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    FBI, postal service raid Largo business

    Officials are tight-lipped about the afternoon raid of Bay Area Business Council offices, where items were confiscated and ordered sealed by a court.

    By CHRIS TISCH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2001


    LARGO -- Susan Trevena thought she recognized the suits two days ago. FBI, she thought.

    They were hanging around in the lobby of the First Union building, 801 West Bay Drive. Trevena, who works in her husband's law office in that building, wondered what they were up to.

    She found out Friday. A swarm of suited FBI agents raided a business in her building. When she left for the day, six or seven agents got on the elevator with her. They were taking boxes and crates with them, she said.

    Trevena, her husband, John, and the postal carrier who brings mail to the building identified the raided business as Bay Area Business Council, which is in Suite 201. Officials from the company could not be reached for comment Friday.

    The Trevenas said they believe Bay Area Business Council was involved in telemarketing or possibly an Internet-related business.

    Federal officials confirmed that they served two search warrants in Largo on Friday but would not say where.

    Largo police, who stood by while the warrants were served, said both warrants were served at businesses, one at the First Union building and the other on Tall Pines Drive.

    FBI spokeswoman Pam Salerno said the Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service, also was involved in the search warrants. Largo police and Pinellas County sheriff's deputies stood by, she said.

    Salerno said the search warrants "are in connection with an ongoing investigation." Information from any items taken during the searches will be discussed with the U.S. Attorney's Office, she said.

    She said the search warrants and affidavits were ordered sealed by the court, so she could say no more. A message left on the voice mail of the Clearwater-based agent in charge of the investigation was not returned Friday.

    Steve Cole, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa, confirmed the searches but could say no more. "We're not really at liberty to say anything at this point," he said.

    Linda Walker, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, confirmed that her agency was assisting the FBI. "We are assisting on this case. The FBI is the lead agency," she said.

    Walker said a member of the agency's fraud team was working on the case. She said the agency investigates any crime committed through the mail, whether it be drugs or bombs in the mail, or frauds or schemes involving checks, sweepstakes or charities.

    "We work a lot of different cases," she said. "Anything that's through the mail, that gives us jurisdiction to work it. Any criminal offense that's committed through the mail we have jurisdiction to get involved in."

    The Trevenas said a number of law enforcement sedans, with agents inside, arrived at the building around noon Friday. They said agents stayed all afternoon.

    Susan Trevena said she thought the business had about 40 employees.

    John Trevena said agents were seizing records and going through computers at the business.

    George Reiss, who delivers mail to the business, said he was making his rounds Friday when he came to Bay Area Business Council and was confronted by an FBI agent who took the mail. Reiss said he had to call his office to report that the mail had been intercepted.

    Reiss said a lot of certified and registered mail -- mostly packages -- are returned to the business every day. He said on Mondays there are sometimes up to 50 packages returned; there were about 20 on Friday, he said.

    "It's really been consuming me," he said of the heavy load. "All these are coming back. It would come in mountains.

    "When I went in there today, all hell broke loose," he added. "The Largo police were in there, the FBI was in there. And the FBI agent said, "I want to look at your mail' and signed off on it."

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