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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

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).

Read more »

Mississippi Burning 50 Years Later

 
By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com
 
The 60s were a tumultuous decade, and 1964 was emblematic of that decade. Arthur Ashe won the US Open, and Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace. The Beatles came to America and established a beachhead for the “British invasion.” Lyndon Johnson, a Southern Democrat, having become President when John Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963, showed great political courage and legislative acumen by getting landmark civil rights laws passed in Congress.

On June 19th the US Senate passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two days later the need for that legislation became clear when three civil rights workers disappeared under suspicious circumstances in Mississippi. Two of the workers were white and from the north, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. The third, James Chaney, was black and from Mississippi.

In the heady days of the spring of ’64 with the civil rights bills moving through Congress, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) announced an initiative, the Mississippi Summer Project. It was to participate in this project that Schwerner and Goodman had traveled to Mississippi. There, they joined-up with Chaney and other local civil rights workers.

There were those in Mississippi who were dead set (literally) against the civil rights initiatives or any of the changes to the status quo that were portended by the civil rights legislation. Foremost in this opposition were the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi.

The following is a rendition of events based on the testimony at the 1967 federal trial, US v. Price; et al:

In May of 1964, Sam Bowers, Imperial Wizard of the Mississippi KKK sent word to his fellow klansmen, it was time to activate “Plan 4” – the “elimination” of Michael Schwerner. Schwerner had drawn the enmity of the Klan because he had organized a black boycott of a white-owned business and had aggressively been trying to register blacks to vote. The Klan referred to Schwerner as “Jew-boy” and “Goatee.”

On June 16th the Klan’s first effort to eliminate Schwerner failed. A group of klansmen went to Mt Zion Church, a church with a black congregation in the rural community of Longdale. The klansmen expected Schwerner to attend a meeting at the church. Some of the klansmen frustrated by Schwerner not being at the church beat some of the church members and burned the church to the ground.

Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were at a meeting in Ohio to train recruits for the Mississippi Summer Project when they heard about the events at Mt Zion Church. On June 20th, the 3 drove to the CORE office in Meridian, Mississippi. After spending the night in Meridian, they drove the CORE station wagon to the ruins of the Mt Zion Church and spoke to some of the members of the congregation. The 3 civil rights workers were warned that members of the Klan were looking for them. Longdale was in Neshoba County, known to be a hostile area for civil rights workers. The sheriff of the county, Lawrence Rainey, and his deputy Cecil Price, were both members of the Klan, and they had reputations for being tough on blacks.

At about 3pm the 3 workers began their trip back to the relative safety of the Meridian office. The route they chose on Hwy 16 would take them through the town of Philadelphia, the Neshoba County seat. (This was a longer route, but it was a black-topped, relatively well-traveled road.) As fate would have it, Deputy Sheriff Price was heading the opposite direction. The deputy spotted the well-known CORE station wagon. He did a U-turn and stopped the wagon. Price arrested the 3, allegedly for suspicion of having been involved in the arson of the church and lodged them in the county jail. Deputy Price then met with the local Klan kleagle (recruiter), Edgar Ray Killen, to tell him of the arrest of Schwerner and the other 2 workers. They then planned their Midsummer’s Night tragic conspiracy.

Shortly after 10pm Deputy Price released Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. They departed in the station wagon with Chaney driving, and Price followed them as they drove southeast on Hwy 19 towards Meridian. Price then returned to Philadelphia.

While the 3 were in jail, Edgar Ray Killen, the Klan kleagle and an ordained Baptist minister, had been busy recruiting klansmen from the Neshoba and adjoining county klaverns for what he referred to as “butt ripping.”

After returning to Philadelphia, Deputy Price again departed in pursuit of the station wagon. Two other cars full of klansmen joined in the pursuit. A short high-speed chase ensued, but the station wagon was stopped and the 3 civil rights workers surrendered and were placed in Price’s cruiser. Then the 3 car procession, Price and the 2 klansmen’s cars, drove down an unmarked dirt road.

