Wednesday, August 06, 2008

In case you missed it, yours truly was on the local air this afternoon on KPCC. The host was Patt Morrison and I was on with USA Tom O'Brien, head of the Central District of California. The ubiquitous Connie Rice joined in by phone for a short comment. The topic was the increasingly better lubricated cooperation between the DOJ and local coppers.

It should be fairly obvious to even a casual observer that the US Attorney's Office is at full throttle with regard to bringing Federal cases against local gangsters, shooters, dealers and shot callers. O'Brien, a former LAC ADA and former member of the Hard Core Gang Unit, is clearly at the front of the charge. He's a fully functioning example of what happens when you're armed with the street smarts of a local prosecutor and then granted access to the huge resources of the Federal government. For the individuals in his reticle, this is a double whammy.

Morrison touched on the history of bad cooperation between local cops and the Feds. That history, in my view at least, died with the first of the three RICO cases brought forward in 1995. Those three cases, filed in fairly rapid succession, clearly engineered the template for the subsequent task forces we've seen in the years since.

I expressed some fears in my book that government entities have a disturbing habit of periodically re-inventing the wheel. In the past, there seemed to be no baton passing from one regime to the next. There was no corporate memory and every time they opened the gate on a new task force, it was like they never did it before. That dynamic is apparently no longer in effect. Since those first RICO cases, we've got a new FBI head, new USA, new LAPD and LASD chiefs and most of the foot soldiers and street cops have retired or moved on to other assignments. Despite this new cast of characters, the old cast must have left a sufficiently robust legacy of cooperation because the recent TFs are operating with remarkable speed and efficiency.

One interesting development is that the current Federal net is more capacious. In the past, the various task forces targeted the high level shot callers, picking only the choicest fruit for prosecution. Under the new regime, as evidenced by the 70 or so individuals named in the Drew Street indictment, the USA is drilling deeper. Apparently, the DOJ is no longer satisfied picking off the shot callers. They're going after everybody in a particular organization -- shot callers, associates, tax collectors, third part information passers and low level dealers. Basically, anybody who knowingly participates in any capacity in the chain has become a legitimate target for RICO prosecution. They're not just going in to cut the head off the snake. The current MO seems to be to grab the whole animal.

What this means is that even if you're marginally involved in the decision-making process or even if you're not at all involved and just slanging, driving, looking out or passing intel, in the eyes of the RICO statutes, you're liable for major time. So instead of a few years in Corcoran or Q, you're likely to land in Colorado, Florida or Illinois for decades.

I remember writing some time back that the eye of Sauron was gazing hard in all directions. I'll make another film analogy. Think Soylent Green. Remember the front loaders scooping up people on the street? Think front loader.