Clark Abrams, the chief of the Money Laundering and Financial Investigations Unit for the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor of the City of New York, spoke to students about his time at Rutgers, his career experiences and his advice for students looking to work in law enforcement.
The Criminal Justice Honor Society and the Criminal Justice Organization co-hosted the event on Tuesday, Nov. 27.
Born in New York City, Abrams grew up in Cranford, in Union County, New Jersey. He came to Rutgers in 1976, where he majored in political science and philosophy and minored in applied music, he said. After graduating in 1980, he attended law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Abrams said he attributes his success in law school to his experience at Rutgers.
“I had wonderful professors and I sought them out, and I really learned how to think,” he said. “So when I wound up at Chapel Hill … I was at least as prepared as most of my classmates. It’s not because I’m smarter — which was not the case — but because I came from Rutgers.”
After law school, Abrams said he spent two years clerking for judges before working in large law firms. Although he learned how to analyze at large law firms, younger attorneys have a disadvantage because they tend not to have large responsibilities in cases, as they are typically very important to the clients. As a result, younger attorneys do not gain a lot of courtroom experience.
Abrams said his path in government began at the New York office of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, then moved to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, where he currently works.
The office focuses on the current heroin epidemic, which is fueled by addiction to prescription drugs such as Oxycodone, he said. New York City is a transit point for the distribution of heroin to the rest of the state.
“Most of the time prosecutors work on cases where the crime has occured, and we’re playing detective — who did it, let’s find out and then prove it,” Abrams said. “It’s very interesting and it's very challenging and it means that you have a lot of responsibility because you have to develop evidence against the people that you think should be prosecuted.”
His office often develops evidence to prosecute against lower-level people first, but they cannot allow the investigation to end at that point without developing evidence against higher-level people in the operation, he said. Investigators must balance allowing criminal activity to continue to occur against the need to kick them off the street and stop crime.
The last portion of his presentation illustrated the investigation process in a case study involving a wiretap. Investigators eavesdropped on a money remitter who was engaging in money laundering. Abrams showed how his office developed the case through surveillance, analysis of financial records and the listening of the suspect’s phone and fax machines.
“Because of the nature of some jobs within the criminal justice field, it can be hard to research and understand what a career would be like, and how to get there ... so hopefully hearing from guest speakers like Mr. Abrams will help with this,” said Anhiella Cordero, secretary for the Criminal Justice Organization and School of Arts and Sciences junior.
Abrams ended his presentation by encouraging the students to become involved in law enforcement, especially if they want to see change. He said students who get involved in law enforcement should focus on learning the system and earning the respect of peers and supervisors.
“If you thought, ‘I don’t like government, I don’t like law enforcement, I don’t like how they do things, they’re not fair,’ then get involved and make it better,” he said.