Steubenville prosecutor given new powers to combat crime

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The top state prosecutor in Steubenville, Ohio, has received new federal powers to combat crime in a community that has seen an influx of drugs, guns and gangs.

Jefferson County prosecutor Jane Hanlin was sworn in earlier this week as a special assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of Ohio, based in Columbus.

State prosecutors are rarely given such authority, but the unusual move gives Ms. Hanlin the ability to prosecute crime at either the state or federal level, bringing to bear the heft of the federal government where necessary while still handling the usual state caseload.

She said the appointment, the first of its kind in Jefferson County, will make for more cooperation between state and federal law enforcement and the U.S. attorney's office in Columbus.

"This allows us to work together more closely with them," she said Wednesday. "It's always better to have as many resources as you can."

Federal prosecutors had approached her late last year about the appointment. She welcomed it because she said Steubenville and the surrounding area has a growing problem with drug dealing, much of it originating outside the region, and associated violence.

Federal prosecutors are often in a better position to be effective in gun-, drug- and gang-related cases because they have the power to marshal more resources than their state counterparts. In addition, the penalties in the federal system are much harsher and the conviction rate approaches 98 percent.

Felons in possession of guns, for example, can receive five years in federal prison, often in an institution far from home. Under Project Safe Neighborhoods, the Justice Department has made it a priority to pursue gun cases in an attempt to reduce violence, much of it fueled by the drug trade.

Similar efforts have targeted child pornography, organized drug rings and computer crime.

Rather than rely on an assistant U.S. attorney hours away in Columbus, Ms. Hanlin will now be able to decide which local cases should go federal.

Ms. Hanlin, who has worked in the county prosecutor's office since 2005, said she doesn't yet have any federal cases, but she would travel to Columbus to prosecute any that arise.

During the swearing-in ceremony Monday, Carter Stewart, U.S. attorney for southern Ohio, said the appointment is "an unprecedented event that shows the cooperation we are bringing to the Ohio Valley."

During the same ceremony, five local law officers also were deputized as members of the Mountain State Fugitive Task Force in an effort to amplify its ability to catch criminals.

Two Steubenville police officers and three sheriff's deputies from Jefferson and Belmont counties will now have authority to pursue fugitives across state lines.

Authorities said the move was necessary because many criminals move into and out of the Steubenville area from nearby West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

William Ihlenfeld, the U.S. attorney for northern West Virginia, also attended the ceremony and said he welcomed the coordinated effort to pursue crime in the Ohio Valley.

"There are problems that have spilled over into West Virginia from Ohio and problems from West Virginia have spilled over into Ohio," he said.

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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