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Horn of Plenty: Middle East Heroin and Meth Is Bound for the U.S. Through East Africa

By Jeffrey Anderson
For ticklethewire.com

An indictment in U.S. District Court in Manhattan of a major international drug trafficking enterprise in the Middle East and Africa is shining a light on law enforcement operations and the diplomatic challenges the United States faces in such foreign cases.

The complications of investigating international conspiracies and dealing with foreign treaties and corruption in foreign lands are among the obstacles U.S. law enforcers face in a case out of Kenya that illustrates the continued rise of East Africa as a global drug hub.

The indictment charges a suspected organized crime family in Kenya and associates from India and Pakistan with running a large-scale operation to transport heroin and meth from the Middle East, through East Africa, and to U.S. ports by sea.

Ibrahim Akasha and Baktash Akasha, Kenyan nationals and sons of the elder Ibrahim Akasha, who was murdered in Netherlands in 2000, face conspiracy and drug trafficking charges. They were arrested last week in Mombasa.

The Akasha organization is managed by Vijay Anandgiri Goswami, known in India as “Vicky” Goswami, the indictment states. A Pakistani man named Gulam Hussein, “Old Man,” is identified as the narcotics supplier for the alleged transportation network. They too were arrested in Mombasa.

Hussein has acknowledged transporting tons of heroin by sea, which he procured from one of the largest suppliers of white heroin in the world, the indictment states. He and the Akashas allegedly planned to import the drugs into the U.S.

People Daily, Daily Nation and others reported the arrests of Hussein, Gowami and the Akashas last week as the indictment was being unsealed in New York. The indictment states that Baktash Akasha met two confidential DEA sources posing as representatives of a Colombian drug trafficking organization in Mombasa, in March, and discussed a plan to import hundreds of kilograms of pure heroin, known as “100 percent white crystal,” into the United States. Akasha offered a discount to one of the DEA sources if he paid for the heroin up front, the indictment states.

He also told the source about a European communications company that provides secure cell phones to evade American or Israeli intelligence, according to the indictment.

During an April meeting in Mombasa that included his brother Ibrahim and Goswami, Akasha told the same DEA source that he had contacted a heroin supplier in Pakistan about buying 500 kilograms of “carat diamond,” referring to high-quality heroin, for importation into the U.S., the indictment states. Akasha told the DEA source that the supplier, who is not named in the indictment, could provide 420 kilograms.

In a recorded telephone conversation in June, Akasha talked to the DEA source about sending a sample of the heroin to East Africa. Later that month, Goswami talked with the DEA source about establishing meth labs in West Africa, offering that he could procure “ton-quantities” of the chemicals to produce meth in East Africa, the indictment states.

Read more »

Detroit’s Top FBI Agent Paul Abbate Talks About ISIS, Gangs, Corporate Espionage and Violence

 

Paul Abbate

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

DETROIT – Paul M. Abbate arrived in Detroit last fall to take over the local FBI office, days after Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick got a hefty 28-year prison sentence. Kilpatrick was whisked away in handcuffs.

But the scent of corruption lingered, and Abbate suddenly found himself heading up an FBI office, where public corruption investigations continue to be a high priority.  In the past few years alone, besides the mess at city hall, several people in the Wayne County government have been convicted of corruption charges. That investigation remains open

Before arriving here, Abbate headed up the counterterrorism division in the FBI’s Washington Field Office, which handles terrorism investigations domestically and overseas.

Before that, he spent time at FBI headquarters, Newark,  New York, Los Angeles, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was involved in such FBI investigations as Benghazi and Pan Am 103.

October marked his first anniversary in Detroit.

A native of the New Haven,  Conn. area, the very affable Abbate, an 18-year veteran of the FBI,  recently sat down with Allan Lengel of ticklethewire.com to talk about ISIS, traditional organized crime, the agency’s relationship with the Arab-American community, local gangs and use of social media, corporate espionage, violence and how he ended up in Detroit.

“I actually asked to come here,” he says, adding that he’s been impressed with the people of Michigan.

The following is an interview with Abbate, which has been trimmed for brevity. The questions have been edited for clarity.

DD: Is there any sense that ISIS  or ISIL has any presence or connection here?