There is contradictory evidence as the whether the workers were beaten, but it is known that a dishonorably discharged Marine, Wayne Roberts, fatally shot Schwerner, then Goodman, then Chaney, all at close range. The bodies of the 3 men were taken to an earthen dam site on the Old Jolly Farm owned by Philadelphia businessman and member of the Klan, Olen Burridge. Apparently at a Klan meeting, Burridge had previously offered the use of his dam as a burial site for eliminated civil rights workers.

The following morning the phone rang at the FBI Resident Agency in Meridian. (Mississippi at the time was covered by the FBI Field office in New Orleans.) The Resident Agent, John Procter was apprised of the disappearance of the civil rights workers. Special Agent Procter was originally from Alabama and had developed good relationships with people from different walks of life in his territory including people in law enforcement.

John Doar, an attorney, was the US Department of Justice’s point-man in Mississippi. He had also been apprised of the disappearance. Doar characterized the disappearance as a possible kidnapping, thus, giving the FBI immediate jurisdiction to investigate.

Within hours, Proctor was in Neshoba County interviewing Blacks, community leaders, Sheriff Rainey and Deputy Price. The next day, June 23rd, Procter was joined by ten more agents. J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI was ordered by President Johnson, with whom he had a close relationship, to make the investigation a priority. (Director Hoover, who had been less than sympathetic towards the civil rights movement, was none the less all in on this investigation.) The case was designated a bureau “Special” and titled Mississippi Burning – the shortened title MIBURN.

Joseph Sullivan, the FBI’s Major Case Inspector was dispatched to Mississippi. Later Director Hoover flew to Mississippi to announce the FBI would open a Field Office in Jackson, Mississippi.

The first break in the case came when Proctor received a tip that a smoldering car had been found abandoned in northeast Neshoba County which turned out to be the CORE station wagon. As Proctor was examining the car, he met Inspector Sullivan, a partership was formed and as Sherlock Holmes would say, “the game was afoot.”

The investigation was arduous and frustrating. The white Neshoba County residents, many of whom either participated in the conspiracy or knew of it, were uncooperative. The black citizens were terrorized. After the disappearance, Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Philadelphia, and he observed: “This is a terrible town. The worst I’ve seen. There is a complete reign of terror here.”

Inspector Sullivan realized early on that he could get useful information from local children. He made it a habit to carry candy with him. He would try to engage children in conversations, but not anywhere where they could be seen talking by disapproving adults.

Additional agents were sent to help with the investigation. Cartha “Deke” DeLoach, an assistant director of the FBI, described those agents, “Many of them were big, bruising men, highly trained in the tactics of interrogation.” (In other words they knew how to be very persuasive.) Unofficial reports indicated there were occasions when unorthodox means were used to obtain information. Known Klan members would be driven in bureau cars in public places to give the appearance they were cooperating.

There is the possibly apocryphal story that a Mafia capo, Gregory Scarpa Sr., who had a special relationship w/ the FBI. According to the story, Scarpa was brought to Mississippi. A Philadelphia appliance dealer and Klan member was identified as a weak link. He was “kidnapped” and threatened by Scarpa. According to Scarpa, he put “a gun in his mouth.” As a result the appliance dealer gave-up the location of the bodies.

The less dramatic, but official version was that a $30,000 reward was offered for information. A “Mr. X” collected the reward and provided information as to the location of the bodies. (The identity of Mr. X was a closely guarded secret until a Journalist and historian determined he was a Mississippi State Trooper, Maynard King.)

In any case, 44 days after the disappearance, the bodies were exhumed from under 12’ of dirt in an earthen dam on Olen Burridge’s farm. The FBI now had the proof that Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney were murdered. (Without the bodies the case may never have been solved like the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.) Now a case had to be made as to who did it.

