This is part V of a series that appears exclusively in Taxi & Livery Times.
As September came toward a close, the credit union was issued an information subpoena by the FBI. An agent was assigned the case, and a week after the subpoena was issued, the agent came in person to collect the material. The material consisted mainly of transactions performed by Mr. Najran, loan documents, and miscellaneous data. The agent interviewed the in-house attorney, Charles D. Valvano, for about an hour, confirming the same basic information that I had given the lady on the phone only two weeks prior.
This certainly was not the first time the credit union received an information subpoena, so as a matter of course, there was a routine aspect to the interview. Usually, crime investigations, divorce cases, and money laundering were the causal events triggering these subpoenas. Never had we been issued a subpoena on a matter of urgent national security or terrorism, however.
The FBI agent collected his data and went on his way, saying that if he needed anything else, he would call or return. We heard nothing for weeks. It was as if the case of Mr. Najran was a dead end.
On November 11, Veterans Day, there was a horrible plane crash in the Rockaways, a neighborhood near JFK airport. Many people perished in the crash and a few on the ground as well. I was at home that day, an off day for financial institutions since there is no mail delivery on national holidays.
Of course, due to the nearness to September 11th, there were suspicions that the crash may have been sabotage. This was never borne out by subsequent investigations.
At home, I had a house full of people. My wife was out working that day, and my children both had friends over playing, a total of about seven children in attendance. In addition, in the early afternoon, the two ladies who clean the house weekly came to perform their weekly ritual.
Around two o’clock, I noticed out of my living room picture window that two young men were striding up the sidewalk towards my house, and they bore no resemblance to Jehovah’s Witnesses. As they arrived at the front door, I eagerly intercepted them, and said, “What’s up fellas?”
Both men produced a business card, one saying Department of Treasury, ATF division, and the other man’s card said FBI agent. The only interesting item of note was that the name on the FBI’s card was distinctively Russian, Serge Kushner. I thought that it was a bit weird that the “Cold War” had ended only 10 years or so prior, and we are already hiring Russian FBI agents.
What do I know? Didn’t we hire German scientists during and immediately after World War II to beat the Soviet Union to the punch in our search for atomic weapon systems that would be superior to their systems?
I invited the two men in the house, and offered them a cup of coffee, which they politely declined. They informed me of the purpose of their visit. The visit was a direct result of my phone call to the FBI hotline only eight weeks before. And they wanted to review the information. So, I took them out on my porch and told them to fire away.
Their questions were somewhat pedestrian in both depth and breadth, and were basically a reiteration of the information I had given the hotline. The interview took a half-hour and they went on their way.
About a week later, the credit union received an information subpoena from the US Department of Treasury requesting the same information the FBI inquired about only months prior. That seemed weird, considering they had come to my house in tandem.
Then, about two weeks later, The US Attorney’s Office, a third jurisdiction, requested an information subpoena for the same stuff as the other two prior subpoenas.
It was becoming clear that the government didn’t know what they were doing. They were duplicating efforts to get to the bottom of their tips, that one hand didn’t know what the other hand was doing. A real dysfunctional family.
In January, Charles D Valvano, who was acting as the point man for all the requests for the different jurisdictional requests, received a follow-up phone call from the FBI agent who first contacted us in September. The FBI agent said he needed additional documents, maybe going further back in time from his original request. Valvano told him that would not be a problem other than that our computer systems had storage that only went back as far as seven years. Then he asked the FBI agent why we had been inundated with all these different jurisdictional requests for information regarding this same guy, Mr. Najran.
When the agent heard this, he blew a gasket. This was his case, he said, adding that he would be heading over to the credit union as soon as possible.
Within a week, he returned, this time with an associate agent from the FBI. They wanted to speak with me as well as with Mr. Valvano, so there we were, the four of us in Mr. Valvano’s office.
As the researcher was busy obtaining the additional information that they were requesting, the FBI guys asked me a few questions regarding the subject of their investigation, Mr. Najran. I told them all I knew, and then I asked them a question: “Did all this interest from the three different jurisdictions come as a result of my one little phone call?”
They shifted around in their seats a bit, and the lead FBI agent asked, “Did you guys ever do a Yahoo or a Google search on this guy?
No, we had never thought to do one – and considering that this was early 2002, it was not yet natural to do internet searches on people the way we do now. But, as the agent asked the question, Mr. Valvano did a Yahoo search… and BINGO!
It was as if the slot machine in the casino lit up. There were at least 30 different hits on this guy, Mr. Najran. Valvano told me to come take a look at this, as the FBI guys smirked.
Holy shit, the fucking mother lode, we thought. It turns out that our Mr. Najran was the UN Spokesman for the Taliban, the then government of Afghanistan, and the protector of Osama Bin-Laden.
Because they were not recognized as a legitimate government at the UN, they were not entitled to an ambassador. But clearly, they had a spokesman. Wow. Double WOW.
The agents also questioned us regarding what we knew about one of the taxi brokers in the business who received $250,000 from Mr. Najran. The broker was Pakistani, but always appeared to be just a normal businessman, and never seemed to have a political axe to grind. A friendly relationship, we had with him. And, he was running Mr. Najran’s medallions as a lease agent. That transaction could be innocent, but who knows in this subculture of international intrigue.
As the agents were preparing to leave, I asked a couple more questions. I asked what kind of charges Mr. Najran could possibly face, or would he end up like Al Capone and go to prison on tax evasion charges instead of murder, espionage, or racketeering. The agents answered that it was likely that tax charges would be pursued and sometimes it is the only avenue in which a conviction can be gained.
Then I asked one final question: “How are we going to know what happens in this case?”
The agent thought carefully about his answer and then responded, “Keep an eye on your newspaper, or tv… that’s the best I can tell ya.”
We shook hands, and for months heard nothing.
At the end of the workday, as I was returning home on my 45-minute trek, I started thinking about that comment the agent made about keeping an eye on the papers and television.
And then, remnants of the 1960s paranoia struck. The FBI, especially under the Bush Administration, would probably not give out this story to any left-wing or centrist media. This was material more likely to fall into the hands of Fox News, or the NY Post, both of which were owned and controlled by Rupert Murdoch, and clearly a right-wing opportunist, hypocritically sensationalist in his journalistic tendencies.
I envisioned the headlines: Melrose Credit Union makes insider loans to Melrose Cab Corp to finance terrorism.
Of course, there wouldn’t be any relationship to the truth in the headline, but newspapers would be sold, and retractions might come after the fact. The damage, as they say, would already be done.
Our reputation could be jeopardized, and my fantasy of being a great patriotic hero would completely backfire. The whistle-blower would be victimized as the problem, not the solution.
It was a frightening and sobering thought. After all, we learned from our experiences of the ’60s and ’70s, institutional authorities were not to be trusted.
Check in next month for part VI.