September 11th Victims Compensation Fund Blocked By Senate

 

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US Senator Rand Paul has blocked passage of a bill to fund healthcare for first responders to the 9/11 attacks. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which serves those who became sick as a result of their work following the 2001 terror attack, is set to run out of funding next year without congressional intervention. Senator Paul’s move came less than a week after the House approved a bill reauthorizing the fund on a vote of 402 to 12.  Senator Mike Lee of Utah also placed a procedural hold on the legislation, further preventing it from passing in the Senate.

The block comes more than a month after an emotional congressional hearing,  where John Stewart, who has been a longtime advocate for the fund, blasted lawmakers for their inaction ahead of a vote on renewing healthcare funding for 9/11 responders.  During his testimony, Stewart became upset several times as he appealed to Congress. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders. And in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one. Shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country, and it is a stain on this institution. And you should be ashamed of yourselves, for those that aren’t here. But you won’t be, because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”

After that hearing, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the bill which would permanently reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.  Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2010 and the act was reauthorized in 2015 for 90 years. But a portion of the law — the Victim Compensation Fund — was only funded for five years, through the end of 2020.  The fund aimed to provide necessary financial support for the thousands who suffered serious medical issues, including a spate of cancer diagnoses, after the 2001 attacks.  Several more 9/11 first responders have passed away of 9/11 related illnesses since the hearing and hundreds more are still fighting for their lives.

New York City health officials say the number of people who have been diagnosed with 9/11-linked cancers has tripled.  Thousands of first responders rushed to the scene of the attacks and in doing so, exposed themselves to toxic debris in the air, including asbestos, lead, and pulverized concrete, which causes silicosis.  Nearly 5,500 first responders and local residents have now been diagnosed with cancers linked to the toxic smoke and dust of 9/11.  As of September 2018, 2,000 deaths were attributed to 9/11 related illnesses. By the end of last year, many estimate that more people will have died from toxic exposures than were actually killed in the attack.

Mike Barasch, a partner of Barasch McGarry, a law firm that represents roughly 15,000 first responders and survivors of the 2001 attacks including many who testified before Congress, said that he met with Paul and Lee’s staff before the vote and were “assured” that while the two Senators wouldn’t vote for the bill, they also wouldn’t block the bill from passage.  “This is so hypocritical for them to be now saying we are worried about the deficit when both voted in favor for the tax cut,” said Barasch. “This is a moral obligation, Congress must pass this bill.”

The block came just hours before yet another first responder, Kevin Nolan, died from cancer that was diagnosed in the wake of the attacks on September 11th.  Nolan was a retired firefighter and member of Engine Company 79.  He was among the thousands of first responders working at Ground Zero immediately after the terror attacks.

 

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Navy Seal Acquitted of Murder Charges

 

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A seven-member military jury panel has acquitted Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, 40, on charges of murder, witness intimidation, and assault. The charges stemmed from a 2017 deployment in Iraq during which fellow SEALs said Gallagher stabbed a captive teenage ISIS fighter in the neck. The ISIS fighter, whom Gallagher was treating for air-strike injuries, later died. Three SEALs also said they saw Gallagher shoot two civilians. The jurors found Gallagher guilty of one count related to pictures he took next to the corpse of the Iraqi fighter.

After the verdict was read, Gallagher, his wife and his defense team stood up and began hugging. Gallagher told reporters after the verdict was read: “I’m happy and I’m thankful. I thank God, and my legal team and my wife.”  He still faces the impending sentencing for wrongful posing for photos with a human casualty but his according to his defense attorney Tim Parlatore “We have a sentencing to do, but the maximum sentence on what they’re about to sentence him on is much less than the time that they’ve already had him in the brig, so he is going home.”  The same jury that tried Gallagher sentenced him on July 3, 2019, for posing with the corpse.  The jury gave Gallagher, who served the maximum prison time for this charge, a demotion from Chief Petty Officer (E-7) to Petty Officer First Class (E-6);  a lighter sentence than other potential punishments, such as an other than honorable discharge (OTH).

The jury of five Marines and two sailors — one of whom is a SEAL — had to decide if the boy was stabbed to death, or died from wounds sustained during an airstrike with Gallagher being falsely accused by disgruntled subordinates.  Seven SEALs testified that Gallagher abruptly stabbed the teen prisoner on May 3, 2017, just after he and other medics treated the boy.  Two of them said they witnessed Gallagher, a 19-year-veteran, stab the teen. But one of them, in an admission that stunned the courtroom, Special Operator Corey Scott, who is also a medic, said he was the person who killed the boy when he plugged his breathing tube with his thumb in an act of mercy.

