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Column: Ex-Fed Drug Prosecutor Says He’s Found a Book by Drug Policy Wonks Worth Reading

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

Ross Parker

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

How many books have you read recently that actually changed your thinking on opinions you have held near and dear for decades?

Not many, I wager. In my case, damn few. Like most people I read for entertainment, education, reinforcement, seldom to challenge firmly held views.

As a three-decade drug prosecutor, I admit to some biases and assumptions, which place me among the anti-drug ranter ranks.

Not an “Okie from Muskogee” (Merle Haggard 1969) ranter, but one who is nevertheless skeptical of policy wonks, social “scientists,” and any “expert” who claims to have the answer to the cluster you-know-what which drug use, trafficking, and enforcement have been for the last 80 years in this country.

The book “Drugs and Drug Policy; What Everyone Needs to Know” by Mark A.R. Kleiman, Jonathan P. Caulkins and Angela Hawken (don’t let the deadly title scare you off) challenged some of my views and probably some of those of the readers of this paper. I haven’t converted to a legalization advocate or anything. Nor are the authors of this book.

But they do ask and try to answer some tough questions that permeate this confusingly complex subject. Or else they admit that the question is presently unanswerable.

The book avoids the vocabulary employed by experts in the field that is intended to demonstrate that their academic expertise puts them on a higher plain than the rest of us.

Even technical terms like capture rates and demand elasticity are deciphered in plain English sufficiently to make the point.

Kleiman, a professor of Public Policy at UCLA,   and his two partners, don’t claim to have all the answers or that progress will be easy. But they do ask the right questions, and their answers and discussions can benefit anyone connected to the subject—users and enforcers, policy makers and implementers, innocent bystanders and citizens.

Some of their suggestions do not pass the squirm factor, some seem impractical, others unlikely to ever claim a consensus. But a good number seem worth serious consideration and debate, including a few that concern law enforcement. Here are a couple:

1. Focus enforcement, especially the sanction of longer sentences, on traffickers who use violence and destruction, menace neighborhoods, and cause collateral damage to others. Conduct, not drug volume, should drive enforcement. Dealers not in these categories should be subject to routine attention and sanctions.

2. Eliminate long-delayed punishments for drug dealers like ineligibility for public housing, educational loans, and the like. These serve only retribution and make it more difficult for those who want to join the mainstream.

3. Reduce the number of dealers in prison from the present half million. Reducing sentences for non-violent, run-of-the-mill dealers would have no effect on drug supply and would free up more resources to target more culpable dealers. Plus reduce the pressure on governments to transfer education dollars to prisons.

Drugs and Drug Policy proposes over a dozen other suggestions in areas like treatment, health care, international supply control, harm reduction programs, alcohol and cigarette taxes, consumer marijuana cultivation, and a bunch more.

There will be the temptation for policymakers to applaud the ones they already agree with and reject the others. As if the status quo is so rosy we can’t afford some fresh thought on the subject.

Not all wonks are created equal. These three are worth reading with an open mind.

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Sen. Grassley Questions Why Fed Prosecutor With Child Porn on Work Computer Was Not Prosecuted

Sen. Grassley/official photo


By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Sen. Chuck Grassley on Thursday issued a press release questioning “why the Justice Department declined to prosecute an Assistant United States Attorney after the department’s Inspector General found at least one image of child pornography on the attorney’s work computer.”

Grassley said the Inspector General also determined that the attorney had spent hours viewing adult content during work hours.

Grassley said that the Inspector General’s report indicated that the Assistant U.S. Attorney acknowledged he had spent a significant amount of time each day viewing pornography.

He said the IG report indicated that the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to prosecute the case and as of May 31, 2011, and disciplinary action was still pending.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Grassley questioned the department’s decision to not prosecute and delay disciplinary action against the attorney.

Additionally, he asked what types of cases the attorney worked on and the steps the department has taken to update its technology to keep pornography off its computers.

Update: Thurs, 8:15 p.m. — Justice Department Responds:

We are aware of the OIG report. As a general practice, when there are criminal allegations of misconduct involving an Assistant U.S. Attorney, those matters are sent to a different office to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.

The Department took immediate and appropriate action in this case and the AUSA ceased working in the district in late April 2011 and left Federal Service in early May 2011.

Last year, Grassley learned that 33 employees at the Securities and Exchange Commission had viewed pornography during work hours and “were not terminated and were given uneven and light disciplinary action.”

The following is the letter he sent Attorney Gen. Holder.

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Holder:

On May 31, 2011 I received a report from the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Inspector General (OIG) in response to a request Senator Coburn and I made to all Inspectors General to provide semiannual reports on closed investigations, evaluations, and audits that were not disclosed to the public.

This report contained what appears to be an inexcusable mishandling of serious allegations against an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) which calls into question the DOJ’s internal controls and prosecutorial discretion. The report cites the following OIG investigation of an AUSA:

Read more »

Mexican Man Gets Life for 2008 Slaying of Border Patrol Agent in Calif.

Luis Aguilar

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A Mexican man was sentenced to life in prison in San Diego Friday for striking and killing U.S. Border Patrol agent Luis Aguilar with a Hummer filled with drugs in January 2008 at California’s Imperial Sand Dunes, the Associated Press reported.

