The Department of Homeland Security Investigation Process
The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) has become a common name in American households over the past two decades. However, the DHS is a relatively new federal agency. Founded in 2002 by President George W. Bush in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, the DHS consolidates 22 government agencies into a single organization. The stated mission of the DHS is to “secure the nation from the many threats we face.” To accomplish this, the DHS employs more than 240,000 federal employees, making it the third-largest government agency, behind the U.S Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for investigating a wide range of possible crimes, both occurring on U.S. soil and abroad. Most of the Department’s efforts are focused on the prevention of terrorism. That being the case, the DHS typically focuses on high-level offenses which carry severe consequences as a result of a conviction. At Oberheiden, P.C., our dedicated team of federal defense attorneys aggressively represents those who are being investigated by the DHS. With experience defending clients facing serious civil and criminal allegations, we have the knowledge, dedication and skill necessary to defend against the most complex and challenging cases. Several of our senior attorneys formerly held high-ranking positions within the federal government, giving Oberheiden, P.C., unrivaled knowledge of how DHS investigations proceed and what can be done to mitigate risk in the face of an investigation.
What Types of Crime Does the Department of Homeland Security Investigate?
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is the principal investigatory arm of the DHS. The mission of the HSI is to “investigate, disrupt and dismantle terrorist, transnational and other criminal organizations that threaten or seek to exploit the customs and immigration laws of the United States.”
- Bribery and embezzlement;
- Child exploitation;
- COVID-19 related fraud;
- Credential fraud;
- Cybersecurity fraud;
- DHS contract fraud;
- DHS program fraud;
- Human rights violations;
- Human trafficking;
- Identity theft;
- Immigration fraud;
- Money laundering;
- Narcotics smuggling;
- National security threats;
- Online fraud;
- Transnational gang activity; and
- War crimes.
HSI employs more than 10,400 employees, including over 7,000 special agents. HSI special agents work with the FBI, DEA and U.S. Marshals Service, as well as state police and county sheriff’s departments. In 2020, HSI’s efforts resulted in nearly 32,000 criminal arrests and seized over $1.8 billion in assets.
DHS Enforcement Action in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic
The recent COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread panic across the globe. This opened the door for some to engage in fraud and other criminal activity that target those who found themselves especially vulnerable. The DHS caught on and developed a coordinated response to combat COVId-19 related fraud.
According to the DHS, it has been “working nonstop to protect the American people from criminals who are attempting to exploit fear for financial gain.” For example, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) division of DHS targets those who send emails with malicious attachments or links to fraudulent websites in an attempt to gain access to company data and resources, or to trick people into revealing sensitive information or donating to fraudulent charities. Another example is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a division of DHS, investigates allegations of counterfeit or prohibited medical supplies, such as then non-existent COVID-19 vaccinations or medications.
However, given the vigor with which DHS is aggressively pursuing anything that could possibly be taken as exploiting the fear associated with the pandemic, the agency sometimes overreaches.
The DHS Investigation Process
The Department of Homeland Security responds to perceived threats in various ways, depending on the specific situation. However, much like other federal law enforcement agencies, the DHS may initiate its own investigation or receive word of a potential threat through another state or federal agency, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshall’s Service or state police.
Special agents with the DHS are considered law enforcement officers, and thus, rely on traditional methods of investigation such as undercover in-person surveillance, video surveillance, interviewing potential witnesses, obtaining and executing search warrants, effectuating arrests, and referring cases to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.
Because of the sensitive nature of the crimes the DHS investigates, special agents often keep their investigations very secretive. Thus, it is common for the subject of a DHS investigation to have no idea they may soon face serious federal charges. Additionally, before any criminal charges can be brought against an individual, the special agent and the prosecutor handling the case must present the facts to a grand jury.
A grand jury is a group of citizens that determines if federal prosecutors have enough evidence to bring formal charges against the subject of their investigation. Often, during an investigation, DHS special agents will consult with federal prosecutors. Once the investigation is complete, DOJ prosecutors, with the help of DHS special agents, must convene a grand jury and present their case. Grand jury proceedings are secret, meaning the subject of the investigation will still usually not know they are under investigation. Additionally, there is no judge present, and the prosecutor conducts the proceeding alone.
Not surprisingly, grand juries frequently determine that the prosecutor’s evidence is sufficient, which then allows the prosecutor to indict the subject. However, just because a prosecutor is able to get a case past a grand jury does not mean that the subject will be found guilty; it only means that formal charges will be filed.
At this point, it is imperative for the subject, who is now considered a target, to retain an experienced DHS defense attorney to develop a comprehensive and effective defense strategy.
