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Deputy U.S. Marshal Won’t Be Charged for Fatally Shooting Suspect in North Carolina

By Steve Neavling

A deputy U.S. Marshal who fatally shot a man at a Charlotte, N.C., gas station in March won’t be charged, a district attorney said Tuesday. 

Eric Tillman, a senior inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service, was trying to serve multiple warrants at a gas station when he fired three rounds at Frankie Jennings, The Charlotte Observer reports.

In a letter to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather III said a struggle had ensued between Tillman and Jennings at the driver’s side door of Jennings’ black Mercedes. After Jennings put the car in gear, causing the vehicle to move forward, Jennings’ “hands reaching toward a gun in the center console cupholder,” prompting Tillman to fire three shots at him. 

Jennings died at the scene, and a loaded handgun was found in his car’s center console, Merriweather wrote. 

“Given the corroborated evidence that Senior Inspector Tillman was reasonable in his belief that he and other officers faced an imminent threat of great bodily harm or death, the evidence in this case would be insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Senior Inspector Tillman did not act in defense of himself or another,” Merriweather wrote.

“Consequently, I will not be seeking charges related to the death of Frankie Jennings.”

Jennings had a total of 16 warrants from three different cities. 

FBI Offers $50,000 Reward for Suspect Accused of Shooting Agent in Mississippi

Demario Lamar Cotton

By Steve Neavling

The hunt is on for a 38-year-old man accused of shooting an FBI agent during a traffic stop over the weekend in Jackson, Mississippi.

The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Demario Lamar Cotton. A U.S. magistrate judge with the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Mississippi issued a warrant for Cotton’s arrest on Monday.

The agent, who is with the FBI’s Jackson Field Office, was grazed by a bullet Saturday night and was released from the hospital Sunday, WAPT reports.

According to police, Cotton opened fire on the agent and other law enforcement officers before fleeing in a 2003 GMC Yukon, which police have since located. 

Cotton faces a charge of assaulting a federal law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of official duties by use of a deadly weapon. 

Ex-FBI Attorney Clinesmith Agrees to 1-Year Suspension of Law License

Former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith.

By Steve Neavling

Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who was sentenced to probation earlier this year for altering an email in connection with the surveillance of former Trump aide Carter Page, has agreed to a one-year suspension of his law license, Reuters reports.

The District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility is scheduled to consider the proposed suspension at a public hearing on July 19. 

Clinesmith signed the negotiated discipline on June 11.

Clinesmith was sentenced to 12 months probation and 400 hours of community service on Jan. 29 for altering an email used to seek the continued surveillance of Page. The email suggested that Page was not a source for the CIA, even though he had a relationship with the agency.

Clinesmith admitted he was guilty but said he believed at the time that his statement about Page was true.

Trump Conspiracy Theory Could Fuel Violence, Homeland Security Warns

President Trump, via White House

By Steve Neavling

Homeland Security officials are worried that the conspiracy theory claiming Donald Trump will be reinstated as president could fuel violence. 

John Cohen, the agency’s top counterterrorism official, discussed the concerns with members of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, POLITICO reports.

Cohen told members of Congress that the agency is monitoring extremist communities on social media.   

Among the concerns is that the conspiracy theory falsely suggests the election was rigged. 

The conspiracy theory has been promoted by Mike Lindell, the pillow magnate and Trump devotee. Reporters for The New York Times and National Review also indicated Trump believed the conspiracy theory.

After the POLITICO story was published, a DHS spokesperson said, “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is focused on the nexus between violence and extremist ideologies, as well as hateful and false narratives. DHS is enhancing its ability to prevent acts of violence inspired by disinformation, conspiracy theories, and extremist narratives spread through social media and other online platforms.”

FBI Agent Shot During Traffic Stop in Mississippi, Expected to Survive

By Steve Neavling

An FBI agent was shot in Mississippi on Saturday night and is expected to survive. 

Authorities were still looking for the shooting suspect Sunday night, The Mississippi Clarion Ledge reports.

