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Sweet Deal Unlikely for “Underwear Bomber”

Suspect Abdulmutallab/u.s. marshals photo

Suspect Abdulmutallab/u.s. marshals photo

By Allan Lengel
For AOL News

Short of handing over Osama bin Laden, the “underwear bomber” accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day isn’t likely to strike up a deal with prosecutors that will set him free any time soon, legal experts say.

“I don’t think they’re going to be flexible, short of him giving them phenomenal active intelligence,” said Brian M. Legghio, a former federal prosecutor in Detroit. “They’re going to be looking at lengthy prison time, 40 or 50 years, if not life.”

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 24, hinted in court Monday that he might plead guilty to some of the charges. The Nigerian national also fired his court-appointed attorneys, saying they weren’t representing his best interests. He will represent himself.

Just what kind of deal he can hammer out on his own is unclear, but legal experts say he’s made that task all the more difficult by firing his lawyers, who had met with prosecutors on multiple occasions to try to work out a plea deal, according to court records.

“I think that’s a huge tactical mistake on his part,” said defense attorney Thomas Cranmer, a former Detroit federal prosecutor who has represented a number of high-profile criminal defendants. “I have great respect for the people in the Federal Defender Office. I know they were working very hard to achieve the best results for him under the circumstances. I would be surprised if he could do better or certainly as well as the federal defenders.”

Defense attorney Sanford Plotkin, a former federal defender in Detroit, added: “The Federal Defender Office has some of the most capable attorneys in town to handle this case.”

The Justice Department declined comment on the matter. One government source said that if he is convicted or pleads guilty, Abdulmutallab is likely to get life in prison. The ultimate decision would be left up to U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds.

From all reports, the government appears to have overwhelming evidence against Abdulmutallab. The Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit carried nearly 300 people, many of whom witnessed the incident. Many said an explosive device in his pants could be seen smoking after he allegedly tried to detonate it. Others reported hearing Abdulmutallab say he had a bomb.

Abdulmutallab is said to have provided U.S. authorities with information about his contacts in Yemen, where al-Qaida operatives allegedly trained him. And earlier this year, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Abdulmutallab had provided valuable information.

That being said, former D.C. U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard Jr. says Abdulmutallab’s cooperation may not amount to all that much.

“Sometimes in life you get to walk out as a free man again. Sometimes that’s all you’re hoping for. Sometimes the government will say, ‘I can’t promise anything,’ and you can hope the government is lenient at a later time,” Howard said.

He added that the government could offer Abdulmutallab a better prison facility for his cooperation.

When negotiating a plea deal, the Justice Department will have to look at the other issues besides the quality of the information being provided — such as the public’s reaction to a deal that falls short of a life sentence, Howard said.

“I can guarantee you they are concerned about public opinion,” Howard said. “They read the papers, they listen to the news shows.”

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Still, he said, the government has to do the right thing. “Your decision can’t be based on a popularity contest.”

Howard said one test he used while serving as a U.S. attorney in Washington from 2001 to 2004 was “The Washington Post test. If something appears on the top of the page of The Washington Post and you can’t explain it, don’t do it.”

Abdulmutallab could opt to go to trial and roll the dice. But former Detroit federal prosecutor David Griem said that’s probably not a great option.

“Whether Abdulmutallab represents himself or brings in Clarence Darrow from the dead to represent him, the result is going to be exactly the same: He’s going to get convicted on all counts.”

FBI Agents Behaving Badly in Texas

texasBy Allan Lengel
For AOL News

FBI agents deal with trouble. That’s what they do for a living.

But lately, down in Texas, for some inexplicable reason, FBI agents have found themselves on the wrong side of the law. In fact, in the past nine months, four agents — who are all now ex-agents — from Dallas to Waco have been grabbing headlines for alleged indiscretions.

One was busted on charges of hiring illegal immigrants to work at her suburban Dallas deli. Another illegally sold guns, then lied to investigators. One agent killed a neighbor’s Chihuahua with a pellet rifle. And one is accused of making death threats against folks at the FBI.

“It’s obviously critically important those in law enforcement follow the law and when they don’t, it significantly hurts public trust,” James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University in Boston, told AOL News.

The FBI did not return a call for comment.

