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Archive for January 13th, 2009

For A Serious Job, There’s An Awful Lot of Pranksters

Being a federal agent or attorney is a serious job, not only sometimes dangerous, but it involves personal sacrifices and long and stressful hours. So why does it continue to be such a popular career choice and why are camaraderie and high morale present in so many federal law enforcement and Justice Department offices? After a multi-year investigation conducted primarily in bars, pool halls and lunch spots, I think I have a theory.

One measure of this esprit de corps is the pranksterism among colleagues in many offices. Although not exactly essential to a well functioning office, I have, through the many anecdotes collected in the study, concluded that the phenomenon is highly symptomatic of a positive work environment.

A few supportive illustrations from my former office in the Motor City, which, unlike the Big Three, manages both excellence and superb colleagueship. This will protect the Grade 13s and below in other agencies who have provided source material for the study. Besides they’re not going to hire me back anyway.

After winning a particularly difficult trial, drug AUSA Jim King, who typically celebrated guilty jury verdicts by playing Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” at 150 decibels, returned to his office the following morning to find a 500 pound gravestone engraved with the name “King” on the top of his desk. I am disclosing his identity since his status as an author, law school professor and an instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia is thought to be secure.

Another male Assistant, who was in the process of planning a family with his wife, received a fraudulent telephone call, purportedly from a nurse at the hospital fertility clinic they had visited, informing him that he was required to appear the next morning with a second sperm sample. The clinic’s nurses informed him the next morning when he produced the container that they had made no such call. Anyone who has experienced this medical encounter can well imagine the mortified look on his face. However, I am happy to report that this incident did not prevent him and his wife from later producing a lovely family.

When the photograph of a female member of the Eastern District Clerk’s Office appeared as a centerfold in an adult magazine, one of the USAO Unit Chiefs received an autographed copy, forged encouragingly by one of his supervisees, inviting him to come see her for a chat. This was followed by his, at first, enthusiastic and, then, profoundly embarrassed appearance at her desk. Actually this supervisor was the victim of numerous such pranks, involving telephone calls that his jury, which was deliberating, had a question about his choice of suits for the day, phantom promotions and fraudulently inserted language in a Court of Appeals opinion criticizing his trial performance. He was one of my all time favorite supervisors, but, hey, he’s a criminal defense attorney now so all bets are off.

Nor were the women in the office immune from these pranks. Awhile back I was trolling through ebay looking for interesting hockey jerseys to bid on. My daughter, a right winger for her college team, collects jerseys. Children can be expensive hobbies for besotted parents. I came across a Canadian women’s team jersey which happened to have the same name as one of my female colleagues in the drug unit. She is an excellent attorney but has a wicked sense of humor. So it was like kismet, the prank planned itself. I purchased the jersey, a co-conspirator provided a Victoria Secret box, and we wrapped it as a present, which I presented to her during the Unit Christmas party. As she unwrapped it and saw the lingerie box, I could see her thinking, “I had no idea this guy was a nut, where are my Title VII materials!” When she saw what it was, after thanking me, she uttered an unprintable expletive and threw a government pen at me. She has since gotten even with me.

Lest you think we in Detroit spent all our time scheming pranks, I should say that they were relatively infrequent, involved only each other as victims, and did not impede the serious work that was accomplished there. But they did occasionally provide comic relief for us all during some tough days.

So the next time some micromanager or a headquarters report requirement dims the luster of your day, remind yourself that being in federal law enforcement is a great job, and maybe plan a prank on the guy in the cubicle. Not only is the work important and a service to your country, but it is filled with men and women who not only care about what happens to each other but also honestly enjoy their work.

Ask someone on Wall Street if they can say the same.

Ross Parker

Happy Ending For Law Enforcement in Spa Crackdown

About ten years ago the Ann Arbor (MI) Police Department’s Deputy Chief came to me with a proposal. AAPD wanted to know if the FBI would be willing to help investigate Asian spas in Ann Arbor, and prosecute them federally. At the time I was the senior agent in the local FBI office and knew next to nothing about Asian spas. I was not even aware there were five such spas operating in the city.

