Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Convenience store news.

Saturday, January 20th, 2018

The Trump administration has drafted plans to strip key authorities from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, senior administration officials said on Friday, an acknowledgment that the agency has all but abandoned its legacy of fighting liquor and tobacco smugglers.

Under the Trump administration’s plan, the Treasury Department would inherit the authority to investigate tobacco and alcohol smuggling. The A.T.F. would need a new name. One possibility: the Bureau of Arson, Explosives and Firearms, or A.E.F.

Good, but not good enough. As I’ve said before, there’s no reason for the continued existence of BATFE: let Treasury handle the tax collection part of their mandate (including NFA), and let the FBI handle the criminal investigation part.

Worth noting:

At the heart of the proposal is cigarette smuggling, a venture that becomes more lucrative with every tax increase. Cigarette taxes vary wildly. Virginia charges $3 per carton. New York charges $43.50. A simple plot to buy cigarettes in one state and sell them in another can generate tens of thousands of dollars. Criminal organizations rely on more complicated schemes to move untaxed cigarettes in bulk, evading federal and state taxes. By some estimates, more than half of New York’s cigarettes come from the black market.

Is there really a compelling reason for the Federal government to spend money from Texas taxpayers to keep people from buying smokes in Virginia and reselling them in New York without paying the $43.50 a carton tax? I know, organized crime: but New York has their own law enforcement agencies, and if they really wanted to shut down organized crime, they could drop the $43.50 a carton tax.

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#45 in a series)

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

Pamela Harris, a Brooklyn assemblywoman, was indicted yesterday.

…accused of four counts of making false statements, two counts of wire fraud, two counts of bankruptcy fraud, and a single count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, witness tampering and conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to Richard P. Donoghue, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Ms. Harris is a “retired New York City correction officer” who took office in 2015. She is, of course, innocent until proven guilty, but it sounds like her fraud was wide-ranging, and the prosecution has plenty of evidence:

In one scheme, authorities accused Ms. Harris of trying to capitalize on a natural disaster, improperly receiving nearly $25,000 in federal funds by falsely claiming that she had been displaced from her Coney Island home by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In another, she is accused of siphoning money from a nonprofit she ran to pay her mortgage, take vacations and shop at Victoria’s Secret, according to the indictment.

The charges suggest a striking degree of planning and elaborate attempts to cover up illegal actions. Prosecutors said, for example, that Ms. Harris used a forged lease to draw down discretionary funds from the City Council, money that was supposed to be used to rent a studio space for the nonprofit, which seeks to involve children and young adults in the arts. Instead, Ms. Harris diverted the money to her personal checking account. All told, some $35,000 was received in two separate instances using such funds, prosecutors said.
In the Hurricane Sandy scheme, Ms. Harris is accused of creating fake lease agreements and receipts, and forging a landlord’s signature, to receive housing assistance money from FEMA for 14 months after the storm, a ploy that she also used to receive financial assistance to repair her Coney Island home in 2016. And once she became aware of a federal investigation last year, Ms. Harris told potential witnesses to lie to federal agents, the authorities said.

(Hattip to Mike the Musicologist, who pointed out that the NYPost coverage waits until paragraph 21 to mention Ms. Harris’s party affiliation. Say what you will about the NYT, but they got that into paragraph 2.)

Because he got high.

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Because he got high, Ryan Boehle threatened to shoot cops.

Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration: “he planned to celebrate his 50th birthday by shooting police because he was upset about a drunken driving arrest in which his blood test came back negative for alcohol”.

Mr. Boehle was arrested. The police seized a total of 13 guns, “1,110 bullets” (sorry, I’m quoting the Statesman here) and 6.3 grams of marijuana.

Mr. Boehle was never actually charged for the threats. The judge in the case is quoted as calling his writings “marijuana-induced gibberish.” It sounds like this is one of those true threat/not a true threat sort of legal distinctions that Ken White keeps trying to explain to myself and other people, and I keep not understanding, but that’s getting off topic.

(Also, “Marijuana-Induced Gibberish” would be a great name for a band.)

But we have to throw him in jail for something, right?

(“Why?” Hey, that’s not the kind of question you should be asking.)

