Not Quite Fiction: Headlines Ripped from The Wire

In New Orleans, and in urban areas all over the country, there’s a creepy conflation of the Wireverse and reality. There is surely some local version of Avon Barksdale or Marlo running the Iberville project, or a Bodie holding down the tower on Simon Bolivar Ave. Ray Nagin is just as craven and disconnected as Royce, and among all the developers out there hounding for recovery tax credits, there is maybe a Stringer Bell among them, using laundered money. Obviously, in Louisiana, we have far too many Clay Davises, and lord knows the Times-Picayune misses the real story most of the time. Plus, we have Republicans, and they’re not just in the statehouse..

The connections happen so often that I’m going to try and chronicle some of them here. I’d love for these posts to be a place where we can do some critical thinking about solutions: institutional reform, witness protection, civic activism. Heck, we can even bring in Bunny Colvin’s favorite, academic research. The series is such a gold mine of sociological research that it would be a shame to avoid putting it into praxis. So let’s get busy in the comments section, yes?

First up, a story out of Los Angeles from last week. A 16 year-old girl from Sun Valley, CA, named Martha Puebla, witnesses a violent gang shootout that ends with her friend’s body laying bullet-riddled on the sidewalk. Suspect Jose Ledesma, notorious gangster, flees to Tijuana. Mexican police respond to a separate incident and find out that Ledesma and his buddy Catalan are wanted in Los Angeles for murder.

By nightfall, the suspects had been hauled back to LAPD’s North Hollywood station for booking. Pinner and Rodriguez brought Ledesma, 19, into an interview room and flipped on a tape recorder. Rodriguez read Ledesma his Miranda rights, and Pinner started grilling him. Ledesma, who didn’t call a lawyer, showed no signs of cracking. He mocked and swore at Pinner, repeatedly denying any role in the killings.

“You got the wrong person, buddy,” Ledesma said.

“OK. I don’t agree with you, and I have the evidence to prove it,” Pinner said. “I have multiple witnesses who are going to testify that you were the shooter.”

Pinner told Ledesma he knew the gang member had been on his way to Martha Puebla’s house to visit her the night Vargas was killed outside her house.

To drive home his point, Pinner laid down a “six-pack” — an array of mug shots that detectives often show to witnesses or victims of crimes. On it, Ledesma’s photo was circled, and the initials “M.P.” were written below it. “Those is the guy that shot my friends boyfriend” was scrawled along the margin, followed by Puebla’s signature.

What will happen next? It’s so hard to predict.

OK, actually, the comparison isn’t perfect. Instead of putting the word out that Martha Puebla was a snitch, Ledesma just cuts to the chase and orders the hit.

The next night, Ledesma reached for a pay phone outside his cell. “Cokester,” he said into the receiver, calling his friend Javier Covarrubias by one of his gang monikers, “do you know the slut that lives there by . . . my house? Her name starts with an M . . . I need her to disappear. She is dropping dimes.”

To the gang, Puebla was a snitch and needed to be dealt with.

“Uh huh, like that,” Ledesma told Covarrubias, using a mix of Spanish and English. “But [keep a] low-pro[file]. . . . Stay on your toes, homie. And don’t get caught.”

Puebla was apparently aware that she had been labeled a snitch. She told a friend that she knew the Vineland Boyz were blaming her for helping police with the Vargas murder investigation.

And just like Herc, these fine LAPD officers had no idea what was going on, because Martha Puebla was killed five months after the original shooting. While investigating her murder, it took the detectives nearly two years to get a correct translation of the jail-cell phone call.

The real kicker here, though, is that Martha didn’t tell the cops anything. There wasn’t even a photo array. The cops made it all up.

Far from helping the police, the reality was that Puebla had actually tried to protect Ledesma in the hours after the shooting. She allegedly threatened her girlfriend, telling her that if she cooperated with authorities Puebla would tell the Vineland Boyz where the girl’s family lived.

Puebla’s girlfriend had told detectives that as the gunshots went off, Puebla had yelled, “It’s Peps!” But Puebla denied it, telling Pinner, Rodriguez and two other detectives that she had only speculated that Ledesma may have been the shooter.

When Pinner and Rodriguez stepped into the interrogation room with Ledesma, they had little real information to work with.

So they made up what they needed.

The photo six-pack was a complete fake. Rodriguez had doctored it, circling Ledesma’s photo and forging Puebla’s statement and signature.

Good thing the Feds stepped in to clean up the mess.

In 2004, federal investigators got involved in the investigation into Puebla’s killing as part of a larger case against the Vineland Boyz. Last year, in a federal plea deal to avoid the death penalty, Ledesma, Covarrubias and the gang member thought to be the gunman admitted to taking part in killing Puebla. A fourth Vineland Boyz member who participated is thought to have fled to Mexico and is being sought, a federal prosecutor said.

With the arrival of federal authorities, Pinner and Rodriguez were phased out as the lead investigators. They soon were separated as partners. Rodriguez was transferred to an auto theft detail and is currently assigned to a vice unit. Pinner remains a homicide detective in North Hollywood.

That’s right; this joker Pinner is still a homicide detective. Maybe if he’d lost some sort of camera…



  1. In addition to inertia, what keeps these situations going?

    Nagin/Clay Davis, the real life Stringers, the cops, what/who else is dependent on this breakdown?

    What/who else is it working FOR? And how are they actively protecting the status quo? What powers are being brought to bear to keep all of it going?

  2. There’s a scene in an episode of The West Wing where CJ is trying to broker a rescue of a reporter who disappeared in the Congo, and when they meet with the Congolese attache, she says, “This is a shakedown, so how much money, and where does it go?”

    I think that’s a big part of the problem – apart from inertia, the only motivation I can see is greed. But because the money is laundered, and there’s no transparency, there’s no way to tell ‘how much money’ and ‘where does it go.’

    This was brought up in the Wire, too – Lester was focused on those asset investigations for a reason, because if it’s not brought out into the light of day, everyone who can stop it is blissfully ignorant. It’s not about the drugs, or the murders, even. In the US, the price of an inner-city life is less than a piece of police equipment. It’s about the goddamn money.

    And translating that to the real world, that’s why we’re off on our imperial adventure in Iraq – because the bonuses/salaries/contracts for Erik Prince and other assholes translate into political contributions in the wingnut welfare system, enabling more privatization of public assets, increasing bonuses/salaries/contracts, and all on the public’s dime.

    Transparency is the key. Of course, if a law is transparently broken, and ruled illegal by a judge, but the Congress immunizes the perps anyway, does it make a sound?

  3. Transparency is the key. Of course, if a law is transparently broken, and ruled illegal by a judge, but the Congress immunizes the perps anyway, does it make a sound?

    but that NEVER happens…..not recently anyway….not today yet, anyway.

    FYI, if you haven’t yet, take a look at Bubbles Depo, I think you’ll find a like-minded viewpoint.

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