Jewish World Review Nov. 13, 2003 / 18 Mar-Cheshvan 5764
Hunting 'terrorists' in Vegas strip clubs
In our latest episode of continuing adventures with the USA Patriot Act, FBI agents say that they have used the new anti-terrorism law to prosecute a political bribery case centered on the Las Vegas owner of some strip clubs.
What do topless dancers have to do with terrorism, you may ask? Nothing, everyone agrees, unless perhaps you count the violence that some of the ladies inflict on the wallets of their mostly male clientele.
Nevertheless, the FBI now confirms Las Vegas newspaper reports that the agency used the Patriot Act's provisions to subpoena financial information about four local politicians and one local businessman, Michael Galardi, the owner of the topless dance clubs Jaguars in southern Nevada and Cheetah's in Las Vegas and San Diego.
The Patriot Act, passed in the panicky weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, allows the government to peek into the personal affairs of many people, not just suspected terrorists.
That's the part that U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft does not talk much about as he tours the country touting the powers that the Patriot Act has given the federal government to fight terrorism. "We have used these tools to save innocent American lives," Ashcroft told a convention of law officers at the federal courthouse in Las Vegas back in August. "We have used these tools to provide the security that ensures liberty." He neglected to mention how, even as he spoke, Las Vegas FBI agents were using those "tools" to go after the owner of a strip club and the local politicians he allegedly paid off.
It turns out that Section 314 of the Patriot Act allows federal investigators wider leeway in obtaining financial information from stockbrokers, banks and other financial institutions on people "suspected, based on credible evidence, of engaging in terrorist acts or money laundering."
Pay close attention to that last phrase "or money laundering." Ah, what legal power that little word "or" contains. Thanks to that teeny, but mighty, conjunction, the Patriot Act is not just limited to money laundering linked to suspected terrorist acts but to any suspected money laundering at all.
"The Patriot Act was not meant to be just for terrorism," Department of Justice spokesman Mark Corallo told a reporter. Now they tell us. Before the Patriot Act became law, FBI agents needed a subpoena from a grand jury to demand financial records. Under Section 314, agents no longer need trouble themselves with facing a grand jury, which is, after all, made up of only ordinary citizen types. Instead, agents need only certify in a secret documentation of a reasonable suspicion that money laundering is taking place.
Only after the case comes to trial can a judge rule on whether the agents' certification was adequate. If not, the judge can throw out all of the evidence gathered as a result of the bogus certification, according to Justice Department spokesmen.
Which leads to the question of why the normal subpoena process is such a bother all of a sudden? Since when is it so hard to prosecute public corruption in Las Vegas, a possibility that rivals gambling in Casablanca on most people's shock-o-meters?
The Justice Department spokesman said the American people expect law enforcement officers to use any and all constitutional and legal tools to fight all crime, whether it be terrorism or other types of crime.
Maybe that's so. After all, it is just political corruption and strip joints that we're talking about here and not the sort of people for whom, say, the Moral Majority would go to bat.
Most anti-abortion groups probably felt that way about the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) law, until pro-abortion rights groups persuaded the federal government to use it against aggressive protesters at abortion clinics.
The anti-abortion groups cheered when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that use of the anti-crime law by 8-to-1 last spring in the Scheidler vs. NOW case. Now we shall wait to see how many of those same groups join hands with civil libertarians as the government overreaches with the Patriot Act.
Some members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are expressing reservations about the potential for wretched governmental excesses under the Patriot Act. Fortunately, the law must be renewed in 2005. That gives Congress time to reconsider its 342 pages in a calmer atmosphere than that which followed the 2001 terrorist attacks.
I hope our members of Congress debate wisely. Civil liberties should not be a partisan fight. After all, the privacy you save may be your own.
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