ALBANY — Charlie Peeler, the presidentially appointed U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, assured members of the Albany Rotary Club Thursday that their community is not alone in its concern about crime.
“The national average for homicides per 100,000 population is 5.3,” Peeler told the Rotary members during the club’s luncheon at Doublegate Country Club, citing latest FBI statistics. “In Albany, that rate is 15.2, almost three times the national rate. It’s about the same in Columbus (14.5) and Macon (14.4). Atlanta is not far off, at around 16.
“You look at the largest cities in the Middle District — Albany, Columbus and Macon — and they all have the same problems: poverty, issues with the school system, graduation rates, lack of jobs. And with those kinds of issues, you have the same kind of crime issues: guns, drugs and gangs.”
Peeler is a native of Marietta and a graduate of the University of Georgia. He had moved his law practice to Albany when he was appointed by President Trump to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, one of three such appointees in the state and 93 in the country.
Peeler said he, his staff and task forces in each major city in the Middle District (Albany, Columbus, Macon, Valdosta and Athens) work with local law enforcement agencies to weed out the most violent criminals in each city. Those efforts are part of the Trump administration’s Project Safe Neighborhoods anti-crime initiative.
“We look at gun crimes in each city and look for the most violent criminals from the various neighborhoods,” Peeler said. “We target those who are gang-affiliated, drug traffickers and the most historically violent criminals, and our task forces work with local law enforcement agencies to round them up. Last year, we made 100 arrests during a sweep of Columbus, and we arrested 30 in Albany.
“We prosecuted 450 defendants in the Middle District last year, and around 25 percent of them were in Albany and a similar number in Macon and Columbus. When we get a conviction in the federal system, there is no parole. If a person is sentenced to 10 years, he may get 10 percent of his time cut for good behavior, but he’s going to serve those 10 years.”
Peeler said U.S. Attorneys prosecute all violations of federal law, but by necessity he chose to prioritize specific concerns, including reduction of violent crime, reduction of drug overdose deaths, ending public corruption and ending fraud cases.
“We’ve made an impact in our civil division,” he said. “From Fiscal Year 2013 to 2019, we’ve recovered $460 million in funds owed the federal government. That’s taxpayer money, most of it obtained through fraud.”
In discussing the growing opioid addiction problem, Peeler pointed out that as recently as 2017, no county in the Middle District was in the Top 10 in the state for emergency room visits associated with opioids. In 2018 and 2019, five counties in the district — Bibb, Dougherty, Houston, Lowndes and Muscogee — had at one time been in the Top 10.
Answering questions from Rotary members after his presentation, Peeler said his office works with federal agencies like the FBI, ATF, DEA, Homeland Security, ICE and the IRS in the investigative and enforcement of federal laws.
Peeler, whose primary office is in Macon, has offices in Albany and Columbus as well. He and his family live in Albany, and he thanked Rotarians for the work they do in the community.
“I live here in Albany, and I think it’s a great community,” he said. “And I find it truly refreshing that we’ve got people like you in the Rotary Club who are trying to make the community even better.”