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Archive for August 12th, 2010

Ohio Feds Seek Death Penalty in One of Cleveland’s Deadliest Fires

clevelandBy Glynnesha Taylor
ticklethewire.com

Federal prosecutors in Ohio are taking the unusual step and seeking the federal death penalty against a convicted drug dealer accused of setting off one of the deadliest fires in Cleveland’s history, according to the Associated Press.

Federal authorities are taking aim at Antun Lewis, 26, who is accused of breaking into the three-story home on May 21, 2005, of Medeia Carter, 33, and pouring gasoline on the first floor while her son was having a sleepover for his 14th birthday, the AP reported. The fire killed Carter and eight children between the ages of 7 to 15 including her son.

Prosecutors said the fact the rented home was paid for with federal Section 8 money allowed them to seek the federal death penalty, AP reported. Atty. General Eric Holder Jr. gave the final approval. The defense,which insists Lewis is innocent and would never have harmed the family, wants the Justice Department to reverse that decision.

Trial is set for Sept. 1.

Very few have ever been executed under the federal death penalty. One of the last three people who have been put to death in a federal case included Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh, who died by lethal injection on June 11, 2001.

Most federal death penalty cases involve the killing of a federal agent, interstate kidnapping, international drug rings or terrorism, AP reported.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Watch Out for Terror Babies: Seriously?

iStock_000004074557XSmall(5)By Matt Castello
ticklethewire.com

A new threat could be crawling across the nation, clad in diapers: Terror babies.

Seriously?

Well, yes seriously if you ask some Texas Republican members of Congress who cite former FBI agents, according to Wednesday’s  Anderson Cooper 360 show on CNN. Nonsense, if you ask a former high ranking FBI official, who appeared on the show.

The Texas lawmakers say “terror babies” are being born in the U.S. to acquire American citizenship. Then according to the members of Congress, who cite unnamed former FBI officials, the babies are flown overseas where they train for 20 to 30 years until they return in the hopes of attacking the United States.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) has discussed the issue on the House floor, and on Wednesday Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tex.) spoke to Anderson Cooper about the issue.

Riddle provided no evidence to support her claim and declined to reveal who her ex-FBI sources were.

The CNN host also interviewed Tom Fuentes, the FBI’s assistant director in the Office of International Operations from 2004 until 2008.

“The FBI has 75 offices overseas, including offices in Jordan, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan,” Fuentes said on the show. “There was never a credible report — or any report, for that matter — coming across through all the various mechanisms of communication to indicate that there was such a plan for these terror babies to be born.”

Postal Worker Stole More than $130,000 in Treasury Checks

mailbox2By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

In these austere time, D.C. Postal carrier  Shareen Wilson figured out a way to earn some extra cash: She stole more than $130,000 in U.S. and D.C. Treasury checks before they could be delivered.

Now the 42-year-old is  off to federal prison.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates in Washington sentenced her Thursday to two years and one month in prison and ordered her to pay $134,416 in restitution, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Authorities say more than 50 businesses and individuals were victimized by the scheme that occurred between 2008 and 2010. Authorities said Wilson gave the checks to a conspirator who recruited others to cash the checks using fake and fraudulent id — usually at liquor stores. Wilson then got a cut of the  proceeds.

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Opinions Mixed Inside FBI Over Test Cheating Scandal

test2By Allan Lengel
For AOL News

WASHINGTON — To cheat or not to cheat on an open-book exam.

That is no longer an issue among FBI agents around the country now that the test is long over. Now the question is, should those who did cheat on the FBI exam last year — and they could number in the hundreds — be punished? Opinions inside the bureau are mixed and plentiful.

“I think someone should get punished,” one FBI agent, who asked not to be identified, told AOL News, adding that the instructions for the test on bureau procedures were clear: You had to take it by yourself. “There are agents who worked hard and took the test on their own. There’s no excuse.”

But others disagree, including one agent who said it was “just goofy” to be accused of cheating on an open-book, multiple-choice exam. Another agent concurred, saying “the whole test is a joke” and that some employees may have found the test-taking instructions confusing and should simply be required to retake the exam if they collaborated with others.

The agents interviewed for the story, who are stationed in different parts of the country, spoke on the condition that they not be named because of the sensitivity of the issue and because they are not authorized to speak to the press on the matter.

The scandal, which has become an embarrassment to the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, centers on a Justice Department inspector general probe into allegations that FBI agents and some support staff cheated on a mandatory open-book exam on FBI procedures by either working together or getting the questions or the answers beforehand — all in violation of bureau policy.

The test was on the Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide, which outlines procedures for agents to conduct surveillance and open files on Americans for national security purposes without evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Robert Mueller/fbi photo

Robert Mueller/fbi photo

Agents and some support staff underwent 16 hours of training last year before taking the test on their computers. They were allowed to use any reference material, but were not supposed to work together. In fact, the last question on the test — No. 51 — asks whether they worked alone.

Those who failed the test — and there were certainly some who did — were allowed to keep taking it over again until they passed. Most agents and staff members took at least three hours to complete the test.

“Rumors are that a lot of guys had the answers and took the test in under an hour,” one veteran FBI agent said. “If you took the test in under an hour, there was something wrong. They didn’t even read the questions.”

