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Special Report

Illegal Cigarettes and Organized Crime & More

img_01251WASHINGTON —One recent weekday, in a downtown Washington office building, Edgar A. Domenech, head of the ATF Washington Field Division, sat down to talk with ticklethewire.com editor Allan Lengel.

Domenech, a 24-year veteran of the ATF, talked about a variety of subjects ranging from methamphetamine traffic to white supremacists to motorcycle gangs. But what seemed to be particularly interesting was the proliferation of illegal cigarette trafficking and organized crime’s growing interest in it.

Domenech says in many instances, traffickers are buying low tax cigarettes in states like Virginia and selling them at cheaper prices to stores in New York, which normally pay much more because of the higher New York cigarette taxes. Sometimes the traffickers are buying counterfeit cigarettes made in China, which have not been taxed at all.

Just how lucrative is the black market cigarette business? In one ATF undercover operation, Domenech said, some cigarette traffickers traded more than two pounds of cocaine for a load of cigarettes. “That they’re willing to trade a kilo of cocaine for a truckload of cigarettes tells you they were going to make more money trafficking cigarettes than cocaine,” he said.

The following is a condensed interview. The questions were edited for clarity.

What has ATF’s role been with the trafficking of illegal cigarettes?
We’re very active in investigating cigarette trafficking here in the Washington field offices. In fact, we’ve taken off several organizations. We just recently had a group of Koreans in the Arlington, Falls Church area that were trafficking cigarettes from here to New York and that was organized crime in the Korean community. Working with Fairfax County and some of our other state and local partners, we actually worked that investigation with some undercover agents.

How does that all work, how do they get a hold of the cigarettes?
What’s happening is those individuals are looking to purchase what they believe to be untaxed cigarettes or cigarettes at a lower cost. Traditionally our investigations have been up to New York, where New York had a very high tax per carton and the profit is such, it makes it very very advantageous. There’s an increase in organized crime , whether it’s Korean organized crime or Russian organized crime , that are getting involved in the trafficking and buying cigarettes.

Which are the source states?
North Carolina, Virginia. Based on the fact I’ve got several field offices in Virginia we have taken advantage of the fact, we have a lot of individuals who come down to Virginia looking to purchase cigarettes . We take advantage of that greed element to basically insert ourselves in these criminal investigations .

Are you seeing some nexus with terrorism too?
Right now we’re seeing a nexus to organized crime. But again we have seen in some of our older cases that terrorist have in fact looked to use the trafficking in the cigarettes as a way to fund their organizations because the profit margin is so large.

When we talk about a profit margin what are we talking about, the initial output for the trafficker?
We can look at it this way, you can come down to Virginia and you can buy, let’s say, a van load of cigarettes, you can fill up a back of a van that you rent; it’s probably going to run you anywhere from 6 to $9,000 dollars. You can take that and sell that in New York for maybe 60 or $70,000 dollars. It’s a very good profit margin and again if you’re caught, the penalties are very low. It’s a white collar crime right now. For trafficking in cigarettes, you’re going to be on the low end of the sentencing guidelines, you may get probation the first time. The problem we’re seeing now is organized crime and other violent groups have become aware of the profit margin and when you get such a large profit margin, then the violence associated with those individuals who want to monopolize that area becomes a concern to us.
That’s why we work very aggressively in that area, in fact just two weeks ago we did a reverse where we traded cigarettes for cocaine. Out of New York. A kilo.

Is that common?
No, the trading of cocaine for cigarettes of that quantity is the first time we’ve done that in this field division. We’ve done smaller quantities. That they’re willing to trade a kilo of cocaine for a truckload of cigarettes tells you they were going to make more money trafficking cigarettes than cocaine.

How much quantity did you buy?
That was a six or seven month long operation . We had done several buys with them, just cigarettes alone. And they offered that they had kilo sized weight. We took them up on the offer. Again, we met them through cigarettes, not drug trafficking.

Were you surprised that they wanted to trade that much cocaine for cigarettes?
I am no longer. With the amount of tobacco diversion that I have seen just explode across the the country in the last two, three years, absolutely not. I can very comfortably say that trafficking of cigarettes has transcended state lines and agency jurisdictions. We’re involved more with the FBI and ICE involving cigarettes trafficking cases than ever before.

How far are people coming to get cigarettes in Virginia?
In field division, they’re coming from New York. Traditionally it’s going on from your high tax states, the northeast area. The larger issue is you have a large amount of counterfeit cigarettes coming into this country. Traditionally they look like Marlboros but they’re not made by Marlboro. They’re made in in factories outside the United States. China has one of the largest trafficking of counterfeit cigarette factories, that we’re aware of. Unfortunately what you don’t know, what are those cigarettes made of. So there are the unknown health implications. Again they’re untaxed and that’s lost revenue. I think there was a study done in California at one point that 60 percent of the Marlboros in California were counterfeit.

Are you seeing some of those counterfeit cigarettes here?
We’re seeing counterfeit cigarettes throughout the United States. Here in the Washington field division, in our investigations, we’ve seen counterfeit cigarettes.

How do they generally arrive?
Smuggled in through ports in trailer loads, this is cargo type.

Are they dangerous?
They are dangerous, again (we’re) not sure what’s in some of them. What kind of chemicals are in there ? Are there insecticides in there? I know we have a very good relationship with Phillips Morris, who has a genuine, legitimate concern to assure these counterfeit cigarettes are taken off the market.

Are they hard to detect on the street?
They’ve become more and more sophisticated in disguising the counterfeit cigarettes. Some of these organizations have done so good at disguising fake Marlboros from real Marlboros, even some of my agents who have worked investigations can’t tell the difference. Than how’s the general public going to know the difference?

Do they have a whole distribution network?
Absolutely.

Is it all Chinese?
No. They have the opportunity to utilize the facilities in China, but we’re seeing factories in central America, there’s activity in Panama, there’s activity in Africa now. These are individuals where again the organized criminal elements has taken advantage of these areas. Again these products are counterfeit.

What are the tell tale signs of a fake Marlboros?
Well, like I said they’re getting harder and harder to tell. At the end of the day the only way you can tell is when you smoke them, the quality will never be the quality of a true Marlboro. But the packaging has gotten so good. You just think you got a bad pack when you smoke it, so you may throw one out. The quality will always be different. That’s the profit margin for them. It’s not the quality tobacco. Some of the time the amount of tobacco in the product is miniscule. It’s filled with filler. There can be chemical products, the remnants of animal feces. Again, no quality controls.

In terms of country like China, are they being cooperative with U.S. law enforcement?
I know this issue is discussed but again as to the level of cooperation, from my level I don’t get involved in that. I know its been an ongoing discussion. We have a very good working relationship with the European law enforcement community. They are seeing, what’s not going into this country is going to Europe.

Do you have active cases?
We most certainly do. We have active ongoing investigations that have tentacles into Europe, China, South America, Africa and just about every state in the union.

Are the foreign governments giving the counterfeiters the nod, telling them to do their thing? Are the governments involved in some of them?
Again, I would have to say when they’re operating in the amount of product that is being introduced in some of these countries, you have to ask yourself: ‘How are they able to do this?’

If someone were to get involved in this business. What is the price difference, if they wanted to buy a counterfeit cigarretes as opposed to a low state tax pack?
It depends what low state tax you’re in. If you’re in the Carolinas, you could be looking at several dollar difference. And that’s where the counterfeit cigarettes problem occurs. From the very inception, there’s no tax. If you don’t know they’re counterfeit, the bad guys aren’t telling you you’re buying counterfeit cigarettes cause they’re getting that good.

Are you finding a lot of guns in connection with cigarette investigations?
We’re seeing these guys are more violent, they’re carrying firearms when they meet with us.

When we talk about organized crime, are we also talking about traditional organized crime?
We’re talking the matrix, from Italian organized crime to your Russian organized crime. Here we’re seeing your Korean. We’re seeing the Russians and the Koreans and your traditional New York style family, I’m sure are involved. We may not be working them, but I’m sure there’s some other ATF office working it. I think what we’re seeing here, the Koreans were purchasing the cigarettes from us and taking them to New York so there’s a relationship between Korean organized crime here and their ability to move it. They were taking them to the Korean community up there. Our concern is you’re going to see an increase in the level of violent crimes.

Are you seeing any nexus with legitimate business people?
Yes, we’re seeing legitimate wholesalers and distributors involved in the divergence of cigarettes and we’re aggressively pursuing them as well.

When you say diverting, are you talking about taxed cigarettes?
Yes.

Are you seeing any actually willing to buy the knockoffs?
What we’re seeing is that they’re willing to move untaxed cigarettes. Whether or not they’re knowingly aware of the fact that they’re ‘counterfeit or not , that’s hard to say.

What about White Supremacist groups? There seems to be a presence in this region like West Virginia and Virginia.
There’s still appears to be small cell groups out there of those hate groups. We continue to monitor those groups of violation of ATF violations.

Are they very active?
Right now from what we’ve seen in discussions with out state and local partners, there’s a lot more of what we call rhetoric right now. You see a lot more email and website activity . I think that draws concerns because when you see an increase in that activity there’s usually something behind it. We’re being due diligent. We have not presently initiated any current investigations. But again we monitor what our state and locals and what informants are bringing us to determine whether or not there’s an interest for ATF and if there’s’ an interest to push that information to the FBI.

There’s a lot of reports that after Obama was elected or even during the campaign, there seemed to be more chatter.
I’ve heard the same thing, there’s a lot more chatter on these website, these blogs, basically indicating the hateful rhetoric.

