Monday, May 21, 2018

Kurdish Pride Gang Reputedly Infiltrates Police Department in Nashville @MNPDNashville

The headline was alarming.

As news broke in mid-April — before Jiyayi Suleyman was ever arrested — of an internal investigation detailing how the Metro Nashville Police Department had determined its first Kurdish officer was a member of the Kurdish Pride Gang, members of the tight-knit community were caught off guard, said Drost Kokoye.

The internal investigation, first reported on by WSMV, outlined allegations by Nashville police that Suleyman, 29, was part of the gang and had conducted unauthorized searches on its members in a state criminal information database.

Suleyman had resigned in March, though his resignation letter states only that he had decided to begin a new career.

Kokoye, an activist and friend of Suleyman's family, believes that Suleyman was unfairly targeted. She began encouraging fellow Kurds to call police Chief Steve Anderson and Mayor David Briley to inquire about what had prompted the investigation. Then Suleyman was charged.

On April 27, a Davidson County grand jury returned indictments charging Suleyman with 57 counts of official misconduct related to "excessive inquiries" of the state criminal justice portal system, said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the criminal investigation into Suleyman.

He was arrested May 8 and booked into jail in Nashville under a $75,000 bond, which he posted through a bondsman.

Suleyman, whose family arrived in Nashville as refugees, was hired by Nashville police in 2012 as the department's first Kurdish officer. Early last year, former Mayor Megan Barry hailed his contribution to the city.

About 15,000 Kurds live in Nashville, more than in any other city in the United States. The community is largely concentrated in the south part of the city.

"It felt like a step in the right direction," said Kokoye, who is similar in age to Suleyman, about Suleyman's hiring. "It felt like we were able to have some level of accountability with Metro Nashville Police Department."

The late 1990s and early 2000s had marked the beginning of the Kurdish Pride Gang, a small group of teenagers accused of being behind a number of crimes in the city.

Kirmanj Gundi, a Tennessee State University professor and Kurd who immigrated to Nashville in the 1970s, said many of the teenagers involved came from strict and stable families but became part of the gang at school.

From the mid-2000s to 2012, police in Nashville identified around two dozen Kurdish Pride Gang members whom the police department ultimately sued, declaring them a public nuisance and prohibiting them from meeting in specific public locations in the Paragon Mills area.

The police gang unit, along with civic groups within the Kurdish community and the Kurdish mosque, the Salahadeen Center, worked with youth and their families to stifle much of the gang activity that had gripped parts of South Nashville.

If you ask Kokoye, the Kurdish Pride Gang in recent years has been joked about as somewhat of an urban legend among Kurdish young people in Nashville.

While Metro police say they found photos of Suleyman previously taking part in making gang gestures and wearing clothing associated with Kurdish Pride colors, Kokoye said he certainly isn't the only Kurdish person from her era of high school who has posed in a similar manner.

Kokoye, who graduated from Antioch High School in 2009, can dig up photos from her time there in which she and her Kurdish friends — sometimes wearing matching yellow bandannas and often sitting together at pep rallies and other events — would jokingly flash gang hand gestures.

"It was kids trying to be cool, kids trying to be associated with something that was cool," she said.

It's unclear when the photos of Suleyman were taken.

According to Nashville police's specialized investigations division, the 2012 injunction against the Kurdish Pride Gang disrupted its traditional structure, but didn't dissolve it.

"Information gleaned by MNPD’s gang unit has led to detectives’ conclusion that the KPG remains active, but more secretive than before," said police spokesman Don Aaron, declining to provide an estimate on how many members remain.

Metro police say Kurdish Pride members are suspected of continually being involved in drug distribution and burglaries, and remain on the gang unit's radar.

"They are around in different ways," Gundi said. "Before they were more violent. What I've heard is they are smaller in size and capacity, but unfortunately they are still around."

At the request of District Attorney General Glenn Funk, on March 13, a week before Suleyman handed in his notice of resignation, TBI had begun investigating the case.

