Wednesday, March 28, 2018

5 Things to Know about the Lucchese Crime Family Arrests #OperationTheVigIsUp

Authorities have arrested the alleged Mafia-linked members of the 'largest' loansharking and bookmaking operation ever investigated by the state Attorney General's Office.

The operation centered on Westchester County and the details, as presented by the Attorney General’s Office, paint a picture that might have been taken out of a Hollywood Mafia movie.

Here are five things to know about the arrests announced by the attorney general.

1. Yes, they’re allegedly Italian mafia

  • Among those arrested in what Attorney General Eric T. Shneiderman called the “largest such operation ever investigated by the New York attorney general,” was Dominick Capelli, allegedly a “made member” of the Lucchese crime family.
  • In addition to Capelli, who lives in New Rochelle, officials charged Robert Wagner, Frank McKiernan, Anthony Martino, Michael Wagner, Steve Murray, Seth Trustman, Richard Caccavale, Jessica Bismark and Robert Wagner Jr., some of whom were identified as Lucchese “associates” or “non-made” crew members in Westchester and the Bronx.
2. The alleged operation was HUGE
  • Most of the charges centered on loan-sharking, and the numbers are staggering, with the defendants allegedly charging huge, unpayable interest rates on loans, “averaging over 200 percent per year, effectively creating a high-cost debt trap,” according to a statement from Schneiderman.
  • Those payments exceeded $1 million from 47 alleged victims.
3. Police said they caught them on tape
  • Included in the indictment are a series of conversations police say were between the suspects.
  • “What do these people expect? Don’t they realize how it works?” Bismark allegedly said to McKiernan about a specific victim.
  • Police said they talked about individual payments: “He gave me 15,” Michael Wagner allegedly said to Robert Wagner. “He said he’d see you with the five tomorrow.”
 4. There was a lot of surveillance involved
  • The indictment is 70 pages long and the investigation lasted a year.
  • In that time, Schneiderman said investigators used all the tools available, including wiretaps, covert surveillance cameras, a car bug, undercover police officers and hidden cameras.
  • The operation was called “Operation The Vig Is Up.”
 5. There were also illegal gambling and drugs charges
  • Two indictments were also filed, police alleging that two New Rochelle residents, Michael Lepore and Vincent Tardibuono, ran an online bookmaking operation via website, which generated over $1.5 million in annual wagers.
  • In addition, Lucien Cappello of New Rochelle was charged with second-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, a felony, six felony counts of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and seven misdemeanor counts of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

Thanks to Jordan Fenster.

10 Reputed Mobsters & Associates with the Lucchese #OrganizedCrime Family Indicted on Loan Sharking #OperationTheVigIsUp

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the arrests and indictment of 10 individuals on charges stemming from the alleged operation of lucrative loan sharking and gambling activities controlled by the Lucchese Organized Crime Family.

The long-term investigation — deemed “Operation The Vig Is Up” — involved the alleged loan sharking and bookmaking activities of alleged Lucchese “made member” Dominick Capelli and alleged Lucchese “Associates” or “non-made” crew members in Westchester and the Bronx.

The loan sharking operation is the largest such operation ever investigated by the New York Attorney General, with usurious interest payouts exceeding a million dollars just during the approximately one-year investigation.

“As we allege, this brazen ring of criminals preyed on New Yorkers – using a gambling operation to funnel victims into their loan sharking operation, and then saddling them with usurious loan payments,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “My office will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to root out organized crime and prosecute these criminals to the fullest extent of the law.”

As part of the long-term investigation, investigators utilized wiretaps, covert surveillance cameras, a car bug, undercover police officers, and hidden cameras. Additional evidence came as a result of search warrants executed at defendant Robert Wagner’s home in New Rochelle and at McKiernan’s Lawton Street Tavern in New Rochelle.

