February 23, 2014

South Florida Attorney Found Guilty of Three Counts of Wire Fraud

After more than six hours of compelling testimony by convicted and jailed Ponzi swindler Scott Rothstein, a West Palm Beach, Florida federal jury took one third the time of his testimony to find his associate Christina Kitterman, 39, guilty of all three counts of wire fraud brought against her by the U.S. Attorney.

Kitterman, of Deerfield Beach, also an attorney, as was Rothstein, still operates her practice in Boca Raton. She was arrested in August of last year along with Douglas L. Bates, 54, of Parkland, another attorney that had dealings with Rothstein's firm.

At her arraignment in September, Kitterman pleaded not guilty to the three counts in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge James M. Hopkins. Each of the charges carried a maximum of twenty-years in prison and fines of $250,000.00.

Based on the indictment, in April 2009, Kitterman read a pre-scripted document in the course of a telephone conference with victims of Rothstein's scam while she was an employee of Rothstein, Rosenfeldt and Adler P.A. (RRA) a law firm with offices in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, West Palm Beach, Tallahassee, Florida, New York and Caracas, Venezuela. During its heyday, RRA boasted a staff of 150 and 70 lawyers in their employ.

In the course of the conversation, she informed the edgy individuals that a number of the company's bank accounts had been frozen because Rothstein faced disciplinary action pending a Bar investigation of his firm. She did so under the ruse that she was the head of the Florida Bar's Fort Lauderdale office, creating the falsehood in explanation of why certain payments due to the listening investors had not yet been paid out.

According to her testimony, Kitterman indicated that she was under the impression that she was speaking with individuals who had refused to make payments of settlements. She also later testified that she was a victim of sexual harassment by Rothstein on several occasions during her employment with his firm.

Rothstein had a dissimilar story to articulate.

During court testimony he contradicted her suggestion by alleging that he had a consensual sexual relationship with her while she was in his employ. Further, while being questioned, Rothstein stated that he wished he didn't have to testify about Ms. Kitterman and said "I am not happy about being here," adding that he considered her a "close, trusted friend," apparently in addition to the indicated sexual exploits. But he accentuated the sexual component by saying "We were two friends who fooled around from time to time," Once at Runway 84 in Fort Lauderdale she "pulled me into a bathroom stall to make out with me." He continued by saying that "I loved her and cared about her and I believe she loved and cared about me."

But additional testimony provided by Rothstein which was heard by the jury was more incriminatory.

Dressed casually and much slimmer than his last public appearance, Rothstein delivered a rambling soliloquy of the Ponzi scheme he engineered and organized while on the witness stand. He voiced to a packed courtroom about his connections with corrupt law enforcement officials and politicians, sexual escapades including stories about cheating on his wife, and involvement with the Mafia.

Called as a witness for the defense in this case, his testimony apparently only aided the prosecution. The handcuffed clad convict took the witness stand with his customary loose lips recounting stories of his dealings and connections with Ms. Kitterman. Rothstein became well-known for "singing like a canary", implicating everyone from his partners in the scheme as well as bankers lawyers, a company CEO and even an owner of a car dealership during criminal proceedings against him which ultimately led to his conviction of Florida's largest Ponzi scheme and the fourth largest in US history ever to be executed.

In this latest testimony Rothstein portrayed Kitterman as a "team player" who had no reservations about assisting him with the offenses she'd been charged with. He went on to accuse her of committing a number of additional crimes. "I did for her, she did for me," he explained. He further stated that their association was one of each having the other's back and doing whatever needed to be done whether it was above-board or not. He further stated "I did not tell her we were going to cheat anyone, I just told her to lie."

Kitterman's defense attorney angrily charged that Rothstein was lying in a selfish attempt to get his sentenced reduced by cooperating with the prosecution in his client's case.

But Rothstein contended that it would be "self-destructive" for him to lie about matters that could easily be disproved by documented evidence. He also noted that he believed doing so would extinguish any remaining hope he has of ever being freed from prison.

The now jailed, disgraced, and disbarred attorney is in the midst of serving a 50-year prison sentence for his conviction of being the mastermind of the $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme. During his own trial, he apologized to all that were hurt by his actions and also implicated many, if not all of his associates that were connected to the scheme. To date, fourteen individuals have been convicted and sent to federal prison for crimes linked to him and Kitterman is the eighteenth individual who's faced charges associated to his exploits.

U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley didn't fix a sentencing date based on reasoning that he would review trial transcripts to first determine if Kitterman perjured herself during her testimony. That possibility, if deemed to be valid by the judge could have weight on the overall span of her sentence.

To read more on the topic of wire fraud visit my website or click here to go directly to the page that explains the crime in detail.

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February 1, 2014

Retired Police Captain Faces Murder Charge for South Florida Theater Shooting

A gun was discharged in a Wesley Chapel, Florida Movie Theater shocking some patrons into the belief that the events of the mass murder that took place in Aurora Colorado in the summer of 2012 might be unfolding in their own neighborhood theater.

Kareen Lasky, who was in an adjacent theater when the gunfire rang out told the Tampa Bay Times that when the shooting occurred "The first thing I thought of was the theater out there in the West."

Although this incident was not at all similar to the events that took place in Aurora, Colorado, a man was still shot and killed.

This specific event arose when a retired Tampa police captain shot a man in the chest after arguing with him about using his cell phone to send text messages inside a movie theater. The shooting took place at the Cobb Theater's Grove 16 & Cine Bistro mid last month in Wesley Chapel, FL, a suburb about a thirty miles north of Tampa.

Chad Oulson was seated with his wife Nicole waiting for the matinee of the film "Lone Survivor" to begin when an altercation began with retired Police Captain Curtis Reeves, Jr. After words were exchanged, Reeves who also was also accompanied by his wife, got up to apparently complain to management about the texting, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office police report. The Oulsons' were sitting in front of the seemingly agitated 6-foot-1, 270-pound, seventy-one year-old former police captain.

As the argument between the two couples escalated and was seemingly reaching its peak, Mr. Oulson reportedly threw popcorn at Reeves instigating a reaction where Reeves revealed his .380-semi-auto handgun and fired at Oulson hitting him in the chest. Mrs. Oulson was shot in the hand, apparently trying to block the bullet that was directed at her husband. According to a witness, after Reeves shot Oulson, he sat back down and placed the weapon in his lap.

When police arrived, Reeves was arrested and later charged with second-degree murder. An off-duty Sumter County deputy who was inside the theater as the shooting went on detained the retired officer until other deputies arrived at the scene.

When neighbors were interviewed, each of them had only good things to say about the man that moved to the area about 10 years ago. "He must have just snapped," said Joe D'Andrea, and went on to describe him as a friendly, "stand-up" guy... I would not think he was the type of guy to do something like that. Another neighbor, Bill Costas told CNN affiliate WFLA that the man described in the report sounds like "a completely different guy" from the one he knows. He continued by saying he was a "very nice guy, always smiling... very helpful. If I needed help with something, he was there to help. I've never seen him angry."

But Pasco County Sherriff Chris Nocco was easy to find fault with the former police captain saying "To have a retired police officer... I don't know what he was thinking at the time. I can tell you, anybody, over a cellphone, to take their life, it's ridiculous."

