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-eight years and have investigated several challenging criminal investigations but none quite as challenging as this one. What you are about to read might resemble the preface to a crime novel, but this is a true story about how I, as a Private Investigator, was tasked with uncovering the truth against insurmountable odds.
Upon meeting the subject of this article, which became my client (herein referred to as Steve), the first words out of his mouth were he reluctantly pled guilty to bribing a Special Agent for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Steve owned a very successful freight forwarding and redistribution business. His warehouse was enormous at 500,000 square feet, located in Dominguez, California, on the outskirts of Compton. He employed about a hundred people.
WHY AM I HERE?
I was more than curious to know why Steve requested my services since the cow already left the barn. “What would you like me to do for you,” I asked. He handed me sixty pages of exculpatory evidence the US Justice Department turned over to him and asked that I, please review them. I asked who his attorney was, and he told me he decided to plead 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 rather than to go up against the US Justice Department. I thought what the heck, I drove an hour to get to Dominguez Hills from Century City, and rush hour was in full swing I might as well take a look. Steve provided me with a private room to review the government’s documents, and what I found in those pages blew my mind.
THE ANONYMOUS TIP
All sixty pages were on INS letterhead (Homeland Security had not been formed yet), and they all appeared to be written by someone who did not have an academic command of English. The author appeared to be educated outside of the United States. The first page was titled “Anonymous Tip,” which stated that Steve employed about three hundred illegal aliens and was paying them under the table to avoid payroll taxes. It also stated Steve was paying off US Customs Agents to gain more random truck inspections for his company. Steve told me that he was a vetted/approved USA Independent Contractor for the United States Customs office. The anonymous tipster further alleged Steve was transporting illicit drugs in his company’s trucks all across America. Other pages pertained to various investigative assignments allegedly conducted by INS Agents, all initialed by an alleged INS supervisor. Each page had those initials in the same place on each page. The assignments supposedly approved by the INS Supervisor were surveillance of Steve’s warehouse along with several undercover investigations in and around the warehouse to identify all of the alleged illegal aliens working for Steve, under the table. The supervisor’s initials appeared to be copied and pasted on each page. 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 tipster.” The government’s entire case hinged upon information provided by INS Special Agent Avestro, who alleged the entire investigation, was initiated by an anonymous tipster.
A GLIMMER OF HOPE
I have conducted hundreds of document examinations over twenty-eight years and developed an innate ability to identify certain aspects in a document that is questionable. I had no doubt those sixty pages were all bogus. I told Steve his only course of action was to try and have his guilty plea withdrawn, which was no easy task. I recommended two partners at Loeb & Loeb law offices for whom I’ve done a considerable amount of investigations for. Both attorneys were former prosecutors at the State and Federal levels.
I told the Loeb & Loeb attorneys my interpretation of the government’s documents. Steve told me that not one of the three attorneys he retained wanted to review any of the sixty pages. The Loeb lawyers met with Steve and agreed to take on his case after reviewing Steve’s plea. They filed a motion in Federal Court to withdraw his guilty plea and requested Steve to proceed to trial.
Loeb lawyers and the AUSA appeared before US District Judge Terry J. Hatter. The motion to withdraw Steve’s plea was granted. A trial date was set.
THE IMPETUS – WHY THIS HAPPENED
I learned Steve and his brother dated two Filipina women who were in Steve’s employ. Over time, both Steve and his brother David ended their relationship with their respective girlfriends, which evolved into the two women becoming unhinged. They turned to a mutual Filipino friend who was a Special Agent for the INS named Avestro. The women told Avestro how badly the brothers treated them, and they wanted to teach Steve a lesson by destroying his business. I sat with Steve and David conducting in-depth interviews for days to learn everything that transpired from their first date to their last dates with two scorned women. The brothers explained that Avestro began hanging around the warehouse all the time, acting like a good friend of two ex-girlfriends. I interviewed many of Steve’s employees, especially those who were knowledgeable about the two Filipina ladies lifestyle. The more I heard, the stronger our case became. I learned that Steve’s former attorneys hired private investigators to interview the two ex-girlfriends and other employees who might be helpful to Steve. Not a single employee would speak with those investigators. During my investigation, I interviewed all of the crucial witnesses. Failure in my mind was not an option. I had to succeed if I wanted to prevent Steve from going to prison. The witnesses were extremely helpful. I learned Avestro was in love with Steve’s ex-girlfriend and he subsequently recruited her to work with him as an undercover INS agent in Las Vegas, NV to get her away from Steve. Neither woman was fired by Steve.
Steve and David told me that Avestro first appeared at Steve’s warehouse and went to lunch with the two ladies. He ingratiated himself by making friends with Steve and David. He would eat free lunches in Steve’s cafeteria. 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 he told Steve he would be subject to very severe fines 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 and comment on how well Steve’s company was doing and how much money Steve was making. Avestro often proposed various business deals; they could be partners. After informing Steve about the fines, Avestro said he wished he could make the violation go away. Steve asked Avestro if he could 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 too 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. Avestro told the FBI that Steve was paying off US Custom Agents, and he was running illicit drug operations. US Customs, the IRS, and DEA were all brought into this case with the FBI.
Before the trial, I explained to John and his partner Martin how the INS documents were bogus, and I was positive that Avestro was the one and only person behind this fiasco. During Avestro’s testimony, he was questioned on how he became aware of the allegations outlined in the government’s indictment. Avestro stated it all started with an anonymous tip called into the public help desk of the US Immigration & Customs Agency. 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. Just before the court was to resume the following day, 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 he left the courtroom during that day that he best be telling the truth about not authoring the anonymous tip. If he was untruthful, he should consider retaining an attorney before the handwriting examination.
THE GOVERNMENT’S CASE CRUMBLES
I brought in one of the foremost forensic handwriting experts in the country to perform the examination. John and I escorted our expert 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 requested that both sides present motions the following morning explaining why this trial should be continued or be dismissed. The word was out there in all of its glory, dozens of US Prosecutors, Federal Agents from other courtrooms, Court Clerks, US Marshals filled our courtroom to capacity 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 U.S. Inspector General, 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 AUSA 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 INS, 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 agent Avestro asserted to the FBI. Avestro was stripped of his badge and gun and deported 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.