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Special Report

Lenient Sentences and Weak Laws Frustrate ATF’s Battle Against Gun Trafficking

By Jeffrey Anderson
For ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — Nutveena Sirirojnananont is staring at a possible 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine for ordering eight guns online that she directed to a federally-licensed firearms dealer in New Hampshire, but she’s all but guaranteed a fraction of that.

The Newmarket, NH, woman pleaded guilty in January to purchasing the weapons from Suds and Soda Sports, a licensed gun dealer in Greenland, NH, and using intermediaries to ship the weapons to associates in California, Florida and New York, who then shipped them to Thailand.

Sirirojnananont pocketed a 15 percent markup on the guns, which she sold through her online beauty-supply export business, cheapshop4you.com, in Portsmouth, and through an EBAY business called the PookyWookyShop. Sentencing is set for May 5.

The prospect of a light sentence isn’t unusual. In fact, it’s more the rule than the exception in gun trafficking cases around the country, a point that frustrates the top gun enforcement agency, ATF, to no end.

The chief problem, ATF officials say, is that there is no comprehensive federal statute in place that expressly outlaws gun trafficking and so-called “straw purchases” in which third parties buy weapons for people, often affiliated with crime organizations.

Paperwork Violations 

Instead, ATF says it’s forced to rely on “paperwork” violations such as making a false statement on the forms required to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer.

“Currently there is not a firearm trafficking law,” says ATF Agent Timothy Graden, a spokesman for the agency. “Trafficking cases typically involve people with little or no criminal history, therefore allowing them to buy firearms and then divert them to the criminal element.”

Consequently, there are cases all around the country in which people get off light for gun trafficking. Some even get probation.

Such is the case of Neil Smith, of Little Rock, AR, who got off last year with felony probation after ATF agents purchased seven firearms from him. Smith later admitted to illegally selling between 50 and 100 guns for profit.

In St. Paul, MN, Paul De La Rosa, who purchased over 119 firearms that he trafficked to Mexico, allegedly to a drug cartel, received just 36 months in prison.

And then there’s the more highly publicized case of Denver woman Stevie Vigil, who in March was sentenced to less than three years in prison, after pleading guilty to buying and transferring a firearm to a convicted felon and prison gang member who used the gun to murder Colorado Department of Corrections Executive Director Tom Clements at his home, and a Dominos pizza delivery man named Nathan Leon.

Read more »

“Mark From Michigan”: Dumb and Dumber


Mark Koernke

 Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office.
  
By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com
Mark and I never really hit it off.

I first met Mark Koernke in the late ‘80s. Gene Ward, a fellow FBI agent, had asked me to accompany him on an interview of Koernke. We met with Koernke in his basement office at Alice Lloyd Hall, a University of Michigan dormitory, where he was a janitor.

Ward was investigating a potential hate crime, the painting of some racial epithets on a home. It had been suggested that Koernke might know something about it. Koernke denied that he had any knowledge, and we concluded that he most probably had no connection to the graffiti painting.

During the course of the interview, Koernke made it known that he had been an intelligence officer in the Army, and in addition he was a counter intelligence expert. He said, he continued to train US military units regarding tactics of foreign militaries. I made no secret of my skepticism of Koernke’s background and questioned some of his conspiracy theories he apparently felt compelled to share with us.

This all pre-dated Koernke’s semi-notoriety, later he would have a national following as “Mark from Michigan” and his own radio show “The Intelligence Report.”

He was an early purveyor of the “New World Order,” which he believed was a world-wide conspiracy. As best as I’ve been able to understand, the New World Order involves the takeover of the US by the United Nations which is fronting for some insidious international cabal that wants to institute international socialism. Part of this conspiracy was the building of secret concentration camps in the western US to house those who would be unwilling to accept the New World Order. Among other things, “black helicopters” were being used to spy on Americans.

The black helicopters and Mark from Michigan became synonymous. The New World Order was supposed to have happened by now, but it hasn’t and maybe that’s because Koernke has been on watch. I think Koernke perceived himself to be the “intellectual” underpinning of the militia movement – sort of a latter day Thomas Paine.

