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Archive for September, 2021

Commentator Frank Figliuzzi Fabricated Passage in FBI Book and MSNBC Could Care Less


By Allan Lengel

To NBC News and its sister station MSNBC, being truthful doesn’t always matter. And that’s the truth.

Starting with my high school journalism teacher Robert Jackson, I learned that the truth in journalism was sacred. Intentionally straying from it had grave consequences. That has held true through my many years in journalism, from the Detroit News to the Washington Post.    

Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI official-turned-commentator for NBC and MSNBC, is a reminder that things in the media have changed, and not for the better.

Figliuzzi, who retired from the FBI in 2012 as a former assistant director of counterintelligence, has become the go-to guy for both networks, particularly on matters of ethics in government. He regularly delivers his commentary with a solemn G-man look. 

Problem is, he published a book earlier this year, “The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau’s Code of Excellence,” that contained a passage made out of whole cloth. It simply wasn’t true. Perhaps a bit ironic considering the book is about ethics.

Both NBC and the FBI have capitalized on Figliuzzi’s growing popularity to help their brand.  So, they’ve chosen to ignore the lie and look the other way. Figliuzzi also has a podcast, “The Bureau With Frank Figliuzzi,” in which the FBI provides agents for him to interview and promote the work and image of the agency. 

Frank Figliuzzi

Strip Search

I’ve written articles on Figliuzzi’s fabrication in his book for ticklethewire.com, citing eight current and former FBI agents who were eyewitnesses — all of whom told me emphatically that Figliuzzi’s account in his book about a 1999 incident involving agents was simply false – a big lie.

Figliuzzi wrote that he ordered a strip-search of two agents because the boxes they were transporting with millions of dollars in seized Miami drug money in a Brink’s truck weren’t sealed properly and the agents were “making it rain” — throwing money in the air in the back of the vehicle. Tampering with evidence in the FBI would be a big deal — if only it was true.

It was not. For one, there was only one FBI agent in the back. Two, no money was flying. Everything was intact. It appears he lied in the book to make the highly-questionable strip search look jusified even though the bureau itself found it disturbing enough that it launched an internal probe into his actions that were forever known in FBI offices around the country as “Stripgate.” 

The NBC News division has ignored repeated requests from me for comment via email and phone. The FBI, when asked about the fabrication and its ties to Figliuzzi’s podcast, declined comment.
Frank Figliuzzi’s podcast

Figliuzzi responded to my requests for comment back in July by repeatedly lying about the lie and feigning indignation when I confronted him. 

“I stand by my account. Call me a liar in print at your legal peril.” He also wrote: “I suggest you cease and desist with the false angles you are portraying.”

NBC has had to deal with questions of truthfulness in the past. In 2015, the network suspended star evening news anchor Brian Williams for six months after he went around telling a fabricated story about his coverage of the Iraq war. He was eventually released from purgatory, but relegated to the 11 p.m. slot on MSNBC, never to return to the coveted evening news job.

In this case, Figliuzzi outright made something up, and the NBC News division has done nothing. No apologies. No public reprimand. Nothing.

Retired FBI agent Gary Rizzo, who witnessed the 1999 incident referenced in Figiluizzi’s book,  simply told me: “Absolutely didn’t happen. It’s just a complete fabrication.”

The fabrication in Figliuzzi’s book involves the 1999 raid of a Miami home linked to a violent and legendary Cuban-American drug cartel that killed witnesses and bribed jurors. FBI agent Stephen Lawrence climbed into the attic and found $9 million in boxes. A Brink’s truck was summoned to transport the money in the boxes to the Miami Field Office.

Figliuzzi has a podcast

Brink’s Truck

To keep a chain of custody, Lawrence jumped into the back of the truck with a Brink’s guard. In front, a  Brink’s guard drove and another FBI agent sat in the passenger seat. Multiple FBI agents escorted the truck in bureau vehicles.

As they pulled up to the FBI office, the Brink’s guard in the back crawled out a side door. A couple minutes later, with multiple agents standing around, the back door opened and Lawrence, the only person in the back, stepped out. The boxes and money were intact.

