The L.A. 8, arrested in 1987 for allegedly aiding terrorists, still express bewilderment over it all. And the government still presses its case.
June 30, 2005|Peter H. King | Times Staff Writer


Picture a tidy, two-story house on the far eastern fringe of metropolitan Los Angeles, folded inconspicuously into the land of the tiled rooftop and the two-hour commute. At the front window stands an Arab man, 47 years old, with dark, brooding eyes and slumped shoulders. He stares out at the street, watching, waiting.

This is on the morning after Sept. 11, 2001. The man’s name is Khader Musa Hamide. A Palestinian, he has lived in the United States for 30 years. He is a coffee bean wholesaler, an Internet day trader and the father of three boys. He is also, as he puts it, a “quote-unquote suspected terrorist.”

For many years now, Hamide has fought off attempts by the United States government to deport him for activities related to his visible, vocal advocacy of Palestinian causes. He was arrested in early 1987, along with his Kenyan wife and six other Palestinian immigrants.

They initially appeared destined for rapid deportation to the Middle East. The proceedings stalled on legal challenges, however, and the L.A. 8, as they came to be called, were allowed to carry on with their lives as best they could while they waited for the litigation to run its course. They are waiting still.


On this grim morning, the man at the front window barely resembles the dashing young organizer captured years earlier in FBI surveillance photographs. He attributes his aging more to his troubles than to the passage of time. He has lost his hair. He has lost friends. And he has lost his sense of trust: Behind every new face, he sees a potential FBI undercover agent.

More than anything, though, he has lost his political voice, which, certain government documents suggest, was precisely the point of the investigation in the first place. This is a man who once demonstrated defiantly in front of the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles, who once exhorted hundreds at a 1986 Glendale fundraiser to reach into their wallets, telling them, “People, the revolution will not continue, and the march to Palestine will not go on, with words alone.”

Now he tries to keep his political views to himself. His weekends are filled not with rallies for the revolution, but with suburban errands, ferrying kids to basketball practice in his van. He worries that his neighbors might discover he’s a principal in a terrorism case. One man up the block, in fact, did piece it together, and his children haven’t come to play since.

“I can see that,” Hamide will concede. “If somebody thinks that there is a quote-unquote suspected terrorist living in the neighborhood …

“Well, you know.”

Fretting about neighborhood gossip on this morning, of course, would seem misplaced and maybe moot. Hamide has convinced himself that, given the terrible events of the day before, the FBI will start at once to round up every “Arab that has a brain.”

Surely, he reasons, a Palestinian who already has been labeled a tool of terrorism by the United States, who for nearly 15 years has resisted a relentless government campaign to be rid of him, surely he will be among the first swept up. This is why Hamide watches the street. He is waiting, as he will recall years later in an interview, for the sedans with multiple antennae, the agents in their windbreakers. In 1987 they had surprised him at dawn, bursting into his apartment a dozen or so strong, guns drawn. This time he is ready.

“OK,” he mutters to himself. “Come and get me. I’ve got my shoes on. Come and get me.”

But the agents do not come, not on this day, not on any day since.

Instead, for Hamide and other members of the L.A. 8, the case simply will stagger along as it has from the start, with more legal filings and cross-filings, more revisions of the charges, more meetings with the lawyers, more paperwork to add to the heaping pile. And also, more time to ponder what they see as the central mystery of their peculiar legal predicament.


“Why? This is the biggest question,” Hamide says. “Why us? And why is the government so persistent in this case? We honestly don’t understand.”


The Los Angeles Herald Examiner announced the arrests with a headline stripped across its front page: “War on Terrorism Hits L.A.” When they recall that headline today, 18 years later, members of the eight will make a point of noting that the Herald Examiner no longer exists.

Their case has outlasted the paper — along with five U.S. attorneys general, the McCarthy-era anti-communism law under which they were originally charged, the Soviet Union, numerous Middle East peace initiatives, Yasser Arafat, the coming and going of numerous “marathon” legal struggles, the Rodney King trial, the O.J. Simpson case, the Clinton impeachment, and their youth.

For the accused, the case long ago bolted the boundaries of mere jurisprudence. They tend to speak of it today as something almost animate — a hulking, many-limbed beast that stomped into their lives one gray January morning in 1987 and has refused to leave. The case, they say, has broken apart marriages and disturbs the sleep of their children. It impedes their concentration, and has cost them jobs. It dictates the terms of their lives.

