Get Our Newsletter



Links

Columnists



Site Search


Entire (RSS)
Comments (RSS)

Archive Calendar

August 2010
S M T W T F S
« Jul   Sep »
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

Guides

How to Become a Bounty Hunter



Archive for August 2nd, 2010

Two Guyanese Men Guilty in Plot to Blow Up JFK Airport

jfk airport

jfk airport

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Two Guyanese men were convicted Monday in Brooklyn federal court of plotting to blow up JFK Airport by exploding fuel tanks and fuel pipelines underneath the airport, authorities said.

Following a six-week trial, the federal jury convicted Russell Defreitas, a naturalized citizen from Guyana, and Abdul Kadir.  Authorities had been watching them at an early point in the plot and nothing ever materialized.

Authorities said Defreitas came up with the idea to attack JFK Airport and its fuel tanks and pipelines after working at the airport as a cargo handler.

Starting in 2006, he recruit Kadir and others to join the plot during multiple trips to Guyana and Trinidad, the FBI said.

Between trips, he conducted video surveillance of JFK Airport “and transported the footage back to Guyana to show to his co-conspirators.”

A third person has pleaded guilty in the case and a fourth faces trial.

“The defendants intended to send a message by killing Americans and destroying the New York City economy,” United States Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

“Today, the only message is that those who engage in potentially deadly plots against the United States will be stopped and punished.”

Will Failed D.C. Porn Case Dampen Fed Prosecutors’ Zeal?

John Stagliano/facebook photo

John Stagliano/facebook photo

By Allan Lengel
For AOL News

WASHINGTON — In courtroom 18 in the sterile D.C. federal courthouse, Justice Department prosecutors earlier this month tried nailing a major producer of adult pornography on obscenity charges.

The lawyers, part of the department’s Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, spent four days presenting their case against California porn producer John Stagliano (aka “Buttman”), who had been indicted in 2008, during the final year of the Bush administration. As part of their case, prosecutors even played pornographic videos with names like “Milk Nymph” for the jurors.

But before the defense could even present its side, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon dismissed the case, saying the government had failed to prove the most basic of issues: that the defendant and two related companies were linked to porno videos that the government claimed went beyond the acceptable community standards.

Adult film director John Stagliano arrives at the 27th annual Adult Video News Awards Show at the Palms Casino Resort January 9, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ethan Miller, Getty Images

A U.S. district judge earlier this month dismissed a case against porn producer John Stagliano, here at the Adult Video News Awards Show in Las Vegas in January.

The judge also raised questions about core issues in the case.

“I hope the government will learn a lesson from its experience,” declared Leon, who voiced concerns about the issues of obscenity statute, the Internet, free speech and criminal rights, according to The Washington Post. “I hope that [higher] courts and Congress will give greater guidance to judges in whose courtrooms these cases will be tried.”

With the disastrous outcome in the D.C. case, and the change from the conservative Bush administration to the liberal Obama regime, some now wonder how enthusiastic the Justice Department will be in going after adult pornography cases.

“That’s a big question,” says Penn State University professor Robert D. Richards, head of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment. “How much the Obama administration will be interested in pursuing obscenity cases is questionable. It would certainly be hard pressed to pull full steam ahead. It’s not an easy area to prove.

“The real problem with obscenity is you never know if something is criminal until a jury comes back and says it’s criminal and it’s only in that jurisdiction,” he added.

Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, who blames the FBI for “botching” the D.C. case, also wonders what will become of future prosecutions. He believes even the Bush administration fell far short of its expressed goals — and has far less confidence in the Obama administration.

“We can’t continue to treat [pornography] like a joke, which is largely how the FBI has treated it,” he said. “The FBI is simply unwilling to do these cases other than a token investigation here and there, and that’s not enough.

“Adult pornography has effects on marriages, effects on children and effects on women,” he continued. “The Supreme Court has held repeatedly the First Amendment does not protect obscene material.”

The FBI deferred to the Justice Department for comment. Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined comment on the D.C. trial or on future plans to prosecute obscenity cases.

A Shift in Priorities?

The dip in the number of cases has been noticeable during the Obama administration. According to the Justice Department, prosecutors charged about 360 defendants with obscenity violations during the Bush years, nearly double the number under Bill Clinton. In 2009, about 20 defendants were charged, compared with 54 the previous year, when George W. Bush was still in office.

After Bush took office, his conservative attorney general, John Ashcroft, vowed to go after obscenity cases involving adult pornography that violated “community standards.” In 2005, Ashcroft’s successor, Alberto Gonzales, took it up a notch, creating the Justice Department’s Obscenity Prosecution Task Force. The FBI also vowed to commit resources.

