New U.S. Attorney Powell planning to tackle drug issues

WHEELING — Now that William Powell has taken the oath of office as the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, he is prepared to take on drug-related obstacles facing the state.

“I represent all of the district. I will be working regularly in Martinsburg, Clarksburg, some in Elkins and Wheeling,” Powell said. “I have an office in every single one of those places, and I intend to know all about everything.”

As a federal prosecutor, Powell plans to focus closely on gun issues, human trafficking and the opioid epidemic.

“Obviously we have a significant opioid issue in the district. We have a variety of other criminal issues we have to address and will continue to address,” Powell said. “The issue with the opioid epidemic is that it takes several branches. There is the treatment branch, the rehab issues, the medical issues associated with it, counseling. Human trafficking seems to be a new issue that is becoming more prevalent, and that’s going to be an expected priority.”

Powell pledged to bring dealers who are trafficking illegal drugs into West Virginia to justice, noting they will be “dealt with harshly.”

“Our function is to go after after folks that bring those substances into the state. We have the highest overdose death rate per capita in the country, and where I live now, in the Eastern Panhandle, we have a significant number of overdoses all the time.”

According to the Wheeling Police Department, there have been more than 90 overdoses within city limits so far in 2017. Powell wants all cities within the district to know he will work diligently to improve the situation.

“We will continue the work that has already been done. I will be working closely with not only our law enforcement folks … but also state and county prosecutors throughout the state on these issues together.”

Powell is happy to take on the challenges presented by his new role.

“I am at the point in my career where public service is really important to me. It seemed to me that it was the right time in my life, especially now that my kids are grown. I thought I could really have a real impact,” he said.

Along with his staff and family, he believes the challenges ahead will be worth it.

“I have a good staff and wonderful family support. I’m going to work really hard and they, the taxpayers, can count on me.”

Powell is a Martinsburg native and has served most recently as the chief deputy prosecuting attorney in Jefferson County. Powell is a past president of the West Virginia Bar Association, a past member of the board of governors for the West Virginia State Bar and received his law degree in 1985 from West Virginia University.

President Donald Trump nominated Powell to the post in August, after the resignation of former U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld in January. The U.S. Senate confirmed Powell by voice vote on Oct. 3, and he was sworn in during a private ceremony in Martinsburg on Friday.

Stacy Bishop, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has said a public swearing-in ceremony will be scheduled in the coming weeks.

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