Inspection of the Violent Crime Task Forces
in the Southern District of New York
Report Number I-2000-03
U.S. Department of Justice
The Silvio J. Mollo Building
One Saint Andrew's Plaza
New York, New York 10007
Dec. 3, 1999
Mary D. Demory
Assistant Inspector General for Inspections
Office of the Inspector General
Department of Justice
1425 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530
Dear Ms. Demory:
This letter responds to the Inspector General's ("IG") "Draft Report" ("the Report") of the use of Violent Crime Task Force money by United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York ("the Office") in the period from the receipt of the funds in March 1995 to the summer of 1998. The Report is generally critical of the reprogramming of the VCTF funds to support two valuable databases, following changes in the criminal landscape in our District . The basis for that criticism appears to be the IG' s disagreement with EOUSA' s decision to permit reprogramming of the allocated funds to fulfill the essential purpose of the VCTF moneys rather than requiring rigid adherence to the funding guidelines EOUSA had established at the inception of the program. The audit does not examine whether the demonstrable products of the VCTF funding are of use to the law enforcement community, focusing instead on whether EOUSA made consistent decisions in the use of the money. Because, as we understand it, EOUSA was under no requirement to establish any guidelines, it was free to make its determinations as it saw fit. Although the bulk of the report is devoted to detailing where EOUSA deviated from its guidelines and whether the SDNY adhered to its original proposals with respect to the Asian and Latin King task forces, the Report's only recommendations are not related to that commentary.
In short, we documented in detail to EOUSA exactly the uses we wished to make of the VCTF money. We followed EOUSA's guidance in submitting our requests and abided by their decisions in spending the money. And, from our perspective, we are very proud of the accomplishments of the Asian Gang and Latin King Task forces.
Asian Gang Task Force
The Report makes three criticisms. First, the Report states that the Office did not establish the Task Force it proposed. Report at 10. Second, the Report criticizes EOUSA's approval of our Office's request to use VCTF for a photo-imaging system (PIMS) when EOUSA had denied allegedly similar requests from other USAOs. Report at 11. Third, the Report alleges that the activities for which we received funding were not consistent with our initial funding request. Report at 1. The first and third points are factually inaccurate; EOUSA has fully responded to the second point in their submission.
In response to Director DiBattiste's January 4, 1995 solicitation, our Office submitted a proposal to combat the Asian gang problem in New York City. The proposal noted that the "biggest obstacle in the fight against Asian crime is the lack of coordination between law enforcement agencies." (Fund req at 1). To overcome that obstacle, the Office proposed "creat[ing] a genuine law enforcement partnership, emphasizing the particular strengths of each participating agency and pursuing a coordinated approach to combating Asian violent crime," a partnership we hoped to formalize into a Chinese Violent Gang Task Force. (Id. At 2). In addition, the proposal stated that we would create a database to "integrat[e] all state and federal arrest information into a database, including criminal records, pedigree, fingerprints, mug shots, gang associations, [as well as other data]." Id. At 2-3.
Eleven months after the submission of our proposal, the working relationships among the investigative agencies working Asian gangs had changed significantly. Although at the time we submitted the proposal, these entities worked independently and without any systematic coordination of criminal intelligence or targets, beginning in 1994 and continuing through 1995, our Office together with the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York and the federal, state and local law enforcement agencies developed a comprehensive strategy to target and dismantle the most violent Asian gangs in New York City.
First, the federal prosecutors divided between the districts the most significant Asian gang prosecutions. Next, the FBI/NYPD Asian Gang Task Force (Squad C6) became the cornerstone of an ad hoc task force that included several of the other key law enforcement agencies responsible for investigating Asian gangs, including the INS Violent Gang Unit, the Asian Gang Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, the New York State Police and other units within the NYPD.
By mid-1995, the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York had brought significant indictments against the traditional Chinatown gangs: Pell and Grand Street flying Dragons, White Tigers, Green Dragons, Tung On. As our June 1995 report noted, we expected to take down another significant gang shortly. In January 1996, our office, using this ad hoc task force arrested approximately 65 members of the Fukienese Flying Dragons gang. With the virtual demise of the traditional Asian gangs and the violence associated with them, 1 criminal activity in Chinatown took on a different aspect. The 1996 Fukienese flying Dragon and the Fukienese Tung On cases had a different flavor from those that went before: the criminal targets lacked the coherent structure and the level of violence that marked the previous indictments. As Asian criminal activity became more splintered, it became concomitantly harder to map extensive associations between targets. The need for a centralized data-base (which is what photo-imaging developed into) became even more important as a law enforcement tool.
