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Special Report

Blago: Just Another Crooked Ill. Pol or Someone to Be Made an Example of?

Ex-Gov on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice/nbc

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

Chatty ex-Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich may have gotten an added stretch of freedom when a federal judge  in Chicago decided this week to delay his Oct. 6 sentencing date. But legal observers are convinced the reprieve is only temporary and that he’ll get some serious prison time. Predictions range from 8 to 25 years.

“I’m just giving voice to whats generally been a consensus in the community,” said Rodger Heaton, a former U.S. Attorney for Central Illinois and currently with the law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson, “but I’ve been hearing a projected estimate of eight to fifteen years. Some people have also said ten or 11.”

Dick Simpson, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago and frequent commentator on local news, echoes those sentiments.

“My guess is ten to 15 years,” Simpson said in an phone interview. “You have to look at other similar cases, and in particular I’m looking at former Governor George Ryan.” Ryan, the Illinois governor immediately preceding Blagojevich, is serving a six-and-a-half-year sentence after being convicted on federal corruption charges in 2006, though sentencing guidelines counseled for more.

“You have to look at both, and you figure how much worse one was than the other,” said Simpson.

Blagojevich engaged with the national media in a way few criminal defendants have. He went on a lengthy tour of popular television news and talk shows like the Late Show with David Letterman and the Daily Show and pleaded his innocence.

Ex-U.S. Atty. Heaton/law firm photo

“In a sense, I have seen public officials who go on trial try to influence public perception,” said ex-U.S. Attorney Heaton, but Blagojevich’s errant behavior was something different. “I have not seen someone go on television talk shows, on reality shows,” the way Blagojevich has. “It is very unique to engage the popular media the way he has done.”

Though there is nothing in the federal sentencing guidelines that talks specifically about that sort of media engagement, says Heaton, it may significantly influence the sentencing judge’s perceptions of Blagojevich’s sense of remorse.

“Throughout, on his television appearances, he showed a failure to accept responsibility for his actions. He maintained his innocence and seemed to be willing to do anything to continue maintaining that,” said Heaton. “I think that will be one factor.”

In his first trial, Blagojevich was convicted on only 1 of 24 counts. The jury deadlocked on the remaining ones. But in the second trial, the prosecution trounced him, getting convictions on 17 of 20 counts. Technically, he faces up to around 250 years, but the sentencing guidelines call for far less. He has been free on $450,000 bond, having put up his North side Chicago home and a D.C. condo as collateral.

Some report that prosecutors will seek a 30 year sentence.

“[James Zagel, the sentencing judge] will be reasonably unhappy about the crime itself–he’s a former U.S. Attorney, a former state employee,” said Simpson, and he will not take kindly to a violation of the public trust. Still, most experts don’t predict the higher end of the sentencing. “You have violent crimes that get less than 30 years,” said Simpson.

 

A Dissenting Opinion

Unlike many defendants, Rod Blagojevich testified at his own trial the second time around. And because the jury, in convicting him, rejected his testimony, he in effect lied under oath. He was convicted of violating the public trust, a sad theme that has played out in Illinois’ politics for decades.

All of these factors were cited by Jami Floyd in predicting a sentence of 20 to 25 years. Floyd is a long-time legal correspondent for national news outlets. She got her law degree from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and served as a law clerk at the California Supreme Court and had her own civil and criminal law practice.

“For me, the Madoff case is most instructive,” said Floyd. She had predicted back then that Madoff would get a long sentence, even life, while many others were predicting much lower sentences. Madoff, now 73, didn’t put up much of a legal fight and pleaded guilty in 2009. He ended up getting a whopping 150 years in prison, which will undoubtedly keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Denny Chin, the federal judge in that case, received a request from Madoff’s defense asking for a 25-year sentence, something that could potentially have given Madoff some hope of experiencing freedom once more before passing. Chin thought about the proposal and, according to an account in the New York Times, even asked his interns for an opinion. They suggested a 75-year sentence, less than the maximum but still effectively a life sentence.

