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Archive for December 19th, 2008

Breaking News: Gov. Blagojevich Says He’s Innocent and Will Fight “Until I Take My Last Breath”

By Jon Perkins
ticklethewire.com
Scandal-plagued Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich  stood before a packed Chicago news conference Friday and defiantly vowed to remain on the job and fight charges of public corruption leveled at him by federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.
“I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing,” Blagojevich said. “I will fight, I will fight, I will fight until I take my last breath.”
Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on a host of charges including an allegation that he tried to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. Blagojevich has hired celebrated Chicago defense lawyer Ed Genson, who has represented the governor before an Illinois impeachment panel. No trial date has been set.
“I am dying to show you how innocent I am,” Blagojevich said. “I have done nothing wrong. I intend to stay on the job.” He asked Illinoisans to be patient and not rush to judgment.
The embattled governor appeared to refer to Fitzgerald and other critics as a “political lynch mob” that is making false accusations. He said he will not “talk in 30 second sound bites” and will answer the charges in the appropriate forum. He also said that powerful forces have arrayed against him,”it’s kind of lonely right now,” but, “I have the most powerful ally of all on my side — the truth.”
“I am absolutely certain that I will be vindicated.”
Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Fitzgerald, declined to comment after the press conference.

Video of Gov. Blagojevich Press Conference

Fla. Businessman Convicted of Hiring Hitman to Kill IRS Agent

In the end, Randy Nowak probably figured out there’s probably better ways to fight the IRS. And maybe cheaper.

By Jason Geary
THE LEDGER
TAMPA, Fla. — Mulberry businessman Randy Nowak was found guilty Thursday of trying to hire a hit man for $20,000 to kill an Internal Revenue Service agent auditing his business.
A U.S. District Court jury spent about one hour and 45 minutes deliberating before finding Nowak guilty as charged.
Earlier this year, Nowak, 49, was indicted on two federal charges related to attempting to kill IRS agent Christine Brandt because she was investigating his business and to using cell phones to arrange the murder-for-hire plot.
For Full Story

Read Criminal Complaint

See Video

Iraqi Spies in Motown And More

Eric Straus-photo/ticklethewire.com

Eric Straus-photo/ticklethewire.com

DETROIT – One recent afternoon, in this hardscrabble city, in a downtown office high rise overlooking the Detroit River, assistant U.S. Atty. Eric Straus, chief of the criminal and national security division, sat down with ticklethewire.com editor Allan Lengel. Straus, a 21-year veteran of the office, talked about a host of subjects including the American invasion of Iraq,  the region’s sizable Middle Eastern population, one of the largest in the nation, Saddam Hussein’s spies in Detroit, the presence of Hezbollah supporters, public corruption in a town where a man once dubbed “the hip hop mayor” is behind bars and a new policy that allows his office and other U.S. Attorney’s offices to pass on highly secretive grand jury information to U.S. troops overseas. The following answers were condensed and the questions were edited for clarity.

Q. In terms of counter-terrorism, how does Detroit fit in to the picture?
A. We have a disproportionate number of resources committed to national security cases when you compare it to other districts. I believe it’s one of the largest national security units in the country. And we’re a smaller office. We just prosecuted a couple people . They were exporting telecommunication equipment to the former Saddam Hussein government in Iraq. You may have seen in the news just a couple days ago a person who was arrested, I believe in Maine, for essentially spying in the Detroit area on behalf of the Saddam Hussein regime. We’ve had about four or five of these indictments in the last probably two or three years. Most of the results have probably been obtained in the last year. There are a lot of these individuals, their identities were learned through some of the documents that were recovered in Iraq after the 2003 invasion of Iraq; various Iraqi intelligence agency documents.


Q: Were these folks actually working full time for the government or were they just sort of informants?

A. I think it varied. I can’t tell you whether they were (all) full times intelligence officers. I rather doubt it. In the intelligence world you have to have a cover, so they were doing something else. I think in a couple of the cases, the Iraqi community here in the Metro Detroit area suspected that they were at the very least sympathetic to Saddam Hussein and in some cases, actually thought they were spying and reporting back to Iraq prior to the war.


Q. Was that hard to prove without the documents?

A. It would have been virtually impossible to prosecute without those documents and it would have been virtually impossible to prosecute without authenticating those documents. So we were fortunate in a number of cases of obtaining first hand knowledge of witnesses who would have been available to testify “yeah I remember these documents’ or “these were the types of documents I saw while I was in the Iraqi government.”


Q. Are there still other cases?

A. I think at this point, we have a five-year statute of limitations. The war ended in 2003. We’re probably running up realistically (against) a five-year statute of limitations.