During his career, for his leadership capabilities, Reeves frequently established exceptional assessments and repeated letters of commendation. He was praised for his role in the training he commanded for other agencies regarding gun safety as well as other matters which were noted in his personnel file. He was applauded for his oversight of the tactical response team for the 1987 visit to Tampa by "then" Vice President George H.W. Bush and was regularly given praise for his abilities of problem solving and managing stressful situations. In one job performance review a supervisor stated that "Captain Reeves not only has the ability to act decisively when necessary but has the foresight to initiate the proper course of action to avoid conflict."

Still, the Pasco County Sheriff stated clearly that: "It didn't matter what he had done previously in his life. You don't shoot someone over a texting incident."

Early in Reeves career he was reprimanded for handling a city weapon without proper care. At the time, one of his supervisors also noted in an assessment that "Reeves has a tendency to be impatient in regards to legal matters and practices now in force... and may be abrupt with complainants in some areas of the city."

However, that assessment was written over thirty-five years ago.

After appearing in Court for his primary hearing, he was ordered held without bail pending a bond hearing by Judge Lynn Tepper for the second-degree murder charge.

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January 17, 2014

Former Miami Dolphin Davone Bess Arrested at Fort Lauderdale Airport

During his regular shift on patrol, Broward Sheriff's Office Deputy Thomas O'Brien noticed a man "acting irrationally, dancing, singing with his pants repeatedly falling down." in a terminal at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. When he approached the man to check on his condition, the man picked up a hot cup of coffee from an adjacent counter and squeezed it, causing the hot liquid to splash all over the Deputy's uniform. He later wrote in his report that while he tried to start a dialogue with the man he "appeared to be looking through me," According to Officer O'Brien, the man then positioned himself in a "fighting stance." It was then that the Deputy used his baton to hit the offender on his leg with apparently no effect. At that point, the man began to remove his shirt and again adjusted his body as if in preparation to fight. The officer repeatedly ordered him to get on the ground which was refused upon each command. Finally backup officers arrived and he succumbed, was arrested, and taken into custody.

As it turned out the offender was Davone Bess, a former Miami Dolphins wide receiver who is presently under contract by the Cleveland Browns. Late last year, Bess was placed on the reserve/non-football illness list by the Browns for what they designated as "personal reasons." He didn't play in the last two games of the 2013 season.

Bess was charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and simple assault on a law enforcement officer, without violence. He was later released on bail of $100.00. When he was greeted by TV news reporters upon his release, Bess had nothing to say that was substantive, regarding his arrest. The three charges against him are all misdemeanors.

This wasn't the first run-in the football player has had with the law.

Ten months earlier, before the Dolphins traded Bess to the Browns, the Broward Sheriff's Office received a call to go to his Cooper City home where he was found being detained by several acquaintances. According to the incident report, Bess purportedly had been shouting "Hide the guns," "Where is my weed" and "I want to get in the end zone; throw me the football."

That incident wasn't publicized at the time, but this latest event has brought the previous occurrence under further scrutiny.

During the first call that drew police last year, the first deputy that arrived noted a strong odor of what he believed to be marijuana coming from the master bedroom of the home. He also witnessed numerous males restraining the athlete who was in an agitated condition. He appeared completely incoherent and was trying to escape from those holding him. Fire rescue was called and their attempts to sedate the durable football player were unsuccessful. It took six Broward Sheriff's Department Officers to finally restrain him and he was then brought to Memorial East Hospital as he continued to struggle. His family had him checked into the hospital, against his will, where he spent six weeks placed under observation.

His mother had arrived from California the day of the first incident after being informed that her son was acting bizarre. She was quoted as saying that her son was going through "some serious personal issues" and "had not slept in three days."

Bess's career had been sliding of late. In the six years he played in the National Football League, five of them with Miami, he amassed nearly 4000 yards in rushing and receiving. His best year was 2010 when he accumulated 820 yards and scored 5 touchdowns. He also had 25 kick returns for an additional 284 yards. Last year, with the Browns, his statistic's fell to a combined 362 yards and 2 touchdowns. He only had 4 chances of returning kicks for a total of 19 yards.

Recently, Bess used Social Media services Twitter and Instagram to post images of marijuana as well as nude photos of himself. The picture of the illegal substance was titled "We da real dons". Bess could be looking at disciplinary measures from both the Cleveland Browns and the NFL for posting those types of photos to the social media websites

A recent report by the Cleveland Plain Dealer stated that the Browns will likely release Bess before the league year begins on March 11. Although he was given a $5.75 million guaranteed contract after being traded to them from the Dolphins they may make an attempt to recuperate a portion of that sum, including a percentage of the more than $3 million he's due to receive for the 2014 season. The report goes on to say that the Browns are deciding whether or not to file a grievance against Miami, based on the fact that they had knowledge that the player had unwillingly been hospitalized for irregular behavior before the trade was initiated.

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December 31, 2013

The Supreme Court Decision on Shelby v Holder May Affect Florida Voting Laws

The last blog post of 2013 deals with what might have been the most important story of the year when a Supreme Court decision triggered what could have major implications affecting many jurisdictions throughout the Country, including Florida.

On June 25, 2013 the Supreme Court's assessment of the case of Shelby County v. Holder was decided.

In a 5-4 decision, the high Court found Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) to be unconstitutional. Section 4 was the formula that essentially decided which States would be "covered" under Section 5 of the VRA. Simply put, Section 5 stated that if any jurisdiction wanted to make changes to laws relevant to voting, it first must have that aspiration upheld by the authority of the Attorney General of the United States or a three judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. This act is known as preclearance and was the basis for the law suit. Without the Section 4 formula in place, Section 5 becomes ineffective. In principle, the Court did not strip Section 5, but kicked back the capacity to rewrite a new up-to-date Section 4 formula to Congress.

Before the Court's decision was declared, it was acknowledged that the outcome of this case would decide if any changes to the 1965 Voting Rights Act could be implemented without the preclearance clause in place. The suit by Shelby County, Alabama called for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to be judged unconstitutional after Congress extended the endorsement of Section 5 for a supplementary twenty-five year period during its 2006 session. Shelby maintained that by doing so Congress surpassed its constitutional authority.

The entire saga of this case from start to finish can be read by clicking here, in a fourteen page article displayed on this Website.

Before the recent ruling, many States and jurisdictions, mostly in the South were "covered" by Section 5. At the time of the implementation of the VRA these geographic locations were considered by the government to have shown the most flagrant racial discrimination relating to voter registration as well as the overall ability for minorities to vote. In Florida, jurisdictions covered were Hendry, Monroe, Hillsborough, Collier and Hardee Counties. These previously covered jurisdictions will now have the ability to propose changes to existing voting laws, redistricting that could affect voting results, and attempts to make other changes that were previously protected under Section 5.

During oral arguments, what many considered controversial remarks made by Justice Antonin Scalia instigated a debate that became volatile in the press and political Sunday shows and comic late night TV shows.