“Splitting the baby, to me, was sending the wrong message,” he later told the New York Times, explaining his harsh, uncompromising sentence. “Often that’s the easy way out, but as we know from the old parable, that wasn’t the right thing to do.” While none of Madoff’s charges called for a life sentence, Chin ended up stacking the maximum sentence for each count.

“And he’s right,” Floyd said of Chin. “We give judges discretion for a reason. In Blagojevich I predict a similar result … Judge Zagel will depart upward from the sentencing guidelines in this case to give Blagojevich 20-25 years,” she said.

Such a sentence in the context of public corruption would be “dramatic” and “unprecedented,” Floyd acknowledged, but the leniency shown to Blagojevich’s predecessor, former Governor Ryan, is a “recommendation for a harsher sentence here,” said Floyd. “I would argue that Blagojevich needs to be the example.”

“He himself is a former prosecutor; yet he lied on the witness stand and, perhaps most significantly, learned nothing from the culture of corruption in Illinois. I expect this prosecution team to be very agressive at sentencing,” Floyd said. “It will be the Government’s intention to send a message … whenever the hearing occurs.”

“Judge Zagel will not choose a number arbitrarily; nor will he compromise with a figure, say, halfway between zero and 300 years,” Floyd said. “But symbolism will be hugely important, given the enormity of Blagojevich’s crimes and the history of the state.”

The Sentencing Judge

James Zagel joined the Cook County attorney’s office in 1965 after graduating from the University of Chicago, according to a profile in the Chicago Tribune. He went on to run the Illinois attorney general’s criminal division, where he was remembered for his “encyclopedic memory.”

“He can sit down and write a legal pleading and fill in the citations, including the page numbers, without bringing out a book,” said Jayne Carr, a former colleague, told the Tribune.

Zagel was appointed to the federal bench in 1987 by Ronald Reagan. In 2008 he was appointed to a seven-year term on the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, which he does in addition to his service as a federal judge. The intelligence court decides whether to issue warrants for electronic eavesdropping on terrorism suspects.

But perhaps most surprising are Zagel’s accomplishments outside of the courts. Zagel has appeared in two Hollywood movies–as the grieving son of a murder victim in David Mamet’s 1991 “Homicide,” and, obviously enough, as a Chicago judge in the 1989 film “Music Box.” He has also written a novel, 2002′s “Money to Burn,” about a federal judge that gets away with a heist at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago.

Once again at sentencing, whenever that might be,  Judge Zagel will take center stage as a central figure in what could easily be a movie — one with a another sad ending for another ex-Ill. governor.

 

Ex-FBI Official Says the Media Distorts the Image of J. Edgar Hoover and His Sexuality

Anthony Riggio is a former lawyer who went on to work for the FBI for 24 years. He held a number of posts during that time including assistant special agent in charge of the Detroit office. He retired in 1995 as a senior executive at FBI headquarters. His column is in response to a ticklethewire.com story about a GQ interview with Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio about the upcoming film “J. Edgar” that suggests Hoover carried on an affair with his right hand man Clyde Tolson.

Tony Riggio

 
By Anthony Riggio
For ticklethewire.com

I find it interesting that Hollywood has no proof of Hoover being a homosexual, a story that was sparked by a discredited author.

Yet, it tickled the media’s fancy and now the media can’t get over it, and every chance they get, they herald this unfounded suspicion.

The media is so loathe to give Hoover any credit for the magnificent organization he built and an agency that is held up to reverence by every country in the world (including current and former communist countries). Note that the FBI has even built an FBI Academy in some of these countries, and whenever a country does not know how to deal with certain criminal activities, they implore the FBI’s help.

The “left” leaning media in this country holds Hoover in contempt because he did what he had to do at the time to keep this country safe and free from harm, under acceptable and lawful rules.

I realize that there is a heavy emphasis on accenting what today is considered awful and one of Hoover’s detractors — and there many — was a Washington columnist named Jack Anderson who accused Hoover of every evil on the face of the earth. Yet, Mr. Anderson and his tactics have been severely criticized lately. Does this get the same publicity or negative distortion that J.Edgar Hoover got?