The latest embarrassment for the FBI in the Lone Star State involves Carlos Ortiz, 48, a Dallas agent. He was fired last Wednesday — the same day he was arrested on charges of threatening to kill his wife and the head of the Dallas FBI, Robert Casey Jr.

The following day, U.S. Magistrate Judge Irma Ramirez ruled Ortiz was a danger to the community and should remain behind bars pending trial.

“It’s a very sad day for law enforcement,” she commented in court.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Ortiz last week received a dismissal letter that chronicled allegations of spousal abuse and mentioned a 1992 incident in which SWAT officers were called in to deal with Ortiz, who had barricaded himself in his home over job stress and personal issues.

His father and girlfriend told the paper that Ortiz is not a violent person. They blamed the matter on the estranged wife.

Meanwhile, court records indicate Dallas FBI Agent Ann Cox has signed a guilty plea agreement to charges that she hired six illegal immigrants in 1997 to 2008 to work at the Schlotzsky’s deli she owned in Rockwall, Texas.

Cox, who is no longer with the bureau, is expected to enter the plea Friday. She sold the deli at the end of 2008, according to a manager at the restaurant.

So far, El Paso FBI agent John Shipley, 40, has taken the hardest hit among the troubled Texas agents. Last week, he was sentenced to two years in prison for illegally selling more than $118,000 worth of guns without a license and lying to agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives about the sales while he was still with the FBI.

A federal jury convicted him in April after less than three hours of deliberation.

ATF agents had arrested Shipley last year after tracing back to him a .50-caliber rifle that was used in a drug cartel shootout in Chihuahua, Mexico. Court records show that between 2005 and 2008, he posted at least 280 firearms for sale on just one site alone, GunBroker.com.

And speaking of Chihuahuas, FBI agent Lovett Leslie Ledger Jr., who was detailed to the Waco FBI, was dismissed from his job near the end of 2009 after he shot and killed a neighbor’s 3-pound Chihuahua dog with a pellet rifle in 2008. The dog, named Sassy, belonged to a girl down the street.

He pleaded no contest last summer to felony animal cruelty and was placed on two years’ probation and ordered to serve 300 hours of community service.

FBI Hunts for Suspected Wisconsin Bomber 40 Years Later

leo burtBy Allan Lengel
For AOL News

Forty years ago Tuesday, a van loaded with explosives rocked the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, killing one person and wounding three others — all part of a protest against the war in Vietnam. It was also the biggest domestic terrorism attack until the Oklahoma City bombing 25 years later.

Three of four of the anti-war culprits were captured and served time in prison. But 40 years later, the hunt for the fourth suspect — Leo Burt, a student and aspiring journalist at the time — continues.

“We’re still pursuing leads like he’s still alive,” Bruce Carroll, a campus police detective assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, told AOL News. “I’ve expressed my doubts in the past that he’s still alive. It would be very hard to live totally undercover for 40 years. That being said, stranger things have happened.

“But we’ve had a bunch of leads and we still have leads that are active,” he said.

On Monday, the FBI upped the profile of the case, prominently displaying a story on its website that began: “Where is Leo Burt? You can earn up to $150,000 by helping us find him.”

The bombing occurred on Aug. 24, 1970. The country was in turmoil. Richard Nixon was president. The rock ‘n’ roll landscape was flush with giants like the Rolling Stones and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. And campuses like the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor were bubbling with the anti-war, anti-establishment sentiments that were polarizing the nation.

According to published reports, the protesters parked a van loaded with 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil outside the East Wing of Sterling Hall, which housed the Army Math Research Center that conducted research for the military. The building also housed the physics department.

The potent bomb went off at 3:42 a.m. The bombers said the explosives were never intended to hurt anyone. But the blast killed physics researcher Robert Fassnacht, a father of three, who was reportedly finishing up some work before heading off on a family vacation. It also wounded three others and caused an estimated $2.1 million in damage to the the university. As an aside, The New York Times reported that Fassnacht’s family said he was against the Vietnam War.

After the bombing, the hunt for the attackers was on. Karleton Armstrong was captured in Toronto in 1972 and sentenced to 23 years, but served only about seven. His brother Dwight Armstrong, who just died this year, was caught in Toronto in 1977 and served three years. And David Fine was captured in California in 1976 and served about three years.

