Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bradley Manning Verdict - Not Guilty of Aiding the Enemy

Bradley Manning, accused of being the largest leaker of classified information in American history, has been found not guilty of aiding the enemy by the judge in his court-martial.  This charge carried a sentence of up to life in prison.  He previously pleaded guilty to other lesser charges that carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

From a New York Magazine article regarding Manning.
Manning shipped out to Iraq with a top security clearance, his multiple identities held close inside him. There was abundant evidence that Manning was having trouble keeping it together psychologically, but the Army brushed aside doubts—it desperately needed intel analysts with Manning’s computer skills. After all, the Army was wired; in fact, the whole government had never been more networked, a development that had been pushed partly by the desire to improve information-sharing and shorten reaction time after 9/11. Much of the war was fought remotely; triggers were pulled by people in Langley, Virginia, or outside Las Vegas or field offices near Baghdad, where Manning was eventually posted. Military engagement had turned into a video game—but with real bullets. Manning was built for this sort of combat. In the modern Army, Manning’s skill set made him a highly useful soldier, and a dangerous one.

In Iraq, the torments Manning suffered at the hands of his fellow soldiers, his loneliness and concern over his gender, and the hours and hours he would spend in the airless intel office watching the brutal inner workings of the war bore down on him. He was unmoored in a way he hadn’t been before: angrier, less afraid, more certain of what was good and what was evil, and more compelled to act on this dawning righteousness. It was while in Iraq that Manning came across WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange—a charismatic authority figure who, far from rejecting him, as had so many others, took a passionate interest in him and what he had to contribute. Manning had an awakening—and he became, says the U.S. govern­ment, a traitor. 
The entire New York Magazine article is available here.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Should corporations be permitted to plead guilty?

Doug Berman has an interesting post over at the Sentencing Law & Policy Blog regarding a recent case from Judge Young of the District Court of Massachusetts.  According to Berman, the Judge's opinion in United States v. Orthofix, No. 12-10169 (D. Mass. July 26, 2013), indicates the Judge may not believe the public interest is served by corporate plea deals.

From the opinion:
This memorandum sets out the Court’s reasons for rejecting each of the (C) pleas from these two corporate criminal defendants. In many ways, the Court’s decision to reject Orthofix’s (C) plea stands as the better subject for elucidation of the Court’s principled objection toward accepting (C) pleas from corporate criminals. This is because, in contrast with the wholly unsatisfactory settlement proffered by APTx, see APTx’s Plea Hr’g 18:13 (“[T]his is a strikingly below guidelines sentence . . . .”), Orthofix’s plea was tendered as part of what was, substantially, “a fair and appropriate settlement,” Tr. Arraignment, Plea & Sentencing (“Orthofix’s Sentencing”) 25:8, Dec. 14, 2012, No. 12-10169-WGY, ECF No. 39.

This memorandum articulates the Court’s view of the unusually complex considerations posed by the sentencing of corporate criminals and lays out the Court’s interpretation of the duties it must discharge, with prudence and circumspection, in performing its sentencing function. The Court concludes that, in light of these considerations, it would be rare indeed for a corporate criminal to persuade this Court that its guilty plea is an appropriate candidate for acceptance under the fetters of Rule 11(c)(1)(C).
The entire opinion is available here.

Doug Berman's post is available here.

Five Years Later and Few Charges re 2008 Financial Crisis

NPR has an interesting story regarding the lack of prosecutions related to the financial collapse in 2008 in the United States.  According to the story, part of the reason for the lack of prosecutions might be the lack of investigatory resources targeting the issue.
In the latest in a string of insider trading cases, federal prosecutors this week indicted SAC Capital, one of the most prominent and profitable hedge funds in the world.

But when it comes to the 2008 financial crisis that sent the economy into a tailspin, criminal prosecutions have been few and far between.