Abbate: It’s something that we’re constantly vigilant about, proactive in terms of trying to be in front.  I wouldn’t say that we have any specific or credible information that there’s an ISIL presence here in Michigan at this time. But it’s something, 24/7, we’re always on guard for.

DD: The Internet has become a big tool for recruiting. Do you see any of that activity here?

Abbate: That’s everywhere.

DD: Is that monitored out of headquarters?

Abbate: We work in conjunction with the Counterterroism Division in headquarters. And that type of investigative work is carried out throughout the 56 field offices including here as well. When you talk about focusing on a specific area, the Internet and the reach of the Internet has really broken that down. Any person sitting anywhere in the world can reach out and attempt to recruit, radicalize and incite anyone else in the world whether it’s here in Michigan or anywhere in the United States.

DD: Do you have any sense of al Qaeda having some presence here?

Abbate: Like the earlier questions you ask, I would say that we don’t have any specific or credible information with regard to any particular group like that, but that’s what we do. That’s what we’re on the watch for. It’s our top priority to identify if it’s here and prevent an attack from occurring.

DD: Do you see anything in Michigan, an exchange of people coming and going from Syria, that might concern you?

Abbate: We’re always on the look out for that. We had a case here , we had an individual who was arrested  this past March who was seeking, as alleged in the complaint, to go over to Syria to join up with a terrorist organization. We’ve had a number of cases nationally where we’ve had people travel there.

DD: How would you describe your relationship with the Arab American community here?

Abbate: I think it’s strong. Again the community outreach that we do is broad based, so I don’t like to single out any one particular community. With respect to the Arab American community, we  have a very robust outreach, with various aspects of that community and individuals. It’s strong. We go to various events that are held within the community. We hold regular meetings here to share ideas, to hear from the various communities.

DD: In some parts of the country there have been concerns over the years that the FBI has been too aggressive in monitoring activities in mosques. Is there a concern here that you’ve heard?

Abbate: I think a lot of those earlier concerns that have been around for a long time, now to a great extent, have been overcome.  Certainly that sort of distrust or concern still exists to some level, and we do continue to hear that. But I think we’ve made great strides.

Read more »

A Book Review About Baseball, A-Rod and the Steroid Era

Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End baseball’s Steroid Era , By Tim Elfrink and Gus Garcia-Roberts

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

This is not a traditional book review as those are usually done about the time a book is published and first available for sale. Also in the interest of full disclosure, another retired FBI agent and I are mentioned in the book albeit briefly and tangential to the primary focus of the book. The mention is related to a FBI steroid investigation we did in the early ‘90s. I’ll explain more about that later.

One of the authors of Blood Sport, Tim Elfrink, is a reporter for the “Miami New Times”, and he broke the story of the Biogenesis/Major League Baseball performance enhancing drugs scandal. Tony Bosch, Biogenesis’ founder and owner, had become a supplier of PEDs to a number professional and college baseball players. Several the MLB players were some of biggest stars in the game, and one Alex Rodriguez, “A-Rod,” the highest paid player in the history of the game.

Blood Sport is not only a great telling of the sordid story of Bosch peddling steroids and other PEDs to baseball players, but it’s an insider’s perspective of investigative journalism. The Biogenesis saga is arguably the biggest scandal in MLB since the “Black Sox” conspiracy that fixed the 1919 World Series.

In setting the stage for the Biogenesis story, Blood Sport describes some of the very early efforts to gain an advantage by the use of chemical enhancement. One such episode occurred in 1889 and involved a 32-year-old pitcher for the (Pittsburg) Alleghenies.

The pitcher, James “Pud” Galvin, had been one of the best pitchers of the era, but at 32 was past his prime. He was asked to participate in an experiment involving the use of an anti-aging elixir which was administered by injection and was nothing more than a liquid derived from the crushed testicles of animals. (Pud’s elixir came from sheep testicles, Rocky Mountain Oysters.)

The experiment was publically known and not illegal. (The sale and use of drugs was not regulated by the US government until the early 1900s.) Pud pitched a great game, and for short time his performance was proclaimed as proof the elixir worked. It was later determined that the elixar’s relatively small amount of testosterone could not have enhanced Pud’s pitching. He probably benefited from the psychological benefit of the placebo effect. But in thinking that the male hormone, testosterone, might have performance enhancing potential, they were on to something.

