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Sleeper Cell Nightmare

We just observed the 8th anniversary of 9/11.
So much has changed since then. It was a watershed moment in American history and has had a profound effect on law enforcement. Priorities have changed; Federal state and local agencies are cooperating at unprecedented levels.
However, not all the effects have been positive. Politics, egos and hubris have come into play. One of the first victims of this Machiavellian landscape was Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Convertino and his successful prosecution in Detroit of a terrorist sleeper cell, U.S. v. Koubriti; et al. The conviction drew national attention and was hailed by the Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft as a great victory in the war on terrorism.
Then we entered bizzarro world.
Convertino was invited to appear before a Senate committee to discuss what he had learned about potential terrorists obtaining false identity documents and related matters from his prosecution of the sleeper cell case. Despite the fact that Convertino had developed expertise and knowledge, having successfully prosecuted the case, higher-ups in the Department of Justice, including the Detroit U.S. Attorney at the time, thought that they, not Convertino, should have the distinction of appearing before the Senate Committee.
Only thing was that the Senate Committee had specifically requested Convertino, and they issued a subpoena. Convertino could have arguably avoided the appearance, but he had a message, which he wanted to impart. He testified. By all accounts he represented the DOJ well, but egos were bruised and the snowball began to roll down hill. The DOJ initiated an internal investigation of Convertino based on what later proved to be inaccurate allegations of misconduct. These allegations were leaked to a Detroit newspaper by someone in the Detroit U.S. Attorney’s office.
In response to the published false allegations, Convertino filed a “whistle-blower” civil action naming the Attorney General and others as defendants. Ultimately Convertino was criminally indicted for supposed misconduct in the terrorist trial and related activity. Furthermore, DOJ dropped the charges in the sleeper cell case and the convictions were vacated. Those convicted terrorists remain free.
Convertino was forced to defend himself against the U.S. for whom he had been so proud to represent as a prosecutor. The basis of the indictment charging Convertino was there were photos taken by the government of one of sites that was targeted by the terrorists. A sketch of the target had been found in the terrorists’ apartment. It was alleged that Convertino was aware of these photos, but hid them from defendant/terrorists because they might be favorable to the defense. However, at trial the government was unable to show that Convertino knew the photos existed, and even worse, the photos probably would have been helpful to the prosecution because the site depicted in the sketch appeared to be the same as the one in the photos.
After about a three-week trial, and less than a day of jury deliberation, Convertino was acquitted, but not until he and his family were put through the public and painful ordeal of a criminal trial. I had retired from the FBI, and I agreed to help Convertino as an investigator pro bono.
During my career as a FBI agent, I worked with Rick on numerous cases, some of them high profile. Rick helped successfully prosecute the Detroit Mafia case in 1998. He was the lead prosecutor on the Washtenaw County gang case, which resulted in the destruction of gang factions in the Willow Run neighborhood of Ypsilanti Township . He also oversaw the investigation of Eddie Martin; et al. Martin ran a large “numbers” racket, & he had ties to some players in the University of Michigan basketball program. In all those cases and others, Rick demonstrated professionalism and upheld the highest standards of the Justice Department. To be sure Rick was an aggressive and combative prosecutor, but he never compromised his integrity in pursuing justice.
The acquittal in Rick’s case renews my faith in a system that I served for over 32 years. But that faith was badly shaken by these charges and the ” Alice in Wonderland” trial. Time has passed. But one question remains:
Where does Rick go to get his reputation back?

