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Hochul will retire as U.S. attorney to pursue private sector interests

Unexpectedly, William J. Hochul Jr. resigned Wednesday as U.S. attorney, leaving behind a six-year legacy of fighting street gangs, terrorism and heroin addiction.

Hochul, 57, believed to be the second longest serving federal prosecutor in local history, said he is leaving for a life in the private sector, but declined to elaborate on what he plans to do in the future.

“Thirty years in public life is a milestone for me,” he said. “I think we’ve accomplished more than I ever expected.”

Nominated by President Barack Obama, Hochul served as U.S. attorney for six years, but his career as prosecutor began decades earlier.

He joined the Department of Justice in 1987 and, four years later, moved back to his hometown of Buffalo to work as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. It was here that he gained his reputation for prosecuting gang, terrorism and prescription pill cases.

Hochul’s departure later this month – he will leave Oct. 28 - also coincides with a federal investigation targeting close aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Hochul’s wife is Lt. Gov. Kathleen Hochul.

Lt. Gov. candidate Kathy Hochul watches election returns come in with her husband, U.S. Attorney William Hochul, their son Will and daughter Katie in her room at the Sheraton New York Times Square in New York City, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Lt. Gov. candidate Kathy Hochul watches election returns come in with her husband, U.S. Attorney William Hochul, their son Will and daughter Katie in her room at the Sheraton New York Times Square in New York City, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

There was no mention of the Buffalo Billion, Cuomo’s upstate economic development program, in Hochul’s press release Wednesday but it’s no secret federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating the state’s involvement in bribery and bid rigging.

“No. Zero,” Hochul said Wednesday when asked if the probe played a role in his decision to retire.

Hochul would not comment on possible successors, but given the short amount of time left in his expected tenure, it’s likely an interim replacement will be named, possibly James P. Kennedy, second in charge of the local office.

A permanent successor will be chosen by the next president, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

[Related: Successor to Hochul as U.S. attorney depends on who is the next president]

After returning to Buffalo, Hochul gained a reputation as one of the first federal prosecutors in the nation to use racketeering laws to dismantle a street gang, the “LA Boys” in Buffalo.

He also was the lead prosecutor in the Lackawanna Six case, a federal prosecution of several people accused of training with terrorists in Afghanistan.

During his time as a prosecutor, Hochul oversaw several significant cases, including the prosecution of a Niagara County labor union accused of using violence against non-union employees and others.

From left, U.S. Attorney William Hochul, Lt. Steven J. Nichols and Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Deranda survey the 18 55-gallon drums of drugs and needles that have been turned over at drop-offs at the BPD's five district stations on Friday, April 29, 2016. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

From left, U.S. Attorney William Hochul, Lt. Steven J. Nichols and Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Deranda survey the 18 55-gallon drums of drugs and needles that have been turned over at drop-offs at the BPD's five district stations on Friday, April 29, 2016. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

He also prosecuted individuals involved in a food stamp fraud scheme in several states, a cigarette trafficking ring that cost Michigan and New York more than $50 million and an international intellectual property trafficking ring.

In 2001, shortly after 9/11, Hochul became chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Anti-Terrorism Unit, and, five years later, head of the National Security Division.

“I loved every day of trying cases in court,” he said of his time as a trial attorney. “But I gave it all up to become manager of the office.”

In his six years as the region’s top prosecutor, Hochul oversaw the prosecution of more than 200 gang members from 14 criminal organizations across Buffalo, including the Seventh and 10th Street gangs on the city’s West Side.

More recently, his office prosecuted the region’s first Islamic State recruiter and won a major environmental case against Tonawanda Coke Corp. The Tonawanda Coke case resulted in a $25 million judgment and a landmark public health study into the effects of the company’s manufacturing operations.

Unlike a lot of prosecutors, Hochul also prosecuted doctors and others accused of contributing to the ongoing heroin overdose epidemic.

“We sounded the alarm in 2011,” Hochul said of the heroin epidemic. “Who knows how many lives we saved.”

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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