Tom Diaz

Archive for the ‘undercover investigations’ Category

NAJIBULLAH ZAZI — A CLASSIC CASE OF THE MEDIA’S TERRORISM “NEWS” CYCLE

In bad manners, Crime, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, undercover investigations on September 25, 2009 at 2:03 pm
London Bus Bombing

Zazi Was Cooking Up Same Explosive Used in 2005 London Bus Bombing

“Those who talk don’t know.  And those who know don’t talk.”

Highly-Classified Aphorism.

It turns out that Inspector Clouseau might not have been in charge of the Zazi transit bombing plot investigation after all.

In fact — as Fairly Civil noted in the first posting on this case — there was every evidence for those with eyes to see and ears to listen that this was going to be a case of good investigation and timely preemption.  [Extended excerpts from court documents follow below in this posting.]

You would never have known that from the news media, which followed a by-now check-the-box predictable pattern.

PART ONE — MEDIA MOCK, MOCK

Since in intelligence matters, people who actually know what’s going on don’t talk, and the people who do talk, usually don’t know, the media is reduced to flailing about, looking for a “hook” to “advance” the story.

The general direction — with a few notable and commendable exceptions, such as J.J. Green of Washington’s WTOP radio station — is to treat the counter-terrorism forces as overzealous, and the suspects as innocent folk (just like you and me) being viciously “profiled” and “eavesdropped” on.

Bewildered head-scratching. Early on in every disrupted plot, the news media raise their collective eyebrows over the fact that the authorities didn’t actually catch anybody with a lit fuse

Harrumph!! Nothing actually went bang!

The unspoken premise is that these Keystone Cops, these clowns, are seeing phantoms.  Usually, some marginal or has-been politician can be found who will indiscreetly weigh in with a sound-bite.

The Denver Post, for example, ran with this bit from former Sen. Gary Hart:

Former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart said a Tuesday meeting with New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly left him doubtful that authorities have uncovered an al-Qaeda terrorist cell that was planning a major terrorist attack.

“He works very closely with the FBI. If he had just uncovered any major terror conspiracy I believe he would have told me,” Hart told The Denver Post on Wednesday. He met with Kelly in his role as vice chairman of the Homeland Security Council.

“We were talking about what we could do to better protect New York City,” Hart said.

Gosh, I know if I were police commissioner, I would just tell every random guy who had an appointment with me that terrorists were plotting to blow my city up. Especially former senators who as a general rule are real good at keeping their lips sealed.

Or not.

"Hard-working Cab Driver" -- Incidentally Interested in Making High Explosives

"Hard-working Cab Driver" -- Incidentally Interested in Making High Explosives

People, Can We All Get Along? The “human interest” angle usually pops up fairly early, too.  This is the part where the alleged terrorists are portrayed as brothers of all mankind, just trying to get along, being hassled by the profiler man.  Ode to Joy comes to mind.

The Denver Post, no doubt feeling the weight of having an actual accused terrorist right here in the mile-high city [!!], sent a byte-stained wretch into the field to dig out this stolidly obtuse bit of gullible local color:

The 24-year-old Aurora man at the heart of a national terrorism investigation is a hard-working cabdriver who regularly attends prayer services and is working to put down roots in the United States.

In interviews on the phone and at his condominium Tuesday, Najibullah Zazi denied any terrorist ties.

“Calling me an extremist. What does that mean?” Zazi asked. “I’m just normal. I pray five times a day. I observe Ramadan.”

Oh, well, pardon us for interrupting your busy day, sir.

Not to be outdone, The New York Times scrambled to follow the Denver paper and made it official with this late edition bit of sensitive reporting:

“I have nothing to do with this,” said the man, Najibullah Zazi, 25, who was reached by telephone in Colorado on Monday and Tuesday. “This looks like it’s going toward me, which is more shocking every hour.”

Well, I know I was shocked.  The Times’ “kicker” (ending bit) in the same story left us fairly sobbing with outrage at the horrid conditions those mean old profiling, rights-abusing agents left in the wake of their outrageous Queens raid:

At one raid site, a fifth-floor apartment on 41st Avenue, a tenant, Naiz Khan, spoke of Mr. Zazi, who stayed overnight there on Thursday. He said that he had barely spoken with Mr. Zazi on his recent visit but that they had been closer when they were students at Flushing High School. He said he was committed to helping the F.B.I.

“Anything they need, I will help them out,” Mr. Khan said on Tuesday, standing amid a messy jumble of belongings. “It’s my responsibility.”

That a man can rise to such selflessness, “standing amid a messy jumble” … well, it touches one’s heart.

News desk, get me a pissing match! The oldest, greasiest card in the journaliste pack-o-tricks is the [excuse my French] “pissing match.”

It’s a great way to fill a factual void.

Any beat reporter worth his or her salt knows how to start one of these.  Find an anonymous “source” from the party of the first part who will likely criticize the party of the second part.  Ask that person a clever question ["Say, what do you really think about the way the Second Department handled that search?"].  Take the answer ["Those idiots from 2D couldn't find their ass in the dark with a flashlight in both hands!"] to another “source” in the party of the second part for “reaction” ["Hate to bother you, but I think it's only fair to get your reaction to something I heard today from an official over in 1D"].

This is good for several days worth of “reportage.”

The New York Daily News sent the first hack out to stir this angle up:

Raids on three Queens apartments may have derailed a terror plot, but they caused a rift between the NYPD and FBI officials who wanted to get more evidence, sources said Tuesday.

Although the NYPD’s top spokesman denied a rift, sources said the FBI wanted to hold off to determine exactly what a Denver-based terror cell was planning.

A frenzy followed.

Look, maybe mistakes were made, but my experience has been after having interviewed many, many agents and officials who work in this area is that one can always find those who will criticize other agencies, but over the long run those working at the point of the spear pull together and put their differences aside.  I personally doubt very much that the JTTF is riven with “fissiparous tendencies.”

And by the way, if you want to see a snake pit of back-biting rifts, just visit any newsroom.  Talk about pissing matches.

And further by the way, precisely when would the journalistes — the editors and reporters — have moved against such a plot?  When would they interrupt bomb-makers?  And would they turn their backs on “aspirational” bombers, hoping that they would never become “operational” and actually blow something up?

Hmm, Maybe — But Just Maybe — They Have A Little Something Here. As more evidence emerges , the media fall back on ponderous ruminations that the plot was disrupted before the bumbling plotters were able to create a serious threat.  Curiously, that is not a good thing.  A popular variant is that the FBI (or other agency) undercover agents who infiltrated the cell of would-be terrorists were the true “motivating” force who pushed a bunch of innocent clowns along the road to perdition.

Thus, The New York Times reported that authorities, possibly, maybe, kinda-sorta had some proof:

The central figure in what authorities describe as a widening inquiry into a possible plot to detonate explosives in the United States had been trained in weapons and explosives in Pakistan and, according to court papers released Sunday, had made nine pages of handwritten notes on how to make and handle bombs.

But the paper-of-record felt compelled to add a bit more wee-wee match “tension” to the brew, and insert the ritual “the plot had not taken shape” clause:

In a sense, the case reflects the tension that has grown between intelligence and law enforcement agencies since the September 2001 attacks. Some intelligence officials are prepared to disrupt a group as soon as its activities are discovered, while more case-oriented law enforcement agencies seek to surreptitiously track or infiltrate a suspect group, uncovering all of its members, until there is compelling evidence to charge the plotters with a crime.

In this case, officials say, Mr. Zazi and his confederates were apparently deterred before any plot had a chance to take shape and before investigators were able to clearly understand what the men were planning. That left prosecutors to charge the three men with proxy offenses of making false statements rather than crimes directly involving terrorism.

This is wool-gathering pabulum.  If you think that there have been tensions between law enforcement and intelligence agencies “since the September 2001 attacks,” you should recall the real “Chinese Wall” that existed between them before that infamous date.

Holy S**t, Batman, This was real! Finally, comes acceptance.

Bad people really do want to hurt us.

Our counter-terrorism agencies really do catch many (one would hope most and wish all) of them before they can do us harm.

So, today, The New York Times grudgingly leads with the news that the case of Najibullah Zazi “may” be different.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, senior government officials have announced dozens of terrorism cases that on closer examination seemed to diminish as legitimate threats. The accumulating evidence against a Denver airport shuttle driver suggests he may be different, with some investigators calling his case the most serious in years.

Gosh, authorities must be gratified that the experts in the media now agree that this is serious!

Still, the paper can’t resist pulling lint out of the navel of so-called “aspirational” cases, those where nothing went boom because undercover agents defused the plot.  Buried at the very end of this pompous fugue of faux journalistic “expertise” in terrorism investigations is a typical media “J’accuse!” format: an agency’s “admission” with a “but” qualifier.

What could be more fair?

F.B.I. officials have admitted that such cases are “aspirational” rather than operational. But they note that if the Sept. 11 hijackers — some of whom were unsophisticated recent arrivals to the United States — had been interrupted early on, they might have looked amateurish and the notion that they could turn jetliners into missiles far-fetched.

PART TWO — FOR THE RECORD

So, what evidence does the government have?  Well, keeping in mind that prosecutors are not going to put on the table more than they need to, and using a bit of common sense and understanding about how real investigations (as opposed to media imaginings) actually work, the following is a bare minimum.  And chilling.

On the point of competence, if you read these filings (and others quoted in other posts) carefully, you will see several junctures at which judicial authorization was obtained.  These indicate that at those points the investigators had other evidence not cited here which persuaded a judge to approve the investigative steps.  In other words, 1 + 1 = 3.

These excerpts come from the indictment and a memorandum of law opposing release of bail in the case of United States v. Najibullah Zazi in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Docket No. 09-CR-663:

NAJIBULLAH ZAZI, together with others, did knowingly, intentionally, and without lawful authority conspire to use one or more weapons of mass destruction, to wit: explosive bombs and other similar explosive devices, against persons and property within the United States…

In furtherance of the conspiracy, Zazi received detailed bomb-making instructions in Pakistan, purchased components of improvised explosive devices, and traveled to New York City on September 10, 2009 in furtherance of his criminal plans….

A. Trip to Pakistan

Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) records show that on August 28, 2008, Zazi and others flew from Newark Liberty International Airport to Peshawar, Pakistan via Geneva, Switzerland and Doha, Qatar.  They traveled on Qatar Airlines Flight Number 84.

Zazi is associated with three email accounts (“Email Account 1,” “Email Account 2,” and “Email Account 3″) that were active during his time in Pakistan.  One of the accounts is directly subscribed to Zazi, and all three accounts contain slight variations of the same password.  The government will establish at trial that these accounts were used in furtherance of Zazi’s efforts to manufacture explosive devices.  Among other things, during a consent search of two of three of the accounts, agents found jpeg images of nine pages of handwritten notes containing formulations and instructions regarding the manufacture and handling of different kinds of explosives.  Based on email header information, these images had been emailed to Email Accounts 2 and 3 in early December 2008, while Zazi was in Pakistan.  As discussed below, the same notes were transferred onto ZAZI’s laptop computer in June 2009.

The notes contained specifications for, among other explosives, the explosive Triacetone Triperoxide (“TATP”), which is the explosive used in the 2005 London train bombings and intended to be used in the 2001 “shoe bomb” plot by Richard Reid.  The three components of TATP are hydrogen peroxide, acetone and a strong acid (such as hydrochloric acid).  The handwritten notes mention that acetone is found in nail polish remover and that hydrogen peroxide can be found in “Hair Salon – 29-30%.”  The notes discuss formulations for mixing hydrogen peroxide with flour, and list ghee oil as a type of fuel that can be used to help initiate the explosive device.

Zazi flew from Peshawar back to John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York (“JFK”) on January 15, 2009 aboard Qatar Airlines Flight Number 83.

B.  Research and Purchase of Explosive Device Components

Prior to traveling to Pakistan, Zazi lived in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York.  Within days of returning from Pakistan, Zazi moved to Aurora, Colorado.  Zazi resided with family members on East Ontario Drive in Aurora from January 2009 until the end of July 2009.  Zazi’s father, Mohamed Wali Zazi (“Wali”) moved from New York to Aurora in July 2009, and the two ultimately moved into a residence on East Smoky Hill Road in Aurora on or about July 31.

A lawfully-authorized search of Zazi’s laptop computer reflects that Zazi transferred the bomb-making instruction notes onto his laptop and/or accessed the notes on his laptop in June and July 2009.  The FBI’s search of the laptop also reflects that Zazi conducted several internet searches for hydrochloric acid during the summer of 2009, and “bookmarked” a site on two different browsers for “Lab Safety for Hydrochloric Acid.”  Zazi also searched a beauty salon website for hydrocide and peroxide.

During July and August 2009, Zazi and others associated with Zazi purchased unusually large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and acetone products from beauty supply stores in the Denver metropolitan area.  Surveillance videos and receipts reflect that on July 25, 2009, Zazi purchased six bottles of “Liquid Developer Clairoxide” from a beauty supply store in Aurora.  This product contains high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide.  The videos and receipts also establish that on August 28, 2009, Zazi purchased 12 32-oz bottles of “Ms. K Liquid 40 Volume” — another hydrogen peroxide based product — from the same store.  Records from a nearby hotel in Aurora reflect that Zazi checked into a suite in the hotel on the same day.  The suite included a stove.

