Monday, September 24, 2012

Arizona Immigration Protesters Defiant

Original article appeared on USA Today

PHOENIX -- A growing number of undocumented immigrants in Arizona and other states are taking immigration protests to a new extreme, staging acts of civil disobedience by deliberately getting arrested in order to be turned over to federal immigration officials.

Often wearing T-shirts declaring themselves "undocumented and unafraid," the protesters have sat down in streets and blocked traffic, or occupied buildings in several cities including Phoenix and Tucson.

Dozens of protesters have been arrested, but in almost every case, federal immigration officers have declined to deport those in the country illegally. Protesters say they are planning more acts of civil disobedience.

The acts are intended to openly defy stepped-up immigration enforcement that has led to record deportations over the past three years. In Arizona, protesters are focused now on enforcement of a portion of the state's Senate Bill 1070 immigration law.

By getting arrested, immigrants say they are making a point: Illegal immigrants who are part of this country shouldn't have to live in fear of being deported and deserve to live here legally. They also think immigration authorities are less likely to deport illegal immigrants arrested in public because the government doesn't want the negative attention.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say unwanted publicity has nothing to with the agency's decision not to take action against the protesters. In most cases, the agency has issued statements saying the protesters simply did not meet the agency's priorities of deporting criminals, recent border crossers and egregious immigration violators.

Still, undocumented immigrants could be taking a chance if getting arrested leads to a criminal record that could prevent them from gaining legal status in the the future.

Frustration spurs action

The rise of civil disobedience shows how some immigrant groups are turning to more-extreme measures out of frustration that the marches, work stoppages, voter drives and boycotts of the past have not worked. Reforms that include a proposed legalization program for millions of undocumented immigrants have not passed Congress, and deportations keep going up.

Last fiscal year, ICE deported a record of nearly 397,000 immigrants. ICE is on pace to deport as many or more this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Comprehensive immigration reform likely won't be addressed again until next year at the earliest.

"Immigration reform has been on the national agenda for more than 10 years with no progress, and so I think that is one of the reasons we are seeing an uptick in the level of civil disobedience," said Chris Newman, legal programs director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, an advocacy group in Los Angeles that has worked with groups that engage in civil disobedience.

Carlos Velez-Ibanez, director of Arizona State University's School of Transborder Studies, said the rise in civil disobedience is the result of a new crop of leaders who are inspired by some of the tactics of the civil rights and Chicano movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

"In this case, people (immigrants) are putting themselves in harm's way to make the point of the unfairness of these laws," Velez-Ibanez said.

Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C., that supports tough immigration enforcement, doesn't think civil disobedience now will sway public opinion to the degree that the civil-rights movement did.

"It's not clear to most Americans that this is analogous to the civil-rights movement. In the civil-rights movement, you had American citizens demanding equality. In this case, you have people who aren't supposed to be in the country demanding the rights of citizens, and to most Americans, or at least a large fraction, that is not roughly the same thing."

Groups such as the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, Dream Activist and Puente Arizona, which is based in Phoenix, are only a few years old or less. But they have quickly built national followings through the use of websites, Facebook, email blasts, Twitter and YouTube videos to promote civil disobedience. They also attempt to rally public support for individual cases of undocumented immigrants facing deportation.

Jonathan Perez, 25, a member of National Immigrant Youth Alliance, said he has seen an evolution in the undocumented-immigrant movement.

"Two or three years ago, people wouldn't come out. They were even afraid to be on camera," said Perez, an undocumented immigrant from Colombia who lives in Los Angeles.

Then, growing numbers of undocumented students known as "dreamers" began appearing on television and in front of Congress to tell their stories in hopes of generating support for the Dream Act, a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship if they attended college or joined the military.

The turning point came in May 2010, when a group of protesters dressed in caps and gowns staged a sit-in at the Tucson offices of Republican Sen. John McCain, Perez said. Among the four protesters arrested were three who were in the country illegally. It was the first time students had deliberately gotten arrested and risked deportation in an act of civil disobedience, according to Perez and other activists familiar with the incident.

