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The Takedown: A Suburban Mom, A Coal Miner's Son, and The Unlikely Demise of Colombia's Brutal Norte Valle Cartel

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If ever there was an odd couple.

A suburban mom and a coal miner's son.

Bonnie Klapper is an attractive, funny, off-beat but tenacious federal prosecutor who constantly thinks out of the box, often to the chagrin of her superiors. She is a full-time Assistant US Attorney, and a full-time mom to two sons, one of whom is a special needs child.

Now retired Special Agent Romedio "Rooney" Viola --- first of US ...

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Overview

If ever there was an odd couple.

A suburban mom and a coal miner's son.

Bonnie Klapper is an attractive, funny, off-beat but tenacious federal prosecutor who constantly thinks out of the box, often to the chagrin of her superiors. She is a full-time Assistant US Attorney, and a full-time mom to two sons, one of whom is a special needs child.

Now retired Special Agent Romedio "Rooney" Viola --- first of US Customs then of the Department of Homeland Security --- is a slightly built, larger-than-life eccentric from West Virginia whose reputation was based on his obsessive-compulsive pursuit of fugitives.

They were brought together by happenstance while both were assigned to the "El Dorado Task Force," operating out of the World Trade Center. A raid on three wire remitters in Queens, New York uncovered huge amounts of drug money being sent to three tiny villages in Colombia that no one had ever heard of.

Neither the Justice Department nor the Treasury Department seemed terribly concerned with where the money was going, as long as this flow of drug cash was stopped.

But Bonnie and Rooney wanted to know more.

Working together out of her tiny office in the implausible outpost of Hauppauge, Long Island, they set off on a 15 year journey to dismantle --- systematically --- the Colombian cartel responsible for 60% of all the cocaine coming into the United States.

Her superiors at Justice and his superiors at what was then Immigration and Customs Enforcement were quick to write them both off as dreamers.

Management believed there were enough drug dealers in the greater New York area to keep everyone busy for a long time. Taking down a barbarous gang of traffickers and murderers 2500 miles away, was pure fantasy.

But Bonnie wasn't so sure.

And Rooney didn't care what they thought.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Organized crime expert Robinson (The Sink) tells the dramatic saga of an assistant U.S. attorney and a federal agent who bring down the violent drug lords of the largest drug empire since the heady days of Pablo Escobar. Bonnie Klapper, a hard-nosed prosecutor (not your run-of-the-mill "suburban mom"), with Agent Romedio "Rooney" Viola, plows ahead with her dogged 12-year campaign against the Colombian bosses and couriers, isolating their U.S.-based operatives and turning them to provide state's evidence against their superiors. Robinson writes candidly of the national appetite for illegal drugs: "Organized crime is the planet's biggest business and North America is its most lucrative market." Klapper and Viola wage war with the corrupt Colombian authorities and the joint American law enforcement agencies, trapping the top killers Guzman, Monsalve, and Bustamente, into snitching on the overlords of the Norte Valle Cartel. Impressive from start to finish, the book is a tribute to Robinson's storytelling and the courage of the crime-fighting duo. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Aug.)
Library Journal
A money-laundering task force goes fishing for minnows and catches whale after whale in this exciting account of the demise of the violent Norte Valle cocaine cartel. Chasing down money launderers through small storefront money remitters (nonbank financial institutions that send money overseas) isn't the most glamorous job, but it gets results, so when Romedio Viola of the El Dorado Task Force needed a warrant to take down a few small remitter businesses, he called on Bonnie Klapper, an assistant U.S. attorney who specialized in these cases. Pursuing the small-time criminals, they stumbled onto a massive cocaine operation in Colombia, began to pick it apart one member at a time, and ultimately took down the entire operation. Robinson (The Laundrymen) turns this paper chase into a compelling story, and the exploits of the violent drug lords—and the contract hit that one if them took out on Klapper—add to the tension. VERDICT Though raids and gunfights make the news, patient investigative work makes the cases. This book will appeal to readers interested in procedurals and the international drug trade.—Deirdre Bray Root, Middletown P.L., OH
Kirkus Reviews

