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Archive for June 15th, 2011

Conn. Fed Jury Votes to Put Drug Dealer to Death for Triple Murder


By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

For the first time since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, a federal jury in Connecticut has voted to impose the death penalty.

A federal jury in New Haven, Conn. voted Wednesday to unanimously condemn drug dealer Azibo Aquart, 30, of Bridgeport, Conn. to death for murdering three Bridgeport residents on Aug. 24, 2005, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

He had been convicted of conspiring to commit murder in aid of racketeering and committing the racketeering murders of Johnson, Reid and Williams. He was also convicted of committing three counts of drug-related murder and one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base (“crack cocaine”).

Though the jury voted to put him death, an execution isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

Since the reinstatement of the federal death penalty in 1988, 68 federal defendants have been sentenced to death and three  have actually been executed, according to Death Penalty Information Center.

Wednesday’s decision prompted a comment from U.S. Attorney David B. Fein, who said: “We thank the jury for their diligent and attentive service over both the guilt and sentencing phases of this case.”

In May, after a month long trial, the jury convicted Aquart of murdering Tina Johnson, 43, James Reid, 40, and Basil Williams, 54.

Authorities said evidence during the trial showed that Aquart also known as “Azibo Smith,” “Azibo Siwatu Jahi Smith,” “D,” “Dreddy,” and “Jumbo,” was the founder and leader of a drug trafficking group that primarily sold crack cocaine out of an apartment building located in Bridgeport.

Authorities said Aquart and associates used violence to maintain control over the group’s drug distribution activities at the Charles Street Apartments.

In the summer of 2005, Aquart and his associates got into a drug dispute with Tina Johnson, a resident of 215 Charles Street, who sometimes sold smaller quantities of crack cocaine without Aquart’s approval, authorities said.

On the morning of Aug. 24, 2005, Aquart and others entered Johnson’s apartment, bound Johnson, her boyfriend James Reid and friend Basil Williams with duct tape, and brutally beat the victims to death with baseball bats.

Aquart and others then drilled the front door of the apartment shut from the inside.

Column: I Wish I Had Good Friends Like Ex-Sen. Norm Coleman Has

Allan Lengel

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

I have some lousy friends, particularly those with money. They haven’t lavished me with tens of thousands of dollars in gifts.

Maybe a beer. Maybe a meal. And oh yes, one once gave me a Jerry Springer “Uncensored” video for my birthday.

I don’t get it. I’m a good guy.

I wish I had friends like ex-Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman has. He must be a great guy. Why else would a wealthy businessman/friend like Nasser Kazeminy give him $100,000 worth of gifts?

After a 3 1/2 year investigation, the Justice Department decided not to file criminal charges against Coleman or Kazeminy, Kazeminy’s attorneys announced Tuesday. The allegations, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, were reportedly that Kazeminy violated campaign finance laws by trying to funnel $75,000 to the family of former Sen. Norm Coleman through a Minneapolis insurance company that employed Coleman’s wife, Laurie.

One rather well-known attorney, ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh, said he investigated the matter on behalf of Kazeminy and found no wrong doing.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Freeh confirmed in his probe that Kazeminy had given Coleman gifts over the years that totaled more than $100,000 in value. He said Kazeminy and Coleman are good friends.

The gifts included at least two suits from Nieman Marcus in Minneapolis and flights to Florida on Kazeminy’s private jets.

Freeh said, according to the paper, that the two “have a long-term, personal relationship that goes back to when he was mayor. … We looked at the gifts and we found no wrongdoing and no impropriety with respect to that exchange.”

So it really comes down to, some people just have better luck finding generous friends.

Maybe my jokes aren’t good enough, my conversation not stimulating enough to warrant such friends.

Or maybe I just have to run for elected office. That way I’d have a better shot at finding generous friends like Norm did.

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Cousin of Slain Border Agent Thanks ATF Agents For Speaking Up and Risking Jobs

Robert Heyer (far right) sits on panel with agent Terry’s Mother and ATF agents/ticklethewire.com photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A teary eyed cousin of slain U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry urged ATF to be forthright and provide info to Congressional investigators  about a controversial program — “Operation Fast and Furious” — that encouraged Arizona gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers– all with hopes of tracing them to Mexican drug cartels.

