Archive for September, 2009

New Charges Allege That Terrorist Suspect Wanted to Attack Quantico

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Three counts in a new indictment against a suspected terrorist allege that the man planned to attack the United States Marine base at Quantico, Virginia.

The new charges, announced Thursday, are added to the previous charges of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim and injure people that are levied against Daniel Patrick Boyd, 39, and seven other men, including two of Boyd’s sons.

In July 2009, Boyd and the other suspects were arrested on suspicion of plotting a “violent jihad.” They had been caught on an audio tape, recorded in May 2009, talking about bank robberies which were carried out in Pakistan to fund the terrorist efforts, as well as attempting robberies of Wells Fargo banks and trucks in the United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents testified at an August bond hearing for the men that the FBI had found cash and weapons in the Boyd home during a search, including several weapons; 27,000 rounds of ammunition; cash and deposit slips totaling $29,000; gas masks; and a “fatwa” or Muslim religious edict of jihad against America. They also discovered a so-called playbook that detailed how federal agents responded to acts of terrorism, which would have been useful to the men in formulating a strategy.

Agents also located a trench concealed under the deck of Boyd’s house, which a witness claimed was a bunker meant for the storage and concealment of weapons, as well as a lookout platform placed in a tree.

According to authorities, the men had practiced military tactics in a North Carolina county that borders Virginia. One of the men is believed to have fled the country, but the remaining seven are in custody and have been denied bail.

The alleged terrorists include Dylan Boyd, 22 (aka “Mohammed”); Zakariya Boyd, 20; Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan; Hysen Sherifi; Ziyad Yaghi; and Anes Subasic.

The new charges, which both Boyd and another man, Hysen Sherifi, face, include conspiring to murder United States military personnel, as well as possession of weapons in furtherance of a crime of violence. Boyd’s son Zakariya also faces that charge. Boyd is accused of one additional charge – providing a rifle and ammunition to a convicted felon.

“Boyd undertook reconnaissance of the Marine Corps Base located in Quantico, Virginia, and obtained maps of the base in order to plan an attack on Quantico,” state the charges.

Hanging of Census Worker May Be Protest Against Government

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Washington—The FBI is investigating potential foul play and anti-government sentiment in the death of an employee for the United States Census Bureau, who was found hanged from a tree earlier this month.The body of Bill Sparkman, who is a teacher in addition to working for the Census Bureau part-time, was found in a rural portion of a southeastern Kentucky forest. The had the word “fed” written on his chest, suggesting the crime was motivated by anti-government sentiment, although authorities will not say how the word was written on the body.

An investigation has been launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Authorities with the FBI have remained tight-lipped about the case, although they did say that they are assisting state police in the matter.

“Our job is to determine if there was foul play involved – and that’s part of the investigation – and if there was foul play involved, whether that is related to his employment as a Census worker,” said David Beyer, a spokesperson for the FBI. According to a spokesperson for the Census Bureau’s southern office in Charlotte, N.C., however, law enforcement officers are treating the case as an apparent homicide.

Sparkman, 51, conducted Census interviews only once or twice a month. His truck was found near the location of his body in a rural area of Kentucky’s Clay County, with his work computer inside. Much of Sparkman’s recent work had been conducted in Clay County, which is just one of five counties where he worked conducting door-to-door interviews.

Census Bureau officials have since suspended door-to-door operations pending the investigation’s outcome. Although the Bureau has not yet begun canvassing for the 2010 Census, it has deployed workers to collect demographic statistics in the field on behalf of federal agencies.

Sparkman, who was described by a colleague in an after-school program as am “innocent person” who “saw the world as all good,” had worked for the Census Bureau since 2003. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, in a statement, called Sparkman “a shining example of the hardworking men and women employed by the Census Bureau.”

Authorities cite violent incidents against other federal workers, including Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service employees which have increased from 55 to 290 in the decade ending 2006, in their decision to begin an investigation into the hanging of Sparkman.

Shoe Bomber Correspondence Causes Controversy

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Washington, D.C.—Security experts are skeptical of a Justice Department decision to allow Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber,” to correspond with family members from his prison cell.