Retired FBI agent Kent Miller, a deputy coroner in Wisconsin, was assigned to the case in the late 1990s. He said he “goes back and forth” as to whether fugitive Burt is still alive.

“I think there’s a good chance he’s still alive,” he told AOL News. “If he’s alive, he’s living quietly somewhere, most likely outside the country.”

Over the years, he said, the bureau followed up on hundreds of tips — including ones that Burt was homeless in Denver and working at a Costa Rican resort.

Forty years later, the incident is still not easy for some to talk about. In 1971, Paul Quin, a physics researcher at the the university who was injured in the blast, told the Wisconsin State Journal: “Sometimes I still think about [the bombing]. It sends a shiver up my spine when I’m working late on Sundays.”

But on Monday, Quin, who is listed as a physics professor emeritus, declined an interview with AOL News.

“I do not discuss this event,” he responded by e-mail.

As time passes, some of the links are vanishing. In June, Dwight Armstrong died at age 58 in Madison, Wis., The New York Times reported. After getting out prison, he served additional time for involvement in a methamphetamine ring. He then drove a cab, the Times reported.

His level of remorse was left in question.

He once told the The Capital Times in Madison: “We did what we had to do; we did what we felt a lot of other people should have done,” he said. “I don’t care what public opinion is; we did what was right.”

Opinions Mixed Inside FBI Over Test Cheating Scandal

test2By Allan Lengel
For AOL News

WASHINGTON — To cheat or not to cheat on an open-book exam.

That is no longer an issue among FBI agents around the country now that the test is long over. Now the question is, should those who did cheat on the FBI exam last year — and they could number in the hundreds — be punished? Opinions inside the bureau are mixed and plentiful.

“I think someone should get punished,” one FBI agent, who asked not to be identified, told AOL News, adding that the instructions for the test on bureau procedures were clear: You had to take it by yourself. “There are agents who worked hard and took the test on their own. There’s no excuse.”

But others disagree, including one agent who said it was “just goofy” to be accused of cheating on an open-book, multiple-choice exam. Another agent concurred, saying “the whole test is a joke” and that some employees may have found the test-taking instructions confusing and should simply be required to retake the exam if they collaborated with others.

The agents interviewed for the story, who are stationed in different parts of the country, spoke on the condition that they not be named because of the sensitivity of the issue and because they are not authorized to speak to the press on the matter.

The scandal, which has become an embarrassment to the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, centers on a Justice Department inspector general probe into allegations that FBI agents and some support staff cheated on a mandatory open-book exam on FBI procedures by either working together or getting the questions or the answers beforehand — all in violation of bureau policy.

The test was on the Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide, which outlines procedures for agents to conduct surveillance and open files on Americans for national security purposes without evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Robert Mueller/fbi photo

Robert Mueller/fbi photo

Agents and some support staff underwent 16 hours of training last year before taking the test on their computers. They were allowed to use any reference material, but were not supposed to work together. In fact, the last question on the test — No. 51 — asks whether they worked alone.

Those who failed the test — and there were certainly some who did — were allowed to keep taking it over again until they passed. Most agents and staff members took at least three hours to complete the test.

“Rumors are that a lot of guys had the answers and took the test in under an hour,” one veteran FBI agent said. “If you took the test in under an hour, there was something wrong. They didn’t even read the questions.”

“They should just make them take it again,” the agent said.

The results of the Justice Department probe are not yet in, and the decision as to what will eventually happen to the cheaters is unclear. Ultimately, the FBI will decide.

But FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, who also took the test, may face a dilemma if the agency goes too easy — or gives an outright pass — to potentially hundreds of agents and employees, considering that the bureau took a hard stance last fall when it suspected that three top managers at the Washington field office had cheated and may have received help on the exam from an FBI lawyer or somehow worked together.

One of the agents, Joseph Persichini Jr., who headed the field office, had planned on retiring anyway in the next year. But headquarters, according to sources, pressured him to leave earlier.

Two other high-ranking members of management team, both special agents in charge — Andrew Castor and Keith Bryars — were removed from the Washington field office and reassigned to headquarters pending the outcome of the matter.

At present, both have landed “acting” deputy assistant director jobs — one at headquarters and one at Quantico, Va. Some in the rank and file at the bureau have perceived it as a promotion — a move they think sends the wrong message.

