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Posts tagged ‘United States Department of Justice’

Feds Charge Texas Man With Hate Crime in ‘Knockout Game’ Attack.

Eric Holder‘s Justice Department has charged a white suburban Houston man with a federal hate crime for sucker-punching a 79-year-old black man in a “knockout game,” a violent trend that has been sweeping the nation.

“The plan is to see if I were to hit a black person, would this be nationally televised?” Conrad Barrett, 27, allegedly said in a cellphone call that was recorded, the Houston Chronicle reported Thursday, citing court documents.

The sick game is played when one or more youths decide to knock down a stranger, preferably with one punch, as they pass by. The event often is recorded so the proof  can be posted on the Internet.

It’s the first time the Obama administration has taken action on the distressing trend, The Washington Times reported, although unlike most reported “knockout” cases, in this instance the accused is white and the victim black.

According to the complaint in the Texas case, similar incidents occurred as early as 1992, and the Los Angeles Times reported attacks have been reported in St. Louis, New Jersey, New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, among other areas.

An assault attributed to the knockout game reportedly killed a Vietnamese immigrant in 2011 in St. Louis. At least one legislator in Illinois has called for tougher penalties, thTimes said.

Many of the victims in news accounts have been white and their assailants black, but hate-crimes charges have been rare, The Washington Times reported.

In New York, knockout game attacks have been on the rise since September, according to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. At least one was caught by surveillance cameras in which a 19-year-old Jewish youth carrying a camera was knocked to the ground, a CBS affiliate reported.

Rabbi Yaacov Behrman told the CBS he believes the assaults are part of a disturbing game by some African-American teens.

“They’re playing a game: ‘knockout.’ ‘Knock out the Jew,’ maybe. And they’re going around the neighborhood punching Jews,” Behrman said.

Activist the Rev. Al Sharpton wrote last month of an incident in which a 78-year-old Jewish woman was walking down the street in Brooklyn and was punched in the face.

“These kids are targeting innocent people, and in many cases specifically targeting Jewish folks,” Sharpton wrote. “We would not be silent if it were the other way around, and we will not be silent now. This behavior is racist, period. And we will not tolerate it.”

New York police charged suspect Marajh Amrit with a hate crime in the alleged attack of a white Jewish man as part of a “knockout” game.

According to Texas authorities, Barrett allegedly hit his elderly victim so hard,he immediately tumbled to the ground. Barrett then laughed and said “knockout,” as he ran to his vehicle and fled, according to the allegations.

The elderly black man had two jaw fractures and was hospitalized for several days.

“It is unimaginable in this day and age that one could be drawn to violently attack another based on the color of their skin,” FBI Special Agent Stephen Morris said in a statement.

The attack occurred Nov. 24; the criminal complaint was filed under seal Tuesday and unsealed Thursday, when Barrett was arrested, television station KHOU reported.

Barrett made several videos, one in which he identifies himself and another in which he makes a racial slur and says blacks “haven’t fully experienced the blessing of evolution,” The Washington Times reported.

Barrett allegedly had been working up to playing the knockout game for approximately a week.

If convicted, he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Cathy Burke


Hunters, Fishermen Targeted by Feds for Local Violations.

U.S. law enforcement agencies are conducting thousands of investigations using a law that makes violating state wildlife statutes a federal crime, often ensnaring hunters and fishermen for seemingly minor infractions.

Some even suffer stiff federal prison sentences.

Special agents and wildlife inspectors for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conduct about 2,500 investigative cases a year of violations of the Lacey Act, a 1900 law meant to combat illegal trafficking of wildlife. Additional probes of Lacey Act violations also are conducted by other federal agencies, as well as state and local governments.

Though a small percentage of the Lacey Act cases result in prison time, a high percentage plead guilty, consistent with a federal system in which 97 percent of cases end in plea deals.

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But for those imprisoned, ensnared in costly investigations, or who pleaded guilty to reduced charges, the horrible repercussions can have a devastating impact on their livelihoods.

Rock star Ted Nugent, an avid hunter and fisherman, told Newsmax that as a result of federal enforcement actions there are “horror stories serving no meaningful benefit to mankind, wildlife, or law and order whatsoever.”

“Good, decent families’ lives are being turned upside down and ruined by out-of-control jackboot game agencies, particularly USFW punks,” said Nugent, citing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service actions that he said included “Gestapo-type armed raids on Gibson Guitars, Amish farmers, bottled-water companies,” and “Lacey Act violations like using the No. 1 popular broad-head hunting arrowhead or arrow nocks that light up.”