Anyway our paths continued to cross. There were the times I saw him surveilling the federal building parking lot. I guess he was trying to log our movements for intelligence purposes. I would wave to him, and he would hide.

During the late 80s and early 90s the militia movement grew dramatically. The high-water mark came soon after the bombing of the Murray federal building in Oklahoma City.

Many people in the movement were shocked and disgusted by the slaughter of innocent people including children. They did not want to be identified with a philosophy that condoned such acts. (In contrast Koernke espoused the theory that the government actually did the bombing to set-up Timothy McVeigh and to destroy records that proved the “Gulf War Syndrome” was real. He didn’t really explain why those records were in Oklahoma City.)

As the militia movement diminished, there were some internal conflicts.

In 1997, in Michigan, one member of the militia was murdered and other members were charged with the murder. Although Koernke was never believed to be involved, he was subpoenaed to be a witness. When a process server showed up on Koernke’s porch, an argument ensued.

Greg Stejskal

Apparently Koernke threatened the server with a rifle resulting in Koernke being charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. Koernke’s trial date was in May, 1998, but Koernke didn’t appear for the trial, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. In June a federal fugitive warrant for Koernke was issued based on my affidavit stating there was reason to believe he had fled from Michigan.

While Koernke was a fugitive, he continued his shortwave radio broadcasts from various undisclosed locations. He mentioned me several times in unflattering terms. He also said, that unless the federal charges were dropped, “a lot of their (FBI) people might get hurt.”

The following July a Michigan State Police helicopter was searching for marijuana growing plots in rural Barry County (just north of Battle Creek, Michigan). The helicopter crew observed a pickup truck, a man and a woman near an abandoned mobile home.

When the helicopter came in for a closer look, the man, Koernke, began running. I don’t know if the helicopter was black, but it must have been unsettling for Koernke to have a helicopter seemingly coming for him. Koernke then jumped into a shallow lake where only his head was showing. (Presumably Koernke was looking for a hollow reed so he could breathe while submerged like in so many old movies.)

When the police ground units arrived Koernke was persuaded to come out of the water, but not before giving a one finger salute. Koernke told the police he was Michael Kerns. He was affecting an Irish brogue and had attempted to dye his hair red although the result was closer to orange. Several weapons were found in the pickup including an AR-15 and a semi-automatic AK-47. Kerns/Koernke was taken into custody and lodged in the Barry County jail in Hastings.

It was suspected that Kerns might be Koernke, but a positive identification would take hours as there was not yet a way to electronically transmit fingerprints to locations where his prints were on file. That night the Barry County Sheriff called me and asked if I could come to his jail to identify Koernke.

When I arrived at Barry County Sheriff’s Office, there sat Mark Koernke with orange hair and no mustache. I greeted Mark by name, but he acted like he didn’t know me and was talking in a terrible Irish brogue and said his name was Michael Kerns.

I told him that I needed to ask him a few questions, but first I had to advise him of his rights. After advising him, I passed him the acknowledgement form and asked him to sign it which he did. I looked at the form and asked him if he realized he had signed the form “Mark Koernke.” He looked totally crest fallen.

In August 1999, after again being placed on bond, he was tried on the assault charge and found guilty. The judge sentenced him to 80 days in jail, but he was credited with time served and given probation.

Koernke continued his shortwave broadcasts and hawking his videocassettes with titles like “America in Peril” to a somewhat diminished audience. But our paths were destined to cross one more time.

In March 2000, there was a bank robbery in downtown Dexter, Michigan, Koernke’s hometown. I responded to the robbery and was in route when I heard radio traffic describing a suspect vehicle, an ’85 white Plymouth Fury. A sheriff’s deputy had stopped a car matching that description, but when he approached the car, it sped off. A high-speed chase ensued that lasted 40 minutes. During the chase the officers became aware that the car was Mark Koernke’s, and he appeared to be driving it.