The evidence will further establish that individuals associated with Zazi purchased unusual quantities of hydrogen and acetone products in July, August and September 2009 from three different beauty supply stores in and around Aurora.  One person purchased a one-gallon container of a product containing 20% hydrogen peroxide, as well as an eight ounce bottle of acetone.  A second person purchased an acetone product in approximately the first week of September.  A third person purchased 32-ounce bottles of Ion Sensitive Scalp Developer, a product containing high levels of hydrogen peroxide, on approximately three occasions during the summer of 2009.

C.  Travel to New York

On September 6 and 7, 2009, Zazi rented the same suite at the same hotel in Aurora where he had stayed on August 28.  The hotel surveillance camera captured Zazi checking-in to the hotel at 2:32 p.m. on September 6.  Subsequent FBI testing for explosives and chemical residue in the suite revealed the presence of acetone residue in the vent above the stove.  Importantly, the bomb-making notes contemplate heating the components in order to make them highly concentrated.

Also on September 6 and 7, Zazi attempted to communicate on multiple occasions  with another individual — each communication more urgent in tone than the last — seeking to correct [sic, probably "seeking correct"]  mixtures of ingredients to make explosives.  Included in the communications were requests related to flour and ghee oil, which are two ingredients listed in the bomb-making instructions.  Zazi repeatedly emphasized in the communications that he needed the answers right away.

A lawfully-authorized search of Zazi’s laptop computer reflects that the next day, September 8, Zazi searched the internet for locations of a home improvement store within zip code 11354, the zip code for the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York.  He then searched the home improvement store’s website for muriatic acid, which is a diluted version of hydrochloric acid and, as discussed, could constitute the third component of TATP, which is comprised of hydrogen peroxide, acetone and a strong acid like hydrochloric acid.  Zazi viewed four different types of muriatic acid.  He viewed one particular type — Klean Green Safer Muriatic Acid — multiple times.  This product claims to have lower fumes and is safer to handle than standard muriatic acid.

The same day as the home improvement store internet searches, Zazi rented a car.  The next day, September 9, Zazi started driving from Colorado to New York City, taking with him the laptop computer (which, as noted, contained the bomb-making instructions).  The car rental contract reflects that Zazi was supposed to return the car in New York on September 14, 2009.

Zazi arrived in New York on the afternoon of September 10 and traveled to Flushing, Queens.  Lawfully-authorized intercepts of Zazi’s cell phone reflect that Zazi became suspicious, and then learned directly, that law enforcement officers were tracking his activities.  Zazi ultimately purchased an airline ticket and returned to Denver on September 12.

Zazi spent the night of September 10 at a residence in Queens.  During the execution of a search warrant at the Queens residence, agents found, among several other items, an electronic weight scale in the closet.  The scale and batteries both contained Zazi’s fingerprints.  In addition, during a lawfully-authorized search of Zazi’s laptop, agents found the images of the handwritten bomb-making instructions discussed above.  Experts in the FBI’s explosives unit have opined that the scale would be suitable for performing several of the procedures outline in the instructions.  With respect to TATP, a scale such as the one recovered would be required to weigh the hydrogen peroxide and other precursor chemicals in determining the proper concentrations and ratios.  These procedures are outlined in the bomb-making notes.

After Zazi’s laptop was searched in New York, and after Zazi returned to Colorado with his laptop, agents executed a search warrant at his Aurora address.  Agents recovered the same laptop that had previously been searched and found that the hard drive had since been removed.

Richard Reid, Would-Be TATP Dancer, the Failed Shoe-Bomber

Richard Reid, Would-Be TATP Dancer, the Failed Shoe-Bomber

SUNSET BOULEVARD FOR AVENUES GANG — FEDS AND LA CITY ATTORNEY KEEP HAMMERING

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, undercover investigations on September 24, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Gloria Swanson as Faded Silent Movie Queen Norma Desmond (1950)

Joe Gillis (William Holden): You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.

Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson): I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

The notorious Avenues gang in Los Angeles is finding itself caught in a giant gang compactor.  The screen is not getting smaller.  The gang is.

A federal RICO (racketeering) indictment — handed up Thursday, September 17th and sealed until a massive raid was carried out Tuesday, September 22nd — named 88 members of the gang, which has an estimated 400 members in total.  That’s 22 percent of the gang in this round alone.

Among the crimes alleged in the current indictment is the August 2008 murder of 27-year old Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy Juan Abel Escalante.  Wholly aside from the moral degradation apparent in that tragic and ruthless murder of a father of three, it was a serious mistake by the gang’s genius bar.

The latest in a series of coordinated attacks on this violent criminal entity by federal law enforcement agencies and the City of Los Angeles have demonstrably affected the gang and its overlords, the “big homies” of the Mexican Mafia (EME) prison gang.  Although some of the faces have changed on the side of civil society, the new players are sticking to a well-honed game plan and putting unrelenting pressure of the worst of the gangs.  [The history of how that game plan developed is laid out in my latest book, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press, 2009).]

“THE TORCH HAS BEEN PASSED”

Unlike Many Contemporary Idealists, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy Clearly Understood the Threat of Organized Crimes and Was A Relentless Gang-Buster

Unlike Many Contemporary Idealists, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy Clearly Understood the Threat of Organized Crimes and Was A Relentless Gang-Buster

In concert with the federal indictment, the new Los Angeles City Attorney, Carmen Trutanich, has also filed 3 new civil abatement actions against the Avenues, under his office’s Project T.O.U.G.H. (Taking Out Urban Gang Headquarters).  These civil lawsuits ask for injunctions against owners of property in notorious use by gangsters, and demand that the properties undergo physical and managerial improvements.  The court is also asked for “stay-away” orders against known gang members named in the lawsuits.  These filings bring to 15 the total of such actions against the gang since an injunction was won in 2002 by former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.

On the federal side, Acting United States Attorney George S. Cardona is continuing to use the gang-busting RICO hammer that former USA Thomas O’Brien used to great effect.

Earlier posts of Fairly Civil laid out some of this civil action history in the context of the Drew Street clique (of which more below).  You can read those posts here and here.

Another excellent source on the history of the Avenues gang and its relationship to the Mexican Mafia can be found in Tony Rafael’s book, The Mexican Mafia.  Rafael (a non de plume) is reported to have a “green light” on him because of his research.  Here is what the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report wrote about him in 2006:

Whenever Tony Rafael leaves home, he carries a .45-caliber handgun nestled in a holster just below his armpit. A Cold Steel Recon-1 knife is stashed elsewhere on his person. Concealed weapons permits are hard to come by in Los Angeles County, but Rafael is a special case.

Okay, to each his own.  Other good sources are Chris Blatchford’s engaging profile of former (“flipped”) EME member Rene Enriquez, The Black Hand, and Mundo Mendoza’s Mexican Mafia: From Altar Boy to Hitman, available only in Word format on a CD-ROM.

But several things distinguish Rafael’s book in the context of this case.

First, as the SPLC Intelligence Report describes, Rafael was all over the EME-policy driven anti-Black murders by the Avenues gang and some other Latino gangs — at a time when the Los Angeles Times and other “main stream media” simply refused to admit that such things as local “ethnic cleansing” were happening and simply would not report on them (until federal indictments put the elephant on the news conference table).

Second, Rafael puts a well-informed finger right on the astoundingly obtuse Los Angeles media coverage in general about the Mexican Mafia and its suzerainty over Southern California Latino gangs, a dominance that is being consolidated and extended elsewhere in the United States (see this Fairly Civil post for an example).

In Yogi Berra’s inimitable words, “This is like deja vu all over again.”  In two lead stories in the Los Angeles Times on the law enforcement action, here and here, the Mexican Mafia was mentioned in one sentence! Moreover, the paper appears oblivious to the significance of the RICO law as a gang-fighting tool, instead focusing its coverage on “style section” type gangster and cop profiles, like a film noir script.  The federal investigative effort was key in this case — primarily from agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration working on the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, using Title III wiretaps among other sophisticated tools.

Given the media grey-out in Los Angeles, of all places, about the nature of gangsters and organized crime, it is no wonder that many probably well-intentioned activists still insist on seeing the gang problem only as the “disorganized crime” of marginalized youth.  (Of course, some less-than-well-intentioned are in the mix, and Fairly Civil will not need smelling salts if and when the public corruption indictments start coming down).

Of course, intervention, prevention, and spiritual redemption all have their place.

But nothing stops a violent criminal conspiracy like a RICO indictment.

Speaking of which, here are relevant and extremely informative excerpts from United States v. Aguirre, the case at hand.

The first section not only describes the history of the Avenues, but articulates the relationship between the Avenues and the Mexican Mafia, and the impact of the hammering the Drew Street clique took:

BACKGROUND OF THE AVENUES STREET GANG

2. The Avenues gang is a multi-generational street gang that was formed in the 1940s and claims the area roughly between Colorado Boulevard to the north, the 3200 Block of Griffin Street to the east, San Fernando Road to the south, and Drew Street to the west as its “territory” in Northeast Los Angeles. The Avenues gang has been divided into a number of smaller groups, or “cliques,” based on geography and associations in the neighborhood controlled by the gang. The original Avenues cliques were the Cypress Avenues, the Avenues Assassins, Avenues 43rds, and most recently the Drew Street clique. After its formation was formally authorized by the Mexican Mafia in August 2007, the Drew Street clique became the most active and violent clique within the Avenues gang and produced the most significant revenues for the Mexican Mafia from narcotics trafficking, robbery, the extortion of local business owners, “staged” car accidents, identity theft, and other crimes. Revenues in the form of “taxed” proceeds from the crimes of the organization were collected by Avenues leaders and paid to Mexican Mafia leaders who directed, and continue to direct, the activities of the Avenues gang from within the California State Prison system, in particular the California State Prison at Pelican Bay, California. In June 2008, the federal investigation and prosecution of the Drew Street clique of the Avenues gang dismantled the Drew Street clique and removed its leadership, in particular Francisco “Pancho” Real, Maria “Chata” Leon, and the Real/Leon family. After the federal indictment, Mexican Mafia leaders have attempted to re-organize and re-establish the  Avenues presence in Northeast Los Angeles by ending the “clique” divisions within the gang and naming new leaders of the Avenues gang, specifically defendants VELASQUEZ, RODRIGUEZ, and, later, SOLIS. Mexican Mafia leaders meet with Avenues gang leaders at California State Prison facilities and speak by telephone in order to instruct and direct the crimes of the Avenues gang, and to coordinate the collection of illegal proceeds from gang activity.

Following sections illuminate gang “culture,” including the key role of “tagging,” which some probably well-intentioned people prefer to see as the creative expressions of frustrated youngsters:

3. Avenues gang members generally identify one another through the use of hand gestures, or gang “signs.” They typically display the letter “A” for Avenues or the interlocking “L-A” for “Los Avenidas.” Members refer to one another as “skulls” and frequently wear the “Skull Camp” or “Skull Wear” brand clothing to identify themselves as members and associates of the Avenues gang. The clothing depicts images of human skulls in various forms, such as a human skull depicted as part of the logo for the Oakland Raiders football team and, oftentimes, the depiction of a human skull wearing a fedora hat, with a bullet hole in the side of the skull. Gang members also frequently wear baseball caps for teams such as the Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves, and Los Angeles Dodgers, whose team insignia includes an “A” or “L-A,” for Avenues and Los Avenidas. Gang tattoos, gang names, and slogans are also used to identify members and territory controlled by the gang.

4. The Avenues gang also uses spray-painted “tagging” to demonstrate its control of its neighborhoods to rival gang members and the local community. Gang “tagging” frequently appears on street signs, walls, buildings, and portions of the 110 Freeway, Interstate 5, and Highway 2 in the areas controlled by the gang. Members will also often use the number 13 in various forms (i.e., 13, X3, or XIII) to demonstrate loyalty to the Mexican Mafia (“m” being the 13th letter in the alphabet) and to signal that the gang has “sureno” (Southern California) loyalty. The letters “NELA” are used to identify Northeast Los Angeles gang members, and the number 187 is frequently used by the gang to take “credit” for a murder that has been committed by the gang. “Tagging” is used in this way to issue challenges to rival gang members and to communicate among Avenues gang members. More importantly, it is a public demonstration of the authority of the gang, because it not only identifies territory claimed by the Avenues gang to rival gang members, but also serves as a warning or means to terrorize members of the public and law-abiding residents of the neighborhoods with threats that the neighborhood is under the control of the Avenues gang.

Of course, the most innocent victims are the ordinary people who live in gang-infested neighborhoods.  It’s odd that “activists” often seem less concerned about these boringly “straight” people than the thugs who terrorize them:

5. Persons living in the neighborhoods controlled and “tagged” by the Avenues gang have had to live with the knowledge that they may be subject to violent retaliation, even death, if they try to remove or clean the gang’s marks from their buildings and homes or try to remove pairs of sneakers that are frequently thrown across telephone and power lines as a display of gang control of the neighborhood. Those actions would be seen as defying the gang’s authority and its control over the neighborhoods it has claimed. The gang’s tactics, which include wearing “Skull Camp” clothing, shaved heads, display of weapons, tattoos, “tagging,” and even posting items on websites, are designed to intimidate and terrorize the residents of the neighborhoods controlled by the Avenues gang. In addition, residents in the neighborhood have been attacked by Avenues gang members for maintaining security systems and cameras in the neighborhoods.

Confronting and murdering law enforcement personnel is not just an expression of “la vida loca.”  It is a violent manifestation of the gangs’ imperative to control territory, gauzily recalled by gangster advocates as barrio-love.

