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Congressman Seeks Funds for Southern Utah U.S. Attorney's Office



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ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) -- Utah Rep. Jim Matheson has asked embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for help in securing funds to open a branch U.S. attorney's office here.

In an April 24 letter, Matheson, a Democrat, cites the rapid population growth of St. George and Cedar City, along with the region's proximity to Las Vegas and recent spikes in federal crimes as grounds for adding an office.

Matheson notes that federal law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, have expressed interest in filing more southern-Utah bases cases, but don't since Utah's Salt Lake City-based federal prosecutors are more than 300 miles away. Many cases are referred to the state for prosecution, but most get dropped due to a lack of resources, Matheson said. "Having a U.S. Attorney branch (office) would create a far more practical way of addressing these crimes," Matheson said Friday on a trip home to Utah.

Gonzales' office has not yet responded.

The District of Utah is the country's largest geographic district without a satellite U.S. attorney's office, according to the letter. Matheson said he fears that as the region continues to grow the lack of federal prosecution resources will worsen law enforcement problems.

Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said his office works cooperatively with federal prosecutors, but agrees a southern Utah satellite office makes sense. "As a result of our growth, I think there are more and more cases in Washington County that involve the United States Attorney," Belnap said.

A U.S. Magistrate is already assigned to southern Utah and hears cases, and that court is getting busier, Belnap said.

The U.S. Attorney for Utah Bret Tolman has committed some resources from the existing district budget, including setting up an office and hiring a local attorney, Matheson said. But Utah needs a long-term budget commitment from Washington D.C. to ensure funding beyond the current fiscal year, he said.

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Information from: The Spectrum

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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