“In New York counterterrorism sting, a setback for federal law enforcement”

August 15, 2014

The Washington Post on August 14, 2014 released the following:

“By Adam Goldman

When Ahmed Abassi arrived in the United States for the first time in March 2013, the Tunisian student settled into a historic, neo-Gothic apartment building in Manhattan’s Financial District.

Unknown to him, the apartment was wired with audio recording devices, and Abassi’s American host was an undercover FBI agent. Abassi, then 26 and suspected of terrorism ties, had landed in an FBI sting, part of an elaborate operation that stretched from New York to Quebec City to a small town in Tunisia.

Abassi was caught on tape discussing “the principle that America should be wiped off the face of the earth,” with people he believed to be co-conspirators, one of whom was the FBI agent, according to court records. At one point, Abassi suggested “putting bacteria in the air or in a water supply.”

But last month, Abassi, who declined to be interviewed, pleaded guilty to relatively minor charges that did not include any terrorism enhancements that could have sent him to prison for years, and he is not contesting a deportation order.

The case was a rare setback for the FBI and federal prosecutors, which have successfully targeted suspected terrorists using sting operations, typically ending with the defendants about to embark on what they believe is a terrorist attack with fake weapons or bombs supplied by the bureau. Guilty verdicts and long prison sentences follow.

According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, nearly 50 percent of the more than 500 federal counterterrorism convictions since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have “resulted from informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot.”

Among the more prominent prosecutions, a Moroccan man was convicted for planning a suicide bombing at the Capitol. Amine Mohamed El Khalifi, an illegal immigrant who lived in Alexandria, was arrested wearing a suicide vest that he believed to be real and had been provided by undercover FBI agents. In Portland, a Somali-American was convicted of planning to remotely detonate an 1,800 pound bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The device was, in fact, inert and had been supplied by the bureau. In one 2009 case, the FBI arrested a group of men in New York state — the “Newburgh Four” — and charged them with plotting to blow up a pair of synagogues in the Bronx with fake bombs provided by an informant.

Human rights groups allege that the government is making terrorists out of people who otherwise would not have the ability or the will to move forward with an attack. “The government pursues people with mental or intellectual disabilities or people who are desperately poor with an aggressive informant or undercover agent to get them to agree to commit terrorist acts,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Washington office.

And the use of sting operations has also drawn some criticism from the bench. In the Newburgh case, the federal judge said the government “made them terrorists” and said the “buffoonery” of one of the defendants was “positively Shakespearean in scope.”

But no defendant, including in the Newburgh case, has successfully claimed in court that he was entrapped by overzealous investigators.

At a recent security forum in Aspen, Colo., former FBI director Robert Mueller defended the bureau’s tactics against charges of entrapment. Mueller said agents and prosecutors go to great lengths to make sure they do not cross that line.

“We know at the outset that anytime we do this that the defense is going to be entrapment and there has to be substantial predication to get over that hurdle,” he said. “It’s been the defense in probably dozens of terrorism cases that have been tried since Sept. 11. And I challenge you to find one of those cases in which the defendant has been acquitted asserting that defense. I don’t believe there is one out there.”

Abassi was arrested last year and charged with two counts of fraud and misuse of visas to facilitate an act of international terrorism. Federal prosectuors in the Southern District of New York withdrew the terrorism enhancements against Abassi before they could be adjudicated, and some activists said an entrapment defense might have tested the government’s winning record.

An FBI spokesman in New York declined to comment.

Abassi was more talker than terrorist and resisted attempts to move beyond words to direct action, according to his attorney, Sabrina P. Shroff, a federal public defender. She described the case against her client as a failed entrapment in which the government attempted to prey on Abassi’s “bad thoughts and bad speech.”

Fateful meeting

Abassi first came to the attention of the FBI in Canada, where he was studying for an engineering degree at Laval University in Quebec City, according to court records. His family said his sister followed him to Canada, where he also met and married a Tunisian woman.

Among Abassi’s new circle of friends was Chiheb Esseghaier, a doctoral student. The FBI and Canadian authorities began to suspect that Esseghaier and Abassi were part of a terrorist cell, according to court records.

Esseghaier introduced Abassi to a man from New York, Tamer El Noury, who said he was born in Egypt and had immigrated to the United States when he was a child. He looked like one of Abassi’s favorite performers, a Syrian singer named George Wassouf. The two got along famously. When in Quebec, Noury came to Abassi’s house to eat.

Neither Abassi nor his wife, Yousra, ever suspected that Noury was an FBI agent.

“We had no idea,” his wife said in an interview.

The New Yorker appeared wealthy and said he ran a successful real estate company in the city. As a wedding gift, he said he would pay for Abassi and Yousra to visit Manhattan, she said.