Jesus Navarro testified during his two-week trial that he wasn’t driving the car and that he confessed to the crime only after authorities beat and threatened him, AP reported.

“What is being done is an injustice and I will be here on appeal,” he told U.S. District Judge Michael Annello on Friday, according to AP.

But the judge didn’t buy that, saying: “This was a particularly brutal, violent and heinous crime,” AP reported.

The agent’s wife Erica told Navarro that she hears her son crying in the shower, “Why did he have to die? Why did you have to kill him?”

“You are selfish person with no sense of humanity or integrity,” she told Navarro.

DEA Busts Cop of the Year Who Was Instructor at Teen Academy

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

So much for awards.

The DEA has busted Boynton Beach, Fla. cop David Britto, who was named “Officer of the Year” of his department last year, according to the website Gawker.

The website reported that the DEA agents arrested Britto — a four year veteran of the force — on Tuesday on charges that he “had and intended to sell more than 500 grams of methamphetamines between June 2009 and March 2011.”

Britto is a mentor and instructor at the “Teen Police Academy” and a relationship coach, the Gawker reported. He also has a website HowToWinMyExBack.org.

Video of the Florida Cop

http://youtu.be/5DFKwbSV4GQ

Justice Dept. Barks Back: Accuses Rep. Issa of Ginning Up Controversy in Fast and Furious Probe

Rep. Issa/gov photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The war of words is heating up between the Justice Department and key Republican Congressional members over the controversial ATF program known as Operation Fast and Furious.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) this week renewed accusations that the Justice Department is stonewalling a Congressional inquiry into the controversial gun program Operation Fast and Furious, which encouraged Arizona gun dealers to sell to middlemen or straw purchasers, all with the hopes of tracing the weapons to the Mexican cartels.

Issa sent a July 5 letter to Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. renewing those accusations after acting ATF director Ken Melson talked to Congressional investigators over the July 4 weekend. Melson allegedly claimed the Justice Dept. was obstructing the Congressional inquiry.

But the Daily Caller reported that Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich responded in a July 6 letter accusing Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Ia.) of ginning up controversy. He also denied their allegations that the Justice Department hasn’t been transparant.

“We are puzzled by your criticism of the Department for its efforts to facilitate the Committee’s access to documents and witnesses,” Weich wrote, according to the Daily Caller. “Indeed, those concerns seem flatly inconsistent with statements that Chairman Issa has made on this subject in the recent past.”

Weich also noted that Issa said at a June 15 hearing that the Justice Department had made a breakthrough by producing documents and other information, according to the Daily Caller.

“Yet, just a few weeks later and notwithstanding the Department’s continuing production of documents, that ‘breakthrough’ has been re-characterized as an effort to prevent the Committee from receiving the information it requested,” Weich wrote.

Ex-U.S. Atty. Russell Millin Who was Appointed by Pres. Kennedy Dies at Age 88

Russell Millin/doj photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Russell Millin, who served as U.S. Attorney in western Missouri under President Kennedy in the 60s, and was known as “Mr. Clean”, died Monday of natural causes at age 88, the Kansas City Star reported.

The Star reported in 1976 that Millin prosecuted more “big name criminals,” including mobsters, than any other U.S. attorney up to that time.

“He was a real presence as a U.S. attorney,” nephew Steve Millin said, according to the Kansas City Star.

Millin served as U.S. Attorney from in 1961 to 1967.

He made unsuccessful bid the Democratic nomination of Missouri attorney general in 1968 and for the Democratic nomination to the Missouri Senate in 1976.

In recent times, he was part of an ad hoc coalition of former and current Missouri law enforcement officials that opposed the death penalty.

Ex-U.S. Atty. Who Indicted Bulger in 1995 Shows Up for Not Guilty Plea

Updated Bulger photo/wbur

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

An eclectic mix of folks showed up Wednesday in federal court in Boston to see  James “Whitey” Bulger including former U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern, who insisted on indicting the Boston mobster in 1995 even after the FBI warned him that Bulger was an informant, the Boston Globe reported.

“I couldn’t miss it,’’ Stern said, according to the Globe. “I wasn’t sure this day would come, but here it is, and I’m looking forward to the trial.”

Other folks who appeared at his arraignment included relatives of the victims of Bulger, who is charged in 19 murders. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday.

The Globe reported that Bulger’s brother William M., former president of the Massachusetts Senate, and John, were seated in the front row.

To read the full story click here.

It’s Off to Prison for Smuggler of Lizards

Gecko/dept. of conservation

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

It’s not the crime of the century.

Nonetheless, it’s prison time for Michael Plank, 42, of Lomita, Calif., who was sentenced Wednesday in Los Angeles federal court to 15 months behind bars for smuggling 15 lizards from Australia into the United States.

Essentially, he got one month in prison for every lizard.

Plank had pleaded guilty to smuggling two Geckos, two Monitor lizards and 11 Skink lizards from Australia in November 2009. He tried to pass through Customs at Los Angeles International Airport with the lizards in his money belts.

Federal law prohibits the importation of wildlife from another country without a permit. The animals must also be declared in the U.S. at the first point of entry.

“This sentence of 15 months in federal prison sends a strong message to both wildlife smugglers and would-be wildlife smugglers that the illegal trafficking in wildlife is a serious crime that will result in significant prison time for those who engage in thisdespicable activity,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement.

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