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Kidnapping For Ransom: Bad Business Model

Suspects in 1975 kidnapping of GM exec's son/ detroit free press

Suspects in 1975 kidnapping of GM exec's son/ detroit free press

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

It was February, 1980 in Detroit.

I was assigned to the FBI surveillance squad (with apologies to Jack Webb and his introductions to “Dragnet”). It was very cold in the back of the van. We hadn’t yet installed a heater that would work when the van wasn’t running.

I had been driven to a spot where I could observe the ransom drop site from the small one-way window in the back of panel van. The driver had parked the van and left. He was picked up a few blocks away by one of the other surveillance cars. If anyone was watching, they would think the van was empty.

Kidnappings. It was one of many I would work in my career as an FBI agent. As I would witness, time and again, it was a lousy way for criminals to make money. Particularly as technology improved, it became clear: The business model simply didn’t work. And I thought it was worth recounting why.

In this 1980 case, my job was to watch the ransom package, which had been placed between the rear wall of a party store and a dumpster. The package contained $50,000. The “party store” (that’s what they call convenience stores in Detroit) was at the corner of Fenkell and Robeson on Detroit’s northwest side.

I had two HTs (hand held radios) with me in the van. One was tuned to the surveillance frequency. The other was tuned to the frequency of a transmitter in the ransom package. The transmitter broadcast a rhythmic tone that would speed up if the package was moved- pretty primitive by today’s technology.

The whole thing had started when Jacqueline Hempstead, the manager of a Detroit bank branch, learned that her son, Hessley, age 8, had been kidnapped on his way to school. She was called by the kidnappers and received instructions and a ransom demand. Mrs. Hempstead contacted her bank’s security officer, who alerted the Detroit Police Department (DPD) and the FBI.

It was decided that Mrs. Hempstead would follow the kidnappers’ instructions and comply with the ransom demand. A package with $50,000 and the aforementioned transmitter was prepared.

The FBI had been positioned in a parameter around the drop site. I had been driven to a spot near the drop site before the delivery. There I could observe the delivery and provide protection to Mrs. Hempstead if necessary.

Mrs. Hempstead delivered the package without any problems. We had agents in the vicinity of the drop, but not close enough to observe the package or spook someone wanting to make a pick-up.

After I had been watching for several hours, I heard an ominous sound, a garbage truck approaching. The truck got positioned and lifted the dumpster next to the ransom package. For a moment I thought what a novel way to retrieve a ransom. But when the dumpster was replaced, it was set on the top of the package. The transmitter screeched then seemed to moan before dying completely. The package was torn open with the stacks of bills clearly visible.

I kept my vigil, but we were concerned that a passerby might see the cash. After about an hour with no apparent effort by the kidnappers to collect the ransom, we had Mrs. Hempstead retrieve the package.

In the meantime, young Hessley, who had been left unsupervised by the kidnappers at a house on Detroit’s eastside, was able to break free and call his home. Agents that were posted at the Hempstead home told him to get out of the house and go to a neighbor’s house.

He went to the neighbors and then called again. He was picked up by FBI agents and returned home. The kidnappers were identified initially from their connection to the house where Hessley was held. They were successfully prosecuted. The kidnapping was short-circuited, but the victim was returned safe and law enforcement responded quickly and performed well.

In 1975, my first year assigned to Detroit Division (Michigan), there were four kidnappings in Michigan, three of which were classic kidnappings for ransom. The other was Jimmy Hoffa, a kidnapping/murder.

It was an exciting first year on the job for me, but this was probably an inordinate number of ransom kidnappings for anywhere, including Detroit.

Before I arrived, in much earlier times, it seemed as if criminals had had far better luck with kidnapping. In Bryan Burroughs’ book, Public Enemies, America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI 1933-34, Burroughs writes that for some of the notorious gangs of the era, kidnapping was the crime of choice. John Dillinger’s gang specialized in bank robbery, but the Barker/Karpis gang preferred kidnapping.

It was the gangs’ success in their respective specialty crimes that resulted in making them Federal Crimes, and gave birth to the FBI. (Machine Gun Kelly, a member of the Barker gang, is credited with coining the “G-man” moniker for FBI agents when he was arrested by the FBI.) The FBI learned from those early experiences.

michigan map

Kidnapping for ransom, out of necessity, requires a victim who is of wealth or has some access to wealth (part of the business model). Consequently, the victim will be or is often related, in some way, to a high-profile person that can be expected to have the wherewithal and desire to pay a ransom.

The Federal statute that gives the FBI jurisdiction in kidnapping cases is called the “Lindbergh law”, which arose from the highly publicized kidnapping of Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s son by Bruno Richard Hauptmann and the proliferation of high profile kidnappings elsewhere in the U.S. The Lindberghs were wealthy, but Charles may have been the most famous and beloved person in America at the time.

The Lindbergh baby was found dead after a ransom was paid. It was several years before the case was solved. The Federal kidnapping statute relies on a presumption that any kidnapping involves interstate commerce. It is a rebuttable presumption, but allows the FBI to investigate a kidnapping without having to first establish some interstate aspect.

One such case came with the kidnapping in Michigan on Nov. 10, 1975. A young man, Timothy Stempel, 13, was kidnapped in Bloomfield Township, an affluent suburb north of Detroit.

Timothy’s father was Robert Stempel, a high ranking executive with General Motors (later Robert Stempel would become CEO of GM). Mr. Stempel received a series of phone calls at his home from the kidnappers, and he was told they wanted $150,000 for Timothy’s return. Stempel contacted GM security, who in turn contacted the police and FBI.

Timothy had been kidnapped by two men, Darryl Wilson and Clinton Williams, who had decided that a good money making project would be to kidnap a rich kid and hold him for ransom.

The Stempel family/free press

The Stempel family/free press

They had no specific victim in mind when they drove to the high-income neighborhood of Bloomfield Township. They passed on a few potential victims for various reasons; playing too close to a house, too young.

