September 23, 2013

OIG probes ATF gun store actions

Fans, and not-fans, of the #ATF, formally known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, should check out this new audit by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General.

The 24-page report, completed in response to a congressional request, delves into the complicated-sounding doings around a Louisiana-based firearms dealer named Ralph Weaver, doing business as Guns & Ammo. The key question involves potential revocation of the federal license for alleged violations.

Bottom line, the investigators concluded "that the New Orleans Field Division did not comply with ATF's administrative action policy in the Guns & Ammo case and did not follow instructions it received from ATF headquarters...(and) also found that this case highlighted the problems that can result from the delays in ATF’s inspection process."

But to really understand what happened, you've got to check out the report.


Co-producer of movie bust to pay $1 million for insider trading

    Independent New York film producer Lawrence Robbins has agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission that he engaged in #insider trading, using leaked information to make option plays on two impending biotech takeovers.

    Robbins and his partner, John Michael Bennett, produced the 2012 bomb "Playback," a horror thriller that drew a talented cast, including vampire hearthrob Christian Slater for filming in western Michigan in 2010.

    If the film needed an infusion of money, Robbins and Bennett found a way to get it -- with some stealthy help from their friend Scott Allen, who worked for a global consulting firm that evaluated potential targets for firms exploring takeovers.

   The SEC charged that Allen tipped Bennett to the pending takeovers of Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and Sepracor, Inc. and Bennett passed the information along to Robbins, his partner in Bennett-Robbins Productions, LLC. The two producers each invested tens of thousands of dollars in options calls on the two targeted companies, and when Millennium's and Sepracor's acquisitions were announced, the pair racked up $2.6 million in illegal profits and pumped some of the cash into their film company, the SEC said.

     The money, however, didn't help "Playback's' fortunes.

    The film wound up with a domestic gross of $264 -- yes, that's CQ -- for its single showing in a single theater, apparently to an audience of 33, says Box Office Mojo, a subsidiary of IMDb, Inc.

    And Sanjay Wadhwa, senior associate director for enforcement in the SEC's New York Regional Office, says "their plot ... did not account for the real world consequences of being caught by the SEC."

    The SEC said that Robbins has agreed to pay $865,000 in disgorgement and prejudgment interest and a $150,000 penalty -- terms that take into account Robbins' "current financial condition. The settlement still could get pushback from a federal judge, because it allows Robbins to pay the fine without admitting guilt. But then, Robbins may have provided prosecutors lots of help in nailing Allen and Bennett, each of whom has pled guilty in parallel criminal ations.

 

 


September 20, 2013

Assailing high court, Holder presses fight to protect voting rights

 

Attorney General Eric Holder is #throwing a gauntlet toward the U.S. Supreme Court, assailing its recent 5-4 decision to strike down the core of the landmark Voting Rights Act. That ruling released nine states to change their election laws without pre-clearance with the Justice Department for the first time in nearly half a century.

Holder, in remarks prepared for delivery to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation on Friday, Sept. 20th,  said his agency is working to “vigorously enforce … all remaining parts” of the law.

“Let me be clear: this was a deeply flawed decision that effectively invalidated a cornerstone of American civil rights law,” he said. Holder conceded that the ruling last June already has had “a significant impact” on the Justice Department’s ability to restrict states from adopting laws that disproportionately affect minorities’ ability to vote.

But, he said, “We will not allow the Court’s action to be interpreted as ‘open season’ for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights. This decision has not, and it will not, weaken our resolve to ensure that every American can exercise his or her rights freely, fairly, and without intimidation or interference.”

The court’s ruling came after Congress voted in 2006 to reauthorize the law. Holder lauded the “extraordinary efforts” of Wisconsin Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the Republican former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who engineered passage of the extension, which President George W. Bush signed into law.

The conservative-leaning Supreme Court that Bush helped shape then struck down its central provision.  

After the ruling, the Justice Department asked a federal court to require the state of Texas to submit to a similar preclearance review to the one that the high court struck down and has since challenged Texas new voter identification law. He said the department’s Civil Rights Division is working to refine ways within the remaining parts of the law to proceed.

“Neither the President, nor I, nor the Department I am honored to lead, will waver in our determination to stand vigilant against changes that may hamper voting rights,” Holder said. “We will not hesitate to take appropriately aggressive action against any jurisdiction that attempts to hinder access to the franchise.”