Reid, who pled guilty in December 2001, to trying to detonate a bomb which was concealed in his shoe on an overseas flight from Paris, France, to Miami, Florida, had been subject to restrictions on his communications with anyone outside the prison in which he is serving a life sentence. The timetable for those restrictions has lapsed, and the Justice Department, based on recommendations from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Justice Department’s Counterterrorism Section.

The decision has caused concern in some homeland security experts. Former New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir questioned the decision, saying, “”If a terrorist can communicate with his family, with other associates — even with monitoring — he could use codes; he could be directing other terrorist acts.” Safir, now a security consultant, went on to say: “This is somebody who tried to blow up hundreds of innocent people on an airliner, and in my view, he should be totally restricted.”

Even under new, looser restrictions, Reid, who was born in England, will only be allowed to communicate with his family, his attorneys, and the media. Still, these restrictions are not enough, some say. Clark Kent Ervin, former inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, pointed out: “those letters could be forwarded by family members to others.”

In the past, convicted terrorists without such restrictions have managed to communicate with outsiders. Over 90 letters made their way to militants from three inmates convicted in connection to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Some of the recipients had been linked to the Madrid train bombings. One of the letters “praised Osama bin Laden as a hero in a letter sent to Arabic newspapers,” according to reports.

Reid poses a threat not only in his ability to plan other attacks from his cell, but also, according to Ervin, by inspiring others to follow in his footsteps. “The propaganda potential is huge for these kinds of things. Terrorists can be hugely inspiring figures.”

A Justice Department spokesman says that all phone calls and letters are screened. “Mail is not delivered to or sent from such inmates until it is read and analyzed for intelligence purposes,” spokesman Dean Boyd confirmed.

Facebook Five Fight For Right To Air Work Grievances Online

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Canberra, Australia—In a case which questions the function of social networking sites, several New South Wales state prison guards have been accused of misconduct after posting complaints about their boss on the popular site Facebook.The guards, who are being supported by their union, the Public Service Association (PSA), had started a private Facebook group so that they could discuss their superiors’ plans to privatize the Sydney prison, which is currently operated by the government. The group was closed to outsiders, and it’s uncertain how prison authorities gained access, but a senior prison official sent a letter to the guards telling them that they might face disciplinary action, including dismissal.

In the letter, the guards – two women and three men – were accused of making “unauthorized public comment” and “comment to the media without permission,” in addition to making offensive statements about Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham and other prison officials.

At issue here is if the posted remarks can be equated with employees letting off steam in private, or whether the Internet site can be considered an extension of the workplace, so that regulations regarding the workplace would also apply to a Facebook group if it is comprised of coworkers. Speaking for the guards, PSA official Stewart Little said that the comments were not meant to be seen by anyone but one another, and that they were akin to “people getting together in a pub and having a beer and bagging the boss.”

According to documents filed by the guards, the union is also requesting that the guards’ employment agreements be changed to reflect protection against disciplinary action “in respect to out-of-work conduct intended to be private.”

Yet specialists in Internet law, including Queensland State University of Technology professor Peter Black, say that because a record can be kept of postings, emails and other exchanges made in the online environment, and because that record can be searchable, there is necessarily a distinction between cyber comments and spoken ones. A conversation that takes on Facebook or other social media sites, say other experts, that is primarily conducted among colleagues and which concerns the workplace, can be legally considered work-related.

Media in Australia have dubbed the guards the “Facebook Five.” The hearing will begin on Wednesday and continue next week.

The comments made by the Facebook Five have since been taken off the Internet site, says Little. Prison officials have declined to make a statement about the case.

Horrorcore Rapper Arrested in Murder Case, Suspected in Slaying of Four

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Farmville, VA—An arrest has been made in the slaying of four people, including a pastor, in a small Virginia town.

Authorities say that the suspect, a 20-year-old aspiring rapper, had written lyrics bragging about the thrill of killing. Richard Alden Samuel McCroskey III has been charged with murder, robbery and stealing a car from Pastor Mark Niederbrock, who has been tentatively identified as one of the victims.

