The Attempt by US Attorney Carmen Ortiz to Commit A Million Dollar Heist from A Hard Working Guy: Shades of Whitey Bulger

A person from out-of-state who comments here off an on asked me what I thought of a story he came across.  It related to the Caswell Motel owned by 69-year-old Russ Caswell.

After looking into it I’d suggest that rather than chasing after people like Sheila Burgess who committed no crime or caused any injustice, if the media is looking for something to do perhaps it could give thought to having a discussion of the Caswell Motel affair.  The trial relating to it just ended in federal courthouse that overlooks Boston harbor in South Boston. It was a jury waived trial in front of Magistrate Judith Dein who prior to becoming a judge worked for two major law firms in Boston doing civil work.

The Caswell Motel Affair hasn’t received much media coverage in Boston even though on May 8 of this year George Will wrote about it in the Washington Post under the headline “When The Looter Is The Government.”

The Caswell Motel was built in 1955 by Russ Caswell’s father. It sits on a 4.5 acre property in Tewksbury’s main street.  Russ has been running it for 30 years working hard, supporting his family. Like anything that was constructed in the Fifties it has become long in the tooth. The 56 rooms according to some rent for $56 a night or $285 a week but when I Googled Motel Caswell, Tewskbury, I learned rates start at $43.00 a night for two. It rents to tourists, workers on extended stays and some elderly. Six people who stayed there reviewed it for Trip Advisor. One rated it “poor”, the other five “terrible.”

It has fallen a long way since the days Annette Funicello and the Mouseketeers checked in. Now it’s sort of a dump where those down on their luck find a refuge.   Russ says that he had an average of 14,000 daily room rentals each of the last fifteen years. He knows he’s not renting to the Beacon Hill crowd but under the law he can’t turn anyone away with a good reason. He takes from it a salary of about $75,000 a year for the long hours he puts in.  He hopes to use it to support his retirement.

Russ’s problem began when a DEA cop (probably at the suggestion from the Tewksbury police) was looking for things to seize. This cop found out that the Caswell Motel had no mortgage and that the property was worth between a million and a million on a half. He figured if the feds could take that property from Russ then they could keep 20% of it and give the Tewksbury police 80% or around a million dollars. The DEA cops had no investigations going on there but they figured if they could somehow show that Motel Caswell was being used to facilitate the distribution of illegal drugs they could take it from Russ Caswell.

Recently U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz through her spokesperson Christina DiIorio-Sterling said: ‘‘The government believed that this was an important case, not only for the town of Tewksbury, which has been plagued for decades by the criminal activity at Motel Caswell, but because of the important deterrent message it sends to others who may turn a blind eye to crime occurring at their place of business.  The purpose of the investigation was strictly law enforcement-related and in response to the ongoing criminal activity at Motel Caswell that spanned nearly 30 years without any effort by the owner to be addressed.’’

She’s right about one thing, it is an important case. Not for sending any deterrent message but for Russ Caswell who is going to lose his life’s savings and to Tewksbury police who have no qualms about robbing them from him.  But what exactly is the evidence that the government presented to show the decades by the criminal activity at Motel Caswell.”  

For that I turn to the ever reliable David Boeri of 90.0 WBUR who seems to be Johnny on the spot when it comes to happenings in our court system always producing reliable and trustworthy reports. He is a standout exception to the big yawn most of our media gives to what happens in our courts. He reports that between 1994 and 2008, a period of 15 years, the government produced evidence of fifteen drug crimes that occurred in the motel among the 210,000 room rentals.  These fifteen drug crimes, one incident a year, have “plagued” the town of Tewsbury and turned the motel into, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Sonya Rao said,  a “dangerous property” in the community.

Russ Caswell testified that: “he has never been fined, cited, arrested or told he could be in trouble for any third-party drug activity at his Tewksbury motel until 2009 when the federal government suddenly moved to seize his family owned business under a federal drug-forfeiture law.” 

I’ve written before about the duty of a prosecutor and the function of cops. They are not the same. The cops do the grubby, hard and under appreciated work of chasing the criminals; the prosecutor analyzes the work and decides what to do with it. The prosecutor is not supposed to be pushed around by the cops. A prosecutor’s job is to do the right thing regardless of the how much work a cop may have put into a case or how much the cops want to grab property from innocent people.