J. Edgar Hoover/fbi photo

Our media has become so cynical and corrupt that they have molded history to their leanings and polluted the minds of the young and of the too lame (of which most Americans are) to search out the the truth for themselves. Instead, they continue to believe the lie that keeps on being repeated. With time, this lie has become truth.

I am a lover of history, but history derived from a film or biased reporters — no, make that media distorters — is not history but fanciful story telling.

Ex-FBI Agent and Prolific Author Paul Lindsay Did it His Way

Paul Lindsay/simon & schuster photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Paul Lindsay, the hard-digging FBI agent who became a prolific author, and wrote seven novels — the last two of which were N.Y. Times best sellers — died peacefully Thursday night at a Boston hospital of pneumonia with his family by his side. He was 68.

The ex-Marine, who friends kidded was a cop trapped in an agent’s suit, was known for his dogged pursuit of criminals, his sharp wit and sometimes a lack of patience for management.Lindsay graduated from MacMurray College in 1968 and served a tour of duty in Vietnam as a Marine Corps infantry officer, according to his website.

In the Marine Corps, he was a Company Platoon Commander who was awarded two Purple Hearts and the Silver for bravery, according to the family.He later joined the FBI and worked in the Detroit office for 20 years. He lived in Rye, N.H.He authored his first book at the tail end of his FBI career, which stirred controversy in the FBI because it was a thinly veiled novel that took shots at some folks in the agency.

He went on to write six other books. And just last month it was reported that Millenium Films had acquired the rights to “The Bricklayer”, his best-selling novel penned under the pseudonym Noah Boyd, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The report also noted that Scottish actor Gerard Butler is supposed to star in the film as a rogue former agent who’s services are needed to battle a criminal group that’s been demanding multi-million dollar ransom payments.

Friends and family  said that Lindsay died due to complications from pneumonia.He had been diagnosed in 2005 with a blood cancer, leukemia,  that compromised his white blood cell count, the possible result of his exposure to chemical defoliates when he served in the Marines in Vietnam, the family said.

The condition eventually left him with compromised immune system, which made it difficult to fight off infection. The family said he kept his condition secret from everyone but his immediate family and one friend.“He never wanted anyone to feel sorry for him or treat him differently–he never permitted himself that luxury,” his family wrote in an email to friends.In part of a memoir the family shared with friends, Lindsay wrote:“I am dying. A single cell, damaged and then mutated, is now multiplying at a Pandorian rate through my bloodstream.

“The aberration was triggered, from best guesses, by Agent Orange, the defoliant dumped so generously-18,000,000 gallons or so–on Vietanam to help keep American troops alive. An irony that is life itself.

“For me, it was over forty years ago. The medical term is Chronic Lyphocytic Leukemia, or to those of us on more intimate footing, CLL. The disease has reached stage four, and unfortunately there is neither a cure nor a stage five.“. . . I have been the recipient of a great deal of luck in my life. But as John Steinbeck wrote in The Pearl, ‘Luck, you see, brings bitter friends’.”

“Recent events have made it apparent that good fortune is nothing more than a temporary statistical anomaly, which given enough time has little choice but to swing in an opposite and equal arc. In my case, leukemia. Given the extraordinary adventure my good luck has provided to my years, I can offer no complaint about the pendulum’s final resting place.”His family concluded the email by saying: ”Our Father will be missed, loved and remembered.”In his memory contributions may be directed to: The Wounded Warrior Program

Greg Stejskal

 

Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office.
By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

Paul Lindsay – He did it his way.

I first met Paul Lindsay in 1975. I had arrived in Detroit fresh from new agents’ class and was assigned to the fugitive squad. Paul ended up being my training agent.

Ordinarily Paul wouldn’t have been assigned a new agent to train – back then Paul wasn’t known for his patience or warmth, and he didn’t suffer fools. New agents tend to be a little foolish, and I was no exception. The guy, who was supposed to be my training agent, was involved in a trial. Paul was his partner so he was stuck with me by default. We didn’t exactly hit it off in the beginning.

Ultimately Paul accepted me, not because I had any great skills or talent, but because I showed that I was willing to work ridiculous hours and to learn.

Paul taught me much.

