Archive for September, 2010

Five States File Suit to Stop Asian Carp Invasion

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Five Great Lakes states have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, asking that the court order Chicago-area shipping locks to be closed in an effort to halt an influx of Asian carp.

Asian carp are considered an invasive species because of the competition they pose to native species for food and habitat. According to some experts, the carp—which eat voraciously and breed quickly—could wipe out the multi-million dollar fishing industry in states that border the Great Lakes.

In 2002, shortly after the threat was first detected, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed an electric fish barrier between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River drainage basins, and while the barrier initially proved effective, spurring the construction of a second, the carp have since breached the waters of Lake Michigan. Asian carp DNA, as well as a 19-pound carp, have been found in the lake.

“The threat of Asian carp to the Great Lakes is imminent, and if not stopped, will have a devastating impact on the $10 billion fishing and tourism industries as well as the existing habitat,” said Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, speaking to a boating club in Cleveland.

The lawsuit pits those who are concerned about the economic and environmental impact of the carp against advocates for the tourism industry, who feel that closing the shipping locks will be more detrimental to the economic outlook of the area, and who agree with Illinois Chamber of Commerce representative Jim Farrell, who says that the carp problem is “under control.”

The states bringing the suit are Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. In addition to temporarily cloing the locks in the Calumet-Sag Channel and the Chicago River, the plaintiffs are requesting the use of nets, physical barriers and toxins to kill the fish, in order to control the movement of the invasive fish species.

The Illinois State Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed a counter-suit with the U.S. Supreme Court, and both the American Waterways Operators and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce have also filed affidavits, contending that closing the passages between waterways would lead to the disruption of cargo shipments and, ultimately, to a loss of jobs. Illinois says that $70 million in revenue could be lost.

It is estimated that it will take over $30 million to prevent the carp from gaining access to the Great Lakes. Cordray and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland have asked the federal government to hold an emergency summit to discuss the carp problem.

Somali Pirate Suspects Were Handcuffed, Naked and Blindfolded, Charge Attorneys

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Several motions were filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk this week, claiming that three alleged Somali pirates were held naked, blindfolded and handcuffed for days.

Attorneys also say that other Somalis were not properly advised of their Miranda rights, and therefore statements they made should not be allowed in court. One of the men claims that his interpreter threatened to throw him overboard, while others say they had no access to an interpreter. None of the defendants speaks English.

Moreover, say attorneys, even if the men had been advised of their rights “to remain silent” and “to request counsel,” they would not have understood the legal terminology.

Five Somalis are being prosecuted for an alleged attack on the USS Nicholas, off the coast of Africa, which took place on April 1. Another six Somali men are accused of having attacked the USS Ashland, and will be arraigned later this month on a new indictment that will add charges.

Mohammed Modin Hasan, speaking through his lawyer, claims that he was caught by pirates while he was fishing and forced to participate in the Nicholas attack. Once he was captured by the U.S., Hasan says, an interpreter told him that the Navy would throw him overboard if he did not confess to being a pirate. Although Hasan does not know when he born, the attorney said that the alleged pirate was younger than 18 when the incident occurred, and should be released from custody.

Prosecutors say that the five defendants sailed a vessel with two smaller craft attached from Somalia, looking for a merchant ship, and that they were armed with a rocket-propelled grenade. They came across the Nicholas west of the Seychelles and exchanged fire with the frigate’s crew before being captured.

All 11 of the alleged pirates are in custody in the Norfolks area, and are charged with engaging in piracy and related offenses related to the April attacks on the Navy ships. If convicted on the charge of piracy, the men will face a mandatory penalty of life in prison. Trials are scheduled for September and October, although the new indictments against the Ashland defendants may delay the court proceedings.

Lawyers for both groups of Somalis say that there was “no conceivable way” that their clients, piloting such a small skiff, could possible have pirated the heavily armed Navy frigates, each manned by a crew of a hundred trained sailors. Both the Nicholas and the Ashland are based in Virginia, and were part of an international flotilla that was intended to protect shipping lanes.

