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Book Excerpt: ‘Capturing the Unabomber’

Jim Freeman is the former special agent in charge of the San Francisco Office. Terry D. Turchie is the former assistant special agent in charge, UNABOMB Task Force. Donald Max Noel is a former supervisory special agent on the UNABOMB Task Force. The book is published by the History Publishing Company. It’s available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other outlets.

By Jim Freeman, Terry D. Turchie and Donald Max Noel

Five days after the Oklahoma City bombing, on April 24, 1995, a small mail truck pulled away from the Sacramento
offices of the California Forestry Association or CFA. Among the carrier’s mail delivery was a package wrapped in brown paper with a mailing label addressed to William N. Dennison, President of the CFA. However, Mr. Dennison was no longer associated with the CFA, so a clerical employee routinely placed the package on the desk of his successor, Gilbert Murray.

It was common to receive mail addressed to his predecessor, so Mr. Murray casually leaned over and picked up the package. He tore at the bindings to open it while unaware that a subtle sequence had begun inside a carefully crafted wooden box. A wooden dowel dislodged and dropped to release a spring-loaded switch that brought its two metal posts into alignment…a jolt of battery current rushed to overcome an ultra-thin wire initiator that instantly overheated and sparked…detonating a cache of explosive powders with a powerful blast sending projectiles of shrapnel on their deadly course. Mr. Murray was killed from massive and severe trauma. Minutes afterward, Terry was paged on the office intercom for an urgent phone call. It was SAC Ross in Sacramento. His voice
was controlled but shaken.

“Terry, we’ve had a bombing up here. Everything about it looks like the Unabomber. I need help as soon as you and Jim can get it to me.”

Terry promised that help was on the way and then put a call out for FBI Supervisor Patrick Webb to call into the SAC’s office. Pat Webb supervised a squad of counterterrorism agents in San Francisco and was a trained bomb expert who was intimately familiar with UNABOM crime scenes. Webb called just as Terry arrived and I put him on the conference speaker to update him on what had happened.

Terry spoke first. “Pat, I’m here with Jim. There’s a bombing in Sacramento at the California Forestry Association. I just got off the phone with Dick Ross and he’s closed down the crime scene. The president of the CFA was killed while unwrapping a package that was delivered in today’s mail.”

“We need you up there right away.” I added. “Our Evidence Response Team will meet you there. Dick Ross has asked for our help, so meet him at the crime scene and let us know what you need.”

Webb had worked on last year’s bombing in Tiburon and he was the right man for the job. With emergency lights flashing, he crossed the Bay Bridge and sped off toward Sacramento on Interstate 80.

When Webb arrived, Dick Ross and several of his agents were assembled with members of the Sacramento Police Department at a make-shift command post in a nearby fire station. Webb briefed them on the unique characteristics of the Unabomber’s devices and then accompanied a team of investigators into the CFA office for a preliminary look while awaiting arrival of the Evidence Response Team.

Mr. Gilbert Murray’s mutilated body remained where he had fallen. Lying about were scraps of the package. The walls remained intact, but pieces of broken furniture, wood splinters, and metal slivers were scattered over a wide radius. They were shocked at the deadly effects of what looked to Web like the Unabomber’s most
powerful bomb to-date.

Webb observed the telltale signs of the Unabomber—brown wrapping paper glued to a wooden box, filament tape securing the package, and batteries that were stripped of their outer surfaces. And Webb knew with a certainty after he came across a certain cross-pinned metal end plug matching one he had seen at another crime scene.

He went outside and phoned in his report. “I’m sitting on the curb in front of the California Forestry Association building with Dick Ross. He said to say thank you.”