To contact Greg Stejskal write: gmanstejskal@yahoo.com

Listen To NPR’s “This American Life” Report On Convertino

We Need To Do More About Illegal Steroids

In 1994, I wrote an article, “They shoot horses, don’t they? Anabolic steroids and their challenge to law enforcement.” I was involved at the time in an undercover operation, codenamed Equine, and the case had moved into the prosecution phase. Ultimately more than 70 dealers were convicted.
Fourteen years later, the problem not only persists, but has been complicated by the ease in which people can buy illegal steroids on the Internet. These days we still hear too much about athletes using steroids to enhance their performance. Unfortunately, what we hear is only the tip of the iceberg.
That said, we need to continue cracking down on this dangerous drug. We also need tougher penalties. The drug not only poses a health risk, but undercuts the integrity of sports. In 1994 I warned Major League Baseball of steroid use by some high-profile players- a warning that was apparently ignored to MLB’s detriment.
It’s helpful to know the history and nature of anabolic steroids.
Steroids are a synthetic version of the male hormone testosterone. Anabolic refers to a substance that promotes growth. (Although all steroids are not anabolic, for simplicity, the terms will be interchanged.) When taken internally, steroids will, in conjunction with weight training, promote extraordinary weight gain and muscular development.
Steroids have become especially prevalent in football, professional wrestling, track and field, swimming, and bodybuilding. One bodybuilder indicted in Equine admitted, “to appear in the Nationals (the National Bodybuilding Championships) without using steroids would be like competing in the Miss America Contest without makeup.”
Taken over a period of time, steroids can have detrimental effects on the body. Men may suffer from hypertension, sterility, female breast development, premature hair loss, infections, cysts or irreversible heart and/or liver damage. Studies also indicate that steroid use increases the risk of developing cancer and can even result in death. Further, prolonged use of steroids may result in the body discontinuing the natural production of testosterone, a condition that could become permanent.
Because women, by nature, have little testosterone, steroids pose an even greater threat to them. In addition to most of the problems noted above, women develop many masculine traits, such as increased body and facial hair and a deepened voice.
Though athletes may benefit from some aggression, aggressive behavior brought on by steroid use can be difficult to control and can result in unacceptable social behavior that may even be dangerous to the user or others. It has sometimes been referred to as “roid rage.”
Last year, wrestler pro wrestler Chris Benoit strangled his wife, suffocated his 7-year-old son and placed a Bible next to their bodies before hanging himself with a weight-machine pulley. Authorities found anabolic steroids in the house.
During the time when we were preparing to begin Equine, I learned an FBI agent’s son had committed suicide as a result of depression caused by his use and then cycling off steroids.
Recently, a study indicated that steroid use may lead to criminal or violent behavior, especially in 12-to17-year-olds. To boot, in some instances, police officers taking steroids have used excessive force in subduing subjects.
Unfortunately, steroids have been even easier to get since the Equine case. Steroids are readily available via the internet and the predominant source of the active ingredient, the synthetic testosterone, is China .
This scenario raises concerns regarding quality control, contaminants, etc. Often the steroid ingredient is sent from China to another country such as Mexico , where it is bottled, packaged or compressed into pill form for distribution with no accompanying oversight by any regulating agencies.
Even back during Equine , nearly 50 percent of the approximately 10 million dosage units of steroids seized during the course of the investigation was counterfeit, i.e., the purported steroid contained no steroid.
Today most steroids for the human black market are no longer manufactured by legitimate drug companies so the same problems that were associated only with the counterfeit steroids are now prevalent with all steroids.
The illegal sale of anabolic steroids has been a felony under Federal law since 1988. On November 28, 1990, President Bush (the first) signed into law the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990. Effective February 27, 1991, the law placed 27 anabolic steroids and their derivatives into Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule III drugs, by definition, have the potential for abuse, but less than substances in Schedules I or II, which have a “high potential for abuse.” Abuse of a Schedule III drug may lead to “moderate or low physical dependence.”
Unfortunately, classifying steroids as Schedule III drugs has resulted in light sentencing guidelines, and only a dealer selling massive quantities of steroids gets a sentence beyond nominal incarceration.
This criticism surfaced during the prosecution phase of Equine, and unfortunately, the guidelines have not changed.
They need to.
Aspiring athletes should not have to use steroids to achieve greatness in their sport.. Steroid use perverts the goals of sports and athletic competition. A victory achieved through steroid use is hollow, at best. At worst, the athlete may face prosecution or even death.
I would like to dedicate this article to the late University of Michigan Football Coach Bo Schembechler , who first alerted me to the problem of steroids in athletics and inspired our pursuit of the illicit distribution of steroids.
To contact Greg Stejskal write: gmanstejskal@yahoo.com

Feds Want To Give Eco-Terrorist A Big Break

He may not be William Ayers, buy the feds want to give eco-terrorist Frank Ambrose a break for cooperating.