In an investigative summary in Suleyman's personnel file, Nashville police officials alleged that:


  • While investigating House of Kabob, a Middle Eastern restaurant on Thompson Lane, they determined that Suleyman was associating with individuals involved in the sale of drugs and illegal firearms.
  • During a search of suspect's house, police found what they describe as photos of Suleyman — taken before he was hired in 2012 —  "participating in gang activities."
  • Detectives found phone records showing regular communication with known Kurdish Pride members.
  • By the department's own investigative standards, Suleyman would be considered a confirmed gang member.

While Nashville police say Suleyman failed to disclose alleged ties to the Kurdish Pride Gang, Kokoye said he is being punished for natural connections with Kurdish friends and family. "They're criminalizing him for the relationship he has in the community," Kokoye said.

When reached about the case, Hamid Hasan, owner of House of Kabob, denied that there was any gang activity going on at the restaurant, but noted that anybody can come in and patronize a business.

Hasan said one of his employees got in legal trouble roughly a year ago related to the sale of a firearm, but the incident occurred on the employee's own time and not at the restaurant. "I cannot control people's lives," Hasan said, declining to speak further about the allegations outlined in the department's investigative summary.

The court system has no record of an attorney listed for Suleyman, and USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee was unable to determine who is representing him.

Though their perspectives on the legitimacy of the Nashville police and TBI investigations vary, both Gundi and Kokoye said the community now has little choice but to wait and see how the case plays out in the court system.

Kokoye believes the arrest of Suleyman has damaged the Kurds' relationship with police in Nashville. "This attack against Jiyayi isn’t just an attack against Jiyayi," she said. "The claim that he is a KPG member is an attack on our entire community."

Gundi said that if both local and state law enforcement have investigated Suleyman in one capacity or another, that they must have a legitimate reason and probable cause to do so, though he believes no one should jump to conclusions that Suleyman is guilty.

He said he hopes the case against Suleyman doesn't hurt the reputation of the local Kurdish community as a whole. "It's horrible charges, and of course I certainly am ashamed, although we have all our problems like any other immigrant community," Gundi said. "For the most part, our community has been a community that has relied on themselves and tried to do good. Unfortunately, some of our youth have taken advantage of the freedom they have in this country."

Thanks to Natalie Allison.

Friday, May 18, 2018

History of Michael Cohen's Criminal Ties #RussianMafia

Michael Cohen, President Trump's long-time lawyer and personal "pit bull," was brought to heel when federal agents raided his office in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center. The U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, acting on a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, is investigating Cohen for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations that stem, at least in part, from a $130,000 payment Trump's attorney made to hush up a porn star who says she slept with the president. ("I will always protect Mr. Trump," Cohen said.) Meanwhile, Mueller is investigating a $150,000 "donation" that Cohen arranged for Trump's foundation in 2015 from a Ukrainian billionaire named Victor Pinchuk. "Attorney-client privilege is dead!" Trump tweeted. It's not dead, but the raid on Cohen's home, office and swanky Park Avenue hotel room is an extraordinary step that underscores his decade-long role as Trump's heavy, fixer and connector.

Cohen joined the Trump Organization in 2006, and eventually became Trump's personal lawyer, a role once occupied by Roy Cohn, Senator Joseph McCarthy's heavy-lidded hatchet man during the Red Scare who advised Trump in the 1980s. Michael Cohen's bare-knuckled tactics earned him the nickname of "Tom," a reference to Tom Hagen, the consigliore to Mafia Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather. He grew up on Long Island, the son of a physician who survived the Holocaust in Poland, and like Tom Hagen spent a childhood around organized crime, specifically the Russian Mafia. Cohen's uncle, Morton Levine, was a wealthy Brooklyn doctor who owned the El Caribe Country Club, a Brooklyn catering hall and event space that was a well-known hangout for Russian gangsters. Cohen and his siblings all had ownership stakes in the club, which rented for years to the first Mafiya boss of Brighton Beach, Evsei Agron, along with his successors, Marat Balagula and Boris Nayfeld. (Cohen's uncle said his nephew gave up his stake in the club after Trump's election.)

