“Sentencing Commission in sweeping review of prison terms for drug dealers”

August 16, 2013

The Guardian on August 15, 2013 released the following:

By: Dan Roberts in Washington

“The US Sentencing Commission has voted unanimously to begin a sweeping review of federal sentences for drug dealers in a move that could herald long-awaited reductions in America’s prison population.

Just days after attorney general Eric Holder called for a new approach to the so-called “war on drugs”, the commission met in Washington to agree a new policy priority that potentially goes far further than the Department of Justice can in lowering sentences.

As anticipated, the independent government agency, which issues sentencing guidelines to federal judges, will now spend the next few weeks reviewing its “drug quantity table” – the grid that determines prison lengths for dozens of different categories of offence – before publishing new recommendations in January.

A reduction in sentencing guidelines could still be blocked by Congress, but Holder’s speech on Monday has coincided with a new mood of reform in Washington that reverses decades of political pressure to increase penalties for drug dealers. His comments were welcomed by Senate judiciary committee chair Patrick Leahy and leading Republicans such as senator Rand Paul.

Currently the guidelines in the commission’s drug quantity table can result in first-time offenders facing sentences of 19 to 24 years, with no parole, for possession of the maximum quantities of heroin, crack or methamphetamine. Even dealers caught with 100g of cocaine can face between 27 and 33 months, according to the table.

A number of specific offences are also subject to mandatory minimum sentences prescribed by Congress, although Holder instructed US prosecutors on Monday to begin circumventing such automatic terms by changing the way they bring charges.

The seven commissioners who voted on the sentencing panel, including five senior judges, are now thought likely to go much further than this by formulating across-the-board changes to the recommended sentences.

Speaking afterwards, Dabney Friedrich, a former associate counsel in the Bush White House who sits on the commission, told the Guardian she thought that pressure in Congress to control the cost of the US prison system would be a key factor in ensuring political support for such a move.

The Department of Justice also issued a supportive statement on Thursday, which welcomed the commission’s progress.

“As the attorney general expressed earlier this week, we think there is much to be done to improve federal sentencing and corrections,” said DOJ official Jonathan Wroblewski. “Moreover, we think the US Sentencing Commission has a very big role to play in shaping that reform.”

In a statement issued after its meeting, the commission noted that drug offenders account for nearly half of all federal inmates, and that “an adjustment to the drug quantity tables in the sentencing guidelines could have a significant impact on sentence lengths and prison populations.”

“With a growing crisis in federal prison populations and budgets, it is timely and important for us to examine mandatory minimum penalties and drug sentences, which contribute significantly to the federal prison population,” added Judge Patti Saris, chair of the commission.

“The Commission is looking forward to a serious and thoughtful reconsideration of some of the sentencing guidelines which most strongly impact the federal criminal justice system,” she said. “I am glad that members of Congress from both parties and the Attorney General are
engaged in similar efforts.”

The Commission also pledged to work with Congress to reduce the “severity and scope of mandatory minimum penalties and consider expanding the ‘safety valve’ statute which exempts certain low-level non-violent
offenders from mandatory minimum penalties”. It will pass its final amendments to Congress in May.

Political reaction to the recent sentencing developments has been broadly positive. Senator Leahy said was pleased at Holder’s call for a review of mandatory minimum sentences.

Although he believes long sentences are appropriate in some cases, but the veteran Democrat said it believes judges should be given more flexibility rather than relying on mandatory requirements.

Others have expressed concern however at the new mood sweeping Washington.

William Otis, a former federal prosecutor at Georgetown University, said stiffer sentences in recent decades had contributed to lower crime rates.

“Two generations ago, in the 1960s and 1970s, our country had the wholly discretionary sentencing system Holder admires. For our trouble, we got a national crime wave,” he wrote in a USA Today op-ed.

“We have every right to instruct judges that some offenses are just too awful to allow an overly sympathetic jurist to burst through a congressionally established floor.””


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

Federal Mail Fraud Crimes

Federal Crimes – Appeal


To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

U.S. Agents Aided Mexican Drug Trafficker to Infiltrate His Criminal Ring

January 9, 2012
Harold Mauricio Poveda-Ortega, an accused Colombian drug trafficker - DEA
(Photo: Reuters) Harold Mauricio Poveda-Ortega, an accused Colombian drug trafficker, in custody in 2010.

The New York Times on January 9, 2012 released the following:


WASHINGTON — American drug enforcement agents posing as money launderers secretly helped a powerful Mexican drug trafficker and his principal Colombian cocaine supplier move millions in drug proceeds around the world, as part of an effort to infiltrate and dismantle the criminal organizations wreaking havoc south of the border, according to newly obtained Mexican government documents.

The documents, part of an extradition order by the Mexican Foreign Ministry against the Colombian supplier, describe American counternarcotics agents, Mexican law enforcement officials and a Colombian informant working undercover together over several months in 2007. Together, they conducted numerous wire transfers of tens of thousands of dollars at a time, smuggled millions of dollars in bulk cash — and escorted at least one large shipment of cocaine from Ecuador to Dallas to Madrid.

The extradition order — obtained by the Mexican magazine emeequis and shared with The New York Times — includes testimony by a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent who oversaw a covert money laundering investigation against a Colombian trafficker named Harold Mauricio Poveda-Ortega, also known as “The Rabbit.” He is accused of having sent some 150 tons of cocaine to Mexico between 2000 and 2010. Much of that cocaine, the authorities said, was destined for the United States.

Last month, The Times reported that these kinds of operations had begun in Mexico as part of the drug agency’s expanding role in that country’s fight against organized crime. The newly obtained documents provide rare details of the extent of that cooperation and the ways that it blurs the lines between fighting and facilitating crime.

Morris Panner, a former assistant United States attorney who is an adviser at the Center for International Criminal Justice at Harvard, said there were inherent risks in international law enforcement operations. “The same rules required domestically do not apply when agencies are operating overseas,” he said, “so the agencies can be forced to make up the rules as they go along.” Speaking about the

Drug Enforcement Agency’s money laundering activities, he said: “It’s a slippery slope. If it’s not careful, the United States could end up helping the bad guys more than hurting them.”

Shown copies of the documents, a Justice Department spokesman did not dispute their authenticity, but declined to make an official available to speak about them. But in a written statement, the D.E.A. strongly defended its activities, saying that they had allowed the authorities in Mexico to kill or capture dozens of high-ranking and midlevel traffickers.

“Transnational organized groups can be defeated only by transnational law enforcement cooperation,” the agency wrote. “Such cooperation requires that law enforcement agencies — often from multiple countries — coordinate their activities, while at the same time always acting within their respective laws and authorities.”

The documents make clear that it can take years for these investigations to yield results. They show that in 2007 the authorities infiltrated Mr. Poveda-Ortega’s operations. Mr. Poveda-Ortega was considered the principal cocaine supplier to the Mexican drug cartel leader Arturo Beltran Leyva. Two years later, Mexican security forces caught up with and killed Mr. Beltran Leyva in a gunfight about an hour outside of Mexico City.

As for Mr. Poveda-Ortega, in 2008 he escaped a raid on his mansion outside Mexico City in which the authorities detained 15 of his associates and seized hundreds of thousands of dollars, along with two pet lions. But the authorities finally captured him in Mexico City in November 2010.

According to the newly obtained documents, Mexico agreed to extradite Mr. Poveda-Ortega to the United States last May. But the American authorities refused to say whether the extradition had occurred.

“That’s how long these investigations take,” said an American official in Mexico who would speak only on the condition that he not be identified discussing secret law enforcement operations. “They are an enormously complicated undertaking when it involves money laundering, wires, everything.”

The documents, which read in some parts like a dry legal affidavit and in others like a script for a B-movie, underscore that complexity. They mix mind-numbing lists of dates and amounts of illegal wire transfers that were conducted during the course of the investigation.

One scene described in the documents depicts the informant making deals to launder money during meetings with traffickers at a Mexico City shopping mall. Another describes undercover D.E.A. agents in Texas posing as pilots, offering to transport cocaine around the world for $1,000 per kilo.

Those accounts come from the testimony by a D.E.A. special agent who described himself as a 12-year veteran and a resident of Texas. There is also testimony by a Colombian informant who posed as a money launderer and began collaborating with the D.E.A. after he was arrested on drug charges in 2003. The Times is withholding the agent’s and the informant’s names for security reasons.

In January 2007, the informant reached out to associates of Mr. Poveda-Ortega and began talking his way into a series of money-laundering jobs — each one bigger than the last — that helped him win the confidence of low-level traffickers and ultimately gain access to the kingpins.

A handful of undercover D.E.A. agents, according to the documents, posed as associates to the informant, including the two who offered their services as pilots and another who told the traffickers that he had several businesses that gave him access to bank accounts that the traffickers could use to deposit and disperse their drug money.

In June 2007, the traffickers bit, asking the informant to give them an account number for their deposits. And over a four-day period in July, they transferred tens of thousands of dollars at a time from money exchange houses in Mexico into an account the D.E.A. had established at a Bank of America branch in Dallas.

According to the testimony, the traffickers’ deposits totaled $1 million. And on the traffickers’ instructions, the informant withdrew the money and the D.E.A. arranged for it to be delivered to someone in Panama.

Testimony by the informant suggests that the traffickers were pleased with the service.

“At the beginning of August 2007, Harry asked my help receiving $3 million to $4 million in American money to be laundered,” the informant testified, referring to one of the Colombian traffickers involved in the investigation. “During subsequent recorded telephone calls I told Harry I couldn’t handle that much money.” Still, the informant and the D.E.A. tried to keep up. On one occasion, they enlisted a Mexican undercover law enforcement agent to pick up $499,250 from their trafficking targets in Mexico City. And a month later, that same agent picked up another load valued at more than $1 million.

The more the money flowed, the stronger the relationship became between the informants and the traffickers. In one candid conversation, the traffickers boasted about who was able to move the biggest loads of money, the way fishermen brag about their catches. One said he could easily move $4 million to $5 million a month. Then the others spoke about the tricks of the trade, including how they had used various methods, including prepaid debit cards and an Herbalife account, to move the money.

The next day, the informant was summoned to his first meeting in Mexico City with Mr. Poveda-Ortega and Mr. Beltran Leyva, who asked him to help them ship a 330-kilogram load to Spain from Ecuador. The documents say the shipment was transported over two weeks in October, with undercover Ecuadorean agents retrieving the cocaine from a tour bus in Quito and American agents testing its purity in Dallas before sending it on to Madrid.

The testimony describes the informant reassuring the traffickers in code, using words like “girlfriend” or “chick” to refer to the cocaine, and saying that she had arrived just fine. But in reality, the testimony indicates, the Spanish authorities, tipped off in advance by the D.E.A., seized the load shortly after its arrival, rather than risk losing it.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing


To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International

Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices

listed above.