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.