Bag Man Says FBI Told Him to Ask for $2M Hush Money
Areas of Focus | 2008/09/29 16:12
A bag man testified on Friday that he was following FBI instructions when he asked the government of Venezuela for $2 million in hush money, after he was caught carrying $800,000 in a briefcase intended, according to prosecutors, for Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in her campaign to become president of Argentina.

Guido Antonini, who was caught with the money, is now cooperating with federal prosecutors. He testified in Federal Court in Miami against Franklin Duran, who is accused of being an unregistered foreign agent in America.

Antonini was detained in August 2007 at a Buenos Aires airport. Antonini confirmed in his testimony on Thursday and Friady that he asked the government of Venezuela for $2 million in hush money, claiming he wanted it for legal expenses and other debt he would incur as a result of being caught with the $800,000.

In the trial before U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lenard, Antonini also testified that he told Duran he would not accept the money directly from Duran, that the money had to come from the Venezuelan government.

Antonini wore a wire during his conversations with Duran, according to the testimony. In one of the taped conversations used in court, Antonini is refusing $2 million in hush money directly from Duran. He says he wants to receive the money directly from the Venezuelan government.

But Duran answers that the Venezuelans won't go for that because they don't trust him, thehy think he is working with the FBI. The two men never spoke again after that conversation.

Duran's defense lawyer, Edward Shohat from Bierman Shohat Loewy & Klein, suggested that when Antonini pressured Venezuela to accept the hush money offer on his terms, he committed extortion.

Antonini replied by saying that he was acting as instructed by the FBI.


Guilty Plea In Courthouse Bombing
Areas of Focus | 2008/09/26 16:03
Eric R. Robinson pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to bomb the San Diego Federal Courthouse. Robinson admitted he drove a co-conspirator to the courthouse on May 4 and waited in the car while the other person set off three pipe bombs, then he drove the other person back to Menifee, about 80 miles north.

Edward Reginald Robinson, 43, of San Diego, admitted he conspired with others to build and detonate a series of pipe bombs, including the ones used at the courthouse and others set off at a Federal Express distribution center in San Diego on April 25. He faces up to 30 years in prison at his Jan. 9, 2009 sentencing in San Diego Federal Court.


Witness Says OJ Told Him To Bring A Gun
Areas of Focus | 2008/09/25 15:55
O.J. Simpson told two friends to bring guns to last year's hotel room heist, a former co-defendant in Simpson's kidnapping and armed robbery trial testified Wednesday. "He said, 'I just need you all to bring the guns. But you don't have to take them out, just put them in your waist band. Kind of open up your jackets so they see that you got them and they know that we mean business,'" Walter Alexander testified.

Also Wednesday, Judge Jackie Glass refused to let Fred Goldman's attorney testify about his 10 years of efforts to get Simpson to pay the $33 million wrongful death civil award for the death of Goldman's son.

In testimony Wednesday, Alexander said he expressed hesitation about carrying a gun, and Simpson responded, "Fuck the police. It's my shit. I'm just going to get my shit. What they gonna do? Take me to jail for going to get my own shit?"

Alexander said Simpson then told the other friend, Michael McClinton, "to take the gun out and put it in his hand" before they entered Tom Riccio's hotel room to get the sports memorabilia from dealers Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong.

"I thought, 'Man this is gonna be a robbery," Alexander said. "I really wanted to go in the opposite direction, but at the same time I didn't want to seem like a coward, and O.J. was my friend."

Alexander said he carried a .22-caliber pistol, but he never took it out.

Alexander testified that Simpson encouraged them to lie about the guns after the incident. "He kept repeating, 'Hey just remember - there was no guns. No guns,'" Alexander said.

Simpson has maintained that he saw no guns, and that he was merely retrieving his personal property that was stolen from him years ago.

Alexander was the first witness to admit being armed during the alleged events at the Palace Station on Sept. 13, 2007. He was also the first to cut a deal with prosecutors for a lesser charge in exchange for his testimony.

He said that District Attorney David Roger told him, "The first horse to the trough drinks the pristine waters."

During his testimony, Alexander said Simpson was drinking, "laughing and boisterous, like nothing had happened," at a wedding dinner the next day. He even quipped, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas - unless you're O.J. Simpson," Alexander said.

When Alexander expressed fear about being arrested, he said, Simpson "just laughed," and told him "'Nigga, if you get out of town you don't have to worry about going to jail.'"

Alexander carried a Bible into the courtroom Wednesday, and opened it to read during a sidebar. After objections from Simpson attorney Yale Galanter, Clark County District Court Judge ordered Alexander to hand it over.

During a heated cross-examination, Galanter peppered Alexander with questions in an attempt to make him look like a money-hungry turncoat with a checkered past.

Galanter also wanted to explore allegations that Alexander was a pimp - not a real estate agent, as he testified - but Glass wouldn't allow it.

In the middle of Galanter's cross-examination, Alexander seemed to suggest that he'd almost rather be a co-defendant with Simpson than take a pounding from Galanter. "Then I would not have to say anything and I would not have to be badgered by this man," he said.

The two then entered a shouting match, after Alexander told Galanter to back up when he approached the witness stand and tried to show him a copy of the transcript from the preliminary hearing.

Glass retained order, then admonished Galanter: "Don't ever do that again. If he asks you to back up, back up."