6. As part of the gang’s control over neighborhoods, Avenues gang members direct violent attacks against law enforcement officers and brag about those attacks in Internet communications. In particular, Avenues gang members and leaders post antagonistic attacks directed at law enforcement on Internet websites, such as “Fuck the police,” and mottos, including “Avenidas don’t get chased by the cops. We chase them.” As to the general public, Avenues gang members warn, “Avenidas don’t just hurt people. We kill them.” Threats of violence against law enforcement have been repeatedly demonstrated in armed attacks by Avenues gang members on law enforcement officers, including a February 21, 2008 attack in which Avenues gang members opened fire on Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”) officers with handguns and an assault rifle, and an August 2, 2008 attack in which Avenues gang members murdered Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Juan Escalante in front of his home in Cypress Park.

Here follows reference to the gang’s campaign against Africa-Americans, the subject Tony Rafael convincingly demonstrates in his book was … um … whited-out by the news media in Los Angeles:

7. The organization is also hostile to the presence ofAfrican-Americans in Avenues gang territory. Neighborhoods controlled by the Avenues gang are frequently “tagged” with racist threats directed against African-Americans that are intended to intimidate African-Americans and prevent African-Americans from living in the neighborhood. Avenues gang members also confront African Americans with threats of violence and murder in order to intimidate and prevent African-Americans from residing in or entering neighborhoods controlled by the Avenues gang.

Oh, yeah, did we mention drug-trafficking?  This is the core of the organized criminal enterprises that gangs have morphed into since the sepia-toned days gang “advocates” are stuck in. Most gangsters today are workers inthe drug sweat shops, while the “big homies,” “shot callers,” and drug lords” live lives of filthy wealth.

8. The Avenues gang is continually engaged in the distribution of cocaine base in the form of cocaine, crack cocaine (“crack cocaine”), methamphetamine, heroin and other narcotic drugs. In particular, Avenues gang leaders obtain narcotic drugs and control the distribution of narcotic drugs by providing “street-level” distribution amounts (typically a few grams of crack cocaine at a time) to numerous gang members and associates in the area controlled by the gang. Avenues gang leaders, in turn, collect extortion payments, referred to as “taxes” or “rent,” from drug traffickers in the neighborhood. Avenues gang members also extort payment from persons who live and maintain businesses in the area controlled by the gang under threat of physical violence, including the threat that individuals who do not adhere to the gang’s demands will be “green-lighted” by the Mexican Mafia, that is, they will be targeted for murder. The authority to collect “taxes” represents an elevated position within the gang, one that is authorized by the Mexican Mafia leaders as a “shot-caller.” The “shot-caller” who has authority to collect “taxes” may then delegate the responsibility for collections to other gang members under his authority.

What makes this all work?  Guns.  The militarization of the U.S. civilian firearms market in the 1980s (assault weapons) and the rise of high-capacity semi-automatic pistols was the wind under the wings of the criminally consolidating gangster empires.

9. Avenues gang members maintain a ready supply of firearms, including handguns, shotguns, automatic assault rifles, and machineguns, in order to enforce the authority of the gang. Such weapons typically are stolen or unregistered, so that their use cannot be readily connected to the gang member who either used the weapon or maintained it. Weapons often are discarded or destroyed after having been used to commit acts of violence on behalf of the organization. Therefore, gang leaders frequently need to maintain a source of supply for additional unregistered or non-traceable firearms. The Avenues gang also controls the activities of its members and enforces its authority and internal discipline by killing, attempting to kill, conspiring to kill, assaulting, and threatening its own members or others who would present a threat to the enterprise. Avenues gang members and associates typically continue to plan and execute crimes even after arrests and during periods of incarceration, by telephone calls from inside detention facilities, prison notes (known as “kites”) and meetings among inmates within an institution, where they coordinate offenses to be carried out within the institutions and upon their release from custody.

More on gang “culture” — youth programs, activities for women, and neighborhood “work”:

10. Leaders of the Avenues gang recruit and initiate juveniles to join the gang and direct them to commit acts of violence and drug-trafficking crimes on behalf of the gang. New members frequently are recruited through their participation in a younger “tagging” unit or from a different sect of the larger organization. New members ordinarily are then “jumped in” to the gang. This initiation process ordinarily requires that the new member is physically beaten by senior, established members of the gang and must demonstrate his resilience during the beating. The new member is then expected to put in “work” for the gang, which includes the distribution of narcotics, “hunting” rival gang members,  posting up” in the neighborhood (acting as a “look-out”to alert members to the presence of law enforcement), and “tagging” in the neighborhood.

11. Females are commonly disparaged and addressed derisively in the gang. However, female members and associates play a vital role in the operation of the Avenues gang and its relationship with the Mexican Mafia. Female associates are frequently active in narcotics trafficking, weapons distribution, the maintenance of cellular telephones, and the collection and transfer of “tax” payments and narcotics proceeds. Female associates are frequently relied on to smuggle narcotics into the state penitentiaries and provide cellular telephones to gang members in and out of custody. Female associates also play an integral role in directing and maintaining communications within the organization, in particular, communications with incarcerated gang members and leaders of the organization, as well as the distribution of collected drug proceeds and “taxed” payments from the neighborhood.

12. Avenues gang members enforce the authority of the gang to commit its crimes by directing acts of violence and retaliation against non-compliant drug-traffickers and rival gang members, as well as non-compliant members. Gang members frequently destroy surveillance cameras installed in the neighborhood pursuant to court orders and to protect the neighborhood from the crimes of the Avenues gang. Avenues gang members also commonly threaten witnesses whom they suspect might testify or provide information to law enforcement about the crimes committed by the gang, or other public officers, such as school teachers or fire department officers who might come into conflict with the goal of the Avenues gang to control and terrorize the neighborhoods in Northeast Los Angeles.

Here is a tutorial on the relationships between EME and the Avenues:

MEXICAN MAFIA AUTHORITY FOR THE AVENUES

13. The Avenues gang is loyal and committed to the “Mexican Mafia,” also known as “La Eme.” The Mexican Mafia is a prison gang that was organized within the California State Prison system in order to control and direct the activities of Southern California street gangs. “Made” members of the Mexican Mafia have assumed authority for different regions in Southern California. Typically, a “made” member is an inmate within the California State Prison system and exercises his control and direction over the region from within the state prison facility where he is housed. The Mexican Mafia leaders issue directions and orders, including orders to kill rival gang members, members of law enforcement, and members of the public, which are referred to as “green-lights.” Those orders are to be executed by Avenues gang members and are understood by Avenues gang members as opportunities to gain elevated status within the organization or potentially become a “made” member of the organization.

14. The Mexican Mafia has established rules to govern acts of violence committed by local street gang members, including Avenues gang members. The Mexican Mafia thus requires Avenues gang members to adhere to protocols for the conduct of violent attacks, narcotics trafficking, and murders, including the issuance of “green light” authorizations for murder. Failure to adhere to Mexican Mafia rules can lead to the issuance of a “green light,” directing an attack on the offending member, or the requirement that money be paid. “Green lights” are also frequently issued in retaliation for a perceived “disrespect” to a Mexican Mafia leader, to punish the unauthorized collection of “tax” payments in a neighborhood controlled by the Avenues gang, or to sanction individuals who traffic in narcotics without the gang’s authorization or without paying the required tax to the Avenues and Mexican Mafia.

15. Mexican Mafia and Avenues gang members and associates regularly exploit prison visits, telephone calls, policies concerning letter-communications with attorneys, and prison monetary accounts in order to generate income from narcotics trafficking and other crimes of the enterprise, so as to promote the criminal enterprise and direct the operation of the Avenues gang from within the California State Prison system. Mexican Mafia leaders also require weekly payments from prisoners incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail system.

16. Avenues gang leaders extort money from local drug traffickers, members of other gangs, prostitutes, residents, and persons who maintain businesses in the area controlled by the gang. A portion of the “taxes” collected by the Avenues gang leaders is then paid to the Mexican Mafia leadership incarcerated within the California State Prison system. Avenues gang members also raise funds for the organization by conducting armed home invasion robberies, in which they target individuals believed to maintain large sums of cash or valuables in their homes.

LEADERSHIP OF THE MEXICAN MAFIA

17. Currently three Avenues gang members are also validated Mexican Mafia members. They are Mexican Mafia Member #1, Mexican Mafia Member #3, and Alex “Pee Wee” Aguirre, and they have authority over Northeast Los Angeles, which is the territory controlled by the Avenues gang. The Mexican Mafia members use Mexican Mafia leaders and associates, including defendants RUDY AGUIRRE, JR., RICHIE AGUIRRE, RUDY AGUIRRE, SR., and P. CORDERO, to communicate orders and authorizations to Avenues gang leaders and members, and to receive information about the activities of the Avenues gang.

LASD Deputy Juan Abel Escalante, Father of Three, Allegedly Murderd by Avenues Gangsters

LASD Deputy Juan Abel Escalante, Father of Three, Allegedly Murderd by Avenues Gangsters

NAJIBULLAH ZAZI CASE GETS SPOOKIER — FEDS GIVE NOTICE OF FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE PROTECTIONS

In bad manners, Crime, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, undercover investigations on September 22, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Never Forget

Never Forget

Enigmatic Quote for Today

The native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought;

And enterprises of great pitch and moment,

With this regard, their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

Prosecutors in the case of the suspected transit-bomber Najibullah Zazi have served notice in the federal court in Denver that they intend to use provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) that will protect sensitive information from public disclosure.  [See later post here with more filings.]

What follows is an overview of some of the relevant filings, law, and controversies around FISA.

The Government’s Notice

The United States of America … hereby provides notice to defendant Najibullah Zazi and to the Court , that pursuant to Title 50, United States Code, Section 1806(c) and 1825 (d), that [sic] the United States intends to offer into evidence, or otherwise use or disclose in any proceedings in the above-captioned matter [United States v. Najibullah Zazi], information obtained and derived from electronic surveillance and physical search conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (“FISA”), as amended, 50 U.S.C. SS 1801-1812 and 1821-1829.

“Notice of Intent To Use Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Information,” United States v. Najibullah Zazi, U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Docket No. 09-cr-03001-CBS, September 21, 2009.

Different Views of FISA

Law enforcement, intelligence community view:

Virtually all counter-terror and counter-intelligence agents in the United States regard FISA and its various amendments as essential to their work:

FISA has since its enactment been a bold and productive tool in this country’s fight against the efforts of foreign governments and their agents to engage in intelligence-gathering aimed at the U.S. government, either to ascertain its future policy or to effect its current policy, to acquire proprietary information not publicly available, or to engage in disinformation efforts. With the enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act FISA has been expanded and broadened to make it a useful tool in exposing and combating foreign terrorist groups’ efforts to target the United States.

James G. McAdams, III, “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA): An Overview,” Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, March 2007.

ACLU View

The American Civil Liberties Union — not surprisingly — has a much different view of FISA:

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), born after the Watergate scandal, establishes how the government can secretly eavesdrop on Americans in their own country in intelligence investigations. It was originally passed to allow the government to collect foreign intelligence information involving communications with “agents of foreign powers.”

On July 10, 2008, President Bush signed the unconstitutional FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), supposedly aimed at “updating” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Unfortunately, the law meant to “update” FISA instead gutted the original law by eviscerating the role of the judicial oversight in government surveillance. The law also gave sweeping immunity to the telecommunications companies that aided the Bush administration’s unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping program by handing over access to our communications without a warrant. On the same day the FAA was signed into law, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

This is not the first time that Congress has undermined FISA. The USA Patriot Act, passed in 2001 and re-authorized in 2006, amended FISA to make it easier for the government to obtain the personal records of ordinary Americans from libraries and Internet Service Providers, even when they are not suspected of having connections to terrorism.

Congressional leadership has promised to address the issues surrounding the FISA Amendments Act before it sunsets in 2012 during the 2009 debate over reauthorization of USA Patriot Act provisions. Until then, the ACLU will fight in the courts to block the law from taking effect.

More information about the ACLU’s lawsuit to block the FAA is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/spying/fisa.html.

How Often Is FISA Used?

An annual report to Congress from the Justice Department contains statistics about FISA use, as well as discussion of some of the topical issues surrounding it. Here are the statistics:

During calendar year 2008, the Government made 2,082 applications to the Foreign Surveillance Court (hereinafter “FISC”) for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and physical search for foreign intelligence purposes. The 2,082 applications include applications made solely for electronic surveillance, applications made solely for physical search, and combined applications requesting authority for electronic surveillance and physical search.

During calendar year 2008, the FISC approved 2,083 applications for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and physical search (two applications filed in calendar-year 2007 were not approved until calendar-year 2008). The FISC made substantive modifications to the Government’s proposed orders in two of those applications. The FISC denied one application filed by the Government during calendar year 2008.

Letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich, Office of Legislative Affairs, to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, May 14, 2009.

Some of the Statutory Provisions

For the wonks still with us, here are excerpts from the basic law.  There are many more provisions that should be reviewed to get a complete understanding, which eludes even the most nimble legal minds in Washington and Kabul, but these seem most relevant to the moment:

50 U.S. Code 1806

(c) Notification by United States

Whenever the Government intends to enter into evidence or otherwise use or disclose in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, or other authority of the United States, against an aggrieved person, any information obtained or derived from an electronic surveillance of that aggrieved person pursuant to the authority of this subchapter, the Government shall, prior to the trial, hearing, or other proceeding or at a reasonable time prior to an effort to so disclose or so use that information or submit it in evidence, notify the aggrieved person and the court or other authority in which the information is to be disclosed or used that the Government intends to so disclose or so use such information.

