“Can federal charges be brought against Zimmerman?”

July 23, 2013

Reuters on July 23, 2013 released the following:

“By William Yeomans

Now that a Florida jury has found George Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter, people across the nation are demanding federal prosecution. But this public debate has been clouded by misinformation about the possibility and scope of federal charges.

President Obama’s powerful comments on Friday helped put this matter in perspective. The state prosecution deserves a strong measure of deference. The federal government must, however, conduct a thorough investigation and undertake the rigorous analysis necessary to ensure that the federal interest in punishing civil rights violations is vindicated to the greatest extent possible.

The public outcry for federal involvement reveals the legitimate passions stirred by the killing of Trayvon Martin and drives home the importance of getting this right. The decision whether to prosecute, however, must be based on the evidence and the law as analyzed by professional civil rights prosecutors in the Justice Department.

Here are the essentials that the public needs to understand.

1. Federal charges are not barred by double jeopardy. While a state or the federal government cannot prosecute the same individual twice for the same crime, the state of Florida and the United States are separate sovereigns. Each has independent authority to prosecute individuals for violating their respective laws. The Supreme Court has ruled that a prosecution by the state does not pose a constitutional prohibition against prosecution by the federal government.

2. Though a federal prosecution is not barred by the Constitution, the federal government will pursue a successive prosecution based on the same conduct only when the state prosecution has left unvindicated a substantial federal interest and the government believes the evidence will be sufficient to obtain conviction of a federal crime by an unbiased jury. These requirements, sometimes referred to as the Petite policy, appear in the manual that guides United States attorneys.

The killing of this unarmed African-American teenager implicates the substantial federal interest in punishing racially motivated violence. For the limited purpose of identifying the interest, prosecutors will assume they can establish racial motivation. The more difficult elements to satisfy are whether the federal interest has been left unvindicated and whether the evidence is likely to lead to conviction.

In evaluating whether the interest has been left unvindicated, it is not enough that Zimmerman was acquitted. Rather, federal attorneys must examine factors such as whether the jury disregarded the evidence or law, significant evidence was unavailable, state law required proof of a fact that is not required by federal law, or there was some other element of the prosecution that left vindication of the federal interest incomplete.

3. Federal civil rights laws generally serve as a backstop for state criminal law enforcement. Federal civil rights laws date back to Reconstruction. They are usually based on the notion that states have primary responsibility for punishing violent acts, but there are federal interests of such importance that Washington must have independent authority to prosecute. The need for federal criminal civil rights laws lies in part in the failure of recalcitrant state and local officials — particularly in the South — to enforce the law and of Southern juries to return convictions. If the state is pursuing charges against a defendant that, if proven, would likely vindicate the federal interest, the federal government will generally step back to allow the state process to play out. Once that is complete, the federal government can then evaluate the adequacy of the state process and decide whether to pursue federal charges. It may decide further investigation is necessary or it may conclude all the evidence has been obtained.

4. While successive federal civil rights prosecutions are rare, they do happen. Perhaps the best known example was the prosecution of the Los Angeles police officers involved in the beating of Rodney King in 1991. After officers were acquitted of state charges, the federal government indicted four officers and obtained convictions of two. Similarly, the federal government prosecuted and obtained convictions of two men in the anti-Semitic killing of Yankel Rosenbaum in Crown Heights, New York in 1991 after they had been acquitted in state court.

5. Federal criminal law is limited, but there are several criminal civil rights statutes that serve as backstops to state law. Two such laws — 18 U.S.C. 241 and 242 — punish the deprivation of rights by state actors. These are the statutes used most often — as in the King case — to punish police officers who use excessive force. They appear unlikely to apply to Zimmerman, who was not cloaked in state authority, but was acting as a vigilante.

Two other laws — 18 U.S.C. 245 and 249 — prohibit racially motivated violence. Section 245 was enacted in 1968, as the first federal hate crime statute, along with the Fair Housing Act, which contains prohibitions against racially motivated violence associated with housing. Section 245 requires that the government show that the defendant used force because of race and because the victim was engaged in one of the six federally protected interests enumerated in the statute.

In this case, the government would likely have to show that Zimmerman attacked Martin because of his race and because he was using a public facility. The government would have to establish that the area where Martin was attacked was a public street or sidewalk, which could prove problematic since the attack occurred in a private, gated community.