In total, investigators identified over 47 distinct loan sharking victims, many with multiple loans, who were preyed on by the defendants. Loan sharking victims were allegedly required to make weekly, high interest “vig” payments, either by directly paying individual defendants, or by dropping off cash payments at two New Rochelle businesses: McKiernan’s Lawton Street Tavern and The Glass Room, a smoke shop. Victims were allegedly charged exorbitant weekly loan rates averaging over 200 percent per year, effectively creating a high-cost debt trap for all individuals taking out such loans.

Additionally, defendants Capelli, Wagner, and Frank McKiernan are alleged to have run an illegal bookmaking operation, utilizing the gambling website to generate over a half a million dollars in annual wagers.

Attorney General Schneiderman charged the following ten individuals with Enterprise Corruption – with underlying crimes of Usury in the First Degree and Promoting Gambling in the First Degree:
  •     Dominick Capelli, 61, of New Rochelle, NY
  •     Robert Wagner, 59, of New Rochelle, NY
  •     Frank McKiernan, 53, of New Rochelle, NY
  •     Anthony Martino, 76, of Port Chester, NY
  •     Michael Wagner, 63, of Bronx, NY
  •     Steve Murray, 49, of Bethel, CT
  •     Seth Trustman, 36, of Bronx, NY
  •     Richard Caccavale, 59, of Yorktown Heights, NY
  •     Jessica Bismark, 32, of New Rochelle, NY
  •     Robert Wagner Jr, 33, of New Rochelle, NY
The Enterprise Corruption charge alone carries a maximum penalty of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.

Two related indictments were also filed in conjunction with this investigation. A separate bookmaking indictment charged Michael Lepore, 61, of New Rochelle, NY, and Vincent Tardibuono, 41, also of New Rochelle, NY, with running an online bookmaking operation via website, which generated over $1.5 million in annual wagers.

Additionally, a related narcotics-based indictment filed by the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office and prosecuted by OAG OCTF Assistant Deputy Attorney General Thomas Luzio, charged Lucien Cappello, 38, of New Rochelle, NY with Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree, a Class A-II felony, as well as six counts of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree and seven counts of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree. If convicted, Cappello faces ten years in state prison and five years of post-release supervision.

Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. said, “This investigation and successful take down of this organized crime loan sharking operation was the culmination of a collaborative effort among the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force, the New Rochelle Police, and our office. We commend the work of all involved and will continue to work together to fight organized crime here in Westchester.”

Acting New Rochelle Police Commissioner Joseph F. Schaller said, “I want to commend members of the New Rochelle Police Department’s Special Investigation’s Unit, members of the New York State Attorney General’s Office and members of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office for their hard work and dedicated efforts in helping to root out illegal gambling and loan-sharking in the City of New Rochelle.”

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Francisco Quiroz-Zamora, Reputed Mexican Sinaloa Cartel Leader, Charged with Smuggling Fentanyl into US

Authorities in New York have indicted a suspected Mexican drug kingpin they say was responsible for trafficking enough fentanyl to kill 10 million people.

Authorities say the arrest of Francisco Quiroz-Zamora provides a window into how the powerful Sinaloa cartel moves drugs from Mexico to the United States. Quiroz-ZamoraFrancisco Quiroz-Zamora, a 41-year-old known as "Gordo," or the Fat One, has been charged with operating as a major trafficker, first-degree sale of a controlled substance and second-degree conspiracy.

Quiroz-Zamora and five co-defendants will be arraigned in New York City on Tuesday.

Officials with New York's Special Narcotics Prosecutor indicted Quiroz-Zamora. Officials allege he arranged for 44 pounds, or nearly 20 kilograms, of fentanyl to be shipped to New York — a haul of drugs that had the potential to kill 10 million people. Fentanyl is about 50 times more powerful than heroin, and just a few grains can kill.

Fentanyl, which is made in clandestine labs with cheap chemicals, has become a lucrative business for traffickers. It is often cut into heroin or pressed into counterfeit pills made to resemble legitimate prescription drugs, including OxyContin and Xanax.

