DENVER (STL.News) United States Attorney Jason R. Dunn announced that Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Podolak has received the Lifetime Exceptional Service Award from the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, a division of the Department of Justice.
“Stephanie is richly deserving of our national Lifetime Exceptional Service award, having been an important and highly valued member of our team for more than 24 years,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn. “Her work has directly resulted in the take down of many sophisticated, transnational drug cartels operating in Colorado. Our communities are safer thanks to her work.”
In its commendation, the Department of Justice described Assistant U.S. Attorney Podolak’s work in the following manner:
Stephanie Podolak, an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Colorado has won the Executive Office of U.S. Attorney’s (EOUSA) Director’s Award for Lifetime Exceptional Service. This award recognizes AUSA Podolak’s 28 years of exceptional contributions to the U.S. Attorney’s Office community, with 24 of those years with the District of Colorado. She has been recognized for her record of outstanding accomplishments, and her continuing advancement of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program. She is responsible for a series of “firsts” in the district, ranging from case-related work such as the district’s first RICO indictment to serving as the district’s first female criminal division section chief. She has had a hand in most of the district’s prosecutions of significant transnational drug trafficking organizations.
AUSA Podolak’s career began in 1991 in the Eastern District of New York, where she quickly demonstrated a passion and talent for complex drug/gang work. In 1992, AUSA Podolak joined the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) section in that office and immediately undertook some of the district’s largest cases. In November 1994, AUSA Podolak received her first Executive Office of U.S. Attorney’s Office Director’s Award for prosecuting the district’s largest Russian international heroin ring. That operation ended with a 2-month, 8-defendant trial which AUSA Podolak conducted despite being 9-months pregnant with her first child.
In February 1996, AUSA Podolak transferred to the District of Colorado, where she continued to advance the OCDETF program. In January 1997, she became a liaison to the FBI Metro Gang Task Force. She led a prosecution against 13-members of a violent drug gang. AUSA Podolak brought the first Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) gang indictment in the district against this group.
In November 2000, AUSA Podolak received her second EOUSA Director’s Award, an OCDETF Regional Case Award, and an FBI Award for another OCDETF Operation involving the prosecution of 34 members of the MCM Sureno-13, the district’s then-dominant violent gang. The prosecution culminated in a 3-defendant, 3-week trial. Two of those defendants received life sentences.
In 2002, AUSA Podolak became the liaison to the newly created Front Range Drug Task Force, where she focused on CPOT-level targets such as cartel leader Benjamin Arellano-Felix. AUSA Podolak led an extensive investigation into the cocaine trafficking activities of Mario and Ascension Oregon-Cortez, two brothers working directly for Arellano-Felix. The investigation culminated with the arrest of 22 defendants on the same day Mexican law enforcement captured Arellano-Felix. AUSA Podolak, in another district first, charged violations of the “kingpin statute,” resulting in both brothers receiving 25-year sentences. In June 2003, this investigation received a Regional OCDETF Award.
In January 2006, AUSA Podolak returned to full-time status as the OCDETF Section Chief (and the first female section chief in the district’s criminal division). During her eight years on the management team, AUSA Podolak did work benefitting the OCDETF Section and the entire office, including working closely with DEA and the District’s OCDETF partners to propose, secure, and create a National OCDETF Strike Force in Denver and helping develop or revise a variety of office policies and processes.
As OCDETF Chief, AUSA Podolak also supervised and participated in an operation targeting 84 members of the “Rolling 30’s Gangster Crips.” AUSA Podolak personally prosecuted the gang’s violent subset known as the “Elite 8,” who were responsible for committing 12 homicides including the brutal murder-for-hire of a state’s witness. AUSA Podolak’s tireless efforts caused several gang members to flip, enter witness protection, testify against, and help convict three state court defendants charged with the drive-by killing of Denver Broncos football player Darrent Williams. In June 2009, 22 members of the prosecution team received a National OCDETF Award. In 2011, the Denver District Attorney designated AUSA Podolak an “Honorary Deputy DA.”
In January 2014, AUSA Podolak elected to step down as OCDETF Chief and became the Strike Force Group (SFG) Coordinator. As SFG Coordinator, AUSA Podolak continued to achieve outstanding success prosecuting the nation’s highest-level Drug Trafficking Operations (DTO). For example, between March 2013 and May 2015, she worked on a joint federal and state investigation of a DTO involving Jose Luis Ruelas-Torres, whose DTO controls Guasave opium gum production and smuggles hundreds of kilograms of heroin into the U.S. The DTO’s elaborate money laundering scheme involved laundering $3,000,000 to Mexico through approximately 2,500 wire-transfers.
During the case, the SFG seized approximately 125 kilograms of heroin, $2,300,000, and prosecuted 40 defendants. In 2014, the entire SFG, including AUSA Podolak, received the DEA Administrator’s Award for Outstanding Group Achievement. In October 2015, the DOJ designated Ruelas-Torres a Consolidated Priority Organization Target (CPOT), only the second CPOT designation in Colorado’s history. The SFG obtained Foreign Kingpin designations for Ruelas-Torres, 18 DTO members, and 8 companies; these were the first designations stemming from a Colorado investigation. On April 15, 2017, Mexican law enforcement captured Ruelas-Torres, but he ultimately died in custody pending extradition. Another example of AUSA Podolak’s outstanding work was targeting Batamote Plaza Boss Jesus Gonzalez-Peñuelas, who controls the region’s heroin trafficking, and was wanted in Mexico for kidnapping and murder, and maintains a fleet of planes used for his trafficking.
In October 2017, DOJ designated Gonzalez-Peñuelas a CPOTIn 2017, the entire SFG, including AUSA Podolak, received a second DEA Administrator’s Award for Outstanding Group Achievement.
In addition to her work described above, AUSA Podolak has also previously served as the District’s SLC, gang coordinator, violent crimes coordinator, EEOC and sexual harassment coordinator, and Special Counsel to the Criminal Chief. AUSA Podolak was recently selected to serve on the Attorney General’s sub-committee targeting Sinaloa drug trafficking. In her free time, AUSA Podolak is active in the Colorado Bar Association’s High School Mock Trial Program, coaching her students to 5 consecutive regional championship titles and 10 consecutive state competition appearances. She has been an indispensable component of Colorado’s OCDETF program, a significant contributor to the national OCDETF effort, and a valued member of the DOJ and local communities.