I know! We’ll get him for “making a false statement in connection with the attempted acquisition of a firearm”! Mr. Boehle has a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction from 1993 in Connecticut: he allegedly “slapped, choked and bit his girlfriend”. As a result of this, he apparently failed the background check at three Austin area gun shops (again, per the Statesman).

However, during pretrial litigation the charge was determined to be insufficient to prohibit gun possession.

Oh, dear. Now what is the state going to do?

Wait: there’s that devil’s lettuce they found!

With their case weakening, prosecutors held tight to the gun-and-weed charge, using it to successfully to argue that Boehle should be denied bond and kept in jail pending the resolution of the case. Characterizing Boehle as a habitual marijuana user took little effort from the government, which not only had the pot found in his home but also test results from the DWI arrest that showed the presence of the drug.

Cutting closer to the end of the story, Mr. Boehle pled out to a charge of “owning a gun as a prohibited person”. You see, pot is still federally illegal, and the law says it is illegal for a pot smoker to own guns.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals established the definition of an unlawful drug user who is unable to own guns in 1999, when it affirmed the conviction of a Midland man who had been arrested several times with marijuana. He argued on appeal that the law fails to establish a time frame for when a person must use a controlled substance in connection with the possession of a firearm. The court ruled that an ordinary person could determine the man was a drug user. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

This doesn’t happen a lot. The Statesman quotes one California attorney who specializes in pot law as saying he’s never seen this in 50 years of practice. On the other hand, though, the Honolulu PD famously recently sent out letters to people with medical marijuana cards: “Give up your guns, or else.” (They apparently haven’t followed through on the “or else” part yet.)

Mr. Boehle was sentenced to five years of probation, and will be drug tested as part of that. The twist at the end is: he has a form of epilepsy, and wants to use a low THC marijuana extract to treat it. But he’s going to have to get his probation terms modified to allow this treatment. Texas has only recently legalized the use of the extract to treat epilepsy (“…only after a patient has tried at least two other treatments”) so Mr. Boehle will be venturing into uncharted territory.

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#44 in a series)

Monday, December 11th, 2017

This is outside of my usual area of coverage, but there’s a nice twist to it.

On Friday, former Massachusetts state senator Brian A. Joyce was arrested. There are 113 counts in the indictment, including “mail fraud, theft of federal funds, money laundering, scheme to defraud the IRS, 20 counts of extortion, seven counts of money laundering, and conspiracy to impair the functions of the IRS.”

“conspiracy to impair the functions of the IRS”. I love that.

The feds contend Joyce took money in exchange for official action, using his Senate office for private gain in a scheme that may have netted up to $1 million since 2010, according to the 102-page indictment.

But 113 counts? Man, dude is a bit of an overachiever there. What was his secret?

Would you believe…coffee?

Joyce received up to 700 pounds of free coffee, and roughly $125,000 grand in alleged kickbacks, from a Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee owner, who later claimed it was in exchange for legal services. Joyce passed out coffee at town hall meetings and to other senators, authorities said.
“No decaf,” Joyce told the franchisee owner in a December 2014 email for one request, according to the indictment. He added “We like k cups (sic) at my office if possible.”

I know, if you’re going to sell out for coffee, why not make it good coffee? But I don’t think my Texas readers understand the extent to which the Northeast runs on Dunkin’ Donuts. I think I’ve told the story before about traveling in that neck of the woods with some friends and co-workers, and the Dunkin’ Donuts every 100 yards becoming a running gag with us.

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#43 in a series)

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Corrine Brown, the former Congresswoman from Florida about whom we have written previously, was sentenced yesterday.

Five years in federal prison.

Her lawyer, James Smith, said he planned to appeal the verdict and the sentencing. “The sentence was substantively unreasonable, and it was too harsh,” Mr. Smith said in an interview Monday evening. While sentencing guidelines called for a term of between more than seven years in prison up to nine years, Mr. Smith said that politicians convicted of similar crimes had received more lenient sentences.

“Other people got off easy, therefore my client should, too.” Good luck with that.

Brown’s longtime chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, was sentenced to 48 months in prison, and the fake charity’s founder, One Door for Education President Carla Wiley, was sentenced to 21 months.

Mr. Simmons and Ms. Wiley also testified against Ms. Brown.