They seem to recognize more readily in others the marks the case has left on them all. They will shake their heads and confide how much a certain one of them has aged, how another, beset by depression, could not leave his couch for three years, how the child of still another required treatment for psychological scarring caused by the case.

“You can see it in their eyes,” said Aiad Khaled Barakat, a tall, gaunt 44-year-old. “Look at them and you see the case.”

What do you see?

“Worried. Sadness. You see wonder. That’s what you see.”

This bewilderment at what has befallen them is accompanied by a detectable wariness. Not all would agree to be interviewed, fearing repercussions. Those who did talk frequently offered up, with a certain urgency, anecdotes meant to demonstrate how ordinary their lives are, how thorough their assimilation into American mainstream — stories about the speeding ticket they beat, or the money they donated to tsunami relief, or the homeless man they set up in a successful window-washing business.


“I’ve been here for 33 years,” said Hamide, now 51. “I eat like Americans. I act like Americans. I dress like Americans. I talk like Americans. I think like Americans. I do everything like Americans.”

Indeed, from a distance, it would appear that the L.A. 8 have blended seamlessly into the Southern California landscape. Walk down Monrovia’s main street in the middle of a workday afternoon and there, in front of the bank he manages, is Ayman Obeid, dressed in a starched shirt and creased trousers, cigarette dangling between his fingers as he discusses business with two customers. From time to time he’s invited into classrooms, where he introduces youngsters to banking and the value of saving a dollar.

Drop in on Barakat’s apartment in Arcadia, and on the family room coffee table are rolled-up blueprints for a public school renovation.

After his arrest, a budding venture in home building failed. Barakat then joined his brother in another construction firm, and they have made a success of it, securing bids on schools, public libraries, recreation halls, even winning a piece of the action on a Hollywood mogul’s 45-room mansion.

Michel Ibrahim Shehadeh bought a pizza parlor a few miles from Disneyland — Pizza Town. Most days this spring he could be found amid the stainless steel ovens; at the counter toiled his 21-year-old son, who as a 3-year-old had watched with horror as his father was hauled away in handcuffs.

Hamide works out of his home, and eavesdropping government agents who once strained to catch snatches of his conversations with supposed subversives now would hear him haggling about the wholesale price of coffee beans while trying to quiet a small child who had wandered into the room.

They would hear him explain why he couldn’t meet this particular day to talk about his terrorism case: “I have a nanny problem.”

All in all, Hamide would observe on another day, “we’ve been pretty good capitalists.”

This was a sly reference to the initial charges filed against the eight, allegations that their distribution of magazines published by the Marxist-leaning Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine made them subject to deportation under a provision of the McCarran-Walter Act, an immigration bill passed amid the Red Scare of the early 1950s.

After their arrests, a federal lawsuit was filed on their behalf, challenging the provision as a form of guilt by association. Before the challenge reached a judge, the government dropped the Marxist-related charges. Instead, it now sought to deport six of them on immigration technicalities — such things as violating the terms of a work permit or taking fewer college courses than required on a student visa.

“To use a football analogy,” William B. Odencrantz, then regional counsel for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, told reporters at the time, “we don’t care how we score our touchdown, by pass or run. We just want to get them out of the country.”


Hamide and Shehadeh, alleged leaders of the group, had already gained permanent-resident status, so the visa violations tactic was not applied to them. Instead, they were recharged with other provisions of the immigration act: first, for associating with an organization that advocates “the destruction of property,” and then for affiliating with a group that advocates the assassination of government officials of “any organized country.”

“In those days,” said Odencrantz, now with the Department of Homeland Security, “we really lacked the tools to properly deal with aliens involved in terrorist activities, whether they were threatening our domestic situation or engaged in activities that would foster terrorism around the world.”

This would change over time. An immigration statute drafted in 1990 to replace the McCarran-Walter Act — after its constitutional flaws were exposed by the L.A. 8 case — allowed the deportation of aliens who had provided material support to terrorist organizations. The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing led to a further toughening of anti-terrorism law.

Finally, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, there would come that sling blade of counter-terrorism laws, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, more commonly known as the Patriot Act.