Then they spotted Timothy. He was skateboarding. Williams asked Timothy for directions to a person’s house. Timothy said he didn’t know the person and started to walk away. Williams pulled a handgun and told Timothy to get in the car. Timothy hit Williams with the skateboard, but Williams tackled him and struck him several times in the head. Williams and Wilson blindfolded Timothy and placed him in the backseat of the car.

They drove to Wilson’s apartment on the south side of Ann Arbor and transferred Timothy to the trunk of the car where he would remain for the next 50 some hours. Williams then called Robert Stempel and told him they had his son, and he would call back with instructions. Lastly Williams told Stempel: Don’t tell the police.

The police and FBI committed hundreds of officers and agents to the investigation. It was designated a “special” by FBI headquarters; all hands on deck. But it had to be done in such a way as to not alert the kidnappers that police were involved. The paramount goal in any kidnapping investigation is the safe return of the victim.

Robert Stempel received subsequent telephone calls on Nov. 11 and again on the next day. Ultimately, he was instructed to go to an empty lot behind a roller skating rink in Inkster, a working class suburb west of Detroit. He was to leave the money there, and he would be contacted about his son’s release.

The evening of the “drop,” it was pouring rain. Efforts were made to surveil the ransom package, but because of the location and the weather, it was impossible without taking the chance of alerting the kidnappers.

The package was retrieved, but whoever made the pick-up was not seen. (Night vision equipment would have been helpful, but was not yet available.)

Within a few hours, Timothy was released by the kidnappers not far from the drop site. Initially there were no suspects, but because much of the activity had occurred in Inkster and nearby, “neighborhood” investigations were conducted that included a canvass of businesses and homes to determine if anyone had seen any relevant activity. At an apparel store, within a block of the roller rink drop site, an agent found that two men had spent several hundred dollars in cash for clothes.

The serial numbers on the cash matched the numbers recorded from some of the ransom money, and the men who bought the clothes were identified. This is similar to how Bruno Richard Hauptmann was initially identified as the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby. He had spent some of the ransom money, a gold certificate, at a gas station. The station attendant made a note of Hauptmann’s car license number. One of the reasons we now canvass neighborhoods.

The sartorial aspiring men were interviewed, and they told how they had agreed to drive two men to the roller rink on the night of Nov. 12 to retrieve a package containing money. The men assumed it was drug money and accepted several thousand dollars for their trouble.

The men identified Darryl Wilson and said he lived in Ann Arbor, but didn’t know his address or the other man’s name.

The investigation determined that Wilson lived in an apartment on Ann Arbor’s south side with a relative. A surveillance was set up at the apartment complex, and the car used in the kidnapping was found at the complex.

Timothy Stempel, while locked in the trunk of the car, had carved his name on the inside of the trunk lid with a broken piece of a hacksaw blade he found in the trunk- pretty ingenious.

I was assigned to the surveillance. After a few hours, one of the other agents, Stan Lapekas, suggested we take a look in a dumpster at the apartment complex for possible evidence. The dumpster was inside a wood fence enclosure in the parking lot, and we couldn’t be seen from the outside.

After we had been in the enclosure for only a few minutes, a car drove in and parked right next to the enclosure gate. I peeked out and realized the driver was the subject, Darryl Wilson. As soon as he exited the car, Lapekas and I grabbed him and  placed him in the backseat of our car, with us sitting very close on either side of him.

We acted as if we already knew everything, but wanted to give him an opportunity to tell his side of the story. After giving him his rights, he almost immediately confessed and gave up his accomplice, Clinton Williams. We hadn’t had Williams’ name until Wilson told us. Wilson also told us where Williams lived. I got several other agents and drove to Williams’ home and arrested him.

Williams also confessed. He told us he had threatened Timothy Stempel with a handgun and hit him several times. He said they had kept Timothy in the trunk of a car for over two days. He also said he had made the phone calls to Timothy’s dad from a pay phone in Inkster. (With the existing technology, we hadn’t been able to trace the calls.)

The subsequent search of Wilson’s apartment resulted in the recovery of $137,000 of the ransom money.

The case and subsequent trial became a bit of a media circus. There was no interstate aspect of the kidnapping for it to be charged federally so it was prosecuted in State Court. The venue was Oakland County as Bloomfield Twp., where the kidnapping occurred. The high profile Oakland County Prosecutor L. Brooks Patterson, who would later run for Governor, was the prosecutor. (He is presently the Oakland County Executive.)

Because of the media attention, the trial was moved from Oakland to Leland County, in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. On the first day of trial, Patterson suspected that Wilson and Williams might be planning to enter a plea. Patterson put Timothy Stempel on the stand and introduced the trunk lid. He then had me testify out of order to get Williams’ confession on the record with all the damning admissions.

On the beginning of the 2nd day of trial, Wilson and Williams entered guilty pleas with no plea bargain.

There were several other kidnappings for ransom in the Detroit Division during my 30+ years there, but I’m not aware of any that were successful.

All the kidnappers were identified and prosecuted. In two instances although a ransom was demanded and paid, the victims were murdered. In both those cases, the kidnappers never had any intention of releasing the victims alive.

The business model for kidnapping for ransom is flawed. It is a very high-risk crime.

In some parts of the world kidnappings are done with the collusion of the police or at least their indifference, thus, lowering the risk factor. The victim has to fit a profile, and it is very difficult to successfully collect a ransom- probably more so today than in the technology challenged period of the early years of my career.

Although the potential profit would seem to be high, the odds of actually getting and keeping it are extremely low.

In the latter years of my career, there were no kidnappings for ransom in Michigan. They also seem to be rare elsewhere in the country. I doubt that kidnapping for ransom is extinct in the US, but it would seem to be on the endangered list.