Publicly, at least, it appeared the incident at the Washington field office was an isolated one. But late last month, The Associated Press reported that Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine was looking into cheating involving potentially hundreds of agents.

The story was based on a May 13 letter from the FBI Agents Association, which suggested that the inspector general go easy and focus on “how and why that failure occurred,” insisting the FBI failed to “clearly convey the testing rules” requiring employees to “work alone or not collaborate with others.”

It went on to mention that the Columbia, S.C., FBI office had printed a copy of the test for agents to study from, which ended up being a violation of the rules. It said agents had been under the impression that it was OK.

“There are similar stories for practically every office, demonstrating the pervasive confusion and miscommunication that existed,” said the letter signed by Konrad Motyka, president of the FBI Agents Association.

The FBI declined to comment for this story and instead referred to Director Mueller’s comments on July 28 before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which included his read on how many employees were involved.

“I’ve got a general idea, but I do not know how many,” Mueller testified. “And I am not certain the IG knows how many either. He has pointed out instances orally to me where there may be persons in a particular office where it was widespread and may be attributable to a lack of understanding and confusion about the procedures.”

Ex-Federal Judge Facing Nightmare Behind Bars

Ex-Judge Kent

Ex-Judge Kent

By Allan Lengel
For AOL News

As a federal judge in southern Texas for some 18 years, Samuel Kent sent folks off to prison.

Now he’s behind bars himself, being subjected to what his attorney describes as a Kafkaesque nightmare of “cruel and abusive treatment.” Kent, 61, is serving a 33-month sentence for obstruction of justice after he was caught lying about allegations involving groping and sexual assault of two female court employees.

On Monday, his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Houston alleging widespread abuse by the Bureau of Prisons. And he asked that Kent be resentenced, saying the federal prison system denied him access to a federal substance abuse program that would have allowed him to shave a year’s time off his sentence.

“The Federal Bureau of Prisons has subjected Sam Kent to abusive psychological and physical conditions that have jeopardized his ongoing recovery from severe depression and alcoholism, while arbitrarily prohibiting him from participation in rehabilitative programs,” the lawyer wrote.

To be sure, inmate complaints of prison conditions — some legitimate and some not — are commonplace and can be found in any number of lawsuits around the country. But what makes this all the more unusual — and ironic — is that they are coming from an ex-federal judge who had been so much a part of the system for so long.

“It’s an old saw that the Bureau of Prisons hates lawyers and judges,” DeGuerin told AOL News. “They resent any attempt to intervene with what they see as their God-given omnipotence when it comes to people in prison. They basically thumbed their nose” at the sentencing judge, who recommended Kent undergo treatment for substance abuse.

DeGuerin alleges in court documents that the Bureau of Prisons mistakenly classified Kent as a sex offender, when in fact all those charges were dropped and he pleaded guilty only to obstruction of justice. Consequently, the classification kept him from serving in a minimum-security facility, the court document alleges. Instead, he was put in a far more restrictive environment.

And DeGuerin said though the sentencing judge recommended substance abuse treatment, the Bureau of Prisons denied Kent access to the program, saying he was not eligible because he had already quit drinking for a year before his arrest in the case.

“Just because he hadn’t had a drink doesn’t speak to his years of alcoholism, his need for such treatment,” DeGuerin told AOL News.

Bureau of Prison spokeswoman Felicia Ponce said Wednesday she was familiar with the case, but “we wouldn’t comment about his pending appeals.”

Kent was appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and served in the Galveston, Texas, division. He was charged with groping and sexually abusing two female employees, and was sentenced on May 11, 2009, for obstruction of justice.

Kent’s odyssey through the prison system has not been pretty, according to the court filing.

From the time he entered the federal prison system, first in Devens, Mass., on June 15, 2009, he was subjected to “conditions tantamount to psychological and physical torture,” including nearly two months of solitary confinement for “non-disciplinary reasons.”

“Sam Kent never requested such confinement and to the contrary, pleaded with B.O.P. officials to allow him to remain in the prison’s general population,” the filing said.

It also said his solitary confinement was particularly distressing because prison officials would never tell him when he would be returned to the general population or where they were sending him and banned him from having contact with his wife and his attorney.

