Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger did almost everything right in evading capture for 16 years.

The notorious mobster’s run from the law was remarkable for its longevity, which was due mainly to the unremarkable new identity he built for himself while on the lam.

He adopted an unassuming lifestyle, paid for everything with cash, didn’t drive a car, limited his social contact to small talk and adhered to the code of silence from the mob life he left behind. When federal agents tracked him to his lair this week, it was only after targeting the one part of his past that Bulger didn’t leave behind — his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig.

By all accounts, the two did little to ever arouse suspicion, posing as two retirees holed up in a bland white 1970s apartment complex in Santa Monica amid other buildings of the same era.

Although Bulger — who fled Boston in 1995 after a retired FBI agent who had recruited him as an informant tipped him to a pending indictment — was believed to have millions of dollars stashed in secret accounts, and investigators found $800,000 hidden in the apartment, the couple didn’t live lavishly. They paid $1,145 cash several days in advance each month for a rent-controlled unit, while newer neighbors paid more than twice as much. Greig shopped at a 99-cent store.

Occasionally, they splurged, even while remaining discreet.

Andrew Turner, the general manager of Michael’s, recognized pictures of the fugitives this week as the couple who dined occasionally at table No. 23 at the upscale institution. He had a record of them paying their $190 tab in cash for a meal that included Grey Goose vodka cocktails, foie gras, steak and lobster, topped off by wine, in September 2009 — the month Bulger turned 80. The couple kept to themselves and were unassuming, Turner recalled.

“This guy was just nice, mild and meek, milquetoast in a little apartment in Santa Monica,” said Bill Keefer, a retired U.S. marshal who supervised the witness protection program in Los Angeles, Hawaii and Long Island, N.Y. “This guy should have been a supervisor with the marshal’s witness protection program. He did an outstanding job, the louse.”

Bulger, now 81, has been linked to 19 murders, including the strangling of an associate’s girlfriend who knew he was a snitch and the murder of a man shot so many times his leg was almost severed from his body.

His flight in 1995 was big news at the time. In addition to Bulger’s indictment for racketeering along with other major mob figures, questions were raised about his ability to always be one step ahead of the law and because his brother, state Senate president William Bulger, was one of Massachusetts’ most powerful politicians.

His fugitive status only grew when the FBI was forced to acknowledge in court two years later what had been long-whispered in law enforcement: the Boston FBI bureau had a corrupt relationship with its informants. An associate testified in 2002 that Bulger boasted that he had corrupted six FBI agents and more than 20 Boston cops, keeping them loyal with Christmas envelopes stuffed with cash.

Between the time of his flight and settling on the West Coast, Bulger had about two years to reinvent himself.

In the fall of 1995, the couple checked into a hotel as “Mr. and Mrs. Tom Baxter,” according to an FBI affidavit unsealed this week. They spent time on New York’s Long Island and lived six weeks in a two-bedroom apartment in the fishing village of Grand Isle, La., in 1996.
It’s not clear how far they roamed, but their travels ended in this sun-splashed beach city about 15 years ago when they moved into unit 303 of the Princess Eugenia apartments as Charles and Carol Gasko.

As they reinvented themselves, Bulger and Greig stuck to a low-key lifestyle that didn’t invite attention. They didn’t appear to have visitors, never spoke of family and limited conversations to superficial chit chat.

Neighbors said they stuck close to home, walking to the nearby Third Street Promenade, the city’s outdoor mall, or strolling along the Palisades Park, a ribbon of grass and trees that runs along a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean a few blocks from home.

Greig was the more outgoing of the two while Bulger was sometimes cranky and reclusive. Barbara Gluck, a tenant down the hall, described Greig as sweet and lovely. They would chat pleasantly until Bulger barked at Greig to stop talking with her.

“It was like she was hanging on to a time-bomb,” Gluck said. “At one point, she said, `He has a rage issue.”‘

Others said the couple went out of their way to ingratiate themselves while also maintaining a distance.

Bulger, once known for kind acts in South Boston that were in sharp contrast to the viciousness of his alleged crimes, helped a young mother carry grocery bags to her apartment and offered a flashlight to a building employee at night. The couple sent a sympathy card when a property manager’s father died. They left gifts of fruit for an elderly resident. Greig befriended dog owners on the street.

“They were good neighbors,” said Catalina Schlank, 88. “I will miss them.”

Bulger’s wealth helped him maintain independence from family or former criminal allies who might have given away his location, said retired FBI agent Scott Bakken, who worked the Bulger case for a short time in 2002. With a $2 million bounty on his head, Bulger had little incentive to touch base with anyone in his old South Boston neighborhood, particularly after it became clear he had broken the code of silence and ratted on rivals and allies alike.

“Here you have somebody who is far more sophisticated than some 18-year-old who killed someone in a drive-by,” said Bakken, the FBI agent. “To be a successful fugitive you have to cut all contacts from your previous life. He had the means and kept a low profile.”

The couple melted into the background in Santa Monica, a sunny, beachside playground that attracts aging sunbirds, families and a hip younger set to its wide beaches and famous pier punctuated by a colorful Ferris wheel, shops and food shacks.

The dynamic city of nearly 85,000 just miles from Los Angeles may also have been an ideal location to hide in plain sight, said Jack Cluff, a former U.S. marshal in Idaho who was involved in the deadly standoff with fugitive white separatist Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge and helped bring in the 1970s Russian spy Christopher Boyce.

Many fugitives get caught because they hole up in a remote location where locals get curious or where they get cabin fever and spill their story to the wrong person, Cluff said. Others are brought down by informants or because they’ve run out of money and connections — problems Bulger didn’t have because of his wealth and fearsome reputation back home.

While Bulger had several fake identifications, he didn’t have a car to run the risk of a traffic violation or accident that might lead to the discovery of his true identity.

His thick white beard had also dramatically changed his appearance from his Boston days and the photos the FBI circulated publicly for years.

“You see him on TV compared to what he looks like really and man, I’ll tell you what, he’s going to walk right past me and I’d never blink an eye at him,” Cluff said. “He’d really changed, with the full beard and what have you.”