But Figliuzzi wrote:

“Inside the back of the truck on this sweltering sauna of a Miami day, were two very proud and perspiring agents who had just found the most money they had ever seen in their relatively young lives. In fact, they were so happy and eager to show their bosses the fruits of their labor that they were ‘making it rain’ inside that truck. Loose bills were cascading from the agent’s hands in a shower onto the floor of the vehicle.“

Figliuzzi, who was an assistant special agent in charge of the office at the time, was upset the boxes weren’t taped shut and ordered the two agents to be strip-searched. No money was found.

At the time, there was never any mention of money flying around.

The FBI launched an internal investigation into Figliuzzi and his boss for conducting the humiliating strip search. After a year, he was supposedly cleared but the incident was a blemish on his career.  The strip-search only made the fairly unpopular supervisor even less popular in the bureau.  

Changed Version

After a back-and-forth with me, Figluizzi got the publisher to change the ebook version to:

“On this sweltering sauna of a Miami day, were two very proud and perspiring agents who had just found the most money they had ever seen in their relatively young lives. In fact, they were happy and eager to show their bosses the fruits of their labor. They reached into open boxes and displayed the cash in their hands, then let it drop back down.”

Again it was still a lie. I went back to all eight agents I interviewed and asked them if the modified version was any more accurate.

“He’s full of shit,” retired FBI agent Ed Knapp, another  eyewitness, responded. “He should have removed the whole section. He should have said, ‘I screwed up. I’m sorry.’”

Figliuzzi never mentions in the book the name of the agent, Lawrence, who was in the back of the Brink’s truck. But Lawrence, who is now an FBI agent in Los Angeles, tells me he’s certain hundreds of agents knew Figliuzzi was referring to him.

“I challenge Figliuzzi to find one credible witness who can corroborate his version,” Lawrence told me in July. “There’s only one version of the truth and it never changes.  Perhaps he should consider practicing what he’s preached – be truthful and accept responsibility.”

Sadly, no one – not NBC and not Figluizzi will own up to the lie and accept responsibility. So, Figliuizzi continues to represent the station as a voice of integrity.

And that’s a very sad commentary on the value of truth in some news organizations these days.

 

Retired ATF Official Bernard La Forest Dies of Covid at 80

By Allan Lengel

Bernard La Forest, a cop’s cop, who started his law enforcement career with the Detroit Police Department and eventually headed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) offices in cities including Detroit and Los Angeles, died Friday in Scottsdale, Az., from Covid. He was 80.

Bernard La Forest

“He was the best thing to happen to Detroit,” said James Culver, a retired ATF supervisor who worked with La Forest in the police department and ATF in Detroit. “He was a true law enforcement guy, not a phony. Behind how hard he was, seemingly, he was a very compassionate guy and very understanding of the mistakes cops can make. But he demanded professionalism.”

A Detroit native, La Forest served in the Navy before joining the Detroit Police Department in 1962. He then worked briefly for the Sterling Heights, Mich., Police Department before becoming an investigator for ATF in 1970 in Charleston, W. Va., the first of 13 assignments for the agency. 

From W. Virginia, he headed west to Los Angeles.

“Firearm and explosives crimes had rapidly surpassed liquor violations, and I transferred to Los Angeles, California as a member of ATF’s Bomb Scene Investigation Team,” La Forest wrote on his LinkedIn page.

Over time, besides Detroit, La Forest headed up ATF offices in New Orleans, Kansas City, Phoenix and Los Angeles. He retired in 1998 from ATF, but continued to work with law enforcement to help battle gun violence and illegal gun sales.

In the early 1980s and into the 1990s, he came and went from Detroit, on two different occasions heading up the ATF office there. In the early 1990s, he oversaw investigations into some of Detroit’s most notorious gangs including “Best Friends” and the Edward Hanserd organization.

“Bernie was a cop’s cop and an agent’s agent, but he was also more than that, he was a leader with vision,” Brandon said. “Thirty plus years ago, he knew firearms trafficking fueled violent gun crime, and he identified novel investigative techniques to augment ATF’s mission. He made our country a safer place, and I will be forever grateful to him for hiring me.”