It would be informants (really cooperating witnesses, technically informants are never identified) from within the Klan that would make the case. Information from a Klan member at the periphery of the conspiracy enabled the FBI to identify the more central figures. One Klan member who John Procter worked hard to “flip” was James Jordan. Over the course of five increasingly “rough” interviews, Jordan came to see that cooperating and testifying against other Klan conspirators was his best bet to avoid a long prison term. Jordan had been present when the civil rights workers were murdered and would become a key witness at the trial.

In February 1965 federal indictments were obtained charging 19 klansmen with conspiracy to deprive Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney of their civil rights under color of law.

In 1988 a movie based on the civil rights workers disappearance and the FBI investigation premiered and was aptly titled “Mississippi Burning.” The two main characters were loosely based on FBI agents John Proctor and Joseph Sullivan. The movie was an artistic triumph and was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including best picture, best director, best actor (Gene Hackman portraying a character similar to John Proctor) and best supporting actress. It won only one Oscar for best cinematography.

The movie was roundly criticized for having fictionalized history. One critic referred to the film as a “cinematic lynching of the truth.” The overriding theme of the criticism seemed to be that the critics could not accept the premise that agents of Hoover’s FBI could be heroes in a civil rights investigation.

The movie did take some dramatic license with the facts as most movies based on true stories do. (Otherwise they would be documentaries.) The movie used a variation of the story about kidnapping the klansman and threatening him. In the movie it’s even more dramatic, instead of a Mafia capo, a black agent wielding a straight edge razor threatens to castrate the hapless klansman.

But the late Chicago columnist, Mike Royko, wrote a generally favorable review of the movie and made the point: “But give the FBI some credit or the Justice Department or President Lyndon Johnson. Despite J. Edgar Hoover’s reluctance, the FBI did crack the case. It did so by offering a $30,000 reward for information, which an informer provided. Less dramatic, but the result was the same.”

The movie was far closer to the facts than the critics knew or were willing to admit.

But more importantly the case did not signal the end of the bureau’s efforts to enforce the civil rights laws in the South. The battle was joined and over the next few years the Klan was destroyed in Mississippi and elsewhere. Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney did not die in vain. I doubt that in 1964 this case would have been pursued with the resources and tenacity that it was had 2 of the murdered civil right workers not been white. The case was solved and it changed history for the better.

Epilogue

After the indictments were obtained the trial judge, US District Court Judge William H. Cox, a segregationist, dismissed the indictments against all the defendants except Sheriff Rainey and Deputy Price. The judge found that only Rainey and Price were state agents and thus could act under color of state law. The US Supreme Court reversed Judge Cox and ruled it was sufficient that any participants in the conspiracy were agents for the state for the conspiracy and all the participants to have acted under color of law (US v. Cecil Price; et al).

The trial occurred in October 1967. The lead prosecutor for US was John Doar, who had been involved in the case since the beginning. Seven of the defendants were convicted. The Imperial Wizard, Sam Bowers and the trigger-man, Wayne Roberts, were sentenced to 10 years. Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price was sentenced to 6 years.

It wasn’t a complete victory, but it was a victory. The “NY Times” called the verdict, “a measure of the quiet revolution that is taking place in southern attitudes.”

 

 

 

 

The History of April 19th: American Revolution, Waco, Oklahoma Bombing

This column was originally posted on April 14, 2010. Because I thought it continued to be relevant, it was re-posted last year (2013) on April 2. (I had no idea how relevant it would become.) The subject of the column, “April 19th,” first became significant when some New England citizens confronted a unit of the British Army on Lexington green in 1775 – the day the American Revolution began. That Revolution resulted in “… a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Over time that proposition has been fulfilled by establishing the most diverse, open, tolerate society in the world with freedoms enjoyed by all men and women.
But there are those in the world who do not celebrate equal rights and an open society – to the contrary they feel threatened by them. So last year in Boston during the running of the Boston Marathon on Patriots Day, a day meant to celebrate that confrontation on Lexington green, two young men setoff bombs near the finish line of the race. To demonstrate their displeasure with a society that was open to all beliefs, not just theirs, they killed and maimed innocent people.April 19th is significant, but its significance was reinforced last year, it reminds us that we must never take our freedoms for granted. — Greg Stejskal 
 
 
 
By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

Listen my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy Five….