Paul had earned a reputation as one of the best fugitive agents in the Bureau – he was very good at finding guys who didn’t want to be found. What I learned from Paul was there were no great secrets or tricks to finding fugitives. It entailed hard work and perseverance. But Paul didn’t just work hard. He employed imagination and intelligence.

I eventually moved on to different squads and different violations, but I used the lessons I learned from Paul throughout my career in the FBI. Paul moved on too and later would apply his considerable talents to cold cases and serial killers.

Paul also had a talent for creative writing. He wrote his first book in 1992 while he was still an agent in Detroit. That first book caused some controversy because Paul was not reticent about criticizing some thinly disguised, but still recognizable characters. Usually those characters were in Bureau management.

It also was no coincidence that the heroes of Paul’s books displayed perseverance, intelligence and imagination. Paul’s book (and those that followed) also displayed Paul’s keen rapier like wit – rapier like because Paul was adept at skewered many inflated egos.

Earlier this year, I wrote a review for Paul’s most recent book, Agent X. In that review I described the hero, Steve Vail, as being a “blue-collar intellectual.” Paul wrote me: “If asked to I could have never reduced Vail to a two-word description; “blue-collar intellect” is pretty nifty.” Well I may have been able to reduce Vail to a two word description, but I can’t think of two words, standing alone, that would come close to doing Paul justice.

Paul was not a two dimensional character. He was a multi-dimensional man, who played many roles: husband, father, friend, Marine officer, FBI agent, author, mentor…. He approached those roles, indeed life, with passion, and he did it his way.

“For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels. The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!” *

Paul has taken his well-deserved place in the pantheon of FBI legend. He would like that. He embodied the FBI motto: fidelity, bravery, integrity.

*(Frank Sinatra/”My Way,” copyright EMI Music publishing).

ATF Agents See Director’s Departure as a “Fresh Start”

Ken Melson/atf photo

 By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Many ATF agents on Tuesday welcomed the news that acting Director Ken Melson was stepping down, saying his departure marked a step in the right direction in trying to revive a demoralized agency.

 

“I think everyone knew this was coming,” said one veteran ATF agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s a breath of fresh air. It’s a fresh start. That’s the general sentiment.”

 

Melson’s departure seemed to break the paralysis that the department seemed to be in after taking regular beatings in the media and on Capitol Hill over “Operation Fast and Furious”, an ATF program out of Arizona that encouraged gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers or middlemen, all with the hopes of tracking the guns to the Mexican Cartels.

 

Melson was never going to become the permanent director. The White House nominee for the spot, Andrew Traver, who heads up Chicago’s ATF, had problems getting confirmed. So Melson remaining in that spot only accentuated how problematic things had become and how politically weak ATF was.

 

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Ia.) led the charge, and began investigating the Fast and Furious program. Melson remained silent during most the controversy, which angered some within ATF. Melson eventually spoke to Congressional investigators and complained that the Justice Department had muzzled him and prevented him from even explaining to his troops what was going on with Fast and Furious.

 

Tuesday’s announcement gave hope to agents, including one who said morale was the lowest it had ever been — even lower than in the wake of Waco.

 

“There is cautious optimism,” said the agent. “We can move forward. ”

 

The agent said he had heard good things about the new acting director , B. Todd Jones, the U.S. Attorney in Minnesota.

 

“I’m hearing positive things about him,” he said. “He’s pro-ATF.”

 

The agent added that Melson stepping down was a good start, but “more needs to be done.”

 

Another agent called Melson’s departure “bitter-sweet”, saying “he’s a very personable individual, a good leader.”

 

“But I can only look forward,” the agent said.

 

Interestingly, Melson will return to the Justice Department where he once headed up the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the country. In recent times, during the Fast and Furious operation, he seemed to develop a distrust for the Justice Department, according to one source.

 

Melson will head over to Justice as a Senior Advisor to the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy (OLP) where he will specialize in forensic science policy issues at the Department of Justice

Melson had complained to Congressional investigators that he had been muzzled by the Justice Department and kept from communicating to the troops about the Fast and Furious controversy.

