Tag Archives: Texas

‘El Chapo’ judge gunned down in front of his house in Mexico

A Mexican federal judge who presided over appeals from high-profile drug kingpins in recent years was fatally shot in the head outside his home on Monday, authorities said.

Judge Vicente Bermudez handled several legal challenges lodged by lawyers for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the jailed leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, as well Miguel Trevino, ex-leader of the Zetas cartel.

Continue reading ‘El Chapo’ judge gunned down in front of his house in Mexico

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Texas man admits sending military technology to Russia

NEW YORK (AP) — A Texas man admitted Wednesday in federal court in New York that he acted as a secret agent for the Russian government and headed an operation over about 10 years to export military technology to that country.

Alexander Fishenko, a naturalized U.S. citizen and owner of Houston-based Arc Electronics Inc., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn to numerous crimes, including money laundering, obstruction of justice and acting as an agent of the Russian government in the United States. A sentencing date hasn’t been set.

Prosecutors say he headed a scheme to purposely evade strict export controls for cutting-edge microelectronics commonly used in missile guidance systems, detonation triggers and radar systems. The 49-year-old Fishenko, among 11 people charged in the case, “lined his pockets at the expense of our national security,” Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie said in a statement.

Defense attorney Richard Levitt did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Fishenko was arrested in October 2012 amid a modernization campaign by Russian military officials hungry for the restricted American-made components, investigators say.

During the probe, prosecutors say, investigators learned that Fishenko’s company had shipped about $50 million worth of microelectronics and other technologies to Russia between 2002 and 2012. They also uncovered a letter that was sent by a lab for Russia’s Federal Security Service that said it obtained the microchips from Fishenko’s company, prosecutors say.

Four others have pleaded guilty to charges in the case; the remaining six have pleaded not guilty and three of them are expected to go on trial in September, authorities say.

Los Zetas Drug Cartel Linked to US Helicopter Downing

los zetas
A soldier enters a bullet-riddled home covered by the initials of the Gulf Cartel (CDG) and Zetas (Z) in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas state, Mexico.

A shooting incident last month that forced a U.S. border patrol helicopter to make an emergency landing near Laredo, Texas, was the work of Mexican drug traffickers, and analysts say the attack highlights growing narcotics trafficking across porous U.S. borders.

According to U.S. officials familiar with an investigation of the June 5 incident, members of the Los Zetas drug cartel were crossing back into Mexico from the United States when they were spotted by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) helicopter along the Rio Grande River near Laredo.

The traffickers had finished delivering a shipment of drugs and were returning to Mexico when they were spotted by U.S. agents and opened fired with automatic weapons.

USA and Mexico border

The helicopter, part of USCBP’s Office of Air and Marine, was struck by gunfire on its side and on the rotor blade. The pilot was forced to make an emergency landing.

The law enforcement officers on the helicopter spotted the traffickers along the river during a routine flight around 5:00 P.M. local time June 5.

“The pilot was able to make a safe landing; there were no injuries,” said USCBP spokesman Daniel Hetlage, adding that U.S. and Mexican authorities are continuing to investigate. He declined to elaborate.

“I understand that they were chasing some people with bundles of marijuana,” Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar told the Laredo Morning Times. “People are getting desperate and crossing narcotics across the border.”

The helicopter that took fire was an EC-120, a medium-range turbine engine-powered aircraft.

A U.S. official said the helicopter attack was unusual but not unprecedented. The incident was not widely reported at the time and highlights the increasing danger of porous U.S. borders and widespread drug trafficking that takes place across them, the official said.

U.S. border security problems are expected to be a major topic of debate during the presidential election campaign.

The area near Laredo is a major transit route for Zetas drug runners.

Joel Vargas, head of intelligence for the international association InterPort Police, said the recent escape of Mexican drug kingpin El Chapo Guzman will re-energize drug cartel cells in Mexico that are battling the major Sinaloa drug cartel.

“The partnership between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, even with their own internal fighting going on, makes the border town of Laredo, Texas, a powder keg,” Vargas said. “El Chapo will re-attempt to take back not only Laredo, Texas, but also consolidate control of El Paso, Texas.”

A month after the U.S. helicopter was forced down by gunfire, Mexican authorities killed six drug runners near Mexico’s Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas.

The six suspects had fired on a Mexican Blackhawk helicopter, hitting it several times.