50 U.S. Code 1825

(d) Notification by United States

Whenever the United States intends to enter into evidence or otherwise use or disclose in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, or other authority of the United States, against an aggrieved person, any information obtained or derived from a physical search pursuant to the authority of this subchapter, the United States shall, prior to the trial, hearing, or the other proceeding or at a reasonable time prior to an effort to so disclose or so use that information or submit it in evidence, notify the aggrieved person and the court or other authority in which the information is to be disclosed or used that the United States intends to so disclose or so use such information.

§ 1801. Definitions

As used in this subchapter:

(a) “Foreign power” means—

….

(4) a group engaged in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefor;

(b) “Agent of a foreign power” means—

(1) any person other than a United States person, who—

(C) engages in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefore…

(f) “Electronic surveillance” means—

(1) the acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any wire or radio communication sent by or intended to be received by a particular, known United States person who is in the United States, if the contents are acquired by intentionally targeting that United States person, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes;

(2) the acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any wire communication to or from a person in the United States, without the consent of any party thereto, if such acquisition occurs in the United States, but does not include the acquisition of those communications of computer trespassers that would be permissible under section 2511 (2)(i) of title 18;

(3) the intentional acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any radio communication, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes, and if both the sender and all intended recipients are located within the United States; or

(4) the installation or use of an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device in the United States for monitoring to acquire information, other than from a wire or radio communication, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes.

§ 1821. Definitions

(5) “Physical search” means any physical intrusion within the United States into premises or property (including examination of the interior of property by technical means) that is intended to result in a seizure, reproduction, inspection, or alteration of information, material, or property, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes, but does not include

(A) “electronic surveillance”, as defined in section 1801 (f) of this title, or

(B) the acquisition by the United States Government of foreign intelligence information from international or foreign communications, or foreign intelligence activities conducted in accordance with otherwise applicable Federal law involving a foreign electronic communications system, utilizing a means other than electronic surveillance as defined in section 1801 (f) of this title.

Excerpts from Title 50, Chapter 36 — Foreign Intelligence Surveillance at Cornell University Law School website.

Alas, Poor Yorick

Alas, Poor Yorick

THE CASE AGAINST TERROR SUSPECT NAJIBULLAH ZAZI–FBI AFFIDAVIT REVEALS ELEGANT WORK

In bad manners, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, undercover investigations on September 20, 2009 at 12:27 pm
Victim of 2005 London Transit Bombings

Victim of 2005 London Transit Bombings

Najibullah Zazi just learned a golden rule.

Never, ever lie to the FBI.

Zazi, the principal local suspect in the ongoing and unfolding international terrorism investigation that came into public view with raids in New York last week, has been charged with making false statements to the FBI.  So has his father and another person. The thrust of the alleged plot seems to be that Zazi and others may have been cooking up a transit bombing somewhere in the United States similar to those in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005.

2004 Madrid Train Bombing

2004 Madrid Train Bombing

A few self-critical kumbaya speeches have not and cannot erase the threat from radical forces who hate the United States and want to make things go bang here.

A careful reading of the affidavits filed in support of criminal complaints and arrest warrants reveals that — as usual in such cases — the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, and without a scintilla of doubt, the U.S. intelligence community know a lot more about Mr. Zazi than has been publicly revealed. The U.S. Department of Justice is spooling out just enough rope to arrest and detain Zazi and his alleged co-conspirators.

The government is, of course, not going to reveal all of its sources and methods, but it is pretty clear that we have come a long way from September 11, 2001.  Our counter-terrorism investigators are reading the labels on some of the bad guys’ underwear. [See details of later government filings in posts here and here.]

Zazi’s pitiful attempt to lie his way out of his possession of handwritten notes about bomb-making — in the context of a mother lode of backpacks and a scale useful for mixing bang-bang chemicals –are central to the false statement charge.  In brief, Zazi claimed in interviews with the FBI that he unintentionally downloaded the instructions from a “religious book” [must be an interesting religion, what?] and immediately erased the book when he saw that it discussed jihad.  But various means of intelligence revealed that he actually emailed the damning instructions to himself.

Oops.

London Transit Bombing 2005

London Transit Bombing 2005

What follows is an excerpt from the FBI affidavit filed in Colorado.  Keep in mind that Zazi is, of course, entitled to his presumption of innocence at law, and that the evidence the government refers to in this affidavit is certainly not all of the evidence in its possession.  Moreover, this is no doubt a holding action as the investigation continues. [The complete affidavits can be downloaded from the U.S. Department of Justice website here.]

EXCERPTS FROM AFFIDAVIT OF FBI AGENT IN SUPPORT OF CRIMINAL COMPLAINT AND ARREST WARRANT IN UNITED STATES V. NAJIBULLAH ZAZI

United States District Court for the District of Colorado, September 19, 2009

15. On or about September 11, 2009, FBI agents conducted a legally-authorized search of the defendant ZAZI’s rental car, which was parked near the Queens residence. During the search of the car, a laptop computer was found containing a jpeg image of nine-pages of handwritten notes (the “handwritten notes”). The handwritten notes contain formulations and instructions regarding the manufacture and handling of initiating explosives, main explosives charges, explosives detonators and components of a fuzing system.

16. Rental records reflect that the defendant ZAZI was supposed to return his rental car in New York on September 14, 2009. However, on September 12, 2009, the defendant ZAZI flew from La Guardia Airport in Queens, New York to Denver, Colorado.

17. On or about September 14, 2009, FBI agents executed a court-authorized search warrant on the Queens residence. Among other items, the FBI seized a black scale containing several double A batteries. Fingerprint testing revealed that the defendant ZAZI’s fingerprints were found on both the scale and the batteries.

ZAZI’s FALSE STATEMENTS

18. On or about September 16, 2009, the defendant ZAZI was interviewed by members of the JTTF at the FBI [sic] in Denver, Colorado. The defendant ZAZI had voluntarily appeared at the offices of the FBI and agreed to answer questions. During this interview, the defendant ZAZI was questioned about, among several other topics, the handwritten notes found on his computer. During the interview, the defendant was show the handwritten notes. The defendant stated that he had never seen the document before. He further stated that if the handwritten notes was [sic] found on his computer, he must have unintentionally downloaded it as part of a religious book he had downloaded in August 2009. He stated that he had immediately deleted the religious book within days of downloading it after realizing that its contents discussed jihad. He stated that he had not handwritten the notes.

19. During the same interview, the defendant was asked about his email accounts, and listed three accounts, including an account known to law enforcement (“Account A”). The investigation has determined that the password for Account A is a nine-digit number.  The investigation has revealed the existence of two email accounts known to law enforcement (“Account B” and “Account C”). A search of Account B registered to a “Kado Khan,” reveals that another email account known to law enforcement (“the originating account”) sent a message to Account B with the handwritten notes included as an attachment on or about December 2, 2008. The password for the email account is the same nine-digit password at [sic, probably "as"] the password for Account A. A search of the Account C, registered to a “kado gul” in Peshawar, Pakistan, reveals the originating account also sent an email with the handwritten notes as an attachment to Account C on or about December 3, 2008. Account C can be opened with a six-digit password that has the same first six digits of the passwords for Accounts A and B. Based on the similarity of addresses and identity of passwords, I believe that the defendant controlled Account A as well as Accounts B and C, both of which received the handwritten notes by email on early December 2008.

20. The document was analyzed by a handwriting expert from the FBI who said that, although a final conclusion could not be made until the expert examines the original document, the expert was able to assert that there were characteristics common to both the document found on the defendant ZAZI’s computer and the defendant’s handwriting exemplars. An FBI agent without training as a handwriting expert, who was able to compare the handwriting notes with the original handwriting exemplars stated that it appeared to be consistent with the handwriting as it appeared in the document.

Pentagon, September 11, 2001 -- Never Forget, Never Forgive

Pentagon, September 11, 2001 -- Never Forget, Never Forgive

“SNITCH” MANAGEMENT — LOOKING AT INFORMANTS THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, PART ONE

In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on September 18, 2009 at 9:18 pm

neighborhoodwatchgrafitti

Confidential informants are like the black hole of the criminal justice system.

Ellen Yashefsky, Benjamin Cardozo Law School, quoted in Aubrey Fox, “Delving the Murky World of Police Informants,” Gotham Gazette, February 20, 2008.

It is rarely possible to guess accurately from what corner the informer will emerge.  For this reason, a delicate relationship, little understood by the public, exists between law enforcement officials and individual members of the underworld.  These men we hunt down are always possible allies who may come over to our side for some consideration of sentence, for some promise to protect their wife or family.  My attitude has been to use any means available to cut narcotic violations to a minimum, and where criminals or addicts will cooperate with us to that end I will deal with them…Whether he comes voluntarily or because he is shown that it is his best way out, whether it is a one-time deal or a source of inside information that may continue for months, the informer provides the solution for ninety-five percent not only of narcotic offenses but of all types of crime.

Harry J. Anslinger and Will Orsler, The Murderers (New York: Avon Books, 1961), pp. 121-122.

Informants are more than mere witnesses to crime and are less than law enforcement officers.

John Madinger, Confidential Informant: Law Enforcement’s Most Valuable Tool (Washington, DC: CRC Press, 2000), p. 12.

“No informant, no case.”

That aphorism has become almost universally accepted among investigators of racketeering and drug crimes.  But some doubt it.

Harry J. Anslinger believed in the value of informants, as the quote above demonstrates.

Harry J. Anslinger

Harry J. Anslinger

Anslinger — the other J. Edgar Hoover — was the first Commissioner of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics.  Although the rap is variously pinned on Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan, Anslinger was the original architect of the American war on drugs.  Some of his prose on the evils of marijuana is … entertaining … to say the least.  (“Google” him if you are interested.  This is a more or less family-friendly blog.)

Every street cop, federal agent, and prosecutor battling the toxic corrosion of the illegal drug trade–and its local retailers, street gangs–also knows the value of the informant.

‘’The big secret of detective work is that you’ve got to get somebody else to tell you what happened,’’ NYPD Lt. John Cornicello told The New York Times in 2006.

However, some federal investigators suggest that the brutal discipline, cellular structure, and tightly held core of Mexican drug trafficking organizations has diminished the value of “flipping” lower level criminals and — through them — working the investigation up to the bosses.  These people suggest that the interception of communications — wiretaps and other techniques — has become more important in the law enforcement tool box of “sophisticated techniques of investigation.”

Here is the central problem of informants against the Mexican DTOS, according to this view:  Lower level members of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations in the United States (i.e., your quiet Latino neighbor in Cleveland, Atlanta, or Conshohocken, whose well-trimmed lawn and unexceptional home is a stash house, packed with dope for redistribution to local gangs and thence up the nose of America’s addicts) typically clam up tightly when busted.  After all, they have family members who can be easily whacked or tortured back in Mexico.  Moreover, they generally are isolated in specialized cells, and know little to nothing about the rest of the organization.  Flipping them is difficult and usually yields little useful information, some seasoned agents say.

Be that as it may, court records and news reports teach that the use of informants is still central to the investigation of many criminal enterprises, including transnational gangs.  And although communications intercepts may be the key to making cases against the Mexican DTOS, informants here and in Mexico are still important.

Fairly Civil will wander through this world of informants over a series of posts, beginning with this one.  These posts will examine the value of informants in actual criminal cases, and some of the issues that critics consistently raise.

The Long History of Informants

Modern civil libertarians and the criminal defense bar tend to criticize the use of informants as an insidious and relatively new creature of the war on drugs.

In fact, informants have been used since at least Biblical times.  The transactional equation (“you give me information, I give you special treatment”) is the same now as it was then:

The House of Joseph, for their part, advanced against Bethel, and the Lord was with them.  While the House of Joseph were scouting at Bethel … their patrols saw a man leaving the town.  They said to him, “Just show us how to get into the town, and we will treat you kindly.”  He showed them how to get into the town; they put the town to the sword, but they let the man and his relatives go free.

Judges (Shofetim) 1: 22-26, Tanakh (Philadelphia:  The Jewish Publication Society, 1985).

Recent court filings — e.g., a corruption case involving a senior ICE official, federal racketeering (RICO) cases against MS-13 in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the pursuit of an injunction by police officers in St. Louis — illustrate the vast range of differences in the uses and abuses of snitch management within the American law enforcement system.

Given the utility of informants — and the fair assumption that most law enforcement officers and prosecutors want to use informants to fight crime and put criminals in jail — the use of informants raises three classes of interesting issues:

  • Keeping informants alive.
  • Managing informants and their information to ensure that they are reliably transmitting valid information and not wrongfully implicating innocent persons.
  • Law enforcement policy management issues about the impact of informants on the administration of justice, particularly in communities where they are heavily used.

This post will focus on the problem of keeping informants alive.

Keeping Informants Alive

If you decide to embark on a life of crime, there’s one very important thing that you should know, and that thing is everyone is a potential informant against you — your wife, your mother, your brother, your lawyer, anyone you’ve ever worked for or worked with and anyone who has ever worked for you.

Chris Mather, Crime School: Money Laundering (Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2004), p. 101.