“They should just make them take it again,” the agent said.

The results of the Justice Department probe are not yet in, and the decision as to what will eventually happen to the cheaters is unclear. Ultimately, the FBI will decide.

But FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, who also took the test, may face a dilemma if the agency goes too easy — or gives an outright pass — to potentially hundreds of agents and employees, considering that the bureau took a hard stance last fall when it suspected that three top managers at the Washington field office had cheated and may have received help on the exam from an FBI lawyer or somehow worked together.

One of the agents, Joseph Persichini Jr., who headed the field office, had planned on retiring anyway in the next year. But headquarters, according to sources, pressured him to leave earlier.

Two other high-ranking members of management team, both special agents in charge — Andrew Castor and Keith Bryars — were removed from the Washington field office and reassigned to headquarters pending the outcome of the matter.

At present, both have landed “acting” deputy assistant director jobs — one at headquarters and one at Quantico, Va. Some in the rank and file at the bureau have perceived it as a promotion — a move they think sends the wrong message.

Publicly, at least, it appeared the incident at the Washington field office was an isolated one. But late last month, The Associated Press reported that Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine was looking into cheating involving potentially hundreds of agents.

The story was based on a May 13 letter from the FBI Agents Association, which suggested that the inspector general go easy and focus on “how and why that failure occurred,” insisting the FBI failed to “clearly convey the testing rules” requiring employees to “work alone or not collaborate with others.”

It went on to mention that the Columbia, S.C., FBI office had printed a copy of the test for agents to study from, which ended up being a violation of the rules. It said agents had been under the impression that it was OK.

“There are similar stories for practically every office, demonstrating the pervasive confusion and miscommunication that existed,” said the letter signed by Konrad Motyka, president of the FBI Agents Association.

The FBI declined to comment for this story and instead referred to Director Mueller’s comments on July 28 before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which included his read on how many employees were involved.

“I’ve got a general idea, but I do not know how many,” Mueller testified. “And I am not certain the IG knows how many either. He has pointed out instances orally to me where there may be persons in a particular office where it was widespread and may be attributable to a lack of understanding and confusion about the procedures.”

Breaking News: Jurors in Blago Case Say They’ve Only Reached Agreement on 2 of 24 Counts

Ex-Gov Blagojevich as gov/state photo

Ex-Gov Blagojevich as gov/state photo

Update: Thurs. 6:10 p.m.– The Chicago Tribune reports that the jurors are done for the day and will return Monday.

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Jurors in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich have come to an agreement on two of 24 counts, the Associated Press reported Thursday. The judge instructed them to continue deliberating.

The jurors indicated they had not even discussed 11 counts of wire fraud, and were deadlocked on another 11, the AP reported.

Blagojevich and his brother Robert are both on trial.

FBI Nabs “Grandad Bandit” in Louisiana; Time to Retire

Grandad Bandit/fbi photo

Grandad Bandit/fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Looks like the prolific “Grandad Bandit”, suspected of at least 25 bank robberies in 13 states in less than two years, is retiring involuntarily —  and not to Florida to enjoy the early bird specials.

The FBI said agents arrested the bandit, aka Michael Francis Mara, 52, of Baton Rouge, La., in Baton Rouge on Wednesday following a stand off for hours.

Maria Glod of the Washington Post reported that agents and local police had surrounded a home in Baton Rouge Wednesday morning, and that Mara had a weapon and threatened to harm himself. But he peacefully surrendered by around 4:30 p.m.

“A tip to the FBI made today’s arrest possible,” said U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride of Alexandria.

Michael Morehart, special agent in charge of the Richmond office, said in a statement : “This arrest would not have been possible without the assistance of civic-minded citizens and the publicity provided by radio stations and print media and the coordination of digital billboards by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.”

Authorities said Mara “would enter a bank without a disguise, patiently wait in line, and then present a demand note to a bank teller. Once the demands were met, Mara allegedly would retrieve the demand note and exit the bank quietly.”

Marshals Say Az Esacapee and Accomplice May Have Changed Look

John McCluskey/marshal photo

John McCluskey/marshal photo

How McCluskey might look

How McCluskey might look

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Arizona prison escapee John Charles McCluskey and his companion Casslyn Welch have changed their appearance, the U.S. Marshals Service said Wednesday.

The Marshals Service issued a statement Wednesday saying that  McCluskey now has black hair and a beard and Welch has dyed her hair blonde.

The Marshals Service said investigators have been focusing their hunt in Western Montana and Southwest Canada.

McCluskey, 45, Tracy Province,42, and Daniel Renwick, 35, escaped from the Arizona State Prison in Kingman on July 30. Authorities believe Casslyn Welch, 43, assisted them in the escape.  U.S. Marshals had received tips that McCluskey and Welch were sighted east of Glacier National Park near the Canadian border.

On Aug. 1, Renwick was arrested in Rifle, Colo. after a brief car chase and firing a gun at police. Tracy Province was captured Monday in Wyoming after a woman in a church recognized him from television news broadcasts.

Authorities suspect  the escapees may have been responsible for the murders of an elderly couple at a campground in Santa Rosa, Calif.