Monday, February 22, 2010


Part I—Gang Investigations

Interview: Brian Parry
Consultant, FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center

My friend Brian Parry is currently a consultant  with the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center in Washington D.C.; and serves on the Executive Leadership Counsel—National Major Gang Task Force, providing direction and assistance to informational gang task forces representing fifty states, Canada and Puerto Rico.  Brian retired as Assistant Director of the California Department of Corrections in 2002, after thirty years of service. During his tenure at CDC, he supervised over one hundred staff members in eight field office and gang investigators in thirty-three prisons. These special agents handled investigations of parole violators, gang members, narcotics trafficking and apprehended fugitives. In addition, these agents conducted threat assessments, investigated officer-involved shootings, provided executive protection, and staffed the department’s criminal intelligence unit. Brian worked his way up the ranks of CDC, starting as a parole agent on the streets of Southern California. He brings a lifetime of experience to bear upon criminal prison gang investigations.

Gang violence has been the staple of many television shows, movies and novels over the years. One has only to pick up today’s newspaper or click on today’s news show to see some form of gang activity surfacing in our cities. Killings, robberies, drug rips. As a nation, we’ve almost grown to accept this gang epidemic as the cost of living here—unless you happen to live in one of the neighborhoods plagued by these thugs, become a victim of their violence, or become one of those on the thin blue line trying to protect us from them.

This will be the first of a two-part interview. Today we will focus on the challenges faced by law enforcement on the national and international level pertaining to prison gangs and criminal street gangs, and the transmigration of these organizations across our national borders. Since the early 1990s, when law enforcement began ejecting known gang members  illegally in the U.S. back to their native countries, a crisis began developing which has spread across national borders. These gang members  who acquired their criminal skills on the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York learned to cross national borders with their expertise and language skill. They are returning in growing numbers, bringing their drugs, human trafficking victims, and violence back to our cities.

Part II of this interview will focus on state and regional issues pertaining to prison gangs, and their affect on our communities.

Brian, it is a pleasure to have you visit us here today and provide us with insight into a growing national and international problem—transmigration of criminal gangs between nations. 

Q:  Many of our readers are writers and readers of mystery crime fiction. This fiction, however, is often based upon real life situations within our society, events we read or listen to on the news. With that in mind, what do you see as one of the most pressing issues regarding prison and street gangs on the national level?

PARRY: There are a couple of very pressing issues on the national level. The first one being the increased level of violence by gangs. The violence is fueled by the transportation and selling of drugs. The profits from drug sales is contributing to the increased competition and control of drugs in this country. Gangs and drugs go hand in hand. The second issue is gang migration. A number of prison systems are dominated by gangs from Los Angeles and Chicago. They in turn control street gangs. The third is the street gang imitation of Los Angeles based gangs. The Sureno gangs have proliferated across the country. Most of them are not from Los Angeles but are imitating the LA gangs.

Q: Tell us a about the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC). What is its purpose? Who is involved? What do they hope to achieve?

PARRY: The NGIC is a multi-agency organization designed to support on- going investigative and prosecution efforts of gangs across the country. The NGIC is run by the FBI but consists of nine federal law enforcement agencies including ATF, DEA, US Marshalls, Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Prison, US Army and others. The NGIC has three components: Intelligence, investigative and prosecution. The basic idea behind the forming of the NGIC was to coordinate and support a national effort to reduce violent gang crime by sharing gang intelligence and by providing investigative and prosecutorial support to agencies.

Q:  What are NGIC’s day-to-day operations like? If I was writing a novel and trying to capture my protagonist in this organization, what might I want to put down on paper?

PARRY: The NGIC is collecting intelligence on the most violent gangs in the country on a daily basis. This information is shared on a need to know basis. There are intelligence analysts assigned to the most violent gangs in the country. They collect intelligence from a number of sources and distribute the information. There are agents assigned to support and de-conflict active investigations. The lawyers provide additional support.

Q:  In your role as a consultant to the FBI’s NGIC, what do you see as challenges faced by this group in terms of prison and criminal street gangs? Other challenges?

PARRY: The challenges are many. There is an overwhelming amount of information about gangs. This information has to be gathered, analyzed and disseminated in a timely manner. There is no one national data base for prison and street gang information. And there are so many different and incompatible data bases in the country it is difficult to share the information electronically. And of course the fear that some intelligence will not be shared or the dots connected in a timely manner in order to prevent a violent act.

Q:  Can you share some of the successes of NGIC? Specific cases?

