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Police secretly track cellphones to solve routine crime.

Detectives did it by secretly using one of the government’s most powerful phone surveillance tools — capable of intercepting data from hundreds of people’s cellphones at a time — to track the phone, and with it their suspect, to the doorway of a public housing complex. They used it to search for a car thief, too. And a woman who made a string of harassing phone calls.

In one case after another, USA TODAY found police in Baltimore and other cities used the phone tracker, commonly known as a stingray, to locate the perpetrators of routine street crimes and frequently concealed that fact from the suspects, their lawyers and even judges. In the process, they quietly transformed a form of surveillance billed as a tool to hunt terrorists and kidnappers into a staple of everyday policing.

The suitcase-size tracking systems, which can cost as much as $400,000, allow the police to pinpoint a phone’s location within a few yards by posing as a cell tower. In the process, they can intercept information from the phones of nearly everyone else who happens to be nearby, including innocent bystanders. They do not intercept the content of any communications.

Dozens of police departments from Miami to Los Angeles own similar devices. A USA TODAY Media Network investigation identified more than 35 of them in 2013 and 2014, and the American Civil Liberties Union has found 18 more. When and how the police have used those devices is mostly a mystery, in part because the FBI swore them to secrecy.

Police and court records in Baltimore offer a partial answer. USA TODAY obtained apolice surveillance log and matched it with court files to paint the broadest picture yet of how those devices have been used. The records show that the city’s police used stingrays to catch everyone from killers to petty thieves, that the authorities regularly hid or obscured that surveillance once suspects got to court and that many of those they arrested were never prosecuted.

Defense attorneys assigned to many of those cases said they did not know  a stingray had been used until USA TODAY contacted them, even though state lawrequires that they be told about electronic surveillance.

“I am astounded at the extent to which police have been so aggressively using this technology, how long they’ve been using it and the extent to which they have gone to create ruses to shield that use,” Stephen Mercer, the chief of forensics for Maryland’s public defenders, said.

Prosecutors said they, too, are sometimes left in the dark. “When our prosecutors are made aware that a detective used a cell-site stimulator, it is disclosed; however we rely upon the Police Department to provide us with that information,” said Tammy Brown, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore’s State’s Attorney. “We are currently working with the Police Department to improve upon the process to better obtain this information in order to comply with the law.”

Baltimore is hardly alone. Police in Tallahassee used their stingray to track a woman wanted for check forging, according to records provided to the ACLU last year.Tacoma, Wash., police used theirs to try to find a stolen city laptop, according torecords released to the website Muckrock. Other departments have acknowledged that they planned to use their stingrays for solving street crimes.

As that surveillance became more common — and more widely known — state and federal lawmakers moved to put new limits on the circumstances in which it can be used. Some states require the police to get a search warrant before they can use a stingray, and Congress is considering a similar rule for the federal government.

Federal officials have said stingrays allow them to track dangerous criminals. “It’s how we find killers,” FBI Director James Comey said last year. “It’s how we find kidnappers. It’s how we find drug dealers. It’s how we find missing children. It’s how we find pedophiles.”

In Baltimore, at least, it’s how the police tracked the man they suspected stole a phone from the back seat of a car parked outside the city’s central booking facility in 2009. Two days after the theft, an officer said in a court filing that detectives found Danell Freeman holding the phone in the doorway of an East Baltimore public housing complex. The court filing did not say how detectives knew to look for the phone there, but a police surveillance log indicates they used a stingray.

Police charged Freeman with misdemeanor theft. Prosecutors dropped the case a month later.

“The problem is you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have it be some super-secret national security terrorist finder and then use it to solve petty crimes,”Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Hanni Fakhoury said.

FBI spokesman Chris Allen said the bureau does not have the authority to tell police departments how they should use stingrays. It has asked them to keep that use confidential, requiring them to sign non-disclosure agreements that prohibit officers from revealing how the phone-tracking technology works. Baltimore police officials signed one in 2011.

CRIMES LARGE AND SMALL  

Baltimore’s police are prolific stingray users. In April, Det. Emmanuel Cabreja testified that officers had used cell-site simulators more than 4,300 times since 2007, a figure that easily dwarfs the tallies reported by the few police departments that have released details of their usage. The police have not previously identified the crimes they used the device to investigate or the people they arrested as a result.

By matching court records and a surveillance log from the police department’s Advanced Technical Team, USA TODAY identified 837 criminal cases in which the police indicated they had used a device to simulate a cell tower. The log does not expressly reference cell-site simulators, but detectives and a police spokesman, Det. Jeremy Silbert, confirmed the language officers used in the log to indicate a stingray had been used.

Among those cases are some of the most serious crimes the police were called on to investigate — and some of the least.

In 2010, police used a stingray to track a man they suspected had kidnapped his girlfriend’s two daughters, ages 3 and 5, and demanded half of her $6,000 tax refund as a ransom “in exchange for her older daughter’s life.” He threatened in text messages to throw the older daughter off a bridge if he didn’t get the money, according to court records. Detectives quickly recovered the children unharmed. Prosecutors quickly dropped the kidnapping charges against the man, Kwame Oseitutu; he was convicted only of misdemeanor misuse of a telephone. Prosecutors did not explain that decision.

