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Tag: FBI

Hunting for The Joker

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

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In the Spring of 1989, a drama fraught with irony began playing out in Austria. A Jewish American family, a mother and her two grown sons, were fighting extradition to the US. About 50 years before, Jewish families were desperately trying to leave Austria for safe havens like the U.S.

The subjects of the extradition were Linda Leary and sons, Paul and Richard Heilbrunn. They fled to Austria from Indiana in anticipation of an indictment that was returned by a Federal Grand Jury in November, 1987. The indictment ran 136 pages and contained 53 counts variously charging 34 people. Paul and Richard were specifically charged with running a massive marijuana smuggling and distribution operation, legally termed a “Continuing Criminal Enterprise” (CCE). According to the indictment the ring operated from 1975 to 1985. It distributed more than 150,000 lbs. and took in more than $50 million in cash. The figures were subsequently revised upward to 250,000 lbs. and $50 to $100 million. It would prove to be the biggest marijuana ring ever prosecuted by the US.

Paul Heilbrunn was characterized as the ring leader of the enterprise. Testimony later depicted him as both respected and feared. He was referred to as “Melech,” Hebrew for king. Although Paul was a high school dropout, he was by all accounts a brilliant businessman. Prior to the indictment, he was believed to be a successful commodities trader in Indianapolis and wrote a column on trading for the local newspaper. He was a bon vivant who favored three-piece suits, frequented the finest restaurants and drove a top of the line BMW. He on several occasions rented jets and flew his friends to such events as the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball finals.

His older brother, Richard, on the other hand was described as a big Teddy bear. He lived on a farm and usually wore flannel shirts and jeans. Richard supervised operations while Paul was the CEO.

Their mother, Linda Leary, was twice married and divorced. She had kept the name of her second husband. Leary was prominent in the Indianapolis community. She was the head of the Indiana League of Women Voters and president of the local chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women.

Leary was also involved in her sons’ business ventures. An early venture was dubbed Heilbrunn and Friends, ostensibly it was a health food distribution business -a good front for marijuana distribution. The “friends” were high school buddies who had setup marijuana sales networks at colleges they attended. But soon the network was supplying customers outside the campuses in eleven Midwestern states. Most of the marijuana came by ship from Columbia, Jamaica and Thailand – an exotic global operation. It was then trucked to Indiana where it was stored in barns that were owned or rented by the Heilbrunn organization.

Paul Heilbrunn had structured the organization so that information stovepiped, that is, information moved up and down, but only flowed between members as was necessary. This limited what any member could divulge should they choose to cooperate with law enforcement.

Paul also had attorneys set up offshore corporations in the Bahamas and Panama to launder the proceeds from the marijuana operation. Linda Leary was designated as the head of several of these corporations. Much of the laundered money was transferred back into the US and used to fund loans often for Indiana businesses.

In the present the paradigm has changed – now with so many states legalizing marijuana, it’s almost like looking back on prohibition. The Heilbrunns and their cohorts weren’t protesting the illegality of marijuana. Rather like the bootleggers, they were taking advantage of a restricted market. They could set the price, had little competition and the profits were tax free.

The Beginning of the End of The Empire

The beginning of the end for the Heilbrunn empire occurred when in 1983 a cocaine dealer was arrested. The dealer had previously worked for the Heilbrunns, but had been let go for drug use. He offered to tell what he knew about the Heilbrunn operation as part of plea bargain. There is no honor among thieves and little to none among drug dealers.

After the arrest of the cocaine dealer, law enforcement meticulously put together a case against the Heilbrunn organization which culminated in the 1987 federal indictment. Most of the 34 people charged were known to the federal grand jury that returned the indictment with the notable exception of one indictee who was referred to as “John Doe, also known as the Joker” like Batman’s nemesis. There were also two female subordinates to the Joker – named as Jane Does, aka, “Tipper and Topper.” (This probably was a disappointment to comic book purists who were anticipating a female code name like Catwoman.)

While the Heilbrunns were fighting extradition, most of the indictees were prosecuted and convicted. Some cooperated and agreed to testify against others including the Heilbrunns. In one of the co-conspirator’s trial, there was testimony about the Joker. He was depicted as “Paul Heilbrunn’s trusted and valued peer,” whose Michigan based operation did business with Heilbrunn and his associates. But no one in the Heilbrunn organization other than Paul himself seemed to know Joker’s true identity.

