Columbus Street, San Fernando Valley gang, subject to new injunction
by Susan Abram
An injunction against the San Fernando Valley's Columbus Street gang was approved Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, the city attorney's office announced.
The injunction prohibits 18 members of the gang from associating with one another within a specified zone in Panorama City and North Hills and engaging in other activities such as intimidating witnesses. The zone is defined as a 2.7 square mile area covering territory generally bounded by Plummer Street, Sepulveda Boulevard, Saticoy Street and Woodman Avenue.
Among the crimes attributed to the gang, which include former state prison inmates with ties to the Mexican Mafia, are murders, assaults, shootings, street robberies and drug dealings, according to the City Attorney's Office.
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich filed for the injunction in February in an effort to stem violence attributed to the more 200 members of the Columbus Street gang. The injunction includes more than 400 pages of declarations from law enforcement officials about the activity of the members of the Columbus Street gang. Trutanich has said the gang goes back several generations to the late 1970s and includes some leaders who are in their 40s.
"For too long, the Columbus Street gang has used intimidation, violence and fear in holding this community hostage to its nefarious activities," Trutanich said. "Today, our prosecutors and law enforcement partners have secured an important tool to curb illegal activity in our neighborhoods and bring safety and security to our residents."
The city has 45 gang injunctions, covering 73 gangs and more than 116 square miles of claimed gang territory in Los Angeles, according to Trutanich's office.
Senate passes sweeping immigration bill
by Richard Cowan and Rachelle Younglai
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate, after a decade of trying and failing, on Thursday passed a wide-ranging immigration bill that would put 11 million foreigners now living illegally in the United States on a path to American citizenship.
But the bill may not progress beyond the Senate. The measure was in serious trouble in the more conservative House of Representatives. House Speaker John Boehner has said it will not even be considered in its current form.
The legislation, debated nearly non-stop since early May - first in the Senate Judiciary Committee and now on the Senate floor, is backed by President Barack Obama, who has made enactment of such a law one of his top priorities this year.
Test votes on the bill this week indicated that about two-thirds of the 100-memberSenate could vote for passage. Final passage is expected Thursday afternoon.
House Republicans are producing much more narrow bills that contain no steps toward legalization and eventual citizenship for the 11 million undocumented foreigners, some of whom are now raising families with American-born children.
Boehner on Thursday warned that at every step of the legislative process he would only consider bills that enjoy the support of the majority of the 234 Republicans in his chamber.
"The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes. We're going to do our own bill ... that reflects the will of our (Republican) majority and the will of the American people," Boehner said at his weekly press conference.
Feds: Boston Marathon suspect had bomb-making instructions, jihad literature available online
BOSTON — What Dzhokhar Tsarnaev needed to learn to make explosives with a pressure cooker was at his fingertips in jihadist files on the Internet, according to a federal indictment accusing him of carrying out the bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured dozens more.
Investigators have been trying to determine whether Tsarnaev's older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed while the two were on the run after the bombings, was influenced or trained by Islamic militants during a trip overseas. But the indictment released Thursday against 19-year-old Dzhokhar makes no mention of any overseas influence.
Before the attack, according to the indictment, he downloaded the summer 2010 issue of Inspire, an online English-language magazine published by al-Qaida. The issue detailed how to make bombs from pressure cookers, explosive powder extracted from fireworks and lethal shrapnel.
He also downloaded extremist Muslim literature, including “Defense of the Muslim Lands, the First Obligation After Imam,” which advocates “violence designed to terrorize the perceived enemies of Islam,” the indictment said. The article was written by the late Abdullah Azzam, whose legacy has inspired terrorist attacks in the Middle East.
Another tract downloaded — titled “The Slicing Sword, Against the One Who Forms Allegiances With the Disbelievers and Takes Them as Supporters Instead of Allah, His Messenger and the Believers” — included a foreword by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American propagandist for al-Qaida who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.
The 30-count indictment provides one of the most detailed public explanations to date of the brothers' alleged motive — Islamic extremism — and the role the Internet may have played in influencing them.