A real-life Law & Order case, starring Romedio Viola, a detective from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Bonnie Klapper, a prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Robinson (There's a Sucker Born Every Minute: A Revelation of Audacious Frauds, Scams, and Cons—How to Spot Them, How to Stop Them, 2010, etc.) won the cooperation of Viola and Klapper to document how they led the demise of a powerful business enterprise smuggling illegal narcotics into the United States and Europe. Simultaneously, the Colombian crime executives were operating small businesses across the United States to launder money so it could be sent back to Colombia without being confiscated by law-enforcement agents. The number of criminals is sizable, their names are often difficult to recall and the level of detail about each investigation into the role of each suspect (many of them Colombian nationals) tends toward massive. As a result, the narrative occasionally drags. The educational value of the book, however, is substantial, as Robinson explains the painstaking process of collecting evidence. Informants persuaded directors of the agencies involved in bringing down the Colombian business enterprise that desperate drug lords would consider it a smart business move to murder Klapper and Viola. As a result, for portions of the narrative, both Klapper and Viola are accompanied everywhere by government bodyguards. Klapper makes the best of the awkward and stressful arrangement, inviting the bodyguards to family dinners. Viola balks at the bodyguards, especially because he already carries a gun as a federal agent; his refusal to cooperate fully with his protective detail yields a few moments of humor in an otherwise grim text. When Robinson explains tactics like a quasi-insider, the narrative crackles with authenticity. One of the most unexpected findings is that at least on this one drug interdiction, agencies that frequently feud found common ground.

An object lesson in what a couple of determined law-enforcement agents can accomplish, even when outnumbered by the bad guys.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312612382
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/2/2011
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


JEFFREY ROBINSON is the international best-selling author of more than two dozen books, both fiction and non-fiction. A recognized expert on organized crime and money laundering, The Takedown is his fifth investigative true crime exposé. He lives in New York.
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Read an Excerpt