Abassi declined the invitation, and instead he and his wife flew to Tunisia in December 2012 to renew their wedding vows. “We danced, we invited all our relatives and friends and we enjoyed together,” his wife said.

The euphoria didn’t last. That month, the Canadians revoked Abassi’s visa without explanation. Officials decided to test Abassi’s willingness to conduct an act of terrorism.

Noury began what Abassi’s attorney described as an aggressive campaign to get her client to come to New York from Tunisia. Cut off from his wife, who was able to return to Canada to finish her education, Abassi seemed determined to secure a new visa so he could return to her side. He wanted to finish his master’s degree, and he had a job offer with a major mining company. But no Canadian visa was forthcoming.

Noury called Abassi’s wife in February 2013.

“We can get him in New York where he can stay with me in the apartment, or he will have his own apartment, and if, God willing, you can take some time off from work, we can bring you here to stay with him so that you can spend some time together,” said Noury, according to a transcript of the call.

Abassi agreed to fly to New York after U.S. law enforcement arranged a visa for the “sole purpose of advancing the investigation,” according to court records.

Move to New York

In March 2013, Abassi flew to John F. Kennedy International Airport, where he was briefly questioned by immigration authorities. Noury met him at the airport.

The two drove to the downtown apartment, where the call to prayer sounded electronically five times a day to highlight Noury’s piety. The undercover agent provided Abassi with a cellphone and laptop. The rent was free.

An unexpected visitor soon arrived: Esseghaier, who said he was attending a scientific conference in New York.

The three men met frequently. Authorities say Esseghaier told Abassi about his plans for a terrorist attack. But Abassi did not want any part of them, frustrating the conspirator, who urged Noury to throw him out of the apartment. Esseghaier called Abassi “useless” and not a “true brother.”

Abassi continued to make inflammatory statements, however. He argued that the Koran allowed “Muslims to attack Americans in the same ways Americans had attacked Muslims, including the killing of women and children,” according to court records.

On April 22, 2013, Abassi was questioned by the FBI. Prosecutors said he lied repeatedly about his relationship with Esseghaier and whether he knew the Tunisian planned to engage in terrorism. The FBI arrested Abassi. That same day, Canadian authorities took Esseghaier and another man into custody, charging them with conspiracy to attack an Amtrak train traveling from New York to Toronto.

U.S. prosecutors said Abassi acknowledged possibly radicalizing Esseghaier, and that the two had talked about committing terrorist acts, according to court records. They said Abassi did not want to participate in Esseghaier’s plans only because “the number of American casualties from such an operation would be too few.”

Shroff said her client did not radicalize Esseghaier.

“If you actually listen to the conversations between Chiheb [Esseghaier] and Ahmed, you’ll realize Ahmed is talking about words and verses from the Koran,” his attorney said. “He’s telling Chiheb what’s in the Koran. That is not radicalizing.”

Authorities also said the men had received guidance from members of al-Qaeda.

A U.S. law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive details of the case, said the FBI had to end the U.S. operation against Abassi prematurely because the Canadians were concerned about the threat Esseghaier posed and arrested him.

The official said more will come out about the men, including Abassi, when Esseghaier goes on trial in Canada. The official said the men were part of a cell and presented a serious threat, one the FBI helped eliminate.

“It was a good case,” the official said.

Abassi spent months in jail, part of that time in a segregated housing unit, before his attorney received transcripts of the FBI recordings. Shroff said it was apparent to her that Abassi had not provided the evidence the FBI needed to make its case, that he had not stepped over the line into active participation in a plot.

Prosecutors seemed to reach a similar conclusion. They told Shroff they would drop the terrorism enhancements if Abassi agreed to plead guilty to the charges that included putting false information on an application for a green card — the same one the undercover agent helped him complete — and making a false statement to immigration officials.

“Mr. Abassi would not be asked at the time of the plea, if he accepted this offer, to in any way admit that either of these crimes touched on a crime of international terrorism,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ferrara told the judge during a hearing in April.

Ferrara would not discuss the case, but another U.S. law enforcement official said there were considerations if the case went to trial, including revealing the true identity of the FBI undercover agent.

“There were strategic discussions,” the official said. “We had a good undercover who would then be exposed. Was it worth it to get a couple of extra years in prison? It’s not clear the judge would have given him more time.”

The official added that Abassi pleaded guilty to a felony and “will never again be in the U.S. That’s much better than letting him float around out there and never be charged at all.”

For Shroff, the reason prosecutors backed off is clear: “He was entrapped,” she said.