An Iraqi general testified that Gallagher did not stab the boy, and Marine Staff Sgt. Giorgio Kirylo said that he didn’t see any stab wounds on the young ISIS fighter when he moved the corpse to take a “cool guy trophy” photo with it.  Navy Cmdr. Jeff Pietrzyk told the jury that while the detained Islamic fighter was not a sympathetic figure, he was under the control of the U.S. military, which meant he was no longer a lawful target.  Pietrzyk also said that text messages sent by Gallagher prove his guilt. One message said: “I’ve got a cool story for you when I get back. I’ve got my knife skills on.” Another text stated: “Good story behind this. Got him with my hunting knife.”  Pietrzyk then showed a photo of Gallagher holding up the dead prisoner’s head by the hair.  Gallagher’s lawyers said the text was just an example of dark combat humor.

SEAL sniper Dalton Tolbert testified that he does not remember who started a group chat called “The Sewing Circle,” but the purpose of it was to connect with others who were disturbed by what they saw while deployed with Gallagher, and decide how to handle it.  “I shot more warning shots to save civilians from Eddie than I ever did at ISIS. I see an issue with that,” Tolbert wrote in one of the texts.  One of the members of Gallagher’s unit — Alpha Platoon, SEAL Team 7 testified that Gallagher confessed that he killed four women and two other SEAL petty officers told investigators Gallagher bragged about slaying “10-20 people a day or 150-200 people on deployment,” court documents state.

Court records state that one of the SEALS saw Gallagher fire into a crowd of what appeared to be noncombatants multiple times and another states that Gallagher claimed “he averaged three kills a day over 80 days.”  Many of the SEALs that testified said that Gallagher attempted to cover up these alleged crimes by threatening to murder witnesses and embarking on a campaign to identify other whistleblowers, get them blacklisted in the special warfare community and ruin their careers.  But with no body or autopsy evidence, the panel only had testimony of witnesses to review before deciding the fate of a man with a 19 year military career.  Gallagher’s lawyers ultimately tried to prove that some SEALs wanted to derail Gallagher’s advancement to senior chief.  Others were angry that he had been recommended for a post-tour combat valor award — the Silver Star — an honor they thought he didn’t deserve.

 

Phoenix Police Issue Apology After Video of Heated Confrontation With Family Surfaces

 

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Phoenix’s mayor and police chief have both apologized after a video was released showing officers pointing guns and yelling at a family outside a Family Dollar store, after they say a 4-year-old girl took a doll from the store. The video, recorded by a witness, caused widespread outrage and showed the officers screaming orders at the father, pregnant mother carrying their baby and the young girl.  The police department became aware of the video on June 11th and the officers involved have been assigned to desk duty while their actions are being investigated.  The parents say the police officers violated their civil rights, and are filing a $10 million lawsuit.

On May 29, Dravon Ames and his fiancee, Iesha Harper, said they went on a family outing with their two children, London, 1, and Island, 4. Without their knowledge, Island took a doll from a Family Dollar Store.  A police patrol unit who was responding to the shoplifting report followed the couple’s car. The family entered their babysitter’s apartment complex and were still in the car as an officer approached the vehicle with his gun drawn and yanked open the front door.

“I’m going to put a cap in your a–,” one officer said to Ames as a second policeman, whose weapon was also drawn and pointed at Ames, walked up to the car, the video shows. “I’m going to shoot you in your f—ing face.”  The woman can be heard saying she is unable to hold her hands up because she is holding a child, and that she is pregnant.

The first officer — who has not yet been named by the department — pulled Ames, 22, from the car, pushed his head to the pavement, handcuffed him and yelled that Ames better follow orders, according to the claim. The officer threw Ames against the car, ordered him to spread his legs and “kicked him in the right leg so hard that the father collapsed.” Then, the officer dragged him upright and punched him in the back, the claim said.

Once Ames was handcuffed and inside the patrol car, the officers focused their attention on Harper and the children, according to the claim.  The two officers pointed their weapons at the visibly pregnant 24-year-old Harper and her children, the video shows.  “The first officer grabbed the mother and the baby around both of their necks, and tried to take the baby out of the mother’s hand,” the claim alleged. “He told her to put the baby on the ground, which she was unwilling to do because the baby could not walk, and the ground consisted of hot pavement.”

The officer tried to rip Harper’s youngest child from her arms, the claim stated. After Harper handed the children to a bystander, the officer threw Harper into the police car face first and then handcuffed her.  “I could have shot you in front of your f—ing kids,” he said, according to the claim.  The store manager declined to press charges so neither Ames nor Harper were arrested or ticketed, though they were detained by the police.  The notice of claim alleged that the police officers “committed battery, unlawful imprisonment, false arrest, infliction of emotional distress, and violation of civil rights under the fifth and 14th amendments of the United States Constitution.”

