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Posts tagged ‘U.S. Justice Department’

US to Seek Death Penalty Against Boston Marathon Bomber.

Accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be put to death if he is found guilty of planting bombs that killed three people and wounded 264 at the Boston Marathon last year, the U.S. government’s chief prosecutor said on Thursday.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that he was authorizing trial prosecutors to seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev, who is charged with committing one of the largest attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

“The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision,” Holder said. Holder had faced a Friday deadline for deciding whether to seek the death penalty as part of Tsarnaev’s upcoming trial in Boston.

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The decision drew fire from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which pointed out the case would be prosecuted in a state that had scrapped the death penalty decades ago.

“I wish Federal officials would have respected the clear wishes of the people of Massachusetts, who were on the front lines in this tragic event,” Carol Rose, the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts said.

A Boston Globe survey found last year that 57 percent of Boston residents favored life in prison for Tsarnaev, if he is convicted, with 33 percent in favor of execution.

Prosecutors say that Tsarnaev, 20, and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan planted a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the race’s crowded finish line on April 15, 2013, killing three people – including an 8-year-old boy. The blast also wounded 264 others, many of whom lost limbs.

Three nights later, the pair killed a university police officer and later engaged in a shootout with police that left Tamerlan dead, prosecutors say.

Austin Sarat, Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College in Massachusetts, said the nature of the case probably left the Justice Department little choice but to seek capital prosecution.

“If the harm is unusual, if the harm is dramatic, gruesome, and devastating, it is often very hard for any other factor to outweigh it,” he said. “I’m not surprised by this decision.”

The younger Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges. Justice Department officials said the nearly seven months since the attack was necessary to evaluate fully the circumstances of the case and to gather recommendations from prosecutors advising Holder.

Holder has said he is not a proponent of the death penalty because he believes its value as a deterrent is questionable, but since becoming attorney general in 2009, he has authorized prosecutors to seek the death penalty in 36 cases, according to the Justice Department.

Attorneys for Tsarnaev have argued against a possible death sentence, in part because they claim Dzhokhar was following the lead of his older brother. They have also accused the government of throwing up unfair obstacles to hinder preparation of their client’s defense, including seeking to rush the start of trial and not sharing important evidence.

Tsarnaev’s defense attorney Miriam Conrad declined to comment on Holder’s decision on Thursday.

The blasts killed 8-year-old Martin Richard as well as Krystle Campbell, 29, and Chinese national Lu Lingzi, 23. Tsarnaev is also accused in the shooting death of Sean Collier, 27, the university police officer.

A spokesman for Richard’s family said the family did not want to comment. Efforts to reach the families of the other victims were not immediately successful.

A trial date for Tsarnaev has not yet been set.

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© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


Former Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell, Wife Indicted.

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife have been indicted on federal corruption charges

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, says McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were indicted Tuesday. The 14-count indictment includes conspiracy, wire fraud, and other charges.

McDonnell left office earlier this month after four years in the governor’s office. Virginia law limits governors to a single term.

A federal investigation overshadowed the final months in office for this once-rising star of the Republican Party, with authorities looking into gifts he and his family received from a political donor.

In July, McDonnell apologized and said he had returned more than $120,000 in loans and other gifts from Johnnie Williams, the CEO of pharmaceutical company Star Scientific.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

US Officials Screwed Up Snowden’s Name, Passport in Hong Kong Requests.

Image: US Officials Screwed Up Snowden's Name, Passport in Hong Kong Requests

Edward Snowden’s bespectacled and goateed face was almost unavoidable in Hong Kong last week. It stared out from newsstands, banners and giant TV screens on shopping malls and office buildings after it became known that the admitted leaker of U.S. secrets was in town and in hiding.

Still, when the U.S. asked the semiautonomous Chinese city for Snowden’s provisional arrest, its response was essentially this: Who exactly do you mean?

Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen said Hong Kong officials weren’t sure who to look for because the U.S. government got Snowden’s middle name wrong in documents filed to back its arrest request.

He said Hong Kong immigration records listed Snowden’s middle name as Joseph, but the U.S. government used the name James in some documents and referred to him only as Edward J. Snowden in others.

“These three names are not exactly the same. Therefore, we believed that there was a need to clarify,” Yuen said Tuesday.

