Archive for November, 2009

Report Detailing Investigation of Turkey Plant to Be Sent to Prosecutors

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Des Moines, IA—An investigation into an Iowa turkey-processing plant, which faces charges of exploiting mentally retarded workers, has been completed and the final report is being sent to the Muscatine County attorney’s office.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation has finished its investigation, which began when federal, state and county authorities raided a bunkhouse run by Henry’s Turkey Service, in which dozens of disabled workers had been living without supervision and in violation of numerous labor laws.

The bunkhouse, which is located in the eastern Iowa town of Atalissa, is the last remaining facility that houses workers for Henry’s, a company that has faced numerous violations of state and local labor laws in the past several decades. The men, who were allegedly living in sub-par conditions that included boarded up windows, an unheated environment and cockroach infestations, were paid as little as 40 cents per hour for their work in the West Liberty Foods plant, which is owned by Henry’s.

Henry’s was cited in over 9,000 violations of wage-and-hour laws, as well as violations of federal laws. The turkey company was accused of running an unlicensed care facility or group home for the mentally retarded men, some of whom are in their 60s. Iowa Workforce Development is pursuing the charges against Henry’s in a civil suit, although there may yet be payroll violations that will be pursued under criminal codes.

Some of the men who worked in the Atalissa facility are now working for, and living in a bunkhouse operated by, the Johnson & Johnson Egg Farm in Goldthwaite, Texas. The farm, which is owned by the brother of Henry’s Turkey Service founder, has been accused by the state of Texas of exploiting and abusing the men who worked for him, most of which were mentally retarded or too old to continue working at the West Liberty Foods plant.

The men were allegedly ordered to dig trenches, carry heavy bags of chicken feed, and perform manual labor. Although a settlement was reached in which Johnson & Johnson agreed to let mental health inspectors make unannounced visits in order to monitor the care and well-being of the men, those inspections never took place – allegedly because the mental health experts were not informed of the arrangement.

A spokesperson from Muscatine County has said that the county has not yet taken action because it wants to coordinated efforts with federal authorities in determining what action to take against Henry’s Turkey Service. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, the United States Department of Labor and other agencies have been investigating the situation.

All of the men who were living in the 106-year-old bunkhouse have been relocated to other care facilities in Texas and Iowa.

Rape Arrest Warrant Turns Up Six Decomposing Bodies

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Cleveland, OH—Authorities who went to the home of a convicted rapist to arrest him on further charges of rape and felonious assault didn’t find the accused – but they did find a makeshift grave in the stairs under the basement of the home, as well as six badly decomposed bodies.

Anthony Sowell, 50, had spent 15 years in jail after being convicted of choking and raping a 21-year-old woman in 1989, according to authorities. He was imprisoned from 1990 to 2005, and neighbors said he was not gainfully employed but made his living as a “scrapper,” collecting scrap metal from the neighborhoods and selling it, and as a panhandler.

On Thursday, officers who went to Sowell’s home to issue arrest warrants in a sexual assault investigation discovered two bodies on the home’s third floor, as well as what appeared to be a freshly dug grave in the basement. Investigators returned to the property on Friday and found additional bodies: one more in the basement grave, two in a crawl space, and one in a shallow outdoor grave – bringing the total up to six.

All of the victims found in the home were female. Two were described as African-American, but the race of the other bodies had not yet been determined. All five of them had apparently been strangled. The sixth, according to investigators, was too badly decomposed to determine the cause of death. The bodies could have been on the premises for “weeks, if not months or years,” said Cuyahoga County Coroner Frank Miller III.

None of the bodies have yet been identified, nor have their ages been established.

As a convicted sex offender, Sowell was required to check in with law enforcement officials once every 90 days. It’s unclear how he could have perpetrated these crimes while under such close scrutiny by the law.

A woman who was acquainted with Sowell accused him of rape and felonious assault a month before the gruesome discoveries were made. The accusation is what led authorities to conduct the search which uncovered the bodies.

Police are checking the cold case reports to find similarities between either the 1989 rape or the more recent charges against Sowell, in an attempt to identify some of the victims. They have also established a temporary command post in the east-side, inner-city neighborhood of older homes and corner stores, to gather information on missing persons or other unsolved crimes that may help lead them to a break in this case.

