Thursday, November 20, 2014

Spies, Sleepers And Hitmen: How The Soviet Union's KGB Never Went Away

Luke Harding at the Guardian offers an interesting piece on Russia's secret police.
Vladimir Putin was never an especially distinguished spy. In the 1980s, the KGB dispatched him not to a glamorous western capital but to provincial East Germany. It was here, in Dresden, that he sat out the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event that filled him with horror and rage.
For a brief moment in the 90s, the KGB – now re-branded as the FSB, the Federal Security Service – was on the back foot. Since becoming president in 2000, however, Putin has transformed Russia into a giant spy state. He has brought back many of the cold war espionage techniques he first learned as a young recruit in Leningrad’s KGB spy school. Not that they ever quite went away.

FSB spies are a paranoid, conspiratorial and deeply xenophobic bunch. They see themselves as the direct descendants of the Cheka, Lenin’s feared, terrifying secret police. They are obsessed, as in cold war times, with finding and defeating Russia’s “enemies”. Some of these so-called “enemies” are foreign, some are homegrown.

In the 70s, the KGB employed a wide repertoire of operational tricks. Typically, they would eavesdrop on western diplomats, harass British and American journalists (slashing the tyres of their cars was a favourite) and carry out break-ins and buggings. Writing about Soviet dissidents or Jewish emigration got you into trouble

When I got to Moscow in 2007 as the Guardian’s correspondent I was surprised to discover that such ancient KGB practices were back. For reasons that are still mysterious, the FSB decided that I was one of its enemies. Unpromising young men in black leather jackets trailed me round Moscow’s icy streets. This time, the reporting taboos were Putin’s money, top-level Kremlin corruption and the vicious war in the north Caucasus.

As well as demonstrative surveillance – always more Inspector Clouseau than John le Carré – Putin’s spies made it clear that they were listening to my calls. They pulled the plug, for example, whenever I made a joke about Russia’s president. Like other despots, Putin doesn’t have a sense of humour (though he can do sardonic repartee). 

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Late Night Comic On Charles Manson's Future Prison Wedding

The late night comics offered their response to the news that Charles Manson will get married in prison.

Conan O'Brien:

I don't know if you know this but Hitler was a painter and one of his watercolor paintings is being auctioned off. It's expected to sell for over $60,000. So if you're looking for a wedding gift for Charles Manson .

Yes, Charles Manson is engaged. And his future mother-in-law says she approves of her daughter marrying Manson. She said Manson has very nice personalities.

David Letterman:
Charles Manson is marrying a woman in prison. Manson is 80 and his bride-to-be is 26 years old. He swept her right off her feet. It's probably because he carved a swastika in his forehead. Chicks dig that.
The Manson couple met on a website called "OK Stupid."
If you're looking to get the Mansons a gift, they're registered at Bloodbath & Beyond. 
Note: You can read an earlier post on the Manson prison wedding via the below link:

Justice Department Files Enforcement Actions To Shut Down "Psychic" Mail Fraud Schemes

The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:

The United States filed civil complaints in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York today against individuals and entities alleged to be running two related multimillion-dollar mail fraud schemes.  The United States also filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to immediately put a stop to the ongoing schemes.

According to the complaints, the defendants operate two mail fraud schemes in which they send solicitation letters purportedly written by world-renowned psychics to consumers through the U.S. mail.  The first scheme, operated by Destiny Research Center and the Canadian company Infogest Direct Marketing, sends direct mail solicitations allegedly written by psychics Maria Duval and Patrick Guerin.  The second scheme, operated by Christine Moussu through New York companies CLGE Inc. and I.D. Marketing Solutions Inc., sends direct mail solicitations allegedly written by psychics David Phild, Sandra Rochefort, Antonia Donera and Nicholas Chakan.

“The complaints filed today charge that the companies and individuals made blatant misrepresentations in order to reap financial gain by scamming thousands of Americans, many of whom were elderly and in a vulnerable financial condition,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Our job at the Justice Department is to put a stop to fraud schemes that seek to take advantage of vulnerable Americans.”

The complaints allege that in the letters, the purported psychics state that they are contacting the recipient based on a specific vision or psychic reading revealing that the recipient has the opportunity to dramatically improve his or her financial circumstance, including claims of winning millions in the lottery. 

The solicitation letters appear personalized, repeatedly referring to the recipient by first name and often containing portions that appear handwritten.  The solicitations urge victims to purchase various products and services in order to ensure that the foreseen good fortune comes to pass. 

The complaints allege that in reality, the solicitations are identical, mass- produced form letters.  Victims responded to the solicitations by completing a form and submitting a payment, usually around $20 to $50, via U.S. mail.  Victims often also wrote personal, handwritten letters back to the purported psychics, which were never opened, and received worthless, mass-produced trinkets and further solicitations after sending these payments.

