Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Title III’

ACCUSED SECRET SHOT-CALLER ALEX SANCHEZ’S TAKE-NO-PRISONERS BRIEF FLAMES TRIAL JUDGE MANUEL REAL — BOTTOM LINE: JUDGE DOESN’T GET IT

In bad manners, Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on November 23, 2009 at 1:34 pm

 

 

 

Alex Sanchez — the admitted former Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gangster turned Los Angeles anti-gang worker, now accused by the feds of being a “secret shot caller” — has been repeatedly denied pre-trial release.  Now his lawyer, Kerry R. Bensinger, has taken the matter to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a take-no-prisoners brief that (in nice, polite lawyer language) flames trial Judge Manuel L. Real.

The brief scorches a few other targets, including the government’s trial lawyers and the principle MS-13 expert witness in the case, Los Angeles Police Department Gang Detective Frank Flores.  Flores’s testimony about the meaning of wiretaps (Sanchez allegedly directing a “hit” on a renegade gang member) was key in the detention hearings.  The defense claims that the government not only got one of the key phone call participants wrong, but Flores misconstrued what happened during the calls.

 

Judge Manuel L. Real

 

But Bensinger focuses his flamethrower on the 85-year old Judge Real, stating, “At a minimum, the matter should be remanded for a detention hearing before a different judge.”

If the judge did anything right, it escaped counsel’s notice.

Reading between the lines, Bensinger is conveying to the appeals court the message that — in his view — Real for whatever reason or reasons is confused or willfully obtuse about what the federal law requires in a bail (“detention”) hearing.  In short, the brief argues that the trial judge just doesn’t “get it.”

The 32-page document landed in the appeals court docket less than a week after that court issued an opinion and order applying its own flame to Judge Real.  (Bensinger has more to say on the matter — he asked the higher court to allow him to file additional material.) Here is the Los Angeles Times on the matter involving Real and the 9th Circuit (November 14, 2009):

Federal judge criticized for handling of claimants’ assets, Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2009

A federal appeals court Friday criticized U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real for his handling of $33.8 million entrusted to him for victims of the late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, calling his accounting “curious” and “filled with cryptic notations” that failed to show what happened to the money.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new accounting of the disputed assets by a different judge — a rare act of implied censure that Real has now endured at least 11 times in his long judicial career.

 

 

Tom Diaz, "No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement"

 

“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

 

The Stakes

 

If You Indict Mother Teresa, You Better Convict

 

The stakes are high for Sanchez in an already complicated case:  “Now five months since his arrest, Mr. Sanchez faces an extended pretrial detention as the parties believe this case will not be ready for trial before December 2010.”

Unstated is the fact that careers will be on the line in the case.  Indicting Alex Sanchez was the rough equivalent of indicting Mother Teresa.  If the Sanchez case flames out, the careers of more than one or two on the government’s side will hit the silk.

The following are unexpurgated excerpts from the appeals brief on behalf of Sanchez.  (“Appellant’s Memorandum of Law and Facts In Support [of] Appeal from Detention Order,” United States v. Alex Sanchez, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Docket No. 09-50525, filed November 20, 2009.)  Fairly Civil has inserted a minimum of explanatory background.  Additional materials on the case can be found in posts here, here, and here.

The government has ten days to reply.

The Basic Claim — Sanchez Was Denied a Fair Hearing

The core of Sanchez’s appeal is that he was denied a fair hearing on the only issues relevant to whether he should be released, which are (1) is he a risk of flight, and (2) does he present a threat to persons or a community?  Instead, the brief claims, Judge Real essentially held a “mini-trial” on whether Sanchez is guilty of the offenses with which he is charged.

This appeal from an order of pre-trial detention presents the question whether a defendant has been denied his right to a “full-blown adversary hearing” … when the district court limited the hearing to whether the government possessed evidence of the defendant’s guilt, foreclosed the defense from rebutting the government’s case with contrary evidence, shifted the burden of persuasion, ignored evidence relevant to flight and lack of danger and made only a “conclusory finding” misapplying the statutory presumption.

The Life of Alex

 

 

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

 

Naturally enough, the brief sketches a factual review of a man grievously wronged by arbitrary and misdirected government conduct:

Mr. Sanchez quit gang life nearly 15 years ago, beginning a journey of redemption leading him to become one of the foremost anti-gang interventionists in the United States.  In 2006, he became the Executive Director of Homies Unidos, an organization dedicated to extricating youths from gangs and brokering and maintaining peace in communities afflicted by the scourge of gang violence.

On June 24, 2009, however, Mr. Sanchez, a long time resident of Los Angeles and the 38-year-0ld father of three, was arrested at his home and taken into custody on an indictment charging 24 defendants with various crimes in connection with alleged activities of the Mara Salvatrucha (“MS-13″).  Within days of his arrest, over 100 social workers, professors, politicians, clergy, law enforcement and former gang members from around the country raised a chorus of support to release Mr. Sanchez from custody, all attesting to his good character, commitment to peace and ties to the community.  This overwhelming support included over $2.5 million dollars in bail pledges and property.

