11:00 A.M. EST
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good morning and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today, our briefing is on the FBI and its role overseas, international partnerships in Latin America, and information on the latest addition to their Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
Today, our speakers are Michael Kortan, who is the assistant director, Office of Public Affairs; and Ronald Hosko, the assistant director of their Criminal Investigative Division. The last speaker, Michael Welch, unexpectedly had to cancel, so he will not be briefing today.
First, I will introduce Michael Kortan, who will discuss the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. At the end, we’ll take your questions. Thank you.
MR. KORTAN: Thanks, Jean, and welcome, everybody. It’s good to be here today, and thank you for joining us. As was said, I’m Mike Kortan of the Office of Public Affairs. Ron’s from our Office of Criminal Investigative Division. Our two divisions work together on the Top Ten program to promote the fugitives.
We’re here today to announce a new addition to our Top Ten program, filling the remaining vacancy, and it’s also, as we stand here today, the anniversary of the program. Sixty-three years ago today, the program in its very early stages was created, and actually created by a journalist, or by the sort of desires of a journalist who asked if we could – we in the FBI could, at that time, identify our sort of most badly wanted people, or the worst criminals that we were trying to find, and – or as he said it – he was with UPI – the toughest guys that were still out there that we were looking for.
And so from that, we came up with 10 individuals that at that time we thought matched that description, and they were published on the front page of one of the local Washington papers at the time, and there the list was born. And we realized two things: One, that you do get a big public response from this kind of publicity, and that you can actually catch criminals, and we did. And as a result of that first posting, we apprehended a number of those individuals, and over the years, of course, that’s only grown.
Since 1950 on that day, 498 fugitives have been put on the list – 498 – and of those, 467 have been apprehended or located, so it’s pretty high. And probably as important as any of that, is that 154 of them were identified or located as a direct result of media attention or public tips and information provided to us by the public to help catch them. So it is – it’s a very effective program, it’s a very important program, and we’re happy to talk about it today.
Just a couple other interesting notes: The shortest time anyone was on the list was two hours – back in 1969, someone by the name of Billie Austin Bryant. And the longest time on the list is 27 years by Victor Gerena, who still is on the list, and we’ll hopefully get some attention on him today too. He remains at large.
But the Top Ten program relies heavily on your assistance, your help, communicating directly with the public whatever publication or news organization you may represent, and we’re grateful for that. That publicity across this country and now, increasingly around the world, is crucial to our ability to locate badly wanted, dangerous criminals that are at large. And again, we’re grateful to each of you out there for the role you play in helping us publicize these individuals and help us make not only this country, but countries around the world a little safer. And we just couldn’t have – we can’t do it without your help.
So for that, we’re grateful, and with that, let me turn it over to Ron Hosko, as described as the assistant director in charge of our Criminal Investigative Division.
MR. HOSKO: Thanks, Mike. Good morning. As Mike mentioned, today is the 63rd anniversary of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted program, so a fitting day to add Edwin Ernesto Rivera Gracias as our 498th person to make this list. Rivera Gracias is also known as Ernest Rivera. He’s believed to be associated with the notorious MS-13 street gang based in El Salvador. He bears multiple tattoos, including the words, El Salvador, down the back of his right arm, and an MS-13 tattoo across his back.
We believe that he was in the U.S. illegally in August of 2011 when he committed a brutal murder of a 69-year-old man. He assaulted that man with another person involved in it, began to duck-tape that person’s face to keep him from hollering and crying for help, and ultimately beat and stabbed that person to death, leaving the blade of a butcher knife in the person’s chest. He later drove and dumped that victim’s body in the mountains west of Denver, Colorado.
We believe that he has ties to other gang members in the United States, in Los Angeles, in Colorado, in El Salvador, and has possibly traveled and visited Mexico and Guatemala. Our Ten Most Wanted program offers a reward up to $100,000 for information leading directly to the arrest of a Ten Most Wanted fugitive.
In addition to the publicity that your attendance here today brings, the FBI has moved into the realm of social media. We have a Facebook page. We have a Twitter account. Earlier this week, we were able to arrest – locate and arrest a fugitive based on a Twitter lead. I guess we’d call that a tweet.
Photos and information on all of our Ten Most Wanted fugitives are located on the FBI’s website. That’s www.fbi.gov. We also have the ability to take tips. We have a tip line, 1-800-CALL-FBI. We also have expanded our reach and our intent to reach these fugitives and communicate with those who might know them through other forms of social outreach. And specifically, we’ve had a campaign involving digital billboards that has now expanded to some 42 states, and I believe 3,700-plus billboards across the United States, where we will advertise our fugitives and other important messages from the FBI. Using that digital billboard campaign, we have apprehended over 50 fugitives to date. So it too has been extremely successful. And our intention is to include this fugitive on those displays, so that the public knows.
Our hope is that this message reach those who might know Mr. Rivera Gracias and bring our attention to him. I would also hope that he hears this message and surrenders himself to the nearest available law enforcement office, whether that’s police or the FBI. We would invite his surrender, his submitting himself to the rule of law in the United States, and face the charges against him.