I spoke to two former federal investigators who told me Cohen was introduced to Donald Trump by his father-in-law, Fima Shusterman, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ukraine who arrived in the U.S. in 1975. Shusterman was in the garment business and owned a fleet of taxicabs with his partners, Shalva Botier and Edward Zubok – all three men were convicted of a money-laundering related offense in 1993. "Fima may have been a (possibly silent) business partner with Trump, perhaps even used as a conduit for Russian investors in Trump properties and other ventures," a former federal investigator told me. "Cohen, who married into the family, was given the job with the Trump Org as a favor to Shusterman." ("Untrue," Cohen told me. "Your source is creating fake news.")

Shusterman, who owned at least four New York taxi companies, also set his son-in-law up in the yellow cab business. Cohen once ran 260 yellow cabs with his Ukrainian-born partner, the "taxi king" Simon V. Garber, until their partnership ended acrimoniously in 2012. Glenn Simpson, the private investigator who was independently hired to examine Trump's Russia connections during the real estate mogul's presidential run, testified before the House Intelligence Committee that Cohen "had a lot of connections to the former Soviet Union, and that he seemed to have associations with organized crime figures in New York and Florida – Russian organized crime figures," including Garber.

A curious episode in Cohen's life came in 1999 when he received a $350,000 check from a professional hockey player named Vladimir Malakhov, who was then playing for the NHL's Montreal Canadiens. According to Malakhov, the check was a loan to a friend. The friend, however, swore in an affidavit that she never received the money and never even knew the check had been written until it was discovered years later in a Florida lawsuit. So what happened to the money? One interesting lead was an incident involving Malakhov, who was approached in Brighton Beach and shaken down for money by a man who worked for the Russian crime boss, Vyacheslav Ivankov. "Malakhov spent the next months in fear, looking over his shoulder to see if he was being followed, avoiding restaurants and clubs where Russian criminals hang out," according to testimony an unnamed Russian criminal gave to the U.S. Senate in 1996. Cohen, who said he didn't know Malakhov or anyone else in the case, offered his own theories as to the origin and fate of the check in a 2007 deposition with Malakhov's attorneys.

Q. You don't recall why this check was written to you for $350,000 in 1999 and how these funds left your trust account in any way, shape or form?

A: Clearly Vladimir Malakhov had to have known somebody who I was affiliated to and the only person I can—and I mentioned my partner's name, Simon Garber, who happens also to be Russian.

Regardless of what he did or didn't know Cohen was able to purchase a $1 million condo at Trump World Tower in 2001, persuading his parents, his Ukrainian in-laws and Garber to do the same in other Trump buildings. Cohen's in-laws Fima and Ania Shusterman bought three units in Trump World Tower worth a combined $7.66 million (one of which was rented to Jocelyn Wildenstein, the socialite known as "Catwoman" for undergoing extreme facial plastic surgery to please her cat-loving husband). Cohen later purchased a nearly $5 million unit in Trump Park Avenue. In a five-year period, he and people connected to him would purchase Trump properties worth $17.3 million. All the frenzied buying by Cohen and his family caught the attention of the New York Post, often described as Trump's favorite newspaper. "Michael Cohen has a great insight into the real-estate market," Trump told a reporter in 2007. "He has invested in my buildings because he likes to make money – and he does." Trump added, "In short, he's a very smart person."

During Trump's presidential run, reporters noticed a curious thing about Cohen. Questions about Trump's business or his taxes went to his chief legal officer or another staffer, but Cohen handled questions about Russia. "One of the things that we learned that caught my interest," Simpson testified to Congress in November 2017, "serious questions about Donald Trump's activities in Russia and the former Soviet Union went to Michael Cohen, and that he was the only person who had information on that subject or was in a position to answer those questions."

In the 1990s, there was an informal group of federal and local law enforcement agents investigating the Russian Mafiya in New York that called themselves "Red Star." They shared information they learned from informants. It was well known among the members of Red Star that Cohen's father-in-law was funneling money into Trump ventures. Several sources have told me that Cohen was one of several attorneys who helped money launderers purchase apartments in a development in Sunny Isles Beach, a seaside Florida town just north of Miami. This was an informal arrangement passed word-of-mouth: "We have heard from Russian sources that … in Florida, Cohen and other lawyers acted as a conduit for money."

