Tag Archives: Crime

Carol Blevins: The Confidential Informant Who is Now A Target for Murder

In this epic, seven-part feature from the Dallas Morning News, Scott Farwell tells the story of Carol Blevins, a heroin addict and “Aryan Princess featherwood” (property of a gang member) who became the FBI’s most important confidential informant during a massive, six-year investigation into the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas — an organized crime syndicate responsible for over 100 murders and a huge drug trade. Blevins’ keen eye for detail helped take down 13 members of the gang. Not only does she suffer post-traumatic stress from her undercover work, the gang has signaled the “green light” on her assassination in a bid for revenge.

She lived with the ABT, gathering information the Cold War way – by sleuthing, connecting dots, memorizing detail.

Her spy work offered broad views (the ABT’s strategy for moving meth with Mexican cartels) and small insights (serial numbers on stolen guns).

In covert text messages, she pre-empted murders and interrupted robberies. She led police to drug drop houses, snapped photos connecting criminals to unsolved crimes, and prepped police when it came time to arrest men predisposed to violence.

Carol’s work sealed 13 convictions, contributed key information to at least 16 others, and juiced the careers of her government handlers.

The feds use most spies like matches – to strike fast, burn hot and flame out. Others fill disposable roles in sting operations, as drug buyers or middlemen who fence stolen property.

But agents say the most valuable CIs augur deep inside, where they learn to live in another skin, to lie and believe the lie, to infiltrate silently and investigate invisibly – like a colorless gas filling an empty vessel.

Carol was like that. She would do or say or risk anything to gain favor with the feds.

Then they cut her loose.

Medical records suggest Carol suffers from a range of mental illnesses — bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder — as a result of her work as a confidential informant.

Read the story

The Gun Barrel and the Damage Done: A Profile of Trauma Surgeon Amy Goldberg

What exactly does a bullet do to flesh as it careens through the body? At Highline, Jason Fagone profiles Philadelphia trauma surgeon Dr. Amy Goldberg, a woman on the front lines of gun violence as she attempts to repair the broken bodies that arrive daily at Temple University Hospital. Dr. Goldberg doesn’t only fix the damage, she’s also working to prevent it. After a patient died the third time he was shot, she worked with friend and coworker Scott Charles to create a social program, Turning Point, which has been instrumental in stopping gun violence before it starts.

More than 30,000 people die of gunshot wounds each year in America, around 75,000 more are injured, and we have no visceral sense of what physically happens inside a person when he’s shot. (Dr. Amy) Goldberg does.

“The creation of a person, you know. It’s the heart beating and the lungs bringing air. It is so miraculous.” Surgery, for Goldberg, was a way of honoring the miracle. And trauma surgery was the ultimate form of appreciation, because a surgeon in trauma experienced so much variety. She might be operating on the carotid artery in the neck, or the heart in the chest, or the large bowel or small bowel in the abdomen, or the femoral artery in the thigh, at any given moment, on any given night.

“As a country,” Goldberg said, “we lost our teachable moment.” She started talking about the 2012 murder of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Goldberg said that if people had been shown the autopsy photos of the kids, the gun debate would have been transformed. “The fact that not a single one of those kids was able to be transported to a hospital, tells me that they were not just dead, but really really really really dead. Ten-year-old kids, riddled with bullets, dead as doornails.”

Read the story

She Got Hacked So You Don’t Have To

It happened to John Podesta; it happened to Paul Manafort’s daughter; it’s a type of computer hack called “spearphishing,” a much more sophisticated attack than the clumsy mass-mail attempts to gain your online credentials. Social engineers target you alone by masquerading as someone you know, using your natural proclivity to trust against you. At GQ, Sarah Jeong willingly got spearphished in a bid to understand and share the latest shady tactics of computer baddies.

I got a taste of what might have tricked Andrea Manafort when an e-mail from my friend, Parker, inviting me to look at a Google Doc, landed in my inbox.

It had taken several hours to get to that point, hours during which I had sat back, watching Quintin construct an attack against me. He went through my social-media accounts, rifled through my work information, skimmed through my latest articles. The idea was to slip into my shoes and construct an e-mail that I would click on without thinking. The tried-and-true method is to pretend to be someone the person already knows, using social media to scout out connections to impersonate.

Good social engineers persuade people to give something away without a second thought, because the request is so innocuous—like a friend asking me to look at his or her Google Doc. Spearphishing is just another form of social engineering.

But protecting yourself against social engineering is an ongoing chore, like living through an endless April Fool’s Day. Your paranoia must be constantly pitted against a hacker’s persistence. For now I’m turning on my two-factor and my password manager, and squinting at web addresses—living as though the Internet is out to get me. Every day I stake my digital life on the hope that any would-be hackers will run out of time, money, and attention before I run out of luck. And whether you know it or not, you do, too.

Read the story

The Complicated Power of DIY Justice

Don’t you ever get tired of waiting for the system to deliver justice? In Esquire, Suzy Khimm enters the underworld of Canadian vigilantes who hunt pedophiles and make popular videos of busts. They have names like Creep Hunters and Creep Catchers. Some members were molested themselves, and they’re done waiting for authorities to help. But going rogue requires walking the line between avenger and criminal, and mistakes have led to widespread changes in the movement. Now some are asking what they want more: to be famous or effective?

When he took over the Creep Hunters last fall, Brady boasts, he created a culture of professionalism for their work: All chats and videos were required to be posted to the “head office” (a virtual workspace) and vetted by a “legal team” (a law student) before being published online. The group required members to sign a service agreement and complete a training program, using a manual called The Book of New Blood. The group even appointed an “office manager,” a 55-year-old former HR assistant who organized all the chat logs—the smutty propositions, the overwrought confessions of love, the dick pics—to send to the police.

So far, Creep Hunters hasn’t gotten anyone convicted, and only one catch—snaring a deputy sheriff in British Columbia—has resulted in charges of child sexual exploitation. But Brady insists that Creep Hunters could be the ideal complement to traditional law enforcement. Compared to the U.S., Canada has been slow to toughen its laws on child sexual exploitation: In 2008, it raised the age of consent from fourteen to sixteen years—the first time it had changed since 1892. Brady believes that the country needs to take America’s lead in cracking down on sex offenders, and that groups like his can help close the gap. Since predator catchers don’t have the ability to make arrests, they aren’t subject to the same entrapment laws that limit how police carry out their own sting operations; they can go where the police don’t, then turn their evidence over to the authorities.

Read the story

‘They Would Try to Love Whoever Killed Her, and Forgive.’

In 1985, Cliff and Wilma Derksen’s daughter Candace was abducted and left to die in the severe cold of Winnipeg, Manitoba. While the couple did not yet know the killer’s identity, they made a decision early on to forgive — and to save themselves and the good left in their lives.

As he spoke, the Derksens saw for the first time what faced them. They would come to know it as the darkness, an abyss of sadness and anger that could swallow a person and take away everything they loved, that would spread until it destroyed all that was beautiful. Alone in their bedroom after he left, they made a decision: They had lost Candace, they wouldn’t lose everything else, too. They couldn’t.

“We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘We have to stop this,'” Cliff says. “We have to forgive.”

But what does it mean to forgive the person who killed your daughter? The person who bound her hands and feet in a way so dehumanizing it is called “hog-tying,” then left her alone and helpless to die in the cold? How do you forgive a person you have never met? Who has never asked your forgiveness? How do you forgive a person who may not even be sorry?

Thirty-two years later, the suspect in the case awaits his verdict in a second trial, as Jana G. Pruden reports in the Globe and Mail. Today, the Derksens reflect on their decision to forgive, to let go, and to face the light.

They admit it’s strange that the man at the heart of their story somehow doesn’t play a bigger role, but yet he is nearly invisible. Through the years, they have come to know that their forgiveness must be offenderless. They have fought so hard to keep him from destroying their lives, that in some ways it is not really about him at all.

Read the story

In the 1970s, It Was The Police That Made Made Detroit’s Streets Deadly

A man named Carl Ingram told the council that police officers had forced his fiancée to strip during an illegal search on December 7. “There ain’t no man hiding in her clothes!” he said. “If I had had a gun, I sure enough would have used it.” John Reynolds, the chair of a city task force dedicated to improving police-community relations, testified that his son had been stopped and beaten by police on New Year’s Eve. Kenneth Cockrel called on Mayor Gribbs to remove Nichols from his post and shut down STRESS.

But as with more recent debates over initiatives like stop and frisk, police brass countered with reams of crime statistics. The purpose of STRESS was to reduce robberies, they insisted, and the unit had been a resounding success. During their first year on the job, STRESS officers made 2,496 arrests and seized 600 guns. Robberies were down for the first time in a decade—by nearly 30 percent in two years.

Officers, meanwhile, discovered that killing unarmed civilians was a badge of honor within the department. “I was still lauded for what I was doing, even after the community started to get heavy on STRESS,” Peterson recalled. “They were happy with me. Whenever I shot someone, I would have to go to headquarters to fill out a report and the guys would cheer me when I walked in. The brass… went out of its way to encourage me. I was a proud boy, you know? I was the fair-haired boy—as long as everything worked their way. Who doesn’t like to be the fair-haired boy? Who doesn’t like applause?”

In The New RepublicMark Binelli describes the years when Detroit’s black community had to not only deal with street crime, but also the police’s special street crime unit, which terrorized the innocent, murdered the unarmed, and undermined the very meaning of law and order.

Read the story

Searching for the Lost on Public Land

After the September 11 ­attacks, Interior tried to build its own data­base to track law-enforcement actions across lands managed by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs. (The Forest Service is under the Department of Agriculture.) The result, the ­Incident Management Analysis and Reporting System, is a $50 million Database to Nowhere—last year, only 14 percent of the several hundred reportable incidents were entered into it. The system is so flawed that Fish and Wildlife has said no thanks and refuses to use it.

That leaves the only estimates to civilians and conspiracy theorists. Aficionados of the vanished believe that at least 1,600 people, and perhaps many times that number, ­remain missing on public lands under circumstances that defy easy explanation.

People regularly disappear on America’s 640 million acres of national forests, national parks, and Bureau of Land Management property. The disappearance of an 18-year old runner in Colorado sent Outside journalist Jon Billman to investigate the sheriffs, trackers, amateur detectives, and mourning families who search for the people who go missing in the wild.

Read the story

A Small Town Crushed By a Big Weight — the Military-Industrial Complex

a water tower in kentucky painted like the american flag

In a meticulously-reported piece for Oxford American, Nick Tabor explores the bungled investigation into an unsolved 1994 double murder in Oak Grove, Kentucky — a small town next to a big army base that exemplifies the military-industrial complex’s depressing effects on small-town economic development, governance, and policing.

In an alternate history, the Army’s presence could have spurred rapid economic development in Hopkinsville. The city might have extended its borders down to the state line, annexing all of that empty farmland, and business leaders could have built new neighborhoods, stores, and a movie theater. This is exactly what happened in Clarksville, Tennessee, on the other side of the post. But it was not to be in Christian County, because the people of Hopkinsville considered the soldiers an “inferior social group,” as Turner put it to me. Parents didn’t want the troopers mingling with their daughters, which they did anyway, and fights were always breaking out at bars. In 1952, a federal grand jury determined that soldiers had been “brutally beaten or killed” by Hopkinsville police, and an Army general threatened to declare the whole city temporarily off-limits for military personnel. The space in between remained a no-man’s-land, with development limited to a few stray trailer parks.

Read the story

27 Years and 1,000 Break-Ins: North Pond Hermit — Book Edition

If you enjoyed Michael Finkel’s 2014 GQ story about Christopher Knight — the North Pond Hermit — you’ll be interested in knowing Finkel’s turned that story into a book.

At The Guardian, read an excerpt from The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, Finkel’s book on the man who simply walked away from the modern world into the woods of rural Maine in 1986 without any real plan for survival. Living alone for 27 years in a makeshift camp, Knight survived by stealing food, clothes, and provisions from neighboring camps and cabins. Knight committed over 1,000 break-ins during his self-imposed exile — stymying law enforcement and homeowners alike for nearly three decades.

Christopher Knight was only 20 years old when he walked away from society, not to be seen again for more than a quarter of a century. He had been working for less than a year installing home and vehicle alarm systems near Boston, Massachusetts, when abruptly, without giving notice to his boss, he quit his job. He never even returned his tools. He cashed his final pay cheque and left town.

Knight parked the car and tossed the keys on the centre console. He had a tent and a backpack but no compass, no map. Without knowing where he was going, with no particular place in mind, he stepped into the trees and walked away.

The cabins around the ponds in central Maine, Knight noted, had minimal security measures. Windows were often left open, even when the owners were away. The woods offered excellent cover, and with few permanent residents, the area would always be empty during the off-season. A summer camp with a big pantry was nearby. The easiest way to become a hunter-gatherer here was obvious.

And so Knight decided to steal.

To commit a thousand break-ins before getting caught, a world-class streak, requires precision and patience, daring and luck. It also demands a specific understanding of people. “I looked for patterns,” Knight said. “Everyone has patterns.”

He perched at the edge of the woods and meticulously observed the habits of the families with cabins along the ponds. He watched their quiet breakfasts and dinner parties, their visitors and vacancies, the cars moving up and down the road. Nothing Knight saw tempted him to return to his former life. His surveillance was clinical, informational, mathematical. He did not learn anyone’s name. All he sought was to understand migration patterns – when people went shopping, when a cabin was unoccupied. After that, he said, everything in his life became a matter of timing. The ideal time to steal was deep in the night, midweek, preferably when it was overcast, best in the rain.

Read the excerpt

He Learned it All on Google and YouTube: How to Become a Gold Smuggler

Before getting nabbed by the Policía de Investigaciones — the Chilean equivalent of the FBI — 23-year-old Harold Vilches acquired and resold over 4,000 lbs. of gold worth $80 million in under two years. It all started with a Google search for gold dealers in Peru and YouTube videos on how to make your own gold ingots. Read the story at Bloomberg Businessweek by Michael Smith and Jonathan Franklin.

As the minutes ticked by on the afternoon of April 28, 2015, Harold Vilches watched stoically while customs officers at Santiago’s international airport scrutinized his carry-on. Inside the roller bag was 44 pounds of solid gold, worth almost $800,000, and all the baby-faced, 21-year-old college student wanted was clearance to get on a red-eye to Miami.

Vilches didn’t need this headache. In just two years he had rapidly risen in the ranks of Latin American gold smugglers. Although he was barely old enough to order a beer in Miami, he’d won a $101 million contract to supply a gold dealer in Dubai. That hadn’t exactly worked out—the Dubai company was after him for $5.2 million it says he misappropriated—but still, in a brief career he’d acquired and then resold more than 4,000 lb. of gold, according to Chilean prosecutors. U.S. investigators and Chilean prosecutors suspect almost all of it was contraband.

Read the story