At the detention hearing, the government claimed a chest tattoo indicated Mr. Sanchez had not quit the gang and four phone calls where Mr. Sanchez mediated a non-violent resolution to an intra-gang dispute supposedly evidenced a plot to kill  one of the disputants.  Announcing “the only determination I have to make on this motion” is “whether or not Mr. Sanchez was there” and “what they were discussing,” the district court precluded Mr. Sanchez from rebutting the government’s evidence about the significance of his chest tattoo while refusing lay and expert testimony contradicting the government’s interpretation of the calls.  Focused exclusively on whether there was evidence of Mr. Sanchez’s guilt, and ignoring evidence of Mr. Sanchez’s extensive ties to the community and reputation as a tireless and effective gang interventionist and violence prevention advocate, the district judge misapplied a statutory presumption, shifted the burden of persuasion, and ignored overwhelming evidence that Mr. Sanchez presents neither a flight risk nor a danger to others.

…the district judge refused to allow evidence on the three critical issues by (1) rejecting defense evidence undermining the inference the government sought to draw from Mr. Sanchez’s chest tattoo, (2) rejecting testimony refuting the government’s contention Mr. Sanchez spoke to Cameron’s killer, and (3) rejecting Mr. Sanchez’s proposed expert testimony disputing that the calls relayed “coded” messages.

The Right to Explain “the Physical Evidence”: The Tattoo:

The government stressed that “physical evidence,” in the form of a chest tattoo, showed Mr. Sanchez was still active in the gang.  Rosemarie Ashmalla, the Executive Director of the agency that removed Mr. Sanchez’s other tattoos, however, was prepared to testify that a chest tattoo was not evidence of ongoing gang affiliation because the tattoo removal program “had a policy of only removing visible tattoos.”  Ms. Ashmalla would have affirmed that most gang tattoo removal agencies, including hers, “do not generally remove non-visible tattoos, absent extraordinary reasons.”  As the head of an agency dedicated to removing gang tattoos (and the agency that removed Mr. Sanchez’s visible tattoos), Ms. Ashmalla was in a far better position that the prosecutor to explain the significance of a residual chest tattoo.  Rejecting her testimony was error.

The Damning Wiretaps — The Court Erroneously Precluded Mr. Sanchez From Presenting Relevant Expert Testimony to Rebut the Government’s Expert.

A focus of the case so far has been the government’s wiretaps of four calls in which Alex Sanchez certainly takes a leading role.  But the crucial question has developed to be:  was that leading role as a mediator and peace-maker or as a “shot caller” pushing the conversation to the ultimate murder in El Salvador of one Walter Lacinos (aka Camaron) by a gangster known as “Zombie”?  A close second is whether the government got the wrong “Zombie.”

Of critical importance, given the district court’s focus on “the content of these [four wire-tapped] conversations” is the district court’s refusal to permit Father Greg Boyle’s testimony.  Fr. Boyle is the Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program in the country, and a nationally recognized gang expert knowledgeable in gang language, interactions and “codes.”  After listening to the calls and reviewing Det. [Frank] Flores’s declaration re-interpreting the calls and the prosecution’s arguments based thereon, Fr. Boyle concluded that, rather than corroborating a murder plot, Mr. Sanchez’s statements reflected a gang mediator’s peacemaking efforts.

The brief argues that the judge erred in declaring Father Boyle’s statement not “relevant” to the questions in the detention hearing — a specific case of the judge “not getting it.”

The Court Erroneously Rejected Relevant Defense Evidence Explaining the Context of the Conversations in the Four Wire-tapped Calls.

The district court erroneously rejected the testimony of Sonia Hernandez, a witness who knew the government (and Flores) misidentified one of the key participants in the calls, distorting their interpretation of the statements made therein.

The government got its facts wrong.  Although both Hernandez and Bonilla used the name “Zombie,” the person who killed Camaron was not the person Mr. Sanchez spoke to on May 7.  Sonia Hernandez would have identified her brother’s voice (not Bonilla’s) as the Zombie on the May 7 call with Mr. Sanchez.

By authenticating her brother’s voice on the May 7 call, Ms. Hernandez would have confirmed Mr. Sanchez had not talked “to the person who ultimately did, in fact, carry out the murder in El Salvador,” but to another person also nicknamed “Zombie.”

The Court Shifted the Burden of Persuasion

The brief also addresses a technical point that involves the difference between the “burden of production” (producing some favorable evidence) and the “burden of persuasion” (persuading the fact-trier that the evidence is true).  Essentially, Bensinger argues again that Judge Real confused the two:

“The burden of persuasion regarding risk-of-flight and danger to the community always remains with the government…”  As now-Justice Breyer explained, even where the nature of the charges gives rise to “a rebuttable presumption that ‘no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required and the safety of the community,” [citing 18 U.S. Code, Section 3142 (e)] this presumption only served to “shift the burden of production” and require the defendant to introduce “some evidence” to the contrary.