Sowell was not arrested at the time of the discoveries, but he was apprehended on Saturday and detained by law enforcement.

White Supremacist Blogger Granted Bail

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Newark, NJ—A white supremacist blogger and Internet radio host who had threatened the lives of three Chicago-area federal judges has been granted bail after 119 days in federal custody.

Harold “Hal” Turner was released on $500,000 bond on October 21, 2009. He was ordered to remain on house arrest, and prohibited from using the Internet or speaking to the media, while he awaits his day in court. He will face charges which stem from a post he made on his blog, threatening to assault or kill three federal appellate judges. The judges, who have each served as chief judge of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, had recently affirmed a lower court decision to dismiss challenges to the ban on handguns which currently stands in Chicago.

On the website, Turner claimed that the men had violated the Constitution and called them “cunning, ruthless, untrustworthy, disloyal, unpatriotic deceitful scum.”

He was arrested in June. Although his attorneys had come to a tentative agreement with prosecutors to secure his release on $200,000 bail, on conditions that he would be confined to his home in New Jersey and prevented from using the Internet, U.S. Magistrate Michael Shipp initially ruled that bail would not be granted.

“I’m concerned about the danger to the community,” Shipp said, noting that federal agents had found a number of firearms and several hundred rounds of ammunition at Turner’s apartment.

Turner, 47, who wrote on his blog that the judges “deserve to be killed,” also posted information about the courthouse where the judges are based, including a map of the area. He promised to add maps showing the location of their homes to the website at a later date.

Also mentioned in the blog post were the 2005 murders of the mother and husband of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow. A white supremacist named Matt Hale had been convicted the previous year in a plot to have Lefkow herself killed. Turner was questioned, but not arrested, in that matter.

“Apparently the 7th U.S. Circuit court didn’t get the hint after those killings. It appears another lesson is needed,” wrote Turner on the blog, according to prosecutors.

Turner had been scheduled to appear in federal court in New Jersey, but instead will be transferred to Illinois, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago. The charge he faces carries a maximum sentence of 10 years if he is convicted.

Turner has additionally been charged on unrelated counts of threatening Connecticut legislators.

“Bling Ring” Charged with Celebrity Burglaries

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Five young adults who have been burglarizing the homes of celebrities have been charged, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

The teens, who allegedly went on a crime spree that took them to the homes of Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Audrina Partridge and others, have been charged with residential burglary.

Those charged are Diana Tamayo, 19; Alexis Neiers, 18; Ray Lopez Jr., 27; and Courtney Ames, 18. An initial felony complaint also charged Nicholas Prugo with two counts of first-degree residential burglary, and five additional counts of first-degree residential burglary have been added to his charges Another suspect in the celebrity crime caper, Rachel Lee, was arrested last week in Las Vegas, but has yet to be charged.

The crime ring, which has been dubbed by the media the “Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch” and the “Bling Ring” has allegedly stolen over $3 million worth of designer clothes, jewels and accessories from the celebrities, according to Deputy District Attorney Kaarin Axelsen. Partridge’s home, which was broken into on February 23, netted more than $43,000 worth of jewelry and designer clothes. The suspects also allegedly took approximately $128,000 worth of items on August 23.

Police are investigating the possible connection between the suspects and an ex-con and club promotor named Jonathan Ajar, 27. They have served Ajar with a search warrant in order to recover some of the missing items, which they believe Ajar was in the process of selling. Ajar has also been issued a warrant for his arrest on the grounds of selling and possession of firearms and possession and sales of narcotics.

According to Brett Goodkin, an officer from the Los Angeles Police Department, the youngster targeted these celebrities after studying magazines to determine what kind of clothing and jewelry the celebs possessed; they also used the Internet to study satellite maps in order to plot out their entrance into the homes. The burglaries were initially considered to be separate, unrelated incidents, but surveillance videos from Lohan’s and Partridge’s homes showed some similarities, prompting police to look at them as a string of crimes perpetrated by the same person or persons. All of the burglaries took place between December 2008 and early October 2009.