At this time, there was no central repository of Asian gang arrest photographs (or any arrest photographs) anywhere in the city. Instead, arrest photographs were taken with Polaroid cameras at central booking stations and kept in desk drawers and photo albums at police precincts throughout the city. The Office made the computerization of all arrest photographs and related information of Asian gang members a priority. Thus on January 3, 1996, eleven months after our initial proposal was submitted to EOUSA, SDNY requested permission from EOUSA to reprogram funds previously earmarked for rent and support staff (as well as some overtime costs) to computer equipment for a city-wide photo imaging system. On March 1, 1996, EOUSA informed our office that EOUSA and the VCTF committee unanimously approved the reprogramming request. Since that time, PIMS has become the largest photo imaging database in the country with over 1 million arrest photographs, including all Asian gang members who have been arrested in the past four years.
- An Asian Gang Task Force Was Established and Performed the Functions Proposed
By mid-1995, the informal alliance of agencies had, through their cases, begun to adhere into a working group. Although never formally re-named, the FBI's Squad C-6 became the nucleus of a group of agencies which participated in the take-down of the Fukienese flying Dragons gang in January 1996 and the follow-up arrests. This array of agencies were also crucial to the success of the PIMS: each agency contributed agents to man a 24 hour a day, seven day a week operation of loading Polaroid photographs and other information related to Asian gangsters (and subsequently other serious criminals) into the system. Despite the demonstrable achievements of this ad hoc task force, the Report criticizes SDNY for failing to "establish a VCTF for investigating Asian Gang violent crime," (Report at 10). We believe that emphasizing the administrative procedures used to implement the program over the program's substantive achievements inexplicably elevates and confuses form over substance, and diminishes the significance of the audit process.
- Using money for PIMS was consistent with our funding requests
Our original funding request, submitted in January 1995 sought funding, among other things, for a database that would "integrat[e] all state and federal arrest information... including criminal records, pedigree, fingerprints, mug shots, gang associations, [as well as other data.]" Funding proposal at 2-3. Although we were not aware of the existence of photo-imaging technology at the time we submitted our request, the proposal clearly explains what we intended to do, if not the precise vehicle we would use to accomplish it. Once it became plain the exact manner in which we could accomplish our proposal - almost a year after the submission of our initial request -- we submitted reprogramming requests to buy the hardware and software for the PIMS which EOUSA approved.. Thus, we "met [our] program objectives as identified in the task force proposal and approved reprogramming requests." Report at I (emphasis added).
The Report criticizes the Office for failing to 1) "formalize" the task force or 2) "use the VCTF funds to support the task force's activities." Report at 1. The Report also asserts that the Office refused an FBI request to use overtime money for investigations of conspiracy to assault in aid of racketeering and murder-for-hire cases and instead reprogrammed the money for use in the mapping system. Finally, the IG states that EOUSA's approval of that reprogramming "deviated from the original purpose of funding task force activities." Report at 15. The Report's criticisms are misdirected. First, we did not propose to formalize the task force because the existing alliance of investigative agencies was effective. Second, we never refused an FBI request to fund our district's violent crime cases. We did decline an FBI request to fund another jurisdiction's low-level drug investigation and used the money instead to develop a variation of the gang database that we had originally proposed to EOUSA. With respect to how our proposal fared in contrast to other districts, EOUSA had authority to act as it did. See supra page 4.
The proposal submitted to EOUSA in January of 1995 proposed to accomplish two goals. First, it proposed to keep together the "informal task force" (Fund. Req. at 1), which at the time the proposal was written was focusing on the hierarchy of the Latin Kings, by providing work space and paying for overtime related to its cases. Second, it proposed to provide a centralized location for a database that would maintain "information about the Latin Kings, Netas and other related gangs." Fund req. at 4. This informal group had already arrested a first wave of leaders of the state-wide organization of Latin Kings and charged them with eight murders.
By July 1995, the second wave of Latin King prosecutions (forecast in our funding proposal) was complete. This second takedown included the entire state-wide hierarchy of the New York Latin Kings. The indictment charged more than a dozen murders. During this period, we needed overtime money to fund the take down as well as our daily and ongoing investigation which relied upon many members of the police department. Despite our lengthy dealings with the Police Department budget office, the Police Department failed to bill us for the overtime incurred by their detectives working on the King cases.
