Silva, Silva and Tsarnaev: A Confusing Story

Yesterday the feds arrested Stephen Silva of Cambridge, MA for heroin dealing and possession of a firearm with a partially obliterated serial number. Leaks from law enforcement claimed the gun is the one used to kill a Cambridge police officer days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

In June, the Judge in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's case said he was very concerned about leaks but declined to issue a gag order. He should be more concerned now. As should the judge in Silva's case, since Silva isn't charged with anything related to the bombing, the Tsarnaev's or the officer's shooting.

He was charged with unlawful possession of a gun that had an altered or obliterated serial number. That police say it's the same gun that killed the officer says nothing about how the Tsarnaev's got it. Silva could have given it to any number of people who might have given it to the Tsarnaevs. Or, maybe someone paid a drug debt to Silva with the gun, and not being into guns, he sold it the next day, and his buyer sold or gave it to Tsarnaev.

The ATF determined the serial number over a year ago and linked it to Danny Sun in Maine, who bought it from Cabela’s outdoor supply store in Scarborough, ME on Nov. 27, 2011. Sun told police he gave it to Biniam Tsegai in Portland, Maine. Biniam and two other defendants recently pleaded guilty in federal court in Maine to selling crack cocaine in 2011and are awaiting sentencing. They were caught during a wiretap investigation. The wires were up between June through December, 2011. A review of the pleadings in the case, (case number 13-cr-00090) including the prosecutor's statement of facts as to all three, show that contrary to law enforcement leaks in the press, Biniam was not the leader of the group, but worked for the leader, whose name is Hamadi Hassan. (Docket #107, 126, 134.)

These interceptions, combined with other law enforcement activities, revealed a drug trafficking conspiracy operating in the Portland, Maine area headed by Hamadi Hassan.

...[d]uring the dates of the charged conspiracy, Biniam Tsegai (1) received orders for user-level quantities of crack cocaine from Hamadi Hassan’s customers; (2) delivered crack cocaine to Hamadi Hassan’s customers after they had placed orders with Hamadi Hassan; and (3) packaged and prepared crack cocaine for sale and distribution after it had been brought to Maine from Boston.

The Government says in Hassan's statement (D.E. #126):

[Hassan]traveled to Boston with other members of the conspiracy to pick up distribution level quantities of crack cocaine and brought the crack cocaine back to Maine for sale and distribution.

There's no information to date that Stephen Silva sold crack cocaine. He was arrested in November, 2013 with two packets of marijuana and $555 in cash after consenting to a search by Mass. Transit Police. Police then got a search warrant for his cell phone, including "messages, phone calls, photos, and videos", but it doesn't seem like any additional charges were filed.

The defense lawyers for Hassan and Tsegai, as well as a lesser involved female defendant named Lacey Armstrong, all say there is absolutely no reference in any of the discovery to Tsarnaev, and the Tsarnaev name has not surfaced in the case.

Also, this was no cartel or major gang. These were gram street dealers selling to users. The total amount involved during the entire duration of the conspiracy, which the Government says begin in 2010 and continued for another year after the wiretaps, until December, 2012, was "more than 28 grams" (one ounce.) 28 grams carries a 5 year mandatory minimum, while 50 grams carries a 10 year mandatory minimum. So if prosecutors had more than 50 grams, particularly against Hassan, they would have charged it. Tsegai and Armstrong aren't even charged with the 28 gram mandatory minimum (although that could be due to Holder's August 2013 charging memo instructing prosecutors not to file mandatory minimums against non-organizers/leaders of small quantities absent significant ties to cartels or gangs or use of firearms -- the charges were revised by the grand jury in a Second Superseding Indictment in December, 2013. (D.E. #90.)

So Stephen had the gun in Feb. 2013, more than a year after Danny Sun bought it at a store. Sun says he gave it to Tsegai. Tsegai was arrested and detained in May, 2013. Here's a photo of Tsegai. The gun could have gone from Tsegai to any number of people before making its way to Stephen. Even if Stephen did sell or give it to the Tsarnaevs, since Tamerlan knew a lot of Jahar's friends, I don't think there's enough information yet to say whether he gave or sold it to Tamerlan or Jahar. So leaks by law enforcement that this is bad for Jahar because it shows he was more than an errand boy are just speculation. And incredibly out of line for law enforcement, who have no business opining to the media on the specifics and strength of any defendant's defense.

Tsegai is from Erithea, on the East coast of Africa. Stephan Silva's family comes from Cape Verde, islands off the West coast of Africa. They don't seem to have much in common. It's not even clear they knew each other.

Portland police disputed the claim in the LA Times article which originally broke the story of the gun that Portland has a gang problem.

