Archive for November, 2010

Four FBI Agents Arrested in Steroid, Human Growth Hormone Scandal

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Four employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigations have been charged with lying about their use of steroids and human growth hormone (HGH), announced officials.

Three of the accused employees are agents of the FBI, while one is an investigative analyst. All four live in Northern Virginia, and all allegedly made false statements during annual fitness reports. The FBI requires disclosure of performance-enhancing drugs on the reports to the bureau, but the four employees in question allegedly omitted any reference to steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.

According to court documents, Katia Litton, 42, a special agent with the Washington Field Office, and her husband Matthew Litton, 39, both used steroids and HGH. Litton is a former bodybuilder who has been with the FBI since 2003; her husband, who has been an agent with the Critical Incident Response Team since 2001, is described in his FBI medical file as “5’8” and 190 lbs.” and “muscular.”

Also charged in the case are Special Agent James Barnett, 42, who is also associated with the Washington Field Office, and Ali Sawan, a 45-year-old counterterrorism analyst. Each of the accused FBI employees appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson on Wednesday as charges were unsealed against them in U.S. District Court in Washington. They were not allowed to make any statements in their defense.

Barnett, of Alexandria; Sawan, of Sterling; and the Littons, of McLean, were required to submit to a drug test, to relinquish their passports and weapons, and to remain within 50 miles of their homes. They were released on their own recognizance, pending a hearing that is scheduled for October 5.

The four agents are alleged to have been diagnosed with pituitary dwarfism and other conditions, and to have received prescriptions for medications that included anabolic steroids and human growth hormones, which are used to increase muscle mass and reduce recovery time after workouts. According to an arrest affidavit filed in the cases of the Littons and Sawan, by Special Agent J. Brian Burnett of the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, each worked with a part-time emergency room doctor who had a side business advertising “hormone modulation therapy” to address issues including “adult onset growth hormone deficiency” and “adult onset testosterone deficiency.”

That doctor, said Burnett, wrote more than 5,200 prescriptions for anabolic steroids in a nearly five-year period, September 2005 and January 2010.

Another physician, a board-certified gynecologist, may also have been involved.

The Littons are said to have spent at least $17,000 over four years to obtain the steroids and HGH, while investigators discovered that Sawan made some 90 purchases from his doctor’s office and from local pharmacies, between November 2007 and January 2010. Barnett is similarly said to have “omitted any mention of his use of HGH and/or anabolic steroids,” according to court documents, and to have spent more than $10,000 in the acquisition of the drugs.

All of the agents are charged with attesting to materially false statements on U.S. government documents.

South Dakota Teen Plotted To Bomb School, Rape Women

Friday, November 12th, 2010

A South Dakota teenager who wanted to become known as “the world’s most infamous sociopath” was arrested on August 23, after an alert tipster contacted a police school resource officer at Sisseton High School.

Joseph Thomas Hansen, 18, had written a list of the actions he wanted to take, including blowing up Sisseton High School, where he would have been a senior this fall; torture and rape women; target particular individuals; and “become the world’s most infamous sociopath.” He had been stockpiling bomb-making materials in his bedroom. Additionally, a search by investigators revealed that Hansen had extensively researched the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, in Littleton, C.O., in which two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher, wounding 26 additional people, before themselves committing suicide.

Hansen had a list outlining 39 people he hated, and the reasons why. Detectives searching his home also found drawings of swastikas, instructions for making bombs, a video of explosives detonating, two gun, and documents discussing how to make napalm.

Two people told Roberts County Sheriff’s detectives that Hansen had said “he had enough fireworks to blow up Sisseton and that the first day of school would be a short one,” according to court documents.

Hansen himself told police during an initial interview after his arrest that he was fascinated by murderers and by mass murder, that he had read many books on the subject and wanted to learn what makes killers tick. He also said that he was interested in becoming a criminal profiler, and in possibly joining the Marine Corps.

He pleaded not guilty to charges of selling, transporting or possessing an explosive device and possessing substances with the intent to make a destructive device. He remained jailed in lieu of $500,000 bond as of Wednesday, and will return to court on September 14.

Claire City, where the Hansen family lives, is a very small town, with a population of only 85 people. The area around Sisseton, which is in northeast South Dakota near the borders of both North Dakota and Minnesota, is home to only about 2,500 people in total.

If convicted of all charges, Hansen could face up to 25 years in prison, said state Attorney General Marty Jackley.