In 2009, however, Congress enacted the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which made it a crime to cause bodily injury because of race — regardless of whether the victim was exercising a federally protected right. This statute — 18 U.S.C. 249 — provides the most likely basis for a federal prosecution.

6. The major challenge of a federal prosecution will be to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was motivated by race when he shot Martin. Race plainly played a central role in Martin’s death. Few would contend seriously that if Martin had been white Zimmerman would have profiled him in the same way and would have initiated the contact that led to his death. The government’s challenge, however, would be to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that race motivated Zimmerman’s infliction of bodily harm. Zimmerman, doubtless, will argue that he was never motivated by race and certainly when he pulled the trigger he was defending himself and trying to save his life.

Most important, however, the state charges did not require it to prove racial motivation. The FBI has the opportunity and the obligation to investigate further into Zimmerman’s motivation.

In the end, whether or not criminal law provides a response to this unspeakable tragedy, the death of Trayvon Martin should spur each of us to heed Obama’s call to examine our individual attitudes about race, crime and culture. We should combine that reexamination with the extraordinary energy produced by the massive peaceful demonstrations following the verdict to examine harmful stereotypes and ill-conceived laws as we continue our long, painfully slow march toward the promise of a just nation.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Members of Alleged Sports Betting Ring Charged with Racketeering

August 8, 2012

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on August 8, 2012 released the following:

“PHILADELPHIA—A 23-count indictment was unsealed today charging 16 defendants in a conspiracy case involving the Mastronardo Bookmaking Organization, a multi-million-dollar sports betting operation with bettors throughout the U.S. At its peak, the alleged organization had more than 1,000 bettors and was generating millions of dollars a year. All but one defendant (Joanna Mastronardo) are charged with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise (RICO) and conducting an illegal gambling business. The indictment alleges that between January 1, 2005 and January 1, 2011, the organization utilized Internet websites and telephone numbers that allowed bettors to place sports bets on football, baseball, basketball, golf, horse racing, and other sporting events. Residents of Costa Rica staffed the Internet and telephone sites. The defendants allegedly hid more than $1 million in and around their homes, including in specially-built compartments and in PVC pipes that were buried in a yard.

Charged are Joseph Vito Mastronardo, Jr. and John Mastronardo, the two alleged leaders; Joseph F. Mastronardo, Eric Woehlcke, Harry Murray, Joseph Vitelli, Anna Rose Vitelli, Patrick Tronoski, Edward Feighan, Kenneth Cohen, Schuyler Twaddle, Michael Loftus, Michael Squillante, David Rounick, Ronald Gendrachi; and Joanna Mastronardo, the wife of Joseph Mastronardo, Jr. All, with the exception of Twaddle, were arrested this morning.

The indictment was announced by U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger, FBI Special Agent in Charge George C. Venizelos of the Philadelphia Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Eric Hylton of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, and Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman.

The indictment alleges that the defendants ran the organization using telephone, Skype, e-mail, text messaging, and in-person communication. They allegedly met bettors in-person, often in public buildings and parking lots, to collect or deliver payments that ranged from $1,000 to more than $100,000. The organization also allegedly used a gas station on Norristown Road in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, as a mailing address and drop-off site to collect gambling payments.

According to the indictment, members of the Mastronardo Bookmaking Organization laundered the gambling proceeds using check cashing agencies, private bank accounts, and international bank accounts and provided instructions so that a losing bettor could pay a gambling debt through a charitable donation.

According to the indictment, leader Joseph V. Mastronardo, Jr. supervised the agents, sub-agents, websites (www.betroma.com and http://www.betrose.com), office employees; laundered some of the betting proceeds; collected debts; and instructed others to collect debts. Mastronardo’s brother, John, also a leader in the organization, supervised agents and sub-agents, laundered proceeds, and collected debts. John’s son, Joseph F. Mastronardo, worked as an office employee, collected debts, and performed other financial duties. Eric Woehlcke was initially a bookmaker and office employee, then worked as an office manager, and eventually became a leader supervising agents and sub-agents and laundering proceeds. Harry Murray was a bookmaker who resided in Florida and laundered proceeds in and outside the U.S. Joseph and Anna Rose Vitelli owned J&A Check Cashing where, in 2006, they allowed the organization to occupy an office for the illegal gambling business and which was also used to aid in the laundering of proceeds. Tronoski, Feighan, Cohen, Twaddle, Loftus, Squillante, Rounick, and Gendrachi were all bookmakers.