The police were able to cut-off Koernke. He tried to ram a police car and run-over a deputy. Then he decided to drive cross-country across a field, but ended up hitting a tree. He got out and ran toward a channel of a lake. There he again executed his water escape and evasion tactic, swimming across the channel. The police caught up to him on the other side.

As a MSP trooper with his gun drawn approached Koernke, Koernke shoved him. The trooper displayed remarkable restraint and didn’t shoot him, but rather subdued and handcuffed Koernke.

I had proceeded to the bank and quickly learned Koernke was not the bank robber. (We later caught the actual bank robber who was responsible for several other robberies.) Apparently Koernke, a customer of the bank, had stopped in the street in front of the bank. He had his son get out of the car to place a deposit in the bank’s ATM. The son after making the deposit ran back to the car. He was wearing a baseball cap as was the bank robber.

Witnesses outside the bank saw this, and when they were questioned about the bank robbery, thought they had witnessed the getaway. A description of the car was broadcast which led to Koernke being stopped and then the chase began.

It is not clear to me why Koernke fled from the police. There were no helicopters up that day. He later claimed that he feared for the safety of his 2 sons who were in the car, but they remained in the car for a good portion of the high speed chase. (Koernke had them get out of the car before he was forced to stop.)

In March 2001, Koernke was convicted of fleeing from the police, assault with a dangerous weapon (his car) and resisting and obstructing. The trial and sentencing were before the same judge as his first trial. But the judge was far less sympathetic this time. She sentenced him on each count to run concurrently with 7 years being the maximum time in prison. It would be about 3 years if he were paroled. He did not get along well in prison and did close to the maximum time.

On March 15, 2007, Koernke completed his sentence. He has resumed doing the shortwave broadcasts of his “The Intelligence Report,” most recently carried on Liberty Tree Radio. In addition he has many videos available on You Tube. I’m guessing drones and the NSA/Snowden revelations are giving him a lot of new material.

Five Top Federal Law Enforcement Achievements in 2013

 
 

Whitey Bulger

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Mob boss convicted: One of the nation’s most notorious mafia leaders, James “Whitey” Bulger, was sentenced to life in prison on Nov. 13 after a Boston federal jury found him guilty of racketeering, money laundering and extortion. Bulger was a violent, cold-blooded leader of the Boston Irish mob for decades. He had been on the run for 16 years.

Silk Road busted: In October, the FBI captured the elusive owner and operator of Silk Road – a website that sold drugs and other illegal items and services. The transactions were virtually untraceable because of a currency called bitcoins. The FBI seized $28 million worth of the bitcoins.

Bombs in Boston: A federal manhunt ended in the death of one suspect and the arrest of another in the Boston Marathon bombing in April. The suspects, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, are accused of placing a bomb at the finish line of the marathon on April 15. The blast killed three and injured more than 260 others.

Motor City corruption: Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in prison for racketeering, extortion, bribery, fraud and tax charges in March. Kilpatrick, his father and a city contractor were running a criminal enterprise out of city hall.

Exploited children saved: In a nationwide sweep targeting underage prostitution in July, 105 juveniles were rescued and more than 150 alleged pimps arrested. The FBI coordinated with local, state and federal officials over three days to nab suspects in 76 cities.

FBI’s David Bowdich Named ticklethewire.com Fed of the Year for 2013

David Bowdich

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

David Bowdich, special agent in charge of counterterrorism for the Los Angeles Division, has been named ticklethewire.com Fed of the Year for 2013.

Bowdich, who is considered a rising star in the bureau, has been an agent since 1995.

Bowdich earns the award for a variety of reasons. He’s well respected among the troops and has shown strong leadership and support for his agents. He’s also a hard worker.

He was at the forefront of the fatal shooting of a TSA officer at LAX Airport, and was a key person involved in the probe into four California men who were busted for plotting to attack Americans and U.S. military bases overseas.