Are there problems with motorcycle gangs in this area?
There has been an uptick in activity , not necessarily in the D.C. area, but in the state of Viringia. We’re starting to take a look at it. We’re looking to see potential violations, firearms violations. We are seeing an uptick in new club chapters, whenever you see that, it behooves all of in law enforcement to get together and exchange information and see whether or not there’s a need for us to collectively look at some of the activity.

Methaphetamines seems to be a big thing, particularly in Virginia in the rural areas. What are you seeing out there?
We are seeing an increase in meth cases. We are getting called by the DEA or whether it’s state or locals in the rural area, more so than the District of Columbia.

Are we seeing labs?
We are not.

The customers, who are the targets?
It’s traditionally, it’s going to be your lower income, white males, white females.. On the lower economic scale.

Any surprises in general of the guns recovered in the region ?
There isn’t a surprise in any of the guns, but what has changed, the majority of firearms that are recovered in the District of Columbia that are crime guns, are actually from the date of purchase to the date of recovery over three years old. What that’s telling us is that the District of Columbia doesn’t have a traditional trafficking environment where they’re getting new guns in. What’s happening happening is a lot of older guns are getting recovered. For us, we’re trying to understand that, and understand how that illegal market is actually operating here in the District, which is a challenge to us.

A Judge’s Wayward Son

Phillip Winkfield/Baltimore Police-courtesy of Baltimore City Paper
Philip Winkfield/Baltimore Police-courtesy of Baltimore City Paper

By Jeffrey Anderson
For ticklethewire.com
BALTIMORE — U.S. District Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson has had a lengthy career on the federal bench in Washington, presiding over a host of big-name defendants including D.C. City Councilman Marion Barry, former vice presidential adviser I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and NBA star Allen Iverson.

In the late 1980s, she presided over 12 days of preliminary hearings for Rayful Edmond, later convicted as one of Washington, D.C.’s most infamous drug traffickers.

On Friday, April 10,  however, she was in federal court in Baltimore,  not as a veteran judge but as the concerned mother of her 21-year-old son Philip Robinson Winkfield, who was sentenced to five years in federal prison for possession with intent to distribute heroin.   She watched as her son was led off in handcuffs.

Besides the fact that mother is a judge, Winkfield was not your typical defendant facing sentencing for heroin trafficking in Baltimore.

A 2005 graduate of the prestigious Maret School in Northwest D.C., he was arrested last April 25 in a townhouse in Baltimore. Police seized five loaded guns, including two semiautomatic pistols, two shotguns and a semiautomatic assault rifle; a bullet resistant vest; 157 grams of heroin; 180 grams of crack; more than six pounds of marijuana and $8,000 cash.

The Morgan State University student was indicted in Baltimore City Circuit Court last May 23 before the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland took over the case in November. Winkfield waived indictment and pleaded guilty to the heroin charge in December. He has been detained since his April 2008 arrest on grounds that he posed a risk to the safety of others.

What began as a routine pot bust escalated after Drug Enforcement Administration agents, acting on a tip from the DEA office in Providence, R.I., sought to intercept a FedEx package from Eureka, Calif., destined for Winkfield’s apartment but addressed to someone else.

After a forced entry, inside the Baltimore townhouse agents found Winkfield and a cache of weapons with large quantities of hard drugs and cash. Prosecutors have declined to say whether others were involved.
Since his arrest, the case has yielded few clues about Winkfield, who, before moving to Baltimore in 2006 to attend Morgan State, lived for 18 years with his mother, Judge Robinson, in Northwest D.C. Before coming to Morgan as a legacy student – his mother graduated from there in 1975 – he attended University of Delaware in 2005 and 2006. Winkfield has two prior misdemeanor convictions from 2007 in Virginia, for gun possession and drug paraphernalia.

On Friday, Robinson and her ex-husband, John C. Winkfield, a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, sat silently waiting for their son’s sentencing hearing to begin. Philip Winkfield entered the courtroom dressed in a t-shirt and jeans with his dread locks pulled back. Incarcerated for a year, he appeared more muscular than at his first appearance in state court last May. He nodded to his parents.

Addressing the court, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Hazel said he read every letter submitted on Winkfield’s behalf by family and friends.

“He comes from a family of two attorneys and strikes me as a smart, well-mannered young man,” Hazel said. “But he did make a lifestyle choice. He didn’t just wake up and find himself in that townhouse with those drugs and weapons. He’s not just some mule, but he’s not some kingpin either.”

Then Hazel recommended to U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Fredrick Motz that Winkfield, a first time federal offender, receive the mandatory minimum of 60 months in prison.

“I’ve known Philip since he was 12,” said Winkfield’s D.C.-based defense attorney Robert Mance. “I’ve had a lot of interaction with him over the past year. What I have gleaned is he has accepted the consequences of his actions. A lot of my clients, especially those incarcerated for the first time, have a lot of complaints and are looking for breaks and exceptions. That’s not been the case with Philip.”

Winkfield then rose and spoke to the judge. He apologized for “my lack of judgment” to the court and his family and “all of those who I’ve hurt.” In a steady, clear voice he continued, “This has been an eye-opening experience.

I am not looking to further this lifestyle. I’m looking to put it behind me.”
Motz sentenced Winkfield to five years in prison with credit for time served; four years supervised release, with drug and alcohol and mental health counseling; and 200 hours of community service to be waived if he finds a job.

The judge also granted a request made by the defense that Winkfield be sent to a particular federal prison for safety reasons and so he could enter into a residential drug abuse treatment program. “Be who you were born to be,” Motz said to Winkfield. “Live the kind of life and be the kind of person your parents want, and that you want.”

After seeing her son led off in handcuffs, Judge Robinson declined to talk to a reporter, as she struggled to hold back her emotions. John Winkfield, who is a former D.C. prosecutor and former appellate lawyer in the criminal division of the U.S. Justice Department, declined to comment as well.

Tales of the Secret Service

secret-service-3

Secret Service Agents Guard President Harry Truman/anheier collection

By Allan Lengel
Ticklethewire.com
WASHINGTON– On the day President Kennedy was shot in 1963, Secret Service agents Dick Johnsen and Andy Berger stood guard outside the operating room at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. Their instructions were simple: Don’t let a soul in the operating room unless they get the ok from the attending physician.

At one point, an FBI investigator tried to get in. The agents said no way. A scuffle ensued. The FBI agent ended up face down on the hospital floor. The Secret Service agents then chased him away.

A U.S. Senator from Texas witnessed the incident and told the agents he would vouch for them if necessary, according to the account by Johnsen.

The tale, a hidden treasure up until now – has been one of the countless historical nuggets ex-Secret Service agents James E. Le Gette and Keith Stauffer have unearthed while interviewing 30 retired Secret Service employees so far over the past 14 months at dining room tables and offices across the Washington D.C. region.

Le Gette and Stauffer , who reside in the Washington area, have launched a project called Sentinels of the Service-  a collection of oral histories of retired U.S. Secret Service agents, officers, technicians and administrative aides.

“We do the whole gamut, we’re  after everybody, ” Le Gette said.

Le Gette said the plan is to house written transcripts of the interviews at the National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington for the public to view on-site or online. The materials will also used by researchers.

The questions is: Why do this?
“We have a historical mindset,” says Le Gette, an affable man who adds “this is something the two of us can do to give back to the Service.”

Le Gette, 71, paid his dues in the Secret Service. He entered on July 20, 1964 in the San Francisco field office and over the years worked on details including President Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and Jimmy Carter. He retired in 1985 as special agent in charge of the Baltimore field office and went on to become an assistant inspector general at GSA. Stauffer, in his 50s, specialized in computer fraud and was on the Henry Kissinger detail at one point.

Le Gette says so far, the folks he’s interviewed – all have been men except one — have either been people he worked with or for.

He said he sees a common thread among the employees.
“Everyone of these guys, all came up fairly middle class or even middle lower class: no silver spoon in anyone’s mouth that we’ve talked to. They all started out in relatively humble beginnings and through education and hardwork worked their way through.”

Then there’s the favorite president, the one that seemed to get the most praise during interviews.

“Truman was the best guy they ever had to work around as far as being friendly,” he said. “The whole idea, cooperative, understanding, first name basis. And they liked his politics too for the most part. Truman is the standout president clear up until the last Bush.

Le Gette says the project is totally ” free and independent from headquarters. We have a lot of freedom.”

So you’d think there would be some pretty scintillating things in the interviews; some dirt, some secrets. Think again.

“We only look at the positive stuff,” he said. “We’re not looking for any dirt or any secrets people have stumbled into during their careers. ”

He said the interview can take up to five hours. Afterwards, the tapes are transcribed at a cost of about $600 to $800. Then they’re edited – they take out repetitious language and any scandalous tidbits — and are given to the retired employees to see if they want to add or subtract anything. Then comes the final product.

He said the families of the retired Secret Service employees have been grateful.

“Every family members says every time ‘thank God you got him to sit down and tell the story of his life.’ There’s stuff they’ve said they never heard of before.”

