- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Federal prosecutors charged nearly 21 percent fewer defendants last year in Kansas, led by steep declines in prosecutions of immigration and drug cases, a new report from the federal judiciary shows.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Kansas has faced “gaps in resources” over the past two years due to a federal hiring freeze and budget cuts, spokesman Jim Cross said.

“The federal agencies that investigate cases and bring them to us for prosecution have felt similar pressures,” Cross said in an email.

The latest report of the federal judiciary, released Tuesday by the Administrative Office, provides an annual snapshot of the caseloads in the nation’s federal appeals courts and district courts.

In Kansas, federal prosecutors filed 895 criminal cases for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 2013, compared to 1,128 cases the previous year, the judiciary report shows. Nationwide, filings of federal criminal cases dropped 3 percent to 91,266.

Cross said that there are numerous things that can affect the number of cases prosecutors filed, and that it “may be influenced to varying degrees by one - or all - of them at any specific time.”

Much of the decline in Kansas’ federal criminal cases reflects a significant downturn in the number of prosecutions for illegal re-entry by immigrants, the report shows.

In 2013, just 36 such cases were filed for illegal re-entry, compared to 107 a year earlier. Seventeen cases related to other immigration offenses filed last year were at a comparable level to 2012.

However, the decline in prosecutions for illegal re-entry comes as the U.S. attorney's office in Kansas started aggressively cracking down on Kansas employers accused of knowingly hiring immigrants who are living in the United States without legal permission.

The recent crackdown on employers began with an indictment filed in September 2012 against a suburban Kansas City couple that accuses them of illegally employing immigrants at two Clarion hotels, one in Overland Park and the other in Missouri near the Kansas City International Airport. They will go to trial later this month in Kansas City, Kan.

Since then, other Kansas businesses have been indicted on similar immigration-related charges.

The McCalla Corp. paid $400,000 in fines and forfeitures after pleading guilty in December 2012 to illegally employing immigrants at its McDonald’s restaurants in Wichita. In Ottawa, the manager of the El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant was indicted in September 2013 for allegedly harboring immigrant workers living in the country illegally. And the owners of the World Buffet Grill will be sentenced in May for illegally employing immigrants at their Wichita restaurant.

Federal prosecutions related to drug offenses were also down significantly in Kansas. Marijuana-related cases fell from 91 in 2012 to 56 in 2013, while cases related to all other illegal drugs dropped from 315 to 212 in 2013, the report said.

Prosecutions of most other federal crimes - such as fraud, embezzlement, robbery and sex offenses, among others - remained relatively stable compared to the previous year.

Federal courts in Kansas have consistently ranked among the top three in the 94 judicial districts nationwide in recent years for the number of gun prosecutions. And the trend has continued upward in Kansas for firearms and explosives cases: Federal prosecutors filed 193 cases in 2013 compared to 161.

The U.S. attorney's office in Kansas has previously touted its partnerships with local law enforcement because federal firearms statutes carry stiffer prison sentences. Prosecutors have been using federal statutes that prohibit convicted felons from possessing guns or that make it a federal crime to possess firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking or violent crimes as a way to help local communities clean up their gang and drug problems.

In addition to the smaller criminal caseloads, the filings of federal civil lawsuits fell 12.4 percent to 1,546 cases, the report shows. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Kansas also handled 7.5 percent fewer bankruptcy cases with 8,604 new petitions last year.



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