According to his testimony provided to investigators and released by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Melson said:

“Part of the problem, and one of the things that infuriated me was that I have not been allowed to communicate to the troops about anything. So, for example, earlier on, I wanted to do a broadcast that just talked about the case because everybody was wondering what’s this case about? What are you doing at headquarters?

“How come you were not issuing press releases and how come you were not ordering press conference ad pushing back and things like that? And I was told not do do that. Then after we wanted to do several things to talk to our people about what this case was about, what it wasn’t about, and you know, where were were going and the fact that we were cooperating as much as we could with the committee and with the Department, but we were restrained from doing that.”

Ex-FBI Agent Says Forget About Clemens and Bonds; Get The Big Fish in the Steroid Mess

Greg Stejskal was an FBI agent for nearly 32 years before retiring in 2006. He was the Senior Resident Agent of the Ann Arbor FBI office and spearheaded Operation Equine with former FBI agent Bill Randall — an operation that focused on steroids.

The author (right) Greg Stejsal and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

It’s generally accepted doctrine, at least when I was working drug cases, that you try to work up the food chain and go after the bigger fishes so to speak.

That being said, I have to question the wisdom of prosecuting anabolic steroid users — albeit famous ones — like baseball legends Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Take away the star power, and they’re simply users — not big fish, not major peddlers. Frankly, it’s not worth spending all the time and money on them.

But before I go on about that, a here’s a little background

In 1988, anabolic steroids (not all steroids are anabolic, synthetic testosterone, which promotes muscle growth and strength, for simplicity I refer to them as steroids) were made illegal under federal law. Dealing or possession of steroids with the intent to sell, became a felony. Mere use or possession was a misdemeanor. (The amount of steroids possessed was an indicator of whether there was an intent to sell.)

In 1989, when I headed up the FBI’s Ann Arbor office, Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler and his strength coach, Mike Gittleson, persuaded me that steroids were becoming a significant problem at all levels of football.

I proposed to FBIHQ that we initiate an undercover operation (UCO) targeting steroid distribution. FBIHQ was not enthusiastic about pursuing the illegal distribution of steroids, but reluctantly authorized a limited UCO to last only 6 months.

The operation, code-named Equine, started slow. We made buys from some street level dealers – gym rat dealer/users. Towards the end of our 6 month term, I got a call from FBIHQ. They apparently had received an inquiry from the White House regarding steroid investigations.

Equine was the only steroid case being worked in the U.S. at the time. Consequently FBIHQ wanted me to renew the case and upgrade it. What had been envisioned as a local case morphed into an international operation targeting dealers from all over the country, Mexico and Canada. The focus was always to identify and prosecute the biggest suppliers.

Those early gym rat dealers were confronted and offered favorable treatment if they would identify their suppliers and, in some cases, introduce the UC agent to the supplier. Some of the low or mid-level dealers were athletes or body builders, but none had much notoriety (with the possible exception of the then Mr. Ohio, a body builder).

We ended up convicting over 70 dealers in several jurisdictions. Many of these dealers supplied athletes some of whom were well known. One dealer had supplied some of the players on the Michigan State football team that had won the Big 10 and the Rose Bowl. Tony Mandarich, a notable member of that MSU team, whose photo graced the front of Sports Illustrated, admitted some years later to steroid use while at MSU.

Another dealer told us that that he had supplied Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, the so called bash brothers, while they played for the Oakland A’s. We arranged for that dealer to be debriefed by MLB, and he testified before a U.S. Senate sub-committee.

Ultimately the UCO was successful far beyond our expectations, not only with the many convictions of dealers (all of whom pleaded guilty rather than go to trial), but also with the seizure of massive amounts of steroids. (The Food and Drug Administration estimated that Equine resulted in the seizure of 8-10 million dosage units of real and counterfeit steroids.)

In addition to the UCO, we used a telephone wiretap to make a prosecutable case against one very large dealer. We had been unable to penetrate his organization using the UC agent. (On the wiretap we intercepted one conversation where the dealer threatened to “get rid” of the UCA.) That wiretap allowed us to identify the entire organization, its sources of supply and to intercept a huge shipment of steroids from Mexico.