 

 

 

Oregon Man Charged With Murder in Disappearance of Young Mother and Son

 

michael-wolfe.jpgAn Oregon man, Michael John Wolfe, 52, was arrested and charged in the presumed kidnapping and murder of a 25-year-old woman and her 3-year-old son.  Karissa Fretwell and the pair’s son, William “Billy” Fretwell were reported missing by relatives on May 17, four days after they were last seen or heard from. Wolfe was charged with two counts of aggravated murder and two counts of kidnapping while police continue to search for Karissa and Billy.

Fretwell’s vehicle is reportedly still parked on the street in front of her apartment with a child’s car seat is in the back.  Karissa Fretwell is described as a white female who is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs about 135 pounds. She has blue eyes and naturally blond hair that is dyed red.  Billy Fretwell is described as a white male who is about 3 feet tall and weighs about 30 pounds. He has blond hair and blue eyes.  Police have been searching a rural Yamhill County property in the Hopewell area and Wolfe’s Gaston home he has shared with his wife for 10 years, as part of the investigation.

Wolfe, who is married to another woman, was established as Billy’s biological father through a DNA test in 2018 after Fretwell filed a petition to establish the boy’s paternity.  Wolfe and Fretwell had an affair while working together at a local steel mill and the two were locked in a custody battle.  Court documents state Fretwell and Wolfe were in court as recently as April, and Wolfe was ordered to pay over $900 a month in child support and provide health insurance coverage for Billy.  The court documents state Fretwell believed Wolfe wouldn’t pay child support without a court order.

Two months prior to Fretwell’s disappearance, her neighbor said he heard fighting taking place in her apartment. Neighbor Robert Allen said “We heard a man and woman arguing incredibly loud. The man was swearing a lot and there was a kid crying in the background, and the woman was yelling at him to get out of her apartment.”

A close friend of Karissa’s, Bethany Brown, told reporters she felt some relief that Wolfe is behind bars.  “How could he do that to her and him? Little Billy, that’s his son! God, it hurts,” she said. “She was a good mom. She was just trying to make it through life.  “I hope he rots in prison for the rest of his life,” she said.  Brown said Wolfe was apparently trying to hide the affair.  “He’s married and has another kid and he didn’t want anything to do with Karissa or Billy. He didn’t want his wife finding out about the affair and she did find out, and that’s when everything went sour.  He told her ‘Don’t ruin my marriage,’ and, ‘I can’t afford this $1,100 amount in child support,'” Brown said.

Another friend, Mykeal Moats said Fretwell met Wolfe when she was living in McMinnville and was a delivery driver for a sandwich shop. She made deliveries to Cascade Steel Rolling Mills in McMinnville, where Wolfe worked. Moats said Fretwell subsequently got a security job at the industrial plant but was no longer working there.   Another friend, Bethany Brown, said Karissa had told her she found out she was pregnant three days after finding out he was married and that Wolfe had cosigned on an apartment for her provided he have a key.  Karissa told her she would come home to find him in her apartment which led her to move into a new apartment.  Moats said that Wolfe would not stop calling Karissa or showing up at her work.  She couldn’t get away from him.” Moats said.

Weinstein Reaches $44 Million Settlement

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Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has reached a $44 million deal to settle a number of lawsuits, including a class-action suit brought by alleged survivors of rape and sexual assault. The will use $14 million to pay legal fees of Mr. Weinstein’s associates, including his former board members; the remaining $30 million will go to settle claims by survivors who allege sexual crimes going back decades. The names of the women involved in the settlement have not been released but the deal was reached in order to settle a multitude of civil suits against Weinstein in the US, UK and Canada,.

The tentative settlement won’t affect a criminal case against Weinstein in New York City charging him with rape and other sex crimes brought on by two women. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty and that trial is scheduled for September.  In a separate case, Actress Ashley Judd, one of the first women to come forward, tweeted that her legal case against Mr Weinstein was ongoing and that she intended to take him to trial.

The deal was reached during bankruptcy proceedings for Weinstein Co. The sprawling negotiations encompassed attorneys for Weinstein, Weinstein Co., the company’s unsecured creditors and the New York attorney general’s office. The New York attorney general’s office sued Weinstein Co. last year after revelations surfaced showing his studio, Weinstein Company, knew for at least two years that he had been paying off women who accused him of sexual harassment and assault. They initially pushed for a victims’ fund of up to $90 million before the plans faltered after the company went bankrupt.  Under the terms of the proposed settlement, which would be paid through insurance funds, no party would admit wrongdoing.

In October 2017, the New York Times published a story detailing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein.  Actresses Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd were among the first women to come forward.  The accusations include forcing women to massage him and watch him naked. He also allegedly promised to help some women advance their careers in return for sexual favors. Many of the instances occurred during meetings that agents, studios and assistants set up for Weinstein under the guise of a potential movie role.  The common theme in the accusations is that the harassment took place early in their careers and they kept quiet out of fear that they would destroy their budding careers.  Fear of Harvey Weinstein’s influence helped keep his treatment of women shrouded for years with a network of aggressive publicists and lawyers helping.