For a high-level dealer, Quiroz-Zamora was extremely involved in every aspect of the process that gets drugs from creators to users, officials claim. He organized a pipeline that sent drugs from Mexico to Arizona and California through trucks, cars and drug couriers and authorized transactions between customers and dealers, according to authorities.

Mexican trafficking groups are attempting to turn New York into their distribution hub, and fentanyl is now their main product. The amount of fentanyl seized by the Special Narcotics Prosecutor in New York rose from 35 pounds in 2016 to 491 pounds last year.

The drugs are now managed by inconspicuous dealers. They include a middle-aged couple who authorities said came to New York to broker the sale of 141 pounds of fentanyl seized from a Queens apartment.

Quiroz-Zamora allegedly was planning for a lucrative payday. He negotiated a going rate of between $45,000 and $50,000 per kilo of fentanyl. Officials seized the fentanyl as the result of two undercover sales they said were organized by Quiroz-Zamora.

In one instance, the drugs were stuffed in a duffel bag and placed atop a vending machine at the Umbrella Hotel in the Bronx in June.

In another, authorities said they found more than five pounds of fentanyl in a $4,000-a-month apartment on Central Park West, along with $12,000 in cash and a loaded gun. Thousands of packages of drugs ready for sale with names including "Uber" and "Wild Card" were discovered in the apartment. A man who left the apartment in an Uber was arrested along with the driver after heroin was found in the car.

Authorities allege Quiroz-Zamora went to New York in November to collect money he thought he was owed. He was arrested at Penn Station in New York City after arriving in in an extremely roundabout way. He allegedly flew from Texas to Connecticut and went to Delaware, where he boarded a train that took him to Penn Station.

Thanks to Katie Zezima.

Monday, March 26, 2018

MS-13 #Gangster Sentenced to 22 Years in Prison for RICO Conspiracy Involving Murder Charges #OrganizedCrime

An MS-13 gangster was sentenced in federal court in Boston to racketeering conspiracy involving murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit murder.

Bryan Galicia Barillas, a/k/a “Chucky,” 21, a Guatemalan national who resided in Chelsea, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV to 22 years in prison and five years of supervised release. Galicia Barillas will be subject to deportation upon completion of this sentence.  In October 2017, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO conspiracy.

The racketeering activity by Galicia Barillas, a member of MS-13’s Enfermos Criminales Salvatrucha (ECS) clique, included his involvement in the death of an innocent bystander in Chelsea. On Oct. 18, 2014, Galicia Barillas and Hector Ramires, a/k/a “Cuervo,” another member of the ECS clique, encountered a group of individuals in Chelsea suspected of belonging to a rival gang.  Ramires, who was armed with a weapon that Galicia Barillas had provided on an earlier occasion, shot at one of the suspected gang rivals and missed, killing an innocent bystander who was looking out a nearby window of a room she shared with her three children. Galicia Barillas was a juvenile at the time of the murder.

Galicia Barillas also accepted responsibility for his role in a Sept. 8, 2014, stabbing and attempted murder of an individual in Chelsea, which Galicia Barillas also committed when he was a juvenile.  Shortly after he turned 18, Galicia Barillas was involved in an April 2015 conspiracy to kill an MS-13 member that the gang believed was cooperating with law enforcement, and a May 26, 2015 stabbing and attempted murder of a suspected rival gang member in Chelsea.

Ramires pleaded guilty in October 2017 to RICO conspiracy involving murder and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 11, 2018.

After a three-year investigation, Galicia Barillas and Ramires were two of 61 persons named in a fifth superseding indictment targeting the criminal activities of alleged leaders, members, and associates of MS-13 in Massachusetts. MS-13 is one of the largest criminal organizations in the United States with thousands of members across the country, including a sizeable presence in Massachusetts. MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence, including murder, against suspected gang rivals and those suspected of cooperating with law enforcement. The fifth superseding indictment alleges that, from approximately 2014 to 2016, MS-13 cliques in Massachusetts were responsible for, among other things, six murders and approximately 20 attempted murders, as well as robberies and drug trafficking.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Author @TinaAlexisAllen to Appear on #CrimeBeatRadio Tonight to Discuss "Hiding Out: A Memoir of Drugs, Deception, and Double Lives"

Tina Alexis Allen, author of "Hiding Out: A Memoir of Drugs, Deception, and Double Lives" will appear on Crime Beat Radio tonight.

