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Special Report

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.

Read more »

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.