Officer With Christian Missionary Group Indicted on Embezzlement Counts

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

A grand jury in Loudoun County, Virginia has indicted the chief administrative officer of a non-profit Christian missionary group on 17 counts of embezzlement for allegedly having stolen over $700,000.

Eun Tae Lee, 50, is accused of having written checks from the account of Seed International, Inc. to his own personal account. According to authorities, Lee used the embezzled funds to bankroll a “lavish lifestyle,” which include a second residence and a Porsche Cayenne sport-utility vehicle.

Seed International, a missionary group sponsored by the Korean Central Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia, is funded by numerous Korean churches around the world. Its attorney, F. Douglas Ross, said that the groups is “an international humane organization that provides missionary services and support across the globe.”

The company’s annual report to the Virginia State Corporation Commission listed Won Sang Lee as the president of Seed, and Chang Soo Ro as the secretary. Both are also involved with the Korean Central Presbyterian Chruch, Won Sang Lee as the retired senior pastor and Chang Soo Ro as its current senior pastor.

After some of Seed’s officials noticed that money was missing from the missionary group’s account, they confronted Lee, who allegedly produced fake bank statements and other financial documents in an attempt to demonstrate that he had invested the church’s funds. Officials later learned from a representative of the bank that the paperwork was phony, according to an affidavit issued by the Loudoun Sheriff’s Office.

In April, Authorities searched Lee’s home in Fairfax county, as well as an apartment in Annandale which Lee is said to have rented using the ill-gotten funds, and confiscated documents and computers. At the time, Lee appeared before a magistrate to face one charge of embezzlement.

The Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office said last week that, after a preliminary hearing in June, a grand jury indicted Lee on 17 counts of embezzlement. His case is set for trial on March 14, 2011.

Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney James E. Plowman called the case “very troubling, given the significant amount of funds that are involved, and particularly aggravating, given the charitable nature of the work the victims perform.”

It is unclear how long the embezzlement may have lasted, or where donations may have originated. Lee was first listed as an officer of the non-profit group beginning with its annual report of 2008.

Dentist Who Killed Three Patients with Anesthesia Gets Parole OK

Monday, September 13th, 2010

A former dentist who was convicted of killing three patients at his clinic will be paroled, say California officials.

Tony Protopappas, who had once run a successful, high-volume dental practice, has served 25 years of a 15-years-to-life sentence at Folsom State Prison after a jury convicted him on three counts of second-degree murder in 1984. Protopappas was negligent in giving three patients fatal doses of anesthetic, in part due to his own drug and alcohol abuse.

The deaths—of Kim Andreassen, 23; Patricia Craven, 13; and Cathryn Jones, 31, occurred over a span of five months in late 1982 and early 1983. At the time, Protopappas cited the inexperience of his staff as factors in the dosage errors, and has continued to deflect the responsibility for the women’s deaths. Another contributing factor in his negligence was the fact that he did not have the proper licensing to administer the anesthetic.

In 2008, a parole board considering Protopappas’s case found that he had failed to demonstrate sufficient understanding or insight into his crimes, and that he therefore was a danger to society. They denied parole; in recent months, an attorney for the former dentist said that state parole board violated his client’s right to due process, and that parole should be granted. Attorney Rich Pfeiffer said that because the deaths occurred when Protopappas was practicing dentistry, and that because he is restricted from doing so ever again as a condition of his conviction, there is no chance that he could ever have access to anesthesia again, let alone use it improperly.

In March, a three-judge panel agreed with Pfeiffer, ruling that the state parole board should not have rejected the release of Protopappas, because there was not sufficient evidence that he remains dangerous to others.

Protopappas, who is now 65, will be paroled pending the approval of the release ruling by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has 30 days to review the case. If the governor finds that he cannot approve the parole, he will either modify the conditions of the parole, send it back for review by the entire parole board or reverse the decision entirely.

