ACLU Says PATRIOT Act Use Against Las Vegas Stripclub Window Into Law's Abuse Since 9/11

November 5, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today pointed to reports that the FBI used the controversial USA PATRIOT Act to seize financial records in its investigation of a local Las Vegas stripclub owner as illustrative of how the 2001 anti-terrorism law has been misused and the kind of abuse it could sanction in the future if left in its current form.

"The use of PATRIOT Act against a Sin City vice-lord should give pause to anyone who says it has not been abused," said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "The Justice Department's suggestion that lawmakers knew what they were getting into with the PATRIOT Act deserves a gold star in dishonesty."

"The Attorney General didn't tell Congress that he needed the PATRIOT Act to raid nudie bars," Murphy added. "He told Congress in no uncertain terms that the PATRIOT Act was needed to prevent another life-threatening catastrophe at the hands of terrorists."

Articles in the Las Vegas Review-Journal have in recent days detailed the FBI's use of the USA PATRIOT Act, the 2001 law passed only weeks after 9/11 that breaks down long-standing checks and balances on federal investigations and surveillance, in its case against Michael Galardi, the owner of two Las Vegas strip clubs, and several local officials that it believes accepted bribes from Galardi.

Investigators reportedly delivered subpoenas under Section 314 of the PATRIOT Act - which Ashcroft sold to Congress as necessary to undercut terrorist financing -- to two Las Vegas stockbrokers ordering the release of detailed business records that prosecutors hope will reveal hidden proceeds that they can then use as evidence of bribery.

The ACLU pointed to the case as evidence that the PATRIOT Act is overbroad and invites misuse. Essentially, the Vegas controversy exposes how the law gives prosecutors, who have power in normal criminal prosecutions to declare full-scale legal war against the accused, even greater freedom to use unchecked surveillance with less proof of wrongdoing.

Gary Peck, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said that the Las Vegas case demonstrates that the PATRIOT Act is leading to violations of civil liberties. "If the government is using the PATRIOT Act to secretly avoid normal criminal procedure, it confirms the ACLU's warnings that the law will be abused," Peck said. "Instances like these, if they occurred, are exactly why the PATRIOT Act is a threat to liberties and must be corrected."

Two members of the Nevada Congressional delegation agreed. Along with local U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkeley (D), Senator Harry Reid, the second most powerful Democrat in the U.S. Senate, criticized the FBI's actions, saying, "The law was intended for activities related to terrorism and not to naked women. Let me say, with Galardi and his whole gang, I don't condone, appreciate or support all their nakedness. But having said that, I haven't heard anyone say at any time he was involved with terrorism."

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