FBI hosts presentation on public information releases and procedures

Bill Hancock bhancock@gatehousemedia.com
FBI-Dallas Supervisory Special Agent Ronnie Brown and FBI-Dallas Public Affairs officer Janella Newsome at the media presentation.

On March 11th, FBI-Dallas supervisory special agent Ronnie Brown and Public Affairs Officer Janella Newsome gave a presentation in San Angelo to the media and law enforcement agencies regarding the FBI’s policies and procedures regarding releasing information. The release of information covered all subjects from standard investigations to emergencies such as domestic terrorist attacks and other mass casualty events. Ballinger police officer Suzanne Torres and Ballinger Chamber of Commerce president Tammie Virden attended the presentation.

  Newsome said that holding a presentation like this for the media was a first, “We’re hosting this so you know who the point-of-contact within the FBI is. This is the first time the FBI has held an event like this and we just wanted you to be able to put a name with a face so you can get a better understanding of the FBI media policy and to help you when you’re covering a story.” The San Angelo office falls under the FBI-Dallas office.

  Brown was a police officer before joining the FBI and has served for 17 years. He is in charge of the Dallas office and all of the other offices that fall under that, such as San Angelo and Wichita Falls.

  The presentation included photos and videos of cases that the FBI-Dallas office has covered over the last couple of years, including public corruption, terrorism, civil rights investigations, healthcare fraud, sex and human trafficking, bank robberies, scams and several organized and violent crime cases.

  The vast majority of the cases the FBI works never make get mentioned in the news, but the high profile cases are typically followed closely, such as the case of Matin Azizi-Yarand. In that case, Yarand who was 17-years old and lived in Plano, talked to undercover FBI agents and planned to carry out terrorist attacks here in Texas. Yarand was planning to carry out an ISIS-inspired mass shooting at Frisco's Stonebriar Centre mall.

 The FBI-Dallas investigated a public corruption case in Richardson, Texas that has recently resulted in 2 convictions. According to a May 2018 indictment, prosecutors say when Laura Maczka was mayor in 2015, she took bribes from Mark Jordan in exchange for supporting his unpopular 1000-unit Palisades apartment project.

  Starting around 2013, people in the Canyon Creek and Prairie Creek neighborhoods in Richardson voiced fierce opposition to Jordan’s Palisades development, which included hundreds of apartments. Maczka had campaigned against such projects, but voted for Jordan’s project anyway, the indictment says. At the time, Maczka denied that she had done anything wrong. She also denied she was anything other than a friend and later an employee of Jordan. After quitting as mayor, she took a $150,000 a year job from Jordan, and in 2017 married him, the indictment says. Both were convicted on March 7th of this year and face up to 20-years in prison when they are sentenced. 

  The FBI-Dallas office also made arrests in February of last year for healthcare fraud. The owner of a Frisco-based hospice company, his wife and 14 others have been indicted in a $60 million Medicare fraud scheme that put financial interests over the needs of patients, according to the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Texas. Some patients died of overdoses at the hands of nurses, according to the indictment and includes charges of health-care fraud and conspiracy to commit health-care fraud. Those charged include Bradley J. Harris, 35, of Frisco, who owned and operated Novus Health Services and Optim Health Services Inc., and his wife, 42-year-old Amy Harris, who co-founded Novus and worked as vice president of patient services.  Five of the defendants are doctors. Five are nurses.

  The FBI also helped investigate the cases of the Austin bombings a little over a year ago. The bombings killed 2 civilians, wounded 5 civilians and one police officer over a 19-day span that terrorized the Austin area from March 2nd – March 21st. The suspect was killed when he detonated a bomb inside of his vehicle as Austin SWAT officers closed in on him.

  Newsome said that many times when the FBI works with a local law enforcement agency they will refer questions to that agency or the district attorney’s office since the FBI is usually there to help the lead investigating agency.

  The FBI currently employees around 35,000 people in 6 branches within the agency that include; National security; criminal cyberspace; HR; science and technology; information technology; directorate. There are 4 divisions of the FBI in Texas that are located in El Paso, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Of the 35,000 employees, 13,785 are agents and 22,117 are support staff.

  When it comes to releasing information, the FBI answers to the US Attorney’s Office, who controls all media coverage. In shedding some light on the FBI media policies, Newsome says that media releases are strictly controlled, “It doesn’t matter how long an agent has been here, whether 5 years or 25 years. If they talk to the media, their employment can be immediately terminated.”

  In most cases the FBI doesn’t release information until the case has gone completely through the justice process, from investigation to exhausting the appeals process. Any releases you see are usually from the US Attorney’s office. Newsome says there are several reasons for this, “We (FBI-Dallas) want to protect the rights of the accused, protect the integrity of the investigation and protect the rights of privacy. If the FBI wants to make any comment we have to obtain approval ahead of time from the US Attorney’s office.

  During the presentation Newsome and Brown gave out the contact information for the two US Attorney’s offices in Texas, one in the Northern district and one in the Eastern district. The FBI-Dallas office can be followed on Twitter at @FBIDALLAS.