Thursday, July 12, 2012



Blog: Feds label marijuana smuggling 'interstate commerce'

U.S. Border Patrol
This marijuana load, confiscated in 2006 northwest of Nogales, constitutes interstate or international commerce under federal criminal law. Interfering with the load could bring you a prison sentence — but of course so could transporting it in the first place.
  •  Tim Steller, Arizona Daily Star
Related Documents

Third superseding indictment in Brian Terry case

The indictment unsealed Monday against the suspected killers of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry contains strange nuggets in Counts 3 and 4.

In short, the indictment categorizes marijuana smuggling as interstate or international commerce, and says interfering with it is illegal.

To understand how this is possible, you need to grasp the Hobbs Act. This federal law, enacted in 1946 to fight labor-union racketeering, prohibits robbery or extortion affecting interstate commerce. Often these days, though, it is used as a means for federal agencies to take over what would normally be a local criminal case, as the FBI has done in Philadelphia.

The first time I encountered it was in the late 1990s. Tucson federal prosecutors charged a man with robbery interfering with interstate commerce, citing the fact that the hot dogs, beer and other products in the convenience store he robbed had come across state lines. In 2001, federal prosecutors in Phoenix charged a man who set fire to luxury homes under construction there with "extortion affecting interstate commerce." Thus, a local arson case became a federal case.

The indictment against Terry's suspected killers charges them in Count 3 with "conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery," and in Count 4 with "attempted interference with commerce by robbery."

So, what was this commerce that Terry's alleged killers conspired to interfere with? Marijuana smuggling! Because the defendants allegedly were a "rip crew" intending to steal marijuana loads, they are accused of illegally interfering with the smuggling of drugs. As count 3 says, "the defendants unlawfully conspired to interfere with the movement of drugs..."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Robinson, one of the prosecutors in the case, pointed me to this congressional finding for an explanation. It establishes that drug trafficking is interstate or international commerce, for criminal-prosecution purposes.

When I asked longtime Tucson federal public defender Heather Williams about that use of the Hobbs Act, she said she'd never heard of it before.   

Note:  interesting backgrounder.

U.S.-based Mexican cartel queen used Latin bands to make drug profits squeaky-clean
By Tori Richards and Karen Keller Sunday, July 8, 2012    

Handcuffed and shackled at the ankles, Anel Violeta Noriega Rios in custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents last month.

Los Salgado, one of the three Latin bands named in a Mexican law enforcement document.
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EL MONTE, Calif. — A top Mexican drug operative nicknamed "the queen of crime" used popular Latin recording artists to smuggle weapons and funnel millions in methamphetamine profits, The Daily has learned exclusively.

Anel Violeta Noriega Rios of the bloody La Familia Michoacana cartel laundered money through many legitimate businesses, but a favorite was paying six popular Latin bands approximately $500,000 each for gigs that would normally cost $50,000, according to a Mexican law enforcement document.

Rios, 27, was arrested June 28 at her home here in the Los Angeles area on a 2010 Mexican warrant charging her with drug trafficking and organized crime. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents drove her to the border, where they handed her off to Mexican officials. She remains jailed in the province of Tamaulipas while her 4-year-old daughter remains in the U.S. 

Her arrest puts a crimp in the activities of La Familia Michoacana, known for beheading police officers, politicians and journalists who run afoul of its mandates. The cartel is so violent and such a big supplier of meth to the U.S. that both the Obama administration and outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderón have declared war on it.

No action has been taken against the recording artists who laundered money for Rios, identified by the official Mexican document as La Dinastia de Tuzantla, Los Players de Tuzantla, Cabildo, Banda Estrella Blanca, Los Zafiros and Los Salgado.

Many of the groups have had moderate success in the U.S. — records deals, tours, huge YouTube followings and a presence on Myspace. At least three of them are from La Familia's home of state Michoacán. 

Members of Los Players de Tuzantla debuted their 13th album last year on Univision, America's most popular Spanish-language television station. In places that have large Latino populations, La Dinastia de Tuzantla can easily pull in $75,000 in a night, according to Billboard.                  

A La Dinastia show in Houston "will guarantee you anywhere from 3,500 to 5,000 people at a dance at no less than $25 a pop," public relations exec Gil Romero told Billboard in 2006.
Representatives for the bands could not be reached for comment.

A longtime Mexican-American music promoter isn't surprised that Rios used bands to launder the cartel's money.

"Certain bands are affiliated with certain cartels throughout Mexico," said the executive, who asked not to be identified because he fears retribution.

Starving-artist bands willingly accept money from cartels in exchange for writing lyrics that glorify drug trafficking. Once the bands get better known, their members are ordered to help cover up the cartels' illegal dealings, the executive said. 

"You always see these groups on tour," the executive continued. "But it's not about selling CDs or downloading on iTunes. It's gotten to a level where these bands have become a cash cow. That's how (the cartels) clean their money."
But it's a dangerous business — band members who become famous and no longer need the financial support of the cartels can get killed if they try to loosen their ties.

While La Familia is known for gun battles in Mexico, Rios' job in the U.S. was to receive drug shipments from Latin America, then send American semi-automatic weapons to Mexico in return.  

The drugs came by boat to Long Beach, Calif., then were transported to a garden store there, which is a 30-minute drive from where Rios lived.

In 2008, one of the shipments was missing and Rios accused an associate of stealing it. The drugs had never been shipped, though. A few months later, the man was murdered anyway, near a highway exit in Mexico, the Mexican document said.

La Familia also laundered money through nightclubs, car dealers and other businesses in Atlanta; Dallas; Chicago; Austin, Texas; Athens, Ga.; and Washington state, according to the document.

In Mexico, the cartel transported drugs in shipments of avocados and vats of guacamole, using a distributor in the city of Monterrey.

Rios has been with La Familia since 2002, working directly under the tutelage of ringleader Jose "El Chango" Mendez, who was arrested last year. Between 2004 and 2005, Rios was arrested five times in the U.S. and deported to Mexico.

While living in the U.S., Rios worked at a bar and raised her daughter in a working-class immigrant neighborhood that is far below the standard of living for most drug dealers. She conducted her business for years in the backyards of some of the world's top law enforcement agencies: FBI; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; L.A. police; and L.A. Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff's Lt. Mike Thatcher didn't know of Rios personally, but his department has arrested her traffickers.

"They are one of the major cartels for the state. We deal with them quite frequently," Thatcher said. "That is very rare that an arrest of this magnitude occurs. Without a doubt someone will step up and take her place."

Note:  Possible sales to Mexico?

11 July 2012 Last updated at 14:47 ET 
'Bomb detector' maker Jim McCormick faces fraud charges
By Meirion Jones and Caroline Hawley
BBC Newsnight 

Jim McCormick sold the device to several countries
A businessman who sold a bomb-detecting device to 20 countries, including Iraq, has been charged with fraud, Avon and Somerset Police said.
Jim McCormick, 55, has been on bail for two-and-a-half years while police examined the sale of the device.

A BBC Newsnight investigation in 2010 showed the ADE-651 did not work and led to the British government banning its export to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr McCormick will appear at City of London Magistrates' Court on Thursday.
Avon and Somerset Police said that Mr McCormick would face six charges including producing and supplying the devices, knowing that they were designed or adapted for use in fraud.

The device had been sold to a range of Middle-Eastern countries and as far afield as Bangkok.

The Iraqi government spent $85m (£52m) on the hand-held detectors which were used at most checkpoints in Baghdad.

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