At the Buckhead Business Association’s weekly breakfast meeting Thursday at City Club of Buckhead, Yates talked about everything from gangs to drug, gun and human trafficking to financial crimes.
“In the Buckhead area, it’s a financial center, so there are lots of financial crimes,” she said, referring to the club, which is located inside the Atlanta Financial Center complex. “But it’s not immune to violent crimes such as gangs or human trafficking.”
Yates, a Druid Hills resident, is the first woman to hold her position in the district, which has six million residents.
“You all know about Georgia’s [recent] bank failures,” she said. “There were more bank failures in this district [in the last several years] than any other district in the country. Some of those were due to fraud and we’re prosecuting those cases.”
But battling drug cartels is a major issue.
“I want to talk to you about the Atlanta I know based on the crimes here due to our role as a transportation hub,” she said. “We are now the East Coast hub of the Mexican [drug] cartel. … The same reason that makes us a good hub for business makes us a good hub for crime, especially cartels.
“They have transportation cells and distribution cells. They have stash houses that are in middle- and upper-class homes, possibly in your neighborhood. They have millions of dollars in cash or drugs stored there.”
Yates also said every year $30 billion goes back to Mexico from U.S. drug usage.
“We’re working very hard to stop the cartels here. We currently have two cartel leaders under indictment,” she said. “Cocaine is not the only thing here. Atlanta, some estimates have us as No. 1 in the country for human trafficking and others have us at No. 4 or 6. It doesn’t matter what the number is. We have to stop it.”
Gun trafficking also continues to be a big concern.
“We are the No. 1 source state for guns that are used in crimes,” Yates said. “Last year 2,713 guns acquired in Georgia were used in [crimes in] other states. From our perspective, we’re seeing the gun show loophole [not requiring background checks] is causing a real problem for us. The traffickers are using college students and homeless people as straw purchasers for them.”
Prescription drug abuse and pill mills also worry her.
“Last year more people died, six times more, from prescription drug overdoses than meth, cocaine and other illegal drugs combined,” she said. “Our Legislature passed a pill mill drug law but it’s not been in full effect yet.
“What you have is people from all over the Southeast coming to Georgia to pay $1,000 for their oxycodone or other pain medicine, then driving home high on our highways.”
District 11 U.S. Congressional candidate Bob Barr, who held Yates’ job from 1986-90 and hired her as an assistant attorney, asked Yates if sequestration, a series of across-the-board federal budget cuts started in April, had an impact on her job.
“It’s having a devastating effect on our work,” she said. “We were able to do more last year. We’ve been in a hiring freeze for two years now. There are 2,700 [Department of Justice] employees we’ve lost over the last two years that we won’t get back. … Just today we are sending out a memo encouraging people to retire early.
“I recognize we need to cut government spending, but we need to do it in a targeted way so it does not have a devastating impact on keeping our community safe.”
As a way to combat the nation’s and the state’s overcrowded prisons, Yates also said she hopes to make progress on the issue with an inmate re-entry program for those being released back into society. She is working with local businesses on the project, called New Beginnings, and a January summit is planned.