While in San Diego earlier in his career, he led a yearlong wiretap investigation that resulted in the first federal racketeering convictions ever to be brought against street gang members in the Southern District of California. He also  been involved in the past in cracking down on kidnappings on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border.

In 2011, he was  entrusted to  handle the transition of a new FBI Director when it was thought Robert S. Mueller III was going to step down after his 10 -year term. Mueller eventually got a two-year extension.

Bowdich was named to the SAC post in Los Angeles in 2012.

Bowdich becomes the sixth recipient of the award. Last year, it went to the FBI’s John Perren.

Previous recipients have included Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (2008), Warren Bamford, who headed the Boston FBI (2009), Joseph Evans, regional director for the DEA’s North and Central Americas Region in Mexico City (2010) and Thomas Brandon, deputy Director of ATF (2011).

 

Feds Mibehavin’ in 2013

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Every day, thousands of federal law enforcement agents wake up, grab their gun and badge and a cup of java, orange juice or tea and go out into the world to protect the public and enforce the laws.

Unfortunately, every year, a few step over the line — way over the line — and break the law.

As the year draws to an end,  ticklethewire.com takes a look at some of the more interesting cases of Feds Misbehavin’ in 2013. As in the past, money and sex was involved in some allegations. And this year, unfortunately, so was death.

Too Much Booze: FBI agent Adrian Johnson got 18 months in prison this year after he was convicted of multiple charges including vehicular manslaughter after he drove drunk and crashed into a car in suburban D.C., in Prince George’s County. He killed an 18-year old and man and seriously injured the man’s friend in 2011.

Not So Secret Service: Secret Service agents are getting quite the rep for being serious party people. Supervisors Ignacio Zamora Jr. and Timothy Barraclough, aren’t doing much to change that image. The Washington Post reported in November that the two, who were managing security for the president, have been removed from that detail because of alleged misconduct involving women. 

In one instance in May, Zamora allegedly tried getting back into a woman’s room at the Hay-Adams hotel, near the White House, to get a bullet he had left behind. He was off duty and had removed the bullets from the gun while in the room, the Post reported. He had met the woman at the hotel bar and joined her in her room, the Post reported. The Post reported that the guest refused to let Zamora back in,  and he identified himself to hotel security as a Secret Service agent. The hotel alerted the White House about the odd behavior, the Post reported.

During an internal investigation, investigators also found that the two agents had allegedly sent sexually suggestive emails to a female subordinate, who is an agent.

Hands in the Cookie Jar: Oklahoma FBI agent Timothy A. Klotz confessed to dipping into the FBI cookie jar. Authorities allege that he embezzled $43,190 that was earmarked for confidential informants for tips on criminal activities from 2008-2011.  He acknowledged in a signed statement that he falsified 66 receipts during a scheme that went undiscovered for more than four years. He was sentenced earlier this month to six months in prison and three years of supervised released. He was also ordered to pay a restitution of $43,190.

Let The Dice Roll -- FBI agent Travis Raymond Wilson, 38, of Huntington Beach, Calif., apparently had a little gambling jones and didn’t want the big guys at the FBI to know. Unfortunately for him, he got busted. Wilson pleaded guilty to structuring financial transactions in violation of the federal Bank Secrecy Act.

The feds say between January 2008 and February 2013, Wilson regularly gambled at casinos in California, Nevada, Arizona, and West Virginia, authorities said. In total, Wilson structured more than $488,000 in cash.  Sentencing is set for March 3. 

Hookers, Cash and Luxury Travel: Human temptation. Need you say more. John Bertrand Beliveau Jr., 44, a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), apparently failed that test. He pleaded guilty earlier in December to participating in a massive international fraud and bribery scheme. He admitted sharing with a foreign Navy contractor confidential information about ongoing criminal probes into the contractor’s billing practices in exchange for prostitutes, cash and luxury travel, the Justice Department said in a press release. His case is part of a big scandal.

