If You Have Powerful Enemies, Watch Out For The “Head Shot”

I’m in the process of watching The Wire all the way through again, mostly because I’m doing a lot of air travel and I’m too lazy to read all the books I should be reading during that time. One of the more interesting aspects of the show is how often its creator, David Simon, used real people from the Baltimore streets instead of trained actors. The most commonly-cited example was Snoop, who actually killed someone on the streets prior to acting on the show, but there are at least six Baltimore cops, including two former commissioners, who are on the show in one role or another.

During the first season, a fellow named Ed Norris plays a wisecracking cop who keeps saying that someone needs to fix the department. It’s an inside joke; Norris was actually the police commissioner at the time. After his time on “The Wire”, Norris did six months in jail thanks to a prosecutorial technique known as the “headshot”.

I didn’t know what the headshot was until this morning. I kind of wish I still didn’t know. If you’re ever owned a home or a rental property, you’ll want to, as they say, read all about it.

David Simon goes into full detail in a 2012 blog posting but as usual I’ll excerpt the relevant parts here:

The only federal charge that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington could bring against Mr. Brown was for bank fraud. He falsified statements to a federally-insured bank while seeking a loan, claiming more income than he had received.
.
Now lying to a bank on a loan application or providing false information in a loan application is wrong of course. It is also wrong to give your child any money as a loan and then let the child claim those assets as his or her own income or saving to an FSLIC- or FDIC-backed institution in support of a loan application. Or to accept a loan from a parent and do so yourselves. The possible penalty for such an affront: Thirty years.
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Federal prosecutors in Baltimore used to call this statute — and its overwhelming and intimidating penalty — the Head Shot. If the rest of your case was insubstantial, if you couldn’t make the case you wanted to make, but you were on the spot for investigating a high profile target, then check the loan documents on that sucker’s house first. See if he made a false claim. Even if he was paying off the bank loan, or had paid the loan, even if there was no actual monetary loss, check the loan documents. It’s amazing how many Americans put more than their best foot forward when they are trying to convince a bank to back their mortgage.
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The federal prosecutor in Baltimore, a fellow named DiBiagio, really didn’t like the former police commissioner of Baltimore city. The commissioner, a fellow named Norris, had publicly criticized DiBiagio for his priorities, calling a press conference, telling television cameras that the federal prosecutor wasn’t bringing enough gun cases, wasn’t doing the necessary things to reduce crime in Baltimore. Norris made an enemy.
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What to do? Check the loan documents on the house where Mr. Norris lives! And lo and behold, he had borrowed money from his father and then claimed those assets as of his own origin in order to get his home loan. There had been no default on the bank loan. In terms of monetary loss, there was no victim. But Mr. Norris was exposed, for as much as thirty years: “You go to trial,” a federal prosecutor told him, “you won’t see your kids grow up.”
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Like Mr. Brown, Mr. Norris took a plea. He would not have a day in court to argue the original substance of the federal investigation, much to the relief of federal authorities in Baltimore. And the Head Shot is always in the arsenal for the government. It was there for Henry Cisneros. It’s been there in Wall Street investigations in which U.S. Attorneys have failed to prove substantial charges against financiers, and have instead, as leverage sent their sons to jail for bank fraud.

I bolded the last part because it almost defies belief. It was rare for the freakin’ Mafia to go after peoples’ adult children. Apparently when you’re a federal prosecutor you don’t have to live up to Mafioso ethics.

When I read about this I dragged up my last mortgage application just to make sure that I’d been right on the money, which I had. But I live in the Midwest, a land of cheap housing, and I’ve never had any desire to own a “showcase home” or to take a really serious stab at owning rental property. If I lived in NorCal or New York I imagine that I would be highly incentivized to get creative on my application.

What’s the moral of the story? Not much, except for this: never assume that your opponent is willing to play by your own rules. And never assume that the government wears the white hat.

43 Replies to “If You Have Powerful Enemies, Watch Out For The “Head Shot””

  1. Jeff Zekas

    Thanks, Jack. I stopped assuming the government wore the white hat, back at university, when some Santa Barbara County Sheriff deputies beat the crap out of my room mate, cos he made the mistake of being Mexican and drunk and asking “why are you arresting me?”

    Reply
  2. hank chinaski

    (I paraphrase)
    “Gold is the currency of kings, silver of gentlemen and barter of peasants. Debt is the currency of slaves.”

