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Tag: U.S. Attorney

The Legacy of the Racist Murder of Vincent Chin

Vincent Chin

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Thirty years ago this week, a young Chinese-American man, Vincent Chin, was bludgeoned to death by a man wielding a baseball bat, only a few steps away from a strip club where he and his friends had been celebrating his bachelor’s party.

The crime and its state and federal prosecutions raise the question of whether the case’s anomalous circumstances detract from its impact on American history, the criminal justice system and civil rights for Asian Americans. I became familiar with the case as a resident of the area and as a prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

It all began at the tawdry Fancy Pants Lounge in Highland Park, Michigan. Across the stage from Chin and his friends, sat Ronald Ebens and his step-son Michael Nitz doing what men do in such places.

Ebens was a popular supervisor at the nearby Chrysler plant in 1982. It was a tough time for American auto companies and their employees as Japanese companies made steady inroads into the market. Anti-Asian sentiment was common around Detroit. Chin was an outgoing and lively guy who had a wide circle of friends. His parents had emigrated from China to the United States in the 1940s to escape the harsh realities of life in Communist China.

Fueled by alcohol and senseless machismo on both sides, a shouting match ensued between the groups. The accurate content of the argument was both disputed and was soon lost in the fog of time. Chin’s friends later claimed that Ebens made racial remarks, “It’s because of you little mother-fuckers that we’re out of work.” Ebens and Nitz denied the statement and asserted that it was Chin who escalated the trash-talking by hitting Ebens with a chair and then calling Ebens a “chickenshit.”

The dispute spilled out into the parking lot and then across the street near a McDonalds restaurant. As two off-duty policeman watched, Ebens chased Chin onto Woodward Avenue and then struck him on the head several times with a baseball bat he had grabbed from the trunk of his car.

According to a friend, Chin’s last words were, “It isn’t fair…” The veracity of even this, later to be, iconic dying declaration is in doubt since experts later testified that the injury to the brain was so severe that speech would have been impossible. Whether true or not, the words would become a battle cry for Asian-Americans across the country.

Four days later, Vincent Chin died on his mother’s birthday. On the day after the wedding had been scheduled, the guests instead attended his funeral.

The state prosecution, Eben and Nitz’s nolo contendere pleas to manslaughter, and the subsequent sentences of only probation and a fine, were not great moments in Michigan justice.

But sadly, neither did they deviate substantially from the routine in the violent Motor City and its imperfect criminal justice system at the time. Anyone interested in exploring the facts and evidence, from the perspective of both the defense and the prosecution, can read my article in The Court Legacy, Volume XIV, Number 4 (November 2007) or other accounts such as the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Who Killed Vincent Chin? by Rene Tajima and Christine Choy (Filmmakers Library 1989).

In his op-ed piece in the New York Times a few days ago, Frank Wu, Dean of University of California Hastings School of Law, wrote in moving terms about the legacy of Vincent Chin and the response by those who took up the cause of his death and awakened the consciousness of a generation of Asian-Americans as well as the public recognition of their civil rights.

After thirty years, I continue to believe that the Chin case is one of those anomalies. Four levels at the U. S. Attorney’s Office, including me I should disclose, concluded that the evidence of a racial motivation for the homicide was insufficient. Without such proof, there could have been no federal jurisdiction for a civil rights violation. U. S. Attorney Len Gilman recognized the injustice of the state criminal result but declined prosecution.

However, under the glare of publicity, the effective campaign of the American Citizens for Justice, and the influence of nine Congressmen who had sizeable numbers of Asian-American voters, the Justice Department countermanded the U. S. Attorney’s Office decision and sought and received a criminal indictment from the Detroit federal grand jury.

The tortured, four-year history of the federal case supports Gilman’s conclusion. Nitz was acquitted in the first trial, the Court of Appeals reversed Ebens’ conviction, and he was acquitted after venue in the case was transferred to Cincinnati for the re-trial.

This ultimate result, as it bears on whether Vincent Chin’s death was a tragic example of racial bigotry or the tragic result of a stupid bar fight, is remembered by few, but it does not diminish the importance of the case in transforming Asian-Americans from the “silent, model” minority to people who demanded their rights under the Constitution.

A single case did not, of course, reverse two centuries of bigotry. The oppressive importation of Chinese laborers, like Vincent Chin’s grandfather, to build the nation’s railroads, the involuntary detention of 120,000 loyal Japanese-Americans into internment camps during World War II, and countless other public and private acts of discrimination remain as stains on American history.

But the importance of the case in mobilizing Asian-Americans remains as true and real today as if the perpetrator had clearly and indisputably announced a racial purpose to his crime rather than engaged in a drunken bar fight.

Moreover, there is clear evidence that the case contributed significantly to reforms in the criminal justice system nationally as well as in Michigan. These include prosecutor participation at the sentencing stage, the recognition and mandate of victim-witness rights, and restrictions on prosecution policies for plea-bargaining.

Those of us who have Asian-American family members whose rights and opportunities are near and dear, as well as the American public who have benefited so greatly from the many contributions of Asian-Americans to American history, can only celebrate the legacy of the Chin case and not be overly troubled by its messy facts.

House Committee Votes to Hold Atty. General Holder in Contempt; Holder Denies Being Unresponsive

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The politics surrounding ATF’s failed Operation Fast and Furious began to sizzle Wednesday, with Republicans leading the charge against Attorney Gen. Eric Holder Jr.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, voting along party lines, voted 23 to 17 to hold  Holder in contempt for failing to turn over documents pertaining to the ATF operation out of the Phoenix Division, the Washington Post reported.