But the Bush people disappointed, according to Peters.

“Ashcroft failed,” he said. “[FBI Director] Bob Mueller failed and Alberto Gonzales failed. … They talked the talk and then they didn’t do it.”

Plus, he claimed, few U.S. attorneys’ offices around the country wanted to take on the cases, and even when they did, the FBI wouldn’t investigate.

Unquestionably there was skepticism within the ranks of the FBI and the Justice Department — and resistance — over the push to prosecute porn during the Bush years.

“I thought they were nuts,” said one former federal prosecutor in Washington. “And they would approach you about taking these cases, making it sound like it was a great honor. They had cases that were just [garbage].”

He said his office found ways to politely pass on prosecuting them. “Nobody liked the cases, nobody thought they accomplished anything,” he said. “They were true believers. They had a moral culture they wanted to push. It had nothing to do with enforcing the law.”

Brad Garrett, a former FBI agent in the Washington field office, said the obscenity cases were tough to prove since they were based on community standards. Plus, many agents questioned whether it was the best use of resources, particularly after Sept. 11, 2001.

“It really boiled down to priorities for most agents,” said Garrett, whose own accomplishments include nabbing a Pakistani national who gunned down two CIA employees at the agency’s headquarters in 1993. “You’ve got a limited number of people. Is it really the best use of our time to be investigating obscenity with consenting adults?”

Regardless, Allan B. Gelbard, one of the defense attorneys in the Stagliano case, said he expects the Justice Department to continue going after the cases so long as the same people are in the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force.

“It strikes me that this particular unit is so driven by ideology that they’ll probably go through [with more prosecutions] until they’re disbanded, and that can’t be too soon in my book,” he said. “They’re going to keep ruining peoples’ lives.”

The Case That Imploded

The indictment against Stagliano and two related companies, John Stagliano Inc. and Evil Angel Productions, came in April 2008, in the waning months of the Bush administration. In early July, the trial started. Things went poorly for the prosecution almost from the start.

For one, the FBI agent in the case copied from the Internet a trailer of a video — “Fetish Fanatic Chapter 5” — that had so many glitches, it failed to play properly for the jury. Consequently, the judge ruled it was inadmissible.

Then prosecutors, who had the porn DVDs shown as evidence shipped via a third party, failed to prove that Stagliano or either of the two companies had anything to do with the films or the shipping.

“It was a colossal disaster,” says Richards, the Penn State professor. “They never connected the dots, and that was fatal to the case.”

Peters of Morality in the Media has concerns about the Stagliano case, but for obviously different reasons.

“The FBI ought to be embarrassed — they blew it,” he said, adding that the FBI agent was either inexperienced or had inadequate resources.

Even after the Stagliano case, however, many in the adult entertainment industry have concerns about what direction the government will take on obscenity prosecutions.

Diane Duke, executive director of the California-based Free Speech Coalition, the industry’s trade association, said she is worried the government may continue filing what she sees as questionable charges against studios, aiming to bleed them to death through legal fees that can run upward of a million dollars.

“They know they’re going to do damage to our companies, no matter what,” she said. “I think there’s people in our government who respect freedom of speech and the Constitution, and it’s my hope those folks will prevail.”

Marshals Target Top 500 Most Dangerous Sex Offenders as Part of Crackdown on Child Exploitation

Atty. Gen. Holder/doj photo

Atty. Gen. Holder/doj file photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — As part of an initiative to crack down on child exploitation, the U.S. Marshals Service is launching a program targeting the top 500 most dangerous convicted sex offenders who aren’t in compliance with the sex registration laws, the Justice Department announced Monday.

The program is part of a nationwide initiative — the National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction — that was unveiled Monday by Atty. General Eric Holder Jr.

The strategy includes plans to create a national database that will enable federal, state, tribal, local and international law enforcement partners to coordinate investigations better.

Additionally, Holder said the Justice Department has created 38 additional Assistant U.S. Attorney positions to devote to child exploitation cases. It will also fill vacancies in that area.

“Although we’ve made meaningful progress in protecting children across the country, and although we’ve brought a record number of offenders to justice in recent years, it is time to renew our commitment to this work,” Holder said in a statement.

“It is time to intensify our efforts,” he added. “This new strategy provides the roadmap necessary to do just that – to streamline our education, prevention and prosecution activities; to improve information sharing and collaboration; and to make the most effective use of limited resources.”

Column: Kidnapping For Ransom — Bad Business Model

Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office.