All of these legislative changes contained language that allowed their retroactive application to the L.A. 8 case. Indeed, it is under the Patriot Act that the government next month will again attempt to deport Hamide and Shehadeh.


“This is the horrendous thing about being an immigrant,” Hamide said. “There is no double jeopardy. They can arrest you in ’87 and charge you with a law that was enacted in 2001. It is just never-ending.”

The legal dexterity that allows the government to bring new charges for past activities is what concerns others in the L.A. 8. Technically the July proceedings in immigration court will not involve them, but one enduring lesson of their experience has been to never underestimate the government’s resolve to see them removed, be it by pass, run or dropkick.

If Hamide and Shehadeh win, Barakat said, “I will feel comfortable. If they lose … ”

He paused here and completed the thought wordlessly, with a drag on his cigarette, a shrug and a certain look in his eyes, a look of worry and sadness and wonder.


The law offices of Van Der Hout, Brigagliano and Nightingale occupy the fifth floor of a box of a building in the heart of San Francisco. A cabinet that runs along an interior wall is stuffed with files generated by the L.A. 8 case and its numerous side skirmishes, litigation that explored the boundaries of free-speech rights for noncitizen residents.

Inviting a reporter to plunge into these archives one afternoon, a legal aide apologized that they were not yet fully organized. She said she was working on it — is always working on it. Apparently, maintenance of the L.A. 8 files is akin to the repainting of the Golden Gate Bridge, a perpetual work in progress.

For all the legal churning the case has created, the basic forensic facts have not changed over the years. The case revolves, now as then, around the results of FBI Special Agent Frank H. Knight’s stakeouts of a handful of events in the mid-1980s — translated transcripts of fiery speeches, surveillance photos of the eight setting up the hall at the fundraiser in Glendale, dancing a folk dance known as the dabka.

As the facts have remained the same, so have the fundamental legal positions.

Prosecutors have continually maintained that the money raised through the efforts of Hamide and the others made its way to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. And even if the PFLP ran kindergartens and clinics in Palestinian refugee camps, this did not mitigate the terrorist acts it also claimed to have committed. As one Justice Department attorney pointed out, “The Nazis built the autobahn.”

The L.A. 8 and their lawyers, meanwhile, have framed the case as an assault on inalienable freedoms: the right to speak freely, to express even unpopular political viewpoints, to be protected from selective prosecution and guilt by association. They insist, in short, that the Palestinians were targeted because they stood, loudly, on the wrong side of U.S. policy on the Middle East.


“That’s really what this case has been about,” said L.A. 8 lawyer Marc Van Der Hout, “trying to stifle political dissent and political activity. It’s about the government trying to stop political support in this country for groups abroad that it doesn’t like, and that’s the bottom line.”

There have been several times in the run of litigation when it appeared the case might be resolved in the eight’s favor. Their most satisfying victory came in April 1996. U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson, a Reagan appointee, moved to block the deportation process, ruling that the eight had been unfairly singled out because of their political viewpoints and that their affiliation with the PFLP was protected free speech.

The decision had added significance in that Wilson was the first judge — and to this point the only one — to weigh all of the government’s evidence, a previously classified 10,000-page monument to the persistence and investigative ingenuity of FBI agent Knight. The judge found it less than persuasive.

“The government,” he wrote, “has submitted book-length tracts published by the PFLP explaining its interpretation of Marxist-Leninist ideology. It has submitted dozens of issues of Al Hadaf, the PFLP’s official newspaper, none of which mention any of the plaintiffs. It has also submitted extensive hearsay compilations of the acts of terrorism linked to the PFLP over the years, in none of which any of the plaintiffs are in any way implicated.”

Wilson turned to Knight’s stakeout of the 1986 Glendale fundraiser, scoffing at the agent’s conclusion that khaki clothes and posters depicting AK-47 assault rifles were proof of support for terrorism.

“Instead of following the trail of the money collected at the Glendale dinner,” Wilson wrote, “the government simply advances the bald assertion that because the event had a militant tone, it must have been intended to support exclusively the PFLP’s terrorist activities. There is no basis in logic or in the proffered evidence for this assertion.”

Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his decision, determining that the eight had gone prematurely to the federal courts for relief, before the deportation process had played out. However, the opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, went beyond the technical issues the lawyers had been asked to brief.