Le Gette said people can send donations for the non-profit project to: Sentinels of the Service, Inc., 470 Lission Ct., Severna Park, MD 21146-1640, Attn: James E. Le Gette, Executive Director ( 410-647-2518)

Here are some summaries of interviews provided by Le Gette:

  • During Vice-President Nixon’s visit to Caracas, Venezuela, on May 13, 1958, H. Stuart Knight, a Special Agent with the U. S. Secret Service (Later to become the Director of the Secret Service) was injuried and concerned for his life as he and one other agent fought the mobs which surrounded the Vice-President’s vehicle. On three different occasions, while motorcading from the airport to an official stop, Knight and Bob Taylor ventured out of their security car in order to defend Nixon’s vehicle which was transporting him and the Venezuelan Foreign Minister. The agents and the vehicle were hit by many objects, including pipes, wood and rocks. Luckily they did not encounter any firearms. The reason for such animosity towards the U.S. was we  granted it sanctuary to Venezuela’s former dictator. The agents involved were honored with exception service awards.
  • During the 1950’s, Special Agent’s Al Wong and Mike Torina would be called upon to leave their district (New York) and act in an undercover capacity relative to making purchases of counterfeit money or other obligations of the government. One such assignment was to meet two “guys” from the south at Washington National Airport in order to purchase 93 counterfeit U.S. checks. After the two suspects showed the counterfeit checks to the agents, who had no purchase money for the exchange, the agents gave the “high-sign” to the Washington Field Office back-up agents to move in and arrest the bad guys. The field office agents did not pay attention to the signal. Wong and Torina became more concerned and continued with double-talk until finally the field agents moved in and arrested the two counterfeiters, who were both armed. As the arrests were being made, Wong whispered to the arresting agents to arrest them too for obvious investigative purposes. Wong was not too critical, “they didn’t work these kinds of cases much in Washington.”After the agents were “arrested”, the Washington field agent went home forgetting to unlock the cuffs (he had the only key for a unique set of cuffs) on the two agents. Once the agent returned to office, Wong and Torina were free to return to New York.
  • Special Agent John Desmedt, while assigned to the Secret Service Training Division was charged with the “modernizing” of the weapons and tactical training of the special agents. Desmedt spent several months of research in order to finalize new training standards. He studied the training of the KGB, Israeli security, other country programs, universities and private contractors. A major development determined by Desmedt was the psychological normal response to a threat was not the safest form of protection for the individual. Through intensive training, many “common reactions” had to be redefined for the safety of the person. This new training was paramount to better insure the agents’ ability to carryout their protective and criminal investigative assignments.
  • One of the earliest “criminal profilers”, within the government was Special Agent Kenneth Baker of the Secret Service. Baker obtained his Ed.D in physiological studies and developed his approach to the study of criminal profiles and interrogation techniques with the assistance of other professionals. Baker was called upon to instruct not only Secret Service personnel but also other federal investigative arms of the government. One agency, near Washington, DC, was able to “borrow” him for three years of instruction for their agents. Ken, after retirement from the Service, entered the public sector and helped develop a very lucrative business for private interests. One case involved a very important family who had suspicions that a family member was responsible for a criminal act. Baker was able, through his abilities, to correctly identify the actual perpetrator within the family, not the member originally accused.

THE FBI IS TWEETING

twitter2By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
WASHINGTON – When FBI agents recently tracked down suspected financial scammer  R. Allen Stanford in Richmond, Va., the press office at headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue quickly tweeted out a blurb on Twitter to notify the media.

“Actually, ” says FBI spokesman Richard Kolko, “the Wall Street Journal broke it two minutes before I did.”

Twitter. Tweeting. This is no longer J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.

Twitter, once a mysterious, free, cutting edge Internet venue for the young, has gone main stream. Very main stream . Sorry kids. Maybe it’s time to find the next hip playground on the Internet.

The social network with the silly name is slowly generating interest in law enforcement circles like the FBI , which opened a Twitter account about two months ago under the name FBIPressOffice. The office said it is also exploring the use of other social networks.

Kolko said the agency is “still getting use to it”, but it’s already sent out more than 415 tweets including press releases with links , notices of missing children or wanted fugitives and breaking news.

A recent press release read: “Iranian Man, company charged with scheme to supply sensitive technology to Iran”. The same day the office put out a notice about a child molester wanted since 2003: “The FBI is still looking for GRANT LAVELLE HUDSON, III.”

So far more than 1,141 people have signed up as “followers”, many of them in law enforcement and the media.
“It goes up every day,” Kolko said.

Twitter, founded in 2006 in San Francisco, allows users to send out text- based “tweets” that are 140 characters or less to people who have signed up to the sender’s account. The social network continues to grow in popularity, but it still ranks behind Facebook, which is number one worldwide, and MySpace, which is number two, according to Compete.com.

But Twitter is gaining traction in federal law enforcement circles including at the Transportation Security Administration, said Chris Battle, managing partner of the Adfero Group Homeland Security Practice, a Washington public relations firm. Battle has written about social communication networks on his company blog Security DeBrief.

“I think it’s an important audience,” said Battle, a former official at Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the DEA. “Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or a specialty niche site like PoliceLink.com , you have a dedicated network of people who care about an issue. When you care about targeting an audience, it doesn’t get any more targeted than this.”

Still, some agencies have been slow to come around, particularly ones that were already a little reluctant to communicate with the public in the more traditional ways, let alone with these cutting-edge communication tools, Battle said.

“Within law enforcement we have quite a ways to go,” he said. ” There’s a bit of a learning curve. Some of the law enforcement agencies and national security organizations need to catch up with the social media.”

Kolko said the biggest benefit of the social network will be when there’s a major breaking story or big crisis and the media blitzes the FBI press office with calls.
“It will have a great application in the event of a crisis,” Kolko said. ” If some major crisis happens, the phones ring off the hook and every reporter is asking the same exact questions. It can take 30 seconds to send the information on Twitter that we’re going to be giving those people.”

Besides press releases and breaking news blurbs, Kolko says he likes to put up information about child molesters and other wanted fugitives.

“It reminds people that we’re still looking,” he said.

Twitter doesn’t appear to be the last stop.

Kolko said the FBI is exploring other venues.
“We’re looking at Facebook and Youtube,” he said. ” Hopefully that’s in the near future.”

My Contacts With Chandra Levy’s Suspected Killer

Sylvia Moreno

Sylvia Moreno

By Sylvia Moreno
for ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — I’ve been asked the question many times by former Washington Post colleagues, by the Spanish-language press and by friends and acquaintances: do I believe Ingmar Guandique killed Chandra Levy?

What I can say for sure is that in letters that Guandique wrote me from federal prison in 2002, 2007 and 2008 and in two hour-long telephone interviews in ’07 and ‘08, is that he steadfastly denied any involvement in the murder of what he called “that girl — what’s her name — Chandra.”

Now the grisly details of the young woman’s murder – supplied by Guandique himself to several unnamed ‘witnesses” cited in a court document – have been revealed by local and federal law enforcement authorities. This week, those officials issued an arrest warrant charging the Salvadoran immigrant with first-degree murder.

The accounts, according to the affidavit filed in support of the arrest warrant, vary slightly but all attest to Guandique’s involvement in one of Washington’s most famous unsolved murders:

  • Guandique told one unnamed witness that he killed a young woman in Washington.
  • To another witness, Guandique said he and two of his friends saw a female jogger in Rock Creek Park with thick, dark hair, jumped her and dragged her from the path into a secluded area, knocking her unconscious. He said they gagged her, then raped her, and that he cut her throat and stabbed her when she woke up during the rape.
  • Guandique told a third witness that he and two of his friends saw a female with curly hair along a Rock Creek Park trail; grabbed her and pushed her into the bushes; choked her to death; then buried her under leaves.
  • To yet another witness and as early as 2002, Guandique admitted to killing Levy, claiming others were involved in the murder too. (A former cellmate of Guandique recounted that story to me during an interview).

My last assignment for The Washington Post, before taking a buy-out offered to employees in mid-2008, was to communicate with Guandique and his local friends and family as part of a 13-part series published last July.

But my involvement in the story began in summer, 2002 when Guandique’s name first surfaced as a potential suspect. I found and interviewed his family in El Salvador and his friends and relatives in D.C.

I wrote to Guandique in federal prison, where he was already being held in September, 2002 for attacking two female joggers in Rock Creek Park, and we corresponded in Spanish for several months. When I resumed the correspondence in 2007, he replied immediately, and after a couple of letters, he consented to a visit, as he had in 2002.

Most of Guandique’s letters began with a salutation hoping that I was in good health and with his desire that I also be “surrounded by my family and friends.” All the letters bore the trademarks of a man with little education: misspellings, grammatical mistakes and nonsensical syntax.

He always maintained his innocence regarding the murder of Levy, but he admitted to breaking into a house in Washington to rob jewelry. He admitted getting into drugs and disregarding his family’s pleas that he focus on work so he could send money home.

He admitted hitting and biting his then-girlfriend in Washington. And he admitted attacking the two women joggers, who managed to break his grasp and run away, for the purpose only, he claimed, of robbing them of their valuables.

He wrote several times that he wanted me to visit him in prison, at one point saying he wanted to “clarify” this Chandra Levy problem hanging over his head.

But neither his attorney, in 2002, nor prison officials, more recently, allowed a face-to-face interview. The Post had to settle for two hour-long recorded telephone interviews, and excerpts of those ran online last summer as part of The Post’s investigative series, “Who Killed Chandra Levy.” To date, I am the only journalist who has communicated directly with Guandique.

Do I believe Ingmar Guandique killed Chandra Levy? Certainly, a man convicted of attacking two women on jogging paths in Rock Creek Park and identified by another woman as stalking her in the park — all within the proximity of where Levy’s remains were found in summer, 2002 – would seem to be a logical and likely suspect. That’s my response to the question.

In a 2002 letter to his mother and grandfather, who live in grinding poverty in rural El Salvador, Guandique asked their pardon for disappointing them by getting into trouble and failing to do what they expected when they borrowed more than $4,000 to get him into the United States illegally. They wanted him to work and send money home to help support more than half a dozen family members living in a dirt-floor shack.

To his brother, Huber, who then lived in suburban Maryland, Guandique wrote that “God is the only one who knows that I am innocent” of Levy’s murder and that one day “God will take care of everything.”

In our last conversation, Guandique said “Like I tell you, I know I don’t have anything to do with that case. I don’t worry about that because I know everything will turn out fine.” Now, a judge and jury will decide that.

