Tag Archive: Alexander Shuster


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A Kansas City, KS toddler who was abducted while sleeping in the back seat of a car has been found safe.  On July 12th, 2017, a man left his girlfriend’s car running while he went inside a Kansas City gas station to get her three-year-old daughter a drink. The little girl remained in the backseat, asleep.  Police say that’s when Tyler Letzig, 28, and Karri Reich, 29, took the car with the girl inside.

Police cordoned off the Valero gas station at 7th and Riverview and quickly released surveillance of the two suspects to the media.  The video shows the suspects — a man in a green T-shirt and a woman in a blue one-piece short set — enter the gas station separately on more than one occasion and later converse near a gas pump.

The woman re-enters the store while the car with the child pulls up beside an older model white utility van the suspects allegedly drove.  The man in green can be seen on video canvassing a silver 2016 Ford Focus as the driver exits the vehicle.  The driver of the Ford enters the store, and the woman in the blue short set exits. The woman briefly speaks with the male suspect then jumps in the Ford and drives away.

Within an hour of the abduction, investigators say the boyfriend’s cell phone pinged several miles away in Leavenworth County. Officers from the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department, Wyandotte County sheriff’s deputies, troopers from the Kansas Highway Patrol, and federal agents all aided in the search.  When the pinging stopped in the area of Interstate 70 and 206th Street, police requested help from other law enforcement agencies with an aircraft but none were immediately available.

The little girl, 3 year old Amaya Vestor was found safe near the abandoned vehicle around 8pm in a rural area of Tonganoxie after a local television station’s helicopter spotted the stolen car in Leavenworth County.  Responding to the initial reports of a child abduction and stolen vehicle, SkyTracker headed to Leavenworth County to track down the location from the cell phone ping.  SkyTracker pilot Captain Gregg Bourdon and photographer James Moore scanned the area and noticed an abandoned, silver vehicle matching the description of the car stolen.  A quick call back to the station to update the newsroom, and 41 Action News Assignment Editor Steve Kaut alerted law enforcement.

A sheriff deputy came right under the helicopter and made his way down the road until he could see the child get out of the car.   SkyTracker captured the reunion from 2,000 feet in the air.  The male suspect, Tyler Letzig-reportedly was apprehended Thursday by authorities in Leavenworth County. The female suspect, Karri Reich-is still on the run.  Tyler Letzig and Karri Anne Reich were each charged Friday with one count of kidnapping, child endangerment and theft.

Update:  Karri Reich turned herself in and was booked into the Wyandotte County Jail Tuesday morning.

 

 

 

Popular craft chain store Hobby Lobby has agreed to pay a $3 million fine and return thousands of artifacts smuggled from Iraq.  Hobby Lobby’s owners are conservative Christians who plan to open a Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., this fall.

Federal prosecutors say Hobby Lobby spent over $1.5 million in December 2010 to purchase more than 5,000 Iraqi artifacts from a dealer based in the United Arab Emirates. The sales violated a ban on the sale of Iraqi cultural artifacts in place since 2004.

According to the complaint, Hobby Lobby began collecting a range of historically significant manuscripts and other antiquities in 2009. The following July, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green traveled with a consultant to the United Arab Emirates, where they inspected a large cache of cuneiform tablets and other artifacts.

Two Israeli antiquities dealers and one from the United Arab Emirates attended the July 2010 inspection with Hobby Lobby’s president and consultant. At the meeting, the complaint says, the artifacts were displayed informally, “spread on the floor, arranged in layers on a coffee table, and packed loosely in cardboard boxes, in many instances with little or no protective material between them.”

The dealers claimed the items were from the family collection of a third dealer who was not present, according to the complaint. They later sent Hobby Lobby a provenance statement — a guarantee of authenticity — indicating that the artifacts were legally acquired in the 1960s from local markets.

After returning to the United States, the complaint says, Hobby Lobby’s president and in-house lawyer spoke with an expert on cultural property law who warned them that antiquities from ancient Iraq may have been looted from archaeological sites. In a memo, the expert told them that any items of Iraqi origin that were not properly declared could be seized by customs officials.  Hobby Lobby proceeded with the sale despite the numerous “red flags”, buying hundreds of cuneiform tablets and thousands of other artifacts.  According to a civil complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the deal was “was fraught with red flags” and was consistent with a “clandestine” operation.  According to the complaint, Hobby Lobby got conflicting information about where the artifacts had been stored and never met or communicated with the dealer selling them. When it came time to pay, the company wired money to seven separate bank accounts.

