01/19/14 Sarah Saldano

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

US Atty Sarah Saldano speaks to Texas Drug Policy Conf unaware of deal with Sinaloa cartel + Doug McVay re ineffective drug testing of children

Share on Facebook Share on stumbleupon digg it Share on reddit Share on del.icio.us

Transcript Cultural Baggage

Transcript

Cultural Baggage / January 19, 2014

-----------------------

Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.

-----------------------

DEAN BECKER: I just returned from a 2 day conference in Dallas, the Texas Drug Policy conferenced, headed up by Joy Strickland of Mothers Against Teen Violence. We have room for just one speaker.

-----------------------

JOY STRICKLAND: Our next topic is the New Sentencing Guidelines and Sarah Saldano, the District Attorney for Northern Texas, is coming here to tell us everything that she knows about it and hopefully educate us so we’re further along. She is also recipient of several meritorious awards and has most recently been names Latino Attorney of the Year at the Hispanic National Bar at their 30t h annual convention. In September of 2011 Miss Saldano became Texas’s first Latino chief prosecutor.

Can we please give her a warm welcome.

[audience applauds]

SARAH SALDANO: Thank you very much. Thanks for the invitation to be here.

I feel a little bit like you all didn’t realize who you were inviting here. I am the person who puts people in prison. You understand that? I am a prosecutor. I’m not the District Attorney. Craig Watkins would have something to say about that. I’m the United States Attorney.

That’s very common that people say that but that’s a good analogy because what Craig does for the district and the county I do for the United States of America in the 100 counties in north Texas.

I am the chief law enforcement officer for the federal authorities in northern Texas. We cover 100 counties, 97,000 square miles. We go all the way up to the panhandle. We are based in Dallas and have offices in Fort Worth, St. Angelo, Lubbock, Amarillo, Apalee.

As I said, we enforce the laws of the United States. I caught a couple of the other presentations and I got a say a couple things because I typically like to either begin or end my comments with a tip of the hat to law enforcement and you can understand why but I know you all were using examples where law enforcement goes south. One of the things we do at the United States Attorney office is we have a public corruption section who deals with bad cops whether they’re violating the people’s fourth amendment rights or they have their hand in the till our office is involved in that.

I don’t know how many of you all know and have spoken at length with law enforcement officers but I am deeply indebted and grateful to them for keeping my family and myself safe. You have a law enforcement officer who does work. I’m just a pretty face. I don’t do anything and some people have question about that.

My boss is the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder.

[audience applauds]

He’s an extraordinary individual. I am so proud to serve this administration in my little job here in north Texas. There are 93 U.S. Attorneys across the country and, as I said, we enforce the federal laws – not the state laws. We enforce the federal laws of the United States.

We represent the United States in whenever the United States is sued in civil court. We represent the United States in enforcing the criminal laws. I gather that’s where the connection is here.

The Attorney General in August announced – it was before the American Bar Association, maybe in Chicago – and he calls it “smart on crime.” I hate to tell you this because I would love to tell you there was a noble purpose that instigated this but really the driving force besides the Attorney General’s strong feelings about having appropriate charges and sentences that are tailored to an individual is the explosion in the prisons of the United States.

The Department of Justice is huge – lots of different agencies within it. One of the agencies in the department is the Bureau of Prisons. One-third of our multi-billion dollar budget is taken up by the prisons of the United States. They are filled and overflowing.

He is our chief policy maker within the Department of Justice and he has sat and decided what is it that we can do to alleviate that situation while, at the same time, addressing these concerns about appropriate charges and sentences tailored for the individual. That’s where this “smart on crime” initiative came up.

I served on one of the Attorney General’s task forces to undertake this measure. The idea is there are just (I don’t know if you’ve heard) very few federal dollars and what are we going to spending our money on or our we going to try to address crime prevention because that’s part of the justice system and recidivism which is on the other side when people get out of prison.

He has asked us to focus also on prevention measures. My sense is this Attorney General feels the same way. He’s very concerned about disparate impact of our criminal laws – why it is that we have such heavy representation of Hispanics and African-Americans in prisons.

Is it because they are meaner, uglier people than the rest of us or is it because somehow there is a targeting there that is happening whether overtly, intentionally, purposefully or not. That’s the question that he keeps asking.

He’s also very concerned about, as I said earlier, pairing a just punishment for the crime. As I mentioned, too, our focus in the department is on four groups...four things. What’s the first one do you think?

[inaudible response from audience]

Interesting. I don’t know that this is in the order of priority – I shouldn’t even say that – but the way I always recall it is the protection of the most vulnerable which includes child porn, child exploitation...is a very big emphasis in my office.

