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AG forms units to tackle public corruption, financial fraud

Timing is critical as DAs face cuts in budgets, she says

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / January 27, 2011

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Amid a series of high-profile public corruption cases, Attorney General Martha Coakley said yesterday that she is expanding her fraud and corruption division to include units dedicated to government and white-collar crimes.

The Public Integrity Division will focus on public corruption, while a Fraud and Financial Crimes Division will concentrate on advanced financial and computer crimes.

Coakley said she will not add staff, because of state budget cuts, but will reorganize her office to reflect the focus on the new investigative units with more than a dozen prosecutors and investigators.

A former organized crime prosecutor, Coakley said her office has long pursued corruption, having prosecuted more than 40 cases over the past four years. But the new units will make it a focus following a string of high-profile cases, including the federal indictment of a former House speaker, Salvatore DiMasi, and the convictions of astate senator, Dianne Wilkerson, and a Boston city councilor, Chuck Turner. Wilkerson has since resigned, and Turner was forced off the council.

“We intend to make a strong statement, not only with these divisions but what we’re going to do,’’ Coakley said yesterday during a breakfast meeting with members of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. “We will go after those cases where public trust or fraud is involved.’’

Coakley’s office is already investigating the state Probation Department, the Middlesex sheriff’s office, and the state Lottery Commission, over the timing of television advertisements during last year’s governor’s race.

She said adding the new units is critical as district attorneys face budget cuts and are being forced to focus more on street crime.

“We’re in the position to be able to focus on some of those larger-impact cases and do the kinds of investigations that often times [district attorneys] just can’t do,’’ she said.

Coakley said the focus will also be on wrongdoing in the private sector, to ensure “a fair, competitive market,’’ particularly in the financial industry.

She pointed to violations of fair wage laws, as well as the foreclosure crisis, to highlight the damage that private-sector wrongdoing can have on communities.

“They eat away at the fabric of a good competitive market and a fair-market playing field,’’ she said.

Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.