Posts Tagged ‘bulletproof vests’

Ex-FBI agent convicted of S. Calif. robbery plot

March 18, 2009

By AMY TAXIN, Associated Press Writer via Yahoo! News

SANTA ANA, Calif. – A jury convicted a former FBI agent and another man of plotting to rob a drug stash house in Southern California using a machine gun.

The verdict was read Wednesday after jurors reached their decision late Tuesday in the trial of 44-year-old Vo Duong Tran, a former agent from New Orleans.

Tran and Yu Sung Park, 36, were arrested in July and accused of planning to rob what they thought was a drug stash house in the Orange County city of Fountain Valley. The site was actually part of an FBI sting operation.

“I think it’s disappointing that (Tran) is a former agent and he turned to this kind of conduct,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Keenan said. “He and Mr. Park were dangerous people.”

Tran’s wife, Nia Bui, held the couple’s 1-year-old son on her lap and sobbed loudly while the verdict was read. Outside the courtroom, Bui said she believes her husband was set up by the FBI.

“He’s a good father, he’s a good person. He’d never kill people or rob,” she said. “I can’t believe they do this to him. They break families like this.”

During the trial, prosecutors played recorded conversations in which men they identified as Park and Tran were discussing whether to shoot residents of the drug house.

Jurors deliberated for a day before convicting the defendants of conspiracy to obstruct commerce by robbery, interstate travel to commit a crime with a firearm, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime and possession of a machine gun. Each faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison at sentencing, set for June 15.

Tran was an FBI agent in Chicago for more than a decade before being fired in 2003. Defense attorney Alex Kessel previously said Tran was fired for identifying himself as an agent while on suspension, though he was never convicted of the allegation.

Telephone messages left Wednesday for Kessel and attorney Brian Steel, who also represents Tran, were not immediately returned.

The arrests of Tran and Park followed a federal probe in which conversations between Tran and an FBI informant were secretly taped for nearly six months.

Authorities said Tran flew from New Orleans to raid the home, where the informant had told him there was $300,000.

Authorities said they found a machine gun, rifle equipped with a silencer, handguns, bulletproof vests, fatigues, zip ties, black ski mask and more than 600 rounds of ammunition in a rental car and hotel room the men used.

Defense attorneys said Tran was passionate about his law enforcement career and was playing along with the robbery scheme to gather evidence on informant Alex Dao so he could turn him over to authorities.

Yolanda Barrera, Park’s attorney, said it was hard to understand how the jury could seriously consider the massive amount of evidence and testimony in just a day. “This was a four-week trial and the jury basically deliberated for five hours,” she said.

(This version corrects that although decision was announced Wednesday the jury reached it late Tuesday.)


Mexico morgues crowded with mounting drug-war dead

March 9, 2009

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – Death froze his exhausted face. The attackers lashed or punctured nearly every part of his body. Then they cut off the dead man’s head, wrapped it in a plastic grocery bag and dumped it with his body between two tractor-trailers on a city street.

As with most murders in Ciudad Juarez, police found no witnesses, no weapons. Only the battered corpse on the steel coroner’s table carries clues to who he was and how he died.

“Every organ speaks,” says Dr. Maria Concepcion Molina, who gently removes packing tape from the head of her third decapitated victim in a week. The dead man’s slack mouth and eyes still seem to pray for relief.

Bodies stacked in the morgues of Mexico’s border cities tell the story of an escalating drug war. Drug violence claimed 6,290 people last year, double the previous year, and more than 1,000 in the first eight weeks of 2009.

Each bullet wound or broken bone details the viciousness with which the cartels battle a government crackdown and each other. Slain policemen lie next to hit men in the rows of zipped white bags.

Workers toil up to 12 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week, to examine the remains. When Tijuana coffin makers fell behind during the December holidays, the morgue there crammed 200 bodies into two refrigerators made to hold 80.

“There are times here when there are so many people, so many cadavers, that we can’t keep up,” says the Tijuana morgue director, Federico Ortiz.

In Ciudad Juarez, the border city with the most killings, Molina prepares to make a dead man talk. Investigators press each finger of the headless body on a pad for fingerprints.

Molina guesses from his face he was probably in his 30s.

She carefully lays out his bloodied clothing on a red plastic sheet. She pieces together his knife-shredded T-shirt picturing a wanted poster for Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. She lays the tags showing the brands of his jeans and boxers flat before snapping photographs of each.

“Sometimes we show family these photos, and they’ll say it’s his clothing but it’s not him,” says Molina, a 41-year-old mother of five. “It’s a defense mechanism.”