By Ed White
The Associated Press
DETROIT — Federal prosecutors are seeking a major sentencing break for an activist who committed arson at Michigan State University, publicly acknowledging for the first time his wide-ranging undercover role in investigations of eco-terrorism.
Frank Ambrose of Detroit recorded 178 conversations with other targets, putting himself at risk as he traveled out of state to help the FBI, the government said.
His cooperation “has been nothing short of remarkable, both in terms of the time and effort he put into it and in terms of its value to federal law enforcement,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagen Frank said in a court filing Friday.
For Full Story

Read Prosecutor’s Motion

U.S. Atty. Firings Bring Back The Bad Old Days of Politics At Justice

The endless controversy surrounding the independence of the federal justice system during the Bush years reared its ugly head again last week. The Justice Department’s Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility issued a blistering report concluding that political pressure led to the dismissals of several federal prosecutors in 2006.

As a former assistant U.S. Attorney, it’s disheartening to see how this conduct has damaged the remarkable progress made during the last quarter of the 20th Century to de-politicize the Department of Justice. This progress was reassuring for those us who took pride in the independence we enjoyed from politics and the executive and legislative branches. We felt immune from partisan pressure on employment, policy and prosecutions. Sadly, those principles have taken a severe beating.

The history of the Justice Department has not always valued political independence. As late as the 1970s, many of the 93 United States Attorneys’ Offices continued to hire and fire assistant federal prosecutors on a largely political basis. Offices employed the “broom” policy. A change in the political party in the White House inevitably resulted in the “brooming” out of prosecutors hired under the previous United States Attorney and the consideration. Political connections mattered. After several decades of improvement of this atmosphere, the politicized Bush Justice Department has taken several steps backward, and a result, damaged the public’s trust.

Certainly, for more than a century many effective prosecutors served under this system, but the practical downside was stretches of inefficiency during a political turnover while largely young and inexperienced hires learned the ropes. The terms of these attorneys were usually limited to two or three years. Consequently, a multi-year investigation of a complex federal crime was extremely unlikely, and the great majority of cases involved reactive offenses. The de-politicization of the hiring process not only provided continuity for investigations and prosecutions, but ushered in an era of career prosecutors who developed the expertise to handle increasingly complex cases.

No one expected that this change would affect the selection of United States Attorneys. The Constitution and federal statutes make clear that they are appointed and serve at the pleasure of the President. Still, some recent Presidents have left in place exceptional United States Attorneys appointed by the previous administration. Moreover, the involvement of special search committees has increasingly emphasized experience and competence as important factors in the process.

Even before this week’s report, the Justice Department’s practices were highly suspect. This past July we learned that, contrary to federal law and Justice Department policy, politics had been a primary influence in the hiring of many career prosecutors and immigration judges. An Inspector General’s report found that The Department’s White House liaison officer Monica Goodling used politically based evaluations of the applicants’ Republican and conservative credentials and loyalty to make hiring decisions. Although Ms. Goodling worked out of his office, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez was strangely detached from this activity.

This week’s Inspector General’s report extends this partisan meddling from employment matters to policy and prosecution decisions. Midterm loyalty tests by the political operators of the White House have severely damaged the integrity and credibility of the Justice Department. Their disingenuous explanations and the Attorney General’s seemingly conscious avoidance of the truth has only served to further tarnish the Department’s reputation.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey has an opportunity to blunt some of these perceptions and reverse, at least to some extent, the ugly trend toward a return to a politicized Justice Department. The appointment of the well respected federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy to continue the Inspector General’s investigation is a step in the right direction. The Attorney General’s insistence that she have the authority to compel production of White House documents and to subpoena administration officials such as Karl Rove will be critical to this objective.