    Reply
        • Kvndoom

          Oh I know that’s true, but it is hilarious how Obama is going to live rent free in so many heads until the day they die.

          I suspect in time some people will believe in earnest that he shot JFK and masterminded 9/11.

          Reply
          • carrya1911

            He certainly didn’t…but J. Edgar Hoover was essentially blackmailing JFK. This stuff goes deep.

  3. rich

    The justice system isn’t a search for the truth. It just aims to lock up as many people as possible by any means necessary!

    That’s why you don’t talk to the FBI. First of all, interviews are not tape recorded. The FBI agents write up their recollections later.

    It’s a felony to make a false statement to the FBI. It doesn’t even have to be material! Therefore, even if they can’t find any evidence of whatever it is they originally went after you for, as long as they can claim you said something false at some point, they can still jail you for five years!

    Reply
    • carrya1911

      You should make a distinction. The criminal justice system in Chicago is most definitely not looking to lock up as many people as possible. Their clearance rate was 12% for homicide last year. They ain’t locking people up for shit.

      The federal system is bullshit and needs reform from the ground up. They aren’t looking to lock up as many people as possible either, else they could waltz into Chicago, Baltimore, and New Orleans and lock people up by the fucking thousands just on gun charges.

      Fed prosecutors much prefer “sending a message”, usually to people who don’t need a message because they didn’t mean any actual harm in the first fucking place. This means that the federal agencies who will not rouse themselves to prosecute a dude that has actually fucking MURDERED PEOPLE will bend heaven in half to fuck you hard if you offend the sensibilities of a federal prosecutor.

      Reply
  4. carrya1911

    The local Baltimore guy was right…Obama’s DOJ didn’t believe in prosecuting federal gun charges. (Look up Eric Holder’s statements on Project Exile, used in Richmond to great effect) Which is one of the reasons why the crime rate is what it is in Baltimore and Chicago. There are massive numbers of violations that would provide hard time…the kind of hard time that might make someone inclined to roll over on somebody else for, say, murder…but when you think that gun laws are meant primarily as controlling the buying habits of people in the suburbs rather than a useful tool to deal with real violent criminals as a matter of principle then bad guys go free.

    https://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/washington-whispers/2013/03/28/chicago-los-angeles-new-york-prosecuted-fewest-federal-gun-crimes

    People don’t understand how truly broken the criminal justice system is in these areas. The local courts and local police are simply overwhelmed with far more criminal acts than they can even begin to investigate or do anything about. A violent criminal will get investigated for only a small fraction of the crimes he/she commits, and then can expect to have exceptionally lenient sentencing.

    And that’s not happening because the system is full up of people being prosecuted for a dime bag of weed.

    Drug charges are popular because they are simple. Take a case I’m familiar with: Dude pulls a gun on some rivals and opens fire, but he’s such a poor shot that he doesn’t hit anyone. Gets caught with the gun on him. Dudes he shot at ain’t too much on sticking around to testify because they’ve all got sheets and even being together is a violation of parole for a couple of ’em. They have no video and the only witness is a notorious local drunk who ID’d him in the first place. Shell casings at the scene don’t tell you anything more than a gun was fired and there’s more than one type of shell casing at the scene.

    So instead of getting prosecuted for multiple counts of aggravated assault, he gets charged for weapons possession (illegal for a convicted felon) and for possession of some drugs he had on him.

    Enter public defender. Gun charges get negotiated away almost immediately because he’s going A.) Challenge the search of his client due to “racial profiling” and if that doesn’t work B.) Claim that the gun was used in self defense and push it to trial. Prosecutor has no interest in a trial because he knows that even with those bullshit challenges the best he can hope for is a slap on the wrist because dude didn’t actually kill anyone. (Fun fact: You can summarize the function of many large city court systems’ views on violent crime with that meme: But did you die, tho? As I’ve said before, I can point to a number of criminals who spent less time in jail than their victims spent in the hospital recovering from the wounds they suffered in the attack)

    So all that’s left for this dude who tried to kill three people is a drug charge. That has a simple burden of proof: Did dude have X quantity of Y substance on him? Y/N. If yes, go directly to jail. And so the dude ***who tried to kill three people*** goes to jail as a “non-violent drug offender.” It also often carries mandatory sentences, so not as much room for a PD to negotiate.