The Suspicious LA Supermarket Mogul

George Torres

George Torres

By Jeffrey Anderson
Los Angeles City Beat
One day in October 1998, Ignacio “Nacho” Meza went to his job at Numero Uno grocery store, a block from his family’s home in South L.A., and then vanished.

His disappearance remains a mystery in the barrios surrounding the bustling turquoise-and-pink market on East Jefferson Boulevard. But police have long suspected George Torres, the man behind the Numero Uno grocery store chain, had something to do with it.

By the time Nacho Meza disappeared, government investigators had already spent years watching Torres, trying to bring him down on drug charges. That effort failed. But after Meza went missing, the government swept together the loose ends of its drug investigation ➤ into a 60-page indictment against Torres, including charges of racketeering, public corruption, and conspiracy to murder Nacho Meza – among others. The United States of America v. George Torres-Ramos is scheduled to begin in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on March 10.

The indictment includes a bewildering number of names and charges – robberies, extortions, bribes, frauds – and the government’s assertion that George Torres is friends with murderers and drug runners. Former employees and associates will testify that Torres is a brutal man, even a killer, who sought to protect a criminal enterprise that was both profitable and fearsome.

But will the government be able to prove it?

“I’ve heard the stories, listened to hours of wiretapped conversations and read more reports than I can count,” says the man who will prosecute the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Searight, chief of the office’s narcotics division. “But I have never met a person who can put George Torres in a room with large amounts of drugs or drug money.”

So Searight turned to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, to charge Torres with criminal acts going back some 22 years. According to a transcript of a recent hearing before a skeptical U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson, the result is a list of disparate charges built loosely around a theory Searight has no intention of proving: that Torres financed drug deals or laundered the proceeds of those drug deals through his supermarkets.

The RICO statute is broad, and flexible. It allows prosecutors to stitch together typically white-collar crimes – such as bank fraud or mail fraud – with murder, as long as it all relates to a central racketeering enterprise. Enacted in 1970, RICO was designed to give law enforcement a blunt tool with which to destroy the Mafia.

In the Torres case it is being used as a vehicle to prosecute a wealthy grocery store owner.

Torres will mount a formidable defense. Though his attorneys have refused City Beat’s numerous requests for interviews, it’s clear from court documents they’ll argue that the case against their client is a hodgepodge of unsubstantiated allegations, cobbled together by overzealous investigators obsessed with Torres. They say the stocky 51-year-old grocer is a hardworking father of seven with a rags-to-riches biography that began with a fruit truck and ended up with the Numero Uno grocery store chain, vast swaths of real estate on the south and eastside of L.A., dozens of houses and a Santa Ynez ranch.

FRUIT BOY
In the shadows of downtown, in crime-ravaged South L.A., it’s hard to find a wall, corner store or panel truck that gangs haven’t tagged. Ramshackle Victorian homes, chipped stucco bungalows with bars on the windows and commercial strips of bodegas, check cashing stores and carnicerias: welcome to L.A.P.D.’s Newton Division.

Over 30 years, George Torres built an empire here.

Torres was born in Tijuana in 1957 to farm workers from Michoacan, Mexico. He has lived or worked in this neighborhood most of his life. Because his father, alleged in court documents to be a brothel owner and gun smuggler, urged him to give up school early and take up the family’s produce route, Torres barely reads at a grade-school level. When he was a teenager, he sold fruit from a truck and by going door to door.

“We called him ‘Fruit Boy’ – at least if you knew him well enough you could,” said a woman we’ll call Estella; she asked that we not use her real name. She runs a little business near Maple Avenue, where Torres owns Los Amigos Mall, a yellow- and purple-painted swap meet that includes an arcade, a food court, armed security guards and stalls of vendors reminiscent of a Mexican border town.

What if you didn’t know him well enough? “You’d get your ass kicked,” said Estella.

Torres’ work ethic earned him the approval of the Flores family, owners of El Tapatio grocery stores. In 1974, Torres met his future wife, Roberta, and the couple married in 1976. In the early 1980s, with a loan from Flores and Roberta, Torres rehabbed a liquor store at the corner of Jefferson Boulevard and San Pedro Street, and stocked it with meat and produce. He called it Numero Uno. Later he opened 10 others, including stores in Cypress Park and South El Monte.

His stores are known for cleanliness and order, with no tolerance for misconduct or theft. “The employees are clean, not with baggy pants and attitude,” Estella said.

Despite the charges Torres faces, Estella is impressed with him. He’s got more than 600 employees and a chain of stores worth tens of millions of dollars, and some four dozen residential and commercial properties scattered around South L.A.

“I’ve got nothing negative to say,” she said. “If the community asked something of him, he’d respond or send someone on his behalf. He gave out food at Halloween and Thanksgiving. He goes out of his way to serve a low-income community. He had heart for the neighborhood. He opened doors to people, even gang bangers. If they burned a bridge, then it was too bad.”

Nacho Meza fit that description. A member of the Latin Hustlers gang, he had been indicted in federal court in Alabama for drug conspiracy when he disappeared. For years before he went missing, Nacho was Torres’ right-hand man. Torres set him up with Buckets, a car wash near the original Numero Uno market. Nacho, his wife and children lived in a house owned by Torres, in Downey. Law enforcement records state that Nacho used the same private jet service to transport drugs that Torres flew to Vegas to gamble.

The government’s case against Torres turns, in part, on this series of events: In 1997, Nacho’s drug activities blew up in Alabama and he went into debt. Government informants say he got desperate. One of those informants, Nacho’s former drug-dealing associate, says he and Nacho stole half a million in cash from Numero Uno one night in March 1998. The indictment says Torres retaliated by seeking to have Nacho killed.

Once Nacho was gone, Raul Del Real, his former partner at Buckets, became Torres’ right-hand man. With Torres’ help, Del Real, known as “Ra-Ra,” opened his own car wash, called the Real Deal. But like Nacho, who law enforcement documents state was deep into the drug game, Del Real, a member of the Ghetto Boyz gang who used to show up at Numero Uno frequently and meet in private with Torres, was also a dope trafficker – a violent one.

A tape-recorded conversation at L.A. County Jail on December 26, 2002, suggests that Del Real was involved in gang killings. According to a transcript of the conversation, and law enforcement reports, “a known Mexican Mafia shot caller” named Armando Ochoa tells Del Real, “My homeboys killed Lefty and now you guys got one of my homies, so let’s just call it that, right there.” A separate wiretapped conversation shows Del Real pondering his violent nature and telling his sister, “I broke a guy today.”

In 2005, Del Real pleaded guilty in a major L.A.-to-Baltimore drug conspiracy case and was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. But not before he agreed to testify against his old friend George Torres.

‘THESE GUYS KEPT THE PEACE’
Estella came up in this neighborhood with Nacho and Ra-Ra; she said she knows of no wrongdoing on their part. While she conceded that Nacho fit a drug dealer profile, she said Ra-Ra, who has told investigators that Torres asked him to kill Nacho, is just a neighborhood character.

“George hired kids off the street,” she said. “They’ve all known each other since they were kids.”

Despite the fact that Del Real and several of his accomplices who are serving lengthy federal prison sentences ran a drug operation out of the Real Deal car wash, Estella said she never saw anything illegal. Indeed, she said, “I felt safer than ever when the guys were over there. Since George was arrested and the guys were sent to prison, the neighborhood has gone to shit. I lost a nephew [to gang violence]. That wouldn’t have happened if the guys were around. They kept the peace.”

Though Estella isn’t alone in focusing on Torres’ largesse more than the gravity of the charges he faces, she’s among his more ardent supporters.

“What is this petty crap about racketeering?” she said. “What is it about our justice system? You can’t come up so fast, so strong and be a Mexican? Everyone knows the United States is not founded on the bible, eh?” Businessmen like George Torres should be left alone, she argued. “People in this community think highly of him because of his accomplishments. He is an excellent father. He is never rude to people. I’ve never seen him dealing drugs, never seen a violent side.”

And then she lays out what could be the defense strategy: George Torres’ only crime is that he’s too kind, too loyal. If anything, she said, Torres is being maligned for his generosity, for reaching out to people like Del Real and Meza.

“They are who they are and we come from where we come from,” she said. “It’s part of the Hispanic character that you don’t get too big for your britches. George hasn’t forgotten his roots. Around here, he’ll be judged on that.”

THE PATRIARCH
Last fall, with his family in the second row of the gallery behind him, George Torres conferred with one of his lawyers in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson. Being stuck behind bars since his arrest in 2007 and watching helplessly as the government seized millions of dollars of his assets has altered Torres’ demeanor. His face betrayed an earnestness that wasn’t there when he was first arrested.

Civil attorney Robert Eisfelder, a longtime advisor to Torres, greeted Torres’ children and Torres’ longtime companion, Dolores Notti, who goes by “Dee Torres” and lives in a house in Arcadia owned by Torres and his wife Roberta. A young boy and girl were seated on either side of Dee Torres, and next to the young boy was Torres’ oldest son Steven, a protégé likely to inherit the Numero Uno chain, but for the fact that he too is charged with violent crimes in aid of the alleged racketeering enterprise.

Before court began, Torres turned and smiled warmly at his family. He offered a nod of encouragement to Stevie and a regretful shrug to his younger son. Torres, who turns 52 this month, still has most of his hair and deep laugh lines. He exudes charisma, even in his white prison jumpsuit with his hands cuffed beneath the table. Under different circumstances it is easy to see how his presence could be comforting, if not mesmerizing to a child.