Crime Beat is a weekly hour-long radio program that airs every Thursday at 8 p.m. EST. Crime Beat presents fascinating topics that bring listeners closer to the dynamic underbelly of the world of crime. Guests have included ex-mobsters, undercover law enforcement agents, sports officials, informants, prisoners, drug dealers and investigative journalists, who have provided insights and fresh information about the world’s most fascinating subject: crime.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Reputed MS13 Member Indicted in Violent Racketeering #Conspiracy including Drug Trafficking and Extortion

A federal grand jury returned an indictment charging an alleged MS-13 member residing in Arlington, Virginia with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, and conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce by extortion.

The indictment was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning for the District of Maryland; Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan; Special Agent in Charge Andre Watson of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Assistant Director in Charge Andrew W. Vale of the FBI Washington Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Karl C. Colder of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); Chief Henry P. Stawinski III of the Prince George’s County Police Department; Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks; Chief Douglas Holland of the Hyattsville Police Department; Chief J. Thomas Manger of the Montgomery County Police Department; and Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.

Luis Arnoldo Flores-Reyes, a/k/a “Maloso” and “Lobo”, 37, is charged in a four-count superseding indictment that alleges that from at least 2015 through January 2018, he was a member and associate of the Sailors Clique of MS-13 and that he engaged in a racketeering conspiracy that included extortion, drug trafficking, murder and a conspiracy to commit murder. The defendant is also charged with drug trafficking conspiracy and conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce by extortion. Flores-Reyes is in custody.

According to the indictment, MS-13 is a national and international gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants from El Salvador.  Branches or “cliques” of MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, operate throughout Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, Maryland.  Eleven other individuals were previously charged in this case with racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, drug trafficking conspiracy and conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce by extortion.

For a period of time beginning at least in 2015 through in or about 2017, members of the Sailors Clique, including Flores-Reyes, are alleged to have extorted owners of illegal businesses in the Langley Park and Wheaton areas of Maryland, with the extortion proceeds being sent to El Salvador to benefit MS-13.  In addition, between 2015 and 2018, members of the Sailors clique, including Flores-Reyes, are alleged to have trafficked narcotics, including marijuana and cocaine in Langley Park, Maryland, with the proceeds benefiting the gang.

More specifically, in January 2018, Flores-Reyes gave directions to members of MS-13 in Houston, Texas that they should purchase a gun and shoot rival gang members who were believed to have killed a member of MS-13.  On or about Jan. 28, 2018, members of MS-13 in Houston, Texas shot at and attempted to kill suspected rival gang members while Flores-Reyes and other MS-13 members, including MS-13 members in El Salvador, monitored the shooting by phone.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Operation Box Car Willie Results in 11 Federal Drug Charges on Chicago's #SouthSide #Woodlawn

More than ten defendants are facing federal drug charges for allegedly trafficking fentanyl, heroin and cocaine on Chicago’s South Side.

The investigation, dubbed “Operation Box Car Willie,” centered on drug sales in the city’s Woodlawn neighborhood and resulted in the seizure of distribution quantities of fentanyl, heroin and crack cocaine. The probe was conducted under the umbrella of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.  The principal mission of OCDETF is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking organizations.

A criminal complaint and affidavit filed Tuesday in federal court in Chicago charges ten defendants with conspiracy to possess controlled substances with intent to deliver. One other defendant is charged individually with possessing controlled substances with intent to deliver, bringing the total number of defendants to eleven.

Several of the defendants were arrested Wednesday. Detention hearings will be held next week before U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez.