The Takedown
1Phones were always ringing and people were always shouting across the room."Who's got a spare ticket for the Knicks' game tonight?"And, "Where's my goddamned phone book?"And, "The marshals just cancelled so we've got to deliver the fucker to jail ourselves."The huge open-plan office took up a third of the entire fifth floor at No. 6 World Trade Center--referred to in those days as WTC6--an eight-story building off Vesey Street, in the shadow of the North Tower. The smallest building in the complex of seven, it housed the U.S. Commodities Exchange, the New York City headquarters of the U.S. Customs Service, and the El Dorado Task Force."Who ordered pizza?"And, "Where's Forbes?"And, "My old lady is crazy."A joint venture of Customs and the Internal Revenue Service(IRS), El Dorado was created in 1992 specifically to target drug-money laundering in the greater New York metropolitan area.In theory, the mission was sound. Drug trafficking is a business and like any business, it requires cash flow and reinvestment to survive. Money is the oxygen. Therefore, if you can cut off the trafficker's cash flow and prevent him from reinvesting, you can suffocate him. If he suffocates he goes bankrupt. And a bankrupt business means no product on the streets.The group was made up of 140 investigators from the two lead agencies plus the Secret Service, the New York Police Department, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the New York State Police, the New Jersey State Police, and several local law-enforcement agencies. The investigators, all of whom were handpicked, combined drug savvy with street-smarts and a background working money cases. They were backstopped by forensic accountants; authorities from the New York State Banking Department; intelligence analysts from other agencies; plus prosecutors from the U.S. Attorneys' offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Newark, New Jersey; the district attorneys' offices of all five New York boroughs; and the DA's offices in both Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island.As soon as they opened their door, they hit the ground running. Their first big job was a classic undercover sting code-named "Wire Drill," that focused on the money remitter industry.Money remitters are "nonbank" financial institutions that use the global banking system to transmit funds around the world. Western Union and American Express MoneyGram are the best known. But there are dozens of others, all of whom subcontract to agents, many of them operating out of ethnic neighborhood storefronts to serve the great "unbanked."Made up of recent immigrants, these are people who work at lowpaying jobs and may not trust banks, may not have the proper paperwork to open an account, may find banking too expensive, or may be--and many are--illegal. Instead, they purchase money orders with cash to pay rent and utility bills, and to send funds home to their families.Storefront agencies catering to this clientele also usually offer foreign currency exchange, mailboxes, travel facilities, parcel shipping, and pay phones for international calls. They sell beepers, cell phones, and insurance. When a client buys a money transfer, the agent forwards his name, address, and phone number, plus the name, address, and phone number of the recipient, to the licensed remitter. He deposits the cash into the licensed remitter's bank account, and the licensed remitter then transfers the money to another agency at the other end, where the recipient collects the money.For drug traffickers and their laundrymen, remitters are a fast, reliable, cost-effective way to move dirty money. Either they find a friendly agent who creates false invoices and ignores reporting requirements or, better still, they set up their own agency.There were, at the time that El Dorado was formed, forty-two licensed remitters in New York State operating through thirteen thousand franchised storefront agencies. Nineteen of the forty-two, catering primarily to Latino communities, were wiring well in excess of $1 billion a year to South and Central America. Just along the two-mile stretch of Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens, a generally quiet Colombian neighborhood running from the Brooklyn Queens Expressway to Grand Central Parkway, there were 328 storefront agents.Looking closely at those storefronts, El Dorado surveillance teams began by identifying thugs and money mules loitering at pay phones, waiting for cash pickup instructions that came via pagers. Undercover agents then moved in and developed informants to infiltrate the pickup business. Once they were inside, they planted cameras, and videotaped deliveries of duffel bags and suitcases filled with cash, sometimes as much as $500,000 per drop. They tapped phones and recorded conversations with remitter agents willing to take drug cash and falsify invoices. Finally, they funneled $1.5 million of undercover funds through target storefronts and followed the money directly back to traffickers in Colombia.Then in June 1994, El Dorado took down the Vigo Remittance Corporation.This was a big score because Vigo was one of those nineteen licensed remitters. The task force arrested fourteen people, picked apart the Vigo network, and seized financial records from several companies. A federal grand jury charged Vigo with money-laundering violations and two years later Vigo pleaded guilty to structuring financial transactions with the intent to avoid reporting requirements. The case documented significant collaboration between remitters and money launderers and also uncovered correspondent bank accounts used by remitter agencies to put drug money through offshore accounts. But, perhaps most significantly, the Vigo bust provided El Dorado analysts with an enormous amount of statistical information on the wire remitter business.Once those numbers were crunched, they spoke for themselves.Census figures for 1995 put the number of Colombian households in New York City at 25,521, and established their median income at around $27,000. Multiplying households by income put the gross income at just under $690 million. But, based on payment data obtained from licensed remitters, analysts established that over $900 million had been remitted that year alone from New York City to Colombia.In other words, these storefront remitters were sending more money to Colombia than the total annual income of every Colombian household in the city!By law, remitters had to report all cash transactions to the government in excess of $3,000. But with numbers like that to support their petition, El Dorado asked the Treasury Department to issue a Geographical Targeting Order (GTO), which imposed stricter reporting and record-keeping requirements for a limited period of 60 days.That first GTO focused on 12 licensed remitters and 1200 agents and lowered the reporting requirement for them to $750. Over the next 14 months, El Dorado's GTO would be renewed every 60 days and expanded to include 22 licensed remitters and 3,400 storefront agencies.Now El Dorardo's investigators saw storefronts all over New York--particularly in the Colombian neighborhoods of Queensand the Colombian and Dominican neighborhoods of Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan--restructuring drug money wires. Of the original twelve licensed remitters subject to the first GTO, eight were indicted, pleaded guilty, or were convicted and had their license revoked. There were over one hundred individual arrests and convictions, and $13 million was seized.Using that as a springboard, by the end of summer 1996, El Dorado began moving against forty more remitters. In what would became a nonstop marathon, they launched raids at the rate of one a week from their fifth-floor perch at WTC6."Who's on for golf Sunday?"And, "Anybody remember where we hid the witness?"And, "Who took my fucking tape recorder again?" 
 