One source told Newsmax: “I was in prison with men who were incarcerated for violations of the Lacey Act. These were commercial fishermen serving 18-month to three-year sentences for using the wrong net or for some other perceived violation who wound up being prosecuted under federal law.”

In addition to the Lacey Act, the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division prosecutes various environmental crimes, ranging from Endangered Species Act violations to pollution cases. The division concluded a total of 227 environmental criminal cases against individuals and another 77 cases with corporate defendants from Jan. 21, 2009 through Sept. 30, 2012.

Consider the following federal actions taken against sportsmen and small businesses for wildlife infractions:

  • Dennis Eugene Rodebaugh, 72, owner of a Colorado outfitting company, was convicted of illegally using salt to lure big game after being charged under the Lacey Act. He was sentenced to 41 months in prison and ordered to pay $37,390 in restitution to the state of Colorado.
  • Robert Lumpkin, a commercial fisherman, was charged with four felony counts, including conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act. The indictment said Lumpkin purchased fish that were outside the legal size limit and sold those fish to purchasers in New York, Virginia, and California.
  • Abner “Abbie” Schoenwetter was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for a seafood sales transaction. Schoenwetter was accused not of violating U.S. law but of running afoul of three Honduran administrative regulations. After serving time in prison, he was released in 2010 on probation, when he was well into his 60s. He testified before a House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security hearing on over-criminalization in September 2010.


  • Steve and Cornelia Joyce Kinder of Owenton, Ky., owners of Kinder Caviar Inc., were charged with violating the Lacey Act for improperly reporting harvested caviar from the waters of the Ohio River. They had to pay a $5,000 fine, serve three year’s probation, and were compelled to forfeit their boat and truck. They possessed a permit to fish in Kentucky but were unaware their nets were pulling from the part of the river managed by Ohio, which bans the practice.

Joyce Kinder testified before a House task force in November that she and her husband “were told that there was no way for us to win,” so her two companies each pleaded guilty to one felony labeling violation.

Even if felony charges of Lacey Act violations are negotiated down to a misdemeanor, a conviction can have a dramatic impact on an individual’s life, says Marc Levin, of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“Even if someone receives probation rather than a prison sentence, or a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony, having a conviction on their record makes it more likely they will be ineligible for hundreds of state occupational licenses. It might also mean they have trouble obtaining employment, approvals for housing, and loans,” Levin told Newsmax.

Lacey Act investigations are conducted by a number of federal agencies, including the Park Service, Forest Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service. State wildlife agencies also conduct probes and refer cases to the federal government for prosecution.

The scope of the law has been expanded numerous times since it was passed, and is often used by federal officials to pursue felony prosecutions when penalties under existing environmental laws are deemed insufficient.

The DOJ‘s Environmental Crimes Bulletin said that “many prosecutors are discouraged to learn that there is no felony violation” available in the Endangered Species Act, but suggested that prosecutors had an “impressive array of options, ranging from forfeitures and Lacey Act felony charges to smuggling, conspiracy, and various other fraud charges.”

Sanctions for violating the Lacey Act include up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 for individuals. Violators also face lifetime bans depending on the gravity of the infraction.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is planning to reintroduce a bill he filed in 2012, the Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act, which would remove every reference within the Lacey Act to “foreign law” and would replace criminal penalties with civil fines, Paul’s office told Newsmax.

While critics of Lacey agree violators of environmental laws should be prosecuted and held accountable, many question whether the punishment fits the crime, particularly when budgets are tight and space at federal prisons is even tighter.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons population has increased about 50 percent since 2000, and with 217,800 inmates the system is operating at 38 percent over capacity, according to the Government Accountability Office. The average cost of incarceration is $43,000 per prisoner annually, says the Fortune Society, a prisoner advocacy group.

Even for those who wish to comply with the law, the sheer volume and complexity of the regulatory process is daunting.

“Now there are 4,500 laws and hundreds of thousands of regulations that no one, not even a lawyer, not a judge, could possibly know. Furthermore, there is no central location or website that an average citizen can go to find out what the federal crimes are. And that matters when intent does not have to be proven to be convicted,” Paul Larkin, senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Newsmax.

Sandra Cleva of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it is difficult to track the exact number of hunting and fishing violations because there is a “different federal nexus for hunting and fishing licenses depending on which agency has authority.”