By December 1996, the convictions of over fifty Latin Kings were complete. The "Inca" or leader of the New York State Kings, Luis Felipe, a/k/a "King Blood" had been convicted at trial and sentenced to life without parole. Recognizing King Blood's power over the organization even from within jail, the judge in addition to his life term, forbade him from contacting any individuals outside of jail, excepting one priest and virtually no one among the inmate population. His followers received sentences of between 15 and 35 years. Although Latin Kings still existed on the street, the nature and level of threat they posed no longer warranted the intensive federal prosecutorial intervention (e.g., 3 senior AUSAs out of a unit of 8-10 AUSAs) of the previous three years. Instead, a single senior AUSA, in addition to additional cases, monitored the lower level King activity.
In June 1997, this Office received informal approval from EOUSA to use money for technical support of our mapping system, a system that began (as outlined in our original proposal) as a method of collecting and tracking our gang information. Our June 30, 1997 quarterly report noted that the major prosecutorial work with respect to the Latin Kings had been completed and explained why we were requesting permission to reprogram the money to aid in the mapping system, a request formally approved on August 30, 1997.
- The Office did not fail to "formalize" the task force as such a plan was never proposed
The Office never proposed to "formalize" the Task Force. In fact, such a step would have been completely at odds with what we believed were the significant benefits of flexibility and responsiveness associated with informal task forces. Our original proposal referred to the "informal" task force, an informal working group that, at the time of the writing of the proposal, was housed in our Office. We hoped to ensure the continued productiveness of that group by ensuring that their work would not be disrupted by our Office's planned move. To that end we requested money to fund the renting of space because we believed that it was "critical that the informal base of operations be strengthened by providing the Task Force with a central and responsive workplace, as well as the resources to accomplish its goals." Fund req. at 3. In fact, shortly after submitting the proposal, the plans to move had to be abandoned and the PD (FBI's primary partner on the case) moved into offices in our building, removing the need for the rent money. This change in circumstance was documented in our first quarterly report to EOUSA.
- Two Years After the Office's Original Proposal. The Office Properly Used VCTF money - With -- EOUSA's Approval -- to Support a Mapping System
In the two years since we had originally submitted our proposal, the criminal landscape had changed significantly in New York. The powerful state-wide organization that the original two federal prosecutions had targeted had been dismantled. Although King activity was ongoing, it did not have the structure, discipline or power of the original gang. Its activity was localized and low-level. As result, the federal cases that we ultimately brought named no statewide leaders and charged the defendants with comparatively low level crimes.
Rather than chase defendants down a ladder of ever-diminishing significance, we instead proposed to EOUSA that we focus on the mapping system and thus support the task force through the collection of gang information. Although mapping the information was a new way of formatting the data, our initial proposal had anticipated and requested funding for the creation of a database focused on gang activity. We described in detail what we wished to do and received approval to do it.
Our office did decline an FBI request to fund another district's state investigation of low-level narcotics trafficking. We believed that these low-level cases were not an optimal or appropriate use of these federal resources -- investigative, prosecutorial and monetary. In addition, although there are many sources of funding for narcotics investigations (OCDETF and HIDTA, to name but two), money for violent crime investigations is rare. Thus, even if this other district's narcotics investigation made sense to do, this did not appear to be the best use of this money. In addition, although this was not our reasoning at the time, we note that the EOUSA guidance forbade the use of VCTF money to pay for overtime for officers who were not full-time members of the task force, as the police officers involved in the state narcotics investigation were not. ("Any funds allocated for overtime can be used ONLY to reimburse state and local government for the overtime paid to officers who are full-time members of the task force." (emphasis in the original) Attachment B to March 22, 1995 award letter.
By contrast to funding a low-level state narcotics case, the mapping system provided valuable information available nowhere else: a centralized directory of the all the federal cooperators in the Southern District of New York regardless of the originating investigating agency. In short, we properly exercised our discretion in declining to expend violent crime funds for another jurisdiction's investigation of low level drug dealers where funds were available from other sources to pay for that investigation. We properly used the VCTF funds to develop the database proposed in our original submission to EOUSA which would support gang investigations more broadly.
USAO Administrative and Financial Controls
The Report recommends that the Office 1) appoint VCTF property custodians who are trained to establish complete property records and inventory controls and 2) complete the security background investigation for Hunter College personnel. (Report at page 24). The Office accepts these recommendations; the second recommendation has already been implemented and we anticipate completing the actions required to implement the first recommendation by January 15, 2000.
Very truly yours,
MARY JO WHITE
Between 1993 and early 1996, the SDNY did five Asian gang cases charging 129 defendants with 30 murders. In 1993, the 5th precinct had 10 murders; in 1996, it had 2.
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