Ethics Still Applies When You Depart: Kenneth Kaiser, former head of the FBI’s Boston office, found that ethics still apply when you leave the bureau.  The choked up ex-agent appeared in court where he was fined $10,000 for violating an ethics charge. Kaiser was accused of meeting with former FBI colleagues about his company that was under investigation. Federal law prohibited him from having professional contact with former FBI colleagues within a year of leaving government service.

“I lost something I valued the most — my reputation,” Kenneth W. Kaiser, 57, of Hopkinton, Mass. said, according to the Boston Globe.

Helping the Wrong Side –  Border Patrol Agent Ivhan Herrera-Chiang took advantage of his position and helped smugglers bring meth, cocaine and marijuana into the U.S. He was sentenced in Phoenix in November to 15 years. He reportedly even helped smugglers find their way around underground sensors and lock combinations.

“You have done about the worst thing a law-enforcement agent could do, especially a Border Patrol agent, and that is passed confidential information,” U.S. District Judge Paul Rosenblatt said.

A Fatal Shot – FBI agent Arthur “Art” Gonzales of Stafford County, Va.  is charged with shooting  his estranged wife to death in April. He told dispatchers he was acting in self-defense when he shot his 42-year-old wife, Julia Sema Gonzales. He says his wife attacked him with a knife.

Gonzales was a supervisory special agent-instructor at the FBI’s National Academy at Quantico.  Court records show bond was granted. Trial has been set for March.

 

ICE Agent ICED:Veteran ICE agent Juan Martinez, 47,  has suddenly got a lot on his plate. He is accused of extortion and accepting bribes. Authorities alleged that he conspired with others to shake down a Colombian construction company. The group allegedly told the firm that it was under investigation, when it was not, and that the U.S. Treasury was about to add the company to a list known as Specially Designated Nationals (SDN). The designation by Treasury can result in the freezing of bank accounts and other action harmful to a business. Martinez’s group said it could keep the company off the list, and for that, it received more than $100,000. He is also accused of illegally bringing in people to this country, claiming falsely that they were witnesses in an ongoing narcotics investigation.   His attorney says the allegations are false.

Leaky Pipes: Plumbers aren’t the only ones who concern themselves with leaks. FBI agent Donald Sachteren who leaked information to the Associated Press was recently sentenced to more than three years in prison for possessing and disclosing secret information. Sachteren, 55, was accused of disclosing intelligence about the U.S. operation in Yemen in 2012. What made him a far less sympathetic character in this whole mess was the fact he was also sentenced to more than 8 years in prison for possessing and distributing child pornography in an unrelated case.

 

 

 

Author Elmore Leonard Created a U.S. Marshal Who Will Live On

 

Elmore Leonard signing 'Raylan' book, Jan. 2012/Photo by Alan Stamm

Alan Stamm
ticklethewire.com

 BIRMINGHAM, Mich. – Elmore Leonard, the acclaimed crime novelist who died Tuesday morning, imagined characters who behave and sound like believable law breakers and law enforcers.

His best-known plot stars include Raylan Givens, a deputy U.S. marshal on page and screen.

Leonard, who died at 87 in his suburban Detroit home from complications of a stroke he suffered a few weeks back,  was working on a book called “Blue Dreams” that would have been his 46th. “He was going to bring the character Raylan Givens into it,” son Peter Leonard tells Susan Whitall of The Detroit News.

Leonard introduced that federal marshal in “Pronto,” a 1993 book, and brought him back two years later in “Riding the Rap” and in a 60-page novella issued in 2011 as “Fire in the Hole.”

In “Justified,” a FX cable series that began in 2010 and returns next January, Timothy Olyphant portrays the tough lawman enforcing a beyond-regulations style of justice in eastern Kentucky’s hill country around Harlan.

When a real-life parole violator was arrested there last March, one headline said: Life Imitates Art, ‘Justified’ Edition: U.S. Marshals Hunt Down Fugitive in Harlan County.

But how closely does Leonard’s fictional marshal resemble the real deal?

In an effort to find out, a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter last year watched the show’s pilot episode with second-generation Deputy U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott, who joined the service in 1987 and has been U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Ohio since 2003.

