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Washington State News

FORMER ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY RUSSELL E. SMOOT RETIRES FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE AFTER MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS OF FEDERAL SERVICE

Spokane, WA – Today marks the final day of service for one of Eastern Washington’s longest-tenured federal prosecutors. Over the past twenty-one years, Assistant United States Attorney Russell E. Smoot has served with distinction as a trial attorney and leader within the United States Attorney’s Office. From 2016 through 2021, Smoot served as the Criminal Chief for the Eastern District of Washington, and, for much of that time, as the First Assistant United States Attorney. As First Assistant, Smoot served as the primary deputy and legal advisor to the U.S. Attorney.  During his two decades of service, Smoot also served many other roles within the office, including Deputy Criminal Chief, Criminal Appellate Coordinator, and Anti-Terrorism / National Security Coordinator.

In addition to his leadership roles, Smoot honed his skills as a capable and talented trial attorney.  Throughout his twenty-one years as an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA), Smoot handled numerous criminal trials and argued dozens of appellate cases.

The many cases Smoot prosecuted include the pseudoephedrine trials, which helped reduce the proliferation of local meth-labs, and numerous large-scale drug-trafficking organization cases.

Among the many drug-trafficking conspiracy cases prosecuted by Smoot, the “pill hustle” case stands out as significant for the scope of the oxycodone-trafficking, the multi-jurisdictional investigation, and the prosecution. In 2015, the lead defendant, a member of the Eight Trey Gangster Crips, a Los Angeles-based street gang, was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison for leading a continuing criminal enterprise involving dozens of gang members and associates in the unlawful distribution oxycodone pills in the Spokane area. The case also involved 50 search warrants that were executed simultaneously in Los Angeles, Spokane, and Seattle. Of the 62 defendants charged in the scheme, 4 went to trial, including the lead defendant, who was convicted after a five-week jury trial in November 2014. The trial was handled by Smoot and AUSA Stephanie Van Marter.

Following the oxycodone case, Smoot was part of the trial team that prosecuted a Tri-Cities area man with cartel ties, who was sentenced to life in federal prison for murder in connection with a drug-trafficking conspiracy. At trial, Smoot, again with Van Marter, presented evidence that the victim was lured to a Spokane residence under the guise of resolving a drug debt. Upon arriving at the residence, the victim was beaten with baseball bats, tied up, and driven to a remote location in Stevens County. At that location, the victim was doused with gasoline, shot multiple times, and set on fire. During an investigation, law enforcement connected the murder to a methamphetamine-trafficking organization with ties to Eastern Washington, Mexico, North Dakota, and Idaho.

Smoot also prosecuted the first material support to terrorists cases in the District.  In one such case, a local Eastern Washington man with experience in chemical explosives sought to provide his bomb-making expertise online to a person he believed intended to conduct an act of terrorism in the United States. He was sentenced to over 12 years in federal prison and a lifetime term of federal supervision.

Just last year, Smoot was part of a Department of Justice prosecution team, that handled one of the largest-ever fraud schemes in Eastern Washington history – the $244 million scheme involving an Eastern Washington rancher, who was sentenced in October 2022 to eleven years in federal prison after charging Tyson’s Foods Inc. and another company hundreds of millions of dollars for approximately 265,000 head of cattle that did not exist.  Ultimately, the rancher was ordered to pay $244 million in restitution for his “ghost cattle” scheme. This restitution award is the largest-ever in Eastern Washington history.

“Serving as an Assistant United States Attorney has been the highlight of my professional career,” AUSA Smoot stated. “It has been an honor to serve alongside many dedicated, hard-working colleagues within this office and across the Department of Justice. There is no equivalent to standing in federal court ‘on behalf of the United States.’” Smoot continued, “Serving the United States and the Eastern District of Washington as an Assistant United States Attorney has been a truly exciting adventure.”

United States Attorney Vanessa R. Waldref thanked AUSA Smoot for his leadership and sacrifices on behalf of the people of Eastern Washington: “Russ’s public service has been nothing short of incredible – from the cases he has tried to the leadership positions he held.  Since beginning his career as an AUSA in May of 2002, Russ has prosecuted a wide range of cases, including several jury trials of drug trafficking cases, homicides, and everything in between.”  U.S. Attorney Waldref added, “Russ is one of the hardest working AUSAs in our District’s history. He will be sorely missed.”

“Russ and I started our careers as Assistant United States Attorneys in early 2002, and we have worked closely together ever since,” stated Assistant United States Attorney Stephanie Van Marter, who serves as the office’s Special Litigation Counsel and, as noted earlier, tried several landmark cases with Smoot. “It is hard to imagine the U.S. Attorney’s Office without Russ Smoot in it. We are excited for Russ as he begins his next adventure, but we will miss him. His dedication to justice is unparalleled.”

Smoot graduated with honors from the University of Alaska Anchorage with a degree in political science in 1995. Before attending college, Smoot worked as a commercial fisherman, aircraft mechanic, and Alaskan bush pilot.

Smoot received his J.D. from Gonzaga University in 1999, graduating Magna Cum Laude and serving as a Notes and Comments Editor for the Gonzaga Law Review. During law school, Smoot became a law clerk at the United States Attorney’s Office.  Then, after graduating from law school, Smoot worked for three years in private practice in Maine, before returning to Spokane and rejoining the United States Attorney’s Office shortly after 9/11.