Blood Sport goes on to trace some of the other efforts to gain advantage in sports through chemistry like the open and pervasive use of amphetamines starting in the 50s and going into the 80s and to some extent the present.

Contemporaneous with the decline of amphetamine use began the use of PEDs that could dramatically improve a player’s performance and potentially destroy the integrity of sports – anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are synthetic testosterone which in large amounts increases muscle size and strength. Not all steroids have this anabolic effect, but the steroids that are considered PEDs and illegal are anabolic. Testosterone is produced in males’ testicles, but much larger amounts than occur naturally are needed to enhance athletic performance.

The use of steroids as PEDs came later to baseball than to some other sports, notably football, but when they did come, it was with a vengeance.

This is where the “full-disclosure” thing I mentioned earlier comes in. It was gratifying that Blood Sport tells the story of the advent of the first major federal investigation of steroids, a FBI undercover operation dubbed Equine, and how it relates to MLB’s “steroid era.”

Equine started with a meeting of the legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, his strength and conditioning coach, Mike Gittleson, and me. Bo’s reason for meeting with me was his concern that steroids were becoming prevalent in high school and college football. Steroids were illegal under federal law except by prescription for rare circumstances that did not include enhanced performance in sports. So inspired by Bo, I decided to initiate an undercover operation, Equine, that targeted the illegal distribution of steroids. That UCO ultimately resulted in the successful prosecution of over 70 dealers in the US, Canada and Mexico and the seizure of millions of dosage units of steroids and human growth hormone (HGH).

Greg Stejskal

 

Although we identified a number of football and baseball players that were steroid users – high profile users, but just users – we only prosecuted dealers. One of those dealers, Curtis Wenzlaff, not only sold steroids to our undercover agent, Bill Randall, he had been a supplier to Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire (“The Bash Brothers”) when they played for the Oakland Athletics. After his arrest Wenzlaff agreed to cooperate, and we went after his suppliers, up the ladder so to speak.

All this is only relevant to the current MLB steroid story because in 1994 we warned MLB that steroids were being used by their players, and it was a growing (literally and figuratively) problem based on information provided by Wenzlaff and others. The warning was ignored. Neither the hierarchy of MLB nor the players were ready to confront the problem of steroids yet.

Years later when the extent of the PED problem became clear, and that it was threatening the integrity of the game, the commissioner’s office, owners and players knew that the cancer of PEDs had to be extricated from the game. With the support of the players association, testing was instituted (urine testing for steroids and some other PEDs and blood testing for HGH). The commissioner’s office also tasked former Senator George Mitchell to conduct an investigation of the PED problem and how best to eliminate them.

Among the things the resultant “Mitchell Report” recommended was a “department of investigation” be established within the commissioner’s office to go beyond just testing for PEDs. (A concept that Bill Randall, the Equine undercover agent and I recommended when we were interviewed by Mitchell’s investigators.) So when the Biogenesis story broke in the “Miami New Times” and then everywhere, MLB was ready to respond with an investigative unit that reported to the commissioner.

The whole saga of the “Miami New Times” getting the Biogenesis story from a disgruntled former partner of  Tony Bosch; Alex Rodriguez and his entourage’s efforts to cover it up and keep evidence from the MLB investigators and  Bosch caught in the middle, makes for an entertaining story even if you’re not a baseball fan. Set mostly in Miami with a cast of characters that would seem to have come from an Elmore Leonard novel, it is vividly told in Blood Sport.

For me the takeaway message from the book is that although testing for PEDs is a valuable tool in helping to deter/reduce the use of PEDs in sports, it is ineffective by itself. Of the 14 players suspended for PED use in the Biogenesis case, only 2 had tested positive in connection with PEDs supplied by Tony Bosch. One was Ryan Braun, and he beat the test by contesting the chain of custody of his urine sample and disparaging the integrity of the tester. The MLB investigation determined that Braun’s test had been accurate and the tester hadn’t “juiced” his urine sample as Braun had implied.

The suspensions were all based on the investigation done by MLB’s investigators. That investigation was initiated because of the story in the “Miami New Times.”

All of the suspensions other than Rodriguez’ were accepted by the players. Rodriguez challenged the suspension and went to arbitration claiming the MLB investigators had acted illegally and unethically in obtaining evidence.

