Archive for September, 2010

Two Arrests Made in String of Attacks Against Police Department

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

In California, police have made two arrests in connection with a string of baffling attacks on law enforcement officers and facilities.

The attacks, which appeared to target member of the Hemet Police Department, began in December 2009, when a natural-gas line was rigged to fill the office of the Hemet-San Jacinto Valley Gang Task Force. Since then, various booby traps have been discovered, including a gun set to fire at officers and a World War II training bazooka rocket aimed to fire at the Hemet Police Station. Several fires have also been set, at the police shooting range and evidence room as well as near code enforcement vehicles.

Physical evidence at the scene of one attack led investigators to Nicholas John Smit, 39. Smit was arrested on suspicion of making a booby trap, assault with intent to murder a police officer, and possession of a firearm while on bail.

Smit pleaded guilty last month to five felony counts of cultivating marijuana, and was scheduled to be sentenced to three years in prison on July 16. He had prior convictions relating to arson, criminal threats and assault, and has served prison sentences before.

Also arrested on a parole violation for possession of a firearm was Steven Hansen, 36. Although he and Smit knew each other, and Hansen is being questioned by police, he is not being held in connection with this case.

Authorities also said that at least two additional suspects may be at large. They are offering a reward of $200,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone else connected with the crimes.

The evidence against Smit is only relevant to one of the attacks, but police believe that all seven incidents are connected.

These arrests, which were made on Friday night when a team of 78 law enforcement officers served search warrants on Smit and Hansen, were the culmination of a six-month investigation that was conducted jointly by Hemet police, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, district attorney’s office, FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Neither of the men arrested over the weekend have any known connections with gangs or other organizations. Nor had they had any recent contact with police.

There has been no motive reported for the attacks, and no threats were made to the Hemet police prior to any of the attacks. Although there was some damage done to police property, including several code enforcement pickup trucks, no one was hurt in any of the incidents.

Suspects Wanted in Fatal Shooting of Two Tampa Police Officers

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Two Tampa, Florida police officers have lost their lives after an ordinary traffic stop turned deadly.

Officer David Curtis, 31, pulled over a vehicle that had no license plate in the early morning hours on Tuesday, June 29. After determining that the male passenger was wanted in connection with a worthless check warrant out of Jacksonville, he called for backup. When Officer Jeffrey Kocab, also 31, arrived, the two approached the vehicle on the passenger side.

According to Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, “as they put their hands on the suspect, the suspect spun around, pulled a firearm, and shot both police officers.” A passerby called 911 and attempted CPR on the downed officers, before an ambulance arrived to take them to Tampa General Hospital. Kocab was pronounced dead shortly after arrival; Curtis was pronounced dead later, although police said he remained on life support for several hours so that his organs could be harvested, per his family’s wishes.

Police announced several hours after the incident that two people who were “at the scene of the shooting” were being sought for questioning. They were identified as Dontae Rashawn Morris, 24, and Cortnee Nicole Brantly, 22.

Additionally, authorities said that they were searching for a red 1994 Toyota Camry, as well as an African-American man and woman. The man was described as 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing 150 to 170 pounds, and in his mid-20s. He was said to be wearing brown shorts, a white t-shirt, a black vest and white sneakers. No information was available regarding the woman’s appearance. A manhunt was been launched that includes both uniformed and undercover officers, air support and search dogs.

Police had several leads in the city of Tampa, but were also searching statewide, said officials. Castor had told reporters that authorities believed they knew the identity of the suspect, and that “there’s probably a great deal more to it than just that misdemeanor warrant.”

Curtis, a three-year veteran of the department, is survived by a wife and four sons, ages 9, 6, 5, and 8 months. Kocab, who has been with the Tampa Police for just over a year, and who advanced through the training program to become an officer more rapidly than other candidates “because of his outstanding police skills,” was due to become a father within the week.

“The safety of Tampa residents was the first priority for Officers Kocab and Curtis, and today they selflessly made the ultimate sacrifice to protect their city,” Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said in a statement issued after the officers’ deaths.

