ST PAUL, Minn. — A sense of lawlessness in Minneapolis is what propelled Andy Luger to seek the office of the state’s top federal prosecutor for a second time.
When he was sworn in on March 30, 2022, he said the landscape of the state he had served from 2014 to 2017 was drastically different. The rate of violent crime, particularly in Minneapolis, had reached such high levels he said he knew the federal government had to get involved.
“We as a society have come up with far more destructive ways to kill each other,” Luger said. “And so we have to address it. Fentanyl being one, and the proliferation of automatic weapons through these switches or auto spheres, as they're called, that didn't exist before. And that's changed the game.”
Gang activity exploded in the last five years, he said, because of a perfect storm. That storm consisted of the pandemic closing down the courts, the riots following George Floyd’s murder and the shortage of police officers that followed.
“There grew a sense — and I'm not saying this because it's what I think, it's what people we prosecute tell us — is that there came to be a sense that there weren't consequences or they weren't severe enough consequences,” Luger said.
That's why he made the unprecedented decision to use the considerable power and resources of his federal office to prosecute crimes normally handled at the state level.
“We decided, and by ‘we’ I mean law enforcement, myself and others, that we needed to step in in a big way, in a way that this office hasn't done before. It certainly wasn't doing when I was U.S. Attorney last time. But that this had to be our focus, both to change the narrative on the streets and to show people we meant business.”
The first sign he meant business came in early May when Luger announced a massive gang bust using the federal RICO Act, normally used to prosecute organized crime in mafia cases, to indict more than 40 alleged gang members.
His office now also prosecutes carjacking cases, which was unheard of, he said, in his first term.
“I never once heard the term 'carjacking,'” Luger said. “In 2021, there were 650 carjackings in Minneapolis alone, so we went from 0 to 600 overnight. That forced us to become a U.S. attorney's office and a city that focused on it.”
Luger said he wants criminals to understand when they are tried for a crime in federal court, the consequences are drastically different than in state court.
“You don't have a constitutional right to bail in the federal system,” he said. “And if you're involved in violent crime, chances are you're not going to be released. We catch. There's no release. There are federal prisons all over, and we don't have parole. So, if you get sentenced to a 10-year mandatory minimum for having a switch, for having a weapon, you're going to do the time and do it somewhere else.”
Luger believes that word about federal involvement in fighting crime and the steeper consequences it brings is getting out.
“They tell me it is. The people on the streets are telling us loud and clear that it is.”
Luger's decision to aggressively fight crime at the federal level has won him the admiration of many who felt state and local leaders were too soft on crime for too long.
But when asked if state or local leaders are to blame, he says, the issue is too complicated to point fingers.
“Here's what I say at dinner parties, and I get invited to fewer and fewer dinner parties because I just tell people what I think the truth is. I think we look for simple solutions to really complex problems. And so violent crime is complex. Anybody who reduces the criminal justice system to a bumper sticker isn't being honest. There's no catchphrase. Tough on crime. Soft on crime. Nobody's got a magic solution. You try things. Not everything works. But we got to try.”
He said it will take about two years to see if what he's trying is working — but he believes it will.
“I'd like to believe, and it's my passion, that we can be the Minneapolis and the Minnesota that we were before the pandemic. Violent crime was not something people were talking about. I want us to be back there. And that would be an amazing legacy to leave with this whole office, making our part of that difference.”
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