A dealer based in the United Arab Emirates shipped packages containing the artifacts to three different corporate addresses in Oklahoma City. Five shipments that were intercepted by federal customs officials bore shipping labels that falsely declared that the artifacts’ country of origin was Turkey.  In September 2011, a package containing about 1,000 clay bullae, an ancient form of inscribed identification, was received by Hobby Lobby from an Israeli dealer and accompanied by a false declaration stating that its country of origin was Israel. The packages bore shipping labels that described their contents as “ceramic tiles,” the complaint said.

 

 

Employees at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital in New York are mourning after a doctor killed one of his former colleagues and injured six others in a shooting rampage at the hospital.  Dr. Henry Bello was a family medicine physician at the hospital until he left in April over unspecified “personal problems.”

Authorities said Bello, armed with an AR-15 assault rifle hidden under a lab coat, arrived at the hospital and asked for Dr Kamran Ahmed.  Authorities believe Ahmed was his intended target but fortunately for him, Ahmed had the day off.  Ahmed, who specializes in the early detection and treatment of dementia, said Bello “had a problem with almost everybody, so I’m not the only one. That’s why they fired him, because so many people complained.”

Bello went to the 16th and 17th floors of the hospital and started shooting, killing Dr Tracy Sin-Yee Tam, 32, a family medicine doctor and injuring six others before shooting himself.  Authorities said Bello’s attempted to set himself on fire first before killing himself.   Hospital officials said Tam normally worked in a satellite clinic and was covering a shift in the main hospital as a favor to someone else.

Former co-workers described a man who was aggressive, loud and threatening. Bello warned his former colleagues when he was forced out in 2015  amid sexual harassment allegations, that he would return someday to kill them.  Dr David Lazala, who trained Bello said Bello was always a problem when he worked there.   When Bello was forced out in 2015, he sent Lazala an email blaming him for the dismissal.

Bello sent an email to the New York Daily News just before the shooting where he blamed colleagues he said forced him to resign two years earlier.  “This hospital terminated my road to a licensure to practice medicine,” the email said. “First, I was told it was because I always kept to myself. Then it was because of an altercation with a nurse.”

Bello had a history of aggressive behavior. In unrelated cases, the doctor pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment, a misdemeanor, in 2004 after a 23-year-old woman told police Bello grabbed her, lifted her up and carried her off, saying, “You’re coming with me.” He was arrested again in 2009 on a charge of unlawful surveillance, after two different women reported he was trying to look up their skirts with a mirror. That case was eventually sealed.  It was not immediately clear if the hospital was aware of his criminal history when he was hired.

After the shooting stopped, medical staff at the hospital immediately treated all the patients in its emergency department. One victim was a patient and the five others are medical staff at the hospital, officials said. Two are medical students and the remaining are physicians.

One of the physicians underwent extensive surgeries after suffering gunshot injuries to the hand and another doctor is recovering after being shot in the neck.  Two of the most seriously wounded victims — a medical student who was shot in the brain and a resident who was shot in the liver are both in stable condition.

 

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A senior cardinal and top adviser to Pope Francis will return to Australia to face charges of sexual assault. Cardinal George Pell is the third-highest-ranking official in the Roman Catholic Church.  Pell was charged in his native Australia with multiple counts of sexual assault from years ago.

The charges against Pell were announced in Melbourne by Victoria State Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton.  Pell was ordered to appear in court July 26 to face multiple counts of “historical sexual assault offenses”.  Patton said there are multiple complainants against Pell, but he gave no other details.

It is unclear what the criminal charges against Pell involve, but two men, now in their 40s, have said that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.

In 2014, the Vatican admitted nearly 850 priests have been dismissed and more than 2,500 have been disciplined in a sprawling sexual abuse scandal dating back decades.  Cardinal Pell said Pope Francis granted him a leave of absence to return to Australia to defend himself.  The 76-year-old Pell — the highest-ranking Vatican official ever implicated in the scandal and has forcefully denied the accusations.

In a statement read to the press, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the Vatican respected Australia’s justice system but recalled that the cardinal had “openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable” acts of sexual abuse against minors.  He noted Pell’s cooperation with Australia’s Royal Commission investigation of sex abuse and that as a bishop in Australia, he worked to protect children and compensate victims.

