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Four Potential Homeland Security Secretaries Under President-Elect Biden

Joe Biden, via Shutterstock.com.

By Steve Neavling

President-elect Joe Biden with be tasked with reforming the Department of Homeland Security and that will begin with picking a new leader. 

Axios has identified four potential picks for Biden’s Homeland Security secretary.

One is Alejandro Mayorkas, the former deputy secretary and the architect of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). A former U.S. attorney who emigrated to Cuba as a child, Mayorkas is currently a partner at the law firm WilmerHale. 

A second candidate is California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a son of Mexican immigrants who has opposed Trump’s immigration policies. Becerra also served in Congress from 1993 to 2017, representing downtown Los Angeles. 

U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a Democrat from Florida’s 10th Congressional District, is a third potential pick. Although Demings has less immigration experience than the other candidates, she did work in law enforcement for three decades. For four years, she served as Orlando’s first female police chief. 

A four potential pick is Lisa Monaco, who served as Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism advisor. Monaco also has ties to Biden, serving as his aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 1990s and working with him recently as a member of his Public Health Advisory Committee that is hammering out a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


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Men Charged in Plot to Kidnap Michigan Gov. Whitmer Also Mulled Televised Executions, Prosecutors Say

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Photo via state of Michigan.

By Steve Neavling

A militia group charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had devised alternative plans that included televised executions and burning down the state Capitol building while it was in session, prosecutors said.

The disturbing details, disclosed in new court filings and first reported by ABC7, allege the 14 men, many of whom belonged to a militia group “Wolverine Watchmen,” developed a “Plan B” and “Plan C” if the kidnapping plot failed to work. 

According to prosecutors, Plan B involved recruiting 200 combatants to storm the statehouse and stage televised executions of public officials.

“They were to take hostages, execute tyrants and have it televised,” court documents show. “It would take about one week and (said) that no one is coming out alive.”

Under Plan C, the extremists would set fire to the Capitol building while lawmakers were still in session, “leaving no survivors,” prosecutors said.

The men were charged last month in a plot that the FBI said it thwarted to kidnap Whitmer, a Democrat whose coronavirus restrictions had incensed some conservatives, even as COVID-19 skyrocketed. 

“The group talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” the affidavit reportedly said. “They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions. At one point, several members talked about state governments they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution, including the government of Michigan and Governor Gretchen Whitmer. As part of that recruitment effort, [Adam] Fox reached out to a Michigan-based militia group.”

Six of the men were charged in federal court, and eight were charged in state court. 


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‘Nazi-Obsessed’ Man Sentenced to 32 Years in Prison on Firearms, Ammunition Charges

Dennis Alan Riggs’ Nazi memorabilia. Photo via Suffolk County Police Department.

By Steve Neavling

A Pittsburgh man who the FBI said is “obsessed” with Nazis was sentenced to 32 months in federal prison for being a convicted felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.

Dennis Alan Riggs, 51, pleaded guilty in May after the terrorism task force raided his home in January and found it riddled with Nazi memorabilia, the FBI said in a news release.

He was in possession of seven firearms and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, including an AR-15. 

The search of his home and cell phone uncovered his “obsession with Nazi ideology,” the FBI said. On his cell phone were photos and videos of him posing with an illegal AR-15 while wearing a Swastika shirt. One video shows him performing the Nazi “Heil Hitler salute” with the AR-15, which U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Colville said “exceeds the bounds of mere political expression.”

The FBI led the investigation.


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Mexico Threatens to Remove DEA from Country After Arrest of Ex-Mexican Defense Minister

Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, former Mexican defense minister.

By Steve Neavling

Mexican officials are so incensed with the arrest of a former Mexican defense minister on drug trafficking charges that they’ve threatened to remove the DEA from the country, The New York Times and Bloomberg report. 

The unprecedented threat follows the arrest of Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda. 

U.S. officials appeared to be listening, and on Wednesday a federal judge agreed to dismiss the charges against the former army general. The move came at the request of Attorney General William Barr. 

The reversal was criticized by officials in the State Department and Congress. 

“There is no explanation for Attorney General Barr’s decision to abruptly drop drug trafficking charges against General Cienfuegos,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said in a statement. “Cooperation with the Mexican government is essential for upholding our national security, and those bilateral ties must be built on common respect for our own rule of law and due process.”

Judge Carol B. Amon, of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, appeared to have no qualms about the turnabout.  

“Although these are very serious charges against a very significant figure, and the old adage ‘a bird in the hand’ comes to mind,” Amon said, “still I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the government’s decision.”


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Questions Persist: Why Did DOJ Move to Drop Charges Against an Ex-Mexican Defense Minister?

By Allan Lengel

The Justice Department has asked a federal judge to drop drug trafficking and corruption charges against a former Mexican defense minister, the New York Times reports, raising questions as to why?

