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Archive for July 23rd, 2009

Big Name Criminal Defendants Are Popping Up on Facebook and Twitter

fbook_defenders1

By Rachel Leven
ticklethewire.com

On June 4, indicted ex- New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik did two very public things. He went to court and he tweeted.

“In DC Federal Court today. Indicted for a third time on the same charge. Unprecedented, selective, and overreaching prosecution? You tell me,” the frustrated Kerik tweeted on Twitter.

While Kerik declined comment, his supporters remarks on “Support A True Hero,” a pro-Kerik group on Facebook, show that he was not alone in thinking the prosecution went too far.

“You deserve an apology for any alligations {sic} made towards you,” wrote one member. ” You will always be a hero.”

Back in the day, criminal defendants and their supporters relied solely on the mainstream media to publicly vent and put their spin on a case.

No more. With the advent of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, defendants — but far more often supporters — are spouting off whenever they want, and in some instances, whatever they want, hoping in some way to sway public opinion or provide moral support for the indicted person.

And the mainstream media is listening. Shortly after Kerik posted his concise, but obviously frustrated three-line tweet on June 4, the Associated Press picked up on it.

Facebook groups supporting or criticizing  criminal defendants such as Kerik, baseball star Barry Bonds, ex-Congressman William Jefferson, and convicted felons such as Jack Abramoff and Bernie Madoff, have been spreading like a California forest fire in the dead of summer, often connecting anywhere from about 20 to 6,000 fans.

And in most instances,  you’d be hard pressed not to find at least one  favorable fan page for any high profile criminal defendant on Facebook, a social network which was once the exclusive domain of the young. Now it’s attracting folks of all ages as it becomes increasingly more mainstream, much to the chagrin of some younger folks, particularly those who find their parents asking to “friend them”.

“I feel that Facebook and Twitter are both places where you can express your opinions freely regarding celebrities,” said Clemson University student Alexis Tuten, creator of a Barry Bonds Facebook group. “Facebook was also my first choice as an outlet because a lot of kids my age are on it, and they can express themselves as well.”

People like Jeff Smith seem to be passionate about defending a public figure, which in his  case, is Bernie Kerik,  who faces multiple federal charges including conspiracy and tax fraud, and was once  considered to head the Dept. of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush but withdrew after admitting that he hired an illegal immigrant as a nanny.

“I was at his fundraiser and if everyone could have heard the great stories that people were telling about how much of an impact Bernie has made on [their] lives, you would see why he is a ‘True American Hero’,” Smith said in a posting on a pro-Kerik Facebook group.

When it comes to high-profile criminal defendants, it’s pretty typical to have  multiple pro and con Facebook groups. One example  is Ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who faces trial on host of charges including allegations that he tried to sell Barak Obama’s vacant Senate seat.

On the “Free Rod Blagojevich” Facebook page, which has 395 members, Geoff Wright of Chicago wrote last month: “Hey I know someone thats more crooked and has done worse than Rod, And he’s now the President.Rod is innocent and am looking forward to his talk show on WLS 890 am…think about it…The Rod and Roe show….battle of the egos. I digress….Rod is wrongly accused….and should not spend one minute in jail.”

In contrast, on the Impeach Rod Blagojevich page, which has become less active since his Impeachment, Kevin Wood of Chicago wrote last Dec. 12: “what a disgrace blagoyabitch is and I hope he def. goes to jail.”

Regardless of how many Facebook or Twitter fans a defendants has, it’s not likely to positively impact the outcome of their case, says Steven Levin, a former Maryland federal prosecutor who is now with the firm Levin & Gallagher Law Firm.

“I don’t know any defendant… who has won because he has a following outside of the court room,” Levin said.

But he says, these social networks can hurt defendants in court if they go too far. The government, he said, has full access to those statements and can use them against the defendant.

Lawrence Kobilinsky, professor and chairman of Criminology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, echoes similar sentiments, and warns that defendants should be careful about publishing private or sensitive information.

“It’s better to leave it to the attorneys to do the talking,” he said.

Regardless of those concerns, some supporters consider the technology useful to promote opinions not widely publicized by the media.

