Benjamin Wagner, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California that includes Fresno, will step down at the end of April and seek employment with a Northern California law firm, his office announced Wednesday.
Wagner, 56, was appointed by President Barack Obama on Nov. 6, 2009, as the U.S. attorney for the district, which stretches from the Oregon state line to Bakersfield.
He was highly regarded in the Obama administration for his pursuit of multibillion-dollar sanctions against Wall Street giants such as JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, as well as the high profile he earned targeting mortgage fraud following the economic collapse in late 2008. His office convicted nearly 300 defendants in such cases.
“Serving as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California has been the most fulfilling and exciting experience of my professional career,” Wagner said in a statement issued by his office. “I have the greatest respect for the women and men in this office who seek to do justice each day, and I am proud of all that we have been able to accomplish together.”
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Wagner gave no specifics about his decision to leave or his plans, but U.S. attorneys frequently leave their posts when a new president is elected.
Wagner said a rumor that has circulated for some months that he will move to San Francisco and join a firm there “is not correct.”
“I will be exploring options there, and that is something I would consider, which is perhaps how that rumor started, but I have not yet even begun to talk with any firms,” Wagner said. “It will be several months before I figure out where I land. Truthfully, I have not yet spoken to anyone in any firm about employment there.
“I had made the decision some time ago not to start looking for a job until I was done here, to avoid the distraction from the job at hand and to avoid any potential conflicts.”
Phillip A. Talbert, currently the first assistant U.S. attorney, will take over May 1 as acting U.S. attorney.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch issued a statement praising Wagner’s lengthy tenure in the office and his accomplishments.
“As U.S. Attorney, he has worked tirelessly to combat the most serious offenses, including gang violence and child exploitation,” Lynch said. “He has been a leader in the department’s outreach to Arab and Muslim Americans, helping to ensure strong relationships and defend against bigotry.
“He has vigorously prosecuted cases of mortgage fraud, securing record sums from banks for their role in the 2008 financial crisis.”
McGregor Scott, a predecessor as U.S. attorney, said Wagner “has been a wonderful public face for the office and has conducted himself with class and dignity throughout.”
“He’s had a magnificent tenure,” Scott said. “He’s accomplished very significant things that are known publicly, like the JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs matters.
“But, from my perspective, as equally important is he’s accomplished things that aren’t so public, namely getting additional resources to the office, which has historically been behind (others).”
Wagner came to California’s Eastern District in 1992, starting in the Narcotics and Violent Crime Unit, and then serving for several years in the White Collar Crime Unit.
Between 2000 and 2009, he was chief of the Special Prosecutions Unit, which is responsible for prosecuting public corruption, financial fraud, tax evasion, corporate fraud, cybercrimes, identity theft and other federal crimes.
During that time, he oversaw prosecution of San Joaquin County Sheriff Baxter Dunn in a wide-ranging fraud case that sent Dunn to prison for mail fraud and ensnared some of his political cronies.
Wagner also served as the hate crimes coordinator and presided over national security and terrorism-related investigations and prosecutions as the district’s anti-terrorism coordinator. He has participated in 18 jury trials and has earned national awards on several occasions for his work on cases involving public corruption, money laundering, tax evasion, domestic terrorism and health care fraud.
From 2005 to 2006, Wagner was stationed in Jakarta, Indonesia, as the U.S. Department of Justice’s resident legal adviser, advising Indonesian prosecutors on combating corruption, terrorism, money laundering, and related criminal justice issues. He was awarded the Meritorious Honor Award by the U.S. State Department for his work in Indonesia.
Prior to joining the U.S. Department of Justice in 1992, Wagner spent over five years as an associate at the New York City law firm of Cahill, Gordon & Reindel. He graduated in 1986 from the New York University School of Law, where he was managing editor of the NYU Journal of International Law and Politics, and from Dartmouth College in 1982.
Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189