The second one is terrorism, intelligence gathering and making sure that any of these threats out there are addressed.

The third one is financial crime – you know, how did the house come down in 2009, 2008 in the financial area? Who’s cheating the health care area? Why do we have billions of dollars being taking out of the pockets of the deserving and the needy and being put into fraudster’s pockets?

The last area being violent crime. That includes drug emphasis. Now let me say something about this. We do not make laws at the United States Attorney’s office. For that matter the Attorney General of the United States doesn’t make laws. I think you all have addressed this already and talked about the fact that the legislatures in the states and, in our case, the United States congress and the Senate and the House of Representatives are the ones that make laws.

We do enforce them but the Attorney General can prioritize matters and that’s why he’s given us those four priorities which I have already put up here. Let me talk about what you all are most interested in and that is sentencing reform and criminal justice reform.

We have all been instructed to...these are the terms of this Attorney General. Before the standard that we were guided by, the general principle that we were guided by was convict and charge people with the most serious, readily, provable offense and put them away for as long as you can. That was the overarching principle.

This Attorney General says, “We’re going to have those four priorities (that I mentioned earlier) and as we’re going about our business with those priorities we’re going to look at each individual defendant as a human being and we’re going to look at criminal history, violence involved in the crime, heinousness of the offense, whether it is part of organized activity or just an individual. All of these factors will weigh into our decision making.”

So he has made that part of our policy. I mentioned up here that very real issue is there isn’t going to be any place to put these folks. I mean, I’d love to say it’s a very lofty goal but...I mean a lofty reason that we’re doing this but a good part of it is there is no money and no place to put these people anymore so we need to focus on the priorities that the Attorney General has set.

-----------------------

DEAN BECKER: Wanted to update you. You are listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. We are tuning in to yesterday’s Drug Policy Conference up in Dallas. The speaker is the honorable Sarah Saldano. She’s the U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Texas.

-----------------------

SARAH SALDANO: In connection in the drug area we are looking at individuals who commit low-level offenses and non-violent offenses with no ties to criminal organized activity. Those people are going to be put in a separate category from the rest. When you are making a decision on charging let’s say 60 people in a drug conspiracy if you have a low-level offender down here in the federal system we’re not going to be charging those folks.

So that’s a revised policy that’s taken place and what we have been told and instructed to do is reserve the most severe penalties for those at high-level, serious and violent drug traffickers.

The Attorney General did call for reform of mandatory-minimums. You all know what that is. That is a specified quantity of drug...there’s almost a table – actually, there is a table – equals that many years in prison. Mandated – there’s no discretion on the part of the prosecutor, there’s no discretion on the part of the judge. Once you are convicted of X you get Y according to the table.

The Attorney General can’t change that law but he has asked members of congress and leaders in the congress to do something about that so, hopefully, maybe they’ll listen.

With respect to sentencing reform two issues here. The Attorney General is looking to early release certain offenders – those who have been around who are older Americans who may be due another 10/15 years in prison it does no good to have an 80-year-old person in prison. So early release of those offenders and people with disabilities and severe medical problems for whom it’s doing the United States no good to have them locked up in a prison.

[audience applauds]

We’ve been charged the responsibility of understanding that we’re not going to...I think the Attorney General’s words were, “We’re not going to...incarceration is not going to be the answer to our crime problem.”

And mind you we’re not a social service agency. We don’t get money for that. We get money for putting people in prison. The question is how can the Attorney General help with respect to the criminal justice system and what is it that he can do.

He’s asked us all to consider alternative punishments – pre-trial diversion which I have done on many occasions when I was acting as a prosecutor. That is you see someone who is a non-violent, low-level offender and rather than charge them with a crime you make them sign an agreement that says, “for 18 months I will not break any law of the United States.”

If they keep that promise there is no record that they have on their conviction record. If they break that promise they automatically...within the agreement they say, “I agree to plead guilty to the crime that I was charged with.”

It is a win-win for both sides. I got to say we work with the probation office to try to identify these people and we do a pretty good job of it because many of them we don’t see again.

We have worked with the chief judge in the United States. I love my job because we are within the federal system and it is a very civilized system as far as I’m concerned. We have federal judges who are very thoughtful individuals, very earnest people. We have a United States probation office that is second to none as far as I’m concerned.

The three of us work together – the courts, the probation office and the U.S. Attorney’s office – to look at reentry. As a prisoner is being sent to be released what is it that those three entities - the judge, the probation office and our office – can do to facilitate their entry back into normal life.

We don’t have loads of money to do this but when we do do it and it’s through the probation office identifying the suitable candidates we do try to get them into employment where the employer has stated (and we’ve cultivated some relationships) that a felony conviction is not a bar to their employment in their facility.

And help them with housing...the basic reasons there is recidivism is because there’s no support system when somebody gets out of prison. It’s very easy to go back into the same cycle of criminal activity that they were in before.

How is this office that covers 100 counties in north Texas impacted by the “smart on crime” initiative by the Attorney General? Not so much and let me tell you why.

I have 20 million dollars in our budget to cover crime in the north Texas area. That may sound like a lot to you but it is not. We have 100 prosecutors. We have already went down this road. We made a decision in our own office that we’re only going to prosecute the most serious offenses and we don’t deal with low-level criminals.

We actually deal with the organized crime, the drug cartels and violent offenders – people who kill over drugs. The Zetas and La Familia are 2 big organizations that we’ve dealt with and have had actually several hundred convictions. I think that we have broken up the La Familia drug organization completely. The Zetas are another matter. They seem to have splintered into other activities.

You all were talking about drugs and legalizing drugs. Everybody is entitled to their opinion about that but if you ever Google....some of the stuff you find on the internet is incredible. People under the influence of meth - which is very dangerous drug – it is a very dangerous drug....Let me repeat that. It is a very dangerous drug.

She says we give it to our children every day. Let me repeat. It is a very dangerous drug. It doesn’t matter whether we give it to our children. It is a very dangerous drug.

I think you all have seen a lot of coverage of what do we do about whether our kids are being over-medicated. So meth is a big issue in north Texas. It’s a very difficult area to deal with and we’ve spent a lot of dollars and money in connection with meth enforcement.

Heroin, too...I have spoken at several places where we talk about heroin addiction and there is a picture that I didn’t bring with me today but it is a tremendous contrast. There was this young, beautiful woman who came from a very wealthy family who was a student at SMU which is the school that I went to. Her family spent a fortune on a portrait of her – you know, with these fancy photographers – beautiful, long, gorgeous hair. I put that slide (she was a heroin addict) next to the slide where she spent her last breathe and that is a slide of her curled up in a ball, wrapped up in a carpet after he drug trafficker (because she died of heroin overdose in his apartment) rolled her up in a carpet and threw her in a skittle can at a construction site.

It is horrible and I say this only because I feel so strongly about getting the people who do this...this was a young, 21-year-old girl student at SMU, with such high disregard for human life that it is horrible. I feel very strongly about it and I think about that woman many, many times.

Marijuana we’ve talked about. As I’ve said we do not focus on marijuana use nor do we focus on marijuana abuse. We focus on the trafficking and the violence related to this area.

This gives you an idea of why I said earlier that this “smart on crime” issue has not really impacted our office that much. As a general rule we don’t mess with low-level offenders or with young ones. Less of the 5% of the defenders prosecuted last year were under the age of 21. These distributors that were targeted were selling drugs to customers that were under 21.

We don’t deal with juveniles in the United States Attorney’s office. There is a juvenile court in the state for that. Many of our sentences ranges anywhere from a couple of years to as much as 40 years and in case of violence and death and murder sometimes life sentences.

So, that’s information about the Attorney General’s program and I’m open to questions.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I noticed that you mentioned the Zetas and La Familia but you neglected to mention anything about the Sinaloa cartel. Given the recent revelation that the U.S. Attorney Department of Justice had negotiated with them to receive other information on other cartels – pretty much giving them carte blanche for providing up to 80% of the cocaine that enters through Chicago – how do you justify making those kinds of negotiations. What information can they provide to you in exchange for allowing 80% of the cocaine to come into this country from them?

SARAH SALDANO: I don’t know where you get your facts from. I don’t know the facts that you are talking about so I can’t respond to those facts. I can respond to the general proposition that we deal with nasty, ugly, dirty people every day who have information about nastier, uglier and dirtier people. Those are occasions in which we do negotiate with them and we do plea bargain and we do afford people the opportunity to reduce their sentences if they cooperate with the United States.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: [inaudible]

SARAH SALDANO: Why are you so angry with me?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Because I’m upset with the fact that the U.S. Attorney Office and the Department of Justice puts United States citizens in prison and negotiates with other countries to bring drugs into our country and ...

SARAH SALDANO: They don’t negotiate to bring drugs into our country. I will take issue with you...

AUDIENCE MEMBER: This was absolutely, 100% ...

SARAH SALDANO: By whom?

DEAN BECKER: The Houston Chronicle had it...

SARAH SALDANO: Oh, the newspaper. I hate to tell you this but don’t read everything you see in the newspaper.