[U.S. District Judge Timothy] Corrigan criticized as “beyond the pale” some of the remarks Brown made to the media during the run up to her trial, “especially her reprehensible statement implying that the FBI might have been able to prevent the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando if it wasn’t preoccupied with investigating her.”

Obit watch: December 5, 2017.

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Officer Kenneth Copeland of the San Marcos Police Department was killed yesterday.

Officer Copeland was assisting other officers in serving a warrant, and was shot by the suspect. He was 58 and had four kids.

Officer Copeland is the first San Marcos PD officer to die in the line of duty.

Also among the dead: John Anderson, former Congessman from Illinois, perhaps most famous for his presidential campaign as an independant against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Short notes from the legal beat.

Friday, December 1st, 2017

Dabrett Black is the man who shot Trooper Damon Allen to death on Thanksgiving Day.

Police camera footage obtained by WFAA-TV from the 2015 incident in Smith County, about 95 miles east of Dallas, shows Dabrett Black beating a sheriff’s deputy. The deputy, identified as Wesley Dean in court documents, no longer works at the department. The court documents say he suffered black eyes, a broken nose and lacerations above his eyes that required stitches to close. The footage also shows him talking to the in-car camera saying to imagine if he had had a weapon and talking about his belief that law enforcement officers target minorities.

Mr. Black was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor charge instead of two felony charges. The plea was not approved by the local DA or his assistant, which is apparently a violation of policy. However, the current DA has said he’s not going to fire the ADA who took the plea. That current ADA is running for the DA position, and doesn’t have any opposition.

When the shooting occurred, Black was free on $15,500 bail in another Smith County incident where he was charged with assault on an officer and evading arrest after a police chase this summer ended with Black allegedly ramming a patrol car.
Probation officers had told staff to be careful of Black in internal emails after the 2015 attack, according to the material obtained by WFAA. In a July 2015 email, a probation officer told staff he believed Black was trying to provoke them into responding and encouraged them to be vigilant both inside and outside the office because he believed Black was the kind of guy who would ambush someone.

Back in September, a man named Brandon Berrott was arrested and charged with making terroristic threats against his girlfriend. After his arrest, the threats continued: he was jailed “at least” three time, had to post bail, and lost his job.

The girlfriend, Lisa Marie Garcia, ultimately called the mayor of Baytown and complained that the state district judge who was presiding over the cases against Berrott was taking bribes to let Berrott out on bail.

And you won’t believe what happened next, as BuzzFeed would say:

Lisa Marie Garcia was charged with retaliation and online impersonation in a case prosecutors called “a nightmare.” She is accused of using fake social media accounts and cell phone apps to manufacture false threats and claims that appeared to be from her boyfriend. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.

Yes, it’s another classic “b—-h set me up!” case that turns out to be true.

After her boyfriend made bail, Garcia set up Instagram accounts pretending to be him and sent messages to herself and the other woman threatening to kill each of them for calling the cops on him. She then took the messages to the Baytown Police Department and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, leading to seven charges being filed between Oct. 21 and Oct. 31.
Each time he got out on bail, Garcia would fake more messages and call the police, landing Berrott back in jail or court. He was accused of violating his bond conditions and no-contact orders.

Mr. Berrott was lucky enough to have an attorney who actually believed in his innocence, and who was able to convince the authorities to do more investigation.

[Britni] Cooper [the prosecutor – DB] said the onslaught of charges in October did not immediately raise red flags because the complaints were filed with different agencies. Once the DA’s office, the sheriff’s office and Baytown police department put the pieces together, the pattern and the holes, were easy to see.
As the investigation continued, she said prosecutors were instructed to stop accepting charges from Garcia, who continued calling the police and filing false reports even while Berrott was working with authorities to clear his name.

What kind of holes?

…one threatening message was sent at the same time as Berrott was on video handcuffed in the back of a police car.

The defense attorney was Carl Moore. Folks in Baytown, remember that name, and please throw some business his way if you can: it sounds like he’s one of the good guys. The scary thing is: how many other people are in jail for similar reasons, and don’t have that kind of support network?

This news broke late last night, while I was at the CPA class, so I wasn’t able to blog it at the time, and it has been covered a lot elsewhere. But I did want to say a few things about the acquittal of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate on charges of killing Kate Steinle, since I’ve touched on it before.