Justice Dept. Attorney Co-Authors Must-Read Book on Abu Ghraib

“The Secrets of Abu Ghraib Revealed—American Soldiers on Trial” by Christopher Graveline and Michael Clemens. The book is available at Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and Borders books.

abu ghraib book

By Ross Parker

An acquaintance from another country recently posed a question to me: How is it that such an idealistic country as America, whose people are willing to sacrifice so much, is so mistrusted and vilified around the world? We contribute nearly a trillion dollars a year, more than ten times the amount of any other country, as well as the lives of thousands of our best and brightest to attempt to keep world peace. But in the international press and the streets of the Middle East we are, increasingly, the Great Satan.

Historians for my children’s children may be able to explain this complex irony. Hopefully, one of the texts they will study is The Secrets of Abu Ghraib Revealed by Christopher Graveline and Michael Clemens. The book presents a day-by-day factual account of one of the scandals of the Iraq War, one which scarred the image of America in a part of the world where we can ill afford such ignominy.

Graveline, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Detroit, who was a JAG prosecutor, and Clemens, a federal agent in Milwaukee, who was an Army investigator, were intimately involved in the eleven successful prosecutions of the military personnel who abused Iraqi detainees at the Baghdad prison in November and December of 2003. The authors present the facts with such detail and objectivity that readers can come to their own conclusions about the questions of cause, blame and responsibility.

In addition to using impeccable scholarship, the book explores the human dimensions of the tragedy and presents the reader with a fascinating and dramatic description of the people and scenes involved.

The heat, dust and danger of Baghdad, as well as the drama of the courtroom, are alive in its pages to keep the reader as engrossed as any good summer beach-read. Beyond the enjoyment of the read, the book presents a study of the rule of law and the rules of war, for generals and taxpayers, Presidents and policymakers, about the complexities of investing young American lives in trouble spots around the world. Its drama and message will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers.

Christopher Graveline/potomac books

Christopher Graveline/potomac books

Although the authors refrain from imposing their personal opinions, the work provides important lessons for future statesmen on subjects such as interrogation policy, training and supervision of young soldiers, and the need for clear guidelines.

As seems to be so frequently the case, an event of such transformative historical significance influencing relations between countries and affecting lives put on the line has largely been based on misinformation and misinterpretation. Thanks to media accounts and political debates, like most Americans I thought the Abu Ghraib abuses were connected with White House and Pentagon policy on loosening the limits or coercion and torture in the treatment of enemy combatants.

As the book documents, however, the scandal at Abu Ghraib primarily involved the twisted entertainment of a handful of soldiers at the expense of common Iraqi criminal inmates who were never interrogated and had no intelligence value whatsoever.

The seven victims had been involved in a food riot at a nearby prison camp and had the misfortune of being detained on a night in which some bored and stressed out GIs decided to create some perverted amusement. The iconic images of naked Iraqi prisoners forced into cheerleader pyramids, required to masturbate for the cruel enjoyment of the guards and terrorized by dogs and other sadistic stratagems— are unfortunately engraved on American and world consciousness.

The fact that the incident directly involved only a few does not minimize the culpability of those who were convicted or the negligence of the chain of command. Although the use of abusive interrogation techniques deserves full public scrutiny, the issue which is defined by Secrets is the failure of the command officers to provide the support and guidance to the women and men on the ground so that they could emotionally survive this terrible war.

What the authors of the book demonstrate is that the incident at Abu Ghraib and its aftermath stand as a microcosm, a prism, for examining everything that is right and wrong about the whole Iraq war. At its worst, the incident embodies mistakes by political and military decision makers in the conduct of the war as a whole—the inadequacy of resources and manpower, the defective planning and training for the effect that incessant danger and hostility will have on the ground level soldiers.

At its best, the scandal aftermath and its investigation are representative of the virtues of the American troops—the overwhelming majority who conscientiously do their duty under traumatic circumstances and just want to return home. Among them are heroes who exerted incredible effort and dedication to search for American justice amidst a confusing rubble of facts and allegations. Finally the study highlights the sacrifice, personal, career and, sometimes, in lives lost, made by American soldiers in this war.

Put in the hero category, the prosecutors and law enforcement investigators, including the authors, who left hearth and home to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week under the glare of the international press and a polarized nation in search of a just and honorable resolution. It was, as one of the Pentagon generals warned them, “a fuckin’ no-fail mission.” They did what prosecutors and agents do every day, they followed where the evidence led them in search of the right result, and let the chips fall where they may.

The Secrets of Abu Ghraib deserves to be in that library of non-fiction war books which are passed on to the next generation. It is compelling, insightful, and as entertaining as it is edifying.

A Detroit Mob Photo by the FBI Surveillance Squad Captures History

Jack Tocco With Fellow Mobsters in 1979

Jack Tocco With Fellow Mobsters in 1979

I joined the Detroit FBI surveillance squad in 1977. Two years later, on June 11, 1979 , we witnessed an event- its historical significance and ramifications would not be clear until many years later.

But before I get to that, a little history. In the early 1970s, the FBI’s Detroit Field Office established the FBI’s 1st full-time surveillance squad. At that time, organized crime was one of the priorities of the FBI.

Neil Welch, the then Detroit FBI Special Agent in Charge (SAC), decided it was a good idea to have a squad dedicated to primarily following members of the Detroit family of the La Cosa Nostra, the Mafia and learning about their activities. It should be noted that the Detroit family was one of the oldest and most successful LCN families in the country.

Although a surveillance squad was not a new concept, it was for the FBI. And FBI headquarters would have to be persuaded it was worthwhile, and that meant the Director, J. Edgar Hoover, had to agree. He did, and the Detroit surveillance squad was born.

The squad was unique not just in its function, but in its entire nature. As its primary target was a sophisticated organization, that would be surveillance wary, the squad had to be equal to the task.

The agents assigned to the squad would no longer report to the FBI office, but would work out of an “off-site” location that would use a phony business front. (It would be dubbed the bat cave.) The agents wouldn’t wear the usual agent garb of coat and tie, but street clothes. The cars the agents would drive would be varied and not have the staid, four-door, sedan look of a police car.