The state medical examiner’s office has not released the identity of the victims, however, and asked police to make this clear. Once the other bodies have been identified, they said, McCroskey will be charged with the three other murders. It has not been revealed how the victims were killed.

Police were dispatched to the home of Niederbrock’s estranged wife, Debra Kelley, after a West Virginia woman whose teenager was visiting Niederbrock and Kelley’s daughter, Emma, called them to say that she had not heard from her daughter and was worried. When investigators arrived at the home, a man matching McCroskey’s description claimed that the girls had gone to see a movie. Police returned the next day and discovered the four bodies.

McCroskey attempted to fly home to California, but was arrested Saturday at the Richmond, VA airport. He is currently in custody.

According to authorities, McCroskey and Emma Niederbrock had met due to their shared interest in horrorcore music, which is characterized by hip-hop rhythms and violent lyrics. McCroskey had recorded songs, under the stage name Syko Sam, that dealt with death, murder and mutilation.

Messages posted on social networking sites led police to believe that the two not only knew each other, but were planning a visit. McCroskey’s MySpace page lists posts and messages from a person with the username Ragdoll, which friends claimed was Emma Niederbrock, including one dated September 7th which made reference to the two being together. Additionally, a mutual friend said he saw the three of them – McCroskey, Niederbrock, and her unnamed friend – together at a music festival in Michigan.

Police admitted that the suspect’s songs and writings were “a little disturbing” and that they were looking into his involvement with the horrorcore genre.

One of McCroskey’s songs, which was entitled “My Dark Side,” includes the lyrics, “You’re not the first/just to let you know. I’ve killed many people/and I kill them real slow. It’s the best feeling/watching their last breath./Stabbing and stabbing ’til there’s nothing left.”

Federal Courts to Decide California Prison Overcrowding Issue

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

With a prison population nearly double its intended capacity, and a state budget hopelessly painted in red, officials in California are being forced to deal with prison overcrowding issues: by mandate of the federal courts.A panel of federal judges has ordered state officials to cut the prison population by 40,000, and to detail their plans for it by Friday. And with the state legislature failing to pass the most recent plan, it increasingly looks like the courts will make the decision for the state.

A riot last month at the men’s prison at Chino injured 175 inmates, and a building on the grounds was burned down. The riot was blamed on conditions stemming from overcrowding. Matt Cate, secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, commented on the overcrowding, saying, “It’s certainly true that when you run a prison system at 190 percent of its capacity, it makes everything, including security, much more difficult.”

The overcrowding is not a new issue. For decades, prisons have been operating past their maximum capacities. “The state should be taking care of this, but they haven’t done anything about crowding for at least 20 years,” said Don Specter, executive director of the Prison Law Office, an advocacy group that has sued the state over prison conditions before. “That’s when the federal courts have to step in to protect constitutional rights, in this case after years and years of failure by the state to respond appropriately.”

Recent efforts to cut the prison population have come under fire from state Republicans. A plan submitted by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to decrease the burden by 35,000 was passed by the Senate, but failed in the Assembly, where no Republicans voted in favor of the bill. Even some Democrats broke party lines to vote against it.

Still, without a plan, the courts will decide what California’s next step is. Kara Dansky, head of the Criminal Justice Center at Stanford University, says the courts don’t want to have to make this decision. A state-initiated plan would be preferable, but all signs show that that won’t happen anytime soon.

Whatever the court decides, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation press secretary Gordon Hinkle says, will be appealed in the Supreme Court. “The main argument is that California is equipped to handle its own inmate situations,” he said in a statement.

Court Rejects Appeal For Retrial After Judge-DA Affair

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Dallas, TX—The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled on Wednesday that a death-row inmate will not be allowed to seek a new trial, even though the judge in his original trial has admitted to having an affair with the prosecutor.

