'The Huntress': Bardstown woman followed the money to convict war criminals

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By Randy Patrick

As a Kentucky girl who loved horses and books, Suzanne Hayden could not have imagined at a young age the radical changes in direction her life and career would take.


She was an English teacher until she divorced her husband and followed her father into the oil business in Oklahoma. Then Hayden went to law school to be an oil and gas lawyer. But at the end of her first class, though, she suddenly understood she was meant for something else.

“My first day of criminal law, I said, ‘This is my love. There’s only one side to be on,’ and that was it. I never looked back,” she said. “I truly believe the job of a prosecutor is to do justice; it’s not to represent your client … and that’s what I like about it.”

Throughout her career, whether she was pursuing drug traffickers, war criminals or terrorists, doing justice has been her raison d’être.

Hayden’s first prosecutorial job was as an assistant D.A. in Oklahoma City. She eventually became a trial attorney for the U.S. Justice Department in its asset forfeiture and money laundering section. But she probably is best known as a war crimes prosecutor for the United Nations tribunal that brought down Serbian dictator Slobodan Miloševicćfollowing the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Hayden has traveled the world investigating crimes, training prosecutors and police and writing anti-corruption legislation for foreign governments. She is now retired from the Justice Department and lives in Bardstown, where she has her own company, FTM Global Recovery, which does work for the U.S. Treasury, the U.N., and a few private international clients.

“FTM” is an abbreviation for “follow the money.” Connecting criminals to the money is her area of expertise, and has been the key to her success.

“If you follow the money, you will find evidence, you will find co-conspirators, you will find the trail of a crime,” she said.

Washington via Las Vegas

Hayden’s road to Washington, D.C., and The Hague, was a circuitous one that led from Oklahoma City to Las Vegas and Alaska.

After working in the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office, she went to the Oklahoma Department of Securities, where she worked on oil and gas fraud cases. While attending a conference in Las Vegas, she met some U.S. attorneys who hired her for the office there.

Nevada is almost all federal land, so she worked on many land cases. She once flew to the rim of the Grand Canyon to meet an Arizona judge to discuss jurisdiction, which she found fascinating.

She also worked on many drug cases, and went to Alaska to teach police and agents, and while there, a U.S. attorney asked her to start a drug unit, and she readily agreed.

“I arrived in Alaska with no socks, just off the plane from Las Vegas. It was quite a shock!”

It also was quite a learning experience.

“During that time, two of the biggest cases for the DEA were in Alaska,” she said.

She worked with state troopers and other officers in the thinly populated, vast state to fight drug crime.

“It was kind of a model for cooperative law enforcement,” she said.

After five years, she “wanted to get warm,” so she went south to Seattle. But soon after she arrived, there was an opening in Washington, D.C., for a national security coordinator, and she got the assignment.

“The first thing my boss asked me to look at was the jurisdiction on a space platform. If a crime was committed, you know, which country would have jurisdiction? I thought I had fallen down the rabbit hole!”

Prosecuting war crimes

“At some point along the way, I met the ambassador for war crimes, and my boss asked me to go review some evidence on Cambodian war crimes and Pol Pot. So I did, and I was absolutely fascinated,” she said.

“I wanted to prosecute,” but there was no political will then to convict the butchers of the Khmer Rouge regime. However, the ambassador told her, “There is The Hague,” so she applied to work for the U.N. in the Netherlands capital, and was there for three years. “That was pretty amazing,” she said.

It was while she was at The Hague that she became a war crimes prosecutor or “legal officer” as part of a team that investigated the crimes of the former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Miloševicćand his accomplices, who were waging a war of genocide against Bosnian Muslims.

What Hayden brought to the table was the skills she had acquired from following the money to prosecute organized crime.

When the former Balkan federation came apart, neighbor turned against neighbor, and the brutality during the war was incomprehensible.

“I never did understand it, and when I would talk to witnesses, they didn’t understand it either,” she said. “I remember talking to a woman whose best friend lived next door. The best friend had a son, and she had taught the son in school. When the war started, the son became the head of a prison camp, and he was a monster. He treated her very badly.”

Some of it had to do with religion, she said, or “that became the excuse.”

Hayden helped draft Miloševic’s indictment in 2001, and he was convicted and imprisoned, along with many collaborators.

She was to return home after the trials, but at the last moment, she was sent to Serbia “to teach them what I had learned about what Miloševicć had done with the treasury,” she said.

In January 2002, she returned to the DOJ’s international asset forfeiture and money laundering section.

“I had a few cases that came from international investigations, and I coordinatwed the investigations against North Korea,” Hayden said. “I went all over the place to train prosecutors and police in financial crimes, and then I started drafting legislation for foreign countries at their request, and I really loved that.”

She went to Turkey for two years, and one of her mementoes is a framed clipping from the nation’s largest newspaper with a big headline that proclaimed, “The Huntress is in Turkey.”

“That was me,” she laughed.

The newspaper had announced that she was looking into the finances of al-Qaeda and other terror groups, so that worried her some. But she figured, “if the bad guys were looking at me, the good guys were following me all the time.”

It was comforting to know intelligence agents were watching over her.

Making a difference

After Turkey, Hayden shared her expertise around the world. She was the keynote speaker at a conference on anti-corruption at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, and after the Arab Spring, she designed a course on the role and responsibility of investigative journalists. She taught the same kind of course later in Africa and is passionate about the fact that “without investigative journalists, the world never really finds out what’s going on.”

Hayden tells a story that exemplifies the influence she has had.

The State Department sent her to a small African country to write a terrorist finance law, and there she worked with a young prosecutor who was “a little difficult.”

“He wanted the law to be vague,” and to allow judges to decide what it really meant. But the purpose of laws, she argued, is to “provide notice and predictability.”

“This isn’t America,” he responded, and she said, “I’m well aware of that,” and got up and walked out.

But the prosecutor caught her at the top of the stairs and said, “I really need your help.” So she relented.

Years later, she returned to that country and met with the same man, who had become a judge on its supreme court.

“He met me for a drink, and we talked about that day, and he said, ‘You changed my idea of the law forever,’” she recalled.

There was a slight catch in her voice as she added: “That’s why you do what you do. You can make a difference.”