Paul Pelletier is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) in 2018. (N/A/Pelletier campaign)

A former federal prosecutor has joined the crowded field of Democrats seeking the nomination to challenge Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) next year.

Paul Pelletier, who spent nearly 27 years with the Justice Department, is the ninth Democrat to join a midterm race that could be among the nation's most competitive.

During his career, Pelletier focused on drug trafficking and health-care fraud, and directed high-profile public corruption investigations of lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former congressmen Robert W, Ney and William Jefferson.

Pelletier, 61, said Congress made it possible for him to prosecute criminals, using laws such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act's accounting and disclosure rules. But he said today's members are unwilling to work together to pass similar reforms.

"When you look at congressional approval ratings, they poll horribly," he said. "I think that some people are getting the message, 'We don't want this anymore.' "

Pelletier's Democratic opponents have a head start on fundraising, a key factor in a district partially located in Washington's pricey media market.

Leading the money race are anti-human trafficking activist Alison Friedman, Army veteran Dan Helmer, communications strategist Lindsey Davis Stover and state Sen. Jennifer T. Wexton (D-Loudoun).

Other candidates for the 10th District nomination include educator Kimberly Adams, retired Naval intelligence officer Dave Hanson, school founder Deep Sran, and scientist Julia Biggins.

Democrats will decide later this year whether to pick a nominee through a state-run primary or a party-run caucus.

The district includes all of Loudoun County and parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties, as well as all of Frederick and Clarke counties to the west.

Pelletier said he has lived in Northern Virginia since 2002, but only recently moved to a section of McLean that is located in the 10th District so that he could run for office.

Virginia general election guide

He grew up south of Boston, graduated from Providence College and worked for his local police department before graduating from New England Law School.

From there he worked as a federal prosecutor in Miami, which he said was ground zero for narcotics trafficking at the time, and went on to lead the economic fraud unit. In 2002, he moved to Washington, where he tackled corporate accounting fraud and developed health-care fraud strike forces across the country.

"I really believe I have the background and tenacity and passion to accomplish what I don't think a lot of people can accomplish," Pelletier said. "And I'm going to prove it."

His tenure at Justice overlapped with Comstock's stint as director of public affairs under then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, but Pelletier said he did not interact with the future congresswoman.

He left the agency in 2011, went into private practice and works at the law firm Pepper Hamilton.