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Archive for March 12th, 2009

Dead Butterflies and Federal Prison?

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Michigan Dentist Kevin Rucinski may have the butterflies when he gets sentenced in federal court in Bay City later this year. And for good reason.

The affable dentist in the quaint little Northern Michigan community of Roscommon pleaded guilty earlier this month to violating the Endangered Species Act by buying rare dried insects including butterflies, spiders and beetles from overseas on eBay and failing to file a declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish and Wildlife and failing to pay importation fees that amounted to more than $5,000, according to his guilty plea in federal court in Bay City, Mi.

He faces $20,000 in fines and restitution and a possible prison sentence of up to a year.

Imagine, if he goes off to prison and turns to a killer/drug trafficker and tells the guy what he’s in for.

Funny thing is Rucinski was busted once before for importing dead dried butterflies and fined.

But after that, he kept buying those dang insects and violating federal law, according to a plea agreement drawn up the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, the friendly dentist only wanted to say that he was a collector of the insects. He declined to comment further for the story.

According to his guilty plea agreement , the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had intercepted a UPS package in January 2006 addressed to Rucinski. The package had come from Hong Kong and contained imported dead butterflies in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

At the time, he was given a violation notice, fined $225 and directed to a website to learn about the laws and regulations regarding the import of fish and wildlife, a court document said.

“Nevertheless, Ruckinski continued to buy and import dried insects, including butterflies ….spiders, beetles, and mollusk shells”, the court document said.

Between Oct. 2005 and November 2006, he made over 1,000 successful bids for such items on eBay. Sometimes he paid $150 for a single, dried butterfly, the court document said.

In all, he paid $15,000 for the wildlife shipments and evaded fees and licensing that would have cost him in excess of $5,000, the court document said. Under the plea agreement, he is expected to pay a $15,000 fine and $5,000 in restitution. The sentencing guidelines range between 6 to 12 months, but it’s unclear whether the judge will will send him off to prison.  No sentencing date has been set.

Read Guilty Plea Agreement

FBI Arrests ex-D.C. Official in Bribery Sting

The D.C. government is just recovering from its Tax office scandal in which about $50 million was stolen. Now we have another scandal, though thankfully it doesn’t match up to the tax scandal.

By Del Quentin Wilber and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
WASHINGTON — A D.C. government official and a business executive were arrested yesterday on bribery charges involving city technology contracts that included “ghost” workers and kickbacks, federal authorities said.

Raiding offices in the hunt for documents, FBI agents carted away boxes and envelopes throughout the day from the Office of the Chief Technology Officer, the center of the alleged fraud.

In court documents released yesterday, FBI agent Andrew Sekela laid out the complicated and audacious schemes allegedly orchestrated by a mid-level manager who approved many contracts involving the city government’s technology needs.

Authorities said the conspiracy was uncovered with the help of a D.C. government employee who recorded conversations with the executive and the city official.

The ultimate cost to the city is not known, but the disclosure comes as it is trying to recoup its losses from an embarrassing tax swindle that siphoned almost $50 million from its coffers over almost two decades.

Until recently, the technology office was headed by Vivek Kundra, who has taken a job as President Obama’s chief information officer. A White House official confirmed last night that Kundra has taken a leave of absence.
For Full Story


B

FBI Agent Says Recent Terrorism Attacks Could Encourage al Qaeda and Others

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
WASHINGTON — The FBI’s James McJunkin told a Congressional Committee Thursday that the “principal lesson from the Mumbai attacks remains that a small number of trained and determined attackers with relatively unsophisticated weapons can do a great deal of damage.”

“Last week’s attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahaore, Pakistan is another example of a low-tech, but potentially high impact operation,” McJunken, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism division told the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection.

“We are concerned about the possibility that the other terrorist groups, including al Qaeda or its affiliates, will take note of these attacks and attempt to emulate them,” he said.
The attacks in Mumbai last Nov. 26 killed more than 170 people including six Americans.
McJunkin lauded the cooperation between the American and India’s investigative agencies.

“The unprecedented collaboration we developed with our Indian law enforcement and intelligence counterparts in this investigation has strengthened our relationship with the Government of India.”

To Read Full Speech

Suspected Mexican Drug Smuggler Whose Brother Killed DEA Agent Pleads Not Guilty In Colo.

Here’s just another sign of Mexico’s long reach into the U.S. drug trade.

The Associated Press
DENVER-A suspected drug smuggler from Mexico whose brother was convicted of killing a U.S. drug agent has pleaded not guilty to racketeering and marijuana charges.

Miguel Angel Caro-Quintero entered his plea Thursday in a heavily guarded federal courtroom in Denver Thursday.

He’s accused of smuggling marijuana into Colorado in half-ton quantities.

For Full Story

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

TSA to Review Airport Incident Involving Louisiana Senator (AP)

It’s Off to Prison for Bernie Madoff After Pleading GUILTY!

Bernie Madoff/youtube

Bernie Madoff/youtube

Bernie Madoff, one of the saddest figures of our times, is finally headed to prison after living far too long in his New York penthouse. Now the question is whether his wife will get to keep anything and whether she knew what was going on. She may end up being sort of a Carmela Soprano figure as in HBO’s popular series the Sopranos, who knew what was going on and benefited, but didn’t have any involvement. Maybe.