"The folks responsible for this incredibly painful economic damage that struck our economy have gone free," says Neil Barofsky, a former federal prosecutor who also served as special inspector general overseeing the big Troubled Asset Relief Program bank bailout, signed into law by President Bush in 2008...
The article goes on to describe the allocation of resources by the government.  According to the article, William Black, previously with the Office of Thrift Supervision during the S&L crisis in the 1980s, stated:
"I've been saying it for years," he says. "You have to make the effort."

He notes that during the savings and loan crisis, he was involved with a lot of criminal prosecutions. "At peak we had a thousand FBI agents working those cases."

By comparison, Black says, when the financial crisis hit there were only 120 FBI agents working on bank fraud.

And mortgage fraud cases against big financial firms are just tough cases to bring, Black says.


The entire NPR story is available here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Breaking News - Ariel Castro to Plead Guilty - Avoid Death Penalty - Life Plus 1,000 Years

CNN is reporting that Ariel Castro agreed today to plead guilty in return for the government taking the death penalty off the table.  Reportedly, Castro will receive life plus 1,000 years.

From CNN:
Ariel Castro agreed Friday in an Ohio courtroom to a plea deal in one of the most sensational kidnapping cases in recent memory. The deal, reached with prosecutors, would let him avoid the possibility of a death sentence and spare his alleged victims from having to testify at a trial.

The plea deal recommends that he be sentenced to life in prison without parole -- that he never get a parole hearing. It could also mean that a trial Castro was facing on August 5 will not happen and he will not face the possibility of being sentenced to death. Judge Michael J. Russo went over the deal with Castro, and told him that he would be labeled as a sexual predator.

Castro replied that he understood. At one point, he interjected that he was "also a victim as a child ..." to which Russo responded that he could make whatever statement he wanted during a sentencing hearing. Russo also said that victims would be notified of the hearing and would then have a chance to say what they liked.

A source close to the case had earlier told CNN that the deal could require that Castro stand at a podium in court and plead guilty.

An attorney for three women had told CNN that they were hoping for a plea deal because they do not want to take the stand at Castro's trial.
Castro was charged with 977 counts, including aggravated murder on suspicion of ending the pregnancy of one of his alleged captives. Under the deal, he agreed to plead guilty to 937 counts.

Earlier this month, the former bus driver pleaded not guilty to the 977 charges, and he was being held on $8 million bail.

Castro's defense attorneys had previously said they wanted a deal that would take capital punishment out of the equation.

Castro abducted Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Georgina "Gina" DeJesus separately in a two-year period starting in 2002, according to authorities.
 The complete CNN story is here.

Halliburton Agrees to Plead Guilty to Destruction of Evidence in Connection with Deepwater Horizon Tragedy

The Department of Justice announced this week that Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. has agreed to plead guilty to charges related to the Deepwater Horizon investigation.

According to the DOJ:
Halliburton has signed a cooperation and guilty plea agreement with the government in which Halliburton has agreed to plead guilty and admit its criminal conduct. As part of the plea agreement, Halliburton has further agreed, subject to the court’s approval, to pay the maximum-available statutory fine, to be subject to three years of probation and to continue its cooperation in the government’s ongoing criminal investigation. Separately, Halliburton made a voluntary contribution of $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that was not conditioned on the court’s acceptance of its plea agreement.

According to court documents, on April 20, 2010, while stationed at the Macondo well site in the Gulf of Mexico, the Deepwater Horizon rig experienced an uncontrolled blowout and related explosions and fire, which resulted in the deaths of 11 rig workers and the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Following the blowout, Halliburton conducted its own review of various technical aspects of the well’s design and construction. On or about May 3, 2010, Halliburton established an internal working group to examine the Macondo well blowout, including whether the number of centralizers used on the final production casing could have contributed to the blowout. A production casing is a long, heavy metal pipe set across the area of the oil and natural gas reservoir. Centralizers are protruding metal collars affixed at various intervals on the outside of the casing. Use of centralizers can help keep the casing centered in the wellbore away from the surrounding walls as it is lowered and placed in the well. Centralization can be significant to the quality of subsequent cementing around the bottom of the casing. Prior to the blowout, Halliburton had recommended to BP the use of 21 centralizers in the Macondo well. BP opted to use six centralizers instead.

