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The Murders at Ann Arbor’s Veterans Hospital; What Went Right and What Ultimately Went Wrong in the Case

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

ANN ARBOR, Mi. — In 1977, two nurses, Filipina Narciso and Leonora Perez, were convicted of poisoning patients at the Ann Arbor (Michigan) Veterans Administration Hospital (VAH) after one of the longest trials in U.S. history.

The prosecution and verdict became a cause celebre in Ann Arbor, across the nation and in the Philippines. It was widely believed the nurses were made scapegoats as they were immigrant Filipinos.

Months after the convictions, the trial judge ordered a new trial because of his finding of prosecutorial misconduct. The case was never retried.

What little information about the case that is now available on the internet indicates that Narciso and Perez were innocent and “falsely accused.”

In an effort to at least balance the historical record, I have tried to write an objective account of the case.

The case was a classic “whodunit,” and its resolution was worthy of Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes. If this had been a mystery story, the hospital would have been a dark foreboding place, but it wasn’t.

The Ann Arbor Veterans Administration Hospital (VAH) was built in 1953 of reddish brick and generic government architecture. It sits on a hill above the meandering Huron River and on the edge of the north campus of the University of Michigan. This placid scene belied the events that occurred during the summer of 1975 in the hospital.

During a six week period of that summer, there was a sudden spike of patients experiencing breathing failures requiring emergency resuscitation (termed Code 7 emergencies with in the VAH).

Initially the medical staff was not overly concerned as such resuscitations are routine albeit not as frequent as they were beginning to experience. But as the incidents continued and became more frequent, the staff did become alarmed. Some of the patients were not revived and died.

One staff member, Dr. Anne Hill, an Irish born, Chief of Anesthesiology, was not only concerned, but began to suspect foul play. On August 15th, her suspicion coalesced into a conclusion that someone was intentionally poisoning patients. On that day there were three respiratory failures with in twenty minutes – each resulting in a Code 7 alert and requiring emergency resuscitation.

Dr. Hill was present for all three of the Code 7 resuscitations. Upon seeing the first victim, she determined that based on the symptoms, a flaccid state, but with a pulse, the patient had been administered a powerful muscle relaxant.

After doing some diagnostic tests, she concluded that the drug Pavulon (pancuronium bromide) had been given to the patient. (Pavulon is the synthetic equivalent of curare, a plant derived toxin, used by some South American Indians to poison the tips of their blow-gun darts and arrows.)

Within minutes of being administered, the Pavulon causes the muscles to be deactivated, including the muscles used for breathing.

The victim remains conscious, but is paralyzed and suffocates. In order to test her conclusion, she gave the patient an antidote for Pavulon, which immediately alleviated the victim’s breathing failure. Dr. Hill was able to further test her conclusion with the next two Code 7 incidents.

Based on her discovery a call was made to the FBI, the agency responsible for investigating crimes in VA Hospitals as they are federal facilities. That very night Gene Ward, an agent from the FBI Ann Arbor office (Resident Agency) went to the VAH.

After being briefed and assessing the situation, Agent Ward called an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) Richard Delonis and said, “Dick you’re not going to believe this, but….”

The poisonings ended that day, but it was the beginning of an arduous and, in some ways, a ground breaking investigation that would last for over a year.

The FBI responded by sending a task force of agents to investigate. (I was a rookie agent having reported to the Detroit Field Office about six weeks before and was assigned to the task force.)

This case was unique, a huge understatement, but it would be pursued by the numbers. That is first it would have to be shown there was a crime.

Were the respiratory arrests caused by the intentional and illicit administering of a muscle relaxant, Pavulon?

However, there was an immediate problem. Those patients for whom the emergency resuscitation was unsuccessful were dead and had been buried. The bodies would have to be exhumed and tested for Pavulon.

There was a further complication in that there was no existing test for Pavulon in the tissue of the deceased after the embalming process. The FBI Laboratory was tasked with developing such a test that would be defensible in court.

The laboratory developed a test, and some of the presumed poisoning victims were exhumed. Traces of Pavulon were found in their tissue.

There were also the observations of the medical staff, who were involved in the emergency resuscitations.

Pavulon’s effects are relatively easy to identify. When administered in undiluted doses, it creates an effect on the body virtually unique to muscle relaxants: the individual’s heart continues to beat while the breathing stops. (There is no known disease process that has ever been shown to cause this phenomenon.)

Most of the suspected victims were patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and were being continuously monitored. Thus, the investigators were able to identify 51 suspicious breathing failures.

This number was cut to 38 respiratory arrests which the FBI believed was the minimum number of poisonings. Some of the patient/victims were poisoned more than once, and at least 9 died as a result. VAH records showed that no Pavulon had been prescribed for any of the victims.

Early on it was determined that in order for the Pavulon to cause complete and rapid respiratory arrest, it had to be administered undiluted, directly into the victim’s intravenous (IV) tube, a so-called bolus injection. This would have caused the breathing failure in less than 3 minutes.

This finding was critical in narrowing the window of opportunity from when the poisoner injected the Pavulon and breathing failure began.

Later this finding of the 2-3 minute interval would be the keystone in the ultimate prosecution of the case. At trial the defense recognized this and attempted to suggest a longer interval was possible.

To further bolster the 2-3 minute interval at trial, the prosecution used the testimony of a pathologist and world renowned authority on muscle relaxants, Dr. Francis Foldes, a Hungarian American. (If this were a movie, Dr. Foldes would have come from central casting- accent, tweed coat and all.)

Dr. Foldes literally wrote the book on the subject. Although the defense had brought their own expert to challenge Dr. Foldes’ conclusions, they presented no evidence challenging Dr. Foldes statements.

Dr. Foldes testified that the victims were poisoned by an injection of Pavulon, injected directly into the victim’s IV tube. It would not have had the devastating effect that it did if it been introduced in its diluted form, say if it had been injected into the IV bottle. Finally, Dr. Foldes testified that the respiratory arrest would have occurred within 3 minutes of the injection.

Returning to the investigation, the agents had to determine who had been in position to inject Pavulon into the patient/victims within the 3 minutes prior to them going into respiratory arrest. This was a difficult process because it required the reconstruction of an event in the past for each of the dozens of poisonings.

Over 750 people, who were in the VAH at the time of the poisonings, were questioned by the agents. Like the assembling of a jigsaw puzzle, ultimately a relatively clear picture in about a dozen of the poisonings began to develop.

Filipina Narciso became an early suspect. Most of the poisonings occurred in the ICU where Narciso worked. All but two of the suspected poisonings occurred during Narciso’s shift and only on the days she was on duty.

Later it was determined that although the other 2 poisonings occurred on Saturday, not a regular day for Narciso, she was on duty for those poisonings as well. When agents correlated the incidence of the poisonings with the work schedules of the entire hospital staff, only Narciso was on duty in the hospital during every poisoning.

Narciso was also identified by one of the patient/victims, John McCrery, who was interviewed by the FBI two days after his poisoning. McCrery recalled that he had seen a nurse, known to him as “PIA,” inject something into his IV tube minutes before he went into respiratory arrest. (Narciso’s nickname was PI.)

It was necessary for the agents to be certain of McCrery’s identification, so the agents had Leonora Perez (She was not yet a suspect.) and Bonnie Weston come into the room on a pretext. McCrery did not identify either as the nurse he had seen.