Officers rely on reports from phone companies to track a suspect’s phone to a particular neighborhood, then use their tracker, known as a Hailstorm, to pinpoint his location. In one court filing in 2013, an officer said Advanced Tactical Team detectives received 40 hours of training on using the tracker and an additional eight hours of “cellular theory” training from the U.S. Secret Service.

The team’s log shows the police used cell-site simulators in at least 176 homicide cases, 118 shootings and 47 rapes since 2008. Usually they were searching for suspects, but occasionally, the records show they  used the devices to track down witnesses. The most common use by far was solving robberies. Stingrays are especially well-suited to that job because robbers frequently take their victims’ phones.

“We’re out riding around every day,” said one officer assigned to the surveillance unit, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the department’s non-disclosure agreement with the FBI. “We grab a lot of people, and we close a lot of cases.”

Not all of those cases are big. Records show police used a cell-site simulator to track down a woman charged with stealing credit cards from a garage and using them to pay two months’ rent at a self-storage unit. They used it to hunt for a stolen car and to find a woman who sent hundreds of “threatening and annoying” text messages to a Baltimore man. In each case, prosecutors ultimately dropped the charges or agreed to pretrial diversion.

In 2011, detectives used a stingray to try to find a man who took his wife’s cellphone during an argument, telling her, “If you won’t talk to me, you’re not going to talk to anyone,” according to court records, a crime the surveillance team classified as a robbery. Police tracked the phone that day, but by then, it had already been returned to his wife, so they tracked it to her house.

Police did not find Jarrod Tongue until he showed up in court a month and a half later, when the case was dismissed. Tongue could not be reached to comment.

Baltimore police officials declined to comment.

Baltimore’s use is consistent with how the police have used cell trackers in other cities, ACLU lawyer Nathan Wessler said, albeit on a much larger scale. “We know that they have been purchased widely and used widely,” he said. “In the few departments that we’ve seen [records from], they are being used for a wide range of investigations.”

Rochelle Ritchie, a spokeswoman for Baltimore’s state’s attorney, could not say whether prosecutors had ever dropped a case because of issues related to such such surveillance.

Still, barely half of the cases USA TODAY identified ended in a conviction. Prosecutors dismissed about a third of the cases outright, even when suspects had stolen phones with them when they were arrested. What’s less clear is whether those outcomes were the result of the secret surveillance or merely reflected the normal ebb and flow of Baltimore’s clogged criminal justice system.

Prosecutors have certainly agreed to forgo evidence officers gathered after using a stingray. At a court hearing in November, a lawyer for a robbery suspect pressed one of the detectives assigned to the surveillance team, John Haley, for information about how the police had found a phone and gun prosecutors wanted to use as evidence against his client. Haley refused to explain, citing the non-disclosure agreement. “You don’t have a non-disclosure agreement with the court,” Judge Barry Williamsreplied and threatened to hold the detective in contempt if he did not answer.

Prosecutors quickly agreed to forgo the evidence rather than let the questioning continue. “I don’t think Det. Haley wants to see a cell today,” Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Seidel said.

SECRET SURVEILLANCE    

In court records, police routinely described the phone surveillance in vague terms — if they mentioned it at all. In some cases, officers said only that they used “advanced directional finding equipment” or “sophisticated electronic equipment” to find a suspect. In others, the police merely said  they had “located” a suspect’s phone without describing how, or they suggested they happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Such omissions are deliberate, said an officer assigned to the department’s Advanced Technical Team, which conducts the surveillance. When investigators write their reports, “they try to make it seem like we weren’t there,” the officer said.

Public defenders in Baltimore said that robbed them of opportunities to argue in court that the surveillance is illegal. “It’s shocking to me that it’s that prevalent,” said David Walsh-Little, who heads the felony trial unit for Baltimore’s public defender office. “We can’t challenge it if we don’t know about it, that’s sort of the horror of it.”

Defendants usually have a right to know about the evidence against them and to challenge the legality of whatever police search yielded it. Beyond that, Maryland court rules generally require the government to tell defendants and their lawyers about electronic surveillance without being asked. Prosecutors say they are not obliged to specify whether a stingray was used. Referring to direction-finding equipment “is sufficient to place defense counsel on notice that law enforcement employed some type of electronic tracking device,” Ritchie said.

In at least one case, police and prosecutors appear to have gone further to hide the use of a stingray. After Kerron Andrews was charged with attempted murder last year, Baltimore’s State’s Attorney’s Office said it had no information about whether a phone tracker had been used in the case, according to court filings. In May, prosecutors reversed course and said the police had used one to locate him. “It seems clear that misrepresentations and omissions pertaining to the government’s use of stingrays are intentional,” Andrews’ attorney, Assistant Public Defender Deborah Levi, charged in a court filing.

Judge Kendra Ausby ruled last week that the police should not have used a stingray to track Andrews without a search warrant, and she said prosecutors could not use any of the evidence found at the time of his arrest.

Some states require officers to get a search warrant, in part because the technology is so invasive. The Justice Department is considering whether to impose a similar rule on its agents. In Baltimore, police routinely relied instead on what are known as “pen register” orders, which must be approved by a judge but do not require the same level of proof as a search warrant. For a time last year, Baltimore officers also started getting search warrants,  then stopped, Haley testified at a hearing in June.

Few courts have weighed in on stingrays’ legality, partly because so much of the surveillance happened in secret that defense lawyers had few opportunities to challenge it.

