“U.S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement”

July 3, 2013

The New York Times on July 3, 2013 released the following:

“By RON NIXON

WASHINGTON — Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: A handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home.

“Show all mail to supv” — supervisor — “for copying prior to going out on the street,” read the card. It included Mr. Pickering’s name, address and the type of mail that needed to be monitored. The word “confidential” was highlighted in green.

“It was a bit of a shock to see it,” said Mr. Pickering, who owns a small bookstore in Buffalo. More than a decade ago, he was a spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental group labeled eco-terrorists by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Postal officials subsequently confirmed they were indeed tracking Mr. Pickering’s mail but told him nothing else.

As the world focuses on the high-tech spying of the National Security Agency, the misplaced card offers a rare glimpse inside the seemingly low-tech but prevalent snooping of the United States Postal Service.

Mr. Pickering was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, but that is only a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.

Together, the two programs show that snail mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.

The mail covers program, used to monitor Mr. Pickering, is more than a century old but is still considered a powerful tool. At the request of law enforcement officials, postal workers record information from the outside of letters and parcels before they are delivered. (Actually opening the mail requires a warrant.) The information is sent to whatever law enforcement agency asked for it. Tens of thousands of pieces of mail each year undergo this scrutiny.

The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program was created after the anthrax attacks in late 2001 that killed five people, including two postal workers. Highly secret, it seeped into public view last month when the F.B.I. cited it in its investigation of ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. It enables the Postal Service to retroactively track mail correspondence at the request of law enforcement. No one disputes that it is sweeping.

“In the past, mail covers were used when you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime,” said Mark D. Rasch, the former director of the Justice Department’s computer crime unit, who worked on several fraud cases using mail covers. “Now it seems to be ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’ Essentially you’ve added mail covers on millions of Americans.”

Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert and an author, said whether it was a postal worker taking down information or a computer taking images, the program was still an invasion of privacy.

“Basically they are doing the same thing as the other programs, collecting the information on the outside of your mail, the metadata, if you will, of names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren’t reading the contents,” he said.

But law enforcement officials said mail covers and the automatic mail tracking program are invaluable, even in an era of smartphones and e-mail.

In a criminal complaint filed June 7 in Federal District Court in Eastern Texas, the F.B.I. said a postal investigator tracing the ricin letters was able to narrow the search to Shannon Guess Richardson, an actress in New Boston, Tex., by examining information from the front and back images of 60 pieces of mail scanned immediately before and after the tainted letters sent to Mr. Obama and Mr. Bloomberg showing return addresses near her home. Ms. Richardson had originally accused her husband of mailing the letters, but investigators determined that he was at work during the time they were mailed.

In 2007, the F.B.I., the Internal Revenue Service and the local police in Charlotte, N.C., used information gleaned from the mail cover program to arrest Sallie Wamsley-Saxon and her husband, Donald, charging both with running a prostitution ring that took in $3 million over six years. Prosecutors said it was one of the largest and most successful such operations in the country. Investigators also used mail covers to help track banking activity and other businesses the couple operated under different names.

Other agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services, have used mail covers to track drug smugglers and Medicare fraud.

“It’s a treasure trove of information,” said James J. Wedick, a former F.B.I. agent who spent 34 years at the agency and who said he used mail covers in a number of investigations, including one that led to the prosecution of several elected officials in California on corruption charges. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.”

But, he said: “It can be easily abused because it’s so easy to use and you don’t have to go through a judge to get the information. You just fill out a form.”

For mail cover requests, law enforcement agencies simply submit a letter to the Postal Service, which can grant or deny a request without judicial review. Law enforcement officials say the Postal Service rarely denies a request. In other government surveillance program, such as wiretaps, a federal judge must sign off on the requests.

The mail cover surveillance requests are granted for about 30 days, and can be extended for up to 120 days. There are two kinds of mail covers: those related to criminal activity and those requested to protect national security. The criminal activity requests average 15,000 to 20,000 per year, said law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited by law from discussing the requests. The number of requests for antiterrorism mail covers has not been made public.

Law enforcement officials need warrants to open the mail, although President George W. Bush asserted in a signing statement in 2007 that the federal government had the authority to open mail without warrants in emergencies or foreign intelligence cases.

Court challenges to mail covers have generally failed because judges have ruled that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for information contained on the outside of a letter. Officials in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, in fact, have used the mail-cover court rulings to justify the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs, saying the electronic monitoring amounts to the same thing as a mail cover. Congress briefly conducted hearings on mail cover programs in 1976, but has not revisited the issue.

The program has led to sporadic reports of abuse. In May 2012, Mary Rose Wilcox, a Maricopa County supervisor, was awarded nearly $1 million by a federal judge after winning a lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his immigration raids in Arizona, who, among other things, obtained mail covers from the Postal Service to track her mail. The judge called the investigation into Ms. Wilcox politically motivated because she had been a frequent critic of Mr. Arpaio, objecting to what she considered the targeting of Hispanics in his immigration sweeps. The case is being appealed.

In the mid-1970s the Church Committee, a Senate panel that documented C.I.A. abuses, faulted a program created in the 1950s in New York that used mail covers to trace and sometimes open mail going to the Soviet Union from the United States.

A suit brought in 1973 by a high school student in New Jersey, whose letter to the Socialist Workers Party was traced by the F.B.I. as part of an investigation into the group, led to a rebuke from a federal judge.

Postal officials refused to discuss either mail covers or the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program.

Mr. Pickering says he suspects that the F.B.I. requested the mail cover to monitor his mail because a former associate said the bureau had called with questions about him. Last month, he filed a lawsuit against the Postal Service, the F.B.I. and other agencies, saying they were improperly withholding information.

A spokeswoman for the F.B.I. in Buffalo declined to comment.

Mr. Pickering said that although he was arrested two dozen times for acts of civil disobedience and convicted of a handful of misdemeanors, he was never involved in the arson attacks the Earth Liberation Front carried out. He said he became tired of focusing only on environmental activism and moved back to Buffalo to finish college, open his bookstore, Burning Books, and start a family.

“I’m no terrorist,” he said. “I’m an activist.”

Mr. Pickering has written books sympathetic to the liberation front, but he said his political views and past association should not make him the target of a federal investigation. “I’m just a guy who runs a bookstore and has a wife and a kid,” he said.”

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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

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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.


Alleged Sinola Cartel Members Arrested in Drug Conspiracy

September 4, 2012

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on September 4, 2012 released the following:

“CONCORD—Three members of the Sinaloa Cartel were arrested on drug conspiracy charges after a three-year long investigation, announced United States Attorney John P. Kacavas.

Manuel Jesus Guttierez Guzman, Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, and Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela were arrested in the port city of Algeciras, Spain, on August 7, 2012, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Spanish National Police. The arrests resulted from a three-year long investigation into the drug smuggling activities of the Sinaloa Cartel as it attempted to establish a market for cocaine in Europe and in the United States. Law enforcement authorities also seized 346 kilograms of cocaine that were shipped by the cartel as part of the undercover operation. Authorities seized a quantity of heroin and methamphetamine in May 2012 in Detroit, Michigan, that was tendered by the cartel as partial payment for costs incurred in previously scheduled by aborted shipments of cocaine.

Also arrested in Spain was Jesus Soto, an individual who was sent to Spain by the cartel to monitor the safety of the shipment of cocaine.

Manuel Guzman is the first cousin of Joaquin Guzman-Loera, also known as “Chapo,” the reputed leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

A New Hampshire grand jury returned an indictment charging Guttierez Guzman and the Valenzuelas and others with conspiracy to distribute 1000 or more kilograms of cocaine. The investigation involved meetings with members of the conspiracy in New Hampshire, Florida ,and the Virgin Islands at which the details of the drug distribution scheme were discussed.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Hampshire is working with the Office of International Affairs and the kingdom of Spain to obtain the extradition of those arrested. Each of the arrested individuals is a citizen of Mexico.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Boston Police Department with the assistance of the Spanish National Police.

The public is reminded that an indictment is a charge brought by the grand jury, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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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 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.


Multi-Ton Cocaine Seizure from Interdicted Drug Smuggling Vessel

October 30, 2011

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on October 28, 2011 released the following:

“TAMPA, FL— United States Attorney Robert E. O’Neill announces the recovery of an estimated 6,700 kilograms of cocaine from a submerged drug smuggling vessel in the Caribbean Sea. The vessel, a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel, or SPSS, was interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) MOHAWK on September 30, 2011, in international waters of the Caribbean some 110 miles off of the coast of Honduras. The vessel sank during the interdiction, and USCGC MOHAWK detained the four crew members, who were later transferred to Tampa for prosecution.

Shortly after the interdiction, a multi-agency effort began to recover the suspected drug cargo of the sunken SPSS. This effort included the deployment of the FBI Laboratory’s Technical Dive Team, located in Quantico, Virginia, which conducted dive operations at the site of the submerged vessel from USCGC CYPRESS. These operations yielded evidence including packages of cocaine totaling an estimated 6,700 kilograms from the SPSS.

Today, this evidence arrived at Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg aboard USCGC CYPRESS, where it will be transferred to the custody of investigators of the Panama Express Strike Force. The crew of the SPSS (Jorge Colomer, 47, of Honduras; Guilforth Romero, 24, of Honduras; Manuel Cuero, 30, of Colombia; and Marcos Salazar, 30, of Colombia) have been indicted by a federal grand jury in the Middle District of Florida for violation of the Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act of 2008 and are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison.

A similar recovery operation earlier this year yielded over 6,000 kilograms of cocaine from an interdicted SPSS that also sank in the Caribbean. The crew of that vessel is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of the federal criminal laws, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

This case is being investigated by OCDETF’s Panama Express Strike Force, comprised of agents and analysts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, and Joint Interagency Task Force South. It will be prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Austin Shutt.”

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

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

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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.


Luis Enrique Ramirez, Former Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Inspector, Sentenced to 204 Months in Federal Prison

July 6, 2011

The U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Texas on July 6, 2011 released the following:

“Former Customs and Border Protection Inspector Sentenced to Lengthy Prison Term

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Former Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector Luis Enrique Ramirez, 39, has been sentenced to a total of 204 months in federal prison, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today. Ramirez, of Brownsville, Texas, was convicted in March 2011, following his guilty plea to conspiring to transport certain aliens within the United States, bringing in a certain aliens into the United States for private financial gain, accepting bribes in his capacity as a government official and possessing with intent to distribute a quantity exceeding five kilograms of cocaine.

Ramirez, 38, of Brownsville, pleaded guilty on March 3, 2011. At that time, Ramirez admitted that between November 2007 and January 2009, while employed as a CBP officer, he was a member of a drug trafficking organization. He admitted that on Dec. 17, 2008, he allowed a co-conspirator to drive a vehicle laden with 12 Kilograms of cocaine into the United States via a vehicle primary inspection lane he was manning at the time. Ramirez also admitted that between July 2008 through January 2009, he conspired with others to bring illegal aliens into the United States and to transport them furthering their illegal presence in the United States for commercial advantage and private financial gain and accepting bribes to influence him in his official capacity as a CBP officer.

Ramirez received the statutory maximum 120 months for each of the two counts of alien smuggling counts, the statutory maximum of 180 months for the bribery conviction, as well as 204 months for drug smuggling. All sentences are to run concurrently. Following his prison term, he will also serve 10 years of supervised release. As part of his sentence, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen also entered a money judgment in the amount of $500,000 against the defendant, a sum representing the proceeds of Ramirez’s criminal activity, to the United States.

Ramirez’s sentence includes upward adjustments or increases in his calculated sentencing guideline range because he recruited other individuals, he was a public official, he received more than one bribe, he received more than $5,000 in bribes and he was in a high level or sensitive position and used his position as a public official to facilitate the illegal entry persons and narcotics into United States.

Ramirez has been in custody since his arrest where he will remain pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future where he will serve out his sentence.

This case was investigated by agents of the FBI’s Brownsville Resident office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Office of Professional Responsibility, Department of Homeland Security – Office of Inspector General and CBP – Office Of Internal Affairs. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Angel Castro.”

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

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List 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.

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