One person in the Joker’s organization had been identified and prosecuted for having stored a 40,000 lb. load purchased by the Joker from Heilbrunn. That person was James Shedd who owned a barn in Ypsilanti Twp. just southeast of Ann Arbor where the load was stored. (Shedd had also previously been the manager of the Sidetrack Bar, a locally famous and historical place in Ypsilanti.) Shedd had refused a plea deal and would not identify the Joker. That stand may have been based more on compensation from the Joker than honor.

It became a personal challenge for me to identify the Joker. It was a matter of pride. The Joker was a huge marijuana dealer who had been operating in my territory with impunity.

There was an individual who had become disenchanted with the Joker’s enterprise and reportedly had a falling out. I decided to see what if anything I could learn from him that might identify the Joker.

Over the next several months, we periodically met for coffee. We talked about a lot of things: sports, politics and although nothing specific was discussed, drugs. Slowly I gained his trust. I explained to him I would never disclose his identity, and any information he provided would be reported in such a way as to not divulge his identity. At no time did he ask me about any payment for information nor did I offer him any compensation. We both understood if he were to provide information, it would be because it was the right thing to do.

We began to discuss some specific things regarding marijuana distribution in Michigan. In early 1989, I asked him if he could help me identify the Joker. His reply was, yes, he could help – he could tell me who the Joker was – he was James Hill.

I immediately began to investigate James Hill. I found that James F. Hill owned a house in an affluent part of Ann Arbor. He also owned a business in Ann Arbor, an ice cream shop on Main Street, “The Lovin’ Spoonful.” And he owned and lived on an 80-acre farm just west of Ann Arbor. Hill had a master’s degree from the University of Chicago. Hill had no criminal record except he had been arrested for a traffic violation in 1973. It was nothing serious, but there was an arrest photo.

I sent a copy of the photo to Indianapolis, and after seeing the photo several of cooperating witnesses identified James Hill as the person they knew as the Joker.

The FBI Ann Arbor Office

Indianapolis obtained an arrest warrant for Hill, aka, the Joker. Early the next morning we set up an arrest team at Hill’s farm. When he was observed leaving the farm, we arrested him and took him to the Ann Arbor FBI office. I explained to Hill that he had been identified as the Joker in a federal indictment from Indiana charging him with multiple drug trafficking violations, and he would be taken to Detroit to be arraigned. He would likely remain in custody until he was transported to Indianapolis. He didn’t really question anything and seemed to have expected to be arrested. He indicated he would be cooperative, but he didn’t want to be interviewed until he got to Indianapolis.

When the media learned of Hill/the Joker’s arrest at the arraignment, they wanted to know how he had been identified. Rather than say nothing and encourage speculation, I made a statement that one of the cooperating witnesses in Indiana had identified him which was partially true.

Hill was removed to Indiana and did cooperate. Tipper and Topper were identified as sisters, Jennifer and Patricia Hanlon of Ann Arbor. They later pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to six years.

In late 1989, the Heilbrunns lost their two-year fight against extradition and were returned to the US.

In  October 1990, Hill pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the Heilbrunns. In his plea agreement, Hill admitted to having received several 1,200 to 2,000 lb. shipments of marijuana starting in 1976. Then between March and November 1985, Hill received marijuana shipments of 18,000 lbs., 20,000 lbs., 40,000 lbs. and a pair of 2,000 lb. loads from the Heilbrunn organization. Hill said he made his last payment to Heilbrunn in 1986. By then he had paid the Heilbrunn organization about $20 million for more than 100,000 lbs. marijuana.

James Hill was sentenced to 20 years. Because he had pleaded to having run a Continuing Criminal Enterprise all of his assets were subject to forfeiture. The US District Court Judge said that Hill would have received harsher punishment if not for his cooperation.

In January 1991, Linda Leary also pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against her sons. She was subsequently sentenced to nine years.

There was no trial of the Heilbrunns. Paul and Richard pleaded guilty in April, and in July 1991, they were sentenced. Richard got 13 years. Paul, the King, who had also pleaded to CCE, received 28 years. Thus, ended the Heilbrunn empire.

To my knowledge no one ever learned the identity of the source who identified the Joker.

 

 

Stejskal: Unmasking The Joker

Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office.

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

In the Spring of 1989, a drama fraught with irony began playing out in Austria. A Jewish American family, a mother and her two grown sons, were fighting extradition to the US. About 50 years before, Jewish families were desperately trying to leave Austria for safe havens like the U.S.

The subjects of the extradition were Linda Leary and sons, Paul and Richard Heilbrunn. They fled to Austria from Indiana in anticipation of an indictment that was returned by a Federal Grand Jury in November, 1987. The indictment ran 136 pages and contained 53 counts variously charging 34 people. Paul and Richard were specifically charged with running a massive marijuana smuggling and distribution operation, legally termed a “Continuing Criminal Enterprise” (CCE). According to the indictment the ring operated from 1975 to 1985. It distributed more than 150,000 lbs. and took in more than $50 million in cash. The figures were subsequently revised upward to 250,000 lbs. and $50 to $100 million. It would prove to be the biggest marijuana ring ever prosecuted by the US.

Greg Stejskal

Greg Stejskal

Paul Heilbrunn was characterized as the ring leader of the enterprise. Testimony later depicted him as both respected and feared. He was referred to as “Melech,” Hebrew for king. Although Paul was a high school dropout, he was by all accounts a brilliant businessman. Prior to the indictment, he was believed to be a successful commodities trader in Indianapolis and wrote a column on trading for the local newspaper. He was a bon vivant who favored three-piece suits, frequented the finest restaurants and drove a top of the line BMW. He on several occasions rented jets and flew his friends to such events as the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball finals.

His older brother, Richard, on the other hand was described as a big Teddy bear. He lived on a farm and usually wore flannel shirts and jeans. Richard supervised operations while Paul was the CEO.

Their mother, Linda Leary, was twice married and divorced. She had kept the name of her second husband. Leary was prominent in the Indianapolis community. She was the head of the Indiana League of Women Voters and president of the local chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women.

Leary was also involved in her sons’ business ventures. An early venture was dubbed Heilbrunn and Friends, ostensibly it was a health food distribution business -a good front for marijuana distribution. The “friends” were high school buddies who had setup marijuana sales networks at colleges they attended. But soon the network was supplying customers outside the campuses in eleven Midwestern states. Most of the marijuana came by ship from Columbia, Jamaica and Thailand – an exotic global operation. It was then trucked to Indiana where it was stored in barns that were owned or rented by the Heilbrunn organization.

Paul Heilbrunn had structured the organization so that information stovepiped, that is, information moved up and down, but only flowed between members as was necessary. This limited what any member could divulge should they choose to cooperate with law enforcement.

Paul also had attorneys set up offshore corporations in the Bahamas and Panama to launder the proceeds from the marijuana operation. Linda Leary was designated as the head of several of these corporations. Much of the laundered money was transferred back into the US and used to fund loans often for Indiana businesses.

Read more »

Secret Service, Other Law Enforcement Prepared for Inauguration Day

secret serviceBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

With protesters and more than 800,000 people expected to attend Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Secret Service has a daunting job of keeping the president and public safe.

To prepare, the Secret Service, FBI, D.C. Metropolitan Police and numerous other law enforcement agencies have been training for this day for the past year, Circa reports. 

Law enforcement officers have been preparing for bomb attack, random public disturbances and active shooters.

“The planning and preparation for this one is better and more comprehensive than I’ve seen in the previous seven I’ve been involved,” said interim D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham.

So far, Newsham said there have been no “credible threats about terrorist incidents.”

“The one thing we’re not going to tolerate is anyone who’s going to come here with the intention of breaking the law.” 

FBI, Other Agencies Investigating Possible Russian Aid to Trump

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been investigating whether Russia secretly provided money to help President-elect Donald Trump win the November election.

Two sources familiar with the matter told McClatchy that investigators are trying to determine how money may have been moved from Russia to help Trump. 

Included in the investigation is whether some email hackers in the U.S. were covertly paid by the Kremlin.

Among those investigating are the FBI, CIA, NSA, Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and the director of national intelligence.

The agencies are investigating a few Americans “who were affiliated with Trump’s campaign or his business empire an of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections,” sources told McClatchy.

Obama Denies Clemency for Native American Convicted of Killing 2 FBI Agents

Leonard Peltier/photo from his website

Leonard Peltier/photo from his website

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

President Obama will not grant clemency to Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who was found guilty of killing two FBI agents during a shootout at a South Dakota reservation in 1975.

The president denied Peltier’s application for clemency, the Washington Times reports. 

The clemency was “not warranted,” the administration’s Office of the Pardon Attorney told Peltier’s attorney.

“Your client’s application was therefore denied by the president on January 18, 2017… Under the Constitution, there is no appeal from this decision,” the notice stated.

Peltier is 72 and seriously ill.

“We are deeply saddened by the news that President Obama will not let Leonard go home,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “Despite serious concerns about the fairness of legal proceedings that led to his trial and conviction, Peltier was imprisoned for more than 40 years. He has always maintained his innocence. The families of the FBI agents who were killed during the 1975 confrontation between the FBI and American Indian Movement (AIM) members have a right to justice, but justice will not be served by Peltier’s continued imprisonment.”

The FBI Agents Association President Thomas O’Connor  issued a statement:

The FBI Agents Association agrees with the decision of the Obama Administration to deny Leonard Peltier’s petition for executive clemency. In well over a dozen appeals, twice reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, every aspect of Mr. Peltier’s trial has been reviewed in detail. Mr. Peltier has never taken responsibility for his crimes while imprisoned.

Our thoughts today are with the families of FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, who were killed by Mr. Peltier in 1975.  The FBI Agents Association will continue to counter efforts by Mr. Peltier’s legal and public relations team to portray him as anything other than who Leonard Peltier really is: an unremorseful, cold-blooded killer. Mr. Peltier should remain in prison and not be shown a mercy he refused to offer to Agents Coler and Williams in 1975, and has denied to their families and friends over the past four decades.

I would like to thank FBIAA members, the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI and former FBI Supervisory Agent Ed Woods for their advocacy efforts against executive clemency for Mr. Peltier.

FBI: Fort Lauderdale Airport Shooter Says He Was Inspired by ISIS

Esteban Santiago

Esteban Santiago

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The 26-year-old man who killed five people and injured six more in a shooting at Ford Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport earlier this month told authorities the attack was inspired by ISIS.

During Esteban Ruiz Santiago’s bond hearing Tuesday, FBI agents testified that the military veteran said he spoke with other jihadis online before the shooting, Business Insider reports. 

What’s unclear is whether he was working directly with ISIS.

FBI special agent Michael Ferlazzo said Santiago maintained he was under some form of government control.

If convicted, Santiago could face the death penalty.

Wife of Orlando Mass Shooter Is Arrested by FBI for Aiding And Abetting

Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen.

Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The wife of the Orlando nightclub killer has been arrested by the FBI and charged with obstructing the investigation of the mass shooting.

Noor Salman, the wife of Omar Mateen, also was charged with aiding and abetting by providing material support, the New York Times reports. 

The FBI arrested Salman at her home outside of San Francisco.

Her husband killed 49 people and wounded dozens of others in an Orland nightclub on June 12, 2016.

After interviewing Salman for hours following the attack, the FBI believed she was being untruthful about her husband’s plans to carry out a mass shooting.

Salman is expected to make her first court appearance in federal court in Oakland, Calif., this morning.

One of FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives Is Captured in El Paso

Terry Strikland

Terry Strikland

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

One of the FBI’s 10 most wanted fugitives was taken into custody by the FBI on Sunday in El Paso.

Terry A.D. Strickland, 24, is accused of killing two men in Milwaukee and has been charged with two counts of first-deere homicide and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, the Associated Press reports. 

Prosecutors said Strickland fired a gun into a small crowd in front of a Milwaukee home on July 17 following an argument. Killed were Maurice Brown Jr., 38, and Michael Allen Reed, 39. 

“It was vicious,” Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said when Strickland was added to the FBI’s most-wanted list last month. “It was unnecessary. Neither individual posed the slightest threat to Mr. Strickland, but they paid with their lives for occupying the same space.”

Strickland abandoned his 18-year-old daughter and fled. But after receiving tips, the FBI found Strickland in El Paso.

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