“Tamerlan Tsarnaev's justice will be in the next world, but for his brother, accountability will begin right here in the district of Massachusetts,” Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley, whose jurisdiction includes Boston, said at a news conference with federal prosecutors on Thursday.
The indictment contains the bombing charges, punishable by the death penalty, that were brought in April against Tsarnaev, including use of a weapon of mass destruction to kill. It also contains many new charges covering the slaying of an MIT police officer and the carjacking of a motorist during the getaway attempt that left Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz of Massachusetts said Attorney General Eric Holder will decide whether to pursue the death penalty against Tsarnaev, who will be arraigned on July 10.
Three people were killed and more than 260 wounded by the two pressure-cooker bombs that went off near the finish line of the marathon on April 15.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured four days later, hiding in a boat parked in a backyard in Watertown, Mass.
According to the indictment, he scrawled messages on the inside of the vessel that said, among other things, “The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians,” ‘'I can't stand to see such evil go unpunished,” and “We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.”
The Tsarnaev brothers had roots in the turbulent Russian regions of Dagestan and Chechnya, which have become recruiting grounds for Muslim extremists. They had been living in the U.S. about a decade.
There was no mention in the indictment of any larger conspiracy beyond the brothers, and no reference to any direct overseas contacts with extremists. Instead, the indictment suggests the Internet played an important role in the suspects' radicalization.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev spent six months in Dagestan last year, and investigators traveled to the Russian province to talk to the men's parents and try to determine whether he was influenced or trained by local Islamic militants.
Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for Ortiz, declined to comment on why the indictment did not mention whether authorities believe the elder Tsarnaev received any training during his stay in Russia.
The indictment assembled and confirmed details of the case that have been widely reported over the past two months, and added new pieces of information.
For example, it corroborated reports that Tamerlan Tsarnaev bought 48 mortar shells from a Seabrook, N.H., fireworks store. It also disclosed that he used the Internet to order electronic components that could be used in making bombs.
The papers detail how the brothers then allegedly placed knapsacks containing shrapnel-packed bombs near the finish line of the 26.2-mile race.
The court papers also corroborated reports by authorities that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev contributed to his brother's death by accidentally running him over with a stolen vehicle during a shootout and police chase.
The charges cover the slaying of Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, who authorities said was shot in the head at close range in his cruiser by the Tsarnaevs, who tried to take his gun.
In addition, prosecutors said that during the carjacking, the Tsarnaevs forced the motorist to turn over his ATM card and his password, and Dzhokhar withdrew $800 from the man's account.
At the same time the federal indictment was announced, Massachusetts authorities brought a 15-count state indictment against Dzhokhar over the MIT officer's slaying and the police shootout.
Meth floods US border crossing
Children walk across the U.S.-Mexico border with crystal methamphetamine strapped to their backs or concealed between notebook pages. Motorists disguise liquid meth in tequila bottles, windshield washer containers and gas tanks.
The smuggling of the drug at land border crossings has jumped in recent years but especially at San Diego's San Ysidro port of entry, which accounted for more than 40 percent of seizures in fiscal year 2012. That's more than three times the second-highest _ five miles east _ and more than five times the third-highest, in Nogales, Ariz.
The spike reflects a shift in production to Mexico after a U.S. crackdown on domestic labs and the Sinaloa cartel's new hold on the prized Tijuana-San Diego smuggling corridor.
A turf war that gripped Tijuana a few years ago with beheadings and daytime shootouts ended with the cartel coming out on top. The drugs, meanwhile, continue flowing through San Ysidro, the Western hemisphere's busiest land border crossing with an average of 40,000 cars and 25,000 pedestrians entering daily.
"This is the gem for traffickers," said Gary Hill, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in San Diego. "It's the greatest place for these guys to cross because there are so many opportunities."
Customs and Border Protection officers seized 5,566 pounds of methamphetamine at San Ysidro in the 2012 fiscal year, more than double two years earlier, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations unit. On the entire border, inspectors seized 13,195 pounds, also more than double.