His phrase "perpetuation of racial entitlement" started a firestorm within the mainstream media and gave fodder for the debate. In a press release, The NAACP stated that "Voting isn't an entitlement but a right... one we fought to get and one we've fought to keep" An online petition was posted on their Website in support of the Voting Rights Act and their president and CEO Benjamin Jealous released a statement saying; "Justice Scalia should refrain from speculating on the thoughts and motivations of the Congress and defer to the judgment of the overwhelming bipartisan majority that voted for reauthorization in 2006,"

Jealous continued in the press release. "Democracy is an American entitlement. Voting rights protection is an American entitlement. Guaranteed access to the ballot box is not the right of one race, one age group, or one economic class. Assaulting the Voting Rights Act, on the other hand, is an assault on America's ability to be America for all Americans." He further said "While much has changed since 1965, the record is clear that discriminatory election practices still exist in counties like Shelby County and states like Alabama."

Other Civil rights groups and progressives were quick to damn the comment. Filmmaker, Michael Moore made a KKK reference in a "tweet" (online textual comment) via the social media service Twitter, and MSNBC's Al Sharpton found Scalia's comments "shocking". He stated on his daily talk show, Politics Nation: "How is that an entitlement... I thought African-Americans were citizens! For us to have the right to vote protected is some kind of entitlement program?" Also on Sharpton's show, Representative John Lewis (D, Ga), who participated in civil rights protests with Martin Luther King, told the MSNBC host in an interview: "It was unreal, unbelievable, almost shocking, for a member of the Court to use certain language. I can see politicians and even members of Congress... but it is just appalling to me." He continued by saying "It is an affront to all of what the civil rights movement stood for, what people died for, what people bled for, and those of us who marched across that bridge 48 years ago, we didn't march for some racial entitlement. We wanted to open up the political process, and let all of the people come in, and it didn't matter whether they were black or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American."

Lewis is known for his 1964 "Mississippi Freedom Summer," which was a movement to educate and register black voters throughout the South. On March 7, 1965 in Selma, Alabama, Lewis and fellow activists, along with over 600 marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Once over the bridge they were met by Alabama State Troopers who ordered them to break up their march. As an alternative, remaining together, the protesters started to pray. In response, police set off tear gas canisters and troopers clashed with the protesters, using night sticks to beat them. During the melee, Lewis suffered a skull fracture, but ultimately fled to a church in Selma on that side of the bridge. He appeared in front of TV cameras before being taken to the hospital and called for President Lyndon Johnson to intervene on their effort. To this day, Rep. Lewis bears scars on his head from the altercation that has been known as "Bloody Sunday".

Later in the proceedings, after Justice Scalia's remarks, at the onset of the Rebuttal Argument of Bert W. Rein, the attorney representing Shelby County, Justice Sotomayor's first question to him was "Do you think that the right to vote is a racial entitlement in Section 5?" Mr. Rein's immediate answer was "No, Section... the Fifteenth Amendment protects the right of all to vote"... But even with the Petitioner's admission of that fact, he maintained that Congress's 25-year reenactment of an "antiquated coverage formula" needed to be addressed. And the Supreme Court that formerly cited that it "raised a serious constitutional question," knocked down Section 4 in a somewhat predictable vote.

In conclusion, whether Congress takes action to reinstate Section 4 with a new formula during its current session remains to be seen. But at least for now, States can move to change existing laws through their legislatures without being concerned about the preclearance mandate.

And it didn't take long after the ruling was publicized for many States to begin doing just that.

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December 25, 2013

Jamaican National Arrested for International and Domestic Human Trafficking

A Jamaican national who was previously ordered removed from the country but has since returned has been accused in a fourteen count federal indictment for a host of charges including International human trafficking.

Damion St. Patrick Baston, 36, was located, detained and arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations agents (ICE-HIS) and Diplomatic Security agents (DS) in New York on December 17. He remains in custody and is expected to make an appearance in federal district court here in Miami in the near future.

Diplomatic Security agents (DS) is a global leader in counterterrorism, international investigations, security technology, cyber security, threat analysis, and protection of people, property, and information. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement HIS is the primary investigative unit of the Department of Homeland Security in charge of investigating a wide-ranging assortment of international and domestic activities regarding the illegal whereabouts and movements of persons and merchandise coming into, presently inside, as well as outside the USA.

Baston is charged with three counts of money laundering, aggravated identity theft, five counts of transporting multiple individuals for prostitution, importation of an alien for prostitution, and use of a passport which was obtained and secured by presenting false statements. He faces the additional charge of illegal reentry of an alien previously ordered removed from the country, in violation of the United States Code.

In Miami, by practices of fraud, coercion, and force, Baston was charged by Indictment with one count of sex trafficking of a victim, both in Australia as well as numerous other countries globally, and the Southern District of Florida. All counts are in violation of the United States Code. Specifically, Code, Section 1596 affords for extraterritorial jurisdiction in cases of human trafficking. Additionally, a second count of forcible sex trafficking of a victim is listed within the Indictment relating to the Southern District of Florida accusations. These two charges by themselves would imprison Baston with a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years of imprisonment and a possible maximum penalty of life in prison if he is convicted of the allegations.

Other charges include five counts of transporting multiple individuals for prostitution, importation of an alien for prostitution, use of a passport secured by false statement, aggravated identity theft, and three counts of money laundering, all in violation of separate sections of the United States Code, Titles 8 and 18. The code's Title 8, Section 1326 relates to the illegal reentry of an alien previously ordered removed.

The arrest was announced mutually by Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, Special Agent in Charge, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, both from the Miami Field Office as well as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, who collectively conducted the investigation.

In a statement released by U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer he was quoted as stating that "Human trafficking is one of the most deplorable crimes our office prosecutes." Alysa D. Erichs also commented that "these victims are taken advantage of on a daily basis." Ms. Erichs is the Special agent in charge of the Miami field office of HS Investigations. Also commenting, Special Agent in Charge Wendy A. Bashnan of the DS Miami Field Office said "We hope that the long awaited prosecution of Baston will provide some satisfaction to the many individuals he victimized and their families. DS's worldwide presence at U.S. Embassies around the world allows us to work with our host country law enforcement to track and capture fugitives who have fled the U.S. to avoid prosecution."

To read the official United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida press release, click here.

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December 12, 2013

Health Care Patient Recruiters Sentenced to Long Prison Terms and Restitution

Emilio Amador, 46 brought potential patients to two South Florida Home Health Care companies in exchange for bribes and kickbacks while fully aware that those two companies would submit all costs to Medicare on behalf of the patients he referred to them for the supposed home health services they provided. Amador was a patient recruiter. He was also the owner/operator as well as president of Nation's Best. He also pleaded guilty to relevant conduct for the fraudulent billing of approximately $30 million for his dealings associated to that company.

Earlier this month, Judge Federico Moreno sentenced Amador, to nine years in prison in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. His sentence was the result of his role in a $48 million scheme to defraud Medicare. Amador pleaded guilty to charges of two counts of receiving health care kickbacks and one count of conspiring to receive health care kickbacks this past September. Additionally at the conclusion of his stint behind bars, Amador has been ordered to a term of three years of supervised release. He has also been ordered to come up with $24 million in restitution, individually as well as jointly with other convicted co-defendants. But the $24 million in restitution is just a single drop in a very large bucket.