“Thanks to an alert citizen and a school resource officer, they were able to prevent a very serious and potentially dangerous situation,” added Jackley.

Two Police Officers Fatally Wounded in Rural Alaska Shooting

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Alaska police are engaged in a standoff with a man who is accused of having fatally shot two rural law enforcement officers, say authorities.

Matthew Tokuka, 39, and Sergeant Anthony Wallace, 32, were shot in what was later described by Alaska State Troopers as “an ambush.” The troopers were called in by the police department in Hoonah, Alaska, a small town located on an island approximately 62 miles north of Sitka, Alaska and 68 miles west of Juneau by ferry. Police from Juneau deployed a tactical team in order to assist the emergency response teams sent by the state troopers. The Coast Guard also stepped in to help, transporting resources and taking one of the wounded officers to a medical facility in Juneau. Both officers later died from their injuries.

Several other agencies, including the Alaska Division of Wildlife troopers and the U.S. Forest Service, were also lending a hand.

The suspect, John Marvin Jr., has barricaded himself in his home, according to a local television station.

“The only information we have is that he’s had problems with law enforcement in that community in the past, and there were some issues of stability,” said Alaska State Troopers Capt. Barry Wilson in an interview with television station KTUU.

Hoonah, with only 800 residents, may be feeling the loss of its officers particularly keenly, as there is now no one on the force save the chief of police. Troopers will provide temporary staffing for the Hoonah police. In the meantime, residents are asked to stay indoors and away from the area where the standoff is taking place. Some businesses in the town were closed.

The shooting took place late Saturday evening, about 10:30 p.m. It is unclear what the motivation for the attack may have been.

Wallace, who was hard-of-hearing, was a 2003 graduate of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, which is a part of Rochester Institute of Technology. He worked as a campus police officer, then joined the police academy, where he helped train police officers about interacting with deaf and heared-impaired people. He joined the Hoonah police force in 2008.

Tokuoka, who was originally from Hawaii, was a former Marine Corps staff sergeant and had been with the Hoonah police force only since 2009.

U.S.-Born Drug Kingpin, Who Smuggled Tons of Cocaine, Captured At Last

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

A notorious drug kingpin who is alleged to have trafficked tons of cocaine from Mexico to America is in custody, along with six others, say Mexican authorities.

It’s the capture of Edgar Valdez Villarreal, an American-born man known in Mexico as “La Barbie” because of his light complexion and blue eyes, however, that is making headlines. Valdez faces charges in both Mexico and the United States for smuggling thousands of pounds of cocaine across the border, from 2004 to 2006. In 2005 alone, he is said to have aided in the transport of 100 kilograms of cocaine per week to the Laredo, Texas area. According to prosecutors, most of the drugs that were trafficked by La Barbie are bound for Atlanta, an infamous distribution hub for the drug cartels.

Valdez, 37, is said to be one of the top five drug traffickers in Mexico. He began his smuggling career as part of the notorious Sinoloa Cartel, and was considered the top henchman of the most wanted kingpin in the country, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. He later defected to a breakaway group, but became embroiled in a power struggle when Arturo Beltran-Leyva, that group’s leader, was killed by the Mexican military during a 2009 shootout. Both Valdez and Hector Beltran-Leyva, the slain leader’s brother, were among the pretenders to the throne of the Beltran-Levya Cartel and jockeying for its premiere position.

The former high-school football standout from Texas is also known for his ruthless approach to enemies, ordering the killing and decapitation of drug gang members who either infringe on his turf, betray him, or are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Neither did he shrink from committing the slayings himself.

The United States had offered up a $2 million reward for the capture of Valdez; Mexican intelligence is credited with having learned his whereabouts through operations in six Mexican states. Valdez was captured just outside Mexico City, along with six associates ranging in age from 18 to 40. Also recovered in the sting were automatic weapons, three vehicles and nine packets of cocaine.

Valdez is not yet charged in Mexico, although an indictment against him was unsealed in Atlanta earlier this summer. For this reason, the narcotics trafficker is expected to be extradited to the United States to face charges.

Since 2006, when Mexican President Felipe Calderon stepped up the battle against drug cartels and organized crime, over 28,000 people have been killed in violence related to the drug trade. The capture of La Barbie is expected to boost flagging support for Calderon.

