Tag Archive: mark shuster legal shield


 

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.

 

 

Cholera-outbreak-in-Yemen.-806x450-640x357.jpgThe United Nations says Yemen is now facing the world’s worst cholera outbreak.  The World Health Organization (WHO) says more than 200,000 people in Yemen are infected with cholera and that number is growing by 5,000 a day, they say.  “In just two months, cholera has spread to almost every (part) of this war-torn country,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in a joint statement.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, 1,310 people have already died, a quarter of them children.  A UN report has said children account for half of the registered cases to date.  Cholera is a highly contagious bacterial infection spread through contaminated food or water. If left untreated, it can cause severe dehydration and can be fatal within hours.

Rarely seen in the U.S. and other industrialized nations, it primarily affects developing areas that lack adequate water treatment or sanitation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Cholera is preventable and easily treatable but the collapsing infrastructure in Yemen has cut off an estimated 14.5 million people (about half the country’s population) from regular access to clean water, increasing the likelihood for the disease to spread. There are reportedly 7.3 million people on the brink of famine.

The outbreak began last year but a second wave of the waterborne disease has spread even more quickly in the last two months.  UNICEF and WHO have attributed the outbreak to malnutrition, collapsing sanitation and clean water systems due to the country’s ongoing conflict.  April’s cholera resurgence began ten days after Sana’a’s sewer system stopped working.

The impact of the outbreak has been exacerbated by many factors including the collapse of the Yemeni health services, where many health workers have remained unpaid for months. Less than half of Yemen’s medical centres are still functional. Hospitals are lacking medical equipment, rehydration solutions and medicine while still receiving patients from all over the country.  They are also dealing with a shortage of doctors and nurses so they have been working round the clock to deal with the crisis.

Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial has ended in a mistrial after jurors remained deadlocked on all counts after 52 hours of deliberation.  Cosby faced three counts of aggravated indecent assault. Andrea Constand has accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her at his home in 2004.  Constand is the former director of operations for the women’s basketball team at Temple University where Cosby was a trustee.

Constand is one of about 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assaults dating back decades.  It’s the only criminal case stemming from dozens of accusations of sexual misconduct — all of which the comedian/actor denies.  She says she was “paralyzed” by pills he gave her while he claimed it was just Benadryl and that the encounter was consensual.

Cosby did not take the stand, but his lawyers have maintained the physical contact was mutual and raised questions as to why Constand kept in phone contact with Cosby after the alleged incident.  They also questioned why she did not report it for a year. Prosecutors declined to charge Cosby in 2004 but reopened the case after the scandal erupted two and a half years ago.

The jurors were chosen in the Pittsburgh area and bussed in to Philadelphia for the trial.  After six days of testimony, the jury of seven men and five women began deliberations.  They were soon deadlocked but continued to deliberate, reviewing reams of testimony.  After 52 hours of deliberations, Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill accepted a defense motion for a mistrial.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele immediately announced that he plans to retry the case and ordered that Cosby can remain free on $1 million bail he posted when he was first charged.  Steele later told reporters that there “was no pause or hesitation” in deciding to retry the case and that “we had a significant amount of evidence … now we have to prove (the case) beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Prosecutors will retry him on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, a charge that carries 10 years in prison.

Outside the courthouse, lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents some of the women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, said that “round two may be just around the corner, and this time, justice may prevail.”  She commended her client Kelly Johnson, the only other accuser allowed to testify at the trial, and thanked all the accusers who have spoken out.  Several of Cosby’s accusers have been attending the trial.

 

Twenty-two people were killed and 116 injured after a suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device at an Ariana Grande concert held in the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England.  The explosion occurred as people were exiting the arena after the show ended.  Concert-goers and parents waiting to pick up their children were in the arena’s foyer when the bomb went off.  The dead included ten people under the age of 20, the youngest an eight-year-old girl.  Days later, 75 people remained hospitalized, 23 of them, including five children, in critical condition.