1. I’ve written before about my belief that “the verdict of a jury deserves a certain amount of deference“. I still believe that: the jury was there, I wasn’t, the jury saw and heard all the evidence, I didn’t, the jury deliberated, I didn’t. But sometimes, it’s real hard to hold on to your principles. Then again, if it was easy to have principles, would they be principles?

2. In that vein, “Law is the manifest will of the people, the conscious rule of the community.” But a lot of the comments I was reading last night at Instapundit are…disturbing. Have we really reached the point where people are ready to form lynch mobs?

(“Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”)

3. There’s a lot of smart stuff from other people out there on this case. In particular:

(Follow the thread from there.)

4. Also smart: Sarah Rumpf’s “Have We Been Lied to About the Kate Steinle Case?” There’s a lot in there that I didn’t know: I wasn’t following the case that closely, but other people have said the same thing. For example, the bullet that hit Steinle was actually a ricochet off the concrete pier.

There’s also some things that I have problems with, which are not Ms. Rumpf’s fault. In particular, the whole thing about the SIG being unusually prone to “accidental discharge”. I don’t own any SIGs: Mike the Musicologist is the SIG (and FN) guy. I also don’t own one of those cool trigger pull measuring gadgets, so I can’t tell you what the trigger pull on any of my auto pistols is. It looks like standard trigger pull on a Glock is somewhere between 5.3 and 6 pounds according to GlockTalk.

Is 4.4 pounds too light? That seems questionable. And a lot of those cited incidents seem to involve holstering the gun: could the problem not be with the SIG, but with people not keeping their booger hook off the bang switch?

In a four-year period (2012-2015), the New York City Police Department reported 54 accidental firearm discharges, 10 involving SIG Sauers.

But:

New NYPD officers are allowed to choose from one of three 9mm service pistols: the SIG Sauer P226 DAO, Glock 17 Gen4, and Glock 19 Gen4. All duty handguns are modified to a 12-pound (53 N) NY-2 trigger pull.

It’s also not clear to me which model of SIG was involved in the shooting. I think this whole “bad gun!” thing needs some more investigation, and my short notes are already long enough as it is.

5. Also smart: Patterico on California homicide law. (Has anyone ever seen Patterico and Ken White in the same room together? Just asking.)

Quickies: October 26, 2017.

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

NYT coverage of the Suffolk County prosecutor indictments, mentioned yesterday.

This is a bit weirder than I expected at first glance. A heroin addict was breaking into cars. One of the cars he broke into was the police chief’s.

From the vehicle, Mr. Loeb stole a duffel bag that contained cigars, pornographic DVDs and sex toys.

Now, perhaps this is victim blaming, but I really can’t see why you’d leave your porno DVDs and sex toys in the car unattended. But I digress. The chief found the heroin addict and beat the crap out of him.

Four years later, after an investigation by federal agents, Mr. Burke [the chief – DB] pleaded guilty to having beaten Mr. Loeb after he was arrested and shackled to the floor of a police station. Last year Mr. Burke was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for assaulting Mr. Loeb and for trying to orchestrate a cover-up of what had happened.

The charges against the DA, Thomas J. Spota, and his “top anti-corruption prosecutor”, Christopher McPartland, stem from this cover-up:

Federal prosecutors accused them of holding a series of meetings and phone conversations with Mr. Burke and other police officers in which they agreed to conceal Mr. Burke’s role in the assault and to impede the federal investigation.

Everyone knows I’m not a baseball fan. Related to that: I don’t understand baseball. Maybe Borepatch or someone else who’s smart can explain this to me: Joe Girardi out as Yankees manager.

They were in the playoffs, for crying out loud. They almost went to the World Series. What more did they want out of Girardi, and why are people saying it was time for him to go? (See also: Boston.)

Remember the mayor of Lakeway, Joe “John Smart” Bain? (Previously on WCD.)
He was fined $500 by the Texas Ethics Commission and had to pick up the garbage.

The commission, which met Sept. 27 to consider the complaint, considered four posts written by “John Smart” and concluded there was credible evidence that Bain intended to “injure a candidate or influence the result of an election” while misrepresenting the source of the communications, a violation of the election code.
The mayor also did not mark the post containing explicit advocacy as political advertising, another code violation, the commission said. And finally, it said, evidence indicates Bain violated ethics code when he misrepresented his own identity in campaign communications or political advertising.