In September and October 2009, Kent bounced around in the prison system in the eastern and central U.S. before he was shipped off to the state prison system in Florida, where state guards allegedly physically and mentally abused him, the court filing said. DeGuerin said Kent was sent to the state system because the Bureau of Prisons claimed it couldn’t guarantee his safety, something the lawyer thinks is nonsense. He said plenty of other high-profile inmates, including members of Congress, have been fine in the federal system.

While in the Florida system, the court filing alleges, a corrections officer forced Kent to strip naked and perform a “painful and repetitive series of exercises.”

And one night in solitary confinement there, the court filing said, Kent helplessly listened “to the continuous screams of a man being violently raped in the next cell. Sam Kent was horrified to observe that the guards ignored the man’s screams and only came to remove the man from the cell after the attack had finally ended.”

DeGuerin noted that Kent has been partaking in a substance abuse treatment program in the state of Florida, but the federal prison system won’t recognize it and cut his sentence as it would have had he been in the federal rehabilitative program.

DeGuerin said that Kent has tried to put on a strong front through all of this.

But in reality, he said, “this has destroyed him.”

Will Failed D.C. Porn Case Dampen Fed Prosecutors’ Zeal?

John Stagliano/facebook photo

John Stagliano/facebook photo

By Allan Lengel
For AOL News

WASHINGTON — In courtroom 18 in the sterile D.C. federal courthouse, Justice Department prosecutors earlier this month tried nailing a major producer of adult pornography on obscenity charges.

The lawyers, part of the department’s Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, spent four days presenting their case against California porn producer John Stagliano (aka “Buttman”), who had been indicted in 2008, during the final year of the Bush administration. As part of their case, prosecutors even played pornographic videos with names like “Milk Nymph” for the jurors.

But before the defense could even present its side, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon dismissed the case, saying the government had failed to prove the most basic of issues: that the defendant and two related companies were linked to porno videos that the government claimed went beyond the acceptable community standards.

Adult film director John Stagliano arrives at the 27th annual Adult Video News Awards Show at the Palms Casino Resort January 9, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ethan Miller, Getty Images

A U.S. district judge earlier this month dismissed a case against porn producer John Stagliano, here at the Adult Video News Awards Show in Las Vegas in January.

The judge also raised questions about core issues in the case.

“I hope the government will learn a lesson from its experience,” declared Leon, who voiced concerns about the issues of obscenity statute, the Internet, free speech and criminal rights, according to The Washington Post. “I hope that [higher] courts and Congress will give greater guidance to judges in whose courtrooms these cases will be tried.”

With the disastrous outcome in the D.C. case, and the change from the conservative Bush administration to the liberal Obama regime, some now wonder how enthusiastic the Justice Department will be in going after adult pornography cases.

“That’s a big question,” says Penn State University professor Robert D. Richards, head of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment. “How much the Obama administration will be interested in pursuing obscenity cases is questionable. It would certainly be hard pressed to pull full steam ahead. It’s not an easy area to prove.

“The real problem with obscenity is you never know if something is criminal until a jury comes back and says it’s criminal and it’s only in that jurisdiction,” he added.

Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, who blames the FBI for “botching” the D.C. case, also wonders what will become of future prosecutions. He believes even the Bush administration fell far short of its expressed goals — and has far less confidence in the Obama administration.

“We can’t continue to treat [pornography] like a joke, which is largely how the FBI has treated it,” he said. “The FBI is simply unwilling to do these cases other than a token investigation here and there, and that’s not enough.

“Adult pornography has effects on marriages, effects on children and effects on women,” he continued. “The Supreme Court has held repeatedly the First Amendment does not protect obscene material.”

The FBI deferred to the Justice Department for comment. Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined comment on the D.C. trial or on future plans to prosecute obscenity cases.

A Shift in Priorities?

The dip in the number of cases has been noticeable during the Obama administration. According to the Justice Department, prosecutors charged about 360 defendants with obscenity violations during the Bush years, nearly double the number under Bill Clinton. In 2009, about 20 defendants were charged, compared with 54 the previous year, when George W. Bush was still in office.

After Bush took office, his conservative attorney general, John Ashcroft, vowed to go after obscenity cases involving adult pornography that violated “community standards.” In 2005, Ashcroft’s successor, Alberto Gonzales, took it up a notch, creating the Justice Department’s Obscenity Prosecution Task Force. The FBI also vowed to commit resources.

But the Bush people disappointed, according to Peters.