Why Contact Oberheiden, P.C. to Represent You in a DHS Investigation
Few criminal investigations are as serious as a DHS investigation. Given the fact that the DHS generally only takes on high-level cases, the punishments, if convicted, can be astronomical. Thus, it is essential anyone who is the subject of a DHS investigation immediately reach out to an experienced federal defense attorney for assistance. In fact, the decision of which attorney you select to represent you is possibly the most important decision you will make regarding your case.
Certainly, there are many federal criminal defense lawyers out there who will be more than willing to take on your case. And many of these lawyers can competently represent your interests throughout the process. However, when it comes to a DHS investigation, you need and deserve more than mere competency.
At Oberheiden, P.C., we are nationally recognized for our federal defense work. Our attorneys are highly experienced in handling some of the most complex and high-stakes cases brought by the United States government. When we refer to our experience, we are talking about specific, hands-on experience handling every stage of a DHS investigation. Oberheiden, P.C. lawyers have handled more than 2,000 grand jury indictments and many federal criminal trials, many of which were resolved without the filing of charges. And in the event your case does make it to trial, Oberheiden, P.C. lawyers have the confidence, skill and tenacity you need to feel comfortable going up against the government.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if a DHS agent comes to my home or business?
Understandably, few people know how to effectively deal with federal law enforcement agents showing up at their homes or businesses. However, this is a crucial moment, and the outcome of your case can hinge on what you tell a DHS agent. The most important thing to know when a DHS special agent asks to speak with you is that you are under no obligation to speak with them. While it is certainly nerve-wracking and may seem counterintuitive, the best option is to decline an interview and reach out to a DHS investigation and defense lawyer at Oberheiden, P.C. It is common for any federal law enforcement officer to try to convince you to answer their questions by explaining that it will look bad if you don’t cooperate; however, this is just a tactic designed to get you to provide them with potentially incriminating evidence. If DHS agents have enough evidence in their file to arrest you, they will. If they don’t have the evidence, don’t give it to them by speaking with them. It’s as simple as that. If DHS agents recently knocked on your door looking for information, call Oberheiden, P.C. to schedule a free case evaluation today.
Why don’t we call ourselves the best DHS investigation and defense lawyers?
At Oberheiden, P.C., we consider ourselves some of the best federal defense attorneys in the country. However, for a few reasons, we refrain from using words like “the best” when we describe ourselves. First, we’ve been doing this long enough to know that everyone values different things in a lawyer. Thus, to us, it feels a bit misleading for us to claim that we are the best lawyer for every person facing a DHS investigation. This sentiment is echoed in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which govern lawyers’ communication with potential clients. Model Rule 7.1 provides, “A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.” At Oberheiden, P.C., we know that everyone’s situation is unique, and so we don’t claim to be the best. However, we believe that our track record speaks for itself.
What should I look for in a DHS investigation attorney?
If you are the subject of a DHS investigation, it is important to keep two things in mind. First, the stakes are very high. And second, not very many lawyers handle these matters. That said, it will not be challenging for you to find a lawyer who is willing to take your case. Younger attorneys and those who want to make a name for themselves will be eager to take on a DHS case. However, it is essential that you work with an attorney who has extensive experience handling DHS investigations. DHS special agents and the prosecutors who handle these cases are highly experienced and very specialized. They generally exclusively handle a very specific type of case, giving them advanced knowledge of the relevant laws. It is important that your attorney is equally matched. At Oberheiden, P.C., several of our senior lawyers worked their way up in the federal government before joining our firm. These attorneys worked for the FBI, DEA, and other investigatory and prosecutorial roles, giving us inside knowledge into how the federal government handles these cases.
Contact Oberheiden, P.C. to Schedule a Case Evaluation to Discuss Your Situation with an Experienced DHS Investigation and Defense Attorney
If you recently learned that you are the subject of a DHS investigation, it is imperative that you reach out to Oberheiden, P.C., as soon as possible. We are available to immediately get involved in your case. When you contact Oberheiden, P.C., we will immediately put you in touch with a senior attorney. Once you are connected with your attorney, you will have their direct number. There is no need to go through secretaries or deal with junior associates at any point. We offer complimentary and confidential case evaluations to all prospective clients, where we will meet with you to discuss your case, go over the details, and determine what we can do to help. Once we determine the best course of action, we will immediately get to work developing an effective defense strategy that takes into account all contingencies. Call Oberheiden, P.C. at 888-680-1745, or request a free case evaluation online now to discuss your options. We have offices nationwide.