Then Webb quietly described what he had seen and said the words we were expecting—”it was the Unabomber.”
“Okay. Keep the crime scene locked down until our Evidence Response Team arrives,” Terry replied.
Late the following day reports began to arrive of four handwritten letters the Unabomber had mailed and timed to arrive on the day after the murder of Gilbert Murray. And for the second time a letter was directed to Warren Hogue at The New York Times:

“This is a message from FC, 553-25-4394…
We have no regret about the fact that our bomb
blew up the “wrong” man, Gilbert Murray,
instead of William N. Dennison, to whom it was
addressed…It was reported that the bomb that
killed Gilbert Murray was a pipe bomb. It was
not a pipe bomb but was set off by a homemade
detonating cap…. The people we are out to get are
the scientists and engineers, especially in critical
fields like computers and genetics…. The FBI has
tried to portray these bombings as the work of an
isolated nut. We won’t waste our time arguing
about whether we are nuts, but we certainly are
not isolated…. Clearly, we are in a position to do a great deal of damage. And it doesn’t appear
that the FBI is going to catch us any time soon.
The FBI is a joke.”


Each letter was postmarked at Oakland. Two of these letters carried personal threats to recent Nobel Prize winners in scientific fields, Richard J. Roberts and Phillip Sharp. The other letter taunted a previous victim, Dr. David Gelernter who had been severely injured by a mail bomb that exploded the previous year in his office at Yale University. In a new touch of distain for the FBI, the return address of the Gelernter letter was Ninth St. and
Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20535; the location of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building.

“People with advanced degrees aren’t as smart as they think they are. If you had any brains you would have realized that there are a lot of people out there who resent bitterly the way techno-nerds like you are changing the world and you wouldn’t have been dumb enough to open an unexpected package from an unknown source.”


And for the first time, the Unabomber alluded to an offer “to desist from terrorism,” but only if future conditional instructions were carried out to publish a manuscript: “This is a message from the terrorist group FC…In a letter that we sent to the New York Times at the time of our bombing at the California Forestry Association, we offered to desist from terrorism if a manuscript we were preparing were published in accord with certain stated conditions.”

Theodore Kaczynski (FBI photo)

The murders of Gilbert Murray in Sacramento and Thomas Mosser in New Jersey affirmed that we faced a new and devastating threat—the Unabomber now possessed a lethal weapon that was easy to mail and capable of being placed in victims’ homes and offices without undue suspicion. Personally, I welcomed the news to expect an upcoming manuscript. The more he writes, the more we learn. Perhaps this new-found urge to communicate could be the beginning of the end. A crushing pressure to stop the Unabomber weighed heavily on the FBI at all levels, but nowhere more intensely than at the UTF.

As the days and weeks progressed there was an expectation that another bombing was imminent. We were determined to invent new methods that would work in unique ways, but our immediate challenge was the deluge of potential suspects being generated by the increased public concern and awareness after the Mosser and
Murray murders. More than ever, there was an urgency to grasp the proverbial needle from the haystack—find the one legitimate name from the thousands and thousands of potential suspects in an inventory that was growing larger and faster than ever.

“Terry, how far in the future is that magic moment that you’re working toward?” I asked hopefully. Terry picked up on the topic immediately. “The workload is going through the roof. I like that your media talks are keeping the
public informed and motivated to call-in with reports of possible suspects, but we’re barely keeping up. There’s also the issue of staffing up for computer-driven data comparisons. We’re close, or at least on the right track to achieving a drastically narrowed down suspect list.”

“You have my undivided attention. What’ve you got?” “It has been a start/stop process of big obstacles and small
victories. But progress, nonetheless.” Terry read an example from his notebook:

“For a test run, I asked for a list of names of male students and faculty at Northwestern University in 1978-79; and then which of those people showed up in Utah in 1980-1982 with a Utah driver’s license, vehicle registration, property record, or University of Utah affiliation or had a similar affiliation at UC-Berkeley in the early
1980’s.”

“No kidding” I said. “How big is that list?” “That first data run was modified somewhat and the result found dozens of individuals who were at Northwestern in 1978 who then transferred or moved to the out-of-state universities in
Utah or Northern California that were targeted or visited by the Unabomber between 1981 and 1985. We looked at those names and eliminated all of them quickly enough as suspects, but we’re finding that there is a surprising mobility of people between these areas. The biggest limiting factor is not having a reliable age range of the Unabomber. The project team looked at the likeliest age possibilities first and expanded through them all.”
I considered the possibilities with some skepticism but remained hopeful.

