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Archive for July, 2011

Blago Won’t Vanish Quietly; Wants a 3rd Trial

Ex-Gov on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

No suprise: Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich won’t ride off into the sunset — or head to prison — quitely.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Blagojevich, who was convicted last month of 17 of 20 public corruption charges in his retrial, filed a motion Monday for a retrial, alleging judicial bias and error that helped the prosecution “strip away the effective aspects of the defense case.”

“Virtually every error in this trial stemmed from the fact that this Court deprived Blagojevich of the presumption of innocence and exhibited bias against the defense,” the motion asserted, according to the Trib. “The Court formed a closed mind to the evidence and made findings of fact.”

The motion said that “the government did not only benefit from the first trial, it used every opportunity to strip away the effective aspects of the defense case. … The Court rubber-stamped the government’s requests.”

Former ATF Official in Mexico Apologizes to Mexico for Fast and Furious

Darren Gil/cbs file photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Darren Gil, the former attache for ATF in Mexico City, apologized Tuesday to his Mexican counterparts for Operation Fast and Furious, the ATF program that encouraged gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers, with the hopes of tracing the guns to Mexican cartels. ATF lost track of many of the guns, some which have showed up at crime scenes.

“As former head of ATF in Mexico, I would like to apologize to my former Mexican law enforcement counterparts and the people of Mexico for Fast and Furious, ” Gil testified Tuesday before a hearing on the operation before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in Washington.

“I hope they understand it was kept secret from me and my colleagues and unfortunately the results of this operation is that the Mexican people will continue to suffer the consequences of narco related firearms violence.

“To put it bluntly, it’s inconceivable in my mind and in the mind of any competent agent to allow firearms to disappear at all. Further more, it’s even more inconceivable that a  competent agent would allow firearms to cross (an) international border, knowing that they were designated for the worst of the worst criminals in the western hemisphere.”

Gil was the first of several witnesses to testify Tuesday morning.

Witnesses also offered condolences to the family of Brian Terry, the Arizona U.S. Border Patrol Agent who was killed last December. Two guns from the Fast and Furious Operation were found at the scene.

Committee members expressed frustration and near disgust at the testimony of  William Newell, the former head of the Arizona, ATF, who admitted the operation had flaws, but the agency did not “walk guns.” Newell continually said he should have conducted more “risk assessment” when conducting the operation to better pinpoint problems.

He said he would do several things differently if he did it again.

Rep. Darrell Issa said that Newell was entitled to his opinions, but not the facts.

Carlos Canino, ATF Acting Attaché to Mexico, expressed his disgust about the investigation and spoke of the hurt he felt when ATF agents told him they were embarrassed to carry an ATF badge after publicity surfaced about Fast and Furious.

Agents Lost Track of More than 1,000 Guns in Fast and Furious; ATF Agents in Mexico Were Furious About Operation

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The latest report on ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious shows that ATF officials in Mexico City were becoming increasingly alarmed and incensed when learning of the number of guns linked to the operation that were being found  at violent crime scenes in Mexico.

The report, released by Rep. Darrell Issa(R-Calif.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Ia), also stated that federal agents running the operation out of Arizona could not account for more than 1,000 guns bought by suspects in  the operation that encouraged gun dealers in Arizona to sell to middlemen or straw purchasers, with the hopes of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartels.

The report is being released just at the Issa’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is set to conduct hearings on the matter on Tuesday at 10 a.m. The testimony is expected to be explosive.

“The consequences of arming Mexican drug cartels seem obvious,” Issa said in a statement. “But even guns turning up at crime scenes in Mexico wasn’t enough for Justice Department officials to arrest straw purchasers and shut down their trafficking operations. Tragically, it wasn’t until Fast and Furious guns were found at the murder scene of a Border Patrol Agent that Justice officials finally ended this reckless and arrogant effort.”