Turning to the substance of the case, Scalia disagreed with a lower court ruling that a defense claiming selective prosecution — that is, the targeting of certain groups by law enforcement because of race, gender, political associations — could be applied to the L.A. 8 case.

“An alien unlawfully in this country,” he declared, “has no constitutional right to assert selective enforcement as a defense against his deportation.” Moreover, the government “should not have to disclose its ‘real’ reasons for deeming nationals of a particular country a special threat — or indeed for simply wishing to antagonize a particular foreign country by focusing on that country’s nationals.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, this has meant that federal investigators can target specific immigrant communities, detaining or deporting anyone found to have overstayed a visa or otherwise run afoul of immigration fine print — without fear of facing a selective-prosecution challenge in court. “As a result,” warns David D. Cole, another L.A. 8 lawyer who came to the case, pro bono, through the Center for Constitutional Rights, “Arab and Muslim foreign nationals with any possible immigration problem are well advised to do nothing — such as speaking out, demonstrating or joining political associations — that might bring them to the attention of the federal government.”

In other words, hunker down, lie low, which is pretty much what the L.A. 8 have been doing for the last 18 years.


They no longer see much of one another. They don’t subscribe to Palestinian magazines. Few of them attend Palestinian events, and only one, Shehadeh, has remained politically active. They would not be surprised to discover that their telephones were still tapped. Most try to avoid political discussions with strangers.

None dance the dabka anymore.

“No, not since ’86, that infamous year,” Ayman Obeid said. “I have just kind of isolated myself from the whole thing. I do not dance. I can dance now, I taught it. But do I dance? No.”

In fact, he went on, “I don’t even want to be in the vicinity of somebody who says, ‘I love Palestine,’ because I don’t know. I know what I thought, and I know what I wanted for my life, for Palestine. But I don’t know your background. So I don’t want to be in the same set as you are, because I don’t know what they think of you.”

By “they” he meant the FBI.

From beneath his banker’s dress shirt, Obeid produced a medallion that hung from a chain around his neck.

“It says ‘Palestine’ in Arabic,” he said. “I’ve never taken it off. I love where I come from. If you don’t, then you’re not a man, or a woman, of heritage and background. Did I want to be an Arab? I don’t know. Did I want to be a Palestinian? I don’t know. But I am, so it is who I am….


“I mean, why can’t I sing and dance for my country? I mean, everybody does it. Arabs, Italians, Armenians, Greeks. Greek movies we go to, and we pay money to see them. I bet you if I have a Palestinian movie, not only are we not going to have people going there, but probably they will shut down the movie theater. I mean, I hope I’m wrong, but why cannot I say what I feel as long as it is at a peaceful gathering?”

Then he stuffed the medallion back inside his shirt.

The early government decision to go after six of the eight on technical visa violations in effect scattered their individual cases through the system, and as a result their current immigration statuses vary.

Basher Amer, pulled from his chemistry finals by the arresting officers, beat the charge that he had failed to take the minimum course load required by his student visa: He’d received bum advice from a college counselor. He has since returned to Bethlehem, in the West Bank, the only one of the eight to have left Southern California.

Hamide’s wife, Julie Mungai, received permanent-resident status in December, a decision that came after the immigration judge noted how dated the case was: “I think we have had enough time to deliberate…. Time has been favorable to the respondent. They have a good family, good jobs.”

As the family rose to leave the courtroom, the judge had words of encouragement for one of Hamide’s young sons. Maybe, the judge said, the boy would become president of the United States one day, or at least attorney general.

Amjad Obeid, Ayman’s brother, also has won permanent-resident status. Told that this terrorism suspect was now employed as a state transportation engineer, the immigration judge only laughed.


Ayman is awaiting a decision on his permanent-residency application; until then he must renew his work permit regularly if he is to continue as a bank manager.

Barakat and Naim Sharif at first were denied permanent-resident status after an immigration judge heard the FBI’s secret evidence against them. This led to a successful challenge in federal court.

Over the last year, Barakat has sought in vain to gain citizenship. In immigration hearings, the case workers have peppered him with questions about the PFLP and his pro-Palestinian activities in the 1980s.

“Do you agree with the methods of the PFLP, their terrorist activities?” he is asked at one hearing, according to a transcript.

“I don’t agree with any terrorist act,” Barakat responds.

“At the time, you weren’t in support of the PFLP?”