The arbiter did not find that any of the investigators’ conduct affected the creditability of the investigation’s conclusions. He also found that Rodriguez had made a concerted effort to hide evidence and obstruct the investigation.  His suspension was upheld by the arbiter, but reduced. Even with the reduction it was the longest suspension for doping ever given in baseball.

The other professional sports leagues and the NCAA should take notice. (Some of Bosch’s PED customers played baseball for the University of Miami.) If the use of steroids and HGH was widespread in MLB, I suspect it is at least as prevalent in the NFL and perhaps other leagues. They cannot rely on testing alone. (As I write this, the NFL Players Union has agreed to a new drug testing regime which will include blood tests for HGH.)

After Blood Sport was published, it was announced that Tony Bosch was federally indicted along with others who were involved with supplying PEDs to the players. Bosch has agreed to plead guilty and will get credit for his cooperation with MLB’s investigation. That is what we had hoped would happen at the end of Equine in 1994. We would prosecute the dealers, and MLB would investigate and discipline the players/users based on intelligence provided by us and our cooperating dealers. It took 20 years – we were just a little ahead of the curve.

 

 

A New FBI Show Is Coming to Prime-Time TV This Season on CBS

By Alan Stamm
ticklethewire.com

Josh Dunhamel is no Efrem Zimbalist Jr., and his new TV show is unlike “The F.B.I.”

The 2014 version is “Battle Creek,” a drama-comedy set in that Michigan city and picked up by CBS for at least 13 episodes. No date is announced for its “coming soon” mid-season debut.

Dunhamel plays Special Agent Milt Chamberlain, sent to open a field office in the economically depressed Midwestern city of 52,000.

“It’s a throwback old-school cop show,” Dunhamel tells Lauren Moraski of CBS News. “I play an FBI agent who’s setting up a satellite office in Battle Creek.

“We work together with some of the local detectives in this underfunded run-down department. So my character has all the resources in the world and this poor police department has almost nothing. So it’s a contrast between local law enforcement and the FBI. It’s funny, but it’s also a serious procedural at the same time.”

His main co-star is Dean Winters as local Det. Russ Agnew. They spar as a mismatched pair, much as Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy do in “The Heat,” a 2013 comedy film. And as Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy do in “48Hrs.” (1982) and its 1990 sequel. Similarly, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell played “Tango & Cash” on the big screen in 1969. Hey, no one pitches this as a breakthrough concept.

Here’s how CBS promotes the new series, shot in Los Angeles:

“As Russ and Milt work long hours together, the question is: Will it be Milt’s charm and endless supply of high-end resources or Russ’ old-fashioned cynicism, guilt and deception that prove to be the keys to catching the bad guys in his beloved hometown?

The executive producer is Vince Gilligan, who produced “Breaking Bad,” which goes a long way toward explaining why USAToday this summer called it “one of next season’s most-anticipated new series.”

Gilligan says he’s “never actually been to Battle Creek,” but likes the name and will portray it as “a city of underdogs.”

 

Here’s a partial list of some of other FBI shows

  • “The F.B.I.,” 1965-74:  Insp. Lewis Erskine (Zimbalist) and several agents handled cases based on real FBI files. Erskine reported to Arthur Ward (Phillip Abbott), assistant to the director. The technical adviser was W. Mark Felt, an associate director of the bureau later unmasked as Watergate informant “Deep Throat.” It ran for 241 episodes.
  • “Mancuso, F.B.I.” 1989-90:  Robert Loggia starred on NBC as Nick Mancuso, a bureau veteran assigned to headquarters, where superiors saw him as a maverick with little regard for agency rules and procedures. Low ratings limited it to one season and prime-time summer reruns in 1993.
  • “The FBI Files,” 1998-2006: This 120-episode documentary series ran on the Discovery Channel cable network, using reenactments and interviews with agents and forensic scientists to dramatize real cases.

FBI’s Tainted Key Witness Creates Big Problems in Mobster Case for NY U.S. Attorney’s Office

This piece originally appeared in Gang Land News on June 26 and is being reprinted with permission. It’s the most recent story Gang Land News has published about the case since disclosing that prosecutors gave sweet plea deals to two Gambino family gangsters on the eve of trial in January rather than allow their lawyers to question the FBI’s key witness about the reason he agreed to cooperate.The witness was arrested on charges of soliciting sex from a person he believed was a 15-year-old girl, a charge that normally carries a mandatory-minimum penalty of 10 years to life.