Levi, for example, said she did not realize until USA TODAY contacted her that the police had used stingrays in at least three other cases she  handled.

In one, police tracked a rape suspect to an address on the city’s west side. Their arrest report didn’t specify how they found him there, and a disclosure form filed in Baltimore’s Circuit Court did not indicate that the police had conducted any electronic surveillance. But his case number and the address where he was arrested appear in the Advanced Technical Team’s surveillance log with language indicating that a stingray was used.

Even when stingray cases reach appeals courts responsible for settling those legal questions, the judges don’t always appear to know about the surveillance.

Two years ago, for example, a Maryland appeals court heard a case in which the police arrested a robbery suspect after tracking a stolen cellphone. Kenneth Redmond had been convicted of robbing a high school student at knife-point; police found him by tracking her stolen phone to a house. The court’s description of how they did that was vague; detectives found him by “triangulating the signal from cellphone towers in the area,” the judges wrote, using “phone company technology.”

In fact, according to the police log, detectives used a stingray.

Posted in Criminal Defense Articles | Leave a comment

Baltimore Police officer charged with attempted murder, held on $1 million bond

Wesley Cagle

Baltimore City Police Officer Wesley Cagle is being held on $1 million bail, charged with attempted murder. Announced yesterday afternoon by Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, these were the first criminal charges against a city cop for shooting a suspect since 2008, the Sun reported. That officer was acquitted by a jury.

Police say Cagle and three other cops responded to a call for a commercial burglary in progress in the early morning of December 28, 2014. There they found Michael Johansen, wearing a mask, inside the store. Two cops confronted him, and shot Johansen when he did not show his hands. He was on the floor when Cagle walked out from the alley, gun drawn, and shot him in the groin.

The Sun reported the conversation that allegedly occurred between Johansen and Cagle, as quoted by Mosby. Johansen asked what he’d been shot with, and guessed a beanbag. “No,” Cagle allegedly replied, “a .40 caliber, you piece of shit.” And then Cagle shot Johansen.

Cagle is a 13-year veteran of the department. He has arrested hundreds of people on charges ranging from trespassing to murder. He was sued with some other police in 2004, and the case was settled. Cagle worked overtime, earning more than $72,000 per year by the mid 2000s on a base salary (in 2007) of $48,589.

He earned $76,000 last year, but filed for bankruptcy protection early last year under Chapter 7, court records show. In the filing he claimed $5,249 in monthy income, and about $25,000 in credit card debt plus the notes on two 2013 Nissans. Cagle’s debt was discharged in September of 2014. He and his wife, who works as a surgical technician, have four sons.

Cagle had never shot anyone before, police said.

Johansen still faces burglary charges stemming from the incident. He has been a defendant in many similar cases in the past, court records indicate, dating from an arrest for breaking and entering in 1988.

Johansen told WBAL TV that he lost a kidney, spleen, and much of his intestines to the bullet wounds. He said he was happy that charges were filed. “About time they did the right thing,” WBAL quoted him saying, “He was calling me all sorts of names and he shot me while I was on the ground.”

Posted in Law Enforcement Arrest | Leave a comment

Former Newton cop sentenced to probation for records tampering

File Photo - JASON R. MILLER JASON R. MILLER

Photo by Tracy Klimek/New Jersey Herald - Attorney Anthony Iacullo, left, speaks during the sentencing of Jason Miller, right, in state Superior Court. Miller was sentenced to two years probation.

Attorney Anthony Iacullo, left, speaks during the sentencing of Jason Miller, right, in state Superior Court. Miller was sentenced to two years probation.

SUPERIOR COURT —A former Newton police officer, who was initially accused of exposing his genitals to motorists, has been sentenced to two years probation for tampering with records.

Jason R. Miller,  38, pleaded guilty on June 12 to fourth-degree tampering with records. He was sentenced on Friday.

He admitted that between March 1, 2014 and Oct. 23, 2014, while serving as a police officer in Newton, he turned off the video and/or audio equipment in his patrol car to conceal unprofessional and inappropriate conduct.

Miller was originally charged with two counts of second-degree official misconduct, one count of third-degree pattern of official misconduct and a disorderly persons offense of lewdness.

The charges were dropped as part of the plea agreement.

According to an arrest affidavit, Miller was caught on video exposing his genitals to at least five motorists, before letting them leave without issuing traffic summonses, even in situations where the person may have been driving without insurance or driving drunk.

Posted in Law Enforcement Arrest | Leave a comment

Judge sets murder defendant free after another judge declares mistrial

Baltimore judge granted a mistrial in a murder case, saying Montrelle Braxton’s attorney was so ineffective that he ordered a new trial — and threatened to throw the attorney in jail.

But that same defense attorney then used the decision to get Braxton’s charges dismissed altogether.

Circuit Judge Julie Rubin dismissed the murder charge against Braxton on July 28, ruling that Braxton would face double jeopardy if he were put on trial again for the killing of Tarvis Briscoe, who was stabbed 35 times in May 2014.

That ruling followed Chief Judge Alfred Nance’s decision to rule a mistrial in Braxton’s case because he felt assistant public defender Deborah K. Levi had been “disrespectful” to the point that the jury would hold it against her client.

Rubin said Nance had failed to explain why there wasn’t a less severe alternative to granting a mistrial, and said Nance hadn’t leveled any accusations that Levi didn’t represent her client with “vigor.”

