Lelling fears Biden administration will ‘soften’ prosecution of drug dealers

BOSTON, MA. – JUNE 15: United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling speaks during a press conference about federal cyberstalking charges against six individuals who worked for Ebay at the Federal Court House on June 15, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, in an interview with the Herald, says he’s concerned the Biden administration will “soften up” on its prosecution of major drug dealers after he leaves his office.

Lelling, who amassed a strong record going after gangs and big time drug dealers during his tenure, expressed worries that Biden will retreat to Obama era programs that eliminated mandatory minimums and harsher sentences for big-time drug dealers.

“What I want to see is aggressive enforcement of drug crimes,” Lelling said. “If the Obama administration is any kind of predictor the Biden administration may soften up on that.”

Lelling was appointed by the Trump administration and will leave after Biden appoints his successor. Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, an opponent of mandatory minimum sentencing, is reportedly one of the candidates Democrats are looking at for the next U.S. Attorney.

In the Herald interview, Lelling says he understands the Biden administration will have different priorities than the Trump administration but he stressed that he believes the deadly opioid epidemic is “as bad as it’s ever been” and it’s important to crack down on suppliers.

“I strongly believe this office should be hammering (bulk dealers of heroin and fentanyl),” he said.

“The people who sell this poison — we should be burying them,” he said.

“I have my doubts (the prosecutions) will continue.”

Lelling said prosecutors with the Obama administration put an emphasis on reducing some sentences, especially mandatory minimums, as part of what was called the “Smart on Crime” initiative.

“My personal view is that’s a mistake,” Lelling said. “I think you have to be aggressive on the supply side in fighting the opioid epidemic.”

During his tenure Lelling was known for leading prosecutions of drug dealers and gangs.

In 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office under Lelling conducted a lengthy probe into drug and gun trafficking in Lawrence, resulting in the arrest of 32 suspects, including 18 gang members, and the seizure of 80 firearms. Dubbed “Operation Emerald Crush,” the probe was a joint operation of federal, state and local authorities.

Lelling also said his office is currently sifting through reams of potential local leads into the deadly rioting and ransacking of the Capitol last week.

“We’re receiving a lot of raw information,” Lelling said, adding that his office has assigned a coordinator to the case. “If any of that (turns) into a viable lead we will pursue it … . I would not hesitate to open a case against someone who traveled to Washington with an intent to cause mayhem. I think the events in DC were a travesty.”

Lelling said he could prosecute rioters under the anti-riot act or other civil unrest statutes, adding that many people crossed state lines.

“But right now we are just sifting through a lot of information we are receiving. It’s not clear at all if any of it will pan out.”