The agent with the FBI’s Jackson Field Office was helping Jackson police officers at a traffic stop around 11 p.m. when the suspect opened fire. 

The agent’s injuries were not life-threatening, Brett Carr, a spokesman for the Jackson Field Office, said. 

“While assisting JPD, an FBI special agent sustained a non-life threatening injury from a gunshot and has been released from the hospital,” Carr said. “The FBI Jackson Field Office is committed to assisting the Jackson Police Department with reducing violent crime.”

The suspect was identified as Demario Cotton, and he was driving a dark-colored Yukon. 

Biden’s Nominee to Head ATF Advances After Split Senate Panel Vote

Former ATF Agent David Chipman, via Twitter.

By Steve Neavling

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday was deadlocked on whether to advance the nomination of David Chipman, President Biden’s pick to lead the ATF. 

With a 10-10 vote, the committee was split along party lines. But in the event of a tie, the nomination still moves to the floor. 

Republicans are expected to continue opposing the nomination of Chipman, who has advocated for firearm restrictions, including a ban on assault weapons such as AR-15s. 

“David Chipman is a partisan gun control zealot who is advocating for restricting Americans’ Second Amendment rights in calling for a ban on the most popular rifle in America – to include those already in our homes,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a statement.

Chipman is a gun owner and former ATF agent. 

In April, the NRA announced its plans to oppose Chipman’s nomination as part of a $2 million campaign to fight gun-control measures.

Biden has faced pressure by gun control groups to pick someone to head the ATF, which has been without a permanent director since 2015 as the nation continues to grapple with mass shootings. 

As vice president, Biden recommended in 2013 that President Obama pick a Senate-confirmed ATF director. Obama followed through with the confirmation of B. Todd Jones in 2013, but Jones resigned in 2015, and the agency has been without a permanent director since. 

Whether Biden can muster the 51 votes required to confirm a permanent leader is an open question. Republicans have blocked ATF candidates who were far friendlier to the pro-gun base. 

Federal Law Enforcement Agencies ‘Unprepared’ for Body Cameras, IG Says

Body cams, via Wikipedia

By Steve Neavling

Federal law enforcement agencies are “generally unprepared “ to adopt the widespread use of body cameras, according to a new report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General.

The report comes after the Justice Department said earlier this month that it would begin requiring federal agents to wear body cameras while executing raids and serving arrest warrants.

In the last decade, the Justice Department issued $150 million in grants for camera programs, but none of that money went to the ATF, FBI, DEA, or U.S. Marshals Service. 

“Given the demonstrated benefits of BWC programs, their widespread use by law enforcement agencies across the country, the Components’ substantial involvement in street-level enforcement activity, the public’s increasing expectation that objective video evidence be available in law enforcement interactions with the public—especially those involving use of force—and recent legislation introduced by Congress that would require federal LEOs to use BWCs, we believe that the DOJ should carefully reassess its lack of BWC programs for DOJ LEOs and pursue the actions necessary to prepare for program implementation,” the report says.

In March, the U.S. House approved the Federal Police Camera and Accountability Act, which requires federal law enforcement to wear body cameras. 

Agents Accuse Ex-FBI Executive Frank Figliuzzi of Fabricating Passage in His Book

By Allan Lengel

Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director of counterintelligence for the FBI, has made quite a name for himself since leaving the bureau. He is the go-to talking head for NBC and MSNBC on national security matters and in January his book “The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau’s Code of Excellence” was published.

The book’s overriding theme: The FBI adheres to the highest standards of integrity and ethics.

Given that endorsement, it’s notable that current and former FBI agents interviewed by ticklethewire.com are questioning Figliuzzi’s integrity, publicly saying that a passage in his book is a complete fabrication — possibly intended to whitewash a controversial decision Figliuzzi made 22 years ago ordering two agents to be strip-searched because the boxes they were transporting with millions of dollars in seized Miami drug money weren’t sealed according to FBI standards.

