Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Barefoot Bandit Pleads Guilty

CNN is reporting that the Barefoot Bandit, nineteen year old Colton Harris-Moore, has pleaded guilty in a Bahamian court to a charge of illegally landing a plane. He was sentenced to three months in jail or a $300 fine. A deportation order was also entered in the case.

According to CNN:

Harris-Moore, 19, appeared before Chief Magistrate Roger Gomez for arraignment Tuesday.

He was taken into custody on Harbour Island in the Bahamas early Sunday. He is sought in a string of home and airport break-ins in various U.S. locations along with thefts of vehicles. He faces charges in Washington state in the theft of an aircraft, and police have said they believe he stole a plane in Indiana and flew it to the Bahamas, where it was found off Abaco Island.

The teen has been on the run since he escaped from a juvenile halfway house in Renton, Washington, in 2008. The FBI had offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

"At this point, we're not aware of any requests from the U.S. government or any government for extradition of the young man," Quincy Parker, spokesman for the Bahamas Embassy in Washington, said earlier Tuesday.

Harris-Moore is called the "barefoot bandit" because he was without shoes when he allegedly broke into houses. He also was barefoot when caught in the Bahamas at the Romora Bay Resort and Marina by police responding to a reported sighting Sunday.

Friday, July 9, 2010

More on the Russian Sleeper Agents' Plea Deals

The New York Times has continued coverage of the prisoner swap between the United States and Russia. Included in the article are further details of the plea deal that lead to the exchange.

The sensational case — complete with invisible ink, buried cash and a red-haired beauty whose romantic exploits have been excavated in the tabloids — came to a dramatic denouement in court.

The 10 defendants sat in the jury box, while their lawyers and prosecutors filled the well of the packed courtroom. Some of the Russian agents wore jail garb over orange T-shirts, while others wore civilian clothes. Natalia Pereverzeva, for example, known as Patricia Mills, sat in jeans with a dark sweater.

Few of the defendants conversed with one another. Some looked grim. One, Vicky Peláez, appeared to be weeping as she gestured to her sons at the close of the hearing.

At one point, Judge Kimba M. Wood asked the 10 to disclose their true names.

The first to rise was the man known as Richard Murphy, who lived with his wife and two children in Montclair, N.J. He said his name was Vladimir Guryev.

Then his wife rose. “My true name is Lydia Guryev,” she said.

All but three — Anna Chapman, Mikhail Semenko and Ms. Peláez — had assumed false names in the United States.

The 10 each pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without properly registering; the government said it would drop the more serious count of conspiracy to launder money, which eight of the defendants also faced. They had not been charged with espionage, apparently because they did not obtain classified information.

All of them agreed never to return to the United States without permission from the attorney general. They also agreed to turn over any money made from publication of their stories as agents, according to their plea agreements with the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan. Several also agreed to forfeit assets, including real estate, in the United States.

The defendants included several married couples with children. American officials said after the court hearing that the children would be free to leave the United States with their parents.

Former Congressman Pleads Guilty to Obstructing Justice, Acting as Unregistered Foreign Agent

The United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri has issued a press release stating that a former congressman and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and to acting as an unregistered foreign agent related to his work for an Islamic charity with ties to international terrorism.

According to the press release:

Mark Deli Siljander, 59, of Great Falls, Va., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey to one charge contained in an Oct. 21, 2008, federal indictment, and an additional charge filed today, involving his work for the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA) of Columbia, Mo. Siljander was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Michigan and was a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations General Assembly.

Co-defendant Abdel Azim El-Siddig, of Chicago, Ill., a former IARA fundraiser, also pleaded guilty today to conspiring with Siljander and others to hire Siljander to lobby for IARA’s removal from a Senate Finance Committee list of charities suspected of having terrorist ties, while concealing this advocacy and not registering with the proper authorities.

“A former congressman engaged in illegal lobbying for a charity suspected of funding international terrorism. He then used his own charities to hide the payments for his criminal activities,” U.S. Attorney Phillips said. “Siljander repeatedly lied to FBI agents and prosecutors investigating serious crimes related to national security. With today’s guilty pleas, all of the defendants in this case have admitted their guilt and will be held accountable for their actions.”

Siljander operated a Washington, D.C., consulting business called Global Strategies, Inc. IARA was an Islamic charity in Columbia, Mo., that served as the U.S. office of an international organization headquartered in Khartoum, Sudan. IARA was closed in October 2004, after being identified by the U.S. Treasury Department as a specially designated global terrorist organization, for the support its international offices provided to Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and the Taliban. The executive director of IARA, co-defendant Mubarak Hamed, 53, of Columbia, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Sudan, has pleaded guilty in connection with this case.