I consulted with the local U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) and FBIHQ. I got the go-ahead and learned there were other similar cases being pursued elsewhere in the country. Further there were national implications involved, e.g., organized crime, indentured servitude, immigrant smuggling, and sexual exploitation, which the then US Attorney General had made a priority. I went back to AAPD and told them we could pursue the spas federally, but only if AAPD was willing to commit to a long-term investigation. To AAPDʼs credit, it made that commitment. (I wanted to codename the case Operation Hoedown, but due to some HQ’s sensibility issues, we had to settle for Seoul Provider.)

Ten years later, this story is worth recounting. These type of spas still operate around the country and exploit vulnerable women and degrade communities. We can’t ignore them. But what’s particularly nice about this story is how the FBI and the local police worked so well together, and in the end, the police department reaped the financial rewards from forfeitures.

At the onset of the case, the AAPD understood that the spas could be shut down easily like the speakeasies of the prohibition era, but to have any lasting impact the owners had to to be identified and prosecuted.  It was relatively easy to show there was prostitution occurring in these spas, the trick (no pun intended) was to prove the owners had knowledge that prostitution was occurring, and they were
profiting from it.

All of the spas in Ann Arbor were run by Korean Americans and surveillance and telephone pen-registers indicated some interaction between spas in Ann Arbor and all over the country. All of the spas that we became aware of in Michigan and Ohio were run by Korean Americans. All of these spas had a very similar operating procedure. The working girls were almost exclusively Asian and lived on the premises and seldom left. They moved from one spa to another after six weeks to two months. The spas were usually managed by older Asian women, who were in effect madams. Often the spas would have the working girls sign agreements as independent contractors, thus helping give the owners plausible deniability as to knowledge of sexual activity. The working girls were in almost all cases uncooperative with law enforcement and could not be relied upon as potential witnesses. Despite them being exploited, most had very limited skills, English language ability and were in an indentured servitude status. Life was not good by American standards, but pretty good compared to what they had come from.

The spas operated seven days a week with very long hours, e.g., 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. (not the kind of hours observed in legitimate massage parlors). The spas would set fees such as $45 for a half hour and $60 for an hour. Generally these initial fees went to the house. The money for sex was added to the initial fee and was negotiated based on the sexual activity. The money for sex was split between the house and the girls. All of the spas we investigated accepted credit cards. This turned out to be a key element in proving the owners knowledge. The owners would establish the merchant account to enable them to accept credit cards. Thus, all proceeds from the credit cards went directly to the owner. So if a customer were to pay his initial fee with a credit card and then within 10 or 15 minutes have a second charge in excess of $100 made on the card it was obvious what was occurring and difficult for the owner to argue they had no knowledge of the sexual activity. (All the credit transaction information was obtained via subpoena.) This coupled with physical surveillance, which included “trash pulls” (the trash pulls revealed among other things, used condoms and daily business records)   and evidence obtained when we ultimately executed search warrants resulted in all of the spa owners being convicted of federal felony charges.

Most of these charges were based on Interstate Transportation In Aid Of Racketeering (ITAR)-prostitution statute (18USC1952), but there were also immigration statutes that were applicable. Also if the owners were not US citizens, they were subject to deportation upon conviction.

The reward for AAPD’s commitment to a long-term investigation was that they received most of about $1 million in criminal forfeiture proceeds seized from the convicted owners.
Yes, for law enforcement, it was a happy ending.

 

Greg Stejskal

Inspector Gen. Says Ideological Considerations Tainted Hiring Process At Justice Civil Rights Division

Bradley Schlozman

Bradley Schlozman

Here’s just another disturbing footnote in the Justice Department in the Bush years.
By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — Ideological considerations permeated the hiring process at the Justice Department’s civil rights division, where a politically appointed official sought to hire “real Americans” and Republicans for career posts and prominent case assignments, according to a long awaited report released this morning by the department’s inspector general.
The extensive study of hiring practices between 2001 and 2007 concluded that a former department official improperly weeded out candidates based on their perceived ties to liberal organizations. Two other senior managers failed to oversee the process, authorities said.
The key official, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bradley Schlozman, favored employees who shared his political views and derided others as “libs” and “pinkos,” the report said.
For Full Story
To Read Report

Read Additional Information (Washington Post)

What Constitutes a Suspicious Incident in Aviation Today?