Navy offering victims free legal aid

Victims of the Sept. 16 Navy Yard shooting and their immediate relatives are now receiving free legal assistance from a newly created team of lawyers.

 Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the legal aid from Navy judge advocates includes counseling on life insurance for the relatives of the 12 victims who died. Wounded victims can receive advice on health insurance and other benefits.

     Victims and their relatives can receive assistance in person between the hours of 8 am and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Those interested in more information can call 202-685-8382.

     A private memorial service will be held Sunday at 5 p.m. to honor the following victims:

* Michael Arnold, 59, of Lorton, Va.
* Sylvia Frasier, 53 Waldorf, Md.
* Kathy Gaarde, 62, of Woodbridge, Va.
* John Roger Johnson, 73, of Derwood, Md.
* Frank Kohler, 50, of Tall Timbers, Md.
* Kenneth Bernard Proctor,46, of Waldorf, Md.
* Vishnu Shalchendia Pandit, 61, of North Potomac, Md.
* Arthur Daniels, 51, of Southeast, Washington, D.C.
* Mary Francis Knight, 51, of Reston, Va.
* Gerald L. Read, 58, of Alexandria, Va.
* Martin Bodrog, 54, of Annandale, Va.
* Richard Michael Ridgell, 52, of Westminster, Md.

 

-- Reported by Marisa Taylor


Osama bin Laden burial info to stay secret

A # judge has denied a #FOIA request for documents concerning the funeral service for Osama bin Laden.

In a seven-page decision made available Thursday, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon sided with the U.S. Navy in denying the full Freedom of Information Act request filed by Judicial Watch. The FOIA-filing group had requested "records and communications" relating to any funeral service held for bin Laden prior to his burial at sea on May 2, 2011.

The Navy provided certain e-mails, but redacted portions. Leon concluded the redactions were "proper and necessary to prevent disclosure of sensitive operational details and to protect our national security."

Citing the declaration by a high-ranking military officer, Leon reasoned that there was "reasonable reason to believe that disclosing the redacted information could harm our national security by inciting al-Qaida members to retaliate against United States citizens and interests."

 

 


September 18, 2013

Charges unsealed, reward posted in diplomat's murder

 

   The #murder of a U.S. diplomat outside the embassy in Niger occurred nearly 13 years ago, but federal investigators have never given up their hunt for the killer.

   On Wednesday, Sept. 18th, prosecutors in Brooklyn unsealed an indictment of a Malian national accused of shooting and killing William Bultemeier, a Defense Department official attached to the embassy, as well as wounding a military aide in Niamey, Niger.

   In unsealing an indictment charging 42-year-old Alhassane Ould Mohamed with murder and attempted murder, the government also posted a $20,000 reward for information leading to his capture.

   The indictment alleges that Mohamed, also known as "Cheibani," and an accomplice accosted a group of embassy employees as they left a restaurant in after midnight on Dec. 23, 2000. Toting a pistol and an AK-47 assault rifle, Mohamed approached Bultemeier as he climbed into a white sport-utility vehicle, which bore diplomatic license plates, and demanded that he turn over the keys, it said. Mohamed then allegedly shot Bultemeier.

   Staff Sgt. Christopher McNeely, the embassy's Marine Detachment Commander, ran to his aid, but Mohamed fired his AK-47, hitting both Americans. Grabbing the car keys from Bultemeier's pockets, the two assailants sped away in the embassy car, the indictment said.

    Bultemeier died, but McNeely survived and later retired from the Marine Corp as a master sergeant.

    The indictment charges charges Mohamed with killing and wounding two internationally protected persons.

   "The sacrifice of Mr. Bultemeier and the courage of Staff Sergeant McNeely in service to their country will not be forgotten," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said. "The United States will work ceaselessly to bring those who harm our diplomats and military personnel to justice."

   George Venizelos, chief of the FBI's New York field office, said that an attack on U.S. government personnel, whether here or abroad, "is an attack on the United States" and warned Mohamed that he "should always be looking over his shoulders; it is only a matter of time before he is apprehended."


Court rules Facebook "Like" is protected speech

An appellate #court Wednesday concluded a #Facebook "Like" is tantamount to speech and hence protected under the First Amendment.

