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Archive for July 8th, 2011

Weekend Series on Crime History: Hell’s Kitchen’s Irish Mob

Undercover FBI Agent Gets Praise For his Work With the Mob

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Jerry Capeci, the mob expert who runs the website Gang Land News, offers nothing but high praise in an article this week about FBI agent David Sebastiani, who went undercover to bring down some Philly mobsters.

Capeci wrote that Sebastiani, who works out the New York division and is a certified public accountant, spoke last week to “the American Apparel & Footwear Association about brand labels and intellectual property rights. The talk took place at the New York offices of Calvin Klein. To hear Sebastiani talk, you wouldn’t think he knew the difference between a mobster and a Ferragamo shoe salesman – even if one kicked him in the shins.

“If that’s what you thought, you would be wrong.”

Gang Land New reported that Sebastiani went undercover as a cash strapped financial wizard known as “Dino” who became a loanshark victim.

As a result, some Philly mobsters –Anthony  Staino and associate Robert Ranieri — are facing criminal charges.

Gang Land reported “that the gangsters are not the first to be stung by the smooth-talking undercover agent over the last two decades.”

In the Philly case, Gang Land reported that the FBI sting involving the Philly mob caught reputed mobsters Staino and Ranieri in tape-recorded threats disclosed by the feds last month.

Sebastiani, who works in the cybercrime division in the New York office, is done as an undercover with the mob, Capeci writes.

But the appreciation for his undercover acting hasn’t vanished.

Ex-FBI undercover agent Joaquin (Big Jack) Garcia, who worked with Sebastiani in the past, and went undercover with the mob himself (and came a hair’s length away from being a “made guy”), said of Sebastiani:

“Dave was one of those guys who you could always count on in an undercover operation,” Garcia told Gang Land. “He would always do the job. He wouldn’t say anything stupid; he wouldn’t DO anything stupid. The FBI could always count on him, whether it was for a cameo appearance or a regular long-term role.”

To read Gang Land News click here. (It is a pay-to-read website)

Update: Fast and Furious Official No Longer Going to Mexico as Attache; Mexican Govt. Asks for Transcripts of His Testimony

William Newell

Update

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

William Newell, who headed ATF’s Phoenix Division during the controversial operation dubbed Fast and Furious, won’t be going to Mexico as ATF’s attache after all.

The agency has decided to to nix that assignment before he even heads south. Instead, he’s been named special assistant to the ATF Assistant Director for the Office of Management in Washington.

The reassignment comes at a time the Mexican Justice Department known as the PGR is reportedly conducting a criminal probe into the Fast and Furious Operation. It has also requested transcripts of Newell’s recent testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Concern had surfaced recently within ATF that the Mexican government might arrest Newell if he came down there as the attache.

Lydia Antonio, a press officer for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, declined to comment for this story. An ATF official familiar with the matter confirmed the reassignment, but declined to speculate on why Newell’s Mexico City assignment was changed.

The move to keep Newell in Washington is direct turn about for the agency, which up until recently, had insisted that Newell was still going to Mexico City as the ATF attache even as the Mexican government fumed over Fast and Furious, which encouraged Arizona gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers or middlemen, with the hopes of tracing the weapons to the Mexican cartels. Some of the guns have surfaced at crime scenes.

ATF first announced internally last Fall that Newell, who is fluent in Spanish, would become the new attache in Mexico City. But after the controversy broke over Fast and Furious, ATF delayed his departure to Mexico and sent him on a detour to Washington to help Congressional investigators and the Inspector General investigate the faulty Fast and Furious operation.

Agents around the country, according to one person, were angry over Newell’s testimony at a Congressional hearing last month when he denied that ATF let guns walk. During his testimony, he admitted there had been some mistakes, but essentially defended the operation.

In a phone interview Thursday with ticklethewire.com, Newell’s attorney Paul Pelletier of Washington, a former federal prosecutor, commented on the Newell’s job reassignment by saying:  “Going to Mexico, given the way his public service has been unfairly portrayed, would not be prudent.”

But Pelletier said Newell has been extremely dedicated to fighting gun trafficking to Mexico.

“Bill’s career with the ATF has been mostly on the Southwest border and he’s made his career literally preventing guns from going to Mexico” he said. “That’s what his career has been based on. He’s done a lot. He’s been a strong advocate of stopping the flow of guns into Mexico.”

He said Newell volunteered to take his family to Mexico City to take on a dangerous assignment so he could continue addressing the problem.

“The public theater has not been fair to him and has not been fair to ATF.”

Pelletier also noted that Newell was instrumental in getting a member of the Mexican Justice Department stationed in the Phoenix Division.

Is ATF Concerned About Sending ATF “Fast and Furious” Official to Mexico?

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Last October in Orlando, at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the heads of the ATF field offices gathered for a SAC meeting. It was there where it was announced that  William Newell, head of the Phoenix office, would become the ATF’s attache to Mexico.