The charges were announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Jeffrey S. Sallet, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; James M. Gibbons, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; Eddie Johnson, Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department; Leo P. Schmitz, Director of the Illinois State Police; and Gabriel L. Grchan, Special Agent-in-Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago. Substantial assistance was provided by the Illinois Secretary of State Police Department and the Illinois Department of Corrections.

According to the charges, JONATHAN MASON, 42, of Chicago, operated a drug trafficking organization in the 6400 block of South Champlain Avenue in Chicago. Mason conspired with DEON PUGH, 37, of Chicago, and KEVIN TWYMAN, 35, of Chicago, as well as others, to obtain wholesale quantities of cocaine, fentanyl, heroin and marijuana for distribution in the Chicago area, the complaint states. The other charged conspirators who allegedly distributed the narcotics include DERRICK WILTZ, 44; EDUARDO ANDERSON, 51; DENNIS MYERS, 59; RYAN PEARSON, 40; ALVIN WILLIAMS, 48; PARIS OBRYANT, 37; and MARTELL WHITE, 31; all of Chicago.

The conspirators allegedly sold drugs inside two stores in the Woodlawn neighborhood – one on East 63rd Street and the other on East 67th Street. On two occasions last month, undercover law enforcement officers purchased cocaine and heroin from Pearson and Obryant inside the 63rd Street store, the complaint states.

The defendant charged individually with possession is WILLIAM RUTLEDGE, 34, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Rutledge is identified in the complaint as a customer of Mason and Pugh who allegedly purchased more than 100 grams of crack cocaine from the pair last month.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of @realDonaldTrump

The incredible, harrowing account of how American democracy was hacked by Moscow as part of a covert operation to influence the U.S. election and help Donald Trump gain the presidency.

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, is a story of political skullduggery unprecedented in American history. It weaves together tales of international intrigue, cyber espionage, and superpower rivalry. After U.S.-Russia relations soured, as Vladimir Putin moved to reassert Russian strength on the global stage, Moscow trained its best hackers and trolls on U.S. political targets and exploited WikiLeaks to disseminate information that could affect the 2016 election.

The Russians were wildly successful and the great break-in of 2016 was no "third-rate burglary." It was far more sophisticated and sinister -- a brazen act of political espionage designed to interfere with American democracy. At the end of the day, Trump, the candidate who pursued business deals in Russia, won. And millions of Americans were left wondering, what the hell happened? This story of high-tech spying and multiple political feuds is told against the backdrop of Trump's strange relationship with Putin and the curious ties between members of his inner circle -- including Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn -- and Russia.

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, chronicles and explores this bizarre scandal, explains the stakes, and answers one of the biggest questions in American politics: How and why did a foreign government infiltrate the country's political process and gain influence in Washington?

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Prequel Movie to #TheSopranos is coming from David Chase called "The Many Saints of Newark"

David Chase is finally ready to return to the New Jersey turf of his iconic creation The SopranosSopranos Prequel Movie - The Many Saints of Newark. New Line has purchased the screenplay The Many Saints of Newark, the working title for a feature prequel of The Sopranos that is set in the era of the Newark riots in the 60s. That was a time when the African-Americans and the Italians of Newark were at each other’s throats, and amongst the gangsters of each group, those conflicts became especially lethal.

The script was written by Chase and Lawrence Konner, the prolific screen and television writer whose credits include The Sopranos.

Chase finally returning to expand The Sopranos lore will be welcome news to the legions who still feel that his HBO series is the greatest of all time. The groundbreaking show ran for six seasons from 1999 – 2007. It put HBO on the map, established the market for DVD sales of popular series, and won 21 Primetime Emmy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, and Peabody Awards for its first two seasons. It launched the stars of a slew of actors and revived others, most notably the late James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Steven Van Zandt, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Steve Schirripa and on and on.

