Posts

Four Months Ago Attorney General Bill Barr Called BOP Staff Shortages that Led to Whitey Bulger Murder “a SNAFU”

At an Appropriations hearing in April, Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito premised a question about cuts to Bureau of Prison staffing budgets by reminding, “We’ve had several murders at Hazelton,” the federal Maximum Security facility in her state of West Virginia. (The WaPo noted this exchange in one of their early stories on Jeffrey Epstein’s death, though without this context.)

She doesn’t mean just any murders. In addition to some inmates from DC that Eleanor Holmes Norton had raised concerns about last fall, Hazelton was the site of Whitey Bulger’s murder, a death in BOP custody of an inmate every bit as worthy of close attention as Jeffrey Epstein, a death that was every bit as predictable as Epstein’s.

Capito went on to list several of the same problems that appear to have permitted Epstein’s death in the Metropolitan Correctional Center: staffing shortages and people assigned to perform duties they’re not trained for.

We’ve had complaints from staffing that there’s staffing shortages, it’s not safe for our correctional officers, they’re being asked to perform different duties maybe than what they’re originally assigned for, and in the budget, there’s a funding reduction for correctional officer staffing and salaries in the budget. Could you help me square with that, and is this a national problem that you’re finding across the BOP?

After Bulger’s murder, correctional officer union representatives cited the same problems: severe understaffing and people hired for other functions filling in for guards.

“(The) reported death at USP Hazelton, while concerning, is unsurprising,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “Federal prisons across the country are suffering from severe understaffing, and the situation is perhaps no more dire than at Hazelton.”

The union reported that one in five positions authorized two years ago is vacant, and teachers, administrative assistants and accountants have had to fill in shifts as officers and first responders to violent incidents.

In response to a question from a Republican Senator about these issues, the Attorney General admitted failure. “I think this is an area where we have stumbled.” Rather than answering Senator Capito’s question about the budget, though (again, this was an Appropriations hearing), he instead explained that the problem wasn’t budget, it’s that the BOP doesn’t have all its assigned slots full because of how it hires.

I’ve been looking into this because it’s been very frustrating to me because I’ve always supported Bureau of Prisons in the past and think it’s a great organization and if we’re going to have people incarcerated we have to make sure they’re incarcerated under proper conditions. We are  — The way I look at it our authorized level is good and adequate. It’s that we’re four to five thousand people short of our authorized level.

Barr went on to provide evidence of a systematic underlying problem. “Every year we lose 2,600 of these correctional officers.” Without considering why turnover in the BOP is so high, he instead offered this solution. “My view is we just have to turn on the spigot and just keep these new entry level people coming in at a rate where we’re going to be able to get up to and maintain our enacted level. So I think this is largely a SNAFU by the department.”

Senator Capito warned once more about staffing levels and noted that those staffing levels are one of the reasons why people — even in West Virginia — don’t want the jobs.

I’m glad to hear what you’ve said in terms of getting more people in because the ratios are going up and in certain situations can be very dangerous for the officers that are working there, and then it discourages people from wanting to stay. It’s a tough job.

In a statement the other day, Barr claimed that some of the things that led to Epstein’s death (whether murder or suicide) — the same understaffing leading to people playing roles they weren’t hired for that Capito warned of in April — were “severe irregularities.”

I was appalled – indeed, the entire Department was – and frankly angry, to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner.  We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and that demand a thorough investigation.  The FBI and the Office of Inspector General are already doing just that.  We will get to the bottom of what happened at the MCC and we will hold people accountable for this failure.

This afternoon, Barr took action against the MCC warden and the two staffers on whose watch Epstein died, temporarily reassigning the warden and putting the officers on leave, effectively blaming them for conditions he called a SNAFU back in April.

On Tuesday, Barr “directed the Bureau of Prisons to temporarily assign” warden Lamine N’Diaye to a regional office, pending the outcome of internal investigations into Epstein’s death, the Justice Department said in a statement. Two staffers who were assigned to Epstein’s unit at the time of his death were placed on administrative leave, the department said.

Back in April, Barr called staffing shortages in prisons “a SNAFU.” Now, having been warned and having acknowledged the problem, he’s claiming some of the same problems were not regular, but instead severely irregular, and he’s blaming the people on the front lines rather than those in charge of the “SNAFU.”

Three Things: Two USAs and a Bear

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

These things aren’t worth a full post but perhaps they’re worth a brief look. They bugged me when I ran across them — now it’s your turn.

~ 3 ~

The sketchy work former U.S. Attorney and now-former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta did on Jeffrey Epstein’s prosecution — a non-prosecution — looks worse as time goes by and we learn more about Epstein’s recidivism.

(Which really isn’t recidivism since he wasn’t prosecuted by the feds, yes? He continued business as usual unabated.)

But Acosta wasn’t the first U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida under the Bush administration. He replaced Marco Jimenez, conveniently in time to prosecute Jack Abramoff and investigate Jeffrey Epstein.

