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Hastert Hires Washington Attorney As He Prepares For Court Hearing

By Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

CHICAGO — Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has hired longtime Washington criminal defense attorney Thomas Green to represent him on charges that Hastert arranged to pay $3.5 million to cover up wrongdoing against an acquaintance.

The announcement that Green, of the firm Sidley Austin, was representing Hastert comes nearly two weeks after his indictment and a day before he is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

Carter Phillips, a partner at Sidley Austin, confirmed in an email Monday afternoon that Green was hired. He said the firm would have no comment before the hearing, scheduled for 2 p.m. CDT Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin.

According to his biography on Sidley Austin’s website, Green has “represented members of Congress and other public officials in responding to some of the most well-known and significant federal and congressional investigations of official misconduct.”

Hastert will enter a plea to the charges Tuesday and be processed by the U.S. Marshals Service. He is likely to be released on his own recognizance.

Hastert’s arraignment is expected to generate media coverage unseen at the courthouse since then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s arrest on corruption charges nearly seven years ago.

Hastert was charged in an indictment unsealed May 28 with illegally structuring bank withdrawals over 4 { years to conceal $1.7 million in hush payments to “Individual A,” whom law enforcement sources describe as a former Yorkville (Ill.) High School student Hastert had sexually abused decades earlier. Hastert also was charged with lying to FBI agents who questioned him about the withdrawals in December.

Federal agents also have interviewed a second person who raised similar allegations of sexual abuse against Hastert that corroborated the account of the initial alleged victim, another law enforcement source said after the indictment.

Last week, a former Yorkville resident said Hastert abused her now-deceased brother while he was a student. Jolene Burdge, now of Montana, told ABC News that her brother, Stephen Reinboldt, was abused by Hastert for years before he graduated in 1971. Hastert was the wrestling coach, and Reinboldt was an equipment manager for the team.

(c)2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: ASIS International via Flickr

Court Holds Secret Meeting On Whether Terror Suspect Can View Surveillance Documents

By Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — A federal appeals court in Chicago held a highly unusual closed-door session with government officials Wednesday after debating in public whether attorneys for a local terrorism suspect should be allowed to view confidential surveillance documents filed in the case.

In 30 minutes of arguments that were open to the public, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Ridgway urged the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a trial court’s ruling granting lawyers for Adel Daoud unprecedented access to records of a secret intelligence-court, saying it could harm national security.

As the arguments concluded, Judge Richard Posner announced the public portion of the proceedings had concluded and ordered the stately courtroom cleared so the three-judge panel could hold a “secret hearing.” Daoud’s attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, rose to object, but Posner did not acknowledge him. Deputy U.S. marshals then ordered everyone out — including Durkin, his co-counsel and reporters.

Only those with the proper security clearance — including U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, his first assistant, Gary Shapiro, and about a dozen FBI and U.S. Department of Justice officials — were allowed back in the courtroom before it was locked for the secret session.

Durkin, a veteran Chicago lawyer, said outside the courtroom he was not notified in advance that there would be a secret hearing and called the move unprecedented.

“Not only do I not get to be there, but I didn’t even get to object,” Durkin said. “I had to object over the fact that I couldn’t even make an objection.”

The secret hearing lasted about 30 minutes before Posner and Judges Michael Kanne and Ilana Diamond Rovner.

It was the latest illustration of the lightning rod Daoud’s case has become in the fallout over controversial government spying programs revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Joel Bertocchi, a veteran appellate attorney in Chicago, told the Tribune in a telephone interview that holding a hearing where only attorneys for one side are allowed to be present is rare, especially for the appeals court.

“I’ve never heard of it being done in the 7th Circuit before,” said Bertocchi, noting the appeals court warns litigants that even records that had been sealed in district court will be made public unless the judges can be convinced otherwise.

Bertocchi said the Daoud case was unusual because the appellate court was being asked to look at a district court ruling in which parts of the record had been seen by only one side.

“If the judges are going to be asking questions about the contents of those materials,” it might make sense to do so behind closed doors, he said.

Daoud, now 20, is facing trial on charges he plotted to set off a bomb outside a Loop bar in 2012. Authorities have said he came under FBI scrutiny after posting messages online about killing Americans.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman took the unprecedented action of ordering prosecutors to give Doud’s lawyers access to confidential surveillance materials used in the government investigation, including search warrant applications that had been presented to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. It was the first such ruling in the 36-year history of FISA.

Daoud’s attorneys have said they need access to the materials to decide whether to challenge the search warrants on the grounds they violated the constitutional protection against unlawful searches and seizures.

In his public argument Wednesday before the appeals panel, John Cline , another Daoud attorney, said trying to mount an attack on records one can’t view is like “playing pin the tail on the donkey.”