The Mexican helicopter incident July 6 involved an armed convoy of suspected Zetas drug cartel members.

According to U.S. officials, the Zetas are a well-armed organization. Authorities in Guatemala have captured M-16 and AK-47 rifles and grenades from Zetas operating in that country.

The Zetas also make extensive use of social media. The group has posted photos of beheadings it has carried out against members of rival drug gangs. It has also claimed responsibility for killing several bloggers who they say had exposed some of the group’s members.

The Zetas were implicated in an Iranian plot in 2011 to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, a paramilitary and covert action force, attempted to recruit Zetas members to conduct attacks against the United States.

The Quds force also has been seeking to collaborate with Zetas in setting up transit routes that will be used to smuggle Afghan heroin into the country.

As a result of the 2011 plot, the Obama administration placed Quds Force commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani, on the list of designated terrorists.

The Iran nuclear agreement reached in Vienna earlier this included Soleimani on a list of Iranians who would have sanctions against them lifted in the future.

A former undercover agent explains what’s behind the Waco biker gang shootout — 9 bikers have been killed and 18 hospitalized

Scene: Bikers lay dead by their motorcycles in the parking lot of Twin Peaks Bar and Grill in Waco, Texas, just after midday on Sunday
  • One gang ‘ambushed the other’ at recruitment event hosted by Twin Peaks Bar and Grill in Waco, Texas
  • It started as a physical fight and escalated to involve chains, knives and guns
  • Diners and employees scrambled for shelter in the freezer as more than 100 rounds were fired
  • 8 bikers died at the scene and a 9th in hospital, another 18 bikers were hospitalized, no civilians were injured
  • Police were monitoring the meeting outside but said owners refused to cooperate with them until shooting started
  • Twin Peaks insists they had ‘positive communication with the police’. The police said that was nonsense
  • Police surrounded the place and detained gunmen as fighting spilled out into the parking lot
  • The gangs’ allies were flocking from across the state to continue confrontation after it ended, police warned

A shootout between three rival biker gangs at a bar in Waco, Texas, on Sunday afternoon left at least nine gang members dead. Eighteen others were taken to the hospital with gunshot and stab wounds, the Associated Press reports.

Shoot out: What started as a physical fight shortly after midday in Twin Peak restaurant rapidly escalated to involve chains, clubs, knives and gunfire, police said. The fight spilled into the parking lot where a SWAT team shot dead at least one biker and surrounded the rest
Shoot out: What started as a physical fight shortly after midday in Twin Peak restaurant rapidly escalated to involve chains, clubs, knives and gunfire, police said. The fight spilled into the parking lot where a SWAT team shot dead at least one biker and surrounded the rest

Texas is an emerging battleground for outlaw motorcycle gangs, said Steve Cook, executive director of the Midwest Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association. Next month, Cook, who works in law enforcement in Kansas City and worked undercover in a motorcycle gang in the early 2000s, was supposed to travel to Waco to hold a conference for local police.

Waco historically hasn’t been a hot spot for gang rivalries, Cook said. In a 2013 national survey of law enforcement, Texas didn’t show up as an area of intense gang activity. But in an interview Sunday night, Cook said he knew something was coming:

“We were pretty certain that some kind of incident was on the horizon.”

Outlaw motorcycle gangs are a small slice of gang activity in the US

Motorcycle clubs have been accused of lawlessness since at least 1947, when a Fourth of July motorcycle race in Hollister, California, got national attention for drunkenness and disorder and became the inspiration for the 1953 Marlon Brando movie The Wild One.

A biker sits next to what appears to be a covered body after several people were killed during the shoot-out
A biker sits next to what appears to be a covered body after several people were killed during the shoot-out

An enduring pattern was set: motorcycle gangs were both a perceived larger-than-life menace and an object of media fascination. The Hell’s Angels were excoriated by the California attorney general in 1965 and infiltrated by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara says the nine dead were members of the Bandidos or Cossacks gangs.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara says the nine dead were members of the Bandidos or Cossacks gangs.

Violent motorcycle gangs call themselves the “1 percent” — a defiant reference to a (possibly apocryphal) statement from the American Motorcycle Association that 99 percent of motorcyclists are law-abiding.

There are hundreds of motorcycle gangs in the US, but the Department of Justice considers eight national groups to be a serious threat.