The brief argues that Sanchez met this burden of production with witnesses who could rebut the government’s factual assertions about the tattoo and the calls, his agreement to “many restrictions on his liberty,” and the character witnesses and property-owners willing to support his release.

The brief also points out additional problems with Judge Real’s ruling:  he did not provide the requisite written statement of reason for Sanchez’s detention, including findings of fact, and erroneously placed undue weight on evidence of guilt, as opposed to risk of flight or danger.

Despite its refrain that “this is not trial” — invoked only to exclude defense evidence contradicting the prosecution’s case — the district court transformed the detention hearing into a mini-trial on the merits of the charges…Rather than conduct an inquiry focused on whether the release of Mr. Sanchez posed a clear and present danger to any person or community, the district court devoted himself to prejudging the evidence of guilt even though, as now-Justice Kennedy reminded, “the statute neither requires not permits a pretrial determination that the person is guilty.”

This Case Should Be Reassigned to a Different Judge on Remand

The brief ends up with the following request, not coincidentally accompanied by a footnote referring to other instances in which the Ninth Circuit has corrected Judge Real:

Judge Real rejected Ms. Hernandez’s testimony refuting the government’s claim that Mr. Sanchez instructed Bonilla to kill Camaron because it was “totally irrelevant.”  Judge Real excluded this patently relevant evidence not on technical legal grounds but because he failed to appreciate its logical relevance to the crucial issues at hand.  The same is true with respect to Fr. Boyle’s testimony.  Even if the matter were remanded for renewed consideration, there is little chance Judge Real will accord this evidence it proper weight, simply because the disputed evidence has been found relevant and admissible…[He has already] declared that it is entitled to no weight whatsoever.  At a minimum, the matter should be remanded for a detention hearing before a different judge.

Fairly Civil looks forward to reading and posting excerpts from the government’s reply to this brief.

 

 

Government's Serve

 

THE UNITED NATIONS (GANG) — DRUG-TRAFFICKING ACROSS CANADA-UNITED STATES BORDER

In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Marijuana Debate, Mexico, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on November 2, 2009 at 11:27 am
SUN0611 Gangstas

Members and Associates of the United Nations (UN) Gang. Clayton Roueche is in First Row Center. (Vancouver Sun Photo)

Around 11:30 p.m. on April 2 [2008] in suburban Vancouver, B.C., Clayton Roueche’s cell phone rang. It was his friend Pam Lee, who was looking for a ride down to Bellingham [Washington] International Airport, where she hoped to catch a flight to a concert in California.

“I know I can’t ask you,” Lee said.

“Yeah,” replied Roueche, as Canadian federal authorities quietly listened in with recording equipment. “I’ll never come back.”

“Do you know anybody that could?” Lee asked.

“Drive you to the States?” asked Roueche.

“Yeah,” Lee replied.

Well, said Roueche, “I wouldn’t even get down [to Bellingham]; they’d throw me in jail.”

Seattle Weekly, “The Last King of Potland,” September 09, 2008

Think of drug lords, drug trafficking organizations, and cross-border drug-trafficking and one naturally thinks of the U.S.-Mexican border, the Mexican Mafia, and Latino street gangs.  But the United Nations Gang in Vancouver, British Columbia has become a major criminal force in the U.S.-Canadian criminal traffic.  In a sentence, the gang has smuggled marijuana and people south across the border, and cocaine and guns north.

This Thursday (November 5, 2009), Clayton (Clay) Roueche, said to be the gang’s founder, will face sentencing in the federal district court in Seattle, Washington.  Federal prosecutors have asked the court to sentence Roueche to 30 years in prison.

bc_rcmp_gang2

One Doubts UN Gang Leader Clay Roueche Will Be Laughing at His Sentencing

In spite of his well-founded suspicion and caution, Rouche was arrested last year.  The collar is described in the government’s sentencing memorandum. (United States v. Roueche, “Government’s Sentencing Memorandum,” U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, Docket No. CR-07-0344 RSL.):

On May 19, 2008, Clay Roueche flew from Canada to Mexico, ostensibly to attend the wedding of a UN Gang member.  Mexican law enforcement learned that Roueche was wanted in connection with drug trafficking crimes and rejected his application for entry into their country.  When Roueche’s return flight to Canada landed in Houston, Texas on a layover, he was arrested on the outstanding warrant [from a sealed indictment] and brought to this district.

Court records demonstrate that, although marijuana enthusiasts may perceive toking a bit of “BC Bud” to be a “harmless” indulgence, akin to drinking a glass of fine champagne, the proceeds of trafficking in the Canadian weed finance cocaine trafficking by the same criminal organizations.  Of course, this marijuana is also pouring into the ersatz “medical marijuana” compassionate use market.

“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

Background

The Seattle Weekly described Roueche and the UN Gang in its September 2008 article, “The Last King of Potland,” as follows:

[The] British Columbia’s “United Nations” drug gang, [was] founded by Roueche and some of his high-school buddies in the 1990s. Now comprising as many as 300 white, Asian, and Persian members fond of dragon tattoos and designer hoodies, the gang has its own monogrammed tombstones, jewelry, and kilos of cocaine, as well as its own motto-”Honor, Loyalty, Respect”-and trail of alleged murders.

Canadian court documents describe United Nations members as “involved in marijuana grows and cross-border trafficking, extortion, threatening, and kidnappings and…linked to numerous homicides.” Based in the Fraser River Valley south of Vancouver, the organization is connected to the international Chinese crime syndicate Triad, according to investigators.

With help from local associates, the UN’s money and drugs move through Puget Sound or eastern Washington, then along the West Coast, according to U.S. and Canadian court documents. Cocaine flows north from Mexico, marijuana heads south to California, and cash goes both ways as payment and profit. The gang also deals in Ecstasy-but bud is #1.

The Economist recently estimated that historically low-crime Canada now has 950 major gangs, with Vancouver as ground zero. This decade, the B.C. drug trade has spiked to a now-estimated $7 billion annually. All that money creates a glitzy gang culture in which, a Vancouver policeman observes, “handguns are as ubiquitous as cell phones.”

The Federal Case

Pot Farmers

BC Bud Confiscated in Washington State in 2008. Smuggling of Similar High Grade BC Weed Financed the UN Gang's Cocaine Operations.

Last April Roueche pleaded guilty, and according to the government’s sentencing memorandum,  “[admitted] to conspiring with others to export more than 5 kilograms of cocaine and more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana.  He also admitted to arranging for the collection and transportation of marijuana proceeds in an attempt to conceal or disguise the sources of those funds.” The sentencing memorandum calls this a merely “legalistic description,” and fills in the details, buttressed by an affidavit and other exhibits from the investigation.

Here is how the federal prosecutors summed up Roueche and the UN Gang’s criminal operations:

In this era, where federal law enforcement agents have focused intensely on stopping the international drug trade, the phrases “drug lord” and “international drug-trafficking organization” can be misused and overstated.  But not in this case.  Defendant Clay Roueche oversaw the movement of tens of thousands of pounds of marijuana, thousands of kilograms of cocaine, and millions of U.S. dollars through several states and at least three North American countries.  He used private airplanes, float planes, helicopters, cars, semi-trucks and coded Blackberry telephones to create a secret and successful organization that he planned to extend into the Far East and South America. He employed pilots, drug couriers and money transporters to carry out the objectives of his organization.  His organization was equal parts corporate and violent.  Clay Roueche worked hard, with laudable organizational skills coupled with an attention to detail, to achieve the moniker “drug lord.”  Similarly, his organization deserves the descriptor of “international drug trafficking organization.”

Three separate drug and money laundering investigations dovetailed in 2005 and 2006, and each led to Roueche’s Canadian-based, multi-national, multi-ethnic drug trafficking organization known as the United Nations Gang (hereinafter “UN Gang”). Defendant Clay Roueche was the public face of this violent, quasi-corporate group, and led its drug trafficking endeavors.  The group used guns, threats and violence to keep its contracted workers and gang members in line and to ensure that no one informed on the group’s activities.  The UN Gang is the type of organized, sophisticated drug trading group that presents a significant danger to the safety, peace and security of the United States.

Gang Guns in Vancouver -- Guns Imported from US Civilian Market Empower Criminals Throughout Western Hemisphere

Vancouver Gang Guns -- Firerams from US Civilian Gun Market Empower DTO Throughout Western Hemisphere

In one of the attached exhibits, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Peter Ostrovsky described one of the “dovetailed” investigations that led to Roueche’s indictment, arrest, and ultimately guilty plea (United States v. Roueche, “Government’s Sentencing Memorandum, Exhibit 3, Affidavit of Peter Ostrovsky,” U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, Docket No. CR-07-0344 RSL.):

3. …most prolific Canadian DTO are involved in the smuggling of Canadian marijuana into the United States in order to generate illicit proceeds which are subsequently used to purchase multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine in the United States for subsequent export and trafficking into Canada. This sort of criminality dramatically increases the United States’ illicit drug supply by causing Mexican and Colombian DTO to smuggle more cocaine, which is subsequently trafficked in the United States and sold to Canadian DTO.

4.  In the fall of 2004, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Border Integrity Program relayed information to ICE that they heard helicopters were being used for the smuggling of drug contraband across the United States–Canada border. The RCMP had no specific information about where the smuggling activity was occurring along the border….”

5.  Based on the information that ICE collected, I conceived Operation Frozen Timber as an ICE-led investigative operation with criminal investigative and homeland security purposes…By conducting such an investigative operation, ICE would also be able to ultimately prevent others from using smuggling via helicopter as a means to conduct National Security-related offenses.

6.  During January 2005, ICE agents began extensive follow-up investigation to positively identify the persons, aircraft and locations that were being used during suspected smuggling via helicopter activities.  Ultimately, ICE investigation determined that the majority of the persons that were involved in smuggling via helicopter activities were working under the direction of Roueche and his subordinates in the UN GANG.

