Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Brenda Paz’

WRONG ZOMBIE? COULD MISTAKEN IDENTITY STRIKE TWICE IN TWO FEDERAL MS-13 CASES? BOTH INVOLVING ALEX SANCHEZ?

In bad manners, Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on October 27, 2009 at 10:53 am
Sorry, Wrong Gangster?

Sorry, Wrong Gangster?

“’Curiouser and curiouser!’ Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English). ’Now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!’ (for when she looked down at her feet they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off).

Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland.

Pregnant MS-13 Gangster Brenda Paz Was Slashed to Death on the Banks of the Shenandoah River on the Morning of July 13, 2003 for "Ratting" on Fellow Gangsters

Pregnant MS-13 Gangster Brenda Paz Was Slashed to Death on the Banks of the Shenandoah River on the Morning of July 13, 2003 for "Ratting" on Fellow Gangsters

Here is a curious web of events, the common thread of which is one Alex Sanchez, aka “Rebelde.”

Sanchez is the putative “anti-gang activist” whom the government accused in a racketeering (RICO) indictment handed up in June 2009 by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles of being a fraud — acting in secret as a “shot-caller” while posing in public as the Mother Teresa of the Latino gang world.  (For details of the case, start here, and here and follow links).

Let us, gentle reader, go forth and explore this web together.

O, Shenandoah!

A horrific murder — typical of the work of members of the bloodthirsty transnational Latino gang, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) — was committed the morning of July 13, 2003.

On the banks of the gently flowing and historic Shenandoah River in Virgina, pregnant gangster Brenda Paz was brutally slashed to death by two of her fellow gangsters.  One of them, Ismael Juarez Cisneros, later told investigators, “I loved her with all my heart.”  Skeptics might be forgiven for thinking Cisneros — a deported and feloniously re-entered illegal alien from Mexico — had a curious manner of showing his affection.

Brenda’s offense?

“Ratting out” her fellow gangsters to federal authorities and a host of state and local police.  Paz was scheduled to testify in a federal murder trial, in which she was prepared to implicate as homicidal mastermind a Virginia-based MS-13 shot-caller, Denis “Conejo” (Rabbit) Rivera — not incidentally one of her former lovers.

[The sordid details of Brenda Paz's life and murder are summarized in my book, No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press, 2009).  No Boundaries also examines the genesis of MS-13 within the context of the broader history of Latino street gangs generally. Those interested in a book more narrowly focused specifically on Paz's tumultuous life and tragic death should read Samuel Logan's This is for the Mara Salvatrucha (New York: Hyperion 2009).]

In a December 2005 piece on the Paz murder, “The Fight Against MS-13,” the CBS 60 Minutes television program summed up the relevant events:

Not only does MS-13 conduct investigations of its own, but like a corporate organization, most cliques have regular meetings where they discuss recruiting, money and murder – what they call a “greenlight.”

According to witnesses, the gang took a unanimous vote in a hotel that Brenda should be assassinated. The next morning, she was lured away on a fishing trip with her new boyfriend, Oscar Grande, and her friend, Ismael Cisneros.

A former MS-13 member who is now in jail on an ammunition possession charge and asked 60 Minutes not to use his name, went with them.

“I was facing the river. You know, I was watching, I was enjoying the view. Was summertime. It was nice place. And they was behind me fixing the fishing pole. And I turn my face. I see for couple seconds that she was get stabbing. And I freak out and I run away,” he recalled.

Asked to confirm if he saw the stabbing of Brenda Paz, he answered “Yes.”

She was stabbed by her boyfriend Oscar Grande and Ismael Cisneros, who later confessed. He said she had called out “Why?” “Because you’re a rat” she was told. They stabbed her approximately 13 times.

MS-13 Gangster Ismael Cisneros Claimed He "Loved" Paz, Whom He Was Convicted of Slashing to Death

MS-13 Gangster Ismael Cisneros Claimed He "Loved" Paz, Whom He Was Convicted of Slashing to Death

Court records and other news reporting make clear beyond doubt that the anonymous “former MS-13″ gangster quoted on the 60 Minutes program was one Oscar Garcia-Orellana.  Garcia had either somehow slipped between the cracks and evaded a 1998 deportation order, or feloniously re-entered the United States after having been deported to El Salvador.