Authorities claim that the ease of researching potential victims on the Internet, as well as a general obsession with celebrities, have led to a quote-unquote perfect storm that has culminated in this case. Said Goodkin, “There’s every indication that these kids dug the idea that they were in celebrities’ homes, and by proxy they were a part of that life now.”

Prugo is scheduled to be arraigned on November 12. Arraignments for the other accused individuals have not yet been scheduled.

Suspects Arrested in California Teen’s Brutal Rape

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Oakland, Calif.—Police have arrested five suspects connected to the brutal rape of a 15-year-old Richmond, Calif. girl on her high school campus.

The suspects, Salvador Rodriguez, 21; Manuel Ortega, 19, and three juveniles aged 15, 16, and 17 have all been taken into custody. Each faces multiple felony charges, including “rape in concert,” and may face life in prison if found guilty.

The assault, which has caught the attention of national media, occurred on the high school campus following the school’s homecoming dance. Police say as many as 10 people were involved in the incident, described as a two-and-a-half-hour gang rape assault. The victim was left unconscious under a bench, and was found hours later after a tip was called in to police. She was airlifted to the hospital and released four days later.

Richmond, a city just north of Oakland, on the San Fransisco Bay, is not a stranger to such violence. The area of Oakland and its surrounding neighborhoods has been the focus of law enforcement officials for years. This incident is facing scrutiny from the media and the community, after it was found that groups of people were nearby watching the rape happen and did nothing to stop it, and neglected to call 911. Although 1999 state law makes it illegal not to report a witnessed crime against a child, the law only applies to children 14 and under.

These findings have put the community under attack, and are forcing officials to question whether or not witnesses can be prosecuted for their failure of actions.

“Yes, something horrible and atrocious happened on our campus, and yes, blame lies with the school officials, with the teachers, with the district, with the police, with the students [who] were afraid to speak up,” Richmond High teacher Lorna McClellan told CNN. “But it’s important to realize that our community realizes this is a problem, and we are taking active steps to fix it.”

Drew Carberry, a director at the National Council on Crime Prevention also told CNN that, “If you are in a crowd and you look and see that everyone is doing nothing, then doing nothing becomes the norm.” Carberry also said that witnesses may be less likely to report a crime because they think another person in the crowd already reported the incident.

Police are offering a $20,000 reward for anyone who comes forward with information that may help arrest and convict those involved in the attack.

Two Men Arrested, Charged in Overseas Terrorism Plot

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Chicago, IL—Two men from Chicago have been charged in a terrorist plot that allegedly targeted an editor and cartoonist behind a controversial series of Danish newspaper cartoons.

United States federal prosecutors announced on Tuesday that the men, David Coleman Headley, 49, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, were being charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorism conspiracy. Headley was also charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts involving murder and maiming outside the United States. It seems that the two had surveilled sites to attack in Denmark, including offices of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in both Copenhagen and Aarhus.

In 2005, the newspaper published a total of 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, some of them portraying him as a terrorist. Islamic law forbids any depiction of Mohammed, even positive ways, as leading to idolatry, and the cartoons sparked an international firestorm of controversy.

Prosecutors said the two men, who had been schoolmates in Pakistan, had originally planned to attack both offices of the newspaper, but then scaled down the plan to kill the paper’s former cultural editor and the cartoonist. Headley, who was arrested on October 3 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, told FBI agents that he called the conspiracy “the Mickey Mouse project” and that he had contacts in Pakistan who were aiding him.

Headley is a United States citizen who changed his name in 2006 from Daood Gilani. He is being detained in custody pending a December bond hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys. Rana, who was arrested on October 18, is scheduled to attend a bond hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan on Wednesday and is also currently in custody.

According to prosecutors, at the time of his arrest, Headley was carrying a flash drive in his luggage that had video surveillance of sites in Denmark. He also allegedly had reported some information to people with ties to overseas terrorism activities, including at least one individual with ties to al-Qaida. He told FBI agents that he had worked with Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakinstani-based terrorist, and that the two had planned an attack in Denmark. Headley also claimed to have trained with a terrorist organization known as Lashkar-e-Taiba.

United States Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald issued a statement to reassure the public that “there was no imminent danger in the Chicago area.”