Newell, an up and comer in the agency, seemed like a good choice. He was fluent in Spanish or as one person said “he spoke Spanish like professor.” And he had experience  dealing with the Mexican cartels.

In fact, he was helping head up a little known program at the time called “Operation Fast and Furious”, which encouraged Arizona gun dealers to sell weapons to “straw purchasers” — all with the hopes of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartel.

It was a bold program and a highly ambitious one.

But months later, it became a very controversial one after  word got out that some weapons were showing up at crime scenes, including in the fatal shooting of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry last December.

Congressional inquiries started. An Inspector General probe was launched.  A media frenzy ensued.

Now, eight months after the announcement in Orlando, Newell has been holed up in Washington instead of Mexico supposedly to help the Congressional inquiries into Operation Fast and Furious. His post in Phoenix has already been filled and his assignment as ATF’s Mexican attache has been put on hold.

Word inside ATF, according to one knowledgeable person, is that some in the agency have voiced concerns about sending Newell to Mexico as an attache because the Mexican government, which is fuming over Fast and Furious, might pursue criminal charges and arrest Newell.

Fox News reported Tuesday that  the Mexican government is furious about Fast and Furious and wants to extradite American officials for prosecution.   Sending Newell might make that all too easy for the Mexicans.

Whether Mexico goes that far is unclear.

Nonetheless, sending Newell isn’t likely to sit well in Mexico.

But an ATF official on Friday tried to dispel any notion that Newell won’t be headed south of the border.

“As far as his assignment to Mexico City, it’s still in place but it’s been temporarily postponed so that he can assist with the Congressional inquiries and the OIG (Office of Inspector General) review,” the official told ticklethewire.com.

Newell did not respond to an email asking for comment.

When asked for comment more than a week ago, the Mexican embassy in Washington asked that ticklethewire.com submit questions in writing. There was no response.

On Friday, a spokesman did call back and left a voicemail. But the spokesman could not be reached after that.

The embassy spokesman did not immediately return the call on Tuesday for comment.

Could Latest Scandal Kill ATF?

By Josh Gerstein
Politico

WASHINGTON — The unfolding scandal over a gunrunning investigation allegedly botched by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives could do what years of criticism of the long-beleaguered agency never quite accomplished — result in its demise.

That, at least, is the view of some former ATF employees and advocates on both sides of the gun control debate who have watched the agency struggle to contain the damage from an operation intended to trace the traffic of illegal guns to Mexico that has reignited the harsh criticism often directed at the ATF in the past.

The agency, which moved from the Treasury Department to the Justice Department in 2003, has been without a permanent director for nearly five years. Nominees offered by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have languished without approval from the Senate after drawing strong opposition from the National Rifle Association, which for years has been the agency’s loudest critic.

Now, with ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson hobbled by the scandal over Operation Fast and Furious and by indications he’s at odds with senior Justice Department officials, many are saying a breakup of the storied agency could just be a matter of time.

“I think something like that is likely to happen,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “Unless they take some action to give it a director, it’s inevitable it’s going to have to get to that stage. It cannot continue the way it’s going now. … Right now, ATF is so weak it’s amazing.”

To read full story click here.

Las Vegas Man Livid; Says FBI Ignored 2008 Tip About Mobster Whitey Bulger

whdh/channel 7

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The James “Whitey” Bulger story ain’t going away any time soon.

The latest: A Las Vegas man is livid. The Boston Herald reports that the man claims the FBI ignored his tip in 2008 that he spotted Bulger on the Santa Monica Pier and alerted “America’s Most Wanted.”

“The FBI should at least come out and say that they did get a call three years ago. If they had called me back, they would have struck gold. But you know how they play their games, the feds. I guess this whole hunt for Whitey Bulger was a game,’’ Keith Messina told the Herald. “Now they are saying someone in Iceland found Whitey? Who is that person? I found Whitey three years ago.”

“I didn’t make the call for the reward,” Messina insisted. “I just wanted the guy caught. But now the FBI is lying and saying the reward is going to Iceland. I saw the guy. I did the right thing and called. I left my name and number. I should be at least entitled to something.’’

The Herald reported that Messina, 45, was vacationing with his wife, Tonya, and their three children in June 2008.

Messina had seen America’s Most Wanted, which had featured Bulger.

The Herald reported that Messina was on a “bench near the Third Street Promenade when he spotted an elderly man wearing a hat and sunglasses, no shirt, dark shorts, and reading a book. Messina, a “huge” “America’s Most Wanted” fan, thought of Whitey.”

“His suspicion became stronger when the man, who had a crucifix on a gold chain, began chatting with a passer-by wearing a Boston Celtics [team stats] shirt,” the Herald reported.

“I looked at the guy and thought, ‘That looks like Bulger,’ but then I said to my wife, ‘No way.’ I kept watching him, and I really started thinking it was him but I was positive when I saw him talking to the guy from Boston and asked about Newbury Street — I knew it.”