Yuen said U.S. authorities also failed to provide Snowden’s passport number. He said officials received the arrest request on June 15 and sent a request June 21 for clarification. Two days later, Snowden flew to Moscow.

“Up until the moment of Snowden’s departure, the very minute, the U.S. Department of Justice did not reply to our request for further information. Therefore, in our legal system, there is no legal basis for the requested provisional arrest warrant,” Yuen said. In the absence of such a warrant, the “Hong Kong government has no legal basis for restricting or prohibiting Snowden leaving Hong Kong.”

U.S. officials don’t buy Hong Kong’s explanation, and neither do some legal experts in the city.

“It’s not like he’s some mystery figure. He revealed himself on TV,” said Hong Kong University law professor Simon Young. “The whole world knows what he looks like.”

Young and Hong Kong-based extradition lawyer Michael Blanchflower said authorities are able to exercise their discretion and use other methods to identify fugitives, who often use aliases.

“It may be in some cases that the person’s name or passport number are not known, but for instance you could have a physical description accompanied by a photograph,” said Blanchflower.

The decision to let Snowden go has raised tensions between the U.S. and Hong Kong. U.S. officials suggested that Beijing had a hand in letting Snowden leave Hong Kong, a former British colony that is now a semiautonomous region with its own legal system. But Hong Kong leaders say they were following the city’s rule of law in processing the U.S. request.

The U.S. Justice Department said the government gave Hong Kong all the information that was required under the terms of their extradition treaty.

“The fugitive’s photos and videos were widely reported through multiple news outlets. That Hong Kong would ask for more information about his identity demonstrates that it was simply trying to create a pretext for not acting on the provisional arrest request,” a spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the department.

“It wasn’t a pretext at all,” Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said Thursday. “We were just following the laws of Hong Kong.”

Young, who specializes in criminal law, said that because of the “political sensitivities” involved in the case, authorities did not rush the case and had taken extra care.

“I think that the Hong Kong government was insisting on a fairly high standard of completeness, and that, I assume, is their practice. They know that our courts will look at these things very closely and they don’t take shortcuts,” he said.

Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor and ex-CIA employee, disclosed the broad scope of two highly classified counterterror surveillance programs to two newspapers. The programs collect vast amounts of Americans’ phone records and worldwide online data in the name of national security.

He was expected to seek asylum in Ecuador, but it’s unclear where he was Thursday. Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week that Snowden was in the transit area of Moscow’s main airport, but a horde of reporters have found no trace of him.

The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks says one of its staffers is with Snowden, and said Wednesday on Twitter that he is well.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


US Announcing Charges in Alleged Credit Card Fraud.

Federal authorities on Tuesday announced charges against 18 people in an alleged international credit card scam that officials say stole at least $200 million, which would make it one of the biggest ever broken up by the U.S. Justice Department.

Officials say the losses are still being calculated and could grow much higher.

Charges were filed in U.S. District Court Newark against 18 people. By Tuesday morning, 13 of them were in custody.

The scam operated in at least 28 states and millions of dollars were wired to Pakistan, India, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Romania, China and Japan, according to court papers.

The basic charge is that, starting in 2003, perpetrators used 1,800 different addresses to create thousands of false identities, and used those identities to get 25,000 credit cards.

But there’s a sophisticated wrinkle, authorities said: The scammers sent credit rating agencies fictitious reports to persuade them to give the fake cardholders excellent credit scores. The better the credit scores, the more could be charged — and never repaid.

Further, the court documents say the conspirators set up at least 80 sham companies that did little or no legitimate business. The companies, including jewelry stores in Jersey City, had two functions, authorities said: They accepted credit card payments, which their creators kept, and they provided further fake credit reports to help pump up the fake cardholders’ credit ratings.

Authorities say the suspects created up to 18 false identities apiece, and obtained up to 298 credit cards.

Two brothers, Muhammad Shafiq and Mohammad Naveed, of Bellrose, N.Y., are accused of together getting 464 cards. Prosecutors said Shafiq and Babar Qureshi, of Iselin, N.J., were the ringleaders.

It was unclear if the three were among those in custody.



‘Nefarious: Merchant of Souls’ Exposes Sex Trafficking Industry.


 sex trafficking(Exodus Cry)

As we waited in a packed theater recently to see a new documentary about sex trafficking, I wondered how Christian filmmaker Benjamin Nolot would present this graphic subject to us.