For example, it is illegal to hunt on federal lands, while some wildlife refuges permit hunting and fishing on a limited basis. The U.S. Park Service does not permit it, but the Bureau of Land Management will make accommodations for hunting in certain circumstances. For those not well versed in federal regulations, the complex network of laws can create confusion.

Larkin, who worked for both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department during the Reagan administration, said part of the problem is the expansion of the number of agencies with law enforcement authority.

“When you have a large number of agencies, and that includes EPA, NOAA and even at the National Gallery of Art, with law enforcement authority there is a need for these individuals to justify their salaries and their division’s existence. To meet that need, they are always on the lookout for cases to prosecute to meet their quota, and it is easier to go against an individual with little financial backing than to take on a larger company with deep pockets,” Larkin said.

Page Pate, a partner and trial lawyer with Atlanta’s Pate Law Firm, says there has been an increase in the prosecution of fish and game violations as federal agencies have taken a more active role in bringing those cases to prosecutors.

“They might have to justify their budgets or for some other reason, but there does appear to be a drive by the agencies to push prosecutors and Justice to prosecute,” Pate said.

Pate cited the example of one of his clients, a big-game hunter who legally obtained a license to shoot game in Africa but was not successful during his visit. He legally transferred his license to another individual, who had more success hunting and brought the game back to the United States.

Because of a paperwork error in Africa and the fact that transferring a license was a violation of the African nation’s law, his client was charged with a felony under the Lacey Act. The client eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

“The Lacey Act does not mandate that you charge an individual with a felony. Prosecutors have the misdemeanor option. This, it seems, represents a chilling use of the felony act,” Pate said.

The potential for additional prosecutions may be exacerbated as states are increasingly toughening penalties for hunting and fishing violations and acting to make those violations felonies.

Elise Traub of the Humane Society of the United States noted a trend on the state level over the past decade to increase penalties and fines for violating hunting and fishing regulations, including poaching and wildlife trafficking.

For example, earlier this year the New Mexico legislature took up a bill that would make trophy poaching a felony punishable by substantial fines and jail time. The bill addresses cases in which poachers kill an animal, claim its head, and simply leave the remaining carcass behind.

Now in New Mexico, the fourth-degree felony could include penalties of 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

One high-profile Lacey Act case had nothing to do with hunting or fishing, but stands out as an example of unusual Justice Department zeal, and it raised questions about tactics used by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Justice Department used the Lacey Act in a case against Gibson Guitar Corp., saying the company used illegally harvested wood in the production of its highly regarded musical instruments. The company agreed in August 2012 to pay a $300,000 penalty, plus an additional $50,000 payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help promote conservation of protected trees.

Henry Juskiewicz, CEO of Gibson, said the raids by federal officials on the company’s production facilities “did not come about because the wood was illegally harvested.”

“Rather, the U.S. government alleges that the wood was imported in violation of an Indian export restriction designed to keep wood finishing work in India,” Juskiewicz wrote in the Huffington Post.

“To make matters worse, although the Indian government certified that the wood was properly and legally exported under this law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service substituted its own opinion and reinterpreted Indian law,” he wrote. “Its analysis suggested that if Gibson would just finish its fingerboards using Indian labor rather than Tennessee craftsmen, there would be no issue.”

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Jennifer G. Hickey

Veterans Battling Order to Tear Down Landmark California Cross.


Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial i
A Califronia judge ordered the removal of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego (Liberty Institute)

A veterans association that built a massive cross overlooking San Diego as part of a war memorial plans to fight a federal judge’s order to tear it down, a lawyer for the group said on Friday.

Attorney Jeff Mateer said he hoped the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year declined to intervene in the 25-year legal battle, will step in now that there has been an order to dismantle the cross, and rule for his clients.

“We are definitely appealing and are committed to preserving this veterans memorial the way it was intended to be, which includes a cross,” said Mateer, general counsel for the Liberty Institute, which is representing the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Association in the case.

“The Association is committed to defending this until there is a U.S. Supreme Court decision,” Mateer said.

The cross, located between the Pacific Ocean and a major interstate highway, is surrounded by walls displaying granite plaques that commemorate veterans or veterans groups.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns grudgingly ruled that the 43-foot-tall (13-meter) cross, a local landmark that has stood atop Mount Soledad in San Diego since 1954, must be taken down because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found it violated a constitutional ban on government endorsement of religion.