Van der Sloot Indicted On Extortion Charge in Holloway Case

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

A Dutch citizen who is believed to have killed two women, and who is imprisoned in Lima, Peru pending trial for the murder of one of them, has now also been charged with wire fraud and extortion.

Joran van der Sloot, 22, is widely believed to have killed American teen Natalee Holloway, who was on vacation with her school class in Aruba when she disappeared in May 2005. Now Van der Sloot has been indicted by a federal grand jury in the United States on one count each of wire fraud and extortion, after admitting in an interview with the Dutch press that he extorted Holloway’s family for money, by offering to tell them the location of her body.

Van der Sloot had been arrested several times in connection with the disappearance of Holloway, whose body has never been found, but each time was released from custody because of a lack of evidence. In 2008, he made headlines again when an undercover journalist befriended him, then made a video of van der Sloot smoking marijuana and talking about being present during Holloway’s death. He is also suspected of having participated in, or preparing to participate in, the sex trafficking of Thai women.

In late March 2009, Van der Sloot allegedly contacted an attorney representing Holloway’s mother, offering to reveal the location of the slain teen’s body, as well as details surrounding her death, for a payment totaling $250,000. Working together with the FBI and the Aruban authorities, the attorney arrange a sting operation, in which investigators videotaped Van der Sloot accepting a cash payment of $10,000 in addition to a $15,000 wire transfer, in advance against the total. He then told the lawyer that his father had buried Holloway’s remains in the foundation of a house—a claim that was later debunked when authorities found that the house in question had not yet been built at the time of Holloway’s disappearance.

The FBI has been the target of some criticism for not having immediately filed extortion charges against Van der Sloot, who was able to take the money and travel first to Columbia, then to Lima, Peru—where he then allegedly killed a Peruvian student, 21-year-old Stephany Tatiana Flores Ramirez, on May 30, 2010, exactly five years after Holloway’s appearance. Ramirez was found dead in a hotel room registered in Van der Sloot’s name, and video from a casino showed the two playing cards together earlier that evening. Other evidence, including bloody clothes that have tested positive for Ramirez’s DNA, links Van der Sloot to the crime.

Van der Sloot, who is being held in a maximum security Lima prison on charges of first-degree murder and robbery in the Ramirez case, has reportedly offered to exchange information about the death of Natalee Holloway in exchange for transfer to a prison in Aruba, but this request was denied by Peruvian authorities.

According to a Dutch newspaper, Van der Sloot has confessed to the extortion, saying “I wanted to get back at Natalee’s family. Her parents have been making my life tough for five years.”

“When they offered to pay for the girl’s location, I thought: ‘Why not?’” he said in an interview with the newspaper.

His lawyer in the Ramirez case, Maximo Alteza, has claimed that there were mistakes in the translation, however. A Peruvian court is still considering Van der Sloot’s claim that he is being held unlawfully because of mistakes made by the police during the investigation.

Mortgage Broker Who Defrauded Lehman Brothers Sentenced

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Last week a former Southern California mortgage broker who had pled guilty to a number of charges related to a mortgage and real estate scheme was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison.

Mark Alan Abrams, 49, was charged with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and loan fraud, making a false statement on a tax return and obstruction of justice. Along with his business partner, real estate developer Charles Elliott Fitzgerald, and beginning in 1999 or 2000, Abrams purchased homes in the tony communities of Beverly Hills, Carmel, Bel Air, Malibu and La Jolla, then used fraudulent appraisal documentation to resell the houses to fake buyers. These buyers, who were recruited by Abrams and Fitzgerald, purchased the properties with inflated loans. The pair, along with at least eight other co-conspirators, also forged bogus purchase contracts in order to help borrowers obtain loans from the federally insured banks. These loans represent tens of millions of dollars in losses to those banks.

These “straw borrowers,” some of whom received payments for their role in the theft, lent their names and credit history to Abrams and Fitzgerald to obtain mortgages that were double or triple the actual value of the homes as part of a property-flipping process. The two ringleaders controlled escrow companies that received the millions in fraudulent loan money, thereby giving them access to it.

Lehman Brothers alone funded 80 separate loans worth a total of $137 million– approximately $50 million more than was actually required to purchase the homes, according to prosecutors.

Abrams and Fitzgerald passed on kickbacks through commissions to their associates, after gaining millions in ill-gotten funds.