We charged that dealer with a “Continuing Criminal Enterprise,” the drug equivalent of a RICO charge. Because of the potential for a long prison sentence, the CCE dealer identified his suppliers and provided information that led to the solving of a steroid related homicide.

Through out the about 3 year UCO, we were steadfast in working up the food chain, towards the upper echelons of the steroid trafficking organizations. It was tempting to want to prosecute some of the well-known players, who we learned were using steroids, but despite their celebrity, they were just users.

In the case of the dealer, who had supplied Canseco and McGwire, he identified suppliers in California, and he was willing to make controlled buys from them. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Northern California was not interested in prosecuting the dealer or his suppliers, so we arranged for the dealer to work with the California State Police.

They were able to successfully prosecute the suppliers with the cooperation of our dealer. Ironically it was the same US Attorney’s Office in California that later prosecuted the BALCO case and ardently prosecuted Barry Bonds for perjury related to his steroid use with minimal success and at great expense.

When our UCO ended, and we announced some of the federal indictments there was some local and national media coverage. We had hoped there would be more coverage. We wanted to send a message as deterrent to steroid traffickers and aspiring athletes. We tried to warn Major League Baseball in the summer of 1994 that they had a big steroid problem. For whatever reason, MLB ignored the warning.

We did have second thoughts about not prosecuting some of the players. As various steroid scandals became public, and Jose Canseco started outing himself and others, all of a sudden the media took an interest. Obviously, honing in on big names — even if they were really small fish in the scheme of things — created a buzz in the media.

Interestingly, Equine became more famous for having unsuccessfully warned MLB than for what we accomplished in prosecuting dealers. The reluctance of the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s Offices to prosecute steroid cases including athletes /players was gone.

Oddly — or maybe not — it only seemed there was an interest in prosecuting players who were famous. Prosecutorial discretion seemed to have made a 180 degree shift at least in the Northern District of California.

The results of those big player prosecutions have been less than stellar. After a long protracted legal fight, Barry Bonds was tried for perjury and obstruction of justice, felonies. His use of steroids was a misdemeanor. He was convicted of one count of obstruction of justice.

I’m certain more money has been spent trying to prosecute Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens then we spent during the entire operational and prosecutorial phases of Equine even correcting for inflation. Oh yes, Clemens, who was accused of lying to Congress about his use of steroids. The prosecution screwed up and presented evidence the judge had barred — and the judge, Reggie Walton, declared a mistrial.

It’s unclear whether he’ll grant a new trial.

Don’t misunderstand me. The players use of steroids as performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) was nothing less than cheating and did grave if not irreparable damage to their sports.

In baseball the effect was so great that the 1990’s will forever be remembered as the steroid era. Further their use of steroids encouraged steroid use by young aspiring athletes sometimes with tragic results.

And perjury before a Grand Jury or Congress can not be ignored. But were the players placed in front of forums in the hope that they would lie so as to create a prosecutable felony that would ultimately stir up a lot of publicity?

Shouldn’t prosecutorial discretion apply if that lie is extremely difficult (read expensive) to prove? Prosecutions should not be based solely on a cost benefit analysis, but it should be a factor. Being cynical, I wonder how much consideration was given to the celebrity of the defendants and the media interest in the prosecutions.

I now have a renewed understanding of the wisdom of working up the food chain in drug investigations, no matter who the users are.

Update: Fast and Furious Official No Longer Going to Mexico as Attache; Mexican Govt. Asks for Transcripts of His Testimony

William Newell

Update

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

William Newell, who headed ATF’s Phoenix Division during the controversial operation dubbed Fast and Furious, won’t be going to Mexico as ATF’s attache after all.

The agency has decided to to nix that assignment before he even heads south. Instead, he’s been named special assistant to the ATF Assistant Director for the Office of Management in Washington.

The reassignment comes at a time the Mexican Justice Department known as the PGR is reportedly conducting a criminal probe into the Fast and Furious Operation. It has also requested transcripts of Newell’s recent testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Concern had surfaced recently within ATF that the Mexican government might arrest Newell if he came down there as the attache.