Charles Dean Hood, who was convicted of murdering Tracie Lynn Wallace, 26, and her boyfriend, Ronald Williamson, 46, in 1990, had requested a new trial on the grounds that his constitutional rights to an impartial trial had been violated. Hood’s trial judge, Verla Sue Holland, and the former Collin County6 district attorney Tom O’Connell, had been involved in a romantic relationship from 1987 until 1993. According to former assistant district attorney Matthew Goeller, the relationship was “common knowledge,” and it was in fact on that point that Hood’s appeal was rejected.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Hood’s attorneys knew about the affair, and that the fact they didn’t raise objections or concerns earlier implied their tacit approval of Holland as the trial judge. Since they understood the nature of the relationship between Holland and O’Connell, and yet did not request that the judge recuse herself, it was therefore too late for them to bring up an appeal on those grounds after conviction.

“Our argument is that they had this information and should have raised it in the earlier writ,” said current prosecutor John Rolater, the chief of Collin County’s appellate division.

Hood had been seeking a new trial, but the decision made by a lower court, in earlier appeals, was overturned by the Criminal Appeals Court.

Holland and O’Connell have not been publicly disciplined by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct or the Texas State Bar. Holland was a state district judge from 1981-96, then moved to the Court of Criminal Appeals. She resigned in 2001. O’Connell was the county’s elected D.A. From 1975-82, and from 1987-2002.

Hood has maintained his innocence in the killings of Wallace and Williamson. He had been a bouncer at a topless club in Indiana when he was arrested for the murders. At the time of the arrest, he was driving Williamson’s $70,000 Cadillac, and his fingerprints were at the murder scene at Williamson’s home in a Dallas suburb.

Hood had been granted a stay of execution from an Austin-based appeals court, albeit on different grounds, as he had also filed an appeal claiming that the jury had been given instructions that were flawed. Just one day before he had been scheduled to be put to death, the stay of execution was granted. His new execution date has not been set, and Hood has another appeal regarding jury instructions which is still pending.

Retired Officer IDs Robbery Suspect

Monday, September 21st, 2009

St. Louis, M.O.—A man wanted in connection with 14 armed robberies was arrested at a motel in Kingdom City, Missouri, about 100 miles west of St. Louis.

While at a motel in Kingdom City, a retired Missouri state trooper recognized Chad E. Shaffner from “wanted” billboards which had appeared all over the region. Sam Lakey told police that he didn’t recognize Shaffner at first, but that he thought something was suspicious when Shaffner avoided making eye contact with him. He then looked online at the America’s Most Wanted website and made the identification, noting that the license plates on a car in the parking lot were the same as those listed on the site.

Later, with his family, he watched from across the street as authorities made the arrest.

“I felt my goosebumps raising,” he told reporters.

Shaffner is wanted for at least 10 bank robberies from Tennessee to Illinois. Authorities believe Shaffner went on a spree that took him to banks in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Shaffner used a gun in all of the robberies, though no one was hurt. “This guy has made no effort to hide the gun,” FBI agent Kevin Keithley told reporters last month. “He has threatened the use of it in every bank robbery he has committed. He has put the gun in the faces of the tellers, threatened to use the gun against them. So we want to get this guy in custody before he harms anyone.”

Shaffner was released from an Indiana prison last year after serving time for an armed robbery conviction. His record also includes other charges in Indiana, including burglary, resisting law enforcement, and purchase of a handgun without a license.

Police were able to put up billboards with Shaffner’s photo on August 24, after two bank robberies in Morristown and Jefferson City, Tennessee, on August 18. A man was able to identify Shaffner and place him in Morristown on the 18th after seeing the billboards.

A woman in Morristown was also interviewed twice by FBI agents. During the first interview, which occurred outside her apartment, she denied having known Shaffner. The next day, however, she spoke to agents again, this time telling them that Shaffner had been inside her apartment when she was interviewed. He had threatened to kill her children, who were in the apartment with him, if she told police he was there.

Gotti Jr. To Stand Trial Again

Friday, September 18th, 2009

New York N.Y.—For the fourth time in as many years, John “Junior” Gotti is getting ready to stand trial on federal charges of racketeering and murder. The previous three all ended in mistrials.

The defense claims the prosecution is simply pressing forward in an attempt to retry past failures. “The prosecution charges the same conspiracy, albeit with new garnishments,” stated filings submitted in July.