“Conceptually, that’s a good start. But there are so many variables in addition to the estimated age of the Unabomber. He might have attended Northwestern in 1978, or maybe he attended a neighboring school, or was a contract employee on campus without appearing on any university rolls. There’s a lot more to do if this is going to work.”

This led to another of our brainstorming sessions with productive ideas flying back and forth. Together, we took a stab at broadening the data search substantially:


At its core was the collection of large chunks of geographically
viable individuals in Chicago—i.e., males in age-based tranches
who were affiliated with one of the bomb-targeted universities in
Chicago in 1978 or 1979; and all similar individuals identified by
driver’s license data as residing in the surrounding areas during the same two years.

We were of a mind that the Unabomber’s name just might appear as a needle in that extremely large haystack. If that was indeed the case, we should be able to extract it by gathering similar data from locations in Utah and Northern California and cross-checking those lists with the Chicago data file. At the very least it would narrow the scope to a list of target-rich suspects and allow us to focus our agents on those with high potential. The Utah
and California schools would be the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Brigham Young University in Provo, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of California at San Francisco.

And the big payoff for eliminating or validating a suspect as the Unabomber would be the litmus test of matching a suspect’s whereabouts against the timeline of the Unabomber’s known whereabouts on specific dates and places when he personally mailed or placed his bombs at target locations. It felt good to speak in positive concepts of what might be possible and not always be reacting to the Unabomber but grabbing the reins for control. I committed to Terry that I would call Deputy Director Bill Esposito to give him the details of our computer project and request a boost of UTF personnel and computer resources to get it done.


Perhaps another answer would come from Quantico. Our longstanding request for supplemental behavioral support from Quantico was finally acted upon. FBI Special Agent Jim Wright, our contact at the National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime, came to the UTF with a rookie profiler in tow named Jim Fitzgerald, who had been a Philadelphia police officer before becoming an FBI agent. His boyish appearance and soft-spoken manner concealed a
gruff and seasoned street cop interior.

Terry liked that he was quiet and soft-spoken while Max was pleased to find a street cop turned profiler. Kathy liked him because—as she said later— “he’s easy to look at.” Fitzgerald said he only wanted to support the UTF and be a
team player. At our next UTF leadership meeting, we heard a report from lead Postal Inspector Don Davis. One hundred fifty postmasters and supervisors had been briefed regarding the Mosser and Murray package characteristics and his postal inspectors had prepared a training video for employee viewing at every post office. Davis felt it was possible that they could identify the post offices where the package bombs had been mailed.
Terry’s eyes lit up.

“What if we put twenty-four-hour camera surveillance at those locations? Maybe we can catch the Unabomber
in action if he uses them again.”

Davis responded quickly. “I’ve already checked, and we don’t have the equipment or money to make that happen.”
I agreed to add that item to my pending phone call to Deputy Director Esposito to see if the Bureau would pay for the camera surveillance at key postal facilities in the Bay Area. And if we were lucky enough to intercept a bomb in the mail, could the FBI find a way to safely dismantle and preserve it for evidence? When I completed the call to Esposito, I found him receptive to supporting each of my requests.


However, in UNABOM, good news is often fleeting and that was soon the case. I received a very disturbing call late in the day from the San Francisco Chronicle. It was about a new threat. I immediately put out a locate call for Terry to return to the office garage where I would meet him. We arrived there at nearly the same time and I told him, “The
San Francisco Chronicle received a letter from FC, and they want us to come there to speak with executive management. It involves a threat to harm an aircraft in flight.”

At the the Chronicle, the managing editor turned over a letter that bore the address of Frederick Benjamin Wood, 549 Wood Street, Woodlake, CA 93286. We saw the crude attempt at humor in the wording of the return address — an acronym for the FBI and more examples of the Unabomber’s fascination with “wood.” It was not funny and the letter inside was even less so.

“The terrorist group FC is planning to blow up an airliner out of Los Angeles International Airport some time during the next six days.