Lydia Antonio, a press officer for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, declined to comment for this story. An ATF official familiar with the matter confirmed the reassignment, but declined to speculate on why Newell’s Mexico City assignment was changed.

The move to keep Newell in Washington is direct turn about for the agency, which up until recently, had insisted that Newell was still going to Mexico City as the ATF attache even as the Mexican government fumed over Fast and Furious, which encouraged Arizona gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers or middlemen, with the hopes of tracing the weapons to the Mexican cartels. Some of the guns have surfaced at crime scenes.

ATF first announced internally last Fall that Newell, who is fluent in Spanish, would become the new attache in Mexico City. But after the controversy broke over Fast and Furious, ATF delayed his departure to Mexico and sent him on a detour to Washington to help Congressional investigators and the Inspector General investigate the faulty Fast and Furious operation.

Agents around the country, according to one person, were angry over Newell’s testimony at a Congressional hearing last month when he denied that ATF let guns walk. During his testimony, he admitted there had been some mistakes, but essentially defended the operation.

In a phone interview Thursday with ticklethewire.com, Newell’s attorney Paul Pelletier of Washington, a former federal prosecutor, commented on the Newell’s job reassignment by saying:  “Going to Mexico, given the way his public service has been unfairly portrayed, would not be prudent.”

But Pelletier said Newell has been extremely dedicated to fighting gun trafficking to Mexico.

“Bill’s career with the ATF has been mostly on the Southwest border and he’s made his career literally preventing guns from going to Mexico” he said. “That’s what his career has been based on. He’s done a lot. He’s been a strong advocate of stopping the flow of guns into Mexico.”

He said Newell volunteered to take his family to Mexico City to take on a dangerous assignment so he could continue addressing the problem.

“The public theater has not been fair to him and has not been fair to ATF.”

Pelletier also noted that Newell was instrumental in getting a member of the Mexican Justice Department stationed in the Phoenix Division.

Is ATF Concerned About Sending ATF “Fast and Furious” Official to Mexico?

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Last October in Orlando, at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the heads of the ATF field offices gathered for a SAC meeting. It was there where it was announced that  William Newell, head of the Phoenix office, would become the ATF’s attache to Mexico.

Newell, an up and comer in the agency, seemed like a good choice. He was fluent in Spanish or as one person said “he spoke Spanish like professor.” And he had experience  dealing with the Mexican cartels.

In fact, he was helping head up a little known program at the time called “Operation Fast and Furious”, which encouraged Arizona gun dealers to sell weapons to “straw purchasers” — all with the hopes of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartel.

It was a bold program and a highly ambitious one.

But months later, it became a very controversial one after  word got out that some weapons were showing up at crime scenes, including in the fatal shooting of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry last December.

Congressional inquiries started. An Inspector General probe was launched.  A media frenzy ensued.

Now, eight months after the announcement in Orlando, Newell has been holed up in Washington instead of Mexico supposedly to help the Congressional inquiries into Operation Fast and Furious. His post in Phoenix has already been filled and his assignment as ATF’s Mexican attache has been put on hold.

Word inside ATF, according to one knowledgeable person, is that some in the agency have voiced concerns about sending Newell to Mexico as an attache because the Mexican government, which is fuming over Fast and Furious, might pursue criminal charges and arrest Newell.

Fox News reported Tuesday that  the Mexican government is furious about Fast and Furious and wants to extradite American officials for prosecution.   Sending Newell might make that all too easy for the Mexicans.

Whether Mexico goes that far is unclear.

Nonetheless, sending Newell isn’t likely to sit well in Mexico.

But an ATF official on Friday tried to dispel any notion that Newell won’t be headed south of the border.

“As far as his assignment to Mexico City, it’s still in place but it’s been temporarily postponed so that he can assist with the Congressional inquiries and the OIG (Office of Inspector General) review,” the official told ticklethewire.com.

Newell did not respond to an email asking for comment.

When asked for comment more than a week ago, the Mexican embassy in Washington asked that ticklethewire.com submit questions in writing. There was no response.