Although radio communication between cars was a necessity, the radios and antennas had to be hidden. The agents would have to learn techniques of conducting long-term surveillances undetected. They would not have the technological tools available today, such as: GPS devices, lap-top computers, cell phones and digitally coded radios. In those days, if you needed to have a phone conversation with someone when you were on the street, you had to find a pay phone- of course so did the bad guys.

The agents would also have to be adept at taking and developing photos (no instant review, but the bat cave had a dark room). They would have to learn the geography of the Detroit metropolitan area and be able to identify known members of the Detroit LCN family. In addition they had to create and memorize code names for the family members and major streets because police radios were susceptible to being “scanned,” being listened to by civilians.

In fact we learned through electronic surveillance that the Detroit family paid to have the FBI radio frequencies scanned regularly. (Today FBI radios are digital and can be encrypted to NSA standards.)

Since the establishment of the Detroit FBI’s surveillance squad, it has proved itself not only in its usefulness in aiding the successful prosecution of the Detroit LCN, but in its ability to provide information and evidence about criminal activities, including terrorism and foreign counter intelligence. The dedicated surveillance squad concept has been replicated in major field offices throughout the Bureau.

And now to that historic moment in 1979.

It was a beautiful summer day. We had set up to begin our surveillance that morning in Macomb County, north of Detroit, at a barber supply business owned by Rafaillo “Jimmy Q” Quassarano, a lieutenant in the Detroit LCN family.

We had done surveillances there many times before and had no reason to believe this day would be particularly notable. Later that morning we saw Giacomo “Jack” Tocco, an upper level LCN figure, arrive at the business. Then we saw Frank “the Bomb” Bommarito, a made guy, arrive driving a silver van. Bommarito went inside, but shortly exited and left driving another car.

A few minutes later Tocco and Quassarano exited the business with two other guys. They entered the van that Bommarito brought and started driving west. We followed the van into rural Washtenaw County to the Timberland Game Ranch (about 50 miles west of Detroit), which we later learned was owned by the Ruggirello brothers, Antonio”T.R.” and Luigi “Louie the Bulldog,” also made guys in the Detroit family. The van entered the ranch, a large a wooded area used for private up-scale hunting excursions. We set up where we could observe the entrance to the ranch and saw several late model Lincolns and Cadillacs each with several occupants drive into the ranch. (Later when the gathering broke up, we had the Michigan State Police stop some of these cars to identify the occupants.)

None of us on the team had ever seen a meeting like this, and we weren’t sure what was happening. I decided this was too big to not try to find out what was going on. So another agent, Keith Cordes, and I went to the back of the ranch away form the main gate.

After scaling a fence (The statute of limitations on trespassing ran out a long time ago.), we hiked through about a half mile of a heavily wooded area in the general direction of a part of the ranch that was cleared and where there were some buildings. At about 100 yards from the cleared area, we could hear the voices of the men at the gathering. But we didn’t know if we could get much closer without being seen or heard, and we couldn’t see much through the trees. Then I saw a narrow swath of cleared land radiating out from where the gathering was. It was an archery lane with a large target on our end. Keith and I got behind the archery target and could see up the lane to where the family had gathered. Keith whispered to me, do you think it’s a good idea to be this close to a target? I replied, “I don’t think mob guys do archery.”

I had brought my camera with a 300 mm lens attached. Near the head of the lane, I could see three men standing. Looking through my camera lens, I could see it was Vito “Billy Jack” Giacalone and Anthony “The Bull” Corrado. (Both Giacalone and Corrado were capos, captains, in the family.) They were standing on either side of Jack Tocco. Resting my camera on the target, I snapped a photo.

We determined that almost everyone of any stature in the Detroit LCN family was at the game ranch that day, even some emeritus members, except Anthony Zerilli. We also learned, through source information, this meeting was called to make Jack Tocco the boss of the family to replace Zerilli, whose performance had apparently been wanting.

It is extremely rare for all the members of a LCN family to meet together. I was told by a Mafia historian, he knew of no other time when such a meeting of any LCN family had been witnessed by outsiders, not to mention to have a photograph of the event.

In March, 1996, 17 members of the Detroit family were federally indicted for violation of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, conspiracy and related predicate crimes. Among those indicted were Vito Giacalone, Anthony Corrado and Jack Tocco. In January, 1998, Vito Giacalone pleaded guilty, and in his plea statement, he admitted there was a Detroit LCN family, and he was a member of it. This was the 1st time an upper level member of the Detroit family had admitted its existence.

A few months later, during the trial of Jack Tocco, Anthony Corrado, and others, I testified about, among other things, the taking of the photograph, almost 20 years before, and about the family gathering at the game farm. The photograph was admitted into evidence.

At the trial the United States presented evidence gathered over that almost 20 year period from sources, financial records, physical surveillance (fisur) and court authorized wire taps and microphones-electronic surveillance (elsurs). In the end, Jack Tocco, Anthony Corrado and all but one of the others was convicted of 50 counts of racketeering (RICO), extortion and conspiracy.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Rick Convertino, one of the prosecutors in the trial, said of the 1979 photo:

“The picture was extremely important. Obviously it was important as information about the inauguration of Jack Tocco as head of the Detroit La Cosa Nostra. But the real key was that LCN members had never met all together at one time at a place that wasn’t a wedding or a funeral. In hundreds and hundreds of hours of surveillance, nothing like that had ever happened before, and nothing like it ever happened again. All the planets were never lined up like that before or after that day.”

But for the creation of a surveillance squad capable of conducting difficult surveillances and adapting to unique situations, that alignment of the planets would not have been witnessed and photographed.

tocco redefine 2

Justice System Needs Reform

By Ross Parker

Are we the most violent, the most criminal country on the globe?

As someone who was a career federal prosecutor and reveres the criminal justice system, the question seems almost insulting. Do we not have one of the most finely nuanced systems when it comes to protecting human rights while protecting the public from criminals? Many would say Yes.