Alleged Russian Agents Arrested, Charged with Conspiracy, Money Laundering

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

The Justice Department made a startling announcement recently, when it said that federal agents had arrested 10 people suspected of being Russian agents who had been sent to the United States to gather intelligence.

According to the Justice Department, the suspects, who were arrested in Yonkers, Boston and northern Virginia, were “trained Russian intelligence operatives.” Court documents alleged that the “deep-cover” agents used false identities, including those of dead Americans and dead Canadians, and posed as married couples. Among them was a journalist who has covered politics, immigration and other issues for the Spanish-language newspaper “El Diario” over the past 20 years. Her husband was also arrested.

The FBI had been conducting surveillance on the suspects for years, through secret audio and videotapes, communications monitoring, surreptitious searches and other technologies, as part of an investigation in which the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the Justice Department’s National Security Division also played roles.

The alleged agents had been instructed to infiltrate American “policy making circles,” according to one coded message intercepted by federal officials, to gather information on nuclear weapons, CIA leadership, Congressional politics and American policy regarding Iran, among other subjects. The spies purportedly made contact with a former high-ranking American national security official and a researcher in the field of nuclear weapons, although it is not yet know what kind of intelligence they might have actually gleaned.

Criminal complaints filed in Manhattan’s Federal District Court detailed how agents exchanged information through old-fashioned means—notes written in invisible ink, messages transmitted by shortwave bursts, identical bags exchanged by two passing spies—as well as through modern technology. They coded texts in Internet images, used laptops and special software to exchange messages, and took advantage of the Wi-fi at a New York Starbucks to sent intel back to Russia.

The suspects have been charged with acting as agents of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. attorney general, rather than with espionage, a lesser charge which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Nine of them were also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum of 20 years. None were charged with obtaining classified materials.

Five of the alleged spies appeared in a New York courtroom, were advised of their rights and ordered held due to flight risk, pending hearings in July. Separate hearings for others of the suspects were to be held in other states, as well. An eleventh suspect is still being sought.

Suspect in Multiple Stabbings Had Undergone Anger Management

Monday, September 27th, 2010

A convicted felon who is accused of having stabbed to death his ex-girlfriend and three others over the weekend had been ordered to undergo anger management classes, sources say.

Michael Ballard is charged with the weekend stabbings of four people, after alleging going on a rampage in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He had been living in a halfway house after bouncing in and out of prison on parole violations.

In 1991, Ballard—who was then 18—stabbed Donald Richard to death. He pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and received a sentence of 15 to 30 years in prison. After serving part of that time, he was released to a halfway house in November 2006. As part of his parole, Ballard was required to participate in “outpatient anger management treatment” according to documents recently released by the state Board of Probation and Parole.

By April 2008, Ballard had stopped going to his treatment. He was sent back to prison on a parole violation. He came up for parole in November 2008, but the board decided to deny his request for parole, citing his “failure to demonstrate motivation for success” and his “refusal to accept responsibility” for his crimes.

When Ballard was granted parole, over a year later in December 2009, he was sent again to a halfway house, but was not ordered to undergo any further anger management treatment.

On Saturday, Ballard was scheduled to return to the halfway house at 2 p.m. When he failed to do so, a warrant was issued for his arrest. In the meantime, he had gone to the home of his former girlfriend, Denise Merhi, 39. There, he attacked her, her father, and her grandfather. A neighbor, hearing the screams, ran over to provide assistance and was also stabbed to death by Ballard.

The victims are Denise Merhi; Dennis Marsh, 62; Alvin Marsh Jr., 87; and Steven Zernhelt, 53.

After the attack, Ballard stole Merhi’s Pontiac Grand Prix and drove away from the scene of the crime. He crashed the car less than an hour later, and was hospitalized for injuries that he sustained during the crash.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli has often spoken out about Pennsylvania’s parole system.

“This guy’s a rabid dog and he needs to be put down, and I’m going to put him down with a death sentence,” said Morganelli.

Five Virginia Men Convicted on Terrorism Charges By Pakistani Court

Friday, September 24th, 2010

A Pakistani court has found five American men guilty of terrorism charges and sentenced them to 10 years in prison.