The indictment alleges that in March 2010, Joseph V. Mastronardo, Jr., in a conversation with bookmaker Harry Murray, commented, “Well, times like this I’m happy I’m a bookmaker,” to which Murray responded, “Me too.”

“Technology allowed the defendants to allegedly expand their gambling and money laundering operation far beyond the borders of Pennsylvania,” said Memeger. “Unfortunately for the defendants, however, we have the necessary statutory tools to investigate and prosecute those who openly flout our illegal gambling and financial reporting laws.”

“Illegal gambling and money laundering are the financial engines that help drive criminal enterprises like the one alleged today,” said Special Agent in Charge Venizelos. “The type of gambling activity charged here is illegal. These types of extensive and long-term joint investigative efforts, worked with our partners like the IRS and Montgomery County Detectives, are intended to dismantle criminal organizations that profit from illegal activities.”

“This alleged racketeering operation was anchored in Montgomery County but had tentacles spreading across the U.S. and beyond,” said D.A. Ferman. “Despite our attempt to shut it down in 2006-2007 with a Montgomery County prosecution, my office discovered that the defendants, as is alleged in the indictment, were back in business. We partnered with our federal counterparts to examine the full scope of the alleged illegal gambling operation. Today’s indictment reflects the work of many law enforcement agents across multiple agencies. These defendants tried to ‘game’ the system. Today, they crapped out.”

“The indictments announced today are the result of a significant and complex investigation,” said Special Agent in Charge Eric Hylton. “With both law enforcement and financial expertise, our agents are uniquely qualified to assist with these types of cases by following the trail of money. Our office will continue to work aggressively to identify and target illegal financial gains.”

Joanna Mastronardo is charged with one count of structuring in which it is alleged that she participated in making approximately 72 deposits in amounts less than $10,000, totaling more than $500,000 in a 12-month period.

Joseph V. Mastronardo, Jr. is charged in all 23 counts of the indictment. The remaining 14 defendants are each charged with the RICO conspiracy and with prohibition of illegal gambling. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of more than $6.3 million as alleged proceeds of the illegal enterprise.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the Montgomery County Detective Bureau, and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jason P. Bologna.

An indictment or information is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

Federal Mail Fraud Crimes

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Five Individuals Charged in Alleged Connection with Death of a Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol Agent; $1 Million FBI Reward Announced

July 9, 2012

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on July 9, 2012 released the following:

Individuals Charged Are Allegedly Responsible for Death of Agent Brian Terry

TUCSON, AZ— The indictment charging five individuals involved in the death of United States Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was unsealed today in Tucson, Arizona, and a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the arrest of four fugitives was announced by Department of Justice officials.

According to the indictment, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes, and Lionel Portillo-Meza are charged with crimes including first-degree murder, second-degree murder, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, attempted interference with commerce by robbery, use and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, assault on a federal officer, and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. A sixth defendant, Rito Osorio-Arellanes, is charged only with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery.

The 11-count third superseding indictment (Case Number: CR-11-0150-TUC-DCB-BPV), which was handed up by a federal grand jury in the District of Arizona on November 7, 2011, alleges that on December 14, 2010, five of the defendants (Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes, and Lionel Portillo-Meza) engaged in a firefight with Border Patrol agents. During the exchange of gunfire, Agent Terry was shot and killed. The indictment alleges that the defendants had illegally entered the United States from Mexico for the purpose of robbing drug traffickers of their contraband. In addition to the murder of Agent Terry, the indictment also alleges that the five defendants assaulted Border Patrol Agents William Castano, Gabriel Fragoza, and Timothy Keller, who were with Agent Terry during the firefight.

United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy said, “Agent Terry died in the line of duty while protecting his country. But he was more than a federal agent—he was a son, a brother, a co-worker, and a friend to many. The indictment unsealed today reflects the progress our dedicated law enforcement team has made piecing together this complex murder case. But there is more work to be done and we will not rest until we bring justice to the family of Brian Terry.”

“United States Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry made the ultimate sacrifice in December of 2010, while protecting our border,” stated James L. Turgal Jr., FBI Special Agent in Charge, Phoenix Division. “Today’s announcement is an important step forward in the pursuit of justice for Border Patrol Agent Terry and his family. It is our hope that the publicity surrounding this case will lead to information concerning the whereabouts of the remaining four fugitives. The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to pursue those individuals responsible for the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.”