The strip-search turned up nothing, not one bill. But Figliuzzi and his boss subsequently were investigated by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for alleged misconduct because they authorized a rare and demeaning strip. Though Figliuzzi wasn’t charged with wrongdoing, the decision was forever known in the bureau as “Stripgate.”

Figliuzzi’s truthfulness is especially relevant these days as he’s publicly attacked Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, accusing the host of either being ignorant or intentionally deceiving the public when he suggested the FBI might have played a role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. He also has a podcast, “The Bureau with Frank Figliuzzi,” that is promoted as “exploring the intersection of leadership, values and security.”

Figliuzzi, 58, in his book describes an incident involving FBI agent Stephen Lawrence in 1999 without mentioning his name. Figliuzzi was an assistant special agent in charge in Miami and 36 at the time. Lawrence was a 33-year-old agent.

Figliuzzi notes that Lawrence was guarding millions of dollars in seized drug money in the back of a Brink’s armored truck, and took cash out of boxes, threw it in the air and was “making it rain.”

Alleging in his book that the money was all scattered, Figliuzzi stated that he wanted to make certain Lawrence didn’t pocket any money. So, he pushed for the strip-search to protect the integrity of the raid and investigation.

Lawrence calls Figliuzzi’s account “a complete lie,” insisting the money remained intact in the boxes and was never thrown around.

“He fabricated that part about ‘making it rain’ to justify 22 years later his decision to order a strip search. He realized he made a poor decision but didn’t want it reflected in the book.”

Demanding Action

Lawrence is demanding the publisher correct or a delete the passage. That’s all he wants, though he said he hasn’t ruled out legal action if the matter isn’t corrected.

“I simply want the truth known – not only about me, but more importantly, that special agents of the FBI do not conduct themselves as portrayed by Figliuzzi,” Lawrence says. “Though I’m not mentioned by name, several hundred current and retired FBI employees know I was the agent in the back of the armored truck.”

Two eyewitnesses – one retired FBI agent and one still working for the bureau  – tell ticklethewire.com that Figliuizzi’s account is fabricated.  His boss at the time, who did not witness the incident, said it would have been so out of character for Lawrence to throw the money around, and  he’s confident it didn’t happen.

One of the eyewitnesses is Brian Jerome, a former FBI agent who was a SWAT team leader who stood outside the truck door when it opened with Lawrence inside.

“I can tell you explicitly, there was no ‘making it rain,’” he said. “There were just boxes, that when we left, we made sure the boxes were as secure as we could make them. If somebody had opened them, we would have known. There was nothing happening to the boxes.”   

Figliuzzi’s Response

When asked to comment, Figliuzzi, who retired from the FBI in 2012, referred to the letter from Lawrence’s attorney and the response letter from the publisher’s lawyer.

But the publisher’s letter raises some untruths.

For example, the letter states that, according to Figliuzzi, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) file contains sworn statements from FBI agents who say they “saw your client and another agent handling the cash.” A current and former agent told ticklethewire.com they gave statements to OPR backing up Lawrence’s version, and were never asked about money flying around. Also, the second agent, who Figliuzzi refers to — who was also strip- searched — was in the front passenger seat of the Brink’s truck, not in the back with the money, as he states.

Figliuzzi has a podcast called “The Bureau with Frank Figliuzzi”

Beth Neelman Silfin, vice president, deputy counsel for HarperCollins, has offered to remove the phrase “making it rain” in ebooks and future printings to avoid “time consuming, expensive and frivolous litigation.” But she insisted in a March 5 letter to Lawrence’s attorney that the description of the incident is true and her offer to remove the phrase “making it rain” was not to be misconstrued as “an admission of wrongdoing by HarperCollins or Mr. Figliuizzi.” 

NBC News did not respond to an email on Wednesday for comment.

Hot August Day 

It all began on a hot August day in 1999. FBI agents raided a home in Miami as part of an obstruction of justice probe into a violent Cuban-American drug smuggling empire that was suspected of jury tampering, bribery and murdering witnesses.  Agents were also executing search warrants and making arrests in other areas of Miami-Dade that day as part of the probe.