This case in my opinion is an outrage.  Attorney Ortiz has failed in her job when she lets the greed of cops tarnish a hard-working individual so that they can take his life savings. Where is her independent judgment?  How does she sleep comfortably trying to deprive a guy like Russ Caswell who worked hard all his life, saved for his future and never had one iota of criminal involvement of his life of his property when 1 out of 14,000 room rentals involved drug activity.

To defend himself Caswell already spent $100,000 dollars. Had not attorneys from the Institute for Justice intervened and worked for free he would have lost the motel by this time. His inability to fight back would have deprived him of his property without due process of law. This  is certainly not the America I though I lived in where innocent people are being robbed by the cops and prosecutors.

This is our present day America. The DEA cops are seizing properties when their relationship to drug activities are practically non-existent. The DEA cops and local cops want to deprive honest and upright citizens of their valuable property (the property has to be over $50,000 before DEA will try to seize it) by suggesting they should do the job DEA and the cops should be doing.  U.S. Attorney Ortiz lacks the courage to say no to DEA and openly misstates the evidence. A judge had to waste four days of court time listening to this travesty when it never should have reached her courtroom.  The media remains mostly silent in face of one of the biggest heists to occur in this area since the Great Brinks Robbery. It’s all pretty tragic.

11 comments for “The Attempt by US Attorney Carmen Ortiz to Commit A Million Dollar Heist from A Hard Working Guy: Shades of Whitey Bulger

  1. patty
    December 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    Matt,

    Your post reminds me of when the US Attorney’s office stole Bulger’s lottery winnings. Back in 1995, the US Attorney conjured up two CI’s who corroborated each other with respect to very specific facts. The CI’s each said that Bulger didn’t win the lottery legitimately, but paid the real winner exactly $700,000. More specifically, the CI’s said Linskey was paid a total of $2 million in cash to put Weeks and Pat Linskey on the ticket, too. I believe FBI Agent John Gamel was the affiant. Bulger of course didn’t show up to fight Gamel’s perjurious affidavit, so the USA just took the money.
    In about 2001, however, Weeks told the USA it was a legitimate lottery win and not a money laundering scheme. The USA still kept Whitey’s legitimate lottery money, but they gave Weeks his share back (about $1mil). By dropping the forfeiture against Weeks, the USA could pay him a $1 million for his testimony and not even have to disclose the money as an inducement. It all looked good until The Ubiquitous Stevie Davis sued Weeks.

    So who was lying about the legitimacy of Bulger’s lottery winning, Gamel’s two CIs or Weeks?

    Here’s a related appelate opininon in this regards.
    http://www.ca1.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/getopn.pl?OPINION=02-1510.01A

    • mtc9393
      December 5, 2012 at 8:08 pm

      Patty:
      I read the case. I think the Sandra Lynch of the Court of Appeals has the same question as you: “who was lying about the legitimacy of Bulger’s lottery winning.” I’d go with Weeks as the liar. The whole thing seems part of the feds pleading with him to make a deal (we’ll have you as a bystander in the murders, let you lie about the Halloran murder, make sure Judge Stearns doesn’t give you more than five years, give you back your lottery winnings, let you keep your house in New Hampshire and your guns, let you assign the lottery winnings to your wife so no one can attach them, but please, please give us the bodies.)
      It seems to me that has to be the case because rarely would the feds contradict an affidavit based on flipped witness’s statements.
      I don’t see Gamel or whoever it is in the FBI wanting to go after the money of Whitey so much as to come up with phony CIs. I wound’t put it past the FBI but in this case it seems there reason not to believe it. The whole deal with Weeks stinks but it doesn’t seem to bother our dear prosecutor’s office.
      Steve Davis won’t get too much from Weeks since most of it is gone but that won’t stop him from being ubiquitous as the spokesmen for the anti-Whitey civilian corps. One thing can be said about it all is there is enough bad smell in all of this to make everyone sick

  2. Jim
    November 28, 2012 at 10:22 am

    mtc9393,

    hmmmm, you were a prosecutor, correct? I was too. Generally speaking, most law enforcement people are honest, hard working, and just trying to do a job well and serve the public. I’m hoping this is nothing more than a power grab that is overextended by USA Ortiz, and nothing more. Conspiracies, as you suggest by agents and criminals, are thankfully extremely rare. However, I could see the statutory authority being useful. There are certainly motels that cater to prostitution and drug use- $50 for an hour? Maybe a trucker needs the hour on a long drive but I don’t see diesel gas being sold out front. Do you have a cite for the statute? I’m going to have some free time in a few months. I’d like to suggest some amendments.

    Thanks,
    jim

    • mtc9393
      November 28, 2012 at 5:29 pm

      I was a prosecutor for over 20 years as well as a defense counsel before that. I agree with you about most prosecutors and cops. All the guys I knew and worked with fit that category although one or two cops seemed out of step but they were shunned by the others and never lasted long with any of my task forces.

      I’m not sure I’d call anyone in this scenario less than honest. I think some are not doing their jobs as I think they should be done and others are pushing the outer borders of what should be done but no one is what I’d call corrupt. I don’t think Ortiz is right in doing what she did in the Caswell Motel case but she’s not doing it for a corrupt reason, it’s just she apparently doesn’t know how to stand up to cops. I used to work with ADAs like that who did things I would not have done but that was their call.
      I agree with you that lots of motels are used for lots of different purposes. What is so egregious about the Caswell case is the seizure came out of the blue. The cops never told him to clean up the customers or advised him that he had a problem and he did nothing. They just went out an made a grab for his place. Lots of prostitutes use downtown motels and hotels. Remember the poor woman who was killed by the medical student who did business on Craig’s list. I’m sure there is ongoing drug use in most places that rent to transients.

      The forfeiture statute is: 21 USC § 881.

      Thanks for writing.

  3. Jim
    November 27, 2012 at 8:09 am

    What happened at the bench trial, what is the current status of the case, and what happened to the hotel?

    thanks,
    jim

    • mtc9393
      November 27, 2012 at 9:46 am

      Jim:
      The trial ended an week or so ago. The judge took the case under advisement and asked each side to file additional briefs based on the evidence she heard within three weeks. After those are filed she will make a decision. Right now it is in a hold status. When I read your post I realized even if the cops lose, they could win in the long run. They could have all their informants and undercover operatives start setting up their deals at the motel and then bust the people. It made me realize how easy it would be for them to take property from people who had no way to protect themselves like a motel owner. Thanks for asking.

  4. outraged
    November 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    thank you so much for time and attention to this matter. i guess i grew up naive in that i thought the police and people in law enforcement do the right thing most of the time. what really gets me upset was the background check that determined the owner owned the property free and clear. the modern laws are able to take it away from him 1 crime a year does not sound like a crime wave to me. thanks for doing all the background and sharing your point of view. regards,

    • mtc9393
      November 26, 2012 at 9:43 pm

      Hawaii:
      Thanks for telling me about the case. What bothers me most about the case is that if the Caswell Motel was a place where a ton of drug dealing was going on the owner was very willing to work with the police to do something about it. It’s not like they went to him on several occasions and he chased them away. Another thing is no one on the prosecution side seems bothered that this guy who has no criminal involvement is going to lose his life savings.

  5. November 26, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Again, I would refer you to the Series of Installments NO WITNESS = NO CASE that I have posted on nhjustice.net. The issues in that Series are the very same that been raised in the attached concerns..In the matter of NH V Jean E. Allan the State’s Prosecutor Robert Libby did no independent investigation, but relied entirely upon others who, in this case, as the facts have shown, did not have the ideal of due process justice in their hearts or minds…The question is where is the over sight? If a citizen’s properties are stolen, as in my family’s situation, whom do we look to for justice? It is the age old Euripedes question that still has no satisfactory answer. At least in my family’s situation.

  6. Jan
    November 26, 2012 at 9:58 am

    This of course is NOT surprising. I do recall reading about this, possibly around the time of first report but not a peep since as the authorities have apparently squelched the flow of free press.
    Caswell should be rewarded with a brand new grand and majestic HOTEL built on the very spot where said problem motel now sits….built of course with funds awarded him by the Government for their gross criminal activity under the guise of law and order.
    God Bless you Caswell for having to endure this blatant corruption.

    • mtc9393
      November 26, 2012 at 9:28 pm

      Jan:
      I would like to see something like you suggest where the government would be deterred from going after people like Caswell by having to repay him his attorney costs. I am assuming that he will win his case but then again one never knows anymore. It seems the federal courthouse is more and more removed from reality so he probably only has a 50/50 chance. Thanks for commenting.

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