Ex-U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman Named ticklethewire.com Fed of the Year for 2020

By Allan Lengel

These have been extraordinary times for people working for the Justice Department. Standing for what’s right in the Trump era has often come with consequences.

Former U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.

Geoffrey S. Berman, the ex-U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, knows that as well as anyone. Berman oversaw the office when it was investigating President Trump’s allies. In June, Trump fired him after Attorney General William Barr shamefully and unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to step down.

To his credit, Berman agreed not to fight his dismissal after Barr agreed to name Berman’s handpicked deputy, Audrey Strauss, someone with a great deal of integrity and experience, as the new U.S. Attorney. These days, not everyone has the backbone to stand up for what’s right.

To that end, we salute Geoffrey Berman and select him as the ticklethewire.com Fed of the Year for 2020.

Previous recipients of the ticklethewire.com Fed of the Year award include: Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (2008):  Warren Bamford, who headed the Boston FBI (2009), Joseph Evans, regional director for the DEA’s North and Central Americas Region in Mexico City (2010);  Thomas Brandon, deputy Director of ATF (2011); John G. Perren, who was assistant director of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Directorate (2012); David Bowdich, special agent in charge of counterterrorism in Los Angeles (2013);  Loretta Lynch, who was U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn at the time (2014); John “Jack” Riley,  the DEA’s acting deputy administrator (2015); D.C.  U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips (2016); Joe Rannazzisi, a retired DEA deputy assistant administrator (2017); Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (2018); and DEA agent Joe Piersante (2019).

Joe Piersante of the DEA Named ticklethewire.com Fed of The Year for 2019

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Joe Piersante in 2010.

DEA agent Joe Piersante has been named ticklethewire.com’ Fed of The Year for 2019.

Piersante, who retired this month in Detroit, took a different path in his career, and showed remarkable resolve. He joined the Detroit Police force and then the DEA in 1997. He spent the next decade in Arizona battling drug traffickers.

In 2011, he was as part of an elite  Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST), a commando-style squad that battled terrorist organizations that trafficked drugs to support their efforts.  While raiding a bazaar in Afghanistan, gunfire broke out and he ended up getting hit in the head by an armored-piercing round. He was wounded and left legally blind.

He eventually returned to the DEA, where he began talking to groups on behalf of the agency about the dangers of drugs and helping addicts with treatment strategies. He also talked to people about putting their lives on the line for their country.

He finished his career in the Detroit office, sometimes taking an Uber or getting rides from co-workers to carry out his duties.

In 2015, Piersante became the first DEA agent to receive the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom, the civilian equivalent of the Purple Heart award for injuries sustained in combat.

“Joe embodies what our agency is about, the core mission, to go wherever we have to go to attack organized crime and go after trafficking organizations,” said Jack Riley, the agency’s deputy administrator in an interview with Bloomberg in 2016 . “It really means something that he stuck around, that he continues to work. He embodies the fighting spirit. He never quits.”

Previous recipients of the ticklethewire.com Fed of the Year award include: Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (2008):  Warren Bamford, who headed the Boston FBI (2009), Joseph Evans, regional director for the DEA’s North and Central Americas Region in Mexico City (2010);  Thomas Brandon, deputy Director of ATF (2011); John G. Perren, who was assistant director of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Directorate (2012); David Bowdich, special agent in charge of counterterrorism in Los Angeles (2013);  Loretta Lynch, who was U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn at the time (2014); John “Jack” Riley,  the DEA’s acting deputy administrator (2015); D.C.  U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips (2016); Joe Rannazzisi, a retired DEA deputy assistant administrator (2017); Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (2018).

Dan Moldea: On The 44 Anniversary of Jimmy Hoffa’s Disappearance. Here’s What I Think Happened

The writer, a Washington investigative journalist specializing in organized-crime and political-corruption investigations, is a Jimmy Hoffa murder expert. He is the author of “The Hoffa Wars” (1978) and eight other books. Tuesday marks the 44th anniversary of the unsolved disappearance of Hoffa, who wanted to regain the presidency of the Teamsters. 