Steven, or “Stevie,” is Torres’ oldest son by his marriage to Roberta Torres – who was not in court that day. In his gray suit, white shirt and tie, and with his arm draped over his younger half-sibling, he remained impassive throughout the hearing. Police once listened to a father-son conversation on a wiretapped call, during which Torres gave instructions on how to assault someone who threatens the family interests. “Let your daddy take care of this,” Torres told his son, according to a detention-hearing transcript.

Torres has seven children – five by Roberta Torres, who has filed for divorce, and two by Dolores Notti – and provides for them while setting an example of hard work, pride and tenacity.

Yet it was hard to imagine that his children and companion who sat in court that day know and approve of the man the government has portrayed. Their bland facial expressions suggested either they have been coached or are used to hearing (and ignoring) their father described as a bully, a thug and a gangster.

Stevie was born in 1980. Another son, Brian, was born in 1983 and recently earned a masters degree from USC. Daughter Brittany, now 19, Tawny, age 15, and son Brandon, age 14, are all in school. A law enforcer familiar with Torres says he has emphasized education with all of his children. “George has made sure that his children do not end up uneducated like he did,” the law enforcer says. “He’s a very dedicated father.”

In the early days, George and Roberta Torres were true partners, as Roberta helped with bookkeeping and banking. They worked tirelessly as they opened store after store and acquired large tracts of real estate, including industrial and commercial properties and dozens of residential properties in South L.A. and neighboring cities.

With money and success came complications to Torres’ Horatio Alger story. “She put up with a lot,” Estella says of Roberta Torres, who filed for divorce in 2005 after obtaining a restraining order and gaining custody of the couple’s two minor children. “George probably isn’t the easiest person to put up with. Where you have money you have women. But Roberta helped him build his empire. There’s no doubt about that.” Through her lawyer, Roberta Torres declined to comment.

Women, however, are the least of Torres’ troubles. His association with convicted drug-traffickers, gang members and people with ties to the Mexican Mafia and drug cartels has branded him an elusive barrio-style Godfather.

“It’s true that George is a hard worker, and that he is a family man,” says a veteran narcotics detective. “But he just can’t get that ghetto out of him. He’s always hanging with lowlifes because that’s the environment he comes from.”

THE CASE OF THE CASE THAT MISSED
Part of the government’s back file on George Torres involves the notorious Reynoso family, who, according to recently unsealed investigative reports, played a key role in Torres’ imperial rise.

Family patriarch Jose Reynoso was the owner of Reynoso Brothers International, a $37 million import-export company based in City of Industry that made headlines in the mid-1990s in connection with a major drug trafficking prosecution. The family allegedly smuggled more than eight tons of cocaine between 1991 and 1993, working with Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman and Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel. The cocaine made its way through the U.S. via the Reynoso Brothers’ national food distribution network.

In 1993, Jose’s son Rene Cruz Reynoso was convicted of ordering the 1991 killing of Ronald Ordin, a Los Angeles developer and owner of the Central Wholesale Market. The investigation revealed that Ordin had threatened to evict Rene from a commercial space where Rene stored narcotics; a police report claims Rene retaliated by ordering Ordin’s murder in a drive-by on National Boulevard just off the Santa Monica Freeway in West Los Angeles.

That same year, federal prosecutors identified a member of the Reynoso family as having an interest in an Otay Mesa warehouse and canning facility situated near the end of an unfinished, 1,400-foot-long, 65-foot-deep tunnel originating in Tijuana.

Jose Reynoso was convicted in 1995 of conspiracy to traffic cocaine and was sentenced to 151 months in federal prison.

Neither Torres nor Rene Cruz Reynoso were ever charged with drug running. Government documents reviewed by City Beat identify them as alleged co-conspirators who smuggled cocaine in laundry detergent containers and jalapeño chili cans in the 1980s and 1990s, and distributed the drugs via a network of storage facilities and 18-wheel tractor-trailers. Drug Enforcement Administration reports claim that Torres worked with members of the Reynoso family to distribute 1,800 kilos of cocaine per month, at times using small customer-service buses to transport cocaine to his warehouse. Employees who saw or handled the cocaine were few and trusted, the reports state – a process so hermetically sealed that many employees were never aware of cocaine trafficking.

Despite the dramatic claims, Operation Soapbox, as the DEA investigation was called, yielded no criminal drug charges. Nor did subsequent efforts Operation Vacationer and the Robin Hood Investigation. Indeed, the government now concedes it has no evidence of Torres’ “hands-on” involvement in drug trafficking.

Yet recently unsealed wiretap affidavits, transcripts and DEA investigative reports tell a fragmented story of sanctioned killings, drive-by shootings and other violent crimes involving gang members and the drug trade, with Torres – known on the street as “Mexican George” or “G” – in the middle of it all.

The documents also show Torres using walkie-talkie phones that are hard to trace; insisting most of the time on talking in person; running cash businesses and banking with firms allegedly willing to alert him to investigations; avoiding direct contact with drugs or drug money; and allegedly threatening people who were likely to talk to police.

None of that information, however, is damning enough on its own. On the eve of trial, Searight must also rely on “the dirtiest of informants,” as Torres’ lawyers put it, to prove to a jury that Torres is an arch criminal with few peers.

But RICO statutes also permit Searight to reach as far into Torres’ past as he wants, as long he can prove a racketeering enterprise exists. Searight contends Numero Uno markets are both a front and an essential part of such an enterprise.

So far, Searight has not really said what, if not drugs, the enterprise is built on.

THEY GOT SHORTY
Santa Ana winds were blowing last September when a veteran drug task force detective took me on a ride-along through Newton Division, where the imposing Numero Uno warehouse rises like a fortress over this humble neighborhood.

“This is a real high-crime area down here,” the detective said, nodding to a group of young African Americans and Latinos who spotted him as a cop as we drove down a street lined with rundown apartments and bungalows. “George had ➤ some kind of stronghold on it.”

The detective began investigating Torres in connection with suspected drug activity in the 1980s, but is not involved in the current RICO case. We circled the block and parked across from a warehouse that stands behind a 20-foot wall with an automatic metal gate adjacent to Numero Uno on East Jefferson Boulevard. The walls of the warehouse, like the market, are turquoise with pink trim. The letters “G & R” – George and Roberta – are separated by an ampersand resembling a gun.

Rolling down the alley behind the 700 block of East Jefferson we stopped behind an auto yard covered with a tarp and surrounded by a graffiti-covered wall. Nacho Meza ran a hydraulic shop and stored dope here, according to court records. A couple blocks away, we stopped in front of the former home of Derrick “Bo-D” Smith, the drug runner turned government informant who says he and Nacho ripped off Numero Uno for half a million dollars.

In a case built around the Latino community, Smith is a rarity – an African American. He was convicted of drug trafficking in Alabama in 1999 and sentenced to 24 years in federal prison. But his criminal record dates back to the early 1980s, and includes rape, robbery and attempted murder. He’s an informant in the RICO case against Torres. According to recently unsealed investigative reports, Smith contends Meza carried out at least three killings for Torres.

In one, in 1993, a security guard who worked at Torres’ La Estrella Market on San Pedro Street was murdered. Primera Flats gang member Manuel Velasco confessed to the crime, telling detectives he shot the guard over a monetary dispute between he and Torres. (Velasco remains in prison, though he changed his story in 2004, claiming he took the rap for someone else, and that the killing had nothing to do with a monetary dispute between him and Torres.)

After the murder, the government’s case states, Torres and Meza told store employees not to speak to the police. Smith has told investigators that Nacho admitted to killing Primera Flats member Edward Carpel and injuring three others a month later, in a retaliatory drive-by shooting on East 23rd Street, around the corner from La Estrella.

Later that year, Playboys gang member Jose “Shorty” Maldonado came to Numero Uno and made extortion demands of Torres. Smith says he was at a hamburger stand outside Numero Uno with Meza and Torres when Torres turned to Meza and told him to “take care” of Shorty. Meza’s brother Jesus Meza testified before a federal grand jury on March 1, 2005, that Nacho did indeed kill Shorty, in February 1994, as Shorty was leaving a barbershop – located on property owned by Torres. Jesus testified that he drove the getaway car.

According to the government, ballistics show the same gun was used to kill Carpel and Shorty Maldonado. According to police affidavits, Smith further claims that Nacho Meza killed a third man at Torres’ behest, Roderick Chapman, in 1996.

Smith’s statements to police begin to illuminate the government’s charge that Torres eventually had Nacho murdered: Smith contends that in March 1998 he and Nacho robbed Numero Uno of $550,000 so that Nacho could pay a drug debt to former Numero Uno security guard Jose Angulo, who was dealing drugs directly for Torres. In the upside-down world of the case against George Torres, it seems Angulo knew the drug debt, which was ultimately payable to Torres, was settled with cash stolen from Torres – but he kept the money anyway.

Government documents suggest Torres smelled a rat: Interviewed after the robbery, he told detectives he suspected a former employee and that he and his associates “would take care of it themselves,” according to police reports of the interview.

A year later, on May 25, 1999, the FBI interviewed Angulo, who admitted he was Nacho Meza’s drug supplier, and confirmed that Nacho settled his drug debt shortly after the Numero Uno robbery occurred. Angulo told the FBI he never returned the money to Torres, even though he knew it belonged to him. Angulo disappeared on August 31, 1999, and has not been seen since.

