MEMPHIS, TN — In a statement released recently, U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton III announced his resignation, effective Feb. 28.
“Nearly six and a half years ago I was provided the professional honor of a lifetime,” Stanton said in the statement. “To be able to serve the district where I was born, raised and educated, and for which I have tremendous love and respect, was a remarkable experience.”
Former FedEx attorney Edward L. Stanton III had to pinch himself sometimes to make sure that his nomination by President Barack Obama on April 14, 2010, to be the next chief federal law enforcement officer for West Tennessee’s 22 counties was real and not a dream.
“It was an unbelievable honor. It’s something I will always cherish and try to uphold…and I will honor this appointment in the appropriate way,” said Stanton, who was confirmed by unanimous consent of the U.S. Senate on Aug. 5 of that year as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.
Tennessee’s 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen and 8th District Congressman John Tanner, two senior members of the U.S. House of Representatives from the President’s party, recommended Stanton for the position.
Memphis attorney Veronica Coleman-Davis was the last Democratic nominee and the first African-American to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee. She received the nod from President Bill Clinton.
Sworn into office on Aug. 16, Stanton is one of three U.S. Attorneys in Tennessee and 93 across the country. Atty. Gen. Eric L. Holder Jr. was in attendance for Stanton’s ceremonial investiture.
Stanton had a staff of nearly 100 people working out of two offices. The main office was located on the 8thfloor of the Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building in Memphis and the Jackson Branch Office is in Jackson, Tenn.
The staff includes 40 prosecutors, legal assistances, paralegals, support staff, and an administrative division that deals with everything from H.R. to budget, IT to investigations, and contracting. Over past years, more than 20 million dollars in restitution, fines, and fees in civil and criminal matters were collected.
U.S. Attorneys are responsible for the following: 1) the prosecution of criminal cases brought by the Federal Government; 2) the prosecution and defense of civil cases in which the United States is a party; and 3) the collection of debts owed to the Federal Government, which are administratively uncollectible.
The Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office handled nearly 400 matters over the past year, including indictments and information filed; and the Civil Division handled over 3,500 cases over the same period. He established a Civil Rights Unit in 2011.
“What makes the news all the time are high criminal profile cases,” said Stanton.
Three well-known cases come to mind prior to Stanton’s administration – Tennessee Waltz, which led to the arrest of seven Tennessee lawmakers and two others in 2005; Tarnished Blue, the roundup of “corrupted” Memphis police officers over a number of years; and Main Street Sweeper, where three high-profile Memphians were nabbed in 2007.
The aforementioned sting operations are indicative of the type of criminal cases that land squarely on the U.S. Attorney’s desk, and the type of cases where taskforces of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are deployed.
Indictments and arrests are often reported in the media, such as drug distribution conspiracies, sex trafficking, money laundering conspiracies, illegal prescription drug distribution rings, mail fraud, child pornography, and other crimes.
The apprehension and sentencing of Craig Petties and his drug trafficking organization for packaging and distributing cocaine in Mexico, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and elsewhere, is perhaps Stanton’s crowning achievement to date as a U.S. Attorney.
He said the wife of Mickey Wright Sr., who worked for the Shelby County Office of Construction Code Enforcement before he disappeared in 2001, sent him a card thanking his office for securing a life-sentence without parole in 2011 for Dale V. Mardis, who admitted killing Wright and dismembering and burning his remains in Mississippi.
“I told her that justice delayed is not justice denied,” said Stanton, a driven crime fighter focusing on ensuring the safety of the district’s 1.5 million citizens. “I give it 110 percent. The staff steps in and gives the same.”
There is an uptick in criminal activity in the district, notably prescription drug abuse, which often leads to heroin use and trafficking, Stanton said. “Quite frankly, we’ve seen a record number of heroin overdoses here, particularly of young teenagers and young adults.”
Another area is sex trafficking, he pointed out. Crime reduction initiatives have been relatively successful in Shelby County primarily due to taskforces like Project Safe Neighborhoods, Project Safe Childhood and Safe Streets Task Force, Stanton said. Partners include local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
The Multiagency Gang Unit is another taskforce being deployed. Its mission is to eradicate gang activity, Stanton said. It is comprised of the Memphis Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the FBI.
“Our goal is to dismantle gang organizations, beginning at the top. We’re very vigilant,” the U.S. Attorney said matter-of-factly.
While fighting crime was Stanton’s No. 1 goal, “what is equally important is to get out into the schools, neighborhood and communities,” he said. “There’s not a call that doesn’t get returned. There’s not a request that doesn’t get answered for someone to come out. The children need to see that.”
Stanton is a role model trying to steer youth in a positive direction. Supporters like his guidance counselor in school helped to nurture his aspirations – just like he’s trying to do for students at the schools he visits.
“I thought I wanted to be a pilot. That kind of went to the wayside,” said Stanton, whose foray into public service began in 5th grade when he ran for student council president at Idlewild Elementary. “That was my first loss. I thought I was going to make a difference for the 5th graders.”
He’s made a difference since graduating from Central High School, the University of Memphis in 1994, and U of M’s Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in 1997. He began his legal career at the law offices of Charles Carpenter. From there, he went to the assistant city attorney’s office, the law firm Armstrong Allen, and finally to the legal department of FedEx before his appointment as U.S. Attorney.
Among Stanton’s accomplishments as U.S. Attorney was the creation of a dedicated Civil Rights Unit in 2011. The unit is responsible for prosecuting individuals who commit federal civil rights crimes including human trafficking, law enforcement corruption, excessive force, official misconduct, hate crimes, predatory lending, unfair housing and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations.Stanton comes from a family of public servants. His father, Edward L. Stanton Jr., is the current General Sessions Court Clerk; and his mother, Ruth Johnson Stanton, is retired from Memphis City Schools.
He grew up with two sisters in Whitehaven. Arnette Stanton Macklin is vice president of Advancement at MIFA and Tamara Stanton-Riley, his younger sister, is the administrative director for the Shelby County Board of Equalization.
“It’s a part of my DNA,” said Stanton, also noting that his maternal grandfather, a trailblazer in his own right, was one of the first African-American letter carriers in the North Memphis area. The examples set by the Stanton men, he added, helped to solidify his role as a husband and father.
“I didn’t have to look anywhere else,” said Stanton, who is married to Mae Smith Stanton and has two children, a seven-year-old and a 10-year old. “I saw the example of being a father, husband, a provider. I saw men who stood up on principle as opposed to what was popular…and really instilling into me what character is, integrity, and how important your name is.”