Tribute to Harry Harbin: Top official for DOJ MLARS remembered as mentor with 'unrivaled knowledge'
Friday, October 5, 2018
Posted by: Brian Monroe
By Brian Monroe
October 5, 2018
A “pillar” of the asset forfeiture community for decades. A legal warehouse of a mind with “unrivaled knowledge” of the intricacies of the laws related to money laundering and asset recovery. A truly “good soul” who was “exceedingly generous” with his time to share insight and guide professionals at all levels in the field of fighting financial crime.
Those are just some of the words used to describe Harry Harbin, the Senior Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS), who passed away this week.
In sentiments from current and prior DOJ attorneys and some of the best and brightest minds in the financial crime and compliance fields, they cite Harbin as a key mentor who guided them as new attorneys, prosecutors and investigators through more than 30 years with the department and MLARS, also referred to as the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section (AFMLS).
“For someone so smart and knowledgeable, he always treated me and others with the greatest respect for our own questions, views, and perspectives,” said Laurel Rimon, Senior Counsel for O'Melveny and Myers in their White Collar Defense and Corporate Investigations and Financial Technology Practices.
Rimon also held several key government investigative and oversight positions, including General Counsel for the Office of Inspector General for Homeland Security, Chief of Special Prosecutions at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Deputy Chief for Financial Investigations and Litigation at DOJ.
She first met Harbin when she was a “relatively junior prosecutor at the Department of Justice and new to the world of Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture,” Rimon said. “He was already an institution in the community at that time, and I was lucky to get to work with him for over a decade and get to know him.”
As Rimon rose in her career, Harbin was a trusted source who made time for those who needed it.
“In that time, whether I was a junior trial attorney through when I was supervising my own unit, he was exceedingly generous with his time and sharing his vast knowledge of the law,” she said. “On more than one occasion, I called him from some district courthouse around the country with an urgent question I knew he could and would answer, and he got me through a challenging issue.”
Behind the scenes, helping, guiding
He also didn’t seek the limelight when helping others, she said, noting he did it because it was the right thing to do.
“Even though he was a senior attorney, he at times volunteered to draft something he knew I needed on a short deadline without taking any credit,” Rimon said. “He was a true professional and public servant always trying to do the right thing and his passing is a huge loss.”
Harbin had worked in the Criminal Division since 1986, and in MLARS/AFMLS areas, and even their predecessor offices, since 1988. In 2017, DOJ promoted Harbin to Senior Legal Counsel in “recognition of his vast legal expertise and service” to the money laundering section and whole of DOJ.
Prior to joining MLARS’ predecessor office in 1988, he worked as a trial attorney in the Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs Section. Harbin also worked briefly in private practice before joining DOJ.
In his time, Harbin saw the field of financial crime and compliance transform with a renewed focus from the DOJ, and other domestic and international partners, that following the money was at the heart of crippling all manner of illicit threats, from organized criminal groups to corrupt oligarchs, terror finance networks to narco cartels.
In fact, it was his ability to take the investigative and prosecutorial lessons of countless past cases, with their complex legal nuances, and distill those details for a new generation, that kept attorneys at all levels seeking his wise counsel.
“His institutional knowledge was unrivaled, and his ability to spot and navigate complex legal issues formed the backbone of the expert legal analysis and advice he provided to the Section and to the Department on a daily basis,” according to current MLARS Chief, Deborah Connor, in a note to department staff about Harbin’s passing, stating the announcement comes with a “heavy heart” for a “dear colleague and friend.”
A smart, humble team player
In the note to staff, Connor called Harbin a “consummate team player” and “important sounding board” for federal prosecutors across the country, noting that he would routinely answer questions and take calls when he was on vacation or in his personal time, providing critical context and creativity to matters that were “invariably insightful.”
Connor echoed that Harbin never lorded his understanding to make others feel less, but typically stayed quiet so everyone else felt they were heard and that their ideas had merit.
Harbin was “committed to the collaborative process,” she wrote in her note to staff. “He often understood the issues better than anyone else in the room, yet he was always patient and took the time to let everyone else catch up.”
It was Harbin’s traits to combine laughing and learning, to school with warmth and wit, that also made him such a sought-after resource at DOJ, Connor stated.
“Harry was an exceptional colleague and friend who could be counted on to deliver impeccable advice and counsel, all with good humor,” she stated, noting that top agencies also lauded Harbin for his contributions, capturing a bevy of DOJ and law enforcement awards.
That culminated earlier this year, when officials announced Harbin as the recipient of the 2018 Attorney General Award, which Connor called, “one of the highest honors bestowed on a Department employee, certainly well deserved.”
Beyond those accolades, Harbin will be remembered by the untold numbers of professionals he directed and guided, ensuring in a way his legacy will live on to inspire upcoming generations of prosecutors.
A passion to inspire future generations
He was “one of the most knowledgeable attorneys on asset forfeiture and money laundering in the Country,” said Rich Weber, noting that Harbin was counsel during his five years as chief of AFMLS.
Weber also held the top post at the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations Division, which tackles the nation’s most complex financial crime cases.
He recently made the jump to the private sector after more than 20 years of government service and is currently Managing Director and Americas Head of Anti-Financial Crime at Deutsche Bank.
Weber remembers Harbin’s passion to ensure his tenets would take root in up-and-coming professionals.
“He was an unbelievable speaker and trained thousands of prosecutors and agents on forfeiture, money laundering and financial crimes cases,” he said. “Prosecutors and agents from across the world would seek out Harry for advice and counsel. Harry was a kind friend who had a good soul and he will be missed by the entire forfeiture and money laundering community.”