The film producer issued an apology acknowledging he had “caused a lot of pain” – but denied allegations that he harassed female employees over nearly three decades.  The scandal surrounding Weinstein led to the #MeToo movement, which has seen hundreds of women accusing high-profile men in business, government and entertainment of sexual abuse and harassment.

 

Monsanto Loses 3rd Round Up Cancer Trial

 

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Monsanto has been ordered to pay its highest damages yet in the third lawsuit over the popular weed killer Roundup.  A jury has ordered Monsanto, which is owned by German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, to pay more than $2 billion in punitive damages to Alva and Alberta Pilliod — a couple who were both diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer after using Roundup on their properties for over 30 years. The main ingredient in the herbicide is glyphosate, and is said to cause the cancer.

Alva Pilliod and his wife, Alberta, are in their 70s and have been married for nearly 50 years. They started using Roundup in the 1970s and continued using the weed killer until only a few years ago. The Livermore couple has two children and four grandchildren.  Alva was diagnosed in 2011 with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in his bones that spread to his pelvis and spine. Alberta was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma brain cancer in 2015.  At the request of their attorneys, a judge expedited the trial due to their advanced ages and cancer diagnoses.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs estimate that there are tens of thousands of similar cases against Roundup pending in courts around the country.  The guilty verdict is the third time a jury has found the company at fault in California since mid-2018. In March, a San Francisco jury awarded $80 million to a man who blamed his cancer on his extensive use of Roundup. In August 2018, another San Francisco jury awarded $289 million to a fourth plaintiff. On appeal a judge later slashed that payout to $78 million. Bayer is appealing each of these verdicts. The company insists there is no link between Roundup and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Another trial, Gordon v. Monsanto, is scheduled for August in St. Louis County in Missouri, the site of Monsanto’s former headquarters.  Other upcoming trials against the makers of RoundUp include

St. Louis County Court – Lamb & Cohen v. Monsanto set for September 9, 2019

St. Louis County Court – Winston v. Monsanto set for October 15, 2019

Montana 18th Judicial District Court Gallatin County – Cazier v. Monsanto – postponed

St. Louis City Court – Wade v. Monsanto set for January 21, 2020

 

Bayer has seen its stock price plummet 40 percent since it purchased Monsanto last year for $63 billion. At its recent annual meeting, a shareholder revolt ensued, with more than half of the shareholders voting against absolving management for its decision to acquire the St. Louis-based seed and pesticide company.

 

 

First CEO Found Guilty of Racketeering In Opioid Crisis

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A federal jury in Boston has found Insys Therapeutics founder John Kapoor, as well as four former Insys managers, guilty of racketeering conspiracy.  Former vice president Michael Gurry, ex-national sales director Richard Simon, former regional sales director Joseph Rowan, and one-time stripper turned Insys sales manager Sunrise Lee were also found guilty.

They were accused of bribing doctors to prescribe a highly addictive fentanyl spray to patients who didn’t need it. One of the defendants, Sunrise Lee, allegedly gave a lap dance to a doctor at a company event in order to persuade him to prescribe the drug. The charges call for up to 20 years in prison, but as first-time offenders, Kapoor and the others would likely get only a fraction of that.

The trial against former billionaire Kapoor and four other company executives began in January and lasted into April. Insys managers Michael Gurry, Richard Simon, Sunrise Lee were also convicted. The executives were accused of conspiring to bribe clinicians to prescribe the company’s potent fentanyl spray medication off-label.  Former CEO Michael Babich and former vice president of sales Alec Burlakoff, pleaded guilty before this year’s trial began.

Michael Babich testified against his former colleagues during the trial and told jurors that Insys recruited sales representatives who were “easy on the eyes” because they knew physicians didn’t want an “unattractive person to walk in their door.”

Prosecutors allege that to boost sales for Subsys, which is meant for cancer patients with severe pain-bribes were paid in the form of fees for sham speaking events that were billed as educational opportunities for other doctors.  Prosecutors said Insys staffers also misled insurers about patients’ medical conditions and posed as doctors’ office employees in order to get payment approved for the costly drug.

Kapoor is the first chief executive officer of an opioid maker to be convicted at a trial. The verdict signals that the public is willing to hold pharmaceutical executives accountable for the U.S. crisis and comes as thousands of state and local governments press civil lawsuits against drug-makers to recover billions of dollars spent combating the epidemic.

The guilty verdict comes as companies including Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Purdue Pharma LP, Johnson & Johnson and Endo International Plc are preparing to face trials over allegations by states and local governments that their sales campaigns fueled a crisis which is costing billions of dollars annually and claims more than 100 lives daily in the United States.  The Sackler family, Purdue’s billionaire owners, are facing a new wave of lawsuits over its role in the marketing of OxyContin. They, like the companies, deny wrongdoing.