Grassley added: “ It’s incomprehensible that officials at the Justice Department, the ATF and the U.S. attorney’s office would keep their counterparts at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City in the dark about Operation Fast and Furious. Keeping key details secret while straw purchasers continued buying weapons for gun traffickers jeopardized our relationship with our southern ally and put lives at risk.”

A press release issued by Issa and Grassley also stated:

There was little to no information sharing from the Phoenix Field Division, ATF Headquarters and the Justice Department to their colleagues in Mexico City. Every time Mexico City officials asked about the mysterious investigation, their U.S. based ATF counterparts in Phoenix and Washington, D.C. continued to say they were “working on it” and “everything was under control.”

Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Justice Department, was clearly aware of Operation Fast and Furious and touted the case during a visit to Mexico.

ATF officials in Mexico City were incredulous that their agency would knowingly allow guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, and they were incensed when they finally began to learn the full scope of Operation Fast and Furious and the investigative techniques used.

To read report click here.

House Approves Bill That Paves the Way for FBI Director Mueller to Extend Term 2 Years

Robert Mueller/file fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The inevitable is becoming inevitably closer.

The U.S. House, as expected, voted by voice Thursday night to approve legislation that would allow FBI Director Robert Mueller III to extend his 10-year-term by two years, the Associated Press reported. The Senate approved the bill last week.

The bill will now go to the President, who, without question, will sign the bill. After all, he was the one who suggested Mueller extend his stay as director two years beyond this year.

The bill paves the way now for the President to send the Mueller nomination for the two year extension back to the Senate for approval. Without the bill, the President could not have sent the nomination to the Senate since current law forbids an FBI director from serving more than 10 years.

And yes, that will be approved without question.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Ex-FBI Agent Says Forget About Clemens and Bonds; Get The Big Fish in the Steroid Mess

Greg Stejskal was an FBI agent for nearly 32 years before retiring in 2006. He was the Senior Resident Agent of the Ann Arbor FBI office and spearheaded Operation Equine with former FBI agent Bill Randall — an operation that focused on steroids.

The author (right) Greg Stejsal and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

It’s generally accepted doctrine, at least when I was working drug cases, that you try to work up the food chain and go after the bigger fishes so to speak.

That being said, I have to question the wisdom of prosecuting anabolic steroid users — albeit famous ones — like baseball legends Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Take away the star power, and they’re simply users — not big fish, not major peddlers. Frankly, it’s not worth spending all the time and money on them.

But before I go on about that, a here’s a little background

In 1988, anabolic steroids (not all steroids are anabolic, synthetic testosterone, which promotes muscle growth and strength, for simplicity I refer to them as steroids) were made illegal under federal law. Dealing or possession of steroids with the intent to sell, became a felony. Mere use or possession was a misdemeanor. (The amount of steroids possessed was an indicator of whether there was an intent to sell.)

In 1989, when I headed up the FBI’s Ann Arbor office, Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler and his strength coach, Mike Gittleson, persuaded me that steroids were becoming a significant problem at all levels of football.

I proposed to FBIHQ that we initiate an undercover operation (UCO) targeting steroid distribution. FBIHQ was not enthusiastic about pursuing the illegal distribution of steroids, but reluctantly authorized a limited UCO to last only 6 months.

The operation, code-named Equine, started slow. We made buys from some street level dealers – gym rat dealer/users. Towards the end of our 6 month term, I got a call from FBIHQ. They apparently had received an inquiry from the White House regarding steroid investigations.

Equine was the only steroid case being worked in the U.S. at the time. Consequently FBIHQ wanted me to renew the case and upgrade it. What had been envisioned as a local case morphed into an international operation targeting dealers from all over the country, Mexico and Canada. The focus was always to identify and prosecute the biggest suppliers.

Those early gym rat dealers were confronted and offered favorable treatment if they would identify their suppliers and, in some cases, introduce the UC agent to the supplier. Some of the low or mid-level dealers were athletes or body builders, but none had much notoriety (with the possible exception of the then Mr. Ohio, a body builder).