U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara/doj photo

By Jerry Capeci
Gang Land News

The office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara quietly announced last month that it was dismissing charges against the last three defendants in the snake-bitten labor racketeering case that the FBI made against Genovese gangster Carmine (Papa) Smurf Franco and 28 others. All told, prosecutors have dropped the charges against 10 of the 29 defendants in the indictment.

Throwing in the towel before trial against more than a third of the defendants in the 16-count indictment wasn’t the way things were supposed to turn out. When the arrests were announced, the case was hailed by Bharara and New York FBI boss George Venizelos as a major blow against the Mafia’s control over the waste hauling industry in New York and New Jersey. Instead, this foray against the mob rivals the losing ways of the luckless Mets.

In a two paragraph court filing, prosecutors told Manhattan Federal Judge P. Kevin Castel they were deferring the prosecution of the owner of a Jersey City garbage company and two truck drivers charged with stealing about 130 tons of cardboard between March and July of 2012. The trio, Thomas Giordano, 43, the owner of Galaxy Carting of New Jersey, Michael Russo, 51, and Louis Dontis, 59, were set for trial next month. The charges are slated to be officially dismissed later this summer.

The three men were tape recorded by FBI informer Charles Hughes in dozens of conversations in which they allegedly discussed truckloads of stolen cardboard, and a surprisingly simple, relatively lucrative mob scam. Drivers snatched the cardboard from sites in Brooklyn, Bayonne and beyond. It was then put up for sale by Giordano at a market price that ranged between $106 and $125 a ton, according to an FBI summary of talks that Hughes recorded from March of 2009 until January 8, 2013 – a week before the indictment was unsealed.

But in an apparent effort to keep their key witness, undercover operative Hughes, off the stand, prosecutors have decided to drop the charges. A major concern is that Hughes would have to admit that he became a government witness only after he was arrested for soliciting sex with a girl he believed was 15 years old.

In January, prosecutors gave super sweet plea deals to Gambino mobster Anthony Bazzini and mob associate Scott Fappiano, who faced 20 years if convicted, rather than subject Hughes to a biting cross-examination about that by their lawyers.

But prosecutors had no leverage to wangle guilty pleas from the alleged cardboard thieves.  “They rejected plea deals of zero-to-six months early on,” said one source.

“There was no way they were going to plead to anything,” said one defense attorney whose client accepted a plea offer before it became known that Hughes was a convicted sex pervert. “My guy got a really nice disposition, but he’s not happy. And there’s one other guy I know who’s upset that he didn’t hold out until the end,” the lawyer added.

Sources say that following his arrest in August, 2008, Hughes, now 44, was detained until March of 2009, when he was released on bail and wired up by the FBI to see if he could deliver on a claim that he had worked in the waste hauling industry in his teens and could make cases for the feds. News that his cooperation stemmed from a sex-solicitation arrest surfaced five months ago.

Law enforcement sources say the primary reason the government decided to give Fappiano and Bazzini — who received a year and a day sentence on June 24 — much better plea offers was a “real fear” that jurors would be so outraged by Hughes’s conduct that they would hold it against the government for making a deal with him, ignore the law and acquit, no matter what.

Whether the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office should have entered a cooperation agreement with Hughes in the first place is a bone of contention for some law enforcers. But that issue is difficult to assess since his case is still under seal as are the specifics of his deal with the feds.

But there is agreement by several law enforcement officials, and virtually every defense lawyer Gang Land spoke to, that the decision by Judge Castel to permit defense lawyers to question Hughes about lies he told both his wife and the “teenager” he thought he was seducing convinced prosecutors to give deals to Bazzini and Fappiano in January.

Prosecutors Bruce Baird and Patrick Egan had tried to limit the cross examination, but when Castel indicated during a pretrial session that he was going to grant defense lawyers Raymond Perini and Lee Ginsberg some leeway in their questioning of Hughes, the prosecutors gave the gangsters a plea offer they couldn’t refuse.