Large windows along the side of the big room looked into office windows across West Street and, if you craned your neck to see beyond the corner of those buildings, the Hudson River was right there, and so was New Jersey. No windows faced south, which meant there was no Statue of Liberty view, because on that side of the floor they'd put up partitions to create the "money room," a space with nothing but two very long wooden tables, so that when the team confiscated drug cash they could pour it all out onto those tables--in view of everybody and with no place to hide anything--to sort it, count it, and bundle it.At any given time during the day there were sixty to seventy men in jeans and shirtsleeves or sweatshirts, and fifteen to twenty women in jeans and shirtsleeves or sweatshirts, constantly moving in, and out of, and through the room. At any given time during the night, there were ten to twenty men and women doing much the same thing, although doing it more slowly.Many of the men and women working there were street agents, who dressed to belong on the street. At one point, some higher-up from headquarters--a man who clearly didn't understand what the street was all about--dictated that if agents wanted to dress for thestreet when they were on the street, that was one thing, but when they were in the office they needed to dress appropriately for the office. So the senior Customs supervisor, John Forbes, himself a former street agent, went to the nearby discount store, Century 21, and bought a dozen dress shirts--one size fits all--plus a dozen striped ties. Now, when that higher-up from headquarters stopped by, at least some of the scruffier street agents could throw on a shirt and tie.Except, all they did was put the shirt on over their street clothes--they didn't bother to tuck it in--and only half-knotted the tie, and after a couple of weeks, they stopped doing even that.A few senior managers, like Forbes, had their own tiny private office, just large enough for a desk, two chairs, and a secure file cabinet. In Forbes's office there was also a large green sign that read, AUTHENTIC IRISHMAN.But the rest of the task force sat together in the big neon-lit room where beat-up old metal desks were pushed together two-by-two and sometimes two-by-three.Wherever you looked, bulletproof vests hung off chairs. There were low-backed chairs on wheels, straight chairs with no wheels, and a couple of ergonomic kneeling posture chairs. Agency-crested baseball caps--Customs, IRS, NYPD, NJSP--dangled from lamps. Desktops were littered with individual computer terminals, coffee mugs, framed photographs of kids, telephones, more baseball caps, nameplates, computer games, cell phones, pagers, floppy disks, putters, golf balls, Walkmen, headphones, hand weights, magazines, half-eaten sandwiches, milk cartons, water bottles, soda cans, wrapped and unwrapped candy, trophies for bowling and tennis and fishing, and how-to books on investments. Three basketballs lay on the floor beneath a hoop fixed to the partition that was the east wall, next to the main door. Nearby, two big and much-too-noisy shredders were forever needing to be emptied. Personal weapons had to be stowed away in gray-metal, combination-lockable filing cabinets that were scattered all over the office, but there were plenty of empty holsters and handcuffs on desks, too.In the middle of this, Romedio Viola sat at his desk typing a statement, trying to cut out all the noise around him.A small, wiry fifty-year-old street agent, he always dressed like a street agent in jeans and short sleeves and a baseball cap, and even when he had to throw on one of those shirts and a tie, he still looked like he was dressed for the street.Known to everyone as Rooney, someone, somewhere along the way had decided that Romedio was too difficult to pronounce. Everyone else agreed, so the nickname stuck. Even though he didn't like it and was constantly reminding them, "My name is Romedio.""Okay, Rooney," they'd say, "no problem.""I'm too old for nicknames," he'd tell them."Okay, Rooney," they'd repeat, "no problem."It wasn't that he eventually gave up, it was that, after a while, he just stopped talking to some of those people who insisted on calling him Rooney to his face. "Fuck 'em," he'd say.But behind his back, no one called him Romedio.The son of an Italian immigrant, his father had come to America in 1929. With no education, he found work during the Depression as a coal miner in West Virginia and married a local Appalachian woman. They named their first son Carlo. Ten years later, they christened their second son Romedio.By the time he was two, the coal mines were shutting down, so his father moved the family north to Brooklyn. Five years later, his mother died. She'd come from a family of thirteen and, after a while, his father married his own sister-in-law Josephine, making Rooney's aunt--who also happened to be his godmother--his stepmother.When he was twelve, Rooney's father died. Then, two years later, while Rooney and Josephine were visiting West Virginia, she passed