Tony West, who was confirmed as head of the Justice Department’s civil division in April, has put on his top-priority list three big items: resolving the cases of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, expanding the department’s fight against consumer fraud, and recouping money lost in fraud against the government.
The assistant attorney general, who was in Chicago to address the ABA meeting, said in an interview that resolving the Guantanamo cases is a “national security” issue, and he’s determined to meet President Barack Obama’s goal of closing the detention facility by January 2010. In keeping with past Obama administration statements, West reiterated that the military tribunals would proceed in some cases. He also said those proceedings would be reviewed to ensure that they are consistent with the rule of law and that options for individuals to challenge the process are available. Another process must be established for cases where the evidence has been tainted, he said.
The former Morrison & Foerster attorney, who was plucked from that law firm’s Oakland, Calif., office, said that he also wants to expand his division’s ability to pursue consumer fraud cases in cooperation with the Federal Trade Commission, especially to help people being preyed on in recession-driven scams.
“I want to expand our capacity and expand the number of cases we’re bringing in that arena,” West said.
In the interest of “protecting taxpayers,” West said he wants to bring more cases under the False Claims Act, especially in the areas of health care and mortgage fraud. The department is on track to claw back $2 billion from such frauds for the Medicare Trust Fund this year, he said. In an effort to work with other government officials on that goal, he planned to meet today with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and met yesterday with Tom Walsh, the civil chief of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago.
West declined to express any opinion on some of the proposals moving through Congress to amend the False Claims Act.
“The False Claims Act is one of the most important tools that the federal government has to try to recover monies lost to fraud, and I think that using that tool in an appropriate but an aggressive way is to the taxpayer’s benefit,” he said.