FRAUD AND CORRUPTION
Searight has yet to show his full hand, but the indictment also accuses Torres of major tax fraud—alleges he skimmed $500,000 a year from his own stores’ cash registers, and extorted money from illegal immigrants who worked for him or whom he thought stole from him. The indictment also states that Torres attempted to bribe public officials—in one case attempting to bribe former L.A. City planning commissioners Steven Carmona and George Luk into securing approval for a beer and wine permit at his Alvarado Street store. In addition to a $15,000 check, the indictment states, Torres gave Carmona a GMC pickup truck and free use of his downtown condo on West 6th Street so that Carmona could qualify as a resident of that district to become a planning commissioner. In a 2004 conversation, recorded on a wiretap, Carmona and Luk agreed to ask Torres for an additional $10,000. The government claims the pair would give that money to an “unidentified official in the Los Angeles City Council” in return for support of Torres’ alcohol permit.

A 2007 Los Angeles Times story also reported that a career prosecutor in the office of City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo received pressure from Delgadillo, in 2001, to drop criminal charges against Torres for an improper demolition of low-income apartments. The prosecutor wrote in a memo, “Rocky said he was getting a lot of pressure about this case.” Torres ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor in the demolition case.

When a friend chides Torres about seeking favors from public officials, a wiretap transcript shows him responding: “Hey, pimp! What the fuck? Let me tell you something. If I did it the right way, I’d be broke, you know? You know what’s up, pimp?”

Torres’ talk appears to be more than just idle boasting. According to recently unsealed investigative reports, Albert Del Real, a convicted drug dealer, former Numero Uno employee and brother of Raul Del Real, says he saw former L.A. City Councilman Mike Hernandez receive “stacks of money” from Torres in the 1990s. Then-City Councilman Richard Alatorre brought his vehicle to Torres’ warehouse to get serviced, leading Del Real to tell investigators he believed that Torres, who did not provide automotive services, was doing favors for Alatorre.

Alatorre and Hernandez, neither of whom returned calls for this story, have never been charged with wrongdoing in connection with Torres. They remain City Hall fixtures. Alatorre, who pleaded guilty to felony tax evasion in 2001, is an influential lobbyist and board member of L.A.’s Best, a nonprofit that operates out of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office. Hernandez is assistant chief of staff for Councilman Bernard Parks and Councilwoman Jan Perry.

Such allegations hearken to a highly publicized national scandal involving Horacio Vignali, Torres’ former real estate partner. They also raise questions about how far Torres’ political reach was, and whether that reach helped keep him out of trouble.

Torres and Vignali, formerly two of three principles in a real estate company called Tovicep, Inc., were exposed as longtime targets of federal drug investigations in a 2002 congressional report on Pardongate, the White House scandal arising from President Bill Clinton’s grant of clemency for Vignali’s son, convicted drug trafficker Carlos Vignali Jr. The report examined revelations that, in the 1990s, Vignali was a big financial contributor who enlisted numerous politicians, including L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca, then U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (then a California assemblyman) to lobby Clinton for the clemency. Hernandez and Alatorre were among those who lobbied for Vignali Jr.’s release.

DEA documents surfaced in the report that portrayed Torres, Vignali Jr. and Vignali, a billboard and parking lot magnate, as part of a drug trafficking ring from the 1980s and 1990s. Vignali has never been charged with a crime. But according to recently unsealed informants’ statements, he is responsible for introducing Torres to such politicians as Hernandez and Baca, who told Pardongate investigators that he knew Torres “to be a legitimate businessman.”

Baca is not the only law enforcer Torres is alleged to have befriended. According to two sources familiar with the matter and DEA investigative reports, L.A.P.D. Sergeant Peter Torres (no confirmed relation to George Torres) ran his 2001 campaign for city council out of an office in George Torres’ swap meet. DEA reports of informant interviews also state that Sergeant Torres associated with Raul and Albert Del Real, both convicted drug traffickers with ties to George Torres.

A wiretapped conversation from December 2003 shows Raul Del Real telling his brother Albert that he saved him from getting arrested – by getting Sergeant Torres to vouch for him. In 2005, Albert Del Real told investigators he once saw his brother Raul hand money to Peter Torres at the Real Deal Carwash. Peter Torres declined to be interviewed for this story. L.A.P.D. officials said he is assigned to West Los Angeles, but is not on active duty.

EL DIABLO
In July 2007, shortly after Torres was indicted, a former Numero Uno employee contacted me and offered to describe his old boss, known to fellow workers as “El Diablo.” The employee said he worked as a butcher for four years at various Numero Uno stores from the mid- to late-’90s. He produced documentation to prove his employment and his identity, and asked that his name not be published.

During a two-hour, taped interview, he spoke candidly through an interpreter. He said he has never talked to law enforcers about George Torres.

Like the employees expected to testify at Torres’ trial, the butcher felt that Torres was tinkering with the store’s payroll – often at employee expense. “They would congratulate me on getting a raise, but then my paycheck would be the same,” said the butcher, a short man with a large head and large hands. “They’d push for more work, but the pay stayed the same.”

A 58-year-old journeyman who spent time in a Mexican jail for marijuana possession, and who since has been deported, the butcher has unsettling memories of Torres. “George, he was a real act,” the butcher said, recalling days when Torres would berate employees over the store PA system.

Yet unlike younger employees who cowered before Torres, the butcher said he displayed an irreverent streak when talking to the boss. Torres, he says, took his back talk in stride. “Not everyone saw him as a good boss. He was not like a homie. There would be 15 people ready to work, and he’d say, don’t punch in, go straight to work. Then, two hours later he’d let you punch in. I’d punch in when I arrived, no matter what he said. He’d say, ‘What’s up with you, old man?’ I’d say, ‘What’s up with you, you bastard? You’re getting rich off us.’ He’d just pat me on the back and laugh.”

For a time, the butcher lived in a house across the street from Numero Uno with a number of other employees. He described the house as a crash pad, with people coming and going amid minor drug use. Employees also hung out in a trailer next door, the butcher said. He recalls having a brush with the law and Torres insisting he take a drug test. When the butcher passed his drug test, Torres insisted he cheated and that he take another. “I said ‘You’re crazier than I am. Why don’t you get tested first and I’ll pay for them both?’”

The butcher also noticed that Raul Del Real and Nacho Meza had access to parts of Torres’ warehouse off-limits to other employees. Because the butcher could not discern any real management experience in either man – and because Del Real wasn’t an actual employee – this made him suspicious. “I thought, what’s wrong with George? He had all these kids as managers and they didn’t know anything.”

Del Real in particular, the butcher said, was too pushy and inexperienced to be taken seriously. “He was bad blood,” the butcher said. “He was cut from the same mold as George. Everybody knew what was the story there. We all did.”

One day in 1998, after police visited the market and asked Torres some questions, the butcher said to him, “Look, I know how you do your stuff. And if it’s not you, it’s your people. You cannot fool everybody.” Torres was unfazed, the butcher said, and replied, “How do you know, you

old fart?”

The disappearance of Nacho Meza is what sticks with the butcher the most. He recalled seeing Nacho return to work for the last time in October 1998. “Then two days later, people were asking about him. His mother was coming to the store asking about him. People at the store would go, ‘We haven’t seen him either.’ Nacho’s mom was crying on the street, asking if anyone had seen her son.”

The butcher said that Del Real’s reaction to the disappearance did not make sense. “Raul was so nonchalant. Come on, Nacho disappears, and Raul doesn’t say anything? They were buddies.”

Theories about Nacho’s disappearance abound. Recently unsealed documents suggest that Del Real and Meza had a falling out. Torres’ lawyers contend that Del Real, a key witness for the prosecution in the upcoming RICO trial, most likely killed Nacho.

Police affidavits identify Manuel Reynoso, the brother-in-law of Rene Cruz Reynoso, as a guy who might know something. On October 13, 2004, police put up a reward notice on the porch of Torres’ house in Downey, where Nacho used to live. Manuel Reynoso, owner of Rey & Rey Produce, was living there at the time. Within hours, according to a police affidavit, Reynoso called Torres and asked if there were problems. Torres advised Reynoso to say nothing if questioned by the police, and to never call him on the phone again. “I think it’s about that friend,” Reynoso said. Torres replied: “I think … who else?”

The butcher’s favorite theory is that an excavation at Numero Uno to make room for a new meat locker was not merely coincidental to Nacho’s disappearance. He and a colleague would talk about the concrete removal that was underway as they came to work each day. Though they have no detailed knowledge, they wonder.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Searight gets impatient with such talk. “I’ve heard all the theories,” he told me last April, declining to talk about the case in detail. “Meza was burned. He went into a meat grinder. He’s buried in cement .…”

If nothing else, the fate of Nacho Meza is a cautionary tale. Given the twisted, violent history swirling around Numero Uno in the rough barrios of South L.A., it is inevitable that, guilty or innocent, a cloud will hover over George Torres, the longtime target of failed drug investigations. Now that Searight has built an adventurous RICO case against Torres, Torres’ freedom and fortune will rest in the hands of a jury in the coming weeks.

Some might have a hard time buying it.

Not the butcher, however. “We have a saying in Mexico,” he said at the end of our interview back in 2007. “If the river is making noise, it’s because there’s water in it.”

Los Angeles City Beat

reprinted with permission

Some Agents Critical of “DEA” Show

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
WASHINGTON — The show “DEA” on Spike TV has all the hallmarks of a public relations bonanza for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Slick editing, heart-thumping action and heroic portrayals of gun-toting agents.

In fact, the DEA credited  the first season with generating more than 13 million hits on its website and helping bolster its image and recruiting efforts.

But some agents — and some retired ones– aren’t so gung ho. In fact, they’re downright critical of the one- hour show, which launched its second  season Feb. 10 and is being produced by Size 12 Productions and Al Roker Entertainment – yes, Al Roker as in the Today show’s morning jester.

For one, the critics say they’re uncomfortable seeing the inner workings of the agency exposed on tv, and they’re none too happy watching potential informants on the tube even if faces are blurred and the informants sign waivers to grab 15 minutes of questionable fame.