As many of you likely know, we have an overseas footprint in the FBI. We have an International Operations Division and legal attachés based across the globe. We have a strong presence in Mexico, in Colombia, and throughout Central America. And we work closely with law enforcement and the governments of those nations. So our reach is long, our memory is good, and now that this fugitive is on our Ten Most Wanted list, he will stay there until circumstances dictate his removal. With very few exceptions, that – those circumstances include his capture and return to face justice here in the United States.
And with that, I think Mr. Kortan and I will be happy to take questions.
MODERATOR: Please wait for the microphone. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Hi. How are you? My name is Sonia Schott with Globovision Venezuela. I was wondering if you can comment on anything regarding Venezuela. I know that, well, because of the relation, the political – the current political situation, it is kind of difficult for you to mention any cooperation, but I would like to know, how do you deal with that? Thank you.
MR. HOSKO: I will tell you broadly that our intention is to deal effectively and cooperate effectively with governments around the world, to the extent they are willing to extend the same to the United States.
QUESTION: So nothing in particular with Venezuela?
MR. HOSKO: No, ma’am. No, ma’am. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Luis. Just wait for the microphone.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Luis Alonso with the AP. Good morning.
MR. HOSKO: Good morning.
QUESTION: Why or how these people are included in the list? What need to happen? Why these 10 people? If you could please tell us – it seems like five of them are Hispanic or Latino. Could you please – and if you could please elaborate a little bit on Gerena, what has been the main obstacles to his – it’s been 27 years. It’s a long time. If you could please comment, thank you.
MR. HOSKO: Generally, people are named to this list because they are particularly dangerous in our society. We have legal process to locate and arrest them. And commonly, our leads have gone dry, that we don’t have current information upon which to act. That can come, in some cases, and you see a representation of that on our current Top Ten, where our belief is that the people have fled the United States, or fled our jurisdiction. So our leads become fewer and fewer.
As I mentioned earlier, our Ten Most Wanted fugitives will stay on this list as long as those same circumstances exist. So in the case of Victor Gerena, we believe he is alive. We don’t have proof that he has died. And we don’t have reason to take him off this list, because there is still current legal process here in the United States to charge him, to arrest him. And so we will continue to pursue leads. In his case, Mr. Gerena got himself on this list before Mr. Kortan and I joined the FBI 29 years ago. He will be on this list until we catch him, or until we have proof of his death, or until the warrant on him has been dismissed.
QUESTION: So out of this, then --
MODERATOR: Hold on one second.
QUESTION: So out of this, then, how many you suspect are in Latin America?
MR. HOSKO: Not knowing their current locations, I would suspect they are – they could all potentially be in Latin America. And so that’s why it’s important for us to cooperate and collaborate with foreign governments, exchange information, ideally obtain their cooperation in potentially locating and arresting and bringing them back to the United States for justice.
But if I was certain about one of them today, unfortunately I wouldn’t share that with you, because I’d be working with law enforcement to arrest them. But my expectation is that most of these folks are in Latin America right now.
MR. HOSKO: Mm-hmm. I will also comment, because you referred to it, that half of our list appears to be from Latin America. And that’s actually a little bit of an aberration. We are selective in who goes on our list. Those on our list have changed over time.
So in the ’50s, when our list started, we put people on there for espionage and damage to government property and other crimes that were prevalent at that time. That changed in the ’60s, and again in the ’70s, when we saw more organized crime figures on our list. It evolved in the ’80s and ’90s when we saw more gang members on our list. And today, as the FBI continues to evolve, we just took Usama bin Ladin off our list within the last year. So, we’ve had international terrorists on our list, and now we see people in the cyber crime realm on our list as well, represented by Mr. Toth.
So, in some ways, these folks are the baddest of the bad, the toughest of the tough, the worst of the worst. In other ways, they tend to represent the challenges that face the FBI today. And our current edition is one of those challenges. MS-13 is a problem for us domestically. It is certainly a problem in Central America.
QUESTION: One more? Why Chapo is not here?
MR. HOSKO: In some cases, we have people who are wanted domestically who are wanted by multiple agencies. And principally, what you see on this list are people who are principally wanted by the FBI. So that is a quicker way to get on our list, is focusing on FBI fugitives. As you know, the Marshals have also a top 15 list, and I think other agencies have some wanted folks, too. So – but do we want Chapo Guzman? Certainly.
MR. HOSKO: Perhaps soon. Thank you for the nomination. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: Next question.
QUESTION: Daniel Pacheco with Caracol Noticias, from Colombia.
MR. HOSKO: Good morning.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate a bit on why a foreign national becomes of interest to the FBI? Sometimes, when we have Colombian kingpins, investigations and the lead investigator sometimes are DEA, sometimes the FBI is involved. So what has to happen there for you guys to become more interested than the DEA? Is it luck? Is it the sources? Is it – thanks.
