Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney Bill Powell announces his resignation

WHEELING, WEST VIRGINIA – U.S. Attorney Bill Powell, of the Northern District of West Virginia, has announced his resignation effective midnight on February 28, 2021.

Powell, a graduate of Salem College and West Virginia University College of Law, had previously served as the Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Jefferson County, West Virginia. He has also held positions as a Member of Jackson Kelly, PLLC, and as an Assistant United States Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia.

“It has been my great professional honor to work with the dedicated men and women in the Northern District of West Virginia. It was that dedication along with their hard work that the districts’ successes were possible. I believe this district serves as an example of consistency, fairness and effectiveness. I always did my best to serve justice and to do so in an impartial manner. I will miss serving in this position more than words can express, and I wish great success to whoever is appointed as the new US Attorney.”

During Powell’s tenure as U.S. Attorney, the number of defendants charged federally has increased by 50%, with a 90% conviction rate. He championed Department of Justice initiatives, such as Elder Justice, Project Safe Neighborhoods, and battling the drug epidemic. Powell and his team took a strong stance on drugs, with 85% of drug defendants sentenced to prison. He also took a hard stance on firearms convictions, with 90% of those convicted of a firearms violation going to prison. He fostered better relationships with law enforcement, understanding that working together makes our communities safer. From 2017 to 2018, cities across the Northern District of West Virginia saw a more than 20% reduction in violent crime. Martinsburg saw a more significant drop, more than 30%.

Powell worked diligently with his staff, the FBI, and the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General to ensure that the murders of eight veterans at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center were fully investigated and the person responsible was brought to justice. Reta Mays, a former employee at the hospital, admitted her guilt in July 2020. Mays pled guilty to seven counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of seven veterans and one count of intent to commit murder involving the death of the eighth veteran. Mays will be sentenced later this year. She faces life imprisonment.

Powell also oversaw an active participation in solutions to curb the opioid epidemic in the District, understanding that prosecutions are only a small part of helping to reduce the substance abuse issue in West Virginia. The office has become active with several Quick Response Teams in the District, offering support and staff to assist with their good work. He also committed thousands of hours of staff for prevention presentations at schools across the district, reaching thousands of students each year.

Drug prosecutions took up the majority of the criminal docket each year, as the office, along with law enforcement partners, focused on dismantling multiple drug trafficking operations that involved many other states and jurisdictions. From charging MS-13 gang members for trafficking to dissecting and dissolving criminal enterprises that trafficked hundreds of pounds of dangerous drugs into the Mountain State, Powell led his team in taking a hard stance on reducing drugs being brought into the state by out-of-state drug dealers looking to prey on West Virginians.

In 2018, Powell announced Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge (S.O.S.), created by the Attorney General, which focuses on a surge in prosecutions of those distributing fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. The Northern District of West Virginia was one of 10 participating districts. SOS focused efforts in the NDWV in Berkeley County. Berkeley County has consistently seen the highest rate of overdose deaths in the district. In 2020, there were 50 defendants named in 11 indictments under the SOS initiative.

Powell was one of nine U.S. Attorneys to be an integral part of the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force (ARPO Strike Force), a joint law enforcement effort that brings together the resources and expertise of the Health Care Fraud Unit in the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section (HCF Unit), the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in five states, as well as law enforcement partners at the FBI, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The mission of the ARPO Strike Force is to identify and investigate health care fraud schemes in the Appalachian region and surrounding areas. Powell was insistent that efforts be made to hold physicians and pharmacists accountable for illegally prescribing and distributing opioids, and several were prosecuted. The District’s civil division also did its share and garnered large settlements with healthcare providers, including a $50 million settlement with Wheeling Hospital, Inc., in 2020.

Powell serves as the vice chair of Appalachia HIDTA (High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area). The Appalachia HIDTA mission is to enhance and coordinate drug enforcement efforts of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies within areas designated as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas by pursuing the disruption/dismantlement of Drug Trafficking Organizations, particularly as it relates to the specific drug threat of the Appalachian region. Several of the district’s drug task forces are partially or completely funded by Appalachia HIDTA and Washington/Baltimore HIDTA.

The office also worked diligently on behalf of victims, ensuring their voices were heard and cases litigated. From October 2017 to February 2021, the District recovered nearly $60 million in civil and criminal collections for victims, as well as secured multiple years of incarceration for their perpetrators.

In the three and a half years as U.S. Attorney, Powell hired 13 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys to continue criminal and civil work in the district. He also hired 12 new support staff to work in the district’s four offices.

Powell was nominated by President Donald J. Trump to serve as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia on August 3, 2017. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on October 3, 2017. On October 13, 2017, Chief United States District Judge Gina M. Groh administered the oath of office to the U.S. Attorney Powell, making him the 28th person to serve in this position.

The Northern District of West Virginia covers 32 counties, and includes the cities of Wheeling, Martinsburg, Clarksburg, and Elkins. The United States Attorney’s Office, with staffed offices in those cities, has 25 attorneys and is responsible for conducting all criminal and civil litigation in the district involving the United States government.

Powell’s post-resignation plans have not been announced.

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