Then the agents had Narciso come into McCrery’s room. As soon as she entered the room, McCrery’s pulse elevated causing his heart monitor to sound an alarm. When Narciso left the room, McCrery said, “That’s the one.”

As compelling as McCrery’s identification would have been it was ultimately ruled inadmissible. Two days after identifying Narciso, McCrery had heart by-pass surgery. During the surgery he had a cardiac arrest and almost died.

Following the surgery he was re-interviewed by the FBI, but his story changed dramatically, which based on known facts could not have been accurate. He was diagnosed as having suffered brain damage and he died prior to trial. His identification of Narciso was ruled inadmissible hearsay because he would not be available for cross-examination.

Leonora Perez did not become a suspect until later in the investigation. A patient/victim, Richard Neely, told agents he saw Perez inject something into his IV tube. In an effort to enhance Neely’s recall, it was decided to hypnotize him.

This was uncharted territory and was possibly the first time hypnosis was used in a FBI case. Dr. Herbert Spiegel, a psychiatrist and hypnotist was called in to place Neely in a trance. While under hypnosis Neely seemed to more vividly recall the moments prior to his breathing failure. But Neely, like McCrery, died before the trial began.

In addition to Neely, a family member of Charles Gasmire, another of the victims, identified Perez as a suspect. On July 29th, Richard Gasmire, the son of Charles, had entered his father’s room and saw a nurse near the head of his father’s bed doing something with the IV apparatus.

She had her back to him and did not see him enter. He stood there for about two minutes. His father was sleeping when suddenly he sat up in bed and then collapsed. Charles Gasmire was going into a Pavulon induced respiratory failure.

Richard Gasmire identified the nurse as Leonora Perez. To confirm his identification, the FBI set up a line-up of 18 women wearing nurses’ uniforms, 15 of which were Asian. Gasmire immediately identified Perez as the nurse he had seen in his father’s room. Richard Gasmire did testify to what he had seen at the trial.

After the initial response to the VAH poisoning and the need to interview hundreds of people, the investigation settled into the long process of building a case.

Two agents Richard Guttler and Dan Russo, who had been involved from the beginning, were assigned to continue the investigation to its conclusion. Guttler and Russo would work closely with two AUSAs, Richard Delonis and Richard Yanko.

In June, 1976, a Federal Grand Jury (FGJ) indicted Narciso and Perez. They were indicted on ten counts of poisoning, five counts of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. (There was a superseding indictment in January, 1977, but it did not substantially alter the charges.)

The trial began in March, 1977, and was one of the longest and most complex in the nation’s history. It did not conclude until July, 1977.

Ordinarily a jury in a federal criminal trial can be picked in less than a day. In this case it took four weeks to pick 16 jurors- this allowed for a jury of 12 with 4 alternates instead of the usual 2, because it was recognized this would be an unusually long trial.

At the conclusion of the trial the 16 jurors would be reduced by lot to twelve. (It is noted that the defense expressed great satisfaction with the jury selected.)

In opening arguments the government tried to prepare the jury by telling them it would be a long and complex case, and much of the case would be based on circumstantial evidence. (no smoking guns or dripping syringes).

Much has been made that the government’s case relied heavily on circumstantial evidence as though that indicated the case was weak.

Actually circumstantial evidence is often more reliable than the recollection of witnesses. An example of circumstantial evidence often given is: If you go to bed at night, and there is no snow on the ground, and you wake up in the morning and the ground is snow covered that is circumstantial evidence that it snowed during the night.

The prosecution had to prove in each of the charged poisonings that the victim had been illicitly administered Pavulon within 3 minutes of their respiratory arrest and that Narciso or Perez was in close enough proximity to have administered the Pavulon during the 3 minute interval.

Further, it would have to be shown there was no one else, during the interval, who could have injected the patient.

I have only outlined some of the prosecution’s evidence, but over the course of the trial the prosecution presented evidence of each of the elements, showing that only Narciso or Perez were in a position to inject the Pavulon into the victim’s IV tube during the critical 3 minute interval. (The government’s case used 89 witnesses, 17 of whom were experts.)

The prosecution never attempted to establish a motive for the poisonings nor was that required, but it might have helped the prosecution if they could have explained why two hard-working, seemingly dedicated, nurses would have gone on a poisoning spree.

Any attempt to ascribe a motive to the nurses’ acts would be speculative, but the most plausible explanation is that Narciso and Perez, like some of other members of the VAH staff, thought the hospital was critically understaffed.

Both Narciso and Perez made comments that indicated they were angry about the staff shortage at the hospital, and it was the belief of the prosecution that both women decided to dramatically demonstrate the need for more staff.

When the government rested its case, lawyers for Narciso and Perez had to decide whether to present a defense or just argue the prosecution had not proved its case.

The defense apparently believed that the prosecution’s case was strong enough that they needed to not only present a defense, but to put the defendants on the stand.

This was a crucial turning point in the trial because it subjected their clients to cross examination.

At the conclusion of the trial and after closing arguments the case was given to the twelve jurors (eight women and four men).

The jury deliberated for 13 days, and by all accounts they conscientiously and meticulously analyzed all the evidence that had been presented to it.

At the beginning of the deliberation, some of the jurors believed that the two nurses were innocent, but as all the testimony was reviewed and compared each juror became convinced that the nurses were guilty.

The jury also concluded, because there were so many contradictions and inaccuracies in Narciso’s and Perez’ testimony, that they were lying, and they did so repeatedly. (Several jurors were interviewed after the trial and spoke candidly about the deliberations and their conclusions.)

After the 13 days of deliberation, the jury found both Filipino Narciso and Leonora Perez guilty of three counts of poisoning and conspiracy to poison patients.

The jury did not find the nurses guilty on all the poisoning counts and acquitted Narciso on the one remaining murder count, indicating how carefully they weighed the evidence regarding each incident. (The trial judge had previously directed a judgement of acquittal on the murder count against Perez and several of the poisoning counts.)

The outrage of the supporters of Narciso and Perez did not subside with the verdicts. The case was extremely complex, and it would have been very difficult to follow all the testimony and evidence presented at the trial unless you were in court the entire time.

The news reports were also incomplete. Consequently, few people understood the prosecution’s case nor the devastating ramifications of the nurses’ testimony on their defense.

Months later when the trial judge, Philip Pratt, ordered a retrial (not an acquittal) he seemed to acknowledge the supporters’ outrage (misinformed as it may have been) when he wrote (quoting from another source): “The question is, not whether any actual wrong resulted…but whether (there was) created a condition from which the general public would suspect that the jury might be influenced to reach a verdict on the ground of bias or prejudice.”

Judge Pratt went on to list several acts by the prosecution that the defense claimed were errors. The judge characterized them this way: “No single claim of error raised by the defendants is sufficient to require reversal. There is no dramatic moment of prosecutorial misconduct.”

What Judge Pratt did find was a pattern of prosecutorial conduct that he believed in total resulted in misconduct that would be remedied by a retrial. In other words, in the course of preparation for and trying a very lengthy and complex trial the prosecution committed several innocuous errors that when viewed cumulatively could have prejudiced the jury. (Despite as we now know, based on some of the jurors’ statements, this was not the case.)

During the long period of the investigation and prosecution of this case, a new U.S. Attorney, James Robinson, was appointed. Robinson decided not to retry the case.