The men, who grew up together in the Alexandria, Virginia area and worshipped at the same mosque in Fairfax, say that they were on a humanitarian mission. During their trial, they said that they had traveled secretly to Pakistan in order to help orphans and homeless people in the neighboring nation of Afghanistan.

Umar Chaudhry, Ramy Zamzam, Ahmad A. Minni, Waqar Khan and Aman Hassan Yemer—who range in age from 19 to 25—were arrested at the home of an activist with ties to Jaish-e-Mohammed, the terrorist organization that is widely believed to have been responsible for the abduction and murder of Daniel Pearl, reporter for the Wall Street Journal, in 2002. The men had also traveled to Lahore to met with the charity wing of a group called Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is supected in the 2008 bombings in Mumbai, India.

A week prior to their arrest, the men’s families had reported them as missing. One had left behind a video, later described by a Muslim leader as a farewell statement, which showed footage of war, quoted verses from the Koran and cited conflicts between the Western world and the Muslim world.

Among the evidence entered in the trial were email records, maps the men had been carrying, cellphone records and statements from witnesses, all of which prosecutors said proved that the men were planning terrorist attacks. Defense attorneys for the five, however, said that emails submitted to the court could have been falsified.

Each of the men were convicted of criminal conspiracy and funding a banned terrorist organization. The charges carry respective sentences of 10 and five years, but the judge ordered that the terms be served concurrently.

They were also fined 70,000 Pakistani rupees, or about $820 USD.

The FBI is conducting its own investigation into the men’s activities, and if it uncovers evidence of terrorist plots, the men may face charges in a U.S. court.

An attorney for the men says that he plans to appeal the court’s decision, especially in light of the fact that the men have alleged in court documents that they were tortured by Pakistani authorities, who wanted them to confess to terrorist activities.

The prosecution says that it, too, will appeal—in order to ask for a 20-year sentence for the men.

Former NFL Player Indicted on Charges of Rape, Child Endangerment

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

NFL linebacker Lawrence Taylor was indicted this week on charges of rape and endangering the welfare of a child after sexual contact with a 16-year-old, say prosecutors.

Taylor, 51, was arrested at a Holiday Inn in Ramapo, New York on May 6, after allegedly having a sexual encounter with the girl. Authorities from the city, which lies just north of New York City near the New Jersey state line, told reporters that the alleged victim had been brought to the football player’s hotel room by a pimp, and that she was a runaway from the Bronx.

After the incident, which Taylor called consensual, the teenager texted an uncle, who then notified New York City police. Both Taylor and the alleged pimp were arrested shortly thereafter. Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence said that Taylor was cooperative during his arrest.

Taylor was released on $75,000 bail the same day, and was not asked to enter a plea. His attorney, Arthur Aidala, speaking to reporters after the bail hearing, said that “no violence, no force, no threat, no weapons” were involved in the case. Aidala also said that the rape charge was for consensual sexual conduct with a minor, and that Taylor denied it.

Indeed, the attorney said, Taylor “is denying and preparing to fight each and every one of those charges.”

Taylor, a 10-time all-pro linebacker for the New York Giants in the 1980s and early 1990s, has seen his share of legal trouble before. He was suspended twice by the NFL for substance abuse, and struggled with an addiction to cocaine after he retired from the sport, leading to several arrests.

No drugs were found in the hotel room. Police did discover a bottle of alcohol, but Taylor did not appear intoxicated, according to police.

The former footballer was indicted on one count of rape in the third degree, one count of criminal sexual acts in the third degree, two counts of sexual abuse in the third degree, one count of endangering the welfare of a child, and one count of patronizing a prostitute in the third degree by the Rockland County district attorney’s office.

The indictment also says that Taylor paid the teenager $300 for the encounter. If he is convicted, he could face up to four years in prison.

Since his retirement from football and recovery from drug abuse, Taylor has worked as a sports commentator, and also appeared on the television show “Dancing With the Stars” in 2009.

Polo Mogul Charged With DUI Manslaughter, Vehicular Homicide

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

A Palm Beach polo magnate who allegedly caused a fatal vehicular accident in February was on his way to get cocaine, say sources.