Garcia was the only defendant in the 2005 Paz murder case trial to take the stand.  Prosecutors claimed that he held a rope around Paz’s neck while the other two men slashed the life out of her and her unborn child.  Garcia admitted that he had been present at the time of the slaughter, but claimed that he did not know in advance that Cisneros and Grande planned to kill her.  He testified that instead of trying to save Paz, he had acted like a coward and run away when they started slashing her.  His lawyers maintained that although he had once been an active member of MS-13, he had drifted away from the gang.

One of the defense witnesses for Garcia was — the aforesaid “anti-gang activist” Alex “Rebelde” Sanchez.

The Expert Witness for the Defense

Here is an excerpt from the report of the Paz murder trial in the May 4, 2005 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper:

Jurors also heard from Alex Sanchez, a gang expert from Los Angeles and a former MS-13 member. He explained that many young people join gangs like MS-13 to mitigate abuse or neglect at home.

“They feel a sense of knowing that a bigger group will stand up for them, that they are not alone,” he said.

Sanchez also said most older gang members fall away from MS-13 once they reach their 30s, when younger members take leadership roles. His comments dovetailed with the assertions of Garcia’s lawyers, who claim he was a part-time gang member who was not involved in MS-13’s decision to kill Paz.

“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

Sorry, Wrong Member

But Alex Sanchez was by far not the only help Oscar Garcia got.

More important was a huge screw-up, belatedly admitted by government prosecutors.  Here is an excerpt from the May 11, 2005 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch (which, it ought to be noted, cleaned the Washington Post’s clock on the coverage of this case) detailing the blunder:

Lawyer Alexander Levay, representing 32-year-old Oscar Garcia-Orellana, charged that government lawyers manipulated evidence and pursued conspiracy charges against Garcia even after prosecutors recognized their indictment against him was seriously flawed.

“If we can’t count on the government to play fair and by the rules, then each of us are a little less free,” Levay said.

At issue are allegations central to prosecutors’ contention that Garcia conspired with the accused mastermind of the plot to kill Paz, 21-year-old Denis “Conejo” Rivera. At the outset of the case, prosecutors said a taped telephone call between Garcia and Rivera — in which Garcia purportedly informed Rivera that Paz was dead — would prove Garcia’s guilt.

But prosecutors were forced to abandon that assertion after Garcia’s lawyers showed that it was not the defendant’s voice on the call. Rather, Rivera apparently was talking about the Paz murder with another gang member, Napoleon Hernandez, who shares the same nickname as Garcia, “Gato.” Hernandez has been deported.

Prosecutors acknowledged their mistake earlier in the case. Out of the presence of the jury, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Walutes Jr. offered to withdraw the phone-call allegation from the indictment. But Garcia’s defense lawyers refused, hoping to show to the jury that the prosecution misstep made their entire case against Garcia suspect.

Levay said prosecutors had reason last year to suspect that they had the wrong Gato, but chose not to pursue the evidence.

“It didn’t fit their little scenario of the case, so they buried it,” Levay said. “The fact that they would mislead you into believing that the Gato on the phone was my client should be enough to find him not guilty.”

Levay’s attack on the prosecution case was part of a defense strategy to differentiate him from his fellow defendants.

“The indictment lumps everyone together, but the evidence distinguishes them again and again,” he said.

Oops.

Garcia walked — but right into the arms of federal agents, who arrested him on another felony charge of being illegally in possession of ammunition (by reason of his immigration status).  According to federal court records, he took a plea and was sentenced to a year and a day.  He has since presumably been deported to his native El Salvador [although the trail grows cold in official records, one might justifiably assume that the government kept track of him this time.]

His Other Left Foot

Fate takes strange turns in the gangster world.

This June Alex Sanchez found the shoe on the other foot — instead of witness for the defense, he became notorious defendant (for not the first time in his life).

In brief, Sanchez is accused of only pretending to have rejected the gang life and become a prominent anti-gang activist.  In fact, the government claims, Sanchez has all along been a secret leader of an MS-13 clique in Los Angeles.

