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Column: What Does the Blago Verdict Mean for Chicago U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald?

Patrick Fitzgerald/doj photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Soon we’ll get the verdict in the Blago II trial and we’ll start to evaluate what it means for Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. The jury begins the fifth day of deliberations on Thursday.

The first trial did not bode so well for Fitzgerald, the rock star among U.S. Attorneys. The jury convicted ex-Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich on only 1 of 24 counts — and that was for lying to the FBI. It wasn’t even a count central to the key charges of shaking down folks and trying to sell President Obama’s Senate seat.

Some argued it was still a victory — particularly those who know Fitzgerald well. They said a felony conviction is a felony conviction, even if it’s on just one count.

I disagree. I say in order for this to be considered a victory for Fitzgerald and his prosecutors, they have to get a conviction on a central count. A conviction on key counts would provide some vindication for Fitzgerald.

What would another embarrassing outcome mean for Fitzgerald?

Probably not a whole lot.

Another embarrassing outcome might tarnish his star power a little. But people forget. And he’s had a lot of big victories in big cases in Chicago. And no one can forget that he came to Washington for a stint as  a dragon slayer — as a special prosecutor —  and convicted Scooter Libby in 2007.

The first Blago trial may have hurt his chances when the White House was recently  considering a replacement for FBI Dir. Robert S. Mueller III (though that has become a moot point since President Obama now wants to keep Mueller on for two more years beyond the 10-year term).

Interestingly, FBI agents who, in general, prefer an ex-agent as a director rather than a prosecutor — seemed Ok with Fitzgerald as a potential replacement.

Nonetheless, the talk inside the Beltway was that the White House wasn’t wild about  the swagger — very Eliot Ness like — that he displayed before the media  when he first announced the charges against Blago in December 2008.

The swagger along with the embarrassing outcome didn’t help. This White House seems to like Robert Mueller’s low-key, fly-under-the-radar style.

So in the end, whatever the outcome in Blago II, Fitzgerald will remain the U.S. Attorney in Chicago.

And frankly, whatever the outcome,  the Blago case won’t short circuit many of his options in the future –including, who knows, even  a run for governor, the office once held by Blago himself.

Chicago Station Features DEA Drug Training

Files Show FBI Investigated Death Threat Against the Late Tim Russert and His Family

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The hard-charging late Tim Russert, who hosted NBC’s “Meet the Press” for more than 16 years, may have been beloved, but apparently not be everybody.

The Hill newspaper reports that FBI files show that someone left a threatening voicemail for Russert at the tv station on March 7, 2001 at about 9:20 p.m. Authorities suspected a 75-year-old World War II veteran in poor health.

“Yeah, Tim Russert, Mr. Clinton’s, uh, polls are down and yours is down. We haven’t forgotten I’ve called you a couple years ago and we still got you on the f—king platter,” the caller said, according to FBI transcript of the message.

“Believe you me, motherf—ker. That goes for your 15- or 16-year-old kid, too. You protect him, you motherf—ker. You’re no good, you’re absolutely no good, and nothing would treat me or do me any better than to put a bullet right between your f—king eyes, you p—k,” said the caller, according to an FBI transcript of the voice mail.

The D.C. police reported that a similar telephone call was made to Russert roughly four months. Authorities believed it may have been the same person, the Hill reported.

In that call,  the person said he “didn’t like the way someone had been treated, possibly ALBERT GORE, and advised he knew where RUSSERT lived and where his son attended school,” according to FBI documents, the Hill reported.

The files showed, according to the Hill, that the FBI’s San Francisco office tracked down a likely suspect — a 75-year-old World War II veteran who was “extremely difficult” to live with. The man suffered from diabetes and arthritis and had suffered a heart attack and a stroke.

The Hill reported that the Justice Department declined to prosecute, but the FBI warned him he’d be prosecuted is he continued his shenannigans.

Pa. Family Suing FBI for Raid

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A suburban Pittsburgh family says sorry, sorry ain’t enough.

The family said it’s suing the FBI for more than $50,000 in damages after agents and police officers in March mistakenly entered their Bellevue, Pa., home, guns drawn, looking for a suspect who moved out two years before and was not related to them, station WTAE reported.

Denise Adams, a grandmother, said she fell to the floor when agents entered her home, the station reported.

“They had all these red dots everywhere … on the floor, on my face, on my chest. I was scared I was going to get shot,” she said, according to the station.

Granddaughter Byra Adams, who was home at the time, said she worried how her brother, who is mentally challenged, would react.

“He was in the basement and they were going down there to get him and I didn’t know if he was going to react,” she said.

The grandfather Gary Adams said no one apologized for the mistake or offered to pay for damages to the home, the station reported.

“Sorry is not going to get it. I’m just truly glad I didn’t have a weapon because they never identified themselves to me,” he said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI declined comment, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Conn. Fed Jury Votes to Put Drug Dealer to Death for Triple Murder


By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

For the first time since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, a federal jury in Connecticut has voted to impose the death penalty.

A federal jury in New Haven, Conn. voted Wednesday to unanimously condemn drug dealer Azibo Aquart, 30, of Bridgeport, Conn. to death for murdering three Bridgeport residents on Aug. 24, 2005, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

He had been convicted of conspiring to commit murder in aid of racketeering and committing the racketeering murders of Johnson, Reid and Williams. He was also convicted of committing three counts of drug-related murder and one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base (“crack cocaine”).

Though the jury voted to put him death, an execution isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

Since the reinstatement of the federal death penalty in 1988, 68 federal defendants have been sentenced to death and three  have actually been executed, according to Death Penalty Information Center.

Wednesday’s decision prompted a comment from U.S. Attorney David B. Fein, who said: “We thank the jury for their diligent and attentive service over both the guilt and sentencing phases of this case.”

In May, after a month long trial, the jury convicted Aquart of murdering Tina Johnson, 43, James Reid, 40, and Basil Williams, 54.

Authorities said evidence during the trial showed that Aquart also known as “Azibo Smith,” “Azibo Siwatu Jahi Smith,” “D,” “Dreddy,” and “Jumbo,” was the founder and leader of a drug trafficking group that primarily sold crack cocaine out of an apartment building located in Bridgeport.

Authorities said Aquart and associates used violence to maintain control over the group’s drug distribution activities at the Charles Street Apartments.

In the summer of 2005, Aquart and his associates got into a drug dispute with Tina Johnson, a resident of 215 Charles Street, who sometimes sold smaller quantities of crack cocaine without Aquart’s approval, authorities said.

On the morning of Aug. 24, 2005, Aquart and others entered Johnson’s apartment, bound Johnson, her boyfriend James Reid and friend Basil Williams with duct tape, and brutally beat the victims to death with baseball bats.

Aquart and others then drilled the front door of the apartment shut from the inside.

Column: I Wish I Had Good Friends Like Ex-Sen. Norm Coleman Has

Allan Lengel

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

I have some lousy friends, particularly those with money. They haven’t lavished me with tens of thousands of dollars in gifts.

Maybe a beer. Maybe a meal. And oh yes, one once gave me a Jerry Springer “Uncensored” video for my birthday.

I don’t get it. I’m a good guy.

I wish I had friends like ex-Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman has. He must be a great guy. Why else would a wealthy businessman/friend like Nasser Kazeminy give him $100,000 worth of gifts?

After a 3 1/2 year investigation, the Justice Department decided not to file criminal charges against Coleman or Kazeminy, Kazeminy’s attorneys announced Tuesday. The allegations, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, were reportedly that Kazeminy violated campaign finance laws by trying to funnel $75,000 to the family of former Sen. Norm Coleman through a Minneapolis insurance company that employed Coleman’s wife, Laurie.

One rather well-known attorney, ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh, said he investigated the matter on behalf of Kazeminy and found no wrong doing.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Freeh confirmed in his probe that Kazeminy had given Coleman gifts over the years that totaled more than $100,000 in value. He said Kazeminy and Coleman are good friends.

The gifts included at least two suits from Nieman Marcus in Minneapolis and flights to Florida on Kazeminy’s private jets.

Freeh said, according to the paper, that the two “have a long-term, personal relationship that goes back to when he was mayor. … We looked at the gifts and we found no wrongdoing and no impropriety with respect to that exchange.”