John Goodman, 46, had been drinking and dancing with friends at two bars, including the Players Club. There, he tried to convince a woman named Stacey Shore to accompany him on a quest for drugs. When she refused, say authorities, Goodman left the bar alone. Just moments later, his Bentley slammed into a car driven by 23-year-old Scott Wilson; Wilson’s car then flipped into a canal, where the recent college graduate drowned.

Goodman, who founded the International Polo Club Palm Beach and was active in the town’s polo scene, was charged last month with DUI manslaughter with failure to render aid and vehicular homicide with failure to render aid.

Friends of Goodman told investigators that the polo mogul was usually chauffeured home by an employee after spending evenings on the town, but that the employee had a family engagement on the night of February 11. So Goodman drove himself after paying the $212 bar tab, leaving just before 1 a.m. on February 12.

Just minutes later, the crash occurred. It is not clear where Goodman was going, but documents released this week revealed that he “drove past his residence prior to the collision.”

The records also indicate that Goodman wandered about on foot for nearly an hour after the accident, eventually finding himself on the property of a former polo player, Kris Kampsen, in order to look for a phone. He stumbled upon a woman sleeping in a trailer, woke her and borrowed her phone to call his girlfriend in Atlanta. She, in turn, called the horse trainer and sometimes-driver, who went to the crash scene. In the meantime, the woman in the trailer convinced Goodman to call 911. She later told deputies that he had asked her whether he should call police, and whether he appeared intoxicated.

“I did not, you know, see another car when I, um, pulled out,” Goodman said to the 911 dispatcher. “But I hit something and it had to have been another car.”

Goodman’s blood alcohol level was 0.177 percent, more than twice the 0.08 legal limit for driving in Florida. Although no traces of cocaine were found in his system, he did test positive for painkillers hydrocodone and dihydrocodeine, which he told medical personnel had been prescribed for chronic back pain.

Goodman is free on $100,00 bond. He is also being sued by Wilson’s family, who have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both Goodman and the Players Club, claiming that he was drunk before he left that establishment.

Man Charged With Killing Wife For Financial Gain; Policy Worth $20 Mil

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

A real estate mogul who was beset with money problems has been accused of murdering his wife in their tony Woodside, California home.

Pooroushasb “Peter” Parineh, 64, was arrested last Thursday on suspicion of having killed his wife, Parima Parineh, in April. He called police to report the death, and claimed that it was a suicide, but evidence suggested otherwise. Notably, the fact that Parima Parineh had been shot twice in the head has led investigators to classify the death a homicide.

Parima Parineh, 56, an artist who emigrated to the U.S. from Tehran when she was 22, had been placed in a hospital for psychological evaluation just a month before her death. At that time, deputies also confiscated weapons from her, and on the penultimate day of her life, she was served with papers telling her that the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office was seeking to retain the weapons with the court’s permission. Parima Parineh’s alleged suicidal tendencies initially lent legitimacy to the theory that she had killed herself.

Police said that Peter Parineh said that he was not home when his wife was shot; when deputies arrived at the couple’s home after his call to 911, he led them to the bedroom where her body lay. Recovered from the scene were a semi-automatic handgun and four bullet casings.

According to prosecutors, Parima had a life insurance policy thought to be worth $20 million, which may prove to be Peter Parineh’s motive. The couple was reportedly having financial troubles; although they were not facing bankruptcy, their home in Fox Hill was in foreclosure. Additionally, the San Mateo County Tax Collector’s Office said that the property tax on that home had not been paid since December 2008. Records show that the Parinehs purchased the house in June 2002 for $5.1 million.

Parineh, the president of leasing company Austiaj Limited Partnership, had engaged in real estate dealings in the Bay Area. He had also been the subject of legal proceedings, including a lower court’s judgment ordering him to pay $1.1 million, which was later upheld by the 5th District Court of Appeal.

Peter Parineh remains in custody without bail. He has been charged with murder for financial gain, a special allegation that could carry the death penalty if he is convicted.