away.Josephine's last wish was that her younger sister Suzy would look after the fourteen-year-old, so Rooney was transplanted back to West Virginia and into a house that had no plumbing and only barely had electricity.Aunt Suzy was married to a German immigrant who staunchlybelieved in reincarnation and swore that he was Jesus incarnate. He was convinced that his mission in life was to survive the inevitable Russian attack on America, and then to create the next generation. The man was so certain that a Russian invasion was imminent, he spent the last twenty-seven years of his life converting a swimming pool into what was officially proclaimed, "the finest fallout shelter in West Virginia."Absolutely state of the art, with beautiful oak pillars holding up tons of cement for the roof, there was a filter to bring in fresh air, a well to bring in fresh water and enough stocked food to last for years.Rooney's uncle told him that he planned on living in the shelter for however long it took. But Rooney decided that just two days stuck down there would be so stifling and claustrophobic, anyone would surely want to kill himself.Still, with little else to do in the backwoods of West Virginia, he helped his uncle build the thing, and spent days filling five-gallon jugs with lentils to stock the shelter's pantry.When he wasn't working on his shelter, Rooney's uncle tended to the fields of his small farm. But, every hour on the hour he came into the house to listen to the news from a Pittsburgh radio station on his transistor radio, almost as if he was hoping that the announcer would say the Russians had arrived so that he could hide in his shelter.After one week of this, Rooney decided he'd had enough and walked five miles to the nearest five-and-ten cents store, in Morgantown, where there was a telephone. He called his brother Carlo in Brooklyn and said, "I've got to get out of here."Carlo said, "Come back," and a few days later Rooney was on a bus for New York.He lived with Carlo and his wife, but both of them worked, which meant Rooney pretty much raised himself. He went to Catholic high school and got into Queens College, but quit during his first year because he didn't like it. He and a few friends then bought a pickup truck and drove around the country for a while. When he returned to New York, he worked as a cab driver, until he got fired because he kept getting into accidents. He reenrolled in Queens College--this time found school more to his liking--and three years later graduatedwith a degree in history, the first member of his family ever to attend college.He took a job in a local hospital, got bored, and joined the Air Force. He was stationed for a time in California, liked it, and when he got out decided that's where he'd wanted to be. He got himself a job there as an IRS tax collector. "Everybody hated me," he remembers, "they were always trying to kill me."A year later, he transferred home to Brooklyn, where he spent five more years collecting taxes--"They kept trying to kill me in New York, too"--until he heard that the Treasury Department was looking for enforcement agents. He passed the test, was hired by U.S. Customs, and spent a few years sorting through luggage and freight at Kennedy Airport. When El Dorado formed, he applied for a job there, worked first in intelligence, then moved onto a street action group.A loner by nature--"I'm not particularly sociable"--Rooney played on the team when he had to, but never hid his feelings that he preferred not to. He always did his best work when he was left alone. So everyone pretty much left him alone.He wore his dark hair short, had wire-rimmed glasses, and spoke with a slight twang. He also seemed to have a permanent sleepy expression on his face, which made sense to a lot of people on the task force who were convinced that Rooney never slept. He was always either in the office, or running off somewhere to bring back a fugitive. He was married, his wife was trying to become an actress, but he collected stray cats, and so did she, and because his cats didn't like her cats, they lived in separate apartments.Only five eight and 160 pounds, Rooney didn't automatically strike fear into anyone, at least not until he got angry. And when that happened, most people--if they were smart enough--got out of his way.That he kept his weight constant was no surprise to anyone on the task force, especially the same people who were convinced that he never slept, because they were equally convinced that Rooney never ate. He hardly ever went out for lunch with the other guys, and when he did, he only ordered coffee. Whenever food was brought in, he'd just sit there drinking coffee, waiting for everyone else tofinish before he'd wrap up what was left to take home. "For my cats," he'd tell them. "They'll love this."He always wore jeans, and his shirt was, more often than not, falling out from under his belt. It was rare that he went anywhere without a baseball cap pulled low across his face. His favorite was a University of West Virginia cap, but he had a whole collection and