Gangsters know the value of the informant — an endangered species also known in the underworld as the “rat,” the “stool pigeon,” and the “snitch,” among other epithets.   The thought that one’s homey or carnal may be cooperating with law enforcement is a tiny live wire wound through the brains of the “shot callers” and “big homeys” of every  Latino gang.  That little wire carries a buzzing current of paranoia and suspicion.  “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain,” Prince Hamlet observed upon learning of his own mother’s duplicity.

Not infrequently, paranoia overcomes reality.  Gangsters innocent of cooperation have nevertheless suffered the misfortune of being whacked without proof, much less probable cause.  Call it intuition gone awry.

Some who suffer unjust accusation from their fellow gangsters are driven into the  arms of law enforcement.  [I write about several such cases in No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press 2009).]

To give the devil his due, however, it is also true that gang leaders often seek what they call “paperwork” — some kind of official evidence — corroborating that a suspected homey has in fact “flipped” before giving a “green light” to have him (or her, as in the case, e.g., of notorious MS-13 informant Brenda Paz) murdered.

“They usually try and get paperwork on people that they say that they’re snitching or they said something to incriminate somebody,” a member of the Columbia Lil’ Cycos clique of the 18th Street gang explained in testimony during a federal racketeering trial described in No Boundaries. “And once they get the paperwork, they place a green light on the person.”

One of the better places to find such evidence is in the files of the “discovery” material that our system of justice requires be given to persons accused of crime.  Gangsters and their lawyers comb through this material in search of the identity of informants.

“The homeboys know the legal system better than most lawyers,” FBI Special Agent Carl Sandford told we when I was researching No Boundaries. “They use the rules of discovery and evidence in criminal cases to get ‘paperwork’ concerning who the rats are.”

In fact, the murder conspiracy in which Los Angeles anti-gang activist Alex Sanchez is accused of participating as a secret MS-13 shot-caller revolves about the accusation of one gangster — Walter Lacinos –  that another was a rat.  Lacinos provided “paperwork” to document his accusation.  But, according to transcripts of a government wiretap in the case, MS-13 shot-callers submitted the paperwork [apparently some kind of court document] to the Mexican Mafia for the gangster version of forensic analysis.  The decision came down that Lacinos’s “paperwork”  was fake (it included at least one forged page).  This led to considerable intra-gang ill will and Lacinos was eventually whacked in El Salvador.

A Working Example:  United States v. Cerna

A current example of how this cat and mouse game of sussing out informants might work is provided in the ongoing RICO case brought against a number of MS-13 gangsters in San Francisco, United States v. Cerna.

The trial court recently ruled on a number of pre-trial motions.  The following excerpt describes one of the defendant’s attempts to find out the names of certain informants:

[One of the defendants] argues that defendants have a need for disclosure because the informants were participants in ‘critical events’ at issue in this case.  He lists several ways in which the informants are referenced in discovery or the indictment. Informants 1211 and 1218 provided law enforcement with information about MS-13’s operations, leaders and members. Informants 1211 and 1218 attended MS-13 meetings with defendants which support the RICO conspiracy counts against them. Informant 1211 told the authorities about meetings with [certain] defendants … where various crimes were discussed. Informant 1218 attended meetings with [certain] defendants … [and] also discussed the buying and selling of narcotics with [another] defendant and provided authorities with information about a violent crime allegedly committed by [other] defendants…[etc., etc.]

“Omnibus Order Re Stage Two Motions,” United States v. Cerna, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Docket No. CR 08-0730 WHA, filed September 16, 2009.

The court ruled that the defendant had shown enough to require the government to come into a closed conference in the court’s chamber [in camera] — without the defendants or their lawyers — as described in this part of the ruling:

An in camera hearing is therefore justified. The hearing will be held ex parte, with only judicial staff, prosecutors and witnesses present, in order to protect the identity of the informants. A defendant for whom the threshold showing has been made as to a particular informant … may submit written questions regarding that informant to the Court and opposing counsel three days before the hearing.

The Court orders an in camera evidentiary hearing to determine whether to allow disclosure of the confidential informants’ identities. The government is ORDERED to produce at the hearing one or more witnesses with knowledge of the relevant informant’s identity and role in the investigations of this action.

This all sounds tidy, secure, and appropriately solicitous of the informants’ well-being.

Gangsters and cartels have their own ways of doing things, however.  For example, corrupting law enforcement officials who can provide them with the names of informants by accessing law enforcement databases.

The Case of Richard Padilla Cramer

Allegedly Corrupt Law Enforcement Officer -- Not A Mexican, But a Senior U.S. DEA Agent

Allegedly Corrupt Law Enforcement Officer -- Not A Mexican, But a Senior U.S. DEA Agent

The affidavit in support of a criminal complaint in the case of United States v. Cramer alleges that a recently retired senior ICE agent stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico was selling lists of informants to Mexican drug traffickers while he was an ICE agent.  It is charged that Cramer also became a major investor in several large shipments of cocaine.  In fact, he was supposedly urged by his DTO pals to retire so as to become an investor in dope.

According to court documents, erstwhile-Agent Cramer was exposed when a  DTO operative ["CS--2"] “flipped”:

After being arrested, CS-2 provided the law enforcement officers with copies of printouts of the results of database run in several law enforcement databases, including four DEA database queries, two criminal history queries, one ICE database query, and two State of California law enforcement database queries … CS-2 also stated that these law enforcement inquiries were from a U.S. Federal Agent stationed in Mexico named “Richard.”  CS-2 also stated that the DTO utilizes Richard to make inquiries into members of the DTO to confirm that they (the members of the DTO) are not working as informants for various law enforcement agencies.  Richard was later identified through this investigation as Richard Padilla CRAMER, a former ICE agent stationed in Mexico until his retirement in or about December 2006 or January 2007 … It was later learned that CRAMER utilized his law enforcement position to persuade DEA agents to run DEA database queries under the guise of an active drug investigation.  Further investigation with DEA agents who were stationed in Mexico revealed that CRAMER was stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico and was known to ask to have database checks run on various subjects … CRAMER was responsible for advising the DTO how U.S. Law Enforcement works with warrants and record checks as well as how DEA conducts investigations to include “flipping subjects” and making records checks.

Affidavit in support of Criminal Complaint in United States v. Cramer, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Docket No: 09-3178-White, filed August 28, 2009.

This would be a shocking case if it were not for the fact that it is only the latest in a string of cases in which square-jawed minions of law and order on “our side” of the border have been shown to be just as rotten as all those contemptible “corrupt officials” on the other side.

It reminds one of the lyrics of the old cowboy music song by Jim Ed Brown: “I was looking back to see if you were looking back to see if I was looking back to see if you were looking back at me.”

The difference, of course, is that an outed informant is a dead man walking.  And not for long.

MORE EXPLAINING TO DO — IS THROWING A GANG SIGN EVER JUST A JOKE?

In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on August 25, 2009 at 6:24 pm
Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde") Throwing Devils Horns Gang Sign

Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde"), Left, Throwing Devil's Horns Gang Sign in 1999

The two men in the picture above could be fans of the University of Texas Longhorns.

Like the two men in the picture below — former President George W. Bush and University of Texas strength and conditioning coach Jeff “Mad Dog” Madden –  they could be expressing support for the University of Texas Longhorns football team by flashing the famous “hook ‘em horns” sign.

George_W._Bush_and_Jeff_Mad_Dog_Madden

President George W. Bush and University of Texas Coach Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden Flash "Hook 'Em Horns" Sign

Or not.

DR.JEKYLL_AND_MR.HYDE___31_The man on the left in the photo at the top of this post, Alexander (“Alex”) Sanchez, also known as “Rebelde” according to the government, is accused in a federal racketeering (RICO) indictment of  being a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — saintly “anti-gang activist” by day, foul-mouthed, murder-conspiring boss (shot-caller) of the transnational MS-13 gang by night.  (“Rebelde” means “rebellious” when used as an adjective, and “rebel” when used as a noun.)

Here is how a government pleading in the criminal case sums up this aspect of the charges against Sanchez:

Sanchez is alleged to have been an influential leader, known as a shotcaller, of the Normandie clique of Mara Salvatrucha since the mid-1990s. In that role, which he never abandoned despite working at the anti-gang organization Homies Unidos, he profited from the gang’s narcotics trafficking and regular extortion rackets.

But what about the photo of Sanchez at the Golden Gate Bridge?  The following paragraphs come right after the same government pleading’s discussion of the contents of international wiretaps of Sanchez that were described in the last posting of Fairly Civil:

The government has also recovered photographic evidence of Sanchez’s double life during the execution of search warrants in 2001 and 2003.  For example, FBI agents executing a search warrant at the home of Rebecca Quezada, aka “Laughing Girl,” in February 2001 recovered two photographs of Sanchez that provide further physical evidence of Sanchez’s ongoing participation in MS-13 while working at Homies Unidos. (A copy of the two photographs are attached as Exhibit C).

In the first photograph, which was found on a 2000 calendar that featured a poem by Sanchez, Sanchez is depicted in his public role, standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge with two other men at an anti-gang conference in San Francisco in 1999.  In the second photograph agents recovered [the one posted above], however, Sanchez is standing in the same spot in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in the same clothing with one of the same men on what is clearly the same occasion.  In the second photo, however, Sanchez and the other man are displaying the hand sign for MS-13.  This hand gesture, which is frequently encountered by law enforcement in photographs of and drawing and graffiti by MS-13 members, is universally recognized as the gang sign for MS-13 and is never made in peace.  This photograph, along with numerous other photographs showing Sanchez at parties with leaders of MS-13, are physical evidence that Sanchez has never renounced his membership in MS-13.

Government’s Response to Defendant Alex Sanchez’s Motion for Pretrial Release, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-466-MLR.

This photograph of the “anti-gang worker” throwing the MS-13 gang sign long after his supposed “conversion” suggests that Alex Sanchez has more explaining to do.  Is he is is, is was, or is ain’t? (Or, for another version of the same old song, try this link.)

Here, for example, are MS-13 gang members in Central America “throwing” the infamous gang sign, which is known as the devil’s horns:

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

Here are some other instances of the MS-13 gang sign being recorded in public.  (“Fool’s names and dog’s faces often appear in public places.”)

MS-13 Gangsters "Throwing" Devil's Horn Gang Sign

MS-13 Gangsters "Throwing" Devil's Horn Gang Sign

MS-13 Graffiti Incorporates Devil's Horn and "Crossing Out" of Number 18, Showing Disrespect for Rival 18th Street gang

MS-13 Graffiti Incorporates Devil's Horn and "Crossing Out" of Number 18, Showing Disrespect for Rival 18th Street gang

It’s interesting to note that Sanchez and the other man (who appears to be identified as “Laughing Boy” in an inscription that accompanies the second photo) are flashing the gang sign right in the heart of Norteno country, the Northern California territory over which the prison gang Nuestra Familia claims sovereignty.  Most Latino street gangs in Northern California acknowledge fealty to Nuestra Familia, describe themselves as generically “Nortenos,” and affect the number “14″ (for “N,” the 14th letter of the alphabet) — or combinations of numbers totaling 14 — in clothing and graffiti.

Southern California gangs like MS-13 are with few exceptions loyal to EME (Spanish for the letter “M”), the Mexican Mafia.  (The 13 in MS-13 signifies the gang’s public expression of fealty to EME, the 13th letter of the alphabet.)

Nuestra Familia and EME have been at war for decades after a failed attempt at union.  Likewise, Sureno gangs loyal to the Mexican Mafia (EME) are at ceaseless war with Nuestra Familia’s Norteno gangs.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

Depending on the planet upon which one spends most of one’s time, one might argue that (a) Sanchez and his friend are not throwing a gang sign but are UT fans like George W. Bush,  (b) are just horsing around, mocking the old life, or (c) the FBI created the picture in a laboratory in Area 51.

But “just goofing around” with their hand sign is not something gangsters are likely to tolerate.  FBI analyst Don Lyddane wrote about the following cautionary incident in an edition of the United States Attorneys’ Bulletin devoted to gang prosecutions:

Several years ago, a young lady attended a dance-concert in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She enjoyed the band so much that she leaped onto the stage to dance with the band. While dancing she gestured in sign language, “I love you,” over and over. She did not realize that her gestures were almost identical to the Latin King hand sign. Several Latin King members who were on the dance floor observed her “I love you” gesture and perceived it as a blatant disrespect to the Latin King and Queen Nation. She surely did not realize that they planned to kill her. Her innocent gestures cost this woman her life. Her murder was subsequently solved as part of a gang conspiracy investigation of the Latin Kings by the FBI Safe Streets Task Force in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Donald Lyddane, Intelligence Analyst, Safe Streets and Gang Unit, FBI Headquarters, “Gangs and Gang Mentality: Acquiring Evidence of the Gang Conspiracy,” in United States Attorneys’ Bulletin, May 2006.

HOW COULD THIS BE?

Sanchez’s supporters flatly reject the government’s claim that he has been a secret shot-caller.

Funny, CIA Agent Aldrich Ames Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

Funny, CIA Agent Aldrich Ames Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

This is to be expected.  Revelations of double lives understandably evoke responses from those who have been gulled along the lines of, “There must be a mistake (or a plot) because this just can’t be true.  I’ve known so-and-so for X-number of years, and I never saw any sign of anything like that.  I know his good works and they show he is a good man — he would never do a bad thing.”

And yet recent history offers numerous examples of persons who led truly shocking double lives, including double agent spies, con men in the financial world, and even other boldly duplicitous “anti-gang workers” in Los Angeles.  They demonstrate that it is indeed possible to fool others, even in cases in which exacting mechanisms to detect precisely such duplicity are in place.

