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DOJ Swamped With Data, Hampering White Collar Cases

When the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan brought securities-fraud charges against executives of cable operator Adelphia Communications Corp. in 2002, its case involved one million pages of evidence. In the office’s recent case against Trevor Milton, the former electric-truck executive who was convicted of fraud charges, prosecutors handed over four times that number to the defense. The numbers are higher in a pending securities-fraud case stemming from the collapse of Archegos Capital Management LP, where prosecutors already have provided more than seven million pages of evidence to defense attorneys after asking a court for a six-to-eight week window to produce the material. Federal prosecutors are swamped by data, as the way people communicate and engage in behavior scrutinized by investigators often leaves long and complicated digital trails that can outpace the Justice Department’s technology, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The problem is acute within the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, which, because of its jurisdiction over Wall Street, brings some of the nation's most complex white-collar crime cases. Damian Williams, who took over the office last year and pledged to prosecute corruption in financial markets aggressively, views the data issue as a crisis and has raised it with DOJ's top brass. The Manhattan office has already implemented some new data-management strategies, including rolling out a new electronic-evidence unit whose staff includes a lawyer specializing in document review. The office has begun using a new tracking system for evidence. Prosecutors have said that, unless the office can better manage data-related issues, they may need to consider charging fewer cases. “Practically speaking, the single biggest constraint on effective white-collar prosecution is the deficiencies in DOJ data infrastructure,” said Ilan Graff, a former federal prosecutor who is now in private practice. “If you are investigating a target and get terabytes of data—internal communications, Bloomberg chats, preserved messaging—the time it takes to get it uploaded and the search-related delays can be paralyzing.”


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