Author; Robert Mann,
Director of Worldwide Intelligence Network
LOS ANGELES PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR VS. US GOVERNMENT
I’ve been a Private Investigator in Los Angeles and New York City for twenty-six years, and have investigated a number of challenging criminal investigations. What you are about to read might appear to be a preface to a novel, but the reality is that this is a valid case study. Hiring a private investigator is to uncover the truth. This story is about finding the truth against insurmountable odds.
Upon meeting the subject of this article (herein referred to as Steve), the first words out of his mouth was he reluctantly pled guilty to bribing a Special Agent for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Steve was the owner of a freight forwarding and redistribution business that was quite successful. His business operated out of a 500,000 square foot warehouse in Dominguez California on the outskirts of Compton. He employed about a hundred people.
WHY AM I HERE?
Obviously, I was more than curious to know why Steve contacted me since the cow already left the barn. What is it you would like me to do”, I asked. He responded that he would like me to review sixty pages of exculpatory evidence the US Justice Department turned over to him. I asked who his attorney was and he explained that he pled guilty after retaining three different top Los Angeles’ criminal attorneys that cost him approximately $350,000. All three told him he would be better off entering a guilty plea than to go up against the US Justice Department.
Steve handed me a retainer and pleaded with me to review those documents.
As an experienced LA and New York City Private Detective who provided litigation support and investigations services for numerous attorneys I knew reviewing sixty pages was no big deal. What the hell I thought, I was an hour from my office; rush hour was in full swing, so I begrudgingly agreed to review the sixty-pages. What I found in those pages blew my mind.
THE ANONYMOUS TIP
There were a number of pages on INS letterheads that appeared to be written by someone clearly foreign-born whose grammar was inadequate. One page titled “Anonymous Tip” stated that Steve employed about three hundred illegal aliens and was paying them under the table to avoid payroll taxes. It also said Steve was paying off US Customs Agents so they would assign more random inspections to his company for which I came to learn he was under contract by US Customs to conduct those inspections. The anonymous tip further alleged Steve was also transporting illicit drugs in his company’s trucks across America. The other pages contained the initials of an INS supervisor written in the exact same spot on each page approving surveillance and other investigative assignments in and around the warehouse to identify all of the alleged illegal aliens working there.
The supervisor’s initials appeared to be copied and pasted on multiple pages. The anonymous note ended with a statement saying that the person calling in this anonymous tip would be willing to testify if asked. So much for it being an anonymous tip. The government’s entire case hinged upon information provided by one INS Special Agent who alleged his information came from this anonymous tip.
A GLIMMER OF HOPE
As a private detective I have conducted thousands of forensic document examinations over the course of twenty-six years, and I have an innate ability to identify certain aspects on documents that are questionable. I had no doubt whatsoever that those documents were falsely created and forged. I told Steve the only course of action now he could now take was to try and have his guilty plea withdrawn which was no easy feat. I recommended two partners at Loeb & Loeb Law offices for whom I do a great amount of private investigative services for who were former prosecutors at the State and Federal levels.
I mentioned that they were the only attorneys I knew who could find a way if the law was on their side to convince the judge to allow him to withdraw his plea. I called the attorneys at Loeb & Loeb and explained that Steve pled guilty. I also explained what I found in the government’s documents. The lawyers agreed to meet Steve in New York. After meeting Steve, they accepted his case and filed a motion in Federal Court to withdraw his guilty plea and to proceed to trial.
Steve’s attorney and the Assistant US Attorney appeared before US District Judge Terry J. Hatter. The motion to withdraw Steve’s plea was granted, and we were scheduled for trial.
THE IMPETUS – WHY THIS HAPPENED
Steve was now officially my client. I learned he and his brother had dated two Filipina women employed by Steve. Over time, both brothers broke off their relationship with their respective girlfriends, and those women became unhinged. They turned to a mutual Filipino friend who was a Special Agent for the INS named Avestro. The women asked Avestro to teach Steve a lesson and destroy his business and make him pay for breaking up with them. I sat with Steve and his brother for days conducting in-depth interviews to learn everything that transpired from their first date with the two women to their last date. They told me Avestro began to hang around the warehouse all the time. I asked them to explain everything that went on from the time Avestro first appeared at Steve’s warehouse. I interviewed all of Steve’s employees. The more I heard, the stronger our case became. This is what private detectives do when they want to save a client from going to prison.