Burns said in his ruling that he disagreed with the Ninth Circuit but that his hands were tied. He stayed his order to give the veterans group and the Obama administration, which has also fought removal of the cross, time to appeal.

The White House referred calls regarding the case to the U.S. Department of Justice. A DOJ spokesman said attorneys there were reviewing the ruling.

Daniel Mach, director of American Civil Liberties Union‘s program on freedom of religion and belief who argued the matter for the plaintiffs, hailed Burns’ ruling as a “victory for religious liberty.”

“We firmly support the government’s efforts to honor the service of those who fought and died for this country, but there are many ways to do that without playing favorites with religion,” Mach said.

Mateer said the Supreme Court declined to review the case in 2012 on the grounds that there hadn’t been a final order issued to remove the cross. But he said that in a similar case involving a cross put up in the Mojave Desert to honor veterans of World War One, the justices ruled that such a memorial did not represent government endorsement of religion.

“What we say is that if you accept the ACLU’s argument in the Mount Soledad case, you are jeopardizing hundreds of veterans memorials across the country, including those at Arlington National Cemetery,” he said.

The Mount Soledad monument, which replaced an earlier cross erected on the same spot in 1913, has been the subject of litigation since 1989, when two veterans sued San Diego to get it off city land.

In 2006, Congress intervened in the dispute, resulting in the federal government taking ownership of the property.

A group of plaintiffs, including the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, then sued. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the dominance of the cross conveyed a message of government endorsement of religion.

© 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.


Julius Berger To Pay $32 million In US Corruption Charges For Bribing Nigerian Officials.


Some board members of Julius Berger in Nigeria
By Saharareporters, New York

The US Justice Department  and FBI said Tuesday the German-based international engineering company, Bilfinger SE, has agreed to pay a $32 million penalty for charges relating to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Bilfinger’s Nigerian construction subsidiary, Julius Berger PLC was charged with bribing Nigerian government officials to obtain and retain contracts related to work for the Eastern Gas Gathering System (EGGS).  A project valued at $387 million.

The agreement follows a three count criminal charge filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

According to the complaint from late 2003 through 2005, Julius Berger conspired with Willbros Group Inc., and others to make payments totaling $6 million to unnamed Nigerian government officials to obtain EGGS contracts.  Julius Berger and Willbros formed a joint venture and inflated the joint venture’s bid by three percent to cover the cost of the bribe.  Part of the conspiracy involved Julius berger employees bribing Nigerian officials with cash employees sent from Germany to Nigeria.

The Justice Department and Bilfinger agreed to resolve the charges by entering a deferred prosecution agreement for a term of three years.  Bilfinger has also agreed to implement internal controls, continue cooperating with the Justice Department, and retain a corporate compliance monitor for 18 months.

Prosecutors also resolved charges with Bilfinger’s collaborator on the bribe, Willbros, and three former Willbros executives or consultants who pleaded guilty, and a fourth who remains a fugitive.

US Charges 49 Russian Diplomats with Healthcare Fraud.

U.S. prosecutors have charged 49 current and former Russian diplomats and their family members with participating in a scheme to get health benefits intended for the poor by lying about their income.

The charges come against a backdrop of tense exchanges between Russia and the United States over law enforcement actions in both countries.

According to the charges, filed in November and unsealed on Thursday, the diplomats’ families got around $1.5 million in benefits from the Medicaid program for families with low monthly incomes – in many cases around $3,000 or less. The benefits covered costs related to pregnancies, births and infant care, the charges say.

Meanwhile, according to the charges, the family members had their housing costs paid for by the Russian government and spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on vacations, jewelry and luxury goods from stores like Swarovski and Jimmy Choo.

Each of the 49 people was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and one count of conspiracy to steal government funds and make false statements relating to healthcare matters, according to the charges.

“We are puzzled by the stove-piping of information to the media about accusations against Russian diplomatic mission officials in the U.S.,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax news agency.

“One does not understand why the [U.S.] institutions involved considered it possible to make these accusations public without discussing [them] through diplomatic channels.”

A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Peter Donald, said no one was arrested.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a Manhattan press conference that the U.S. State Department would have had to request a waiver of immunity from Russia in order for U.S. authorities to arrest the defendants. If no waiver is granted, Bharara said the State Department can insist that the defendants leave the country.