Since then, civil disobedience in Arizona and around the country has steadily increased.

More civil disobedience may now be on the way. Local police are about to begin enforcing the so-called "show me your papers" provision of SB 1070 following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that rejected an argument that the provision is unconstitutional.

That provision requires police officers to check the legal status of a person stopped or arrested under certain conditions during investigations or traffic stops.

To protest the law, organizers from Puente Arizona say they are considering civil disobedience, including getting arrested by blocking streets.

"It's empowering," said Carlos Garcia, director of Puente Arizona. "But what it really comes down to is challenging the law itself and us being able to tell the stories of undocumented people and why they are risking everything."

In July, Puente created a Facebook page to drum up support for the "UndocuBus." About two dozen undocumented immigrants rode the 1970s-era passenger bus on a six-week trip across the country that began in Phoenix and ended in Charlotte. Along the way, the bus, painted bright turquoise with butterflies and the slogan "No papers no fear" on the sides, made stops in 15 cities, including Knoxville, Tenn. In that city four of about 50 protesters blocking a city street were arrested on Aug. 28. They were protesting the local sheriff's participation in a federal program that gives local police the authority to enforce federal immigration laws.

The UndocuBus's trip culminated with a protest that blocked an intersection near the site of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

Among the 10 people arrested there was Phoenix resident and UndocuBus rider Gerardo Torres, 41, an undocumented immigrant from Aguas Calientes, Mexico.

Torres, a handyman, said it wasn't until the night before, during a meeting at a local church, that he decided to get arrested.

"I wanted to prove the point to the (undocumented) community that when we are together and we are united, we have a lot of power," said Torres who said he has been living in the country illegally since 1993 when his six-month tourist visa expired.

Torres conceded, however, that he knew the chances of being put into deportation proceedings were slim since he has no criminal record.

After spending about 10 hours in jail, Torres was released. ICE declined to pursue deportation against the 10 protesters.

While ICE has not pursued deportation against most of the protesters, they are still taking a chance by getting arrested.

In September, Cruz, the undocumented immigrant arrested in March for blocking the intersection at the school, went to court to fight two misdemeanor charges. A judge found Cruz guilty of the two charges. Now she has a criminal record.

Cruz said she doesn't know if her record will hurt her chances of applying for any future legalization program, or for President Barack Obama's deferred action program, which lets young undocumented immigrants apply to stay and work temporarily in the U.S. without the threat of deportation. Department of Homeland Security officials have said applicants for deferred action with records of disobedience will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

But Cruz has no regrets.

"To me, even after I was found guilty, it was more than 100 percent worth it," she said."We showed our community that once we come out, we are a lot safer."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Farm-state lawmakers returning home empty-handed

Original article appeared on the AP 

WASHINGTON (AP) - Farm-state members of Congress have campaigned for decades on the back of farm bills delivering election-season subsidies and other goodies to rural voters.

Not this year. The bill is stalled, primarily because House GOP leaders don't want a noisy fight over food stamps this close to the election. That poses a particular problem for some Republicans in tight races for the Senate or the House who will go home empty-handed when Congress adjourns this week.

Democrats are gloating.

"It's something that should have been easy," says Heidi Heitkamp, the Democrat running against Republican Rep. Rick Berg in a neck-and-neck, open Senate race in North Dakota. "Something that should have been done did not get done."

Heitkamp and other Democratic challengers are using the farm bill as an example of how they say the Republican-run House is ineffective. Current farm law, which extends subsidy payments to farmers and pays for food stamps, is scheduled to expire Sept. 30, with no new law in place for the first time in recent memory.

In addition to the effect on the North Dakota race, the failure to get a farm bill is affecting the Senate race in Montana and House races in Iowa, South Dakota, Colorado and Illinois.

Farm policy has traditionally been one of the more bipartisan issues on Capitol Hill. It still is, to an extent - the Senate in June passed the five-year farm bill with almost two-thirds of the chamber supporting it. A separate version passed the House Agriculture Committee in July with Republican and Democratic support.