Funny, He Doesn't Look Like a Monster

Funny, He Doesn't Look Like a Monster

Ryan Jenkins. If you can stand “reality TV” and pop crime, take the case of “Reality TV Star” Ryan Jenkins, who was suspected of murdering his ex-wife, Jasmine Fiore. After a few days of flight and an international manhunt, Jenkins apparently committed suicide by hanging himself in a motel closet. Unless he was doing a David Carradine, this is not a sign of innocence. Flight in and of itself is generally evidence of a guilty mind.

But these bits from the UK’s Telegraph sum up the understandable resistance of Jenkins’s parents to the awful implications of the totality of facts — i.e., that their son was a murderous monster:

Fiore’s dismembered body was found 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles on August 15. Her teeth had been pulled out and her fingers cut off, apparently to impede her identification. Investigators identified her by the serial numbers on her breast implants.

Jenkins’ mother, who lives in Vancouver, refused to accept he killed Fiore. Nada Jenkins said in a brief telephone interview Monday that she’s sure the evidence will eventually prove his innocence.

“He was good, he’s kind and we need to clear his name,” she said, weeping.

Okay, perhaps citing the credulity of grieving parents is not fair.  How about cold-eyed intelligence professionals who are precisely and regularly warned to be on the alert for double agents?  Can they be fooled?

Mon00 Spy Nat KRT

Funny, She Didn't Look Like a Double Agent

Ana Belen Montes. You may have never heard of Ana Montes, but her career as a double agent for the intelligence service of Fidel Castro’s Cuba was breathtaking.  Montes rose to the top of the ranks of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).  When she was finally taken down, Montes was within hours of receiving a full briefing on the U.S. war plans for the attack on Afghanistan after the 9/11 disaster.  It’s not hard to figure out where that information would have gone if it had got into the hands of the Cubans.  Fairly Civil highly recommends True Believer (Annapolis:  Naval Institute Press, 2007) a slim volume by Scott W. Carmichael, the DIA counter-intelligence officer whose keen suspicions finally brought Montes down.

What is striking is that Carmichael had to work feverishly against the assumptions of Montes’s peers and superiors alike, not to mention the FBI’s Washington Field Office.  They at first refused to believe that a long-term, outstanding career employee like Ana Montes, with no ties to Cuba (her family was Puerto Rican), could be such a treacherous spy.  Sound familiar?

Here are a few salient quotes from the work:

Ana Montes … operated for sixteen years with impunity, becoming the U.S. government’s top intelligence analyst on Cuba at the same time she was reporting to the Cuban government.  She not only passed on U.S. secrets to Cuba but also helped influence what we thought we knew about Cuba. (p. viii.)

Ana’s supervisors at the DOJ [her previous employer] offered glowing recommendations…One called her an absolutely outstanding employee.  Another said she was one of the best employees their office ever had.  She was described as diligent, conscientious, highly productive, creative, and professional in her behavior and attitude. (p. 55)

There was also the matter of her security clearance.  Only 15 percent of Americans prosecuted for espionage during the modern era held the highest level of security clearance when they began spying.  That level is Top Secret clearance with access to sensitive compartmented information…That meant she had been screened, vetted, investigated, and judged by competent federal authorities to be a responsible U.S. citizen worthy of the government’s trust…[she] routinely accessed a great deal of sensitive compartmented information throughout her normal workday. (p. 41)

I do wish that spies would paint great big glowing, gooey globs on their foreheads for easy identification.  Green ones, perhaps.  It would certainly make my job much easier.  But spies do not do that.  Ana Montes certainly didn’t.  She simply slipped through the fog, never calling attention to herself for a moment.  And so she got away with espionage for a long time.  (p. 155)

Gosheroonie, Kids, FBI Agent David Hanssen Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

Gosheroonie, Kids, FBI Agent David Hanssen Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

The shock was so great for Montes’s loyal co-workers and friends that special counselors were brought in to help them work through the emotional trauma, the psychological wounds inflicted by her deep betrayal.  “Their initial reaction to the news was predictable and universal:  shock and disbelief.” (p. 131)

Of course, Ana Montes is not the only such spy eventually winkled out of the country’s most secret enterprises.  For informed summaries of more such stories, go to this link.  But the point here is that cold-blooded double agents — whose work costs the lives of truly loyal and faithful men and women — can evade even the most sophisticated screening and vetting.   The loyal followers of Alex Sanchez, to put it bluntly, have only a rudimentary “vetting” process to rely on.

There is another point worth learning from the Ana Montes case.   She was able not only to steal secrets but to influence the views of the U.S. government about Cuba.  If Alex Sanchez was truly a secret shot-caller, from his perch as saintlike “anti-gang worker” he too was able to influence a vast community’s views about Latino gangs, MS-13 in particular, and gangsters.

Okay, Maybe Hector Marroquin (In  Black) Did Kinda, Sorta Look Like a Double-Dealing Gangster

Okay, Maybe Hector ("Big Weasel") Marroquin (In Black) Did Kinda, Sorta Look Like a Double-Dealing Gangster

Hector Marroquin. Finally, there is the precedent of the case of Hector Marroquin, in outline an analog of the Sanchez case.  “Big Weasel” Marroquin represented himself as a “reformed” 18th Street gangster, successfully milking the city of “gang intervention and prevention funding.”

Here is a summary from The New York Times, a newspaper of record that actually writes from time to time the details of the peculations (as opposed to the adulation) of Los Angeles’s violent Latino gangsters:

The director of an antigang organization here that sought to reduce gun violence and received $1.5 million from the City of Los Angeles pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges that he sold illegal assault weapons to a federal undercover agent.

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested the director, Hector Marroquin, in May after video surveillance showed him selling weapons and silencers to an agent and an informant. The weapons included a MAK-90 and a Ewbank, both semiautomatic assault rifles, and a M-11, a smaller assault weapon that is like an Uzi, said Eric Harmon, who prosecuted the case.

“Here is a guy who represented himself to the city as being a former gang member helping others to get out of gangs,” said Gary Hearnsberger, head of the Hardcore Gang Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, “and he is convicted of selling illegal weapons as a side business.”

Mr. Marroquin, 51, pleaded guilty to three counts of possessing and selling assault weapons and was sentenced to eight years in prison. His companion, Sylvia Arellano, 26, was named as an accomplice in the sales and also pleaded guilty. She is to be sentenced on Tuesday to four years in prison.

Rebecca Cathcart, “Director of Antigang Group Sold Illegal Assault Weapons,” The New York Times, January 19, 2008.

This is the cue for an acolyte of Sanchez to exclaim to the Los Angeles Times, “Wait a minute!  I knew Hector Marroquin, and Alex Sanchez is no Hector Marroquin.”

Possibly.

That’s why we have criminal trials.

Here is my very favorite observation on Marroquin, from the authoritative blog “In the Hat,” summing up the effect of “Big Weasel” Marroquin’s post-reformation career (go to the link for more detail about the “Big Weasel”):

Marroquin has basically been shoved down the throats of gang cops by their commanders for years as a person they should work with to quell gang violence and divert young people from the life.

Is any of this sounding familiar?

ALEX SANCHEZ HAS GOT SOME EXPLAINING TO DO

In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on August 23, 2009 at 6:48 pm
Supporters' View of Alex Sanchez, Indicted and Accused of Leading a Double Life as Public "Anti-Gang Worker" and Secret MS-13 "Shot-Caller"
Supporters View Alex Sanchez as a “Peacemaker,” Even Though He has Been Indicted and Accused of Leading a Double Life as Public “Anti-Gang Worker” and Secret MS-13 “Shot-Caller”

“And we have said it, we go to war.”

Alex Sanchez, aka “Rebelde”

Transcript of May 6, 2006 Recorded Conversation, “Government’s Supplemental Submission Re: Intercepted Telephone Conversations of Defendant Alex Sanchez,” Exhibit D, p. 24, filed in United States v. Jose Alfaro, U.S. District Court, Central District, California, Docket No.: CR-09-00466-R.

“When the facts are against you, pound the law.  When the law is against you, pound the facts.  When both the facts and the law are against you, pound the table.”

Trial lawyer maxim.

The United States dealt a Royal Flush from its deck of evidence against Alex Sanchez the other day at a continued federal bail hearing.  The  executive director of the transnational anti-gang group “Homies Unidos” has been charged in a sweeping indictment with racketeering, including conspiracy to murder.

The government’s brief on the bail question makes it clear that prosecutors are doling out only the minimum necessary to keep Sanchez locked up.  There are more aces in the government’s deck.  They will be played before Sanchez’s trial is done.

Latest Wiretap Evidence Leaves Alex Sanchez as a Man With Has Some Explaining to Do
Latest Wiretap Evidence Leaves Alex Sanchez as a Man With Some Explaining to Do

At a minimum,  the latest hand — four wiretap transcripts and the accompanying explanatory affidavit of LAPD Detective Frank Flores, a nationally recognized expert on MS-13 — has shifted the case heavily against the putative “peacemaker.”

Alex Sanchez is now in the position of a man with some explaining to do.

On its face, the record of these calls shows Sanchez to have been a man very much in charge during  a series of angry, profanity-laced international conversations among MS-13 gangsters.  He repeatedly identified himself as among the gang’s members.  He was also so identified by other gangsters during the calls.  Sanchez acted like a leader, not least because he treated other gang members with flashes of imperial and sometimes physically expressed anger that would likely get anybody but a shot-caller promptly whacked for showing disrespect.

The blow-back from Sanchez’s credulous supporters has been fierce.

An exercise in agitated table-pounding — what advocates do when the facts and the law are against them — is taking shape in a series of thinly-veiled collateral media attacks on key players and components of the law enforcement and judicial system that brought Sanchez and his alleged homies before the federal bar.

The Background

O that once more you knew but what you are!
These fifteen years you have been in a dream,
Or when you waked, so waked as if you slept.

Wm. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

No one disputes that Alex Sanchez was once a member of MS-13 and is a convicted criminal.  According to the government’s “response” to Sanchez’s motion for pretrial release (bail):

Sanchez has a lengthy criminal history, with convictions that demonstrate his propensity to violence, his capacity for deception, and his disregard for the law.  Defendant has sustained felony convictions for grand theft, witness intimidation, and felon in possession of a firearm; misdemeanor convictions for DUI, vehicle theft, and vandalism; and juvenile convictions for possession of a firearm by a juvenile felon, assault with a deadly weapon with great bodily injury, and petty theft.

Okay, so nobody’s perfect.

And that was then, this is now — according to the Sanchez hagiography.  Supposedly, the admittedly violent gangster turned his back on the past.  After his felonious re-entry into the United States following deportation in 1995, Sanchez won asylum with the backing of  radical activist and aging enfant terrible, Tom Hayden.   He assumed his public role as iconic anti-gang worker and eventually became executive director of Homies Unidos.

That redemption was called called into question when a federal grand jury named Sanchez as one of two dozen defendants in a racketeering (RICO) indictment unsealed on June 24, 2009.  The grand jury charged Sanchez with — among other things — being a secret leader (“shot-caller”) of the Normandie Locos, one of the earliest and most virulent “cliques” of the transnational criminal gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).

In Happier Times, Sanchez Enjoyed A Saintly Aura Comparable to that of Mothere Teresa
In Happier Times, Sanchez Enjoyed A Saintly Aura Comparable to that of Mother Teresa

The shock was palpable.  Sanchez has achieved a rank only a hair short of Mother Teresa’s on the sainthood scale, at least in the universe of Latino gang good works:  intervention, prevention, and rehabilitation.  (See earlier posts here and here for more background on the indictments and the charges against Sanchez.)

Yet, in spite of scores of supporting letters, demonstrations like the one pictured above, and exertions of his counsel, Alex Sanchez remains in the federal lockup.  After reviewing the latest evidence and hearing the arguments of both sides, on August 11th U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real continued the earlier decision of U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia G. Rosenberg denying Sanchez bail and set a new hearing for October 19th.

WHY?

Alex Sanchez Arrested: Dear FBI, WTF???!

From the blog WitnessLA, “the online source for daily coverage of social justice news.”

Indeed.  What is going on here?

Supporters’ Charge:  A Conspiracy So Vast

“Today we experienced disappointment,” said Homies Unidos board member Monica Novoa, stepping up to the microphone with a quivering voice after Judge Alicia G. Rosenberg’s decision to deny Sanchez bail. “But we are not defeated. We know this affects all of us because we are all Alex Sanchez.”

“Supporters stand behind activist with alleged ties to MS-13 gang,” Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2009.

What’s going on is clear to Sanchez’s dead-end supporters — a government lynch mob the likes of which have not been seen since the infamous Sleepy Lagoon murder trial of the 1940s has trumped up a scandalously weak case against Sanchez.

Lashing out in a classic example of argument by mere assertion (i.e., without specific factual underpinning), the likes of Hayden have not only dug the Sleepy Lagoon murder out of its moldering grave, but reached back to the notorious LAPD Rampart scandal.  And because this case was investigated by a task force led by the FBI, it has also become necessary to go beyond the local cops and darkly infer that somehow that premier federal agency (and all other agencies involved in the task force) has gone into the tank.  The conspiracy is so vast that it must now involve not only these law enforcement agencies, but the federal grand jury, Chief of Police William Bratton, the United States Attorney, Thomas O’Brien, federal attorneys from his office and Washington, a federal magistrate and a federal district court judge. Just for starters.  Like The Truman Show, this conspiracy involves pretty much everybody but the central actor.