More specifically, Sanchez is said to have directed the murder of a renegade gang member in El Salvador, one Walter Lacinos (aka “Camaron,” also sometimes spelled “Cameron”).

Prosecutors persuaded a federal magistrate to detain Sanchez when he was arrested.  The issue in a detention proceeding is not guilt, but the risk of flight.  The strength of the government’s detention case was four wiretapped phone calls in which — according to the analysis of Los Angeles Police Department Detective and MS-13 expert Frank Flores — Sanchez allegedly directed one Juan Bonilla (aka “Zombie”) to whack Camaron.

Judge Manuel L. Real promptly confirmed the magistrate’s decision and set a new bail (detention) hearing for last Monday, October 19, 2009.

According to the court’s one page of clinical minutes, the hearing before Judge Manuel L. Real lasted one hour and eighteen minutes.  (Criminal Minutes — General, “Further Hearing re: Defendant’s Application for Review/Reconsideration of Detention Order,” Case No. CR-09-466-R).

Here is what happened, according to the court’s minutes:

Detective Frank Flores is called, sworn and testifies.

Exhibits are identified.

The Court hears arguments of counsel.

For reasons stated, the Court orders the continued detention of defendant.

More or less, open and shut.  Here is a nice, balanced account from LA Weekly about the hearing.

But according to the social justice website WitnessLA, something fascinating also happened.  And it is no doubt this something that prompted Alex Sanchez’s court-appointed lawyer, Kerry Bensinger, to file an interlocutory appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the detention order.  Courts of appeal generally do not fiddle with such fact-based, pre-trial rulings of lower courts, but the 9th Circuit is said to have reversed Judge Real at an exceptional rate and to be “on his case.”

Sorry, Wrong Member, Redux

Alex Sanchez (WitnessLA Illustration)

Alex Sanchez (WitnessLA Illustration)

Miracle of miracles, Sanchez’s defense lawyer,  Bensinger, claimed to have found in the Sanchez case precisely the flaw that brought down the government’s case against Oscar Garcia-Orellana.  Namely, the mistaken identification of a party to a key wiretapped phone conversation!

If there were a convenience store for defense tactics, this one would be right up at the front of the MS-13 impulse shopping shelf!

The whole thing reminds me of a common street defense I encountered during my brief tenure as a defense lawyer for indigent defendants in Washington, D.C. some years ago.  It was commonly known as “the Tyrone defense” and was more or less automatically uttered by any miscreant collared with incriminating swag in hand, but not actually witnessed ripping the swag off.

“I was just standing here when my boy came by and he handed it to me,”  the tarnished angel would state indignantly.  And who would that have been?  “I don’t know.  We just call him ‘Tyrone.'”  Naturally, the ubiquitous Tyrone could never be found.

And, yes, I actually saw the “Tyrone defense” work in at least one poorly “papered” case.

But I digress.

Passing curious, no, this amazing coincidence?  Perhaps beyond strange and approaching incredible?

Here is the self-admittedly and vigorously pro-Sanchez WitnessLA’s description of the argument, which its editor, Celeste Fremon has headlined, “Arresting Alex Sanchez: Part 6: The Judge Real Show.”  (Some among the social justice crowd — but most assuredly not including Ms. Fremon, who is among other things a professor of journalism and who loves her city, including whatever warts she perceives in the LAPD — play a sort of ideological whack-a-mole on this case alternating between whacking Judge Real as some kind of geriatric nut case, the LAPD as a vengeful racist gang determined to “get” Sanchez, and the FBI/Department of Justice as dull-witted, compliant tools of the slavering LA police establishment.  Gangsters, on the other hand, generally conduct themselves with the comportment of wronged angels, who would never lie to, manipulate, or exploit the good intentions of those who come bearing breviaries of redemption.  For the archetypal case of whackfrenzy, see usual suspect Tom Hayden’s piece beamed down from the empyrean to usual outlet The Nation.  )

But I digress again!  Here is the WitnessLA excerpt:

One of the issues that [attorney Kerry] Bensinger brought up during the cross examination was his contention that Flores completely and crucially misidentified a person on one of the calls, a guy with the street name of Zombie. According to Flores, the person, “Zombie,” on the phone call was also the person who was eventually arrested for the murder of Cameron, a murder that Sanchez had allegedly ordered during the last of the four phone calls that are the center of the prosecution’s case.