Some of the beloved characters from the series will appear in the film. I couldn’t get any more information about the plot, but the time period indicates there will be room for Tony Soprano’s father, Giovanni “Johnny Boy,” the former captain of the Soprano crew (played in flashbacks by Joseph Siravo), and a younger version of his wife Livia (played indelibly in the show’s first season by Nancy Marchand), and Tony’s uncle Junior, played by Chianese.

Chase will serve as producer as well as co-writer, and he will be involved in selecting a director.

This is a real coup for Warner Bros Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich.

“David is a masterful storyteller and we, along with our colleagues at HBO, are thrilled that he has decided to revisit, and enlarge, the Soprano universe in a feature film,” Emmerich said.

Chase’s last feature was the 2010 critically acclaimed Paramount film Not Fade Away. Chase Films’s Nicole Lambert will be executive producer.

Chase’s deal was made by his UTA agents Peter Benedek and Andrew Cannava, and attorney Michael Gendler of Gendler and Kelly. Konner is also repped by UTA.

Thanks to Mike Fleming Jr.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Sheriff's Posse Mob Beats Nonviolent Civil Rights Demonstrators at Edmund Pettus Bridge in #Selma #OnThisDay #BloodySunday

On March 7, 1965, a march by civil rights demonstrators was violently broken up at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, by state troopers and a sheriff’s posse mob in what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”

Sheriff's Mob Posse Beats Nonviolent Civil Rights Demonstrators at Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma

Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark had issued an order for all white males over the age of 21 to report to be deputized. When the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they encountered a wall of state troopers and the posse. Rev. Hosea Williams tried to speak to the officer in charge, but was told there was nothing to discuss. Seconds later, the troopers began shoving the demonstrators, knocking many to the ground and beating them with nightsticks. Televised images of the brutal attack roused support for the Selma Voting Rights Campaign.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Does Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan Run a #Mafia Protection Racket? @GovRauner Says Yes.

Gov. Bruce Rauner went on Fox & Friends this morning and accused House Speaker Mike Madigan of running “a Mafia protection racket.”

Rauner took it up a notch against Madigan by trying to link the speaker’s property tax assessment appeal law firm to corruption this way.

“Basically in the political job he raises property taxes”, said Rauner, “We have the highest property taxes in America. And then on the side, he charges millions of dollars in fees to businesses that are afraid of their property taxes. He reduces them for a fee and then he holds the threat that if they ever cross him, he’ll raise their property taxes. It’s just like the Mafia. It’s a Mafia protection racket!”

Madigan denies this, says he has in place strict ethics rules separating his duties as speaker and lawyer. Also, the legislature doesn’t raise property taxes, local units of government do.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Why is the @FBI is Investigating College Basketball Corruption? #TheMob #OrganizedCrime

The question posed by my nephew was a fair one. It also caught me off guard. When he and I discussed my former profession, it typically related to the headlines surrounding Russia, or school shootings, or the president’s relentless hammering of certain senior-level FBI officials.

My sister’s eldest son had played Division I basketball at my alma mater, the United States Military Academy. But he now found himself embroiled in a heated debate with some of his former teammates.

“Why,” my nephew queried, “is the FBI focused on the NCAA and the open ‘dirty secret’ that is high profile basketball programs and their famous head coaches paying for the services of top recruits?”

With the recent announcements of federal corruption charges brought by the Department of Justice (DOJ), the college basketball world has been turned upside down. But along with the expected breathless reporting that comes with news of federal charges leveled at a powerful American sporting institution, came some unexpected pushback.

Many share my nephew’s curiosity. And with so much abundant criminality in our society, why, they posit, should the FBI lose focus on terrorists, bank robbers, pedophiles, and gangbangers? And aren’t under-the-table payment schemes used to convince young athletes to commit to a particular program as old as time?

These are fair and legitimate questions. And I’ve even encountered many who have gone further so as to condemn the FBI and DOJ for this probe. They argue that violations of NCAA rules are not tantamount to the commission of federal crimes. Some, like Sports Illustrated’s Charles P. Pierce have proclaimed that the FBI has better things to do and that these investigations are the express purview of the NCAA.