Police believe five gangs were involved in the shoot-out which has led to restaurants closing across the city
Police believe five gangs were involved in the shoot-out which has led to restaurants closing across the city

The gangs, which originated in the US but have spread abroad, are best known for trafficking in drugs and sometimes people.

But they’re a relatively small part of the American gang landscape. A 2013 survey from the National Gang Intelligence Center found that about 2.5 percent of gang members nationwide are in outlaw motorcycle gangs.

All the same, police consider them to be more threatening than their small numbers might suggest. About 10 percent of jurisdictions said they considered the motorcycle gangs a serious threat.

(National Gang Intelligence Center) – OMG stands for Outlaw Motorcycle Gang.

Cook thinks that law enforcement should be more concerned.

“I think a lot of people just don’t take these guys seriously,” he says. “They just look at them and say they’re bikers and they ride motorcycles and they’re tattooed and they’re dirty, and that’s the end of it.”

The recruitment event was hosted by the restaurant but despite police fears of conflict, management wouldn't let officers in
The recruitment event was hosted by the restaurant but despite police fears of conflict, management wouldn’t let officers in

But he calls them domestic terrorists.

“They can pretend like they’re these fraternal organizations,” he said. “I can’t tell you the last time the Kiwanis and the Shriners had a shootout at a public venue.”

Based on their leathers, it appears the Pirados, the Veterans (one sitting), and the Leathernecks (one standing, center) were involved
Based on their leathers, it appears the Pirados, the Veterans (one sitting), and the Leathernecks (one standing, center) were involved

The Department of Justice portrays the gangs as the Mafia on motorcycles, saying they traffic in cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription drugs: in Indianapolis in 2013, federal agents arrested 42 members of the Outlaws gang on charges that included drug trafficking, extortion, and money laundering.

Witnesses described the scene in the quiet commercial shopping strip as a war zone
Witnesses described the scene in the quiet commercial shopping strip as a war zone

Clashes occur when biker gangs fight over territory

A nine-year battle in Canada between rival gangs, known as the Quebec Biker Wars, left 160 people dead. In California in 2010, biker gangs fought over who would control a Starbucks in Santa Cruz, which led to gang members hitting each other with hammers in the parking lot.

Panic: Families scrambled and some hid in the freezer of the diner as more than 100 rounds were fired 
Panic: Families scrambled and some hid in the freezer of the diner as more than 100 rounds were fired

Cook said Texas hasn’t historically been a hotspot for this kind of battle – at least, no more than anywhere else. But he said he’d seen signs that a confrontation was coming.

Texas, he said, has historically been controlled by the Bandidos, one of the largest outlaw motorcycle gangs in the US.

By late Sunday afternoon two groups of gunmen were sat unceremoniously on the tarmac at opposite ends of the parking lot
By late Sunday afternoon two groups of gunmen were sat unceremoniously on the tarmac at opposite ends of the parking lot

At least five motorcycle gangs comprising 150 members were meeting at the Twin Peaks bar and restaurant in Waco to discuss recruitment. Local officials haven’t yet said which gangs were involved in the shooting.

The Cossacks (pictured at the scene) and the Scimitars were working in alliance
The Cossacks (pictured at the scene) and the Scimitars were working in alliance

The Cossacks, a local Texas gang, had been challenging the Bandidos’ dominance, including discussing a possible alliance with the Hell’s Angels, a rival of the Bandidos, Cook said.

The biggest provocation came when the Cossacks began wearing a Texas patch on their clothing – “basically a slap in the face to the Bandidos,” said Cook, who says he was an undercover investigator of the Bandidos and some of their support groups.

The Bandidos (file image)
The Bandidos (file image)

“We knew the tensions with the Cossacks were as high as they’d ever been,” he said. “I don’t think anybody could have forecasted it to the degree that it happened.”

scimitars

Did One Liberian Prostitute Give Ebola to Eight Soldiers?

On Monday, a Liberian newspaper reported on a ‘concubine’—most likely a commercial sex worker—who somehow infected eight soldiers with the virus; the soldiers later died. The never-ending story of the 2014 Ebola outbreak took several new turns Monday.

