 years in federal  prison for distribution of controlled substances outside the scope of professional  practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.

• Former TDOC Correctional Officers Tommy Morris, Nathaniel Griffin, Tanner  Penwell, Carl Spurlin, Jr., Cadie McAlister, and Jonathan York, were charged and  convicted for their roles in the civil rights violations during the assault of an  inmate, and the conspiracy to obstruct the investigation by covering up evidence  and providing false information.

Mr. Dunavant also led successful investigations and federal prosecutions of multiple  criminal gang organizations, including the Gangster Disciples, Major Stackz  Entertainment, Stackz Squad, Vice Lords, Kitchen Crips, Bloods, Conservative Vice  Lords/Concrete Cartel, Peda Roll Mafia, Fast Cash Boyz Entertainment, Young Mob,  Grape Street Crips, and the Stendo gang.

Between 2017 and 2021, Mr. Dunavant supervised a Financial Litigation Unit in the U.S.  Attorney’s Office that collected more than $76 million in criminal and civil actions for  victims of crime and the United States Treasury.

In 2019, Mr. Dunavant initiated and joined a legal action with Deputy Attorney General  Rosenstein and U.S. Attorney colleagues in Tennessee to challenge, oppose, and stay the  effectiveness of BPR Formal Ethics Opinion 2017-F-163, which expanded a Tennessee  prosecutor’s duty of disclosure of information beyond that which is required by well established substantive federal law. Dunavant drafted and signed the DOJ Amicus Brief  to the Tennessee Supreme Court which ultimately vacated the formal ethics opinion and  clarified that prosecutors’ ethical duties under Rule 3.8(d) are coextensive with their legal  obligations under Brady and its progeny.

In addition, Mr. Dunavant served on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee’s  (AGAC) Violent & Organized Crime Subcommittee, Native American Issues  Subcommittee, and the Controlled Substances Subcommittee, where he provided input  and guidance on a Parcel Interdiction Initiative recommendation to the Attorney General.

Mr. Dunavant was responsible for fully staffing both the Memphis and Jackson divisions  of the U.S. Attorney’s Office by hiring nearly half of the Office’s current Assistant U.S.  Attorneys (AUSAs), along with one-third of the Office’s support staff. He created and  appointed a dedicated Appellate Division responsible for handling all appeals in both  criminal and civil matters in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals; restructured the Criminal  Division of the Memphis office into three distinct subject matter units for greater  efficiency; increased the appointment and allocation of Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys  (SAUSAs) from state prosecutor offices; and designated an Elder Justice Coordinator to target elder fraud and financial exploitation cases. He was able to accomplish these  milestones while navigating his staff through several unprecedented challenges, including  the longest government shutdown in American history (from December 22, 2018, to  January 25, 2019), a worldwide pandemic health crisis, nationwide civil unrest,  contentious elections, and an unprecedented and unwarranted backlash against law  enforcement. In 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office was recognized by The Commercial  Appeal with a Memphis Area Top Workplace Award.

Prior to his appointment as U.S. Attorney, Mr. Dunavant served as the elected District  Attorney General for the 25th Judicial District of Tennessee from 2006-2017. For eleven  years prior to that, he was a partner in the law firm of Carney, Wilder & Dunavant in  Ripley, Tennessee.

Effective March 1, 2021, First Assistant United States Attorney Joe Murphy will succeed  Dunavant as the Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee  pursuant to the Vacancies Reform Act.