New court documents presented by the prosecution, however, say that they have learned new information since the previous trial, including evidence “that Gotti had participated in three murders, that Gotti had run a multi-million dollar cocaine trafficking network, that Gotti had overseen a systematic effort to tamper with trial juries, grand juries and witnesses, and that Gotti had participated in various other violent crimes.”

The indictments state that Gotti was “an associate, soldier, captain and de facto boss” of the Gambino family of New York. The purpose of the family, “to generate money… for the Gambino Crime Family Entreprise members,” was carried out “through various criminal activities, including criminal acts involving the felonious manufacturing, importing, receiving, concealing, buying, selling and otherwise dealing in narcotics and other dangerous drugs, extortion, armed and unarmed robbery, armed home invasions, illegal gambling, extortionate credit transactions, theft and bribery,” the indictment went on to say.

Gotti is being charged in connection with two drug-related murders. George Grosso was killed in Queens in 1988, and Bruce John Gotterup was murdered in 1991, also in Queens. The third murder charge did not involve drugs. Louis DiBono was killed in the parking garage of the former World Trade Center in 1990.

The indictment was originally filed in Florida, but the case has been moved to New York. Gotti’s lawyer, Charles Carnesi, argued against moving the trial, saying, “after having received frustrating results in three separate trials, the case was hijacked to the Middle District of Florida in a shameful attempt to forum shop or judge shop or both.”

The defense is expected to rely on the same defense it used in the previous trials, claiming that Gotti cut his ties with the mob in 1999. Because he is no longer involved in the crime family, and the statute of limitations has passed on the racketeering charges, he cannot be sentenced, they argue. However, new charges in the most recent indictment, including murder and allegations of recent mob activity, are not subject to a statute of limitations.

Gotti is the son of famed boss John Gotti Sr., who was nicknamed the “Teflon Don” because of his ability to slip away from charges. The elder Gotti died in prison in 2002.

If convicted, Gotti could face life in prison.

Four Women To Stand Trial in Penis-Gluing Incident

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Calumet County, Wisconsin—Four women will stand trial for participating in a plot to lure a man to a motel, hold him hostage, and glue his penis to his stomach in retaliation for having had relationships with three of them. A Calumet County Circuit Court Judge ruled earlier this week, after having heard testimony from the alleged victim.

The alleged victim, who is a 37-year-old man who is in custody on charges in an unrelated case, wore an orange jail-issued jumpsuit when he took the stand. According to a local affiliate, the man stated, “I was telling them they couldn’t do this, that it’s assault. Hello, let me leave.” His testimony lasted 90 minutes.

The criminal complaint in the matter states that the man’s wife, in conjunction with two other women, Therese Ziemann and Wendy Sewell, decided to stage a meeting with the man at a Stockbridge, WI hotel in order to confront him. They had recently learned that the man was having “sexual relations” with all three, unbeknownst to any of them. Also present was Michelle Belliveau, Ziemann’s sister.

Ziemann arrived at the hotel first, and when the alleged victim joined her, told him that she wanted to “tie him up and give him a rub down” according to the complaint. She then proceeded to tie him to the bed with sheets and use a pillowcase to blindfold him. She cut off his underwear and then sent text messages to the three other women, saying that “he’s tied up.”

The man had met Ziemann through Craigslist, and she claims that after the two fell in love, she paid for their hotel room trysts and also lent him $3,000. On the day prior to the super-gluing incident, the man’s wife contacted Ziemann to let her know that the man was married with children and seeing other women for money.

The four women interrogated the man while he was tied up, asking him about his loyalty to them and which one he would choose. Ziemann then slapped him and used Krazy Glue to adhere his penis to his stomach. The women took his wallet, cell phone and car, leaving him tied to the bed. The man freed himself by chewing on his bindings.

The man has a criminal record, dating back to 1998, and is in custody on unrelated charges of child abuse, theft and harassment.

All four women will face charges of felony false imprisonment, and could receive up to six years in prison on these charges if they are convicted. Ziemann is also accused of misdemeanor sexual assault and batter, and faces arraignment on October 5th. Belliveau pleaded not guilty earlier this week. The two remaining women have motion hearings scheduled for next month.