Pell’s actions as archbishop came under scrutiny in recent years by a government-authorized investigation into how the Catholic Church and other institutions have responded to the sexual abuse of children. The Royal Commission revealed that 7 percent of priests were accused of sexually abusing children in the past several decades.

Last year, Pell testified to the commission that the church had made “enormous mistakes” in allowing thousands of children to be raped and molested by priests. He conceded that he, too, had erred by often believing the priests over victims who alleged abuse. He vowed to help end a rash of suicides that has plagued church abuse victims in his hometown of Ballarat.

It was unclear if Pell would face a church trial stemming from the accusations. The Vatican has clear guidelines about initiating a canonical investigation if there is a semblance of truth to sex abuse accusations against a cleric. In the case of a cardinal, it would fall to Francis himself to judge. Penalties for a guilty verdict in a church trial include defrocking.

philando-castile-mother.jpgThe city of St. Anthony, Minnesota will pay nearly $3 million to the family of Philando Castile to settle a wrongful death lawsuit, less than two weeks after officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted on manslaughter charges for killing Castile during a 2016 traffic stop.  Castile, a 32-year-old elementary school cafeteria worker, was shot five times by Yanez during a traffic stop after Castile told the officer he was armed.

The settlement is to be paid to Castile’s mother Valerie Castile, who is the family’s trustee.  The $2.995 million settlement will be paid by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, which holds the insurance policy for the city of St. Anthony. The plan for distribution of funds requires approval by a state court.

Attorney Robert Bennett, who is representing Valerie Castile, said a decision was made to move expeditiously rather than have the case drawn out in federal court, a process that would “exacerbate and reopen terrible wounds.” The settlement will also allow the family, the city and community to work toward healing, Bennett said.

The settlement will help benefit the Philando Castile Relief Foundation.  Bennett said the foundation’s mission is to provide financial support, grief counseling, scholarships and other help to individuals and families affected by gun violence and police violence.

The Philando Castile Relief Foundation hopes to continue to award an annual $5000 scholarship.  Through donations and part of the settlement, organizers hope to establish a permanent endowment to fund the annual $5,000 scholarship.  In May, 18-year-old Marques Watson was announced as the first recipient.

Watson intends to study mechanical engineering. He’ll take advantage of a tuition-free offer at St. Paul College this fall and hopes to complete his four-year degree at a historically black college or university.  Watson has participated in AVID, a school-based program that prepares underrepresented students for college, since seventh grade. He said he’ll be the first in his extended family to attend college.

Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who witnessed the shooting and posted video seconds after, is not part of the settlement. Reynolds has also hired an attorney, but it’s not clear if she is still planning a lawsuit or has any standing for a federal claim.

A claims manager with the League of Minnesota Cities, said St. Anthony’s insurance coverage is $3 million per occurrence. If Reynolds were to file and win a claim, the city’s remaining $5,000 in coverage would be paid to her and St. Anthony would have to cover any additional money awarded.

 

 

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It’s been estimated that hundreds of tower blocks in England could be covered in similar cladding to Glenfell Tower.  So far tests have revealed that combustible cladding has been found on at least three tower blocks across the UK.

Prime Minister Theresa May had ordered inspections of 600 high-rise buildings across Britain, after a massive fire in Grenfell Tower left at least 79 people dead and over 70 injured.  Dozens more are missing and presumed dead.  Workers were seen removing highly flammable cladding from a tower in North London.  The materials are similar to those used in the Grenfell high-rise, despite the fact the cladding is banned in the U.S. and Europe.

The June 14th fire started in the 24-storey, 220-foot high tower block of public housing flats in North Kensington, west London.  The tower contained 127 flats, with 227 bedrooms.    The fire started in a faulty fridge-freezer in a fourth-floor flat. The building’s recently added exterior cladding is believed to have played a role in the speed at which the fire spread.

Documents show that aluminium composite material (ACM) was used in Grenfell Tower’s rainscreen cladding. ACM is essentially a sandwich of two aluminium sheets with materials for insulation inside.  ACM panels often have a polyethylene core, which can be highly flammable. It is not yet clear whether this material was used in Grenfell Tower’s cladding.