Suspects in 1975 kidnapping of GM exec's son/ detroit free press

Suspects in 1975 kidnapping of GM exec's son/ detroit free press

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

It was February, 1980 in Detroit.

I was assigned to the FBI surveillance squad (with apologies to Jack Webb and his introductions to “Dragnet”). It was very cold in the back of the van. We hadn’t yet installed a heater that would work when the van wasn’t running.

I had been driven to a spot where I could observe the ransom drop site from the small one-way window in the back of panel van. The driver had parked the van and left. He was picked up a few blocks away by one of the other surveillance cars. If anyone was watching, they would think the van was empty.

Kidnappings. It was one of many I would work in my career as an FBI agent. As I would witness, time and again, it was a lousy way for criminals to make money. Particularly as technology improved, it became clear: The business model simply didn’t work. And I thought it was worth recounting why.

Read more »

Kidnapping For Ransom: Bad Business Model

Suspects in 1975 kidnapping of GM exec's son/ detroit free press

Suspects in 1975 kidnapping of GM exec's son/ detroit free press

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

It was February, 1980 in Detroit.

I was assigned to the FBI surveillance squad (with apologies to Jack Webb and his introductions to “Dragnet”). It was very cold in the back of the van. We hadn’t yet installed a heater that would work when the van wasn’t running.

I had been driven to a spot where I could observe the ransom drop site from the small one-way window in the back of panel van. The driver had parked the van and left. He was picked up a few blocks away by one of the other surveillance cars. If anyone was watching, they would think the van was empty.

Kidnappings. It was one of many I would work in my career as an FBI agent. As I would witness, time and again, it was a lousy way for criminals to make money. Particularly as technology improved, it became clear: The business model simply didn’t work. And I thought it was worth recounting why.

In this 1980 case, my job was to watch the ransom package, which had been placed between the rear wall of a party store and a dumpster. The package contained $50,000. The “party store” (that’s what they call convenience stores in Detroit) was at the corner of Fenkell and Robeson on Detroit’s northwest side.

I had two HTs (hand held radios) with me in the van. One was tuned to the surveillance frequency. The other was tuned to the frequency of a transmitter in the ransom package. The transmitter broadcast a rhythmic tone that would speed up if the package was moved- pretty primitive by today’s technology.

The whole thing had started when Jacqueline Hempstead, the manager of a Detroit bank branch, learned that her son, Hessley, age 8, had been kidnapped on his way to school. She was called by the kidnappers and received instructions and a ransom demand. Mrs. Hempstead contacted her bank’s security officer, who alerted the Detroit Police Department (DPD) and the FBI.

It was decided that Mrs. Hempstead would follow the kidnappers’ instructions and comply with the ransom demand. A package with $50,000 and the aforementioned transmitter was prepared.

The FBI had been positioned in a parameter around the drop site. I had been driven to a spot near the drop site before the delivery. There I could observe the delivery and provide protection to Mrs. Hempstead if necessary.

Mrs. Hempstead delivered the package without any problems. We had agents in the vicinity of the drop, but not close enough to observe the package or spook someone wanting to make a pick-up.

After I had been watching for several hours, I heard an ominous sound, a garbage truck approaching. The truck got positioned and lifted the dumpster next to the ransom package. For a moment I thought what a novel way to retrieve a ransom. But when the dumpster was replaced, it was set on the top of the package. The transmitter screeched then seemed to moan before dying completely. The package was torn open with the stacks of bills clearly visible.

I kept my vigil, but we were concerned that a passerby might see the cash. After about an hour with no apparent effort by the kidnappers to collect the ransom, we had Mrs. Hempstead retrieve the package.

In the meantime, young Hessley, who had been left unsupervised by the kidnappers at a house on Detroit’s eastside, was able to break free and call his home. Agents that were posted at the Hempstead home told him to get out of the house and go to a neighbor’s house.

He went to the neighbors and then called again. He was picked up by FBI agents and returned home. The kidnappers were identified initially from their connection to the house where Hessley was held. They were successfully prosecuted. The kidnapping was short-circuited, but the victim was returned safe and law enforcement responded quickly and performed well.

In 1975, my first year assigned to Detroit Division (Michigan), there were four kidnappings in Michigan, three of which were classic kidnappings for ransom. The other was Jimmy Hoffa, a kidnapping/murder.

It was an exciting first year on the job for me, but this was probably an inordinate number of ransom kidnappings for anywhere, including Detroit.

Before I arrived, in much earlier times, it seemed as if criminals had had far better luck with kidnapping. In Bryan Burroughs’ book, Public Enemies, America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI 1933-34, Burroughs writes that for some of the notorious gangs of the era, kidnapping was the crime of choice. John Dillinger’s gang specialized in bank robbery, but the Barker/Karpis gang preferred kidnapping.