Apparently he was aware of the politics of the case, when he said, in effect, the public perception was that the nurses were innocent, therefore it would not be in the best interest of the government to pursue a retrial. (There were also tactical considerations such as the nurses would probably not testify in a second trial.)

So that is where the case ended. As much as their supporters would like to believe otherwise, Narciso and Perez were convicted of poisoning patients and conspiracy to poison. Though the verdict was set aside, it can not be said the nurses were innocent or that they were “falsely accused.”

Acknowledgement: In writing this article, I utilized numerous sources including various articles (one specifically, that was very helpful, appeared in the “Ann Arbor Observer,” Jan., 1977), the opinions of USDC Judge Philip Pratt, conversations with FBI agents, Assistant US Attorneys and my own recollection.

Steroids Had Plenty of Victims

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

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

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

“Say it ain’t so, Rocket.”

(“Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Reported words of a young fan to Shoeless Joe Jackson after the Black Sox gambling scandal.)

Roger Clemens may have lied under oath in front of a Congressional committee regarding the use of steroids during his baseball career, but so what? Couldn’t our prosecutorial resources be used for more important things?

In the late 1980s and early 90s, as an FBI agent (now retired), who helped shepherd the largest steroid investigation in history, similar questions were posed to me. Why should we pursue the illegal distribution of steroids?

In 1989, University of Michigan head football coach Bo Schembechler and his strength coach, Mike Gittleson, shared a big concern.

They believed steroid use was becoming pervasive in college football. Their concern was not only that some players and teams were getting a competitive advantage but that high school players were beginning to think that steroid use was a necessary and accepted practice in getting to the next level.

Bo and Mike knew that steroids were an effective performance-enhancing drug, but could also cause very serious health problems. Not the least of these is severe depression. I learned of numerous cases of young, aspiring athletes who committed suicide after using steroids. (One of those suicides was the son of an FBI agent I knew.) I also thought of my own daughter and son, who, at the time, were beginning to participate in sports. Would they be faced with the choice of having to use steroids in order to reach their athletic goals?

Many believe steroid use is a victim-less crime. It’s not. Using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) affect the very integrity of the sport in which they are used. I see three sets of victims. The first is the players who choose to remain clean but must compete against the “enhanced” players. The other victims are aspiring athletes who use PEDs to continue pursuing their sport, or become disillusioned and quit. The third victim is the fan – more on that just ahead.

When we began our steroid investigation, dubbed Operation Equine, our goal was to pursue the steroid dealers, not the users. We reasoned prosecutors would have little interest in going after users whether they be gym rats or professional athletes. However, in retrospect, perhaps the only way to snag the media’s attention would have been to arrest celebrity athletes. We were also stunned when Major League Baseball stifled a yawn when presented with facts about all their “juiced” players.

Our investigative team was faced with a quandary when one of the dealers we arrested told us he had been supplying Jose Canseco and other members of the then Oakland A’s. (Later we learned one of those A’s was Mark McGwire.) No doubt, these are headline-generating names. For the reasons outlined above, we chose to pursue this dealer’s suppliers, not the star players/users.

It was way back in 1994 that information about the players’ use of steroids was given to the office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. It was ignored for nearly a decade. Yes, nothing happened for nearly 10 years until Canseco himself became the messenger. (Ironically, the U.S. Attorney’s office in northern California didn’t deem steroid dealing a crime worthy of prosecution at the time. What might have happened had they prosecuted the Oakland A’s dealer there, the future home of BALCO?)

If Roger Clemens did use steroids, the ramifications were far greater than just a high profile athlete using a substance to enhance his performance. The past and future are forever altered. Here’s where the Fan as a Victim enters the picture. In baseball, perhaps more than in any other sport, you not only compete with your contemporaries but against players from the past through statistics. These statistical achievements have long been considered sacrosanct, the lifeblood of every baseball fanatic.

These numbers transcend generations of players and fans. Thus, the use of PEDs not only potentially alters the final score, but has, to some extent, destroyed the integrity of those precious stats. Maybe more importantly, when star athletes turn to PEDs, they inadvertently encourage the same behavior by young aspiring athletes who seek to emulate their heroes.

People may argue about whether Congress should be involved in these issues, but persons testifying in front of Congressional committees under oath must tell the truth. Or invoke the protection of the 5th Amendment. To do otherwise renders the whole process a farce.

Ironically, if Clemens had used steroids during his career and admitted it, he most likely wouldn’t have been prosecuted. However, he now faces a serious charge of perjury, and perhaps worse – a tarnished career that no stellar statistic can ever repair.

It goes beyond just saying it ain’t so.

Kidnapping For Ransom: Bad Business Model

Suspects in 1975 kidnapping of GM exec's son/ detroit free press

Suspects in 1975 kidnapping of GM exec's son/ detroit free press

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

It was February, 1980 in Detroit.

I was assigned to the FBI surveillance squad (with apologies to Jack Webb and his introductions to “Dragnet”). It was very cold in the back of the van. We hadn’t yet installed a heater that would work when the van wasn’t running.

I had been driven to a spot where I could observe the ransom drop site from the small one-way window in the back of panel van. The driver had parked the van and left. He was picked up a few blocks away by one of the other surveillance cars. If anyone was watching, they would think the van was empty.

Kidnappings. It was one of many I would work in my career as an FBI agent. As I would witness, time and again, it was a lousy way for criminals to make money. Particularly as technology improved, it became clear: The business model simply didn’t work. And I thought it was worth recounting why.

In this 1980 case, my job was to watch the ransom package, which had been placed between the rear wall of a party store and a dumpster. The package contained $50,000. The “party store” (that’s what they call convenience stores in Detroit) was at the corner of Fenkell and Robeson on Detroit’s northwest side.

I had two HTs (hand held radios) with me in the van. One was tuned to the surveillance frequency. The other was tuned to the frequency of a transmitter in the ransom package. The transmitter broadcast a rhythmic tone that would speed up if the package was moved- pretty primitive by today’s technology.

The whole thing had started when Jacqueline Hempstead, the manager of a Detroit bank branch, learned that her son, Hessley, age 8, had been kidnapped on his way to school. She was called by the kidnappers and received instructions and a ransom demand. Mrs. Hempstead contacted her bank’s security officer, who alerted the Detroit Police Department (DPD) and the FBI.

It was decided that Mrs. Hempstead would follow the kidnappers’ instructions and comply with the ransom demand. A package with $50,000 and the aforementioned transmitter was prepared.

The FBI had been positioned in a parameter around the drop site. I had been driven to a spot near the drop site before the delivery. There I could observe the delivery and provide protection to Mrs. Hempstead if necessary.

Mrs. Hempstead delivered the package without any problems. We had agents in the vicinity of the drop, but not close enough to observe the package or spook someone wanting to make a pick-up.

After I had been watching for several hours, I heard an ominous sound, a garbage truck approaching. The truck got positioned and lifted the dumpster next to the ransom package. For a moment I thought what a novel way to retrieve a ransom. But when the dumpster was replaced, it was set on the top of the package. The transmitter screeched then seemed to moan before dying completely. The package was torn open with the stacks of bills clearly visible.

I kept my vigil, but we were concerned that a passerby might see the cash. After about an hour with no apparent effort by the kidnappers to collect the ransom, we had Mrs. Hempstead retrieve the package.