Longfellow’s poem forever immortalized Paul Revere’s ride. What the poem does not say is that Revere’s mission that night was to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British soldiers were coming to Lexington to arrest them. It was after midnight, April 19th, when Revere arrived in Lexington and warned Adams and Hancock. Revere also aroused the country side, and that morning the “Minute Men” met the British regulars on Lexington green. No one knows who fired the first shot- “the shot heard around the world”. But on that morning, April 19, 1775, the American Revolution began.

Paul Revere/istock photo

Paul Revere/istock photo

In a perverse twist of fate, on April 19, 1993, it is the 51st day of a siege at the Branch Davidian compound, also known as Mt Carmel, outside of Waco, Texas. It is to be the last day of the siege, a culmination of a series of bad decisions and missed opportunities.

The siege began on February 28th. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) had gone to the Davidian compound to execute search warrants. The warrants were based on affidavits stating the Davidians possessed certain illegal weapons to include fully automatic weapons and components to convert semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic. Some of the Davidians were known to have a propensity for violence including their leader, David Koresh, who had changed his name from Vernon Howell. There had been a power struggle a few years earlier within the Branch Davidians and a gun fight had ensued. The history of the Branch Davidians and how they ended up here, led by Koresh is a long story and won’t be told here. Suffice it to say, Koresh became the leader and subsequently claimed to be a messiah, who could procreate with any women followers irrespective of their age or marital status. The group embraced an apocalyptic philosophy, which relied heavily on the Book of Revelation.

The ATF had been surveilling the compound for several weeks prior to the raid from a home across the road. They had also placed an undercover (UC) agent within the Davidians. However, the surveillance was compromised, and at some point Koresh learned of the UC agent. In addition one of the Davidians was the local postman. On the morning of the ATF raid, a TV crew asked the postman for directions to the compound as they had learned there was to be a raid. The postman gave them directions and took the news of the impending raid back to the compound.

Read more »

Leagues Can Learn from Major League Baseball’s Hardball Tactics

 Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office. His column first appeared in the New York Daily News. 

Alex Rodriguez

  
By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

By moving to drop his civil lawsuits in federal court, Alex Rodriguez has waved the white flag and accepted his 162-game suspension.

Although independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz reduced the original 211-game ban handed down by Major League Baseball, it is still the longest suspension ever in baseball for performance-enhancing drug use. In his lawsuits — against MLB, Bud Selig and the union — Rodriguez had contested how baseball had obtained the evidence, although Horowitz later wrote in his report that the evidence was “clear and convincing” A-Rod was in violation of baseball’s drug agreement.

Several sports commentators had sided with Rodriguez and said that he had been persecuted by MLB because baseball had used nefarious methods to obtain evidence: MLB paying for evidence or “bullying” witnesses.

Having spent over 30 years in the FBI investigating various violations of federal law, it wasn’t unusual to cut deals with unsavory individuals and co-conspirators to further an investigation. This might include paying confidential informants for information or persuading potential witnesses to agree to cooperate.

There’s an old adage that applies: “Conspiracies hatched in hell can’t have angels for witnesses.” In other words, you don’t get to pick witnesses, and they generally come with baggage that may lessen their credibility. The paradox is that Rodriguez actually chose the witnesses against him by doing business with them.

Anthony Bosch, the Biogenesis founder who testified that he supplied Rodriguez with PEDs, became baseball’s principal witness. MLB had a witness with diminished credibility, and in order to bolster their case, it was necessary to corroborate the witness’ statements. Fortunately MLB was able to obtain Biogenesis records that included transactions between Bosch and MLB players, including Rodriguez. In addition there were hundreds of text messages between Bosch and Rodriguez using rudimentary code names for various PEDs like “gummies” for testosterone lozenges.