“The mobsters were charged with extortion but it’s really stealing garbage stops and bid-rigging,” said one source. “That’s pretty tame stuff for jurors to deal with compared to having sex with little girls who but for the grace of God could be their daughters or granddaughters. The chance of jury nullification was very real.”

The decision to toss the charges against the alleged cardboard thieves was presumably even easier to make: The total value of the stolen cardboard was about $16,000, an amount not likely to sway jurors versus a sex-scheming witness.

Nor was playing the dozens of tapes Hughes made without having him testify to authenticate them a good option. Some conversations appear to back up the notion that the men knew they were dealing in stolen cardboard. For instance, according to the indictment, on May 29, 2012, Giordano was recorded saying “he did not care where the cardboard came from as long as it went to him.”

But others, like one a few days earlier, according to an FBI summary obtained by Gang Land, appear to tilt the other way. In one such conversation, Dontis is heard telling Hughes that “he doesn’t want to do anything wrong. He’s not a brokester, he’s just a hard working Greek who just wants to make money.”

Even if convicted, the trio could have received non jail terms, or sentences of less than a year behind bars.

Giordano’s attorney, Michael Bachner, the only lawyer who responded to a Gang Land request for comment, said he and his client were pleased by the deferred prosecution decision. “From the get go,” said Bachner, “we have taken the position that Mr. Giordano should not be prosecuted. And while it took longer than we would have wished, we’re gratified with the result.”

Neither Bharara, nor the FBI, would comment about this week’s deferred prosecution, or the embarrassing decision to drop the charges against a third of the defendants in the case. They also declined to discuss the status of Hughes, including whether he is behind bars, or if, as prosecutors indicated last week, he is free on bail, and what type of supervision he has now.

In court papers, prosecutors wrote that Hughes “remains in virtual hiding, fearful for his safety and the safety of his close family members.” His “ability to earn a living and to support his family is essentially non-existent,” they wrote, adding that his “life will never return to the way it was prior to his arrest.”

Prosecutors also wrote that different accounts they gave defense lawyers about how roll-off containers belonging to a Bazzini-connected carting company ended up in a Giordano company storage lot were caused by “miscommunication or misunderstanding” between Hughes and his supervising FBI agents, “rather than a deliberate effort by (Hughes) to mislead the government.”

Gang Land News, which is run by Jerry Capeci, a noted mobster expert, is a subscription site, but well worth it.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Launches Innovative Program Around the State to Battle Heroin Tied to Mexican Cartels

Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane

By Jeffrey Anderson

An emerging crime initiative by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane is deploying mobile street crimes units to small cities and towns in her state to tackle an escalating heroin problem tied to Mexican drug cartels.

The strategy, quietly launched last year with the help of a $2.5 million state appropriation, is based on street-level busts by agents with the Bureau of Narcotics Investigations who are embedded for months in a single location, where they build from the ground up a database that allows them to go after larger, more organized criminal elements that have taken over struggling, post-industrial municipalities along the I-80 and I-81 trucking corridors, conveniently located to major drug hubs such as New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

After a 5-month deployment in Hazleton, PA, that concluded in February, the Mobile Street Crimes Unit, which received cooperation from the DEA and the FBI, netted 35,000 bags of heroin, 120 arrests, 97 criminal cases and confiscation of guns, vehicles, cash, and jewelry – in a town of 33,000 which has just 38 police officers.

Before decamping for a new location to work with another set of local law enforcers, the unit, identified on their vests only as “POLICE,” leaves behind the criminal database it has built along with its more sophisticated drug enforcement strategies for the locals to employ.

Congressman Lou Barletta,  a Republican from Pennsylvania’s 11th District — and former mayor of Hazleton —  who is on the House Homeland Security Committee and the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, predicts that Pennsylvania could be the vanguard for a new way of thinking about the use of state resources to confront what is ultimately a national — if not international — problem.

“For anyone in Congress who has been a mayor, they understand very well how these things are tied to drug cartels,” Barletta says. “They know damn well that it’s an endless battle, and that if you take a drug dealer off the street there’s three more waiting to take his place. It’s like drinking water through a firehose.

“The biggest challenge now is to give the local chief of police the resources he needs to keep going, because these cities are cash-strapped,” Barletta continues. “That’s where the feds can play a role. I think we can do a better job there. The unit is going to get attention. And when other states see what is happening they’ll want to replicate it.”