Calling it a farm bill is something of a misnomer. Food stamps make up roughly 80 percent of the costs in both versions. The House would cut them 2 percent, angering many Democrats who don't want them cut at all and Republicans who say they should be cut more. The Senate version would cut them by one-half of 1 percent.

Since 2008, the food stamp program has more than doubled in cost, to $80 billion a year, driven by high, sustained unemployment, rising food prices and expanded eligibility under President Barack Obama's 2009 economic stimulus law. Food stamps now help feed roughly 46 million Americans, or 1 in 7.

It is unclear how angry rural voters will be about the lack of a farm bill. The farm economy has been strong in recent years, and expiration won't mean an immediate loss of benefits for most farmers. But farm-state members argue that the certainty of federal policy is necessary for farmers making their annual business plans this fall and approaching bankers for loans.

Punting the bill may also mean less money overall. While both chambers' versions of the bill would save tens of billions of dollars from current spending, the agriculture committees may be asked to save even more as budgets tighten further next year.

"They are concerned there will be fewer resources if we do it next year, so they worry it will hurt their crop insurance," Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said of farmers in his state, where he and Rep. Tom Latham both face serious challenges from Democrats.

King and Berg - along with Republican House colleagues Denny Rehberg of Montana, Kristi Noem of South Dakota and others - have made repeated appeals to Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and other GOP leaders to bring the Agriculture Committee's bill to the floor before Congress adjourns this week.

"The farm bill is far too important for too many Montanans to let election-year politics get in the way of doing the right thing," said Rehberg, who is in a competitive Senate race.

Noem, who is defending her House seat against Democrat Matt Varilek, said party leaders are hesitant to bring up a vote on a bill that they think might fail.

"I am sure they are getting tired of seeing me come down the hallway to talk to them about that," she said. "It's been a disappointment to me that they've made the decisions that they have made."

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said the legislation has turned into "a food stamp bill" that has bogged down because of both the presidential and congressional campaigns.

"There's not 218 votes to pass it," Huelskamp told reporters. "It's going to be very tough to do that, even in a lame-duck session."

Some House Democrats also are scrambling for cover. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, who faces a challenge from 2010 opponent Ben Lange, last week introduced a discharge petition to place the bill on the floor calendar over House leaders' objections.

Though Berg, Noem, Rehberg and a handful of other Republicans signed it, a majority of the House is needed - unlikely when Republicans hold 240 seats to Democrats' 190 and after conservative groups came out against the bill as too expensive.

"I am frustrated that it's not progressing," Berg said of the bill. "The unfortunate thing is that I am seeing it become political, which it really hasn't been for the last year and a half."

Heitkamp is up with radio ads in North Dakota criticizing Berg for "toeing the party line" on farm programs and endorsing some agriculture cuts. In the ad, targeted at farmers who listen to the radio while out in the fields, she reminds voters that agriculture is a $6 billion industry in the state.

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who is facing the challenge from Rehberg and is himself a farmer, calls the House's failure to take up the farm bill "total craziness."

"It's going to have some pretty negative effects on agriculture if these people don't get off their butts and get it passed," he said in an interview. "I am going to continue to try and talk some common sense into the House of Representatives."

Also getting criticism on the campaign trail for the farm bill's collapse are Republican Reps. Scott Tipton in Colorado and Rep. Bobby Schilling in Illinois.

The House in July passed a bill that would help livestock producers who are losing money because of a widespread drought, but the Senate has declined to take that up, with Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow saying that similar benefits are included in the larger bill. Republicans Rehberg and Berg have countered Democratic attacks by saying the Senate should consider that legislation.

Groups protest Ariz. immigration law's enforcement

Original article appeared on the AP

PHOENIX (AP) - A day after the most contentious provision of Arizona's immigration law took effect, rallies were held around Phoenix to protest the mandate that civil rights activists say will lead to systematic racial profiling.

More than three dozen activists stood outside a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building along a busy thoroughfare Wednesday evening. They chanted: "No papers, no fear."

