Thursday, January 21, 2016

Carlo Vartinelli, Esq.? First degree sex offender coaches Joe Gentz

Joe Gentz told the cops that Bob Bashara hired him to kill Bob’s wife, Jane, for $2,000 and a used Cadillac in January 2012.
Now, Gentz has recanted the statements that led to Bashara’s conviction in 2014 for first-degree murder.  Just before Bashara’s trial, Gentz announced he would not testify against Bashara, and word came down that Gentz was coached by fellow inmates to hold out for a better deal from prosecutors, who refused to play his game.
We now have a pretty good idea who the leader of that troupe of jailhouse lawyers was; Carlo Vartinelli, who was convicted in 1992 of first-degree sexual conduct and sentenced to life in Houghton County.
The Oakland Press has the most complete story about a recent affidavit from Gentz in which he recants the element of his confession in which he claimed Bashara forced him to murder Jane at gunpoint, a story Gentz told several people, including his family in the days after the murder.
It appears Vartinelli has ridden shotgun through all of Gentz’s antics since Gentz was committed to the state prison system in 2013 for second-degree murder.
From the Oakland Press story:
“In his motion, [Bashara’s appellate lawyer Ronald] Ambrose states he received word of the new version Gentz was offering through a private investigator who obtained it from Carlo Vartinelli, a prisoner serving a life sentence for a criminal sexual conduct conviction out of Houghton County.
Online court records show Vartinelli, 57, is somewhat of a jailhouse lawyer, having filed numerous on various issues in federal court. He was the one who compiled the affidavit with Gentz, according to court records after having several conversations, documents show.”
You can read one of those filings here, to get a picture of how Vartinelli works. 

In it, he speaks of the MDOC’s “torturous” conduct regarding his many physical ailments. I’m no defender of MDOC – far from it – but this should give you an idea of the brain trust that is driving today’s news.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Canned Albuquerque cops records manager denied Juggalo records to public – was he ordered to do so by top brass?

 The guy who artfully halted a public records request for documents related to the Albuquerque Police Department’s surveillance of Juggalos now says he was instructed to find ways to block such requests by his superior officers.
The department also has an opening for a public records manager
As part of the upcoming book on Juggalos, I sought open records from a number of police departments around the U.S. to find out what they were looking for and what kind of communications they had both before and after Juggalos were deemed a gang in the FBI’s bi-annual Gang Threat AssessmentReport in 2011.
One of the departments queried was the Albuquerque PD, which has had massive troubles regarding conduct and is now under federal oversight.
Reynaldo Chavez, the department’s records custodian and point man for public records, immediately asked for $250 to even continue to process my request. “When all is said and done that amount will likely be much higher,” he wrote to me.
We call this a creative denial, which is when a public body attempts to prevent a requestor from moving forward. This often indicates there are some records involved that the body does not want to make public but, if pressed, would be forced to.
I called Chavez to discuss this fee but he told me that that he was not permitted to discuss requests. I sent him an email advising him that I considered the $250 up front and his warning of "much higher" costs to be tantamount to a denial. 
“You should also be advised, this is not a denial as you so eloquently state since you are being offered responsive documents,” Chavez said. “So this is an incorrect statement on your part...."
He also claimed he "did not say I was not permitted to discuss [records requests] so again you are incorrect…”
Of course he said it and was now backpedalling We never got the records because it would be foolish to keep sending money to a department with an already-dubious record for truth. After the first $250, Chavez could easily have come back with a $1,000 bill.
Chavez was fired on August 24 and now claims he was ordered by his superiors to concoct a means to deny public records requests. Now whom do we believe? Chavez was abrupt and confrontational in dealing with me, the public. So it’s pretty hard to root for him in this, or even believe him. Was he just carrying out orders when he made his cloaked denial?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Prison: “Everyone thinks of escaping; they just won’t admit it”

Sarah Pender, right. 
The two convicted murderers who escaped from a New York state prison last week are running around freaking everyone out. Stories of fearful residents in areas all over the state are blowing up.
Chances are pretty good they’ll be caught in short order.
Why? They’re male, to start with.
Every so often we hear of an escaped convict who made the break only to be found years later, living a peaceful life as an upstanding member of a community, usually far away from the prison.
Most of the time – not all of course – they’re female.  People don’t seem to fall apart when it’s a female escapee.  In a CNN splash on the escape, the news group pronounces a dozen top manhunts. All are male.
This list of five crazy-ass escapes from 2013 is pretty funny; all are male escapees.
Think of Sarah Pender, the convicted murderer who broke out of an Indiana prison in 2008. She stayed gone for 136 days, befuddling everyone. In the book Girl, Wanted: The Chase for Sarah Pender, I outline how she eluded the cops and how she spent her four months of freedom.
She did in best by blending in. She found a guy who would help her out but the couple cavorted in casinos, ate in restaurants, and she worked a job as a bookkeeper for a Chicago construction firm.
This, despite the fact that she was on American’s Most Wanted several times.
“Everyone thinks of escaping; they just won’t admit it.”
Pender told that to a TV crew in 2009, not long after she was captured after spending 136 days on the run.
Of course. Who doesn’t want to escape from prison?
It’s a little easier than anyone wants to admit. Pender was trading sex to a guard, Scott Spitler, who provided her with some civilian clothes, a cell phone with which to coordinate her break and, as a parting gift, drove her through the gates in the back of a prison van.
Spitler got eight years in 2009 for assisting. He served in county jail, an easier place to deal with.  The authorities claimed it was for his protection.
From the book, Girl Wanted:
Sarah Pender had outwitted an entire prison system that is designed to avoid exactly such flights and had done so with a plan so simple, yet flawless, that it took two hours for prison staffers to determine that she was gone. The usual head count at 4 p.m. showed one prisoner short. As according to policy, a second count was done and again showed one inmate short.
At that point, all inmates were ordered back to their dorms for a one-by-one count. It was a top bunk along the south side that was empty in one dormitory: Sarah Pender was gone.

And the caper also had serendipity all over it. Sarah walked past an unmanned security checkpoint. New security cameras were slated to be installed the week after her brazen walkout, cameras that might have caught her in the act. The gate allowing her to meet Spitler was open. The guard at the gate leaving the prison failed to conduct a search of the van in which she was hiding, allowing her to leave the facility grounds. It was a festival of incompetence and corruption, and Sarah was both the leader and beneficiary of the fiasco.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

It's on - again. Juggalos vs. the Feds, Appellate mix

By now you know whose side you’re on. 
The court's spellcheck is apparently not working
On June 18, lawyers for the Insane Clown Posse will argue that the Justice Department violated the band’s free speech and due process rights – and those of its fans - after a 2011 FBI report determined those fans, “Juggalos,” are a gang.
Appellate arguments are scheduled in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.  Each side gets 15 minutes. It’s one more legal stop in the case of the Juggalos vs. the Feds, a case that was filed in January 2014.
A federal judge in June 2014 ruled that the plaintiffs - ICP and four of its fans - did not prove harm in their arguments in the original case.  They alleged the report led to targeting by police for wearing hatchetman or ICP-related jewelry, clothing and tattoos.
U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland said the U.S. Justice Department is not responsible for how authorities use the bi-annual national report on gangs.
The report "does not recommend any particular course of action for local law enforcement to follow, and instead operates as a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, assessment of nationwide gang trends," Cleland said in his ruling.
The FBI alleged in its 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment that Juggalos “exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence.”
The inclusion of Juggalos in the report was based in large part on news clippings sent to the FBI by various, mostly small town law enforcement agencies responding to an email from bureau employee.
Read how it went down in this High Times piece.
The gang designation led to articles in police publications such as this one titled, “Three things cops need to know about Juggalos.”
From the July 2014 article at Their philosophy and dress is derived from the Insane Clown Posse and Psychopathic records “Dark Carnival” from a set of 6 albums. Law enforcement professionals should be aware that this group routinely attracts members who come from difficult lives filled with trauma, parental neglect and, in many cases, serious mental disorders. 
This combination makes them easily manipulated by their leadership of radical organizations such as the Juggalos who have for the past several decades used these groups as recruiting centers.
Dale Yeager of Seraph — a Department of Justice Criminal Behavior Analyst on the Juggalos — said, “As various extreme environmental, animal rights and anti-globalization groups become emboldened by increased funding from NGOs and leftist political action committees, the use of youth movements such as Juggalos for recruitment of members will increase. 
In a legal brief filed in February on behalf of ICP, lawyers allege that the Department of Justice “maintains a digital warehouse containing Juggalo data that – by Congressional design – plays a leading role in law enforcement’s identification of gang members. The warehouse includes an encyclopedia of gang images and a database of materials cataloging distinctive First Amendment-protected Juggalo symbols such as the hatchetman logo and other ICP-related symbols and other information about these music fans. “
It goes on:
“Within these materials, the DOJ does not provide any way for law enforcement to distinguish the vast majority of law-abiding Juggalos from the purported “subsets” of gang members. Now, the DOJ suggests only a circular definition that the good Juggalos are the ones who don’t commit gang-related crimes.”
Read the plaintiff’s brief here.  
The Department of Justice hammers at what it claims is a failure to prove injury on the part of ICP and the four Juggalos, The DOJ insists that the gang report does not designate Juggalos as a gang. Instead, “the Report provides information on trends in gang activity, as reported to [the gang intelligence center] by other law enforcement entities. “
Read the government’s brief here.
Some say it comes down to the way the law is set up. The Feds can declare any group a gang. There is no established way to directly challenge such a designation. That leaves something blandly called the Administrative Procedures Act, which must be named so in order to get us to fall asleep before we can do anything.
But ICP is using that to challenge the FBI. And the Feds claim that the – wait for it – Administrative Procedures Act requires some sort of conclusion. That is, it has to be etched in stone that the Juggalos are forever a gang. And the FBI report didn’t do that for anyone, not the Crips, not the Bloods, not the Juggalos, insists the DOJ. It makes it a legal chore to dispute when the FBI says you’re a banger.
“Even if you have the money, the law is set up to make it difficult to undo either a state or a federal authority calling your group a gang,” says Alex Alonso, who runs the website and has testified over 50 times in gang-related cases. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Brewery – A Midwest Music Landmark