Yet, according to Bensinger, the guy called “Zombie” on the call was a very different fellow from Juan Bonilla, the killer, who is also called Zombie.

(I know this nickname business is dizzying, but try to stay with me here.)

Evidently there are a number of Zombies in and around the local MS-13 cliques—which is common in gangs. There might be a guy with the nickname of Zombie. But there may also be Lil’ Zombie…..Big Zombie….and heaven knows what other permutation of the nickname Zombie (or Sleepy or Dreamer or P’Nut or Snyper or Loco or…..you get the picture).

Anyway it seems that Bensinger’s Zombie (whom we’ll randomly designate as Zombie 2) dropped a whole lot of identifiers during the course of the long conversation, like references to several family members and—helpfully—his actual name.

With the tiniest amount of police work Flores could have verified which Zombie he had on this call—since it was so important to his case.

When asked if he did any of that follow-up investigation, Flores admitted that he had not. When Bensinger asked why, Flores said that he didn’t need to do any further checking because he knew it was Zombie/Juan on the call. (The exchange between Flores and Bensinger was longer than I am portraying here.) And how did the detective know he had the right Zombie in the face of fairly convincing evidence to the contrary? Flores did not elucidate.

However, what Flores did say is that Zombie/Juan was one of the feds’ informants, that after he was arrested for Cameron’s murder, he began singing like a bird and not only confessed to the killing himself, he also fingered Alex Sanchez and said that Sanchez told him on the phone to kill Cameron. [Fairly Civil's emphasis.]

It would be an understatement to say that WitnessLA is skeptical of the government’s position, notwithstanding its own report of Flores’s testimony that “Zombie/Juan was one of the feds’ informants, that after he was arrested for Cameron’s murder, he began singing like a bird and not only confessed to the killing himself, he also fingered Alex Sanchez and said that Sanchez told him on the phone to kill Cameron.”

Unfortunately, the transcript of this latest detention hearing is not available as of this writing.  Would that it were, because some observers who were present and have read the above wonder whether everyone was on the same planet.   It is hard, nay impossible, to know what Detective Flores actually said.

Whack!

In any case, some would say that a singing bird (or rat) in hand — a federal informant who identifies himself as the person on  the phone receiving orders — pretty well would establish who was on the other end of the phone line.  If “Zombie/Juan” says it was he….?  But Zombie/Juan/Whoever apparently uttered words that raise some doubt about who he actually was.

Not enough doubt, however, to persuade Judge Real.

Whack!  Whack!

In between blows, it should be noted that gangsters often talk in elliptical ways when on the telephone or in circumstances in which they think someone else might be listening.  For example, in No Boundaries I describe how convicted 18th Street gang hit-man Anthony “Coco” Zaragoza sometimes referred to himself in the third person and sometimes adopted “code” pseudonyms for himself in the course of conversations that were being wiretapped by the FBI.  One of the investigative challenges for law enforcement is breaking through and interpreting the fog of jargon, crude codes, and such attempts at deception on the part of gangland’s little angels.  What seems straightforward to, say, a social justice critic, may have an entirely different meaning to the gangsters involved.

In any event, this is perhaps an appropriate moment to recall the following observation, reported in an earlier Fairly Civil posting:

Experienced gang prosecutors and investigators who are not related to or part of the Sanchez case have told me [first person code for Fairly Civil] that this sort of “back and forth” or what is known as the “battle of the transcripts” is fairly typical of the early stages of a big racketeering case — particularly when you have a case that relies on transcripts that require translation — and that it is best at this stage to keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions but rather to follow the evidence until the “back and forth” sorts itself out.

At this stage it appears to these observers that too many people are jumping to conclusions and making personal attacks (on both sides) when the real issues are evidence-based — namely, “First, “what precisely do the transcripts say?” Then, once that is established, second, “Now that we know what the transcripts say, what exactly does that mean?”

Curiouser and curiouser.

Whack!  Whack!  Whack!

23a_cheshire_cat

The Cheshire Cat

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.

`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

“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.

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