Former Georgia insurance commissioner John Oxendine pleads guilty
Legal Topics | 2024/03/26 08:50
A former Georgia insurance commissioner who made a failed Republican run for governor has pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit health care fraud.

John W. Oxendine of Johns Creek entered the guilty plea Friday in federal court in Atlanta. The 61-year-old had been indicted in May 2022 on charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but Oxendine is likely to be sentenced to less. Federal sentencing guidelines discussed in the plea agreement suggest prosecutors will recommend Oxendine be imprisoned between 4 years, 3 months, and 5 years, 3 months, depending on what U.S. District Judge Steve Jones decides at a sentencing hearing set for July 12. Jones could also fine Oxendine and order him to serve supervised release.

Oxendine also agreed to pay nearly $700,000 in restitution to health insurers who lost money in the scheme, the plea document states. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the money laundering charge as part of the plea.

“John Oxendine, as the former statewide insurance commissioner, knew the importance of honest dealings between doctors and insurance companies,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in a statement. “But for personal profit he willfully conspired with a physician to order hundreds of unnecessary lab tests, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Prosecutors say Oxendine conspired with Dr. Jeffrey Gallups to pressure other physicians who practiced with Gallups to order unnecessary medical tests from Next Health, a lab in Texas. Prosecutors said Oxendine pushed the plan in a September 2015 presentation to doctors who worked for Gallups’ practice.

The lab company, Oxendine and Gallups agreed the company would pay Gallups a kickback of 50% of the profit on the tests, Oxendine’s indictment said. Next Health paid $260,000 in kickbacks through Oxendine’s insurance consulting company, prosecutors said. Oxendine paid a $150,000 charitable contribution and $70,000 in attorney’s fees on Gallups,’ behalf, prosecutors said, keeping $40,000 for himself. Some patients were also charged, getting bills of up to $18,000 for the tests, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Oxendine told Gallups to lie and say the payments from Oxendine were loans when a compliance officer at Gallups’ company asked about them. Oxendine told Gallups to repeat the same lie when questioned by federal agents, prosecutors said. And they said Oxendine falsely said he didn’t work with the lab company or get money from Next Health when interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


Spanish court grants bail to Dani Alves while appealing rape conviction
Legal Interview | 2024/03/22 16:49
A Spanish court decided Wednesday that Brazilian soccer star Dani Alves could leave prison if he pays a bail of one million euros ($1.1 million) and hands over his passports while awaiting the appeal of his conviction for raping a woman in Barcelona.

Alves was found guilty of having raped the woman in a nightclub in 2022 and sentenced to four years and six months in prison. He denied wrongdoing during the three-day trial.

He has been behind bars since being arrested in January 2023. His prior requests to be released on bail were denied because the court deemed him a flight risk. Brazil does not extradite its own citizens when they are sentenced in other countries.

To now go free, in addition to the bail money, the 40-year-old Alves is also required to hand over his Brazilian and Spanish passports and is prohibited from leaving the country. He also cannot come within 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) of the victim or try to communicate with her and must make weekly check-ins at the courthouse. He still has a residence near the city.

The decision came a day after a hearing where Alves told the court via video conference from prison that he had no intention of fleeing the country, according to his lawyer, Inés Guardiola.

Guardiola and the state prosecutor have appealed the conviction. His defense is seeking his acquittal while the prosecutor wants his prison sentence increased to nine years. The victim’s lawyer wants him put away for 12 years. There is no date yet for the new trial at a higher court in Barcelona. After that, it can then go to the Supreme Court in Madrid.

The panel of judges at the Provincial Court in Barcelona was split on the decision, two to one. The judges in favor of granting Alves bail said that they believed the flight risk had lowered, adding that they considered the fact that Alves responded to police summons when he was arrested while visiting Spain. The other judge disagreed, saying he was still able to flee despite the restrictions placed on him.

Another factor cited by the two judges was that according to Spanish law a person cannot be kept in preventative detention for more than half the period of his or her prison sentence while awaiting an appeal. In Alves’ case that leaves him just over a year before he would reach the mid-way mark of two years, three months, while the appeals could easily take longer. Once his appeals are exhausted, and if his conviction is maintained, then depending on the final sentence he could go back to prison.


A Supreme Court ruling in a social media case could set standards
Legal Topics | 2024/03/18 20:56
In a busy term that could set standards for free speech in the digital age, the Supreme Court on Monday is taking up a dispute between Republican-led states and the Biden administration over how far the federal government can go to combat controversial social media posts on topics including COVID-19 and election security.

