Thomas Walker, the top federal prosecutor for the 44-county district that stretches from Raleigh to the coast, is leaving his post.
The 51-year-old U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2011. His resignation is effective Jan. 7.
“Throughout his tenure as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Thomas Walker has proved himself to be a consummate public servant and an exemplary law enforcement officer,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “In every case and every instance, Thomas has embodied the Justice Department’s highest standards of integrity and professionalism.”
She cited his work on a range of issues — from national security to environmental protection, and from veterans’ rights to the fight against human trafficking.
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As political appointees, it is customary for federal prosecutors to leave before a new president comes in. Anne Tompkins, the former U.S. Attorney in the Western District of North Carolina, which includes Charlotte and areas to the west, announced her resignation in February and left the post in March.
It was unclear on Tuesday who would take over after Walker is out of the office. Walker’s next steps are uncertain.
“ This job has significant challenges and significant rewards,” Walker said in a statement on Tuesday. “Challenging in that we have enormous amounts of power. So yielding it appropriately is our daily goal. The great reward here has been working with the true public servants who work here. That has been the highest honor of my professional life.”
Walker was nominated in 2010 by the president to inherit the investigations of his predecessor George B. Holding, but his path to the office was delayed. Holding, a Republican who now is a U.S. congressman, was in the midst of several high-profile investigations against Democrats when Obama was elected.
Though there often is changeover in the upper eschelons of presidential administrations when a new party takes charge, Holding was allowed to stay on until the summer of 2011 as he wrapped up as cases against former Gov. Mike Easley and against John Edwards, the former U.S. senator and vice presidential candidate who was acquitted on one charge and saw the five others dismissed after a mistrial.
When Walker, a lifelong Democrat from Waynesville, won confirmation from the U.S. Senate for the post on July 1, 2011, his plan was to stay about four years.
During his tenure, Walker’s office has used the federal Clean Water Act to build criminal cases against hog farms in eastern North Carolina and against Duke Energy, the country’s largest electric utility.
His office has been involved with cases against Duke Health Care and WakeMed over Medicare and Medicaid fraud accusations. He was among prosecutors who helped reach a settlement with video sweepstake operators, agreeing to forgo criminal prosecution if they ceased operations in North Carolina.
Under his watch, there have been several grand jury investigations that have looked into state government offices, including the Department of Environmental Quality, which was not prosecuted as part of the Duke Energy case.
In July, a federal criminal grand jury in Walker’s district began a probe of expensive contracts for high-ranking employees at the state Department of Health and Human Services and for a consulting firm that was hired on a no-bid, $3.2 million contract that later was expanded to more than $9 million.
Subpoenas were issued in late July to DHHS that listed a number of employees in the department and sought a broad scope of information and documents. Former DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, who announced her resignation a week after that, was not subpoenaed directly. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that she was.
Walker, whose career includes stints as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Western District of North Carolina, an assistant district attorney and special counsel to the N.C. Attorney General, also has worked in private practice.