A nurse in Spain contracted Ebola after caring for a known case; the U.S. patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, received an antiviral medication previously untested for human Ebola; Texas’ intensely anti-big government governor, Rick Perry, declared the federal government should be doing more to assist Texas in handling their one case; and, in the Liberian newspaper Daily Observer, a story was published describing the Ebola death of eight barracked soldiers—possibly related to the appearance of a mysterious “concubine” who was herself turned out to be infected.

I don’t know much about the Daily Observer. A look at its front page suggests it is a responsible newspaper doing the best it can in trying circumstances.

Granted, it has run one recent letter from Dr. Cyril Broderick, a plant pathologist, suggesting that Ebola and HIV were genetically engineered infections created by Big Pharma and the U.S. Department of Defense. But a letter is a letter.

Nor do I know exactly what a “concubine” is, exactly, in this context, though the article mentioned she slept in the barracks with one of the men. Perhaps a girlfriend, but most likely a commercial sex worker.

Nor am I certain whether the sex-and-death innuendo from the story—a woman brought in a disease to eight soldiers that eventually killed them—is standard fare for the Daily Observer and its readership (no other articles were particularly lurid).

But I can comment on a few aspects of the plausibility of the story. The notion that Ebola might be a sexually transmitted disease remains plausible if unproven.

The biologic plausibility is based on presence of the virus in semen and vaginal secretions; the implausibility is whether people who are sick with the disease actually are interested in having sex. At the core of this last concept is the observation that still holds up, 8,000 cases later, that people are not contagious unless they have symptoms.

Saliva, stool, tears, semen, and breast milk all showed clear evidence of detectable virus whereas no virus at all could be detected from urine, sputum, and vomit.

More to the point, I have read the world’s published medical literature on Ebola virus in various body fluids; it is not that difficult—there is only one such article in the easily accessible National Library of Medicine-based index.

Here is what this group of intrepid scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Uganda, and Tulane University did. During a 2000 outbreak in Gulu, Uganda, caused by the same Ebola species now affecting West Africa, they collected samples from patients who gave their permission for the research to be performed.

 

Examined bodily fluids included saliva, vomit, urine, sputum (lower airway mucus), stool, breast milk, semen, and tears. In all, 38 samples were collected from 23 acutely infected patients. In addition, another set of samples was collected in patients who were convalescing from the often-fatal disease.

The investigators, led by Daniel Bausch, also tracked just how many days into the illness the specimens were collected, knowing that those at the height of illness were likeliest to have large amounts of the virus. Overall, the average duration of illness at sampling was nine days.

The researchers found that only about one-third (37 percent) of the body fluid specimens from acute cases were positive when tested by very sensitive molecular detection (PCR) techniques.

Though only a few samples per body fluid were collected, saliva, stool, tears, semen, and breast milk all showed clear evidence of detectable virus whereas no virus at all could be detected from urine, sputum, and vomit.

Of course the hallmark of Ebola—an overwhelming propensity to hemorrhage—might result in blood leaking into these latter-three fluids (urine, sputum, and vomit), but no virus could be detected in this group of non-hemorrhagic samples.

25 March

It is possible that more samples on more patients, particularly those with far-advanced disease, would have yielded higher rates of positivity above the 37 percent observed. Furthermore, a larger sampling might have found virus in vomit or urine or sputum—but the data remains important and useful in formulating approaches to control.

First and foremost, blood is bad. Each of the patients had detectable virus in blood but far fewer had virus found in other body fluids. This is the basis of the stringent admonition to avoid contact with blood made by CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), and others, including donning the elaborate Hazmat-like suits, gloves, and goggles worn by those in direct contact with patients.

17-20 September

Second, the presence of virus in semen (and in vaginal secretions, though this was not tested in the 2007 article) makes it possible that Ebola indeed entered the Liberian barracks with the concubine, though it does not explain, really, exactly how it spread from the one man she was visiting to the others. Without more details, it is impossible to sort out the sequence of events.

Third, the virus could not be found in sputum, further supporting the clear observation that airborne spread does not occur. The greatest disagreement between the public health experts and those who are suspicious of the same people’s confident pronouncements is around this assurance.

The Ebola epidemic has claimed more than 2,600 lives across West Africa, with more than half of those deaths in Liberia

Somehow there is a sense that the experts secretly know that airborne spread has and will occur and are cavalierly ignoring the facts. But the facts are not confusing. Ebola does not have the molecular equipment to spread through the air and will not develop it despite its zillion mutations per minute habit.