At sentencing, prosecutors called for a longer prison term than the six months suggested by the guidelines, arguing that Abassi was far more dangerous than “simply an immigration fraudster” and had “dangerous, extremist views.”

In a phone interview, his sister Amira Abassi said: “My brother is not a monster. That is the reality. He is not evil.”

On July 16, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum waved away government calls for a stern sentence. The 84-year-old judge told Abassi to stay clear of trouble.

“I hope that you will think very seriously about the events of the last year and will decide to always abide by the laws of the United States,” she said. “And if you do that, I wish you good luck.”

Abassi is being held in an immigration detention facility in New Jersey, where he awaits deportation to Tunisia.”

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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

Federal Crimes – Appeal

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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.


“13 alleged hackers indicted in attacks on sites unkind to file sharing, WikiLeaks”

October 3, 2013

The Washington Post on October 3, 2013 released the following:

By Matt Zapotosky

“Federal prosecutors have charged 13 alleged members of the hacking group Anonymous in connection with cyberattacks that the collective launched in 2010 against ­anti-piracy groups and financial institutions unwilling to process donations to WikiLeaks.

The indictment returned Thursday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria charges the 13 men with conspiring to intentionally cause damage to protected computers. Prosecutors accused the men of participating in a series of cyberattacks that briefly disrupted Mastercard’s and Visa’s Web sites and also targeted the Web sites of anti-piracy groups across the world.

Detailed in 28 pages, the charges are the latest in the Justice Department’s effort to root out cybercrime by prosecuting hackers across the country — especially those affiliated with Anonymous. Last year, federal prosecutors charged five alleged Anonymous members who they say stole confidential information from U.S. companies and temporarily shut down government Web sites. This year, prosecutors charged a journalist who they say worked with the group to modify a story on the Los Angeles Times’ Web site.

Anonymous is a loosely knit group with no clear leaders that is generally interested in promoting a more freewheeling Internet. Those indicted Thursday range in age from 21 to 65 and are spread across the country, including one man from the D.C. area.

The allegations in this case stem from a series of cyberattacks that began in September 2010, when members of Anonymous decided to retaliate for the shuttering of Pirate Bay, a popular Sweden-based file-sharing site, according to the indictment. Dubbed “Operation Payback” by those who participated in it, the attacks drew national and international attention as the hackers briefly disrupted the Web sites for Mastercard and Visa because they had stopped processing payments to WikiLeaks.

The effort was not overly sophisticated, but it was effective. The group posted messages on online bulletin boards urging supporters to install a program called a Low Orbit Ion Cannon and then, at a specified time, unleash the program on a particular Web site’s IP address, according to the indictment. That sends an overwhelming amount of Internet traffic to the targeted site and possibly disrupts or shuts it down, according to the indictment. The technique is referred to as a Distributed Denial of Service, or DDoS, attack.

For months, according to the indictment, the hackers, who see some copyright laws as unjust, targeted the Web sites of companies and people they thought were opposed to file sharing. They attacked the sites of those that have been the faces of anti-piracy in the United States — the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America — and the sites of their equivalents worldwide. They attacked the sites of law firms helping in anti-piracy cases. They attacked the site of the U.S. Copyright Office. They even attacked the site of rocker Gene Simmons, who has spoken out against music piracy.

Gregg Housh, an Internet activist and former Anonymous member who still watches the group’s activity, said the attacks started as a protest of anti-piracy efforts but evolved as those involved learned of major companies’ refusal to process WikiLeaks donations. He said the recent indictment was unlikely to deter Anonymous hackers, but instead would “fire up the base, a lot.”

“I think it’s just going to turn into a rally of support, not people being scared,” Housh said, “and that’s exactly what they don’t want.”

Housh defended Operation Payback — of which he said he had no part — as an effort to re-create a traditional protest online. He noted that customers’ abilities to use their credit cards were not affected; only the credit card companies’ Web sites were shut down.

“Something has to be done to come up with a way to protest online that everyone doesn’t end up getting thrown in jail,” he said.

Prosecutors identified those charged as Dennis Owen Collins, 52, of Toledo; Jeremy Leroy Heller, 23, of Takoma Park; Zhiwei Chen, 21, of Atlanta; Joshua S. Phy, 27, of Gloucester, N.J.; Ryan Russell Gubele, 27, of Seattle; Robert Audubon Whitfield, 27, of Georgetown, Tex.; Anthony Tadros, 22, of Storrs Mansfield, Conn.; Geoffrey Kenneth Commander, 65, of Hancock, N.H.; Phillip Garrett Simpson, 28, of Tucson; Austen L. Stamm, 26, of Beloit, Kan.; Timothy Robert McClain, 26, of Clemson, S.C.; Wade Carl Williams, 27, of Missoula, Mont.; and Thomas J. Bell, 28, of Rockland, Mass.”

