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Archive for July 25th, 2011

House Approves Bill That Paves the Way for FBI Director Mueller to Extend Term 2 Years

Robert Mueller/file fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The inevitable is becoming inevitably closer.

The U.S. House, as expected, voted by voice Thursday night to approve legislation that would allow FBI Director Robert Mueller III to extend his 10-year-term by two years, the Associated Press reported. The Senate approved the bill last week.

The bill will now go to the President, who, without question, will sign the bill. After all, he was the one who suggested Mueller extend his stay as director two years beyond this year.

The bill paves the way now for the President to send the Mueller nomination for the two year extension back to the Senate for approval. Without the bill, the President could not have sent the nomination to the Senate since current law forbids an FBI director from serving more than 10 years.

And yes, that will be approved without question.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Ex-FBI Agent Says 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.

TSA Officer at LAX Busted for Stealing Expensive Watches and Credit Card

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The folks who protect our nation’s airports — the Transportation Security Administration — don’t need this kind of publicity.

The feds in Los Angeles on Friday indicted TSA officer Paul Yashou, 38, for stealing watches and a prepaid credit card worth $1,000 at Los Angeles International Airport.

The indictment alleges that Yashou stole four watches and the debit card from luggage going through security screening in Terminal 1 at LAX.

The indictment specifically alleges that Yashou stole an IWC GST chrono perpetual calendar moonphase watch valued at about $15,000, a Breitling Crosswind worth about $5,000, a $1,000 Antima watch and a $1,000 Movado watch.

Authorities said the probe began when the owner of the IWC watch saw his watch up for sale on eBay.

Ex-FBI Contractor Sues Bureau and Atty. Gen. For Blocking Publication of Book

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
Sibel Edmonds, an FBI contractor who founded the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, has sued the FBI and Attorney General for blocking publication of her book, Courthouse News Service reported.

Edmonds claims her book does not contain any classified information.

The website reported that Edmonds worked for the FBI for 6 months as a contract monitor and linguist. She said the FBI hired her two days after Sept. 11, 2001, and fired her after she “reported a number of whistleblower allegations to FBI management officials.”

To read the full story click here

Ex-Interim Philly U.S. Atty. Suspended for 100 Days

Ex-U.S. Atty. Laurie Magid

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Former Philly interim U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid, who is now an assistant U.S. Attorney, has agreed to a 100 day suspension without pay for violating federal restrictions on political contributions in connection with fund-raisers for U.S. Rep. Patrick L. Meehan and former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The paper reported that the settlement, completed Thursday in the ethics case, was investigated by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

The penalty was part of a settlement completed Thursday that concluded an ethics case pursued by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent federal agency. The suspension is slated to begin Sept. 6.

“I have spent my life devoted to public service, and I am looking forward to continuing my work as a prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Magid said Friday in a statement to the newspaper.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has alleged that as a government employee Magid improperly held fundraisers for Sen. Arlen Specter in 2008 and one for U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan in 2009, and solicited funds from subordinates at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the fundraisers, according to the counsel’s Feb. 15 document.

The special counsel recommended disciplinary action for violating the Hatch Act law. which limits political activity by federal employees.

Magid was the first assistant U.S. Attorney from summer 2005 until July 2008 when she became acting U.S. Attorney. From February 2009 to May 2009 she was the interim U.S. Attorney and then was replaced.

The Office of Special Counsel document stated that in 2008, Magid’s husband was hosting a fundraiser at their home for Sen. Arlen Specter.

The document alleged that she helped her husband and invited eight assistant U.S. attorneys (AUSAs) for the Sen. Specter fundraiser.

“At least one one AUSA expressed concern that he felt pressure to attend this political fundraiser,” the document said.

In early 2009, the husband threw a fundraiser for gubernatorial candidate Patrick Meehan, the former U.S. Attorney, who eventually decided to run for Congress. Magid helped her husband with the invite list, which included 35 of her subordinate employees. Of those, about 18 got the invitations at their official U.S. Attorney address, the document said.

“When invitations were received, performance evaluations were in progress,” the document said. “Several of respondent’s subordinate employees expressed concerns that they felt pressure to attend this political fundraiser or make a financial contribution.”

Washington Post Editorial: The FBI’s New Tools; Not Everyone is Onboard

By The Washington Post
Editorial Page

WASHINGTON — RUMMAGING THROUGH a garbage can may yield important clues about an individual — from reading habits to monthly bills to telltale signs of drug abuse. The unglamorous technique has long been part of the investigative arsenal for a reason: It gets results.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the FBI has given the thumbs up to trash digs to check the credibility of possible informants — so long as agents go through only garbage that has been left on the curb. This determination is one of many in a new set of rules the bureau is scheduled to unveil soon to govern the activities of agents in the field.

Some civil liberties groups condemn the guidelines as giving agents extraordinary new powers. They note that the bureau would allow lie detector tests for possible confidential witnesses and permit agents to search FBI and commercial databases to mine information about a potential suspect without having to open an investigative file.

To read more click here.

Justice Dept. Declines to Re-investigate Malcolm X Assassination

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The mystery surrounding the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X may remain just that — a mystery.

The New York Times reports that the Justice Department has declined to reinvestigate the assassination. It said the statute of limitations had expired on any federal laws that might apply.

“Although the Justice Department recognizes that the murder of Malcolm X was a tragedy, both for his family and for the community he served, we have determined that at this time, the matter does not implicate federal interests sufficient to necessitate the use of scarce federal investigative resources into a matter for which there can be no federal criminal prosecution,” the department said.

The Times reported that historians have long considered the assassination in New York in February 1965 unsolved. It said some feel a bungled investigation resulted in the imprisonment of the wrong people while allowing the guilty to go uncharged.

The Times reported that a new book,  “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention”, has prompted some some advocates to push for a reopening of the case.

To read more click here.

Boston U.S. Atty. Carmen Ortiz Quickly Becomes High Profile

U.S. Atty. Carmen Ortiz

By Milton J. Valencia
Boston Globe

BOSTON — She is the United States attorney who barked back at former city councilor Chuck Turner, and it was her administration that convicted former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, once one of the most powerful political figures in Massachusetts.

US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz took office only 18 months ago and already she has amassed a list of successes, highlighted by the new flier in her office listing notorious fugitive James “Whitey’’ Bulger as captured.

Her next goal, she says with a smirk: to crack the mysterious Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist.

“I’m still holding out hope on that one,’’ said Ortiz, tapping the wooden coffee table in her ninth-floor office in the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse, overlooking Boston Harbor.

“Knock on wood,’’ she added. “I always knock on wood.’’

To read full story click here.