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Justice Shall Be Done

The cases Robert McCampbell worked as a U.S. attorney

Published in 2022 Oklahoma Super Lawyers magazine

Robert McCampbell has been a business litigator for most of his 40-year career, with two notable exceptions: From 1987 to 1994, he served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, as well as chief of the office’s financial fraud unit; and, following the 2000 presidential election, he returned to assume the district’s top spot, U.S. attorney.

“One of my friends at the district office called me and said, ‘What if you tried to come back and get appointed?’” McCampbell says. “I had loved working there, and it was something I really wanted to do. Fortunately, the political decision-makers saw it my way.”

For the next four years, under the guidance of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who later became a trusted friend, McCampbell supervised approximately 40 assistant U.S. attorneys across the district’s 44 counties.

While allocating resources “to get the biggest bang for the buck” proved challenging, McCampbell knew he had the tools necessary to make a difference in the lives of Oklahomans. He was committed to being tough, but fair—a mantra built upon 1935’s Berger v. United States, in which Justice George Sutherland stated that the job of a U.S. attorney is not that they shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.

One memorable case involved a multistate child prostitution investigation called Operation Stormy Nights. Using the Mann Act of 1910, McCampbell and his team “convicted 22 pimps, and, more importantly, 23 little girls were rescued,” he says. “For years afterward, the agents would tell me, you couldn’t find a juvenile out in the prostitution world.”

It was the first time a wiretap was used in this type of investigation, and a real eye-opener for McCampbell, who up until that point had not worked on a sex crimes case. “One of the defendants we convicted was a mother putting her daughter out for prostitution. There’s just a whole world out there that we don’t see in our normal lives,” he says.

In another defining moment, McCampbell led a civil suit against Walgreens, which at the time was not enforcing a state law limiting the purchase of pseudoephedrine to 9 grams per person per month. With unfettered access to a steady supply of pseudoephedrine, “idiots could make meth in a homemade lab,” says McCampbell, thus exacerbating the epidemic already sweeping the state.

They ended up with a $2 million settlement—“big enough that every pharmaceutical chain CEO would talk to his or her general counsel and say, ‘Find out what we’re doing in Oklahoma and make sure we’re not violating this law,’” McCampbell says. Walgreens also agreed to implement new national and statewide measures, including installing a computer system to track sales of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine, which most other major retailers now use too.

And when Oklahoma City investment firm owner Robert Gerald Craft solicited more than $14 million from 200 clients with the promise of a guaranteed return from “secret prime banks,” McCampbell demonstrated at trial that the money instead funded Craft’s lavish lifestyle. After a woman testified that she had given Craft several thousand dollars in cash for the scheme—and that he subsequently placed it in a brown leather briefcase—McCampbell called his next witness: a fur coat store employee.

The employee recounted how, the very next day, Craft came in to purchase a fur coat for his girlfriend with money he pulled directly from a brown leather briefcase. “You could tell from the look in the jury’s eyes that they had had it with him,” says McCampbell.

Craft was found guilty on 59 separate counts and sentenced to 15 years, and there were additional convictions for two licensed securities dealers and a certified public accountant. “I’m certainly proud of the case,” McCampbell says, acknowledging that professionals who violate public trust must be held liable.

At the end of his four-year term, McCampbell returned to private practice. In the nearly two decades since, he has used the skillset he developed in Oklahoma’s district court office to focus on “representing companies that have some problem related to the government,” he says, adding, “I certainly enjoyed the public service of working at the U.S. attorney’s office.”

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