In a closely watched case, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that "on the most basic level, clicking on the 'like' button literally causes to be published the statement that the user 'likes' something, which is itself a substantive statement."

"In the context of a political campaign's Facebook page," the Richmond, Va.-based appellate court added, "the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is  unmistakable. That a user may use a single mouse click to produce that message that he likes the pages instead of typing the same message with seveal individiual keystrokes is of on constitutional significance."

Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, which filed an amicus brief, praised the ruling in a statement.

“This ruling rightly recognizes that the First Amendment protects free speech regardless of the venue, whether a sentiment is expressed in the physical world or online. The Constitution doesn’t distinguish between ‘liking’ a candidate on Facebook and supporting him in a town meeting or public rally," Wizner said.

The case involved Hampton, Va., sheriff’s department employees allegedly fired for using Facebook and other means to back their boss’s rival. One employee communicated the support by clicking “like.” Another wrote a Facebook post. A trial judge concluded last April that “merely ‘liking’ a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection.” He said it wasn’t the kind of “substantive statement” that courts traditionally have protected.

The appellate court disagreed, with Judge William Byrd Traxler, who was first nominated to the bench by President George H.W. Bush and to the appellate court by President Bill Clinton, writing that a Facebook Like "is the internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one's front yard."

The appellate court's decision kicks the underlying case, which involves more than the Like question, back to the trial court.

 


September 12, 2013

Alien sex offenders draw GAO scrutiny

#GAO investigators say #Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials can do a better job at overseeing alien sex offenders.

In a newly public report, which follows on a secret version issued last month, the Government Accountability Office investigators examined a representative sample of 131 offenders. They found that:

"Alien sex offenders are not consistently informed of potential registration requirements, and relevant jurisdiction officials — that is, state, territorial, and tribal sex offender registry and law enforcement officials — are not consistently notified when an offender is removed from the country or released."

Based on the sample, the GAO estimated that as of September 2012, 72 percent of alien sex offenders were registered, 22 percent were not required to register, and 5 percent did not register but should have.

The report notes that of the 59,347 aliens under an order of supervision as of September 2012, 2,837 (5 percent) had been convicted of a sex offense.

 


September 09, 2013

Odd Mexican release of DEA agent's killer triggers outrage

It was a quarter century ago, but the case stemming from the shocking kidnaping, torture and murder of U.S. DEA Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in Mexico is reverberating again, causing new outrage among American law enforcement officials.

In December 1989, four years after Camarena’s death, Caro Quintero, was convicted of conspiracy and racketeering charges and sentenced to 40 years in prison. But last month, a Mexican court ruled that he was improperly tried in a federal court rather than a state court. Quintero was released from prison and, while Mexican authorities are trying to reverse the ruling, Quintero is still at large.

At a meeting in Washington on Monday, Sept. 9th, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed his grave concerns to Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam.

“The kidnapping and murder of Agent Camarena was a heinous crime that shocked criminal justice professionals on both sides of the border,” Holder said in a statement. “Like many, I was surprised and deeply concerned to learn about the release of Rafael Caro Quintero last month.  We will continue to work with our Mexican counterparts to ensure that Caro Quintero does not escape justice.”

“Nothing will weaken our resolve to hold accountable those who commit acts of violence against our brave law enforcement agents,” the attorney general said.   


Royal Canadian Mounted Police dismounted in Olympics lawsuit

An #Olympics dispute has now resulted in a big loss for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In a heavyweight 208-page decision, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer sided with the North Carolina-based Cruise Connections Charter Management. Cruise Connections had won the multi-million dollar bid to arrange for ships that would house security personnel at the 2010 Olympics.

Then, Collyer noted:

"Well before the 2010 Olympics, the relationship between RCMP and Cruise Connections broke down completely...(as) Cruise Connections contends that RCMP reneged on its promise to pay certain taxes that Canada might impose on the cruise lines."

The complicated case requires close reading but the bottom line for Collyer is her conclusion that the Mounties "agreed to pay all Canadian taxes imposed on the cruise lines. When RCMP refused to acknowledge its commitment and then repudiated it, it breached the agreement between the parties in a distinctly fundamental way."

A bench trial will be held to determine damages.

 


ABOUT THIS BLOG

mike

"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

Send a suggestion or news tip. Read Mike's stories at news.mcclatchydc.com.

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