    Public defender is happy because he can say he improved his client’s situation by getting the gun charge tossed, prosecutor gets an easy win, and the dude is actually going to serve a little bit of time without some jurist excusing him for attempted murder like this asshole did:

    https://nypost.com/2014/11/03/judge-blames-society-in-sentencing-shooter-for-only-three-years/

    Three years…which turned into an 18 month sentence. For attempted murder. (And that guy actually hit some of the people he was trying to kill)

    Hooray criminal justice system!

    Then on the other hand we have the federal system which is loaded with unbelievable bullshit. If you are accused, you are guilty. Full stop. It doesn’t matter if you are actually guilty of any act that should rightly be considered criminal because somewhere along in the “investigation” you probably said something that the federal investigators don’t believe and so you can be prosecuted for lying to federal investigators if they can’t find anything else. It boils down to a federal agent saying they think you lied. Often doing so based on “notes” that they took with no objective recording of the interview or even the requirement to inform you that you are being interviewed in relation to the potential prosecution of a criminal case.

    And federal prosecutors…God love them…I’m sure there are some good ones, but spend much quality time around some of them and it’s like Christian Bale’s character from American Psycho except if said character also believed he was Captain America. And they have limitless resources and a federal register with enough laws and regulations in it that you likely violated at least three of them when you were seven minutes old they can drag up and put you on trial for in a process so fucking rigged that it would make the fucking North Koreans blush.

    And that’s how Martha Stewart ends up spending more time in jail than dudes who have fucking MURDERED PEOPLE. They couldn’t prove Martha did any actual insider trading but they thought she did and that thought was enough to find SOMETHING they could lock her up for. Oh, Agent Smith, do your “notes” say that she made a different statement to you on one of the seventeen unrecorded interviews you did with her? Well, well, well! Lying to federal investigators it is!

    Fuck. This. Shit.

    The feds do actually abuse their power for the good of the people occasionally. But the kinds of “headshot” laws Jack outlines above snag people who aren’t terrorists or genuine bad guys far more often than they snag real bad guys and so that justification just doesn’t wash for keeping them.

    It’s bullshit and it needs to stop…but that’s a whole lot of power them boys have been enjoyin’ for an awful long time. It’s right cozy for them, especially since at least 3/4 of them want to be politicians once they finish prosecutin’. “Hi! I’m Bob Bobson. As a federal prosecutor, I was tough on crimeblahblahblahblahblahfamiliesblahblahblahblahAmericablahblahblah”

    Reply
    • Byron

      I am a criminal defense attorney and everything you said is spot on. You must work in the system.

      Every federal prosecutor wants to run for Senate one day. Always assume that there decision making will be predicated on that goal and you will seldom be wrong.

      Reply
  5. statick89

    The U.S. Attorneys wield an enormous amount of power in the criminal justice system. They choose the
    charges to file against a defendant. As a group they are known for overcharging defendants, and U.S Attorneys usually only file cases with overwhelming evidence. This leads to extremely high conviction rates (~95%), and because their conviction rates are so high they can usually get defendants to plea down when they need it. Overcharging is one of the key drivers of the skyrocketing incarceration rates in the 2000s.

    The largest proportion of cases that even see a trial are associated with extremely large mandatory minimum sentences – child porn and human trafficking. If a defendant can’t plea out of those charges, they may as well take a shot with a jury.

    And yeah, you see people improving their loan applications all the time here in the land of expensive housing (metro Boston). Tiny capes or single story ranches on small plots routinely go for $500k or more, so even saving money for a down payment is rough for a young couple.

    Reply
    • carrya1911

      Their conviction rates rely heavily on plea bargaining. Another interesting factoid about the criminal justice system: Over 90% of criminal cases are adjudicated via plea agreement. It’s even higher in the federal system because the prosecutors can essentially threaten to overturn every aspect of your life and by-god find SOMETHING they can make stick in front of federal juries…and federal juries have to be made up of the most credulous human beings in the country. I almost think they grow them in labs or something.

      So a federal prosecutor doesn’t need overwhelming evidence, they can and do routinely scare people into pleading out because the prosecutor promises to breathe fire and consume them and everyone they’ve ever given a fuck about if they don’t. Oh yes, Virginia…they’ll ABSOLUTELY promise to start turning over the lives of your wife, kids, parents, grandparents, anything to get you to sign on the line that is dotted.

      A. B. C.

      Always. Be. Convicting.

      And so what if they violate some rules and laws along the way…who is going to hold them accountable? Anyone remember Ted Stevens? The case they brought against him was so bad a federal judge threw it out and sanctioned the prosecutors…but they didn’t lose their jobs or go to jail and Teddy’s seat went to someone they preferred. Winners all around!