La Forest as a cop in the 1960s

Even as a boss, La Forest wasn’t afraid to get out in the field and help in investigations of Detroit’s violent drug gangs. 

“He would come out there and work with us and he would work like he was one of the guys, one of my surveillance crews or whatever we were doing. And he knew what he was doing,” Culver said. 

La Forest stated in a bio:  

“Recruited by ATF as a contractor in 2000, I later served in that position between 2001 and 2007. The task concerned the development and implementation of a detailed method for the close examination and evaluation of all crime gun traces in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Thousands of referrals went to ATF offices and other enforcement agencies in America and foreign countries. Those investigative leads dealt with falsified gun purchases, domestic and international trafficking in guns, as well as narcotics interdiction, terrorism, and many additional violent crimes.”

Wrote Three Novels

La Forest also showed another side, authoring three mystery novels.  

“As an author, I have relied on my experiences as a police officer, special agent, supervisor, and manager in my chosen profession,” he wrote in his bio. “My first three novels take place in many of the localities where I began my career in the profession in 1962—as a Detroit Police Officer. Detroit is my hometown and the city where I served as a uniformed law enforcement officer and federal agent.”

In a 2012 interview in the online law enforcement publication, ticklethewire.com, La Forest, who lived in Scottsdale, Az., said of his writing:

“I do not prepare an outline or chapter guide. However, I do spend a few months rolling potential plots around in my head. The first day that I begin writing is the most difficult. But, once I type the first paragraph . . .it’s off to the races. As you probably know, my novels are based loosely on a series format. I do not have one single hero or heroine, but rather, I lean on what I always believed. Most large law enforcement agencies . . . federal, state or local . . . have many characters working on complex investigation.”

“I get up around 6 a.m. every day and take the mountain bike into the desert behind our place. After four or five miles on the dirt trails on the backside of the McDowell Mountains, sometimes more, I clean up, watch the news, check out Stratfor.com, WSJ, AZCentral.com for local news, and the Detroit News and the Freep for hometown “stuff.” Then I station myself next to a twenty-four cup coffee urn with a free flowing spigot . . . around Ten o’clock. Then I begin—after opening pages in Wikipedia, Google Maps and others that will provide definitions or descriptive material . . . and, most importantly Dictionary/Thesaurus.com. I began writing A Matter of Lex Talionis on October 6th of last year. I finished in May of 2012. Review and editing took us . . . my two editors and me, another three months . . . including the galley which contains errors caused by the printing setup at the publisher.”

He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Brenda; sons Bernie P. La Forest,  Matthew La Forest and daughters Renee La Forest, Alicia La Forest and Linda La Forest; and 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

La Forest requested there be no funeral and that he be cremated and his ashes spread over Tom’s Thumb trail in Scottsdale, Az. 

Weekend Series on Crime History: U.S. Discovers Record-Sized Mexican Drug Tunnel

Homeland Security Temporarily Suspends Border Patrol’s Use of Horses After ‘Horrific’ Images

Photo via Border Patrol

By Steve Neavling

The Department of Homeland Security has temporarily suspended the use of horse patrols after shocking images showed Border Patrol agents chasing, grabbing and whipping Haitian migrants along the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas notified civil rights leaders that the administration “would no longer be using horses in Del Rio.

Asked why President Biden hasn’t publicly condemned the treatment of the migrants, Psaki responded, “I think people should take away that his actions make clear how horrible and horrific he thinks these images are, including an investigation, including a change of policy, including conveying clearly that this is not acceptable and this is — he’s not going to stand for this in the Biden-Harris administration.” 

“Our actions make that absolutely crystal clear, as have our engagements with a range of voices, a range of concerned advocates, members of Congress, and others who we want to communicate with not just about our horror, but also about what our immigration policy is moving forward.”

CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the videos and photos, and the DHS Office of Inspector General has been alerted. 

The scene played out near a makeshift camp in Del Rio, a small town where a large influx of migrants from Haiti have gathered in hopes of being granted asylum. 