US v Collins Case No 1-13-cr-00383-LO

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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

————————————————————–

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.


“Federal prosecutors seek hugely reduced sentence for Mark Dain, oversaw massive fraud”

October 3, 2013

The Washington Post on October 3, 2013 released the following:

By: Tom Jackman

“Mark Dain admits that he headed up a massive real estate fraud scheme, of the “no money down” variety, which scammed hundreds of Northern Virginia residents and cost banks millions of dollars. He sold vacant lots in North and South Carolina in 2006 and 2007, with the promise that they could be quickly flipped for easy profits, and it all collapsed with the real estate market. It’s been called the biggest real estate scam in North Carolina’s history.

Dain pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in July. His sentencing is Friday. The probation office calculates that Dain should face a sentence of 87 to 108 months in prison. But on Monday, federal prosecutors recommended that Dain be sentenced to just 26 months in prison. Then, on Tuesday, prosecutors amended their recommendation: Dain, the ringleader of the operation, should serve 18 months in prison. That would be less than the sentences imposed on three of Dain’s employees in his Woodbridge-based company, Total Realty Management, which prosecutors finally identified by name for the first time in their sentencing memos this week.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria did not return requests for comment or explain why it dropped its recommendation from 26 months to 18 months. Dain apparently has been cooperating with a federal investigation of his scam for three-and-a-half years, and prosecutors filed a separate memo under seal explaining why he should serve less time than the people he oversaw.

Dain’s scam began with recruiting pitches around Northern Virginia, many using his former Chantilly High School football coach, the widely respected Danny Meier. Dozens of teachers and school administrators signed up to buy a piece of land, with no payments due for two years because TRM was already collecting huge profits from the sale of the land and making the monthly interest-only. A fellow speculator, Michael McCracken, told U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in 2011 that the bank loan officers were well aware of the scheme, which involved falsifying loan applications and assets of the teachers and other investors. About 500 lots were sold, for prices ranging from $300,000 to $400,000, in three planned developments, including two near Topsail and Emerald islands in North Carolina.

Land values collapsed in 2007, and the lots became worth $10,000 to $15,000. The Northern Virginia buyers were stuck. Civil suits were launched in Virginia and North and South Carolina, eventually yielding settlements for many of the buyers that extricated them from the mortgages. But Dain and his main partner, Mark Jalajel, were never charged with a crime. Jalajel remains uncharged to this day.

But former employees were charged, including Aaron V. Hernandez, a former TRM employee who started his own company and used the same scheme. In May 2010, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to five years in prison. In July 2010, TRM employee Cari Deuterman pleaded guilty and received 24 months. Christopher Tonkinson, another TRM employee, also received 24 months. McCracken was sentenced to 40 months.

Also in 2010, according to his sentencing memorandum, Dain “became a born-again Christian and now lives his everyday life by the teachings of Jesus.” Before 2010, the memo by attorney Michael T. Pritchard states, “Mr. Dain admits he lived an immoral life, both personally and professionally. He made many mistakes. He broke the law. His actions hurt people.” So after the high-flying period in 2006 and 2007 when Dain was imploring bank officials to help him acquire great wealth by approving fraudulent loans, he spent another three years with the profits from the scam before realizing “he made many mistakes.”
Pritchard did not return a request for comment.

Dain turned himself in after his guilty plea in July. Pritchard’s memo asks Judge Ellis to sentence Dain only to time already served, or three months or, alternatively, less than 12 months with all time to be served in home or community confinement. Couldn’t hurt to ask. When Dain finishes his sentence, Pritchard wrote, “he plans to pursue a career in the ministry to share his story with hopes of inspiring others to live a virtuous life.”

Dain has been assisting the government for three-and-a-half years, Pritchard’s memo states. “He would drop everything if the government called and be there at a moment’s notice,” Pritchard wrote. “He sacrificed his time to assist the government because it was the right thing to do.” At the time of McCracken’s arrest in 2010, investigators revealed that ”the majority owner of TRM” was a cooperating witness and wore a wire to capture a conversation at McCracken’s home.

But what will the three-and-a-half years of cooperation by Dain lead to? He and Jalajel were disciples of Ron LeGrand, founder of the “No Money Down” movement, who has been linked to TRM in another failed South Carolina project with the same characteristics. Bank of America was particularly active with TRM in North Carolina and was a defendant in lawsuits claiming it was involved in Dain’s scams, although it is also listed as a victim in Dain’s case, along with BB&T, Carolina First and SunTrust Bank. Is the government targeting any of these folks, six years after it all went belly up?