Governor Schwarzenegger is granted this power by Proposition 89, which California voters approved in 1989, and which allows the governor to single-handedly reverse parole decisions, but only in cases of convicted murderers.

Pfeiffer says that his client has accepted the responsibility for the deaths, and that he is in recovery for his addictions.

Engineer Awaiting Kickback Trial Arrested Again, Facing New Fraud Charges

Friday, September 10th, 2010

A private engineer and former city consultant in Opa-Locka, Florida is facing new fraud charges while still awaiting trial on charges filed in 2008, for having allegedly received more than $700,000 in kickbacks from a construction firm in exchange for a recommendation.

Emmanuel Nwadike, 66, is charged with 18 felonies, including unlawful compensation, official misconduct, extortion, money laundering and others, in the first kickback scandal. In 2005 and 2006, he allegedly awarded approximately $2.4 million in city contracts for a street revitalization project to a company called Hard J Construction, for which he received almost $700,000 in return, according to the Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office.

Now, Nwadike has been arrested on first-degree felony charges of organized scheme to defraud, money laundering, grand theft and third-degree fraud.

The current arrest affidavit accuses Nwadike of using a friend’s Social Security number to set up an engineering company, General Design Partners, as well as bank accounts for it, using as a street address a residential building belonging to Nwadike’s wife Naomi.

According to the affidavit, he

Nwadike then bid on the design and development of a community center—a contract that he had previously won, but which had been revoked after his arrest. The city manager awarded the contract to GDP, which had submitted the low bid of $98,000—much lower than the $330,000 and $500,000 bids submitted by other firms. Prosecutors say that the friend, a janitor and preacher named Obukhari Nkonneh, then funneled over $100,000 to Nwadike.

When it was revealed that GDP was a front for Nwadike, all five city commissioners said that the would not have awarded the contract to that firm had they known. City and federal officials had sent notification to Nwadike after his 2008 arrest informing him that he was ineligible to work on any of their projects.

Nwadike’s attorney, Ben Kuehne, maintains that his client did help the burgeoning company, but that he did not act illegally in doing so.

“He did not cross any boundaries and acted as a reputable engineer should,” said Kuehne. “He is innocent, presumed innocent and still allowed to act in a lawful manner, including working for an honest living.”

This is not the first time that Nwadike, or Opa-Locka city officials, have been implicated in kickback scandals. In 2007, almost a year before Nwadike’s first arrest, then-commissioner Terence Pinder was accused of accepting gifts and cash from an employee of a construction company that Nwadike had recommended.

Dozens of Indictments, 36 Arrested for Medicare Fraud Totaling $251M

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Thirty-six people in five different states have been arrested, and 94 indicted, in connection with a Medicare insurance scam totaling over $250 million, say federal authorities.

Doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals were nabbed in a series of raids that took place early Friday morning in Miami, New York City, Detroit, Houston and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The medical professionals are accused of billing Medicare fraudulently for unnecessary equipment as well as physical and occupational therapy, diabetic services and HIV treatments that the patients never received.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced at a health care fraud prevention summit in Miami that over 360 federal agents were involved in the raids, making this organized crackdown the biggest sweep of Medicare fraud offenders since the taxpayer-funded program began in 1965.

“With today’s arrests we’re putting would-be criminals on notice: Healthcare fraud is no longer a safe bet,” said Holder.

In Brooklyn, undercover agents and wiretaps uncovered a fraud network allegedly run by the Russian mob, in which clinic owners paid patients—many of whom were elderly Russian immigrants—to use their Medicare numbers, and awarded bonus fees for recruiting new patients. There was even a “kickback” room, in which a man sat at a table and made payments to patients. Soviet-style posters on the wall warned visitors to the room against talking about the arrangement.

The scam in Brooklyn is said to have totaled $72 million; eight people were charged in connection with the medical center where this fraud took place.