The matter now goes before the full House, and then if passed, to the U.S. Attorney in D.C. for action.

Holder issued a press release calling the allegations untrue that he’s been unresponsive.

“Simply put, any claims that the Justice Department has been unresponsive to requests for information are untrue. From the beginning, Chairman Issa and certain members of the Committee have made unsubstantiated allegations first, then scrambled for facts to try to justify them later. That might make for good political theater, but it does little to uncover the truth or address the problems associated with this operation and prior ones dating back to the previous Administration.”

To read the full story click here.

 

Mining Company Reduces Accident Rate As Part of Fed Deal

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The massive coal mining company that reached an agreement six months ago to avoid federal charges over the 2010 mine explosion in West Virginia that killed 29 workers has significantly reduced accident and injury rates, the Associated Press reports.

Alpha Natural Resources also is breaking ground on an $18 million training center designed to teach miners how to handle dangerous conditions as part of the pact with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin told the Associated Press that accidents are down by a third and the injury rate dropped by a quarter.

An explosion in the southern West Virginia mine in April 2010 killed 29 workers.

Feds Land Big Insider Trading Conviction With Rajat Gupta

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

 A federal crackdown on illicit trading on Wall Street netted its latest catch with the conviction of Rajat Gupta, a business insider and former board member of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Reuters reports.

Gupta was convicted Friday on charges that he leaked confidential information about Goldman Sachs during the peak of the economic crisis.

He faces up to 25 years in prison after being found guilty of four criminal counts, according to Reuters.

The case is the latest victory by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, which has launched an aggressive campaign to bust insider trading.

No Regrets in Failed Prosecution of former Sen. Edwards

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com
The former U.S. Attorney who spearheaded the failed prosecution of former Sen. John Edwards expressed no regrets, the News and Observer reports.

George Holding said political corruption cases are the most difficult to prosecute, and any decision to halt the prosecution would have been a “derliction of duty,” according to the News and Observer.

A mistrial on most charges prompted the Justice Department to abandon the prosecution after a mistrial.

Ex-U.S. Atty. Christie Exaggerates About Number of Crooked Pols He Put Behind Bars

Christopher Christie/campaign photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

What’s a little exaggeration among friends?

The Newark Star-Ledger and PolitiFact called ex-U.S. Attorney turned N.J. Gov. Chris Christie on his exaggeration the other day.

Christie said at a town hall meeting  that as Newark U.S. Attorney he put behind bars  10 percent of the state legislature for various crimes. The figure is actually less than 3 percent, the story says.

“Really?” Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said in an e-mail responding to the challenge by the paper. “Every other person in the audience understood the Governor was making a rhetorical point about his extensive record in combating political corruption as U.S. Attorney and not, as you seem to be suggesting, citing, with great exactitude, some baseball statistic.”

“The Governor was emphasizing, conversationally, the gravity of the corruption which in those years reached into the highest levels of the legislature as well as high-ranking party bosses and operatives, and former legislators across this state – an extensive and politically powerful rogues gallery. Honestly, if you were actually in attendance at the town hall, heard his tone and inflection when he made this remark — and were around in those years in New Jersey — you would know that,” Drewniak said.

Still, the paper wrote, the “governor can make a point about his record on corruption without saying he put 10 percent of the state Legislature in jail. That’s just not true.”

 

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

U.S. Attorney Who Prosecuted Blagojevich Heads for Private Sector

Gov. Blagojevich

Shoshanna Utchenik
ticklethewire.com

Reid J. Schar, lead prosecutor in the Rod Blagojevich corruption retrial in 2011, may have cinched the convictions that sent Blago to prison with the question:

“Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?”

Now Schar, 40, is taking his show on the road. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Schar is leaving the U.S. attorney’s office for the private sector after 13 years of service, not all of them so glamorous as nailing the former governor.

Schar becomes partner at the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block next month, focusing on white-collar criminal defense and investigations.

The Sun-Times points out that there is change afoot in the Chicago’s U.S. attorney’s office, signaled by Patrick Fitzgerald also recently announcing his departure after 10 years.

To read more click here.

Ex-ICE Official Sentenced to 2 Years After Lying and Scamming Agency

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A former official for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was sentenced Friday in Los Angeles to two years in prison and ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution for obstruction of justice, giving false information to a federal prosecutor and a federal judge in Florida, and devising a scheme to have his wife paid nearly $600,000 even though she did little work for the agency.

Ex-ICE assistant special agent in charge Frank Johnston, 55, of Whittier,Calif., who retired from ICE in August 2009 after 31 years was also ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution.

“Whenever public officials break the law, particularly those persons sworn to serve and protect the public, we must do everything we can to hold them accountable,” said U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr in a statement.

 

Johnston was found guilty in two federal trials. In the first, he was convicted of making false statements that resulted in the delay – lasting nearly a year and a half – of a prison term for a man who received an 18-month sentence in a cigarette-smuggling case.

Johnston told a Justice Department prosecutor and a Florida federal judge that person was providing “ongoing cooperation” in two organized crime investigations being conducted in Los Angeles — when in fact he was not.

In a second trial in February, Johnston was convicted on charges that he and his wife, Taryn Johnston, engaged in a fraud scheme in which Taryn Johnson received approximately $582,000 in salary and benefits from ICE and its predecessor agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, even though she had done virtually no work for the agency and infrequently went to work, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. His wife was convicted and sentenced to 30 days behind bars.