A year after Trump World Tower opened in 2002, Trump had agreed to let Miami father-and-son developers Gil and Michael Dezer use his name on what ultimately became six Sunny Isles Beach condominium towers, which drew in new moneyed Russians all too eager to pay millions. "Russians love the Trump brand," said Gil Dezer, who added that Russians and Russian-Americans bought some 200 of the 2,000 or so units in Trump buildings he built. A seventh Trump-branded hotel tower built up Sunny Isles into what ostensibly has become a South Florida Brighton Beach.

An investigation by Reuters found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in the seven Trump-branded luxury towers. And that was a conservative estimate. At least 703 – or about one-third – of the 2044 units were owned by limited liability companies, or LLCs, which could conceal the property's true owner. Executives from Gazprom and other Russian natural resource giants also owned units in Trump's Sunny Isles towers. In an observation that several people I spoke with echoed, Kenneth McCallion, a former prosecutor who tracked the flows of Russian criminal money into Trump's properties, told me, "Trump's genius – or evil genius – was, instead of Russian criminal money being passive, incidental income, it became a central part of his business plan." McCallion continued, "It's not called 'Little Moscow' for nothing. The street signs are in Russian. But his towers there were built specifically for the Russian middle-class criminal."

Cohen joined the Trump Organization around the time that the second Sunny Isles tower was being built. A few years earlier, he had invested $1.5 million in a short-lived Miami-based casino boat venture run by his two Ukrainian business partners, Arkady Vaygensberg and Leonid Tatarchuk. Only three months after its maiden voyage, it would become the subject of a large fraud investigation. But Cohen was saved from his bad investment by none other than Trump himself, who hired Cohen as an attorney just before his casino ship sank. A source who investigated Cohen's connections to Russia told me, "Say you want to get money into the country and maybe you're a bit suspect. The Trump organization used lawyers to allow people to get money into the country."

Residents at Sunny Isles included people like Vladimir Popovyan, who paid $1.17 million for a three-bedroom condo in 2013. Forbes Russia described Popovyan as a friend and associate of Rafael Samurgashev, a former championship wrestler who ran a criminal group in Rostov-on-Don in southeastern Russia. Peter Kiritchenko, a Ukrainian businessman arrested on fraud charges in San Francisco in 1999, and his daughter owned two units at Trump Towers in Sunny Isles Beach worth $2.56 million. (Kiritchenko testified against a corrupt former Ukrainian prime minister who was convicted in 2004 of money laundering.) Other owners of Trump condos in Sunny Isles include members of a Russian-American organized crime group that ran a sports betting ring out of Trump Tower, which catered to wealthy oligarchs from the former Soviet Union. Michael Barukhin, who was convicted in a massive scheme to defraud auto insurers with phony claims, lived out of a Trump condo that was registered to a limited liability corporation.

Selling units from the lobby of the Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles was Baronoff Realty. Elena Baronoff, who died of cancer in 2015, was the exclusive sales agent for three Trump-branded towers. Glenn Simpson, who spent a year investigating Trump's background during the campaign, testified before the House Intelligence Committee that Baronoff was a "suspected organized crime figure."

An Uzbek immigrant who arrived in the United States as a cultural attaché in public diplomacy from the Soviet Union, Baronoff became such a well-known figure in Sunny Isles Beach that she was named the international ambassador for the community. Baronoff accompanied Trump's children on a trip to Russia in the winter of 2007–2008, posing for a photo in Moscow with Ivanka and Eric Trump and developer Michael Dezer. Also in the photo, curiously, was a man named Michael Babel, a former senior executive of a property firm owned by Oleg Deripaska, the Russian metals tycoon Paul Manafort allegedly offered personal updates on Trump's presidential campaign. Babel later fled Russia to evade fraud charges.

