Many of these stores serve as major hubs for international cigarette smuggling, a multibillion-dollar racket that is as lucrative, and sinister, as trafficking in drugs or weapons. * * * Mayor Bloomberg last month sued smoke shops on Long Island's Poospatuck Reservation, charging they had cheated the city and state out of a whopping $720 million in taxes. But the state is doing nothing as truckloads of untaxed cigarettes flow through reservations onto the streets of New York City. A newly published exposé from the Center for Public Integrity reveals the vast criminality behind the smoke shops - and the crucial role played by members of the Seneca Indian Nation in upstate New York. The Senecas' Cattaraugus Reservation was on the receiving end of two massive buttlegging pipelines - one involving truckloads of genuine smokes diverted from export in Texas, the other, container-loads of counterfeits shipped from China. Customs agents were duped, palms were greased, lives were threatened and really bad people made a pile of money. Among the unsavory players was a man suspected of organizing murders for a Mexican drug cartel. The criminality on Long Island came to light in the federal prosecution of shop operator Rodney Morrison, eventually convicted of racketeering and weapons charges. The case depicted the Poospatuck Reservation as a gang battleground, with dealers resorting to arson, beatings and even a killing to defend their shares of the trade. When Morrison was arrested, he offered to post $52 million bail.
*** "Stefanie Armento, the daughter of accused cop killer Steven Armento and the ex-flame of his alleged accomplice, actor Lillo Brancato, has shut both men out of her life." Steven Armento allegedly was a former Genovese crime family associate.
*** In a rare expression of public dissent, a San Bernardino, California police sergeant is criticizing county prosecutors for "pleading out a murder conspiracy case to two San Manuel tribal members that may enable them to serve house arrest and probation":
It is the first time a ranking San Bernardino police officer has spoken out publicly against the plea agreement struck in April between prosecutors and members of San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Stacy Nunez-Barajas and her brother, Erik Barajas. Nunez-Barajas, 26, and her brother, 35, pleaded guilty to attempted murder with a gang enhancement and assault with a deadly weapon with a gang enhancement, respectively. They are facing six months to a year of house arrest and probation. They are scheduled for sentencing Nov. 6 in San Bernardino Superior Court. Sgt. Steve Filson, a 27-year veteran of the San Bernardino Police Department who worked a seven-month joint investigation with federal drug agents in 2006 targeting the Mexican Mafia's methamphetamine rackets in the Inland Empire, said he would have liked to have seen the case go to trial. * * * Investigators said they were thrown a curve early on in the narcotics investigation when they learned of the murder conspiracy involving the Barajases and several others, including brothers Salvador and Alfred Hernandez, both high-ranking members of the Mexican Mafia. The plan was to kill Leonard Epps, then the manager of the Brass Key Bar in Highland. The plan was hatched out of a series of confrontations Epps had with the Barajases at the bar in September 2005, according to court records and a lawsuit Epps filed in September seeking $50 million. The Hernandez brothers each pleaded guilty in April to attempted murder with street-gang enhancements and were sentenced in August to 10 years in prison. Salvador Hernandez is a captain in the Mexican Mafia, a.k.a. Le Eme, and is one of the "shotcallers" for the Inland Empire, meaning he collects from Latino street gangs a portion of drug sale profits, or "taxes," and can "green light" executions, Filson said.
*** Former East Chicago Controller Edward Maldonado, currently serving a 97-month federal prison term for his role as one of the so-called Sidewalk Six "has agreed to cooperate with the state in its racketeering lawsuit against former East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick and his former advisers Timothy Raykovich and James Fife."
Before the monster of organized crime undermines the state's economic and social foundations, future governments must make an uncompromising commitment to place the fight against this strategic danger at the top of their agendas, allocating corresponding budgets and efforts. This is no time for empty, belligerent sloganeering in media headlines. This is a true national emergency, a moment before such a reality becomes irreversible. It's no job for a magician, but for a government.