Carlos Garcia, an organizer with the immigrant rights group the Puente Movement, said the strategy is to urge people not to cooperate with immigration enforcement efforts - whether they're in the country legally or not.

Tempe resident Beatrice Jernigan said friends who are in the country illegally are scared.

"They don't know what's going to happen. They're more cautious," she said. "Some parents who are illegal immigrants are not allowing their kids to participate in afterschool sports."

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled that police could immediately start enforcing the so-called "show me your papers" provision of Arizona's immigration law. It requires officers, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the provision in June on the grounds that it doesn't conflict with federal law. Opponents argued that the provision would lead to systematic racial profiling and unreasonably long detention of Latinos, and they unsuccessfully asked Bolton to block it.

Bolton said the law's opponents were merely speculating on the racial profiling claims. She did leave the door open to challenges if the claims can be proven.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering a request to halt the provision.

In the meantime, an education campaign for illegal immigrants to remain largely silent when they're pulled over by police is being put into practice across the state.

Leticia Ramirez has been telling people who live in the U.S. without legal permission, like she does, that they should offer only their name and date of birth if they're pulled over. She also tells them not to carry any documents that show where they were born.

"We want to teach the community how to defend themselves, how to answer to police, how to be prepared, and to have confidence that they're going to have help," said Ramirez, a 27-year-old from Torreon in the Mexican state of Coahuila.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency that verifies people's immigration status for local officers, said Wednesday it has not yet seen an influx in the number of calls it receives from local authorities for immigration checks and assistance.

A hotline run by civil rights advocates has been fielding queries from people wanting to know their rights if questioned about their immigration status.

The advocates are asking police departments not to enforce the provision, as a way to gain cooperation from immigrants in reporting crimes. But not enforcing the requirement could expose the agencies to lawsuits from people claiming authorities aren't complying with the law.

Outside the Immigration and Customs building in Phoenix, Prescott college student Brooke Bischoff said she doubts provisions prohibiting racial profiling will succeed.

She said testimony during a recent trial involving racial profiling accusations against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office indicated that training to avoid discriminatory practices was "cursory."

Advocates also planned to gather Wednesday to address the Phoenix City Council about their concerns about the law, and a march to the Maricopa County jail in downtown Phoenix was scheduled for Saturday.

State lawmakers passed the sweeping immigration measure in 2010 amid voter frustration with Arizona's role as the country's busiest illegal entry point. Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have since adopted variations of Arizona's law.

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer says the law won't cure the state's immigration woes but it could push the federal government to act on immigration reform.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Appeal Likely in Mass. Crime Lab Case

Original article appeared on the AP
A crime lab was temporarily shut down by state police in Boston last month after a chemist was in charge of quality control at the lab was accused of mishandling drug samples.

State police closed the lab on Aug. 30 after their investigation showed that the chemist, Annie Dookhan, failed to follow testing protocols and may have deliberately mishandled drug samples.

A tally of Dookhan's cases turned over by state police to defense attorneys and prosecutors shows she was involved in testing more than 50,000 drug samples covering approximately 34,000 defendants during her tenure at the lab, from 2003 to 2012. State police have said they don't know how many samples may have been tainted, but lawyers say they expect legal challenges because of the scandal.

A transcript obtained Dookhan's sworn testimony in a 2010 Suffolk County trial shows Dookhan testified that she ran "quality control/quality assurance" within the lab.

During her testimony in the criminal case against Larry Blue, a Boston man charged with cocaine trafficking and weapons offenses, Dookhan was asked by a prosecutor if she had any "special responsibilities personally with regard to all the usual lab work."

"I run the quality control/quality assurance within the drug lab," she said, according to the transcript.

Among her responsibilities, she said, was "to make sure the balances are working appropriately, the machines are working appropriately, all the instruments are followed by the policies and procedures," and other duties.

Defense lawyers said Dookhan's testimony raises concern about whether even more than the 50,000 samples she tested were properly handled.

A forensic services director for the state's public defender agency said if Dookhan oversaw quality control or quality assurance, trouble with those controls will affect samples tested by other chemists at the lab.