-----------------------

DEAN BECKER: Again, that was the honorable Sarah Saldano, United States Attorney, northern district of Texas. Despite her warnings I had already read the Houston Chronicle. Here’s what they had to say:

“An investigation by El Universal has found that between the years 2000 and 2012, the U.S. government had an arrangement with Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel that allowed the organization to smuggle billions of dollars of drugs in exchange for information on rival cartels.

Sinaloa, led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, supplies 80% of the drugs entering the Chicago area and has a presence in cities across the U.S.

There have long been allegations that Guzman, considered to be "the world’s most powerful drug trafficker," coordinates with American authorities.”

...

“El Universal, citing court documents, reports that DEA agents met with high-level Sinaloa officials more than 50 times since 2000.”

...

"The DEA agents met with members of the cartel in Mexico to obtain information about their rivals and simultaneously built a network of informants who sign drug cooperation agreements, subject to results, to enable them to obtain future benefits, including cancellation of charges in the U.S.”

...

"The agents stated that this arrangement had been approved by high-ranking officials and federal prosecutors,"

...

The report ends by saying, “The report ends by saying that it is unclear whether the arrangements continue.

The DEA declined to comment to El Universal.”

-----------------------

(Game show music)

DEAN BECKER: It’s time to play: Name That Drug by Its Side Effects.

Responsible for countless overdose deaths, uncounted diseases, international graft, greed and corruption, stilled science and events, unchristian moral postulations of fiction as fact.

(Gong)

Time’s up!

The answer: and this Drug is the United States’ immoral, improper, bigoted, unscientific and plain F-ing evil addiction to Drug War.

All approved by the FDA, absolved by that American Medical Association and persecuted by Congress and the cops and in abeyance to the needs of the bankers, the pharmaceutical houses and the international drug cartels.

$550 billion a year can be very addicting.

-----------------------

DOUG McVAY: Student drug testing is ineffective, according to new research published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The article, by Professors Sharon Sznitman and Daniel Romer, is titled Student Drug Testing and Positive School Climates: Testing the Relation Between Two School Characteristics and Drug Use Behavior in a Longitudinal Study and is available in full for free from the journal's website.

According to the article, quote: Despite potential negative unintended consequences, lack of clear research support for the practice, and repeated opposition from public health, education, and civil liberty groups, schools continue to be encouraged to implement [Student Drug Testing, or] SDT, and by 2006, 20% of U.S. high schools had done so. Terry-McElrath et al. estimated that at least 28% of high school students are currently exposed to SDT. This state of affairs is surprising because other whole- school approaches, such as creating a more positive antidrug school climate, appear to have more support in research . End quote.

The researchers found, quote: The current research reinforces previous conclusions that SDT is a relatively ineffective drug-prevention policy . On the other hand, interventions that improve school climate may have greater efficacy. Indeed, whole school health promotion efforts and interventions that work with students, teachers, and parents to develop positive school staff/student relationships and promote students security have been found to reduce substance use. Certainly, schools are important as social and learning environments affecting not only academic achievement but also health behaviors. Young people whose relationships with their fellow students and teachers lack respect are more likely to initiate and escalate use of drugs, as evidenced in this and other studies and to be subject to other mental health problems. Therefore, the potential consequences of poor school climates for young peoples health are far reaching and deserving of attention. End quote.

Positive school climate means more than pep rallies and a winning football team. According to the paper, quote: School climate can be measured in various ways, but social relations among students, teachers, and administrators have consistently been a focus of investigation. Studies from the United States have found that school connectedness, which includes indicators such as feeling close to others at school and teachers caring about students, is associated with lower levels of tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol use. Similarly, international studies have found that smoking and drinking are positively associated with school alienation and negatively associated with school satisfaction and positive school perceptions of the school psychological environment. The mechanism underlying the protective effects of school climate on adolescent substance use follows from social control theory, which predicts that students who are attached to schools refrain from substance use behaviors because they internalize the pro-social expectations and norms encouraged by schools . Building on this framework, research has found that high schools that treat students with respect and that explain and enforce drug use policies are more likely to encourage healthy norms of behavior (including reduced substance use) than schools that focus on control of behavior without respect for student needs and perspectives . End quote.

So drug testing was not only less effective, it could be a contributing factor to school alienation and thus, perversely, to student drug use. Learn more about unintended consequences at my website, Drug War Facts dot org. For the drug truth network, this is Doug McVay with Common Sense for Drug Policy and Drug War Facts.

This has been a production of the Drug Truth Network, online at drug truth dot net.

-----------------------

DEAN BECKER: All I can say is if you still believe in drug war you are a dang fool.

As always I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.

-----------------------

DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT Houston.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org