Baronoff had interesting connections to Sicily. She reportedly met her friend, the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, there. Baronoff was also close with Dino Papale, a local businessman, who described himself to The New York Times as "president of Trump's Sicilian fan club," while sporting a red "Make America Great Again" cap. Days after Trump's election in November, the local newspaper, La Sicilia, quoted Papale at length describing Trump's secret visit to the island in 2013. Papale hinted that he organized meetings between Trump and Russians.

Michael Cohen's in-laws, the Shustermans, also bought real estate in Sunny Isles. The development was paying off. Trump's oldest son, Don Jr., would later note, "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia." There is no question Trump owed his comeback in large part to wealthy Russian expatriates.

Cohen and Felix Sater have known each other for nearly 30 years. They met in Brighton Beach when Cohen started dating his future wife, Shusterman's daughter, Laura, who Sater says he knew from the neighborhood. When Cohen joined the Trump organization, Sater had become a fixture in the office. Sater was developing Trump SoHo, a hotel-condo in lower Manhattan that later would be consumed by scandal, and had earned Trump's trust. Trump asked him to look after his children, Ivanka and Don Jr., on a 2006 visit to Moscow. (It was during the Moscow trip that Sater used his Kremlin connections to impress Trump's daughter. Sater would later boast: "I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putin's private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin.") When Sater's criminal past was exposed in The New York Times, Trump suddenly looked and acted like a man with something to hide. Despite laying claim to "one of the great memories of all time," he seemed to be having trouble recollecting who Sater was. "Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it," Trump told The Associated Press in 2015. "I'm not that familiar with him." Sater flatly contradicted Trump's version of their relationship. In a little-noticed interview with a Russian publication, Snob, Sater was asked if his criminal past was a problem for Trump. "No, it was not. He makes his own decision regarding each and every individual."

In the midst of Trump's presidential run, Sater was shopping a deal to build a Trump World Tower Moscow. Between September 2015 and January 2016, Sater tried to broker a deal for a Moscow company called IC Expert Investment Company. (Sater worked for IC Expert's owner, Andrei Rozov, after he left Bayrock.) Trump signed a letter of intent in October with IC Expert Investment for a Moscow hotel-condo with the option for a "Spa by Ivanka Trump." Providing financing was VTB, a Russian bank subject to U.S. sanctions. Sater's contact at the Trump Organization was his old friend, Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen. In mid-January, Sater urged Cohen to send an email to Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin's press secretary, "since the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued." Cohen sent the email, got no reply, and said he abandoned the proposal two weeks later.

What Cohen called his old friend's "colorful language" attracted attention from congressional investigators and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office: "Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin," Sater emailed Cohen in November 2015. "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this."

Sater gave an unsatisfactory answer to BuzzFeed about why he wrote this email. "If a deal can get done and I could make money and he could look like a statesman, what the fuck is the downside, right?"

Shortly after Trump took office, Sater teamed up with Cohen to submit a Ukrainian peace plan to then national security advisor Michael Flynn that would have opened the door to lifting sanctions on Russia. What happened to the plan? The lawyer at first told The New York Times that he left the plan in Flynn's office. Then, after the story became an embarrassment, he called the Times story "fake news" and claimed he pitched the plan into the trash.

Cohen has always acted to protect Trump, and he likely believed that he could always rely on the impenetrable shield of attorney-client privilege. Arguably, no one who has worked with Trump over the past decade knows more about the president's past business dealings in Russia and elsewhere abroad than Cohen. Now that prosecutors have him in their sights, here's the question: Will Cohen's shield, now broken, become a sword?

Thanks to Seth Hettena.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Are the #Bandidos Motorcycle Club the #Mafia on Two Wheels?

A federal jury will begin deliberating Tuesday whether the top two former national leaders of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club headed a racketeering conspiracy and authorized or sanctioned members to commit extortion, robbery, assault, drug dealing and murder.

