SB County’s top prosecutor seeks greater partnership with feds

RIVERSIDE — District Attorney Michael A. Ramos announced plans Wednesday to strengthen his office’s partnership with federal prosecutors.

Ramos told members of the Inland Empire Chapter of the Federal Bar Association that he plans to cross-designate one of his local prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Ramos revealed the plan while discussing a host of top issues affecting public safety, such as street gangs, medical marijuana and mortgage fraud, alongside Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach and U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. during a meeting at U.S. District Court in Riverside.

The cross-designated prosecutor, known as a special assistant U.S. attorney, will give federal prosecutors an edge with more local expertise. It will enable more local cases to be prosecuted using federal laws, such as the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Federal laws generally carry stiffer sentences, and unlike overcrowded California prisons, federal institutions have room for more inmates, the lawyers said.

“I think it benefits both ways,” Ramos said. His office already participates in task forces with federal agencies.

Ramos did not say who from his office would be the special assistant U.S. attorney, or SAUSA, but that person could be appointed by year’s end. The move comes as federal and local prosecutors are looking for ways to maximize resources and effectively fight crime in an era of tight budgets.

Zellerbach said the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office has had a SAUSA for years.

“The federal government has resources available to them that the state doesn’t,” Zellerbach said.

Birotte said he has 11 federal prosecutors to cover all the federal cases in the Eastern District of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. SAUSAs serve an important role, he said.

“I view it as an essential tool for the work that we need to do here,” Birotte said. A difficult economic climate has forced government agencies to come together, he said.

Ramos said his office would not have accomplished as much in its public-corruption cases without federal partners. His office has investigated alleged public corruption stemming from the $102 million settlement in 2006 of the county’s lawsuit with Colonies Partners LP, as well as alleged malfeasance in the county Assessor’s Office.

Investigation of public-corruption cases would have been “impossible without the assistance of the FBI,” Ramos said.

On another topic, both district attorneys said state prison realignment, stemming from Assembly Bill 109, is having a dramatic impact on justice in the region.

“It’s a profound change in how we do business in the state of California,” Ramos said. Since Oct. 1, he estimated 350 offenders, known as “triple nons,” which should have been sent to state prison, will serve time in local custody.

“Triple nons,” as they are described by prosecutors, are non-violent, non-sexual, non-serious offenders.

More judicial resources are needed to handle the effects of A.B. 109, Ramos said.

Zellerbach said county jails were not designed to house inmates for 10 years or more, and he anticipated federal lawsuits arising from that.

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