Matthew Krueger spent his final days as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin saying thank you to the many people he’s worked with over the past three years.
Krueger’s last day with the Eastern District was Saturday. He, like the other U.S. attorneys appointed by former President Donald Trump, have been stepping down from their posts as President Joe Biden’s administration transitions to its own nominees.
“More than anything, I want to express my sincere gratitude to people in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the law enforcement community and our community partners for being just such terrific folks of integrity and dedication, particularly as we’ve had such a challenging year,” Krueger said.
COVID-19 posed enormous management difficulties, Krueger said. The Eastern District had to quickly adapt to teleworking, and most of its staff continue to work remotely. Krueger said about 25% of employees are working in Eastern District offices — mostly people who must be on site to do their jobs.
The shift to remote work for many has actually resulted in an increase in productivity. Krueger said the Eastern District charged more cases and defendants in fiscal year 2020 than it did in the previous year. He credited a dedicated staff that was willing to step up to the task.
“It’s critical for people to know that the rule of law is still being maintained, even in this day and age,” Krueger said. “When we need to meet people in person, when we need to investigate things out in the field, we find safe ways to do it.”
In his last week, Krueger also prepared Richard G. Frohling for assuming the role of acting U.S. attorney. Frohling had been serving as Krueger’s first assistant.
“I care a lot about this office,” Krueger said, “so I want to be sure that it’s a smooth handoff and that there’s good continuity of management of our relationships and operations.”
The Wisconsin Law Journal talked to Krueger about his tenure as U.S. attorney, the challenges his successor will inherit and what’s ahead in his career.
Wisconsin Law Journal: What initiatives are you most proud of accomplishing during your tenure as U.S. Attorney?
Matthew Krueger: I’m particularly proud of the work that we did to protect good government and government programs. That included prosecutions for public corruption, like the Milwaukee County register of deeds (John LaFave) and the former Milwaukee Alderman (Willie Wade), but also the Brian Ganos matter. That one I had the privilege of working on personally. It was over $260 million of federal contracts that should have gone to companies controlled by minorities or service-disabled veterans, but they were all diverted to shell companies that Brian Ganos and his co-conspirators had set up. I think bringing that sort of case really sends a message to others that work with government that cheating won’t be tolerated.
The other related area that I think we had a lot of success on is our health-care fraud cases. Health-care fraud is really complex, and I saw a need to have subject-matter experts within our office, so we identified a group of prosecutors and gave them cross designation to be able to pursue cases either civilly or criminally, depending on however the investigation would lead them. By doing that and then putting more focus on data analytics looking at Medicare or Medicaid claims data for patterns, we’ve been able to increase our work in that way, whereas our office typically was having one or two health-care fraud resolutions a year. In just the last two years, we’ve had 11 resolutions, and I think there’s quite a few more significant ones in the pipeline. I’m proud of that work.
WLJ: How did you structure the office to prioritize having subject-matter experts in health care and other areas?
Krueger: What we have found and what we’ve tried to do in our office is to allow people to find a good fit with their interests. We have people in our office who really value being generalists, and then there’s others in our office who really want to specialize. In the last few years, our office has grown bigger. We have more prosecutors than we’ve ever had in the office now. Between that and, frankly, the complexity of cases, we have, in the last few years, moved to more of a clear team model where people are assigned to teams for their primary work.
WLJ: What do you see as the biggest challenges ahead in the next year for your successor?
Krueger: When we think about the amount of federal funds that have been given a stimulus because of the pandemic through the CARES Act and several other pieces of legislation, there’ll be a responsibility by the Department of Justice to do as much as we can to be sure those funds weren’t wasted, that there wasn’t fraud related to them. Those tend to be complicated cases. Like we saw after the Great Recession, within the years following the disbursement of the funds, there was a lot of work to do to build task forces with law enforcement agencies because inevitably, there will be fraudsters who will try to misuse those funds.
I think an ongoing challenge that I’d identify for our district is the incredible rates of violent crime in Milwaukee particularly. It’s heartbreaking that Milwaukee’s violent crime, and particularly its homicide rate last year, had such a spike. There was almost a doubling in homicides. The majority of victims are young men of color. It’s really a tragic situation that I think is going to require continued engagement both with law enforcement, but also prevention and community stakeholders to see how to break these patterns.
WLJ: What do you see as key to maintaining the good partnerships that the Eastern District has with law enforcement?
Krueger: The first and foremost is engagement, not just sitting back and waiting for the phone to ring. I think it’s like any relationship where you show up, you engage, and you tell the truth to each other. You find out where we can work together, and when you’ve got problems, you bring them to the surface, and you don’t don’t avoid them.
The Justice Department also has this very important role in enforcing civil-rights laws, including when law enforcement officers misuse force inappropriately. That continues to be a part of the work we’ll do also, and as we engage in a direct way with integrity with our partners, then I think that’s how we do best together.
I’ve met with a lot of U.S. attorneys from around the country, and as we just chat about the context in our districts, it’s not uncommon to hear about little spats and feuds between law enforcement or other partners in an area. I just haven’t seen that here. It seems like we’ve got a good set of norms of respect, cooperation and collaboration without a lot of ego, infighting or turf battles. I’m really grateful for the people that serve to make Wisconsin such a great place to live.
WLJ: What’s next for you in your career?
Krueger: I plan to join a law firm. I’m going back to private practice here in the Milwaukee area. I’ve got a lot of family — my folks, my siblings, my girls are all here in the Milwaukee area, so I’m really committed to this community. I’m not ready to announce yet where that will be exactly but that’s that’s the plan.
WLJ: How will your experience working in the Eastern District lend to your new career in Milwaukee?
Krueger: I hope to be able to help clients who have complex problems that require good judgment, especially when those problems have an interface with the government. I’ve learned a lot from working on this side of things. I can counsel clients through how to have effective compliance programs to avoid problems in the first place, help them conduct internal investigations if they do have concerns and then engage with the government if they have a matter that requires that. I hope to be able to offer the judgment that comes from the experience that I’ve had here.Follow @WLJReporter