Some of those weapons have been linked to the death of Terry, who was killed in Arizona last December.

Cousin Robert Heyer, a Secret Service agent, at times choked up and unable to speak, testified Wednesday morning before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,  and also talked about what an outstanding person his cousin was and how some of this co-workers referred to him as “superman.” He read a statement on behalf of the family.

He also thanked three ATF agents on the panel who  were highly critical of the program.

“We would like also like to acknowledge the courage and intergry of the three special agents of ATF’s Phoenix field division sitting with us on this panel,” he said.

“We recognize the professional risk you face by coming forward and speaking to the public about an invesitigation that you believe was ill conceived and reckless.”

Agents who testified were highly critical and said investigators  were sometimes pulled off of surveillances’ of the straw purchasers without good reason.  Agent Peter Forcelli called the program a “collosal failure of leadership.”

ATF agent John Dodson said when agents questioned some tactics , he said he was told: “They didn’t have to explain anything to me.”

Committee members said they were concerned the guns in the sting might show up in crimes for years to come on both sides of the border.

Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the committee, said that Ken Melson, head of ATF, was well aware of the program and got regular updates.

He said Melson was “very much in the weeds” on the investigation.

Agent Terry’s mother Josephine Terry said she wasn’t satisfied with the answers she was getting from the federal government in the case.

It Can’t Hurt to Hire Ex-FBI Director When Going Up Against the Justice Dept.

Louis Freeh

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

If you’re going to hire someone to help in a federal criminal matter, it can’t hurt to get an attorney who use to head up the FBI.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh was hired by  Minnesota businessman Nasser Kazeminy, who was under investigation for allegations that he gave Sen. Norm Coleman illegal campaign contributions,  the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. Freeh conducted an independent investigation of the allegations.

On Tuesday, attorneys for Kazeminy announced that the Justice Department had decided not to file criminal charges against either one, the paper reported.

The paper reported that late in Coleman’s failed campaign bid for re-election allegations  surfaced that Kazeminy tried to funnel $75,000 to the family of former Sen. Norm Coleman through a Minneapolis insurance company that employed Coleman’s wife, Laurie.

Robert Weinstine, one of Kazeminy’s attorneys, said the allegations had “no credibility,”  account to the Star Tribune.

The paper reported that Freeh, who was hired by Kazeminy to investigate the allegations against him, said that although “these allegations were entirely false, they were repeated in hundreds of local and national media reports” that left the reputations of the two men “injured and tarnished.”

Coleman, who lost to comedian Al Franken,  issued a statement saying the Justice Department’s decision “is welcomed but not a surprise” and that his “political opponents turned those lies into multimillion-dollar attacks against my family and Nasser Kazeminy.”

The paper reported that  Freeh reviewed the facts in the case.

Ron Rosenbaum, a Minneapolis attorney serving as a spokesman for Kazeminy, said Freeh reviewed the previous investigation of the allegations along with numerous documents, according to the paper.

“He went over everything,” Ron Rosenbaum, a spokesman for Kazeminy said. “In criminal defense work, you don’t rely on your client’s word. Kazeminy wanted this investigated from top to bottom because he wanted a clean bill of health.”

The paper reported that On Tuesday, Freeh said that “we found that there were gifts that were made.” He said that Coleman and Kazeminy “have a long-term, personal relationship that goes back to when he was mayor. … We looked at the gifts and we found no wrongdoing and no impropriety with respect to that exchange.”

FBI Wants Colo. Restaurant Video of Confrontation Between Lance Armstrong and Ex-Teammate

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The FBI has an interest in a French restaurant in Colorado — and not for the the Escargots à la Bourguignonne or “Loch Duart” Scottish Salmon on the menu.

The New York Times reports that FBI has requested surveillance video from the Aspen restaurant Cache Cache to look at a Saturday night confrontation between world-famous cyclist Lance Armstrong and former teammate Tyler Hamilton, who is a witness in a doping investigation targeting Armstrong.