Dave DiMartino's review of the Stooges, 1974
There’s an excellent story this week in a local  weekly in Michigan about a club that hosted some of the best bands of the 70s. While that sounds like classic rock Hell, wait a second.  Iggy and the Stooges, Captain Beefheart, Bloodrock, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, pre-fame Aerosmith and Kiss, post-fame T.Rex and Big Star all raged at a place called the Brewery in Lansing, Michigan.
From the story: “Tuesday night was tequila night, 25-cent shots. People were shitfaced drunk,” recalled [co-owner Rick] Becker. “I shouldn’t say everyone, most people kept their acts together. But three quarters of the people in there couldn’t legally drive and they didn’t.”
“It is reasonable to say that the City of Lansing has had more than its share of problems at the location of the Brewery,” reads a letter written in July 1974 to the city council by Gerald Graves, who was then mayor of the small town.  He included a list of complaints at the Brewery between 1972 and that date.
In 1972 it numbered 64, in 1973 it hit 96. By mid-74, it was at 29.
Rock and roll and crime. Yes, there’s a big dose of stupid in there. But at least it’s a loud stupid.
This was when there were no decibel meters and no bored cops looking to beef up their quotas and city coffers with drunk driving stops. People smoked. The whole place was built on reckless freedom, and is there any better kind?
Still more from the story: Forty years later, it’s easy to recognize the significance of the Brewery and what occurred on its 50-foot stage, but at the time many of the bands were still on the verge of breaking. The venue saw early gigs from Aerosmith, Rush, Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton and a beardless ZZ Top, to only name a few.
When a still-budding KISS played the Brewery on Oct. 21, 1974, State News reviewer Kevin Carver complemented the band for its “excellent” showmanship but wasn’t impressed with the “unnecessary spitting and drooling of ‘blood’ by bass guitarist Gene Simmons.”
When the Stooges played there, the student newspaper at nearby Michigan State University, the State News, ran photos that had the professors wondering what was going on. I remember my dad, who was a journalism professor at MSU, bringing home the issue and opening it up and wishing that I was old enough to enter the doors and see the Stooges play. Three weeks later, they’d do their last show ever at the Michigan Palace.
When Dave DiMartino reviewed Aerosmith’s show, he displayed why he would go on to become a star rock critic: “There is an air of stardom about this band, one that cannot go unnoticed for long. Given a little time, this relatively young band will probably make it in a very big way.”
The place turned into the Silver Dollar Saloon, as noted in the story, and hosted more stars; I saw the Tubes on their first U.S. tour in the fall of 1975. Rush came along a couple weeks later, making their 4th or 5th stop. Patti Smith played there in the spring of 1976 on her first U.S. tour, which is when the place began winding down.
The story has a great kicker:  
“Every major town has some place that was amazing in its time,” [State News reporter Jack] Bodnar said. “Over the course of decades, you realize it was the pinnacle. There were a lot of places that delivered music, but the Brewery was totally unique, as far as the groups that came through and the vibe. It was probably the greatest bar that’s ever been in East Lansing or Lansing.”

An understatement to be sure. Many towns had them, these little local joints where even big-label bands played, back when rock and roll was still the people’s music.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Bashara pushes appeal forward, sends email insisting he is innocent

I received another email from Bob Bashara this week, the fourth since he was sentenced to life in prison in January.
He continues to maintain his innocence and notes that he has filed some motions that he hopes will bring what he insists is truth to the situation.
In a previous email I asked him about the 472 phone calls between he and Joe Gentz, the man who confessed to killing Jane Bashara.  The calls took place, according to testimony, between August 2011 through January 2012.
Bashara says that almost 70 percent of those calls were under 25 to 35 seconds, which would indicate there was no connection made.
According to Stan Brue, the federal agent who analyzed the phone records for the prosecution, the calls originated with Gentz two-thirds of the time through December 2011. In January, Bashara made 67 calls to Gentz as opposed to 32 from Gentz to Bashara.  Jane was murdered January 24, 2012.
His appeal is moving through the system and it will take a long time.
The trial transcripts are trickling in, including the 40 days of trial. The analysis of them will be part of the work of Ronald Ambrose, who is Bashara’s appellate lawyer. 
"I will never, ever stop fighting for justice and the truth, until my hands are raw, blood comes from eyes and I take my last breath, " Bashara said at his sentencing hearing in January, when he received a mandatory life sentence for first-degree murder.
I’ve also talked on the phone with Gentz, who told me of his life as something of a wanderer. He said he worked as a civilian for the military for a while and as an AB, which is an able-bodied seaman in the Merchant Marines. As you can imagine, there's more to it than that. 
The book, Murder in Grosse Pointe Park: Privilege, Adultery and the Killing of Jane Bashara (Penguin/Berkley), is scheduled for a fall release.

Friday, February 13, 2015

BDSM community and the release of 50 Shades adaptation in the wake of Bashara

Film version of book release 2.13.15
The Detroit Free Press today has an excellent tie-in to the release of the film version of the book 50 Shades of Grey, which is charting at number two in Amazon's contemporary romance category this morning.
“Every time Grey's character took a hand or a belt to Steele's backside or bound her wrists, I thought about how he could be a Bashara in training — a younger, far more attractive version of the Grosse Pointe Park businessman sentenced to life in prison for hiring a hitman to kill his wife in 2012 because he wanted to live out his sadomasochistic fantasies unencumbered,” writes columnist Kristen Jordan Shamus.
As I worked on the upcoming book, Murder in Grosse Pointe Park: Adultery, Privilege, and the Killing of Jane Bashara (Penguin/Berkley, fall 2015), I spoke with numerous people tied to the lifestyle in and around Detroit’s BDSM and alternative lifestyle scene. All were critical of the way the lifestyle was used by the state as a motivation to murder. 
“Bob’s case put the lifestyle in an unfortunate light,” Rick Falcinelli, a longtime member of the scene, told me in January after he completed his testimony in Bashara’s two-month long trial. He said critics of the lifestyle are “going to get another boost…in February with the misinterpretations of a movie version of 50 Shades of Grey.”
“Ever since the book came out, we’ve been laughing," Falcinelli says. "It misrepresents the way people behave. The book is written for entertainment, not reality, and they write it to play to stereotype.”
Among the poorly portrayed elements is the main character, a wealthy guy named Christian Grey, who woos the lead female character.
“The book does not explain the mindset and motivation for” getting into the lifestyle, Falcinelli says.
Mindset and motivation for checking out the alternative lifestyle is explored in the Bashara book, which is slated for a September release. Why spoil the surprise?
The prosecution based much of its case on Bashara’s participation in the BDSM scene and his hopes to start a new life with his BDSM partner, Rachel Gillett. To do so with freedom, prosecutors said, he killed Jane, his wife of 26 years.