“I am not in support of any terrorist act. I support the PLO, and the PFLP is part of it. I support that we want an independent state for the Palestinians.”

The hearing officer keeps pressing. He asks Barakat about his participation in events that were promoted as a celebration of the PFLP’s founding.

“When you went to these events, did you know they were PFLP events?”

“They were not PFLP events. They were celebrations of that date.”

“So you were celebrating the PFLP?”

“The people, yes.”

“If you weren’t in support of the PFLP, why were you attending a celebration of it?”

Even in the cold type of the transcript, Barakat’s mounting exasperation becomes obvious.

“I have no ideology,” he says at last. “I don’t not like this guy because of his beliefs.” He went to PFLP parties, he says. He went to Fatah parties. He went to Egyptian parties, Iranian parties, Armenian parties. “I go to any party that has dance, cultural, Middle Eastern food. I love to meet people, especially women, and dance. I was a young guy.”


The stakes for the eight have risen as the years have piled up. The L.A. 8, they often say, have become more like the L.A. 28, with the children and spouses who have come aboard since the arrests.

Asked if he had ever considered just giving up, Hamide’s response was emphatic: “No. Absolutely not. And for a very good reason. Because it is my life, for one thing. And my family’s life. I have nowhere else to go.”

As their children have grown older, the parents have confronted the dilemma of what and how to tell them about Dad’s terrorism problem. For Amjad Obeid, that moment came last Christmas Eve. His 14-year-old daughter had been bombarding him with questions. Why didn’t he travel with them to Mexico when they went to see her mom’s family? Why, if he was Arab, did he not visit the Middle East? Why did he need a lawyer?


“So Christmas Eve, I was just driving with her. I said: ‘You know what? I think you’re old enough to know. You’re entitled. Here’s the story.’

“She was shocked and surprised and then, knowing her intelligence, she went on the computer and she read the whole Supreme Court brief and very much understood the case.”

Because of their immigration status and the repercussions of the case, most of the eight have not managed to visit the Middle East, even as their now elderly parents begin to pass away. It’s not clear that Israel would permit them to enter the occupied Palestinian territories; it’s also not clear that they would be allowed back into the United States. In essence, they have become detainees of the country that wants to deport them.

At a later immigration hearing, Barakat tries to explain the urgency behind his effort to become a U.S. citizen.

“This has been over 16 years, 17 years,” he says. “I need to go visit my family, serious…. My father passed away. When he was sick I couldn’t go see him. And my mom, she is about 80 years now, and she is sick.”

The hearing officer asks if formal travel restrictions are in place: With a green card, he should be able to fly overseas.

“Israel won’t let me in,” Barakat explains.

“I see,” the hearing officer says.

“I need an American passport so I can get in. We get problems there, we come to the freedom country, we start getting problem. I don’t know where to go.”

In December 2004, Barakat learned that his bid for citizenship had been denied: He lacked “good moral character.” The 14-page rejection leaned heavily on the works of FBI agent Knight: “You were observed rehearsing for the entrance ceremony of the event. The FBI declassified records of the investigation indicate that you participated in setting up the event.”

When they contemplate the case, as they seem to do constantly, what baffles the Palestinians most is the government’s persistence. Their early victory in the bail hearing, the many federal court rulings in their favor, the enormity of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — all of these, to them, would have provided the government a natural opening to drop a difficult and even embarrassing case.

They have developed many theories to explain why, instead, the case was kept alive. There is the legal guinea pig theory — that the case was designed to establish precedent for removing immigrants who support disfavored foreign groups. There is the bureaucratic inertia theory — that in time the case became something of a self-justifying institution.


There is the theory that the case has been driven by some mysterious order from on high — that someone in the top tier of government has it out for them. And there is the theory that it was rooted in their fledgling success in the early 1980s as proponents of Palestinian statehood.

The government lawyer Odencrantz did not necessarily reject all of these theories. Yes, he said, the case has provided a vehicle to test “very important” legal issues and to accumulate the “tools” needed to proactively deal with terrorism threats. As for bureaucratic inertia, yes, “the case has its own momentum. As they have bitterly resisted the decision to remove them, we see no reason that their resistance should cause us to simply say: ‘Well, we’ll forget it. It has gone on too long.’ ”

As for 9/11, the ramming of hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon did not suggest to the government that circulating PFLP magazines and participating in folk dances perhaps no longer met the terrorism bar. From a brief filed in the L.A. 8 case after 9/11:

“This case involves an issue of critical importance to the nation’s ability to deport aliens who have provided financial and material support to a foreign terrorist organization. In light of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the importance of this issue cannot be overstated.”