With Florida having the highest percentage of senior citizens in the United States with over 17%, according to the latest census report, it would be a logical conclusion to assume that health care services would also be the highest percentage in the country. It's also reasonable to assume that health care, Medicare and Medicaid fraud would go hand-in-hand based on those statistics.

On a nationwide basis estimates of monies stolen through various methods in health care Medicare and Medicaid schemes are figured to be at least 100 billion; but according to some that are in the know regarding these statistics, that number is a low estimate. Other well-informed sources believe that the actual amount of stolen funds is closer in vicinity to 300 billion dollars annually.

Investigation and enforcement also generates a hefty tab. In total, last year's costs (2012) amounted to over $217 million, broken down by the Federal government picking up over $162 million of the overall sum. There are fifty Medicaid Fraud Control Units which employ over 1,900 individuals including enforcement officers, as well as the FBI's Federal Medicare Fraud Strike Force that through June of this year has brought charges against just short of 90 medical professionals including doctors and nurses in eight cities throughout the country, with schemes relating to Medicare fraud which has totaled close to $225 million in false billings according to government records. There are currently more than 400 law enforcement officers including agents from the FBI working to make the arrests in these types of cases in Miami, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles and other major US cities.

Florida is a breeding ground for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Overall, the cost in trying to contain, arrest, and prosecute offenders is a multi-million dollar effort with hundreds of law enforcement officers working to detect and investigate these schemes throughout the state with the ever-present assistance of federal law enforcement agencies.

In this particular case, the sentencing of Amador was a segment of a Medicare Fraud Strike Force Operation that charged twenty-four South Florida residents in fraudulent billing schemes. It was part of a nationwide sweep that arrested and charged a total of ninety-eight people.

In February of this year, the heads of two Florida Home Health Care companies were sentenced as part of the $48 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme mentioned above. Rogelio Rodriguez, 44 was the president of Caring Nurse Home Health, Corp. and Raymond Aday, 49 the president of Good Quality Home Health Care Inc. were each sentenced to nine years, and more than four years respectively for their roles in the illegal billing scam. The sentencing was imposed after guilty pleas were accepted by the two in December 2012 for the Indictment which was made public earlier in October.

The Indictment charged them with one count each of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and it displayed that between the start of January 2006 through the period ending around mid-2011 the two companies submitted approximately $48 million in claims of which Medicare paid approximately $33 million. The claims submitted were for home health services that were either not medically necessary and/or not provided at all.

In Case number 13-20315-CR-Lenard which charged five defendants including Amador, the sentencing phase is now concluded. The other four defendants named in that individual case were Cristobal Gonzalez, Eduims Mora, Jose Contreras, and Elizabeth Monteagudo. All charges related to conspiracy to receive health care kickbacks and substantive counts of receiving kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program.

Monteagudo, 33, and Gonzalez, 39, both from Miami, were sentenced to serve 70 months and 46 months in prison respectively, followed by three years and two years of supervised release respectively. They were ordered to pay $3.5 million and $2 million in restitution respectively, jointly and severally with co-defendants. Mora and Contreras each received a 34-month prison sentence for their roles in the fraud.

To read other articles on this topic, some with the same defendants who faced other charges in different cases against them click here.

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November 28, 2013

Cyber Criminal Convicted in New York Facing Further Charges in Florida

A Ukrainian National seemed to be in a pretty good position to evade arrest and prosecution after fleeing to his native country once federal charges were filed against him in New York City and Broward County, Florida. But in 2008, his decision to take a vacation on the Greek island of Rhodes led to his undoing. The United States doesn't have an extradition treaty with the Ukraine, but in Greece, a treaty is intact.

Egor Shevelev, 27 who has been called "one of the premier vendors of stolen credit card data in the world", by federal authorities was extradited to New York in 2010 from the popular Greek resort Island to face charges including grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, scheme to defraud, and conspiracy. The charges were filed in an online identity theft case for trafficking and selling a total of more than 95,000 credit card account numbers that produced a total of over a $5 million-plus fraud.

The scheme was carried out operating through an online forum where Shevelev among other cyber-thieves trafficked in stolen, forged and fraudulent credit card numbers as well as other merchandise; turning the sales into cash with the help of unsuspecting eBay users, while Shevelev loafed in the seclusion of his apartment in Kiev.

In addition to the aforementioned criminal activities operated from that apartment, authorities said that Shevelev laundered more than $600,000 in digital currency through E-Gold, which is a worldwide electronic monetary/payments system and the Russian-based payment system WebMoney which based on their Website's information is a "multifunctional payment tool that provides secure and immediate transactions online".

Shevelev, who called himself Eskalibur online, also known as Esk, was one of the leaders of an International cybercrime ring that extended from Russia to the United States with stopovers in the Czech Republic. He was convicted of all charges. At the conclusion of a ten-week New York State Supreme Court trial and an eight-year-long investigation, Shevelev, along with his codefendants Anna Ciano, a/k/a "Angela Perez," 41,and Douglas Latta, a/k/a "Realbusy," 40, were found guilty by a jury of all charges listed in the Indictment.

Both living in Brooklyn, New York, Ciano and Latta were a duo who acquired in excess of 800 pilfered credit card numbers between the years of 2004 and 2007 from Shevelev as well as other cyber criminals as associates of the online forum.

Ciano was sentenced to up to 47 years in federal prison for her part in the scheme two days before Shevelev was given up to 40 years. Less than a month later in August, 2012, Latta's punishment returned a term of up to 44 years behind bars.

To read the New York County District Attorney's Office press release regarding this case in its entirety click here.
But the guilty verdict from New York and the continuance of his sentence will have to wait. In addition to the jury's verdict and subsequent sentencing, Shevelev will now have to face further federal charges in the Sunshine State.

Late last month, Shevelev made his first appearance in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to face separate charges that were listed in an Indictment that was filed in 2008.

The Indictment charges him with selling stolen credit card numbers and forgery of credit cards for the purpose of committing identity theft. The Indictment alleges that the crimes took place in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties, as well as Martin County, which is north of Palm Beach, between the dates of September 2007 and May 2008.

The Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel conveyed that investigators who were close to the case were overheard maintaining that the fraud distributed multiple millions of dollars.

Communicating through an interpreter and wearing jail scrubs, Shevelev pleaded not guilty to the charges, during a brief appearance in court. An Assistant Federal Public Defender was appointed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow after Shevelev stated that he had no resources to pay for his own defense. He was mostly silent during the hearing replying to questions in his native language with a yes or no answer. He also asked for a clarification of his legal rights.

The prosecution agreed to a bond of $250,000 which is basically a formality as Shevelev will remain in custody due to his convictions in New York. At the completion of any prison term he will ultimately be deported back to his country of origin.

