Carmen Ortiz, an assistant U.S. attorney who prosecutes white collar crime, has been recommended to President Barack Obama as the next U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Sen. Edward Kennedy announced last Tuesday.
Ortiz would be the state’s first Hispanic and first female U.S. attorney. She has worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Boston since 1997.
As the state’s senior senator, Kennedy traditionally has been given preference to nominate the federal government’s highest law enforcement officer in the state. Kennedy made the announcement in a joint statement with Sen. John F. Kerry.
If the president follows the recommendation, Ortiz would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Ortiz would replace Michael Sullivan, a Republican who was appointed by President Bush in 2001 and left the job last month.
Ortiz, 53, worked as a state prosecutor in the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office before becoming a federal prosecutor. She works in the U.S. Attorney’s Economic Crimes Unit, where she has prosecuted investment fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion and telemarketing schemes.
Ortiz was one of three candidates recommended by a 12-member screening committee.
“We believe that her prosecutorial experience, commitment to public service, and insight into criminal justice issues will make her an exceptional United States Attorney,” Kennedy and Kerry said in the statement.
“She has lived the American dream, worked hard for every accomplishment she’s achieved, and will ensure that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Massachusetts is a leader in our community and around the country.”
Ortiz said that if she gets the job, her priorities would include terrorism cases, financial crimes, public corruption cases and gang violence.
Ortiz said she would also continue to prosecute drug and gun cases, even though Sullivan was criticized by some who said the U.S. Attorney’s Office handled too many cases that could have been resolved in state court.
“The prosecution of those cases has a tremendous impact on the community,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We do play a major role in dealing with the violence in many communities by the prosecutions that we make in those cases.”
Ortiz, whose parents are from Puerto Rico, has had varied experience since graduating from Adelphi University in 1978 and getting her law degree from George Washington University in 1981.
From 1988 to 1991, Ortiz worked at Harvard Law School, where she participated in a State Department training program for Guatemalan judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys.
In 1990, she served on a commission that investigated allegations of sexual harassment against the members of the New England Patriots made by a sports reporter for the Boston Herald.
In 1992, as legal counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, she was part of a six-member “October Surprise” team that investigated allegations that campaign workers for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush tried to undermine the 1980 re-election prospects of President Jimmy Carter by delaying the release of the Iranian hostages.
Ortiz’s husband, Michael Morisi, a civil attorney, died in 2000 after a long battle with cancer. Since then, Ortiz has been raising their two daughters, now 17 and 22, by herself.
“It’s been a challenge, but a good one,” she said. “I think I have been able to illustrate to them that you can have it all, and despite tragedies in life, you still can have a very fulfilling and happy life.”
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