Manuel Osorio-Arellanes has been in custody since his arrest the night of the shooting. Rito Osorio-Arellanes has been in custody since December 12, 2010, when he was arrested by Border Patrol agents on immigration charges. The indictment is being unsealed today in order to seek the public’s assistance in locating the fugitive defendants.

This case is being prosecuted in federal court in Tucson by attorneys from the Southern District of California, Special Attorneys Todd W. Robinson, David D. Leshner, and Fred A. Sheppard. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is recused. This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

An indictment is a formal charging document and defendants are presumed innocent until the government meets its burden in court of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Wanted Posters
Ivan Soto-Barraza
Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes
Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga
Lionel Portillo-Meza”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Media motion seeks Edwards juror names at end of trial

May 26, 2012

The Charlotte Observer on May 24, 2012 released the following:

“The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and other media organizations are seeking to make public the names of jurors deciding federal charges against John Edwards at the end of his trial at the U.S. District Court in Greensboro.

In a motion filed with the court Wednesday, the media organizations cited a local rule of the Greensboro court that prohibits the clerk’s office from disclosing without court permission the names, addresses and telephone numbers of people who have served on juries.

The panel deciding whether the former U.S. senator and Democratic presidential candidate violated federal campaign-contribution laws is expected to begin its fifth day of deliberations Thursday. The jury has not been sequestered during more than four weeks of testimony or during deliberations.

The names of people serving on federal juries is public according to federal law, the media organizations argued in their court filings.

The motion also cites intense public interest in the trial and in how the jury ultimately rules. It argues that “there is no compelling governmental interest in withholding the identities of individuals who served on the jury. Moreover, given that the case has proceeded in open court with jurors whose identities are at least partially known, perpetuating the secrecy of the jury is an affront to the First Amendment in service of a weak interest with no hope of success.”

Joining in the motion are WRAL, WTVD, The New York Times Co., Media General, News 14 Carolina, NBC Universal and The Associated Press.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Drug crime sends first-time offender grandmom to prison for life

May 10, 2012

Houston Chronicle on May 10, 2012 released the following:

“Houstonian, who has no secrets to trade, is doing more time than drug lords
By Dane Schiller

FORT WORTH – The U.S. government didn’t offer a reward for the capture of Houston grandmother Elisa Castillo, nor did it accuse her of touching drugs, ordering killings, or getting rich off crime.

But three years after a jury convicted her in a conspiracy to smuggle at least a ton of cocaine on tour buses from Mexico to Houston, the 56-year-old first-time offender is locked up for life – without parole.

“It is ridiculous,” said Castillo, who is a generation older than her cell mates, and is known as “grandma” at the prison here. “I am no one.”

Convicted of being a manager in the conspiracy, she is serving a longer sentence than some of the hemisphere’s most notorious crime bosses – men who had multimillion-dollar prices on their heads before their capture.

The drug capos had something to trade: the secrets of criminal organizations. The biggest drug lords have pleaded guilty in exchange for more lenient sentences.

Castillo said she has nothing to offer in a system rife with inconsistencies and behind-the-scenes scrambling that amounts to a judicial game of Let’s Make A Deal.

“Our criminal justice system is broke; it needs to be completely revamped,” declared Terry Nelson, who was a federal agent for over 30 years and is on the executive board of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “They have the power, and if you don’t play the game, they’ll throw the book at you.”

Castillo maintains her innocence, saying she was tricked into unknowingly helping transport drugs and money for a big trafficker in Mexico. But she refused to plead guilty and went to trial.

In 2010, of 1,766 defendants prosecuted for federal drug offenses in the Southern District of Texas – a region that reaches from Houston to the border – 93.2 percent pleaded guilty rather than face trial, according to the U.S. government. Just 10 defendants were acquitted at trial, and 82 saw their cases dismissed.

The statistics are similar nationwide.

The latest case in point came this week with the negotiated surrender of a Colombian drug boss Javier Calle Serna, whom the United States accuses of shipping at least 30 tons of cocaine.

While how much time Calle will face is not known publicly, he likely studied other former players, including former Gulf Cartel lord Osiel Cardenas Guillen.

Cardenas once led one of Mexico’s most powerful syndicates and created the Zetas gang. He pleaded guilty in Houston and is to be released by 2025. He’ll be 57.

As the federal prison system has no parole, Castillo has no prospect of ever going home.

“Any reasonable person would look at this and say, ‘God, are you kidding?’ ” said attorney David Bires, who represented Castillo on an unsuccessful appeal. “It is not right.”