In the meantime, young Hessley, who had been left unsupervised by the kidnappers at a house on Detroit’s eastside, was able to break free and call his home. Agents that were posted at the Hempstead home told him to get out of the house and go to a neighbor’s house.

He went to the neighbors and then called again. He was picked up by FBI agents and returned home. The kidnappers were identified initially from their connection to the house where Hessley was held. They were successfully prosecuted. The kidnapping was short-circuited, but the victim was returned safe and law enforcement responded quickly and performed well.

In 1975, my first year assigned to Detroit Division (Michigan), there were four kidnappings in Michigan, three of which were classic kidnappings for ransom. The other was Jimmy Hoffa, a kidnapping/murder.

It was an exciting first year on the job for me, but this was probably an inordinate number of ransom kidnappings for anywhere, including Detroit.

Before I arrived, in much earlier times, it seemed as if criminals had had far better luck with kidnapping. In Bryan Burroughs’ book, Public Enemies, America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI 1933-34, Burroughs writes that for some of the notorious gangs of the era, kidnapping was the crime of choice. John Dillinger’s gang specialized in bank robbery, but the Barker/Karpis gang preferred kidnapping.

It was the gangs’ success in their respective specialty crimes that resulted in making them Federal Crimes, and gave birth to the FBI. (Machine Gun Kelly, a member of the Barker gang, is credited with coining the “G-man” moniker for FBI agents when he was arrested by the FBI.) The FBI learned from those early experiences.

michigan map

Kidnapping for ransom, out of necessity, requires a victim who is of wealth or has some access to wealth (part of the business model). Consequently, the victim will be or is often related, in some way, to a high-profile person that can be expected to have the wherewithal and desire to pay a ransom.

The Federal statute that gives the FBI jurisdiction in kidnapping cases is called the “Lindbergh law”, which arose from the highly publicized kidnapping of Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s son by Bruno Richard Hauptmann and the proliferation of high profile kidnappings elsewhere in the U.S. The Lindberghs were wealthy, but Charles may have been the most famous and beloved person in America at the time.

The Lindbergh baby was found dead after a ransom was paid. It was several years before the case was solved. The Federal kidnapping statute relies on a presumption that any kidnapping involves interstate commerce. It is a rebuttable presumption, but allows the FBI to investigate a kidnapping without having to first establish some interstate aspect.

One such case came with the kidnapping in Michigan on Nov. 10, 1975. A young man, Timothy Stempel, 13, was kidnapped in Bloomfield Township, an affluent suburb north of Detroit.

Timothy’s father was Robert Stempel, a high ranking executive with General Motors (later Robert Stempel would become CEO of GM). Mr. Stempel received a series of phone calls at his home from the kidnappers, and he was told they wanted $150,000 for Timothy’s return. Stempel contacted GM security, who in turn contacted the police and FBI.

Timothy had been kidnapped by two men, Darryl Wilson and Clinton Williams, who had decided that a good money making project would be to kidnap a rich kid and hold him for ransom.

The Stempel family/free press

The Stempel family/free press

They had no specific victim in mind when they drove to the high-income neighborhood of Bloomfield Township. They passed on a few potential victims for various reasons; playing too close to a house, too young.

Then they spotted Timothy. He was skateboarding. Williams asked Timothy for directions to a person’s house. Timothy said he didn’t know the person and started to walk away. Williams pulled a handgun and told Timothy to get in the car. Timothy hit Williams with the skateboard, but Williams tackled him and struck him several times in the head. Williams and Wilson blindfolded Timothy and placed him in the backseat of the car.

They drove to Wilson’s apartment on the south side of Ann Arbor and transferred Timothy to the trunk of the car where he would remain for the next 50 some hours. Williams then called Robert Stempel and told him they had his son, and he would call back with instructions. Lastly Williams told Stempel: Don’t tell the police.

The police and FBI committed hundreds of officers and agents to the investigation. It was designated a “special” by FBI headquarters; all hands on deck. But it had to be done in such a way as to not alert the kidnappers that police were involved. The paramount goal in any kidnapping investigation is the safe return of the victim.

Robert Stempel received subsequent telephone calls on Nov. 11 and again on the next day. Ultimately, he was instructed to go to an empty lot behind a roller skating rink in Inkster, a working class suburb west of Detroit. He was to leave the money there, and he would be contacted about his son’s release.

The evening of the “drop,” it was pouring rain. Efforts were made to surveil the ransom package, but because of the location and the weather, it was impossible without taking the chance of alerting the kidnappers.

The package was retrieved, but whoever made the pick-up was not seen. (Night vision equipment would have been helpful, but was not yet available.)

Within a few hours, Timothy was released by the kidnappers not far from the drop site. Initially there were no suspects, but because much of the activity had occurred in Inkster and nearby, “neighborhood” investigations were conducted that included a canvass of businesses and homes to determine if anyone had seen any relevant activity. At an apparel store, within a block of the roller rink drop site, an agent found that two men had spent several hundred dollars in cash for clothes.

The serial numbers on the cash matched the numbers recorded from some of the ransom money, and the men who bought the clothes were identified. This is similar to how Bruno Richard Hauptmann was initially identified as the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby. He had spent some of the ransom money, a gold certificate, at a gas station. The station attendant made a note of Hauptmann’s car license number. One of the reasons we now canvass neighborhoods.

The sartorial aspiring men were interviewed, and they told how they had agreed to drive two men to the roller rink on the night of Nov. 12 to retrieve a package containing money. The men assumed it was drug money and accepted several thousand dollars for their trouble.

The men identified Darryl Wilson and said he lived in Ann Arbor, but didn’t know his address or the other man’s name.

The investigation determined that Wilson lived in an apartment on Ann Arbor’s south side with a relative. A surveillance was set up at the apartment complex, and the car used in the kidnapping was found at the complex.

Timothy Stempel, while locked in the trunk of the car, had carved his name on the inside of the trunk lid with a broken piece of a hacksaw blade he found in the trunk- pretty ingenious.

I was assigned to the surveillance. After a few hours, one of the other agents, Stan Lapekas, suggested we take a look in a dumpster at the apartment complex for possible evidence. The dumpster was inside a wood fence enclosure in the parking lot, and we couldn’t be seen from the outside.

After we had been in the enclosure for only a few minutes, a car drove in and parked right next to the enclosure gate. I peeked out and realized the driver was the subject, Darryl Wilson. As soon as he exited the car, Lapekas and I grabbed him and  placed him in the backseat of our car, with us sitting very close on either side of him.

We acted as if we already knew everything, but wanted to give him an opportunity to tell his side of the story. After giving him his rights, he almost immediately confessed and gave up his accomplice, Clinton Williams. We hadn’t had Williams’ name until Wilson told us. Wilson also told us where Williams lived. I got several other agents and drove to Williams’ home and arrested him.

Williams also confessed. He told us he had threatened Timothy Stempel with a handgun and hit him several times. He said they had kept Timothy in the trunk of a car for over two days. He also said he had made the phone calls to Timothy’s dad from a pay phone in Inkster. (With the existing technology, we hadn’t been able to trace the calls.)

The subsequent search of Wilson’s apartment resulted in the recovery of $137,000 of the ransom money.

