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Daniel Velez '90 Found His Niche in Law 20 Years Ago

Daniel Velez  '90The class of 1990’s Daniel Velez originally thought he was going to be a researcher in mental disorders and psycho-pathologies, and he graduated from Cornell University with a degree in psychology with a bio-psychology concentration.  Near the end of his undergraduate studies, however, Velez took a law course for undergraduates at Cornell’s Law school.  The course, which was taught in a style similar to the one most law students are familiar with, got Velez thinking about the possibility of a legal career. 

After completing his undergraduate studies, Velez applied to several law schools.  He decided to come to the University of Cincinnati’s College of Law because of the individual attention paid to him by the administration, particularly Dean Al Watson, and the generous scholarship offered by the College of Law.  Velez received a call from Dean Watson, and based on their conversations he was persuaded to attend UC.  Velez remarked that his decision to come to Cincinnati was ultimately a very positive one.

One thing Velez particularly enjoyed about the College of Law was the small community within the law school.  Velez took a year off between graduating law school and entering the work force for medical reasons.  While he was in the hospital, he received a truly meaningful gift from other law students.  Some of his classmates went around to the other students collecting get well video messages, which they sent to him in the hospital.  “I still have that video,” said Velez, “and I always remember the efforts of my classmates when I was sick.  If I had gone to a bigger law school, where everyone is more anonymous, that kind of think probably would not have happened.”

After graduation and the year off in between, Velez returned to his home state of New York to work as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn.  For five years he served in the felony bureau, prosecuting crimes such as assaults, murders, and other violent crimes.  “There’s no experience like being an ADA in a city like Brooklyn,” said Velez.  “There was no stopping; sometimes you were on call for 24 hours, and I always had to be thinking on my feet.  I loved the experience.”

While he was working in Brooklyn, a friend of Velez’s in the criminal section of the civil rights division of the US Department of Justice called him to alert him to an opening in his section.  Velez’s initial enthusiasm for the position was lukewarm at best, but he eventually decided to send in his resume to apply for the position.  “I never really thought I’d even be offered the position, let alone take it,” said Velez.  He ended up being offered the position, however, and spent several years working for the Department of Justice, investigating and prosecuting hate crimes, human trafficking claims, and other crimes that implicated people’s civil rights, such as violence at abortion clinics or claims of excessive use of force by law enforcement.

Velez remained with the Department of Justice for six years.   “Working for the federal government was a very different experience from being an ADA in Brooklyn,” Velez said.  His job involved travel all over the country, often for extended periods of time.  He worked in several different jurisdictions with many federal prosecutors.  He also played a different role in the investigations of the crimes he prosecuted.  Velez enjoyed the experience, especially because he had the opportunity to work on many interesting cases.  “I worked in Guam on a human trafficking and sex-exploitation case,” he said, “I investigated (and prosecuted ) cross burnings in Texas, and I also prosecuted a case involving a claim of excessive use of force against corrections officers in California who were setting up fights between (warring gangs of ) inmates (for their amusement, which resulted in the shooting death of one inmate by a correctional officer).”

In 2002, Velez again shifted career paths.  “I enjoyed my job with the Justice Department,” he explained, “but when I got engaged that year I knew I couldn’t be on the road as much as I had been and still have a family.”  As a result, Velez became an Assistant United States Attorney in Philadelphia in the consumer fraud (also known as “white collar crime”) section.  Velez also investigated child exploitation and cyber crimes.   

For the past four years, Velez has been a part of the US Attorney’s office’s organized crime strike force.  In this role, he investigates crimes believed to have ties to (internationally connected) criminal organizations, and his investigations have focused primarily on Eurasian organized crime.  These crimes often involve fraud, often on the internet or involving mortgages or insurance (as well as health care fraud and money laundering).  “These investigations take several years,” explained Velez, “but I really enjoy the work.  It’s a challenge to bring down a network of criminal conduct; you have to put the case together piece by piece over many years.  It’s hard work, but you feel like “you’ve accomplished something when you take down the network.”  Velez also stated that he enjoys the new learning opportunities his role with the strike force has provided him; he was recently at a training session in Chicago learning how to track transfers of money online (and overseas).  Velez also continued to work on human trafficking cases in his new position, Velez stated that he really enjoys human trafficking cases because of the opportunities they provide for interaction with the victims.  “When you win a trafficking case and get a conviction, there’s always an accompanying sense of appreciation from the victims.  It really makes the work satisfying.” Velez also trains judges, prosecutors, federal agents and others in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases, both in the United States and in other countries, on behalf of the Department of Justice. 

Velez stated that he feels lucky to have been able to do the work he has done in the past and that he continues to do.  Each position he has held has allowed him the opportunity to be in court frequently, fulfilling his law school ambitions of being a trial lawyer.  He also stated that he has enjoyed the variety of work he has been able to do, from organized crime to felonies, civil rights violations, and human trafficking, each position has afforded him new experiences.

Velez is currently married, and he and his wife have two children: Javier (6) and Lucas (3).  “My kids are the joys of my life,” said Velez.  In whatever free time they can find, the family spends a lot of time together doing outdoorsy activities, such as hiking and fly fishing.  They also return to New York in the summer to spend time on a lake in Ithaca, New York, which is Velez’s hometown.