The long day of testimony began with Glass barring prosecutors' attempts to allow Fred Goldman's attorney, David Cook, to testify about his efforts to retrieve the $33.5 million, wrongful-death civil award that Goldman won against Simpson in 1997.


Justices Stay Execution with Two Hours Left
Areas of Focus | 2008/09/24 15:54
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution on Tuesday for a Georgia inmate convicted of killing a police officer in 1989, two hours before the scheduled execution.

Troy A. Davis, 39, was convicted of murdering Mark MacPhail, a Savannah police officer.

The justices issued the stay without explanation. The case made national headlines, according to The New York Times, after seven of the nine witnesses at Davis' trial later recanted their testimony, with two saying they testified against the defendant under police pressure.


Facebook Case Has Echoes Of MySpace Suicide Case
Areas of Focus | 2008/09/23 15:40
A dad says someone used a Facebook account to torment his mentally disturbed teen-age daughter, and he wants the social-networking site to release that person's account information so he or she can be held liable.

Fred Beuckman III says his 16-year-old daughter befriended a Jane Doe on Facebook, and that Doe found out that his daughter had a psychiatric condition that included an obsession with a boy. Doe then created a persona called Jennifer Litzinger, who purportedly was a rival for the boy's affections, according to the suit in St. Louis County Court.

Beuckman claims Doe used a photo of an attractive, well-endowed model as her profile picture and told the daughter that she "looked like a troll," that she had a "worthless life" and that Doe and the boy "almost had sex."

His daughter had a severe psychological reaction to these statements, Beuckman says. He says she was admitted to a hospital for four days to get stabilized and was admitted as an in-patient to the Menninger Residential Clinic in Houston, a psychiatric facility.

Beuckman wants Facebook ordered to release Doe's identity and damages for his daughter's care, including transportation to and from Houston.

The case has echoes of another local case involving MySpace, a similar social-networking Internet site. That case made national headlines after Megan Meier, a teen-ager with a history of depression, killed herself after receiving negative messages from a person she thought was a boy on MySpace. The boy turned out to be a neighborhood mom, Lori Drew, who was trying to find out what Meier was saying about her daughter. Drew is on trial for related charges in Los Angeles, where MySpace is based.

Facebook was not named as a defendant in this case; Doe is. Beuckman is represented by Joe Jacobson.




New class action filed over US warrantless surveillance program
Legal Topics | 2008/09/22 15:44
The Electronic Frontier Foundation on Thursday filed a class action lawsuit seeking injunctive, declaratory and equitable relief from the National Security Agency warrantless surveillance program, which gave government agencies access to over 300 terabytes of data concerning communication sent and received by AT&T customers. Filed on behalf of those customers, the suit names as defendants the US government, the NSA, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and several other officials. EFF alleges violations of the First and Fourth Amendments, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and federal electronic surveillance law. The complaint also argues that the surveillance program violated the Federal Administrative Procedure Act because it exceeded Congressionally-mandated limitations established by FISA, and alleges that it violates the Constitutional separation of powers principle
  because it was authorized by the Executive in excess of the Executive’s authority under Article II of the United States Constitution ... and exceeds the statutory limits imposed on the Executive by Congress.
The lawsuit filed Thursday follows an earlier class-action lawsuit filed by EFF against AT&T in January 2006 over the company's participation in the warrantless surveillance program. The most recent lawsuit is aimed at the US government, reflecting the July amendment to FISA which granted retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies participating in the surveillance program. The amendment was signed into law by President Bush on July 10, after the US Senate voted 69-28 to approve the amendment. Earlier that day, the Senate rejected three proposed amendments to the bill that would have limited the immunity. In June, the US House of Representatives passed HR 6304, amending FISA and including the granting of retroactive immunity. The bill also grants the FISA court authority to review a wider range of wiretapping orders, would prohibit the executive branch from overriding the court's authority, and orders the Department of Justice and other agencies to issue a report on the country's use of wiretapping orders.


Bush to sign disabilities bill passed by US House
Legal Topics | 2008/09/19 15:54
A bill overwriting judicial interpretations which have narrowed protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act awaits President Bush's signature following passage by the US House of Representatives on Wednesday. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which was approved by a voice vote, purports to "restore the intent and protections" of the landmark civil rights legislation. The bill expressly overrules holdings by the US Supreme Court  in two major ADA cases: Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., which directs courts to consider "mitigating measures" such as medication when determining whether an individual is disabled, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, which requires strict interpretation of the ADA's definition of a disability. US Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr, a prime sponsor of the bill, said in remarks on the House floor:
   The bill we pass today will restore the full meaning of equal protection under the law and all the promises that our Nation has to offer. As Members are well-aware by now, the Supreme Court has slowly chipped away at the broad protections of the ADA and has created a new set of barriers for disabled Americans. The Court's rulings currently exclude millions of disabled Americans from the ADA's protections—the very citizens that Congress expressly sought to include within the scope of the Act in 1990.
The US Chamber of Commerce also praised the bill, calling it a "a sound compromise between the Senate, the House, the business community, and the disability community." In a statement, White House press secretary Dana Perino said the president "looks forward" to signing the bill and "is encouraged by the improvements made to the bill during the legislative process."

The US is one of only 45 countries in the world with disability legislation, having enacted the ADA in 1990. The UN General Assembly in 2006 adopted an international treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities, which took effect in May of this year after it was ratified by 20 nations. The US said that it would not sign the international accord, insisting that US domestic measures on the federal, state and local levels are already adequate for the purpose.


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