Jimenez’ departure to return to private practice in June 2005 didn’t draw much attention, though he was one of the relatively few USAs who served less than their full four-year term after appointment by the president. This seems odd given how much scrutiny the U.S. Attorneys received during the Bush administration due to “Gonzales Seven” scandal — the U.S. Attorneys dismissed en masse on December 7, 2006 by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Jimenez wasn’t one of the attorneys summarily fired by Bush.

At the time both Marcy and I had speculated about possible unifying reason(s) why the U.S. Attorneys were terminated. One of them was the possibility some of the USAs were LGBTQ and/or might be sympathetic to LGBTQ targets in prosecutions. Another reason was related to the handling of energy cases like Enron, FERC corridors, fracking, and pipelines.

But it didn’t occur to me that another possible unifying reason was human trafficking.

New Mexico’s U.S. Attorney was fired with the rest of the “Gonzales Seven.”

And Epstein not only had a residence in south Florida but in New Mexico.

What a coincidence.

David Iglesias was the USA for New Mexico until December 2006, succeeded by his assistant Larry Gomez. Gomez never received a nomination by Bush with Senate approval; he served the rest of Bush’s term as acting USA. Iglesias wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times that he believed he and the rest of the “Gonzales Seven” were terminated for political reasons.

Two GOP members of Congress — Representative Heather Wilson and Senator Pete Domenici, both now out of office — had pressed Iglesias to prosecute a corruption case. There had also been pressure to investigate and prosecute voter fraud.

Epstein’s New Mexico ranch is now under investigation.

~ 2 ~

Speaking of New Mexico, I’ve had this squirreled away for a while because I wasn’t certain what to make of it last October.

The acting U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, James Tierney, entered an agreement with the Trump administration in July 2017 about its “zero tolerance” policy pertaining to the El Paso Sector. The program separating children from family members was piloted through New Mexico, beginning there nearly a year before it was rolled out to the rest of the country.

The El Paso Sector should not to be confused with city of El Paso, which is located in Texas. Texas also has four USAs.

Why was the agreement with New Mexico’s USA alone and not with the USAs for all the border states — Texas, Arizona, California, and New Mexico? Why with an acting USA instead of waiting for a Senate-approved appointee?

Note also that Damon Martinez, appointed by President Obama, was forced out as U.S. Attorney for New Mexico in March 2017. Tierney was the acting USA until Trump nominee John C. Andersen was approved by the Senate in February 2018.

Sure would like to know what the trend is in New Mexico for human trafficking prosecutions.

I hope like hell children separated from their families or unaccompanied haven’t been trafficked out of U.S. concentration camps while the federal government looks the other way.

~ 1 ~

And now back to a tangent related to Epstein, who once worked for now-defunct investment bank Bear Stearns before he opened his own financial management services firm.

This is really more of a reminder, I should say: Trump and/or his organization had obtained alternative financing through Bear Stearns, some of which was tied up in the beginning of the 2008 crash.

Fusion GPS’ Glenn Simpson’s January 2018 testimony before the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence mentioned Trump having had relationship with Bear Stearns:

[SIMPSON]… There’s the Trump vodka business that was earlier. And then ultimately, you know, what we came to realize was that the money was actually coming out of Russia and going into his properties in Florida and New York and Panama and Toronto and these other places.

And what we, you know, gradually begun to understand, which, you know, I suppose I should kick myself for not figuring out earlier, but I don’t know that much about the real estate business, which is I alluded to this earlier, so, you know, by 2003, 2004, Donald Trump was not able to get bank credit for — and if you’re a real estate developer and you can’t get bank loans, you know, you’ve got a problem.

And all these guys, they used leverage like, you know, — so there’s alternative systems of financing, and sometimes it’s — well, there’s a variety of alternative systems of financing. But in any case, you need alternative financing.

One of the things that we now know about how the condo projects were financed is that you have to — you can get credit if you can show that you’ve sold a certain number of units.

So it turns out that, you know, one of the most important things to look at is — this is especially true of the early overseas developments, like Toronto and Panama — you can get credit if you can show that you sold a certain percentage of your units.

And so the real trick is to get people who say they’ve bought those units, and that’s where the Russians are to be found, is in some of those pre-sales, is what they’re called. And that’s how, for instance, in Panama they got the credit of — they got a — Bear Stearns to issue a bond by telling Bear Stearns that they’d sold a bunch of units to a bunch of Russian gangsters.

And, of course, they didn’t put that in the underwriting information, they just said, we’ve sold a bunch of units and here’s who bought them, and that’s how they got the credit. So that’s sort of an example of the alternative financing. … [bold mine, excerpt pages 95-96]

We already know Trump and Epstein were friendly — enough so to party together. Was there some relationship between Epstein’s financial management firm and Trump’s business which might have helped Trump obtain access to Bear Stearns even while Trump was having difficulty getting credit elsewhere?

~ 0 ~

This is an open thread. What little stray things popped up recently that aren’t worth a post by themselves?