Indian trust mismanagement case goes to trial
Legal Topics | 2008/06/11 16:15

The US District Court for the District of Columbia began hearings Monday in Cobell v. Kempthorne, a class-action suit brought in 1996 alleging US government mismanagement of trust funds for a group of some 500,000 Native Americans and their heirs. Judge James Robertson will decide how much the government owes the class members for land-use violation penalties and royalties that plaintiffs say the US Department of the Interior (DOI) has not paid since 1887. In March 2007, the plaintiffs rejected a $7 billion settlement proposal from the US government, and have since asserted that the DOI owes them $58 billion. In January, Robertson ruled that the DOI "unreasonably delayed" the accounting of billions of dollars of American Indian money, holding that it was impossible for the DOI or for Congress to remedy the breach.

In July 2005, Judge Royce Lamberth ruled, that the DOI must apologize to the plaintiffs for its handling of the trust, and must admit that information being provided to them regarding outstanding lost royalties on earnings from Indian land may be unreliable. Lamberth also held two former Secretaries of the Interior, Gale Norton and Bruce Babbitt, in contempt and forced the department to protect Indian files by disconnecting its computers from the Internet. In 2006, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit removed Lamberth for alleged lack of objectivitgy and reassigned the case to Robertson.



Supreme Court Allows RICO Tax Lien Lawsuit
Legal Topics | 2008/06/10 15:45
A pair of Chicago-area companies have the right to sue their competitors under federal racketeering law for allegedly gaining more than their fair share of tax liens, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

BCS Services Inc. and Phoenix Bond & Indemnity Co. sued their competitors under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, claiming they committed mail fraud when they sent notices to delinquent taxpayers.

At issue were the competitors' statements that they were independent organizations bidding for the tax liens, when there were instances of relatives bidding for the same properties, the plaintiffs claimed.

The district court had ruled that BCS and Phoenix did not have standing because the taxpayers did not receive the notices in the mail. Justice Thomas, writing for the unanimous court, upheld the 7th Circuit's reversal of that decision, which ruled that BCS and Phoenix had standing because they were injured by the defendants' actions.

The competitors had argued that BCS and Phoenix did not rely on the competitors' statements of independence because they were made to the county, not to BCS and Phoenix.


Shareholders Sue Baker Hughes For Bribery
Areas of Focus | 2008/06/09 17:35
Directors of Baker Hughes, worldwide oil services, failed to stop bribing foreign officials despite a court order to do so, shareholders claim in Federal Court. Shareholders say the "Code of Conduct" the company instituted in 2002, after the SEC sued it, "was a farce," and the company continued paying "illegal bribes totaling millions of dollars ... to foreign officials."

Baker Hughes paid $44 million in April 2007 and was ordered to disgorge illegal profits to settle more bribery complaints, from the SEC and the Department of Justice, plaintiffs say, including an $11 million criminal fine.

Plaintiffs want restitution and exemplary damages from the Baker Hughes board members.

Plaintiffs' lead counsel is Crowley Norman.


Two Foreclosure Crooks Plead Guilty
Legal Topics | 2008/06/05 16:13
Two men pleaded guilty Tuesday to defrauding homeowners in a "foreclosure rescue" scam that netted the criminals titles to more than 80 houses, more than $20 million in fraudulently acquired home equity loans and $1.4 million in fees, federal prosecutors.

Maurice McDowall, 49, faces up to 30 years in prison for conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, plus a fine of twice his ill-gotten gains. McDowall directed the illegal operation, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Aleksander Lipkin, 29, faces the same sentence on the same charge. He was a mortgage broker who coordinated the submission of fraudulent information to lenders. Lipkin also pleaded guilty to another charge of defrauding subprime mortgage lenders.

One other defendant has pleaded guilty in U.S. v. McDowall and three more await trial. Four have pleaded guilty in U.S. v. Lipkin, and 22 await trial.

As is often the case in mortgage rescue scams, the men offered to "help" distressed homeowners by refinancing, selling the homes to straw buyers who would apply for a new mortgage, which they would use to pay off the old debt, and then resell the house to the victims.

But McDowall and Lipkin sometimes failed to make even a single payment on the loans; in nearly all the others they eventually stopped making payments and defaulted, cashing out the property. In some cases, they just stole the houses by forging homeowners' signatures transferring the property, prosecutors said.

"As a result, the distresses homeowners lost the titles to their homes and faced eviction, the straw buyers owed the lenders hundreds of thousands of dollars that they were unable to repay, and the lenders suffered losses from the defaulted loans," the U.S. Attorney's Office said.


Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon Can't Block Movie
Areas of Focus | 2008/06/03 16:14
A federal judge has denied Yoko Ono's and Sean Lennon's request that producers of the movie, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" be prohibited from distributing it because it contains 15 seconds of the John Lennon tune, "Imagine."

U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein found that "defendants are likely to prevail on their affirmative defense of fair use. ...(T)he fair use of a copyrighted work for purposes of criticism and commentary is not an infringement of copyright."


Fire Paramedics In Philly Win Overtime Pay Appeal
Areas of Focus | 2008/06/02 16:35
More than 300 paramedics for the Philadelphia Fire Department won the right to receive overtime pay in a 3rd Circuit ruling. The court voted 2-1 to reject the city's argument that fire service paramedics fall under an exemption from Fair Labor Standards Act overtime requirements that applies to workers who "engage in fire protection activities."

Judge Dolores Sloviter said fire service paramedics do not qualify as exempted fire protection employees, because they "are not hired to fight fires, not even in a small part."

"Every substantive aspect of the job description is medical in nature," Sloviter added, citing the statistic that plaintiffs' dispatches to actual fires account for 0.1 percent of their total annual dispatches. That's about five to 10 times a year, compared to 6,000 to 8,000 total dispatches for emergency medical services. Even when fire paramedics are called to a fire, it's for the purposes of providing medical care, not for putting out a fire, the ruling states.

For these reasons, the court concluded that fire paramedics do not fall within the overtime exemption and should receive time-and-a-half for working more than 40 hours a week.


FTC Shuts Down Pretexters
Legal Topics | 2008/05/29 17:35

The Federal Trade Commission has obtained court orders shutting down a ring that used "pretexting" to get people's confidential telephone records and sell them to third parties. The FTC also fined the defendants $600,000, their profits from the operation that got the information on false pretenses.

Pretexting made national news when Hewlett-Packard Chairwoman Patricia Dunn allegedly used it against reporters and her own board members to track down the source of leaks from board meetings.

A bill in the California Legislature to make the practice illegal under state law was heading for passage in 2006 when the Motion Picture Association of America killed it, telling lawmakers its investigators needed to pose as someone other than who they are to bust up illegal downloading rings. The MPAA got the bill killed just days before Hewlett-Packard's use of pretexting made headlines.



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