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New School Dedicated to the Late DEA Agent Enrique Camarena, Who Lived a Life of Bravery

Photo of the news school

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The opening next week of the Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School in Chula Vista, California celebrates the legacy of a courageous DEA agent who was murdered by Mexican drug cartel members in February 1985.

No doubt Special Agent Camarena’s family, especially his son Enrique S. Camarena, Jr., will pause this week, particularly because the school opening coincides with their father’s birthday, and remember what a special father and husband he was.

The rest of us can remember him for his sacrifice and commitment to contributing to a safer world.Like Special Agent Terry Watson, whose life and recent death were the subject of a column a couple weeks ago. Enrique “Kiki” Camarena lived a full life of bravery and service. He was born in Mexicali, Mexico, but his family moved to the United States in Calexico, California.

He became a naturalized U. S. citizen and served in the Marines, as a firefighter and police investigator before joining DEA.

Assigned to the Guadalajara office in 1981, he was fearless in pursuing the illegal activities of the drug smugglers in the area. Despite the danger he acted undercover and had infiltrated the cartel. In 1985, his investigation led to the discovery and destruction of 2,500 acres of marijuana worth an estimated $ 9 billion.In spite of information, that he had been targeted by the cartel, he stayed on to continue his investigations.

On February 7, 1985, in broad daylight, he was kidnapped as he left the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara. He was on his way to meet his wife Geneva for lunch. For two days he was tortured and then bludgeoned to death by cartel henchmen with the aid of corrupt police officers.

A massive manhunt by U.S. federal law enforcement resulted in the capture and conviction of his killers and their aider and abettors. Special Agent Camarena’s life continues to make a difference. The activities of the Camarena Foundation support education and drug-free living for America’s youth.

Every year in October thousands of schools and law enforcement offices around the country participate in Red Ribbon Week to support the goals of the Foundation.Enrique Camarena Jr. was 11 when his father died, but he made a commitment to follow in his father’s footsteps. With the support of the DEA Survivors Benefit Fund he went to law school and became a Deputy District Attorney for San Diego County, where he continues to serve.

He is also active in the work of the Camarena Foundation and in contributing to the efforts to support other children who have lost a father or mother who were killed in the line of duty. The new school bearing Agent Camarena’s name will employ innovative teaching methods and the latest technology to provide a quality education to its 975 students.As they stream into their beautiful new school, boisterous with excitement, Kiki Camarena will be somewhere watching, no doubt proud and happy for the promise that they hold for America’s future.

Feds Prosecuton of Zimmerman Case Would Be a Mistake

 Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

Trayvon Martin

 
By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The acquittal Saturday of George Zimmerman in a Florida state courtroom has already brought cries by civil rights leaders for a federal civil rights prosecution. On Sunday, the Justice Department announced it was going to review the case.

Zimmerman was found not guilty of second degree murder of a 17 year old African American boy, Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was an armed neighborhood watch volunteer patrolling in his Sanford, Florida townhouse complex because of his concern about some recent burglaries in the area. Martin was returning home in his gray hoodie from a snack run for some Skittles and a fruit drink. Zimmerman pursued him, at least for a time, a struggle ensued, and Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest during the fight. The evidence was murky, emotional, conflicting, and heart rending.

A nationwide controversy erupted from the beginning over the racial implications of the case and whether and what to charge. The local prosecutor and law enforcement officers were replaced by state officials who chose to charge second degree murder. Although late in the trial they sought an instruction for the lesser included offense of manslaughter, they clearly focused their evidence, trial theory and argument on murder with malice aforethought and intent rather than on manslaughter based on an imperfect and unjustified self defense.

After the not-guilty verdict the charges of racial profiling and counter-charges are flying fast and furious and will undoubtedly continue for some time. My son’s social media is buzzing with a wide assortment of wacky accusations on both sides.

Among the protests has been discussion in the media about a federal investigation and prosecution under the U. S. Civil Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. 245. The Double Jeopardy Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not bar such a re-prosecution since the state and federal governments are separate sovereignties. Such cases are rare, however, and require a full Justice Department review.

A federal civil rights prosecution requires proof of an intentional interference with a person’s right to enjoyment of public accommodations on the basis of race or national origin. So the question is whether George Zimmerman was motivated by racial animus when he pursued and shot Trayvon Martin. Or more precisely, the question is whether there is evidence and proof of such a motivation.

