Budget cuts mean US Attorney must be more selective



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Posted on September 1, 2013 at 10:14 PM

Updated Sunday, Sep 1 at 11:20 PM

In the last few months, there have been millions of dollars in cuts by the federal government.

Sequestration went into effect on March 1, triggering automatic across-the-board spending cuts to the military and federal programs.

Here in North Texas, U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldaña says those cuts mean she is not able to take on many cases.

"It's something that keeps me awake at night," she said.

Saldaña is in charge of the Northern District of Texas. In a rare one-on-one interview, she told WFAA how her job just got harder.

"Having to make the decisions as I am now ... looking forward to 2014 on what I do less of," she said.

Saldaña's office  is faced with sequestration budget cuts. This year, she has 10 percent less to spend; funding could be cut as much as 14 percent in 2014.

The fallout? Saldaña is already declining to prosecute cases because of the cuts.

For example, can she take on white collar crimes with less than a million dollar loss?

"Just because it's a $900,000 loss case, I mean, is that less worthy of our attention than otherwise?" she asked.  "But you know what? I am going to have to focus on the more serious crime."

She says 25 percent of her budget now goes to fighting dangerous drug cartels like La Familia. Along with the FBI, they took down more than 160 defendants, seizing more than $6 million in cash and 1,200 pounds of methamphetamines.

"Our prosecutors here in Northern District of Texas, I can assure the community, has been spending its time on high level drug offenders who are distributing massive quantities of illegal drugs in our community," she said.

Saldaña said she currently has 100 attorneys working for her, with only 75 focusing on crime. She's unable to fill dozens of jobs because of the budget cuts, and next year faces even more belt-tightening.

"That's my biggest challenge right now is, how do I get through the next few months and years?" she asked.

Saldaña said she knows she has more sleepless nights ahead as she tries to determine who to go after.

E-mail rlopez@wfaa.com