By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Shrewsbury – As the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Carmen M. Ortiz oversees a large network of attorneys and support personnel who work on cases involving such things as terrorism, homeland security, white collar crime and health care fraud.
On June 28, Ortiz was the guest speaker at the Shrewsbury League of Women Voters (LWV) annual meeting where she shared what life is like as the chief federal law enforcement officer for the commonwealth.
Ortiz, as is now well-known, is not only the first woman, but also the first Hispanic, to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Massachusetts district. She was appointed as such in 2009 by President Barack Obama, on the recommendations of the late Senator Edward Kennedy and Senator John Kerry.
“I was so humbled and touched by their support,” she said at the LWV meeting.
After growing up in Spanish Harlem, a tough New York neighborhood, Ortiz got her law degree at George Washington University. She has worked as a prosecutor and a defense attorney; seeing the perspective from both sides, she said, gave her valuable experience.
“It helped me to see how a family is also affected by a person's decision,” she said.
As U.S. Attorney, Ortiz reports to Attorney General Eric Holder, who she acknowledged was having a “busy week”. (Holder was found in contempt of Congress earlier in the day for withholding certain documents related to the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking operation.)
“Our mission is broad,” she said of her office, “but we do everything we can to keep the people of Massachusetts safe.”
National security is a priority, she added; as such, she works closely with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the Massachusetts State Police.
“Law enforcement is a huge part of my job,” she noted. “But so is prevention and intervention. My office is very involved with re-entry programs, trying to help people find their way back to society after committing crimes.”
Recently her office had a major coup when notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulge and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, were captured after 16 years on the run. The case is certainly one of the biggest that her office has dealt with during her tenure, she acknowledged.
“It's a tremendous challenge but I am honored to oversee it,” she said. “I am honored and privileged to be in the position to bring justice to the families [of the victims that Bulger allegedly killed or had killed].
But there have been a number of other high-profile cases as well, including the prosecutions of former Massachusetts Speaker of the House, Salvatore DiMasi, former state senator Dianne Wilkerson and former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner. Under her watch, the state also won the case against Tarek Mehanna, the Sudbury man who was found guilty of plotting with Al Qaeda to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Ortiz also serves on the Attorney General Advisory Committee (AGAC). She is the Chair of the AGAC's Healthcare Fraud Working Group and a member of the AGAC's sub-committee on Civil Rights and White Collar Crime.
She not only credits her parents with instilling a strong work-ethic in her, but also paid tribute to the women suffragettes who in the late 1800s to early 1900s strived for women's rights.
“They were really the female engineers of civil change,” she said. “It's up to us to make sure the pendulum of progress never slows down.”
Quoting a remark Obama recently made at a college commencement, she added, “It's not enough for women to sit at the table, we need to fight to sit at the head of the table.”
She urged the LWV members to “be a role model, be a mentor” to other young women, as she tries to do.
“It's important to foster those leadership skills for future generations,” Ortiz said.
“You need to dream, have confidence and take risks to reach your dreams,” she added. “You can's give up. You can's let those moments that knock you down, keep you down.”