“We certainly believe it was for financial gain,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, adding that Parima’s life insurance policy had passed the suicide exclusion period of two years.

High Court Upholds Law Prohibiting Material Support To Terrorists

Monday, September 20th, 2010

The United States Supreme Court has upheld a ban on providing “material support” to terrorist organizations, even if that support concerns peaceful, legal activities.

The court ruled 6 to 3 that the law, which bars people from providing training or advice to organizations that promote terrorism, does not violate their free speech. Their decision reverses a ruling laid down by a lower court that said parts of the law was unconstitutionally vague.

First adopted in 1996, and strengthened by the passage of the Patriot Act after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the law forbid knowingly providing any service, training, expert advice or other assistance to a foreign organization that has been designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist group. It carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. Since the 2001 attacks, the United States government has charged approximately 150 defendants with the material support of terrorism, according to the Justice Department, and about half of those were convicted.

The law was challenged by aid groups that had assisted a Kurdish group in Turkey, known as the PKK, in peace negotiations and in bringing human rights complaints to the United Nations. In 1997, however, the PKK was designated a terrorist group, as was a similar group in Sri Lanka that would have benefitted from the advice of the humanitarian workers—who included a group called the Humanitarian Law Project and several individuals.

They argued that since they were performing nonviolent, lawful human rights duties, the restrictions placed on them by the law were in violation of their constitutional right to free speech.

The plaintiffs, however, “simply disagree with the considered judgment of Congress and the executive that providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization—even seemingly benign support—bolsters the terrorist activities of that organization,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. for the majority.

Joining Roberts in upholding the law were the court’s conservatives—Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. –and its most liberal justice, John Paul Stevens. Dissenting were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen G. Breyer, who said that the court was relinquishing its duty to protect individual liberties, in the name of unjustifiable national security threats.

“In such cases, our decisions must reflect the Constitution’s grant of foreign affairs and defense powers to the president and to Congress but without denying our own special judicial obligation to protect the constitutional rights of individuals,” said Breyer. “That means that national security does not always win.”

20-Year-Old Floridian On Trial For Killing Romantic Rival

Friday, September 17th, 2010

A teenage love triangle is being blamed for the murder of an 18-year-old, as the trial of her alleged killer begins.

Rachel Wade, 20, is accused by Pinellas County, Florida prosecutors of having stabbed 18-year-old Sarah Ludemann to death during a confrontation last year. Both women had been involved with Joshua Camacho, 20, and had become involved in an escalating rivalry over him. A series of arguments and accusations that took place via text messages, voicemails and the social networking site MySpace culminated in a physical confrontation in April 2009, when Ludemann and two friends encountered Wade outside a mutual friend’s home.

Attorneys for Wade—who is 5’4” and 110 lbs.–are arguing that she feared for her own safety when approached by Ludemann, who is 5’9” and weighs 166 lbs, and two other women. Witnesses for the prosecution, however, painted a very different picture, one in which Wade lured Ludemann to her location and attacked her with a knife almost before the victim had gotten out of her car.

Janet Camacho, Joshua Camacho’s sister and a friend of Ludemann’s, and another friend, Jilica Smith, testified that they while they were riding in Ludemann’s car to a McDonald’s, Wade telephoned Ludemann and told her “I’m going to stab you and your Mexican boyfriend.” After encountering mutual acquaintances who told them where Wade was, they drove there, Ludemann stopping her vehicle abruptly just inches from Wade’s car.

That’s when the attack occurred, according to prosecutors, who say Wade grabbed a knife and stabbed Ludemann twice as she attempted to get out of her car. Only one witness, Dustin Grimes, testified that the three women exited their vehicle and approached Wade, and that the attack actually happened between the two cars.

Prosecutors played a 911 call placed the night of the killing. In it, Smith can be heard screaming, “Rachel just … stabbed her.” They also plan on letting jurors hear a series of threatening voicemails that Wade left for Ludemann over an eight-month period, including one in which she can be heard saying “I’m guaranteeing you I’m going to … murder you.”

Wade, who was 19 at the time of the killing, is charged with second-degree murder. She could be sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 20 and a half years, if she is convicted.