MLB, to its credit, had already been aggressively pursuing the Biogenesis investigation using standard investigative techniques by the time the first news reports about the scandal surfaced. MLB first tried to get Biogenesis documents from the Miami New Times, the paper that broke the story on the Bosch-PED connection. Not surprisingly, the paper refused. Undeterred, MLB later purchased Biogenesis records.

Although I think it might have been difficult to get my FBI supervisors to agree to pay as much money for the Biogenesis records as MLB did (a reported $125,000), the FBI does often pay for information. MLB was also handicapped by not having alternative means to obtain the records. The FBI has the power to issue grand jury subpoenas and search warrants.

As for “bullying” witnesses, I would prefer to characterize it as persuading witnesses to cooperate. Again MLB did not have all the investigative tools available to them. In Operation Equine — a late ’80s, early ’90s FBI undercover steroid investigation — we did arrest a steroid dealer, released him and postponed prosecution in exchange for him agreeing to cooperate. This technique, sometimes referred to as “catch and release,” was how we got the cooperation of a dealer who not only agreed to identify his suppliers, but told us he had supplied PEDs to former Oakland A’s Bash Brothers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.

It certainly was our intent to intimidate the dealer in order to get information, but I wouldn’t characterize it as “bullying.” Ironically, it was this information that I passed on to MLB in 1994, warning them of their steroid problem. They didn’t act on that warning then, but they are fully engaged now.

It’s important to note that of the 14 players who were suspended because of their PED links with Biogenesis only one had tested positive for a PED — Ryan Braun. Braun had successfully challenged his positive test (in 2012) because of a technicality in the chain of custody protocol when his urine sample was collected. Braun ended up accepting a 65-game suspension last year. The other 12 players all accepted 50-game bans without appeal.

Other sports leagues and the NCAA should follow MLB’s lead, and not rely solely on testing to enforce anti-doping measures. MLB should be applauded for aggressively investigating the Biogenesis matter, and using all the legitimate investigative techniques necessary.

 

“Mark From Michigan”: Dumb and Dumber


Mark Koernke

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.

httpv://youtu.be/K9XLuuhtmt8

Santa’s Helper, a Giant Elf, a Cuban Inmate Uprising and the Salvation Army

A note from Greg Stejskal: “Despite not having sold the screen rights & in an effort to make this story a Holiday classic, we’re running this story again. Happy Holidays!”
 
By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

This is a Christmas story, but it really began just before Thanksgiving in 1987, at the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta.

The Cuban inmates had rioted and had taken control of a sizeable portion of the penitentiary. The catalyst for the riots happened years before that in 1980.

The Mariel boatlift, a massive exodus of Cuban refugees from Cuba to the US, had among its refugees, convicted criminals. Fidel Castro had apparently thought the boatlift was an opportune time to decrease his prison over-crowding.

Upon arrival in the US those Cubans who were determined to be criminals were detained and placed in US penitentiaries with no clear plan as to what to do with them in the long term.

This uncertain future led predictably to unrest and ultimately to the prison riots.

When the inmates rioted and took control of part of the Atlanta Penitentiary, they also took some of the staff hostage.

The FBI was tasked with negotiating with the inmates and providing SWAT teams should it become necessary to retake control of the penitentiary by force and rescue the hostages.

SWAT teams from many of the large offices were called to respond to Atlanta. Our Detroit team was one of those teams.

So on a cold, rainy November night, an Air Force C-141, flying a circuit, landed at Detroit Metro Airport to pick up our team. Already on board were teams from Pittsburgh and Cleveland. We arrived in Atlanta early the next morning.

The Atlanta Penitentiary is a foreboding place. It was built in phases beginning in the late 1800s, into the first few decades of the 1900s.

It has 60-foot walls with watch towers on each corner. Upon our arrival we climbed to the top of one of the watch towers and looked down into the prison yard. It looked like a scene from a post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” movie.

Inmates were walking around the yard, all carrying homemade weapons: long-knives, swords, etc., made from scrap metal and sharpened on some of the prison machine tools.

