Sleeper Cell Nightmare

We just observed the 8th anniversary of 9/11.
So much has changed since then. It was a watershed moment in American history and has had a profound effect on law enforcement. Priorities have changed; Federal state and local agencies are cooperating at unprecedented levels.
However, not all the effects have been positive. Politics, egos and hubris have come into play. One of the first victims of this Machiavellian landscape was Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Convertino and his successful prosecution in Detroit of a terrorist sleeper cell, U.S. v. Koubriti; et al. The conviction drew national attention and was hailed by the Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft as a great victory in the war on terrorism.
Then we entered bizzarro world.
Convertino was invited to appear before a Senate committee to discuss what he had learned about potential terrorists obtaining false identity documents and related matters from his prosecution of the sleeper cell case. Despite the fact that Convertino had developed expertise and knowledge, having successfully prosecuted the case, higher-ups in the Department of Justice, including the Detroit U.S. Attorney at the time, thought that they, not Convertino, should have the distinction of appearing before the Senate Committee.
Only thing was that the Senate Committee had specifically requested Convertino, and they issued a subpoena. Convertino could have arguably avoided the appearance, but he had a message, which he wanted to impart. He testified. By all accounts he represented the DOJ well, but egos were bruised and the snowball began to roll down hill. The DOJ initiated an internal investigation of Convertino based on what later proved to be inaccurate allegations of misconduct. These allegations were leaked to a Detroit newspaper by someone in the Detroit U.S. Attorney’s office.
In response to the published false allegations, Convertino filed a “whistle-blower” civil action naming the Attorney General and others as defendants. Ultimately Convertino was criminally indicted for supposed misconduct in the terrorist trial and related activity. Furthermore, DOJ dropped the charges in the sleeper cell case and the convictions were vacated. Those convicted terrorists remain free.
Convertino was forced to defend himself against the U.S. for whom he had been so proud to represent as a prosecutor. The basis of the indictment charging Convertino was there were photos taken by the government of one of sites that was targeted by the terrorists. A sketch of the target had been found in the terrorists’ apartment. It was alleged that Convertino was aware of these photos, but hid them from defendant/terrorists because they might be favorable to the defense. However, at trial the government was unable to show that Convertino knew the photos existed, and even worse, the photos probably would have been helpful to the prosecution because the site depicted in the sketch appeared to be the same as the one in the photos.
After about a three-week trial, and less than a day of jury deliberation, Convertino was acquitted, but not until he and his family were put through the public and painful ordeal of a criminal trial. I had retired from the FBI, and I agreed to help Convertino as an investigator pro bono.
During my career as a FBI agent, I worked with Rick on numerous cases, some of them high profile. Rick helped successfully prosecute the Detroit Mafia case in 1998. He was the lead prosecutor on the Washtenaw County gang case, which resulted in the destruction of gang factions in the Willow Run neighborhood of Ypsilanti Township . He also oversaw the investigation of Eddie Martin; et al. Martin ran a large “numbers” racket, & he had ties to some players in the University of Michigan basketball program. In all those cases and others, Rick demonstrated professionalism and upheld the highest standards of the Justice Department. To be sure Rick was an aggressive and combative prosecutor, but he never compromised his integrity in pursuing justice.
The acquittal in Rick’s case renews my faith in a system that I served for over 32 years. But that faith was badly shaken by these charges and the ” Alice in Wonderland” trial. Time has passed. But one question remains:
Where does Rick go to get his reputation back?

To contact Greg Stejskal write:

Listen To NPR’s “This American Life” Report On Convertino

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