Carmen Ortiz stepped down as U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts on Friday.
“It’s a bittersweet day filled with a lot of emotion,” Ortiz told NBC Boston. “I’ve been sad at times. I’ve been feeling a tremendous degree of pride.”
She is the first woman and first Hispanic to fill the role in Massachusetts.
“They see me as a role model, as someone who’s broken the glass ceiling, as someone who has come from very humble beginnings,” says Ortiz. “And if I have been able to accomplish a position like this, then others can as well. It brings a sense of hope and encouragement. I feel a lot of pride in it.”
Ortiz resigned after 7 years in the position.
She oversaw some of the biggest cases in Boston history, including the prosecution of notorious mobster James “Whitey” Bulger.
“That was a case in which I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment at the end of it,” says Ortiz. “It was very challenging. Just coordinating the FBI, State Police, local authorities, the victims who had suffered a great deal not only as a result of the crimes that Whitey Bulger had committed but the fact that he had been a fugitive for so long. They felt that the government had let them down.”
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There was also the prosecution of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston Marathon bombing case.
“The fact that it was a terrorism case, that the crimes had occurred to instill fear. And the death penalty aspect of that where many victims were supportive and wanted the death penalty as a consequence of his actions, and some did not and felt strongly so, and managing that and being sensitive to their concerns and their pain and their suffering. I feel very good about the fact we spent so much time preparing for that trial.”
But there were setback as well. Recently an appeals court overturned the convictions of three state probation department workers Ortiz prosecuted in a state corruption scandal.
“I would say I was disappointed in the decision by the First Circuit…that case involved what we believed the evidence indicated was real fraud,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz received much criticism when Aaron Swartz, whom her office charged in a computer hacking case, took his own life after he was indicted. She says his suicide was devastating and a tragedy.
“I also think that the whole issue of mental health was completely missed on that, the whole focus after that tragedy was on the government being overzealous…and there was nothing that focused on what was his mental health, why didn’t we see this. I do wish as an office and the parties involved had been in a better place to see what was happening, to see if we could have had the opportunity to prevent what happened here.”
Critics have said Ortiz pushed too hard in the Swartz case and others, in a bid for loftier ambitions, something she strongly denies.
“I’m painted as someone who is totally heartless or just overzealous and politically motivated, that I make these decisions in this office or have made decisions in this office because I have a political agenda or political ambitions. Nothing could be further from the truth. I care about what happens to people, not just victims of crimes.
Ortiz says she has often been misinterpreted.
“I think this sort of misportrayal of me kind of surprises me, because it’s not who I am.”
Ortiz says she is going to take some time off, and then figure out her next steps.
She would not offer up any names of people she would recommend to take over her role, but she did have this thought for her successor.
“This is the best job that you’ll ever have.”