It was the gangs’ success in their respective specialty crimes that resulted in making them Federal Crimes, and gave birth to the FBI. (Machine Gun Kelly, a member of the Barker gang, is credited with coining the “G-man” moniker for FBI agents when he was arrested by the FBI.) The FBI learned from those early experiences.

michigan map

Kidnapping for ransom, out of necessity, requires a victim who is of wealth or has some access to wealth (part of the business model). Consequently, the victim will be or is often related, in some way, to a high-profile person that can be expected to have the wherewithal and desire to pay a ransom.

The Federal statute that gives the FBI jurisdiction in kidnapping cases is called the “Lindbergh law”, which arose from the highly publicized kidnapping of Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s son by Bruno Richard Hauptmann and the proliferation of high profile kidnappings elsewhere in the U.S. The Lindberghs were wealthy, but Charles may have been the most famous and beloved person in America at the time.

The Lindbergh baby was found dead after a ransom was paid. It was several years before the case was solved. The Federal kidnapping statute relies on a presumption that any kidnapping involves interstate commerce. It is a rebuttable presumption, but allows the FBI to investigate a kidnapping without having to first establish some interstate aspect.

One such case came with the kidnapping in Michigan on Nov. 10, 1975. A young man, Timothy Stempel, 13, was kidnapped in Bloomfield Township, an affluent suburb north of Detroit.

Timothy’s father was Robert Stempel, a high ranking executive with General Motors (later Robert Stempel would become CEO of GM). Mr. Stempel received a series of phone calls at his home from the kidnappers, and he was told they wanted $150,000 for Timothy’s return. Stempel contacted GM security, who in turn contacted the police and FBI.

Timothy had been kidnapped by two men, Darryl Wilson and Clinton Williams, who had decided that a good money making project would be to kidnap a rich kid and hold him for ransom.

The Stempel family/free press

The Stempel family/free press

They had no specific victim in mind when they drove to the high-income neighborhood of Bloomfield Township. They passed on a few potential victims for various reasons; playing too close to a house, too young.

Then they spotted Timothy. He was skateboarding. Williams asked Timothy for directions to a person’s house. Timothy said he didn’t know the person and started to walk away. Williams pulled a handgun and told Timothy to get in the car. Timothy hit Williams with the skateboard, but Williams tackled him and struck him several times in the head. Williams and Wilson blindfolded Timothy and placed him in the backseat of the car.

They drove to Wilson’s apartment on the south side of Ann Arbor and transferred Timothy to the trunk of the car where he would remain for the next 50 some hours. Williams then called Robert Stempel and told him they had his son, and he would call back with instructions. Lastly Williams told Stempel: Don’t tell the police.

The police and FBI committed hundreds of officers and agents to the investigation. It was designated a “special” by FBI headquarters; all hands on deck. But it had to be done in such a way as to not alert the kidnappers that police were involved. The paramount goal in any kidnapping investigation is the safe return of the victim.

Robert Stempel received subsequent telephone calls on Nov. 11 and again on the next day. Ultimately, he was instructed to go to an empty lot behind a roller skating rink in Inkster, a working class suburb west of Detroit. He was to leave the money there, and he would be contacted about his son’s release.

The evening of the “drop,” it was pouring rain. Efforts were made to surveil the ransom package, but because of the location and the weather, it was impossible without taking the chance of alerting the kidnappers.

The package was retrieved, but whoever made the pick-up was not seen. (Night vision equipment would have been helpful, but was not yet available.)

Within a few hours, Timothy was released by the kidnappers not far from the drop site. Initially there were no suspects, but because much of the activity had occurred in Inkster and nearby, “neighborhood” investigations were conducted that included a canvass of businesses and homes to determine if anyone had seen any relevant activity. At an apparel store, within a block of the roller rink drop site, an agent found that two men had spent several hundred dollars in cash for clothes.

The serial numbers on the cash matched the numbers recorded from some of the ransom money, and the men who bought the clothes were identified. This is similar to how Bruno Richard Hauptmann was initially identified as the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby. He had spent some of the ransom money, a gold certificate, at a gas station. The station attendant made a note of Hauptmann’s car license number. One of the reasons we now canvass neighborhoods.

The sartorial aspiring men were interviewed, and they told how they had agreed to drive two men to the roller rink on the night of Nov. 12 to retrieve a package containing money. The men assumed it was drug money and accepted several thousand dollars for their trouble.