Chad Wolf

Chad Wolf

 

By Chad Wolf
Security DeBrief
What constitutes a suspicious incident in aviation today? This is the fundamental question that led to nine Muslim passengers being kicked off an Air Tran Airways flight on New Year’s Day.
By now, we’ve all heard the series of events that transpired – several Muslim passengers were discussing airline safety and security while boarding the flight; other passengers reported this “suspicious” behavior to the flight attendant who in turn reported it to the pilot in command; the pilot, with the assistance of Federal Air Marshals, asked that all the passengers be re-screened and then refused to transport the nine passengers in question.
Put aside the pilot’s decision to refuse transport (a decision he/she is permitted to make without much outside review) as well as Air Tran’s apparent lack of customer service skills, and what remains is a regulatory requirement from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to all domestic and in-bound international airlines to report any suspicious incidents immediately to TSA. TSA’s purpose for this requirement is simple: to identify any individual incidents / issues that are occurring and determine if there’s any system-wide pattern or similar events taking place across the aviation system (in other words – to connect the dots). 

Read more »

Louisiana Man Charged With Threatening Pres. Bush

With just a few days in his presidency some still want to harm President Bush.
By Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Federal authorities have charged a Louisiana man with threatening to kill President George W. Bush.
A social worker told Secret Service agents that 44-year-old Gregory Broussard was being treated at a Hammond hospital when he threatened to blow up the White House and kill the president.
Broussard is scheduled in federal court Tuesday. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney says she doesn’t know if Broussard has an attorney.
For Full Story

A Dozen Things to Watch for at Eric Holder’s Confirmation

Of all the Obama nominees, Eric Holder is likely to have the most contentious confirmation hearing. Here’s a look forward at what to expect starting Thursday in a town that sees this type of activity as sport and entertainment.

By Joe Palazzolo and David Ingram
Legal Times
WASHINGTON — Two months of silent preparation will reach a climax Thursday when Eric Holder Jr. enters the Russell Senate Office Building for his confirmation hearing to be attorney general. He will face the most difficult hearing of his life. His opponents will look for opportunities to question his judgment-and perhaps score political points.
Helping Holder prepare has been a team of Washington lawyers led by Ron Weich, chief counsel to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and including Covington & Burling’s James Garland and Steptoe & Johnson’s Reid Weingarten, and they’re expressing confidence in their man. “There’s no magic here. The record is as open as it could possibly be,” Weingarten says.
Civil rights leaders and several law enforcement associations lined up behind Holder last week, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has even “guaranteed” that the Senate will confirm Holder.
But Republicans, led by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), are promising a prickly hearing.
Here are 11 things you’re likely to see this week, and maybe one to hope for.


For Full Story

Humor: HBO’s Ali G Interviews Former Atty. Generals Richard Thornburgh and Ed Meese

Homeland Security Approves Kansas State U. Site For Lab to Study Livestock Diseases and Biological Threats

In the heartland of America, scientists will be tasked with saving our food supply.

By JASON GERTZEN
The Kansas City Star

Kansas gained final approval Monday for a $650 million federal biodefense laboratory that officials heralded for its potential to protect the food supply and boost the state’s economy.
Last month Kansas emerged as the top recommendation for the planned National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. On Monday, Jay Cohen, undersecretary for science and technology for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, made the pick official.
Cohen signed a “record of decision” that will bring to the Manhattan campus of Kansas State University a complex that will employ hundreds of scientists and other workers.
The facility is charged with developing innovations for detecting and countering potentially devastating outbreaks of diseases that can affect livestock, and possibly public health.
For Full Story In the heartland of America, a lab could help protect us from one of the the biggest dangers in the 21st Century: biological threats to the nation’s food supply.

For Full Story

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