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Archive for June 26th, 2009

Cong. John Conyer’s Wife Pleads Guilty to Taking Bribes

Monica Conyers had become such a divisive figure in the city. Frankly, it’s no loss to the city and it’s a disgrace that politicians in such a poor city like Detroit are lining their pockets, looking out  for what’s best for themselves. The acting U.S. Attorney said this marks the end of the FBI probe into the  city council and a  sludge hauling contract. But this certainly isn’t the end of public corruption indictments that some say could come this October.

Monica Conyers/council photo

Monica Conyers/council photo

Paul Egan
Detroit News Staff
DETROIT — Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Monica Conyers pleaded guilty to a felony today in connection with the city sludge contract hauling scandal. Detroit’s top federal prosecutor said no other City Council members would be charged in connection with the contract.

Conyers, 44, spoke softly in federal court as she admitted taking bribes in connection with the $1.2 billion Synagro Technologies Inc. contract the Detroit City Council awarded in 2007.

Conyers changed her position from opposing to supporting the deal to cast the deciding vote.

Conyers could be facing about three years in prison under her plea agreement. Her attorney, Steve Fishman, believes federal sentencing guidelines of 30-37 months apply.

For Full Story

Read  charging document and plea agreement.

FBI-Arab American Relations, Detroit Public Corruption and More

FBI SAC Andy Arena/photo by ticklethewire.com
FBI SAC Andy Arena/photo by ticklethewire.com

DETROIT — In this tough, economically depressed area, home to one of the largest and most politically active Arab American communities in the country, Andrew G. Arena, head of the Detroit FBI, recently sat down to talk with Allan Lengel, editor of ticklethewire.com.

Sitting in his 26th floor office in downtown Detroit, with the Detroit River and Canada clearly visible from his window, the 21-year FBI veteran discussed a host of subjects including the FBI’s relationship with the Arab American Community, public corruption in Detroit and the mortgage fraud problem, which is one of the worst in the country.

Arena, who became special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit Division in March 2007, said sometimes his encounters with members of the Arab American community inevitably turn to sensitive subjects.

“When I meet with certain groups, the discussion many times turns to Hezbollah,” Arena said. He said people often say: “You know they’re really not a terrorist organization.”

“That’s not my call guys, I’m not a policy maker,” he tells them. “They’re a designated terrorist organization. I’ve got a job to do.”

The following is a condensed interview. The questions were edited for clarity.

There’s a lot of people travelling back and forth between here and the Middle East including Lebanon and there’s always talk of fundraising going on. What’s your sense about fundraising here?
Obviously, the area is certainly primed for fundraising activities. We’ve looked at some organizations; obviously you look at some of the fundraising cases we’ve been looking at recently. A lot of people in the community, they’ll say if I give money to ABC charitable organization and you come and shut them down, am I going to be held accountable? Am I going to jail? We tell them, it’s all in your heart and your mind. What do you think you did? We’re not going to prosecute and investigate somebody who honestly thinks they’re giving money to a charitable organization and they just got scammed. But we’re not going to give you this dispensation if we can prove that you knowingly gave money so al Qaeda can buy equipment to blow up, to attack U.S. troops or you knowingly gave money to Hezbollah so they could buy rockets to lob into Israel.

Do you get a lot of questions about Hezbollah in the Arab American community?
You’re talking about some folks who come over from Lebanon who still have relatives there and travel back and forth. And obviously their view of Hezbollah is different than ours. Sandra (an FBI agent) and I were at this function a few weeks ago and she called me over and she said I don’t know how to answer this one. There were these young men there and what they wanted to know was: Is it illegal if we listen to Hezbollah songs? And I said to them ‘no, there’s freedom of speech, you can listen to whatever you want’. And they were like, ‘well what if we go on like a pro-Hezbollah website site and look at stuff, is that illegal?’

‘No you can look at whatever you want as long as there’s not child pornography on that website’. I said ‘now I’m going to answer the next question. When you hit the button and send money, you push the button with your credit card information to send money over, you’ve crossed the line.’ There’s a line between support and material support. When I meet with certain groups, the discussion many times turns to Hezbollah and ‘you know they’re really not a terrorist organization’. ‘That’s not my call guys, I’m not a policy maker. They’re a designated terrorist organization. I’ve got a job to do.’

Are they understanding?
I think they understand my role, they understand not just me but of the FBI. This is our job, this is our responsibility, it is what it is.

How diverse is the Arab population here?
I’m always discussing with our folks in Washington, it’s such a diverse population. There isn’t one leader. There’s 43 different groups here. And obviously many folks in this area, have relatives back in Lebanon, they have relatives back in Yemen, Jordan, wherever they’re from.

It seems after 2001 the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office here made a big push to improve relations with the Arab American community. But it seems in the last year there’s been a strain with incidents around the country like Los Angeles and Minneapolis. Have you felt the strain here in this community?
I think there’s always going to be a certain level of distrust. And I think that even prior to 9/11 we had recognized we needed community outreach to many groups, the Arab Americans being one. One of the things I learned there is an inherent mistrust of the federal government, of the FBI and other federal agencies by this community. I was having a discussion with some folks a few weeks ago from Iraq and they said you know you’ve got to understand some of it’s cultural. In Iraq the equivalent of FBI was Sadam’s secret police. When they came to your house, somebody left and you never saw them again. There are people who play on those fears.

We had an individual last summer who was running around Dearborn telling people he was an informant for the FBI. And that the FBI was looking at them as a member of Hezbollah. And for $15,000 he could go back to his FBI handlers and get this taken care of. To this day we don’t actually know how many people paid that money. But somebody called the office… ended up we wired that person up, went out and made the payment and arrested this guy for extortion. But my point is he played on the fears of the community.

Was he of Arabic descent?
Oh yeah, he was playing on his own community. I was out after my speech and this elderly Iraqi lady came to me, she told me the story: Two weeks ago I was stopped at a red light, a man came up, knocked on the window and showed me identification and said ‘FBI’ and he said you have drugs in the car, let me in the car, you have to go with me. She said ‘I’m a Muslim woman, I can’t go alone, maybe we can call the Dearborn police department’, and he said ‘I don’t have a phone’. You’ve been around the FBI to know we all carry these (shows his phone). She said , ‘Well let me get my friend, I’ll come back.’ She went down the street, she came back, the guy was gone. I spent 20 minutes with this woman trying to convince her that that was not the FBI; it was someone trying to rob you. And I don’t know if I ever convinced this woman that that was not an FBI agent. My point is this, …people praying on fears of that community. There are people in that community that say we’re in every mosque, that we have informants everywhere.

You do have informants.
That’s what I tell them. We develop them in public corruption (cases), we develop them in mortgage fraud, we develop them in street gangs, that’s an accepted practice and tool of law enforcement. But we don’t target buildings. We don’t target mosques because they’re a mosque.

I use this example, I’m a Roman Catholic. If a Catholic priest is on the pulpit saying ‘Give money to the Irish Republic Army and go train’, hell yeah we’re going to care. If your imam is preaching the Koran and preaching peace, I have no right under the U.S. Constitution, it’s illegal. Someone’s going to go to jail and it’s going to be an FBI agent and I’m going to lose my job. We don’t do that . I was talking to somebody the other day and he said we know who the informants are. Well how would you know they’re informants? Well they told us. If they’re telling you they’re an informant, they’re not an informant.

Do they believe you or is there skepticism?
It’s hard to say. We just keep pushing along. I go to all the meetings. I looked the other day in the last six months; I’ve been to 41 community outreach events that focused primarily on the Arab American community.

Are people receptive?
Most of the feedback I get is very positive. They’ll say ‘hey look there are these issues but at least you come’. Osama Sablani, who’s the editor of the Arab American news,  he always says, ‘Andy is at everything. The FBI is at every event. You show up and you never dodge the questions.’ Recently the issues with CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations)came up and the allegations we were sending informants into mosques. I was honest with them, ‘yeah we have informants. Yeah we develop them all the time. We’re not sending them willy nilly into every mosque. If we sent an informant into a location, there’s a reason. We have to have predication. We don’t send them on fishing expeditions.

Has the information been helpful? Has there been any intelligence that has resulted in uncovering of any plots?
A lot of this is going to be classified. I tell everyone this, the American people will never know since 9/11, everything we’ve stopped. I’m proud of what we do here. Our intelligence capabilities are so much better across all the programs.

Has information here been able to be used in Iraq, Afghanistan?
I can’t get specific, but there’s intelligence coming out of Detroit everyday that’s beneficial to somebody and it may not be in the United States but overseas.

Besides Hezbollah, which seems to be the most popular by virtue of the makeup of the community, do you feel presence of Hamas and al Qaeda?
I think we have everything. When I look at al Qaeda, I look at more radical Sunni extremist groups. After the U.S. went into Afghanistan and took care of camps there, a lot of these groups were kind of on their own. One of the things we’re seeing right now throughout the world is the use of the Internet, these radical Jihadi websites to basically recruit, to brainwash, basically to bring people back into the fold, many of them non Arab, maybe converts, white, Hispanic, African American, it doesn’t matter. But you can basically become radicalized on the Internet now. And they can basically warp your mind, and learn how to make a bomb, you can learn anything on the Internet now. That certainly is a concern here.
Is there some sense in the community that the leaders who meet with you don’t really represent the masses? That they’re in bed with the FBI?
If you talk to those leaders, they’ll tell you that. They get accused of being in bed with the FBI, of being informants, all kinds of things. And there are people who will be critical of U.S. government officials, the U.S. Attorney, ICE, for meeting with these people, that ‘we’re pandering to terrorist’. Sometimes I am concerned: Is the message getting out unfiltered to the people?

In terms of the relationship in the last year, has it taken a step backward?
I don’t want to say we’ve taken a step backwards or we’ve lost any ground. I think its basically thrown up some roadblocks that we’ve had to move past. When these issues come, my position here is to meet them head on to go out and discuss them, to do interviews. If someone makes an allegation that this office tried to recruit someone to go into a mosque illegally, I’m not going to sit there and not say anything. Because then it becomes the truth and that’s one side of the story. And if we didn’t do it, I’m going to stand up and adamantly deny that and I’m going to give them the reason why. There’s been some issues in the last year we’ve had to stop and address.

Do you feel you still have a good relationship there?
Yeah, there’s not a day goes by, I don’t get a call, an email from one of the community leaders. They need an issue to discuss. They still come to me as much as they did a year ago.

Does the Arab-American community feel any different with this new administration?
Oh I think so. I think they’re more comfortable with the federal government. I don’t know what their expectations are. To me, we’re operating the same as we were operating (before), legally and we’re going to continue to do the same thing.

How many Arab speaking agents to you have?
I don’t know. We’ve got a few. There’s different levels obviously there’s conversational. We’ve got some agents here who maybe wouldn’t pass the test because it’s very formalized. But they can converse. I think the key to what we do, our language specialist program has grown dramatically. When I was here as an ASAC (assistant special agent in charge), we had 2 language specialists in Detroit. We have 33 today, predominantly Arabic, Urdu, Pashto.

Has that helped? Are there times an agent will go on an interview and take one of them?
Oh yeah. We take them all the time to interviews, to meet with sources, to make sure we’re not missing something.

Have you refined the way you follow up on tips about potential terrorist threats? It seems in the beginning some people would call up and say “I think my boyfriend is a terrorist” or “my neighbor was taking pictures of something”.

Yeah, I think obviously after 9/11 leads were coming in by the minute. Obviously that’s slowed down quite a bit. We still get a lot of what we call the “poison pen” , trying to get their neighbor in trouble. ‘My neighbor’s a member of Hezbollah.’ I think our analytic capabilities have helped us a great deal to make sure we don’t waste resources (with) people basically filing a false police report. If we catch someone doing that we’re going to prosecute them. Hopefully that deters a few people. Obviously prior to 9/11 the thought of anyone taking an airplane full of people and flying into a building as a weapon was unthinkable. Now some of these outlandish schemes, you’ve got to think like them , you’ve got to take it seriously.


Is there also a distrust in the Arab community: Don’t join the FBI, you’re selling out?

I’m sure there’s some of that. We’re at all the festivals and fairs, we have our recruiting booths set up. And like the dinner last night, we’ll get two or three people come up and say hey we’re interested.

Do you still go to the Dearborn Arab Festival and get suspicious people who ask what are you doing here?
Before I got here, there was a situation at an Arab American festival in Dearborn, it got kind of ugly. I think they’ve gotten used to us there. Some people come up and joke around, ‘Hey, you spying on us?’ But I think it’s more jovial. I think if they really feel that way, they stay away. Now the thing is if we don’t show up, they say ‘What are we under investigation?’

In the area of public corruption, there seems to be a lot of things percolating here in Detroit. How serious of a problem is it?
I think it’s a very serious problem. There’s been rumors for years and I just think, there’s mistrust in the local government right now, anything they do they just don’t trust and that’s a shame. That really is. I think it adds to the divide with the suburbs.

How do you see the FBI’s role in correcting that?
We all have a point of reference in our life and I use my time in Youngstown, Ohio in the late 90s, 2001. We had 72 public corruption convictions in a 2 ½ year period and it ended with U.S. Congressman Traficant. We had a very unique opportunity to basically to kind of get rid of an area that’s been long plagued by systemic corruption. Once you get something rolling, you get one person falling and they fall like dominos. That’s obviously our goal here.

Do you expect indictments coming out of Detroit?
We’ve been working very hard between us and the U.S. Attorney’s office and we expect to certainly charge these folks.

Can you say anything in terms of a time frame?
I can’t because you know these things change, You just never know. We certainly have some thoughts. Someone cooperates or somebody else gets in the mix, it can speed it up or slow it down.

In terms of the former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, is there anything you can say about him?
He’s no longer the mayor of the city so I really can’t say anything about him.

Obviously his name has surfaced in the investigation.
Our goal is to bring anybody to justice whether they’re a current city official or a past. If they were involved in public corruption, that’s something we’d be interested in.
Do you expect he’ll be indicted?
I really can’t say about Mr. Kilpatrick. I better not touch that.


Have you had to reassess again 8 years later after Sept. 11, 2001, in terms of the resources that are going to counter-terrorism? And has it hurt the investigations of mortgage fraud, public corruption?
I think what we do is we make sure, obviously counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence, those resources are set. But then I have my criminal resources and I’ve got to prioritize. What are my priorities here? That’s where our intelligence capabilities are so much better now, it helps me to be a little more predictive and decide where I need to put my resources. Obviously the priorities here may be different than the priorities in Jackson, Miss. You can’t follow one national set of priorities. And that’s one thing I’m very proud of here, even before the mortgage fraud crisis, I think we had identified it here in the state of Michigan as being an issue. We had basically dedicated an entire squad here to tackle the mortgage fraud. I guess to answer your question, if you look at the white collar program we have to prioritize, what is the major threat here in the state of Michigan? We identified it three years ago as being mortgage fraud. So we’ve been focused on it before the rest of the country came to that realization.

If there’s so much of it, are the small fishes getting away with it?
I don’t think so. Number one, we formed a task force with some state and local entities, with the banks, with the financial institutions. They’re all working with us. But also with the local prosecutors.

Do you have CIA representative here?
We have a group here. We have a very good relationship with them.

Are they actually in the office here?
I can’t say. They have a location, but we work very closely.

In terms of all offices you’ve been in, how does Detroit rate?
I’m biased because it’s home. This is my 9th assignment in 21 years. I’ve been from L.A. to New York, Syracuse, Cleveland, and Youngstown. I’ve been all over. And they all have something to offer, it’s what you make out of it. I’m just biased because it’s home to me. Listen, we all take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and I take that very seriously. But does it mean a little more here because it is home? I can’t lie. When we’re down working a gang in southwest Detroit, that’s personal because I grew up down there. I grew in the city. I grew up in the area. You feel like you’re doing something for the community, giving something back.

Say it Ain’t So: People Who Pose National Security Risk Retain Aviation License

Jet

It never ceases to amaze how many things still slip through the cracks in the post-9/11 era. Things like this obviously shouldn’t slip through the cracks. As Ricky Ricardo would say, the government has some “splainin to do”.

By MATTHEW L. WALD
New York Times
WASHINGTON — At least six men suspected or convicted of crimes that threaten national security retained their federal aviation licenses, despite antiterrorism laws written after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that required license revocation. Among them was a Libyan sentenced to 27 years in prison by a Scottish court for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie.

In response to questions from The New York Times, the Transportation Security Administration, which is supposed to root out such individuals, announced that the Federal Aviation Administration suspended the licenses on Thursday.

The two agencies appeared to be unaware that the men were among the nearly one million people licensed as pilots, mechanics and flight dispatchers. They were identified by a tiny family-owned company in Mineola, N.Y., demonstrating software it developed to scrub lists of bank customers for terrorism links.

The list also includes an Iranian-American convicted of trying to send jet fighter parts to Iran and a Lebanese citizen living near Detroit who was convicted of trying to provide military equipment to Hezbollah.

For Full Story

Convicted Texas Fed Judge Samuel Kent Loses Chutzpah; Resigns Instead of Facing Impeachment

Judge Samuel Kent

Judge Samuel Kent

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent of Texas has lost his chutzpah.

The judge, who is serving a 33-month sentence in a Massachusetts federal prison for obstruction of justice for lying about sexually
harassing some female employees, had initially handed in his resignation, effective June 2010.

The sly move would have allowed him to collect his $174,000 a year salary while in prison for a year. That didn’t sit well with lawmakers who moved forward with impeachment proceedings to undermine  Kent’s plan to scam tax payers.

The Houston Chronicle said the resignation was announced at the first meeting of the Senate’s impeachment trial committee Thursday in Washington.

The Chronicle said on Wednesday Kent gave a one-sentence resignation letter, effective June 30, 2009, to Senate officials who showed up at the Devens Federal Medical Center in Massachusetts to see the imprisoned judge.

That should effectively put a stop to him getting paid in prison.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Feds Says it Could Take Several Years to Locate, Liquidate and Distribute Madoff’s Assets

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

It’s likely to take several years before the government and the trustee
Bernie Madoff

Bernie Madoff

locate, liquidate and distribute swindler Bernie Madoff’s assets, according to a U.S. Attorney motion filed  Friday morning.

“Given the size and scope of the defendant’s fraud, the efforts of the Government and the SIPA (Security Investment Protection Act) Trustee to recover assets, liquidate them if necessary, and distribute them to victims, are expected to continue for several years,” according to U.S. Attorney motion filed Friday morning.

The motion, filed by assistant U.S. Attorneys Lisa A. Baroni and Marc Litt, asked that the judge go forward with the June 29 sentencing and requested 90 more days to “determine whether restitution by Court-ordered schedule is practicable, and if so, the contents of such schedule.”

“While the government and SIPA Trustee have sought to identify as many victims as possible as well as precise loss, we will not have identified each victim of the Madoff fraud or ascertained the precise losses of each identified victim as” of the June 29 sentencing date, the govenrment wrote.

Read Government’s Motion on Assets

Senate Committee Gives Joyce Vance Thumbs Up for Ala. U.S. Atty. Post

It’s a start, but the administration has a long way to go in filling all the U.S. Attorney spots. Unfortunately, there have been so many distractions since President Obama took office.alabama

MARY ORNDORFF
Birmingham News Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON – Joyce Vance had solid bipartisan support to become the top federal prosecutor in the northern district of Alabama as her nomination sailed through a Senate committee Thursday. The action sets the stage for her to become one of the first new U.S. attorneys to take office under President Barack Obama.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Vance and two nominees from Vermont and New York without debate. The full U.S. Senate could make it final next week.

For Full Story