Judge Ellis may well ask Dain about this, and more, at the sentencing hearing. It is set for Friday morning at 9 a.m.”

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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 – Appeal

————————————————————–

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.


“High-profile cases show a pattern of misuse of prosecutorial powers”

September 23, 2013

The Washington Times on September 22, 2013 released the following:

By Jeffrey Scott Shapiro

“It’s hard to imagine the U.S. as a place where citizens have to fear overzealous prosecution, but last week’s reversals in the cases of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and five New Orleans police officers are part of a troubling pattern reminiscent of the Soviet criminal justice system — a system in which the state is always right, even when it is wrong.

In both cases, the judges who overturned the original trial-court verdicts cited instances of prosecutorial overzealousness and abuse of power, making the two cases the latest high-profile trials to run aground on the basis of misconduct by the state’s attorneys.

The high-profile cases in recent years run the gamut from the ancient offenses of murder and rape to increasingly esoteric details of campaign finance and contractor law.

In 2008, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate, was charged by federal prosecutors with failing to report gifts. During the campaign season, Barack Obama said Stevens needed to resign “to put an end to the corruption and influence-peddling in Washington,” and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, moved to have Stevens expelled.

Stevens lost the election, but three months later, FBI agents accused prosecutors of withholding exculpatory evidence that could have resulted in the senator’s acquittal. Newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asked the court to vacate Stevens‘ conviction, but the damage already had been done.

The prosecutors’ misconduct destroyed Stevens‘ reputation and political career and affected the balance of power in the U.S. Senate in favor of Democrats.

Circumstances were not entirely different in the prosecution of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who was accused by local Democratic prosecutor Ronnie Earle to influence state elections with corporate money.

Mr. DeLay was convicted in 2010, but the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals overturned his conviction last week, saying the charges were based on “insufficient evidence.” Mr. DeLay called the indictment “an outrageous criminalization of politics,” but again, a Republican had been run out of politics. Mr. DeLay said he would “probably not” run for political office again.

Washington lobbyist and power broker Jack Abramoff is not as sympathetic a figure as Stevens or Mr. DeLay, but some reports indicate that the Justice Department intimidated Mr. Abramoff into a confession, and his case also revealed how the “honest services fraud” law gives federal prosecutors almost unchallengeable power.

Technically, the law lets prosecutors charge people when they “deprive another of honest services,” but it has been used as a catchall charge when the state is looking to secure an indictment from a grand jury but has exhausted all other options.

The U.S. Supreme Court eventually had to narrow the statutory meaning of the honest services fraud law, enacted in 1988, to avoid striking it down for unconstitutional vagueness.

William L. Anderson, an economics professor at Frostburg State University, once wrote of the law, “Have you ever taken a longer lunch break than what you are supposed to do? Have you made a personal phone call at work or done personal business on your employer’s computer? Have you ever had a contract dispute with an employer or client? All of those things can be criminalized by an enterprising federal prosecutor.”

In another case, five police officers were accused of murder in the fatal shootings of two men on a New Orleans bridge amid the chaos after Hurricane Katrina.

The officers were white and the victims black, and racial tensions were running high. Federal prosecutors turned to civil rights charges in accusing the officers.

Despite the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy prohibition, federal civil rights statutes enable U.S. prosecutors to pursue felony charges against a defendant in limited instances even if they have been acquitted of underlying state crimes.

Evidence in the New Orleans case was compelling, and the officers were convicted, but U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Engelhardt ordered a new trial last week, saying the government “engaged in a secret public relations campaign” by anonymously making extrajudicial statements against the defendants on a New Orleans news site.

“This case started as one featuring allegations of brazen abuse of authority, violation of the law and corruption of the criminal justice system,” he wrote in his order.

“Unfortunately the focus has switched from the accused to the accusers. The government’s actions, and initial lack of candor and credibility thereafter, is like scar tissue that will long evidence infidelity to the principles of ethics, professionalism and basic fairness and common sense necessary to every criminal prosecutor, wherever it should occur in this country.”

The Duke University lacrosse players’ case is one of the most notorious of selective prosecution designed for political gain. North Carolina prosecutor Michael Nifong made numerous public statements incriminating the team and turning the media against the defendants.

Despite the accuser’s history of falsely reporting incidents and lack of evidence, Mr. Nifong pushed the politically popular case in the midst of his re-election campaign. State officials took over the case, dismissing all charges, taking the unusual step of declaring the defendants innocent — not merely “not guilty” — and Mr. Nifong was ultimately disbarred.

Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said that “you can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners.” The same could be said of how fairly a judicial system prosecutes its accused defendants. Arrogance, not ethics, is emerging as criteria for prosecutorial discretion, and the result is a society based on fear, not freedom.”