And yet we, who make up only 5% of the world’s population, have 25% of the world’s prison population, far outstripping countries like Iran, North Korea, and China. 7.3 million people in the U.S. are either in jail, on probation or in some form of supervised release.

One in every 31 can expect to enter the criminal justice system in this country, one in seven African American males.

During the last three decades, the response to the crime epidemic has been to tighten the screws ever tighter by increasing sentences and creating more laws mandating incarceration.

The result has been an increase in the nation’s prison population, which has climbed from about 500,000 in 1980 to almost 2.5 million.

Are we safer today than in 1978 when I prosecuted my first buy-bust cocaine case? Few would think so.

Moreover, sociologists claim that whatever stability there has been in the crime rate is due more to factors like the aging population than our get-tougher response.

Whatever the causes, prisons are overflowing and have become increasingly more dangerous places for corrections officers and inmates. During the same three decades corrections expenditures have ballooned from $8 billion to $70 billion annually. In the current depleted economic condition, states say that they can no longer afford these costs. Their economizing is affecting funding for law enforcement with layoffs and reduced financial support.

As this cause and effect debate rages on, there is a plan to examine the criminal justice system as a whole and suggest workable reforms.

U. S. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia last year proposed a bill to create a blue ribbon commission of experts from all fields to study the current problems and come up with solutions.

The bill, which has been reported favorably by the Senate Judiciary Committee, should come up for a vote this year. A companion bill has bipartisan backing in the House of Representatives. The proposal has the support of an array of organizations ranging from the ACLU to the Fraternal Order of Police.

The federal law enforcement community should not only support this bill but should lobby to actively participate in the commission, both directly as members and by providing data and perspective on subjects which will undoubtedly produce a lot of controversy.

Like legalization of marijuana, the Commission will probably study the need to look at a host of alternatives including non-incarceration sentences for some non-violent crimes and the elimination of mandatory minimum drug sentences, to name a few.

Some will think that such controversies should not be opened for debate. But, given the status quo, we cannot afford not to discuss some innovative policy choices, including ones which have been successful in other countries.

There are a number of areas which, in my opinion, deserve study and in which reform is sorely needed:

1. Prisoner Rehabilitation and Re-entry Programs – Two of every three released inmates will be re-arrested and half of them will go back to prison within three years of their release. This rate of recidivism threatens public safety. The current correctional systems have all they can handle, and more, to keep jails and prisons relatively safe. It benefits every citizen to provide programs in the prisons for training, education, and re-orientation to point inmates in a law abiding direction. After their release, support programs for their re-entry into society with legal opportunities and alternatives are needed. Mental health and drug addiction programs are especially important given the sizeable percentage of inmates who have needs in these areas.

2. Drug Enforcement Policy Reform – We have increased the incarceration of drug offenders many-fold in the last 30 years, according to some statistics more than ten times. This increase, for better or worse, is largely responsible for the significant prison population increase. And yet drug cartels and gangs flourish and drug-inspired property crimes abound. Changes in this area will, no doubt, generate fierce controversy, but reforms must be considered. Should sentences continue to be based primarily on drug amounts rather than culpability levels? Are mandatory minimum sentences necessary and effective? Should crack cocaine be equated with powder for sentencing purposes? Should possession and use of small amounts of marijuana be de-criminalized?

3. Law Enforcement Funding, Training – Many states have severely curtailed funding for salaries, training, and improved technology and equipment. No serious plan for reform can be successful without adequate support for its foot soldiers. The trend toward a more educated police force should be enhanced not reduced.

4. Standards and Compensation for Indigent Defense – The overwhelming majority of accused receive appointed counsel. In many states, such as my own, Michigan, the appointment process, qualification and performance standards, and compensation are both chaotic and contribute to the problem. The result is that many good defense lawyers refuse to represent indigent defendants. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, most prosecutors would prefer to deal with prepared and experienced counsel. The likelihood of a just and efficient result is enhanced by adequately compensated defense attorneys. The present situation encourages inaccurate results, unjust dispositions, and endless appeal and post-conviction litigation.

There are a host of other issues and problem areas which may, or may not, be appropriate for a big-picture commission. For example, how should we as a society respond to the growing realization that, even with a system that is 99% accurate, there are thousand of post-appeal inmates who actually did not commit the crime for which they are incarcerated? DNA testing has already exonerated more than 300 prisoners. Hundreds of Innocence Projects have proposed procedures and methods for considering claims of actual innocence. Law enforcement officials, both current and retired, have been active in this movement. This is just one of probably many other subjects which are worthy of study.

Congress should take advantage of the momentum for Senator Webb’s bill and pass this legislation. Whether an innovative blueprint by a Criminal Justice Reform Commission can survive state and federal legislative finger-pointing, inertia and election-motivated partisan politics, will be another, and more challenging, question.

Speculation Begins as to Who Will Take Over N.Y. FBI

FBI's Andy Arena/ticklethewire.com photo

FBI's Andy Arena/ticklethewire.com photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The speculation has begun as to who will get the top spot in the New York FBI office vacated by Joseph Demarest, who was officially named assistant director of the International  Operations Division at headquarters in Washington on Wednesday.

Some names that have surfaced so far include Andrew Arena, head of the FBI Detroit office, Janice Fedarcyk, head of the Philadelphia FBI and George Venizelos, a special agent in charge of the New York office, who has been named the interim head.

Arena, who formerly served as a special agent in charge in the New York office, has been with the bureau since 1988.

Janice Fedarcyk/fbi photo

Janice Fedarcyk/fbi photo

Fedarcyk took over the Philadelphia office in 2008 and has been with the bureau since 1987. And Venizelos became a special agent in charge in the New York office in 2006. He has been with the bureau since 1991.

Speculation as to whether Demarest would return to New York from Washington ended Wednesday when headquarters officially announced he was staying in Washington.