The men identified Darryl Wilson and said he lived in Ann Arbor, but didn’t know his address or the other man’s name.

The investigation determined that Wilson lived in an apartment on Ann Arbor’s south side with a relative. A surveillance was set up at the apartment complex, and the car used in the kidnapping was found at the complex.

Timothy Stempel, while locked in the trunk of the car, had carved his name on the inside of the trunk lid with a broken piece of a hacksaw blade he found in the trunk- pretty ingenious.

I was assigned to the surveillance. After a few hours, one of the other agents, Stan Lapekas, suggested we take a look in a dumpster at the apartment complex for possible evidence. The dumpster was inside a wood fence enclosure in the parking lot, and we couldn’t be seen from the outside.

After we had been in the enclosure for only a few minutes, a car drove in and parked right next to the enclosure gate. I peeked out and realized the driver was the subject, Darryl Wilson. As soon as he exited the car, Lapekas and I grabbed him and  placed him in the backseat of our car, with us sitting very close on either side of him.

We acted as if we already knew everything, but wanted to give him an opportunity to tell his side of the story. After giving him his rights, he almost immediately confessed and gave up his accomplice, Clinton Williams. We hadn’t had Williams’ name until Wilson told us. Wilson also told us where Williams lived. I got several other agents and drove to Williams’ home and arrested him.

Williams also confessed. He told us he had threatened Timothy Stempel with a handgun and hit him several times. He said they had kept Timothy in the trunk of a car for over two days. He also said he had made the phone calls to Timothy’s dad from a pay phone in Inkster. (With the existing technology, we hadn’t been able to trace the calls.)

The subsequent search of Wilson’s apartment resulted in the recovery of $137,000 of the ransom money.

The case and subsequent trial became a bit of a media circus. There was no interstate aspect of the kidnapping for it to be charged federally so it was prosecuted in State Court. The venue was Oakland County as Bloomfield Twp., where the kidnapping occurred. The high profile Oakland County Prosecutor L. Brooks Patterson, who would later run for Governor, was the prosecutor. (He is presently the Oakland County Executive.)

Because of the media attention, the trial was moved from Oakland to Leland County, in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. On the first day of trial, Patterson suspected that Wilson and Williams might be planning to enter a plea. Patterson put Timothy Stempel on the stand and introduced the trunk lid. He then had me testify out of order to get Williams’ confession on the record with all the damning admissions.

On the beginning of the 2nd day of trial, Wilson and Williams entered guilty pleas with no plea bargain.

There were several other kidnappings for ransom in the Detroit Division during my 30+ years there, but I’m not aware of any that were successful.

All the kidnappers were identified and prosecuted. In two instances although a ransom was demanded and paid, the victims were murdered. In both those cases, the kidnappers never had any intention of releasing the victims alive.

The business model for kidnapping for ransom is flawed. It is a very high-risk crime.

In some parts of the world kidnappings are done with the collusion of the police or at least their indifference, thus, lowering the risk factor. The victim has to fit a profile, and it is very difficult to successfully collect a ransom- probably more so today than in the technology challenged period of the early years of my career.

Although the potential profit would seem to be high, the odds of actually getting and keeping it are extremely low.

In the latter years of my career, there were no kidnappings for ransom in Michigan. They also seem to be rare elsewhere in the country. I doubt that kidnapping for ransom is extinct in the US, but it would seem to be on the endangered list.

Scary Development: Mexican Cartels Gagging the Media

gagged journalistBy Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The murderous ways of the Mexican drug cartels may seem very scary, but so is another phenomena: The cartels are apparently shutting up the media.

The Washington Post reports journalists, fearing for their lives, “are adhering to a near-complete news blackout, under strict orders of drug smuggling organizations and their enforcers, who dictate — via daily telephone calls, e-mails and news releases — what can and cannot be printed or aired.

“We are under their complete control,” a veteran reporter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the Post.

Very scary.

To read full story click here.

Mobster Who Was FBI Informant For 18 Years Acquitted in Murder Plot

mafia33By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Who says wiseguys aren’t sensitive?

The New York Daily News reports that Genovese mobster Joseph “JB” Barone, 49, who was an FBI informant for 18 years, cried late last week after he was acquitted by a federal jury in Manhattan of in a $1 million murder-for-hire plot.

But it may not be over. The jury was hung on a conspiracy count against Barone and co-defendant Anthony Piliero and a mistrial on that count was declared.

The Daily News said the U.S. Attorney declined to say whether it would retry the two on that charge. He might cry again if prosecutors go after him on that count.

Barone had been jailed for 16 months before the trial, the Daily News reported.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST