U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns will rule “in two to three days” on James “Whitey” Bulger’s trial continuance request

November 1, 2012

Boston Herald on November 1, 2012 released the following:

“Judge makes no decision on Bulger trial delay

By Laurel J. Sweet

The federal judge who’ll preside over the murder trial of accused gangland serial killer James “Whitey” Bulger will announce “in two to three days” whether he’ll grant the defense team’s latest bid to postpone the March spectacle to November 2013.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns took the request under advisement this afternoon following a 15-minute hearing that marked his first appearance in the case since Bulger’s lead public defender J.W. Carney Jr. twice demanded he recuse himself because of his prior service as a federal prosecutor. Stearns has twice refused to step aside.

Carney has also threatened to put Stearns on the witness stand next to the very bench he’ll issue orders from. Carney told Stearns today he has no plans at this time to try and get the case dismissed based on Bulger’s claim that the late U.S. Attorney Jeremiah O’Sullivan gifted him a license to kill and immunity from prosecution for more than a quarter century.

Despite an overflow courtroom no doubt hoping for a shouting match between the two men, they kept their conversation civil.

“I’m very impressed with the attendance,” Stearns quipped.

Carney renewed his contention that he and co-counsel Hank Brennan are overwhelmed by more than 364,000 documents they need to read, take notes from and review with Bulger, 83, in addition to Department of Justice reports they still need to comb through, books about Bulger’s reign of terror they need to read and witnesses they need to interview — all to adequately defend a mobster Carney said “has been demonized for decades.”

The former South Boston crimelord, who was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in June 2011 after 16 years on the lam as the FBI’s Most Wanted domestic terrorist, is charged with the murders of 19 men and women — two of them former girlfriends of his partner in crime Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi.

“We have been working days, nights, weekends and I say sincerely we cannot possibly digest this discovery in time to be prepared for trial,” Carney said. “It is unprecedented in my experience trying hundreds of cases.

“A fair trial before a fair judge does not begin with empanelment of a jury,” he said, “it begins with the defense counsel being allowed to be prepared to try the case.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly patiently assured Stearns that Carney “can handle it.”

“The government is always in favor of a fair trial,” he said. “What we’re not in favor of is delaying trials unnecessarily. This is a cross-examination case for him. This is basically murder and mayhem by our witnesses and his client. He (Carney) wants to litigate things, not resolve them.””


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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.

Secret evidence at issue in South Seattle terrorism plot

February 27, 2012
Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif
“Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, aka Joseph Anthony Davis, 33, of Seattle.
Photo: State Department Of Corrections”

SeattlePI.com on February 26, 2012 released the following:

“Classified surveillance conducted prior to arrest


Federal authorities with a secret warrant were intercepting phone calls related to a planned terrorist attack on a South Seattle military induction center well before the alleged plotters were arrested.

While details remain sparse, court filings in the case against Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif – a SeaTac man accused of plotting to kill dozens of Department of Defense employees at the East Marginal Way South center – show federal agents had been conducting electronic surveillance of Abdul-Latif in the weeks or months before his arrest.

Jailed since June and facing a potential life sentence if convicted of terrorism-related charges, Abdul-Latif is accused of preparing to storm the Military Entrance Processing Station with two other men and open fire there with automatic weapons and grenades. One of his alleged conspirators was actually a government informant who purportedly turned to Seattle police after Abdul-Latif came to him searching for weapons.

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and others were quick to praise the informant in the days after Abdul-Latif and Los Angeles resident Walli Mujahidh were arrested. Mujahidh has since pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

The informant’s actions – going to police, then working, in essence, as an undercover agent – were presented publicly as the essential break in the case.

Now, though, court documents indicate Abdul-Latif had been under investigation for months before the informant came forward in May.

Abdul-Latif appears to have himself been the target of a wiretap warrant obtained through a secret federal court operating under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, better known as FISA.

Prosecutors have filed notice that they intend to use “information obtained and derived from electronic surveillance” conducted with a warrant issued by the FISA court. What evidence prompted that warrant to be issued remains classified, and almost certainly will not be provided to Abdul-Latif’s defense attorneys or the public.

Created in the late 1970s in an attempt to curtail unjustified surveillance of Americans, the FISA system is a classified forum through which law enforcement agents – chiefly the FBI – can obtain search warrants that will never be fully disclosed to their targets or the public.

Under the FISA process, agents present the closed court with statements asserting they have probable cause to believe their target is an agent of a foreign government or terrorist organization, and receive a warrant to tap the target’s phone or search their property. That probable cause statement remains classified, though it must be provided to the U.S. District Court judge hearing the criminal case if prosecutors hope to present evidence obtained through the FISA warrant at trial.

Some aspects of the FISA system have drawn criticism in recent years, largely because the number of FISA warrants has increased dramatically since the Sept. 11 attacks. Congress has repeatedly expanded the wiretapping authority available through FISA – notably through the FISA Amendments Act in 2008 – but the warrant acquired against Abdul-Latif was most likely a traditional FISA action in line with those initially considered under the law.

Neither the Justice Department nor Abdul-Latif’s attorneys would speak about the case with regard to the secret evidence apparently now in play. Still, there’s reason to believe transcripts of Abdul-Latif’s tapped phone calls may be declassified if the case proceeds to trial.

It also remains unclear whether information obtained through a secret warrant may be introduced in the state criminal case against Michael McCright – a Lynnwood man accused of running two Marines off of Interstate 5 in North Seattle. McCright, a convicted felon also known as Mikhial Jihad, is alleged to have spoken with Abdul-Latif by phone at least three times; prosecutors have not divulged how or when those phone calls were intercepted.

Extent of surveillance unclear

Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh were arrested Jan. 24, less than a month after the informant went to Seattle police and claimed Abdul-Latif was scheming to kill Western Washington soldiers.

The man who would become key to the government’s case against Abdul-Latif met Abdul-Latif several years before. Abdul-Latif, a failed janitor and ex-con who adopted a Muslim name in 2007, had come to believe the man shared his views and willingness to turn to violence, according to charging documents.

“Abdul-Latif said that ‘jihad’ in America should be a ‘physical jihad,’ and not just ‘media jihad,’ expressing his view that it was necessary to take action rather than just talk,” an FBI agent told the court. “Abdul-Latif referred to the 2009 Fort Hood massacre, when a single gunman killed 13 people … (and) said that if one person could kill so many people, three attackers could kill many more.”

Writing the court, the agent said Abdul-Latif was recorded expressing his anger about United States activities in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, and saying that he believed killing American soldiers was justified.

The men had initially aimed at attacking Joint Base Lewis-McChord, but later changed their target to the South Seattle intake center. The facility is next to a day care.

The informant met with Seattle detectives on June 3 and said he’d met with Abdul-Latif four days prior. He then began to divulge details of the purported plot, including that Abdul-Latif had intended to attack the Tacoma base.

In early June, Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh spoke with the informant, offering details on the planned attack, according to charging documents. They met outside the recruiting station and conducted reconnaissance inside the center.

Despite a short stint in the Navy, Abdul-Latif knew little about firearms but believed the informant could assist him in acquiring automatic weapons, according to charging documents.

“Abdul-Latif told the source that he wanted to acquire, for use in the attack, AK-47 assault rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade, grenades, and bulletproof vests,” the FBI agent told the court.

According to charging documents, Abdul-Latif told Mujahidh and the informant their objective was to “take out anybody wearing green or a badge.”

Law enforcement provided the informant with weapons – a Heckler & Koch submachine gun, an M-16-style rifle and a fragmentation grenade – prior to a June 14 meeting. All had been rendered inoperable before the meeting.

Abdul-Latif examined the weapons later that day, according to charging documents. The men then reviewed a map of the center, and Abdul-Latif suggested a plan of attack.

In the days that followed, Abdul-Latif provided the informant with money to buy the weapons, the FBI agent continued. Mujahidh arrived in Seattle on two days before his arrest.

Planning continued through the evening of June 22, when the guns were delivered and the plotters were arrested at a Seattle warehouse, the FBI agent alleged. Mujahidh pleaded guilty in December and may testify against Abdul-Latif if the case goes to trial, which is scheduled to start in early May.

Defense faults prosecutors for secrecy

Following the arrests, the informant drew praise from Durkan and Seattle Police Chief John Diaz. Then as now, authorities contended the informant’s tip to police sparked the sting operation.

“This attack was foiled because of the trust and relationships the men and women of the Seattle Police Department enjoy with our community,” Diaz said at the time. The informant, he continued, “ended the plot intended to take innocent lives.”

Speaking shortly after the arrests, Durkan declined to answer when asked whether Abdul-Latif was being investigated before the informant came to police.

Now, though, attorneys for Abdul-Latif contend investigators were already at work for some time before the informant contacted authorities. They noted that the investigation appears to have begun “months” before the informant became involved.

Contacted for comment, Abdul-Latif’s attorneys declined to expand on the allegation or say whether their client’s phone had been tapped.

Abdul-Latif had for some time been posting videos to Youtube discussing his views on his adopted faith. He praised Anwar al-Awalki – a New Mexico-born recruiter for al-Qaida killed in Yemen by a U.S. missile strike in September – in one of several rambling speeches recorded in his apartment.

In October, federal prosecutors in Seattle filed a single-paragraph notice stating they would be using evidence obtained through electronic monitoring conducted under a FISA warrant. Going forward, it will likely fall to U.S. District Court Judge James Robart to determine what classified material, if any, will be made available to Abdul-Latif’s attorneys.

Without arguing that the government’s claims should be made public, Abdul-Latif’s attorneys have asked that the sealed pleadings be routed to Seattle defense attorney Jeff Robinson, who has been cleared by the Department of Defense to review top secret material.

Prosecutors on the case have endeavored to have their legal arguments heard by Robart privately. Abdul-Latif’s attorneys argue the move violates federal law and, ultimately, endangers their client’s constitutional rights.

“Barring the security-cleared member of the defense team from participating in discovery determinations cripples the adversary process without any commensurate benefit to national security,” Abdul-Latif’s attorneys told the court, noting that Robinson previously reviewed “extremely sensitive” classified information while involved in a military commission trial in Guantanamo Bay.

“Moreover, defense counsel are not clairvoyant,” they continued. “Without access to either the classified evidence or the government’s arguments for non-production, Mr. Abdul-Latif will be deprived of his right to counsel at this stage, and of the other fair trial rights to which he is constitutionally entitled.”

Disclosure requirements still demand prosecutors produce any exculpatory information to Abdul-Latif’s defense. But the court – in this case Judge Robart – may allow the government to delete or redact portions that pose a “reasonable danger” to national security.

Robart has also been tasked with reviewing the propriety of the FISA warrant apparently obtained by investigators. Unlike a standard search or wiretap warrant, though, the defense won’t have an opportunity to review the warrant application.

‘There could be boldface lies’

The law that will govern the court’s handling of classified information in Adbul-Latif’s case – the Classified Information Procedures Act – directs that defendants facing secret evidence “should not stand in a worse position, because of the fact that classified information is involved.” But, as a practical matter, the restrictions make a defense team’s work more difficult.

Robart could order that prosecutors release summaries of classified evidence. Were he to order the government to release the investigator’s statements in full, he’d be the first federal judge to do so.

Josh Dratel, a New York defense attorney with a long record of cases involving secret evidence, said there has been an “explosion” in the number of FISA warrants issued since Sept. 11.

Prosecutors benefit from the secrecy, in part because the defense is unable to challenge the claims that prompted the warrant in the first place, Dratel said.

“It’s not an adversarial process,” Dratel said. “We never see the warrant. …

“There could be just boldface lies, and we’d never get any of that information.”

It’s not yet clear what defense Abdul-Latif will put if the case proceeds to trial.

Abdul-Latif may claim he’s innocent of the allegations against him, or that he was entrapped by the government informant. In court documents, the prosecution has also suggested Abdul-Latif may offer a “mental” defense – that he is either less-culpable or not guilty because of a mental illness.

When all is said and done, Abdul-Latif’s defense attorneys will likely get to see transcripts of the recorded calls at issue in the prosecution. That’s the case in most prosecutions involving warrants issued through the FISA process, said Alex Abdo, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project.

“What they’ll normally get at the end of all this is transcripts of the intercepts,” Abdo said. “Those will usually be classified at first. … Sometimes those transcripts are declassified shortly before trial.”

Abdo said the secrecy involved leaves the defense at a disadvantage, chiefly by limiting the opportunities to challenge the prosecution’s claims. He also asserted there has been an erosion of the wall between the national security functions envisioned when the FISA process was created and criminal law enforcement.

State defendant also faces life

What impact, if any, the FISA-obtained evidence could have on McCright’s prosecution in state court also remains unclear.

McCright is accused of swerving at a government-owned sedan carrying a uniformed Marine sergeant and another noncommissioned officer on July 12. Prosecutors also claim McCright had been in contact with Abdul-Latif, a Des Moines man accused of plotting to attack a South Seattle military processing station.

Writing the court, attorneys for McCright characterized the connection put forward by King County prosecutors as “tenuous” and said they have not received any evidence backing the claim. They also noted that McCright, unlike Abdul-Latif and a second man, is not accused of terrorism.

Outlining the allegations related to the July 12 incident, FBI Special Agent Len Carver III said the Marine sergeants left the South Seattle Military Entrance Processing Station – Abdul-Latif’s alleged target – at 4:45 p.m. While the staff sergeant driving the car remained in uniform, the other man had changed into civilian clothing.

The Marines were headed north on Interstate 5 near Northgate when a small blue car sped toward them, Carver told the court. They saw a bearded man with a skull cap behind the wheel, and subsequently identified him as McCright.

Without warning, McCright swerved at the government car, forcing it into the emergency lane, the FBI agent said in court documents. McCright then allegedly pulled in front of the Marines’ vehicle and slammed on his brakes, nearly causing a collision.

The gunnery sergeant riding in the sedan’s passenger seat called 911 and reported the Geo Metro’s license plate number to the police. McCright was arrested on Sept. 8 in Seattle.

What connection McCright had to Abdul-Latif has not been outlined in court documents. Senior Deputy Prosecutor Gary Ernsdorff has said only that McCright’s cell phone was used to call Abdul-Latif prior to Latif’s arrest.

“Investigators have confirmed that the cell phone used by the defendant … was used on at least three occasions to contact Abdul-Latif prior to Latif’s arrest by federal authorities,” Ernsdorff said in court documents. “The FBI is continuing to investigate defendant McCright’s possible connection to domestic terrorism.”

On at least one occasion, FISA-obtained information has been used in state prosecution. No one has suggested it will be in McCright’s case.

McCright faces life in prison if convicted on the second-degree assault charge filed against him. His previous convictions make him eligible for the sentence under Washington’s “three-strikes” law.

Abdul-Latif remains jailed, as does McCright. Both men have pleaded not guilty.”


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


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.

Ex-Blackwater guards appeal to Supreme Court

October 22, 2011

Politico on October 21, 2011 released the following:

Posted by Josh Gerstein

“Four American workers for the Blackwater security firm who were accused of massacring civilians in Iraq in 2007 are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstitute a ruling that threw out a criminal case charging the security contractors with manslaughter and weapons violations.

U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed the case in 2009 on the grounds that the evidence was improperly tainted by statements the men made under threat of losing their jobs. However, in April of this year, a federal appeals court granted the U.S. government’s request to overturn that decision and reinstated the unusual prosecution for crimes allegedly committed outside U.S. territory.

The four guards formerly employed by Blackwater (now Xe) to protect State Department personnel were charged in 2008 with involvement in a shooting incident in Baghdad’s Al Nisur Square in 2007 that left at least 14 Iraqis dead.

Prosecutors said in court filings that the guards fired live ammunition willy-nilly into crowds and some defendants had a pattern of abusive words or actions towards Iraqis. The defense argued in court filings that any shooting took place in response to perceived threats and may not even have come from their clients.

The petition to restore Urbina’s original ruling was filed with the Supreme Court on Monday, but has not been formally docketed while the Court considers whether portions of the petition can be kept under seal. The former Blackwater workers appealing to the high court are Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Donald Ball. The case against a fifth contractor in the convoy, Nicholas Slatten, was dropped by prosecutors.

A sixth man on the Blackwater crew during the altercation, Jeremy Ridgeway, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. He pled guilty in 2008 to manslaughter and attempted manslaughter charges

President Barack Obama announced Friday that nearly all U.S. military personnel will leave Ieave Iraq by the end of 2011. However, approximately 4,000 to 5,000 civilian security personnel under contract to the U.S. government are expected to remain in Iraq, a White House official said.”


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

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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.

Judge OKs secret evidence for CIA leak trial

October 4, 2011

Politico on October 3, 2011 released the following:

By Josh Gerstein

“A federal judge has ruled that prosecutors pursuing a leak case against a former Central Intelligence Agency officer may present evidence to the jury that will not be seen by the public.

U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled in an order made public Friday that prosecutors may use a controversial procedure known as the “silent witness rule” to present three classified exhibits during the upcoming trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling. Sterling is set to go on trial later this month in Alexandria, Va. on a ten-count indictment charging him with leaking information about a highly-classified CIA program to New York Times reporter James Risen.

In response to pleas from the White House, Risen’s editors at the Times never published details of the program, which was aimed at undermining Iran’s nuclear efforts by giving that country flawed nuclear designs. However, Risen revealed the program in his 2006 book, “State of War.”

Under the “silent witness rule,” a document is shown to jurors, the defendant, the judge and the jury, but not to the public. Witnesses may refer to the documents in general terms, but do not read from them. The procedure has been used in several trials, but its constitutionality is not firmly established.

Brinkema’s order (posted here) does not provide any rationale for her decision, but tersely indicates that the prosecution will be allowed to use the “silent witness” procedure to present what a prosecution filing describes as “three CIA operational documents, all marked ‘secret,’ relating to the use of telephones.” The judge deferred ruling on a fourth document prosecutors wanted to present through the procedure, a CIA personnel evaluation report for Sterling for 1993.

All four documents were recovered in an FBI raid of Sterling’s home in Missouri in 2006. CIA rules prohibit employees from taking classified documents home without express permission, prosecutors contend.

Sterling is not charged with leaking information from the four documents to Risen. Prosecutors want to show that it is likely that Sterling had similar documents at home that he leaked to or discussed with Risen.

Prosecutors have argued that denying the public access to the evidence is necessary to safeguard national security secrets and will be of little significance since the prosecution’s questioning about the documents is likely to last only five to ten minutes. (Their motion is posted here.)

Sterling’s defense team has been hostile to the proposal. “Use of the silent witness rule in this case would seriously prejudice Mr. Sterling and totally eviscerate his right to a fair trial,” defense lawyers Ed MacMahon Jr. and Barry Pollack wrote in a recent court filing (posted here).

Press advocates have also expressed concern about the use of the technique. However, none has intervened in Sterling’s case.

The issue was apparently argued in closed-door hearings held by Brinkema in recent weeks.

One twist in the judge’s order could complicate the issue further. She denied a prosecution request to make some deletions in the documents. If the CIA is skittish about showing the entirety of the documents to jurors, prosecutors might have to drop the evidence altogether.

In another ruling in the same order, Brinkema denied the defense’s request to call a Russian nuclear scientist key to the CIA’s attempt to snooker the Iranians. She also offered no explanation for that decision.

Sterling’s trial is set to open October 17. Brinkema ruled in July that Risen would not have to identify his confidential source or sources at the trial. However, prosecutors have asked her to reconsider that ruling.”

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.

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Kingpin’s Son: US Traded Immunity for Information

September 9, 2011

The Associated Press (AP) on September 8, 2011 released the following:

Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — The handsome, square-jawed young man held in isolation in a Chicago jail doesn’t deny he was a top lieutenant in his father’s Mexican drug cartel but instead has offered a novel defense for his drug-trafficking.

Vicente Zambada’s lawyers claim he and other cartel leaders were granted immunity by U.S. agents – and carte blanche to smuggle cocaine over the border – in exchange for intelligence about rival cartels engaged in bloody turf wars in Mexico.

Experts scoff at the claim, which U.S. prosecutors are expected to answer in a filing Friday in federal court. But records filed in support of his proposed defense have offered a peek at the sordid world of Mexico’s largest drug syndicate, the Sinaloa cartel, which is run by his father, Ismael Zambada, and Mexico’s most wanted man, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

It’s a world of brutality, greed and snitching, and federal agents would love to have the younger Zambada pass along more intelligence, especially if it could help bring down his family’s operation or lead to the capture of Guzman, a billionaire who escaped from a Mexican prison in a laundry truck in 2001.

“It comes down to whether he would be willing to give up his dad or Guzman,” said David Shirk, who heads the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. “Would he be willing to give up his own dad? It seems unlikely.”

Zambada, 35, has rarely been seen since his 2009 arrest in Mexico City, after which Mexican authorities paraded him before TV cameras in a stylish black blazer and dark blue jeans. His suave image was a sharp contrast to a photo of him with moustache and cowboy hat released by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2007.

He may have upgraded his look after he assumed control over cartel logistics in 2008 and, federal officials say, received authority to order assassinations. He was arrested and extradited to Chicago a year later to face trafficking conspiracy charges punishable by up to life in prison.

The Sinaloa cartel is one of Mexico’s most powerful. Named after the Pacific coast state of the same name, it controls trafficking on the border with California and is battling rival cartels in an effort to expand east along the 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border.

Accustomed to luxury in Mexico, Zambada has been held in a 10-by-6 foot cell in Chicago, is often served meals that have gone cold and hasn’t been outside in 18 months, his attorneys say. U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo told the government Thursday to file a response to those complaints.

Armed marshals led the shackled Zambada into Thursday’s hearing. He appeared at-ease, even smiling and winking at woman sitting on a spectators’ bench.

Castillo will decide later whether Zambada’s provocative immunity claim has any credibility, but many experts said they were skeptical.

“Personally, I think it is a bunch of malarkey,” said Scott Stewart, who analyzes Mexico’s cartels for the Texas-based Stratfor global intelligence company. “I mean, what the defense is saying is that a huge amount of cocaine was allowed to pass into the United States unimpeded. Why would you even have sought his extradition if there was this potential backlash?”

U.S. prosecutors briefly discounted Zambada’s claim in one filing, but more details are expected in Friday’s documents. A spokesman for U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald would not comment on the allegation. Neither would a Washington spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, whose agents Zambada claims to have dealt with in Mexico.

However, clandestine intelligence deals are not uncommon, and conspiracy theories abound in Mexico about the government going easy on one cartel to keep the others under control.

The Sinoloa cartel’s adept use of information has helped it gain power as some others waned, trafficking experts say. The government has had only limited success battling it since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels five years ago. Since then, more than 35,000 Mexicans have died – mostly in cartel-on-cartel violence.

Zambada’s lawyers say the U.S. government believed turning a blind eye to the Sinaloa kingpins was an “an acceptable price to pay, because the principal objective was the destruction and dismantling of rival cartels.”

To bolster their claim, they point to the way the U.S. and Colombia fought that country’s once mighty cartels.

The Medellin and Cali cartels were laid low in the 1990s, in part by a divide-and-conquer strategy in which U.S.-backed authorities brought down the former before going after the latter, trafficking experts say. In some cases, they relied on informants.

The demise of Colombia’s cartels and U.S. successes in disrupting smuggling routes in the Caribbean contributed to the spectacular rise in influence and wealth of the Mexican cartels. Today, about 90 percent of U.S.-bound cocaine goes through Mexico, according to the DEA.

Mexican authorities arrested Zambada just hours after he supposedly met DEA agents in a Sheraton Hotel in Mexico City. He told the agents he wanted to start providing information directly to them rather than through a cartel attorney, according to the defense filings.

Experts, though, say the kind of collusion described by Zambada’s attorneys goes far beyond what U.S. authorities were likely to have contemplated.

“I know of no case where immunity like this has been granted,” said George Grayson, author of the book, “Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State?”

However, Zambada and other Sinaloa leaders may have given information to U.S. or Mexican agents even if the immunity claim isn’t true, Stewart and other experts say.

“The Sinaloa cartel has been better than any other cartel in Mexico at framing rival cartels – leaking information that gets their enemies in trouble,” Shirk said.

Jorge Chabat, an international relations professor in Mexico City, said it’s also possible that Sinaloa continued to thrive simply because Mexican authorities decided to focus first on more violent cartels, including a notorious gang in northeastern Mexico known as the Zetas.

“By comparison, the Sinaloas aren’t exactly the Sisters of Charity – but they’re less violent,” he said. “Sinaloa is a little more rational about its violence.””

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.

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Brooks Kellogg Sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello to Serve 72 months (6 years) in Federal Prison for a Murder for Hire Scheme

September 4, 2011

The U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Colorado on September 1, 2011 released the following:


DENVER – Brooks Kellogg, age 72, and a resident of Chicago, Illinois, was sentenced this afternoon by U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello to serve 72 months (6 years) in federal prison, followed by 2 years on supervised release, for traveling in interstate commerce in commission of murder-for-hire, United States Attorney John Walsh and FBI Special Agent in Charge James Yacone announced. Judge Arguello also ordered Kellogg to pay a $100,000 fine. Kellogg, who appeared at the sentencing hearing in custody, was then remanded.

Brooks Kellogg was arrested based on a Criminal Complaint on October 20, 2010. He was then charged by Information on November 1, 2010, which was followed by an indicted returned by a federal grand jury on November 3, 2010. Kellogg was later charged by superseding indictment on February 8, 2011. On April 28, 2011, Kellogg pled guilty before Judge Arguello. He was sentenced today, September 1, 2011.

According to court documents, on October 19, 2010, after flying from Minneapolis, Minnesota and arriving at Denver International Airport, Kellogg met at the airport with an FBI agent acting in an undercover capacity. Kellogg paid the undercover agent $2,000 in cash to murder a Florida man with whom he was involved in a real estate transaction that resulted in civil court litigation. Kellogg had already paid an additional $6,000 for the hit. The Florida man had sued Kellogg, obtaining a multi-million judgment.

“As today’s sentence reveals, anyone attempting to hire a contract killer will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh.

“This case demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to aggressively investigate all levels of violent crimes,” said FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge James Yacone. “Mr. Kellogg’s criminal activity was thwarted through a quick and decisive investigation.”

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with the Denver Police Department assisting with the arrest.

Kellogg was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Brown.”

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 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.

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Federal Asset Forfeiture – US Loses This One

August 30, 2011

The Wall Street Journal on August 29, 2011 released the following:

“Ex-Taiwan President Scores a Victory in Legal Fight Over Manhattan Condo

By Joe Palazzolo

A magistrate judge on Friday set back the Justice Department’s efforts to seize a Manhattan condominium prosecutors say is the fruit of a bribery scheme involving the former president of Taiwan.

Magistrate Judge Frank Maas in Manhattan said in a report to a U.S. district judge that the government’s forfeiture complaint against the $1.6 million condo should be dismissed because prosecutors failed to show it was purchased with the proceeds of bribery as defined under Taiwanese law.

U.S. District Court Judge George B. Daniels will ultimately decide whether to dismiss the complaint.

Prosecutors allege that the family of jailed former president Chen Shui-bian bought the $1.6 million condo with bribes from Taiwanese businessmen seeking favorable treatment in a bank merger.

Chen and his wife, Wu Shu-jen, were convicted of corruption during his time in office ending in 2008, but a Taipei court acquitted Chen last year of the bribery charges in connection with the bank merger.

According to the complaint, executives at Yuanta Securities Co. LLC delivered five or six fruit boxes stuffed with $6 million in cash to the first couple’s residence. Wu Shu-jen, who accepted the money, told investigators it was a legitimate political contribution rather than a bribe to bless a proposed bank merger.

At Wu’s direction, prosecutors allege, the cash was laundered through a labyrinth of shell companies and used to purchase a $550,000 property in Keswick, Va., and the Manhattan condo at 261 West 28th St.

Maas said the Justice Department fell short of showing that it would be able to prove at trial that the payments to the former first lady amounted to “bribery of a public official” under Taiwanese law.

“Significantly, the complaint in this action is devoid of any allegation that the President was aware that Yuanta had delivered NTD200 million to the First Lady, let alone that he had any direct involvement in the bribery scheme,” Maas wrote.

A lawyer for Chen family, Jonathan Harris of Harris, Cutler & Houghteling LLP, declined to comment on the ruling. A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Maas’s ruling was at odds with that of a judge in Charlottesville, Va., who allowed the department’s forfeiture complaint against another house owned by the Chen family to proceed. In that case, U.S. District Judge Norman Moon said in June he was not bound by the Taipei court’s decision.

Moon plans to hear arguments and testimony on the Taiwanese law and will determine himself whether the allegations in the department’s complaints constituted an offense against a foreign nation.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese authorities are appealing the Taipei district court’s decision to toss out the bribery charges. If the acquittals are reversed on appeal, Maas said the government would be able to refile its claims against the properties.”

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 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.

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