James R. Hoffa

By Dan Moldea

Jimmy Hoffa disappeared 44 years ago today.

In early August 1975, while serving twenty years at Trenton State Prison for manslaughter, inmate Ralph Picardo received a visit from his accountant, who was accompanied by Stephen and Thomas Andretta, two of the alleged co-conspirators in Hoffa’s murder a few days earlier.  Picardo, who was a close friend of the Andretta brothers, told the FBI in or about November 1975 that he had spent some time alone with Steve Andretta during that prison visitation.  According to Picardo, Andretta had given him a few details about the murder.

Picardo told the FBI that, based on what he had learned from Andretta, Hoffa had been murdered near Detroit in a killing engineered by New Jersey mobster Anthony Provenzano, the Andretta brothers’ boss.  After his death, according to Andretta via Picardo, Hoffa was stuffed into a 55-gallon oil drum, loaded onto a Gateway Transportation truck, and shipped to New Jersey.

Shortly thereafter, Picardo made a deal with federal prosecutors and became the most credible witness about the Hoffa case to date.

When he was asked by the FBI specifically who had murdered Hoffa, Picardo replied that he didn’t know for sure but added that Salvatore Briguglio, Provenzano’s top lieutenant, had earlier received a contract from his boss to kill Hoffa in late 1973 or early 1974.  Provenzano sent Briguglio a note, delivered by his brother, Gabriel Briguglio, asking him to execute the Hoffa hit.

Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano

When Picardo was asked by the FBI where Hoffa was taken in New Jersey via the Gateway truck, he again replied that he didn’t know for sure but added that his friends in the Provenzano crew frequently disposed of dead bodies at a landfill in Jersey City, owed by Phillip Moscato, a soldier in the Genovese crime family.

In 1975-1976,  I revealed—in what was my biggest contribution to this case—that a vicious Hoffa rival, Rolland McMaster, was the mystery man behind a series of acts of violence—bombings, beatings, shootings, and general sabotage—directed primarily against Hoffa’s allies in Detroit’s Local 299, the last of which was a car bombing just twenty days before Hoffa vanished.

On the day of Hoffa’s murder, McMaster was with his brother-in-law, Stanton Barr, who was the head of Gateway Transportation’s steel division in Detroit.  Also, one of McMaster’s top goons was Jim Shaw, a long-haul driver for Gateway, who, directed by McMaster, had participated in the earlier anti-Hoffa violence in Local 299.  In addition, on the night before Hoffa’s murder, McMaster and Barr had met with Provenzano at a restaurant in Detroit, according to another federal witness, Donovan Wells, a long-time business associate of McMaster.

Dan Moldea’s book.

Only Person Living or Dead

Notably, I am the only person in the world, living or dead, who has interviewed all of these suspects—the Andretta brothers, the Briguglio brothers, Moscato, McMaster, Barr, and Shaw.  And most of these interviews were recorded.

I also recorded interviews with other persons of interest, including Charles “Chuckie” O’Brien, Hoffa’s “foster son,” and Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, who would later falsely claim to have killed Hoffa.

Confirming that Ralph Picardo “basically had it right,” Phillip Moscato told me—on tape—that he and Briguglio had unloaded the barrel containing Hoffa’s body from the Gateway truck and then buried it at his landfill in Jersey City.

Read more »

Separating Fact from Fiction in the Hit on Mobster Joey ‘Crazy Joe’ Gallo

The author is an organized crime researcher.

By Andy Petepiece

Frank Sheeran

Charles Brandt’s bestselling book, “I Heard You Paint Houses” is the foundation of Martin Scorsese’s new film, “The Irishman.” Brandt conducted many interviews with long-time Teamster Frank Sheeran who claimed he killed Jimmy Hoffa. Among many other crimes that Sheeran took ownership of was the 1972 murder of notorious Mafioso Joseph “Crazy Joe” Gallo. Sheeran lied to Brandt about this event which brings all his other statements into question.

Most experts agree that the Colombo family put out a contract on Joey Gallo. Sheeran’s story was that he was ordered to carry out the hit after running into Gallo at the Copacabana night club in the early hours of April 7, 1972.  Sheeran claimed he knew that Gallo would be in Umbertos restaurant later on and that he had a seating plan of the new joint. These latter two points are outright lies.

On that fateful night Gallo was accompanied to Umbertos by his new wife Sina Essary, her young daughter Lisa, Gallo’s recently widowed sister Carmella Fiorello, associate Peter “Pete the Greek” Diapoulos, and his date Edith Russo.  After the shooting, Sina Gallo and Carmella explained to the police and FBI that they had initially planned to go to Luna’s restaurant but found it closed. They then accidentally came across Umberto’s and decided to go in to eat. (see FBI report NY92-4123)

Peter Diapoulos later confirmed this version in his book “The Sixth Family” on page 143. After seeing a show at the Copacabana, Greek wished to call it a night but, “he (Gallo) …wanted to go to Su Ling’s. It was closed… Then he decided on Luna’s….but it was shut and dark when we drove up.” Diapoulus then explained how they turned a corner and came upon the still open Umbertos. The Gallo party went in much to their later regret. They ended up there by chance.

The versions of Carmella, Sina, and Diapoulos are in accord. There was no way Sheeran would know beforehand they would be in Umbertos let alone have a seating plan of the place.

Brandt either didn’t check the FBI reports on the shooting or chose to ignore them. Instead, he believed Sheeran’s version. This confidence was misplaced.

An FBI report sent to FBI Director Hoover at 10:10 AM, the day of the killing, includes Gallo’s sister’s description of the shooter to the NYPD. “Lone assailant described by sister as white, male, five feet seven inches, Italian, age early forties. ”

According to “top echelon informants” quoted in an April 12/72 FBI memo “…the participants in the gang killing of Joey Gallo were Carmine DiBiase, also known as Sonny Pinto and his close associate (Phil Gambino) …”

An April 13/72 FBI report contains this information, “NYPD has a witness (Carmella Gallo) who stated photo of (the brother) of Vincent Aloi, Acting Boss, Colombo Family, resembles individual who killed Gallo. It is noted that the photo of Carmine DiBiase closely resembles photo of (Benny Aloi)….” Carmella has picked the wrong guy, but this person looked like an Italian and NOT Irishman Sheeran.

Lead Shooter

Peter Diapoulos recognized DiBiase as the lead shooter.  On page 144 of “The Sixth Family” the Greek states, “Just then, at the side door I saw Sonny Pinto. ….Sonny firing shots right for our faces.” Diapoulos knew DiBiase and recognized him immediately. This was NOT Frank Sheeran shooting.

Read more »

Robert Mueller & Rod Rosenstein Named ticklethewire.com Feds of the Year for 2018

Rod Rosenstein and Robert S. Mueller III

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III have been named ticklethewire.com’s Feds of the Year for 2018.

It’s the first time since 2008 when the award was first established, that ticklethewire.com has named two people the recipients of the award.

These are extraordinary times. Not since the White House was occupied by Richard Nixon have we seen the integrity of the justice system challenged in this way.

We’ve seen two Attorney Generals fired along with an FBI director and deputy FBI director. And that’s only in two years.

We’ve seen a president belittle, via twitter and speeches, the Justice Department and FBI.

Under intense pressure, and extremely challenging circumstances, Rosenstein has stood for integrity and undertaken the herculean task of dealing with the White House and maintaining justice at the Justice Department.

It’s been no easy mission, and frankly, something few could pull off and survive.

All that said, it made Rosenstein an obvious choice for this award.

At the same time, Robert Mueller has carried out his duties as special counsel with nothing but class and integrity.

Once again, he too has come under repeated attacks by the White House while carrying out this important mission.

It is his presence in this ongoing investigation as a watchdog of government that has given many Americans renewed faith in our justice system.

It’s an honor to have two public servants as dedicated as these two.