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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

Federal Crimes – Appeal

————————————————————–

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.


Feds Charge W.Va. Judge in an Alleged Drug-Related Conspiracy

September 19, 2013

ABC News on September 19, 2013 released the following:

“By VICKI SMITH Associated Press

A West Virginia judge already facing corruption allegations was charged Thursday in a conspiracy that federal prosecutors say was cooked up to protect a now-deceased sheriff from revelations that he’d bought drugs.

The complex conspiracy laid out in court documents also involves a local prosecutor and a commissioner in Mingo County, a coalfields community along the Kentucky border that’s long been plagued by corruption.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said the goal of the plot was to stop a confidential informant from telling the FBI about his drug deals with late Sheriff Eugene Crum by putting the dealer behind bars.

Suspended Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury was charged with one count of conspiracy in a document called an information, signaling he is cooperating with federal prosecutors and may plead guilty.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Thornsbury’s attorney, Stephen Jory, did not immediately comment.

The U.S. attorney’s office declined to say whether prosecutor Michael Sparks or County Commissioner Dave Baisden will be charged. Sparks did not immediately return a message.

The sheriff, meanwhile, died in an April shooting apparently unrelated to the conspiracy. His widow, Rosie Crum, did not immediately respond to a message left at her home.

Rodney Miller, executive director of the West Virginia Sheriffs Association, called the revelations about Crum “disheartening” and a “a black eye” for all 55 county departments. Miller said his organization would never condone the kind of activity alleged by prosecutors.

“It flies in the face of what we do and what we stand for … and we don’t like that,” he said.

The judge was indicted last month, accused of abusing his power in a separate case. Prosecutors say Thornsbury had an affair with his secretary and tried to frame her husband repeatedly between 2008 and 2012 after she broke things off.

He is accused of enlisting the help of a state trooper and commandeering the grand jury and was set to stand trial next month. Prosecutors didn’t say how the new case will affect those charges.

The new charges against the judge paint a picture of a tightknit team of Mingo County officials ganging up on a local sign maker identified only as G.W. in the court documents.

The slain sheriff, who was also a longtime magistrate, was elected last fall on a campaign to clean up a pervasive drug problem. While campaigning, he bought signs and other materials from G.W. and still owed him $3,000 when he took office in January, the court document says.

When G.W. demanded payment, prosecutors say, Crum sent a confidential informant to buy the prescription painkiller oxycodone from him. Prosecutors say G.W. was arrested Feb. 1.

G.W. then hired an attorney and met with FBI agents. Prosecutors say he told agents he had sold narcotics to Crum “on multiple occasions” while he was the magistrate.

Crum and Sparks then went to the judge, prosecutors say, and told him that G.W. had incriminated the sheriff. Prosecutors say the group let G.W. know that if he fired his attorney and replaced him with one preferred by the judge, he could get a light sentence.

G.W. did, though the court filing does not identify either the new attorney or say what sentence he ultimately got. It says only that Sparks “arranged for a more favorable sentence … as a reward.”

Prosecutors say that after G.W. complied, Crum directed one of his deputies to have G.W. obtain a statement claiming he’d never sold the sheriff drugs.

Crum, 59, died in a downtown Williamson parking lot as he ate lunch in his car.

Tennis Melvin Maynard, a onetime boxing student of Crum’s, is charged with first-degree murder and awaiting trial. Maynard’s family claims the former sheriff had molested him and that the prosecutor’s office ignored his reports. Sparks has denied those claims.

On Wednesday, Sparks recused himself from Maynard’s case, citing only “an emerging conflict of interest.”

Crum was hired last summer as a special investigator in Sparks’ office while he campaigned for sheriff.

The day he was killed, Crum was keeping watch on a former “pill mill,” a place that had been shut down for illegally dispensing prescription drugs, to be sure it didn’t reopen.”

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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.


“Prosecutors Expect More Arrests in Art-Fraud Scheme”

August 19, 2013

The New York Times on August 19, 2013 released the following:

By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM

“Federal prosecutors handling the case against an obscure art dealer charged in one of the most audacious art frauds in recent memory told a judge on Monday that they expected more arrests in the continuing investigation. They also said they expected the case against the art dealer to be resolved soon.

The disclosures came at the arraignment of the dealer, Glafira Rosales, in United States District Court in Manhattan.

Ms. Rosales was arrested on money laundering and tax charges in connection with the scheme in May. She was arraigned Monday before Judge Katherine P. Failla on new charges contained in a superseding indictment that was handed up last week by a grand jury. She pleaded not guilty during the five-minute proceeding.

During the arraignment, Judge Failla asked one of the prosecutors, Jason P. Hernandez, an assistant United States attorney, if more arrests were expected.