Pierce maintains that the FBI has conflated NCAA violations with crimes and is playing the unwitting heavy — the “enforcement arm,” if you will — for a feckless and ignoble NCAA. But does he have a point?

Well, let’s begin by determining just what the FBI investigates. Matters that earn the FBI’s attention are federal crimes — illegal or criminal acts — and related to specific violations of federal law. They are typically prosecuted in federal courts. This is an orthodoxy we all understand.

Universally considered the primary law enforcement agency for the U.S. government, the FBI is charged with enforcement of more than 200 categories of federal laws. And investigative priorities include, but are not limited to, matters involving terrorism, public corruption, civil rights, organized crime, white-collar crime, violent crime, and weapons of mass destruction. And that means that the FBI is hyper-focused on an infinitesimal amount of the some 5,000 federal criminal laws and 10,000 — 300,000 regulations that can be enforced federally. But how did an FBI investigation into basketball coaches at collegiate powerhouses and shady shoe company executives get approval from higher-ups at Main Justice and FBI headquarters?

Well, the solicitation of bribes is a crime. So, even though these seemingly benign, tolerated “shenanigans” are what many view as ordinary NCAA violations, they are in fact federal crimes.

Yes, the federal case targeting the impure in collegiate sports has landed ten defendants — head coaches and assistant coaches alike — in hot water for cheating NCAA rules. What brings the coaches under FBI scrutiny is that they are “agents of federally funded organizations.”

The defendants are charged with committing “fraud” against the universities that were considered “unaware” of the alleged schemes.

So why, again, are investigations like this important?

Well, firstly, there are certainly degrees of criminality. But should we ever dismiss investigations of wrongdoing or consider abuses of the public trust and breaches of the fundamental fairness expected in sports to be trivial pursuits?

The NCAA reportedly earned some $10.8 billion in media rights (from CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting) in 2012-13.

By way of comparison, the GDP for the country of Liechtenstein is $6.664 billion. And in 2016, more than 70 million people — more than the folks who voted for either candidate, Trump or Clinton, in the 2016 election — wagered more than $9 billion dollars on the NCAA’s March Madness men’s basketball tournament. And since we’re on the subject of GDP, that’s a figure some $2 billion more than Fiji’s.

So collegiate sports like men’s basketball are big business.

Look, the FBI sometimes brings cases against seemingly impenetrable and unassailable institutions to send a message, or as a deterrent. And what institution is more uniquely American than collegiate sports. And investigations into sports betting, corruption, and point shaving are also uniquely American. They also ultimately lead to one of the FBI’s investigative priorities —organized crime. Where there is sports corruption, there usually exists one of the FBI’s legendary adversaries, the Mob.

The Mob was an outside influence in the 1978-79 Boston College basketball point shaving scandal. Martin Scorsese famously chronicled the “Goodfellas” gangsters involved in the scheme, like Henry Hill and James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke. And more recently, the FBI’s New York Office — where I served for most of my 25 year career – brought a corruption case against the world’s largest athletic governing body, FIFA. If soccer is undeniably the global game, then the FBI is the world’s premier law enforcement agency. And if sports provides a blissful respite for citizens of the world during these chaotic times, then we deserve them to be free of corruption and outside influence. Every viewer deserves a reasonable expectation that outcomes are not fixed and that there exists a level playing field for all contestants.

So FBI investigations into the current NCAA scandal are deserved of resources and attention. No one really believes that the NCAA has ever done a thorough job of policing their programs. The FBI has the ability to work across investigative disciplines. Their priorities are appropriately aligned and their resources are strategically allocated to meet those requirements.

Collegiate sports are a pleasant diversion for a country starving for items to take our attention off the media’s Russia infatuation and the daily chaos emanating out of the White House.

Sports will forever be susceptible to “dirty” and corruptive forces. So allow the FBI to remain ever vigilant to ensure that these incidents are anomalies and not tolerated “business as usual” practices to be ignored and accepted.   

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