“I do not have the money to pay [the media] to run my opinion as advertising [so] I… must either… watch them sling mud on a good man or go to a forum where I can say and publish what I want without others making me pay for it,” said Tsvi Mark, a member of a Facebook group supporting convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Interestingly, even a vilified figure like Bernie Madoff has some supporters on Facebook.  On the  Facebook group “Bernie Madoff is my Hero!”,  George Shao wrote: “Bernie Madoff is such a hero of these phony times. And why the hell are Ponzi Schemes illegal? Such Hypocracy! The entire economy is a Ponzi Scheme, just lots of ppl don’t want to tell the truth about it. Here’s a man who had the guts to give the ppl what they really wanted.”

Still, there are some instances in which there’s a lot of Facebook pages dedicated to a particular criminal defendant, but none positive.

Enter the divisive figure Monica Conyers, the wife of Rep. John Conyers, who recently pleaded guilty in federal court in Detroit to taking bribes while sitting on the Detroit City council.

Some of the Facebook groups dedicated to her include: Save Detroit from Monica Conyers! (5,934 members); Monica Conyers has got to go!!! (431 members); Monica Conyers: A Disgrace to Detroit (47 members).

In “Save Detroit from Monica Conyers,” Brian Poelman wrote, ” I’m so sick of corrupt politicians. Monica epitomizes everything wrong with the politician mentality that has become so common across BOTH parties.”

On the page “Monica Conyers: A Disgrace to Detroit”, Cyn Angel of Detroit wrote in March, before the city council woman was charged and pleaded guilty: “She is a disgrace to the human population!”

Defense Rests Case in ex-Rep. William Jefferson Trial: Closing Arguments Set for Tues.

William J. Jefferson

William J. Jefferson

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire

Next Stop: Closing Arguments.

The defense for ex-Rep. William Jefferson rested its case Thursday, opening the door for closing arguments, which are scheduled for Tuesday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

The defense and prosecution will each have  2 1/2 hours to argue before the jury of eight women and four men at the trial in Alexandria, Va., the Picayune reported.

Jefferson, 62,  who did not take the stand on his own behalf, faces 16 counts including bribery.

The case gained national notoriety after FBI agents raided the Congressman’s Capitol Hill condo and found $90,000 in marked FBI bills in his freezer. The FBI probe began in March 2005.

New Orleans Man Pleads Guilty to 2008 Killing of DEA Agent Attending Drug Conference

Thomas Bryne/DEA photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A 47-year-old man  pleaded guilty Thursday to the 2008 slaying of Houston DEA Agent Thomas J. Byrne,  who was visiting New Orleans to attend a Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force conference.

Ameal Parker, aka Ameal Varnado of New Orleans, pleaded guilty in the slaying of agent Byrne, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans announced. He faces a 30-year prison sentence under the plea agreement, which must be approved by the judge.

Authorities said that  Byrne was beaten during a robbery in New Orleans in the early morning hours of Aug. 28. He died two days later at Tulane University Hospital.

Ameal Parker/dea photo

Ameal Parker/dea photo

Bryne was married and had four sons.

Read Washington Post Obit from Sept. 5, 2008

Read DEA Press Release

Oye: Feds Arrest 44 Including 3 N.J. Mayors, 2 Lawmakers and Rabbis in Scandal

Well, just when you thought the state of Illinois and Louisiana had New Jersey beat as the most crooked state…Now we have mayors and assemblyman and rabbis involved in a major league scandal. Oye.

new-jersey

By Joe Ryan
Newark Star-Ledger
NEWARK –– Federal authorities arrested 44 people in New Jersey and New York today in a broad-ranging corruption and international money laundering investigation that led to charges against two N.J. assemblyman and the mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus and Ridgefield.

Politicians accused of taking bribes include Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith (D-Hudson), Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt (R-Ocean), Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell. The FBI and IRS investigation also ensnared rabbis from the Syrian Jewish communities in Deal and Brooklyn.

The wide-ranging investigation also charged Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, of Brooklyn, with “conspiring to broker the sale of a human kidney for a transplant, at a cost of $160,000 to the transplant recipient,” according to federal authorities. The connection of they kidney sale to the other aspects of the investigation, however, has not been made clear.

Rosenbaum began meeting with the FBI informant and a female undercover agent in 2008. The pair– who were posing as a businessman and his secretary– told Rosenbaum they were willing to pay to find a donor for the woman’s fictitious critically ill uncle.

For Full Story

Read 12-Page Press Release

Second Press Release

Some of the Criminal Complaints

Rosenbaum Complaint

Fish, Schwartz, Pollock, Weber Complaint


Homeland Security Relaunches Tech-Savvy Website That Includes YouTube Videos

Being tech-savvy shouldn’t be an option these days. All the federal agencies need to jump in the pool.

homeland-logo

By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security Department relaunched its Web site Wednesday and became the first Cabinet-level agency to follow the tech-savvy White House directives on social media.

President Barack Obama’s aides have been urging agencies to add interactive components to their Web sites, such as videos and blogs. But it’s been a slow start for a team that harnessed the Internet during the presidential campaign to organize supporters and deliver the White House.

The White House touted the Homeland Security Department’s online presence as a model for other agencies.

For Full Story

Read DHS Press Release on the Site

One of the YouTube Videos Posted On the Site

LA Times Editorial: The Inescapable Politics of Selecting U.S. Attys

Sen. Leahy meets with Eric Holder before confirmation (left)/official photo

Sen. Leahy meets with Eric Holder before Holder confirmation (left)/official photo

Los Angeles Times
Editorial Page

During the uproar over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys by the Bush administration, an ordinary citizen could be excused for thinking that Democrats opposed any role for partisan politics in the operation of the Justice Department.

That naive notion has been dispelled as President Obama moves to install his own appointees as chief federal prosecutors.

It doesn’t follow that Obama and Eric H. Holder Jr.will countenance the abuses that occurred in the Bush Justice Department, some of which are under criminal investigation. But it demonstrates that, regardless of which party is in power, U.S. attorneys will not be chosen by merit alone.

To Read More

Other U.S. Atty. News

75 Years Later FBI Still Trying to Debunk Myths About John Dillinger

John Dillinger/fbi photo

John Dillinger/fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
WASHINGTON –-Seventy years after FBI agents gunned down the infamous bank robber John Dillinger in Chicago, the publicity conscious agency is still working to debunk what it considers the many myths surrounding Dillinger.

The FBI press office has now posted on its website a page entitled “The Top 10 Dillinger Myths”.

Here is one.

Myth #10: Dillinger was a “Robin Hood” type criminal, a romantic outlaw.

Dillinger certainly had charm and charisma, but he was no champion of the poor or harmless thief—he was a hardened and vicious criminal. Dillinger stormed police stations in search of weapons and bulletproof vests. He robbed banks and stole cars. He shot at police officers (and may have killed one) and regularly used innocent bystanders as human shields to escape the law. Worse yet, he stood by as his ruthless gang members shot and killed people, including law enforcement officials. And what of his ill-gotten gains? They were used to line his own pockets and those of his partners in crime, not those of impoverished Americans in the midst of the Great Depression.

To Read the Rest click here.

Also Read Rex Tomb’s Column on the Movie “Public Enemies”

Dillinger's Partners in Crime: These are some of the men who worked with Dillinger at various points in his criminal career. Scroll over their pictures to learn more.

American Gave al-Qaeda Info on N.Y. Commuter Trains

The war on terrorism has not been an easy task. But it’s only made more difficult when Americans like Vinas  help out major terrorist organizations.

pakistan-map

By Sebastian Rotella and Josh Meyer
Tribune Newspapers
WASHINGTON — An American from New York’s Long Island who was captured while fighting as an al-Qaida militant in Pakistan has pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to commit murder outside the United States and is cooperating with authorities, according to a federal indictment and interviews with U.S. and European officials.

Bryant Neal Vinas, 26, is one of a handful of Americans known to have made the trek to al-Qaida’s secret Pakistani compounds, and his cooperation is opening a rare window into the world of Western militants in the network’s hide-outs, anti-terrorism officials said.

Vinas has admitted to meeting al-Qaida operations chiefs and giving them information for a potential attack on New York commuter trains, conversations that resulted in an alert in November, said the officials, who requested anonymity because the case is ongoing.

For Full Story