Hundreds of firefighters and 45 fire engines were involved in efforts to control the fire which burned for 60 hours until it was finally extinguished.  Many firefighters continued to attempt to control pockets of fire on the higher floors after most of the rest of the building had been gutted. Residents of surrounding buildings were evacuated due to concerns that the tower could collapse, though the building was later determined to be structurally sound.

Prime Minister Theresa May announced a $5 million fund for victims of the fire; all those made homeless were to receive an initial down payment of $5,500, with each household to be given at least $500 in cash and $5,000 paid into an account. On June 21st, the government announced that 68 new flats in the same borough as Grenfell Tower are to be made available to survivors of the fire.

U.S. intelligence contractor Reality Leigh Winner, pleaded not guilty to charges that she leaked a top-secret document to The Intercept. Winner was charged for allegedly leaking a top-secret document claiming Russian military intelligence conducted a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software company just days before last November’s election.

Winner, a National Security Agency contractor and Air Force veteran, was arrested at her Georgia home on June 3 and charged with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to the news outlet The Intercept.  According to the Department of Justice, the 25-year-old printed and improperly removed the classified information on May 9.

The Justice Department announced the case against the contractor, shortly after the national-security news outlet The Intercept published the document that they claim was submitted anonymously.  The document was a May 5 intelligence report from the National Security Agency.  The report described two cyberattacks by Russia’s military intelligence unit, the G.R.U. — one in August against a company that sells voter registration-related software and another, a few days before the election, against 122 local election officials.

The F.B.I. affidavit said reporters for the news outlet, had approached the N.S.A. with questions for their story and, in the course of that dialogue, provided a copy of the document in their possession. An analysis of the file showed it was a scan of a copy that had been creased or folded, the affidavit said, “suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.”

The N.S.A.’s auditing system showed that six people had printed out the report, including Ms. Winner. Investigators examined the computers of those six people and found that Ms. Winner had been in email contact with the news outlet, but the other five had not.

She appeared in court on June 8 in Augusta, Georgia where prosecutors told a judge Winner had plans to reveal more classified files. A federal judge denied bail to Winner pending her trial on charges she violated the Espionage Act. Espionage Act charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, although conventional leak cases have typically resulted in prison terms of one to three years.

The F.B.I. said that at the time of her arrest, that she had confessed to an agent that she had printed out a May 5 intelligence file and mailed it to an online news outlet.  She may face additional charges as an investigation into whether she leaked other documents continues. That investigation was sparked after a conversation between Winner and her mother was overheard by a government official, where Winner said she was arrested for numerous documents.

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to reinstate President Trump’s second attempt at a travel ban on all refugees and citizens of six majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States.  The Justice Department has vowed to challenge the appeals court ruling and take it to the Supreme Court.

The court ruled 10-3 to uphold a ruling from a district court judge in Maryland that blocked a portion of the order that temporarily banned travel to the United States by nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.  In the majority decision, Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote that Trump’s executive order uses “vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.”

Judge Gregory listed televised interviews and numerous statements made at political rallies that, in the court’s view, indicated the true intentions of the order.  He cited a rally statement in which Trump called the second order a “watered down version” of the first order as well as a televised interview with Rudy Giuliani who said that Trump had asked him to devise an immigration ban within the bounds of legality.

The judge wrote that a reasonable observer would likely conclude the order’s “primary purpose is to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs”.  The government argued that Trump’s comments on the campaign trail should not be taken into account since they occurred before he took office on Jan 20. The appeals court rejected that view, saying they provide a window into the motivations for Trump’s action in government.

The appeals court questioned a government argument that the president has wide authority to halt the entry of people to the United States.  They were reviewing a March ruling by Maryland-based federal judge Theodore Chuang that blocked part of Trump’s March 6 executive order barring people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days while the government put in place stricter visa screening. A similar ruling against Trump’s policy from a Hawaii-based federal judge is still in place. The Hawaii judge’s ruling also blocked a section of the travel ban that also suspended refugee admissions for four months. The San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals is still reviewing that decision.

The Trump administration has argued that the temporary travel ban is a national security measure aimed at preventing Islamist militant attacks. “That’s why it’s not a Muslim ban”.  The countries were not chosen because they are predominantly Muslim but because they present terrorism risks, the administration has said.