In closing arguments Monday of the nearly three-month trial in San Antonio, prosecutors painted Jeffrey Fay Pike, who was national president of the Bandidos from 2005 until January 2016, and then-vice president John Xavier Portillo, as crime bosses of a secretive gang of outlaw bikers who claimed Texas as their territory. But lawyers for Pike, 63, of Conroe, and Portillo, 58, of San Antonio, countered that the defendants headed a fraternal, social club of motorcycle enthusiasts, and that the group had some “bad apples” who committed crimes for which neither Pike nor Portillo are responsible.

"In their world, these defendants were kings,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Fuchs told the jury. “They led the Bandido nation ... where power, respect and territory mattered more than anything. ... It was under the direction of these two defendants, under the culture these two had built and sustained, that the Bandidos maintained that feeling of superiority.”

Fuchs argued that Pike and Portillo set wheels in motion that resulted in crimes like the killing by Bandidos of a man in Austin in 2006 who reportedly was trying to set up a chapter of the Hells Angels and intimidating, extorting or beating rival bikers over territory or wayward Bandidos who got crossways with the leadership.

“These kinds of acts are expected because that’s the Bandido way. That’s the culture,” Fuchs said. “This is the mafia on two wheels.”

Fuchs said the prosecution’s evidence showed Portillo served as a buffer, helping distance Pike from criminality. Fuchs said Pike sometimes met in secret with confidants like Portillo, and added that communication was compartmentalized — information was shared only with those who needed to know.

During the trial, three former national sergeants at arms — Justin Forster and Johnny “Downtown” Romo of San Antonio and William Gerald “Big G” Ojemann of Houston — testified about the inner workings of the Bandidos and how they carried out orders from Pike and Portillo for assaults, discipline and intimidation.

Pike and Portillo are named in a 13-count indictment. Both are charged with racketeering conspiracy, including authorizing attacks that included the December 2014 death of Geoffrey Brady, a supporter of the rival Cossacks Motorcycle Club who was beaten and shot at a Fort Worth bar by members of the Bandidos’ Fort Worth chapter.

Pike and Portillo are also charged with murder and use of a firearm in the aid of racketeering murder of the 2006 shooting of purported Hells Angels member Anthony Benesh. The two ex-leaders also are charged with passing down orders for a “war” against the Cossacks, who had been wearing patches on their vests saying “Texas.”

Among those assaults was a Cossack who was stripped of his biker vest after being beaten with a claw hammer west of Fort Worth in March 2015, the beatings of Cossacks members at a bar in Port Aransas in August 2015 and an unsuccessful attempt to find Cossacks in Crystal City, also in fall 2015.

The ex-Bandidos leaders are also accused of ordering Bandidos to go to Odessa as a show of force against the Cossacks in April 2015. Law officers said more than 200 Bandidos showed up, though police warned Cossacks before to leave the area and no confrontation ensued.

That incident took place five weeks before the infamous May 17, 2015, shootout involving Bandidos, Cossacks and police at a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco in which nine bikers were killed and 20 others were injured.

“These defendants are not charged in that,” Fuchs said. “But it is important that a Bandido was killed there because it provides context to everything that happened afterwards. The intent was retribution.”

Portillo is also charged with murder in the January 2002 shooting death of Robert Lara, who had reportedly killed a Bandidos member months earlier. Portillo is also charged with being a felon in possession of a gun and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

If convicted, the pair could face up to life in federal prison without parole.

Pike’s lead lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, and Portillo’s lead attorney, Mark Stevens, cautioned the jury to not convict their clients based on “guilt by association” or “guilt by lifestyle.”

“In any group, there’s going to be some bad apples, but that doesn’t make the entire group a criminal enterprise,” DeGuerin said. “The Bandidos are not on trial”

DeGuerin called Pike a good family man who is not guilty.

“It is not enough that he is simply president of the Bandidos (to convict Pike),” DeGuerin argued. “He has to have some knowledge and intent. There was no evidence of that.”

DeGuerin said Pike was “an agent of change” who tried to reform the Bandidos by bringing in more mainstream members of society and doing away with how the club referred to women as “property.” DeGuerin also said Pike split the club’s U.S. chapters from those in Canada, Europe and Australia because he disliked that they had done some “bad things.”