Until local journalist Mark Dawidziak popped in a DVD at Elliott’s federal courthouse office, he hadn’t seen “the heroic deputy marshal created by esteemed novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard.”

The actual badge-wearer admired the pilot’s realistic setup, which had Given assigned to Lexington, Ky., and being told he’d take on all kinds of assignments.

“Small offices tend to have less manpower, so that would be the case,” he says. “In a smaller office, a deputy marshal could be asked to do a little bit of everything: working warrants, prisoner transportation, witness relocation, fugitive task force. And it’s not uncommon for someone to be assigned to an area where they grew up. We’re one of the law enforcement agencies that will do that. And I think that’s a good thing.”

Elliott also was impressed by an offhand mention of Glynco, commenting: “That’s our training academy in Georgia. That’s right. Somebody did some research.”

Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens in "Justified"

Similarly, he gave a thumb-up to actor Olyphant’s generally casual wardrobe:

“You dress appropriately for court, but, if you’re apprehending fugitives and jumping fences, you’re in jeans.”

But overall, the Cleveland marshal found more unrealistic touches than accurate ones – starting with Givens’ frequent weapon use.

“I’ve never had to fire my gun in the line of duty. It does happen, of course, but every time a weapon is discharged, reports need to be filled out. With the amount of gunfire in this show, Raylan would be up to his ying-yang in paperwork. That’s all he’d be doing. . . .

“I know they want him to be a Lone Ranger type of hero with a lot of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne stuff. It’s not a bad show. It’s just not very representative of what we do.”

Raylan Givens’ creator was a show consultant, though dramatic script flourishes aren’t his.

The vivid characters and crackling dialogue Elmore Leonard put between book covers seemed so real that criminals “write to me and want to know if I’ve done time,” the author told Vice magazine in 2009.

That level of realism flowed partly from reading and other research, and mainly from an imaginative talent that assures his work will endure.

 

Ex-Prosecutor Turned Author Tries to Shield Her Parents from the Steamy Sex Scenes

Featured_leotta_7113
By Allan Lengel
Deadline Detroit

DETROIT — Allison Leotta, a Detroit native living in the D.C. area, likes to send her parents in Michigan a draft of her new novels — minus the chapters with the steamy sex scenes.

“I take out those chapters,” says Leotta, a Michigan State University graduate.

But her mother, Diane Harnisch, of West Bloomfield, Mich., says at least with the last transcript, her daughter may have forgotten to excise those chapters. Not that it really matters. She says she reads the published books as well.

“I want to know exactly what she’s writing,” says Harnisch. “Of course as a mom, it makes me a little uncomfortable  at times. and wondering how in heavens name does she know that stuff.”

Her parents and grandmother are perhaps her  biggest fans, but certainly not the only ones.

Leotta, 40,  who is married and the mother of two young boys, is on fire in the literary world.

Described in the Providence Journal as a female John Grisham, the former D.C. sex crimes prosecutor will release her third novel “Speak of the Devil”, Tuesday.

It’s part of the ongoing series centering around a fictional sex crime prosecutor named Anna Curtis. On day of the debut, she’ll appear for a book signing at 7 p.m. at Books-A- Million on Southfield Road in Beverly Hills.

The third book isn’t her last.

Leotta recently signed a contract with Touchstone/Simon & Schuster to write two more novels as part of the series, she tells Deadline Detroit.

In her latest book, the main character, prosecutor Anna Curtis gets engaged. That’s the good news.

On the downside, one of her cases takes a vicious turn.  A criminal named Diablo — the Devil — leads an attack on a brothel. It results in an investigation into the dangerous  MS-13 gang, which has roots in El Salvador.  Curtis tries to keep her personal and professional life separate.  But the dangers of the job come to her doorstep.

Leotta says this book is a little darker than previous works, “but it’s a lot more suspenseful. People who have read it have been surprised by all the twist and turns.”

A  sex crimes prosecutor, she left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. in 2011 to write full time.