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November 21, 2013

Man Responsible for 1984 Airplane Hijacking to be Held without Bail

Most of us that remember the Black Panther Party generally associate the name of the organization with violence. But when it was originally fashioned in Oakland, California in 1965 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, its major function was to spotlight alleged police brutality that was said to be widespread in black neighborhoods. When the group was founded, only sixteen of Oakland's six-hundred, sixty-one police officers were of Afro-American descent. The group promoted Marxist and socialist principles, but its early nationalistic reputation appealed to a diverse participation of mostly blacks, but some non-blacks as well. By 1968 the group's policies grew across the United States with headquarters in most major cities. They created a ten-point program professing "Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace" among other ideas. The group introduced an assortment of social programs designed within black communities in attempts to alleviate poverty, improve health among those who lived in inner city neighborhoods, and moderating the overall public image of the Party.

However, as the group evolved, its reputation for violence became more noticeable. A California law afforded The Panthers the right to carry a loaded shotgun or rifle, providing it was displayed publicly, and not aimed at any individual. This practice of openly carrying weapons and publicly making statements that were threatening in nature such as "The Revolution has come; it's time to pick up the gun" and "Off the pigs (police)!" assisted creating the Panthers' status as a violent group.

In the mid-1980s, for all intents and purposes, the Panthers disbanded. But before their demise, William Potts, a/k/a William Freeman, now 56, was a member in good standing.

In 1984, Potts hijacked a Miami bound flight that left Newark, New Jersey, rerouting the aircraft to Cuba. Earlier this month, federal agents returned Potts to U.S. soil where he verbally admitted that what he did was "an act of terrorism". He admitted in writing, to the action being an act of air piracy as well, after his formal arrest by FBI agents at Miami International Airport, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Medetis.

Medetis's words were issued during Potts' bond hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman when she requested that Potts be held pending trial due to the supposition that he's a flight risk as well as a danger to the community. She alluded to the legal "presumption" of detention for the type of offense he allegedly committed as well as the possibility of a long prison sentence. She also mentioned that if Potts was released he would most likely be arrested by New Jersey State authorities for the robbery of a gas station that took place in that state the day before he hijacked the jet.

Summarizing the hijacking, and current air-piracy charge against him, U.S. Attorney Medetis quoted details that were found in an FBI affidavit. According to the document, On March 27, 1984 Potts declared he planted explosives aboard the New York-to-Miami bound flight. He demanded the aircraft be diverted to Havana, Cuba. The affidavit further went on to show that he then handed the flight crew of the Piedmont Airlines jet a note, describing himself as a black militant. He threatened to blow up the plane if it attempted to land in Miami. He also demanded $5 million in cash.

The day before the hijacking, Potts, held-up a gas station in Bergen County, New Jersey brandishing a knife, according to the attendant who was threatened by him. A warrant for his arrest for that case is still outstanding.

According to a CNN interview with him, Potts, who had two daughters with a Cuban wife, refused previous offers by the Cuban regime to send him back to U.S. But now, he is apparently desperate to be reunited with his two daughters. He previously sent them to the US and told CNN that as he "watched their plane take off... he was filled with regret for having hijacked a plane," when he was a young man.

He went on to tell the network that he had not been able to reach a plea agreement with US authorities but hoped that any jail time he would be facing now, would be reduced by the time he had already served in the Cuban prison.

His attorney argued that Potts should be granted a low personal surety bond before his trial began, noting that the two girls are now living with his mother in Atlanta, Georgia. The above-mentioned children were born to him and a Cuban wife that he previously lived with on the Island Nation. "He wants to be in the United States," his lawyer said... "He has arrived at the place where he wants to be."

But after all considerations were pondered by Judge Goodman he told Potts "The facts are the facts," when Potts protested the accounts during his court appearance before him. Shortly thereafter he denied him bond partially due to the New Jersey case.

Potts said he originally thought he'd be welcomed as a revolutionary when he arrived at the communist-controlled country in the early eighties. He also believed he'd be given guerrilla training. But the government of Cuba, at the time led by Fidel Castro, detained him and after trial sent him to prison for the hijacking charge. He spent 13 years in a Cuban jail for the offense.

Continue reading "Man Responsible for 1984 Airplane Hijacking to be Held without Bail" »

November 13, 2013

Corruption Charges against Three South Florida Mayors Brings One Guilty Plea

According to the Department of Justice, Florida led the nation with a staggering 781 convictions of public officials between the years 2000 and 2010. In the second decade of this century, the trend continues. A current example shows that between September and October of this year, three more local politicians were added to the list of those willing to let down their constituents by breaking the law.

In late August, the mayor of Homestead was arrested and accused of using his elected office to secure a secret consulting job as well as accepting a bribe from Community Health Care of South Florida Inc. The health care company was looking to build a clinic in the area according to the state attorney's office for Miami-Dade. On Nov 1, further charges were filed against him when he was charged with seven election law violations. Former Mayor Steven Bateman, 58, was accused of misusing campaign funds according to state attorney spokesperson Terry Chavez. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released without bond.

Earlier that month, two other mayors of South Florida cities were charged by the government in ongoing corruption investigations. Florida Governor Rick Scott suspended all three of the mayors pending outcome of their criminal cases.

Michael A. Pizzi, 51, the mayor of Miami Lakes, and Manuel L. Maroño, 41, the mayor of Sweetwater and current president of the Florida League of Cities, were charged in two unrelated complaints concerning public corruption allegations along with two lobbyists of which one was connected to both of the mayors. The United States attorney's office has accused them of involvement in bribery and kickback schemes relating to federal grants. The two lobbyists, Jorge L. Forte, 41, and Richard F. Candia, 49 both of Miami were named in the Maroño case and Candia was also named as part of the complaint involving Pizzi.

Ironically, the Florida League of Cities displays a June 8, 2012 article on their website that leads to a story about a newly formed advocacy group called Integrity Florida; "a nonprofit, nonpartisan group" that released a report showing that Florida led the nation in federal public corruption convictions through the years referenced above.

Carla Miller, an ethics officer and a former federal prosecutor stated "We bought the trifecta... It's bad when three mayors get led out in handcuffs. What's left of the public trust gets ground into little pieces."

On November 13, former mayor Maroño and lobbyist Jorge L. Forte both pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud for their involvement in a plan to individually benefit through the use of the station of the mayor of Sweetwater which was held by Maroño. They were originally charged by way of Information with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud on October 17.
Forte and Maroño both face a maximum statutory sentence of 5-years of incarceration under the terms of the agreement. Sentencing is scheduled for January 23, 2014 and will be imposed by US District Judge William J. Zloch.

The guilty pleas were announced in a press release by Wifredo A. Ferrer, US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Michael B. Steinbach, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Miami Field Office Investigations.

In what may be the most interesting of the three cases, Michael Pizzi, the suspended Miami Lakes Mayor pleaded not guilty in late-October to the indictment that charged him with pursuing kickbacks that prosecutors' state was intended to enrich him in exchange for backing federal grant applications in the latest allegations against him.

South Miami-Dade lobbyist Michael Kesti first approached the FBI in 2011 informing them of his suspicions that Candia was in league with corrupt politicians in South Florida.

Before this latest indictment was filed, an undercover investigation was instituted by detectives of the Miami-Dade Police, established on purported threats that Pizzi expressed to a confidential informant working for that police agency.