A spokesman for the Department of Public Health, which until recently ran the lab, said he could not immediately confirm whether Dookhan accurately described her responsibilities there. A spokesman for state police did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

A Boston defense attorney who has offered to represent some defendants who may challenge their arrests or convictions based on Dookhan's work, said she is concerned about how the entire lab was run.

The attorney went on to say if the person monitoring the lab is found fault, a much larger problem in determining which cases have been tampered with exists.

The lab was run by the state Department of Public Health until July 1, when state police took over as part of a budget directive.

Dookhan has not responded to repeated requests for comment. A message left at her home in Franklin was not immediately returned Wednesday.

In her testimony in the 2010 trial, Dookhan said she was one of four chemists trained to perform confirmatory tests on drug samples. Those tests are done after an initial preliminary test.

Blue was convicted of trafficking between 14 and 28 grams of cocaine, a drug violation in a school zone, possession of marijuana and weapons charges. He was sentenced to 10 years and one day in prison.

Blue's lawyer said she has already filed an appeal in his case based largely on a search warrant. She said Dookhan's involvement in the drug testing in his case may be challenged later, depending on the outcome of the appeal.

The state's district attorneys have been pushing state police to turn over more information about exactly what Dookhan did and what cases may have been affected by the violations.

The Worcester District Attorney said a group of prosecutors met separately Wednesday with Boston Gov.and the state's Attorney General, whose office is conducting an investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing.

Early said the prosecutors received more information about the protocol violations, but he would not discuss specifics, citing the ongoing investigations.

The prosecutor wants to establish a "war room" this to accurately identify which cases were mishandled.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Former Nazi's US Citizenship Appeal Rejected

Original article appeared on the AP

An effort filed by the estate of John Demjanjuk to restore his U.S. citizenship following his death has been dismissed. 

Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk (dem-YAHN'-yuk) lived in suburban Cleveland. He was convicted in Germany on 28,060 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he served as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland.

He denied serving as a guard in any camp, and died in March at age 91 while appealing. Because he died before his appeal could be heard, the conviction is not considered legally binding according to German law.

But a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati rejected the citizenship bid filed by his estate in June, upholding a judge's ruling in Cleveland. The panel said Demjanjuk's death made the case moot.

The Demjanjuk defense team's request to the full court to take up the case was denied. The court filed the dismissal Tuesday.

The defense said the United States Government withheld potential useful material in their case. 

Arpaio to Face Toughest Re-election Contest Yet

Original article appeared on the AP

Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio is facing a tough re-election campaign with immigration rights activists seeking to get him remove him from office.

A ruling may come any day in a lawsuit that alleges his department violated the civil rights of Hispanics. A second lawsuit filed by the Justice Department is making its way through the courts.

And in TV ads, he doesn't mention the signature issue that helped bring him to national prominence - a sign, people in both parties say, that illegal immigration is losing its potency.

"Issues in campaigns are like flowers: They bloom, go away and then they bloom again," said a GOP lobbyist. "The bloom is off illegal immigration."

Arpaio, who retains a massive $4.2 million campaign treasury, remains the favorite in the November election. In an interview, he was defiant and confident as always, and disagreed that illegal immigration has lost its political punch.

"I get hundreds of people coming up to me and thanking me," said Arpaio, the sheriff in Maricopa County, the state's largest, which includes much of the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Whatever the relevancy of the issue at a time when the number of illegal immigrants has declined, the last several tumultuous years has trimmed the cadre of anti-illegal immigration crusaders here.

Two allies - tough-talking former lawman Russell Pearce, who authored many of the state's strict immigration laws, and Andrew Thomas, a telegenic Harvard law graduate and once the county's top prosecutor - are out.

Thomas was stripped of his law license by a state court panel. Pearce was recalled, then lost a bid to return to the statehouse last month. "There were three prime movers behind the immigration crackdown" in Arizona, Thomas said. "Two of them have been sidelined, and they're gunning for the third."

Arpaio, who usually wins re-election by double-digit margins, allowed he may have a tighter race ahead of him. "It might be a little bigger challenge because I have people coming after me - the Justice Department," he said, adding that he believed the federal probes were politically motivated.

Both began during the Bush administration. One was closed on Aug. 31, with prosecutors announcing they would not file criminal charges over allegations that the sheriff and Thomas abused their offices' power.

Barnes noted that Arpaio, 80, was already famous for forcing jail inmates to sleep in tents and wear pink underwear before he signed up in the fight against illegal immigration. "He's got so many goodwill chips in the bank with voters he can afford to make a few mistakes," Barnes said. "His brand is solid, not just because of illegal immigration."

Arpaio's new national role has been cemented, however, by his stance on illegal immigration. His tactics have been emulated by some law enforcement agencies and shunned by many others. His endorsement is much sought after in Republican primaries -- Arpaio backed Mitt Romney in the GOP presidential one -- and the sheriff often campaigns for other immigration hardliners. He and his state have become a symbol to both sides in the acrimonious debate.

Arizona remains the most popular route for illegal immigrants from Mexico, but the number has steadily dropped as the economy bottomed out and drug violence and more Border Patrol agents have made it tougher to cross.
Phoenix became a hub for human traffickers. And amid reports of a rise in car thefts and kidnappings, voters picked Thomas to be the county's top prosecutor.

As he vowed an illegal immigration crackdown, a Pearce-backed ballot measure was passed to deny illegal immigrants benefits and ensure they did not register to vote.

In April 2005, Arpaio's deputies arrested an Army reservist who held at gunpoint a group of Hispanics whom he believed were illegal immigrants. The sheriff said the reservist had no right to take that step.

"Being illegal is not a serious crime," Arpaio said at the time.

Thomas declined to prosecute the reservist. Over the ensuing few months, Arpaio moved to Thomas' view.

They teamed up to use a law against human smugglers to arrest immigrants being smuggled. The sheriff launched "sweeps" that sent deputies into neighborhoods - often heavily-Hispanic ones - to detain people on sometimes minor violations and check their citizenship.

Arpaio said the change came about because of the avalanche of new measures from the statehouse.

"I used to be their hero when I locked up that reservist," Arpaio said of Hispanic activists. "I didn't switch. The laws were passed."

A former Phoenix police sergeant and Democrat challenging Arpaio in November, said it was well known that if Pearce would get a law passed, Arpaio would use it to arrest as many illegal immigrants as possible and Thomas would prosecute them.

"That's a very powerful and dangerous pact," Penzone said. "It has all been taken apart except for the sheriff, who's the last man standing."

The trio's fortunes began to sour as Arpaio and Thomas got into a tangled battle with the largely-Republican Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Arpaio arrested one GOP supervisor twice, even though a judge quickly dismissed the charges Thomas filed. Both men publicly accused a second supervisor of corruption and filed criminal charges against a judge who ruled against them.

Those charges were quickly dismissed as groundless, and the county is expected to pay millions of dollars to settle lawsuits filed by the exonerated public officials.

Many expect Arpaio to win in November, despite his other attention-getting actions, which include a probe into whether President Barack Obama was born in the U.S. and his agency's failure to investigate a series of sex crimes.

An activist who organized Pearce's recall, said Arpaio has already been in power too long. He does not expect the candidate to win re-election. 

CEO Admits to Fraud, Embezzlement

Original article appeared on the AP

Peregrine Financial Group, Inc. Chairman and CEO Russ Wasendorf signed a plea agreement this week with federal prosecutors in which he admits to a fraud and embezzlement scheme affording him $200M and bankrupting his company. Wasendorf may spend the rest of his life in prison, say prosecutors.

Prosecutors said Russ Wasendorf Sr. will plead guilty to mail fraud, embezzling customer funds and two counts of making false statements to regulators. U.S Magistrate Judge Jon Scoles confirmed the agreement but hasn't ruled on the matter.

Prosecutors said the agreement calls for Wasendorf, 64, to be sentenced to up to 50 years in prison.