If convicted of the charges of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorism conspiracy, each man will face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Three Soldiers Implicated in Scheme Involving Russian Brides

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Wilmington, NC—Two United States Army paratroopers are facing up to five years in federal prison after taking part in an illegal marriage scam with women from Russia, according to prosecutors.

The arrangement provided United States citizenship for the women, who were immigrants from Russia living in New York, while the soldiers benefited by receiving housing allowances in excess of $600/month and permission to live off-base. The sham marriages are said to have cost the government over $200,000 in benefits and wages.

Sergeant Wesley Farris and Sergeant Stephen Schnieder, both 23, agreed to marry Svetlana Kaloshina and Tatyana Urazova, respectively, after filing immigration applications for the women. A third man, Sergeant Jason Hawk, married Anya Ivanova but does not face federal charges. He was prosecuted instead by military authorities, fined $4,000, imprisoned for four months, demoted from the rank of sergeant to that of private, and discharged from the military.

Also involved in the scandal are two brothers from Kazakhstan, a Central Asian nation which was once part of the Soviet Union, and which remains home to a large Russian population. Alexander Manin came to the United States in 1998 to go to school, and joined the Marine Corps shortly after the terrorist attacks of 2001. He served three years, receiving an honorable discharge. His brother, Pavel, came to the U.S. in 2001 and enlisted in the Army in 2005. While stationed at the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., Pavel Manin cooked up a scheme with his brother wherein they solicited Russian women who were seeking immigration status. Each woman paid between $1,000 and $5,000 to be set up with an American solider who wished to live off-post but was ineligible to do so because of his status as a junior enlisted solider. After the fraudulent marriages, the Russian women returned to New York City, where they filed immigration papers stating that they were married, while the men were allowed to live off post and given a housing allowance.

The Manin brothers are in custody in Edgecombe County, N.C. And will go to trial next year on charges of visa fraud, marriage fraud, conspiracy and stealing public money. They were denied bail after having been deemed a flight risk, as Pavel Manin possessed an airline ticket back to Kazakhstan at the time of his arrest.

Farris and Schneider await sentencing next year after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. Court records indicate that the two may testify against the Marin brothers as part of their plea agreement. Urazova and Kaloshina also pleaded guilty on other charges and are awaiting sentencing.

Suspect in New Jersey Priest’s Murder is Hospitalized

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Chatham, NJ – As investigators work tirelessly to get more answers from Jose Feliciano, the suspect was suddenly hospitalized Sunday afternoon. Prosecutors have not yet clarified the cause for hospitalization.

Feliciano, 64, is charged with the murder of Rev. Ed Hinds on Oct. 22nd. Police say Hinds was stabbed by Feliciano more than 30 times with a kitchen knife after the two got into an argument inside the chuch’s recotry. Parishoners say Hinds was a beloved priest who had worked at the St. Patrick’s church in Chatham for many years; they also say Feliciano was well-liked and also a long-time employee.

Feliciano confessed to the murder shortly after investigators found the victim’s cell phone, as well as bloody rags and a knife, in and around Feliciano’s home. He was considered a suspect from the beginning, and was one of the first people said to have found the priest after the incident. Although Feliciano has not yet confessed to the motive, investigators believe the men were in an argument over the suspect’s future employment with the parish. Still, other motives are being investigated at this time.

“Detectives are also pursuing other motives that are being developed from the many witness interviews we are conducting, as well,” police wrote in a news release on Sunday.

Hinds was found dressed in his clerical robes in the rectory kitchen. He sustained wounds to his upper torso, back, and head from a kitchen knife, officials said. There were also signs of defensive wounds on his hands and face. An autopsy determined the cause of death was severe trauma.

Following Feliciano’s hospitalization, investigators released more information about the case, revealing that Rev. Hinds called 9-1-1 during the attack, but was disconnected. Operators attempted to call him back, and say Feliciano answered the phone at one point, telling them there was no emergency.

For many, Feliciano’s supposed actions have come as quite a shock to those who knew him.

“Jose seemed always a very kind, kind man, deeply loved by people in this community, so we have deep shock,” said St. Patrick’s Rev. Owen Moran.