Silva's lawyer, who was appointed to represent him Tuesday, initially was unaware of any connection (since it's not in the Indictment.) Yesterday he said officials have now told him the gun Silva is charged with possessing in February, 2013 is linked to the killing of the police officer. (It was found near the scene of the shootout where Tamerlan was killed and Jahar was injured.) Did the officials tell the lawyer this hoping he would announce it, so their leaks would appear less harmful to a judge who undoubtedly will receive a complaint?

The media is publishing Stephen Silva's mugshot, which, like most mugshots, is not very flattering and tells us nothing about him. So who is Stephen Silva and what is his connection to Tsarnaev?

Stephen Silva has a twin brother named Steven Silva. Their family has been in Cambridge a long time, and originally came from Cape Verde, islands off the West coast of Africa. The Silva twins and Jahar went to high school together, and also attended UMass Dartmouth. The twins then transferred to UMass Boston. The three were also lifeguards together at Harvard. Here's a Harvard Crimson article about Jahar's lifeguard days, published days after the bombing.

It seems that Steven Silva was much closer than Stephen to Jahar. His friends says so, and so does a supervisor at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool. Steven and Jahar played soccer together, here's a part of a team photo showing both of them. Also, it's Steven's FB page that laments the charges against his good friends Jahar, Dias and Robel. (The Silvas lived in the same apartment building where Robel was arrested and Steven was close to Robel.) It was Steven who was with Jahar on July 4, 2012, when the cops confronted them sitting in Jahar's car outside a loud house party. (Additional leaks now say police think it was Stephen but there were no arrests or fingerprints taken that night, so it seems like rank speculation. Steven was given a citation and paid a fine for having an open container in the car.)

Here's what I think is a photo of Jahar and both twins:

Here are the Silva twins together, in a photo taken Christmas Eve of 2011. I think Steven is on the left, and Stephen is on the right.

The twins are with another brother whose last name is Santos and a relative, whose last name is also Santos. On FB, another relative comments about how she misses the twins, and he says he'll tell Steven and Stephen.

The family seems very close and happy. They go to graduations (here and here (same graduation, one with the mom and one with the dad of the sister who is graduating -- I'm not sure if both twins or just Steven is in them). They have Christmas and other family gatherings. The adults' FB pages are filled with praise and love from family members abroad who comment on almost every family photo posted. A sister of the Silva twins just graduated from law school.

A twitter page of Stephen's is here. Some nicer photos than his mugshot are here and here.

Undoubtedly, Stephen is in some legal trouble. While the amounts of drugs he sold were small, he was on bond for the marijuana offense at the time of the alleged heroin sales. That will bump his federal sentencing guidelines. He's also got the gun possession charge. But I think it's very unfair for the media to claim he gave Jahar the gun that killed the police officer when it's not known how the gun got from Tsegai in Maine to Stephen in Boston, whether other people owned it in between, who obliterated the serial number, and whether it went directly from Stephen to either Tsarnaev brother, or whether Stephen gave or sold it to someone else who ended up giving it to the Tsarnaevs. There are a lot of possibilities.

It wasn't illegal for Stephen to have a gun, it was illegal to have a gun whose serial number was altered or obliterated. If he wasn't into guns, he may not have even noticed that the serial number had been obliterated before he gave it to whomever he gave it to. Possessing a gun with an obliterated serial number or even giving it to one of the Tsarnaev's certainly doesn't make him responsible for the officer's killing.

The shooter is dead and the accomplice will be spending the rest of his life in jail (if he's not executed). Stephen should be tried and held accountable for what he did that is illegal, not for the public's moral outrage and thirst for vengeance.

(Note: If I've misidentified anyone in the photos or gotten the family relationships wrong, I'll be happy to correct it -- just let me know in comments or via email.)

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  • Display: Sort:
    Seems so obvious , doesn't it? (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by ruffian on Thu Jul 24, 2014 at 04:43:12 PM EST
    Stephen should be tried and held accountable for what he did that is illegal, not for the public's moral outrage and thirst for vengeance.

    I wish we lived in that world.

    Significance for the Tsarnaev Trial (none / 0) (#1)
    by RickyJim on Thu Jul 24, 2014 at 03:06:22 PM EST
    The defense has been fairly quiet as to its strategy for avoiding the death penalty but my guess is that the prosecution will try to bring out that Jahar was a lowlife drug dealer who hung around with shady, non Muslim characters from whom he obtained at least one gun.  Thus perhaps the jury will not be able to have any sympathy or think Tamerlan ran the show completely.

    I still find Jahar quite mysterious.  He seems much different than the Arab 911 plotters, McVeigh, Nichols and the Unibomber