“I wouldn’t let anybody do that with my informants,” said one veteran DEA agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

On top of all that, current and former agents say the show oversimplifies the agency’s mission by showing quick hit cases –or what’s known in the business as buy-busts — instead of the agency’s main staple: long-term investigations involving big-time national and international drug traffickers. Those cases often involve months or even years of investigative work.

Lawrence Gallina, former chief of domestic operations for the DEA, who retired from the agency in 2002, commented on the show, saying he fears that people who know little about the DEA “may come up with the wrong impression of what the agency does.”

Admittedly, he said, it’s part of the DEA’s mission to work with local law enforcement tasks forces on smaller cases that impact the community. “It’s an important function, but not the primary function” of DEA, which is to “bring to justice international and national major drug trafficking organizations.”

Whatever the shortcomings, DEA officials say the show is a good thing.

“We’re trying to be more transparent in the 9/11 era, ” says DEA agent Rich Isaacson, a spokesman for the Detroit office. “The DEA is trying a lot of different projects to get our name out in the public eye, similar to what the FBI has been doing for years.”

The agency is promoting the second season with Hollywood hype.

In a recent press release, special agent in charge Mary Irene Cooper, DEA’s chief of Congressional Affairs, said: “If you liked the first season of ‘DEA’, you’ll love the second season. Season II delivers more episodes, more action, more dope and more money than viewers have ever seen before. You’ll have a front row seat to DEA’s hard-charging, relentless special agents risking their lives for the mission. They’ll captivate you with their gritty determination and leave you wanting more.”

Last year’s show was in Detroit and featured DEA agents working with local law enforcement on a drug task force. This season, the show will take place in the Northern New Jersey area – but not actually in Newark itself.

DEA agent Douglas S. Collier, a spokesman for the New Jersey Division, says this season, unlike last year’s, will show a different side of the DEA.

“We’ll show we’re all moms and dads and uncles and sisters and brothers,” he said. ” You’ll see more of the human side of the agents and task force officers.”

Not all the DEA divisions around the country are clamoring to be featured in the show. In fact, after the first season in Detroit, sources said, some divisions chiefs around the country – particularly ones headed by old-school agents – wanted nothing to do with being featured on the show. The producers finally got the New Jersey division to bite.

There’s a big reason why the show has focused on small “buy-busts” instead of big investigations.

The Justice Department has forbidden the DEA from exposing any cases on TV that would end up in federal court. So all the cases on the show go to state court, where often times, the cases are smaller and more local.

Agent Collier doesn’t dispute the criticism that the show does not fully show the breadth of the DEA’s mission. But he said considering the constraints of doing state cases, the agents had some significant busts.

In all, he said, the show does a good job of showing the dedication and “hard work of the men and women of the DEA.”

Shows featuring law enforcement are nothing knew. There’s the best known one, “Cops”, which first aired in 1989, and often features small time crimes. And ABC just launched a show “Homeland Security USA “, which has been less than impressive.

Lawrence Kobilinsky, a professor of forensic science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York said law enforcement agencies like the exposure.

“These agencies thrive on public relations, especially the FBI,” he said. ” Media attention is everything to these groups. There’s a lot of attention paid to the FBI and not a lot to ATF or DEA. I can understand how they would want a show like this.”

William Coonce, former special agent in charge of the DEA Detroit office, said: “I’m a believer in publicity to get the message of what we do in terms of hard work. We do a good job and we’re corruption free. And I believe we should pump ourselves up.”

But he said there should be limits and the DEA should “not just do it for the Hollywood splash that some shows do.”

And even the DEA agent who was critical of the show exposing potential informants, said he sees an upside to the program.

“It’s good to get your name out there,” he said, particularly when it comes to getting Congressional funding for the agency.

” I actually think they should have done something like this years ago. My thing is the FBI is always out in front, even when they get bad publicity, they spin it.”

But another DEA agent simply sees little benefit to the show.

“A lot of it, I thought it was kind of hokey,” he said. “Basically what good can come of it?”

The show airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on Spike TV

The Anthrax Suicide, Washington Espionage and More

Joseph Persichini Jr./ticklethewire.com photo

Joseph Persichini Jr./ticklethewire.com photo

WASHINGTON – One recent morning, shortly after this city had come down from the high of a historic inauguration, Joseph Persichini Jr., head of the FBI’s Washington field office, sat down with ticklethewire.com editor Allan Lengel. Persichini, a 33-year veteran of the FBI, took charge of the Washington office in 2006. In crisp white shirt and yellow tie, and his blackberry and navy blue FBI coffee mug close at hand, he talked about Chinese espionage in the Washington area, how his office sorted through intelligence tips leading up to the inauguration and the perplexing anthrax investigation and how he felt when anthrax suspect Dr. Bruce Ivins committed suicide:  “It wasn’t the ending we wanted.” The following answers were condensed and the questions were edited for clarity.

Q. In the anthrax case, obviously it took a long time to solve. How frustrating was that for the first few years?.
A. Any case of that magnitude that you can’t solve immediately is frustrating to any investigator. We all wanted to bring the case to a logical conclusion and work it as fast as we could. This case brought us challenges that were never faced by law enforcement ever in the history of the world. Nobody had ever used bacillus anthracis as a weapon to murder people. There was no scientific analysis based on anthrax, no DNA about anthrax. The potential subjects were the world. How do you start from there and whittle all that down?
Q. There was a lot of talk that the scientists were never going to narrow it down to a person. Were you always confident the science would catch up?
A. Well, we were optimistic. We knew it was a piece of the puzzle we needed. But it didn’t stop us from pursuing it as a normal homicide investigation. We didn’t know if the science would come through. It was explained during the press conference about anthrax how eventually the DNA for bacillus anthracis was developed. That was a major factor in coming up with our conclusion
Q. I don’t know how much you can say about scientist Steven Hatfill. Obviously he was considered a ‘person of interest’– as the attorney general had said before. Was there any lesson learned from looking at him?
A. I’m not going to talk about Steven Hatfill. Nobody would condone any type of leak. As I said in the very beginning, the world was our suspect and you begin to eliminate the potential subjects. We had many potential subjects.
Q. The Ft. Detrick lab was always tops on the list.
A. I’m not going to get into the internal side of it. Our first impression, I’m sure all of the world thought…this is terrorism. Any time you have a case of that magnitude there are lessons learned and it’s an experience you hope as we mature, all of us learn how to approach a case of that magnitude again. It was uncharted waters.

Q. Some politicians on the Hill were criticizing the FBI. Was it hard not to step up and say ‘We’ve really got something cooking, we just can’t talk about it? Essentially you took the criticism.
A. I’m not going to talk about politics. It’s no different than Ted Kaczynski and the decision to print the manifesto . You’ve got to keep focusing on your job and you have to understand, everybody was frustrated. If you’re a victim’s family member you want to see progress, you want to bring closure to this. So did we. People that were criticizing, you have to understand, they didn’t have the facts. There is no investigation that we’re going to lay out our investigative plan, it’s just counterproductive to what we do. Everybody looks at the prism with a different perspective.
Q. Were family members of the vicitms understanding about the pace of the investigation or were they critical?
A. We established relationships with them at the outset and we tried to keep them abreast as much as possible without revealing our investigation to them. I think for the most part they understood that. They knew we couldn’t lay out our whole case, our whole strategy. I’m sure everybody goes through a sea of emotions in a case like this. I used to say to them: “I’m not walking in your shoes, I can try to be compassionate, I can try to understand and we’ll do the best we can.” I think the moment of truth was obviously on the day we revealed the conclusion of the case, with the director spending over an hour or so with them, sitting down, and the prosecutors and investigators going through the case in its entirety.
Q. Are you convinced Bruce Ivins was the guy and Hatfill was not the guy?
A. Without a question. Dr. Bruce Ivins used anthrax to murder those individuals.
Q. When he committed suicide, was that a frustration? Was it shocking?
A. It wasn’t the ending that we wanted. This team was prepared to take its case in chief and present it to a jury of his peers. That’s our job and that’s what we wanted to do. We would have presented that to the grand jury and taken the case to trial.
Q. Your reaction when you first heard he committed suicide?
A. Frustrating. Again concerned about the team , the families. Where’s closure? We knew he was the subject. He obviously knew that. How would we have closure to this case.? How can we notifiy the public? There’s a sense of , you know, they need to know what happened here.
Q. When he committed suicide, it didn’t get out right away. Was there some talk of “how do we break the news?”
A. I think that conversation began immediately with all parties, the investigative team, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Department of Justice, headquarters , FBI , Postal Service, determining what we can and cannot say. And how is it that you close an investigation of this magnitude that had global implications?
Q. Did you personally call some of the family members of the victims about this?
A. The team did.
Q. Their reaction?
A. I’m not going to speak for them. Again, I’m not walking in their shoes. It’s been a long road for them. And that grieving process is different for everybody. We wanted to inform them as soon as possible. But I know there was a gap between the suicide and when we could physically get everybody here to Washington to brief them. And that really was why it took so long to go public because we wanted to brief them first.
Q. Were you in on the briefing.
A. Yes.
Q. And their reaction at that time?.
A. Again, different reactions. Some were relieved to to hear the progress that had been made that we couldn’t tell them about. So they heard exactly what we were doing, how we were approaching it, how we would have brought it to trial and how we would have presented the case. Everybody grieved different.
Q. Was it an emotional meeting?
A. Yes.
Q. People crying?
A. Yes. Emotional for everybody. It’s not over. That grieving process continues. There’s an important lesson learned reaching out to the victims. We did a pretty good job. We wanted them to be informed. We wanted them to understand what we were trying to do.
Q. Do you look back at some things that you guys did and say, “Oh boy, we could have saved a lot of time.”
A. That’s very difficult. Things were developing, the science was developing. The science again being a pivotal point; it took us a long time. How long did it take us to develop DNA in the world, and now all of a sudden, we, within a couple years, developed a DNA profile of anthrax. It was never ever done before in history. Even though it took a long time, that’s a phenomenal development by the scientists who were working with us, our FBI laboratory. You had agents that were working on the case as investigators who were scientists, who then went to the FBI lab in a promotional aspect and continued to work on the development of the DNA. That’s good work.