Finally, this sort of plain laying out of the facts in full sight apparently is nearly useless to quell panic and anger over the Texas case. Scientific observation, rather than being a place of respite from fear, itself has become something else to rail against.

As with so many other health topics where passions lead and facts in turn are accepted or rejected according to their ability to conform to that closely held belief. In other words, science is yet another victim of the historic 2014 Ebola virus outbreak.

Chechnya offers arms to Mexico to fight United States

Russian republic of Chechnya offered to send arms to Mexico, a response to a U.S. House measure encouraging shipment of U.S. weapons to Ukraine.

Dukuvakha Abdurakhmanov, the Chechen parliament speaker, said the United States has “no right” to advise Russia on behavior with neighbors, a reference to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

He warned that the shipment of “lethal aid” to Ukraine, as the U.S. House urged earlier this week in a non-binding resolution which passed by 358 votes to 48, could lead to Chechen shipment of weapons to Mexico to “resume debate on the legal status of territories annexed by the U.S.”

The annexed territories include seven western U.S. states ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago, which ended a war between Mexico and the United States in 1848.

The deal included a U.S. payment of $15 million to Mexico, as well as payment of a $3.25 million Mexican debt to U.S. citizens. Additional territory was purchased from Mexico in 1853 for $10 million.

In 1917, the German Empire sent a diplomatic proposal of a similar nature to Mexico. The Zimmerman Telegram, as the proposal is known, offered German military and economic aid to help Mexico “reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The telegram was intercepted by British intelligence and repudiated by the Mexican government.

The action by the U.S. House was strictly advisory in nature, urging President Barack Obama to send weapons to the Ukrainian military. It was condemned by Russian legislator Alexey Pushkov, chairman of the State Duma (Parliament) International Affairs Committee.

“The most dangerous thing is that it’s absolutely irresponsible. Of course, the decision is to be made by Obama since the resolution is non-binding.

But this irresponsibility is amazing considering the price the United States had to pay for its direct or indirect involvement in armed conflicts abroad and what price was paid by countries, from Vietnam to Iraq, where military conflicts involved the United States,” Pushkov said.

“Their perception is based on the assumption that the U.S. and its allies should always emerge victorious. In reality, the U.S. has suffered numerous defeats and this policy is too doomed to failure.”

Eddie Ray Routh guilty of American Sniper Chris Kyle’s murder

Eddie Ray Routh, 27, walks into court for a pretrial motion hearing in Stephenville, Texas 10 February 2015

A Texas jury has found Eddie Ray Routh guilty of the murder of US Navy Seal Chris Kyle, who wrote American Sniper, and his friend Chad Littlefield.

The judge sentenced Routh to life in prison without parole; prosecutors had not sought the death penalty.

Defence lawyers for Routh said the 27-year-old was psychotic at the time of the shootings two years ago.

But prosecutors said Routh was aware of what he was doing when he gunned the pair down at a Texas gun range in 2013.

The film based on Kyle’s memoir of his four tours of duty in Iraq was nominated for best film at the Oscars this year.

The former Navy Seal, who has the most recorded kills of any US sniper, was shot and killed along with Littlefield at a rural shooting range south-west of Fort Worth.

Having retired from the military, Kyle had been helping other veterans deal with combat-related stress and mental health issues.

On the day of the killings, Kyle and Littlefield took Routh with them to go shooting after the defendant’s mother asked for help in dealing with her troubled son.

 Chris KyleA memoir by Chris Kyle (shown here in 2012) was turned into a film directed by Clint Eastwood

Routh, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, was under extreme mental distress and was convinced the two men would turn on him on the day of the killing, his lawyers argued.

The court also heard that Routh was under the influence of marijuana and alcohol at the time of the shooting.

In addition, he had been prescribed anti-psychotic medication often used for schizophrenia, reported the Associated Press news agency.

Defence lawyers said Routh had been mentally affected by the time he spent helping earthquake relief efforts in Haiti with the Marines in 2010.

He had pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder on grounds of insanity.

However a psychologist testified for prosecutors that Routh was not legally insane, but instead had a paranoid disorder made worse by his drink and cannabis abuse, according to the Associated Press.

As prosecutors had not sought the death penalty, the sentence of life imprisonment without parole was imposed automatically by the judge.

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