The purveyors of this conspiratorial view have been aided by an oddly passive “main stream media” in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times, for example, has virtually ignored the numerous details of the allegations against Sanchez, in spite of a crush of documentary material easily available in the Sanchez docket at the Federal Court house.  One would think that — given the depredations of MS-13 and the rock star admiration of Sanchez — the home town newspaper would be all over this story like ink on print.

One would be wrong.  Since the original story of Sanchez’s bail denial in June, the Los Angeles Times has restricted its coverage to:

  • a fulminating op-ed attack on Chief William Bratton written by Tom Hayden (“Bratton’s exit opens the door to questions of conflict of interest,” August 13, 2009), and
  • a curiously timed news-like attack on Judge Manuel L. Real (“Critics want to bench Judge Manuel L. Real: He is 85 and has sat on the U.S. District Court bench in L.A. since 1966,” August 16, 2009.)  In addition to being in the age range of several sitting Justices of the United States Supreme Court, Judge Real is apparently a man who brooks no foolishness, having once shut down a lawyer by stating, “This isn’t Burger King. We don’t do it your way here.”

barney_frank1It might be understandable if someone in authority simply quoted Rep. Barney Frank in response to these darkly paranoid rumblings, to wit, “On what planet do you spend most of your time?” (Please understand, this question of defense by impugning assertions is a different question than Sanchez’s factual guilt or innocence of the charges.  That’s why we have criminal trials, not opinion polls or kumbaya love-ins to resolve these cases.)

In fact, the government has taken the high road.  It argues that Sanchez’s deception of his acolytes makes the matter especially insidious:

Those who support defendant cannot be faulted for doing so with the fervor they have shown; defendant has operated in support of Mara Salvatrucha all along, without their knowledge, while accepting their support.  This makes him the worst possible danger to the community — a person in a position of trust who has abused that trust, and whose loyalty to MS-13 will assure that he continues to do so.

The Government’s Case

Unlike the poetic scribblings of Sanchez’s supporters on placards, conveniently timed newspaper “thumb-suckers,” and the pages of The Nation magazine, the federal government has to produce actual evidence to support its arguments.

I doubt that many of Alex “Rebelde” Sanchez’s supporters have actually read the 93 pages of transcripts of the four international wiretaps involving him that were filed with the court.  No doubt his lawyers and inner circle would prefer that they not be too widely circulated.  The substance of these conversations (beyond a stunning command of profanity) is a lengthy argument among the leaders of the Normandie Locos clique about the grounds to murder a gang member named Walter Lacinos — who actually turned up dead in El Salvador shortly after these discussions reached their obvious conclusion.

I have indeed read them and — taking care to assert once again that Sanchez is entitled to a presumption of innocence at law — am  compelled to these several points:

  • The dog that does not bark. Sanchez does not talk or act like a “peacemaker” during these calls.  Whatever innocent interpretation his lawyers will no doubt attempt to hang on his words, what is strikingly absent is any attempt by Sanchez at reconciliation, at discouraging the “homeboys” from continuing along the path of discussions that quite obviously can only end in a decision to “green light” Lacinos (authorize his murder).  There is no turning of the other cheek here.
  • The “What is the meaning of ‘is’?” problem. What benign interpretation of Sanchez’s statement “We go to war” is anything short of laughable in the context of these calls?  The conversations are full of angry, profane, violent talk about assassins and hit men allegedly sent by Lacinos to whack Sanchez and his home boys.  Sanchez and others repeatedly  express their need and willingness to defend themselves against Lacinos, and indeed, toward the terrible end of these talks, it is apparent that their purpose is to take the fight to him in El Salvador.
  • The other sleeping dog. At no point in any of these extended phone calls does Sanchez distance himself from characterizations by others of his being there as part of the “clique,” i.e., as a gangster.  On the contrary, at several points he describes himself as part of the clique.  Wouldn’t one reasonably expect (to use the folksy example by assertion that Hayden likes) Sanchez to speak up and say something like, “Well, now, hold on, guys, you know I have left the gang life.  I am now trying to discourage you men from acting like a bunch of foul-mouthed murderous thugs!  Can we all get along?”
  • The command presence. In marked contrast to the silence of the sleeping dogs, Sanchez’s firm and purposeful voice weaves through these calls like that of an experienced commander.  Time and again, when others wander off to gather wool in anecdotal recollection or befuddled irrelevancies, Sanchez forces the conversation back to the subject at hand, resolutely pushing forward his agenda against Lacinos.  The others repeatedly defer to him, even when he snatches things from their hands and yells at them.

The expert affidavit of LAPD Det. Frank Flores ties the transcripts of these conversations together into a coherent picture of an extended corporate decision-making meeting, the purpose and end result of which was murder.

More to Come

As noted at the top, the government makes clear that it has a good deal more evidence to present when appropriate in its case-in-chief.

It would be astonishing if it did not.  One does not indict Mother Teresa — or Alexander Sanchez — without a lot of confidence that one can prove one’s case.

In this instance, it is certain that the government has the cooperation of erstwhile MS-13 insiders — flipped “rats” and others.  According to its pleading, “the government will also present the testimony of multiple witnesses, not all of whom are cooperating witnesses testifying in hopes of a reduced sentence.  These witnesses will testify to their personal knowledge of Sanchez’s ongoing participation in the affairs of MS-13.”

Perhaps Sanchez has a good answer to this mounting evidence.  If so, he better start explaining.

The good plea bargains tend to dry up fast.

SHOW DOWN IN LOS ANGELES–THE ALEX SANCHEZ/MS-13 CASE

In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on August 10, 2009 at 9:49 pm
Alex Sanchez

Alex Sanchez

A document filed today (August 10, 2009) in the federal district court for the Central District of California provides an interesting glimpse into the breathtaking scope of the latest racketeering case against Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), and its alleged Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde,  anti-gang activist Alex Sanchez.

Sanchez is accused of being a secret “Big Homie” (gang parlance for major boss, “shot caller,” whatever.)

Members of the self-styled “anti-gang activist” community are still recovering from the stunning — yes, an overused word, but appropriate in this case — indictment of  Sanchez, executive director of Homies Unidos, a transnational anti-gang organization.

I don’t know how you say “Ghandi” in Spanish, but Sanchez — an acknowledged former MS-13 gang member said to have reformed –  achieved something of Ghandi’s aura as a saintly man of peace and non-violence in his years as hands-down the most well known and broadly supported anti-gang worker in the Western Hemisphere.

It sounded like 50 caliber day at the shooting range on June 24, 2009, the day when the massive indictment against MS-13 was unsealed in federal district court and announced at a fifteen-camera press conference featuring the region’s top gangbusters.  That sound wasn’t gunfire.  It was fainting patrons of gang reformation hitting the floors of scores of salons.

Fairly Civil excerpted relevant sections of the indictment, including the charges against Sanchez,  in an earlier report which can be found here.  In sum, the federal racketeering indictment charges that Sanchez led a double life, was a top leader of the notorious Normandie clique, and was directly involved in a series of telephone conversations that directed the subsequent murder of one Walter Lacinos, a gang member in El Salvador:

(108) “On or about May 6 and 7, 2006, defendants CENDEJAS, FUENTES, PINEDA, and SANCHEZ had a series of phone conversations with each other and with other members of MS-13, during which they conspired to kill Walter Lacinos, aka “Cameron.”

(109) On or about May 15, 2006, an MS-13 member shot and killed Walter Lacinos, aka “Cameron,” in La Libertad, El Salvador.

In spite of the fact that scores of Sanchez’s supporters filed letters in support of his release, a federal judge refused to grant bail.  According to docket notes of the bail hearing, Judge Manuel L. Real denied bail but told government lawyers that he wants to “Hear/review the wiretap tapes…and the transcripts thereof” before making a final decision on bail at a hearing scheduled for next week.

Whatever happens, Judge Real is on the spot.  His decision either way is gonna knock some socks off.

In the meantime, one of Sanchez’s most fervent supporters, old-line radical activist Tom Hayden, rushed the following 12 gauge double-aught shotgun defense brief into print in The Nation magazine on June 29, available here:

The indictment of Alex Sanchez, a revered gangbanger-turned-peacemaker, raises new doubts about whether the Los Angeles police department has reformed sufficiently to be released from a federal court order.

It also brings back strong memories in Los Angeles barrios of the Sleepy Lagoon case during war hysteria in 1942, when the LAPD and media helped railroad three young Mexican men into long murder sentences. The verdicts were later overturned and twelve defendants freed from prison. At the time, the lawyer and future Nation editor Carey McWilliams wrote that the case was a “ceremonial lynching.”

….

Alex Sanchez is accused of being heard on wiretapped phone calls on May 6 and 7, 2006, in which several members of MS “conspired” to kill Walter Lacinos, whose street name was Cameron. On May 15, an alleged MS member killed Cameron in La Libertad, El Salvador.

To illustrate the nature of the charge, imagine that the following conversation took place: First party: That dude should be shot. Second party: No question.

In an ordinary criminal trial, it would be difficult to connect these words to an actual deed one week later. There would be evidence, for example, that all kinds of people wanted Cameron dead. He was deported to El Salvador after serving at least fifteen years in California state prisons as a high-ranking gang member. He had enemies as well as friends. But in the conspiracy model, it is easier for the prosecution to “prove” that the wiretapped voices are people who “conspired” in his death.

This example is purely hypothetical. The government has not released the actual content of the tapes, nor a list of its witnesses, nor any of the documents it will be compelled to hand over to the defense at trial.

Alex Sanchez denies the charges.

In sum, this case is just about racism.  Hey, any bunch of law-abiding guys could talk about whacking another guy over a couple of telephonic beers.  And, if the guy turns up dead, so?  Never heard of a coincidence?  Besides, I, Tom Hayden, declare that the man is innocent.  What more do you people need?

Fortunately, in the United States the tradition of trial by jury cuts both ways.  Sanchez is entitled to a legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty, no doubt.  But the government is equally entitled to put on its case without race- and ethnicity-baiting charges that a bunch of slavering racist cops cooked the case up.

Which brings us to the document filed in court today.

It’s a stipulation between the government and the defendants supporting an agreement to postpone the trial.  The document lays out a big picture of the range and type of evidence that the government has assembled.

Whatever else it may say, this fascinating document says to me that this investigation is deeply grounded and the case goes way, way beyond Hayden’s ethno-racist screed against the LAPD.

Stipulation Re:  Request for Vacation of Trial Date and Exclusion of Time Pursuant to the Speedy Trial Act. (Filed 08/10/09)

Current Trial Date:  September 1, 2009

Proposed Status Conference:  November 9, 2009 at 1:30 p.m.

This is an extremely complex case.  The indictment charges twenty-four leaders of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, with participating in a racketeering conspiracy covering fifteen years of criminal conduct, including six murders, eight conspiracies to murder, five robberies, witness intimidation, and ongoing narcotics trafficking and extorting.

The government represents that discovery in the case is voluminous.  It consists of:

  • Recordings of thousands of telephone calls (primarily Spanish language) intercepted on twelve wiretaps over the course of seven years;
  • summaries of those intercepted calls;
  • applications and reports to the court during the periods of wiretap interception;
  • over 700 consensually-recorded calls (primarily in Spanish);
  • summaries of those consensually-recorded calls;
  • dozens of call recorded from prisons and jails (primarily in Spanish);
  • transcripts of certain intercepted and/or monitored calls;
  • six LAPD murder books detailing homicide investigations, some of which are multi-volume;
  • FBI reports of dozens of controlled narcotics purchases over a number of years;
  • dozens of LAPD incident and arrest reports between 1995 and 2009;
  • FBI reports of surveillance;
  • FBI reports of witness statements;
  • narcotics laboratory reports;
  • firearms trace reports;
  • criminal histories; and
  • photographs, letters, and other documentary materials recovered during [ sic, probably missing "execution of"] search warrants.

….

The government began producing discovery on July 22, 2009 and continues to do so on a rolling basis.  Thus far, the government has produced and/or made available over 2300 pages of documents, including applications and orders relating to eight wiretaps, LAPD murder books for the murder of Jorge Bernal, aka”Travieso,” Erick Flores, aka “Moreno,” and Ileana Lara, aka “Mousey,” and a murder investigation report from El Salvadoran authorities regarding the murder of Walter Lacinos, aka “Camaron.” [Fairly Civil note: sic, name spelled differently in indictment (“Cameron”) and this motion.] In addition, the government has produced fifteen CDs containing recordings and summaries of calls intercepted on five telephone lines and three DVDs containing videos of witness interviews…

The government estimates that the trial in this case will last approximately 60 days; longer if the government ultimately seeks the death penalty against any of the death-eligible defendants.  Defendants are not yet in a position to estimate how long any defense case would last.

It’s crazy to predict anything.  But there is a pattern to this series of RICO cases against Latino gangs in California.

One, they have all been successful.  The government does not file these things like a blustering screed fired off to The Nation.

Two, they have all involved informants — gang members who have flipped and ratted out their “homies” and “carnales.”  Which means that the government knows a lot more than it puts in its indictments.

So that, three, a few of the defense lawyers take a look up the mountain and start looking for deals.

The glove may not fit, and the jury may acquit.  If that happens, a number of promising government legal careers are going to be blown up.

But win, lose, or draw, it’s going to be a fascinating trial.  I hope to get a seat.