In a conversation covertly recorded, Pizzi clearly stated that he wanted to "take out" a Miami Lakes town councilman who was apparently a rival, by the method of either rigging the brakes of his vehicle or planting cocaine in his car. The probe was dropped by police after a substantial amount of time had passed and no action was taken that supported the statements. The "then" mayor called his remarks in the recording as no more than "silly, ridiculous drinking talk."

The current indictment, filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Dwyer, depicts Pizzi as a politician who had knowledge that the purported federal grant scheme was a "money grab."

In the latest criminal complaint, Pizzi was accused of an extortion plot along with lobbyist Richard Candia who was accused of the same offense, as mentioned above with Manny Maroño and lobbyist Jorge Forte.

They were accused of participating in what has been termed a "bogus" grant scheme planned to net the participants thousands of dollars, whereas their cities would receive nothing. Posing as businessmen from Chicago, an FBI anti-corruption team coordinated the sting. The agents stated that they would obtain the grant money with the intention of performing an economic development study. The proceeds would then be split between the four of them.

The indictment charges that Pizzi collected $6,000 in total cash, received in three payments. He also is alleged to have received an additional $750 paid by checks for his 2012 reelection campaign. These payments were allegedly in return for advocating resolutions that simplified the establishment for grant applications in Medley and Miami Lakes.

Pizzi has unequivocally denied accepting any cash as charged. Subsequent to his arrest, he said that he "accepted no money inappropriately or illegally from anyone, ever." in a prepared statement.

To read the complete press release charging Maroño and Pizzi and the two lobbyists on the FBI Website, click here. The press release regarding Maroño's guilty plea can be read in full by clicking here.

Continue reading "Corruption Charges against Three South Florida Mayors Brings One Guilty Plea" »

November 1, 2013

Parkland Woman Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering Conspiracy Charge

A Parkland Florida resident pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Launder Money after admitting to her part in an expansive $8 million illegal gambling setup that used phony corporations, offshore accounts and operated using the Internet and direct telephone call contact.

Michele Lasso-Barraza, 30, a Panamanian national, delivered her plea from Florida via a video feed which was filed in U.S. District Court in Albany, New York. The prosecution alleged that she laundered the proceeds gained from gambling websites that was made available to her; allowing gamblers to place wagers via the Internet. She then transferred the ill-gotten gains, using bogus entities which she created, into bank accounts that were located offshore.

Lasso-Barraza's role in the case is connected to Philip Gurian, another Florida man who was purportedly linked to the Mafia and was an important operative in the gambling entity which offered online and by phone sports betting from Costa Rica and Panama to its player base which was predominantly made up of residents of the United States. Gurian, 52, of Boca Raton, and Lasso-Barraza were among over thirty persons that were charged last April for their connection to the Panama-based Corporation known as Legends a/k/a Legendz Sports.

The indictment against a total of 23 companies and 34 individuals accused Legendz of offering betting options by credit, as well as maintained accounts known as "post-ups." Both types of betting methods combined, netted the company profits of over two-billion dollars over the past ten years.

Those named in the indictment face charges of operating an illegal gambling business, racketeering, conspiring to commit money laundering and money laundering. Penalties for these crimes can range from five to twenty years.

The Department of Justice is also pursuing the forfeiture of a minimum of one-billion dollars of tangible assets of the firm which include balances in bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, as well as other monetary holdings of value.

Gurian had previously waived the grand jury indictment and accepted a guilty plea for the charge of conspiracy in association to the role he played in the international sports betting operation.

A charge and conviction for his type of allegation can yield a prison term of up to twenty years behind bars. However under the plea agreement negotiated between Gurian's attorneys and the government, combined with sentencing guideline calculations that are utilized in federal cases, it is expected that he will be sentenced to two years in prison at a maximum. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 6, 2014

As part of her acceptance of the guilty plea, Lasso-Barraza admitted her participation in the illegal gambling business which was directed by Gurian as well as other individuals that permitted bettors to wager thousands of bets originating from Florida, California, Texas, Indiana Nevada and the District of Columbia. She also confessed to participating in at least $8 million of the laundering of money which was fashioned from the unlawful gaming enterprise that she was a part of on Gurian's behalf. She then had the currency transported to offshore accounts that were deceptively created and set up by her with locations in Panama, Andorra, and the Cayman Islands.

Lasso-Barraza faces a fine of a half a million USD and up to twenty years in prison for her role in her illicit activities. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 28, 2014.

These proceedings are being prosecuted by AUSA Robert A. Sharpe. All charges were the product of a combined investigation introduced by the Albany County Sheriff's Office and further assisted by the Albany County District Attorney's Office, as well as the Saratoga District Attorney's Office in New York. In Florida, the Broward County Money Laundering Task Force is credited with the role they played. Federal law enforcement agencies recognized for their assistance in the case are the FBI and the IRS-Criminal Investigation Division.

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October 25, 2013

Hollywood Cop Faces DUI Charges after Arrest by Fellow Officer

"As a talented eighth-grader moving from Optimist League football to high school, DiIvory Edgecomb thought he could adjust quickly." reported the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel in a December 2003 article that was publicized in their sports section.

And based on the Florida Atlantic University's (FAU) official Website, he did just that. Edgecomb, now 27, still holds the FAU Owls single-season kick return record with 1,155 yards in the 2007 season as well as being the record holder for most returns in a single game with seven. He was also third in the category of most all-purpose yards in a single season with 1,761. He graduated FAU in 2009 but did not go on to play professional football.

He was hired by the Hollywood Police Department in November 2009 and a according to Union leader Jeff Marano "comes from a law enforcement family". His LinkedIn social media profile lists him as "Entrepreneur, Realtor, Investor, Philanthropist, Enthusiast" He's also listed as a licensed real estate sales associate with The Keyes Company in Hollywood.

But recently, the once aspiring golden boy's good fortune seems to have dramatically changed course.

Late last month Edgecomb was arrested by officers from his own department for charges of Driving under the Influence (DUI). He was directly relieved of his duties and placed on paid administrative leave. He was further ordered to relinquish his squad car, badge, and department-issued firearm, according to Lieutenant Osvaldo Perez of the Hollywood Police Department.

The incident took place a short time after 1:30 a.m., on Sept. 30 as Edgecomb was driving his grey Toyota in the northbound lane of North 22nd Avenue in Hollywood. He was travelling in a southerly direction when his car struck another vehicle.

Shantrice Shipman, the driver of the vehicle that was hit told police that a car was coming toward her in the wrong lane. She said that she turned sharply to the left in an effort to avoid a collision. But as she swerved her car away from the other vehicle it crashed into her car, hitting it on the passenger side. After the impact, the driver of the Toyota continued driving south, apparently without making an attempt to stop at all.

Edgecomb's damaged vehicle was detected by Hollywood police about a half a mile from the crash, not moving, on the side of the road. The right front side of the car was noticeably dented and one of the tires was flat.

The officer that interviewed Edgecomb at the scene noted that his eyes were bloodshot and his breath smelled from alcohol, He also wrote in his report that the subject's speech was slurred.