After the 4th Circuit Court ruling, Attorney-general Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the government would seek a review of the case at the Supreme Court.    White House spokesperson Michael Short said “These clearly are very dangerous times and we need every available tool at our disposal to prevent terrorists from entering the United States and committing acts of bloodshed and violence,” adding that the White House was confident the order would ultimately be upheld by the judiciary.

A federal judge in Mississippi has sentenced a Gulfport man to 49 years in prison for murdering a transgender teenager, in the first-ever hate crime prosecution involving a transgender victim. Joshua Vallum, 29, plead guilty in the 2015 killing of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson and was sentenced to life in prison in July 2016 by an Alabama judge.  The Department of Justice later decided to pursue hat crime charges.  He was sentenced under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Vallum, a long time Latin Kings gang member, was arrested just days after the murder when his own father reported the crime to police.  He initially told investigators that he blacked out and killed Williamson when he discovered she was transgendered.  Several witnesses stepped forward saying that Vallum knew she was transgendered and the two had been in an 8 month relationship.

He later admitted that his motive for the killing was fear of being killed once fellow gang members found out.  Jeanie Miller, Williamson’s roommate testified that Vallum once told her and Williamson that his gang would kill both Vallum and Williamson if Williamson’s transgender status was discovered.  His brother Jacob saw him on the night of the murder covered in blood and testified that Vallum told him: ‘Well, it was my life or his.’

Prosecutors say Vallum killed Mercedes Williamson after the end of their relationship, because a friend learned that she was transgender, a fact Mr. Vallum kept hidden from friends and family while they dated.  On May 30th, Vallum lured Williamson into his car in Alabama and drove her 50 miles to his family home near Lucedale, Mississippi.  He then shocked her with a stun gun and stabbed her in the body and head with a pocketknife.  When Williamson tried to run into the woods, Vallum chased her down and beat her to death with a hammer.

Vallum confessed to his father Bobby Vallum on June 1st that he had murdered and buried Williamson on the rural property. Bobby Vallum took the information to police, leading to Josh Vallum being charged with murder.  Williamson was one of at least 21 transgender people murdered in the U.S. in 2015.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit representing 10 plaintiffs who have alleged mistreatment-accusing the Madison County Sheriff’s Department of imposing a permanent state of siege against the county’s African-American residents.  The lawsuit alleges that the sheriff’s department has maintained multiple roadblocks and checkpoints in majority-black neighborhoods, where African-American residents are subjected to illegal searches.

Of the ten plaintiffs, one has been stopped at the roadblocks at least 20 times in the previous year, according to the complaint.  At least four of the plaintiffs have had their homes raided by MCSD deputies who allegedly entered without warrants. Two of the plaintiffs were severely beaten by officers during confrontations, the suit claims.

The suit seeks a class-wide judgment declaring the department’s policies unconstitutional. A number of the plaintiffs are also seeking compensatory and punitive damages.  Along with the county, the suit lists MCSD Sheriff Randall Tucker and six unnamed deputies as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges the county’s roadblocks and pedestrian “checkpoints” are designed and placed to target black people for searches and seizures in majority-black neighborhoods and outside of majority-black housing complexes, even when they are not suspected of crimes.  The suit seeks a court order to stop the sheriff’s department from using such tactics and asks that a civilian board review complaints against the department.  It also asks for increased training and monitoring of officers.

Madison County is Mississippi’s wealthiest county with a per capita income in 2015 of around $58,000.  The most recent Census estimates that of the 105,000 residents-roughly 57% are white and 38% are black.   According to the lawsuit, Madison County’s wealth is concentrated among its white residents.  The complaint cites census figures that the arrest rate for black people in the county is nearly five times the rate for white people.

The ACLU says the disparity can’t be explained by nonracial factors and argues that the county has harbored a long history of “racial animus” toward its black residents. It notes that a previous sheriff was on the board of a citizens group that opposed desegregation in the 1950s, and says other authorities had used racially discriminatory policing tactics.

The ACLU alleges that Sheriff Randy Tucker, who has been in office since 2012,as ceased keeping track of civilian complaints of his department regarding racially-motivated policing. The lawsuit added that the Madison County Sheriff’s Department  has implemented a coordinated top-down program of methodically targeting Black individuals for suspicion-less searches and seizure ” while in their cars, walking in their neighborhoods or while in their own homes”.   Unjustified and excessive forces are routine occurrences during policing actions during these searches and seizures-leaving many residents afraid to leave their homes.