- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) A federal prosecutor says he will emphasize prosecution of drug-conspiracy cases and violent crime over weapons violations despite a request by Mayor Martin O'Malley that more gun cases be tried.
The city's police chief, meanwhile, says he does not have any problem with the approach outlined Thursday by U.S. Attorney Tom DiBiagio.
"Obviously, we'd like to see both the gun cases and the other," Police Commissioner Edward Norris said.
"I'm optimistic. If the office is going to do drug conspiracies and violent street crimes, I think we're going to get where we want to be."
Mr. DiBiagio, a Republican appointed four months ago by President Bush, also repeated an earlier commitment to target political corruption and white-collar crimes.
Mr. DiBiagio said going after the city's worst criminals would have a more lasting impact than simply pursuing large numbers of relatively minor gun violations.
"To do it, you've got to do it right," he said.
Mr. O'Malley, who called on Mr. DiBiagio last month to take additional gun cases to court, said more prosecutions of drug cases and violent crimes would be welcome. But he said straightforward gun charges would catch more offenders. He estimated that Mr. DiBiagio's plan would cut gun prosecutions by half this year.
"How many drug conspiracy cases can you do in a year?" Mr. O'Malley said.
Mr. O'Malley has made fighting crime a key part of his administration and has pledged to cut the city's homicide total to 175 this year. The city registered 259 homicides in 2001.
Rep. Robert Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican who urged Mr. DiBiagio's appointment, said he had not talked in detail with Mr. DiBiagio about his plans.
Mr. Ehrlich was an opponent of former U.S. Attorney Lynne Battaglia's plans to pursue the city's worst criminals with federal gun prosecutions. But, he said, if Mr. DiBiagio's plans would lead to less crime and fewer murders in the city, it would work.
"I think that Martin O'Malley, Bob Ehrlich and Tom DiBiagio all can agree that a lower number of murders in Baltimore City would be [a] success," Mr. Ehrlich said.
Under Mrs. Battaglia's Project Disarm, a defendant could be prosecuted for being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun with just one previous felony conviction. Mr. DiBiagio said he would require that a defendant have two previous convictions to qualify.
He said Attorney General John Ashcroft directed federal prosecutors to aggressively pursue gun crimes, but not in cases where defendants could face equal or harsher punishment in state courts.


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