changed them frequently, sometimes wearing different caps on the same day. "It changes your appearance. You never want too many people to recognize you."Averse to cold--"A West Virginia thing," he'd say--other agents never minded riding with him in a car in winter because the heat was always on. But they went out of their way to avoid riding with him in summer because he categorically refused to turn on the airconditioning. It could be the hottest, most sweltering New York summer day, and when someone invariably said, "What about the AC?" He'd complain, "Too cold," so it stayed off.While everyone else on the team carried a 9mm Glock semiautomatic pistol, Rooney still wore an old-fashioned Magnum 44. Some agents joked behind his back that if they were busting down a door, Rooney had to go first because nobody wanted to be in front of him when he drew his gun. But that wasn't a joke they shared with him."Why do you use that?" young agents sometimes dared to ask about his old-fashioned pistol.He'd mumble back, with just enough disdain in his voice, "Because ... it works."Now someone in the room called out, "My computer died."And someone else said too loudly into the phone, "What do you mean the hearing date has been moved up?"And Danny Min stopped at Rooney's. "I don't believe it."Rooney looked up at the stocky, powerfully built thirty-three-year-old Korean American. An ex-Marine who still wore his "fat head" crew cut, Min had been an IRS agent for only a few years, but like Rooney, he, too, was an original member of the El Dorado team. "What don't you believe?""We've got this remitter ... three businesses, all tied together inQueens ... so Toby and me ..." he said, referring to his IRS partner, Toby Barbero, " ... we put everything together for a warrant. These guys in Queens have moved a total of $70 million to Colombia. We got it all. So we take what we have to Brooklyn and some AUSA there says no. Just like that. No."Four months earlier, a tip-off had come in through one of the El Dorado Task Force undercover agents who'd turned a street-level money drop-off guy into a confidential informant (CI). According to the CI, bags of cash were being delivered every day to a money remitter agency at 70-13 Austin Street, a block off Queens Boulevard in the heart of Forest Hills. The CI said that as soon as the money arrived, the owner of the place would order the young women who worked for him to fill out false documentation--always keeping amounts below federal reporting requirements--so that the money could be wired to Colombia without the government finding out. What's more, the CI added, this had been going on for a number of years.Min and Barbero landed the case.A simple drive-by established that the address was a three-story building with several shops, where steps led up from the sidewalk to a narrow walkway. Right there on the left, a storefront had a neon sign in the window that read, "Tele-Austin Travel."The El Dorado intelligence unit quickly came up with a name for the owner--Ignacio Lobo, a forty-year-old Colombian who'd legally been resident in the United States for more than ten years. A further search discovered that Lobo was also listed as the owner of a second Tele-Austin remitter agency five miles away. That office was on the ground floor of a three-story building on the southwest corner of Broadway and Forty-third Street in Astoria, with an awning over the doorway. Those locations were now referred to as Tele-Austin I and Tele-Austin II.Lobo's name then popped up a third time, as the manager of another wire remitter agency, Around the World Communications. This one was on the second floor of a two-story building at 37-66 Junction Blvd. in Corona, one block north of the elevated subway tracks that run along Roosevelt Avenue.As Min explained to Rooney, he and Barbero--a stocky fellow about Min's age but with dark hair and a big smile--spent weeks sifting through reports of money wired out to Colombia, and found very clear violations at these three locations. They strongly suspected that Lobo was structuring drug-money payments to avoid reporting requirements.To prove it, early one morning, the agents took Min's personal video camera to Queens. The best vantage point for Tele-Austin I was from the roof of the movie theater directly across the street, so they got permission to go up there and stayed on the roof all day, videotaping the front door.It turned out to be a long, very boring day because only two people went inside.The following day, they did a similar customer head count, minus the camera, at Tele-Austin II. No one at all showed up.They planned to watch Around the World Communications, but the entrance was on the side of the building, and another business used the same entrance, so they didn't bother. They knew that, even if they saw someone going inside, it would never hold up as probable cause for a warrant because they had no way of knowing which business that person was visiting.A month later, Min told Rooney, they received official reports on the wire activity coming out of those business for the same days they'd watched them. Two people had gone inside Tele-Austin I, and yet Lobo had reported dozens of clients wiring out thousands of dollars. No one had gone inside Tele-Austin II, but Lobo was showing similar numbers for that business.Min and Barbero took their case to John Forbes, who agreed that the task force had "multiple areas of interest" in Mr. Lobo, and the decision was made to go inside his businesses.So the two agents bundled their evidence into stacks and drove to Brooklyn, to the office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York--which handled cases located in Queens--and dumped everything onto the desk of an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the narcotics division. They pitched their case to her, went throughthe numbers, showed her what they'd uncovered, and told her what they expected to find once they got inside the three businesses. They even played the videotape for her. In their minds, this was a slam dunk.The woman listened to what they had to say, looked at what they had to show her, expressed some doubt about particular aspects of the evidence and, just like that, told them, "No. I'm not taking it to the magistrate."Both agents were shocked.She repeated, "No."They argued that the warrant was really important.But she wouldn't budge. "There's no hard evidence that the Tele-Austin money is directly tied to cocaine."Other agents had run into this attitude before. Narcotics prosecutors like cases best when they can be photographed next to a table filled with bags of white powder, guns, and piles of money. Those are the elements that make their case obvious. Money laundering and paper trails didn't have sex appeal. To make this case, she'd have to get creative. But, for overworked prosecutors, getting creative takes a lot of effort, at the risk of too little result."I'm too busy," she told them. "We close one remitter, six more open. It's never-ending. Sorry guys ... a waste of time."Back at WTC6, Min now looked at Rooney and kept shaking his head. "Can you believe it?"Rooney simply mumbled, "Bonnie."Min said, "What?""Bonnie," he said again, as if it should have been obvious. "Bonnie Klapper. She works out of Hauppauge. Next to Central Islip. On Long Island. Nobody in narcotics likes money cases, except her. She loves this shit."Min was hardly impressed. "Hauppauge? That's one hundred miles away. Philadelphia is closer."Rooney had been one of the agents working on Vigo in 1994. Bonnie was one of the prosecutors who took the case to court. That's when they met, when Rooney needed someone to understand acomplicated money angle and one of the agents on the team assured him, "Bonnie's the only one who gets it."As Rooney explained to Min, although she was officially assigned to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn, Bonnie worked out of a little office in Suffolk County because she had two young children and there were family reasons why she needed to stay close to home.Min said, "We have to schlep all the way out to Hauppauge?"Rooney nodded. "I'm telling you, she'll do it."Realizing that this was his only chance, Min asked Rooney to make the call.For just about everyone else, getting Bonnie on the phone was next to impossible because she was either in court, or in a meeting, or proffering witnesses, or driving between one place or another. Her oldest son took up a lot of her time, and because she knew what it was to be "the other child," she tried to devote just as much time to her second son. When you dialed her office, you got voice mail. When you dialed her cell, you got voice mail. When you rang her at home you got the answering machine. Sometimes she'd phone back the same day. Usually it would be later.But not when Rooney called.She saw his number on her caller ID and answered the phone. "Romedio ..."Bonnie was probably the only person who didn't call him Rooney."Two guys need a warrant," was how he started the conversation. "It's a money case. They'll even come to you to get it. I'll bring them out."She made arrangements to see them the next day.When the four of them sat down, Min and Barbero made their case. "$70 million!"Rooney admitted, "Nobody at Brooklyn would take it, so I promised them you would."Bonnie stared straight-faced at the three men. "You can't get it anyplace else ... everyone else says no ... so you come to me. You figure I'll give you what you want. What am I, your local warrant slut?"THE TAKEDOWN. Copyright © 2011 by Jeffrey Robinson. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
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  • Posted August 12, 2011

    The Inside Story

    The inside story of a 15 year drug bust, with great characters. The prosecutor and the narc are right out of a Hollywood movie. Except this is a true story that reads like a great thriller. Highly recommended.

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  • Posted July 31, 2011

    Great Story

    A great story, told very well. Couldn't put it down.

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