Fizzle.

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

Travis County prosecutors dropped all of the remaining charges against longtime state Rep. Dawnna Dukes on Monday, court filings show.

I expect longer, more detailed stories tomorrow morning. In the meantime, quoted without comment:

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore pinned the prosecution’s collapse on conflicting statements given by a top official in the Texas House, who told prosecutors that travel to the Capitol was required to earn the per-diem payments but recanted that position in a statement to Dukes’s lawyers.

Firings watch.

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Tom Jurich, athletic director at Louisville, was officially fired yesterday.

He joins Rick Pitino, who was officially fired “for cause” on Monday.

Mr. Pitino, of course, denies that he knew anything about payments to athletes. Even better: he’s suing Adidas. The discovery process in that lawsuit should be interesting.

In other news, another APD officer has been fired. Interestingly, his firing was for “insubordination”: specifically, he didn’t show up for interviews with Internal Affairs.

And why was he being interviewed by IA? He’s been charged with making false statements about his wife and her eligibility to receive SSI. (Previouly.)

According to the Statesman, he and his lawyer said they wouldn’t do interviews with IA until the criminal case was resolved. The rules say: you can’t do that. You have to come in and answer IA questions, or you get canned. Whatever information IA gets can’t be used against you in a criminal case; it can only be used for internal discipline. (This is why officers are required to submit to IA questioning. This is also why some things, like officer-involved shootings, are investigated both by IA and the Special Investigations Unit: SIU handles any possible criminal aspect of the case, can seek charges if warranted, and the subject has the standard legal protections. IA investigates internally: the union contract says officers have to answer IA questions, but any information gathered can’t be used to build a criminal case.)

Anyway, IA said “this won’t be used in the criminal case”, the lawyer apparently said, “okay”, and they still didn’t show up. Twice. Which makes it “you’re fired, do not pass ‘Go’, do not collect $200” territory.

From the legal beat.

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

Two quick notes:

1) Remember our old friends Detective Jeff Payne and Lt. James Tracy? The guys who arrested a nurse for refusing to let them draw blood from an unconscious patient without a warrant?

Detective Payne has been fired. Lt. Tracy has been demoted to “police officer III”.

“In examining your conduct,” Brown wrote to Payne, “I am deeply troubled by your lack of sound professional judgment and your discourteous, disrespectful, and unwarranted behavior, which unnecessarily escalated a situation that could and should have been resolved in a manner far different from the course of action you chose to pursue.”
Brown was similarly critical of Tracy, saying his lack of judgment and leadership was “unacceptable,” and, “as a result, I no longer believe that you can retain a leadership position in the Department.”

Both men have five days to appeal the decision. The criminal investigation into their actions is ongoing.

(Hattip: Reason‘s “Hit and Run”, and Patrick Nonwhite on the Twitters.)

2) The Travis County DA has dropped one of the 13 felony charges against Dawnna Dukes.

Apparently, one of the analysts with the Texas DPS crime lab “examined the wrong date” when looking at Ms. Dukes’s travel activity, leading to “a felony count that erroneously stated Dukes turned in a falsified voucher for Dec. 22, 2013.”

It is unclear how prosecutors, DPS investigators and Texas Rangers failed to notice these holes in the case during an investigation that spanned more than 18 months.

Obit watch: September 29, 2017.

Friday, September 29th, 2017

Sergeant Gary Christenberry of the Austin Police Department passed away earlier today.

Sergeant Christenberry was severely burned in an off-duty accident at his home two weeks ago: his death was a result of those injuries. He’d been on the force for 24 years.

Lady Lucan, long suffering wife of the late Lord Lucan.

This may ring a bell for some of you, as I’ve touched on the Lucan case before. Briefly: one night in November of 1974, Lord Lucan allegedly beat his children’s nanny to death, having mistaken the nanny for Lady Lucan. When Lady Lucan came downstairs to see what was going on, Lord Lucan tried to beat her to death as well. She disarmed him, he asked for a glass of water, they spoke briefly, he drove off, she ran to a nearby pub for help…

…and Lord Lucan hasn’t been seen since. Everyone seems to assume he’s dead. He’d be 82 if he was still alive, so there’s a possibility…