According to today’s plea agreements, between March and May 2004, Hamed and El-Siddig hired Siljander to lobby for IARA’s removal from a U.S. Senate Finance Committee list of charities suspected of funding international terrorism, and its reinstatement as an approved government contractor. IARA lost its status as an approved government contractor in 1999, when the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) terminated grants for two relief projects in Mali, Africa. USAID informed the organization that the grants were not in the national security interest of the United States.

Siljander, El-Siddig, and Hamed each knew that IARA was part of a large international organization controlled by its headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan, and agreed with each other to conceal Siljander’s efforts on IARA’s behalf. In order to do so, Siljander instructed El-Siddig and Hamed to transfer $75,000 of IARA’s funds to him by funnelling them through non-profit entities. El-Siddig carried at least three checks issued to Siljander’s charities from Chicago to Washington, D.C., and gave them to Siljander.

In exchange for the payments, during the Summer of 2004, Siljander acted as an agent for IARA by contacting persons at the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, USAID, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Army, in an effort to have IARA removed from the USAID list of debarred entities, and to remove IARA from the Senate Finance Committee’s list of charities suspected of funding terrorism. Federal law requires anyone who serves as an agent of a foreign entity, including an organization, to register with the U.S. Attorney General.

In pleading guilty, Siljander admitted that in two separate interviews he repeatedly lied to FBI agents and prosecutors acting on behalf of a federal grand jury. Siljander obstructed justice by falsely denying that he was hired to advocate for IARA, and by falsely claiming that the payments from IARA were charitable donations intended to assist him in writing a book about bridging the gap between Islam and Christianity.

Under federal statutes, Siljander is subject to a sentence of up to 15 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine of up to $500,000. El-Siddig is subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine of up to $250,000. Sentencing hearings will be scheduled after the completion of presentence investigations by the U.S. Probation Office.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Breaking News! Ten Russian Spies Plead Guilty in New York Federal Court

According to various news sources, the ten individuals arrested in late June and accused of spying for the Russians have pleaded guilty in New York federal court. The guilty pleas are thought to be the first step in a prisoner swap between the United States and Russia.

According to Fox News:

Ten people accused of spying for Russia pleaded guilty inside a Manhattan courtroom Thursday as the largest Russia-U.S. spy swap since the Cold War appeared to get under way.

The Russians will trade four people for the ten accused Russian spies in U.S. custody, a source confirmed to Fox News.

The defendants all affirmed U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood's question of whether they would plead guilty in a Manhattan courtroom.

The defendants were expected to be deported to Russia within hours, apparently in exchange for the release of convicted Russian spies. A Russian arms control analyst convicted of spying for the United States was reportedly plucked from a Moscow prison and flown to Vienna earlier Thursday.
Click here for the New York Times article regarding the proposed prisoner swap.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Plea Bargaining an Issue in Second Circuit Death Penalty Decision

The New York Times reported last week on the case of Ronell Wilson, whose death sentence for killing two New York City undercover police detectives in 2003 has been overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The decision is noteworthy because federal juries in New York State are historically reluctant to sentence defendants to death. According to the New York Times, federal prosecutors in New York have asked for the death sentence in 19 cases from 1988-2008, but in only one case - that of Ronell Wilson - has the jury returned a verdict of death.

The case also involves plea bargaining. As reported by the New York Times:

The Court of Appeals’ ruling centered on two arguments that prosecutors made to the jury about Mr. Wilson’s remorse and acceptance of responsibility for the killings during the penalty phase of his trial. The judges noted that prosecutors used Mr. Wilson’s demand for a trial and his failure to plead guilty as evidence that he lacked remorse and refused to accept responsibility. The judges said prosecutors had argued to the jury that Mr. Wilson’s statement of remorse should be discredited because he failed to testify.

“He has an absolute right to go to trial, put the government to its burden of proof, to prove he committed these crimes, but he can’t have it both ways,” one of the prosecutors, Jack Smith, is quoted as telling the jury in the judges’ ruling (Mr. Smith now leads the public integrity section for the Justice Department). “He can’t do that, then say I accept responsibility.”

The defense made an objection at that point that was overruled, and the prosecutor continued, “And [say] ‘I’m sorry, only after you prove I did it.’ That’s not acceptance of responsibility.”

The judges wrote that they agreed with Mr. Wilson’s lawyers that the comments “unconstitutionally burdened his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.” In addition, the prosecutor’s highlighting of Mr. Wilson’s refusal to testify violated his Fifth Amendment right against incriminating himself, according to the ruling.
Unless the decision is later overturned, the Second Circuit ruling means that a new penalty phase will occur in the case before a new jury. Another alternative is for the government to withdraw its notice to seek the death penalty, which would result in an automatic sentence of life in prison.