At the one home in Miami,  Lawrence, who had been with the bureau for three years, climbed a ladder and crawled into the attic where he came across about nine boxes, some covered in Christmas wrapping. He opened them, only to discover about $9 million in cash.

He notified the search team leader and the boxes were removed to a hallway in the house. The FBI Miami Field Office then dispatched a Brink’s armored truck to transport the cash.

To maintain a chain of custody, Lawrence hopped in the back of the truck with the boxes of money, along with an armored truck guard. There was no air conditioning in the back, Lawrence recalled, and it was extremely hot. In front, an armored truck guard drove, and an FBI agent sat in the passenger seat.

After about a half hour drive, they pulled up to the Miami Field Office at 16320 N.W. 2nd Ave. in North Miami Beach. Lawrence says the guard he was with, slipped out a side door while he remained with the money. A few minutes later, the back door finally opened, with FBI agents, including Figluizzi, standing nearby.  The money was intact in the boxes, and none had spilled over, he said.

So, he says he was shocked and upset when he first read a book review in the Washington Post that mentioned “making it rain,” and then the actual passage in Figliuzzi’s book:

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

“Everything was still closed,” Lawrence said of the boxes. “Everything was in the same condition they were in when they were loaded into the back of the truck.”

Agents said Figliuzzi ordered the strip search because he was bothered by the improper sealing of the boxes.  The securing of the boxes was the responsibility of supervisors, not Lawrence, they say.

Lawrence’s Lawyer Writes HarperCollins

Lawrence’s attorney, Neville L. Johnson of Beverly Hills, wrote a letter dated Feb. 17 to HarperCollins demanding a retraction. He also noted that the strip search “performed at the behest of Mr. Figliuzzi violated FBI policy. Mr. Lawrence was not provided with a standard FBI ‘consent to search form,’ and the U.S. Attorney’s Office was not notified, as required by FBI’s legal manual. He was not patted down nor asked to turn out his pockets, but rather he and his fellow agent (who was in the passenger seat of the truck) were taken into a gym locker room and instructed to take off all their clothes in front of two other agents and two supervisors.”

“It was humiliating,” says Lawrence. “I’m a third-year agent having to strip in front of two supervisors and two other agents, who I saw in the office on a regular basis.”

Besides the former agent Jerome, who says no money was thrown in the air, another agent currently with the bureau also backed up Lawrence’s version of the incident.

The agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, tells ticklethewire.com he helped escort the armored truck back to the field office, and was standing in the back when the rear door opened.

“I remember it being God-awful hot. We’re standing around with the door still shut. And we open the door. There was no money on the floor. He wasn’t playing with it. It just didn’t happen. He was relieved to get out because it was too hot.”

‘No Mishandling’

A third agent, Mario Tariche, who still works in the Miami Field Office, was the case agent in the investigation. On that day, he said, he was in the command post in the Miami FBI Field Office helping coordinate multiple arrests and search warrants in the  Miami-Dade area.

While he was not behind the truck when the door opened, he came out of the office later and saw the vehicle.  

“There was no mishandling of the money,” he says. “The only thing that was done incorrectly was, the agents didn’t seal the boxes properly. That had nothing to do with Lawrence. They just told him to jump in the back of the truck.”

As the case agent, he said, he would have been notified if Lawrence had done something improper with the money. “It would have been a big deal if the money had been mishandled improperly, which it was not.”

Ross Gaffney, Lawrence’s supervisor in Miami in 1999, did not witness the incident in question, but said Figliuzzi’s version of “making it rain” doesn’t make any sense.

“This idea of (Lawrence) childishly throwing money up in the air is so out of character from what I knew of him working with me. It makes it all the more not believable the incident occurred.”

Lawrence said the whole experience has been distressing.

“I’ve been fighting for six months to get the truth out. After a 25-year career in the bureau, for him to disparage my reputation and try to cast agents in that light is simply offensive and unconscionable, especially for a retired executive of the FBI.”