“Yes,” he said.

Mr. Hernandez also said that the case against Ms. Rosales, which was the result of a lengthy F.B.I. investigation, was to be resolved in the coming weeks. He did not elaborate.

A lawyer for Ms. Rosales, Steven R. Kartagener, declined to comment on the new charges.

The charges issued last week revealed for the first time that all of the 63 phony art works at the heart of what prosecutors have described as a sweeping fraud scheme stretching over more than a decade were created by a single painter. The indictment identified him only as a painter who lives in Queens and said he had produced the canvases — purported to be by the hands of Modernist masters like Willem de Koonig, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and others — in his house and garage.

People briefed on the matter said he was Pei-Shen Qian, a struggling 73-year-old Chinese artist who came to the United States in 1981.

While he was paid a few thousand dollars for the canvases, they were later sold as works by Modernist masters for more than $80 million.

The indictment and other court papers said the painter who created the fake canvases was discovered selling his own art on the streets of Lower Manhattan in the early 1990s by Ms. Rosales’s boyfriend and business partner, an art dealer named Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, who recruited him to make paintings in the style of celebrated Abstract Expressionists. The indictment does not name Mr. Bergantiños Diaz, but his identity is confirmed by other court records.

It is unclear whether Ms. Rosales has begun cooperating with the federal authorities since her arrest in May. But while the prosecutors handling her case initially argued then that she posed “a substantial flight risk” and that no bail conditions could assure her return to court, convincing a judge to detain her without bail, last week, after the new indictment was handed up, the prosecutors did not oppose her release on a $2.5 million bond.

Julie Bolcer, a spokeswoman for the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, and an F.B.I. spokesman, James M. Margolin, declined to comment. Mr. Kartagener has refused to characterize his discussions with the prosecutors on the case, Mr. Hernandez and Daniel W. Levy.”

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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

————————————————————–

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.


“Attorneys for McDonnells to meet with prosecutors as key phase opens in gifts probe”

August 19, 2013

The Washington Post on August 18, 2013 released the following:

“By Rosalind S. Helderman and Carol D. Leonnig

Attorneys for Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, will spend Monday locked in separate hours-long meetings trying to convince federal prosecutors that the first couple should not be charged in the gifts scandal that has dominated state politics.

The meetings open a new, critical phase of the investigation, timed to help prosecutors decide over the next few weeks whether to file charges, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation.

Federal authorities have been investigating whether McDonnell (R) agreed to take official actions to aid nutritional supplement company Star Scientific while accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and money from its chief executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

The central issues for prosecutors are what precisely McDonnell may have said or offered to Williams on his own and how much the governor knew about his wife’s acceptance of gifts from Williams and her actions to help his company just as Star was launching a new product.

As the scandal has shined an uncomfortable spotlight on the governor’s marriage, McDonnell’s side has conveyed to authorities that his wife often purposely kept him in the dark about the largess she was accepting from Williams, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Their goal with that assertion is to convince prosecutors that it would have been impossible for Williams’s gifts to have influenced the governor in his official duties because McDonnell learned of many only after his wife had accepted them.

Prosecutors will have to decide how credible they find those assertions when considered against the timeline of the first couple’s interactions with Williams and other evidence, including Williams’s recollections.

According to two people familiar with his version, Williams has countered the account from the governor’s side. He has told authorities that McDonnell frequently spoke with him about ways he and the state could help Star Scientific gain prestige and scientific endorsements for its new anti-inflammatory supplement. The two people and others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

Williams also has told investigators that the governor was aware of his gifts and thanked him for helping his family during a time of financial strain.

McDonnell has said he broke no laws, tried to comply with state financial disclosure rules and took no unusual actions to assist the struggling nutritional supplement company beyond what he would do for any Virginia company.

The pace of the investigation

The now fast-paced timeline of the investigation is driven in part by two factors.

First, prosecutors generally wish to move as quickly as possible if they think there is evidence of criminal actions by a sitting, still powerful elected official.

Second, Justice Department guidelines discourage prosecutors from taking action during an election season to avoid the perception that they are trying to influence the outcome.

According to those rules, prosecutors would find it more difficult to proceed against McDonnell after Labor Day, given that Virginians will go to the polls Nov. 5 to choose his successor.

The governor’s side has been pressing prosecutors to wait until after the election to conclude their investigation, but the U.S. attorney’s office has not shown any appetite to delay, the two people with knowledge of the probe said.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment, as did Jerry W. Kilgore, an attorney for Williams. Rich Galen, a spokesman for the governor’s legal team, also declined to comment.