In another case in Brooklyn, six patients were indicted for having shopping their Medicare numbers to different clinics. One woman had over 3,744 claims submitted on her behalf over a period of six years. None of those patients received the services or health care that were billed, said authorities.

Three healthcare operators in Detroit were accused of setting up HIV clinics, allegedly to treat patients who either did not need the therapy in the first place, or who needed it but did not receive it. In Miami, one doctor is said to have received kickbacks when he referred patients to home healthcare agencies for unnecessary, and costly, diabetic services. Miami was the location of the lion’s share of the fraud, with approximately 25 suspects charged with fleecing taxpayers to the tune of $103 million.

Medicare fraud accounts for an estimated $60 billion to $90 billion a year in the United States. Eradicating it will be an important step in President Obama’s proposed overhaul of the health care system, and task forces in several cities have been established in order to fight fraud.

Former Political Fundraiser Sentenced to 12 Years in Bank Fraud Case

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

A former finance chairman for both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign and Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for perpetrating a $300 million Ponzi scheme.

Hassan Nemazee, 60, pleaded guilty in March to one count of wire fraud and three counts of bank fraud. According to prosecutors, the investment banker forged signatures and created false account statements in order to obtain loans from big-name banks such as Citigroup, Bank of America and HSBC Holdings PLC, from 1998 to 2009. These statements outlined “hundreds of millions of dollars in collateral, in the form of securities and other assets, which he did not own,” said the U.S. attorney’s office.

Nemazee was able to sustain the scam for over a decade by making partial repayments on loans issued by Bank of America using money from Citibank, and vice versa. As of August 2009, he owed approximately $142 million to Bank of America and $74.9 million to Citibank.

With the money he obtained through the fraud, Nemazee purchased a yacht, a private plane and property in Rome and Perugia, Italy. He also maintained a 12-acre estate in Katonah, New York and a Park Avenue apartment.

Additionally, Nemazee made donations to political campaigns, political action committees and charities. In addition to his ties to Hillary and Bill Clinton, he also served as the New York Finance Chair for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign and donated the maximum allowable amount of $50,000 to Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration Committee.

United States District Judge Sidney H. Stein, who sentenced Nemazee to the term of 12 years in prison—slightly less than the 15 months which prosecutors had requested—also ordered him to pay restitution of more than $292 million to the defrauded banks, and to serve three years of supervised release following his time in prison.

During the sentencing hearing, Judge Stein called Nemazee’s fraud “breathtaking in its brazenness and its scope.”

Also charged in the Ponzi scheme is Shahin Kashanchi, 47, Nemazee’s brother-in-law. Kashanchi was indicted on charges of aiding and abetting the bank fraud, by creating the fake account statements and other documentation that Nemazee used to obtain the loans. His case is pending in Manhattan federal court.

After the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “For over a decade, Hassan Nemazee authored a fantastic fiction, stealing $292 million by acting the part of wealthy and influential power broker. In the end, Justice is blind to political affiliations and powerful connections, and today, like any other defendant, Nemazee faces the stark consequences of his decision to violate the law.”

The financier is ordered to surrender for his prison term on August 27, 2010.

NYPD Rookie Who Body-Slammed Biker Dodges Jail, Community Service

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

A rookie cop in New York who was caught on tape shoving a bicyclist to the ground won’t serve any time for the assault, or for falsifying a criminal complaint about the incident.

Patrick Pogan, 24, had only been on the job with the NYPD for 11 days when he body-slammed a bicycle-rights activist named Christopher Long during a Critical Mass rally in Times Square. In a criminal complaint describing the July 2008 confrontation, Pogan wrote that Long had been weaving in and out of traffic, disrupting its normal flow by causing vehicles to swerve or stop. He also claimed that he suffered injuries to his arms from being impacted by Long and his bicycle.