Edgecomb refused to take part in a roadside sobriety test. He also told police that he had nothing to say until he was able to contact his attorney. He was arrested at 3:40 a.m. and driven to be processed at the Broward Sheriff's Office Detention Facility which is located at Hollywood Police Headquarters. After posting a bond of $1,500.00 he was released just after 2:00pm that same afternoon. His attorney could not be reached for comment on behalf of his client. Union leader Jeff Marano termed Edgecomb a "good, solid" cop, however the beleaguered officer declined to comment through his Union leader as well.

"He's a sweetheart," Marano said and went on to say that he "comes from a law enforcement family. Always has a smile on his face. He's a great kid."

However, the Hollywood Police Department will have to deal with the fact that one of their own is facing charges for DUI after being arrested by a fellow officer.
Currently, his case is pending.

Continue reading "Hollywood Cop Faces DUI Charges after Arrest by Fellow Officer " »

October 21, 2013

Cab Driver Faces Vehicular Homicide for Hit and Run Death of Homeless Man

Two good Samaritans stopped their vehicles and attempted to help a man that was terribly injured but apparently still alive, lying on a Dania Beach thoroughfare just before 4:30 in the morning.

Bernard Williams, 62, of Dania Beach turned out to be a homeless man, according to a report issued by the Broward Sheriff's Office. Why he was lying in the road when a car struck him is unknown, but a sheriff's deputy recognized him when he arrived at the scene where the man was still lying in the road, clinging to life. The police officer had seen the homeless man around the vicinity on numerous occasions. Tests also revealed that the victim's blood alcohol level was 0.22 which a medical examiner said "could impair a person's normal faculties."

The hit and run took place at the 1200 block of Federal Highway on June 5 in front of Cyber Pizza Cafe. He was later pronounced dead at the scene by fire rescue.

When police began their investigation, it was a surveillance camera from a neighboring business that was credited with showing a vehicle moving in a southerly direction on Federal Highway (US1) around the time Mr. Williams was struck. The car was then identified as a white taxi which proved to be owned by Yellow Cab which serves South Florida cities in that area. After the taxi was identified, authorities asked the company for a list of the drivers who were operating their cabs at the time.

Examining the suspected vehicle, the Sheriff's Department uncovered fatty tissue fixed to the undercarriage of the cab as well as the front bumper exposing chips in the finish of the paint. During Williams' autopsy, a similar fragment of white paint was found on the victim's chest that ultimately established a match to the vehicle.

From the taxi company's records it was determined that Michael Brandt, 58, of Hollywood was the driver of that cab at the time of the crash. The Broward Sherriff's Office obtained a warrant for his arrest on October 15. He was subsequently arrested and charged with the crime of leaving the scene of an accident w/death, which is a first-degree felony. He is facing charges of vehicular homicide mostly due to the circumstance that he fled the scene. Brandt originally told detectives that he was in the Hallandale Beach and Hollywood area at the time of the incident but lab analysis samples obtained from the vehicle matched Williams' DNA, confirming that the vehicle in question was in fact the taxi that struck him, and was clearly being driven by Brandt at the time.

According to the report filed, investigators said Brandt had to have more than a slight idea that he had collided with something due to the "severity" of the crash. Brandt "did know or should have known that the incident would have or could have caused injury or death to a person."

Myrtle Corbin, the victim's sister told the Sun Sentinel newspaper shortly after he was run down that her brother was homeless and living on the streets for more than 20 years. She noted that he opted to live that lifestyle in spite of him being in touch with relatives.

Her statement to the news reporter was "I never dreamed he would go this way. I just know that he doesn't have to suffer through what he was going through in this life anymore... I feel the person who did it needs to be reprimanded in some way, or at least admit that you did it."

According to the Broward County Clerk of the Court's Website, Brandt is still in custody and his case is pending. Judge Raag Singhal will preside over the case if it goes to trial.

Continue reading "Cab Driver Faces Vehicular Homicide for Hit and Run Death of Homeless Man" »

October 17, 2013

"Fundamental Error" in Jury Instructions Awards Marissa Alexander New Trial

The phone call was everything she had hoped for. After completing more than a year of a twenty-year sentence, Marissa Alexander's attorney made the phone call that let his client know that an appellate court judge had ordered a new trial for the the Florida woman who fired what she and her family labeled a warning shot in the direction of her husband, Rico Gray; a man she believed was threatening her life. Mr. Gray's two children were also in the general vicinity where and when the shots were fired.

In an interview with CNN, one of her lawyers said "Marissa was ecstatic and obviously she's incredibly thankful and wants to get back with her family,"

In an article posted here last week it was demonstrated how the mother of three from Jacksonville was convicted in a failed "stand your ground" defense and began serving her mandatory minimum sentence that fell under Florida's 10-20-life law which was instituted in 1999. The section of the law that applied to Marissa's case states that if someone fires a gun they're to receive a mandatory 20 year sentence if convicted of charges connected to the crime.

In full, the 10-20-Life statute relates to those convicted of crimes where a gun or similar destructive device was used. For displaying and pointing a gun during the commission of a crime, a conviction would be imposed of a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. For selected felonies, committed or attempted, the 10 year mandatory sentence is also approved if the accused even just possessed a gun during the commission of the crime. The mandatory minimum sentence is 20 years for firing the weapon during the course of the offense. And if a victim is injured or killed due to the results of the gun being fired during the time-frame in which the crime transpires, a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years can be imposed. Lifetime sentences can also be levied under the preceding circumstance. Furthermore, the law also affords a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison for any individual previously convicted of a felony who even possesses a gun.

A lot of media coverage was given to her case after the George Zimmerman not guilty verdict which may have contributed to the reason the first District Court of Appeal ruled in her favor stating that Alexander merits a new trial for the reason that the trial judge handling her case did not instruct the jury properly concerning what is needed to prove and disprove self-defense.

Judge Robert Benton wrote the new ruling stating that the original instructions given established a "fundamental error" and required the defendant's attorneys' to prove self-defense "beyond a reasonable doubt." However, he also made it clear in the ruling that the court was correct in blocking the "stand your ground" defense again.

One of the attorneys representing Alexander said she was thankful for the "thorough consideration" delivered by the court. She went on to say that "we are looking forward to taking the case back to trial," Another from her team of lawyers said "She deserves a fair trial just like any other person, and the presumption of innocence has returned to her and we believe that a jury that hears the full case and has correct law will hopefully vindicate her and acquit her of all charges."

Before the 2010 incident and subsequent guilty verdict, Alexander had never been arrested or charged with any crime. But even though it was her first offense, the judge maintained he was bound by the law's minimum sentencing instructions to uphold a penalty of 20 years in prison once she was convicted of the allegations. Alexander was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. She has maintained from the beginning that the shot fired was a warning shot and not ever meant to cause any injury.

She had previously declined a plea deal of three years in prison believing that the original jury would acquit her once her story was told. It took that jury 13 minutes to convict her.

Last week, a trial judge issued an order to bring Alexander back to the Duval County jail from the state prison where she was serving her sentence in Marion County, Florida.

Continue reading ""Fundamental Error" in Jury Instructions Awards Marissa Alexander New Trial" »

October 10, 2013

Marissa Alexander Serving 20-Year Sentence in Failed Stand Your Ground Defense

A case that gained National attention due to two controversial issues; the first, Florida's stand your ground law which has been under recent scrutiny and the other, Florida's 10-20-Life gun law statute remains in the headlines.

