At the stroke of midnight on Friday, United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York Richard Hartunian will retire from his position, 7 1/2 years after being appointed by President Barack Obama.
He will turn the job over to First Assistant U.S. Attorney Grant Jaquith, who will serve until President Donald Trump appoints and the U.S. Senate confirms a new appointment.
During his time in office, Hartunian oversaw the prosecution of many cases, including that of Glendon Scott Crawford. Crawford was convicted in 2015 for plotting to kill Muslims using a weapon that was to emit deadly radiation. In December 2016, Crawford was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
“Counterterrorism is our most important mission,” said Hartunian. “I myself, my family has experienced terrorism. I know what it does.”
Hartunian’s sister Lynn was killed in the Dec. 21, 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Her picture hangs on a wall in Hartunian’s office.
“I think about her a lot,” he said.
In addition to prosecuting terrorism cases, Hartunian is also proud of the the fight his office has waged against violent criminals and gangs in Syracuse and the Capital Region.
“Those cases make a difference in the community because those investigations extract the worst members of the community, the most violent people that have no regard for their fellow citizens in the community,” he said. “To be able to remove them and work with the community leaders has been impactful.”
Hartunian is proud of the work his office has done in the face of the heroin and opioid epidemic, but acknowledged there’s a long way to go.
He will also leave unresolved the case of the Hulett Street fire in Schenectady which, in May 2013, left a man and three of his children dead in an act of arson. A fourth child, Safyre Terry, survived but suffers severe damage to her body. No one has been charged with setting the fire, but four people have been convicted for lying to a federal grand jury that was investigating the arson.
He acknowledged that the prison terms the four received were lengthy, but said justice has not been served. He is confident that the U.S. Attorney's Office will continue to pursue the case.
Incoming Acting U.S. Attorney Jaquith has been personally involved in the Hulett Street case.
Hartunian said that for all he’s seen in his more than two decades as a government prosecutor, he is still brought up short by the depravity he encounters when prosecuting crimes.
“There are child exploitation and child sexual abuse cases involving even infants that the conduct is so unspeakable, I can’t talk about it in a public setting comfortably,” Hartunian said. “I continue to be surprised by the extreme depravity those cases present.”
He commended law enforcement officers for their commitment to their work and to the community.
Hartunian, 56, is a 1979 graduate of Niskayuna High School. From there he went to Georgetown and graduated from the Albany Law School in 1986. He worked in private practice before becoming an Albany County assistant district attorney in 1990 and an assistant United States attorney in 1997.
He took office as U.S. attorney in January 2010 after winning U.S. Senate confirmation.
“The law has been a great career,” Hartunian said.
He may be leaving the James T. Foley United States Courthouse in downtown Albany, but he has no plans to retire quietly to a rocking chair on a porch somewhere.
He plans to take a month off to enjoy summer activities including golfing — he’s admittedly a poor putter — and fishing.
After that he will enter private practice at a national law firm with offices in New York City and Albany. Though he’s prohibited from disclosing his future employer while still on the Justice Department’s payroll, Hartunian did say that he will be doing corporate investigative and white collar work.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of another role in the law,” he said.
Hartunian was among a group of United States attorneys asked to resign by the Trump administration. It is not unusual for an incoming administration to replace his predecessor’s appointees. Bill Clinton made quick and decisive changes to the attorneys’ offices while Obama replaced U.S. attorneys more gradually.
“We serve at the pleasure of the president,” said Hartunian. “When we take the job we know that’s the case. I was a career prosecutor and accepted a political appointment knowing it would likely come to an end. But the opportunity was so great, it was worth the risk. It’s been a pretty lengthy term.”