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U.S. Attorney Cliff Johnson, l-r, Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter, and Lake County Supervising Prosecutor Atty. Bernie Johnson

When Lake County Clergy Council speaks, people listen

Contributed By: The 411 News

Lake County Prosecutor Carter says U.S. Attorney Cliff Johnson is someone they should know

For the meeting in April, Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter introduced the Lake County Clergy Council to someone he thought they should know: Clifford Johnson, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana.

“When ministers speak, people listen” was Lake County Clerk Mike Brown’s opening statement. In 2022, the county clerk joined with the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and Lake County Prosecutor’s Office to create the Clergy Council.

Their premise: Clergy members are community leaders and play a critical role in the lives of the people they serve. By informing the clergy, county officials believe they can increase the community’s understanding of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

“This is the law enforcement officer who I answer to,” Prosecutor Carter said in his introduction.

The man and his office are probably unknown to a good 99 percent of the nearly 2.6 million people in this federal judicial district that covers Indiana’s 32 northern counties.

The Northern District’s home is the federal courthouse on Hohman Avenue in Hammond; two subdistrict courthouses are in South Bend and Fort Wayne. “I chose him because he talks about topics other prosecutors won’t touch,” Carter said.

With clarity, humor, and plain speech, the Gary native gave his clergy audience an overview of the federal judicial system, referencing Northern District cases and decisions.

Appointed in 2021 by President Joe Biden, he is the first Black to head the district. Johnson had just retired in 2020, after serving 40 years with the Dept. of Justice, thirty-four of those in the Northern District.

“Historically, the criminal prosecutions in the district have been for guns and drugs. We prosecute a lot of violent crimes,” Johnson said. “Last year, 53 percent of the Northern District cases were classified as violent crimes involving robberies, gun offenses, and drugs.” Added to that, all drug cases accounted for another 30% of prosecutions.

Most of the drug defendants were gang affiliated. Gun offenses also include people not legally allowed to possess a firearm. Of the 94 district courts in the nation, the Northern District places third when it comes to prosecuting gun offenses.

“We do a lot of drug trafficking cases. One we’re concentrating on now is fentanyl, which is being mixed with all types of very potent synthetic heroin. Currently, we are prosecuting a couple of overdoses resulting in deaths,” Johnson said.

“Everybody has probably heard about RICO (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations) prosecutions. That’s where we show an organization, such as a motorcycle gang, is doing the business of the gang through criminal activities,” Johnson said.

“Some are not really gangs, they’re opportunistic groups,” he said. “They may be robbing a store together this week; then the next week, they’re shooting at each other.”

Johnson said a weakness the federal system has is with juveniles. “It wasn’t designed to deal with juveniles. Across the Northern District and every U.S. Attorney I’ve talked to, often the most violent criminals are the young ones.”

“Another unfortunate crime we prosecute a lot of is child exploitation. Oft times we will get a phone in a white collar crime and we do a forensic examination on that phone,” Johnson said.

What they’re finding is a lot of pornography. “We don’t capture a lot of race information in our prosecutions. But just by observation … if crack was the Black man’s plague, then child pornography is the white man’s plague,” Johnson said.

“On the civil side, it’s either people who owe the government money or trying to get money from the government -- from student loans to social security. What we’re doing now is a lot of PPP fraud,” Johnson said.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) allowed businesses to apply for forgivable loans to pay for payroll and other expenses.

“When they did that, criminals found it was easier money than drug money,” Johnson said.

Groups and organizations can request a speaker from the Northern District to make presentations to their group and it’s free. Visit the district’s Speakers Bureau page to find out how at

Lake County Clergy Council members Latrice Ratcler, Village Ministry International; Rosa Munoz, Cross Church of East Chicago; Loretta Thames, Cathedral of Hope COGIC; Eric Schlichting, Holy Shepherd Lutheran; and Mitch Tavla, Valparaiso Baptist Church

Story Posted:05/05/2024

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