The case and subsequent trial became a bit of a media circus. There was no interstate aspect of the kidnapping for it to be charged federally so it was prosecuted in State Court. The venue was Oakland County as Bloomfield Twp., where the kidnapping occurred. The high profile Oakland County Prosecutor L. Brooks Patterson, who would later run for Governor, was the prosecutor. (He is presently the Oakland County Executive.)

Because of the media attention, the trial was moved from Oakland to Leland County, in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. On the first day of trial, Patterson suspected that Wilson and Williams might be planning to enter a plea. Patterson put Timothy Stempel on the stand and introduced the trunk lid. He then had me testify out of order to get Williams’ confession on the record with all the damning admissions.

On the beginning of the 2nd day of trial, Wilson and Williams entered guilty pleas with no plea bargain.

There were several other kidnappings for ransom in the Detroit Division during my 30+ years there, but I’m not aware of any that were successful.

All the kidnappers were identified and prosecuted. In two instances although a ransom was demanded and paid, the victims were murdered. In both those cases, the kidnappers never had any intention of releasing the victims alive.

The business model for kidnapping for ransom is flawed. It is a very high-risk crime.

In some parts of the world kidnappings are done with the collusion of the police or at least their indifference, thus, lowering the risk factor. The victim has to fit a profile, and it is very difficult to successfully collect a ransom- probably more so today than in the technology challenged period of the early years of my career.

Although the potential profit would seem to be high, the odds of actually getting and keeping it are extremely low.

In the latter years of my career, there were no kidnappings for ransom in Michigan. They also seem to be rare elsewhere in the country. I doubt that kidnapping for ransom is extinct in the US, but it would seem to be on the endangered list.

A Detroit Mob Photo by the FBI Surveillance Squad Captures History

Jack Tocco With Fellow Mobsters in 1979

Jack Tocco With Fellow Mobsters in 1979

I joined the Detroit FBI surveillance squad in 1977. Two years later, on June 11, 1979 , we witnessed an event- its historical significance and ramifications would not be clear until many years later.

But before I get to that, a little history. In the early 1970s, the FBI’s Detroit Field Office established the FBI’s 1st full-time surveillance squad. At that time, organized crime was one of the priorities of the FBI.

Neil Welch, the then Detroit FBI Special Agent in Charge (SAC), decided it was a good idea to have a squad dedicated to primarily following members of the Detroit family of the La Cosa Nostra, the Mafia and learning about their activities. It should be noted that the Detroit family was one of the oldest and most successful LCN families in the country.

Although a surveillance squad was not a new concept, it was for the FBI. And FBI headquarters would have to be persuaded it was worthwhile, and that meant the Director, J. Edgar Hoover, had to agree. He did, and the Detroit surveillance squad was born.

The squad was unique not just in its function, but in its entire nature. As its primary target was a sophisticated organization, that would be surveillance wary, the squad had to be equal to the task.

The agents assigned to the squad would no longer report to the FBI office, but would work out of an “off-site” location that would use a phony business front. (It would be dubbed the bat cave.) The agents wouldn’t wear the usual agent garb of coat and tie, but street clothes. The cars the agents would drive would be varied and not have the staid, four-door, sedan look of a police car.

Although radio communication between cars was a necessity, the radios and antennas had to be hidden. The agents would have to learn techniques of conducting long-term surveillances undetected. They would not have the technological tools available today, such as: GPS devices, lap-top computers, cell phones and digitally coded radios. In those days, if you needed to have a phone conversation with someone when you were on the street, you had to find a pay phone- of course so did the bad guys.

The agents would also have to be adept at taking and developing photos (no instant review, but the bat cave had a dark room). They would have to learn the geography of the Detroit metropolitan area and be able to identify known members of the Detroit LCN family. In addition they had to create and memorize code names for the family members and major streets because police radios were susceptible to being “scanned,” being listened to by civilians.

In fact we learned through electronic surveillance that the Detroit family paid to have the FBI radio frequencies scanned regularly. (Today FBI radios are digital and can be encrypted to NSA standards.)

Since the establishment of the Detroit FBI’s surveillance squad, it has proved itself not only in its usefulness in aiding the successful prosecution of the Detroit LCN, but in its ability to provide information and evidence about criminal activities, including terrorism and foreign counter intelligence. The dedicated surveillance squad concept has been replicated in major field offices throughout the Bureau.

And now to that historic moment in 1979.

It was a beautiful summer day. We had set up to begin our surveillance that morning in Macomb County, north of Detroit, at a barber supply business owned by Rafaillo “Jimmy Q” Quassarano, a lieutenant in the Detroit LCN family.

We had done surveillances there many times before and had no reason to believe this day would be particularly notable. Later that morning we saw Giacomo “Jack” Tocco, an upper level LCN figure, arrive at the business. Then we saw Frank “the Bomb” Bommarito, a made guy, arrive driving a silver van. Bommarito went inside, but shortly exited and left driving another car.

A few minutes later Tocco and Quassarano exited the business with two other guys. They entered the van that Bommarito brought and started driving west. We followed the van into rural Washtenaw County to the Timberland Game Ranch (about 50 miles west of Detroit), which we later learned was owned by the Ruggirello brothers, Antonio”T.R.” and Luigi “Louie the Bulldog,” also made guys in the Detroit family. The van entered the ranch, a large a wooded area used for private up-scale hunting excursions. We set up where we could observe the entrance to the ranch and saw several late model Lincolns and Cadillacs each with several occupants drive into the ranch. (Later when the gathering broke up, we had the Michigan State Police stop some of these cars to identify the occupants.)

None of us on the team had ever seen a meeting like this, and we weren’t sure what was happening. I decided this was too big to not try to find out what was going on. So another agent, Keith Cordes, and I went to the back of the ranch away form the main gate.

After scaling a fence (The statute of limitations on trespassing ran out a long time ago.), we hiked through about a half mile of a heavily wooded area in the general direction of a part of the ranch that was cleared and where there were some buildings. At about 100 yards from the cleared area, we could hear the voices of the men at the gathering. But we didn’t know if we could get much closer without being seen or heard, and we couldn’t see much through the trees. Then I saw a narrow swath of cleared land radiating out from where the gathering was. It was an archery lane with a large target on our end. Keith and I got behind the archery target and could see up the lane to where the family had gathered. Keith whispered to me, do you think it’s a good idea to be this close to a target? I replied, “I don’t think mob guys do archery.”

I had brought my camera with a 300 mm lens attached. Near the head of the lane, I could see three men standing. Looking through my camera lens, I could see it was Vito “Billy Jack” Giacalone and Anthony “The Bull” Corrado. (Both Giacalone and Corrado were capos, captains, in the family.) They were standing on either side of Jack Tocco. Resting my camera on the target, I snapped a photo.

We determined that almost everyone of any stature in the Detroit LCN family was at the game ranch that day, even some emeritus members, except Anthony Zerilli. We also learned, through source information, this meeting was called to make Jack Tocco the boss of the family to replace Zerilli, whose performance had apparently been wanting.

It is extremely rare for all the members of a LCN family to meet together. I was told by a Mafia historian, he knew of no other time when such a meeting of any LCN family had been witnessed by outsiders, not to mention to have a photograph of the event.