After seeing that scene, we all assumed we were going to be in Atlanta for awhile. We knew we would prevail if it came to having to use force. After all they had made the critical tactical mistake of bringing knives to a gun fight. But they had hostages and a large supply of non-perishable food in their control.

The next morning I was walking to the Penitentiary administration building for the shift change briefing when I saw a tent where free coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts were being served. It was the Salvation Army tent. The Salvation Army was there every day of the insurrection including Thanksgiving serving coffee, donuts, smiles and kind words. I’ve been on a lot of SWAT operations, but I had never been offered coffee, donuts or kind words from the neighborhood in which we were operating.

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The Hole-in-the-Truck Gang

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

It was a cold early spring Saturday morning, and I was following a lead in a rural part of Michigan. I had received a call on Friday afternoon that there was a unique piece of evidence on a farm near the Michigan/Ohio border.

When I got to the farm, I made contact with the owner and identified myself. He walked me to the back of an outbuilding. There parked in the weeds was a white cargo van with flat tires. The farmer opened the van’s back door. In the middle of the cargo bay was a circular hole that had been cut in the floor.

So why was I out here on a cold Saturday morning looking at a van with a hole in its floor?

It all started in the summer the year before, 1998. An Environmental Protection Agency /FBI task force that was working illegal dumping cases had received information that a waste disposal company near Ann Arbor, Michigan, was defrauding clients by not doing work and overcharging. There were also rumors that the company was surreptitiously creating spills which they then charged clients to clean-up. The information was fragmentary, and it was coming primarily from disgruntled employees.

The disposal firm was Hi-Po. Hi-Po had been in business for about 9 years. The founders Aaron Smith, who was just 26, and Stephen Carbeck (34) started with a pick-up and a power washer. They had grown Hi-Po to more than 100 employees and several vacuum trucks at well over $200,000 each. By all accounts Hi-Po had become extraordinarily successful with such clients as the University of Michigan and Chrysler.

In the summer of 1998, the EPA/FBI task force had learned that recently one of the Hi-Po employees had quit reportedly because he was upset with Hi-Po not performing work and then charging for the work that hadn’t been done.

That employee, Michael Stagg had retired from the Washtenaw County (Michigan) drain commissioner’s office prior to working at Hi-Po.  EPA agent Greg Horvath and FBI agent, Steve Flattery,  both from the task force, and I went to Stagg’s home in Ann Arbor. He wasn’t surprised to see us and said he had been thinking about coming to us.

Stagg was very forthcoming, but he only had limited direct knowledge. He had inspected a Hi-Po clean-up project in Riverview, a city south of Detroit. There he saw that Hi-Po had only done about ½ the work they had contracted to do, but Stagg was told Hi-Po billed Riverview for the whole job. (Later we learned that a Riverview official was receiving kickbacks.)

Because Stagg had left Hi-Po, he had no ability to get additional evidence. He did suggest we contact Greg Cainstraight (good name for a potential cooperating witness), who had been recently hired as Hi-Po’s chief financial officer. Stagg seemed to think that Cainstraight was uncomfortable with some of the things Hi-Po was doing and might be cooperative.

Cainstraight had attended West Point and played football there. He transferred to Michigan State University where he received his accounting degree. We decided to meet Cainstraight cold and try to get a feel for whether he might be willing to work with us. It was a gamble. We did not have a strong case. If we approached Cainstraight, and he wasn’t cooperative, he could go back and warn Smith and Carbeck of the investigation. With forewarning they could make it very difficult for us to make a case.

I knew it was important to establish some rapport with Cainstraight. I talked to him about playing college football and being a West Point cadet. (I had been an undistinguished football player at Nebraska.) The West point motto, “Duty, Honor, Country” was mentioned and “The Long Gray Line,” John Ford’s movie and Rick Atkinson’s book. I think Cainstraight would have been cooperative, no matter who contacted him, but it’s important for a cooperating witness to trust the agent who handles him. We did develop a trusting a relationship, and as a result he agreed to attempt to record possibly incriminating conversations with Smith and Carbeck.

Cainstraight told us that Smith and/or Carbeck would on occasion come to his office and discuss business matters. It would not be practical to have Cainstraight “wired” all the time. (This was before miniature digital recorders were generally available. We were still using Nagra reel-to-reel tape recorders.) So we decided to wire Cainstraight’s briefcase which he told us he customarily kept next to his desk. Our tech guys put a recorder in the briefcase and made a small hole for the microphone. They also placed an exterior on/off switch so that Cainstraight could easily activate the recorder.

In September, when I delivered the briefcase to Cainstraight, we talked about recording conversations. We decided to see what transpired without trying to orchestrate any meeting. If that didn’t work, we might try to instigate something.

Within days Cainstraight called me and said he thought had recorded a good conversation. (He had no way to review the tape as Nagra’s don’t have playback capability.) “Good Conversation” turned out to be a dramatic understatement. Smith and Carbeck had come to Cainstraight’s office and for about 2 hours, held forth with a running narrative of their criminal activity at Hi-Po.

They talked about defrauding the University of Michigan. They billed UM for whole days of sewer maintenance, even though Hi-Po was doing nothing. On jobs where Hi-Po was doing work for UM and other clients they substantially over billed. They alluded to employees at UM, Chrysler and Riverview that they were bribing to play along.

But most disturbing were their stories of the incidents where they created intentional spills. Smith, as though he was telling a story about a fraternity prank, told about how he and Carbeck took a cargo van out at night with 55 gallon drums of diesel fuel. Then Smith dumped the drums through a hole in the floor of the van. Smith and Carbeck laughed when they related how the empty drums and Smith were rolling around in the back of the van as Carbeck drove away from one of the dumping sites. (Later they would anonymously report the spills to their clients, and Hi-Po would clean them up.)

Ironically, I suspect, Smith and Carbeck were trying to recruit Cainstraight to be a full-fledged member of their criminal conspiracy, and Cainstraight was recording their recruitment pitch. In my experience I had never heard nor heard of a recorded statement that was so incriminating regarding so many criminal acts. It was as though it had been scripted. One statement by Smith became notorious, “My scams are 90% foolproof.”

In October, 1998, the Assistant US Attorney, Kris Dighe, decided to get a search warrant for the Hi-Po facility. The search warrant was executed by the task force and officers from the UM Department of Public Safety. A huge amount of records were seized, and UMDPS arranged for space where the records could be stored and analyzed. The records would corroborate what many witnesses had and would tell us. They also substantiated much of Smith and Carbeck’s recorded admissions.

AUSA Dighe obtained an indictment charging Smith and Carbeck with numerous violations including RICO (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization), a statute designed to prosecute organized crime which in effect Hi-Po had become. They were also charged with the predicate acts underlying a RICO charge: mail fraud; conspiracy; bribery; money laundering; intentional dumping of hazardous waste (violations of the Clean Water Act).

So that’s what brought me to that field in southern Michigan to see a forlorn van with a hole in the floor. The van wasn’t a critical piece of evidence, but it was a symbol of the “foolproof” nature of Smith’s scams.

Epilogue:

Smith and Carbeck pleaded guilty to one count each of violating the RICO Act. (I’m sure they were not enthusiastic about the prospect of hearing the recorded admissions played for a trial jury.)They were the 1st people in the US to be convicted of racketeering in an environmental case. Smith was sentenced to 33 months and Carbeck 27 months. (They had previously agreed to testify, if necessary, against other defendants.)

Smith, Carbeck and Hi-Po were ordered jointly to pay a total of $504,000 restitution to UM, Chrysler, the city of Riverview, the Budd Co. and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Smith was also ordered to forfeit $500,000. Both Smith and Carbeck were also ordered to publish apologies in local newspapers.

They at least indicated they were 100% sorry.