In the recent George Zimmerman acquittal the stand your ground defense wasn't raised in the actual trial, but it is believed by some that the jury's concluding decision was founded on the Judge not providing clear instructions before their deliberations began. This theory demonstrates that some members of the jury may have been led to believe that the law did apply, affecting their final decision of not guilty, with the statute in mind.

In the Marissa Alexander case, the statute was invoked, but the results of a jury that took only 12 minutes to decide her fate returned a guilty verdict, which led to the imposition of a twenty-year sentence under Florida's 10-20-Life gun law.

A plea bargain of three years in prison was offered by the State Attorney's Office but Alexander was sure that if a jury heard her story, she would undeniably be acquitted. However, after the court case that was decided in May of last year concluded, the outcome did not go her way.

Alexander, 31, stated that she wasn't trying to hurt anyone when she fired what she and her family have termed a warning shot in the direction of her husband, Rico Gray, 36, and his two young boys during a fight between the two. According to her version of the story she was fighting back against a man who she claimed was habitually violent to her. She claimed that he choked and punched her on numerous occasions over the past year. It was her belief that she was sheltered by Florida's Stand Your Ground Law when she fired a gun multiple times into the walls and ceiling where her husband stood.

The stand your ground statute sanctions extensive discretion in the use of deadly force as a defense if an individual believes that their life is in jeopardy or if they are facing the possibility of severe bodily harm.

State Attorney Angela Corey said that the case merited prosecution because the gun was fired in the direction of where two children were present and vulnerable.

Alexander was sure her version of the events were solid, but one key factor that transpired four months after she was released on bail convinced the prosecutor and may have swayed the jury not to believe her story.

After her original arrest, she was released on bail with specific instructions not to make contact with Gray whatsoever. However after her release she went to his residence getting into an argument with him which resulted in him sustaining multiple bruises including a black eye.

According to Alexander's family, the second incident happened a few days before her newborn baby would have been dropped from the couple's insurance policy. They maintain that Marissa travelled to Gray's residence solely to ask him to sign forms that would have kept the policy active for the child. Her family inferred that he attacked her upon her arriving at his house that evening. They provided her medical records resulting from the incident to the Huffington Post periodical, which substantiated that she suffered minor bruising and scrapes on her arm, hand and face, as what they believed was evidence of what transpired at the scene of the incident.

Gray called the police after Alexander left his house, once the altercation had concluded.

Gray's side of the story claimed that Alexander came over to drop off their daughter, and then asked him if she could spend the night there. When he rejected her offer, she "became enraged and began striking him on the face. Gray then raised his hands, and he yelled out to his sons to call the police," according to the police report. The police officer that responded to the 911 call noted that Gray's children substantiated their father's account of the story.

When Alexander was contacted by the police that evening, she said she didn't understand why she was being called upon and had an "alibi" for the time period in question, according to their report. Upon examination of Gray, the police found swelling on his face as well as a cut under his left eye. There were no visible injuries primarily found on Alexander but on the way back to jail she said she was feeling light-headed and subsequently became unresponsive. At that point one of the officers said that he "observed that there was a small cut under the suspect's eye that was not there prior to her being placed in my back seat."

Alexander was rearrested and this time charged with battery. She pleaded no contest to the new charge and has remained in prison since the new charges were added.

During Court Proceedings State attorney Corey stated that Alexander's actions; interacting with the man she stated that she was deathly afraid of, and striking him, "didn't show much of her being remorseful" or "being a peaceful person... "Everybody is still ignoring that she got out on bond and chose to go back over there and hit him a second time... That was kind of an indication of where putting her on probation, where you might have been able to do that before, was off the table since she disregarded a judge's order."

Alexander was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and awaits appeal for the twenty-year sentence.

Civil rights leaders were quick to point out that the African-American mother of three was prosecuted principally due to her race. U.S. Representative Corrine Brown, said the sentence, was too severe and Alexander should never have been charged in the first place based on the stand your ground statute.

Continue reading "Marissa Alexander Serving 20-Year Sentence in Failed Stand Your Ground Defense" »

October 5, 2013

Florida Women Cited as Victims; in Guilty Pleas for Sex Trafficking of a Minor

They preyed on women from Florida as well as those from other states throughout the U.S. who were homeless, in financial straits, or vulnerable in similar ways. Last week, thirty-year old Jamar Marvin Simmons a/k/a "Mar", a former fireman, pleaded guilty to charges of sex trafficking of a minor in association with a prostitution operation he set up along with Franklin Roosevelt Coit, 34. His co-defendant, pleaded guilty to the same charge in early August. Simmons was arrested on Feb. 13 and Coit was already in custody.

From 2009 through 2012, the pair misleadingly advertised positions on the Internet offering work for exotic dancers and escorts when it was actually intended for them to participate in their prostitution endeavor. The land-based portion of their business was located in the metropolitan area of Baltimore City, Maryland. According to the six-count indictment, in addition to women that answered their ad from Florida, they agreed to assist women in traveling to their state from various locations outside of Maryland. The other states specifically named in the indictment were New York, Delaware, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, and South Dakota. They also solicited women from their own home state as laid out in the indictment. It further went on to point out that at least one minor female was involved in their sex for money scheme.

In addition to the two perpetrators operating what has been labeled a brothel in Baltimore City, they also rented out hotel rooms and a separate residence in the State that were also used for the services provided by the women, according to court documents.

Once each woman was under their influence, the two perpetrators photographed them in a sexually explicit manner and then posted their images on an advertising website under the category of escorts. The women's contact information including telephone numbers were listed, displaying where the women could be contacted for the purpose of scheduling a date. Simmons and Coit received the funds of all transactions and split the money fashioned by the women's activities. It was also stated that they used a gun with ammunition to guard the illicit operation's properties as well as its cash receipts.

Simmons was in charge of setting the pricing for sex acts with the women and he taught the women how to arrange dates over the phone, He also advised the women how to avoid exposure to law enforcement agencies.

Coit and Simmons now face maximum sentences of five years in prison for the crime of conspiracy, as well as 10 years to life for the sex trafficking of a minor count. Enticing or coercing individuals to engage in prostitution can yield 20 years in prison and they can face 10 years in prison each for the interstate transportation for the purpose of prostitution. The charge of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking can similarly deliver a maximum term of life in prison. Additionally, Coit is also looking at up to 10 years in prison for being a convicted felon in custody of a firearm. He had been previously held on state charges.

Each will learn their fate on separate days. Coit is to be sentenced on November 1 and Simmons will realize his sentence on December 13.

The investigation was led by the FBI's Child Exploitation Task Force along with 10 other separate federal and state law enforcement organizations. In Maryland, the Innocent Images National Initiative was formed in 2010 to battle exploitation and prostitution of children The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was coordinated with the Task Force along with the Maryland State Police Child Recovery Unit that identifies missing minors that are being presented on the Internet for the purpose of prostitution.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein announced the guilty pleas in coordination with Commissioner Anthony W. Batts of the Baltimore Police Department and Baltimore City State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein, with the steady support of the FBI's Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt.

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