late October, more than 9,000 sealed indictments have been filed in
districts across the United States. Sealed indictments are typically
used in prosecuting individuals or criminal networks in cases where
revealing names could lead individuals to flee or destroy evidence.
of Dec. 22, 2017, there were 9,294 sealed indictments, according to data
collected by researchers and gathered from the
Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service of the federal
judiciary. This includes 1,224 in the central district of California,
which includes Los Angeles; 194 in Washington; and 248 in the southern
district of New York.
number of indictments filed in less than three months is in stark
contrast to previous years. According to a 2009 report from
the Federal Judicial Center, in all of 2006, there were only 1,077
sealed indictments, and these were about 0.96 percent of all criminal
cases that year.
Ruskin, a former FBI undercover agent and author of “The
Pretender: My Life Undercover for the FBI,” it’s unclear whether the
current sealed indictments are connected, but the high number is
something he never saw in his 27 years as an agent.
said the large number of sealed indictments may explain the relative low
profile maintained by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “If he’s been
occupied with an initiative that is sort of under wraps and being
conducted covertly, it would explain why he hasn’t had a prominent
position in the media as of late—because these are things he can’t talk
about,” Ruskin said.
uncertain what the sealed indictments are related to, but there is
speculation. Some say the sealed indictments may be related to special
counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016
election. Others speculate that the indictments are related to human
of the large number, Ruskin said the indictments “can’t all be related
to the special prosecutor, because that would be a little fanciful to
all be interrelated to Mueller and the work he’s doing—although he may
have a certain number of sealed indictments that we don’t know about.”
the indictments are sealed by a judge, it would be illegal for anyone to
reveal their content. Yet, as Ruskin pointed out, with political cases
it’s not uncommon for details to be leaked to the press. He said the
lack of chatter in legacy news outlets may suggest that the higher-ups
have no political interest in leaking their content.
also noted “there has been no chatter in the retired FBI circles.”
said that among the causes mentioned for the surge of sealed
indictments, the most plausible, he believes, is that it is related to
human trafficking. Even his work investigating the mafia didn’t generate
anywhere near as many sealed indictments as those currently pending; but
with a human trafficking network, he said, there would be multiple
groups operating in multiple districts—which fits the profile.
would also fall in line with recent actions of President Donald Trump,
who on Dec. 21, 2017, signed an executive
order declaring a national emergency over human
rights abuses and corruption. Trump declared January 2018 as National
Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
said: “It would be consistent with the large number of sealed
indictments, because it is a problem that’s nationwide. If there was a
national initiative involving the Justice Department, and the FBI and
ICE, let’s say, focused on that issue, then that would be a crime
problem that would be bi-coastal and would involve multiple districts.”
could plausibly account for all the sealed indictments,” Ruskin said.
“That would be more plausible than most other explanations.”