Q. In this town, folks supportive of Hezbollah go back and forth from Detroit to Lebanon. There’s also sentiment in favor of Hamas. What’s your sense of what’s going on in the community?
A. I can only speak on what we’ve publicly charged, proven or presented into evidence. We have charged a number of individuals with supporting Hezbollah in various ways. We’ve received some guilty pleas to material support of Hezbollah. We have a gentlemen, he was sentenced to 54 months of imprisonment. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide support to Hezbollah. He organized and hosted meetings at his Dearborn residence. He featured speakers from Lebanon, during which the participants solicited donations to Hezbollah. The money solicited was intended to support Hezbollah’s orphans of martyrs program to benefit the families of those killed in Hezbollah terror operations or (fighting) Hezbollah enemies. During one of our detention hearings we put into evidence testimony that the term orphan often times was used as a euphemism for support of Hezbollah. Almost invariably they’re orphans of suicide fighters or people who have engaged the Israelis in conflict.
Q . What about people in the organization who say the money is going to hospitals and education. Does it make your case tougher?
A. From a jury standpoint it muddies the water a little bit. Our basic rebuttal to that is any money that goes to Hezbollah, anything that’s a so called Humanitarian mission, really, it frees up more money to go to its military and terrorist operations . Point number two. The State Department has designated Hezbollah as a foreign terrorism organization. So regardless of whatever your intent is and whatever you’re earmarking that money for, any money whatsoever, for whatever purpose that you send knowingly to Hezbollah, is a crime. I think if you dig a little deeper below the surface, most of those individuals will at least acknowledge that they understand that one of the missions of Hezbollah is to first, drive the Israelis out and two to advance a more radical Shiite Islamic vision on Lebanon.
Q. What about Hamas? Do you see Hamas here?.
A. I don’t know that we’ve had any cases where we’ve publicly shown a connection to Hamas. There’s certainly support here in the area for Hamas and other Palestinian rejectionist groups that are designated as FTOs – Foreign Terrorist Organizations. They are something that we would be interested in and we carefully monitor. Our mission is first and foremost to prevent another terrorist attack and so we use our criminal tools to do that.
Q. Is there any backlash from the Arab community from people who say these people are just trying to establish a Home State?
A. I don’t know if it’s caused any tension. We try to deal strictly with the prosecutions, we understand there’s a public relations component to that. And we do what we can throughout our cases, which is really limited, particularly when you have pleas, of getting the information out there about who those people are, what they represent and the danger they pose to the national security. Beyond that we don’t have a lot of abilities to change the hearts and minds of people who think these are freedom fighters.


Q. Is there a concern that al Qaeda may have a presence here?

A. I can’t comment on anything. So far we have not to my knowledge prosecuted anyone associated with al Qaeda in this district. But to define that threat as only al Qaeda is somewhat misleading. Because al Qaeda is only one part of a much larger international jihadist movement. When you say al Qaeda I think there’s a movement away from using that term to describe a much larger international jihadist movement.


Q. Are you seeing any particular problem with hate groups in Michigan?

A. We did prosecute a Rochester Hills woman for communicating a terrorism hoax and making  a false statement to federal agents . She left a recorded telephone message at a BP Refinery in Oregon, Ohio in which she falsely stated that two specific employees there were plotting some very bad terrorist activity toward the refinery. The defendants had falsely specified two employees of Middle Eastern descent as the alleged plotters and she was ultimately indicted and convicted . I know our office prosecuted one or two individuals who were involved in threatening an Imam in a mosque.

Q. What have you been doing lately to foster the relationship with the Middle Eastern community?
A. We were one of the first districts in the country to develop the Bridges Programs. Largely because at the time in the aftermath of 9/11 there was a lot of concern in the community that the immediate backlash would be a blanket backlash against the entire Muslim community. And so that was set up with various representatives in the community. Now it’s become more or less a monthly or every couple months meeting where representatives from our office and federal law enforcement meet with those same (community) representatives and talk about various issues. At least on one or two occasions, people brought representatives from the U.S. Treasury Department, the Office of Foreign Asset Control, who came out in the aftermath of some investigative activity relative to charities. I think it was well received. They explained the law giving money to charities the government was looking at.

Q. How about in terms of public corruption , what kind of emphasis has there been on public corruption here?

A. Obviously if you’ve been reading the paper public corruption is one of our top priorities , particularly given the state of affairs of the city of Detroit . Our U.S. Attorney has certainly emphasized that.