He was sent to Washington on a temporary assignment while an internal investigation looked into whether he had been truthful about an affair he had with one of his supervisors.

Joseph Demarest/ fbi photo

Joseph Demarest/ fbi photo

Demarest was considered a strong personality that could deal with New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, known as a person of strong will.

The FBI is likely to look for someone who can deal with Kelly as well.

Miranda Warning Works Just Fine in Terrorist Cases

Attorney General Holder’s approval rating dropped about as quickly as the Dow Jones did last Thursday when he told Congress in March of this year that he predicted that “we will be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Osama bin Laden.”

Perhaps recognizing that his inartful comment only served to confuse his supporters and outrage his detractors, he tried again in April when he told Congress that the evidence against Bin Laden was “sufficient” enough that, assuming he were captured, any additional statements by him would not be necessary. I may be among the minority of Americans (whether a supporter or a detractor) who believes AG Holder’s initial statement was better than his clarification.

When Miranda v. Arizona was argued before the Supreme Court in 1966, the government warned the Court that the required use of procedural safeguards “effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination” would more or less result in the end of successful interrogations.

In other words, once an accused were informed that he had, say, the right to remain silent and the right to have counsel present during interrogations, the accused would naturally invoke those rights and a confession would rarely, if ever, follow.

Most people involved in the criminal justice system would disagree with this dire forecast and confirm that it is extremely common for an accused to waive his rights. (Of course, there are exceptions: Miranda himself was eventually killed in a knife fight in 1976 by a suspect who, ironically, invoked his Miranda rights.)

While acknowledging that the image of a soldier reading a captured terrorist his rights seems both unnecessary and burdensome (it’s also a little far-fetched: more likely, it would be an FBI agent administering those warnings), we have to ask the obvious question: what’s the harm in advising a terrorist of his rights? Whether a terrorist is tried in a military commission or the criminal justice system, a statement—if it is going to become evidence—has to be admissible.

In order to be admissible in a civilian court, it must be voluntary and, if made during a custodial interrogation, must be made after the knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of the Miranda warnings.

In order to be admissible under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the military judge must find by a preponderance of the evidence, depending on the date of the statement, that (A) the totality of the circumstances renders the statement reliable and possessing sufficient probative value; and (B) the interests of justice would best be served by admission of the statement into; and (C) the interrogation methods used to obtain the statement do not amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. A simple waiver of the Miranda warnings would seemingly contribute to the analysis under all three prongs.

Critics argue that if a terrorist invokes his rights, the government would lose valuable intelligence and present a weaker case in court than it would have otherwise. This is nonsense.

First, a terrorist who invokes his rights is not likely someone who was going to willingly provide intelligence in the first place. Second, an invocation by an alleged terrorist of his Miranda warnings would not necessarily result in the suppression of a statement, assuming one is eventually obtained. More to the point, which would by my third, even if a suspected terrorist invokes his rights, there seems to be nothing that would prevent intelligence officers from taking necessary steps to obtain information from the suspect. The only downside would be that such statements may not be admissible in court.

So far, this policy of reading an accused his rights has worked. On Christmas Day in 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to detonate explosives in his underwear on a Northwest flight en route from Amsterdam to Michigan.

His plot failed, he was arrested and was read his Miranda warnings. He waived those rights and is reportedly cooperating with law enforcement officials. More recently, Faisal Shahzad was arrested for his alleged involvement in the Times Square car bomb scheme. He too waived his rights and is apparently cooperating with authorities.

Yesterday, the Attorney General told David Gregory on “Meet the Press” that law enforcement officials, prior to reading Shahzad his rights, relied on the “public safety exception” to obtain information from Shahzad. It was also used in Abdulmutallab’s case. This exception allows officials to forgo the requirement that Miranda warnings be given before questioning if there are exigent circumstances which require protection of the public. Curiously, Holder then said that “we have to think about– perhaps modifying– the rules that– interrogators have.

And somehow coming up with something that is flexible and is more consistent with the threat that we now face.” The fact that the exception has been successfully relied upon in these two most recent cases seems to be strong evidence that the current exception is indeed flexible. In other words, there is no need for Congressional action to add something for which the law already provides.

The History of April 19th: American Revolution, Waco, Oklahoma Bombing

Listen my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy Five….

Longfellow’s poem forever immortalized Paul Revere’s ride. What the poem does not say is that Revere’s mission that night was to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British soldiers were coming to Lexington to arrest them. It was after midnight, April 19th, when Revere arrived in Lexington and warned Adams and Hancock. Revere also aroused the country side, and that morning the “Minute Men” met the British regulars on Lexington green. No one knows who fired the first shot- “the shot heard around the world”. But on that morning, April 19, 1775, the American Revolution began.

Paul Revere/istock photo

Paul Revere/istock photo

In a perverse twist of fate, on April 19, 1993, it is the 51st day of a siege at the Branch Davidian compound, also known as Mt Carmel, outside of Waco, Texas. It is to be the last day of the siege, a culmination of a series of bad decisions and missed opportunities.

The siege began on February 28th. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) had gone to the Davidian compound to execute search warrants. The warrants were based on affidavits stating the Davidians possessed certain illegal weapons to include fully automatic weapons and components to convert semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic. Some of the Davidians were known to have a propensity for violence including their leader, David Koresh, who had changed his name from Vernon Howell. There had been a power struggle a few years earlier within the Branch Davidians and a gun fight had ensued. The history of the Branch Davidians and how they ended up here, led by Koresh is a long story and won’t be told here. Suffice it to say, Koresh became the leader and subsequently claimed to be a messiah, who could procreate with any women followers irrespective of their age or marital status. The group embraced an apocalyptic philosophy, which relied heavily on the Book of Revelation.

The ATF had been surveilling the compound for several weeks prior to the raid from a home across the road. They had also placed an undercover (UC) agent within the Davidians. However, the surveillance was compromised, and at some point Koresh learned of the UC agent. In addition one of the Davidians was the local postman. On the morning of the ATF raid, a TV crew asked the postman for directions to the compound as they had learned there was to be a raid. The postman gave them directions and took the news of the impending raid back to the compound.

