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Archive for July 22nd, 2011

Weekend Series on Crime: The Violent Los Zetas Organization

http://youtu.be/Y5Hts_hGE3Y

Forget About Clemens and Bonds; Get The Big Fish in the Steroid Mess

Greg Stejskal was an FBI agent for nearly 32 years before retiring in 2006. He was the Senior Resident Agent of the Ann Arbor FBI office and spearheaded Operation Equine with former FBI agent Bill Randall — an operation that focused on steroids.

The author (right) Greg Stejsal and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

It’s generally accepted doctrine, at least when I was working drug cases, that you try to work up the food chain and go after the bigger fishes so to speak.

That being said, I have to question the wisdom of prosecuting anabolic steroid users — albeit famous ones — like baseball legends Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Take away the star power, and they’re simply users — not big fish, not major peddlers. Frankly, it’s not worth spending all the time and money on them.

But before I go on about that, a here’s a little background

In 1988, anabolic steroids (not all steroids are anabolic, synthetic testosterone, which promotes muscle growth and strength, for simplicity I refer to them as steroids) were made illegal under federal law. Dealing or possession of steroids with the intent to sell, became a felony. Mere use or possession was a misdemeanor. (The amount of steroids possessed was an indicator of whether there was an intent to sell.)

In 1989, when I headed up the FBI’s Ann Arbor office, Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler and his strength coach, Mike Gittleson, persuaded me that steroids were becoming a significant problem at all levels of football.

I proposed to FBIHQ that we initiate an undercover operation (UCO) targeting steroid distribution. FBIHQ was not enthusiastic about pursuing the illegal distribution of steroids, but reluctantly authorized a limited UCO to last only 6 months.

The operation, code-named Equine, started slow. We made buys from some street level dealers – gym rat dealer/users. Towards the end of our 6 month term, I got a call from FBIHQ. They apparently had received an inquiry from the White House regarding steroid investigations.

Equine was the only steroid case being worked in the U.S. at the time. Consequently FBIHQ wanted me to renew the case and upgrade it. What had been envisioned as a local case morphed into an international operation targeting dealers from all over the country, Mexico and Canada. The focus was always to identify and prosecute the biggest suppliers.

Those early gym rat dealers were confronted and offered favorable treatment if they would identify their suppliers and, in some cases, introduce the UC agent to the supplier. Some of the low or mid-level dealers were athletes or body builders, but none had much notoriety (with the possible exception of the then Mr. Ohio, a body builder).

We ended up convicting over 70 dealers in several jurisdictions. Many of these dealers supplied athletes some of whom were well known. One dealer had supplied some of the players on the Michigan State football team that had won the Big 10 and the Rose Bowl. Tony Mandarich, a notable member of that MSU team, whose photo graced the front of Sports Illustrated, admitted some years later to steroid use while at MSU.

Another dealer told us that that he had supplied Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, the so called bash brothers, while they played for the Oakland A’s. We arranged for that dealer to be debriefed by MLB, and he testified before a U.S. Senate sub-committee.

Ultimately the UCO was successful far beyond our expectations, not only with the many convictions of dealers (all of whom pleaded guilty rather than go to trial), but also with the seizure of massive amounts of steroids. (The Food and Drug Administration estimated that Equine resulted in the seizure of 8-10 million dosage units of real and counterfeit steroids.)

In addition to the UCO, we used a telephone wiretap to make a prosecutable case against one very large dealer. We had been unable to penetrate his organization using the UC agent. (On the wiretap we intercepted one conversation where the dealer threatened to “get rid” of the UCA.) That wiretap allowed us to identify the entire organization, its sources of supply and to intercept a huge shipment of steroids from Mexico.

We charged that dealer with a “Continuing Criminal Enterprise,” the drug equivalent of a RICO charge. Because of the potential for a long prison sentence, the CCE dealer identified his suppliers and provided information that led to the solving of a steroid related homicide.

Through out the about 3 year UCO, we were steadfast in working up the food chain, towards the upper echelons of the steroid trafficking organizations. It was tempting to want to prosecute some of the well-known players, who we learned were using steroids, but despite their celebrity, they were just users.

In the case of the dealer, who had supplied Canseco and McGwire, he identified suppliers in California, and he was willing to make controlled buys from them. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Northern California was not interested in prosecuting the dealer or his suppliers, so we arranged for the dealer to work with the California State Police.

They were able to successfully prosecute the suppliers with the cooperation of our dealer. Ironically it was the same US Attorney’s Office in California that later prosecuted the BALCO case and ardently prosecuted Barry Bonds for perjury related to his steroid use with minimal success and at great expense.

When our UCO ended, and we announced some of the federal indictments there was some local and national media coverage. We had hoped there would be more coverage. We wanted to send a message as deterrent to steroid traffickers and aspiring athletes. We tried to warn Major League Baseball in the summer of 1994 that they had a big steroid problem. For whatever reason, MLB ignored the warning.

We did have second thoughts about not prosecuting some of the players. As various steroid scandals became public, and Jose Canseco started outing himself and others, all of a sudden the media took an interest. Obviously, honing in on big names — even if they were really small fish in the scheme of things — created a buzz in the media.

Interestingly, Equine became more famous for having unsuccessfully warned MLB than for what we accomplished in prosecuting dealers. The reluctance of the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s Offices to prosecute steroid cases including athletes /players was gone.

Oddly — or maybe not — it only seemed there was an interest in prosecuting players who were famous. Prosecutorial discretion seemed to have made a 180 degree shift at least in the Northern District of California.

The results of those big player prosecutions have been less than stellar. After a long protracted legal fight, Barry Bonds was tried for perjury and obstruction of justice, felonies. His use of steroids was a misdemeanor. He was convicted of one count of obstruction of justice.

I’m certain more money has been spent trying to prosecute Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens then we spent during the entire operational and prosecutorial phases of Equine even correcting for inflation. Oh yes, Clemens, who was accused of lying to Congress about his use of steroids. The prosecution screwed up and presented evidence the judge had barred — and the judge, Reggie Walton, declared a mistrial.

It’s unclear whether he’ll grant a new trial.

Don’t misunderstand me. The players use of steroids as performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) was nothing less than cheating and did grave if not irreparable damage to their sports.

In baseball the effect was so great that the 1990’s will forever be remembered as the steroid era. Further their use of steroids encouraged steroid use by young aspiring athletes sometimes with tragic results.

And perjury before a Grand Jury or Congress can not be ignored. But were the players placed in front of forums in the hope that they would lie so as to create a prosecutable felony that would ultimately stir up a lot of publicity?

Shouldn’t prosecutorial discretion apply if that lie is extremely difficult (read expensive) to prove? Prosecutions should not be based solely on a cost benefit analysis, but it should be a factor. Being cynical, I wonder how much consideration was given to the celebrity of the defendants and the media interest in the prosecutions.

I now have a renewed understanding of the wisdom of working up the food chain in drug investigations, no matter who the users are.

Column: Ex-FBI Agent Says Forget About Clemens and Bonds; Go For the Big Fish in the Steroid Mess

Greg Stejskal was an FBI agent for nearly 32 years before retiring in 2006. He was the Senior Resident Agent of the Ann Arbor FBI office and spearheaded Operation Equine with former FBI agent Bill Randall — an operation that focused on steroids.

The author (right) Greg Stejsal and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

It’s generally accepted doctrine, at least when I was working drug cases, that you try to work up the food chain and go after the bigger fishes so to speak.

That being said, I have to question the wisdom of prosecuting anabolic steroid users — albeit famous ones — like baseball legends Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Take away the star power, and they’re simply users — not big fish, not major peddlers. Frankly, it’s not worth spending all the time and money on them.

But before I go on about that, a here’s a little background

In 1988, anabolic steroids (not all steroids are anabolic, synthetic testosterone, which promotes muscle growth and strength, for simplicity I refer to them as steroids) were made illegal under federal law. Dealing or possession of steroids with the intent to sell, became a felony. Mere use or possession was a misdemeanor. (The amount of steroids possessed was an indicator of whether there was an intent to sell.)

In 1989, when I headed up the FBI’s Ann Arbor office, Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler and his strength coach, Mike Gittleson, persuaded me that steroids were becoming a significant problem at all levels of football.

I proposed to FBIHQ that we initiate an undercover operation (UCO) targeting steroid distribution. FBIHQ was not enthusiastic about pursuing the illegal distribution of steroids, but reluctantly authorized a limited UCO to last only 6 months.

Read more »

DEA Goes After Mexican Cartel in U.S.; Arrests 1,985 in 20-Month Crackdown

Gun seized in Las Vegas as part of operation/dea photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The DEA on Thursday announced the arrests of 1,985 persons as part of a 20-month crackdown on the La Familia Michoacana Mexican drug cartel’s operations in the U.S.

DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said authorities said the crackdown, known as “Project Delirium”, also seized $62 million in U.S. currency, plus approximately 2,773 pounds of methamphetamine, 2,722 kilograms of cocaine, 1,005 pounds of heroin, 14,818 pounds of marijuana and $3.8 million in other assets.

She said over 70 of the arrests took place yesterday and today, and over 200 have been arrested since June 1. Arrests were made all around the U.S.

“Project Delirium is the second successful, strategic and surgical strike to disrupt and destroy one of the most violent Mexican cartels, La Familia,” Leonhart said.

“Through their violent drug trafficking activities, including their hallmark of supplying most of the methamphetamine imported into the United States, La Familia is responsible for recklessly and violently destroying countless lives on both sides of the border. The strong joint efforts with our Mexican and U.S. law enforcement partners are crippling this brutal organization by capturing its leaders, strangling its distribution networks, and relentlessly pursuing its members and those who facilitate them.”

ATF Was Evasive About Weapons Found at Murder Scene of Border Agent Brian Terry

Sen. Grassley/official photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

ATF earlier this year tried to play down the fact that guns from its highly problematic Operation Fast and Furious program surfaced at the scene of the slaying of Arizona Border Patrol agent Brian Terry last December, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The paper reported that the top ATF supervisors in Phoenix conceded in an email two days after the slaying that the weapons found at the scene were linked to the operation that encouraged gun dealers to sell to middlemen or straw purchasers, with the hopes of tracing the weapons to the Mexican cartels.

Brian Terry

But the Times reported that nearly two months later Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Ia.) inquired whether the weapons purchased during the Fast and Furious operation, were used in the killing, only to get an evasive answer from ATF officials in Washington.

The Justice Department said “these allegations are not true”, according to the Times and failed to acknowledge that the guns were there.

The Times, citing unnamed ATF officials, said the agency drew a distinction because the FBI determined that neither of the two AK-47s in question were used in the murder.

Meanwhile, Grassley had been trying to link the Fast and Furious guns to the murder of ICE agent Jamie Zapata earlier this year in Mexico.

But a source tells ticklethewire.com that authorities found no link to Fast and Furious in that matter.

To read more click here.

Demjanjuk Attorney’s Accuse Justice Dept of Fraud for Withholding Key FBI Document

John Demjanjuk

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The decades-long legal case against accused Nazi John Demjanjuk won’t go away.

The Cleveland Jewish News is reporting that his defense attorneys on Tuesday filed a motion accusing the Justice Department of withholding evidence and fraud.

At the key of accusations is a 1985 FBI memo questioning the authenticity of a Nazi identity card issued to Demjanjuk, the paper reported. His lawyers say the memo could have helped exonerate him.

The motion asks U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster to rescind the court order stripping the Ohio resident of his citizenship and deporting him, the Cleveland Jewish News reported.

Demjanjuk’s legal battle began in 1977 when the U.S. tried to deport him. He was accused of being a gas chamber guard — “Ivan the Terrible” — at the concentration camp, Treblinka.

He was deported to Israel where he was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death, the Cleveland paper reported. In 1993, the Israel Supreme Court ordered Demjanjuk released because evidence indicated that another Ukrainian guard, Ivan Marchenko, was the Treblinka guard.

In 1999, he returned to the U.S. where he was charged with being a guard at other camps. He lost his citizenship for the second time and was deported to Germany in 2009 where he was recently convicted of war crimes.

The Jewish News reported that he’s been living in a Bavarian nursing home while awaiting his appeal.

FBI Plans to Contact Actor Jude Law About Murdoch Scandal

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
The FBI probe into the Rupert Murdoch phone hacking scandal could being going beyond the 9/11 victims in the U.S.

The BBC reports that the FBI plans to contact the actor Jude Law following allegations that his phone was hacked during a visit to the U.S.

The BBC reported that a 2003 story by the News of the World newspaper, owned by Murdoch. was based on information from Law’s voicemail.

The BBC report comes in wake of reports that the FBI is trying to figure out whether allegations are true that Murdoch reporters tried to hack the phones of 9/11 victims in the U.S.

FBI Dir. Robert Mueller Gets One Step Closer to 2-Year Extension

Robert Mueller/file fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III moved one step closer to extending his 10-year term two additional years.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved legislation that would clear the way for Mueller to stay on for two years.  The bill must now go before the House, which is expected to give its OK. That vote could come next week.

The current legislation limits the FBI directors term to 10 years. The bill is one time deal that applies to Mueller, and does not change the 10 year limit.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Ia.)  of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who supported the move, but still raised questions, issued a statement Thursday:

“This is an extraordinary step that the Senate has taken. Thirty-five years ago Congress limited the FBI director’s term to one, 10-year appointment as an important safeguard against improper political influence and abuses of the past.

“Director Mueller has proven his ability to run the FBI over the last 10 years and he has given assurances that he will remain available to Congress and our constitutional responsibilities of oversight. I am glad the Senate was able to reach an agreement that provides a one-time, short term extension of the FBI Director’s term in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution. We live in extraordinary times which make this move unfortunate, but necessary.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) of the Judiciary Committee, who was a big advocate of the extension, issued a statement saying:

“Ten weeks ago, the President asked the Congress to extend the term of service of the FBI Director. I worked in a bipartisan manner to expeditiously report a bill from the Judiciary Committee to the full Senate. While no Senator opposed an extension of Director Mueller’s term, some quibbled over the text of a bill to accomplish this goal, causing unnecessary delay. I believe the bill reported by the Committee was constitutional, and that the revisions to the bill are unnecessary.”

“Nonetheless, I am pleased that a bill passed the Senate today that will maintain continuity of leadership at the FBI as we approach the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, and face continuing threats in the wake of the President’s successful operation against Osama bin Laden. I hope the House will take up and pass this bill so that it can be signed by the President, and the Senate can confirm Director Mueller’s re-nomination, prior to August 3, 2011, when Director Mueller’s current term expires.”

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