 

The Annual Talk With U-M Football Team About Gambling

The author (right) Greg Stejksal and late Michigan coach Bo Schembechler

 
By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com
In 1982, legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler asked the Ann Arbor, Mich., FBI office to talk to his team about the perils of illegal sports gambling.

The senior resident agent, Tom Love, agreed to make the presentation. Love, knowing I had played college football at Nebraska (read: mostly practiced), asked me to help. We explained that sports gambling is not about who wins but about covering the point spread. That gamblers need to get inside information as an edge to better divine how a team will perform and, the Holy Grail of bookmakers, have a cooperating player or referee with the ability to control the point spread: point shaving.

Sports gambling was and is a potential threat to the integrity of sports. The huge amount of money bet illegally in the United States, estimated at more than $300 billion, is an incentive to control the outcome of a game.

When I started making presentations, Michigan’s football team was housed in a relatively small, one-story building. Michigan’s transition to the state-of-the-art facilities it has today is emblematic of the change in Division I football in the past 30 years. In those days, college teams such as Michigan might be on TV once or twice a year. Now, a dedicated fan or gambler can watch just about any game played anywhere in the country. With the increase in TV coverage, sports gambling also has increased. And with the advent of the Internet, gamblers have access to more current information and can place bets online.

The FBI recognized the need for educating players early on and developed a sports presentation program. I went through the training and attended periodic conferences with representatives from the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NCAA.

Over the years, I’ve talked to pro and college teams. (I talked to the Michigan basketball teams several times, including the “Fab Five” teams. That might have been a case of a failure to communicate.) The FBI program still exists, in theory, but priorities have changed, and it is no longer as active as it once was.

Schembechler invited us back the next year, and Love asked me to give the presentations on my own.

Little did I know that it was to be the “beginning of a beautiful friendship” between Bo and me — one that would have a substantial effect on my career.

We worked together on several FBI cases — notably the investigation of Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom, two notorious sports agents, who bribed and signed about 20 blue-chip college football players while they were still eligible to play college ball. Walters and Bloom postdated the contracts and kept them secret, a clear violation of NCAA rules. Under those rules, once a player signs with an agent, his college eligibility ends.

Schembechler would be the “star” witness in the successful federal prosecution of Walters and Bloom. Walters had organized-crime connections, and it was believed that the ultimate goal of signing so many star athletes was to get some of the players involved in point shaving.

Schembechler also convinced me to pursue an undercover operation targeting the illegal trafficking of anabolic steroids. That operation, called Equine, was international in scope and resulted in the successful prosecution of more than 70 dealers. We also learned that a number of Major League Baseball players were using steroids. Ironically, I first warned MLB about the steroid problem in 1994 at an FBI sports presentation conference.

Although illegal sports gambling continued to be the primary topic over the years, other concerns were discussed, such as drugs, steroids, domestic violence and, more recently, the improvident use of social media.

Something I didn’t always do, but learned was important, was to ensure that the head coaches stayed during the presentations, because if the coaches didn’t think it was important to be there, the players wouldn’t, either.

Schembechler had a concept of a “Michigan Man,” a student-athlete who not only demonstrated traditional values such as integrity, honor and responsibility on the field, but lived them, as well.

After Schembechler retired in 1989, I continued to talk to the Michigan football teams. Later, I was fortunate to become friends with Lloyd Carr during his 13-year tenure as Michigan coach. Carr coached my son when he was a walk-on from 2000-03. Those presentations were special for me: I was not only an FBI agent speaking to Michigan’s football team, but a father seeing his son in a group of men representing a program that I had come to respect.

I retired in 2006, but I continue to talk to the Michigan football team and am doing so again this week. Brady Hoke, a former assistant under Carr (1995-2002), is Michigan’s coach now. Hoke has embraced the traditions of Michigan and the concept of the “Michigan Man.”

It is Michigan’s 134th football season, and it will be my 32nd year.

The topics have changed, but the message stays the same: making good choices based on good values.

I always end my talks with a quote attributed to John Wayne: “Life is tough. It’s tougher if you’re stupid.”