North Dakota’s U.S. attorney stepping down
FARGO -- North Dakota's top federal prosecutor said Tuesday he's stepping down to return to private practice. U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Timothy Purdon, who has served in the post since September 2010, said he plans to open a Bismarck branch ...
FARGO - North Dakota’s top federal prosecutor said Tuesday he’s stepping down to return to private practice.
U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Timothy Purdon, who has served in the post since September 2010, said he plans to open a Bismarck branch of a national law firm.
He won’t name that law firm, but said his new work will include white-collar criminal defense work and national investigation, as well as representing local victims embroiled in legal controversies associated with the economic boom in the oil fields.
Purdon leaves with two years left in the term of President Barack Obama, who nominated him for the position in 2010.
“There was never going to be a perfect time to leave,” said Purdon, noting he’s served longer than the four-year term to which he was appointed. “I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress.”
A big focus of Purdon’s tenure as U.S. attorney was making Indian reservations safer.
That included an initiative that put Purdon’s assistant U.S. attorneys on the reservations in regular contact with the tribal communities they serve, as well as providing new support for crime prevention and re-entry programs.
Purdon said he planned to continue his work with North Dakota’s Native Americans as a private attorney, calling the frequency of crime on the reservation against Indian people “unacceptable.”
“It’s very emotional for me,” he said. “These are the folks that have been forgotten for far too long.”
Federal prosecutions on reservations have increased markedly since 2009, said Richard Henderson, a recently retired federal public defender in Fargo.
Henderson said Purdon’s emphasis on reducing crime in Indian Country was a first for that office, in his recollection.
“I think the biggest part of the problem is it’s just invisible,” he said. “It’s really important for our prosecutors and U.S. attorneys to work on that.”
Purdon was appointed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to chair the Department of Justice’s Native American Issues Subcommittee in 2013.
“Tim Purdon has been an outstanding United States attorney, a fierce advocate for the people of North Dakota, and a strong national leader whose efforts to improve public safety in Indian Country have made a profound difference - and touched countless lives,” Holder said in a news release.
Purdon also targeted violent drug trafficking that emerged in the Oil Patch over the past three years, including getting a record number of federal agents and prosecutors working in the Bakken region. That led to a more than 150 percent increase in defendants charged in western North Dakota by the U.S. attorney’s office. He also sounded the alarm early about human trafficking issues in the western part of the state.
U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a fellow Democrat, praised Purdon for his attention on rising drug crimes and human trafficking in the state, as well as for being a staunch advocate for Native Americans
“Tim was also one of the first leaders to take a hard line in combating drug crime and human trafficking which have unfortunately been increasing in the state,” Heitkamp said in a statement.
Though he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, some North Dakota Republicans at the time criticized Obama’s choice of Purdon due to his close ties to state and national Democrats.
Purdon expressed his gratitude to Obama and Holder for his time in office, adding, “This is the best job I’ll ever have.
“You’re never going to leave these issues in perfect condition,” he said.
Henderson pointed out that Purdon’s time in office had coincided with some major changes in the state’s crime patterns due to the oil boom.
“When he started, oil was just a twinkle in someone’s eye,” he said. “He’s been a very effective U.S. attorney during some really tumultuous times.”
Purdon also oversaw the prosecution of Valentino Bagola for the murders of two children on the Spirit Lake Reservation and an investigation into a synthetic drug trafficking ring that killed two people by overdose in Grand Forks.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers will become the acting U.S. attorney for North Dakota when Purdon steps down March 12.
Purdon said Myers is a career prosecutor who has prosecuted many of the highest-profile drug cases of the past decade at the U.S. attorney’s office and would be able to institutionalize some of Purdon’s changes in approach to both reservation and Oil Patch crime, and make them permanent.