Details of the agreement were made public during a hearing in federal court in Cedar Rapids called to determine whether Wasendorf should be freed from jail pending his plea hearing and sentencing.

Scoles said he would rule by Friday on whether to release Wasendorf pending sentencing, which hasn't been scheduled. The judge also plans to schedule a hearing soon to allow a formal guilty plea.

Prosecutors have asked the judge to not release Wasendorf, who listened intently as FBI agent William Langdon laid out the case against him.

Langdon recounted how Wasendorf was found July 9 outside the company's headquarters in Cedar Falls after a failed suicide attempt in his vehicle. He said Wasendorf had connected a hose to his exhaust pipe, took prescription drugs and drank alcohol.

Langdon read out loud a note that Wasendorf left behind in which the businessman said he started forging bank records 20 years ago to prop up his struggling firm. Wasendorf wrote that he used computer software, scanners and printers to make convincing forgeries of bank statements to fool regulators about how much money the company had.

Langdon said the statements in the suicide note were corroborated during a search of his office, where investigators found several fake "cut-and-paste" bank records Wasendorf had created. Wasendorf has also met with regulators and investigators on multiple occasions since his arrest to explain the fraud, which he "knew would one day catch up with him," Langdon said.

FBI agents arrested Wasendorf days after the suicide attempt while he was hospitalized at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and by then court records show he had already been cooperating with investigators.

After his arrest, Wasendorf waived his right to an immediate detention hearing, but he requested one last week.

Defense attorney Jane Kelly said the plea agreement leaves open how much prison time will be recommended for Wasendorf under federal sentencing guidelines. She indicated it would likely be far less than the maximum 50 years.

Nonetheless, Linda Livingston, a Lutheran pastor who has counseled Wasendorf in jail, testified that he has accepted the likelihood of spending the rest of his life behind bars.

Livingston said he was relieved that his fraud was uncovered and dedicated himself to trying to recover as much money as possible for his customers.

Livingston said she and her husband, former high school classmates of Wasendorf, have agreed to allow him to live in their home if he is released.

Assistant U.S Attorney Peter Deegan argued that Wasendorf remained a serious risk to commit suicide or flee if released. He said Wasendorf "has gone from being a hero to a villain" and signed a plea deal that will likely put him in prison until his death.

"What incentive does he have to show up in court?" Deegan asked.

Tuesday's development came as regulators try to unravel the complicated finances of Peregrine Financial Group, Inc., and partially compensate customers who have not been able to access their funds for two months. The trustee overseeing the company's bankruptcy outlined a plan last week for an initial distribution of $123 million in assets to about 17,000 customers, who would receive 30 percent to 40 percent of the assets they held with the firm. The payments would start by the end of September.

But the company's regulator, the U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission, raised concerns about the plan in a filing Sunday, arguing payments should not be processed until accounts can be verified as valid. The commission said its preliminary investigation uncovered more than $45 million in "fictitious bookkeeping entries and unusual activity" in customer accounts.

"The CFTC does not favor unnecessarily delaying customer distributions, and believes that the innocent customers of the Debtor should be compensated for their losses as soon as reasonable and practicable," agency lawyers wrote. "Nonetheless, caution is warranted to ensure that the books and records of the Debtor may be relied upon to avoid the possibility of distributions based on fictitious data."

Company trustees said it is likely additional distributions will occur, but that no one will receive a full return of their investments. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Walmart Not Held Responsible in Shooting

Original article appeared in USA Today

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled 5-4 this week in favor of Wal-Mart, suggesting a retailer is not responsible if munitions purchased by an under-aged person are linked through sale to their store.

The lawsuit was filed by the relatives of Robert Williams, who was shot and killed by his girlfriend's son in 2006. The son, Xavier Zurndell Moore, was 20 years old at the time, and shot Williams with a pistol cartridge purchased at the Wal-Mart in Indianola.