      Reply
      • Ronnie Schreiber

        Because their conviction rate is based on plea bargains, they’ve lost their courtroom skills and have lost some high profile jury cases lately. In the Bundy case, the judge said the prosecutors knowingly and willfully violated the due process rights of the defendants, including violating discovery rules by not turning stuff over in discovery. One would think that at the very least, if the DoJ isn’t going to be honest and discipline prosecutors who break the law, that the bar associations would do something, but the bar is a guild whose #1 priority is protecting the guild.

        Reply
        • carrya1911

          Oh, they haven’t lost their courtroom skills. They’ve lost the sense of accountability. Sanctions from judges mean nothing so why not play fast and loose with the rules? It’s only criminal when that guy over there we don’t like does it. When *WE* do it, we are champions of the people standing up to evil and corruption!

          Reply
          • viper32cm

            The federal prosecutor force is generally made up of the some of the best law school graduates around, and the positions are highly sought after. They are given a lot of real world experience quickly, far sooner than their peers at the large “white shoe” law firms. Further, the hours and work environments are generally better than the large firms, which makes up for the difference in pay and means that retention is better. Doing a few years as an AUSA is a great way to springboard into a lot of careers in the private and public sector. The only thing better is clerking for a federal judge.

            Federal prosecutors are not to be trifled with or underestimated, and the United States Code and Code of Federal Regulations gives them a helluva lot of weapons to throw against anyone, usually with little to no regard for the existence of intent or the existence of an actual victim. See Jack’s example above.

  6. CJinSD

    It’s easy to see why the entrenched political criminals don’t want any light shined in their direction and are using their friends in the media in a desperate attempt to keep their secrets and methods veiled in false narratives. Anyone that has convinced themselves that they don’t want the FISA memo released is their own worst enemy.

    Reply
  7. E. Bryant

    “… never assume that the government wears the white hat.”

    My high school drafting teacher was a bit of a lower-case “l” libertarian, and dragged a TV into our classroom so that we could watch coverage of the Waco stand-off. The conclusion of that saga taught me what I needed to know about my own government’s situationally-ambiguous alignment on the good-evil axis.

    Reply
  8. Dirty Dingus McGee

    It’s been a LONG time (if ever) since the government wore the white hat. Just look at Hoover’s use of the FBI over his tenure. As for federal prostituter’s, er I mean prosecutors, as noted above they are some of the worst. I have seen thru close associates, just how they run their scams. I know one person, in fact I visit him regularly at a federal prison, that one of his charges was “maintaining a drug house”. The charge was based on the testimony of a CI who “smelled pot being smoked” at a RENTED venue. I can attest to the fact they will charge you for every possible thing they can think of, including violation of the RICO statute and down to not cleaning up your’s dog’s shit. If they get a mistrial, or hung jury, they will try you again. And again. And again if they have to. For them it’s a war of attrition. Sooner or later you will run out of money to afford that $100K lawyer, especially when they have frozen your assets because the assets are suspected of being “proceeds of a crime”. This can and does include your residence, vehicles, any bank accounts, even family members assets if possible.

    FTF/TOSIAR

    Reply
    • E. Bryant

      ”It’s been a LONG time (if ever) since the government wore the white hat. ”

      I’d vote for “never”. The Founding Fathers understood this, and had we all been smart enough to keep power concentrated at the local level, we’d have been able to contain most of these abuses. I mean, you’d still get some number of Sheriff Buford Pusser types (cue The Drive-By Truckers ”The Boys From Alabama”, “Cottonwood”, and “The Buford Stick”), but at least that sort of thing would be contained to a handful of counties where, frankly, people would get what they deserve. For the rest of us, if a sheriff or prosecutor got a bit too big for his britches, it’d be a lot easier to take care of the problem.

      But whatcha gonna do against a federal prosecutor with political ambitions (your typical Chris Christie types) and an FBI armed with evidence collected from warrantless “backdoor” searches of foreign intelligence data (evidence that might not even be presented against you in court)? You’re pretty much fucked at that point. There are any number of “kill shots” available in that situation.

      But at least I’m safe against terrorists and drug runners, right?

      Reply
      • Ronnie Schreiber

        I like the Truckers but I think they went to the Buford Pusser well too many times, and lately they’ve gone SJW like a lot of other white artists from the south trying to establish “no, we’re not racists like our kinfolk” bone fides.

