The Chicago Syndicate

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Venezuela Opposition Leader Juan Guaido's Security Advisor Addresses Prison Mafia

Carlos Nieto Palma has witnessed the worst of Venezuela’s prison system during the past two decades as a lawyer defending the rights of inmates.

He has seen the prisons become cauldrons for mafias led by “pranatos” —  crime bosses who now dominate illicit activities both within and outside jailhouse walls. He has been present at the aftermath of prison riots that have left hundreds dead and thousands injured.

Nieto Palma is now advising Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaidó in the development of his security plan for a potential transition government. InSight Crime spoke to Nieto Palma, coordinator for prisoners’ rights non-governmental organization Una Ventana a la Libertad (A Window to Liberty), about Venezuela’s crumbling prisons and their role in organized crime. Below is an edited version of the interview:

Iris Varela, director of The Ministry of Penitentiary Service, claims that during her management, which started on July 2011 and with the creation of the ministry she represents, the “pranato” figure has ended in prisons…

The Venezuelan prison mafia is not only led by the “pranes.” The mafia circle is also conformed by officials with the Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana – GNB) and the Ministry of Penitentiary Service, which before its creation, the officials of the Ministry of Interior and Justice were the ones involved. The weaponry we saw when the “pran” “El Conejo” was killed must have entered through the prison doors and not by helicopter. The prisons are guarded by the GNB on the outside and by the Ministry of Penitentiary Service officials on the inside. I have a quite peculiar theory: I believe that the officials created the “pranes” because it was easier to negotiate with just one or a few people rather than negotiating with all the inmates at once. For a business to be profitable, it has to be effective. All organized crime that operates inside the prisons ends up being a business for the officials.

When did the “pranato” figure emerge in Venezuela?

The “pranato” figure is recent. The “pranes” were created during the Hugo Chavez administration, while Tareck El Aissami was Minister of Interior and Justice. That’s when family members began to stay overnight. They would arrive on Fridays and stayed for days and even weeks sleeping in the prisons. The inmates said the family members staying overnight were part of praying groups, but in reality they were having parties (…) Before the Chavista government, which started in 1999, there were inmates who had the resources to buy good positions inside the prisons. That inmate population had homemade arms but never the sophisticated high-powered weaponry that the “pranes” have exhibited, even on social media.

Was there any corruption in prisons before Chavismo?

There was corruption before Chavismo, but not as strong as it is now. During the 80s and 90s there were also illicit businesses an0d money trafficking. The prison directors were the ones in charge of negotiating meals (…) However, Iris Varela has done nearly nothing with her New Penitentiary Regime plan. If inmates have nothing to do all day, they have no chance to reintegrate, but they do commit crimes. As Gómez Grillo said well: Prisons are a business as lucrative as PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela S.A.). And, unfortunately, our prisons are universities for crime where kidnappings, extortions and organized crime activities are still being planned out.

In your opinion, what are the biggest penitentiary issues?

The gravest issue is that there has been no compliance of article 272 from the Constitution of 1999. If it were applied, we would be the envy of every country in the world, with professionals, academics and decentralized prisons, which instead of being managed by a ministry, would be by the government (…) The entire prison crisis is joint. The procedural delays are terrible. There are no official numbers in Venezuela; the NGO has made approximations based on our own studies. At least 80 percent of convicts in Venezuela have procedural delays and do not have a definitively firm sentence, which according to the Constitution itself, they are allegedly innocent, for they are innocent until proven guilty.

The NGO you direct has claimed that police station cells are a parallel penitentiary system, what is this based on?

Since the creation of the Ministry of Penitentiary Service there was an increase of overcrowding in police station cells, which are centers for 48-hour detentions. Almost a month after taking office, minister Iris Varela issued a notice in which she prohibited the admission of inmates in penitentiaries without her previous consent. We, among other things, have bad memory; we don’t remember that when Varela issued the notice Chavez was president and, through a national channel, he expressed his disagreement on the prison crisis.

The centers have become smaller prisons where both police officials and inmates carry out extortions. These places are not equipped with the minimum conditions to keep convicts for prolonged periods of time. We had never seen as many inmates dying of hunger, malnutrition and disease as we are currently seeing. According to Una Ventana a la Libertad, there are more than 50,000 inmates in 500 police station cells throughout the country, which is almost the same number of inmates in prisons. Iris Varela has admitted that there are over 51,000 prisoners in the ministry’s prisons.

Generally, the people who defend inmate rights are questioned, what would you say to the people who criticize your job?

We have never argued that a criminal should not be imprisoned for a crime they committed. But we do demand that their human rights be respected, which are also universal human rights.

Venezuela faces the worst electrical crisis of its history since March 2019, how has this affected the penitentiary centers?

Prisoners are undergoing the same issues as all the rest of Venezuelans. The prisons don’t have water or electricity either and food has spoiled. But the situation is even more critical in the police station cells. In less than a week, during the first blackout registered in March, two inmates died in a National Police station in Caracas. One of the prisoners was murdered and the other one died from tuberculosis. Medical negligence also influenced both cases (…) Within this context it has been much more complicated for family members of inmates held in police station cells to bring food and care for their loved ones.