Long was arrested on charges of attempted assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. He spent the next day in police custody. A video made by a bystander and then uploaded to YouTube, however, shows that the street had already been cleared of automotive traffic, that Pogan had in fact lunged toward Long and body-slammed him to the ground, despite Long’s attempts to steer clear of the officer. Witnesses also corroborated this, saying that Pogan had in fact been looking for a cyclist that he could take down.

Pogan defended his actions by saying that he was protecting the public from a reckless cyclist, but he was first placed on administrative duty and then suspended; Pogan later resigned before being fired.

In December, 2008, Pogan pleaded guilty in court to felony charges of falsifying business records and filing a false instrument, as well as misdemeanor charges of third-degree assault, second-degree harrassment and making a punishable false written statement. He went on trial in April 2010, and was acquitted on four of the seven counts, but found guilty of filing a criminal complaint that contained false statements.

Pogan could have received a sentence of four years in jail, but in a surprise move, the sentencing judge let him off without even community service—which was the minimum sentence the defense had requested. Prosecutors had asked for prison time plus probation for the former officer.

“The defendant doesn’t need any further supervision by the court and the verdict is conditional discharge, period,” said Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley.

Long, who won a $65,000 settlement from the city, has said that he was pleased with the conviction, in part because it prevents Pogan from becoming a New York City police officer in the future. He could not be reached for comment on the sentencing, but a representative from the rally’s sponsoring organization, Time’s Up!, called it “an incredibly light sentence.”

Critical Mass is an advocacy event held in large cities, which attempts to obstruct automotive traffic in order to bring awareness to the rights of bicycle riders.

Actor Rip Torn Dodges Felony Charge, Applies for Special Probation

Monday, September 6th, 2010

After prosecutors in Litchfield, Connecticut dropped a felony burglary charge against him, actor Rip Torn has applied for accelerated rehabilitation, a probation program for first-time offenders. Torn is charged with breaking into a bank near his home while intoxicated and armed.

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Swiss Authorities Refuse to Extradite Filmmaker Polanksi to U.S.

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Oscar-winning filmmaker Roman Polanski has been released from custody, after the Swiss Justice Ministry rejected a request that he be extradited to the United States to face charges of having sex with a minor.

The refusal was a blow to U.S. authorities, who have been attempting to sentence Polanski since his guilty plea in the 1977 to unlawful sexual intercourse—equivalent under California law to statutory rape—with a 13-year-old girl. As part of his plea bargain in the case, he was ordered to a 90-day psychiatric evaluation at Chino State Prison, of which he served 42 days. Upon hearing that the judge would probably sentence him to more jail time, rather than the probation that he had expected, the director fled to France, where he has mostly lived since then, in part because he could not be extradited to the U.S. from that country.

Swiss police, acting on a request from the U.S., arrested Polanksi last September in Zurich, where he had flown to accept an award at a film festival. Although initially held in custody, Polanski was then granted house arrest at his residence in Gstaad, on $4.5 million U.S. bail, while awaiting decision of appeals to the extradition request. In January 2010, California Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza ruled that Polanksi must return to be sentenced.

The Swiss said, however, that they could not determine whether or not the filmmaker had fulfilled his entire sentence, since it was possible that he would not have been sentenced to additional incarceration beyond the Chino State psychiatric evaluation. After a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled in May that transcripts of a closed-door hearing in 1977 regarding Polanski’s fulfillment of his sentence would remain secret, and after the same court refused to sentence Polanski in absentia, as his lawyers had requested, the Swiss Justice Ministry rejected the extradition because the U.S. had failed to prove that the director had additional time to serve.

Said the Swiss Justice Minister, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, the decision to allow Polanksi to go free was “not about deciding whether he is guilty or not guilty.”

The decision does not preclude prosecutors from attempting to rearrest Polanksi, but it lessens the probability that another arresting country would agree to extradite him.

The U.S. State Department denounced the Swiss decision.

“We will continue to seek justice in this case, and we will evaluate our options,” said P.J. Crowley, a spokesperson for the State Department.