The case and the cries for federal prosecution bring to mind a case of thirty years ago when members of one ethnic group appealed to the public and prosecutors when they were greatly dissatisfied with the lack of state justice, in their opinion, over the homicide of another young man by someone of a different race.

Vincent Chin, a young Chinese American was bludgeoned to death by a baseball-wielding white man after an argument in a bar in Highland Park, Michigan. The killer was accused of being motivated by his anger over the success of Japanese auto makers and the effect it was having over American auto workers.

Like the Zimmerman/Martin case, epithets were allegedly spoken during the events which preceded the killing. This, the protesters insisted, proved that the killing was racially motivated.

Angry protests, supported by the media, led to political pressure on Congressmen, which led to pressure on the Justice Department. Receiving literally thousands of letters, the Detroit U. S. Attorney Len Gilman ordered a re-examination of the record. A young AUSA, John Thompson, did so and concluded that the evidence of race was insufficient for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. His supervisors and Mr. Gilman also reviewed the evidence, came to the same conclusion and recommended no prosecution by the Justice Department.

But politics and emotion at DOJ trumped a calm investigation of the facts, the Detroit USAO was countermanded, and a prosecution was ordered in July 1983. At the time, I was chief of the criminal division at the U.S Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

After five years of intense effort, including a trial in Detroit, a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversal, and a trial in Cincinnati, both defendants were acquitted for the same reason that first AUSA declined the prosecution. Like that of Travon Martin, the killing was a tragedy, but there was not enough evidence of racial motivation to convince the jury that a federal civil rights prosecution was warranted.

I do not pretend to know the evidence of the case as well as the media pundits and armchair trial lawyers claim to. Maybe the state prosecutor did overcharge and should have focused on defective self defense theory for manslaughter. Maybe in his mind and his actions George Zimmerman was wrongly affected in his decision-making and mistaken perceptions about a young black man in a hoodie in the neighborhood.

But I do know that the jury has spoken after hearing all of the evidence. And I still adhere to the jurisprudential truism that the jury is the greatest truth-finder ever invented.

Agree with the verdict or not, there does not appear to be enough evidence of manifestations of a racial basis for a federal re-prosecution. Federal court is not the place to fix every wrong result in state court.

Sometimes, however unsatisfying, a case is just over.

 

DEA Agent’s Death a Reminder of Courage in a Dangerous World and the Good Work of the DEA Survivors Benefit Fund

James Watson

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

DEA Special Agent James “Terry” Watson had spent an enjoyable evening with friends at a Bogota restaurant watching Game 7 of the Heat-Spurs NBA Championship game. He was assigned to Cartagena but was in the Colombian capital as part of his duties.

Agent Watson knew how dangerous being in law enforcement could be but he had regularly volunteered for the most challenging assignments all over the globe. Like during one of his three deployments in Afghanistan for DEA in 2009 when he and Army Special Forces were under fire from 500 Taliban in the Farah Province. Or when he rappelled down 3,000 foot rock facings in the mountains near Pakistan to bomb heroin dens. He had also volunteered for difficult cases in Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Panama.

A short distance from the Bogota restaurant Terry Watson was stabbed and ran a block before collapsing. Several assailants immediately fled the scene without taking any money or other property. He died en route to a medical clinic.

Bogota police have arrested six men for the murders, and the Justice Department has indicated its intention to seek extradition. The police have announced their conclusion that the murder was part of a random robbery, but others have doubts because of the circumstances of the assault and question whether Agent Watson’s successful investigations of high level drug traffickers in Colombia was the real motive behind murder.

At his memorial service on Wednesday at the Rayville, Louisiana, Richland Arts Center near where he had grown up in Holly Ridge, his family said, “Terry dedicated his life to serving the public and making the world a better and safer place. Terry never wasted a minute of his life and never took it for granted.”

Agent Watson had recently married Fadia Margarita de la Rosa Watson, whom he had met during his service in Colombia.

Another DEA agent who had also been assigned to Cartagena during his deployment there told me that he was constantly aware of the potential for violence during his term. No matter how careful an agent was, if he did his job, the cartels were always in the front part of his mind. Years later he remembers his time there as an ordeal that required him to always remain aware of surroundings. But he also knew that even this awareness was no guarantee that he would survive the assignment.

Earlier articles in this column have made plain my own position that responsibility for these deaths and violence, both to Americans and those in Central America, civilians and law enforcement, can be directly traced to America’s insatiable appetite for the drugs.