Feliciano’s children are past and present students at the St. Patrick school, adding more fuel to the fire and speculation over the suspect’s motive. Parishoners are having trouble accepting the fact that the well-liked Feliciano could be responsible for such an act.

Feliciano is being held on $1 million bail.

Feds Serious About Foreclosure Scams

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

The state of the economy has already caused a drastic home foreclosure rate, but along with that have also come foreclosure scams. The Obama administration, which is cracking down, has announced a multi-agency effort to eliminate scams which prey on struggling homeowners.

“Just as this administration has intensified our efforts to help American homeowners, those who would seek to prey on the most vulnerable are intensifying their tactics as well, often through purported mortgage modification and foreclosure relief companies,” Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said at an announcement in Washington. “These are predatory schemes designed to rob Americans of their savings and potentially their homes.”

The current number of FBI investigations on foreclosed homes is up 400 percent, compared to five years ago.

“We will shut down fraudulent companies more quickly than before,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “We will target companies that otherwise would have gone unnoticed under the radar. And we will aggressively pursue individuals involved in mortgage rescue scams.”

Holder said the number of FBI agents investigating mortgage fraud cases has doubled and that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network will combine all of its efforts to identify fraud suspects for civil and criminal investigation.

“The message is very simple: If you prey on vulnerable homeowners with fraudulent mortgage schemes or discriminate against borrowers, we will find you and we will punish you,” he said.

Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz said his agency warned 71 companies by mail about their suspicious ads that promised mortgage relief. These companies advertise to homeowners in distress, claiming to be able to negotiate with mortgage lenders and thereby enticing consumers to send mortgage payments directly to them.

“If you pay them instead of your mortgage company, you will find yourself on the fast track from distress to disaster,” Leibowitz said.

“Stay away from anyone who says they will save your home in return for money up front,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

This week the Federal Reserve Board will start airing a 30-second ad in movie theaters in the seven states hit hardest by foreclosures, pointing people to the Federal Website for tips on getting help to avoid foreclosure.

The 30-second spot states: “Having trouble keeping up with your mortgage payments? Are you facing foreclosure? Before you do anything, you need to get information on how to avoid foreclosure scams. Don’t get taken advantage of. It shouldn’t hurt to get help. Go to FederalReserve.gov and click on ‘Five Tips for Avoiding Foreclosure Scams.’ Learn how to protect your home and avoid foreclosure fraud. It’s information you can trust from the Federal Reserve. Go to FederalReserve.gov and click on ‘Five Tips for Avoiding Foreclosure Scams.'”

U.S. House Passes Credit Card Bill Which Helps You

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C.–The House of Representatives approved a bill that was given the nickname “The Credit Card Holder’s Bill of Rights.”

The bill’s basic functions force credit card companies to eliminate sudden interest-rate hikes, retroactive rate hikes, late fees, and “double-cycle” billing. The bill will also restrict the credit card companies from issuing cards to anyone under the age of 18.

It passed by a bipartisan vote of 357-70, following lobbying efforts by President Barack Obama and members of his administration.

If those aspects of the bill become law, the new provisions will not take effect for at least a year, except for the requirement that customers get 45 days’ notice before their interest rates are increased—which would only take 90 days to start.

“This is a unique opportunity to end abusive practices that afflict millions of families across the nation, to contribute to our economic recovery, and to take a stand for American consumers,” Senator Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and the bill’s primary sponsor, said after the House vote. “Now it is the Senate’s turn to act.”

Some democrats and consumer advocates have unsuccessfully tried for years to bring new rules to the industry. Supporters are eager to have Obama sign off on their long-sought project by the Memorial Day holiday.

“The administration supports Congress’ efforts to … provide additional strong and reliable protections for consumers that ban unfair and abusive practices,” the White House said in a statement following the House vote. “The nation’s credit card system must have more accountability, including more effective oversight and more effective enforcement of credit card issuers who violate the law.”

U.S. credit card debt has jumped 25 percent in the past 10 years, reaching $963 billion in January, according to figures from the White House. The average outstanding credit card debt for households that have a card was $10,679 at the end of 2008, according to CreditCard.com, an online market.