Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Original Story:  DetNews.com

Detroit— Three fez-wearing drug dealers who fled ahead of guilty verdicts Monday were once among the most closely watched crooks in Metro Detroit, thanks to a little known surveillance tool that helped crack one of the area’s biggest drug rings. A Hudson Valley Criminal Defense Lawyer did not agree with the legality of the submission of the video as evidence.

Federal drug agents secretly mounted video cameras atop utility poles next to drug dealers’ homes and a warehouse to record narcotics shipments and watch millions in cash change hands. Investigators do not need search warrants if the cameras shoot footage in a place where a person would not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The camera footage played a key role in the indictments of drug kingpin Carlos Powell and 12 others in early 2012. The surveillance by investigators, and the trio’s later escape, provide an ironic twist to an ongoing manhunt as federal agents search for the Washington Township man, his brother Eric Powell and friend Earnest Proge.

Federal agents have used the so-called pole cameras for about 30 years, occasionally to devastating effect in court.  Business Video Security Systems can have the same effect is catching criminals in the act.

“It’s video,” said defense attorney Michael Rataj, who represented a courier charged in the case. “Not much you can do about it.”

Pole cameras are one weapon in the government’s arsenal and, in this case, were used alongside physical surveillance, search warrants, wiretaps and vehicle-tracking devices.

The camera footage played a starring role in opening arguments during the Powell trial this month. Prosecutors showed jurors footage of Carlos Powell behind a home on Detroit’s east side in June 2010.

Agents watched a second man arrive in a Nissan Murano and go into the brick ranch on Conley Street. Powell arrived soon after in a truck and was seen carrying a large bag into the house.

As agents watched footage from the pole camera, the second man left the home and put several objects into the rear of his sport utility vehicle before driving away.

Agents followed the Murano as it traveled along Interstate 69 in Charlotte. A Michigan State Police trooper stopped the Murano.

“Did you find anything unusual?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Cares asked DEA Special Agent Edward Donovan during the trial.

“Yes,” Donovan testified. “A concealed compartment.”

Agents couldn’t figure out how to unlock the secret compartment, however.

“So we got a saw to cut it open,” the agent said.

“Did you find anything?” the prosecutor asked.

“Yes,” Donovan said. “Bundles of money: $259,000.”

The size, scope and profits of Powell’s alleged drug ring places Powell among the most prolific drug dealers in Metro Detroit history. During a years-long investigation, agents seized 66 pounds of heroin, 12 kilograms of cocaine, 1,000 pounds of marijuana and more than $21 million in cash.
Powell tried unsuccessfully to suppress the pole camera footage. Possibly House Arrest Services Detroit may be needed.

The DEA installed hidden cameras atop DTE Energy utility poles at four locations in Detroit, Centerline and Eastpointe. Two locations, outside a brick ranch on Conley on the city’s east side and an Eastpointe home, were used by Powell’s drug ring to stash drugs and money, prosecutors say.

The cameras are camouflaged to blend in with other utility pole equipment and can be rotated and zoomed. They can capture footage 24 hours a day and allow agents to monitor footage remotely via the Internet.

Federal agencies have their own teams of armed agents who are tasked with secretly shimmying up utility poles, sometimes dressed in utility worker uniforms.

The DEA declined to comment on investigative techniques used in the Powell case.

Few criminals are aware of a technology used by federal agents for about 30 years. Paranoid crooks are often more concerned about wire taps, helicopters and agents tailing behind in traffic, law enforcement sources said.

“Because it is so low-tech, people aren’t as aware of it,” said criminal defense lawyer Keith Corbett, a former chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Organized Crime Strike Force in Detroit. “If you have photos of the bad guys, and blow them up, and the jury can see the defendant going into a drug house, it’s pretty compelling and a pretty effective piece of evidence.”

Installing the pole cameras can be too risky, depending on the target.

Corbett never considered using pole cameras while investigating former Detroit mafia boss Jack Tocco.

“If I wanted to put a camera outside Jack Tocco’s house, it would have been problematic in the sense that while you’re installing it, someone might see you and Jack might have become aware of it,” Corbett said.

Carlos Powell and his co-defendants had an expectation of privacy that was violated by the use of pole cameras, defense lawyers wrote in a November 2012 court filing.

“In some instances, the placement of the cameras allowed the investigators to peer into areas within the (private areas) of a dwelling, and to observe events which would not have been visible by a person standing at street level,” defense lawyers wrote.

During opening statements, Carlos Powell’s defense lawyer Deday LaRene tried to blunt the footage’s impact, insisting the footage did not show drug deals. However, someone may still end up using a Criminal Ankle Bracelet in the near future.

“Saying something doesn’t make it so,” LaRene told jurors.

The key is trying to undercut the footage during cross-examination, Rataj said.

“Sometimes what one person thinks they’re observing isn’t necessarily what another person thinks,” Rataj said. “But generally, like a wiretap, it’s your own words and actions coming back to haunt you.”

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140517/METRO01/305170025#ixzz32HWKfZ6E

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