DeGuerin and Stevens each attacked the credibility of the government’s key witnesses, claiming they lied and implicated Pike and Portillo so the witnesses could avoid charges or long prison time for crimes that included murder.

“Without those witnesses, there’s not much meat on the bone,” Stevens said.

Stevens argued that there was no physical evidence to prove Portillo was involved in most of the crimes listed in the indictment. But Stevens said Portillo, who was convicted of possession of less than a gram of cocaine in 2006, admits to one of the charges — being a felon with a firearm — because agents found guns in Portillo’s Southeast San Antonio home when they arrested him in January 2016.

Stevens also said Portillo won’t challenge evidence that white powder agents found in the raid was 1 ounce of cocaine, but Stevens left it to jurors to decide if Portillo is guilty of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, or a lesser included offense of simple possession.

“John Portillo did not murder anybody,” Stevens said. “He’s not a big time drug dealer and he was not at war, in the offensive sense, with anybody.”

Monday, May 14, 2018

How the Law Finally Caught Up With Al Capone

In the "roaring twenties," he ruled an empire of crime in the Windy City: gambling, prostitution, bootlegging, bribery, narcotics trafficking, robbery, "protection" rackets, and murder. And it seemed that law enforcement couldn't touch him.

The early Federal Bureau of Investigations would have been happy to join the fight to take Al Capone down. But they needed a federal crime to hang their case on—and the evidence to back it up.

In those days, racketeering laws weren't what they are today. They didn't have jurisdiction over prohibition violations; that fell to the Bureau of Prohibition. Even when it was widely rumored that Capone had ordered the brutal murders of seven gangland rivals in the infamous "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," they couldn't get involved. Why? The killings weren't a federal offense.

Then, in 1929, they got a break.

On February 27, Capone was subpoenaed at his winter home near Miami, Florida, to appear as a witness before a federal grand jury in Chicago on March 12 for a case involving a violation of prohibition laws.

Capone said he couldn't make it. His excuse? He claimed he’d been laid up with broncho-pneumonia for six weeks and was in no shape to travel.

That's when the FBI got involved. They were asked by U.S. Attorneys to find out whether Capone was on the level. Their agents went to Florida and quickly found that Capone's story didn't hold water. When he was supposedly bedridden, Capone was out and about—going to the race tracks, taking trips to the Bahamas, even being questioned by local prosecutors. And by all accounts, his health was just fine.

On March 27, Capone was cited for contempt of court in Chicago and arrested in Florida. He was released on bond, but from there on, it was downhill for the notorious gangster:

* Less than two months later, Capone was arrested in Philadelphia by local police for carrying concealed weapons and was sent to jail for a year.
* When he was released in 1931, Capone was tried and convicted for the original contempt of court charge. A federal judge sentenced him to six months in prison.
* In the meantime, federal Treasury agents had been gathering evidence that Capone had failed to pay his income taxes. Capone was convicted, and on October 24, 1931, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. When he finally got out of Alcatraz, Capone was too sick to carry on his life of crime. He died in 1947.

In the end, it took a team of federal, state, and local authorities to end Capone's reign as underworld boss.

As #OrganizedCrime and the #Mafia celebrate from coast to coast, What does the Supreme Court striking down PASPA law mean for Sports Betting and Gambling?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of New Jersey on Monday effectively killed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the federal law that essentially limited sports betting to one state for the last 25 years.

PASPA was declared unconstitutional in the 7-2 decision, meaning it will be up to states – including New Jersey, which has sought to establish sports gambling for years – to decide whether to allow its residents to bet on sports.

Here’s a breakdown of what the ruling by the nation’s highest court means:

What is PASPA?


PASPA was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1992 and went into effect in January 1993. Nevada – the only state at the time the bill became law that had widespread state-sponsored sports bettors – and three other states with more limited betting (Oregon, Delaware and Montana) were grandfathered in.

PASPA didn’t outlaw sports betting because that was already illegal. Rather, PASPA banned states – outside those given exemptions – from regulating (and taxing) sports betting.