Within weeks of the Sept. 11 attacks, L.A. 8 attorney Cole received a call in his Washington office from a congressional aide. The lead Justice Department attorneys on the case, he was told, were in the conference room where the bill that would become the Patriot Act was being drafted. Perhaps Cole should come over. He did, but the Justice Department lawyers protested.

“The compromise was that I got to sit outside,” Cole said. “It was like being a lawyer in a grand jury proceeding. I sat outside and the [congressional] folks would come out and say, ‘What do you think of this? What are the implications of this?’ And then they’d go back in.”

The questions convinced Cole that the government lawyers “were definitely in there trying to write a law that would basically knock these guys out of the park.”

In its final form, the Patriot Act did render moot many of the legal issues in the L.A. 8 case.

As a result, the coming trial of Hamide and Shehadeh will revolve around two questions: Did the money raised at the fundraisers actually go to the PFLP, and, if so, did the two know, or should they have known, that it would be used to underwrite terrorist activities?

Asked whether, if the government prevails, deportation charges will be brought against other members of the L.A. 8, Odencrantz replied:


“Probably not.”

Probably not?

“Probably not. Obviously, if we get information that suggests one of the others did something….”


One day in late May, six weeks before the scheduled start of the trial, Shehadeh and his wife were scrubbing the kitchen at Pizza Town one final time. The next day they were to turn over the keys to new owners.

“This way,” Maxine Shehadeh said, “whatever they dish out, we will be able to deal with it.”

Michel Shehadeh expressed confidence, as had Hamide, that they would win. If they did not, he said, there would be the opportunity to appeal again through the federal courts. That the case might come to provide a constitutional test of the Patriot Act is not out of the question — and, in an odd way, might even be fitting.

“The lawyers,” Shehadeh said, “have been saying it may be another 20 years.”

It was not clear if he was joking.

The talk turned to the topic of Frank Knight. They all seem to have Knight stories — how he would appear at seemingly every court hearing over the years, how he would look coldly beyond them whenever they tried to make eye contact or engage him in small talk during recesses, his palpable fury when rulings went their way, his intimidation tactics, his threats to flick them from the country, like flies.

They wonder what drove him. Was he out, as Barakat put it, “to win a star”? They question his methods. They mimic his gait and mock his performance in deposition, four days of sometimes combative, sometimes stammering testimony about the fungible nature of money, about the “statement” one makes by moving the American flag off a stage, about how to connect the dots between a folk dance performance in Glendale and an assassination in the West Bank.

“He always struck me as professorial, always deep in thought,” Shehadeh said. “Who knew he was just deeply unthoughtful?”


And now, here he was, Frank Knight himself, standing in the doorway of his San Diego condominium. He was 3 inches shorter and substantially thinner than the hulking 6-foot-5 linebacker of a man the Palestinians had described. He was wearing jeans, a polo shirt, running shoes.


He smiled almost shyly as he congratulated his unexpected visitor for tracking him down. Unfortunately, Knight said, government policy prohibited him and any other agents who worked the L.A. 8 case from discussing it.

“It’s not that we don’t want to talk,” he said. “We can’t. We would end up in jail.”

He fairly beamed when it was suggested that he and the New York agent who had conceived of the plan to go after the eight with immigration laws had been, it turned out, many years ahead of their time.

“We were two Lone Rangers,” he recalled.

As he remained in the doorway, Knight was given a rushed update on the lives the Palestinians had carved for themselves in the years since he first began to track them — running a bank branch, opening a pizza parlor near Disneyland, building public schools, selling coffee beans, buying houses, raising families, all of it.

“Well,” he said, smile quickly fading, “if you have read my reports, if you have done your homework, you should know they shouldn’t be in those positions. But I really can’t talk.”

Come back, he suggested, when the case is over. He would be happy to discuss it then, he said, for hours, for days, “for as long as you want.”

It was a polite offer, delivered with one last winning smile, but of course it ran counter to the one incontrovertible rule that has governed the case of the L.A. 8 for 18 years now: For whatever reason, it is never over.