Prospective FBI Agents Are Eligible for a Job If They’ve Used Marijuana No More Than 24 Times

By Steve Neavling

Former pot smokers are now eligible to become FBI agents – as long as they haven’t used cannabis more than 24 times as an adult. 

That’s according to a recently revised policy for would-be agents, first reported by Marijuana Moment.

The FBI began taking a more tolerant approach to marijuana use among would-be agents earlier this year. Under a policy revised in June, job applicants were qualified to become agents if they haven’t consumed cannabis for at least one year. 

The bureau revised the policy again in the past month, this time limiting eligibility to applicants who have not used cannabis more than 24 times. 

It’s one clear why the bureau draws the line at two dozen. 

The updated policy says that candidates who “have used marijuana or any of its various forms (e.g., cannabis, hashish (hash), hash oil, or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), synthetic or natural), in any location (domestic or foreign) regardless of the legality in that location of use, more than twenty-four (24) times after turning 18 years old is a disqualifier for FBI employment.”

In 2014, then-FBI Director James Comey mentioned a less restrictive employment policy for former marijuana users.  

“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” Comey said at the time.

Wray Warns That Afghanistan Could Become ‘Safe Haven’ for Terrorists

FBI Director Christopher Wray (file photo)

By Steve Neavling

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday warned that Afghanistan could become a “safe haven” for terrorists after the U.S. withdrawal.

“We are, of course, concerned that there will be an opportunity for a safe haven to be re-created there, which is something we’ve seen in the past,” Wray testified before the House Homeland Security Committee.

“We are also concerned that the events that the events there could serve as a catalyst or inspiration for terrorists,” Wray added.

With U.S. forces and intelligence operations gone, Wray said terrorists could use Afghanistan as a launchpad for future attacks. 

“Most importantly we (are) concerned that foreign terrorist organizations will be able to reconstitute, plot, inspire in a space that is much harder for us to collect intelligence and operate against than was the case previously.”

Cleaning Man Busted Stealing Valuable Information from FBI’s Detroit Field Office

Detroit riverfront. Photo by Steve Neavling.

By Steve Neavling

A man hired to help sanitize the FBI’s Detroit Field Office at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has been convicted of stealing valuable information on a violent street gang in the city. 

Anthony Cassani, 22, photographed a chart that detailed the rank and hierarchy of the gang members in March 2020 and then sent the photo to his friends and others using social media account, prosecutors allege, The Detroit News reports.

The chart, which was displayed on an agent’s office cubicle, contained “proprietary information,” including photos of alleged gang members who were under investigation. 

Members of several street gangs ended up with the photos of the chart, “thereby depriving the FBI of the full benefit of its use,” according to a sentencing memo. 

Cassani pleaded guilty to theft of government property less than $1,000 on June 29. 

Federal prosecutors are calling for jail time during his sentencing hearing next week in U.S. District Court. 

“Rather than do the job he was being paid to do, Cassani chose instead to steal proprietary information about a gang investigation and post it on social media,” the sentencing memo reads. “His criminal conduct has earned him a three-month sentence followed by a one-year term of supervised release with the hope that this brief term of imprisonment will promote respect for the law and deter him and others from committing similar offenses.”

Wray Says FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Caseload Has More Than Doubled

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in February 2020.

By Steve Neavling

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday told a U.S. Senate committee that the number of domestic terrorism cases has more than doubled in the past 18 months. 

The caseload increased to 2,700 current investigations from about 1,000 since the spring of 2020, Wray told the Senate Homeland Security Committee. 

“Some of these same people before might have been stewing away in the basement or the attic in one part of the country and not communicating with each other, but today terrorism moves at the speed of social media,” Wray testified. “You have the ability of lone actors, disgruntled in one part of the country to spin up similar like-minded individuals in other parts of the country and urge them into action.”

Wray said that white supremacy represents the “biggest chunk” of racially motivated violent extremism tracked by the FBI. 

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who also testified, said social media is a “terrain that can so easily propagate misinformation, false information and allow communications to occur among closely affiliated individuals.”

To read Wray’s complete statement before the committee, click here.