Recently, a UN human right commission visited the country and met with you, what did the experts conclude regarding the prison situation in Venezuela?

The UN delegation that visited the country knows that Iris Varela disguised the prisons because they were coming. In fact, the delegates and press were not allowed access to some of the places. This is something rare. This type of visits should not have the presence of the minister and UN delegates must have unlimited access, as established by the protocols. Additionally, the sick and malnourished inmates were transferred before the arrival of the visitors. I suppose this will be underlined in the report, since they came to perform an exploratory visit for the study they are developing. We are in permanent contact with The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights(OHCHR).

Thanks to InSight Crime.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Avengers: Endgame is at the Theaters Today! #FridayFeeling

Avengers: Endgame opens up at theaters todayShop Avengers Endgame Apparel!

After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War, the universe is in ruins.

With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos' actions and restore order to the universe.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Former Mafia Don Francis Salemme AKA Cadillac Frank is Moved to Prison Medical Facility

Convicted former Mafia don Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme has been moved to a prison medical facility because of his advanced age, according to his attorney.

Salemme is listed as 85 years old on the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) website, but his lawyer, Steven Boozang, said the former mob boss is "closer to 88."

Salemme is serving a life sentence after he was found guilty last year of taking part in the 1993 murder of Boston nightclub owner — and Providence native — Steven DiSarro.

Salemme had been held at a federal prison in Brooklyn until his recent move to a medical prison in Springfield, Missouri. The facility is described as an "administrative security federal medical center," on their website.

Boozang said he wasn't sure when authorities moved Salemme, but the BOP's online database showed the octogenarian in Brooklyn as recently as last week.

An email to a prison spokesperson was not immediately returned.

Boozang said at Salemme's age the Brooklyn prison was "a tough place," and the BOP moved him to a facility that can better handle elderly inmates. "Being shot as many times as he had and survived, there are some remnants that catch up with you later in life," Boozang said. "He should be in a medical place being monitored for normal age-related type of conditions."

Salemme was convicted in June along with mob associate Paul Weadick. The two were each charged with murder of a witness. Prosecutors say Salemme was concerned DiSarro would cooperate with investigators in an ongoing probe into a nightclub DiSarro managed. Salemme and his son were silent partners in the club.

Rhode Island mob brothers Robert DeLucca and Joseph DeLuca were key witnesses at the trial at U.S. District Court in Boston.

Salemme has appealed the verdict and Boozang said his client is in "great spirits" and optimistic about his chances.

"Frank is strong and plugging along," Boozang said. "We'll just have to wait and see."

In 1989, Salemme was shot by rival mobsters multiple times outside a Saugus, Massachusetts, pancake house. His survival helped cement his underworld legacy and elevate him to boss. Salemme's tenure ended when he was indicted in 1995.

Thanks to Tim White.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law

By the one-time federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law, is an important overview of the way our justice system works, and why the rule of law is essential to our society. Using case histories, personal experiences and his own inviting writing and teaching style, Preet Bharara shows the thought process we need to best achieve truth and justice in our daily lives and within our society.

Preet Bharara has spent much of his life examining our legal system, pushing to make it better, and prosecuting those looking to subvert it. Bharara believes in our system and knows it must be protected, but to do so, we must also acknowledge and allow for flaws in the system and in human nature.
   
The book is divided into four sections: Inquiry, Accusation, Judgment and Punishment. He shows why each step of this process is crucial to the legal system, but he also shows how we all need to think about each stage of the process to achieve truth and justice in our daily lives.
   
Bharara uses anecdotes and case histories from his legal career--the successes as well as the failures--to illustrate the realities of the legal system, and the consequences of taking action (and in some cases, not taking action, which can be just as essential when trying to achieve a just result).
   
Much of what Bharara discusses is inspiring--it gives us hope that rational and objective fact-based thinking, combined with compassion, can truly lead us on a path toward truth and justice. Some of what he writes about will be controversial and cause much discussion. Ultimately, it is a thought-provoking, entertaining book about the need to find the humanity in our legal system--and in our society.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Details on the Julian Assange Computer Hacking #Conspiracy with Chelsea Manning

Julian P. Assange, 47, the founder of WikiLeaks, was arrested in the United Kingdom pursuant to the U.S./UK Extradition Treaty, in connection with a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer.

According to court documents unsealed, the charge relates to Assange’s alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.

The indictment alleges that in March 2010, Assange engaged in a conspiracy with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a U.S. government network used for classified documents and communications. Manning, who had access to the computers in connection with her duties as an intelligence analyst, was using the computers to download classified records to transmit to WikiLeaks. Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log on to the computers under a username that did not belong to her. Such a deceptive measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to determine the source of the illegal disclosures.

During the conspiracy, Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning’s transmission of classified records to Assange. The discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information. During an exchange, Manning told Assange that “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.” To which Assange replied, “curious eyes never run dry in my experience.”

Assange is charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and Nancy McNamara, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after the charges were unsealed. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Doherty-McCormick, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kellen S. Dwyer, Thomas W. Traxler and Gordon D. Kromberg, and Trial Attorneys Matthew R. Walczewski and Nicholas O. Hunter of the Justice Department’s National Security Division are prosecuting the case.

The extradition will be handled by the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.


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