When Lehman Brothers Bank learned about the scam and sued Fitzgerald and others who had been involved in it, Fitzgerald hid his assets and fled the country. He went to Samoa, where he lived for several years before being extradited back to the United States in December 2006. He then pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and loan fraud, running a continuing financial crimes enterprise, money laundering, obstruction of justice and three counts of bank fraud.

Abrams has also been ordered to pay more than $41 million in restitution

Federal Judge: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Is Unconstitutional

Friday, November 5th, 2010

The United States military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian service members, familiarly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” has been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in Riverside, California.

U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips issued the ruling, marking the first successful legal challenge to the DADT policy since it was enacted by Congress during the Clinton administration, in 1993. Although both President Obama and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, have called for the policy’s repeal, it has nevertheless remained in place.

Phillips’s 85-page ruling, which came in a 2004 case filed by the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay political organization, said that having openly gay service members has not negatively effected either military capability or troops’ morale. On the contrary, it has served to “impede military readiness and unit cohesion rather than further these goals.”

DADT, continued Phillips, has damaged recruitment numbers, resulted in the discharge of “critical” service members, including Arabic and Persian linguists and medical personnel, and has led to the enlistment of recruits who earlier would have been deemed unfit for service—including convicted felons.

Moreover, Phillips said, the policy is unconstitutional, violating both the Fifth and the First Amendments—which protect against the abuse of government authority in legal procedures, and protect citizens’ right to free speech, respectively.

“The act discriminates based on the content of the speech being regulated,” wrote the judge. “It distinguishes between speech regarding sexual orientation, and inevitably, family relationships and daily activities, by and about gay and lesbian service members, which is banned, and speech on those subjects by and about heterosexual service members, which is permitted.”

Although over 13,000 service members have been discharged from the military under under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the number of discharges has declined significantly since the U.S. became involved in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and all branches of the military have delayed the discharges of service members in violation of the policy pending their deployments in those countries.

The government is expected to ask for a temporary injunction to prevent the ruling from going into immediate effect, and then to file a petition with the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. If it loses that appeal, the case will go to the Supreme Court.

Gay and lesbian rights activists are applauding the decision, which comes just weeks after another federal judge rejected California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages.

Federal Judge Impeached By House Goes to Trial

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Getting under way this week is the impeachment trial of federal judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr., who stands accused of corruption, accepting kickbacks and lying to the Senate and the FBI in order to gain acceptance to the federal bench.

Porteous, who is from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, was investigated by the FBI and a federal grand jury in 2007 on suspicion of a pattern of misconduct, including involvement in a corrupt kickback scheme; making false and misleading statements about his debts and gambling losses; having asked and accepted for favors in return for official actions; having lied in order to “conceal corrupt relationships” while he was being considered for nomination to the federal bench; and failing to recuse himself from a case in which he had a personal involvement.

In March, the House of Representatives voted unanimously to impeach Porteous, approving the four articles of impeachment and, according to a statement released by the House Judiciary Committee Task Force, alleging that the judge “intentionally made material false statements and representations under penalty of perjury, engaged in a corrupt kickback scheme, solicited and accepted unlawful gifts, and intentionally misled the Senate during his confirmation proceedings.”

Although the Justice Department, at the time of the FBI and federal grand jury investigation, alleged that Porteous engaged in “pervasive misconduct” and that he “may have violated federal and state criminal laws, controlling canons of judicial conduct, rules of professional responsibility, and conducted himself in a manner antithetical to the constitutional standard of good behavior required of all federal judges,” they nevertheless decided not to seek criminal charges. The reasons for this included statute-of-limitations issues, but a lawyer for Porteous, Richard W. Westling, said that the Justice Department did not have credible evidence.

“Unfortunately, the House has decided to disregard the Justice Department’s decision and to move forward with impeachment,” said Westling. “As a result, we will now turn to the Senate to seek a full and fair hearing of all the evidence.”

Porteous, 68, is the 15th federal judge ever yo be impeached, and the first person to stand trial for impeachment since President Bill Clinton in 1999. Porteous has not occupied the bench since the fall of 2008, when he was suspended with pay.

The Senate Impeachment Trial Committee will submit a report to the full Senate after Porteous’s trial, and a vote in the matter is expected to take place later this year.

Porteous was appointed as a federal judge in 1994.

Maryland Man Gets Life Sentence In Strangulation Death of Wife

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

After having been found guilty of first-degree murder in June, a Prince George’s County, MD man has been sentenced to life in prison.