In the end, however, there was one way in which Bulger was like almost every other fallen fugitive. About 85 percent of apprehended fugitives are brought down by a girlfriend or former girlfriend, Cluff said.

After many failed efforts to net the couple, including searches in 19 countries and a campaign to reach out to plastic surgeons who may have altered their appearances, the FBI this week tailored their latest campaign at Greig, 60, who is wanted for harboring a fugitive.

Public service announcements were aired during programs aimed at women that asked for information leading to Greig’s whereabouts. They pointed out that Greig, a dental hygienist, was known to frequent beauty salons and have her teeth cleaned once a month.

The ads weren’t aired in Los Angeles, but news coverage produced a tip that led agents to the Gasko apartment. A call was placed to Bulger telling him someone had broken into his on-site storage unit.

He fell for the ruse. When Bulger went to check on his property, agents were there to take advantage of his first misstep in long a run from justice.

“I always used to say, `If I don’t catch `em today, I’ll catch `em tomorrow,” Keefer said. “But to 15 years, that’s really, really a `wow’ thing.”‘

Amsterdam may be on its way to becoming the new Costa del Crime

Amsterdam may be on its way to becoming the new Costa del Crime but the Dutch cops are not slow in responding to appeals for help from Crimestoppers and our own Serious Organised Crime Agency.
Martin Brunt, crime correspondent
British Ambassador Paul Arkwright told Sky News: "We understand why Holland, and Amsterdam in particular, is a place for fugitives to head for because it is close, English is widely spoken and there is a large ex-pat community in which to hide.
"But the Dutch police are getting good at catching these people and sending them back to the UK. They don't want them here."
It is easy to see why British criminals would feel at home in Amsterdam because the city centre is dotted with familiar retailers such as McDonalds, H&M, Body Shop and countless English and Irish-themed pubs.
The licensed sex and cannabis trade provides an underworld for newly-arrived criminals to exploit, although the Dutch government has tried to rid the country of its city-sleaze reputation.
The 70,000 ex-pats registered in the Netherlands are being urged to study the new mugshots and call police or the charity Crimestoppers if they think they recognise any of the fugitives.
Dave Cording, deputy chief executive of Crimestoppers UK, launched the latest appeal in Amsterdam.

Most of the nine men are wanted over drug dealing charges
He said: "This follows our recent success of Operation Captura in Spain earlier this year, where two of the 10 subjects were arrested within 48 hours of the launch.
"I hope this success will be replicated in the Netherlands.
"Not only is the campaign successful in tracking people wanted for serious offences, but it displaces them as well, but as we can see, no matter where these wanted individuals run to, law enforcement will find them.
"I hope this further reinforces to fugitives that you can run, but can't hide forever."
Since Crimestoppers began its Most Wanted appeals three years ago, it has appealed for information on 60 fugitives - 44 of whom have been tracked down.
Some of those thought originally to be hiding in Spain have been caught in the Netherlands.
Commissaris Liesbeth Huyzer, of the Amsterdam police, said: "It's not easy to find these people because there are facilitators to help them with false documents, transport and places to stay.
"But we are having increasing success in locating them and sending them back to the UK."

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel and the biggest drug lord in Narcoville.

 the World’s Most Wanted Man. The name thrown up most frequently, on account of how mystically elusive he appears to be, was one Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel and the biggest drug lord in Narcoville. Since he broke out (or “walked out” is the common consensus) of a maximum security prison in 2001, Guzman’s drug-trafficking empire has gone supernova, his estimated $1 billion personal fortune landing him a spot on the Forbes List as the 11th richest man in Mexico.

The Sinaloa Cartel controls more territory than any other drug-trafficking organization (DTO) in Mexico, distributing Colombian cocaine as well as domestically-produced marijuana, opium, and methamphetamine. The organization has successfully smashed its rivals’ operations in Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, and other key smuggling hubs to the point where formerly powerful cartels are either hanging on for dear life or mere tributaries. Then there’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the fact that independent analysts and countless officials cite collusion between the Sinaloa Cartel and the federal government, which apparently prefers Guzman’s mob over the others. “El Chapo” – the nickname means “Shorty” – is routinely described as “el capo del panismo”, “capo” meaning drug boss and “panismo” referring to the current ruling party, the PAN, or National Action Party.

Mexico has seen the worst kind of action since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug-traffickers in 2006. Over 45,000 troops and federal officers have been deployed across the country in a US-funded crackdown, leading the DTOs to fight each other even harder over both cross-border traffic and a rapidly growing domestic market. In the resulting melee, former big names like the Tijuana and Juarez Cartels have taken serious losses; budding rivals like La Familia Michoacana and the Beltran Leyva Organization have come and gone, but the Sinaloa Cartel has only grown stronger. Its last major rival, the infamously violent Los Zetas, has made some gains but is taking a pounding from the Mexican military, which has made a slew of arrests and seizures against it. 

Born into poverty, for “El Chapo” Guzman the drug trade was an easy route to otherwise unattainable wealth (opium and marijuana have been big business in fertile Sinaloa since the early 20th century) and as a young man he became an apprentice of Pedro Aviles Perez, one of the first generation of big-time Mexican traffickers. Ambitious and savvy, Guzman took over what became the Sinaloa Cartel when the legendary Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo (“the Godfather”) was busted in 1989. Four years later, Guzman was arrested and sentenced to twenty years for drug-trafficking and bribery, but on the eve of being extradited to the US in 2001, he miraculously escaped from Puente Grande maximum security prison in Jalisco. The most famous breakout in Mexican history purportedly occurred “A-Team”-style in a laundry cart, the wheels greased by $2.5 million worth of bribes for prison officials. 

Guzman’s escape took place early in the presidency of Vicente Fox, the first PAN administration after the 70-year PRI regime was thrown out in 2000. Every Mexican administration since the 1970s is said to have had its preferred drug lord. Whereas the PRI supposedly favored the Gulf Cartel in the ‘90s, the arrival of the PAN saw a shift of allegiance to the cartel with the closest ties to the party. Soon after leaving Puente Grande, Guzman called a meeting of top capos to plot the future of the Mexican drug trade, going after the then-dominant Gulf organization (now an ally) and later breaking a long-held truce with the Juarez Cartel, leading to a violent turf war in the border city of the same name. The goal was expansion and dominance, and Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel has been a juggernaut ever since.

“El Chapo” has taken on near-mythical status; rumors fly about his latest whereabouts and activity, or how hundreds of guests – including local politicians and police – raised their glasses when he married for the third time in 2007. For ordinary Mexicans, he is the personification of the intense “narco-violence” plaguing the country, which has gotten much, much worse since Calderon turned up the heat. The president’s apologists (and there are very few) claim that the PAN backs Guzman under the notion that it’s better to live with one all-powerful cartel and then negotiate peace. But Calderon leaves office next year, almost certainly handing over the reins to the PRI, and the cartel war goes on unabated between the Sinaloa Federation (Guzman and his allies) and a loose coalition of Los Zetas, the Juarez Cartel, and other DTOs.

Guzman commands significant respect (and fear) among Mexico’s downtrodden as a self-made man who stuck several fingers up to the authorities, particularly in his native Sinaloa where country songs portray him as a Robin Hood-type figure, albeit with AK-47 replacing crossbow. He has myriad political and business connections and the financial clout to buy new ones. His current rumored hideout is in the northern state of Durango.

There’s a theory brewing in Mexico, however, which says that Calderon is now so unpopular after five years of socially-devastating policy that he has not only cost his party next year’s election, but risks going down as one of the country’s worst ever presidents (which the average Mexican will tell you is no easy feat). After Bin Laden’s death hit the headlines, many domestic observers suggested that Calderon’s only option to salvage his legacy and leave office on a high is to pull an Obama “black-ninja-gangster” moment (as Bill Maher would say) and take Guzman down. The Colombian government pulled off a similar coup with Pablo Escobar in 1993, which had absolutely no effect on the cocaine trade but at least gave the impression that Colombia could kick some tail.

But just as one can question whether Bin Laden’s death really meant anything beyond retribution for 9/11, it’s uncertain what taking down “El Chapo” would do for Mexico’s Drug War. The major DTOs regularly go through internal upheavals where factions split off and go to war with one another, or one capo makes a power play to take control of the organization, leading to yet more bloodshed. The Sinaloa Cartel has long been considered the most stable of the Mexican DTOs, largely on account of Guzman’s iron hand. For that reason, “El Chapo” may be too valuable to simply wind up as trophy kill.

At some stage, the Mexican government will have to declare an endgame in the Drug War, or civil protests like the 100,000-strong March for Peace in Mexico City in May, and subsequent “Peace Caravan” that culminated in Juarez/El Paso, will become increasingly politicized. While obviously blaming the drug cartels as much as the politicians, many Mexicans resent the fact that their country has become a war zone due to the mores of US anti-drug and pro-militarization policy. As for Calderon – facing savage criticism at home – it’s likely that he didn’t expect the cartel war to get this bloody or drag on for so long. Yet while his own public decries his policies, Calderon continues to receive the green light from the Obama administration for further zero-tolerance. One might imagine the rhetoric from Washington if Hugo Chavez had deployed 45,000 troops to do the job of the police in Venezuela – allusions to military dictatorship, Soviet-style authoritarianism, not to mention “human rights abuses” would be rampant, and probably followed by an excuse for US intervention.

Needless to say, painting “El Chapo” as the drug trade’s Bin Laden is far easier for both media and politicians than addressing the more crucial issues of drug law reform and vast consumer demand, factors that feed men like Guzman. For Mexico, there are also huge questions to be asked about why an estimated 450,000 citizens have turned to the incredibly risky drug trade for employment in the first place. The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, has devastated Mexican agriculture and driven many small farmers to grow opium and marijuana in its place. Meanwhile, in the cities, unemployed youth join street gangs that ultimately work for the DTOs, providing muscle in exchange for guns, cars and cash.

Mexico needs to find a way out. With nearly 40,000 lives lost and violence continuing to swell in trouble spots like Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, something has to give. The inevitable return to power of Mexico’s old guard, the PRI, next year may see more of a willingness to negotiate with the cartels, but just as the death of Osama Bin Laden is really just a footnote in the “War on Terror”, the capture or killing of “El Chapo” would only lead to more massacres in Mexico’s own never-ending war.

Monday, 13 June 2011

the story of Albanian organized crime in New York City

To understand the story of Albanian organized crime in New York City, where the murder and drug-trafficking trials of the notoriously violent Krasniqi brothers and their associates got underway this week, I had to go to Michigan.

For five hours in a prison on the Canadian border, I sat across a table from Ketjol Manoku. He’s in for murder—10 felony sentences. His latest motion had been denied the day before I arrived.

He’s 200-plus pounds and six feet tall, with a shaved head and a Viking beard. I told him he looked pretty hard. He said he used to be bigger and stronger, but he’s in pain now from an old car accident and can’t work out like he used to.

The only thing that was missing from the classic profile was a tattoo; his corrections sheet stated that he had none. But of course during the interview he pulled up his sleeve and there it was: A prison tat of the doubled-headed eagle, maybe 8 inches tall on the top part of his arm, representing Shqiptar everywhere.

30-year-old Ketjol (Keti) Manoku has been living by a soldier’s code since he was an actual soldier in the Balkans. Later, he was still a soldier, on the streets of America. For the past seven years he’s been locked up in prison, where he’ll remain on guard for the rest of his life.

He told me matter-of-factly that prison is too easy. It’s like high school. In Albania, he said, he was once beaten by police until his grey shirt was bright red and the cops were paid off the next day and he was let go. He said he fired his first gun at age 11—a Russian version of a .45.

He and his friend once saw two men get shot in front of them. One died instantly and the other was mortally wounded. Manoku’s friend reached down and took the hat off the dead man’s head and put it on his own head. “Man, give the dead man his hat back,” Manoku said he told his friend.

A lot of his friends from back home are dead now. He was a teenager in Albania in 1997 when the country went mad. There was a pyramid scheme, the country was broke, an opposition political party opened the prisons and let the inmates out. All manner of guns and munitions in the country (police, military, heavy artillery) were abandoned and free for the taking, so people took them.

One day he and his boys were sitting on some rocks hanging outside of a mechanic’s shop when a car pulled up, and some men got out. One of them brandished an A.K.-47 and said to one of Manoku’s boys: “What happened to my car?”

The A.K. was pointed at his boy’s chest; his boy stood up. It was an automatic. There were a few bursts, and Manoku’s friend was hit many times. Manoku went for the gun, the mechanic grabbed it and threw it over the fence, and the men fled. There were no arrests.

Manoku didn’t like school, and left at 16 or 17. At 19 he did a year in the army, which he described in carefully vague terms as something like special forces. He didn’t say much about the training, other than it taught him how to be good at being violent.

He went to Greece, got involved in some crime there, including counterfeiting money, and was deported back to Albania. He had five different passports.

He came to America in 2001 looking for a new life. He snuck in through Mexico, speaking no English.

He had family in Michigan (in Macomb and Oakland counties). He worked in restaurants, and lived in a ghetto area at first. He said he and his friend were once held up by two black teenagers on bikes. He saw they were shaking a bit. He and his friends grabbed the guns, and then took the bikes and tossed them. He sold the guns.

He moved on from restaurants to other jobs. He did security, helping organize concerts featuring Albanian singers in Michigan, and had a small cleaning company. He was also involved in some muscle work, persuading people to pay debts to criminals. So, say, an Albanian would be smuggled into America for a fee of $12,000; he’d pay $8,000 up front but once he’s here in America he wouldn’t want to pay the rest. Manoku would be the guy sent to convince him to settle up.

He said he broke a man’s teeth one time, and did time in county jail. He hung in the Albanian coffee shops in the Detroit area and met the infamous Krasniqi brothers there. Another Albanian gangster named Elton (Tony) Sejdaris introduced them.

He said he found out at some point that he was around Albanian confidential informants, and that the F.B.I. was onto him. He said he was in a café with the Krasniqis—the two New York-Albanian heavies whose trial has just started—when a girl claiming to be a college artist came in a few times, looking to sketch one of them for a class project. Manoku said she went to the bathroom once and he looked in her portfolio and found detailed drawings of all of them. He got rid of the pictures. She never came back again, nor did the surveillance van that had been parked outside the café those same times.

He talked about a good Albanian friend getting murdered at a Michigan concert, and about going to New York to visit the Krasniqis and checking out mobster Paul Castellano’s house. He talked about two Albanian friends who went to Chicago on a drug deal with some Latinos and were killed and had their bodies burned. He said he went there to look into it. There were no arrests.

For Manoku, there were no suits and nice haircuts and Cadillacs, like the Krasniqis favored. (A law enforcement source I talked to called the Krasniqis “gentleman gangsters.”) Manoku’s style is no style at all. No hip-hop clothes or bling: He hates that. (“They’ve seen too many movies,” he said of hip-hop-styled gangsters.) He didn’t even wear nice track suits when he was on the outside, he said. He wasn’t rich or looking to get rich.

The Krasniqis are his friends, he said. Sometimes they translated for him.

Sejdaris, who is cooperating in the New York trial and has pled guilty, is definitely not a friend. Manoku called Sejdaris a coward, and said he always thought he was the weakest link in his network. He has the same dislike and contempt for a man who took a plea deal—Florjon Carcani, eight years—and testified against him and his two co-defendants: Edmond Zoica, life sentence, and Oliger Merko, 8 life sentences, two aliases. Manoku blames Carcani for lying in exchange for leniency, and for destroying his life.

There was apparently some friction between two groups of young Albanians. It was about north versus south Albanians, or perceived disrespect, or something to do with a woman, or a physical fight, or all of the above. When I pressed for details Manoku offered a lot of “let’s leave it at that.”

Manoku said he called for a peace meeting after an altercation and hands were shook and the beef was supposedly finished.

A week later two north boys jumped his boys. Manoku said he made phone calls and the other crew didn’t yield; they basically said that was how things were going to be.

He said two nights later, on July 17, 2004, at around 11:30 p.m., he was hanging in the parking lot of an apartment complex with his friends. Manoku’s friend Merko was getting married the next day. It was the first time in his life Manoku ever had a drink; half a cup of beer to celebrate. He didn’t know it then, but soon after he’d be going to prison for the rest of his life.

Manoku said a van rolled into the parking lot with five people in it. He called out, “What’s up.”

Manoku said an A.K.-47 was pointed out the window of the vehicle. He said he went under a bush where a nine-millimeter was stashed and pulled it out and said, “Put the gun down.”

Manoku said the car accelerated toward him, and he fired, hitting four of the five young men in the van. One of the men, Marikol Jaku, 20 years old, died; the others were injured. (One of the victims injured that night, Ilirjan Dibra, pled guilty in Macomb County four years later to assault with intent to do great bodily harm.)

Prosecutors say Merko, the friend of Manoku, later tried to retrieve $2,000 and two guns and two boxes of ammo he gave to a friend. He wanted the weapons to kill witnesses, the state charged. The friend had turned in the weapons to the police the day of the shooting; Merko ended up assaulting him. Merko’s wife-to-be and family sold their house and business and fled the state; prosecutors say he told them if they talked or went to the police he’d blow up their house. (Manoku disputes this account.) Merko fled to Worcester, Mass. and then to Paterson, N.J., where United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the F.B.I. tracked him down and arrested him about seven months later.

When the verdict was read at trial, Zoica reportedly put his face in his hands for a moment. Merko and Manoku showed no emotion.

The state also charged them all with conspiracy and premeditated murder, asserting that they plotted over a period of time to kill these north boys in various scenarios: by opening fire in a coffee shop, shooting AK-47s while driving by on motorcycles, shooting them up close as they waited in traffic.

There was also an earlier incident, a federal charge, that the state used against them:

It was a fight between an Albanian I’ll call Q (a friend of the north boys who were shot in the car by Manoku) and a man named Drini Brahimllari, a friend of Manoku and his boys. Manoku and Zoica and two others of their group found Q and a friend a few days after the fight in a parking lot. Manoku told Q and the friend to get in their car. In the car Manoku pointed a gun at Q and Zoica pulled a knife on him. Zoica was getting a little crazy, threatening to kill Q. Manoku grabbed Zoica’s hand and said not to hurt him. Then Manoku’s gun went off. Q and his friend jumped out of the car and ran.

Two weeks later Q was again summoned by Manoku, this time to the parking lot of the Tirana Café. He was picked up, driven to the apartment of Brahimllari, and he followed Manoku and Merko upstairs and inside. Brahimllari and Carcani were already there. Plastic was laid on the floor, presumably to catch blood. There were 10-20 kitchen knives laid out on a table which Q was led past. He told Q to kneel. Merko brought out a gun and a pillow, he put the pillow in front of Q’s head and put the gun against it. 

Merko told Brahimllari to turn up the volume on the television. Merko cursed at Q, and threatened him, and told him he had disrespected him. Q pled for his life (Merko later told Carcani he let him live because he begged). Merko said Q had two days to come up with $1,000 dollars for Brahimllari’s fight, and related medical bills. A day late and he’d be shot. They drove him back to the café.

Q told his father everything. The next day Q and his father drove to a public park and met with Brahimllari and Carcani. His father paid and asked for his son to be left alone. I reached out to Q, apologizing for invading his privacy, asking if there was anything he wanted to say, even anonymously. Q got back to me. He said he would appreciate if he wasn’t mentioned by name in any of the stories.

“I have moved on and things are going good for me,” he said. “Thank you for understanding.”

Carcani is in federal custody in Arizona with a 2014 release date. Brahimllari fled to Albania, was eventually extradited back to the States, and is currently incarcerated and awaiting deportation.

The F.B.I. agent who worked the case in Michigan called Merko the closest thing to a leader. He said if anybody put fear into the Albanian community it was Merko, who had a reputation built on having beaten an earlier attempted murder case. The agent disputed that the north boys had a gun in the car; no A.K. was ever found. He also said that Manoku had a drop on the guys in the car. He was right there, and ready for them. They didn't have much of a chance.

In an Albanian club in Detroit, I met a man who knew Jaku’s family. He said he doubted they’d talk to me, but I told them to put the word out. He said it’s a tough community to crack. Among themselves they said something about recently having seen the father of one of the men involved in the case; they said he hasn’t been the same since it happened, and that he’s devastated.


Manoku said he’s sorry he killed Jaku. He said he didn’t mean it, and that he only meant to injure the people he shot at. He said I shouldn’t contact Jaku’s family, because they’ve suffered enough. He said at the time he would have confessed to manslaughter or second degree murder. He says if you do the crime you do the time. He insists there was no conspiracy. 

He plays spades and chess. He works out with two men he’s cool with (he has no friends in prison), one of them Mexican and the other African-American. He enjoys and loses himself in Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller comedies.

He’s made a point of never talking to cops, detectives, the F.B.I. or, before he talked to me, reporters. He stayed mum throughout his trial and sentencing. He pointedly wanted nothing from me and wouldn’t take anything from me in a room full of vending machines. He wouldn’t touch the Coke or the bag of Skittles I bought, just to give him something.

He read the list of the indicted people involved in the upcoming New York trial. He knows the people; he said there are people he and his associates had beef with from Michigan. He wouldn’t speak on it though.

He believes in a god, though he said he’s not really religious. He reads the Koran and the Bible.

I asked him what he would do different if he had a chance to live his life again. He paused, as if, even in his current circumstances, he’d never considered it. He said if he had to do it over again he would just own a simple house and have a small business and family, with no great plans. He said there are other crimes he regrets that he hasn’t been arrested for but he’s not going to give me or the state anything more than we already have.

There are people who are free and have successful lives in this country and elsewhere, he said, and he’s not going to betray them. He’ll be taking things to the grave. I asked him whether, if he were 70 years old and taking his last dying breath, he would tell me. He said he wouldn’t.

He rarely showed emotion, other than when he talked about snitches, the thought of whom make him very angry. On Sejdaris, for example: “He wants to be tough but at the same time he wants to be a cop.”

He seemed mildly appreciative, if not actually impressed, that I gave him (and therefore his associates) my home address, on the premise that I was coming into his home and asking to know where and how he’s living.

I asked whether he was haunted by the deaths of his friends or adversaries, or devastated by the loss of his liberty. No, he said.

Did he ever cry? He can’t cry, or even remember when he was able to. He said he wants to be able to; at all those funerals when everyone was crying, he tried, because he wanted to feel what they were feeling. He couldn’t.

But there was one time in the five hours I spent with him when I felt like he wasn’t regarding me with wary contempt. (He told me pointedly that I wasn’t worthy of making it onto his collect-call list; it’s full and he would have to bump someone he gives a damn about.) It was when he quoted back from memory a line from the first article I wrote for this website about Albanian crime, which I printed out and sent him in hopes of lining up the interview: “There are surely many mothers and fathers crying, girlfriends and wives devastated, families wrecked…”

He saw his own mother in 2008, for the first time since he left Albania in 2001. She came and stayed with an uncle in Michigan for a while and visited him in prison. It was emotional, he said; when she saw him she cried.

So what really happened? Why? How? I pressed for details, and argued for a historical record. It’s not snitching, I said. It’s truth, and therefore worthwhile.

He said he had a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine for a year and he read every word of it. I wrote for that magazine. There was one story I did where a man broke down and spilled everything pre-trial, and another in which a man took me into his world and committed crimes in front of me. Manoku told me he appreciated reading about that sort of thing but wouldn't do it himself.

“I just don’t want to break it down,” he said.

My appeal to Ketjol Manoku was, and is, this:

I’m not looking to get you off of charges or to bury you or judge you or get my name out there by exploiting you and your life, your secrets, your misery or your gangster glamour. Don’t tell me about it; tell the Albanian community that was so shocked by the incident in 2004. Tell today’s little Keti, a 16-year-old Shqiptar who saw all those movies and sees his 1997 Albania in an American ghetto and gets disrespected one day and has to make a decision on how to be a man with honor. Tell him what the truth is, what it’s like, what he should do and not do and what may or may not happen.

I told him to send me a letter, and to tell the story in his words, so there could be no question of twisting what he says. (This is obviously a concern of his: He warned me that there would be “consequences” if I twisted his words.) He said he might. He agreed, in principle, to the idea of “shining some light” on the events of his life, and on the workings of Albanian organized crime in New York and America.

In the course of the interview, we seemed to make progress toward that idea. In the beginning, at 9 a.m., he told me there was no such thing as the Albanian mafia.

Just before 2 p.m., near the end, I was exhausted trying to convince him that what I was doing was worthwhile, driving hours of Interstate, getting messed with, stripped by, yelled at, and disrespected nastily by prison guards. (By some of them, not all.)

I told him that if I wrote what he was saying, that there’s no such thing as the Albanian mafia, even though knowledgeable readers know that there is—I wouldn’t want anyone to make the mistake of thinking he was ignorant on the topic. Was he denying the existence of the Albanian mafia because he had to, because he didn’t want to break some sort of code?

“You got the point,” he said.

I shook his hand, left him, and prepared to drive six hours down I -75 into the community he came from.

When I got into the Albanian clubs down near Detroit, more than 300 miles from Manoku’s prison, I met a man who was from the same town in Albania as Manoku, and who knew him from the streets of Michigan as well. He said, “These are guys who think a gun makes them a god, and they disrespect the Albanian community.”

He said he’s seen people he’s known in Albania—normal people, “painters” and “workers”—all of a sudden turn from being people “into just a gun.” Maybe the Merkos and the Manokus aren’t actually soldiers; maybe they’ve just turned into guns.

Macomb and Oakland County are full of strip malls with fast food restaurants. It’s where many of the Albanian immigrants work. There’s 11th and Main, the downtown club area where on a Friday night at midnight community college graduates are screaming like mad about the Red Wing hockey games on the bar TVs. The girls are mini-skirted and there are bikers everywhere.

I stuck my head in a patrol car to talk to a policeman. The officer told me Detroit is too disorganized to have any gangs that last (one bust and they’re gone forever). He says the Hell’s Angels have been trying to establish a club here for years and “there’s a big element of black females riding crotch rockets,” but he doesn’t know anything about Albanians.

I went to the apartment-complex parking lot where the Manoku shooting occurred. I talked to the first two people I came across, introducing myself and apologizing for the intrusion. They were Albanian.

Of course they know about the shooting, they said; everyone knows about it. They told me about all the Albanian cafes, bars and restaurants in the area: Café Tirana, Eagle Café, Great Sport, Mocha Café, Goodfellas. (I eventually went to all of them.)

One woman who just got back from work wearing her pain clinic shirt said she was sorry, she was late, she had to pick up her boy from soccer practice. She said quickly that she thought a family affected by the shooting used to live next door but they moved.

There was a young Albanian, 14 maybe, who was already conditioned not to talk to me.

There was a young woman squatting in the square, cars going past on the service road at 45 miles an hour, cradling her infant, watching her other kids play. She said she was from Kosovo, and was willing to give me the lay of the land a little.

A black man pulled up, wearing jewelry, pulling on a Newport, asking me what’s up. He asked if it was my brother who got shot, because why else would I care so much.

A middle-aged white woman standing on her small terrace gardening told me about the schizophrenic Albanian woman across the way, and said a little woefully, “I’m kind of like a minority here.”

Three young men from El Salvador pulled up. Si, si, they know about guns and weed and ladrones. We’re nice, from a nice country, they say.

In one Albanian café a man who said he knew Manoku from Albania told me Manoku was a Gypsy—somehow not as much an Albanian as he is.

I met a 25-year-old Albanian-American with a degree from the University of Michigan who works in construction management. He allowed that some of these criminals are hard—he said he knows them—but he also said, not entirely unsympathetically, “These guys are hot-shot wannabes. It’s all adolescent fights over bitches.”

He said half the Albanians he went to high school with became rappers. One guy, he saw in a video surrounded by luxury cars. He thought this guy was broke; every time he saw him in the cafes he’d have to pay for his coffee. He found out later that one of the rappers knew someone at a car dealership and they let them use the cars as video props.

There were bars filled mostly with old Albanian men playing tile games, where the younger men would have to translate for me. At one café and they welcomed me to sit with them in a booth. I brought in my paper file filled with reporting documents, and spread out the contents. A little crowd gathered. The older men remembered Albania in 1997. A young female worker behind the bar who said she just got to America a few months ago volunteered that she’d rather be back home. She sat down and listened intently to all my stories, periodically refilling my coffee and water. She asked me, struggling with the English a little, then getting it with a little help from one of the men: “Sincere? Manoku, was he sincere?”

I talked to her at the bar later, asking her questions and wanting to ask her more, until the owner yelled at me to leave her alone. She had work to do. She accepted one of my business cards before I left. Neither she nor the boss who yelled at me would accept my money.

The F.B.I. has a task force for organized Balkan crime, in Kew Gardens, Queens. The unit had been dissolved, but it was reconstituted two months ago.

There’s an Albanian double-eagle flag draped over one of the cubicles. The supervising agent, Lou DiGregorio, worked on the Italian mafia for 20 years. He told me a few times that the guys in the Albanian crime game are vicious.

DiGregorio keeps a copy of the Kanun on his desk. He called in an agent whose name he doesn’t want me to use, a man who has been working these cases for a while. This man was smart, funny, confident and street-smart.

He read my first article and said he knows every name in there, and had talked to a bunch of the defendants personally. He asked where I’d gotten some of the information from, and seemed surprised and a little disappointed that I’d been able to get it. Media gets in the way sometimes, he said; he prefers to have the element of surprise.

“You talked to Grezdas’s uncle?” he asked. Yes, I said.

“How did you find this guy?”

The public information officer sitting in on the interview cut in: he’s a reporter.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Gang member David Cox was today convicted by a jury of the brutal assassination of Raymond ‘Yankee' Rawlins.

Cox, 31, was one of two gunmen who shot Mr Rawlins 16 times as he entered a nightclub in his Court Street neighbourhood early last August 9.

The jury convicted Cox of the slaying by unanimous verdict. He was also convicted of using a gun to commit the crime, and now faces a life sentence.

Speaking after the verdict Assistant Police Commissioner David Mirfield said: "We've put a very dangerous man behind bars.

"Make no mistake that Bermuda is a safer place today now that Mr Cox has been convicted of this murder."

Cox was brought to justice thanks to an eyewitness who recognised his face, and damning forensic evidence linking him to the crime.

According to prosecutors, the murder was committed by the 42 gang to exact retribution against the Parkside gang for an attack earlier that night on a 42 member.

Cox was named by police gang expert Sergeant Alexander Rollin during his trial as a member of 42. He was hanging out at the gang's Mid Atlantic Boat Club haunt on the night in question when his friend and fellow gang member Julian Washington was shot and injured.

Mr Rawlins, a 47-year-old father of eight, was shot dead less than an hour later. According to Sgt Rollin, the victim had links to the Parkside and Middletown gangs, who are locked in a deadly feud with 42.

The officer told the jury an act of disrespect against one gang, such as the shooting of Mr Washington, would prompt revenge against a member of the rival gang.

The key witness in the prosecution case against Cox was Michael Parsons, who described himself as Cox's lifelong friend. Mr Parsons was also good friends with Mr Rawlins.

The victim was walking into Mr Parsons' 31st birthday party at the Spinning Wheel nightclub on Court Street when Cox and his accomplice burst in and gunned him down.

Mr Parsons was just feet away when Mr Rawlins was murdered. He said although Cox was wearing a rain jacket with the hood pulled down to cover his face, he recognised him by his eyes.

Mr Parsons was unable to provide a description of the second gunman, who remains at large.

The jury in the case heard the seconds leading up to the murder were captured on CCTV cameras at the Spinning Wheel, although the actual slaying occurred out of shot.

The ten women and two men of the panel watched the chilling footage, showing how Cox and his accomplice chased the victim into the club.

Cox grabbed his shoulder to get his attention before he shot him from behind and the second gunman joined in.

Expert CCTV analyst Clive Burchett said Cox appeared to be wearing latex gloves and a baseball cap underneath the hood of his jacket.

Police officer Terry Trott described how a member of the crowd gathered on Court Street after the shooting pointed him in the direction of a baseball cap.

The unknown crowd member stated the cap had been worn by the gunman. Later, forensic tests showed Cox's DNA was present on the cap, along with gunshot residue.

Similar forensic evidence linked him to a latex glove found in trash at a home in the 42 gang's St Monica's Road heartland, where Cox admitted to hanging out.

The jury also heard evidence from gun expert Dennis McGuire. By examining shells from the scene of Mr Rawlins' murder, he identified the two guns used.

The automatic firearm used by Cox had also been used in five other unsolved shootings including the murders of James Lawes on Dundonald Street in March 2010 and Kimwandae Walker at Victor Scott School playing field in April 2010.

The revolver wielded by Cox's accomplice has been linked to three other shootings, including two attempted murders. It was located by police in December 2010, lying in bushes by a roadside in the 42 gang area.

Cox and his accomplice were driven to and from the murder scene in a small green Diahatsu car. This had been stolen in the 42 gang area three days before, and was found there by police hours after the killing.

The getaway driver in the crime also remains at large.

Cox, of Smith's, turned himself in to the police in the hours after the murder but protested his innocence throughout the investigation and trial.

He has a violent criminal history dating back to his teenage years and is due to be sentenced for the murder later.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Today in Thieving Priests

A Catholic priest pleaded guilty today to felony theft charges in an attempt to be eligible for probation. Rev. John Regan admitted that he stole over $400,000 from his St. Walter Parish in Roselle between 2006 and 2008. Regan used the money to fuel his gambling addiction and to pay off credit card debt. Regan's plea is part of a reduced plea deal that could make eligible for probation, but prosecutor Helen Kapas said she intends to seek a prison term of up to 15 years and full restitution.
Another priest who served as a chaplain in the federal prison system was indicted today on charges that he passed along messages from convicted Outfit hitman Frank Calabrese, Sr. and for conspiring with Calabrese and associates in trying to hide some of the mobster's personal effects from seizure. Rev. Richard Klein was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and one count of attempting to transfer Calabrese’s personal property to prevent its seizure by the government. the property in question was a violin in Calabrese's onetime Wisconsin residence that he told Klein was a Stradivarius. Klein allegedly tried to recover the violin so that it wouldn't be seized by the government for auction, with its proceeds going toward the $4.4 million restitution judgment for the familiess of Calabrese's victims.


Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Philistin (Crazy) Paul, 32, alleged by police to be a leader among the Red-affiliated gangs in northern Montreal, was convicted earlier this year of discharging a firearm with intent to injure someone.

Philistin (Crazy) Paul, 32, alleged by police to be a leader among the Red-affiliated gangs in northern Montreal, was convicted earlier this year of discharging a firearm with intent to injure someone. In the same decision, Quebec Court Judge Jean-Paul Braun acquitted Paul on a charge alleging he tried to kill Beauvoir Jean, a former street-gang leader who now works as a social worker and instructs youth on how to avoid ending up in a gang. In what turned out to be a complicated trial, Braun found there was not enough evidence to prove Paul tried to kill Jean. But the judge did determine Paul was reckless in firing off a revolver in broad daylight while several other people were standing nearby.

On June 4, 2010, Paul and Jean were arguing outside a strip mall in Montreal North on Pascal St. when the former fired the revolver. Paul then shot himself in the thigh while trying to flee in his brother's sport utility vehicle and was arrested at a nearby hospital. Jean later told police that during the argument Paul claimed he was now "the boss" of Montreal North because reputed street-gang leader Chenier (Big) Dupuy was, at the time, facing the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence for cocaine trafficking.

The firearm conviction came with a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. During sentencing arguments made in April, prosecutor Martin Joly argued Paul merited a lengthier sentence than the mandatory minimum. The prosecutor said minimum sentences should be applied in cases where the offender has no criminal past. Defence lawyer Alexandre Goyette argued the federal government already factored in the dangerous nature of the crime when it had the Criminal Code amended in 2008 and set the new minimum. The maximum sentence is 14 years. On Tuesday, Braun said he didn't agree that a mandatory minimum sentence should be used as a floor on which to build on and that, in his opinion, sentences should be "based on an individualized basis" and on jurisprudence. However, Braun still sentenced Paul to seven years, two years above the minimum, for discharging a firearm with intent to injure someone. The judge said the aggravating factors, which contributed to the sentence were that Paul carried a loaded and prohibited firearm in a public area, pointed the revolver and fired it. The judge also said a police intelligence report, submitted by the prosecution as proof of Paul's gang ties, had no influence on his decision. The judge also sentenced Paul to a one-year prison term, to be served consecutively, for possession of a prohibited firearm. With the time he has already served factored into the sentence, Paul has seven years left.

Police reportedly blasted their way into a Melbourne Hells Angels headquarters this morning as part of a raid on four premises connected to the bikie gang across the north of the city.

Police reportedly blasted their way into a Melbourne Hells Angels headquarters this morning as part of a raid on four premises connected to the bikie gang across the north of the city.

According to the Herald Sun newspaper, police used explosives to gain entry to the heavily fortified clubhouse of the Nomads chapter of the Hells Angels, in Thomastown, about 8am.

Detective Superintendent Doug Fryer told Fairfax Radio: "I can advise that two of the four addresses required forced entry and we utilised our Special Operations Group and in partnership with the Australian Federal Police operational response group."

"Certainly the clubhouse in Thomastown was (heavily fortified) and we were able to effect entry to the premises quite quickly."

Police have charged a 42-year-old Greensborough man with possession and trafficking of a drug.

The man, who reportedly is a senior office bearer of the Nomad chapter, has been granted bail.

A 26-year-old Thomastown woman also arrested as a part of the raids has been released pending further investigations.

Police forensic teams are examining a number of items seized from the properties, including a firearm, ammunition and drugs.

Det Supt Fryer said the raids were in response to a number of armed attacks that gang members had carried out recently, the Herald Sun reported.

The raids are part of Taskforce Echo, which was formed in February to "prevent, detect and disrupt organised criminality" among outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Det Supt Fryer said over the last couple of months police had raided several outlaw bikie gang clubhouses and home addresses of members, seizing items such as pistols, revolvers, shotguns, tasers and drugs.

Police will continue to search the Nomads clubhouse and the other raided premises throughout the day.

"This is part of a national approach to addressing organised criminality among the bikie gangs, where certainly all the states, territories and the Commonwealth agencies are on the same page that they're an issue for us and we'll continue to focus on them," Det Supt Fryer said.

"So we work hand in hand with the Commonwealth authorities and the state boundaries are no longer a hindrance to us, because they have never been for the various clubs."

Fifty-one alleged members of the Azusa 13 gang were indicted on racketeering and conspiracy charges; six were accused of conspiring to violate the civil rights of African-Americans.

Members of a Latino gang affiliated with the Mexican Mafia conspired for nearly 20 years to drive African-Americans out of the Southern California city of Azusa through violence and intimidation, federal authorities alleged Tuesday.

Fifty-one alleged members of the Azusa 13 gang were indicted on racketeering and conspiracy charges; six were accused of conspiring to violate the civil rights of African-Americans. The case marks the second time federal civil-rights laws have been used against a gang, authorities said.

"The Azusa 13 gang waged a campaign of hate during a two-decade crime spree in which African-Americans were harassed and attacked," U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. said in a written statement Tuesday. "We hope that this federal case will signal the end of this racist behavior and will help vindicate all of the victims who have suffered over the years."

Thirty-nine of the defendants were in custody Tuesday. Authorities were still searching for 12 other suspects. Lawyers for some of the defendants couldn't immediately be reached.

While racial tensions among gangs have long been a part of turf wars in Southern California, none of the victims of the Azusa gang's alleged racial harassment were part of any rival gangs or criminal enterprise, authorities said. They were targeted simply because they were black, authorities said.

Prosecutors said the gang adopted a "racist principle" that, according to the indictment unsealed Tuesday, members would "harass and use violence to drive African-Americans out of the city of Azusa." According to the latest U.S. Census information, about 64% of the city's 47,000 residents are Hispanic and nearly 4% are black.

The gang targeted African-Americans with robberies and beatings, and defaced their homes with graffiti using racial slurs, the indictment alleges. New gang members "would use attacks on African-Americans as a way of proving themselves as members of the gang and enhancing their position in the gang," the indictment alleges.

As California cities have grappled with major gang problems, prosecutors have looked for new ways to shut down their activity, including injunctions preventing members from associating with one another and imposing curfews on alleged members.

Civil-rights laws were first used against a gang in 2006 and 2007, when four Latino members of the Avenues gang in Los Angeles were sentenced to life in prison without parole for their roles in the racially motivated murders of two African-American men.

Azusa, a working-class outpost tucked into the edge of the San Gabriel foothills, was once known as the "hate capital of the valley," said Mayor Joseph Rocha, because of racial tensions between Latino and black residents. Those tensions were stoked by gang violence, he said.

But the city has made significant strides in the past decade, he said, with initiatives to bring black and Latino communities together. A major turning point came seven years ago, Mr. Rocha said, when a black Army private named LeRoy Harris-Kelly III was killed serving in Iraq, becoming the first city resident killed in that war. At a city-organized ceremony, hundreds of children presented his parents with flowers. Grief, Mr. Rocha said, "joined the community together."

Mr. Rocha said he was surprised by the indictments. "Azusa has moved on. We are a peaceful place now," he said.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Phillip Tadzingwa Gambiza has been charged with murder following a mafia style shooting of a 25 year-old London man on Wednesday.

19 year-old Zimbabwean teenager, Phillip Tadzingwa Gambiza has been charged with murder following a mafia style shooting of a 25 year-old London man on Wednesday.

Reports in the British media said Gambiza, together with an accomplice who has also been picked up by the police, is alleged to have fatally shot Sadiq Adebiyi in a motorbike ride-by shooting in South London.

Adebiyi was standing on a pavement in Clapham Road, near Stockwell Tube Station, when Gambiza and his yet to be named accomplice opened fire with a machine gun.

The gun shots left Adebiyi mortally wounded. He was taken to King’s College Hospital in Denmark Hill where he was pronounced dead an hour later. Scotland Yard said in a statement that a passing police van followed the motorbike immediately after the shooting. They caught up with Gambiza, who lives in Vauxhall in south-west London, at a housing estate in Battersea.

The Crime Prosecution Service authorised the Metropolitan Police to charge Gambiza with one count of murder and an additional charge of possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life.

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