PARRY: In general terms the NGIC has supported a number of large, complex investigations of gangs that are considered transnational, meaning they operate in several states and in some foreign countries.

Q:  How did this transmigration-of-gangs problem come to be? Is it a global threat?

PARRY: Gang members started migrating to locate new areas for drug markets. Gangs are a global threat. There are outlaw motorcycle gangs operating across the world. There are several gangs operating in Central and South America. There are Asian gangs involved in drug trafficking and in human trafficking throughout the world with connections in the US.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Angela Hunt

Author Interview: Angela Hunt

We’d like to welcome New York Times best selling author Angela Hunt to this blog today. Angela has authored more than a hundred books, she is a sought-after keynote speaker, lecturer and … well the list goes on. In 2006, Angela completed her Master of Biblical Studies in Theology degree, completed her doctorate in 2008, and was accepted into a ThD. program in 2009 while continuing a very vigorous and prolific writing career. You can learn more about Angela and her career by visiting her web site at

We’ve enjoyed reading many of Angela’s novels—The Novelist, Uncharted, The Justice and many others.  One thing Angela Hunt fans soon learn—always expect the unexpected. Readers experience everything from a signing gorilla to a woman faced with running an inherited funeral home with absolutely no experience. Her latest novel, Let Darkness Come, comes with its own unexpected twist.

Q:  Angela, thanks for joining us. Tell us a little about your latest novel—or as much as you can without giving away the unexpected.

Hunt: Thanks, Mark.  The WIP—work in progress, or work supposedly in progress—is women’s fiction, a tale of three sisters. Lots of angst and estrogen.  Sins and secrets. 

But if you’re talking about the latest release, it’s a legal thriller with a twist.  I call it a “mystical mystery.”

Q:  Can you tell us how you came up with this concept?

Hunt: Sure!  I found the idea on the Discovery Channel.  J  In my secular novels, I like to come up with one “spiritual” idea, and in this book I simply wanted to demonstrate that we are more than our bodies—we are also souls.

Q:  How did you settle on the title, Let Darkness Come?

Hunt: I had no idea what to call the thing, but in my quest for the perfect epigraph to set the tone, I discovered the phrase “Let Darkness Come.”  It seemed to fit as well as anything else.

Q:  Tell us a little about your main character, attorney Briley Lester? What makes her tick? How did she come to exist in your mind?

Hunt: Briley is a typical young woman, but she’s driven by an event in her past and her late father’s influence. She also in over her head in the story situation, so she needs all the help she can get.

Q: While representing her client on murder charges, Briley stumbles upon facts she ultimately gives to the court in a manner open for interpretation. She knows others might come to a different—and possibly wrong—understanding of what happened. But by this time in the story, she’s rationalized in her mind that she must give whatever she must for her client. Given her goals and ambitions, how will Briley be able to live with this justification?

Hunt: Most lawyers want to defend their clients as best they can, whether or not the client is guilty—so the truth is secondary.  Briley is committed to the truth first, and uses the system (rather brilliantly, I think) to make sure her innocent client goes free.  I think she’s able to live with it because it takes some time and some convincing to bring her to the place where she truly realizes her client’s innocence.

Q:  Chicago is a long way from your roots in Florida. What led you to locate this novel in the Windy City?

Hunt: LOL!  I DO like to set my books in Florida, because it makes things much easier.  But I needed COLD weather for one pivotal scene, so I had to move things up north. Chicago—and its reputation for ruthless politicians—fit the bill perfectly.

Q: At the end of your novel there is a reference section listing a number of sources you used to help write this story. Among them were Detective Mark Mynheir of the Palm Bay Police Department in Florida and attorney/author James Scott Bell, both of whom we will visit on this blog (Jim Bell appeared here two weeks ago). Some of your other contacts included other authors, attorneys, a forensic psychologist and the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. Tell us a little about your contact with the sheriff’s department and the forensic psychologist. How did this information add to your story?

Hunt: Because this story was a bit complicated—lots of medical and legal facts to check—I was accosting everyone I knew at every turn.  As for the actual Cook County Sheriff’s department, I simply called ’em up to ask some questions about procedures at the jail.  The forensic psychologist is a gal pal I met at a writer’s retreat once.  Mark and Jim are writing buddies, of course. 

Q: As noted above, you’ve acquired an admirable list of academic achievements, but we did not see a law degree among that list. As a non-lawyer, how did you research this legal thriller to make the reader suspend belief and accept Briley in her role as a defense attorney?