In March, 1996, 17 members of the Detroit family were federally indicted for violation of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, conspiracy and related predicate crimes. Among those indicted were Vito Giacalone, Anthony Corrado and Jack Tocco. In January, 1998, Vito Giacalone pleaded guilty, and in his plea statement, he admitted there was a Detroit LCN family, and he was a member of it. This was the 1st time an upper level member of the Detroit family had admitted its existence.

A few months later, during the trial of Jack Tocco, Anthony Corrado, and others, I testified about, among other things, the taking of the photograph, almost 20 years before, and about the family gathering at the game farm. The photograph was admitted into evidence.

At the trial the United States presented evidence gathered over that almost 20 year period from sources, financial records, physical surveillance (fisur) and court authorized wire taps and microphones-electronic surveillance (elsurs). In the end, Jack Tocco, Anthony Corrado and all but one of the others was convicted of 50 counts of racketeering (RICO), extortion and conspiracy.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Rick Convertino, one of the prosecutors in the trial, said of the 1979 photo:

“The picture was extremely important. Obviously it was important as information about the inauguration of Jack Tocco as head of the Detroit La Cosa Nostra. But the real key was that LCN members had never met all together at one time at a place that wasn’t a wedding or a funeral. In hundreds and hundreds of hours of surveillance, nothing like that had ever happened before, and nothing like it ever happened again. All the planets were never lined up like that before or after that day.”

But for the creation of a surveillance squad capable of conducting difficult surveillances and adapting to unique situations, that alignment of the planets would not have been witnessed and photographed.

tocco redefine 2

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

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.

The ATF was aware of the Davidian’s potential for violence and obviously knew they had a large stockpile of firearms and ammunition. Consequently the element of surprise was an important aspect of their raid plan. However, surprise was an early casualty. ATF’s leadership was aware their plan had been compromised, but chose to proceed anyway.

waco-branch-davidians

The ATF agents were met at the front door of the compound by Koresh and some of his “Mighty Men” (that’s how Koresh referred to his young male followers). There was a short stand-off . A shot or shots was fired. It has never been determined who fired the first shot-both sides claim it was the other. Whoever fired it, it escalated into a gun battle resulting in the deaths of four ATF agents (16 wounded) and six Davidians. Koresh was wounded along with several of his followers. Thus began the siege of the Branch Davidian compound.

The FBI was given control of the siege. Negotiations between the Davidians and the FBI began and continued throughout the siege. Although the FBI was thrust into a situation not of its making, it learned valuable lessons. Unfortunately many of the lessons were learned from mistakes.

Ultimately it became clear Koresh was not negotiating in good faith. Koresh had said that he would surrender, but he needed to finish his own scripture, something he called the “Seven Seals”. But surreptitiously placed microphones inside the compound had picked up conversations indicating that Koresh was stalling and did not intend to surrender.

The FBI with concurrence of Attorney General Reno and President Clinton decided to pressure Koresh and his followers into surrender by punching holes into the compound walls and injecting tear gas. The conventional way to place tear gas is to fire projectiles containing tear gas into the target area. These projectiles explode on impact and expel tear gas, but this process also produces heat which can result in fire. The method devised for the compound entailed the use of converted tanks to spray the tear gas directly into the holes made in the walls. The error was not how the tear gas was injected, but rather underestimating the potential for mass suicide of an apocalyptic cult. The FBI was warned of this potential, but it was discounted- what person would choose suicide over surrender, not only for themselves, but for their children?

Then there were the fires that ultimately consumed the entire compound. Although a Congressional investigation determined the fires were actually set by the Davidians, the anti-government conspiracy minded will forever believe that they were set or caused by the government. Seventy six Davidians including Koresh died on that day at least twenty of those were killed by self-inflicted gunshot wounds or consensual execution (suicide by proxy). Nine people escaped from the fire and presumably others could have if they wanted. (One woman ran out of the compound and was tackled by a FBI agent to keep her from going back.)

Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber witnessed part of the siege. McVeigh was sympathetic with the Davidians and was outraged that the siege ended in the conflagration and death of Koresh and most of his followers. It’s not clear when McVeigh’s anti-government beliefs began, but those beliefs were growing and becoming an obsession.

Federal Building in Oklahoma at time of explosion/fbi photo

Federal Building in Oklahoma at time of explosion/fbi photo

It’s difficult to encapsulate McVeigh’s philosophy. It was clearly anti-government and became virulently so. It was an amalgamation of white supremacy, anti-Semitism and fear of a “New World Order”, i.e., a belief in a world-wide conspiracy to take over the world and the US Government’s leadership being in league with this conspiracy. If there was an over-riding theme to McVeigh’s beliefs, it was probably his trying to replicate the plot of The Turner Diaries, a 1978 novel written by William Luther Piece (a white supremacist) under the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald. The book depicts a violent revolution in the US ignited by the bombing of the FBI headquarters, which leads to the overthrow of the US Government, nuclear war and ultimately to a race war resulting in the extermination of all Jews and non-whites.

While in the military, McVeigh met Terry Nichols. They became friends and their friendship continued after they left the military. Nichols was a follower and embraced McVeigh’s philosophy and paranoia. After the Davidian compound siege ended, McVeigh began to develop a plan to destroy a Federal Building- an act of retaliation for what had occurred at Waco. Initially the plan was to destroy the building when it was unoccupied, but McVeigh decided he needed to send a stronger message and that would require people to die. Later McVeigh would say, “Kids and women are fair game”.

McVeigh and Nichols plan coalesced into the selection of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City as the target. The plan was to build a bomb and place it in the back of a truck. McVeigh and Nichols researched how to construct a large bomb and experimented with making and detonating explosives at the Nichols’ farm in Decker, Michigan.

In April, 1995, McVeigh, using another name, rented a truck in Junction City, Kansas. McVeigh and Nichols had previously obtained and stored the components for the bomb. In a park outside of Junction City, they assembled the bomb in the back of the rental truck. The bomb consisted 13-55 gal. drums: 9 containing ammonium nitrate (fertilizer) and nitromethane (racing fuel); 4 had fertilizer and diesel fuel. Also with the drums was about 350 lbs of Tovex, a commercial explosive. TheTovex would act as primary or initiator. McVeigh ran 2 fuses from the cargo bay to the cab of the truck. The fuses were attached to blasting caps that would set off the Tovex. The bomb weighed about 4,800 lbs. and cost about $5,000.

Prior to April 19th, Nichols and McVeigh drove to Oklahoma City and parked the getaway car several blocks from the Murrah Federal Building. They then drove back to Junction City. McVeigh stayed at a motel in Junction City. Although McVeigh used another name when he rented the truck, at the motel he used his true name with the Decker farm as his permanent address.

On April 19th, McVeigh drove the bomb laden truck to Oklahoma City. A few blocks from the Federal Building, he lit one fuse. Then just prior to parking the truck at the Federal Building, he lit the back-up fuse. He exited the truck and ran the few blocks to the getaway car. When the bomb exploded, it did so with the force of 5,000 lbs of TNT.

It destroyed the Federal Building and killed 168 people and injured over 700. It also damaged or destroyed 324 other buildings. Among the fatalities were children as the Federal Building housed a child care center on the street level. McVeigh had known of the child care center.