From October 2012 through March, seizures totaled 2,169 pounds at San Ysidro and 1,730 pounds at Otay Mesa, giving San Diego 61 percent of the 6,364 pounds seized at Mexican border crossings. Much of the rest was found in Laredo, Texas; Nogales; and Calexico, Calif.
San Ysidro _ unlike other busy border crossings _ blends into a sprawl of 18 million people that includes Los Angeles, one of the nation's top distribution hubs. By contrast, El Paso is more than 600 miles from Dallas on a lonely highway with Border Patrol checkpoints.
Rush-hour comes weekday mornings, with thousands of motorists clogging Tijuana streets to approach 24 U.S.-bound inspection lanes on their way to school or work. Vendors weave between cars, hawking cappuccinos, burritos, newspapers and trinkets.
A $732 million expansion that has created even longer delays may offer an extra incentive for smugglers who bet that inspectors will move people quickly to avoid criticism for hampering commerce and travel, said Joe Garcia, assistant special agent in charge of ICE investigations in San Diego.
Children are caught with methamphetamine strapped to their bodies several times a week _ an "alarming increase," according to Garcia. They are typically paid $50 to $200 for each trip, carrying 3 pounds on average.
Drivers, who collect up to $2,000 per trip, conceal methamphetamine in bumpers, batteries, radiators and almost any other crevice imaginable. Packaging is smothered with mustard, baby powder and laundry detergent to fool drug-sniffing dogs.
Crystals are increasingly dissolved in water, especially during the last year, making the drug more difficult to detect in giant X-ray scanners that inspectors order some motorists to drive through. The water is later boiled and often mixed with acetone, a combustible fluid used in paints that yields clear shards of methamphetamine favored by users. The drug often remains in liquid form until reaching its final distribution hub.
The government has expanded X-ray inspections of cars at the border in recent years, but increased production in Mexico and the Sinaloa cartel's presence are driving the seizures, Garcia said. "This is a new corridor for them," he said.
The U.S. government shut large methamphetamine labs during the last decade as it introduced sharp limits on chemicals used to make the drug, causing production to shift to Mexico.
The U.S. State Department said in March that the Mexican government seized 958 labs under former President Felipe Calderon from 2006 to 2012, compared with 145 under the previous administration. Mexico seized 267 labs last year, up from 227 in 2011.
As production moved to central Mexico, the Sinaloa cartel found opportunity in Tijuana in 2008 when it backed a breakaway faction of the Arellano Felix clan, named for a family that controlled the border smuggling route for two decades. Sinaloa, led by Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman, had long dominated nearby in eastern California and Arizona.
Tijuana registered 844 murders in 2008 in a turf war that horrified residents with castrated bodies hanging from bridges. After the Sinaloa cartel prevailed, the Mexican border city of more than 2 million people returned to relative calm, with 332 murders last year and almost no public displays of brutality.
Alfonzo "Achilles" Arzate and his younger brother Rene, known as "The Frog," have emerged as top Sinaloa operatives in Tijuana _ the former known as the brains and the latter as the brawn. The elder Arzate has been mentioned on wire intercepts for drug deals as far as Chicago, Hill said.
He appears to have gained favor with the Sinaloa cartel brass after another cartel operative raided one of his warehouses in October 2010, leading to a shootout and the government seizing 134 tons of marijuana.
Methamphetamine has also turned into a scourge throughout Tijuana, becoming the most common drug offense for dealers and consumers in the last five years, said Miguel Angel Guerrero, coordinator of the Baja California state attorney general's organized crime unit.
"It has increased a lot in the city because it's cheaper than cocaine, even cheaper than marijuana," he said.
Disputes among street dealers lead to spurts of violence in Tijuana, said Guerrero, including April's murder tally of 56 bodies. But the killings pale in numbers and brutality compared to the dark days of 2008 and 2009. While president, Calderon hailed Tijuana as a success story in his war on cartels.
