Sunday, October 21, 2018

"Love and Loathing In Las Vegas"

From The Intercept:

Inside a Sleazy FBI Sting Involving Diet Clinics, Fitness Models, Money Laundering, and a Supposed Plot to Hire a Hitman
This is the story of a budding romance, but not the kind that starts with a chance encounter and ends with a happily-ever-after.

This one involves backbiting and an FBI undercover sting.

It began in the fall of 2012. Emile Bouari was dining with his girlfriend, a fitness model named Kim Milko, at a high-end restaurant in Las Vegas. Their relationship had been tumultuous, fraught with infidelity and disagreements. Milko wanted to marry, but Bouari, who was separated from his second wife at the time, struggled with commitment. To him, going to court to sign marriage papers meant he’d have to return for divorce proceedings yet again if the relationship didn’t last.

Bouari and Milko had split up a few times. During an off period, Milko said she struck up a flirtation with a local lawyer and former federal prosecutor named Paul Padda, who had a reputation in Las Vegas as a successful, available bachelor. Padda was tall with a coif of thick, jet-black hair that glimmered with gel. He and Milko had hung out in groups and shared two solo meetings, by her account: one for lunch and another for drinks. Their physical contact had been limited to kissing and affectionate touching, according to Milko, but when she reconciled with Bouari, she told Padda that their dalliance had to end. By the fall of 2012, it had been weeks since Milko had seen Padda.
What happened next on that fall evening in Las Vegas is disputed.

In separate interviews with The Intercept, Bouari and Milko said Padda approached their table. He pointed his finger at Bouari and said, “I fucked your woman and she loved it,” according to Bouari and Milko. Milko said she suspected Padda was trying to instigate a conflict with Bouari by suggesting they’d had sex, when in fact they had not.

Padda describes this as the fanciful invention of two people who hold a grudge against him. He denies having had such a relationship with Milko and maintains that the incident at the restaurant never occurred.

Either way, a feud was born between Bouari and Padda. Defamatory statements about Padda soon popped up on a website called Ripoff Report. The comments, posted anonymously, described Padda as “a real sleaze bag” and “a terrible attorney” who “has defended pedophiles.” In January 2014, Padda filed a defamation lawsuit over the statements, first naming “John Does” as defendants and later narrowing in on Bouari and Milko after he received subpoenaed records from their internet service provider.

Three months after Padda filed his lawsuit, an FBI informant wearing a wire showed up at a weight-loss clinic that Bouari ran in Las Vegas. It was one of the opening moves in an FBI investigation code-named Operation Bo-Tox. The sting was run by FBI Special Agent Charles Ro, whom Padda acknowledges he knows in “a professional capacity.” Padda would not describe what, if any, conversations he had with Ro about Bouari’s case, citing “ongoing criminal proceedings.”
Bouari’s lawyer, Mont E. Tanner, would later suggest in court that there was an important backstory to the FBI sting. “This case originated with sort of a love triangle with [Bouari,] co-defendant Kim Milko, and former U.S. Assistant Attorney Paul Padda,” Tanner said during a detention hearing. Padda says this is nonsense.

For nearly two years, as part of Operation Bo-Tox, an FBI undercover agent and an informant sidled up to Bouari, seeking to expose what the FBI appeared to suspect was a network of small-business owners willing to launder money. But for all its efforts, the FBI could nab only Bouari, Milko, and a friend of theirs, who all together laundered $590,000 and collected $52,900 in fees.

The questions surrounding Bouari’s case do not involve whether he and his girlfriend laundered money — it is clear that they did — but rather, why the FBI pursued such low-level operators in the first place.

Padda became a central figure in the FBI sting. The undercover agent and the informant would try repeatedly to persuade Bouari, who was angered by the defamation lawsuit filed against him, to commission a hit on Padda.

But this case is about much more than a feud with a local lawyer. Operation Bo-Tox is indicative of the FBI’s increasing willingness to rely on aggressive sting tactics, first designed to be used against violent criminals and sophisticated organized crime networks, to target potential white-collar criminals, including those, like Bouari, who were not known to be committing significant offenses until the FBI put together an elaborate trap to make their crimes possible...MUCH MORE