Hunt: I read a lot of books on the law, and particularly studied this one particular book on trial procedure.  Despite all my research, however, I couldn’t have gotten it right without the help of attorney Michael Garnier, who took the time to read the manuscript, then spent four HOURS on the phone with me to make sure I got the legal issues and testimony right.  I’m not a lawyer, but I know some awfully kind and generous attorneys! 

Q:  The novel is written in a rather unique third person present tense.  What did you seek to achieve using this tense?

Hunt: I love present tense because it adds a sense of immediacy.  (I know some readers don’t like it, but that’s just too bad.)  When a book is written in past tense, at some subconscious level you know the POV character has survived to tell the tale, right?  You don’t know that with a present tense book, and you can’t assume.  It feels like the story is unfolding right before your eyes. 

Q:  Did any of your characters in Let Darkness Come surprise you? Did they say or do things unexpected?

Hunt: The turncoat surprised me.  The little weasel. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Human Trafficking

Part II: Human Trafficking

Interview with Chief Nicholas Sensley

Cold-hearted and money-driven human traffickers operate in the United States as well as abroad. Today, we’ll take a closer look at one case in California in which the victim was rescued and a trafficker arrested. This will conclude the second and last interview on this issue with our guest and expert, Chief Nicholas Sensley of the Truckee (Ca.) Police Department. Chief Sensley-who has worked in the area of human slavery issues for more than ten years-will share current trends in this crime and efforts to combat it here and abroad. (You can find out more about Nick's company, Cross Sector Solutions and his work in the area of human trafficking on his web site.)

Currently, Nick is preparing a guidebook at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs on effectively combating human trafficking through multi-disciplinary task force models. This guidebook will be used by federal, state and local investigative agencies—as well as non-governmental agencies (NGO)—as a blue print for task force operations to ferret out human traffickers.  DOJ requested Nick author this document based upon principles he developed and taught in task force operations in areas like New YorkTexasFloridaCalifornia and Europe.  Nick is currently a Management PhD student at the International School of Management in ParisFrance.

Q: Chief Sensley, can you give us examples of cases here in the United States? How were they discovered and how were the perpetrators caught?

Sensley: Cases of human trafficking in the U.S. present a diverse picture of the problem. One particular area of concern is related to U.S. citizens who are victims of the crime. Yes, U.S. citizens are victimized in this crime! Most Americans tend to associate this crime narrowly to foreign national victims. That is certainly a vulnerable population, but the key is to remember that anyone can be a victim of this crime. Because I will use a sex case, let’s keep all the other forms of trafficking in mind as well.  

So, let’s go back to our old stomping grounds in Santa Rosa, where we had a case involving a 19 year old woman who was forced into prostitution under threat of harm to her grandmother. The victim was taken to the old Llano Motel (which has since been torn down in part related to this case) and forced to allow six men to rape her over a course of less than three hours.  Notice, I called this rape.  This was not a consensual act on her part despite the mindset of the men involved. Eventually, she cleverly managed to convince her trafficker that she was crucially ill.  He took her to Kaiser Hospital Emergency Room where a very astute nurse responded to her senses about the trafficker’s account of the victim’s illness and discreetly notified the Police Department.  The trafficker was eventually arrested that evening.
The victim was so traumatized that she went into nervous convulsions when the suspect was in custody and she was asked if she would visually identify him under controlled circumstances wherein the suspect could not have known she was viewing him.  The suspect in this case received a nineteen-year state prison sentence.  In this line of work, we are always grateful to sharp frontline personnel like the nurse at Kaiser Hospital.

Q: What are some of the challenges to investigating these cases? Can you give us some examples—either domestic or foreign—that might help us understand the hurdles these cases present?

Sensley: Unfortunately, some of the greatest challenges are systemic problems in the law and sometimes in the mind of the investigators.  As you know, time is often a great handicap for an investigator.  Limits on the time you can detain, the strength of evidence for an arrest, the capacities of clever lawyers, and the strength of psychological control of the trafficker over a victim can be of great disadvantage to protecting a person that is reasonably suspected to be a victim of trafficking.  While I am not for measures that will further erode our civil liberties, I am just stating a fact.  Many victims, especially foreign nationals, do not see themselves as victims because their perpetrators have convinced them that they are criminally liable for committing the “illegal” acts they were forced into.  These victims become fearful of authority and are not the best witnesses to their own victimization.  It is a terribly vicious circle.