“I do not relish the position in which I find myself, rendering a decision such as this regarding a colleague’s actions, taken based on his observations and understanding of the law,” Rubin said. “But here I find myself nonetheless.”

The decision set free a man accused of murder and was the latest rebuke of Nance, a judge since 1997 who is known for a stern courtroom manner.

Nance was reprimanded in 2001 for “undignified” and “demeaning” ways toward women, after four female prosecutors complained that he had an “explosive temper” and made inappropriate comments about their appearance.

In 2004, he was accused of massaging a young prosecutors’ shoulder and criticizing the way a prospective judge wore a yarmulke. He faced a rare public hearing on those charges, which were eventually dismissed. He was re-elected to a second 15-year term in 2014.

Braxton has prior convictions for burglary, but no violent crimes. An assault case in 2014 was placed on the “inactive” docket by prosecutors.

Reached for comment, Levi said she was “happy with the result, however we got there, because Mr. Braxton is innocent.”

Nance, through a clerk, declined to comment.

Tiesha Briscoe, 29, the victim’s daughter, said Tuesday that the ruling left her “upset, angry, confused, and nervous now, because who knows what he’s capable of, if he’s capable of doing that to someone else.”

Briscoe said her father was a bail bondsman and well known and liked in his neighborhood.

A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office said prosecutors were gathering materials for the attorney general’s office, which would file any appeal on their behalf.

At trial, Assistant State’s Attorney Robin Wherley told jurors that Briscoe and a woman were in her apartment on May 7, 2014. The woman was in a bathroom when she heard a thump, looked into the room and saw a “figure” hunched over Briscoe “appearing to be doing something to him.”

She ran out of the apartment and called 911. The responding officers found Briscoe dead from multiple stab wounds.

A month later, the woman told police that her baby’s father called her and admitted that he had stabbed Briscoe.

“She asked … why did you stab him so many times? And he told her, ‘I don’t know. I only remember the first one. I blacked out after the rest,’” Wherley told jurors. ” ‘I did it for us. I did it for you because I love you.’”

Levi told jurors that the woman had children with multiple men, and the night of the murder had texted one named “E.J.” and let him know where she was and that she had cheated on him. Levi said police never tried to find “E.J.”

Levi also said the woman with Briscoe should have been treated as a suspect, but wasn’t, and that 16 DNA samples were taken from the scene, none of which matched Braxton. The woman with Briscoe later recanted her testimony and refused to come to court.

Briscoe “was a father. He was an employee. He was a human being who deserved better,” Levi said. She said the police investigation “just wasn’t an investigation worth anything.”

Before the trial began, Nance chastised Levi for what he said was hovering over her client like a “mother hen.” During trial, Nance said Levi had been disrespectful, acted like a “youngster,” attempted to improperly introduce evidence, and engaged in what he called “sleight of hand,” according to Rubin. Nance said he had observed members of the jury grimacing.

“The question that this court poses is whether or not its decision will be based on the evidence, or whether or not the jury’s decision will be based on their interpretation and evaluation of [the defendant's] representation,” Nance said.

Nance had held Levi in contempt during a bench conference and threatened to arrest her, and later said he intended to sentence her to a weekend at the Detention Center “so that she could live among those that she supposedly represents.”

After declaring a mistrial, Nance decided to quash the contempt order.

Levi’s next move was to file a motion with the new judge assigned to the case — Rubin — to argue that Braxton would face double jeopardy.

In Rubin’s evaluation of the trial transcripts, she said, Nance had frequently sustained, or agreed with, Levi’s objections, and made only one “oblique” reference to a specific example of something Levi had done wrong.

Nance “didn’t find that defense counsel had failed to defend Mr. Braxton, did not find she had failed to confront evidence with vigor or to enter obvious or necessary evidence, or failed to object when appropriate,” Rubin said.

Rubin said she scoured court decisions for similar cases where a mistrial was declared by a judge on the basis of ineffective counsel, and found a “dearth” of similar instances. She said she had no choice but to set Braxton free.

Posted in Defense Acquittal | Leave a comment

U.S. War on Drugs: El Chapo’s Cartel More Powerful than Ever

war on drugs cocaine cash gunsMexico City, (EFE).– The Sinaloa drug cartel became more powerful during kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman’s most recent 17-month prison stay, Mexico City daily El Universal reported, citing information obtained from the Mexican Attorney General’s Office.

Guzman was captured on Feb. 22, 2014, in Mazatlan, a Pacific coast city in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, and imprisoned at the Altiplano I maximum-security penitentiary until he escaped on July 11 of this year through a 1.5-kilometer (0.9-mile) underground tunnel that led from his cell to a deserted building.

During his time behind bars, the cartel expanded its presence from six to seven states (Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Durango, Coahuila, Baja California, Baja California Sur and Sonora) and increased the number of criminal groups at its service from eight to 10.

Since Guzman’s second escape from a maximum-security prison (the first occurred in 2001), Mexican authorities have offered a 60-million-peso (some $3.6-million) reward for information leading to his capture.

A Mexican judge in late July also approved an order to extradite the drug kingpin to the United States, about a month after Washington had sent an extradition request.

Washington for its part has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of the notorious drug lord, whose organization is considered to be one of the main sources of illicit drugs entering the United States.

The information from the AG’s office, dated June 30 and published Friday by El Universal, indicates that the number of drug cartels in Mexico remained unchanged at nine over the past year, although the number of criminal cells working for those organizations fell from 43 to 36.

Los Zetas and the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) lost ground over the past 12 months, while the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion’s territorial presence was unchanged.

Three Zetas cells currently operate in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, whereas a year ago the cartel had nine gangs working for it in the states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Guanajuato and Quintana Roo.

Mexican authorities have captured 25 Zetas leaders over the past two years, including Miguel Angel Treviño Morales in July 2013 and Omar Treviño Morales in March of this year.

The Templarios, meanwhile, have been weakened by the January 2014 deployment of thousands of federal forces to fill a security vacuum in the western state of Michoacan, that cartel’s main stronghold.

Since then, the cartel has ceased to have a presence in more than a half-dozen states and also seen its leaders arrested or killed in gun battles with security forces. EFE

Posted in Mexican Cartel | Leave a comment

Ex-Philly officer gets 8 years for drug dealer shakedowns

A federal judge Wednesday said 38-year-old Christopher Saravello must serve three years of supervised release after his release and pay a $600 fine.

Saravello pleaded guilty in February to extortion and conspiracy charges.

Prosecutors say Saravello would get tipped off to drug transactions and swoop in as if making an arrest.

He’d often drive up in a marked police car, wearing a uniform and displaying a badge or verbally identifying himself as an officer.

Prosecutors say Saravello once pulled a gun and threatened to shoot if a victim didn’t comply.

The scheme tallied more than $9,800 and quantities of Oxycontin and other drugs.

Posted in Drug Bust | Leave a comment

2 in Sayreville Football Hazing Case Found Not Guilty: Attorneys

Two of the seven players arrested in a hazing scandal at a New Jersey high school that prompted the district to cancel its football season and suspend the team’s coaching staff have been cleared of the most serious charges they were facing, their lawyers said. Brian Thompson reports. (Published Monday, Aug. 10, 2015)

Two of the seven players arrested in a hazing scandal at a New Jersey high school that prompted the district to cancel its football season and suspend the team’s coaching staff have been cleared of the most serious charges they were facing, their lawyers said.

The former Sayreville players were tried as juveniles in family court and found not guilty Friday on the charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated sexual contact, aggravated sexual contact and aggravated assault, according to Richard P. Klein, a lawyer representing one of the teens.

Klein said his client was found guilty of less serious charges: disorderly persons and petty disorderly persons offenses.

“The family is glad that the outcome of the charges have been resolved,” Klein told NBC 4 New York Monday.

NJ Locker Room Rules Reviewed After Hazing Scandal

[NY] NJ Superintendents Re-evaluate Locker Room Rules Following Hazing Scandals

The hazing scandal that is rocking Sayreville High School has superintendents in other districts re-evaluating locker room rules. Brian Thompson reports. (Published Monday, April 20, 2015)

Kevin Flood, the attorney for the other teen cleared of the charges, declined to comment on the details of the case but said they were “satisfied and extremely happy with the ultimate disposition of the case.”

The two verdicts settle all but one of the seven cases; the others also have been settled primarily with community service or disorderly persons charges.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office said it is reserving comment until the last of the seven cases is resolved, and added it was “greatly disappointed with the inappropriate and misleading comments by Mr. Klein,” though it didn’t detail how Klein’s comments were misleading.

The office said it will issue a detailed press release on the resolution of the charges in the Sayreville hazing case “at the appropriate time.”

7 Arrested in NJ Hazing Case Will Be Tried as Juveniles

[NY] 7 Arrested in NJ Hazing Case Will Be Tried as Juveniles

The seven players arrested in a hazing scandal at a New Jersey high school that prompted the district to cancel its football season and suspend the team’s coaching staff will be tried as juveniles in family court, prosecutors said Monday. Brian Thompson reports. (Published Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014)

Sayrveille residents supported the verdicts.

“I believe everybody should get a second chance,” said George Zulin.

“You want to people to be held responsible for what they do; at the same time, you don’t want to ruin a person’s life,” said John Sglamabro.

The players, all of whom were 17 or younger when they were arrested, faced charges ranging from hazing and conspiracy to sexual contact in connection with the months-long investigation at Sayreville War Memorial High School. Three of the players were originally charged with aggravated sexual assault, a first-degree crime that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in state prison.

Sayreville Hazing Arrests Put Focus on Policies

[NY] Sayreville Hazing Arrests Put Focus on Policies

As classes resumed in a New Jersey town Monday for the first time since the arrest of seven high school football players on charges of sexually abusing younger teammates, attention turned to whether the state’s anti-bullying laws adequately address team sports. Brian Thompson reports. (Published Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014)

A juvenile court judge would have had far more discretion in sentencing the players, if found guilty, than a criminal court judge would. By law, court complaints against juveniles are not public records and cannot be released. Hearings in family court are closed to the public.

“The conduct in which the juvenile defendants engaged was serious and that is why criminal charges were filed,” Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey said last November in announcing his office’s decision to try the suspects as juveniles. “Asking the court to waive these seven juvenile cases to adult court would not best serve the interests of the victims, the community or the defendants.”

Prosecutors had previously said the alleged hazing, which they said could have been considered sexual assaults, was “pervasive” at the school. Sayreville boasted one of the top-ranked football teams in the state before its season was cut short amid the allegations in October.

The seven students who were arrested were also suspended from school. The team’s coaching staff was suspended as well. Five of the suspended coaches, including head coach George Najjar, were tenured teachers, NJ.com reported. Several others were substitutes.

Sayreville Parents Outraged Over Canceled Football Season

[NY] Sayreville Parents Outraged Over Canceled Football Season

One day after Sayreville High School canceled the remainder of the football season over hazing allegations, parents and players voiced their concerns to the district’s school board. Brynn Gingras reports. (Published Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014)

Football season will resume at Sayreville High School this school year with new head coach Christopher Beagan. Najjar was demoted in March to teaching physical education classes at an elementary school after serving two decades as head coahc.

Shortly after the coaching staff was suspended with pay, the New York Times reported details of the alleged locker room abuse from players who either saw the alleged attacks or said they were victims of it.

The witnesses, who weren’t identified by name, described a boisterous locker room environment that took a dark turn over a 10-day period in September, when all four alleged hazing cases occurred.

The freshmen who spoke to the Times said that during the attacks, older players would come into the locker room shouting “hootie hoo” before flicking the lights on and off and tripping one of the them over. In one case, two older players held a boy down by his arms while players punched, kicked and groped him, according to the report.

The three victims who spoke to the Times varied slightly on their accounts of the hazing. All three said they were wearing football pants, and accounts of the gropings ranged from poking or grabbing of the buttocks to penetration. Of the three victims, two said the hazing wasn’t a big deal — and that what happened was part of team bonding.

Several other freshmen who witnessed the attacks told the Times they rushed to change after practice or avoided showering to make it out of the locker room before the varsity team finished practice.

Some said they became the targets of backlash on social media and in school from other students upset that the football season was canceled. One player told the Times the backlash “made me want to shoot myself.”

The case has put a spotlight on the town, known for its successful football program and for being the hometown of singer Jon Bon Jovi, and the way that school districts handle hazing and bullying allegations.

Late last October, Eldred Central School District in upstate New York canceled its varsity football team’s season finale because of alleged hazing by players. Before that, Long Island’s Wyandanch High School suspended five players amid a hazing probe. Its season continued, but was later canceled because a fire destroyed the team’s practice gear.

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Ex-Watervliet cop among 20 snared in massive drug case

  • Evidence from "Operation Trojan Horse" Troy drug bust during a press conference Aug. 4, 2015, in Albany. (Phoebe Sheehan/Special to the Times Union)
    Evidence from “Operation Trojan Horse” Troy drug bust during a press conference Aug. 4, 2015, in Albany. (Phoebe Sheehan/Special to the Times Union)

TROY – An indictment unsealed Tuesday in Rensselaer County Court revealed a year-long undercover drug investigation that led to the arrest of 20 people, including a former Watervliet police officer and members of a Troy street gang.

Evidence from "Operation Trojan Horse" Troy drug bust during a press conference Aug. 4, 2015, in Albany. (Phoebe Sheehan/Special to the Times Union)

Evidence from “Operation Trojan Horse” Troy drug bust during a press conference Aug. 4, 2015, in Albany. (Phoebe Sheehan/Special to the Times Union)

The investigation by the State Police and state Attorney General’s office was first revealed last month when a Watervliet police officer, Nicholas Pontore, was questioned about his dealings with a suspected drug dealer, Donald Kodadar, who was affiliated with the “Young Gunnerz” street gang in Troy.

Pontore, 29, resigned from the police force on June 18 when law enforcement officials said he was asked to submit to a drug test. His brother, Kevin Pontore, who was an Albany County corrections officer, was later accused of trying to communicate with Kodadar inside the county jail about the alleged drug dealer’s statements to authorities about Nicholas Pontore.

Sheriff’s officials said Kevin Pontore also resigned when he was asked to give a statement and submit to a drug test.

Nicholas Pontore allegedly provided protection for the drug ring and purchased cocaine from the Young Gunnerz almost daily, including while on duty and in his marked police vehicle, according to the Attorney General’s office. Officials did not specify how Pontore allegedly protected the drug dealers. They said that Pontore exchanged about 150 text messages with the suspected gang members, although they didn’t become aware of his involvement until after he resigned from his police job.

Pontore’s resignation from the Watervliet police force took place days after the arrest of Kodadar, who was his “primary contact” with the Young Gunnerz, officials said.

The resignation sparked a wider scandal within the Watervliet Police Department and Albany County Sheriff’s Department. Pontore said he turned over a video implicating another city police officer, Joshua Spratt, for allegedly having sexual contact with teenage girls. Spratt was indicted last week on felony charges related to those allegations.

Spratt was a longtime school resource officer in the Watervliet School District.

On Friday, the sheriff’s department’s Stop-DWI coordinator, Martin Zaloga Jr., resigned a day after he was questioned by internal affairs investigators about information alleging he sent sexually explicit text messages to a teenage girl in Watervliet. The information had appeared on an anonymous Facebook page set up last week to defend Spratt. Sheriff’s officials said Zaloga acknowledged sending the text messages.

In an email to the Times Union over the weekend, Nicholas Pontore denied having a close relationship with Kodadar. He said Kodadar lived in a Fourth Avenue house in Watervliet owned by Pontore and his brother Kevin. Kodadar has been held at Albany County jail on drug charges since his recent arrest.

Pontore said Kodadar, 25, was a friend of his brother Kevin and played in city basketball leagues with other members of the city’s police department.

“I guess I just want to try and stay out of the news,” Pontore wrote. “I gave you the information for the other girl that came forward. That place has a lot of bad and cover up in this … and I don’t want to be made the bad guy in all of this anymore.”

In Rensselaer County Court on Tuesday, Pontore was released on $100,000 bail after being charged with conspiracy, 19 counts of official misconduct and 19 counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance.

The investigation showed the Troy street gang purchased drugs in the Bronx and redistributed them in the greater Capital Region, authorities said. During the year-long investigation, which included wiretaps, undercover surveillance and the use of informants, police seized more than 1,000 grams of cocaine and more than 100 bags of heroin.

Spratt, 34, is accused of having sexual relations with two teenage girls, ages 16 and 17. The seven-count indictment unsealed July 27 alleges Spratt had oral sex with the 16-year-old girl between Feb. 15 and April 10 in the parking lots of two cemeteries in Watervliet and Menands, on Third Avenue in the city of Watervliet, and in the parking lot of the Watervliet Elementary School.

Spratt, who is married, faces multiple years in prison on felony charges that include four counts of third-degree criminal sex act.

In the sprawling drug case that inadvertently led to Spratt’s arrest, officials from the state Attorney General’s Office spent Tuesday arraigning 19 people in Rensselaer County Court before Judge Debra Young. Assistant Attorney General Michael Sharpe brought two large boxes of evidence including telephone wiretap documents.

All of the suspects face numerous counts of drug possession, criminal sale of a controlled substance and conspiracy. The arraignments were continuing Tuesday afternoon as State Police, Troy police and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman held a news conference at State Police headquarters in Albany.

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SECRET LEADERS OF THE MEXICAN GULF CARTEL EXPOSED

Breitbart Texas has exhausted every possible source in both U.S. and Mexican law enforcement to compile the names and images of the current Mexican Gulf cartel leadership and core members. Some of these individuals and their images have never been exposed in the public square. Exposure in media has traditionally led to increased law enforcement pressure on Mexican cartel leaders and members and resulted in the beginning of their downfalls. They are forced into hiding and can no longer enjoy their money or properly lead their organized criminal enterprises.

The Gulf cartel controls the area in Mexico immediately south of the Texas border from the Gulf of Mexico to immediately south of Laredo, Texas. They are responsible for the bulk of the border violence, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and other heinous crimes in the region. They are also the Mexican cartel who profited the most from the recent border crisis in South Texas.

In the Mexican border city of Reynosa, the Gulf cartel faction known as Los Metros has been working to establish its leadership and take over the territories of their rivals, Los Ciclones, from Matamoros.

The current criminal organization is very different from the crime syndicate that began in the 1930s and operated in a quiet fashion all the way through 1980s and 1990s. The cartel initially focused on liquor and tobacco and then primarily focused on drug trafficking. That criminal syndicate was seen by many along the Tamaulipas-Texas border as harmless, since any violence was previously handled in a quiet fashion. As reported byBreitbart Texas, the Tamaulipas governor recently unveiled a street in Reynosa honoring the founder of the Gulf cartel.

In 2010 the Gulf Cartel went to war with their former enforcers, Los Zetas, and then just a year later two factions of the Gulf cartel took up arms against each other in what became known as the war between Los Metros and Los Ciclones.

That ongoing struggle led to gory executions and escalating violence and resulted in the creation of younger inexperienced leaders with great ambition and ego who are quick to take action with little regard for the consequences. This fact is evidenced in the recent unaccompanied minor crisis in South Texas. In that case, the cartel chose the short-term profit making of the human smuggling even though they knew it would hurt their profits in the immediate aftermath.

In recent years citizen journalists have resorted to Twitter and Facebook to warn each other about ongoing firefights, however those same social media networks have also been used by cartel members in efforts to tip off authorities to their rivals.

Pages like ValorxTamaulipas and various others have routinely posted photographs of suspected cartel lookouts, gunmen, and occasionally of commanders.

Mexican authorities have also used the networks to share information, gather data pertaining to the way certain cartel members operate, as well as to understand their current networks.

The following individuals have been identified as some of the current leaders and core operators within the Gulf cartel. Some of the individuals listed here have not been formally charged of a crime in the U.S. or in Mexico, however the intelligence gathered for this report points to their criminal activities. The names and photographs in this report have been vetted by U.S. and Tamaulipas law enforcement officials who share information with the Breitbart Texas Cartel Chronicles effort.

Jose Luis Martinez – An accountant allegedly tasked with the allocation of funds for the day to day operations of the criminal organization for Los Ciclones in Matamoros, Mexico. This city is immediately south of Brownsville, Texas.

Suspected accountant for the Los Ciclones faction of the Gulf Cartel

Juan Remigio Quintanilla – Suspected large scale drug trafficker for the Gulf cartel.

 Juan Remigio quintanilla

Ricardo “El Rica” Mario García Rodríguez — An alleged vital operator for the Gulf cartel.

Ricardo Mario Garcia Rodriguez

Julian Manuel “Comandante Toro”  Loisa Salinas — The current head of the Los Metros faction of the Gulf cartel. He is routinely seen by residents in Reynosa around the Bugambilea and Los Fresnos neighborhoods. Loisa Salinas has been profiled in the past in the Breitbart Texas Cartel Chronicles.

Comandante Toro

Jesus “Wero Jessi” Garcia – An alleged close associate of Loisa Salinas and likely to be second in command of Los Metros faction. According to the citizen journalist @bandolera7, Garcia recently traveled  to the resort town of Cancun to marry a woman who works for Reynosa’s city water system. The wedding engagement party was featured in the newspaper Tabasco Hoy.

Jesus "Wero Jessi" Garcia

Angel Eduardo Prado Rodriguez – The current head of the Los Ciclones faction of the Gulf cartel in Matamoros and has been profiled in the past in the Breitbart TexasCartel Chronicles.

Leader of the Los Ciclones faction for the Gulf Cartel

Armando Daniel “Choco or Metro 90” León García – An alleged commander for the Gulf cartel Los Metros.

Gulf list Armando Daniel Leon M90

Cleofas Alberto” El Wero Cleofas” Martinez Gutierrez — He is an alleged Gulf cartel commander in charge of the Lopez Portillo neighborhood of Reynosa, Mexico, immediately south of Hidalgo, Texas.

Cleofas Alberto Martinez Gutierrez

Juan Amador “ Metro 38 or El Negro” Moreno Flores — Allegedly in charge of the surrounding rural communities and the rural road known as El Becerro between Reynosa and Matamoros, Mexico. In January 2014, Moreno Flores was arrested for illegally entering the country in Laredo, Texas.

 Juan Amador Moreno Flores

Petronilo “Comandante Panilo or M70” Moreno Flores – A suspected Gulf cartel commander who spent time in Mexican prison on various charges, but has since been released.

Petronilo Moreno Flores aka Comandante Panilo or Metro 70

Raul “KaKo Caco” Rivera Navarro – A suspected Gulf cartel commander who heads up the organization in the border city of Diaz Ordaz, just south of Starr County Texas.

Raul Rivera Navarro

Pedro Rivera “Nonote” Navarro – An alleged Gulf cartel commander in Reynosa, Mexico.

Pedro Rivera Navarro

David “Tapon” Hernandez Trevino – A suspected Gulf Cartel commander in charge of the area around the Tecnologico De Reynosa (state university).

David Hernandez Trevino

Luis Alberto “Wicho” Trinidad Ceron – A suspected Gulf cartel commander who allegedly operates in the border city of Diaz Ordaz, just south of the Texas border from Starr County.

Luis Alberto Trinidad Ceron

Eduardo Ismael “El Negro” Flores Borrego — The brother of late Gulf Cartel commander Samuel “Metro 3” Flores Borrego. El Negro spent time in a Mexican prison after 2010 when Mexican authorities claimed he led a Gulf cartel squad responsible for the death of more than 30 Los Zetas hitmen. He is currently the head of the Gulf cartel in Valle Hermoso, south of Brownsville, Texas.

Eduardo Ismael Flores Borrego

Juan Francisco “L98” Carrizalez Lara — Alleged Gulf cartel commander who was in charge of the border city of Rio Bravo earlier this year, but has since been forced to flee. He is currently believed to be hiding in Laredo, Texas.

Juan Francisco  Carrizalez

José Antonio “La Hamburguesa” Romo López – A suspected regional commander for the Gulf cartel.

Jose Antonio Romo Lopez

Carlos “Carlitos Whiskies” Gonzalez Escobar – Alleged Gulf cartel commander in charge of the border city of Nuevo Progreso, immediately south of Progreso, Texas.

Carlos Gonzalez Escobar

Alan “Fiscal” Alpizar Cordoba – Alleged Gulf cartel commander behind some of the drug shipments for the cartel in the Mexican border city of Camargo. This is immediately south of Rio Grande City, Texas.

 Alan Alpizar Cordoba

Martin “Don Chucho” Romo Lopez – An alleged accountant for the Gulf cartel.

Martin Romo Lopez

Alfonso “Metro 7” Flores Salinas – An alleged Gulf cartel commander and cousin to the late Metro 3.

Alfonso Flores Salinas

Juan Alberto De La Cruz Alvarez, Juanillo  — A suspected Gulf Cartel commander who is believed to be in charge of the plaza known as Ciudad Mier. In 2010, De La Cruz Alvarez was arrested in Laredo, Texas and charged with one count of illegally entering the country.

Juan Alberto De La Cruz Alvarez

Follow Ildefonso Ortiz on Twitter: @ildefonsoortiz.

 

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Former Police Officer Sentenced for Robbing Drug Dealers

PHILADELPHIA—Former Philadelphia Police Officer Jeffrey Walker, 47, of Philadelphia, was sentenced today to 42 months in prison for a scheme in which he planned to rob a drug dealer while on official duty. Walker pleaded guilty, on February 24, 2014, to attempted robbery which interferes with interstate commerce and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno ordered three years of supervised release, a $5,000 fine and a $200 special assessment.

Walker told a cooperating witness (CW) that he wanted the CW to help him identify a drug dealer so that Walker could conduct a car stop for suspected drug violations or plant drugs in the car. On May 21, 2013, the CW informed Walker of a car parked outside of a bar on West Girard Avenue. Walker drove up to the car, placed drugs inside the car, and then followed the driver when that person left the bar. When the car was pulled over, Walker took the key to the driver’s home. Walker and the CW went to the driver’s home. When they exited the home, Walker was arrested and was in possession of $15,000 that he had taken from the house.

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