The ATF was aware of the Davidian’s potential for violence and obviously knew they had a large stockpile of firearms and ammunition. Consequently the element of surprise was an important aspect of their raid plan. However, surprise was an early casualty. ATF’s leadership was aware their plan had been compromised, but chose to proceed anyway.

waco-branch-davidians

The ATF agents were met at the front door of the compound by Koresh and some of his “Mighty Men” (that’s how Koresh referred to his young male followers). There was a short stand-off . A shot or shots was fired. It has never been determined who fired the first shot-both sides claim it was the other. Whoever fired it, it escalated into a gun battle resulting in the deaths of four ATF agents (16 wounded) and six Davidians. Koresh was wounded along with several of his followers. Thus began the siege of the Branch Davidian compound.

The FBI was given control of the siege. Negotiations between the Davidians and the FBI began and continued throughout the siege. Although the FBI was thrust into a situation not of its making, it learned valuable lessons. Unfortunately many of the lessons were learned from mistakes.

Ultimately it became clear Koresh was not negotiating in good faith. Koresh had said that he would surrender, but he needed to finish his own scripture, something he called the “Seven Seals”. But surreptitiously placed microphones inside the compound had picked up conversations indicating that Koresh was stalling and did not intend to surrender.

The FBI with concurrence of Attorney General Reno and President Clinton decided to pressure Koresh and his followers into surrender by punching holes into the compound walls and injecting tear gas. The conventional way to place tear gas is to fire projectiles containing tear gas into the target area. These projectiles explode on impact and expel tear gas, but this process also produces heat which can result in fire. The method devised for the compound entailed the use of converted tanks to spray the tear gas directly into the holes made in the walls. The error was not how the tear gas was injected, but rather underestimating the potential for mass suicide of an apocalyptic cult. The FBI was warned of this potential, but it was discounted- what person would choose suicide over surrender, not only for themselves, but for their children?

Then there were the fires that ultimately consumed the entire compound. Although a Congressional investigation determined the fires were actually set by the Davidians, the anti-government conspiracy minded will forever believe that they were set or caused by the government. Seventy six Davidians including Koresh died on that day at least twenty of those were killed by self-inflicted gunshot wounds or consensual execution (suicide by proxy). Nine people escaped from the fire and presumably others could have if they wanted. (One woman ran out of the compound and was tackled by a FBI agent to keep her from going back.)

Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber witnessed part of the siege. McVeigh was sympathetic with the Davidians and was outraged that the siege ended in the conflagration and death of Koresh and most of his followers. It’s not clear when McVeigh’s anti-government beliefs began, but those beliefs were growing and becoming an obsession.

Federal Building in Oklahoma at time of explosion/fbi photo

Federal Building in Oklahoma at time of explosion/fbi photo

It’s difficult to encapsulate McVeigh’s philosophy. It was clearly anti-government and became virulently so. It was an amalgamation of white supremacy, anti-Semitism and fear of a “New World Order”, i.e., a belief in a world-wide conspiracy to take over the world and the US Government’s leadership being in league with this conspiracy. If there was an over-riding theme to McVeigh’s beliefs, it was probably his trying to replicate the plot of The Turner Diaries, a 1978 novel written by William Luther Piece (a white supremacist) under the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald. The book depicts a violent revolution in the US ignited by the bombing of the FBI headquarters, which leads to the overthrow of the US Government, nuclear war and ultimately to a race war resulting in the extermination of all Jews and non-whites.

While in the military, McVeigh met Terry Nichols. They became friends and their friendship continued after they left the military. Nichols was a follower and embraced McVeigh’s philosophy and paranoia. After the Davidian compound siege ended, McVeigh began to develop a plan to destroy a Federal Building- an act of retaliation for what had occurred at Waco. Initially the plan was to destroy the building when it was unoccupied, but McVeigh decided he needed to send a stronger message and that would require people to die. Later McVeigh would say, “Kids and women are fair game”.

McVeigh and Nichols plan coalesced into the selection of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City as the target. The plan was to build a bomb and place it in the back of a truck. McVeigh and Nichols researched how to construct a large bomb and experimented with making and detonating explosives at the Nichols’ farm in Decker, Michigan.

In April, 1995, McVeigh, using another name, rented a truck in Junction City, Kansas. McVeigh and Nichols had previously obtained and stored the components for the bomb. In a park outside of Junction City, they assembled the bomb in the back of the rental truck. The bomb consisted 13-55 gal. drums: 9 containing ammonium nitrate (fertilizer) and nitromethane (racing fuel); 4 had fertilizer and diesel fuel. Also with the drums was about 350 lbs of Tovex, a commercial explosive. TheTovex would act as primary or initiator. McVeigh ran 2 fuses from the cargo bay to the cab of the truck. The fuses were attached to blasting caps that would set off the Tovex. The bomb weighed about 4,800 lbs. and cost about $5,000.

Prior to April 19th, Nichols and McVeigh drove to Oklahoma City and parked the getaway car several blocks from the Murrah Federal Building. They then drove back to Junction City. McVeigh stayed at a motel in Junction City. Although McVeigh used another name when he rented the truck, at the motel he used his true name with the Decker farm as his permanent address.

On April 19th, McVeigh drove the bomb laden truck to Oklahoma City. A few blocks from the Federal Building, he lit one fuse. Then just prior to parking the truck at the Federal Building, he lit the back-up fuse. He exited the truck and ran the few blocks to the getaway car. When the bomb exploded, it did so with the force of 5,000 lbs of TNT.

It destroyed the Federal Building and killed 168 people and injured over 700. It also damaged or destroyed 324 other buildings. Among the fatalities were children as the Federal Building housed a child care center on the street level. McVeigh had known of the child care center.