Photo: Scott* via Flickr

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U.S. Judge In Chicago Delivers Stiff Sentence For Gun Smuggling

By Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Calling the free flow of guns on Chicago streets “the stuff of nightmares,” a federal judge sentenced a man Thursday to more than 11 years in prison for his role in a gun-smuggling scheme that brought high-powered weapons purchased in Indiana into the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods.

“Short of an actual homicide, I don’t know how the offense could be more serious, frankly,” U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman told Levaine Tanksley.

The case showed how firearms sold at gun shows in Indiana under less-restrictive laws end up in the hands of gangs in Chicago.

During a two-day stretch in April 2012, prosecutors said, an accomplice delivered 43 guns to Tanksley, who then sold the weapons to a government informant at a sizable profit.

Tanksley’s attorneys asked Guzman for a sentence of under 10 years in prison, citing a childhood ravaged by poverty and crime, and a learning disability that left Tanksley vulnerable to the trappings of his neighborhood.

Before he was sentenced, Tanksley apologized and said he’d turned over a new leaf.

“I have made many mistakes in my life, but I’ve learned from them along the way,” Tanksley said.

Guzman said anyone who reads the daily headlines of the senseless slaughter should be appalled. People “shot, killed, maimed, wounded … while they’re watching TV in their home, playing in their front yard, walking to school,” he said.

“It is absolutely essential the illegal trafficking of firearms is stopped. If it is not, the people who live in these neighborhoods will never be safe, they will never be secure,” Guzman said. “They are all entitled to a chance at life.”

Photo: Scott* via Flickr

U.S. Attorney’s Office Creates New Section To Combat Chicago Violent Crime

By Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — When U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon took his post six months ago amid pressure to curtail Chicago’s relentless street violence, he was clear that federal authorities were not going to be able to swoop in and make arrests that would suddenly solve the intractable problem.

While Fardon has downplayed expectations, the announcement Monday that he has created a new Violent Crimes section at the U.S. Attorney’s Office clearly reflects how gun violence has become a high-profile issue for an office better known for combating terrorism and public corruption.

After months of consultations on how his office spends its resources, Fardon decided to spin off 16 prosecutors from the larger Narcotics and Gangs section to focus solely on how best to use federal statutes to go after violence, said Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Fardon.

Samborn said prosecutors will use drug and gun statutes as well as extortion and money-laundering laws to go after criminal crews responsible for violent acts, including bringing conspiracy prosecutions similar to racketeering cases. While no new resources have been tapped, the restructuring will allow prosecutors to attack the problem with more agility, he said.

“This is putting a group of talented attorneys together and telling them that their mission is to help the city and the district tamp down violent crime … and to use all the tools and strategies at their disposal that are going to accomplish that mission,” Samborn said. The unit also will continue to run proven violence prevention initiatives such as Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Samborn said that, to a certain extent, the new section re-emphasizes an issue that has long been a priority of a U.S. Attorney’s Office that already allocates about a third of its resources to gang, gun and drug prosecutions.

Even the announcement itself was low-key — made without a news conference or press release on a day when Fardon was running in the Boston Marathon.

When Mayor Rahm Emanuel was asked about it Monday, he didn’t appear to have been filled in on any details.

“I don’t know whether it means more resources, I don’t know what it exactly is, but I’m pleased they’re doing it,” Emanuel told reporters.

Former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer said the creation of the new unit puts a focus on the issue and allows the team of prosecutors the opportunity to take a leadership role in tackling a problem. But the overall look of the prosecutions — especially sophisticated racketeering cases aimed at gang leadership — may end up looking largely the same.

“It’s not like the office is going to start doing things tomorrow that they weren’t doing last week,” said Cramer, now head of the Chicago office of the private security company Kroll. “There is no magic pill — if there was they would have been doing it years ago.”

Picked to head the section was Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron DeWald, a former Cook County prosecutor who throughout his career has worked with Chicago police and other law enforcement agencies, Samborn said.

The move is part of a larger restructuring of the office’s approximately 160 prosecutors and $34 million budget undertaken by Fardon, who took office in October. Other changes include the creation of a specialized securities and commodities fraud section as well as stepping up efforts to combat the growing problem of cyber crime, Samborn said.

It’s not unusual for an incoming U.S. attorney to reorganize an office, finding efficiencies and shuffling priorities.

The last major restructuring came in 2002 under Fardon’s predecessor, Patrick Fitzgerald, who a year after the Sept. 11 attacks announced a new focus on terrorism cases as well as the creation of a major case squad and units on complex financial fraud and public corruption. A decade earlier, newly appointed U.S. Attorney Jim Burns brought in a key assistant to help reorganize the office in the aftermath of allegations of misconduct in the El Rukn gang prosecution.

Samborn said in the past 10 years the Narcotics and Gangs section had grown to more than 40 attorneys and become unwieldy to manage. In creating a section focused on violent crime, Fardon wanted to allow more time for strategic thinking among a smaller group of prosecutors dedicated to a single cause, he said. “What this is saying is that we are aware this is a problem and that we have a role in (fixing) it,” Samborn said.

AFP Photo

Prosecutors Unseal Plea Agreement With Mexican Drug Cartel Leader

By Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Just over a year ago, the highest-ranking leader of the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel ever to be arrested on U.S. charges stood in a quiet federal courtroom in Chicago for a secret hearing.

Raising his right hand and speaking through a Spanish interpreter, Vincente Zambada Niebla, a top Sinaloa lieutenant known as “Mayito,” admitted that for years he acted as the key coordinator of a billion-dollar cocaine and heroin operation on behalf of a faction of the cartel run by his father.

Then came the real bombshell: he was cooperating with the U.S. government in its case against his former boss, captured Sinaloa loader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

On Thursday, the events of that April 2013 hearing were made public for the first time as prosecutors unsealed Zambada’s 23-page plea agreement.

While the impact of his cooperation remains unclear, it’s a major breakthrough for federal prosecutors and could boost their efforts to extradite Guzman to Chicago to stand trial. He remains jailed on other charges in Mexico following his apprehension in February.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Zambada faces life in prison, but prosecutors said that if he continues to “provide full and truthful cooperation,” including possible testimony, they will seek an unspecified break in his sentence. As part of the plea deal, Zambada agreed not to fight an order to forfeit a staggering $1.37 billion in ill-gotten proceeds by the cartel.

Zambada, 39, is the son of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who is widely believed to have taken control of the vast Sinaloa enterprise after Guzman’s capture. The younger Zambada was arrested in 2009 in Mexico City on a sweeping indictment charging him, Guzman, his father and other alleged Sinaloa cartel leaders in what is considered the most significant drug case in Chicago history.

Zambada admitted in his plea agreement that between May 2005 and December 2008 he was responsible for many aspects of the Sinaloa cartel’s drug trafficking operations in his role “as a trusted lieutenant for his father.”

According to the plea deal, Zambada coordinated the importation of multi-ton quantities of cocaine from Colombia and Panama into Mexico and facilitated the transportation and storage of the shipments there. The cartel smuggled drugs by jumbo jets, speed boats, submarines, tunnels and other means and used violence and threats against rival cartels and law enforcement in Mexico to facilitate its business, the plea said.

The stunning news of Zambada’s cooperation marked the latest twist in a case that has been filled with intrigue. After Zambada was extradited to Chicago in 2010, authorities at the Metropolitan Correctional Center refused to allow him to exercise in the high-rise’s rooftop yard, citing concern over an assassination attempt or escape by helicopter.

Zambada was later moved to a facility in Michigan and for years he appeared in court in Chicago only via teleconference. After his guilty plea, he was secretly moved to an undisclosed location, authorities said. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons website currently has no record of his whereabouts.

In 2011, his attorneys unsuccessfully tried to get the charges against him thrown out, arguing he’d been granted immunity from prosecution due to his work as an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Prosecutors denied there was any such agreement, and U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo denied the motion in 2012, court records show.

At the center of the indictment are Pedro and Margarito Flores, twin brothers from Chicago’s West Side who had risen in the ranks of Guzman’s organization before providing key cooperation.

In October 2008, Margarito Flores attended a meeting with Zambada, Guzman and other cartel leaders at a mountaintop compound in Mexico, the charges allege. Flores told authorities that Guzman discussed a plot to attack a U.S. or Mexican government or media building in retaliation for the recent arrest of an associate.

In that same conversation, Zambada turned to Flores and asked him to find somebody who could give him “big, powerful weapons” to help carry out the attack, according to court records.

“We don’t want Middle Eastern or Asian guns, we want big U.S. guns or RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades),” said Zambada, according to Flores’ account of the conversation in court records. “We don’t need one, we need a lot of them.”

Court records show Flores later secretly recorded a telephone conversation with Zambada, telling him the weapons were going to cost twice as much as they’d thought. “That’s fine, just let me know,” Zambada replied, according to court records.

Zambada’s father remains a fugitive, believed to be hiding in the Mexican sierra where the family got its start as ranchers. But his younger brother, Serafin Zambada, was arrested in December and charged in a separate drug trafficking conspiracy in San Diego, records show.

Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times/MCT