State Senator John Yudichak, a Democrat who represents Carbon County and parts of Luzerne County, says that in 2013, just 60 percent of the 99 cities in the area with a population less than 5,000 had a full-time police force. Today just 6 percent of those same cities do.

“It’s perfectly suited for a drug distribution network, with such a limited presence of law enforcement,” says Yudichak, who championed the initiative in the State Capital with support from Rep. Barletta and others. “We wanted to take the ‘D’ and the ‘R’ of politics out of it and we needed state and federal assistance. We needed to break down silos and get the community engaged. People were in a bed of denial.”

The force behind the initiative is Attorney General Kane, a former street level prosecutor in Lackawanna County, who came into office promising a fresh approach to beating back the ravages of heroin that had overcome towns such as Hazleton.

With 2,500 municipalities splashed across a mostly rural state of 12.7 million people, Kane describes Pennsylvania as a “good place for drug cartels to do business.”

Early on, however, she saw a lack of coordination between local and federal agencies that had created a vacuum for those cartels to exploit.

“No one played well together,” she says. “It was like a T-ball game, where everyone jumps on the ball and parents are cheering with delight. Those days are over. We’re cultivating an environment that puts ego aside. It’s not about credit for a bust. We can’t go on simply chasing dealers off the street then stop.”

While neither a typical drug task force nor simply a community-based approach, the unit nonetheless is a grassroots idea that Hazleton Police Chief Frank DeAndrea says cuts against the grain of “what everyone else is doing.”

DeAndrea says that in the past, the DEA and FBI have utilized his officers as members of a task force that generates proceeds from seizures to fund future investigations, all while his city is drowning under a wave of heroin being fed by cartels and powerful street gangs.

“We have 39 gangs and 38 officers,” he says. “We’re broke, and overmatched. It’s like a high school team going up against an NFL team.”

DeAndrea insists that he wasn’t “seeing the ball move” with the FBI and DEA – until Kane and the Mobile Street Crimes Unit came into the picture.

The feds have expressed support for the idea and have collaborated with the unit, but any partnership is still a work in progress. A Washington-based spokesman for the DEA says, “We don’t have the resources to focus on small-time local yokels that produce limited impact. Our resources are limited too. We have to be careful when evaluating a potential investigation to get a bang for the buck.”

The full story is posted on Lawdragon.com. Click here to read.

 About the author: Jeffrey Anderson is a veteran feature writer and award-winning investigative reporter from Washington, D.C. He previously has worked at the Los Angeles Daily Journal, L.A. Weekly, Baltimore City Paper and The Washington Times. He can be reached at byjeffreyanderson@gmail.com.

Seeking Tough Justice in Probes into Financial Institutions, But Settling for Empty Promises

Atty. Gen. Holder/doj file photo

By Jesse Eisinger 
ProPublica 

Don’t get too excited about bank indictments.

The Justice Department is talking tough. In an unusually frank video statement, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. proclaimed that he was personally overseeing major financial investigations and that his department was poised to bring charges against several large institutions. The United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, gave a rousing speech several weeks ago, declaring that the era of “too big to jail” is over.

The Justice Department is readying charges against Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas, two overseas banks under scrutiny for violations of United States law. Leave aside the appearance that prosecutors can only go after doggone foreigners. After all of this hype, it will be an enormous embarrassment if Justice ends up settling for a fine and some kind of deferred prosecution agreement.

In an article in ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine last week, I argued that federal prosecutors have rendered themselves incapable of meaningfully sanctioning the largest companies or bringing charges against top executives.

Any charges against large financial institutions carry symbolic power. But the more crucial questions are which entities are held accountable, whether the culture that led to criminal conduct is changed and whether any individuals are ultimately brought to justice.

As part of its investigation of the rigging of global benchmark interest rates, the Justice Department obtained guilty pleas. But the contrite parties were obscure Japanese subsidiaries of UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Was this likely to deter future bad behavior by executives at those companies or their competitors? Many were skeptical.

Despite Mr. Holder’s tough-sounding video appearance, it is clear that prosecutors are twisting themselves into awkward yoga poses to minimize the damage any charges against companies might inflict on the larger economy. That’s prudent, of course, but it also suggests that the companies still have considerable leverage in preserving their essential profit centers.

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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.

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