Nolot heads an international ministry called Exodus Cry, based in Grandview, Mo., and is part of the leadership team of the International House of Prayer, led by Mike Bickle. The purpose of Exodus Cry is to abolish sex enslavement worldwide through prayer, awareness efforts, nonviolent rescue, and the rehabilitation and social reintegration of victims.

I knew, therefore, that he would be seeking to reach the widest audience possible with his exposé, Nefarious: Merchant of Souls. To do so with this subject matter, he’d have to balance reality with discretion. I’d soon see that he did—and accomplished that feat without comprising his purpose: to reveal the dreadful reality of this widespread criminal enterprise.

In 2007 Nolot embarked on fact-finding missions to investigate the underground sex “industry.” Ultimately, he traveled with his film crew to 19 countries. The film we were about to watch chronicled their journeys.  

Most of us attending the screening that night at Full Sail University in Orlando, Fla., were Christians. We went at the invitation of Florida Abolitionist, the sponsor and an NGO that campaigns against modern forms of slavery. Local pastor Tomas J. Lares told the audience he founded the organization after learning that Florida is a major pipeline of human trafficking. The state, it turns out, is the second-largest “hub” of human trafficking in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Lares provided some disturbing statistics about sex slavery: 2 million children worldwide are victims; 80 percent of all victims are women and children; the average age of victims entering the commercial sex trade in the U.S. is 13. Nolot’s film, however added the human side to those stats, telling the stories of real-life victims.

For the next two hours, we were taken to pulse points of the global sex industry: eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, western Europe, the western U.S. Through on-location footage and interviews with rescued girls, human-rights experts and others, Nefarious illuminated the darkness that shrouds this illicit trade.

In particular, I found two expressions of the so-called industry to be profoundly troubling for the misery and oppression they inflict. These are the human-trafficking infrastructure in Europe and the parental-complicity culture of Southeast Asia.

Europe: ‘The Breaking Grounds’
Nefarious opens with a disturbing reenactment of a daylight abduction. A young woman is taken by force from a city street somewhere in Europe. The location isn’t named, but it perhaps is in Moldova, a small, former satellite nation of the Soviet Union on the edge of the Black Sea.

Moldova today is among the poorest countries in Europe and a land ripe for illegal enterprises: a place of “widespread crime and underground economic activity,” the CIA World Factbook notes. Slave traders call it “The Engine” of the European sex-trafficking industry. According to the film, more than 10 percent of its population has been trafficked into the illicit sex trade.

The young woman is taken to an apartment building owned by organized crime where she is confined with other girls who have also met her fate. Traffickers call these residences “the breaking grounds,” and it’s clear from the film that they are factories of human misery. Here young women are brutally transformed into compliant products for the sex industry.

Although abductions such as Nefarious portrayed do occur, most female victims of sex trafficking in Europe are lured by job offers that promise a better life from working in hotels, restaurants or in child care in prosperous cities of the continent. Phony employment agencies set up by traffickers run the scams. The best jobs supposedly go to girls who will relocate. Instead, they are kidnapped upon reaching their destinations and sent to the breaking grounds.

Vlad (not his real name) worked as human trafficker for 11 years in Europe. He spoke on camera and dissected the hell of the breaking grounds for Nolot.

Terror, drugs, threats of violence and actual violence all are used to subjugate victims’ wills and create total compliance. The brutal men who mete this out consider the ideal compliant state to be one in which they can bark single-word commands at girls (“Go.” “Stay.” “Down.” “Up.” “Sit.”) and receive immediate obedience.

Very few girls escape from the breaking grounds, Vlad said, due to constant surveillance, physical abuse and knowing the consequences of an attempted flight. Vlad was asked what would happen to a girl who tried to escape more than once.

“Well, when they are caught, they would be beaten,” he said. “If they tried it again … .  His voice trailed off as if to imply the obvious.  

Didn’t this bother him? he was asked.

“The first two or three times I had to discipline a girl, I thought about it,” he replied. “After that, I didn’t. You get used to it.”

Why didn’t this bother him? he was asked.

“Why should I quit thinking about what happens to the girls?” he replied rhetorically. “[It was] because it was good money—real good money.”