“Relying on superstition and fear, the defendants defrauded tens of millions of dollars from thousands of vulnerable citizens,” said U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch for the Eastern District of New York.  “We have, and will continue to, use all means at our disposal to protect our citizens from such schemes to defraud.”

“These mass solicitations containing purportedly personalized messages to unsuspecting victims were blatant fraud,” said Acting Inspector in Charge Troy Raper of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's Criminal Investigation Group.  “Postal Inspectors aggressively investigate any operations that use the U.S. mail to fleece unsuspecting victims.”

Metro Data Management Inc., doing business as Data Marketing Group Ltd., a company on Long Island, New York, along with its president, Keitha Rocco, performed “caging” services on behalf of both mail fraud schemes.  According to the complaint, these services consisted of processing victim payments and maintaining databases of consumers who responded to the fraudulent solicitations.  The government alleges that Data Marketing Group processed as much as $500,000 in victim payments in a given two-week period for the Destiny Research Center scheme, resulting in annual gross receipts of at least $13 million.  The CLGE scheme brought in annual revenue of $1.5 to $2 million.  Evidence presented by the United States in support of its motion indicates that victims of the mail fraud schemes were elderly, ill and in perilous financial condition.

The government is seeking an injunction under the Anti-Fraud Injunction Statute immediately shutting down the fraudulent schemes in order to protect victims from further harm.  The injunctions sought by the United States would enjoin the defendants from using the mail to distribute the fraudulent solicitations or to collect victim payments, and from selling lists of consumers who have responded to the solicitations.  The injunctions would also authorize the U.S. Postal Service to detain any outgoing solicitations mailed by the defendants and any incoming responses to solicitations.  

The Justice Department’s case is being handled by the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York.

The claims made in the complaints are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

BBC To Produce Mini-Series Based On Len Deighton's Alternative Historical Thriller 'SS-GB'

Imagine that America never entered World War II and Great Britain lost the war. And now the once proud British are occupied by the victorious German Army and the dreaded Nazi SS.

Len Deighton did this in his clever alternative historical thriller GS-GB.

I liked the book when I read it many years ago and I reread the thriller a few years ago.

Now The Hollywood Reporter reports the BBC is producing a mini-series based on SS-GB.

The BBC has ordered a drama that imagines a Britain occupied by the Nazis, penned by the writers of the most recent James Bond films based on an alternate history novel.

U.K. public broadcaster has commissioned ‎SS-GB from Bond writers Robert Wade and Neal Purvis and based on the novel of the same name by Len Deighton. The BBC order is for five hourlong episodes produced by Sid Gentle Films for flagship network BBC One.

... SS-GB is a thriller set in 1940s London under the premise that the Germans won the Battle of Britain and London is under Nazi occupation.

"Archer is a Scotland Yard detective working under the SS facing the dilemma of whether to effectively collaborate or join the resistance," according to a show description. It also says that the drama is "an explosive thriller that will ask: what would you do, faced with stakes as high as this?"

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Charles Manson's Future Mother-In-Law, Shockingly, Disapproves

Natalie O'Neill at the New York Post reports on Charles Manson's future mother-in-law, who, "shockingly,' as the Post headline claims, does not approve of the marriage.

The mother of Charles Manson’s fiancée won’t attend the couple’s prison wedding — or buy the lovebirds a gift on their big day, she told The Post.

Melissa Burton, 47 — whose daughter, Afton Elaine Burton, 26, plans to marry the 80-year-old mass murderer — said the occasion doesn’t exactly call for flowers and fancy registries.

“It’s not that kind of a wedding . . . She knows how we feel about it. If I could choose a life for my daughter, I’d choose a normal one,” said Melissa Burton of Bunker Hill, Ill.

Manson and Afton, who goes by the name Star, are allowed up to 10 guests at the Corcoran State Prison wedding in California — but none of her relatives plans to attend, Melissa Burton said.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

You can also read my Washington Times review of Jeff Guinn's Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson via the below link:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Getting Made: The Making Of Martin Scorsese's 'GoodFellas'

I'm a big fan of Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. I think Goodfellas is one of the finest crime films ever made. In my view Goodfellas is also one of the most realistic organized crime films ever made.  

Kevin Jagernauth at offers a piece on the making of the film and offers a link to a 30-minute documentary on the making of the classic crime film. He also notes that yesterday was the great film director's birthday.

Today, Martin Scorsese turns 72-years-young, and his vast filmography gives you plenty of ways to celebrate (check out our retrospective of his films). But for many, particularly those of a certain age, "Goodfellas" remains, if not his best film, then certainly his most rewatchable and plainly enjoyable. While you've likely seen the movie more than a few times already, you might want to go behind-the-scenes to learn how it was made.

The 30-minute "Getting Made: The Making Of Goodfellas," which was included on the film's home video release, has made its way online, and it's great stuff.

You can watch the video via the below link:

Note: In one of my Crime Beat columns I wrote about Goodfellas:

Over the years I've heard from a number of law enforcement officials who complain that The Godfather and the other mob books and movies glamorize crime. When I was a producer and on-air host on Inside Government, a public affairs radio program that aired on WPEN AM and WMGK FM on Sunday mornings a few years ago, I interviewed the assistant U.S. attorney in charge of organized crime in the Philadelphia area

He did not agree with my assessment of Goodfellas, which I said was the most realistic film portrayal of organized crime. He felt that audiences liked the actor Joe Pesci in the film because he was funny and charming, but they failed to realize that he and the other criminals in the film were vicious and murderous.

I countered by saying that I’ve found some of the real mob guys to be funny, charming and even generous. And I’ve also seen them quickly turn vicious, cold and heartless – just as Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro portrayed them on the screen. They can be good friends and good company - unless you owe them money or you have something they want. Serial killers and con artists have also been known to be quite charming. 

You can read the rest of the column via the below link:

I also covered Goodfellas in my Crime Beat on Martin Scorsese's film world of crime. You can read the column via the below link:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Alleged Leader Of A Mexican Drug Cartel Extradited To The United States

The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:

One of the alleged leaders of the Beltran Leyva Organization, a Mexican drug-trafficking cartel responsible for importing multi-ton quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine into the United States, was extradited to the United States from Mexico on Nov. 15, 2014, and will be making an initial appearance this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay of the District of Columbia.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Assistant Director Joseph S. Campbell of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, New York Division Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Executive Associate Director Peter T. Edge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HSI) made the announcement.

“Over the past two decades, the Beltran Leyva Cartel has distributed tens of thousands of kilograms of dangerous narcotics and engaged in a campaign of violence that sparked drug wars and jeopardized public safety across North America,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.
“Today’s extradition of alleged kingpin Alfredo Beltran Leyva is an important step toward stamping out an organization that has ruined the lives of so many.  The Justice Department is committed to working with our international partners to bring the rest of the organization to justice.”  

“The arrest and extradition of Alfredo Beltran Leyva represents a significant milestone in combating transnational criminal organizations,” said FBI Assistant Director Campbell.  “It is through collaborative efforts with our law enforcement partners that the United States will stem the tide of this continuing threat.”

“For years Alfredo Beltran Leyva, along with his brothers, was responsible for not only smuggling tons of cocaine to the United States, but also for the violence that has plagued the lives of Mexican citizens,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Hunt.  “His extradition to the United States is an example of a commitment to international cooperation and the rule of law.”

“The illegal drugs distributed throughout the United States by the Beltran Levya Cartel ruined countless lives in this country and sowed violence and chaos throughout Mexico,” said HSI Executive Associate Director Edge.  “The arrest and extradition of Alfredo Beltran Levya to face justice here for his crimes is a great victory for ICE HSI and our partner agencies.”

Alfredo Beltran Levya, 43, was indicted on Aug. 24, 2012, for international narcotics trafficking conspiracy in connection with his leadership role in theinternational drug-trafficking cartel bearing his family name.

According to a motion for pretrial detention filed by prosecutors, between the early 1990s until his January 2008 arrest by Mexican law enforcement, Beltran Levya allegedly led the Beltran Levya Organization with his brothers Hector Beltran Levya and Arturo Beltran Levya, the latter of whom was killed in a December 2009 shootout with the Mexican army. 

Since the 1990s, the Beltran Levya Organization, together with the Sinaloa Cartel, allegedly directed a large-scale drug transportation network, shipping multi-ton quantities of cocaine from South America, through Central America and Mexico, and finally into the United States via land, air and sea.  The organization also employed “sicarios,” or hitmen, who allegedly carried out hundreds of acts of violence, including murders, kidnappings, tortures and violent collections of drug debts, at the direction of the organization.

Following the January 2008 arrest of  Alfredo Beltran Leyva by Mexican law enforcement authorities, the Beltran Leyva Organization severed its relationship with the Sinaloa Cartel, which was blamed for the arrest.  This resultedin a violent war between the two drug cartels, and the murder of thousands of citizens in Mexico, including numerous law enforcement officers and officials.
On May 30, 2008, the President added the Beltran Leyva Organization to the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.  On Aug. 20, 2009, the President specifically designated Beltran Leyva as a specially designated drug trafficker under the same Kingpin Act.

The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The investigation is led by the FBI’s El Paso Office, in partnership with the DEA’s New York Field Division and HSI’s New York Office, as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.  This case is being prosecuted by the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs Section, with the assistance of the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.  The Justice Department thanks the government of Mexico for their assistance in this extradition.