Ciudad Juarez, a city of 1.3 million across the border from El Paso, Texas, has a modern, estimated $15 million morgue and crime lab thanks to international support after another notorious spate of killings — the Women of Juarez. More than 400 women have been raped, strangled and dumped in the desert since 1993.

The morgue has seven doctors, including two hired in the last two weeks.

Still, the procession of the dead is staggering. Plans are under way to double the morgue’s size next year.

Last year, 2,300 victims of violence and accidents were wheeled into the pungent, formaldehyde-infused morgue, where doctors work to Mexican love ballads and the whir of electric saws cutting through bone. More than 460 bodies arrived in January and February this year.

The morgue has stopped taking other death cases.

Nearly 40 percent of the dead last year tested positive for cocaine or marijuana. About 20 percent were never claimed by their families, many out of fear. Cardboard boxes with bloodstained cowboy boots, cell phones and bulletproof vests are stacked to the ceiling in the crime lab.

Drug traffickers know investigators use the cadavers to track killers. They have raided morgues and carted off bodies at gunpoint as shaking workers in blue smocks stood helpless.

Soldiers now guard morgues when a well-known trafficker is suspected among the dead.

Tijuana morgue workers show photographs to families identifying bodies from behind a protective window. Ortiz has asked for bulletproof glass, as well as fencing around the one-story building.

From 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, 17 bodies rolled into the Juarez morgue, including the city police force’s second-in-command and three other officers.

“If this continues, we’re going to have another record year easily. We’re headed toward 2,000 deaths within 10 months,” says Hector Hawley, the administrator of the crime analysis and forensics unit, as workers in white haz-mat suits crane-lift body bags onto steel shelves. “We need a lot more help.”

In a white shower cap and blue medical robe, the bespectacled Molina checks her victim’s neck, but there is no bruising. His head was cut off after he died.

“He’s been decapitated, but I still have to determine the cause of his death,” she says.

Her assistant, Ivan Ramos, 20, matches the head to the body. He holds it in place as Molina shoots a photograph, using a paper identifying the man by number to cover the gap in his neck. That makes it easier for loved ones who have to see the picture.

The doctor notes the rest of his injuries: broken left tibia, broken right humerus, severely bruised and cut abdomen, bruised left thigh, stabbed right thigh, sliced chin, knife punctures on lower right calf, lashes on his back. He has no distinguishable traits — no moles, no scars, no tattoos.

Molina unwraps what appears to be a tourniquet on his left biceps. She speculates it was put there by the killers to stop the bleeding from a stab wound so he would not die before they finished their torture. His knees are bruised. He was forced to crawl at one point.

Molina holds the head on the examining table while Ramos shaves a section to measure a knife wound. He cuts the skin, saws open the skull, then photographs the brain before scooping it out and wiping away a dark pool of blood.

“That dark wine color on the brain, that shouldn’t be there,” Molina says. “That’s a cerebral hemorrhage. Although they didn’t crack his skull, he was beaten hard enough that it caused this.”

Molina sees the carnage as a mound of medical evidence to be explored, a mechanism that helps her leave the gory images locked in the morgue when she heads home. Other doctors have quit after a few days.

She keeps looking, unsatisfied that the head injury caused the man’s death.

Ramos drills through the rib cage to examine the organs. He started at the morgue as a volunteer when he was 17. While he couldn’t eat at first, he’s glad it led to a job in a recession-wracked city.

Molina examines the man’s heart.

“Look, he had a heart attack,” she says, pointing to white pearling on the organ. “But if I put heart attack as the cause, it will remove the responsibility from those who did this because it will be considered a natural death. So I’m going to leave that as a last resort.”

She lifts each organ, noting how healthy the man was. No kidney stones, little fat, a healthy appendix, a normal-sized head.

“This could have been a productive person, and they are all like that, young men between 18 and 36 years old,” she says, shaking her head.

After an hour and a half, she decides he was asphyxiated by the packing tape over his mouth and nose. His lungs are collapsed. His nails are a purplish blue.

Ramos gets a needle and twine, places the brain in the man’s body cavity as standard procedure and sews up his chest. He closes the skull and replaces its skin.

“He’s in good shape for being identified,” Molina says.

As they zip the remains into a body bag to store in the refrigerator, the doors open and workers wheel in another slain man.

The next day, a stone-faced woman arrives among the families who gather daily outside the morgue, hoping to find missing loved ones.

A worker shows her photographs of the man’s clothes. She says they belonged to her brother, 23-year-old Victor Alfonso Picaso, according to the morgue.

“She seemed to already know what she was coming for,” says morgue psychologist Luis Mejia. “She just wanted to recover the body and get this over with.”


Associated Press writer Mariana Martinez in Tijuana contributed to this report.