Within hours the FBI had identified the rental truck (from the VIN on an axle that had been blown some distance from the site) and knew it had been rented in Junction City. Agents dispatched to Junction City discovered the truck was rented under a false name, but the same person used a different name, Timothy McVeigh, at a nearby motel. A BOL (BE On The Lookout) bulletin was broadcast, and it was learned McVeigh had been arrested by the Oklahoma State Police driving a car without a license plate. An alert trooper also saw that McVeigh was carrying a concealed handgun. McVeigh was about to be released, but a hold was placed, and FBI agents took him into custody.

Two days later, the FBI went to the Decker farm to execute search warrants. The Detroit FBI SWAT team was sent in first to secure the farm as there was a concern about armed co-conspirators (The extent of the conspiracy was not yet known.) and explosives at the farm. I was one of the SWAT team leaders involved. The farm was operated by James Nichols, Terry’s brother. It was known James had anti-government sentiments, but there was never sufficient evidence to prosecute him for being involved in the conspiracy. The search of the farm did find bomb making materials and evidence bombs had been tested there.

McVeigh had picked April 19th for the bombing because it was second anniversary of the end of the siege at the Davidian compound. It also happened to be the 220th anniversary of that shot heard around the world. When McVeigh was arrested he had a quote from Samuel Adams (one of the men Paul Revere was sent to warn): “When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” Underneath McVeigh had scrawled, “Maybe now there will be liberty.” McVeigh also had pages from the Turner Diaries, the racist/anti-Semitic diatribe masquerading as a novel.

It dishonors our founding fathers when McVeigh and some militias try to cloak themselves in the legitimacy of the men who valiantly fought for our independence and at the same time embrace the ideology of the white supremacy movement. It is perverse to equate what our founding fathers did and endured to establish a Constitutional government with the bombing of a Federal building- killing 168 people, whose only crime was being in or near that building.

The lesson that was learned on April 19, 1995, was that we in law enforcement or as citizens have to take the anti-government movements seriously. Their ideology may seem foolish, historically and theologically spurious, but that does not diminish their potential for harm.

I think the action taken against the Hutaree Christian Militia last month in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana demonstrates that the lessons of Waco and Oklahoma City have not been forgotten. The Hutaree had allegedly planned to kill a police officer then bomb his funeral procession thereby killing many police officers and innocent people. It should be noted that during the search of one of the Hutaree member’s home, among other things, was found a plaque which said, “Remember Waco”.

Does Recent DEA Enforcement in Afghanistan Signal Hope in Narco-Terrorism War?

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

In October, 2008 this column pointed out the growing link between international narcotics traffickers and terrorists, especially in Afghanistan. This was not news to federal law enforcement. Still, few politicians or members of the public were aware of this relationship.

Support for a well financed and coordinated international enforcement strategy, despite the best efforts of a few at DEA, seemed to be desperately lacking.

This dim political recognition came despite the alarming facts: The Taliban was expected to receive $70 million from the poppy harvest that year, and half of the terrorist organizations were financed — at least in part– by drug trafficking. The money was used to buy more sophisticated weapons and explosive devices and to train and equip more Taliban fighters.

In 2009 the Obama administration launched a bold strategy to attack narco-terrorism in Afghanistan. A multi-agency task force was established in Kabul to disrupt financial channels. The military targeted dozens of drug lords and began to participate in seizure and interdiction efforts.

And, importantly, the number of DEA personnel stationed in Afghanistan jumped from from 13 to almost 100. Add to that number the dozens of retired federal agents who were sent as contract civilian trainers to advise and assist the Afghan anti-narcotic program.

This ramping up of the anti-narcotic effort did not come without sacrifice. In October of 2009, three DEA agents who were returning from a firefight with Taliban drug traffickers in western Afghanistan were killed when their helicopter crashed. Seven military officers were also lost. The three DEA agents, Forrest Leamon, Chad Mitchell, and Michael Weston, had all volunteered as part of the expansion effort. They thought they could make a difference.

Now their sacrifice and the efforts by others appear to have made some difference. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart announced this week in Kabul that more than 80 combined operations in 2009 had increased the drug seizures there by 924%. These efforts greatly decreased the amount of drugs exported from 2% of the total amount produced to perhaps over 10%, a significant achievement in one year.

Although this anti-narcotics surge has de-emphasized eradication, those efforts have nonetheless borne fruit as well. Eradication in the opium-rich southern region of Afghanistan has reduced cultivation by 30%. Narco-terrorists reacted to this success on Wednesday by detonating a bomb which killed 13 people who had gathered to receive free vegetable seeds as part of a British alternative crop program. Whether these re-education efforts will have the long term effect of helping to re-build the country’s agriculture, or will simply reduce supply enough to keep prices high, is up for debate.

The question, of course, is whether this new strategy represents the beginning of an awareness and commitment on the part of Congress and the Administration that support is needed on a global basis for the resources to enhance a well coordinated and financed enforcement strategy.

We spend billions each month on an uncertain military effort, not to mention the lives lost. So, a few additional million for an increase in law enforcement resources seems a worthwhile investment.

In a relatively small agency like DEA, if we don’t put up the funds and instead just shift resources and personnel, we’ll simply end up reducing enforcement elsewhere. Not smart.

The other issue is whether this growing awareness will make anti-narcotics enforcement a consistent priority both in this country and abroad.

One of the topics President Obama raised with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in their meeting in Kabul this week was the need for more effort against the narco-terrorists in that country. Whether it is even possible to motivate Karzai to get serious about the epidemic, which is destroying his country, given the involvement of so many corrupt Afghan officials, is yet another unanswered question.

Drug investigators and prosecutors have become accustomed to measuring victories through regular announcement of increases in seizures and arrests – all while the war is being lost by insatiable drug demand, inconsistent political commitment and inadequate resources.

Whether this latest development will mark another frustrating chapter may ultimately come down to whether the politicians and public truly understand the battle and the need for resources.