The justices are hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by Louisiana, Missouri and other parties accusing officials in the Democratic administration of leaning on the social media platforms to unconstitutionally squelch conservative points of view. Lower courts have sided with the states, but the Supreme Court blocked those rulings while it considers the issue.

The high court is in the midst of a term heavy with social media issues. On Friday, the court laid out standards for when public officials can block their social media followers. Less than a month ago, the court heard arguments over Republican-passed laws in Florida and Texas that prohibit large social media companies from taking down posts because of the views they express.

The cases over state laws and the one being argued Monday are variations on the same theme, complaints that the platforms are censoring conservative viewpoints. The states argue that White House communications staffers, the surgeon general, the FBI and the U.S. cybersecurity agency are among those who coerced changes in online content on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and other media platforms.

“It’s a very, very threatening thing when the federal government uses the power and authority of the government to block people from exercising their freedom of speech,” Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill said in a video her office posted online.

The administration responds that none of the actions the states complain about come close to problematic coercion. The states “still have not identified any instance in which any government official sought to coerce a platform’s editorial decisions with a threat of adverse government action,” wrote Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer. Prelogar wrote that states also can’t “point to any evidence that the government ever imposed any sanction when the platforms declined to moderate content the government had flagged — as routinely occurred.”


Prosecutors seek from 40 to 50 years in prison for Sam Bankman-Fried
Legal Topics | 2024/03/15 03:56
FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s orchestration of one of history’s largest financial frauds in his quest to dominate the cryptocurrency world deserves a prison sentence of 40 to 50 years, federal prosecutors on Friday told a federal judge.

Prosecutors made the recommendation in papers filed in Manhattan federal court in advance of a March 28 sentencing, where a judge will also consider a 100-year prison sentence recommended by the court’s probation officers and a request by defense lawyers for leniency and a term of imprisonment not to exceed single digits.

Bankman-Fried, 32, was convicted in November on fraud and conspiracy charges after his dramatic fall from a year earlier when he and his companies seemed to be riding a crest of success that had resulted in a Super Bowl advertisement and celebrity endorsements from stars like quarterback Tom Brady and comedian Larry David.

Some of his biggest successes, though, resulted from stealing at least $10 billion from investors and customers between 2017 and 2022 to buy luxury real estate, make risky investments, dispense outsized charitable donations and political contributions and to buy praise from celebrities, prosecutors said.

“His life in recent years has been one of unmatched greed and hubris; of ambition and rationalization; and courting risk and gambling repeatedly with other people’s money. And even now Bankman-Fried refuses to admit what he did was wrong,” prosecutors wrote.

“Having set himself on the goal of amassing endless wealth and unlimited power — to the point that he thought he might become President and the world’s first trillionaire — there was little Bankman-Fried did not do to achieve it,” prosecutors said.

They said crimes reflecting a “brazen disrespect for the rule of law” had depleted the retirement funds and nest eggs of people who could least afford to lose money, including some in war-torn or financially insecure countries, and had harmed others who sought to “break generational poverty” only to be left “devastated” and “heartbroken.”

“He knew what society deemed illegal and unethical, but disregarded that based on a pernicious megalomania guided by the defendant’s own values and sense of superiority,” prosecutors said.

Bankman-Fried was extradited to the United States in December 2022 from the Bahamas after his companies collapsed a month earlier. Originally permitted to remain at home with his parents in Palo Alto, California, he was jailed last year weeks before his trial after Judge Lewis A. Kaplan concluded that he had tried to tamper with trial witnesses.


Trump wants N.Y. hush money trial to wait for Supreme Court immunity ruling
Legal Business | 2024/03/12 01:50
Donald Trump is seeking to delay his March 25 hush money trial until the Supreme Court rules on the presidential immunity claims he raised in another of his criminal cases.

The Republican former president’s lawyers on Monday asked Manhattan Judge Juan Manuel Merchan to adjourn the New York criminal trial indefinitely until Trump’s immunity claim in his Washington, D.C., election interference case is resolved. Merchan did not immediately rule.

Trump contends he is immune for prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office. His lawyers argue some of the evidence and alleged acts in the hush money case overlap with his time in the White House and constitute official acts.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments April 25, a month after the scheduled start of jury selection in Trump’s hush money case. It is the first of his four criminal cases slated to go to trial as he closes in on the Republican presidential nomination in his quest to retake the White House.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment. Prosecutors are expected to respond to Trump’s delay request in court papers later this week.