Read more »

MLB May Never Eliminate Steroid Problem, But It Has Come a Long Way to Substantially Reducing It

This column first appeared in the New York Daily News on June 22. 

istock photo

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

In August 1994, I was attending an FBI sports presentation conference. The bureau has a program where trained agents make presentations to college and professional sports teams regarding illegal sports gambling and other topics. Representatives from the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NCAA were on hand as well, and attendees were made aware of an article I had recently written for the FBI magazine about an undercover operation (named Equine) that targeted illegal steroid distribution. Copies of the article were distributed at the conference.

One evening over some beers, some of the attendees were discussing steroids and their use by players in various sports. I told Kevin Hallinan, then the head of MLB security, that myself and fellow agent, Bill Randall, had learned through the Equine case that a dealer we prosecuted had told us he’d been supplying some MLB players with steroids. I also mentioned to Hallinan that the dealer believed steroid use in MLB was widespread and becoming a bigger problem. One of the players the dealer mentioned was Jose Canseco, then with the A’s.

Hallinan said he had heard reports of steroid use by players, but he didn’t think MLB could do much about it. Baseball was in the midst of trying to resolve a debilitating strike (which would end in 1995), there was no drug-testing program and it would be a full decade before players began being tested for performance-enhancing drug use. Hallinan did not express any interest in talking to the dealer or following up on the information.

The time frame of the FBI conference fell smack in the middle of baseball’s infamous “steroid era,” with such iconic events as the 1998 home run derby between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, which culminated with McGwire breaking Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. These long-ball extravaganzas were putting fans back in the seats, but the cost was the integrity of the game.

In the early 2000s, there were revelations of steroid/PED use by players, including Ken Caminiti’s 2002 interview with Sports Illustrated, in which he speculated about widespread doping. Congressional hearings followed in 2005 and 2008, the latter featuring seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens pitted against his former trainer, Brian McNamee. Both Clemens and home run king Barry Bonds were tried in criminal trials, Bonds getting convicted on one count, and Clemens being acquitted of all charges. MLB was on the defensive and initially didn’t react well. But that has changed; MLB has taken the initiative and gained the support of the Players Association in the fight against PEDs. They’ve instituted rigorous testing protocols in their drug-testing program, including taking blood samples to test for human growth hormone.

In my view, more importantly, they are not relying on testing alone to ferret out drug use by players. When a Miami New Times report named numerous major leaguers’ PED links to the Miami anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis, MLB attempted to identify the players and get specific information from the newspaper. MLB also sent investigators to Florida and filed a civil suit against Biogenesis, its founder and several others in order to subpoena their records. It appears their aggressive efforts are about to bear fruit. MLB has reportedly convinced Anthony Bosch, the owner of Biogenesis, to name names and supply records. Players could ultimately be suspended, and it appears that the Players Association is in full support of baseball’s efforts.

You would think the baseball commentators and writers would be supportive, too. After all, a few years ago they were chastising MLB for having ignored the PED issue and not taking stronger action. Now, some pundits have said baseball has lost its “war on drugs,” and the large number of players apparently getting steroids from Biogenesis proves it. I would argue that MLB’s dogged efforts and apparent success in identifying the players linked to Biogenesis shows it is beginning to win the war.

I have never been in favor of criminal prosecution of players. They are nothing more than high-profile users. I think MLB is right to aggressively pursue the identification of PED users and then apply the appropriate sanctions. (The standard of proof in an administrative action is considerably lower than in a criminal prosecution.)

Although I warned MLB about the steroid problem almost 19 years ago, and I was concerned that it seemed to ignore the problem, I now commend MLB’s aggressive efforts to continue to rid baseball of performance-enhancing drug use. MLB may never totally eradicate the problem, but it has gone a long way in substantially reducing use. The other professional leagues and the NCAA should take note.

I think Abraham Lincoln’s words are appropriate: “I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.”

 

The Collision Between Drugs and Environmental Forces in Central America

By Ross Paker
ticklethewire.com

Two months ago this column discussed the effect that America’s insatiable appetite for drugs was having on two contrasting Central American nations—violent and impoverished Honduras and peaceful and idyllic Costa Rica.

Because of the success of DEA and the U.S. military at interdicting South American drug shipments by sea, the Colombian cartels and the Mexican Mafia now move virtually all drugs from South America by land, transporting it through those two countries. The under-resourced law enforcement systems of Honduras and Costa Rica have proven to be no match for the well-armed smugglers.