As detailed in the information, in connection with its own internal post-incident examination of the well, in or about May 2010, Halliburton, through its Cementing Technology Director, directed a Senior Program Manager for the Cement Product Line (Program Manager) to run two computer simulations of the Macondo well final cementing job using Halliburton’s Displace 3D simulation program to compare the impact of using six versus 21 centralizers. Displace 3D was a next-generation simulation program that was being developed to model fluid interfaces and their movement through the wellbore and annulus of a well. These simulations indicated that there was little difference between using six and 21 centralizers. Program Manager was directed to, and did, destroy these results.

In or about June 2010, similar evidence was also destroyed in a later incident. Halliburton’s Cementing Technology Director asked another, more experienced, employee (“Employee 1”) to run simulations again comparing six versus 21 centralizers. Employee 1 reached the same conclusion and, like Program Manager before him, was then directed to “get rid of” the simulations. 

The complete DOJ Press Release is available here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bicyclist Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter

In what is being reported as a first in U.S. legal history, a bicyclist who hit and killed a pedestrian after riding recklessly has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in San Francisco.

The Washington Post reports:
Under the unusual plea deal last week, Chris Bucchere, 37, would not serve any jail time and instead would be sentenced to three years of probation and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service in the death of Sutchi Hui of San Bruno, District Attorney George Gascon said.
“Our goal is to send a message to cyclists about safety,” Gasc√≥n said. “Just because you are riding a bicycle doesn’t mean all bets are off. All of the rules of the road that apply to everyone else apply to you, too.”
A software engineer from San Francisco, Bucchere had been riding recklessly and had run three red lights when he struck Hui as he and his wife crossed a street in the Castro District on March 29, 2012, prosecutors said. Hui died four days later of injuries from the collision. His wife was not hurt...
Hui’s family has filed a civil suit against Bucchere regarding the fatality. Gascon said the victim’s family did not want to see Bucchere incarcerated and prosecutors did not think a judge would sentence him to jail time, so they offered probation and community service in the plea deal. Gascon added that they did not want to risk a possible not guilty verdict at a trial.
“We believe this is the best outcome for this type of case,” he said.
Gascon said his office had done research and didn’t find any other cases in which a prosecutor had obtained a manslaughter conviction against a bicyclist.
The entire story from the Washington Post is available here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Militarization of America's Police Forces - Part III

In this third and final post regarding recent stories focusing on the militarization of America's police forces and the resulting consequences, I look at an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal this week.

The story is entitled, "Rise of the Warrior Cop: Is it time to reconsider the militarization of American policing?" and is written by Radley Balko.  Mr. Balko is the author of "Rise of the Warrior Cop," published this month by PublicAffairs (Mr. Balko is also the author of the first article discussed in this three part blog series). 

Below are a few excerpts from his Wall Street Journal piece.
The number of raids conducted by SWAT-like police units has grown accordingly. In the 1970s, there were just a few hundred a year; by the early 1980s, there were some 3,000 a year. In 2005 (the last year for which Dr. Kraska collected data), there were approximately 50,000 raids.

A number of federal agencies also now have their own SWAT teams, including the Fish & Wildlife Service, NASA and the Department of the Interior. In 2011, the Department of Education's SWAT team bungled a raid on a woman who was initially reported to be under investigation for not paying her student loans, though the agency later said she was suspected of defrauding the federal student loan program.