Previous recipients of the ticklethewire.com Fed of the Year award include: Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (2008):   Warren Bamford, who headed the Boston FBI (2009), Joseph Evans, regional director for the DEA’s North and Central Americas Region in Mexico City (2010);  Thomas Brandon, deputy Director of ATF (2011); John G. Perren, who was assistant director of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Directorate (2012); David Bowdich, special agent in charge of counterterrorism in Los Angeles (2013);  Loretta Lynch, who was U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn at the time (2014); John “Jack” Riley,  the DEA’s acting deputy administrator (2015); D.C.  U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips (2016) and Joe Rannazzisi, a retired DEA deputy assistant administrator (2017) .

 

Excerpt From Investigative Reporter Dan Moldea’s Book: ‘Hollywood Confidential’

A specialist on organized-crime investigations since 1974, best-selling author and independent investigative journalist Dan E. Moldea has published seven nonfiction books including, “The Hoffa Wars: Teamsters, Rebels, Politicians and the Mob.” This excerpt is being published with permission.

CHAPTER ONE

“Forget it, Dan. It’s Chinatown”

By Dan E. Moldea

I didn’t see the minefield ahead.

On April 12, 2002, Anita Busch sent an email, asking me for a favor. She wanted me to collect three articles that Bernard Weinraub of the New York Times had written about one-time Hollywood super-agent Michael Ovitz, two from 1996 and the third from 1999. She provided no explanation, and I didn’t need any. I just did what she asked. Later that day, I sent Anita two of the three articles that she had requested, along with six other stories in which Weinraub had discussed Ovitz. At the time of her email to me, Anita was freelancing for the New York Times. She and Weinraub were in the midst of what would become a seven-part series which began on March 22 about Ovitz and his latest business venture, the Artists Management Group, a broadly based management company for those involved in film and television productions. The two reporters alleged that Ovitz had engaged in financial mismanagement, based on a recent audit of the company’s records.

The final part of their series appeared in the newspaper on May 7.1 The day before that final installation, Anita and Weinraub published a story about Ovitz, “A Faded Hollywood Power Broker Relinquishes His Talent Business,” which seemingly added insult to injury: Even by the turbulent and often cruel standards of Hollywood, Mr. Ovitz’s downfall has been startling. As a founder of the Creative Artists Agency, he emerged as a strong-willed and intimidating figure who sought to inspire fear, and succeeded. But Mr. Ovitz, who is 55, has seen his career fall into a downward spiral since 1997 when he was fired as president of the Walt Disney Company.

Today, Mr. Ovitz reached one of the lowest points in his career. He agreed for a company called The Firm to acquire the major units of his current company, the Artists Management Group. . . . For Mr. Ovitz, the deal is a serious financial and personal blow. 2 In lieu of continuing to freelance for the New York Times and other publications upon the completion of her work on Ovitz, Anita accepted a job on or about May 21, working under contract for the Los Angeles Times. On June 3, her first day with the newspaper, Hollywood legend Lew Wasserman, the retired chairman of MCA, died. As part of her research, she called me to discuss my third book, Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA, and the Mob, in which Wasserman was a major character. In that 1986 work, I concentrated on MCA, a powerful Hollywood corporation, and its fiftyyear relationship with President Reagan who was in the midst of his second term in office.

During the next two years, I watched the Reagan Justice Department, specifically the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, kill a federal investigation of MCA, as well as another broader probe of the Mafia’s penetration of the motion-picture industry. With life imitating art, these cases were embodiments of the dramatic conclusion of the 1974 film, Chinatown, in which wealthy powerbrokers used their influence with the law-enforcement community to evade responsibility for their roles in major crimes. In fact, one federal prosecutor placed a fine point on this analogy when—after hearing of my frustrations with reporting on the aborted MCA case—he told me, “Forget it, Dan. It’s Chinatown.” The newspaper’s obituary of Wasserman the following day referred to my work.

Dan Moldea (Photo credit: E. Ethelbert Miller)

On June 4, federal prosecutors indicted Julius “Jules” Nasso, along with sixteen reputed members of New York’s Carlo Gambino crime family as part of a major 68-count conspiracy case.