The latest evidence of this struggle for control in Costa Rica has been a violent incident resulting in the collision between the cartels and powerful environmental forces, a collision likely to accelerate the enhancement of law enforcement resources in that country in its fight against the smugglers.

During the night of May 30th, a popular young biology student, Jairo Mora Sandoval, along with four female volunteers (three Americans and one from Spain), were patrolling a beach on the Caribbean coast to protect the nests of Leatherhead turtles, whose eggs were constantly subject to poachers in the area. The Leatherhead is an endangered species whose eggs illegally sell for a dollar a piece to buyers who believe them to be an aphrodisiac. They are also a dining delicacy in restaurants and sidewalk cafes.

Mora had been an outspoken advocate for increased law enforcement in the area both against poachers and also drug trafficking in nearby Limon. As reported in the earlier column, Limon was the location where two policemen were recently murdered as part of the increased criminal atmosphere in that district. An atmosphere fueled by the invasion of drug smugglers into this peaceful country.

Costa Rica is one of the most eco-friendly places on the planet. The result is that a sizeable portion of the nation’s GDP comes from eco-tourism. A threat to its abundant natural resources is likely to mobilize thousands of environmentalists, as well as threaten an important source of revenue for this prosperous country. Cries for action from both of these sources shake and shape the government’s policies in all respects.

As the five volunteers traveled along the remote Caribbean beach, they were seized by five armed kidnappers. The women were able to escape from the abandoned house where they had been tied up, but Mora’s body was found the next day, tortured and bludgeoned to death. The murder is believed to be a threat by poachers and smugglers to frighten other environmentalists.

The connection between poaching and the drug smugglers has several facets. The cartels use the same beaches where the turtles lay their eggs, in order to bring their product in from boats off the coast for transport to Mexico and the United States. They employ locals for warehousing and overland shipment and frequently pay them with cocaine. This has created a drug user population that often resorts to smuggling the turtle eggs to feed their habit. The population also spawns the other social problems ancillary to drug activity.

The reaction worldwide by environmentalists to the murder has resulted in a crisis in Costa Rica and has prompted the government to pledge to implement a plan to combat poaching and drug trafficking more aggressively.

(For an excellent report on the policy and environmental intricacies of this incident, check out National Geographic’s story here. Thanks to Caleb in Kansas City for the heads up on this story.)

No one has yet pointed the finger at the wealthy northern neighbor, the U.S., whose lucrative market provides the financial incentive for the smuggling cartels. But it would be hard to deny that we share some responsibility for such violent incidents, as well as countless others that threaten the equanimity of this beautiful country.

Which makes it more than fair that we fully respond to requests for help from the beleaguered law enforcement communities in Costa Rica and Honduras, both with financial and advisory support.

 

An Analysis: The Illicit Prescription Drug Epidemic Just Keeps Getting Worse

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com
 
The following are a few of the true stories from the cinema verite of America’s Prescription Addiction already playing in real life near you. Half of Americans received at least one prescription in the last month, and almost three billion prescriptions for 100 billion pills were dispensed last year. Both numbers are on a steady increase.

Scene #1 – In the early morning hours the “patients” are lined up out the door and around the block of the suburban Detroit clinic.  Each has a well rehearsed set of subjective symptoms that will produce a scrip for Xanax, Vicodin or another drug that they can sell on the street. Muted cheers as the doctor pulls up in his expensive European sedan, gives them a friendly wave, and then enters the side door of the office. By noon he will have completed his “treatment” of those in the line, and he will retire to the doctors’ lounge at a nearby hospital where he can check his stocks on his laptop.

Scene #2 – The federal prosecutor and case agent view the latest day’s video of a court-authorized Title III from a camera inserted into another doctor’s office, this time in the inner city. The investigation had shown that no “patients” ever entered this office. The doctor enters the office and, using the list of names and drugs given to him by his assistant, proceeds to write out dozens of prescriptions for patients he never sees. What is striking to the prosecution team is that he always puts on his starched white coat and checks his appearance in the mirror before sitting at his desk to complete his task.

Scene #3 – Fourteen year old Sally digs through her parents’ medicine cabinet before leaving the house to join her friends. She thought there was some Valium left from last week but decides to settle for a few of these OxyContins her father had left over from some back surgery. A friend would bring some alcohol to share with the group. Her parents would receive a call later that night from the hospital emergency room where she had been taken after she went into seizure at the party.