Despite PASPA’s existence, the American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates at least $150 billion a year is gambled on sports in the U.S. and 97% of that amount was bet illegally.

How soon could states offer sanctioned sports betting?

With PASPA stricken down, states now can establish their own regulated sports betting.

Many are expected to move quickly to establish sports betting as a means to increase their respective coffers. West Virginia Lottery general counsel Danielle Boyd told Legal Sports Report that the state – which already passed a law to authorize sports betting – could have sports betting within 90 days of PASPA's repeal.

"That's the news every one of these states was waiting for," sports and gambling law attorney Daniel Wallach told USA TODAY Sports. "Every one of these states' legislative measures hinged on the finding of the Supreme Court that PASPA is unconstitutional. The ruling allows the states to legislate immediately and for all such laws to become effective immediately."  

West Virginia is among 17 states that has passed or have bills making their way through state legislatures to legalize sports betting upon PASPA's repeal, according to the AGA. New Jersey and Mississippi are two other states Wallach said he sees moving the quickest to allow betting. 

Now that it's legal, what barriers remain?


Some of the legislation – like one proposal in Pennsylvania – requires a one-time license fee of up to $10 million, along with a tax of as much as 34% on gross receipts, something AGA senior vice president of public affairs Sara Slane told USA TODAY Sports could be a non-starter for potential operators.

"I think their intentions are good," Slane said. "I think some states will have to go back and structure a policy that will allow operators to want to come into the state."

What do pro sports leagues stand to gain?

The NBA and MLB, seeing the potential of PASPA's repeal, have pushed the idea of a 1% sports integrity fee. (This would be taken out of all sports bets before the government gets to tax bets.) While the leagues have pitched this as a way to police point-shaving and other gambling-related corruption, Slane said it would take such a chunk that it would make legalized sports betting non-viable.

"The integrity fee is really a 20% grab on gaming revenue," Slane said.

According to the AGA, the average sports book keeps only about 5% of the money wagered. The fee would also limit how much each state could earn in tax revenue. Nevada sports books have operated for decades without any such fee.

“The major professional sports leagues earn exorbitant profits from ticket sales, concessions, merchandise and advertising rights, and while we welcome their support for our efforts to end the failed ban on sports wagering, we do not agree that it is good policy for the leagues to take money away from law enforcement agencies that neither they nor their athletes have earned,” Chuck Canterbury, national president of the fraternal order of police, said in a statement. “Our professional leagues should focus on their sport and let us focus on enforcing the law.”

Could another federal law be on the horizon?

One has already been proposed, although the bill hasn’t budged since it was outlined about a year ago and was introduced in December.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) offered up the the Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement (GAME) Act that hasn’t even been considered by a committee. There’s little chance it will get a floor vote as Congress is consumed by other issues ahead of the midterm elections.

Part of the GAME Act is now moot, since it would have allowed states to offer legalized sports betting. But it would also mandate consumer protections, including a ban on underage betting and establish safeguards against compulsive gambling.

"I don't see Frank Pallone's bill as a relevant piece of legislation," said Wallach, a partner at Becker & Poliakoff. "There has been significant movement on the state level with no corresponding movement on the federal level. I think what we will see is a new bill coming out of one of the committees, maybe even his committee (Energy and Commerce)."

Minutes after the Supreme Court's ruling was released, Pallone used the decision to again tout the GAME Act.

"Now that the Supreme Court has struck down this unlawful and confusing law, it is time for Congress to move the GAME Act forward to ensure that consumer protections are in place in any state that decides to implement sports betting,” Pallone said in a statement.

How soon could a new federal law be in place?

Wallach said federal legislation – especially in a gridlocked environment on Capitol Hill –could come well after many states have already started taking bets and likely after the midterm elections.

 "At some point, if the legislation starts to diverge from state to state and, more importantly, the leagues don't get what they want at the state level, I think you will see Congress jump into the fray and pass some kind of legislation to create more uniformity across the country," Wallach said.

Thanks to A.J. Perez.

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