Castillo’s elderly mother in Mexico has not been told she’s serving life, and her toddler grandson thinks she’s in the hospital when he comes to visit her in prison.

Castillo is adamant about her innocence.

“Put yourself in my shoes. When you are innocent, you are innocent,” she said. “I don’t say I am perfect. I am not … but I can guarantee you 100 percent that I am innocent of this.”

At the urging of her boyfriend, Martin Ovalle, Castillo became partners with a smooth-talking Mexican resident who said he wanted to set up a Houston-based bus company.

But the buses were light on passengers and shuttled thousands of pounds of cocaine into the United States and millions of dollars back to Mexico. Her lawyers argued she was naive.

Castillo claims she didn’t know about the drug operation, but agents said she should have known something was wrong when quantities of money and drugs were repeatedly found on the coaches.

“After hearing all the evidence as presented from both the government and defense in this case, the jury found her guilty … ,” said Kenneth Magidson, chief prosecutor here.

Former federal prosecutor Mark W. White III said if Castillo had something to share, she might have benefited from a sentence reduction for cooperating.

“Information is a cooperating defendant’s stock in trade,” White said, “and if you don’t have any, … the chances are you won’t get a good deal.”

Castillo has faith that she’ll somehow, some day, go free. Her daily routine doesn’t vary: when she eats breakfast, when she works, when she exercises, and when she brushes her hair, which has gone from red-blond to black and gray. The gray gets respect in prison.

“I will leave here one day with my head held high,” she said. “I don’t feel like a bug or a cockroach. I am a human being, with my feet firmly on the ground.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


As Justice Department investigates shooting of Florida teen, doubts arise about federal charges

March 21, 2012

The Washington Post on March 20, 2012 released the following:

“By Sari Horwitz,

The decision by the Justice Department and the FBI to open an investigation into the slaying of an unarmed black teenager in Florida has spurred internal debate at the agency over whether the federal government could bring criminal charges in the case, which has sparked widespread protest.

Lawyers at the department said Tuesday that while the investigation into the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin would go forward, it would be difficult to prosecute the case under federal law. Civil rights law protects against “hate crimes” or actions by police officers, but Martin’s shooting may not have either of those elements, two officials said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the probe is still under federal review.

Martin was shot and killed Feb. 26 by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, who told police he was acting in self-defense. Zimmerman, 28, had called police from his car after he saw Martin walking in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.

According to the 911 tapes, Zimmerman told the dispatcher, “this guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something . . . they always get away.” The dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow, saying an officer was on the way. Minutes later, Martin was shot in the chest.

No charges have been brought against Zimmerman. Along with the Justice investigation, a local grand jury will consider evidence in the case.

Zimmerman’s family described him as “a Spanish-speaking minority,” and his father released a statement to the Orlando Sentinel saying his son did not target Martin because he was black.

Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said Monday, “I don’t understand why this man has not been arrested . . . let a judge and jury decide if he’s guilty.”

Lawyer Benjamin Crump, who represents Martin’s parents, said at a news conference in Florida on Tuesday that the teenager was on a cellphone with his girlfriend in Miami when he told her he was being followed, according to the Associated Press. She said Martin told her that he was trying to get away.

Crump, who did not release the name of Martin’s girlfriend because of privacy concerns, said she heard a scuffle and an altercation before the call was cut off.

Martin had not been using drugs or alcohol and would have had no reason to confront Zimmerman, Crump said in an interview. He had been watching basketball at his father’s girlfriend’s house when he went to a nearby 7-Eleven store for a snack, Crump said.

A bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea were on his body when police arrived.

Rallies have been held across Florida, with students calling for Zimmerman’s arrest, and the Rev. Al Sharpton will hold a national rally Thursday in Sanford.

Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, met in Washington on Tuesday with Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett and Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla). Brown urged Perez to prosecute the case as a hate crime.

Stephen A. Saltzburg, a professor at George Washington University Law School, called the case “a difficult one for the Justice Department.”