The details of the case aside, the story generated headlines because of the revelation that the Department of Education had such a unit. None of these federal departments has responded to my requests for information about why they consider such high-powered military-style teams necessary.
Mr. Balko's piece also includes the following.
In my own research, I have collected over 50 examples in which innocent people were killed in raids to enforce warrants for crimes that are either nonviolent or consensual (that is, crimes such as drug use or gambling, in which all parties participate voluntarily). These victims were bystanders, or the police later found no evidence of the crime for which the victim was being investigated. They include Katherine Johnston, a 92-year-old woman killed by an Atlanta narcotics team acting on a bad tip from an informant in 2006; Alberto Sepulveda, an 11-year-old accidentally shot by a California SWAT officer during a 2000 drug raid; and Eurie Stamps, killed in a 2011 raid on his home in Framingham, Mass., when an officer says his gun mistakenly discharged. Mr. Stamps wasn't a suspect in the investigation.
The entire Wall Street Journal piece is available here.

Mr. Balko's book, "Rise of the Warrior Cop," is available here.

For more information of this topic, visit the Cato Institute, which has a report by Mr. Balko entitled "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America" and a map showing botched paramilitary raised in the U.S. - report available here and map available here.

The Militarization of America's Police Forces - Part II

In this second of three posts regarding recent stories focusing on the militarization of America's police forces and the resulting consequences, I look at an article that appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

The  story is entitled, "Commit any felonies lately?" Below are a few excerpts from the article.
Elizabeth Daly went to jail over a case of bottled water.

According to the Charlottesville Daily Progress, shortly after 10 p.m. April 11, the University of Virginia student bought ice cream, cookie dough and a carton of LaCroix sparkling water from the Harris Teeter grocery store at the popular Barracks Road Shopping Center. In the parking lot, a half-dozen men and a woman approached her car, flashing some kind of badges. One jumped on the hood. Another drew a gun. Others started trying to break the windows.

Daly understandably panicked. With her roommate in the passenger seat yelling “Go, go, go!” Daly drove off, hoping to reach the nearest police station. The women dialed 911. Then a vehicle with lights and sirens pulled them over, and the situation clarified: The people who had swarmed Daly’s vehicle were plainclothes agents of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The agents had thought the sparkling water was a 12-pack of beer.

Did the ABC’s enforcers apologize? Not in the slightest. They charged Daly with three felonies: two for assaulting an officer (her vehicle had grazed two agents; neither was hurt) and one for eluding the police. Last week, the commonwealth’s attorney dropped the charges.
Here's another portion of the article focusing on sidewalk chalk.
Last week, A.J. Marin was arrested in Harrisburg, Pa., for writing in chalk on the sidewalk. Marin was participating in a health care demonstration outside Gov. Tom Corbett’s residence when he wrote, “Governor Corbett has health insurance, we should too.” Authorities charged Marin with writing “a derogatory remark about the governor on the sidewalk.” The horror.

This follows the case of Jeff Olson, who chalked messages such as “Stop big banks” outside branches of Bank of America last year. Law professor Jonathan Turley reports that prosecutors brought 13 vandalism charges against him. Moreover, the judge in the case recently prohibited Olson’s attorney from “mentioning the First Amendment, free speech,” or anything like them during the trial.
The entire article is available here.

The Militarization of America's Police Forces - Part I

Over the next three posts, I will be linking to three recent stories focusing on the militarization of America's police forces and the resulting consequences. These three articles include fascinating stories about policing in the 21st century.

The first story appeared recently in Salon and is entitled, "Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book": The new warrior cop is out of control."  Below are a few excerpts from the article.
Several months earlier at a local bar, Fairfax County, Virginia, detective David Baucum overheard the thirty-eight-year-old optometrist and some friends wagering on a college football game. “To Sal, betting a few bills on the Redskins was a stress reliever, done among friends,” a friend of Culosi’s told me shortly after his death. “None of us single, successful professionals ever thought that betting fifty bucks or so on the Virginia–Virginia Tech football game was a crime worthy of investigation.” Baucum apparently did. After overhearing the men wagering, Baucum befriended Culosi as a cover to begin investigating him. During the next several months, he talked Culosi into raising the stakes of what Culosi thought were just more fun wagers between friends to make watching sports more interesting. Eventually Culosi and Baucum bet more than $2,000 in a single day. Under Virginia law, that was enough for police to charge Culosi with running a gambling operation. And that’s when they brought in the SWAT team.

