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Archive for September 26th, 2011

Blagojevich Sentencing Delayed, Few Surprised

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By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

U.S. District Judge James Zagel has delayed the Oct. 6 sentencing for former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich,  reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

The sentencing has been delayed because Judge Zagel is set to start a trial on October 3 for William Cellini, a Springfield power broker who himself is alleged to have extorted campaign contributions for Blagojevich.  That trial is expected to last beyond the October 6.

Blagojevich was convicted on 17 of 20 counts at his retrial, including trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he became president. The first trial ended with Blago being convicted on only 1 of 24 counts, with the jury deadlocking on the remainder.

Prosecutors are expected to seek a 30-year prison sentence, reports McClatchy.

The delay comes as no surprise to most following the case. Speaking to ticklethewire.com last week about a related story, legal expert and frequent television news commentator Jami Floyd predicted the delay because of the Cellini trial.

“A judge who’s in the middle of a big trial is not going to delay that trial for sentencing — no matter whom the defendant is,” she said. “I’m betting the former governor is going to have to get in line, with everyone else, to wait for the Judge’s calendar to open up.”

Blagojevich’s attorney Shelly Sorosky seemed to expect the delay too. “It’s not going to happen,” the Sun-Times had quoted him as saying before the announcement. “[To stop the Cellini trial] would taint the Cellini jury. I’m quite certain it will be continued,” he said.

A new sentencing date has yet to be set.

Criminals Pose as DEA Agents and Try to Scam Prescription Drug Users

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

How much would you pay to make the threat of  drug charges go away? Would you pay if you knew you were innocent?

These questions were not hypothetical for many. TMZ reports that Americans buying prescription drugs online have been the target of scammers posing as DEA agents. The phony agents would call purchasers and say they were indicted by foreign governments for the purchase of illegal drugs online. The con artists even used the names of real DEA agents.

Alarmed, consumers would often be willing to do what the fake agents asked to cooperate and make the charges go away. That’s when the scammers would ask for a civil penalty, a fee, to drop the charges.

So it went with one Hollywood producer. His lawyer spoke with the fake agents, and when they asked for the civil penalty, the lawyer became skeptical, TMZ reported. He recorded conversations with the fake agents and eventually turned over the tapes to the DEA, according to TMZ.

The DEA is now investigating the matter, having received numerous similar complaints over the last year, TMZ reported.

“We’re told the likelihood is … a number of people folded like a cheap suit when they received the call threatening prosecution and sent the money in, hoping the criminal case would go away,” reports TMZ.

Could Release of American Hikers Help Ex-FBI Agent Robert Levinson?

Robert Levinson

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Could the release by Iran of two American hikers help spur the release of  missing retired FBI agent Robert Levinson?

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla) hopes so.

Fox News reports that Nelson fired of a letter on Sept. 22 to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to press the issue at the United Nations General Assembly last week. The letter came one day after the American hikers were released.

Levinson, married and the father of seven, vanished in March 2007 after checking out of a hotel on Kish Island, a Persian Gulf resort off the southern coast of Iran, Fox reported.

Fox reported that Levinson traveled to the region to meet an an American fugitive accused of murdering a former Iranian official in Maryland in 1980.

Recent reports said that Levinson was alive and being held somewhere in Southwest Asia.

In a letter to Clinton, Sen. Nelson wrote, according to Fox:

“I hope you will be able to appeal to Tehran’s representatives there to help reunite a husband and father with wife Christine and their seven children. The Levinson family has suffered all too long.”

 

FBI Probe into LA County Jail Angers Sheriff

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

Lee Baca was not happy about a cell phone that turned up in a Los Angeles County jail. Baca is the LA County Sheriff, and the cell phone was smuggled to an inmate — an FBI informant —  by agents of the FBI, according to the LA Times.

The Feds are investigating allegations of inmate beatings–including an incident in which deputies broke one inmate’s jaw and facial bones and beat another for two minutes while he was unconscious.

Baca had not been notified about the investigation. His spokesman, Steve Whitmore, says the investigation is unnecessary, and that sneaking a phone into the jail “is a serious breach of security that could put inmates, deputies and the public at risk,” according to the Times.

“Inmates that complain and say they’ve been brutalized … most of them turn out to be not what the inmate said occurred,” Whitman told the Times. “The ones that turn out to be valid are dealt with appropriately.”

Baca is expected to meet with Los Angeles U.S. Atty. André Birotte Jr soon to discuss the incident and the growing tensions between the department and the FBI, the LA Times reported. The police department has launched an investigation into the FBI’s role in “colluding with an inmate.”

This is the third federal investigation of the department in recent months, according to the Times, and the jails have faced a number of complaints over the past decade.

To read more click here.

Former NBA Player Arrested in Suspected Financial Scam

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com
 
In the NCAA tournament of 1990, down by one point and nearing the final buzzer, Tate George caught a full-court pass, spun around once and released a 15-foot shot with one second left in the game. The ball dropped through the hoop and UConn beat Clemson by one point.

George went on to play four years in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks. But the memory of the old basketball glory may be marred by the athlete’s financial dealings under the auspices of the George Group. George surrendered to federal authorities this week, who allege he carried out a more than $2 million investment fraud scheme, according to an FBI press release.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman made the announcement. George is CEO of The George Group, which the feds allege pitched prospective investors-including several retired athletes-to invest with the firm. George told investors their money would be used to fund real estate development projects. “George represented to some prospective investors that their funds would be held in an attorney escrow account and personally guaranteed the return of their investments, with interest,” said the press release.

George placed investments of more than $2 million between 2005 and 2011 in personal and business accounts, using new investments to pay older investors in ponzi-scheme fashion and using some on home improvement projects, dining out, gas and other personal expenses, rather than real estate projects, according to the FBI.

George faces a maximum 20-year sentence and $250,000 in fines if convicted.

Hilton Denies it Charged Justice Dept. $16 Just for Muffin

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
Apparently the controversy over the Justice Department paying $16 a muffin at a conference isn’t quite over yet.

Now comes the Capital Hilton hotel, which charged $4,200 for $250 muffins at a Justice Department conference in 2009.

The hotel is denying the charge was just for muffins, contrary to an Inspector General report, which chided the department for excessive spending on beverages and food at conferences, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Times reports that the hotel says the $16-per-person muffin included fresh fruit, coffee and juice, plus tax and gratuity.

“Hilton has a long-standing practice of working with government agencies to plan meetings and events that fall within their budgets,” the spokesman said, suggesting the IG report didn’t reflect that, the LA Times reported. “Dining receipts are often abbreviated and do not reflect the full pre-contracted menu and service provided…”

The LA Times reported that the Justice Department said: “We stand by our report.”

The IG report, which triggered an avalanche of criticism, also cited other excessive spending: $10 for cookies, $5 cans of soda, $8 cups of coffee, and over $32 per person for Cracker Jacks and other snacks.