Q. What can you say about public corruption here in the city of Detroit?
A. Probably not much . You can go back and look at some of the recent coverage of guilty pleas. We’re doing some public corruption work, but beyond that I can’t comment.

Q. What about espionage here?

A. The cases that we’ve had thus far that have been prosecuted mainly dealt with spying on behalf of a foreign government; that is Iraq. The Department of Justice places a high priority of protecting a wide variety of technology not only tangible products,  but also the technology. That’s something we are certainly sensitive to and something we want to assure we have enough resources to devote to.


Q. When you talk about technology , what type of technology? Auto related?

A. The two areas are of big concern are military technology . Number two is dual use technology. That’s a little harder. That’s technology that has a civilian use but may also have a military application.


Q. Over time the office has lost some high profile cases like the one against attorney Geoffrey Fieger. I guess the question some people might ask is: Does a big loss make you a little gun shy to go after big cases like that?

A. Generally as you know from watching cases all over the country, public corruption cases are some of the most difficult cases that we prosecute. Often times the evidence is difficult to obtain, often times the cases involved usually involve some type of payments between two individuals. It’s not always easy to get one of the two parties to the conspiracy to cooperate. Sometimes it’s necessary to use more sophisticated techniques like electronic surveillance, wiretaps. They’re lengthy investigations. We have had a number of successful public corruption cases over the years.


Q. Has any of the rules changed since you began investigating terrorist cases in the last few years. Do you have more latitude? Is it easier to get a wiretap?
A. I haven’t seen any changes. We have always had a fairly stringent review process. (But) we have to be sensitive. We’re generating foreign intelligence information that may be useful to someone in the CIA or someone in the battlefield. Where before if we had someone go into the grand jury: “I know about Taliban troop movements in Afghanistan”…. under those prior rules we couldn’t take that information and give it to the military. Now we can take that with notice of the court and pass it on. We have done that around the country. That is something that is encouraged by the Department of Justice. We are encouraged to share information.
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Egyptian Student Gets 15 Years For Making Terrorist-Related YouTube Video

YouTube is normally considered a great venue for entertainment. In this case, it cost a university student his freedom.

By MITCH STACY
Associated Press Writer
TAMPA, Fla. — An Egyptian student attending a Florida university was sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday for making a YouTube video showing would-be terrorists how to turn a remote-control toy into a bomb detonator.
U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday said the public needed to be protected from 27-year-old Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed, who made the video “to empower others through his teaching to deliver death, destruction and, at the very least, panic.”
Merryday handed the maximum sentence to the former University of South Florida graduate student, brushing aside his attorneys’ pleas for leniency and the minimum eight-year sentence.
“This is an intelligent man who made a very bad mistake,” one his attorneys, Linda Moreno, said afterward. “This is a sad day.”
For Full Story

Read Sentencing Memorandum

Judge Sanctions Secret Service in Racial Discrimination Suit

There’s bad news in lawsuits. And then there’s really bad news. The Secret Service just got the really bad news.

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — A federal magistrate judge has ruled that the U.S. Secret Service “made a mockery” of long-standing rules by failing to preserve, concealing and even destroying evidence sought by 10 African American current and former employees in a racial discrimination case.
In an opinion filed late Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, Judge Deborah A. Robinson effectively barred the agency from presenting a defense in the class-action lawsuit filed in 2000.
Robinson called the penalty an appropriate sanction for years of delay because the Secret Service’s conduct “prejudiced Plaintiffs’ ability to conduct meaningful discovery and prepare to address the merits of their claims.”
For Full Story

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Iranian Woman Convicted in Fla. in Night Goggle Case (AP)

Legendary FBI Agent Mark Felt — aka “Deep Throat” — Dies at 95

Mark Felt/ photo-face the nation

Mark Felt/ photo-face the nation

A legendary newspaper source, his identity became the subject of speculation for decades.

By Patricia Sullivan and Bob Woodward
Washington Post Staff Writers
WASHINGTON — W. Mark Felt Sr., the associate director of the FBI during the Watergate scandal who, better known as “Deep Throat,” became the most famous anonymous source in American history, died yesterday. He was 95.
Felt died at 12:45 p.m. at a hospice near his home in Santa Rosa, Calif. where he had been living since August.
Felt “was fine this morning” and was “joking with his caregiver,” according to his daughter, Joan Felt. She said in a phone interview that her father ate a big breakfast before remarking that he was tired and went to sleep.
“He slipped away,” she said.
As the second-highest official in the FBI under longtime director J. Edgar Hoover and interim director L. Patrick Gray, Felt detested the Nixon administration’s attempt to subvert the bureau’s investigation into the complex of crimes and coverups known as the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.
For Full Story

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