Nasso had been the business partner of motion-picture star Steven Seagal, whose popular action-adventure films included Above the Law, Out for Justice, and Under Siege. In effect, Anita, who usually covered show business, was now investigating the Mafia. Her partner for this investigation was Paul Lieberman, a respected veteran investigative reporter who worked in the New York bureau of the Los Angeles Times. The first Busch-Lieberman story appeared on June 5, stating: Nasso, 49, of Staten Island, was charged with two counts, conspiracy to commit extortion and attempted extortion of a figure in the motion picture industry.

Although prosecutors did not identify the extortion target in the indictment, Nasso’s lawyer said after court that Seagal is the film figure. “It’s definitely Steven Seagal,” said Nasso’s lead attorney, Barry Levin. “Steven Seagal has been seen talking to the grand jury.” Nasso had a 15-year business relationship with Seagal until a bitter falling-out. In March, Nasso filed a $60-million lawsuit against the actor, alleging the star of such films as Under Siege had backed out of a contract to perform in four movies. The two have not spoken in more than a year.”

In her follow-up article the next day, Anita, without the participation of Lieberman, wrote: “The alleged extortion attempt was caught on FBI wiretaps. The wiretaps recorded a conversation between Nasso and Gambino associate Anthony ‘Sonny’ Ciccone in which Ciccone 3 allegedly chastised Nasso for trying to share some of the extorted money with others without ‘prior approval.’”

Anita and Lieberman co-authored a third story on June 12, adding: “The Mafia captain who rules the Staten Island waterfront threatened to kill an entertainment figure, identified previously as actor Steven Seagal, as part of a multimillion-dollar extortion scene. . . . “Anthony ‘Sonny’ Ciccone ‘demanded millions of dollars from this individual and threatened his life,’ Assistant U.S. Atty. Andrew Genser said at a court hearing for the accused Gambino family docks boss.”6 However, Anita did not appear to trust her partner. In her personal notes, she wrote: I am sharing information with the reporter I’m working with, Paul Lieberman. But something doesn’t smell right. Lieberman is too close to these guys, I believe. He’s going out drinking with them.

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Joe Rannazzisi, Retired DEA Official, Named ticklethewire.com Fed of The Year for 2017

Joe Rannazzisi (Photo grab from 60 Minutes)

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

For the first time since the awards were given in 2008, a former, rather than current federal law enforcement official has been named ticklethewire.com Fed of the Year.

Joe Rannazzisi, a retired DEA deputy assistant administrator with a law degree and a pharmacy degree, has been named Fed of the Year for 2017, the result of his persistent and ongoing crusade against dangerous opioids and his criticism of Congress for protecting manufacturers.

As head of the Office of Diversion Control for the Drug Enforcement Administration, he led the crusade to clamp down on doctors, pharmacies, drug manufacturers and distributors.

He was aggressive, resulting in some of the biggest companies paying huge fines for failing to report suspicious orders. Not everyone was pleased.

He clashed with Congress, which he felt wasn’t being tough enough on drug companies. Some Congress members came after him, and in 2015, under pressure, he retired.

But that didn’t stop him from speaking out.

In October, he appeared in the Washington Post and on “60 Minutes” to tell his story how the DEA’s war on opioids got derailed by pressure from Congress and the drug industry.

He’s also a consultant for a team of lawyers suing the opioid industry.

His efforts in the battle against the opioid epidemic, particularly in light of the powerful opposition on Capitol Hill and from the drug industry, makes him worthy of the award, which is based on outstanding public service.

Previous recipients of the ticklethewire.com Fed of the Year award include: Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (2008):   Warren Bamford, who headed the Boston FBI (2009), Joseph Evans, regional director for the DEA’s North and Central Americas Region in Mexico City (2010);  Thomas Brandon, deputy Director of ATF (2011); John G. Perren, who was assistant director of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Directorate (2012); David Bowdich, special agent in charge of counterterrorism in Los Angeles (2013);  Loretta Lynch, who was U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn at the time (2014); John “Jack” Riley,  the DEA’s acting deputy administrator (2015) and D.C.  U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips (2016).