William Burck, an attorney for Maureen McDonnell, said that she genuinely believed in Star Scientific’s promise but that she never sought or asked Williams for anything and never agreed to help him or his company in exchange for gifts.

“Any suggestion to the contrary is false and belied by the facts,” he said. “Anything Jonnie Williams did for Mrs. McDonnell and her family was done solely out of friendship, at least that’s what she understood for her part. If Jonnie Williams is telling the government something different, it can only be because he’s willing to say anything to save himself from prosecution for other crimes.”

Just as the legal showdown is unfolding in Alexandria on Monday, McDonnell will be conducting one of the last major acts of his four-year term. He will be delivering an address to state lawmakers in Richmond on the health of Virginia’s finances.

While outgoing governors are typically welcomed warmly by members of both parties at the annual speech, lawmakers were bracing for an awkward scene as they greet a governor known to be at the center of an aggressive corruption probe.

Over a roughly 18-month span in 2011 and 2012, Williams gave $15,000 in clothing to Maureen McDonnell, a $6,500 Rolex watch he intended for the governor, $15,000 for catering at the wedding of one of McDonnell’s daughters and $10,000 as an engagement gift to another daughter.

Two people confirmed over the weekend that there were additional gifts, including golf clubs for each of the governor’s college-age twin sons and an iPhone for the first lady.

Most significant, in 2011 and 2012, Williams provided $120,000 to Maureen McDonnell and to a small holding company owned by the governor and his sister, money the governor has said were loans that he has now repaid. McDonnell also has offered a public apology for embarrassing the state and given back other “tangible” gifts Williams provided.

Competing accounts

A person familiar with the investigation said the governor’s team has told authorities that McDonnell did not know that Williams paid for a shopping trip for Maureen McDonnell at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City in spring 2011. They also have told prosecutors that he didn’t know it was Williams who bought the Rolex watch inscribed with the words “71st Governor of Virginia.”

The first lady gave the watch to the governor as a Christmas gift in December 2011.

A person with knowledge of the probe said the governor’s side contends that the first lady did not ask Williams for the watch and that McDonnell learned that Williams bought it only after he found out about the FBI investigation this year.

But in his account to authorities, Williams said that Maureen McDonnell requested that he help her get a Rolex watch for her husband, two people with knowledge of Williams’s account said. That request came on the same day that she arranged for him to meet with a top state health official about Star’s new product and the possibility of testing whether it would reduce health-care costs for Virginians, those people familiar with Williams’s account said.

The governor’s side also contends that he knew little of his wife’s decision to buy stock in Star — an investment that meant the McDonnell family held a personal stake in the company even as the couple took steps to promote it.

They say he learned of a $50,000 loan Williams made to his wife in May 2011, about two weeks after the money arrived, by which time it had been spent.

About $30,000 went to purchase Star stock intended for the McDonnell children and the rest to pay down debt.

McDonnell learned five months later, in November 2011, that the stock was in his wife’s name and had not been transferred to their children as she had indicated, according to someone familiar with the governor’s account.

By that time, the stock had plummeted in value and he urged her to sell. A month later, she did so, only to repurchase her shares, again without his knowledge, in January 2012, the person said.

The governor’s side says McDonnell did not know she had bought back the stock until nearly a year later, when in December 2012 the McDonnells agreed to disperse the shares among their five adult children. The current status of the stock is not clear, although McDonnell’s oldest daughter, Jeanine, said Sunday that she sold her shares in the spring. She declined to comment further.

There is no dispute that Williams and McDonnell personally discussed $70,000 the executive provided in 2012 to MoBo Real Estate Partners, a limited liability corporation McDonnell set up with his sister to manage two Virginia Beach rental properties they own.

But McDonnell has said that he made no promises to Williams in exchange for the money.

A state-funded lawyer appointed to represent the governor has conducted an audit showing that Star Scientific received no economic incentives, targeted budget appropriations, state contracts or appointments.

The most striking examples of assistance the couple provided the company came through the first lady, who flew to Florida within days of receiving Williams’s $50,000 check in 2011 and told a group of doctors and investors that she supported Star and believed its product could be used to lower health-care costs in Virginia. She also organized a luncheon at the governor’s mansion to mark the launch of Anatabloc, an event the company touted in a press release.

The governor’s side contends that his actions were far more limited. He attended the mansion event launching Anatabloc, but only briefly and at the urging of his wife.

He helped Williams get a meeting to pitch his product to Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel, but he has said that kind of assistance to business leaders was not unusual.

“Throughout my administration, I have directed my cabinet on a regular basis to evaluate anybody that comes in,” he told reporters after an event in Alexandria last week. “We have thousands of meetings during the course of the year with my cabinet and with me and everybody. We try to give everybody a fair shake.””

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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.