Avestro had begun hanging around the warehouse every day making friends with Steve and his brother David. He would eat free lunches in the cafeteria with both ladies. After a few months, Avestro walked into Steve’s office and told him he reported Steve to immigration for employing more than a hundred illegal immigrants and Steve would be subject to a very severe penalty of approximately $16,000 to $20,000. Steve was stunned because he was under the impression Avestro was a friend who would often drop by Steve’s office to chat. Avestro always commented about how well Steve’s company was doing and how much money Steve was making. Avestro often proposed various businesses deals they could be partners in. After informing Steve about fines, Avestro said he wished he could make the violation go away. Steve asked Avestro if he could just shred the file and forget about it since they were like family. Granted, that was not a smart move but taking into consideration their ongoing relationship it wasn’t that unexpected. Avestro responded; “I can make it go away for $5000.” Steve agreed, and they arranged to meet the following day in the company cafeteria.
THE FBI ENTERS THE PICTURE
Immediately after offering Steve a way out for $5,000 Avestro contacted the FBI and told them Steve bribed him and that he had more information about Steve’s other illegal activities. The FBI had Avestro wear a wire when he met Steve the next day to collect the $5000. The meeting took place, and Avestro handed the FBI $5000 in cash, but Steve never uttered a word during that exchange.
During Avestro’s testimony, he was asked how he became aware of the allegations outlined in the government’s indictment. Avestro replied that it all started with an anonymous tip called into the public help desk of the US Immigration & Customs Agency. Steve’s attorney (herein referred to as John) began his cross-examination of Avestro and asked Avestro no less than a dozen times in a dozen different ways if he authored the unsigned anonymous tip. Avestro denied doing so over and over again. During a lunch break, John prepared a motion for permission to bring in a handwriting expert to take exemplar samples of Avestro’s handwriting. The judge granted the motion in spite of the Assistant US Attorney’s strenuous objections. The judge also admonished Avestro before leaving the courtroom during the lunch break that he best be telling the truth about not authoring the anonymous tip or if he was untruthful, he should consider retaining an attorney before the handwriting examination.
THE GOVERNMENTS CASE CRUMBLES
A good Private Investigator makes it his/her business to accumulate top notch resources. I brought in one of the foremost forensic handwriting experts in the country to perform the examination. John and I escorted him to the US Attorney’s office. When we arrived at the door of the US Attorney, the Assistant US Attorney was nowhere in sight. We waited for forty- five minutes for him to exit. Just minutes before we were due back in court the Assistant US Attorney came out to say; “we have a minor glitch, agent Avestro is willing to admit he authored the anonymous tip.” The Assistant US Attorney then said; “there’s no reason to take the examination.” John insisted the examination go forward knowing full well that if we did not examine Avestro’s handwriting, the Assistant US Attorney could say we failed to conduct the examination. When John entered Avestro’s room, he found Avestro sitting with a lawyer.
When the court reconvened, the judge heard about Avestro’s admission of perjury and the judge ordered the Assistant US Attorney to prepare a criminal perjury indictment against Avestro and he expected to receive motions from both sides the following morning explaining why this trial should be continued or dismissed. The following day the courtroom was filled with attorneys from surrounding courtrooms, federal agents piled into the court from unrelated cases along with court clerks all there to hear arguments why the case should continue or be dismissed. After all, a Federal Agent was going to be indicted, and that was huge. Judge Hatter was visibly upset as he dismissed the case and instructed the Assistant US Attorney to prepare the indictment against Avestro for criminal perjury. A story about this trial appeared the next day in the Los Angeles Times.
THE UNREAL REVEALED
Steve walked out of court a free man. Shortly after the trial, John received a call from the Inspector General of the United States who told him that the Assistant US Attorney knew all along the INS documents were bogus, yet he chose to try the case anyway. The Assistant US Attorney was terminated. The Inspector General also told John the Government spent two million dollars and invested two years investigating the false allegations outlined in the indictment. He said the FBI spearheaded the investigation which included the IRS, the US Immigration and Customs Department, the DEA and of course the FBI.
Not a single shred of evidence was ever obtained to prove any of the outrages claims the Special Immigration Agent Avestro asserted to the FBI. Avestro was stripped of his badge and gun and deported back to the Philippines. The last I heard he was soliciting private investigation work in the US claiming he is a former special agent for the United States.