"The Sinaloa cartel, their presence here has been strong enough to the point that no one is pushing back," said the DEA's Hill. "They just simply want to focus on making money and moving the dope across."
Synthetic drug raid sweeps U.S.
11 eastern Iowa businesses are reportedly searched
WASHINGTON — The Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies served hundreds of search and arrest warrants across the United States on Wednesday in what officials described as the largest-ever crackdown on those who make and distribute synthetic designer drugs.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that 11 eastern Iowa businesses were raided.
Drug Enforcement Administration Chief of Operations James Capra said drug and other agents served 150 arrest warrants and 375 search warrants and seized bank accounts in 35 states as part of a seven-month investigation. Capra said U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have helped authorities seize more than 1,000 kilograms of drugs used in synthetic marijuana, bath salts and other substances that can mimic cocaine, LSD and other drugs.
The drugs, often marketed as herbal incense or other seemingly innocuous products, are marketed to teenagers and young adults in a growing industry that has netted millions of dollars from traffickers, Capra said. Use of synthetic drugs has led to increases in emergency room visits around the country and routinely leads to a dangerous psychosis, he added.
“What (traffickers) care about is lining their pockets on the backs of young people,” Capra said. Untold millions in profits have ended up in Middle Eastern countries, he said.
Jim Shroba, acting special agent in charge of the administration's St. Louis office, told the Gazette that eight stores were searched in Cedar Rapids, two in Iowa City and one in Waterloo. Agents also searched storage units and homes linked to the people operating the stores, he said. The agents seized drugs, money, vehicles and weapons, according to the Gazette. There were no arrests.
Iowa lawmakers and law enforcement officers have been struggling for several years to curtail the proliferation of synthetic drugs. At least 41 states, including Iowa, have outlawed substances used to make the drugs.
Last year, President Barack Obama signed into law a federal bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Ia., that was named after Indianola High School graduate David Rozga, who killed himself in 2010 about 90 minutes after trying one of the drugs.
Police say the legislation banning the substances has not kept pace with manufacturers who circumvent the law by altering their recipes.
At least five Des Moines teenagers have been hospitalized in 2013 after apparently smoking synthetic drugs.
Detroit to expand community policing program after decline in home invasions
by Elisha Anderson
A pilot program that launched a year ago and aimed at reducing home invasions in Detroit's Grandmont Rosedale community is expected to expand to other parts of the city.
“My No. 1 priority is reducing violence in this city,” incoming Police Chief James Craig said during a news conference today in the tree-lined community in northwest Detroit where officials said home invasions decreased by about 25% percent in a one-year period.
Craig, who officially starts his new job Monday, said he plans to replicate many of the strategies used to reduce home invasions in the area — which went down from 269 to 201 — in other parts of the city.
“I want to continue to look at the home invasion,” he said. “Nothing strikes fear in a community more than people's home being burglarized.”
The pilot program involved residents, the Detroit Police Department, Michigan Department of Corrections and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, which funded the initiative.
Michael Allegretti with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a think tank based in New York, said the goal was to reduce home invasions in three key ways: teaching residents how to identify suspicious behavior and how to report it, having police interact with members of the community and Detroit police partnering with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) to go to homes of people on probation and parole deemed likely to commit crime.
Success is measured in the reduction of home invasions and the look and feel of the community, Allegretti said.
“It's our belief that in order to make an impact on crime that we need to communicate more, and we need to have more contacts with people under our supervision,” said Michael Alexander, MDOC regional administrator.
MDOC has placed four agents within the Detroit Police Department, including two in the Grandmont Rosedale area, he said. Those employees work inside the precincts, go out with police and share information with them.
“When we talk about reducing incidents of crime, there's also the issue of reducing the fear of crime,” Craig said. “People that live in our neighborhoods must feel safe... If you don‘t feel safe, we haven't accomplished our full goal.”
The program focused on the area of West McNichols to Schoolcraft and Evergreen to Southfield.