The official word is that the U.S. wants to let Mexican officials investigate Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, who was arrested about a month ago in Los Angeles and arraigned in federal court in Brooklyn where he was awaiting trial. On Tuesday, Attorney General William P. Barr announced an abrupt reversal and plans to drop the charges.

Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda (Wikimedia photo)

Some have found it rather suspicious, particularly since the final decision to charge and then drop charges against the ex-official had to have come from the highest levels of power in Washington.

“That is a pretty stunning turnaround,” Jim Walden, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, tells the Times. “To bring such high-profile charges and then a month later to defer prosecution to a country where we have seen very mixed results in terms of its criminal justice system — that is an eyebrow raiser.”

The general, who was Mexico’s defense minister from 2012 to 2018, and was accused of taking bribes in exchange for protecting cartel leaders. The Times notes that Barr and Mexico’s attorney general, Alejandro Gertz Manero stopped short in a statement of promising any charges in Mexico.

“In recognition of the strong law enforcement partnership between Mexico and the United States, and in the interests of demonstrating our united front against all forms of criminality, the U.S. Department of Justice has made the decision to seek dismissal of the U.S. criminal charges against former Secretary Cienfuegos, so that he may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law,” the statement said.

Mexico said it was caught off guard by the charges, which might not seem all that surprising since a move at the level against a Mexican official might be kept secret to prevent the person from being tipped off.

A federal court filing said prosecutors acknowledged that the Trump administration had determined that preserving its relationship with Mexico prevailed over pursuing the case, the Times reports.

. “The United States has determined that sensitive and important foreign policy considerations outweigh the government’s interest in pursuing the prosecution of the defendant, under the totality of the circumstances, and therefore require dismissal of the case,” they wrote in asking a judge to dismiss the charge.


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FBI Investigating Texas AG Ken Paxton Over Allegations of Bribery, Other Crimes

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

By Steve Neavling

The FBI is investigating Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on allegations that he used his office to help a wealthy donor.

Former members of Paxton’s staff say he used his office to commit bribery and other crimes to benefit Austin real estate developer Nate Paul in several ways, The Associated Press first reported.

Paxton has been dogged with allegations of wrongdoing since his top deputies, who have since resigned or been fired, tipped off federal authorities about actions they allege are illegal. Four aides have been fired, prompting a whistleblower lawsuit against Paxton, a second-term Republican who has denied wrongdoing.

“After reviewing the claims made by former employees of this office, their allegations are overblown, based upon assumptions, and to a large degree misrepresent the facts,” Paxton said in a statement. “Unfortunately these attorneys chose to air their grievances through the media and through the courts, rather than established and objective internal processes.”

Among the allegations are that Paxton ordered his office to hire an outside lawyer to pursue Paul’s claims about an improper search of his home and office last year. 


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TSA Officer Dies from COVID-19, Ninth Employee Killed by Coronavirus

TSA employee Eduard Faktorvich. Photo via TSA.

By Steve Neavling

The coronavirus claimed the life of a TSA officer at Denver International Airport.

Eduard Faktorvich, who joined the TSA in Denver in April 2018, worked exclusively at the security checkpoint. He died Monday, the TSA announced Tuesday. 

“His colleagues remember him as a kind and respectful person, who always had a smile on his face,” the TSA said in a statement. “Although Eduard was with TSA for only two and half years, the entire team at DEN is saddened by the loss of one their own.”  

Faktorvich is the ninth TSA employee to die from COVID-19. Another 2,885 TSA employees have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“His death is a reminder to all of us at TSA of the ongoing seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the TSA said. “We remain committed to continuing to take every precaution to help protect our workforce as well as airline travelers.”


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Ponzi Scheme Suspect Tries to Evade FBI Using Underwater ‘Seascooter’

The Seascooter found by authorities following the chase. Photo via court records.

By Steve Neavling

A Ponzi scheme suspect led FBI agents on a wild chase that ended in the frigid waters of a remote lake in Northern California. 

When agents tried to arrest Matthew Piercey, 44, near Redding on Monday morning, he fled in a car and headed up Interstate 5 before reaching Lake Shasta, a large reservoir north of Redding. Then Piercey swam into the lake with an underwater submersible device called a “Seascooter” and “spent some time out of sight underwater where law enforcement could only see bubbles,” federal officials said in court documents.

“He remained in the frigid water for approximately 25 minutes,” the complaint reads. 

When Piercey reemerged, authorities arrested him. 

 Piercey and his business partner Kenneth Winton were indicted by a grand jury last week. Piercey is accused of bilking investors out of $35 million between July 2015 and August. Authorities say he preyed on a megachurch where he was a member. 

Piercey faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. 


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