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Archive for November 18th, 2020

Questions Persist: Why Did DOJ Move to Drop Charges Against an Ex-Mexican Defense Minister?

By Allan Lengel

The Justice Department has asked a federal judge to drop drug trafficking and corruption charges against a former Mexican defense minister, the New York Times reports, raising questions as to why?

The official word is that the U.S. wants to let Mexican officials investigate Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, who was arrested about a month ago in Los Angeles and arraigned in federal court in Brooklyn where he was awaiting trial. On Tuesday, Attorney General William P. Barr announced an abrupt reversal and plans to drop the charges.

Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda (Wikimedia photo)

Some have found it rather suspicious, particularly since the final decision to charge and then drop charges against the ex-official had to have come from the highest levels of power in Washington.

“That is a pretty stunning turnaround,” Jim Walden, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, tells the Times. “To bring such high-profile charges and then a month later to defer prosecution to a country where we have seen very mixed results in terms of its criminal justice system — that is an eyebrow raiser.”

The general, who was Mexico’s defense minister from 2012 to 2018, and was accused of taking bribes in exchange for protecting cartel leaders. The Times notes that Barr and Mexico’s attorney general, Alejandro Gertz Manero stopped short in a statement of promising any charges in Mexico.

“In recognition of the strong law enforcement partnership between Mexico and the United States, and in the interests of demonstrating our united front against all forms of criminality, the U.S. Department of Justice has made the decision to seek dismissal of the U.S. criminal charges against former Secretary Cienfuegos, so that he may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law,” the statement said.

Mexico said it was caught off guard by the charges, which might not seem all that surprising since a move at the level against a Mexican official might be kept secret to prevent the person from being tipped off.

A federal court filing said prosecutors acknowledged that the Trump administration had determined that preserving its relationship with Mexico prevailed over pursuing the case, the Times reports.

. “The United States has determined that sensitive and important foreign policy considerations outweigh the government’s interest in pursuing the prosecution of the defendant, under the totality of the circumstances, and therefore require dismissal of the case,” they wrote in asking a judge to dismiss the charge.

FBI Investigating Texas AG Ken Paxton Over Allegations of Bribery, Other Crimes

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

By Steve Neavling

The FBI is investigating Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on allegations that he used his office to help a wealthy donor.

Former members of Paxton’s staff say he used his office to commit bribery and other crimes to benefit Austin real estate developer Nate Paul in several ways, The Associated Press first reported.

Paxton has been dogged with allegations of wrongdoing since his top deputies, who have since resigned or been fired, tipped off federal authorities about actions they allege are illegal. Four aides have been fired, prompting a whistleblower lawsuit against Paxton, a second-term Republican who has denied wrongdoing.

“After reviewing the claims made by former employees of this office, their allegations are overblown, based upon assumptions, and to a large degree misrepresent the facts,” Paxton said in a statement. “Unfortunately these attorneys chose to air their grievances through the media and through the courts, rather than established and objective internal processes.”

Among the allegations are that Paxton ordered his office to hire an outside lawyer to pursue Paul’s claims about an improper search of his home and office last year. 

TSA Officer Dies from COVID-19, Ninth Employee Killed by Coronavirus

TSA employee Eduard Faktorvich. Photo via TSA.

By Steve Neavling

The coronavirus claimed the life of a TSA officer at Denver International Airport.

Eduard Faktorvich, who joined the TSA in Denver in April 2018, worked exclusively at the security checkpoint. He died Monday, the TSA announced Tuesday. 

“His colleagues remember him as a kind and respectful person, who always had a smile on his face,” the TSA said in a statement. “Although Eduard was with TSA for only two and half years, the entire team at DEN is saddened by the loss of one their own.”  

Faktorvich is the ninth TSA employee to die from COVID-19. Another 2,885 TSA employees have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“His death is a reminder to all of us at TSA of the ongoing seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the TSA said. “We remain committed to continuing to take every precaution to help protect our workforce as well as airline travelers.”