Ultimately, the girls face an existence in prostitution. Worse, some are sent to the slave auctions where they are sold as property to high bidders from around the world. One rescued European girl whose face was concealed when she spoke on camera described the modern-day, secret slave blocks of eastern Europe that are held in secured buildings and run like fashion shows.

“We had to walk down the runway and take off our clothes and stand before the audience,” she said. “The men who were interested in buying would come forward and examine us, like we were cattle.”

Nefarious contrasted the secret and brutal sex trade of eastern Europe with the openly practiced and well-established trade in the Netherlands, in western Europe. Brothels in the Netherlands are legal, government-regulated business. Amsterdam is well-established as an international destination for sex tourism.

Yet the Netherlands is also listed as a top destination for victims of sex trafficking, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In the last few years, sex businesses in the city have been closed down due to suspected criminal activity.

Nolot and his team spoke with an Amsterdam prostitution retailer named Slim and asked if his business was financed by organized crime. Hesitating for a moment, Slim replied, “No. No.”

Vlad disagreed. “These businesses are all mafia-run,” the ex-trafficker claimed, using the term mafia to mean “organized crime” in general. “It’s big money.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world and second largest, surpassed only by the illicit drug trade. Vlad told Nolot why sex trafficking in particular is growing so fast.

“Unlike with drugs, which can be sold only one time,” he said, “a person can be sold over and over again.”

But how is it all made possible on an international scale? he was asked.

“Without the mafias, there would be no human trafficking. It’s all about money,” he told Nolot. “But government corruption makes it possible.”

The illicit money is so abundant, he explained, that even authorities look the other way for a price. Payoffs occur every day, he claimed, from the top to the bottom in governments: from national to local officials, from immigration officers to customs workers, from police agencies to cops on the street.

Money is the key that opens the door of official complicity, he said.

Southeast Asia: ‘Parental Complicity’
In Southeast Asia, primarily in Cambodia and Thailand, Nolot and his team discovered another type of complicity helping to drive the industry.

In this corner of the world, the cultural views about women, as well as widespread poverty, have combined to create a feeder system for child prostitution fueled by “parental complicity.” The difference between this corner of the world and eastern Europe is that parents living in the impoverished regions knowingly, willingly, send their young daughters into the urban prostitution centers to make money for the family.
In some areas of Southeast Asia, girls are prostituted before age 10 and are used in the pornography sub-industry.

Once again, organized crime controls the larger industry. While this fact is not very evident in the cultural life of the rural villages, the film showed it at work in the modern tourist scenes of the big cities.

In the travel destinations of Southeast Asia, karaoke clubs are the main connection point for sex tourism. Nolot captured the club scenes on film: Groups of girls who looked to be in their early teens to 20s mingled with patrons on sidewalks or in street-side café-bars in front of the clubs. Many of the girls had paired off with white, middle-aged Western men—some of whom had no doubt traveled thousands of miles to be in a place where they could safely buy the underaged for sex.

Inside the clubs, Nolot’s camera captured the scenes: modern-décor rooms with shiny accents, bright colors, large flat-screen TVs, background music, subdued lighting and sexual energy. One club where he filmed had 80 of these rooms. In each of them, girls mingled, or floated in and out seeking connections. According to a police source Nolot interviewed, the owner had eight other clubs just like it and more than 2,000 girls in his network. It was just one such club among many in the international tourist areas.

Witnessing the sex industry at work, through scenes such as these, meant that making Nefarious was not an easy task for Nolot: “Seeing the trafficking problem from this angle was extremely difficult. There is not a day that goes by that I am not mindful of the horrific tragedies we uncovered.”

His motive for it, he said, is not to “sell” a movie but to help right a wrong. “This is all personal and deeply meaningful to me. I approach this issue with a desire for justice, not credential or fame. I am deeply passionate about seeing others, like myself, moved from ignorance to action.”

Speaking as a viewer, my guess is that all of us in the theater that night shared one thought by the time the credits were rolling: We wanted nothing less than to see this nefarious trade stopped forever.

Nefarious: Merchant of Souls is the first of three films from Benjamin Nolot about human trafficking. Films two and three are currently in production. For more about the movies, go to Nefarious: Merchant of Souls. For more about Exodus Cry, click here.

By Jimmy Stewart.

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