By DIANA B. HENRIQUES and JACK HEALY
New York Times

NEW YORK —   The disgraced financier Bernard L. Madoff was immediately handcuffed and led off to jail on Thursday after a hearing in which he pleaded guilty to running a vast Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of billions of dollars.

Rather than letting Mr. Madoff remain free on bail and return to his apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Judge Denny Chin of Federal District Court ordered Mr. Madoff remanded as he awaited sentencing.

“He has incentive to flee, he has the means to flee, and thus he presents the risk of flight,” Judge Chin said. “Bail is revoked.”

Some of the dozens of Mr. Madoff’s victims in the downtown Manhattan courtroom began to applaud the ruling but were cautioned by Judge Chin to remain silent. As Mr. Madoff’s hands were cuffed behind his back, some victims pointed and nodded with apparent satisfaction.

And as he was led out of the richly paneled courtroom into an antiseptic white-tiled hallway, at least two of his victims were in tears.

“They are tears of relief,” explained Norma Hill of Armonk, N.Y., who sat in the first row of the packed courtroom. “It was a very courageous stand that the judge took. It has restored my faith in the justice system.”

For Full Story

Read Criminal Information

Fed and State Prosecutors Preparing For Surge of Financial Fraud Cases

We knew mortgage fraud in this country had spun out of control and we certainly remember Enron. But Bernie Madoff was a signal that fraud in this nation was so pervasive that more needed to be done. The public is demanding it and it looks like the fed and state prosecutors are starting to respond.

By DAVID SEGAL
New York Times
NEW YORK — Spurred by rising public anger, federal and state investigators are preparing for a surge of prosecutions of financial fraud.

Across the country, attorneys general have already begun indicting dozens of loan processors, mortgage brokers and bank officers. Last week alone, there were guilty pleas in Minnesota, Delaware, North Carolina and Connecticut and sentences in Florida and Vermont – all stemming from home loan scams.

With the Obama administration focused on stabilizing the banks and restoring confidence in the stock market, it has said little about federal civil or criminal charges. But its proposed budget contains hints that it will add to this weight of litigation, including money for more F.B.I. agents to investigate mortgage fraud and white-collar crime, and a 13 percent raise for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Officials at the Justice Department have not said much in public about their plans. But people who have met with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. say he is weighing a range of strategies.

For Full Story

Feds Interview Chicago Tribune Owner Sam Zell in Blagojevich Case

Sam Zell, the rather unpopular newspaper baron who took over the Chicago Tribune Co. at one of the worst times in the industry’s history, now finds himself involved in the investigation into ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Zell gave Blagojevich a gift in 2008. Is that some innocent gesture or something more? Maybe Zell’s paper the Chicago Tribune will be able to find out.

Sam Zell/ucla photo

Sam Zell/ucla photo

By Todd Lighty and Robert Becker
Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO — Tribune Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Sam Zell hired well-known defense lawyer Anton Valukas and was interviewed in January by federal prosecutors as a “potential witness” in the criminal investigation of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the company acknowledged Wednesday.

Zell could not be reached for comment, and company officials did not respond to questions about details of his interview with the U.S. attorney’s office.

Valukas is a former U.S. attorney who specializes in white-collar criminal investigations and major civil cases at Jenner & Block. He declined to comment.

Donald Liebentritt, Tribune Co. executive vice president and general counsel, provided a statement that said the firm has represented the company for many years in a number of matters.

“Mr. Valukas was recommended to work on the matter because it involved a subpoena issued by the U.S. attorney’s office,” according to the statement from Liebentritt, which came in response to questions from the Chicago Tribune.
For Full Story

Some Congress Members Fear Mexican Cartels Might Help Terrorists Attack U.S.

It’s hard to say whether Congress members are taking this too far. Then again, who would have thought the Mexican drug wars would create so many problems here in the U.S. What ever the case, the situation south of the border can’t be ignored here in the states.

By Jordy Yager

Rep. Henry Cuellar/official photo

Rep. Henry Cuellar/official photo

The Hill
WASHINGTON — Members of Congress are raising the alarm that war-like conditions on the Mexican border could lead to Mexican drug cartels helping terrorists attack the U.S.

“When you have…gangs and they have loose ties with al Qaeda and then you have Iran not too far away from building a nuclear capability, nuclear terrorism may not be far off,” said Rep. Trent Franks (R- Ariz.), a member of the House Armed Services committee.

The Mexican drug cartels’ violence accounted for more than 6,000 deaths last year, and in recent months it has begun spilling over into the districts of lawmakers from the southwest region, even as far north as Phoenix, Ariz. — which has become, Franks noted, the “kidnap capital of the U.S.”

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), whose district borders Mexico, said that while the situation is bad, it could easily get worse.

“The goal of the cartels is to make money,” said Cuellar, who sits on the House Homeland Security committee. “If they can smuggle in drugs and human cargo, then certainly they can smuggle other things in, other devices to cause us harm.”

“We have not heard of any associations, but is there the possibility? I’ll be the first to say, yeah. They have the routes, they can very easily smuggle in other things.”
For Full Story