We ended up convicting over 70 dealers in several jurisdictions. Many of these dealers supplied athletes some of whom were well known. One dealer had supplied some of the players on the Michigan State football team that had won the Big 10 and the Rose Bowl. Tony Mandarich, a notable member of that MSU team, whose photo graced the front of Sports Illustrated, admitted some years later to steroid use while at MSU.

Another dealer told us that that he had supplied Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, the so called bash brothers, while they played for the Oakland A’s. We arranged for that dealer to be debriefed by MLB, and he testified before a U.S. Senate sub-committee.

Ultimately the UCO was successful far beyond our expectations, not only with the many convictions of dealers (all of whom pleaded guilty rather than go to trial), but also with the seizure of massive amounts of steroids. (The Food and Drug Administration estimated that Equine resulted in the seizure of 8-10 million dosage units of real and counterfeit steroids.)

In addition to the UCO, we used a telephone wiretap to make a prosecutable case against one very large dealer. We had been unable to penetrate his organization using the UC agent. (On the wiretap we intercepted one conversation where the dealer threatened to “get rid” of the UCA.) That wiretap allowed us to identify the entire organization, its sources of supply and to intercept a huge shipment of steroids from Mexico.

We charged that dealer with a “Continuing Criminal Enterprise,” the drug equivalent of a RICO charge. Because of the potential for a long prison sentence, the CCE dealer identified his suppliers and provided information that led to the solving of a steroid related homicide.

Through out the about 3 year UCO, we were steadfast in working up the food chain, towards the upper echelons of the steroid trafficking organizations. It was tempting to want to prosecute some of the well-known players, who we learned were using steroids, but despite their celebrity, they were just users.

In the case of the dealer, who had supplied Canseco and McGwire, he identified suppliers in California, and he was willing to make controlled buys from them. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Northern California was not interested in prosecuting the dealer or his suppliers, so we arranged for the dealer to work with the California State Police.

They were able to successfully prosecute the suppliers with the cooperation of our dealer. Ironically it was the same US Attorney’s Office in California that later prosecuted the BALCO case and ardently prosecuted Barry Bonds for perjury related to his steroid use with minimal success and at great expense.

When our UCO ended, and we announced some of the federal indictments there was some local and national media coverage. We had hoped there would be more coverage. We wanted to send a message as deterrent to steroid traffickers and aspiring athletes. We tried to warn Major League Baseball in the summer of 1994 that they had a big steroid problem. For whatever reason, MLB ignored the warning.

We did have second thoughts about not prosecuting some of the players. As various steroid scandals became public, and Jose Canseco started outing himself and others, all of a sudden the media took an interest. Obviously, honing in on big names — even if they were really small fish in the scheme of things — created a buzz in the media.

Interestingly, Equine became more famous for having unsuccessfully warned MLB than for what we accomplished in prosecuting dealers. The reluctance of the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s Offices to prosecute steroid cases including athletes /players was gone.

Oddly — or maybe not — it only seemed there was an interest in prosecuting players who were famous. Prosecutorial discretion seemed to have made a 180 degree shift at least in the Northern District of California.

The results of those big player prosecutions have been less than stellar. After a long protracted legal fight, Barry Bonds was tried for perjury and obstruction of justice, felonies. His use of steroids was a misdemeanor. He was convicted of one count of obstruction of justice.

I’m certain more money has been spent trying to prosecute Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens then we spent during the entire operational and prosecutorial phases of Equine even correcting for inflation. Oh yes, Clemens, who was accused of lying to Congress about his use of steroids. The prosecution screwed up and presented evidence the judge had barred — and the judge, Reggie Walton, declared a mistrial.

It’s unclear whether he’ll grant a new trial.

Don’t misunderstand me. The players use of steroids as performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) was nothing less than cheating and did grave if not irreparable damage to their sports.

In baseball the effect was so great that the 1990’s will forever be remembered as the steroid era. Further their use of steroids encouraged steroid use by young aspiring athletes sometimes with tragic results.