Q. Bruce Ivins’ name came up early on in the investigation because nearly everbody at Ft. Detrick was polygraphed and his polygraph came up a little irregular at that time. Was there any indication that you should have gotten back to him sooner?
A. I won’t talk about that.

Q. About the inauguration. How do you think things went?
A. I think it was just a very successful day. We concentrated on inauguration day, but you know we actually had 4 days with the concert on Sunday . I think the nation’s capital rose to the occasion, and I mean that by all aspects of the nation’s capital, the law enforcement community, the business community.
Q. During that time obviously there were little scares that came up. For one, the Somalia terrorist rumors. Were you getting a lot of intelligence coming from overseas in relation to the inauguration?
A. This was a global event, so this wasn’t just an event in Washington D.C. The eyes of the world were upon us. The first African-American president of the United States was being sworn in. So I think the law enforcement community, not just here in the region, but nationally and internationally, they all were very cognizant of the heightened awareness present. It’s evident that as we became closer and visitors began to arrive here, tips came in, information came in, intelligence came in, information from our partners nationally, police departments, fusion centers across the country and of course the intelligence community. Bulletins had gone out on awareness and yes, intelligence did increase as we got closer and closer to Jan 20.
Q. It must have been massive, the amount of intelligence. How do you sort through all that in an orderly fashion?
A. Again, I go back to the progress of the FBI since 9/11 and our ability to gather intelligence, analyze that intelligence and then disseminate that intelligence. The stream of intelligence is very robust. Information coming in either from the fusion centers or the intelligence community is coordinated either at the headquarters level or here at the field office level. We had the capability of gathering it and then disseminating, which is important. You may get a lead that comes in and says well, we need to check out an individual in Detroit. Well that’s not a lead that we would do. Here we would automatically send leads to our Detroit division. We had a conference call with all the field office leadership across the country and advised them what the latest threat matrix was, and that each field office was to have staff available and ready if leads or investigative assignments were delegated to each one of those divisions. Everybody understood what we were facing across the FBI, not just nationally but internationally.

Q. There were reports of a lot of chatter in some of the white Supremacist chat rooms.
A. I think again, looking across the nation, that becomes a national domestic terrorism issue. All of the fusion centers , all the law enforcement community in the nation were briefed on what we call the vulnerabilities. What is the threat? We use the term “know your domain”. If you think there’s a threat, we’re asking people to go out and re-contact sources, maybe review cases and determine whether or not people had seen an increase of activity. As I sit here today, we had some increase of information, whether it’s an Internet threat or just basic conversation between groups, which is not illegal. Just remember, there’s a First Amendment here, freedom of speech. Anybody can have a conversation, that’s not illegal. So obviously we’re looking for information that if somebody believes somebody has the ability or has expressed an interest to take some sort of action , which would be illegal or to harm someone.
Q. In the past, there’s been some criticism of the FBI not sharing information. Were there any issues that came up during inauguration?
A. I think that’s probably one of the highlights. Our relationship with the leadership with the law enforcement here in this community is absolutely fantastic.  Again, we’ve been planning for this for six months. There were 23 different sub-committees, there was an executive steering committee. The Secret Service , because it was a national special security event, was responsible for the planning of the entire event. I can tell you up to the days, starting Friday with the train ride, the leadership talked every day. I started the morning talking to (D.C. police) Chief Lanier and usually our last call at 10 o clock at night was with Chief Lanier or (U.S. Park Police chief) Sal Lauro or (U.S. Capitol police chief) Phil Morse. Intelligence, I can tell you, was flowing by the minute, by the day,  between all of our agencies.
Q. Beyond the inauguration, in terms of Afghanistan  and Iraq,  you have agents in those countries. Are you getting helpful intelligence from there either through sources or raids or gathering of documents?
A. There’s a lot going on in that arena, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our  bomb technicians from FBI are there. They’re responding to all the bombings that are going off, that evidence is all coming into the FBI and the FBI lab so that a data base is being formed with just all evidence as it relates to bombings. Any time there’s any kind of activity across the world and they recover evidence , it can now be inputted into the data base. Intelligence both from the intelligence community and the activity both in Iraq and Afghanistan is being filtered through agencies. Our legal attaches in Baghdad and Kabul are working closely with the partners. That’s very very important on the war on terror as you would say. Significant advancements have been made.
Q. Do you feel any of the intelligence that’s been gathered there has helped prevent terrorist acts here in the states.
A. I won’t say whether there’s been something specific. As you always say, one small piece of intelligence may help put the whole puzzle together. That constant robust feeding of intelligence and analyzing that intelligence, there’s no finite end to that. That’s constant. That helps all of us, not just the FBI, it helps all of us across the world assess what the capabilities are, whether it’s al Qaeda or al-Shabab, or whoever other terrorist groups are out there.

Q. What about in terms of getting wiretaps in Afghanistan or Pakistan?
A. That I couldn’t give you.

Q. In terms of the FBI’s role in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, do you see it expanding?
A. Again, our presence there is greater than just our legal attache so we have training aspects, we have investigations. Here in the Washington field office we’re responsible for some of the fraud investigations as it relates to rebuilding funds in Iraq, so I think anywhere across the globe, especially in nations that are developing now, our presence is important.
Q. In the last three or four years this office and headquarters has had a lot of public corruption cases. Do you attribute that to a shifting of resources or is some of it just luck that certain things unraveled like the Jack Abramoff case?

A. Public corruption is one of the our number one criminal priorities in this division and will continue to be. We burn more public corruption resources than anywhere in the nation. We have about 55 agents working public corruption here in the nation’s capital. You mentioned we have the Abramoff case, we’re doing a lot of work in the foreign corrupt practices act and anti-trust cases.

Q. Can we expect some indictments this year in public corruption?
A. I can say we have resources committed to it and obviously an indictment is up to the grand jury, but as we move forward on cases I expect some statistical accomplishments and some judicial action to take place.
Q. In terms of espionage here in Washington, we traditionally think of Russians and Chinese. Are they still the key groups?
A. Espionage is here. It’s present. I think what’s important also is economic espionage. We continue to be a government that invests in more R and D (research and development) than anywhere else in the world. There are countries, there are companies, there are entities, that are always looking at stealing the R and D that we are investing in this country. We are in the nation’s capital. We have the largest military contractors in the nation here doing a lot of sensitive work. We have a very robust espionage group here in WFO (Washington Field Office). They’re doing great work.
Q. Have you made some espionage cases?
A. We made some case against some individuals from China who were paying for classified material. L.A. just made another case. It’s out there and we’re making cases and developing intelligence about the methods of technological  transfers and R and D theft.

Q. The cases that have come up so far, have they involved China and…?
A. Primarily China; still a country that is very interested in our technology and our military development.
Q. And the Russians. Are they players anymore?

A. We have a host of target countries that continue to be interested in classified material of the United States government.
Q. When you talk about a host, are we talking about three or six?
A. I’m not going to get into who. It’s a limited group.

Q. Do you feel sometimes the bad guys have access to some technology, and law enforcement hasn’t quite caught up?
A. I think it’s a challenge.

Q. How has the FBI acclimated to such venues as Facebook and Twitter?
A. You’ve got Voice Over Internet, you have so many different mediums out there whether it’s Facebook…. Ten years ago if you went out and did a search warrant of a residence — and maybe it was a drug case — odds are you went in, you did a search you walked out with possibly physical evidence , whether it would be drugs or preparation equipment or scales or whatever; never thought about a computer or a PDA or a Blackberry or a fax . Today when we do a search, that search now includes so many different modes of communications, and that’s a challenge. So you’re the agent looking at that case and now you have maybe eight different methods of communication to analyze to make your case. All the new modes of communication are obviously a challenge for us.

Q. When you think in the past year or so when you think about communication among bad guys, has anything surprised you?
A. We were having a discussion about this. People are talking about gaming on the Internet. I’m talking about, you can go online and you and another friend and another friend can go on line and you can be at your house and your friend can be at their house and you’re doing a battle game, whatever kind of battle game it is. You can use Voice Over Internet while you’re playing this game, you can be communicating with each other, and you ‘re thinking to yourself, that’s a mode I can communicate with. To me that’s a challenge, that’s phenomenal to think, here we have people sitting in their own residence playing a video game with somebody in China or maybe down the street. As progress of technology grows, the challenge of us capturing that grows.
Q. As for mortgage fraud, are you seeing it peak, or is it still growing?

A. I think we haven’t even reached the peak of where we’re going with mortgage fraud. Right now, we’re analyzing as you know. Northern Virginia communities were hit the hardest.
Q. Do you hope to get more resources to deal with this?
A. Yes, I think that’s important. I know at the headquarters level, if you’re looking at the magnitude of the problems. .. it’s going to be important to get some commitments and additional resources to take a look at this.
Q. What’s your future at the FBI?
A. I’ve been here 33 years. I love coming to work everyday.. As long as the director allows me to stay in this position, I’d like to stay. Obviously we have mandatory retirement at 57, I’m not that old yet. It is an honor and privilege to work with the men and women of this division who just knock it out of the box everyday and the inauguration is probably a good example of that.