Within hours the FBI had identified the rental truck (from the VIN on an axle that had been blown some distance from the site) and knew it had been rented in Junction City. Agents dispatched to Junction City discovered the truck was rented under a false name, but the same person used a different name, Timothy McVeigh, at a nearby motel. A BOL (BE On The Lookout) bulletin was broadcast, and it was learned McVeigh had been arrested by the Oklahoma State Police driving a car without a license plate. An alert trooper also saw that McVeigh was carrying a concealed handgun. McVeigh was about to be released, but a hold was placed, and FBI agents took him into custody.

Two days later, the FBI went to the Decker farm to execute search warrants. The Detroit FBI SWAT team was sent in first to secure the farm as there was a concern about armed co-conspirators (The extent of the conspiracy was not yet known.) and explosives at the farm. I was one of the SWAT team leaders involved. The farm was operated by James Nichols, Terry’s brother. It was known James had anti-government sentiments, but there was never sufficient evidence to prosecute him for being involved in the conspiracy. The search of the farm did find bomb making materials and evidence bombs had been tested there.

McVeigh had picked April 19th for the bombing because it was second anniversary of the end of the siege at the Davidian compound. It also happened to be the 220th anniversary of that shot heard around the world. When McVeigh was arrested he had a quote from Samuel Adams (one of the men Paul Revere was sent to warn): “When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” Underneath McVeigh had scrawled, “Maybe now there will be liberty.” McVeigh also had pages from the Turner Diaries, the racist/anti-Semitic diatribe masquerading as a novel.

It dishonors our founding fathers when McVeigh and some militias try to cloak themselves in the legitimacy of the men who valiantly fought for our independence and at the same time embrace the ideology of the white supremacy movement. It is perverse to equate what our founding fathers did and endured to establish a Constitutional government with the bombing of a Federal building- killing 168 people, whose only crime was being in or near that building.

The lesson that was learned on April 19, 1995, was that we in law enforcement or as citizens have to take the anti-government movements seriously. Their ideology may seem foolish, historically and theologically spurious, but that does not diminish their potential for harm.

I think the action taken against the Hutaree Christian Militia last month in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana demonstrates that the lessons of Waco and Oklahoma City have not been forgotten. The Hutaree had allegedly planned to kill a police officer then bomb his funeral procession thereby killing many police officers and innocent people. It should be noted that during the search of one of the Hutaree member’s home, among other things, was found a plaque which said, “Remember Waco”.

FBI Probe into Illegal Steroids Broke New Ground

Betting and “Sports Bribery” Can Taint Sports

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

An estimated $300 billion is bet illegally on sports each year in the U.S. The underground industry has grown in good part because of the exponential increase in television coverage of games and the advent of the Internet as a betting and information forum.

The most popular games to bet on are football and basketball, but bets can be placed on virtually all sports. Unfortunately, from time to time, some games have been fixed through “sports bribery” or point shaving. I’ll get to more of that in a minute.

There is only one place in the US where sports gambling is legal, Nevada, and the bettor has to be physically present. Of course it is possible though not legal to have someone in Nevada place a bet for you.

The fact gambling is illegal has never had much impact on its growth or the public’s general acceptance. Pick any newspaper and you will find the betting line in the sports section. There is no difficulty in finding places to make a bet.

A bookie is probably as close as your local sports bar or one of the many sports gambling sites on the Internet. I recently received, via the U.S. Mail, advertisements for Internet sports gambling sites, e.g., bookmaker.com and oddsmaker.com. Gambling on these sites is illegal in the U.S., but enforcement is difficult because they generally operate off-shore.

Consequently, law enforcement (most often enforcement is done by Federal agencies) has concentrated on large scale bookmakers and organized crime’s connections. Because of the amounts of money involved and pervasive nature of sports gambling, efforts to gain an edge are inevitable.

Enter sports bribery. It poses a great threat to the integrity of sports at the college and professional levels. If fans lose faith and fear the outcome is fixed by gamblers, all sports become like professional wrestling, a caricature of a sporting event.

To understand the threat and how to combat it, it is necessary to understand how sports gambling works.
When placing a bet with a bookmaker (bookie), the bet is not as to which team will win.

Instead, it centers on which team will beat the other by the spread or line. The spread or line is a predetermined differential set by odds makers, usually in Las Vegas.

The line is a very educated prediction as to how many points the favored team will beat the other team. For example, the line may be for Michigan to beat Notre Dame by 3 points.

The bettor may bet on either Michigan or Notre Dame. If the bettor bets on Michigan, it is not enough for Michigan to win, they must win by more than 3 points. If not, the bettor who chose Notre Dame wins.

To avoid a tie or a push, odds makers sometimes use ½ points. Thus in our example Michigan would be favored by 31/2 points, and would have to win by 4 or more points to cover the spread. The line is meant to not only closely predict the outcome of the game, but to encourage betting on games.

Bookmakers do not generally care who wins. They simply hope that more people lost bets than won. This is because the bookmaker makes money only on the losing bets.

Ordinarily the losing bettor pays an additional 10% on top of the actual bet. This 10% commission goes to the bookie and is referred to as the “vigorish” or vig and is the bookie’s compensation.

Bookies may also offer credit or loans to bettors, but these loans will often be at usurious interest rates. Any bookie, whose business is relatively large, will probably have direct or indirect connections with organized crime (OC).

Illegal gambling is one of the largest revenue sources for organized crime. A bookie may pay a fee or tribute to an OC group for the “privilege” of conducting business.

The OC group may in return provide protection, eliminate competition and help with collection of bets or loans.
There have been numerous instances where people have tried to impact the game’s outcome, or find out inside information not known publicly that could impact a team or player’s performance.

To actually impact a score, the bettor would usually develop a relationship with a player(s). Based on past experience, this relationship usually develops when a player himself bets on games.

The player may become indebted or just have a desire to make more money. The bettor may suggest the player could make money by making sure the favored team did not win by the prescribed spread. (Note the bettor is not asking the player to lose the game, but just not win by as many points.) This is called point-shaving.

In one actual instance, in 1994, a bookie/bettor, Benny Silman, convinced an Arizona State University basketball player, Stevin (Hedake) Smith to insure that ASU win some games in which they were favored by less than the line or spread.

It became the biggest point-shaving scandal in terms of money wagered in college sports history. Silman had been Smith’s bookie and Smith had accumulated a gambling debt of $10,000 with Silman. Silman suggested that Smith insure that ASU win by less than the spread in a game they were heavily favored to win.

In return Silman would forgive Smith’s $10,000 debt and pay Smith an additional $10,000 (sports bribery). Smith agreed to the arrangement, and ASU won by less than the spread.

Interestingly, Smith had had one of the best games of his career, scoring a personal best 39 points. He was able to achieve the desired result by allowing the opposing player he was guarding to score more points (not really point shaving). The scheme was repeated in several more games in which ASU was favored. However, too many people learned of it and the betting was so heavily one-sided in Vegas on a later ASU game that the odds makers became suspicious.

The FBI investigated. People began talking and implicating others. Ultimately Silman, Smith and others were convicted. Smith’s anticipated career in the NBA never happened.

Earlier this year another point-shaving case was indicted in Federal Court in Detroit. The indictment alleges that University of Toledo football and basketball players colluded with Detroit bettors/bookies to shave points in Toledo games.

The University of Michigan did a study about 10 years ago involving a blind survey of Division 1 college student athletes. This survey found that over 4% of male student athletes admitted to directly betting with bookies since attending college, and in addition, nearly 4% admitted wagering on sports through the use of parlay cards – cards that list the week’s games along with point spreads.