Jodi Larner, a co-owner of the French restaurant, told the Times Tuesday that the FBI told her it would subpoena the surveillance tape.

The Times reported that investigators want to see if the confrontation amounted to witness tampering.

Report Says ATF Agent Predicted Death and Congressional Inquiry After ATF Launched Controversial Gun Program; Agents Worried Guns Might be Linked to Gabrielle Giffords Shooting

atf file photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

One ATF agent told Congressional investigators  that someone was going to die  from ATF’s controversial gun-walking program dubbed “Operation Fast and Furious”, and he predicted the program would become the subject of a Congressional inquiry.

That prediction by agent Larry Alt was noted in a  51-page report released Tuesday Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.).

It detailed critical comments from four ATF agents made to Congressional investigators about the gun-walking program. The agents worked on the controversial operation that encouraged gun dealers in Arizona to sell to straw purchasers, all with the hopes of tracing the weapons to the Mexican cartels. Some of the guns ended up being used in crimes including in the murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, authorities have said.

Agents told how they raised grave concerns about the gun program, and were distressed about it all,  but were told to back off.

One agent, John Dodson said, according to the report, that a supervisor was downright giddy that the guns were linked to crimes, saying the supervisor thought it was proof they were on the right track.

“Whenever he would get a trace report back . . . he was jovial, if not, not giddy, but just delighted about that, hey, 20 of our guns were recovered with 350 pounds of dope in Mexico last night. And it was exciting. To them it proved the nexus to the drug cartels. It validated that . . . we were really working the cartel case here,” Dodson said.

The report, released on Tuesday, was part of a blitz this week by Rep.  Issa  and Sen. Grassley to find out information about the ATF program, and to apply more public pressure on the Justice Department and ATF to come forward with information.  Issa, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, held a hearing on the issue on Monday and has scheduled another hearing for Wednesday morning.

“ATF agents have shared chilling accounts of being ordered to stand down as criminals in Arizona walked away with guns headed for Mexican drug cartels,”  Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in a statement about the report.“With the clinical precision of a lab experiment, the Justice Department kept records of weapons they let walk and the crime scenes where they next appeared. To agents’ shock, preventing loss of life was not the primary concern.”

“These agents have risked their lives working for the ATF and they’ve risked their careers by coming forward to speak the truth about a dangerous strategy that was doomed from the start,” added Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.),. “The report shows the street agents’ perspective on this risky policy to let guns walk. It should help people who are wondering what really happened during Operation Fast and Furious understand why we are continuing to investigate.”

The report, which is highly critical of the Department of Justice, concluded: “Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, DOJ continues to deny that Operation Fast and Furious was ill-conceived and had deadly consequences.”

The report also said that the shooting of  Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords created a “state of panic” within  the group conducting the operation because it initially feared a “walked” gun might have been used.

Agent  Dodson was also  quoted as saying about the operation:

“But every day being out here watching a guy go into the same gun store buying another 15 or 20 AK-47s or variants or . . . five or ten Draco pistols or FN Five-sevens . . . guys that don’t have a job, and he is walking in here spending $27,000 for three Barrett .50 calibers at . . . walks in with his little bag going in there to buy it, and you are sitting there every day and you can’t do anything, you have this conversation every day.”

“And quite frankly, it is unfathomable to me how both sides or any person isn’t completely livid about what we have been doing here. I cannot see anyone who has one iota of concern for human life being okay with this…,” he added.

The Justice Department on Wednesday pointed to a comment from Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. when first learning of ATF agents’ concerns about the controversial proogram:

“Fighting criminal activity along the Southwest Border – including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico – has been a priority of this Administration and this Department of Justice.

“The Attorney General takes the allegations that have been raised by some ATF agents about the Fast and Furious operation seriously, which is why he has asked the Inspector General to investigate the matter. The Department has also made clear to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors working along the Southwest Border that under no circumstances should guns be allowed to cross the border into Mexico.”

Read Report

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