DEATH AND TREACHERY IN LOS ANGELES: MARA SALVATRUCHA (MS-13) INDICTMENT IS A PORTENT FOR THE FUTURE

In Corruption, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on July 14, 2009 at 3:21 pm

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

Since the early 1980s when they were a fledgling gang, to this very day, MS-13 has been a blight on every street where they exist.  Whether house to house, street to street, or city to city, MS-13 has spread like a cancer.  These indictments, arrests and warrants represent one success in an ongoing effort to rid the community of an element that lacks a single redeeming quality.

Chief William Bratton, Los Angeles Police Department, June 24, 2009

Gangbuster:  LAPD Chief William Bratton

Gangbuster: LAPD Chief William Bratton

A 16-count federal indictment unsealed June 24, 2009 in Los Angeles contained two shocking allegations — a plot to kill a well known cop, and a double life lived by a prominent anti-gang activist.  The pleadings also provided a handy window into the history and unrelenting violence of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.  I wrote at length about the genesis and depredations of this transnational Latino gang in my recently released book, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement.

As Chief Bratton was careful to note in his statement quoted above, the strike against the gang is “one success” in what will be a long, bitter struggle to excise this cancer.  The case is in fact only the latest in a series of federal RICO (anti-racketeering) cases against street gangs that began with the successful 2002 prosecution of members of the Mexican Mafia and the Columbia Little Cycos, an 18th Street gang clique, detailed in No Boundaries. More cases are certain to unfold, and not just in Los Angeles.  The federal government, working with state and local authorities, has brought enormous resources to bear on these gangs, using “sophisticated techniques” of investigation such as informants, domestic and international wiretaps, and possibly undercover agents. The U.S. Department of Justice is determined that no Latino gang morph into another Mafia.

Gangbuster: U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, Central District of California

Gangbuster: U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, Central District of California

That said, the indictment is a portent:  it represents the maturity of an intensive joint federal and local effort, not only in Southern California, but all over the United States.   The U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, Thomas O’Brien, has set his teeth into these gangs, reeling out a string of indictments against several notorious cliques.

The back story of sources, methods, and accumulated evidence here is yet to be revealed.  You can be sure the governments involved did not bring this case lightly, and they will have a truckload of evidence to present, if and when it goes to trial.  But for now, the public is dealing with a skeletal public record:  The 66-page indictment, statements of officials at a press conference, the media’s reports of background interviews, and a number of documents filed by defense counsel. Anyone who has delved into such cases in detail — including defense counsel — knows that this is the tip of an iceberg.  Prosecutors say the case has been open for three years.  Since the  case builds on earlier investigations, that is plenty of time to accumulate a mountain of detail.

Do not be surprised if further indictments spin off from this and related cases, possibly including charges based on federal public corruption statutes.  One aspect only hinted at in public is that the investigation is being aided by a person or persons — i.e., a well-placed “rat,””informant,””cooperating witness,””asset,” etc. — with long-term and intimate knowledge of MS-13 players and activities.

MS-13 and The Mexican Mafia (La Eme)–Joined at the Hip in Southern California

The indictment in this case (U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR09-00466), and a long filing by defense counsel seeking the anti-gang activist’s release on bail are well worth reading.  They each lay out the long, painful history of Mara Salvatrucha’s ascent into the grisly transnational criminal consortium it has become.

Here are selected paragraph’s from the indictment.  They describe a key relationship  between MS-13 and the dominant prison gang in California, the Mexican Mafia (also known as La Eme):

14.  In Los Angeles, each clique contributes a portion of its profits towards a tax paid by MS-13 to the Mexican Mafia.  Like all gangs associated with the Mexican Mafia, MS-13 is required to pay a specified sum of money on a regular basis to a member of the Mexican Mafia.  Members of the Mexican Mafia are commonly referred to as “big homies,” “tios” (Spanish for “uncles”), “carnals” [sic] (Spanish slang for “brothers”), and/or “senors” ( a Spanish title of respect for a man).  In return for the tax payments, the Mexican Mafia provides protection to all MS-13 members incarcerated in county, state, and federal prisons and jails in California.  Failure to pay the tax will result in a “green light” being placed on MS-13, that is, a general order from the Mexican Mafia to assault or kill any incarcerated MS-13 member in any facility controlled by the Mexican Mafia.  Also in return for these tax payments, the Mexican Mafia ensures that no other gang operates in MS-13′s territory or otherwise interferes with the criminal activities of MS-13.

15.  Since the mid-1990s, when MS-13 became associated with the Mexican Mafia, a single powerful MS-13 member in Los Angeles has been appointed to act as MS-13′s representative to the Mexican Mafia (“the EME representative”).  The EME representative works as a “soldier” for the Mexican Mafia and is responsible for, among other things, ensuring that MS-13 pays its tax; setting policies to manage and discipline MS-13 members and associates; organizing and conducting meetings among MS-13 shot callers on a regular basis; resolving disputes between MS-13 cliques and members; organizing MS-13 cliques to generate money through, among other things, narcotics trafficking; and providing support to, and requesting assistance from, MS-13 leaders in El Salvador.

16.  In addition to the tax paid to the Mexican Mafia, MS-13 utilizes the profits obtained through its illegal activities by sending money to MS-13 members in prison in El Salvador, purchasing weapons and narcotics, paying attorney’s fees for gang members who have been charged with committing crimes, contributing to funeral costs for gang members who have been killed, and putting money on [sic] the prison accounts of MS-13 members incarcerated in the United States.

I wrote in No Boundaries about a little known but extraordinarily powerful and complex man, who likely was the first “EME representative,” Nelson Comandari.  The U.S. media completely missed the boat on Comandari, and his full story is yet to be told, but I have a good part of it in the book.

The Plot to Whack a Cop

Los Angeles Police Department Detective Frank Flores is a nationally-recognized expert on MS-13.  No Boundaries tells Flores’s life story as an example of the conundrum of gang recruitment. Why are the gangs irresistible to a minority of Latino youth, while other kids from the same barrio climb out of adversity to become part of the great American dream? Flores grew up in Boyle Heights, a gang-infested neighborhood, the child of a single parent. His uncles belonged to White Fence, one of the oldest gangs in L.A.

Yet all Frank Flores can remember ever wanting to be was to be an LAPD cop, even though as a child he had on occasion felt the LAPD’s famous “muscle.”

I first interviewed Flores in March 2007, and talked to him or communicated by email several times since. I had no idea that just months before I met him he had been the target of an assassination plot by MS-13. I learned of the scheme only when it became public after the indictment was unsealed. The government charges that in December 2006 “shot-callers” (leaders) of the gang’s Hollywood “clique” set in motion a plan to whack Flores, designating a hit-man and even providing a handgun to do the job.

Here, for the record, are the allegations in the indictment, which give the bare outlines of the plot:

(138) On or about December 21, 2006, defendants LOPEZ and MELGAR had a phone conversation with each other and with other MS-13 members during which LOPEZ, MELGAR, and others discussed a plot to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

(139) On or about December 23, 2006, defendants LOPEZ and MELGAR had a phone conversation during which they discussed a plot to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

(140) In or about late December 2006, defendants CUENTAS and MELGAR ordered another MS-13 member to follow through with defendant LOPEZ’S orders to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

(141)  In or about late December 2006, defendants MORALES and SALAZAR showed another MS-13 member a handgun that the MS-13 member was ordered to use to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

The plot to murder Frank Flores was derailed. But the story epitomizes the stakes in the ongoing struggle against Latino gangs like MS-13.

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Latino Gang World?

Alex Sanchez--Subject of a Grossly Mistake Charge or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Gang World?

Alex Sanchez--Subject of a Grossly Mistaken Charge or the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Gang World?

The indictment contains another shock that has rocked circles concerned with gangs like a 7th magnitude earthquake.

Among 24 defendants is Alexander (Alex) Sanchez, probably the most well-known anti-gang activist in the Latino gang world. Federal officials claim Sanchez, executive director of Homies Unidos – a group dedicated to saving kids from the gang life— led a double life. They allege that he has been a secret shot-caller posing as an anti-gang activist. The indictment charges that Sanchez conspired in May 2006 to murder an MS-13 member (who was executed weeks later in El Salvador). Here are relevant excerpts:

(108) “On or about May 6 and 7, 2006, defendants CENDEJAS, FUENTES, PINEDA, and SANCHEZ had a series of phone conversations with each other and with other members of MS-13, during which they conspired to kill Walter Lacinos, aka “Cameron.”

(109) On or about May 15, 2006, an MS-13 member shot and killed Walter Lacinos, aka “Cameron,” in La Libertad, El Salvador.

Scores of prominent figures have filed letters with the court attesting to Sanchez’s character and good works. All are convinced that Sanchez could not have faked his anti-gang efforts while operating as a shot-caller.

But he is held without bond at this writing.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com


BARRIO AZTECA–BORDER BAD BOYS LINKED TO MEXICAN DRUG TRAFFICKING ORGANIZATIONS — PART TWO

In Crime, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on April 16, 2009 at 1:22 pm
Perp Wal in El Paso -- FBI Agents Walked Barrio Azteca Gang Members Jose Martin Garcia (foreground) and John Michelleti (Rear) to U.S. Federal Courthouse from El Paso County Jail.  Michelleti Cut Deal, Flipped, and Testified Against His Carnales

Perp Walk in El Paso -- FBI Agents Walked Barrio Azteca Gang Members Jose Martin Garcia (foreground) and John Michelletti (Rear) to U.S. Federal Courthouse from El Paso County Jail. Michelletti Had Been Working for FBI Since 2005 and Testified Against His Carnales

The Texas prison gang Barrio Azteca (BA) is one of the most violent gangs in the United States.  It is intimately tied into the trans-border drug traffic from its home base in El Paso, and has a counterpart organization across the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  (Go here for Part One and here for Part Three of this series on BA.)

A federal RICO indictment resulted in the conviction of six alleged members and associates in December 2008.  Testimony and other evidence in the trial opened a window into the gang’s operations — aided by a “flipped” member, Johnny (“Conejo” or “Rabbit”) Michelletti, who snitched for several years and then testified in open court about BA’s organization and criminal deeds.  These gangsters swear all manner of blood oaths about loyalty and the fabled code of silence.  But when the big federal-prison-time-with-no-parole generator cranks up and starts to hum, somebody usually breaks and starts singing. In addition to Michelletti, who revealed in court that he had been working for the FBI since 2005, another gangster — Gustavo “Tavo” Gallardo — blinked and decided to cooperate and testify at trial against his homies, his barrio, and his gang.  Oh, well.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

Here is the rundown on Barrio Azteca from the National Drug Intelligence Center’s May 2008 West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis:

Barrio Azteca controls cocaine, heroin, and marijuana distribution in El Paso. Because of its connections to Mexican DTOs operating in the El Paso/Juárez plaza, Barrio Azteca has a direct source of supply for heroin and other illicit drugs. However, the gang’s activities have been limited as a result of a “safe zone” injunction initiated in 2003 that prohibits its members from being on the street after dark…Barrio Azteca’s activities may be further limited as a result of the recent arrest and indictment [and since this report was issued, conviction, see] of several of the gang’s key members.

Among details that came out in the trial, according to news reports:

  • Barrio Azteca was heavily into drug dealing and collection of “taxes” or “quotas” from drug dealers.  Such collections are nothing less than old-fashioned extortion, a staple of organized crime in the U.S. for decades.  I write about similar operations run by the Mexican Mafia (with a “clica” of the 18th Street gang) in Los Angeles, and the Chicago “Motherland” Latin Kings in my forthcoming book from the University of Michigan Press, No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement.
  • BA supplied cocaine to working women in El Paso area strip joints, who sold the drug to customers.
  • The gang infiltrated the Federal Public Defender’s office in El Paso.  A paralegal there, Sandy Valles New, acted as a “bridge,” forwarding messages from gangsters inside prison to those on the outside.  More importantly, according to federal prosecutors, New also tried through her job to find out about the FBI’s investigation of the gang and to obtain court filings.  These could be used to track down informants within the gang.  Attempted infiltration by female associates of law enforcement offices, public defenders, and public utilities is a common gang tactic in the U.S. and abroad.
  • The BA gang has a paramilitary style structure, with specific ranks.
  • Like most of these fraternal love-ins, the gangsters went at each other in the trench warfare of internal power struggles.  One erstwhile boss, or “capo,” David “Chico” Meraz, was allegedly murdered in a knife attack in Juarez, Mexico after he was forced from power by his beloved homies.
  • BA gangsters turned some of their own over to Mexican gangsters to face charges of skimming drug money or otherwise disobeying cartel rules.  The offending gang members were typically bound, gagged, wrapped in tape, stuffed in a vehicle,  and dropped off in Juarez to be brutally disposed of with several rounds to the back of the head.
New Problems For Old El Paso

New Problems For Old El Paso

Michelletti told the court how he got into Barrio Azteca.  Originally a member of a local gang called “Los Fatherless,” he was sent to prison for assaulting a police officer.  In prison he was approached by a BA “sponsor” who invited him to join the gang.  “He (the sponsor) becomes your representative.  Your padrino, your godfather.  You have to show you are down for the organization.”  Throughout gangland, “being down” for the gang means being prepared to step up and commit brutally violent acts.

In the next part of this three-part series, Fairly Civil will look at a specific case that illustrates the mechanics of physically getting drugs across the border.  In the meantime, the private intelligence and security service Stratfor has issued a truly excellent report and analysis of this drug movement, which can and should be read here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 459 other followers

%d bloggers like this: