"Which is worse? The wolf who cries before eating the lamb or the wolf who does not."— Leo Tolstoy

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mr. Transparency? Obusha's Justice Department keeps the public in the dark on it's most important criminal cases

The AP reported recently that members of a violent biker gang were sentenced in secret with their court records purged from the Federal court's public database:
An AP reporter made repeated attempts over the past couple of months to find out when Cavazos was scheduled to be sentenced but was unsuccessful. Wright’s Sept. 8 calendar mentioned two matters that were under seal and neither listed the defendant’s name nor the case number. The hearing was closed to the public and it appears, according to the court docket, that the public and media weren’t notified in advance.
While sealed plea agreements are the norm — often to protect those who have cooperated with authorities — keeping the sentence and the hearing confidential is highly unusual, several legal experts told AP.
“I don’t know of any authority that would allow the court to keep that information from being part of the public record,” said Michael Brennan, a law professor at the University of Southern California. “What the guy was sentenced to doesn’t involve issues of confidentiality. I think the public is entitled to a number.”
I had an odd sense of deja vu while reading reading this article.  After a quick Google search I discovered that the AP had published an in-depth investigative report on this trend back in 2006 revealing that: 
Despite the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of public trials, nearly all records are being kept secret for more than 5,000 defendants who completed their journey through the federal courts over the last three years. Instances of such secrecy more than doubled from 2003 to 2005.
An Associated Press investigation found, and court observers agree, that most of these defendants are cooperating government witnesses, but the secrecy surrounding their records prevents the public from knowing details of any plea bargains.
Most of these defendants are involved in drug gangs, though lately a very small number come from terrorism cases.
Some of these cooperating witnesses are among the most unsavory characters in America's courts -- multiple murderers and drug dealers -- but the public cannot learn whether their testimony against confederates won them drastically reduced prison sentences or even freedom.
At the request of the AP, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts conducted its first tally of secrecy in federal criminal cases.
The nationwide data it provided the AP showed 5,116 defendants whose cases were completed in 2003, 2004 and 2005, but the bulk of their records remain secret. The court office's tally also shows the percentage has more than doubled in the last three years.
The type of secrecy described in the most recent AP article goes far beyond anything that would normally occur as a result of a cooperation agreement or even someone entering the witness protection program. Cooperation agreements are normal in Federal criminal cases and are involved in a large percentage of the plea agreements that go before federal judges and magistrates on a daily basis.  This type of record-washing treatment is usually reserved for high profile cases in which the Government has a special interest.

A big red neon flag is raised for me because:  1) the cases described by the most recent AP story involve a violent biker gang with ties to the Mexican drug cartels and 2) the ATF was the lead investigating agency in all these cases and  3) the ATF has a record of badly mishandling informants in these types of investigations.

So the question I ask myself is, could the secrecy in these  cases be related to Operation Fast and Furious, the  the politically explosive ATF investigation which allowed thousands of unmonitored firearms to flow into Mexico.   Some of these firearms were linked to the deaths of two U.S. agents, which resulted in the resignation of the Arizona United States Attorney.  Could the ATF have been using members of a violent biker gang to run guns for the violent Mexican drug cartels?

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