        I figure the IRS only cares about cases where they can turn a profit and the DoJ only cares about cases that help their careers.

        I’d be surprised if you can provide me with even a single case of the IRS going after someone without significant assets or the Feds going after some low profile criminal with no career upside for the prosecutors involved.

        Reply
        • stingray65

          That is the crazy aspect of all the gun control idiots who want more gun laws, when most of the gun laws that currently exist aren’t enforced. Why aren’t they enforced? Because 90% of the cases would be against blacks and Hispanics (victim classes), most of whom have few assets so no money to be made in convicting them of gun violations, but almost certain SJW attention against the “racist” police and prosecutors.

          Reply
    • Dirty Dingus McGee

      When it happens to someone close to you, it’s an eye opener. Does change ones perspective of whats right or wrong.

      Reply
      • -Nate

        I know this having spent most of my life on one side or t’other of it .

        Unlike you, I don’t knee jerk blame the few people who are actually trying to make things better .

        I’m mostly in agreement about the DOJ & IRS but it sure as hell isn’t the democrats (they’re assholes yes but) causing all this .

        Yes, yes I know : uppity niggers, beaners, chinks, wops, nips, irish, dagos, commies on and on plus of course killary killed my dog and all the rest of the bullshit .

        -Nate

        Reply
        • Dirty Dingus McGee

          “Yes, yes I know : uppity niggers, beaners, chinks, wops, nips, irish, dagos, commies on and on plus of course killary killed my dog and all the rest of the bullshit .”

          As I fit into 2 (actually 3 as one is the same as another) of those categories, I’m not sure where you are going with it.

          Reply
          • -Nate

            Also a lot of flat out _scared_ people of various colors who are afraid of basic truths and facts .

            I learned a few decades ago that carrying and bragging about firearms doesn’t compensate for having a tiny White dick .

            BTW : “A.B.C.” is 1,000 % true .

            -Nate

  9. Grahambo

    The real moral of the story is The Wire is &$@“? amazing. It’s worthy of all the kudos it receives. Much better than Cats. I’m going to watch it again and again.

    Reply
  10. viper32cm

    An easy way to address this problem would be the establishment of a federal first offender statute and pre-trial diversion program along with a federal pardon system that made pardons far easier to obtain, especially in cases of guilty pleas for non-violent offenses. Chance of that happening in any of our lifetimes: 0%. I’d like to be proven wrong, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

    Reply
      • Ronnie Schreiber

        I wonder if driving onto a USPS parking lot with locally legal cannabis in one’s car is a federal felony.

        I also wonder if using Priority Mail boxes for storage or just burning in the fireplace is a federal crime.

        I would never submit to questioning by the FBI without my own video camera running and my lawyer present.

        In general, the only thing you should say to any law enforcement officer, unless you are reporting a crime, is “Am I free to go? Am I under arrest? This is my attorney’s name.” I’m not saying I always follow that rule, but then I’m stupid a lot of the time.

        Reply
        • statick89

          The cannabis scenario is a federal felony, even in legalized states and regardless where you’re found. The US Attorneys tend to follow local laws on the cannabis issue, both before and after the Cole memo’s guidelines. It helps they have a heroin and opioid problem to deal with.

          There’s a YouTube video of a law class with a former police officer as a guest speaker, saying exactly the same thing you suggest. Police are extremely well trained to elicit a response they want from interrogation.

          Reply
  11. Shortest Circuit

    Ah, the good old Capone solution: eff the lady in red, just use the IRS. Finances are the easiest to shut someone (or something) down with. Gofundme won’t pay that monthly $3k, no matter how much of a tearjerker you put in the description.

    Reply
  12. DrSmith

    Guess it is the price we pay for the freedom we gave away after 9/11 – specifically the Patriot Act. One of the worst pieces of legislation ever…..has not done much to keep people safe, but has given the feds an over sized ego and lets the FBI and DOJ think they are independent with no oversight needed by anyone.

    Reply
  13. Will

    What’s funny is that they try to use the “headshot” on Clay Davis in one season, and Lestor Freeman even explains it. I guess it’s life imitating art.

    Reply
  14. David Florida

    The Wire comes with higher & higher recommendations as time goes on, plus Idris Elba… I’m overdue to start watching TV again, I guess.

    I recommend the blogs of Ken White, Scott Greenfield, and Mark Bennett. Ken White’s writings alone on the topic of chatting with law enforcement before your counsel has arrived should be required reading in every high school Civics class… if such a thing still exists.

    Reply

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