There are parts of Dave DeVillers’ life that sound like the plot of a gritty novel, with stories about a young prosecutor who crackdowns on organized crime and faces death threats from the gang whose members he has put behind bars.
There’s a heavy traffic chase, a family evicted from the state for their protection, and a brazen criminal who makes threats disguised by public news reports.
In the end, the bad guys go to jail for a long time, and the young prosecutor turns his attention to other gangs and corrupt politicians and foreign drug cartels and a host of other crooks in search of justice.
DeVillers, 55, wrote volumes about his decade-long prosecutor’s career, first in Franklin County and then with the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.
“I’ve always been aggressive, sometimes to my detriment,” he said in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch last week. ”
But DeVillers closes the book – or maybe just a chapter since he has no plans to retire – about a successful career as a prosecutor with his official resignation as a US attorney for the southern district of Ohio. The office is appointed by the president, and DeVillers respectfully stepped aside as Joe Biden’s administration replaces US attorneys elected by former President Donald Trump.
Monday is the first day for DeVillers not to have a morning briefing or a new or ongoing criminal case. He’s not entirely sure how to deal with it.
“There has never been a day without thinking of a criminal or a crime,” he said.
“Good at putting bad guys behind bars”
DeVillers, who grew up in upstate New York and New Jersey, began his legal career as an intern and then as an assistant attorney in the Franklin County Attorney’s Office.
There have been many memorable cases since then, including the persecution of the X Clan. The hired killers group was described in The Dispatch as “an ancient gang of organized crime that claimed part of the crime surrounding Mount Vernon Avenue and shot those who did not pay.”
DeVillers attempted 10 gang-related murders over the course of a year, limited by the indictment of their leader Ronald Dawson. Much was at stake.
“I realized pretty early on in the case and in the investigation and prosecution that if I lost it would be bad. People would die, witnesses would be killed, ”DeVillers said.
A witness in the case was murdered. DeVillers was once chased on the highway after work and was only able to flee from possible injury or death after driving into a police station.
The threats resulted in months of police protection for DeVillers, his family and neighbors. It was bad enough that DeVillers’ wife Julia and young children were put on a plane out of state for protection in the middle of the trial.
In 1999 and 2000, Amy Bednarek was able to determine when her neighbor in a neighborhood on Columbus Northeast Side was coming home from work each day. It was as the helicopter circled overhead to keep DeVillers safe.
Bednarek, longtime friend of the DeVillers family, said the neighborhood is aware of the threats and plainclothes officials strategically parked down the block and others at their neighbors’ home.
She didn’t know the full extent of the danger until years later, long after Dawson was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
DeVillers “was good at putting bad guys behind bars,” said Bednarek.
“A working prosecutor”
While DeVillers said he was proud of his job and the work of other prosecutors and employees in Franklin County and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he was never entirely satisfied.
Sure, it’s nice to receive letters from people in areas where gangs like the Short North Posse or the Trevitt and Atcheson Crips established their criminal activities until he and other prosecutors started pursuing criminal cases and prison terms against them.
“It doesn’t take long because two days later there is a murder and you are dealing with another neighborhood,” he said.
It is this ongoing persecution that helped propel DeVillers into his role as U.S. attorney for the southern district of Ohio in November 2019.
He knew it could be a short while serving as chief prosecutor in 48 Ohio counties, including the cities of Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton. But after nearly 20 years in the office working as an assistant to the US attorney, he wanted the chance to lead.
He has been recognized as an innovator for his work and throughout his career has helped bring law enforcement efforts together at the local, state, and federal levels.
“He’s not a bureaucrat,” said Kevin Kelley, a longtime assistant to the US attorney who worked alongside DeVillers. “He’s a working prosecutor.”
Notable cases of corruption occurred during DeVillers’ time as a US attorney, most recently indictments of former Republican spokesman for Ohio House, Larry Householder, and four other men in what the prosecutor has called the biggest bribery scandal in state history.
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Separately, several members of the Cincinnati City Council were arrested and charged with bribery and other charges. In November, former councilor Tamaya Dennard was sentenced to 18 months in prison for accepting bribes of US $ 15,000.
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While such cases are in the public spotlight, DeVillers used his time as a U.S. attorney to focus on combating violent crime and drug trafficking, including the illegal sale and exchange of firearms and the inflow of drug funds to foreign cartels.
“The two biggest problems in the southern Ohio District are violence and fentanyl,” he said.
The efforts made over the past 12 to 14 months have been fruitful.
“This will be a busy, busy office, both in terms of corruption and violent crime and cartels,” he said. “There will be a lot of murders (cases) and extraditions here this year – a lot in all three cities.”
Sen. Brown: DeVillers ‘pursue justice and hold those in power accountable’
With DeVillers’ departure, first US assistant attorney, Vipal J. Patel, was appointed acting US attorney pending nomination from the Biden administration and confirmation of an appointed replacement from the US Senate.
The review process includes extensive questionnaires, financial information and interviews. The commission will recommend leading candidates to Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who will then recommend a candidate to the president. The process will likely take weeks.
“US attorney DeVillers built on the good work of his predecessors, pursuing justice and holding those in power accountable,” Brown said in a statement. “I am confident the next US attorney for the Southern District of Ohio will do the same.” and I look forward to working with our non-partisan expert group to find the most qualified person for the job. ”
For his career, DeVillers plans to join a local law firm where he will focus on white collar crime. (He is technically banned from working for the federal government for the next five years and cannot tell which law firm he is until he is no longer with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.)
DeVillers said he reached out to local officials in hopes of being involved as citizens in efforts to fight drugs and violence.
He’s taking this week off. He could read a book or go hiking in a state park with his wife.
And he’ll probably think about crime at some point.
“I really don’t know what the hell I’m going to do,” he said. “… All I’ve ever been is a prosecutor.”