Gov. Paul LePage has asked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ramp up prosecution of drug crimes.
LePage told the former U.S. senator that slow federal prosecution is straining Maine’s resources, according to a copy of the letter dated Jan. 26 obtained by the Associated Press.
LePage says the state is forced to prosecute and imprison offenders who break “the most serious” federal laws.
The governor said Maine is being overrun by drug gangs from other Northeastern states, and they’re “decimating” residents in his state. LePage successfully pushed for more state drug enforcement agents and has repeatedly spoken out against heroin traffickers coming into the state.
“Members of these gangs are selling cheap, but very powerful heroin that is killing one Mainer a day,” LePage said.
Sessions has said he’s committed to aggressive enforcement of federal drug laws.
“However, I have been told the U.S. Attorney’s Office has not been active in prosecuting drug crimes despite the fact that these drug dealers cross several state lines on their way to Maine,” LePage said. “I am also told that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is very slow in prosecuting the cases they do decide to take up.”
He called on Sessions to push federal prosecutors “to be more aggressive in prosecuting these criminals.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine prosecuted 58 drug cases in 2016, compared with 87 in 2015 and 53 in 2011. Of the 2016 cases, 42 cases involved heroin and OxyContin, up from 20 in 2011.
Spokesman Donald Clark said the office works with the Maine Attorney General’s Office and county prosecutors to determine whether drug cases are appropriate for prosecution in federal or state court.
He said the U.S. Attorney’s Office “is, and has been, firmly committed to working with our state and local partners to combat the opioid problem in Maine on all fronts.”
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, said the state has “excellent cooperation” with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which she said has “obtained substantial sentences against major drug traffickers.”
She supplied data showing the state prosecuted 332 heroin cases last year, up from 61 in 2011. Heroin represented 37 percent of drug cases prosecuted last year, up from 6 percent in 2011.
LePage also wrote to previous U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year asking for more federal prosecutors to tackle the drug crisis and acknowledged the Maine U.S. Attorney’s Office was pressed for resources.
A message was left with Sessions’ office on Friday.