And perjury before a Grand Jury or Congress can not be ignored. But were the players placed in front of forums in the hope that they would lie so as to create a prosecutable felony that would ultimately stir up a lot of publicity?

Shouldn’t prosecutorial discretion apply if that lie is extremely difficult (read expensive) to prove? Prosecutions should not be based solely on a cost benefit analysis, but it should be a factor. Being cynical, I wonder how much consideration was given to the celebrity of the defendants and the media interest in the prosecutions.

I now have a renewed understanding of the wisdom of working up the food chain in drug investigations, no matter who the users are.

TSA Officer at LAX Busted for Stealing Expensive Watches and Credit Card

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The folks who protect our nation’s airports — the Transportation Security Administration — don’t need this kind of publicity.

The feds in Los Angeles on Friday indicted TSA officer Paul Yashou, 38, for stealing watches and a prepaid credit card worth $1,000 at Los Angeles International Airport.

The indictment alleges that Yashou stole four watches and the debit card from luggage going through security screening in Terminal 1 at LAX.

The indictment specifically alleges that Yashou stole an IWC GST chrono perpetual calendar moonphase watch valued at about $15,000, a Breitling Crosswind worth about $5,000, a $1,000 Antima watch and a $1,000 Movado watch.

Authorities said the probe began when the owner of the IWC watch saw his watch up for sale on eBay.

Ex-FBI Contractor Sues Bureau and Atty. Gen. For Blocking Publication of Book

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
Sibel Edmonds, an FBI contractor who founded the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, has sued the FBI and Attorney General for blocking publication of her book, Courthouse News Service reported.

Edmonds claims her book does not contain any classified information.

The website reported that Edmonds worked for the FBI for 6 months as a contract monitor and linguist. She said the FBI hired her two days after Sept. 11, 2001, and fired her after she “reported a number of whistleblower allegations to FBI management officials.”

To read the full story click here

Ex-Interim Philly U.S. Atty. Suspended for 100 Days

Ex-U.S. Atty. Laurie Magid

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Former Philly interim U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid, who is now an assistant U.S. Attorney, has agreed to a 100 day suspension without pay for violating federal restrictions on political contributions in connection with fund-raisers for U.S. Rep. Patrick L. Meehan and former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The paper reported that the settlement, completed Thursday in the ethics case, was investigated by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

The penalty was part of a settlement completed Thursday that concluded an ethics case pursued by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent federal agency. The suspension is slated to begin Sept. 6.

“I have spent my life devoted to public service, and I am looking forward to continuing my work as a prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Magid said Friday in a statement to the newspaper.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has alleged that as a government employee Magid improperly held fundraisers for Sen. Arlen Specter in 2008 and one for U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan in 2009, and solicited funds from subordinates at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the fundraisers, according to the counsel’s Feb. 15 document.

The special counsel recommended disciplinary action for violating the Hatch Act law. which limits political activity by federal employees.

Magid was the first assistant U.S. Attorney from summer 2005 until July 2008 when she became acting U.S. Attorney. From February 2009 to May 2009 she was the interim U.S. Attorney and then was replaced.

The Office of Special Counsel document stated that in 2008, Magid’s husband was hosting a fundraiser at their home for Sen. Arlen Specter.

The document alleged that she helped her husband and invited eight assistant U.S. attorneys (AUSAs) for the Sen. Specter fundraiser.

“At least one one AUSA expressed concern that he felt pressure to attend this political fundraiser,” the document said.

In early 2009, the husband threw a fundraiser for gubernatorial candidate Patrick Meehan, the former U.S. Attorney, who eventually decided to run for Congress. Magid helped her husband with the invite list, which included 35 of her subordinate employees. Of those, about 18 got the invitations at their official U.S. Attorney address, the document said.

“When invitations were received, performance evaluations were in progress,” the document said. “Several of respondent’s subordinate employees expressed concerns that they felt pressure to attend this political fundraiser or make a financial contribution.”