On Friday, a spokesman did call back and left a voicemail. But the spokesman could not be reached after that.

The embassy spokesman did not immediately return the call on Tuesday for comment.

Agents’ Opinions Range from Good to Bad to Mixed on FBI Dir. Robert Mueller Getting 2-Year Extension

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — Nearly everyone in the FBI can agree they were caught off guard by President Obama’s announcement Thursday that he would seek to have FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III stay on for two more years beyond his 10-year term.

What they all don’t agree on is whether it’s a good thing, with opinions ranging from good to bad to mixed. Most agents spoke to ticklethewire.com on the condition that they not be named.

“”It is wonderful,” said one agent. “It is great for our country.”

But some agents thought it was time for Mueller, 66, to go, and were critical of his focus on certain crimes and intelligence issues at the expense of others. They also have long advocated that a former agent — Mueller is a former federal prosecutor — would better understand their mindset and mission.

“I think it was time for a change,” said one agent, who was hoping the new director would be ex-FBI official Mike Mason, the choice of the FBI Agents Association.

Conversely, he said some of the names that had surfaced as potential replacements concerned him.

“It could have been worse,” he said of Mueller staying.

Another agent expressed mixed views as well.

“I think there are pluses and minuses,” said the agent. “I like Mueller. I don’t agree with everything he does. He’s got the toughest job around. And he’s done a good job.”

The agent said it’s good to have continuity at this time.

“”We just killed bin laden,” the agent said. “Threat levels are up. We’re in times we’ve never seen before. We’ve got wars on two fronts.”

The downside, he said, is that the legislation mandating term limits for the FBI director are “designed to bring in new blood. He also said the term limit was put in place to prevent politics from playing a role in the job, and to keep someone from creating a legacy like J. Edgar Hoover.

“The law was set for a reason. Are we defeating its purpose?” he asked.

Andrew G. Arena, special agent in charge of the Detroit FBI, said: “I think for the sake of the agency, it’s a good thing. It will provide continuity.  We’ll just carry on as we have been.”

With a new person, he noted:”You don’t know if someone is going to come in and change the direction” of the agency. “There was the fear of the unknown.”

Konrad Motyka, president of the FBI Agents Association, which had backed former FBI official Mike Mason as the next director, came out with a statement saying:

“I congratulate Director Robert Mueller on President Obama’s request to Congress to extend Director Mueller’s term for an additional two years.

“President Obama’s request to Congress reflects the critical role that the Director has played in transitioning the Bureau to a post-9/11 world that requires both investigative and intelligence gathering skills. We look forward to working with Director Mueller to continue to enhance the effectiveness of the FBI in the fight against terrorism and emerging threats without compromising the Bureau’s established expertise at both criminal and counterintelligence investigations.”

Mike Mason, who had worked under Mueller,  said Thursday: ” I couldn’t be happier.  I’m glad. He’s got the momentum going on a  lot of initiatives and this keeps the bureau marching in the right direction. ”

Mueller’s 10-year-term expires in September. Congress passed a law putting a 10-year term limit. Congress will now have to pass some type of legislation that would allow Mueller to remain for two more years.

Mueller has generally been warmly received on Capitol Hill, and is unlikely to find much opposition from Congress.

Stripper Loving Fed Judge Free After 3 Weeks In Prison; Some Think He Got Off Way Too Easy

Judge Jack Camp/daily report

Judge Jack Camp/daily report

By Allan Lengel
For The Daily

A 67-year-old federal judge jailed after a crime spree involving drugs, guns and a prostitute was freed on May 9 after serving just three weeks.

Judge Jack T. Camp, Jr, a Ronald Reagan appointee, agreed to a plea deal, but many in the legal community believe Camp got off easy.  The fallen Georgia judge received 30 days, but he got credit for the initial time he spent in the county jail.

“Bringing a gun to a drug deal would have gotten anyone else a mandatory five years in prison,” said Atlanta defense attorney Marcia Shein.

The married father of two grown children went astray a year ago after receiving a lap dance from Sherry Ann Ramos, a stripper who worked at the Goldrush strip club in Atlanta.

To read the full story click here.