Scene #4 – Max was a good student at the state university, but this semester’s course load was a ball-buster, and his performance on final exams next week would determine whether he would keep his scholarship for the rest of the year. Fortunately he had a buddy down the hall who had been diagnosed as ADHD and who would always slide him a few Adderall to boost his concentration level.

Scene #5 – Dr. Anderson gets a call as he is leaving the house with his family to see a Friday night movie. He has to take it because it is his turn to be on call. A desperate sounding patient of the clinic where he works is in a great deal of pain from a recent surgery. She needs a prescription for a pain killer called in to the pharmacy so that she can get through the weekend. Although he knows it will mess up the movie schedule, the doctor takes the time to check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database and discovers that the patient has been getting the same pain pills from two other physicians and an emergency room in the last month. He refuses the request and makes a mental note to address the issue with her regular physician.

Like most things, along with the use comes the abuse. Over one-fifth of Americans have taken prescription drugs for non-medical reasons. One-quarter of high school students have abused them, a 33% increase in the last four years. Six of the ten most popular illegal drugs used by 12th graders were originally obtained by prescription, and half of them came from mom and dad’s medicine cabinet.

The epidemic of illicit prescription drug abuse continues to gain speed.  Its use exceeds the combined use of cocaine, heroin, and all inhalants. Marijuana is the only illegal drug used more than pharmaceuticals.

Drug overdose deaths exceeded automobile accident fatalities last year, and most of these (about 24,000) involved prescription drugs, especially addictive painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin.

Read more »

Justice Department’s Seizure of Associated Press Phone Records is Disgusting!

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Last time I checked, John Mitchell of the Nixonian era was no longer our Attorney General.

But you’d be hard pressed not to feel that the crooked Mitchell was heading up the Justice Department, which we now learn,  secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press. It’s something John Mitchell would have done.

AP calls it a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.”

I call it one of the most disgusting things to come out of Justice  in a long long time.

Eric Holder’s Justice Department has offered no public justification.

That’s because there is no justification in a nation where we have a First Amendment, in a nation where the government is not supposed to run amok and trample on the rights of press.

(Update: Holder said Tuesday that he recused himself from the probe involving AP and that deputy Attorney General James Cole supervised the probe. He said he’s certain everything was done according to the law, and that the aggressive probe into a leak was essential.)

In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012, according to AP.

AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt shot off a letter to Attorney Gen. Eric Holder Jr.:

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”

The Obama administration has come under constant attack by the right. With offensive antics like this,  it may not be able to count on support from the other side of the aisle in the future.

This shouldn’t happen, that is, unless it’s really the ghost of John Mitchell who’s running the Justice Department.

I’m not sure Attorney General Eric Holder would like to be saddled with a legacy like that.

 

What We Can Do to Confront the Threat of New Designer Drugs from China

 This is the second in a two-part series.  To read the first part click here.
 
By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Part one of this report discussed the menace of a new generation of synthetic designer drugs from China causing a public health crisis in Europe. In America, in the last two years, enterprising rogue Chinese chemists have introduced hundreds of these new chemical combinations into the market.

This plague in America is steadily growing worse.  Law enforcement and medical experts believe that the tens of thousands of reported cases in hospitals in the last year are just the tip of the iceberg. These numbers have essentially doubled just in the last year. The rate of reporting by the agencies like DAWN, which records emergency room admissions, and NFLIS, which keeps track of law enforcement laboratory tests on drugs, is a bleak harbinger of things to come.

Unless aggressive action is taken, we can expect the same panic the British are experiencing from this onslaught. On a more optimistic note, there are positive steps that can be taken and virtually all individuals and groups can have a role in this defense. This part will outline a strategy which can meet this oncoming crisis.

Parents —– Since the victims are largely teenagers living at home, the first line of defense has to be the parents. At a minimum all parents of teens and pre-teens should have a frank and two-sided conversation to educate their children on the life-threatening effects of these drugs, which are deceptively packaged and marketed as a “legal high.”

Teens think they are immortal and the prospect of some exciting new forbidden experience can be irresistible. Information and misinformation about the synthetics are spread by friends and acquaintances, and the availability is cheap and accessible. Many of these new consumers are naïve about drugs in general, as well as their dangers.

A teenage boy in North Dakota is currently facing murder charges because he gave a single tablet of a synthetic drug to a friend. The friend died shortly after ingesting it at a party. The consequences of such single acts are beyond the comprehension of most teens.

Read more »