Spencer Ellsworth Chase, 50, killed his wife Antoinette Chase in May, 2008 by strangling her with an extension cord. At the time of his wife’s death, Chase called 911 to report that he had returned to the couple’s Upper Marlboro home after running errands to find his wife face down on the floor and unconscious. She was taken to a local hospital but pronounced dead shortly afterwards.

Just eight months before, in October 2007, Spencer Chase had been charged by county police with assault against Antoinette Chase, but those charges were dropped after she decided not to pursue the case. The couple had been in the process of separating when she was killed, according to prosecutors.

The sentence of life in prison comes as the result of Spencer Chase’s second trial—the first, held in May 2009, ended in a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. The second jury, however, failed to find Chase’s account of the murder credible; despite the fact that valuables such as her cell phone, BlackBerry, wedding ring and credit cards were missing, there were no signs of forced entry or ransacking in the home.

In investigating the crime, detectives obtained a warrant to have Antoinette Chase’s service provider send signals to her BlackBerry in order to help them locate it. An initial search proved fruitless, but Benjamin Brown, the homicide detective in charge of the case, used a handheld GPS device to locate the signal, leading to the discovery of Chase’s personal items inside a storm drain. In addition to her purse, wedding ring and mobile devices, Brown also found a plastic bag containing a pair of work gloves and men’s rubber-soled water shoes—size 11, the same size as Spencer Brown wears. DNA evidence also linked both Antoinette and Spencer Chase to the work gloves.

Antoinette Chase, 46, worked as an analyst for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Her daughter, 27-year-old Monique Davis, testified during the trial that after her mother’s murder, Spencer Chase called her to ask whether Davis had received any payout on her mother’s life insurance policy. She also said that he displayed no signs of grief.

“Violence in the home can be a silent killer,” State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said during the trial. “The community needs to speak up and speak out on brutality on the home front.”

Spencer Chase denied killing his wife at both the trial and the sentencing. Circuit Court Judge Beverly J. Woodard nevertheless handed down the sentence of life imprisonment, saying “You killed your wife. There’s no doubt in my mind you killed Antoinette Chase.”

Former Superintendent’s Wife Will Likely Plead Guilty To Theft

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

The wife of an ousted schools superintendent in the Florida Keys is expected to plead either no contest or guilty to six felony charges of theft later this week.

Monique Acevedo is accused of having used a credit card issued by the Monroe County School District to purchase a wide variety of items for her personal use, including a chandelier, pink ties, patio furniture, bar stools, dog food and even a “Ride Me Cowboy” costume. The charges were made at over 100 stores.

Monique’s husband, Randy Acevedo, was the director of business services for the school district. He won his first election for schools superintendent in 2004, and had just won his second four-year term when receipts detailing the improper purchases began to surface, and the scandal broke. Randy Acevedo was convicted last year on three felony charges of official misconduct for having covered up the thefts, and was removed from office by Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

A string of investigations into Acevedo’s office by law enforcement, the Monroe County State Attorney’s office and independent auditors revealed a pattern of policy violations, mismanagement, corruption and nepotism. Monique Acevedo, who had previously worked as an office manager for the Adult Education Department, landed the Adult Education Coordinator job despite having only a few college credits under her belt. She also lacked the state certification required by the job description. With a salary of $65,500, Acevedo was put in charge of several education and training centers in the Keys area. She also began her shopping sprees almost immediately.

In March 2009, then-Finance Director Kathy Reichel went to School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths to express concern with Acevedo’s expense reports, which she had already discussed with Randy Acevedo. The next day, Monique Acevedo resigned; a month later, she was charged with two felonies, organized scheme to defraud and grand theft. Two more felony grand theft charges came in August, after Acevedo was found to have pocketed the money from fundraisers held by the Key West High School; the final charges, in October, were made against Acevedo for the credit-card purchases, which totaled over $220,000.

After resigning, Acevedo had her sons take questionable purchases to hiding places, including a storage room behind the Adult Education Department and a house on Big Pine Key. Among the items stashed away were jewelry, SCUBA equipment, Christmas decorations, a power washer, power tools, two bicycles and a weed eater.

State Attorney Dennis Ward has asked Circuit Judge Mark H. Jones to hand down a prison sentence of 10 years, followed by a 20-year probation period, as well as restitution of the total $413,000 that Acevedo is alleged to have stolen from the district.