2003095061

Canadian Helicopters Brought Weed Into US

[ICE deployed motion-triggered video monitors in remote locations, and working with informants and other sophisticated investigative techniques, observed and filmed a number of occasions when helicopters from Canada brought in large loads of marijuana, dumping them off in duffle bags to gang members on the ground.  Working through an informant, ICE agents in May 2005 sold “suspected Canadian drug smugglers” Trevor Schoueten and Brian Fews a pickup truck which had been covertly fitted out with a GPS monitor and a “kill switch.”  In June, the kill switch was activated during a run and the investigators gathered further intelligence when “Roueche subsequently contacted the informant and requested that the informant assist Schoueten in recovering the vehicle and marijuana load from the Washington State Patrol.”  Several subjects of the investigation admitted that they had been smuggled across the border in the helicopters.]

16…. Unfortunately on that same date, a RCMP member who was requested to identify the pilot of the helicopter, inadvertently advised the pilot Henry Rosenau that the U.S. Government was aware of his smuggling activities along with the locations from where Rosenau was operating the helicopters in British Columbia, Canada.…

21.  During December, 2005, during telephone conversations with the informant, Roueche solicited the informant to transport the illicit proceeds from narcotics sales in Seattle, Washington to Los Angeles, California in a vehicle with a hidden compartment.  During the conversations, Roueche stated that the transportation of the proceeds to California would enable him “to get what I need.”  Roueche’s statement was a reference to cocaine for the purpose of exporting it to Canada.

23.  Between January and March 2006, on multiple occasions, Roueche and his subordinate [defendant] Daniel Russell, directed the informant to have undercover ICE agents pick up, transport and deliver a total of $748,460 to persons in the Los Angeles area.

26.  During 2006, follow up investigation by ICE agents and local police investigators and the conduct of multiple search warrants resulted in the seizure of over $2,000,000 in U.S. currency and approximately 200 kilograms of cocaine in the Los Angeles area.

30.  As a result of Operation Frozen Timber, ICE agents identified at least 15 helicopter landing sites on federal and state lands in Washington State that were being used by the UN GANG for drug and human smuggling activities.  ICE agents further determined that the smuggling via helicopters was as follows:  there were multiple Canadian-registered helicopters operating from Canada away from traditional airports in rural locations, the helicopters were being loaded with drug contraband in uninhabited, forested mountainous terrain near the border, the helicopters were evading civil aviation radar detection and authorities by flying through cross border mountainous terrain where there is no radar coverage, the helicopters were flying eight to 40 miles south of the border and exploiting uninhabited federal and state lands where they could offload their drug contraband in 43 seconds to 3 minutes and then return to Canada.  Based upon the aforementioned technical data alone, this sort of smuggling activity poses a significant threat to U.S. border and homeland security.

31.  Also as a result of Operation Frozen Timber and its focus on Roueche and the activities of the UN GANG in multiple judicial districts in the Western United States, ICE agents and their law enforcement partners were able to seize approximately 2,169 pounds of Canadian marijuana, 335 kilograms of cocaine, $2,033,388 in U.S. currency, two pounds of crack cocaine, four pounds of methamphetamine, five firearms and conduct the undercover delivery of $748,460 in U.S. currency at the direction of Roueche and Russell.  ICE agents also documented through motion-activated video surveillance systems, that approximately 3,500 pounds of Canadian marijuana was smuggled into the United States by Roueche and the UN GANG which was not seized by the U.S. Government.  Based on the aforementioned seizures, information and proffers by convicted UN GANG members and criminal associates…it is estimated that Roueche and the UN GANG were responsible for importing at least 2,000 pounds of Canadian marijuana into Washington State from British Columbia, Canada and exporting at least 200 pounds of cocaine from California into British Columbia, Canada, per month.

Unrepentant Gang Boss

Roueche may be brilliant as a gang boss and drug lord.  But he did himself no favors as a convicted felon awaiting sentencing.  According to the sentencing memorandum, he painted himself as unrepentant and down with the hoods he met in several lockups:

None of Roueche’s post-arrest actions or writings evinces any desire to change his lifestyle or move in a different direction.  He simply wishes to continue supporting his organization until he can get out and pick up where he left off.  In a letter addressed to “Mrs. Roueche” but which begins, “To my Bro’s [sic],” Roueche spends two handwritten pages re-dedicating himself to his gang.  He muses about the  “hella cool” cellmates he had in the Federal Detention Center, commenting that he closely listened to their stories because he has, “a big thirst for knowledge.”  The first person he described had, “crazy tatts and bullet wounds everywhere as well as stacks of charges LOL.”

Roueche spoke reverentially of this inmate, as well as two others with criminal pasts, and describes that they all “seemed solid.”  He put himself on equal footing with these criminals, explaining, “it seems real men can usually tell what others are real.” Roueche also appears to hold those who refuse to talk to the authorities as more upstanding than those who do not.  He described that the inmates in state prisons are more “solid” than those in the federal system because those in the state system must “show paperwork.”  He described his stay in a Texas jail as “interesting” and noted that he “met a cool crew there too.”

Roueche simply shows no desire to walk away from the very people with whom he surrounded himself during his crimes.  His behavior and his letters evince a continuing need to lead his “crew” and return to the drug trafficking he has lived for the past several years.  He does not show a need or an inclination to change.  When released, Roueche will undoubtedly go back to trafficking in narcotics, or whatever illegal goods make the most money for him.

This, of course, will do him no good when he stands before the bar of justice and gets what’s coming to him.  Meanwhile, local media in Vancouver reports that the UN Gang has recovered from its loss and is still up to its elbows in criminality.

p007_1_1

Here's a Good Idea: Smoke BC Bud and Finance Another Crack Cocaine Addict's Supply!

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.

Y QUE? ALEX SANCHEZ DENIED BAIL AGAIN

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, undercover investigations on October 20, 2009 at 4:09 pm
Still in Custody -- Judges denies Bail Request of Alex Sanchez, Accused "Stealth Shot Caller"

Still in Custody -- Judges denies Bail Request of Alex Sanchez, Accused "Stealth Shot Caller"

Details are not only sketchy, they are non-existent, but two close sources confirm that Alex Sanchez was again denied bail at his hearing in federal court yesterday.  Don’t bother searching the Los Angeles Times, to whom this case is apparently not a story in spite of its drama and implications for administration of justice, gangs, and organized crime.

For background on the story of this former gangster, ostensibly turned anti-gang activist, but now accused in a federal RICO indictment of being a secret “shot-caller” or gang boss, go here, here, and here.

Meanwhile, perhaps the most that can be said until the trial and verdict is this.

Whatever the prosecutors served up yesterday, it apparently was sizzling enough to convince federal judge Manuel Real to keep Sanchez locked up.

Experienced gang prosecutors and investigators who are not related to or part of the Sanchez case have told me 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?”

Point taken, but Fairly Civil remains amazed at the virtual news blackout on this case.

Lindsay Lohan grabs more media time? Any media time?

Pathetic.

Newsworthy in L.A.

Newsworthy in L.A.

A Gang Cop’s Reply to Latest Post On the Alex Sanchez Case

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on October 18, 2009 at 6:38 am

As Fairly Civil expected, the previous post on Father Greg Boyle’s filing for the defense in the Alex Sanchez MS-13 case (see here) provoked …um… strong reaction from some members of the Southern California law enforcement community.

[Update: Sanchez was again denied bail on October 19, 2009 by Judge Manuel Real.]

One of the more outspoken was the following communication from retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Richard Valdemar:

I worked the Metropolitan FBI Gang Task Force which targeted the Mara Salvatrucha gang (1994-2004). Father Boyle may yet be a Catholic priest, but he has no credibility with this Catholic. His actions in the past have been very anti-police in nature and I believe this comes from his own personal issues and prejudices. I believe his conduct in the past in protecting wanted gang members was immoral and unethical. I believe that he was sanctioned in the past by the Catholic Church. He has a political agenda and his support of Alex Sanchez and Homies Unidos has become an embarrassment, which can be corrected if Alex Sanchez is somehow acquitted.

There could be several valid explanations for the conversation and they do not necessarily mean that Sanchez is not a member of Mara Salvatrucha, or a Shot Caller;

The Los Angeles Mara Salvatrucha gang is made up of sub-groups or cliques. Each of these cliques supposedly operates with some autonomy from the gang in general, while at the same time holding to the identity and goals of the whole gang. These cliques have de-facto charismatic leaders and vote within the clique in matters that do not necessarily involve the whole Mara Salvatrucha. If a MS member, no matter how influential, tried to interfere in the activity of a clique which he was not a member of, he would be rebuked by clique members and leadership that were members of the particular clique who held voting power. Thus you might hear…

CAMARON: Listen man! And-and-and-and I don’t know why you [stutters] come … you know, and you get involved in things, when you are not longer active, man! You see? Better yet, what you should do is to be careful with the “United Homies” and not-not to get involved in our things, you see? [Call breaks] [UI] with us, because you are no longer active, see what I mean?

But I believe the best explanation is that Alex Sanchez (a MS shot caller), by becoming a leader of Homies Unidos, the “respectable” political arm of the Mara Salvatrucha, and associating with the likes of LA Sheriff Leroy Baca, California Senator Tom Hayden and radical political Catholic Priest Greg Boyle, Sanchez insolated himself from the MS cliques and gang street soldiers who now consider him “inactive” in the daily criminal business of the gang. Alex Sanchez was a MS shot caller when I retired in 2004, and I am sure he has not been “jumped out” of the gang or Camaron’s words would have been much more threatening. What Camaron is telling him is, you take care of the Politics and we will handle the dirty business of killing. But they are still part of the same criminal gang.

By the way, did Alex Sanchez (the supposed ex-gang member) upon learning of Camaron’s evil plot, run and inform his mentor, the good Father Boyle, who of course contacted the police so that the crimes could have been prevented? …Never Happened did it?

Sergeant Richard Valdemar

LASD Major Crimes Bureau (retired)

Power serve.

Alex Sanchez Case Boyles Over — Priest Pours Cold Water on Government Case Against “Secret Shot Caller”

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on October 17, 2009 at 11:00 pm
Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde") Throwing Devils Horns Gang Sign

Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde") Throwing Devils Horns Gang Sign

Are the men in this picture two gangsters, as the federal government claims?

Or are they one gangster and a dedicated anti-gang worker bonding with an ex-homie as part of his work in steering gangsters toward redemption?

Federal Judge Manuel L. Real is scheduled to to slice this baby Monday afternoon, October 19th.  [Update:  Judge Real again denied bail.]

That’s when the judge will hear again the application of the man on the left — Alex Sanchez — for bail.   Sanchez was charged in June with living a double life as a secret “shot caller” while pretending to be an anti-gang worker as executive director of Homies Unidos.

The shock was palpable.

If You Indict Someone Who Rates a 10 On the Mother Teresa Scale, You Better Be Damned Sure You Can Convict

If You Indict Someone Who Rates a 10 On the Mother Teresa Scale, You Better Be Damned Sure You Can Convict

Sanchez is right up there with Mother Teresa in the hagiography of good works.  An unyielding corps of his fans have absolutely insisted that that there is no way Sanchez could have been anything other than the selfless man he presented himself to be.

As an earlier post of Fairly Civil enthusiastically noted (here), the government’s case against Sanchez’s release pending trial rested primarily on what appeared to be a damning series of four wiretap transcripts and the expert opinion of Los Angeles Police Department Detective Frank Flores interpreting the transcripts of those calls.

But a statement filed Wednesday by Father Greg Boyle on behalf of Sanchez raises the bar considerably.  Father Boyle points out a troubling omission from the transcript in the government’s case — namely, the statement of one of the gangster’s that pretty clearly appears to say (in so many words) “butt out, Alex, you are no longer one of us.”

To quote an L.A. news website, WitnessLA: “WTF?”

If you indict Mother Teresa, you better be able to prove her guilt slam dunk style.

(It’s worth noting that the Los Angeles Times appears to be — nay, is — sleeping soundly through this case, as it does so many other gang cases.  That is scandalous either way this case goes, because either an innocent man is being railroaded or he pulled off the greatest scam in the history of do-goodism!)

Excerpt from Father Boyle’s Filing

Here is an excerpt from the gut of Father Boyle’s court filing.  [Declaration of Father Greg Boyle Filed in Support of Defendant Sanchez's Application for Review of Detention Order, United States v. Alfaro, United States District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-00466-R-22.]

(Note:  Sanchez is called by his gang moniker “Rebelde” in this filing.  Camaro is the late gangster whose murder Sanchez is accused of plotting as a secret shot-caller.)

No doubt, the government will have an answer (not filed as of this posting).  If it does not have a zippy and persuasive reply to the following, you won’t be able to count the ruined careers on all your hands and toes.  [For a reply to this post, and to Father Boyle’s filing, from a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s gang sergeant, go here.]

12.  I am fluent in Spanish and I have listened to the tapes of the four recorded calls.  I have read and considered the government’s Memorandum of Points and Authorities as well as the Declaration of Detective Flores.  Based upon my experience, history and qualifications as a gang expert, I believe the government’s conclusions and Detective Frank Flores’s opinions are mistaken and are based upon a misinterpretation of the language and meaning of these four calls.  Similarly, the government and Detective Flores have misconstrued Alex Sanchez’s role in these calls, his purpose in participating in these calls and the import of his statements.

13.   Before I discuss my review of each of the calls, it is important to highlight the fact the government and Detective Flores completely omit and ignore one of the most important — if not the most important — sections in these calls:  the clear and unequivocal statements by participants in the calls that Mr. Sanchez is not an active gang member.  This omission, in and of itself, raises concerns in my mind about the balance and fairness of the government’s and Detective Flores’s presentation.  It is unlikely, if not impossible, the government and Detective Flores overlooked this part of the calls.  More likely, they did not make mention of these statement because the recorded statements undermine their conclusions.

14.  Unlike many of the potentially ambiguous statements lifted from the calls by Detective Flores, there is no ambiguity in the statement made by Camaron, during the third call, that Alex Sanchez is not an active member of the MS-13 gang.  Camaron states:

CAMARON:        Listen man!  And-and-and-and I don’t know why you [stutters] come … you know, and you get involved in things, when you are not longer active, man!  You see?  Better yet, what you should do is to be careful with the “United Homies” and not-not to get involved in our things, you see?  [Call breaks] [UI] with us, because you are no longer active, see what I mean?

REBELDE:        If you told him — If you told Boxer that I’m working with the FBI, then you know what, you are getting me involved!

15.  Camaron does not mince words.  He says Mr. Sanchez should have no voice in the conversation because he is not part of the gang.  From Camaron’s perspective, Mr. Sanchez is an outsider and should not get involved in “our things” because he is “no longer active.”  There is no way to reconcile this statement — that Mr. Sanchez is not an active gang member — with the government’s and Detective Flores’s position; in fact, it turns their argument on its head. If Mr. Sanchez is not an active gang member, he is certainly not a “shot caller.”  No one can be a shot caller if they are not an active gang members.  It is that simple.”

Whatever else Fr. Boyle writes in his filing, he puts his pen here right on a camel the government will have to get through the needle:  “You are no longer active.”

Match point.  Serve.  Better be a zinger.

EVIL STALKS THE WORLD — NO COUNTRY FOR WEAK MEN OR WOMEN

In bad manners, Corruption, Crime, Drugs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Obama, politics, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on October 8, 2009 at 8:35 pm
"You've been putting it up your whole life, you just didn't know it...You stand to win everything."

"You've been putting it up your whole life, you just didn't know it...You stand to win everything."

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned.

“The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats.

The book and film of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men ought to have scared the hell out of you.

If it didn’t, with all due respect, you just don’t get it.

The ruthless evil of the narcotraficantes that this story portrays is not just the fancy convention of an extremely talented writer.  It is as close to real as you might get, short of submerging oneself in the hell of the real thing.

Cold-blooded killer Anton Chigurh, the role for which Javier Bardem won his Oscar, is as pure a distillation of evil as anything not capped off tightly in a vial behind the wires at Ft. Detrick, MD.

When you get the Chigurh bug, you’re dead.

Thailand About to Spring Merchant of Death Viktor Bout -- No Time for U.S. Diplomats to Equivocate

Thailand About to Spring Merchant of Death Viktor Bout -- No Time for U.S. Diplomats to Equivocate

The movie’s infamous “call it” scene comes to mind today thinking about another pure distillation of evil, international arms merchant Viktor Bout.

Bout exploded out of the cold war as a well connected Merchant of Death.  He played a pivotal role in the arming of children as warriors in Africa and the continuing agony of that continent.  He was brought down by a brilliant U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting, overseen by  supervisory agent Michael Braun.

Arrested in Thailand, Bout seemed to have been on the way to justice in the United States.  But our “friends” in Russia leaned on the Thais, who now seem to be close to springing Bout.

Here is how the Russian news agency Novosti summed up the case last month:

Former Russian army officer Bout, 42, was arrested in Thailand in March 2008 during a sting operation led by U.S. agents.

The Bangkok Criminal Court refused in August to extradite Bout to the United States, where he is accused of conspiring with others to sell millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), among other illegal arms deals, and “threatening the lives of U.S. citizens.”…

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it will give Viktor Bout all the support he needs. The ministry said it hoped Thailand would not reverse its initial decision of not extraditing Bout to the United States.

“All the support he needs” seems to be working.  Thailand is about to unleash this evil upon the world again, Braun warned in today’s The Washington Times newspaper:

An appellate court in Thailand appears primed to uphold a recent lower court ruling that will unleash Viktor Bout, universally known as the “Merchant of Death,” back on the global community. To say that Bout is upset with the United States after spending more than a year in a Thai prison would be a gross understatement.

Bout exploded onto the international scene shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, when he effectively leveraged his high-level former Soviet military and intelligence contacts and pounced on a capitalistic opportunity to sell a limitless assortment of Soviet arms that had been stockpiled during the Cold War. I’m talking about everything from AK-47 assault rifles by the millions to such advanced heavy weapons as Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships, tanks and Igla surface-to-air shoulder-fired missiles that can knock down commercial airliners as easily as a sawed-off shotgun could blast ducks in a barrel.

His clientele were the potpourri of modern-day scum: global terrorists, ruthless dictators, merciless drug kingpins and other transnational organized criminal groups. However, it is the mark that Bout left on Africa that qualifies him as the world’s deadliest “shadow facilitator.”

Bout flooded the continent with hundreds of thousands of AK-47s and other modern weaponry before his arrest. Those arms replaced machetes and other archaic weapons wielded by heavily exploited and drugged young boys, who made up the ranks of several insurgent groups, and instantly transformed them from random murderers into perverse, mindless killing machines operating with assembly-line efficiencies. A million or more innocent Africans were slaughtered.

Read the entire article here.

Braun’s article apparently caused a panic of puckered pants at the State Department.  The Attorney General himself may have been galvanized into action.

Here’s the point: the Russians have tossed the coin and it’s up to the Obama administration to call it.  Bout is not just some guy who sells guns.  He is part of a chain of evil than spans the world:  drug traffickers, terrorists, ruthless and heartless.

The question may be this for the Attorney General:  Is letting Viktor Bout back into the world to sell more death and destruction to terrorist groups like the Colombian narcoteroristas FARC less important than getting admitted pervert and child abuser Roman Polanski back on our soil to serve his time?

When you stand to win everything, you also stand to lose everything.

"Call it!"

"Call it!"

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

“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.

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


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 497 other followers

%d bloggers like this: