Archive for December 24th, 2009
WASHINGTON — Plastic surgery is not just for the vain at heart. Recent cases show that criminals still use flesh-altering procedures to try to dodge the law. But it doesn’t always help.
Just in the past two weeks, drug traffickers from Detroit and Phoenix whose fingerprints had been surgically altered in Mexico were both sentenced to life in prison. The Detroit dealer also underwent multiple surgeries to change his face.
Meanwhile, Eduardo Ravelo, a suspected drug trafficker and hit man indicted in Texas, remains on the loose after apparently having surgery to avoid capture, authorities say.
The practice is hardly new. In the 1930s, legendary bank robber John Dillinger had plastic surgery to alter his appearance. He also used acid to burn his fingerprints. But he was gunned down and killed by FBI agents on July 22, 1934, in Chicago.
But veteran Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Michael Buckley, who prosecuted the Detroit case, said the willingness to self-mutilate “shows a higher level of desperation.” Other authorities say it’s difficult to discern whether there’s been an uptick in the practice among high-level dope dealers simply based on the recent cluster of cases that have come to light.
In the Detroit case, 38-year-old Adarus Mazio Black was convicted of trafficking millions of dollars of cocaine. He used a number of aliases and obtained fake driver’s licenses in Michigan, Arizona and California. Then, authorities say, after he paid someone to knock off a federal informant in 2005, he underwent nine surgeries for his face. He also had his fingerprints altered.
“He had his fingerprints surgically removed, which the doctor said is a form of skin graft, which is very painful,” Buckley said. “He could have had the skin taken from his buttocks, but that would have alerted authorities.
“He took his toe prints and put them on the tips of his fingers,” the prosecutor said, explaining that Black wanted his fingers to look as natural as possible and have fingerprint ridges. “It’s a very painful process, and it takes a long time to heal.”
Buckley said the surgeon, a doctor from Nogales, Mexico, a town bordering Arizona, performed the surgery and testified in court in Detroit. The same doctor was sentenced last year in Pennsylvania to 18 months in prison for altering a drug dealer’s fingerprint. He was charged with hindering efforts to apprehend the drug dealer..
The prosecutor said DEA investigators did have difficulty identifying Black through fingerprints. But he said all the surgery didn’t help.
“It wasn’t effective for him,” Buckley said. ” DEA developed so much evidence against him” that they were able to nail him. Black was sentenced to life on Dec. 14.
A fingerprint specialist for the DEA in San Diego, who worked on the recent Phoenix case, said surgeons have to cut deep into the layers of the skin to obliterate the fingerprints. If not, the same distinct fingerprint ridges can regenerate and resurface. He spoke on the condition his name not be used.
In that case, evidence in trial in June showed that 62-year-old William Wallace Keegan of Palm Harbor, Fla., had all 10 fingers surgically altered in 1993 in Mexico to obliterate his fingerprints above the first joint, according to the DEA.
The DEA fingerprint specialist said the fingerprints were cut “and pretty messed up” and difficult to read. Normally, that would have been the end of the story, since in most cases authorities just take fingerprints of the first digit of the finger.
But, the fingerprint specialist said, by “happenstance the lower joints (of the fingers) happened to be on both (fingerprint) cards.” That allowed him to match the prints of Keegan, who used the alias of Richard Alan King. Keegan received five life sentences for trafficking on Dec. 10.
The FBI is still looking for Eduardo Ravelo, who was added to the agency’s Top 10 Most Wanted List in October. Ravelo is suspected of working as a hit man for the Juarez drug cartel in Mexico. He is believed to have altered his face and fingers, according to FBI agent Andrea Simmons of the El Paso office.
She said authorities don’t know for sure, but they base their suspicions on “source information”.
Obviously, altering fingerprints won’t guarantee criminals a free pass. But it can help sometimes, authorities admit.
For example, if a wanted drug dealer gets picked up for a minor offense and is fingerprinted at a police station, he may walk free hours later because the prints don’t match the ones in the database. “It’s probably going to walk them out of the first casual law enforcement encounter,” one veteran DEA agent said.
But in the end, some like the Detroit drug dealer get caught anyway, and they end up being disfigured for life from the surgery.
Said prosecutor Buckley: “He ended up with what they call drumsticks finger; his fingers were curled up and he was unable to extend them.”
By Allan Lengel ticklethewire.com
WASHINGTON — The burden of filling U.S. Attorney posts around the country just got a little lighter.
The White House announced Thursday that President Obama had nominated seven U.S. Attorneys including Ron Machen for D.C. and Sally Quillian Yates for the Northern District of Georgia.
And the U.S. Senate, according to the website Main Justice, confirmed 7 previous nominees for U.S. Attorney posts including: Richard Callahan (Eastern District of Missouri): Sanford Coats (Western District of Oklahoma): Michael Cotter (Montana): Christopher Crofts (Wyoming): Barbara McQuade (Eastern District of Michigan): James Santelle (Eastern District of Wisconsin); Mary Elizabeth Phillips (Western District of Missouri):
The following are the names and bios of the U.S. Attorneys who were just nominated, according to the following White House press release:
André Birotte, Jr.: Nominee for the Central District of California
André Birotte, Jr. works for the Los Angeles Police Commission, where he has been Inspector General since 2003 and served as an Assistant Inspector General from 2001 to 2003. From 1995 to 1999, Birotte served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Central District of California. He started his legal career as a Deputy Public Defender in the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office from 1991 to 1995. Birotte graduated from Tufts University in 1987 and Pepperdine University School of Law 1991.
WASHINGTON — Bernie La Forest had a rich career with ATF. He headed up offices in Kansas City, Detroit, Phoenix and Los Angeles and saw plenty guns, drugs, killers, con men and intrigue.
But one reality he learned over the years was that law enforcement agencies didn’t always get along. It was a simple fact.
“They don’t usually get a long, but on a common purpose they can come together, not everybody, but some people will come together for the case,” he said.
Now, the retired agent, who had the respect of the rank and file for his no-nonsense style, has penned a novel “Shadow Partners”, a crime thriller in which multiple law enforcement agencies come together to probe bombings and murders and political corruption.
La Forest, a former Detroit cop, retired from ATF in 1998 and then worked as a contractor for the agency on a gun trace project from 2002 to 2007,
He said he’s excited about the debut of his book, which is slated to go on sale on Amazon.com and at retail outlets some time in February or March. It is self published.
La Forest is already looking ahead. In fact, he says he’s already got three quarters of his second book finished.
“The stories come pretty easy to me,” he said.
To read more about the book and the author click here.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan has taken his share of lumps over the party crashing incident at the White House involving the now famous Salahis.
In fact, some observers say he looked worn out when he recently went before Congress to testify on the matter and took blame for it all.
But Sullivan, who became director under President Bush in 2006, still has his fair share of supporters including Washington Post reader Toni Marsh of Montgomery Village, Md., who wrote a letter to the editor, which the paper published on Thursday.
“Regarding the Dec. 21 Style story on the White House gate crashers, “After the breach, gatekeeping of another sort”:
“Exactly one man has stepped forward like an adult and taken full, on-the-record responsibility for anything relating to the Salahis’ appearance at a White House state dinner, and that man is Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan. Every other person, from members of the White House staff on down, has obfuscated, evaded, hedged and hidden behind anonymity. Mr. Sullivan has been the epitome of class, responsibility and maturity since the start of this story, and the president is fortunate to have a man like him at the helm of his security operation.”
The London Telegraph reported on the matter, attributing the information to a book “The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs Starr” by professor Ken Gormley.
The paper said the foiled attack came during Clinton’s visit to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Manila.
The paper reported that Clinton was supposed to travel across a bridge at one point.
“But as the presidential motorcade was about to set off, secret service officers received a ‘crackly message in one earpiece’ saying intelligence agents had picked up a message suggesting an attack was imminent,” the paper reported.
“The transmission used the words “bridge” and “wedding” – a terrorists code word for assassination,” the paper reported. The motorcade was rerouted.
The paper reported that authorities later discovered that a bomb had been placed under the bridge.
OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST
Retired Secret Service Agent James Parker Who Guarded Pres. Ford During 2 Assassination Attempts Dies at Age 70
By Allan Lengel ticklethewire.com
WASHINGTON — James L. “Lee” Parker, a 34-year veteran of the U.S. Secret Service, who worked on presidential details including ones where attempts were made on President Ford’s life, died last month in Virginia at age 70, the Washington Post reported.
The paper reported that he died of brain cancer at the Fairfax Nursing Center in suburban Washington. He had been with the Secret Service from 1965 to 1999.
Parker worked for the Alexandria, Va. police and for the CIA before joining the Secret Service, the Post reported.
At one point in his career, in the 1990s, he headed the global counterfeit division at Interpol in Lyon, France, the Post reported.
He also served on the detail of President Ford “when Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and, later, Sara Jane Moore tried to kill the president in 1975,” the Post reported.
WASHINGTON –– And now for a prison update on two of America’s most notable financial schemers.
Bloomberg news reports that Bernie Madoff, 71, has been transferred from the medium-security facility at the Butner Correctional Complex in North Carolina to the prison’s medical center.
Prison authorities confirmed that the move happened on Dec. 18, but did not say why.
And the Guardian of London reports that financier Allen Stanford, accused of bilking investors out of $7 billion, “has suffered a severe mental and physical deterioration and is in danger of ‘a complete nervous breakdown’ in a Texas prison, according to a psychiatrist’s report.”
“A 50-page petition to Houston’s federal court says that Stanford, 59, has lost 40lbs in weight in the last 90 days and is taking medicines for high blood pressure, depression, ulcers and an irregular heart beat,” the paper reported. “Following a violent assault by a fellow inmate three months ago, Stanford had to undergo reconstructive surgery. According to his lawyers, he has lost all feeling on the right side of his face and has been unable to read with his right eye.”