Federal law requires that a person be 21 to buy pistol ammunition. The lawsuit claimed that a store employee allowed Moore to obtain the ammunition through a straw purchase, meaning the worker sold it to Moore's 21-year-old friend, while knowing Moore would be the recipient.

There was conflicting testimony about how the ammunition was purchased. The employee said Moore asked if the store had .45-caliber ammunition and walked away when asked which brand he wanted. Moore's friend came back and bought the ammunition, though the employee allegedly saw Moore give his friend the money, according to the court record.

Moore told a different version of how he purchased the ammunition. Moore a clerk at the store allowed a friend to purchase the ammunition on his behalf, and the clerk allowed the purchase.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Inmates in Conn. Challenge Death Penalty

by Peak Positions

Original article appeared on the AP

According to the state's top prosecutor, Connecticut has no written policies on when to seek the death penalty, though state law provides enough guidance.

Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane was the first witness to take the stand in a trial involving five death row inmates who say prosecutors' decision-making process in death penalty cases has been arbitrary and fraught with racial and geographical biases. The inmates are suing the state and seeking to have their death sentences overturned.

Connecticut repealed the death penalty earlier this year, but only for future capital crimes. There are presently 11 inmates on the state's death row.

Lawyers for the inmates asked Kane about how he decided to seek the death penalty when he prosecuted cases in the New London Judicial District from 1986 to 2006, including the last 11 years as the district's head prosecutor. State's attorneys in Connecticut's 13 judicial districts are independent officials responsible for all criminal cases in their regions, while the chief state's attorney is essentially an administrative position.

Attorneys Richard Reeve and David Golub suggested in their questioning that the state's attorneys used different processes for determining when to seek the death penalty, which they say created an arbitrary system.

Kane said he did talk informally with prosecutors in other districts about death penalty cases. He acknowledged there were no written state policies on when to seek the death penalty, but said state law provided guidance.

Kane said there were death penalty-eligible cases in which he decided to reduce the charges due to a variety of factors, including the strength of the state's case and the presence of mitigating factors for the defendant.

All 13 state's attorneys and some former prosecutors had been expected to testify at the trial. But inmates' lawyers and government attorneys reached a deal Wednesday that will spare 25 witnesses from testifying, including the state's attorneys.

The trial was adjourned to Tuesday because of the deal, in which prosecutors agreed that the state had no written policies or standards on when to seek the death penalty or when to reduce capital charges to lesser crimes.

Prosecutors also agreed to stipulate that there were no formal discussions among prosecutors statewide about criteria for seeking the death penalty and that each state's attorney in each judicial district made decisions in death penalty cases based on criteria they thought were appropriate.

The trial is being held in a prisoners' common room in the middle of a vacant housing unit at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, while the media watched a video feed in a courtroom in Rockville Superior Court about 15 miles away.

The death row inmates wore yellow prison suits Wednesday and sat handcuffed in white plastic chairs at tables. Some sat with their lawyers and some didn't. In front of the inmates is a row of tables for prosecutors and inmates' lawyers, and in front of that is another row of tables for the judge, judicial staff and witnesses.

The trial is expected to run for another week or so.

The key evidence for the inmates is a study by a Stanford University professor who reviewed the nearly 4,700 murders in Connecticut from 1973 to 2007.

The professor said he found that minority defendants who murder white victims are three times as likely to receive a death sentence as white defendants who murder white victims. He also found that minority defendants who commit death penalty-eligible murders of white victims are six times as likely to receive a death sentence as minority defendants who commit death penalty-eligible murders of minority victims.

The study, commissioned by the chief public defender's office, also concluded that Connecticut's capital punishment system included geographic biases. The professor is expected to testify next week.

State prosecutors disagree with the study's findings. They hired their own expert who reviewed death penalty cases and disputed much of the Stanford University report.

The inmates involved in the lawsuit include killers condemned before 2008: Sedrick Cobb, Daniel Webb, Richard Reynolds, Robert Breton, and Todd Rizzo.

Of the 15 victims, 10 were white, four were black and one was Hispanic. Of the 11 men on death row, six are black, four are white and one is Hispanic.