While working as a prosecutor she wrote her first novel “Law of Attraction.” As policy, the Justice Department had to review the transcript for any security breaches. Leotta wasn’t worried about that. What concerned her was having colleagues having read the sex scenes.

Leotta, who grew up in Franklin and Farmington Hills, and attended Harvard Law School, always can depend on two people to help generate interest in her book signings in Metro Detroit:  Her father, Alan Harnisch of Troy, who is  a former federal prosecutor, and her mother.

“They’re my biggest fans,” she says. “They never fail to pack the bookstore with friends whenever I’m there.”

Her mother says: “I couldn’t be more proud of her or in awe of her ability.”

Interestingly, Leotta says her grandmother has read the books as well — steamy scenes and all.

“With my grandma, she read the published  books, and she said she was shocked, and said ‘ how did you learn all that stuff?”

Besides writing books, Leotta has a blog, The Prime Time Crime Review, which evaluates crime shows for true-to-life  accuracy.

 

Column: The Unfair Treatment of Man Who Really Just Wanted to Be an FBI Agent

Herman Groman is a retired FBI agent whose work included investigating public corruption and organized crime.

Justin Slaby

 
By Herman Groman
For ticklethewire.com

I’m not one to easily pick up a cause. I’ve seen too many situations when after all of the hype and the dust settles, somehow the “cause” was found to be flawed.

So when I heard about FBI Agent trainee Justin Slaby being drummed out of the FBI training academy at Quantico, Virginia, I was certain after looking into it, there would be more to this story. It would all make sense.

You see Justin Slaby is a former US Army ranger and he served three tours of duty serving his country in Afghanistan and Iraq. He left the military only after his left hand was blown off by a grenade.

His life-long ambition was to become an FBI Special Agent, but with his amputated left hand it seemed unlikely his dream would be realized. Still, he was hopeful.

He got some encouragement along the way from an FBI recruiter he met, and decided as improbable as it might be, he would continue his quest. The first obstacle he faced however, wasn’t his missing hand. He had a state of the art prosthesis and could just about do anything he could before he lost his hand. He had to get a college degree.

So the married father went to college at night full-time and worked during the day. All the while he kept his sights on his dream to become an agent. Eventually, he landed a job with the elite FBI hostage rescue team as a support employee.

Not an easy accomplishment by itself, but he still wasn’t an agent. Fortunately, when it came to firearms, he was an expert shot and he was right handed. But knowing that the FBI firearms training required that some shooting be done with the “weak hand” (in his case his left hand with the prosthesis) he even learned to shoot with the prosthesis for this limited shooting. Eventually, his determination paid off.

After enduring the grueling application process, countless interviews and an extensive background investigation, he was offered a position as an FBI Special Agent trainee at Quantico Va.

Herman Groman

He was where he had dreamed of being since he was boy. Against all odds, he had made it to the FBI Academy. He was doing well in the academics, and the physical part of it was a cake walk given his Army Ranger training.

In firearms training he was doing well, but the technique he developed for shooting with his prosthesis in his “weak hand” wasn’t in conformance established FBI firearms guidelines.

It wasn’t pretty, but he got the job done. After several weeks into the training, he noticed that he would be called out of classes and summoned to the firearms unit. He was tasked to do things that the other trainees were not asked to do.

Things like draw a can of pepper spray and his weapon at the same time and pull  a 250-pound man around with one arm. One of the instructors even callously blurted out to one of his classmates, “What’s next? Guys in wheelchairs?”

Still, he was willing to endure whatever they asked of him in order to accomplish his goal of becoming a special agent.

After a few weeks, in spite of his satisfactory performance, he was dismissed from the FBI Academy because of his unconventional “weak hand shooting technique.”

He formally requested to be reinstated to the academy and his request was denied.

Slaby has filed a federal law suit and the trial is scheduled to begin on Monday July 29th in Stafford Va.

I for one hope he prevails. He has already demonstrated that he has guts, focus, drive and integrity: the qualities that make an outstanding FBI Special Agent.