“Ashcroft failed,” he said. “[FBI Director] Bob Mueller failed and Alberto Gonzales failed. … They talked the talk and then they didn’t do it.”

Plus, he claimed, few U.S. attorneys’ offices around the country wanted to take on the cases, and even when they did, the FBI wouldn’t investigate.

Unquestionably there was skepticism within the ranks of the FBI and the Justice Department — and resistance — over the push to prosecute porn during the Bush years.

“I thought they were nuts,” said one former federal prosecutor in Washington. “And they would approach you about taking these cases, making it sound like it was a great honor. They had cases that were just [garbage].”

He said his office found ways to politely pass on prosecuting them. “Nobody liked the cases, nobody thought they accomplished anything,” he said. “They were true believers. They had a moral culture they wanted to push. It had nothing to do with enforcing the law.”

Brad Garrett, a former FBI agent in the Washington field office, said the obscenity cases were tough to prove since they were based on community standards. Plus, many agents questioned whether it was the best use of resources, particularly after Sept. 11, 2001.

“It really boiled down to priorities for most agents,” said Garrett, whose own accomplishments include nabbing a Pakistani national who gunned down two CIA employees at the agency’s headquarters in 1993. “You’ve got a limited number of people. Is it really the best use of our time to be investigating obscenity with consenting adults?”

Regardless, Allan B. Gelbard, one of the defense attorneys in the Stagliano case, said he expects the Justice Department to continue going after the cases so long as the same people are in the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force.

“It strikes me that this particular unit is so driven by ideology that they’ll probably go through [with more prosecutions] until they’re disbanded, and that can’t be too soon in my book,” he said. “They’re going to keep ruining peoples’ lives.”

The Case That Imploded

The indictment against Stagliano and two related companies, John Stagliano Inc. and Evil Angel Productions, came in April 2008, in the waning months of the Bush administration. In early July, the trial started. Things went poorly for the prosecution almost from the start.

For one, the FBI agent in the case copied from the Internet a trailer of a video — “Fetish Fanatic Chapter 5” — that had so many glitches, it failed to play properly for the jury. Consequently, the judge ruled it was inadmissible.

Then prosecutors, who had the porn DVDs shown as evidence shipped via a third party, failed to prove that Stagliano or either of the two companies had anything to do with the films or the shipping.

“It was a colossal disaster,” says Richards, the Penn State professor. “They never connected the dots, and that was fatal to the case.”

Peters of Morality in the Media has concerns about the Stagliano case, but for obviously different reasons.

“The FBI ought to be embarrassed — they blew it,” he said, adding that the FBI agent was either inexperienced or had inadequate resources.

Even after the Stagliano case, however, many in the adult entertainment industry have concerns about what direction the government will take on obscenity prosecutions.

Diane Duke, executive director of the California-based Free Speech Coalition, the industry’s trade association, said she is worried the government may continue filing what she sees as questionable charges against studios, aiming to bleed them to death through legal fees that can run upward of a million dollars.

“They know they’re going to do damage to our companies, no matter what,” she said. “I think there’s people in our government who respect freedom of speech and the Constitution, and it’s my hope those folks will prevail.”

America’s Love Affair With Some Serial Bank Robbers

"Geezer Bandit"/fbi photo

"Geezer Bandit"/fbi photo

By Matt Castello
ticklethewire.com

On the ever-popular Facebook, words of support, encouragement and disbelief plaster a wall with 2,700-plus followers dedicated to the elderly, ever-elusive San Diego bank robber dubbed the “Geezer Bandit”.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of this guy,” wrote one Facebook fan. “And he just became my personal hero.”

“Financial crisis in the US,” another admirer commented. “The old guy rips off banks. I would say totally understandable.”

Similarly, more than 93,000 Facebook users have joined one of the many pages dedicated to the nefarious activities of Colton Harris-Moore, aka the “Barefoot Bandit”, who was recently apprehended in the Bahamas.

The Geezer Bandit and the Barefoot Bandit are among the latest arrivals in a decades long phenomena — America’s selective love affair with serial bank robbers — an infatuation that took hold in the 1930s with such legends as Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger. Books have been written. Movies have been made.

“Fascination and hero-worship for undeserving criminals is a pathetic piece of our popular culture,” James Alan Fox, Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern recently wrote in a blog entry on boston.com. “All sorts of offenders, no matter how despicable their crimes, have been revered by a sizable minority of Americans.”

