Former Assistant U.S. Attorney's anti-drug work yields ATF award

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Brian Lennon with the ATF award he accepted along with his team

LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

The prosecutorial adventure former Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Lennon embarked upon with a team of law enforcement specialists resulted in breaking up a dangerous drug distribution ring.

And the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), part of th U.S. Department of Justice, felt that was worthy of a national Honor Award.
Lennon, who is now a partner at Warner, Norcross and Judd, went to Washington August 23 to receive the award, at a ceremony where the ATF Acting Chief, B. Todd Jones, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder, spoke.

Lennon suggests that when all was said and done the operation, called Holiday Express, would make a thrilling movie, full of dramatic arrests and more money than one can easily wrap one’s head around.

He explains that, at the time of his 13-year career with the U.S. Attorney’s office (which ended earlier this year with his move to Warner Norcross), investigators from the Federal agencies could choose to bring potential prosecutions to whichever Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) they thought would do a good job.

Thus it was that Lansing police officers Hung Tran and Dan Zolnai and ATF Agent Steve Toth alerted Lennon to their broad investigation of a drug trafficking gang out of Detroit, suspected of supplying illicit substances to the greater Lansing area.

That investigation, called Operation Rainy Day, resulted in seven convictions and a number of seizures, and even more important, the ring was destroyed. “We were able to successfully dismantle this group,” says Lennon. “Many times you just disrupt them, but we got not only its leadership guys out of Detroit but also one of their big suppliers from the East Coast.”

Lennon served as lead prosecutor for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force during most of his time as an AUSA.

The team was not yet done. The trail that led back to Mexico also wound around to California before reaching Michigan. Comments Lennon, “Operation Holiday Express was the spinoff, the second phase. We followed the cocaine and the money back to California, and eventually to two separate distribution networks.” Both of the heads of the two drug rings were named Jackson, but they were not related.

Operation Holiday Express led to another 16 convictions, with several million dollars in seizures from sales conservatively estimated at $176 million. “We got testimony from people who had had $40 million pass through their hands,” Lennon says.

Charles Jackson was especially difficult to prosecute, because he was insulated all around by protective family members, some of whom were also  convicted. However, according to Lennon, the team’s secret weapon was a financial analyst, Frank Scartozzi, who traced incriminating money and ownership connections. “Frank was able to uncover all these layers and identify vehicles, properties, with the leaders. His work was a key component added on to our team.”

Lennon adds that the way the U.S.Attorney’s office worked while he was there entailed an in-depth review of indictments before they could be brought. He praises the Western District office’s Don Daniels as “ a brilliant guy” for his reviewing skills.

One challenge he faced, especially since the case eventually involved criminal charges against a person from Mexico illegally in the U.S., was establishing that the Western District of Michigan Court was  the appropriate court to try the case. “At one of the 2011 trials,”he says, “I spent the first three days establishing venue in the Western District. The first part of that was telling the jury how these drugs they were going to hear about ended up in Michigan.”
The path of Lennon’s career has touched on many facets of the United States government. After getting his A.B. degree from Harvard in 1988,  he spent a year teaching at a “secured” school in Massachusetts, the Robert Kennedy School — a juvenile facility where, he jokes, “everyone had perfect attendance.” He then went from the University of Notre Dame, where he got his J.D., to a career in the Marines.

Lennon was trained to “defend Marines.” The Marine Corps does not have its own Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, though Lennon worked out of the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. “In the Marines, we all started out as infantry officers, and our assignments and promotion reviews were done by other marines,” he explains. “I left after one tour — actually I extended the tour by one year to four and a half years — to join the Department of Justice.”

He was a trial attorney at the DOJ in Washington DC, and an AUSA in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Lennon came to West Michigan when he was assigned to a sex discrimination case brought by one of the local AUSAs. He and his wife, who was at the time also an attorney at the DOJ, decided they wanted to stay. “We fully love this community,” Lennon says.

He had a fulfilling career in the Western District of Michigan U.S. Attorney’s office, holding the district record for the most convictions in a single year, among other honors.

Early on, then-U.S. Attorney Margaret Chiara named Lennon Deputy Criminal Chief, including supervising health care fraud and computer crimes.

And yet, he says, “I enjoyed my opportunity working in management, but I really missed working with the agents.” His later work resulted in, among other honors, receiving the “Superior Performance as a Criminal Prosecutor” award from AG Eric Holder in 2011.

After that, Lennon says, he was looking for a new challenge. “I wanted to use my Marine training in criminal defense, and I’d always had the highest respect for Warner Norcross and Judd. I love having the opportunity to join Sarah Howard and Madelaine Lane in an already established criminal defense practice.” He will be part of Warner’s White Collar Criminal Defense and Compliance practice; Lennon specializes  in health care fraud and other white collar and drug defense, as well as corporate internal investigations and compliance.

Still Lennon was only too happy to return to Washington DC to receive the award, along with his family, including children aged six to 16. Though both he and his wife are from the Midwest originally, they were able to visit friends they had made during their time in DC.

The Honor Award also went to another AUSA in the Western District office, Joe Fauson; two paralegals from that office, Norma Kruithoff and Stephanie Miller; both Lansing police sergeants; and the financial investigator, Frank Scartozzi. Senior Special Agent Toth received a Distinguished Service Medal.

“It was incredibly humbling and a great honor,” Lennon says, “but I’m also honored to be senior counsel here at Warner Norcross. This is a great legal community, a great place to not only raise a family but to practice law.”

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