“Diplomacy should be about extending hands, not picking pockets in the host country,” he said.

Bharara declined to say how the charges might affect U.S.-Russia relations. He said his office has not been in contact with the White House.

A spokeswoman for the State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Russian mission to the United Nations was not immediately available for comment on the case.

The charges say the defendants obtained letters to prove their false incomes from officials at the Russian U.N. mission, including a former counselor and a former second secretary, as well as from former top officials at the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in New York and the Trade Representation of the Russian Federation in the USA.

Only two of the seven officials who allegedly signed off on the income letters are identified in the charges by name. The other five are referred to as unidentified co-conspirators.

Timur Salomatin, a former Russian diplomat at the U.N., and his wife Nailya Babaeva, said they made $3,000 a month when Salomatin’s U.N. salary was actually $5,160 per month, according to the charges.

Another couple, Andrey Kalinin and Irina Shirshova, lied about their income and monthly housing costs in order to be deemed eligible for Medicaid and also sought benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which subsidizes the cost of some types of foods and education. According to the charges, the family received more than $23,000 in Medicaid benefits over about three years.

Some families also lied about their newborns’ citizenship status, the charges say, because children born to many diplomats and their spouses do not automatically acquire U.S. citizenship the way others do.

Hundreds of Russian diplomats and their families live in a compound in the Riverdale neighborhood in the Bronx. Three dozen of the defendants lived in Russian-owned housing in the Bronx, according to the complaint.

Bharara said only 11 are still in the United States; ten are diplomats with the Russian Mission to the U.N. and their spouses, and one is now stationed at the Russian embassy in Washington.

Russia has in recent years accused the United States of biased and politically motivated prosecution of its citizens, including jailed arms dealer Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot sentenced to 20 years in prison for drug trafficking.

In response to a U.S. law enacted in December 2012 that bars Russians seen as human rights abusers from entering the United States, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off that same month on a similar law barring Americans, including some U.S. Justice Department officials, from Russia. Bharara is among those banned from Russia.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


Latinos Want US to Sue Over LA Minority Voting Rights.

The Obama administration is aggressively pursuing lawsuits over minority voting rights in Texas and North Carolina. But the Justice Department has not moved in connection with evidence that the latest round of redistricting in Los Angeles County unfairly reduces the influence of Latino voters.
Nearly half the 10 million people in the nation’s largest county are Latino. But political boundaries redrawn in 2011 make it possible for Latino voters to elect just one of the five supervisors.
The administration has resisted calls to sue the county, despite the county’s history of discrimination against Latino voters in earlier redistricting efforts.
The inaction rankles some Latino activists who count themselves as strong backers of President Barack Obama.

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

J.P. Morgan Chase Settlement Benefits Obama Allies.

Image: J.P. Morgan Chase Settlement Benefits Obama Allies

By Audrey Hudson

The tentative $13 billion settlement between J.P. Morgan Chase and the Justice Department is an extortion scheme to benefit the Obama administration’s political supporters and likely will backfire the next time government needs the financial industry to bail it out of a crisis, Wall Street Journal editorial writers say.

“Federal law enforcers are confiscating roughly half of a company’s annual earnings for no other reason than because they can and because they want to appease their left-wing populist allies,” the Journal said in an editorial Monday.

The agreement would settle the allegation that the company issued faulty mortgage bonds, but, the Journal argues, the securities were issued before the 2008 financial panic and were not all Morgan products, but also issued by Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual.

The government pleaded with J.P. Morgan to take responsibility for those products to help them ease the crisis, the Journal noted.

Fast forward five years, and now the feds are punishing the company and Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon for coming to their rescue.

“We’d like to see Mr. Dimon fight the charges, but the political reality is that he and his bank don’t have much choice . . . The government will only turn the screws harder if he resists,” the editorial said.

For justice to be truly served, former Democratic Rep. Barney Frank and others — who blocked reforms to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Federal Reserve for establishing the easy-credit scheme — would have to be held accountable, the Journal continued.

“The lesson is how government has used the crisis to exert political control over even the most powerful private financial companies. The real lords of American finance are Attorney General Eric Holder, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and their boss in the White House,” the Journal said.

The newspaper also observed that proceeds from the settlement could be used in a political shakedown scheme to financially aid advocacy groups that support Obama and the Democratic Party.

“Perhaps the administration will have the checks arrive in swing Congressional districts right before the 2014 election,” the editorial concluded.

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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