Trump first raised the immunity issue in his Washington, D.C., criminal case, which involves allegations that he worked to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the run-up to the violent riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The hush money case centers on allegations that Trump falsified his company’s internal records to hide the true nature of payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who helped Trump bury negative stories during his 2016 presidential campaign. Among other things, Cohen paid porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 to suppress her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.

Trump’s lawyers argue that some evidence Manhattan prosecutors plan to introduce at the hush money trial, including messages he posted on social media in 2018 about money paid to Cohen, were from his time as president and constituted official acts.

Trump pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels, and his lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses and not part of any cover-up.

A federal judge last year rejected Trump’s claim that allegations in the hush money indictment involved official duties, nixing his bid to move the case from state court to federal court. Had the case been moved to federal court, Trump’s lawyers could’ve tried to get the charges dismissed on the grounds that federal officials have immunity from prosecution over actions taken as part of their official duties.


Sen. Bob Menendez enters not guilty plea to latest criminal indictment
Legal Business | 2024/03/11 01:50
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and his wife pleaded not guilty on Monday to new obstruction of justice charges recently added to a broad corruption indictment threatening the Democrat’s re-election chances.

“Once again, not guilty your honor,” Menendez responded after Judge Sidney H. Stein asked him to enter a plea at a 20-minute hearing at a federal court in Manhattan. Menendez had previously pleaded not guilty to other charges in October.

Menendez and his wife, Nadine, left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. Menendez ignored a shouted question about whether he intends to run for re-election.

The couple is charged with taking bribes of gold bars, cash and a luxury car in return for the senator’s help in projects pursued by three New Jersey businessmen. Prosecutors say that in return for the loot, Menendez helped one of the men get a lucrative meat-certification deal with Egypt — and in doing so took actions favorable to the Egyptian government. An indictment said Menendez helped another associate get a deal with a Qatari investment fund.

Two of the three businessmen accused of bribing Menendez also entered not guilty pleas on Monday. A third, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty two weeks ago to bribery charges and agreed to testify against the others at a trial set for May 6.

After his fall arrest, Menendez, 70, was forced to relinquish his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but said he would not resign from Congress.

If Menendez does choose to seek re-election, he’ll likely have to face two other strong Democratic contenders in a June 4 primary: U.S. Rep. Andy Kim and Tammy Murphy, the wife of New Jersey’s governor.

The new allegations — part of what is now an 18-count indictment — are related to what prosecutors say were efforts to cover up the illegal bribes.

One of those gifts included a Mercedes-Benz convertible that Uribe says he bought for Nadine Menendez because her husband had been trying to use his influence to squash two criminal investigations into people close to him.


Hong Kong court affirms landmark sedition conviction for pro-democracy activist
Legal Business | 2024/03/07 16:43
Criticizing laws or chanting anti-government slogans can be enough to jail someone for sedition in Hong Kong, an appeal court ruled Thursday in a landmark case brought under a colonial-era law increasingly used to crush dissent.

Tam Tak-chi, the first person tried under the city’s sedition law since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Tam’s lawyers had argued his conviction should be overturned because the prosecution did not show he meant to incite violence.

The prosecution is widely seen as part of Beijing’s clampdown on dissent in the former British colony, following widespread anti-government protests in 2019.

Hong Kong court affirms landmark sedition conviction for pro-democracy activist

Tam was convicted on 11 charges in 2022, including seven counts of “uttering seditious words.” A judge at the lower court took issue with him chanting the popular protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” — words the government says imply separatism — and criticizing the Beijing-imposed National Security Law during a primary campaign.

The judge said his words broke the law because they incited discontent against Hong Kong and disobedience to the law.

Tam and his lawyers had drawn hope from a ruling made by a top Commonwealth court in a 2023 case about a similar law. In that case, the London-based Privy Council said that the sedition law in Trinidad and Tobago could not be used to convict people unless they intended to incite violence or disorder. The Privy Council is the court of final appeal for a number of Commonwealth countries.

But the Hong Kong court rejected the argument, finding that the Privy Council ruling only applied to the law in Trinidad and Tobago.

Judge Jeremy Poon said sedition in Hong Kong is a statutory offense, not a common law offense. He added that law’s legislative history made it clear that an intention to incite violence is not a necessary element of most sedition offenses.

“Nothing suggests that any individual, including the applicant, a politician and activist highly critical of the government and a stern opponent of government policy, would be subject to an unacceptably harsh burden because of the restriction on seditious acts or speeches imposed by the offense,” the ruling said.




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