So it really comes down to, some people just have better luck finding generous friends.

Maybe my jokes aren’t good enough, my conversation not stimulating enough to warrant such friends.

Or maybe I just have to run for elected office. That way I’d have a better shot at finding generous friends like Norm did.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Cousin of Slain Border Agent Thanks ATF Agents For Speaking Up and Risking Jobs

Robert Heyer (far right) sits on panel with agent Terry’s Mother and ATF agents/ticklethewire.com photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A teary eyed cousin of slain U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry urged ATF to be forthright and provide info to Congressional investigators  about a controversial program — “Operation Fast and Furious” — that encouraged Arizona gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers– all with hopes of tracing them to Mexican drug cartels.

Some of those weapons have been linked to the death of Terry, who was killed in Arizona last December.

Cousin Robert Heyer, a Secret Service agent, at times choked up and unable to speak, testified Wednesday morning before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,  and also talked about what an outstanding person his cousin was and how some of this co-workers referred to him as “superman.” He read a statement on behalf of the family.

He also thanked three ATF agents on the panel who  were highly critical of the program.

“We would like also like to acknowledge the courage and intergry of the three special agents of ATF’s Phoenix field division sitting with us on this panel,” he said.

“We recognize the professional risk you face by coming forward and speaking to the public about an invesitigation that you believe was ill conceived and reckless.”

Agents who testified were highly critical and said investigators  were sometimes pulled off of surveillances’ of the straw purchasers without good reason.  Agent Peter Forcelli called the program a “collosal failure of leadership.”

ATF agent John Dodson said when agents questioned some tactics , he said he was told: “They didn’t have to explain anything to me.”

Committee members said they were concerned the guns in the sting might show up in crimes for years to come on both sides of the border.

Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the committee, said that Ken Melson, head of ATF, was well aware of the program and got regular updates.

He said Melson was “very much in the weeds” on the investigation.

Agent Terry’s mother Josephine Terry said she wasn’t satisfied with the answers she was getting from the federal government in the case.

It Can’t Hurt to Hire Ex-FBI Director When Going Up Against the Justice Dept.

Louis Freeh

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

If you’re going to hire someone to help in a federal criminal matter, it can’t hurt to get an attorney who use to head up the FBI.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh was hired by  Minnesota businessman Nasser Kazeminy, who was under investigation for allegations that he gave Sen. Norm Coleman illegal campaign contributions,  the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. Freeh conducted an independent investigation of the allegations.

On Tuesday, attorneys for Kazeminy announced that the Justice Department had decided not to file criminal charges against either one, the paper reported.

The paper reported that late in Coleman’s failed campaign bid for re-election allegations  surfaced that Kazeminy tried to funnel $75,000 to the family of former Sen. Norm Coleman through a Minneapolis insurance company that employed Coleman’s wife, Laurie.

Robert Weinstine, one of Kazeminy’s attorneys, said the allegations had “no credibility,”  account to the Star Tribune.

The paper reported that Freeh, who was hired by Kazeminy to investigate the allegations against him, said that although “these allegations were entirely false, they were repeated in hundreds of local and national media reports” that left the reputations of the two men “injured and tarnished.”

Coleman, who lost to comedian Al Franken,  issued a statement saying the Justice Department’s decision “is welcomed but not a surprise” and that his “political opponents turned those lies into multimillion-dollar attacks against my family and Nasser Kazeminy.”

The paper reported that  Freeh reviewed the facts in the case.

Ron Rosenbaum, a Minneapolis attorney serving as a spokesman for Kazeminy, said Freeh reviewed the previous investigation of the allegations along with numerous documents, according to the paper.

“He went over everything,” Ron Rosenbaum, a spokesman for Kazeminy said. “In criminal defense work, you don’t rely on your client’s word. Kazeminy wanted this investigated from top to bottom because he wanted a clean bill of health.”

The paper reported that On Tuesday, Freeh said that “we found that there were gifts that were made.” He said that Coleman and Kazeminy “have a long-term, personal relationship that goes back to when he was mayor. … We looked at the gifts and we found no wrongdoing and no impropriety with respect to that exchange.”