The sold out show was part of Ariana Grande’s 2017 Dangerous Woman Tour where up to 21,000 attended.  As news of the explosion quickly spread, residents and taxi companies in Manchester offered free transport or accommodation to those left stranded at the concert.   Nearby hotel became a shelter for children separated from parents in the aftermath of the explosion.  Many local temples, businesses and homeowners offered immediate shelter to victims as they waited for news of missing loved ones.

The day after the attack, Prime Minister Theresa May raised the terror threat level from severe to critical. A critical threat level means that it is believed another attack is imminent.  It also means members of the British military will be deployed throughout the country to supplement its police forces.  Nearly 4,000 soldiers were deployed nationwide in the wake of the bombing.  ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing which is the 13th deadly terrorist attack in Western Europe since the beginning of 2015.

The bomber was identified as 22 year old Salman Ramadan Abedi, a British Muslim who was born in Manchester to Libyan-born refugees.  Abedi was allegedly reported to authorities about his extremism, by as many as five people, including community leaders, neighbors and possibly family members.

Authorities had investigated him but did not consider him high risk at the time.  Authorities have revealed that Abedi had returned to the UK from Turkey four days prior to the attack.  French interior minister Gérard Collomb said that Abedi may have been to Syria, and had “proven” links with ISIS.  Manchester police believe Abedi used student loans to finance the plot, including travel overseas to learn bomb-making.

Police have conducted several raids and detained a total of eight people in connection to the attack and said they were investigating a “network” as the probe intensified.  Authorities have confirmed that Abedi’s father and younger brother have been arrested in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.  The brother was suspected of planning an attack in Libya and was said to be in regular touch with Salman.  Investigators believe his brother was aware of the plan to bomb the Manchester Arena, but not the date.  According to a Libyan official, the brothers spoke on the phone about 15 minutes before the attack was carried out in Manchester.

Abedi’s father, Ramadan Abedi was born in Libya but fled under fear of arrest by the brutal regime of Moammar Gadhafi in 1993. He won asylum in Britain, where his sons were born. Abedi later returned to Libya and works as an administrator for the government, which has been in disarray since Gadhafi was toppled in 2011.

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.

Members of the Trump administration and Pentagon officials are pushing for the deployment 3,000 to 5,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.  There are currently about 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.  Officials are also looking for the relaxation of restrictions on launching airstrikes.  The recommendation comes after the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, warned the war has reached a stalemate. Trump is expected to decide whether to approve the deployment of additional troops later this month.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited Kabul to speak with Nicholson just days after an attack by a Taliban-affiliated militants killed 140 Afghan troops, most of whom were unarmed in a mosque praying at their base.  The Pentagon’s proposal is aimed at countering the resilient Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan by adding thousands more troops closer to combat and bombarding the Taliban with airstrikes.  Army General John Nicholson told the Senate the security situation had deteriorated.  If approved, the decision would allow U.S. troops to partner with Afghan forces closer to the fight rather than just playing an advisory role.

The Pentagon had been focused on ending its presence in Afghanistan since 2001 but after the September 11th attacks, U.S. forces, with 100,000 troops deployed-helped topple the Taliban government that had given shelter to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

With the end of the combat mission “Enduring Freedom” and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the United States had pulled out most its troops in late 2014.  The Obama administration decided to leave a force of about 13,000 troops in place after responding to pleas from U.S. Commanders.  The 13,000 includes all active duty service personnel from all branches (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force), National Guard and Reserve as well as civilian employees of the Department of Defense and civilian contractors (APF) – which make up the smallest group.

There have been restrictions in place regarding how close Americans could accompany Afghan forces in combat and on bombing Taliban targets. Those rules were eased last year, and the Pentagon’s recent proposal would grant added authority for air strikes.    The current NATO-led operation in Afghanistan is called “Resolute Support” and aims to train and advise the Afghan security forces. Sporadic combat operations are left to Special Forces.  The U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan is America’s longest war and the Pentagon’s proposal means it won’t be ending any time soon.

 

 

Relations between North Korea and the US and South Korea have rapidly deteriorated in recent months, as the rhetoric and military posturing on both sides has increased.  North Korea has threatened to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier that is conducting military drills, along with Japanese ships, in the waters off the Korean Peninsula.