On the night of January 24, 2006, Baucum called Culosi and arranged a time to drop by to collect his winnings. When Culosi, barefoot and clad in a T-shirt and jeans, stepped out of his house to meet the man he thought was a friend, the SWAT team began to move in. Seconds later, Det. Deval Bullock, who had been on duty since 4:00 AM and hadn’t slept in seventeen hours, fired a bullet that pierced Culosi’s heart.

Sal Culosi’s last words were to Baucum, the cop he thought was a friend: “Dude, what are you doing?”

In March 2006, just two months after its ridiculous gambling investigation resulted in the death of an unarmed man, the Fairfax County Police Department issued a press release warning residents not to participate in office betting pools tied to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The title: “Illegal Gambling Not Worth the Risk.” Given the proximity to Culosi’s death, residents could be forgiven for thinking the police department believed wagering on sports was a crime punishable by execution.

In January 2011, the Culosi family accepted a $2 million settlement offer from Fairfax County. That same year, Virginia’s government spent $20 million promoting the state lottery.
Other stories from the article involve several celebrities.

For instance, there is this one about Shaquille O’Neal.
It can also be difficult to trace an IP address to a physical address, which can lead to yet more mistaken raids. An example of that problem manifested in one of the more bizarre botched raids in recent years. It took place in September 2006, when a SWAT team from the Bedford County sheriff’s department stormed the rural Virginia home of A. J. Nuckols, his wife, and their two children. Police had traced the IP address of someone trading child porn online to the Nuckols’ physical address. They had made a mistake. As if the shock of having his house invaded by a SWAT team wasn’t enough, Nuckols was in for another surprise. In a letter to the editor of the Chatham Star Review, he described the raid: “Men ran at me, dropped into shooting position, double-handed semi-automatic pistols pointed at me, and made me put my hands against my truck. I was held at gunpoint, searched, taunted, and led into the house. I had no idea what this was about. I was scared beyond description.”

He then looked up, and saw . . . former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal.

O’Neal, an aspiring lawman, had been made an “honorary deputy” with the department. Though he had no training as a SWAT officer, Shaq apparently had gone on several such raids with other police departments around the country. The thrill of bringing an untrained celebrity along apparently trumped the requirement that SWAT teams be staffed only with the most elite, most highly qualified and best-trained cops. According to Nuckols, O’Neal reached into Nuckols’s pickup, snatched up his (perfectly legal) rifle, and exclaimed, “We’ve got a gun!” O’Neal told Time that Nuckols’s description of the raid on his home was exaggerated. “It ain’t no story,” he said. “We did everything right, went to the judge, got a warrant. You know, they make it seem like we beat him up, and that never happened. We went in, talked to him, took some stuff, returned it—bada bam, bada bing.”
There is also this one involving Steven Seagal.
In 2010 a massive Maricopa County SWAT team, including a tank and several armored vehicles, raided the home of Jesus Llovera. The tank in fact drove straight into Llovera’s living room. Driving the tank? Action movie star Steven Seagal, whom Sheriff Joe Arpaio had recently deputized. Seagal had also been putting on the camouflage to help Arpaio with his controversial immigration raids. All of this, by the way, was getting caught on film. Seagal’s adventures in Maricopa County would make up the next season of the A&E TV series Steven Seagal, Lawman.

Llovera’s suspected crime? Cockfighting. Critics said that Arpaio and Seagal brought an army to arrest a man suspected of fighting chickens to play for the cameras. Seagal’s explanation for the show of force: “Animal cruelty is one of my pet peeves.” All of Llovera’s chickens were euthanized. During the raid, the police also killed his dog.
The entire article is available here.