Read more »

ATF Defends Agent Charged With Murder in Virgin Islands; Controversy Grows

virgin islandsBy Allan Lengel
For AOL News

WASHINGTON — From Capitol Hill to the Caribbean, a controversy is growing over a decision by Virgin Islands officials to charge a federal agent with second-degree murder in a 2008 shooting. The agent, William Clark, remains on the job at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — and his agency is adamant that he has done nothing wrong.

The ATF responded to the charge by removing its agents, including Clark, from the U.S. territory. And in Washington, U.S. Rep. Chris Lee, R-N.Y., on Monday night introduced a congressional resolution applauding Clark for his “heroic action” in the 2008 incident.

“The ATF incident review examined the circumstances and cleared Will of any wrongdoing,” Lee said in a statement to AOL News. “Will is a hero who acted in self-defense while protecting a battered woman from an intoxicated, abusive man.”

But the congressional delegate from the Virgin Islands described her colleague’s actions as an attempt to meddle with a case that is “rightfully before the court.”

Delegate Donna M. Christensen told AOL News that while the Clark incident has created “tension” with some congressional colleagues, she is reluctant to second-guess “my police and attorney general, who felt there was enough of a question that excessive force was used.”

She also dismissed suggestions by critics that the Virgin Islands police are “incompetent or the courts are not giving him a fair hearing. I think it’s an unfair criticism. I think he has every expectation and assurance he’s going to get a fair hearing.”

The trial, which will begin in October, is being prosecuted in the Virgin Islands Superior Court, the equivalent of a state court.

The incident in question happened on Sept. 7, 2008, in St. Thomas, where Clark was living at the time. He had been stationed in the Virgin Islands to help battle the territory’s problem with gun violence.

According to accounts by the ATF and Rep. Lee, Clark left his apartment that morning and found his neighbor Marguerite Duncan crying and trembling.

“She pleaded for his help, knowing that Clark was a federal agent,” Lee wrote to congressional colleagues in a June 30 letter trying to stir support for his resolution backing the agent.

The woman’s boyfriend, Marcus Sukow, who was naked and supposedly intoxicated, reportedly started pounding on her car hood and throwing large landscaping rocks.

According to Lee, Clark tried calming the man, to no avail. The man allegedly made threats and eventually came charging at Clark with a Maglite flashlight, which is considered a potentially lethal weapon. The agent opened fire, killing Sukow.

An ATF shooting review panel found that Clark acted reasonably in the situation.

“Notwithstanding ATF’s conclusion,” Ken Melson, deputy director of the ATF, recently said in an internal message to agency employees obtained by AOL News, “the Virgin Islands Territorial Court refused to consider Special Agent Clark’s claim that, as a federal law enforcement officer, he is immune from territorial prosecution under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.”

The Supremacy Clause provides protections for agents operating within the scope of their job, but Virgin Islands officials have said it’s unclear if it applies in the U.S. territories.

Consequently, there is a movement afoot to try to pass legislation that would provide more protections for federal agents in the Virgin Islands. Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Virgin Islands said today that other federal agencies continue to work in the territory.

The intensity of the controversy knocked up a notch when Lee circulated his June 30 letter to congressional colleagues. “In short, the court ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not apply in the Virgin Islands,” it concluded.

Then on July 14, Christensen fired off one of her own. “I believe this request is an inappropriate attempt to have the U.S. Congress take a position in a matter that is rightfully before the courts,” she wrote in the letter to her colleagues.

“After reviewing the facts of the case, along with interviewing several witnesses, which included an attorney, a former prosecutor and a security guard, the U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General concluded that the Agent Clark acted with excessive force,” she wrote. “Moreover, the domestic abuse victim to whose defense he came has also stated that his response to the incident was excessive.”

Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which has been actively monitoring the Clark case, responded to Christensen’s letter the next day with a press release, saying: “When the Virgin Islands willfully tramples on the integrity of the American rule of law, there is a reasonable expectation that our Congress will in fact intervene on behalf of an American hero: Special Agent Will Clark.”

Adler admits the war of words hasn’t been pretty. But he tells AOL News: “[Virgin Islands officials] were the first to draw blood, so to speak. If you will, they declared war on us.”