“This may be somebody who is racially biased, but from the 911 calls, it looks as though, however misguided this guy was, he thought that Trayvon was involved in some kind of suspicious activity,” Saltzburg said. “Race may play a role, but I just think it will be hard to bring this as a federal hate crime, given the limited reach of federal hate-crimes law.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa issued a statement late Monday saying that in civil rights crimes, the government “must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which law forbids — the highest level of intent in criminal law.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney offered condolences to the Martin family but said the White House was “not going to wade into a local law enforcement matter.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Justice Department, FBI to probe Florida teen’s death

March 20, 2012

CNN on March 20, 2012 released the following:

“By the CNN Wire Staff

Sanford, Florida (CNN) — Federal prosecutors and the FBI will investigate the killing of an unarmed African-American teen amid claims of racial profiling and widespread calls for charges against the Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer who has acknowledged shooting him.

“The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation,” Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said Monday in a written statement. “The department also is providing assistance to and cooperating with the state officials in their investigation into the incident.”

Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and killed February 26 while walking to his father’s fiancee’s house in Sanford after a trip to a nearby convenience store.

His father said Monday the family believes race was a factor in their son’s death, fueling a huge surge in the public outcry over the incident in the racially mixed community 16 miles northeast of Orlando.

“I think that’s an issue that Mr. Zimmerman himself considers as someone suspicious — a black kid with a hoodie on, jeans, tennis shoes,” Martin said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.” “Thousands of people wear that outfit every day, so what was so suspicious about Trayvon that Zimmerman felt as though he had to confront him?”

The case was one of the most discussed topics Tuesday morning on the social networking service Twitter, much of it dedicated to an online petition posted by Trayvon’s parents last month calling on Florida authorities to charge Zimmerman.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 534,000 people had signed the petition at Change.org, making it the third-largest petition campaign ever at the site, according to spokeswoman Megan Lubin. More than 10,000 people an hour were signing the petition early Tuesday.

Zimmerman, 28, has claimed self-defense in the shooting, according to police, who say they have not charged him because they have no evidence to refute his story.

But demonstrators who have turned out in recent days to protest police handling of the case have mocked Zimmerman’s claim, carrying bags of Skittles like the one Trayvon had bought shortly before his death.

CNN has made numerous attempts to contact Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, but have been unsuccessful. In a statement to the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman’s father says his son grew up in a multiracial family and has moved out of his home after receiving death threats.

Florida’s deadly force law allows people to meet “force with force” if they believe they or someone else is in danger of being seriously harmed by an assailant, but exactly what happened in the moments leading up to Trayvon’s death remain unclear.

Zimmerman’s father released a statement to the Orlando Sentinel last week in which he said his son never followed or confronted Trayvon. But on Monday, police released 911 recordings in which Zimmerman says he is, in fact, following the boy.

“Something’s wrong with him. Yep. He’s coming to check me out,” Zimmerman told a police dispatcher. “He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what his deal is. Send officers over here.”

The teen started to run, Zimmerman reported. When he said he was following, the dispatcher told him, “We don’t need you to do that.”

A few minutes later, someone who lives near the scene of the shooting called 911 to report an altercation. In the background, someone can be heard screaming for help, but the caller said she was too afraid to go outside and see what was going on.

Trayvon’s father said he believed the pleas for help were his son’s last words.

“It’s heart-wrenching, because those actually were my son’s last words,” he said. “And to hear his last words being cries of help, is devastating. It tears me apart as a father.”

On Monday afternoon, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the FBI was monitoring the case but that the White House was not going to “wade into a local law enforcement matter.”

Hours later, the Justice Department announced its investigation. It was unclear what prompted the change.

A handful of student protesters and a law professor from Florida A&M University met Monday with a representative of the Seminole County state attorney’s office and were told the local investigation will take several weeks, according to Jasmine Rand, the FAMU professor.

Assistant State Attorney Pat Whitaker told the students that the “investigation of the Sanford police needs to be greatly supplemented,” according to Reed.

The state attorney’s office also said a voice analysis would be conducted on 911 calls from the night of the shooting to determine who was yelling for help, students said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott weighed in on Monday, noting that the case has “caused significant concern within the Sanford community and the state” and asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to provide “any assistance necessary” to local investigators.

The Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have also called for a federal investigation, with the Black Caucus saying Sanford police showed “blatant disregard for justice” in the case.

In announcing the federal probe, Hinojosa cautioned that bringing a civil rights case requires that the government prove “that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids — the highest level of intent in criminal law.”

It was unclear when federal officials would announce a decision in the case.

The Justice Department said part of its effort will be to address tensions provoked by the case in the racially mixed community, whose population was 57% white and 30% African-American, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau figures. Hispanics, which can be of any race, made up 20% of the population, according to the data.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.