Statistically that means on a D1 college football team, which typically has over 100 players on its roster, it is possible that 7 players or more per team are engaged in illegal sports wagering. How many of them will be tempted to try and influence the outcome of a game?

It is clear that athletes involved in sports gambling pose a very significant risk to the integrity of sports.

It’s little wonder when sports leagues and associations react quickly and harshly towards athletes who bet on games, such as Major League Baseball did when it determined that Pete20Rose bet on baseball games.

Over 30 years ago the FBI in cooperation with the NCAA, NFL, MLB, NBA and the NHL instituted a “sports presentation program” wherein the FBI would provide specially trained FBI agents gratis to teams wishing to have them address the dangers of sports gambling and bribery.

As a FBI agent I participated in that program and made numerous presentations to college and professional teams. As the primary agency enforcing laws regarding illegal sports gambling and bribery, the FBI is uniquely able to have significant impact when making presentations to young athletes.

But because of changes in the FBI’s priorities and limited resources, the program barely exists today.

I would argue that the program is extremely cost effective and has had a proactive and positive effect on college and professional sports, and has likely deterred gambling activity that could potentially destroy the integrity of sports.

I have continued to make these presentations after my retirement whenever requested without compensation.

Is it OK to Shout Fire in a Chatroom?

When Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes posed the question about falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater, he was illustrating that freedom of speech does have limitations.

In 1995,  the first criminal threat case on the Internet would again test the limits of free speech. In 1994, Jake Baker (Jacob Alkhabaz) was a University of Michigan student, who was described as quiet and nice.

He wrote stories with innocent titles like “Going for a Walk”.  But he harbored some demons. The stories were graphic depictions of kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing of young women – so called snuff stories. Jake posted these stories on the Internet at a site called alt.sex stories (ass). The Internet was in its infancy. His case raised issues we had not faced before.

Interestingly, 14 years later, we’re still faced with the perplexing question: Where does Freedom of Speech End? And when does it become a crime?

To examine the issue, it’s interesting to look back at the Baker case, which I was involved in. Back then, few people knew of, let alone used the Internet. Baker was discovered, thanks to a Michigan alum, who happened to be in Russia. He was using the Internet and stumbled across one of Jake’s snuff stories and knew from the IP address that Jake had some affiliation with the University of Michigan.

The story was one that used the name of an actual Michigan coed as a victim in the story. (In court papers and media accounts, she would be referred to as Jane Doe.) The real Jane was not aware of her characterization in the story or that she was about to be a player in an international cyber – 1st Amendment controversy.

The Michigan alum contacted University officials about Jake’s snuff story. The matter was turned over to the University Department of Public Safety, which talked to Jake and obtained a search warrant for Jake’s computer and email account.

Jake was residing in the East Quadrangle Dormitory (the same dorm where Ted Kaczynski once resided).The search revealed several more snuff stories authored by Jake. Two of the stories used Jane Doe’s name and one of these had her actual address and phone number.

One of the stories used Jane Doe’s last name as the title of the story. A paragraph in that story achieved some notoriety as it was repeated often by the media:

“Then, Jerry and I tie her by her long brown hair to the ceiling fan, so that she’s dangling mid-air. Her feet don’t touch the ground. She kicks trying to hit me, Jerry or the gorund (sic). The sight of her wiggling in mid-air, hands rudely taped behind her back, turns me on. Jerry takes a big spiky hair-brush and starts beating her small breasts with it, coloring them with nice red marks. She screams and struggles harder. I’ve separated her legs with a spreader-bar; now I stretch out her pussy lips and super-glue them wide open. Then I take a heavy clamp, and tighten it over her clit. Once it’s tight enough, I let go.”

In addition to Jake’s stories UMDPS gained access to Jake’s email account. The search of the email produced numerous messages between Jake and an individual identifying himself as Arthur Gonda, believed to be residing in Ontario, Canada.

In these messages Jake and Gonda also discuss actually getting together to commit the acts Jake had been depicting in his stories. This is an excerpt from an email sent by Baker to Gonda in December, 1994:
“I’ve started doing is going back and rereading earlier messages of yours. Each time I do, they turn me on more and more. I can’t wait to see you in person. I’ve been trying to think of secluded spots, but my area knowledge of Ann Arbor is mostly limited to the campus. I don’t want any blood in my room, though I have come upon an excellent method to abduct a bitch — As I said before, my room is right across from the girl’s bathroom. Wiat (sic) until late at night, grab her when she goes to unlock the door. Knock her unconscious, and put her into one of those portable lockers (forgot the word for it), or even a duffle bag. Then hurry her out to the car and take her away …what do you think?

This was Gonda’s response:
“Hi Jake. I have been out tonight and I can tell you that I am thinking more and more about ‘doing’ a girl. I can picture it so well … and I can think of no better use of their flesh. I HAVE to make a bitch suffer!”

Jake’s response in part:
“I know how you feel. I’ve been masturbating like the devil recently. Just thinking about it anymore doesn’t do the trick …I need TO DO IT.”

UMDPS were advised by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor that there was no appropriate state statute with which to prosecute Jake’s actions. UMDPS then contacted the local office of the FBI. After reading Jake’s stories and emails, I concluded that the emails in context with the stories constituted a threat as defined by 18 USC 875(c), “Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or to injure any person….”

I presented the case to the Detroit US Attorney’s office, which  agreed with my conclusion. Our contention was that Jake had threatened not only Jane Doe, but any coeds in East Quad.

Jake was arrested on a complaint and warrant and arraigned before a U.S.  Magistrate. We did not request detention, but after reading some of Jake’s literary works, the Magistrate on his own motion detained Jake as he believed him to be dangerous.

The case was assigned to U.S.  District Court Judge Avern Cohn. It was apparent that Judge Cohn was not a big fan of the Government’s case. He made it clear that Jake’s stories could not be part of the prosecution as they were protected by the 1st Amendment’s free speech clause.

Consequently, when Jake was indicted, all references to the stories were eliminated. (I argued against dropping the stories as I believed Judge Cohn would toss the case no matter what we did. In addition to providing context, the stories named a potential victim with her actual address.) Judge Cohn did dismiss the indictment, saying Jake’s emails were nothing more than a private conversation between two males discussing their shared sexual fantasies and were thus protected as free speech. Judge Cohn went on to criticize the Government and its “overzealous agent”.

The Government appealed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. A 6th Circuit three -judge panel in a curious opinion said Jake’s emails did not constitute a threat because it was, “not conveyed to effect some change or achieve some goal through intimidation.” The dissenting Judge, I think correctly, points out that if Congress intended to require proof of such an intent, they would have said so. In fact in section 875(b) of the same statute, Congress specifically criminalizes threats made with the intent to extort money and provides for more severe penalties. (The case made it into the Criminal Law textbook, but it’s in the chapter on attempt not threats.)

I don’t know where Jake is today, and I have no reason to believe he ever tried to bring his fantasies to life. Maybe he would have had we not interceded. But in an age of terrorism, both domestic and international, law enforcement is left with the conundrum of how to address internet communications that could be preparation for criminal acts — or just fantasies.

Such communications of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were ignored ten years ago – Columbine resulted.

To contact Greg Stejskal write: gmanstejskal@yahoo.com