MR. HOSKO: Primarily – thank you for the question. Primarily, these folks have committed crimes here or are strongly impacting the United States. We have had drug kingpins on our list in the past; plenty of them. Frequently, we are trying to balance who is capable of the greatest harm. Unquestionably, drug kingpins will fit within that category. But commonly, it is very violent criminals who have demonstrated their propensity to violence domestically. And this subject, our current subject, certainly did that.
QUESTION: And on the issue of why sometimes the FBI, as to – in opposition to the DEA, brings over people from Colombia, how is that? Is it, like, shuffled? You guys get lucky with a lead, with a source? Do you – so you get, like, the lead on the investigation?
MR. HOSKO: It can depend on which agency has the lead on the investigation, which agency’s investigation has proceeded closest to the target. It could involve who has the best lead from a source. It could involve who is proximate to the arrest. Is DEA closer? Are they in the country? Are they closer to the target? Are they working with teams in the country? It could be any number of – a combination of those factors.
MODERATOR: Next question. Back to Sonia.
QUESTION: Okay. I am not going to ask you about Venezuela, but – (laughter) --
MR. HOSKO: I will yield to my partner on that.
QUESTION: Are you going to answer on Venezuela? No?
MR. KORTAN: No, I’ll defer to my – (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, it is because you said that the most of these people are in Latin America. So what if they are in Venezuela? So you are not going to catch them ever?
MR. HOSKO: If --
QUESTION: So how you deal with that? Or in a way, do you have, like, other countries in order to cooperate with you, like make it – will make it easy for you to catch these people? Thank you.
MR. HOSKO: We will always look to a partner to involve themselves in an arrangement where we can capture someone. If they’re in Venezuela and we can open a door to the Venezuelan Government to have a conversation about a fugitive that is living there, we will try to have that conversation through our legal attachés, and in coordination with the Department of State, so that they know our interests, and if they were to willingly surrender that person to our justice system, we would do that.
But regardless of where they are, our intent is to bring them to U.S. justice. You saw an example of that with Usama bin Ladin, where it appeared as though he was in a place with or without the country’s knowledge that was a difficult place to return him to justice. That didn’t mean our work was done.
QUESTION: Have you had these conversations --
QUESTION: Hold on. Have you had these conversations with the Venezuelan Government in the past? And can I know if – what happened after that?
MR. HOSKO: Not to my knowledge. I’m not privy to any specific conversation with the Venezuelan Government on their fugitives. But if we do know a fugitive is there, we would look to have a conversation with the Venezuelan Government.
MODERATOR: Okay, next question.
QUESTION: Regarding Edwin Rivera, I don’t know if you can tell us which role does it play in the Mara, in the MS-13, in order to be in that list. Because it’s huge, Mara; why him is there, and not another one? Thank you.
MR. HOSKO: Again, we are trying to weigh a number of considerations in our Ten Most Wanted list. Unquestionably, as you suggest, there are other MS-13 subjects here in our country and overseas that we would have an interest in arresting and bringing back to justice. In fact, the choices are so many, it makes it difficult to make a choice from time to time. So there is no doubt that we could have chosen another MS-13 subject, or another 18th Street subject, or another cartel figure to put on this list.
We work closely with our domestic law enforcement partners. In this case, it would have been local authorities outside of – in Jefferson County, Colorado, who have an interest in bringing this person to justice, them raising him to our attention in our Denver field office, and our Denver field office nominating this person for our Top Ten list here at headquarters for us to make a decision. And so in the case of Mr. Rivera, that all worked in his favor. He’s now on the list.
QUESTION: State Department has several programs trying to strength law enforcement, especially in Central America.
MR. HOSKO: Yes.
QUESTION: Is that a problem? Does that complicate matters to you guys – the level of professionalism or the resources, the capabilities of law enforcement in some of these countries?
MR. HOSKO: We are actually close partners in those programs. We have engaged with the State Department, with folks at the White House, and in those Central American countries to be good law enforcement partners, to strengthen law enforcement there, to enable them, to empower them, to support them with intelligence from the U.S., and to exchange information with them and collect some of their intelligence so that we can impact crime problems here domestically.
So I don’t see that as so much problematic as much as an opportunity for U.S. law enforcement and diplomats to build closer, more productive relationships with Central America.
MODERATOR: Do you have a follow-up? You look like you had a follow-up.
QUESTION: Yeah, but corruption seems to be pervasive there. Does that hamper the --
MR. HOSKO: Corruption has the risk of hampering good investigations domestically or overseas. So that’s always a challenge for us, is to work with trusted partners to identify them, to develop their capability and to work past or around or through corruption. We are realists. We understand that it exists, that it’s more prevalent in some parts of the country. But the FBI and the State Department, we are good partners, and so one of our goals, particularly in Central America, is to empower law enforcement there, to share with them the tools that we use domestically, techniques that we use domestically, to share intelligence, and to make them stronger.
So does it, could it hamper us? Absolutely. Are we concerned about it? Definitely. But we’re determined to work through it.
MODERATOR: Are there any other questions? All right. Thank you very much for coming today.
MR. HOSKO: Thank you so much.
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