Whether Attorney General Mukasey fully supports the investigation will go a long way in determining the current credibility of the inspiring words carved on the Justice Department Building that we enjoy a government of laws and not of men:

No Free Government Can Survive that is not

Based on the Supremacy of the Law.

Where Law Ends, Tyranny Begins.

Law Alone Can Give us Freedom.

Oregon Post Man Delivers More Than Mail

Mailmen know, rain, sleet or snow, they must deliver. But one Portland, Ore. mailman took the delivery vow a little too far. How far? Far enough to get the  DEA’s attention.

KGW-TV Online
PORTLAND, Ore. — A citizens complaint has led a pot-dealing postman from package delivery to prison time.
Ronald Berkan, a 48-year-old postman in Veronia, Ore., was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months in prison, following his guilty plea last April on one charge of marijuana distribution to a person under 21 years old.
The delivery occurred on his mail route in the Cedar Mill area of Washington County. As part of the sentence, almost $3,000 of drug proceeds Berkan had collected was also forfeited.
The legal investigation began in 2006 when federal authorities received a citizens complaint that a uniformed postal carrier was offering marijuana for sale on his route.
Berkan was identified by the U.S.  Postal Service Office of the Inspector General. Drug Enforcement Administration officials subsequently joined in an investigation that lasted 11 months,according to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.

Four Oregon Students Confess To Obama Incident

Sen. Obama/official photo

Sen. Obama/official photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
A Christian university in Oregon said yesterday that four students confessed to being responsible for a Sept. 23  incident on campus in which Sen. Barack Obama was hanged in effigy.
The Office of Student Life at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore., identified the students late last week and completed disciplinary hearings, which resulted in long-term suspensions and community service, the university said in a press release posted on its website.
“Regardless of the students’ intent, the image of a black man hung from a tree is one of the most hurtful symbols of racism in American history,” Brad Lau, vice president of student life , said in the release. “Displays such as this have no place on a campus that is dedicated to living out the teachings of Jesus.”
The FBI opened up a preliminary investigation last week to determine if any federal civil rights laws were violated.
Read University Press Release
Read University President’s Remarks The Day After The Incident

FBI And U.S. Atty to Probe New Orleans Police Shootings

The FBI will investigate the controversial police shootings on Danziger Bridge three years ago that left two people dead and four wounded.

U.S. Atty. Jim Letten/doj photo

U.S. Atty. Jim Letten/doj photo

By The New Orleans Times-Picayune
NEW ORLEANS — U.S. Attorney Jim Letten announced today that federal authorities will examine if there is a basis for federal criminal charges in connection with the Sept. 4, 2005 shooting of citizens by police at the Danziger Bridge.
At the request of families of shooting victims and the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Justice Department agreed to examine facts of the Hurricane Katrina episode, which left two men dead and four people wounded.
“As a result of this productive dialog and referral to us, the Civil Rights Division, FBI and our U.S. Attorney’s Office will utilize as much time and resources as necessary to determine whether there are any prosecutable violation of federal criminal laws in this matter,” Letten said in a news release.
For Full Story

County Commissioner’s Fla. Home Raided

Comm. Mary McCarty

Comm. Mary McCarty

Scandal continues to bubble in southern Florida. The latest: An FBI raid of a county commissioner’s home.

Maria Herrera and Mark Hollis
Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty’s home was searched Friday by the FBI, making her the latest county official to come under scrutiny by federal investigators.
Federal agents descended on the 1930s bungalow in the 1100 block of Vista Del Mar where McCarty lives with her husband, Kevin. A man working on McCarty’s garden said the agents took pictures of the house and the cars and left shortly after 9 a.m. with boxes of documents.
“I have done nothing wrong,” McCarty said from another home the couple owns in Maine. “In my mind, this was an unnecessary act.”
For Full Story