U.S. Aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain and guided-missile destroyers USS Michael Murphy and USS Wayne E Meyer have practiced for war with North Korea with a series of military drills.  US allies South Korea and Japan surrounded North Korea with joint exercises on both sides of the Korean peninsula.  The navy fleet is now within “striking range” of North Korea, in the Philippine Sea- just east of the Japanese island of Okinawa.

North Korea conducted its own military drills which involved 300 large-caliber self-propelled guns lined up along the coast where they opened fire with live rounds.  A statement from the South Korean military said the live-fire exercises were in the Wonsan region in the east of the country.  North Korea fired four ballistic missiles toward Japan as part of its exercise targeting US bases there.

Soon after those drills were conducted, the US began to deploy its advanced THAAD anti-missile defense system in South Korea, despite opposition from Russia and China. The deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system came THAAD is a missile defense system designed to intercept short and medium-range ballistic missiles as they begin their descent to their targets.   Developed by Lockheed Martin, THAAD missiles use infrared seeker technology to locate their targets and detonate on impact.

Both Russia and China have spoken out against the THAAD deployment.  China’s Foreign Ministry stated that it was “resolutely opposed” to the move and say the missile system actually aims to counter China’s military power in the region, not to contain North Korea.  The deployment also drew protests from hundreds of villagers in Seongju, South Korea, who clashed with police as troops began deploying THAAD hardware on a local golf course.

The Trump administration called the entire US Senate to a meeting at the White House, for a briefing on North Korea with the US secretaries of Defense and State.   President Trump recently stated “North Korea is a big world problem, and it’s a problem we have to finally solve. People put blindfolds on for decades and now it’s time to solve the problem.”  Many fear that Trump is backing himself into a corner with his firm stance on North Korea, leading both countries to a point where “bad things are going to happen.”

 

 

More than 20,000 criminal drug cases in Massachusetts are being thrown out by state prosecutors after a former state chemist admits faking test results.  Annie Dookhan pleaded guilty in 2013 to falsifying evidence in tens of thousands of cases during her nine years working at a state crime lab in Boston.

Dookhan’s misconduct led to a five-year legal battle waged by the American Civil Liberties Union and others to dismiss some 24,000 drug convictions.  The Supreme Judicial Court approved of throwing out 21,587 convictions, likely making it the largest single dismissal of criminal cases in U.S. history, according to the ACLU.

The majority of defendants had already completed their sentences and many had not been given prison time to begin with. The ACLU estimates 60 percent of the cases involved were for possession and not drug dealing.  The dismissals could lead to some individuals being released from prison in instances where a person with previous convictions had their “third strike” case tainted by Dookhan’s misconduct.  The “three strikes” law requires mandatory maximum sentences for those convicted three times of certain crimes and is meant to take habitual offenders off the streets.

Dookhan was hired by the state in 2003 as a chemist at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory in Boston, which tested drug evidence for criminal cases in eastern Massachusetts.   In June 2011, an evidence officer discovered that Dookhan had tested 95 samples without properly signing them out. Further investigation revealed that she’d forged the initials of an evidence officer in her log book-resulting in her suspension from lab duties.

She continued testifying in court cases until February 2012, when district attorneys were notified of the breach in protocol.  Dookhan was placed on administrative leave and resigned in March 2012, amid allegations that she manipulated drug tests and falsified results.  In many of the cases, she identified the evidence as illegal narcotics without even testing the materials.

A Massachusetts State Police probe revealed that Dookhan’s supervisors and colleagues ignored “red flags” of her misconduct-including that she reportedly tested 500 samples per month-five times the average.  She admitted to police that she had been altering and faking test results for as long as three years,  in order to cover up her frequent “dry labbing,” or visually identifying samples without actually testing them.   She also admitted to adding cocaine to samples when none was present.

During the investigation, it was also revealed that Dookhan falsely claimed on her resume and in sworn testimony to have had a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts at Boston.  She was arrested in September 2012 and charged with obstruction of justice and falsification of academic records.   Dookhan was sentenced to three to five years in prison and two years probation after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice, perjury and tampering with evidence. She was paroled last year.