In one case, an investigating agent lost patience with the circular story the victim was giving.  A story she had been coached time and time again was the only way she could “survive” if she were taken into law enforcement custody.  Eventually, she was deported and I believe a person was ultimately sent back into the world that victimized her and a good case was lost.  These cases take time, patience, and a strategic multi-disciplinary victim-centered response.

Q: How does your company help combat contemporary slavery? Who do you work with in these investigative efforts and are these collaborative efforts successful?

Sensley: What we do is create the teams that are multi-disciplinary; that is, they are a diverse combination of law enforcement and governmental agencies and nongovernmental victim support organizations.  We work to facilitate a relationship of confidence, trust, and interdependency with a victim-centered focus on the battle to combat human trafficking.  In this team or task force collaborative, we work off of a model that focuses the different resources, skills, individual and organizational capacities, responsibilities, and even the different perspectives about the nature of the problem.  The idea is to channel these service providers and problem solvers into a strategic and impactful response to human trafficking.

Q: Okay, given that one of your task forces gets information about a human trafficking case. How does the task force function in order that the case is investigated, the victims cared for, and the suspects prosecuted?

Sensley: Well, as a former task force operator yourself, you know that the key to a successful response is the execution of a solid plan.  Sure, we know that the best laid plan is rarely textbook successful in response to the criminal world, but having one is like good training.  You know how to give a good initial response and you adapt and overcome the obstacles when you’re in the fray.

Next, because the response is multi-disciplinary, you have to have a good protocol in place to ensure that everyone knows what they are expected to do and how to rely on the rest of the team.  As in most aspects of police work, we are generally proactive or reactionary in our response to a crime.  If the team is proactive and responding to a discovered case of trafficking, then time is generally on our side and we have a better chance of a successful operation.

If the situation is reactionary to something in progress that demands an immediate response, then the key is going to be in the strength of the operators as a team.  In all cases, victim-centered means the well-being of the victims is paramount to the capture of the suspects.  If the physical, psychological, safety and security needs of a victim are known to them to be important to the responders, that person will be your best witness in the successful identification, location and prosecution of the perpetrators.

Monday, February 1, 2010

James Scott Bell

Author Interview: James Scott Bell

We’re privileged to kick off our first author interview here with well-known novelist James Scott Bell. He is a man of many talents—novelist, screenwriter, actor, attorney, teacher and … basketball star. Well, that last talent may be a bit overstated, but Jim is truly gifted. He continues to encourage many aspiring authors—including this writer—over the years through his teaching, mentoring, lecturing and books on writing. All this while maintaining a vigorous writing schedule in both the CBA and ABA publishing markets with over nineteen novels to his credit. (You can find more about Jim at his web site It is a great honor to have James Scott Bell visit us here today.

Q: Time to advertise, Jim. What’s happening in James Scott Bell’s publishing world in terms of your WIP or works just released?

Bell: I had three books come out in 2009. Deceived, a stand alone thriller, and Try Fear, the third of my Buchanan novels. Also, The Art of War for Writers.

I've been working on a couple of new projects (I don't like to talk about my books until they're finished, so call it a quirk or just plain cussedness) and something else, something I haven't done in a long time: short stories. I'm having a blast doing them, and may look to put out a collection.

Q: I read your recently released The Art of War for Writers book published by Writer’s Digest Books. This book is a survival manual for writers caught in the trenches of the publishing world, a book I’d recommend for all writers. What prompted you to write this?

Bell: The publishing business has gotten very challenging over the last few years, for all concerned. It was never a piece of cake to begin with. New writers, and even veterans, are out there fighting a battle to get, or stay, published. I wanted to give them something that was sort of like a "field manual" for writers, and took my cue from Sun Tzu. He brought order to the chaos of war in his day, through clear axioms. I thought I'd try the same for writers.

Q: The writing path has taken you down an interesting road. When did you realize you wanted to become a writer? How did you get from there to here?

Bell: I wanted to be a writer as a kid. I loved old movies, The Hardy Boys books, and adventure stories, like Treasure Island and Tarzan of the Apes. But when I was eight I went to my first baseball game at Dodger Stadium. Don Drysdale was pitching. And I fell in love with baseball. Sports took over my life from then until college, though I always did some writing here and there. And I had a great high school English teacher, Mrs. Marjorie Bruce, who thought she saw a writer in me.

In college, I took a workshop with Raymond Carver, and couldn't do what he did. I didn't know at the time that you didn't have to pass through that particular literary tunnel to be a writer. I was convinced I didn’t have "it", so I gave up that dream.