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Columnist: Federal Charges Against Sen. Menendez Are ‘Avoidable Mistake’

Robert Menendez

By Gerald Krovatin
Star-Ledger Guest Columnist

Let’s take a deep breath and put the indictment of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) in perspective.

Every few years, the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department in Washington seems to bring a case against a high-profile elected official that turns out to be a waste of time and resources. From the unsuccessful prosecution of former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy to the train wreck of a case against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to the bewildering charges against former Sen. John Edwards (D-North Carolina), when the dust settles, the prosecutions have ended up posing more of a threat to public confidence in the Justice Department and its judgment than anything else.

This year, the “public integrity” roulette wheel has stopped on Sen. Menendez. And, like many of the cases that have come before it, the prosecution of Sen. Menendez has all the signs of being another foreseeable and avoidable mistake.

In the case just filed, the prosecutors have charged Sen. Menendez with accepting gifts from Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen. The government contends that, in exchange for these gifts, Sen. Menendez met with administration officials to advance his friend’s interests in a Medicare billing dispute and a port security contract in the Dominican Republic.

But according to news reports and a court opinion already decided during the investigation, the senator and Melgen have also been close personal friends for more than two decades. Their relationship reportedly includes weddings, funerals and other family events that close friends typically share with each other.

This friendship poses a serious legal problem for the government. How can the government prove that any efforts by Sen. Menendez on behalf of his friend were caused by any gifts, as opposed to their long-standing personal friendship? And, if the Justice Department now is charging that soliciting or receiving campaign contributions is the quid pro quo of corruption, it better abolish our current system of raising political money or build a whole lot more jail cells for contributors and candidates.

Gerald Krovatin is a criminal defense attorney and a past president of the Association of the Federal Bar of New Jersey.

To read more click here. 

Border Patrol Supervisor Pleaded Not Guilty to Bathroom Peeping Case

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A Border Patrol supervisor accused of hiding a video camera in the women’s bathroom at the agency’s station in San Diego pleaded not guilty Thursday.

U-T San Diego reports that Armando Gonzalez, 46, pleaded not guilty to 19 counts related to the camera.

Authorities said at least a dozen women were captured on at least 170 videos, and the identities of some of the victims are still unknown.

Gonzalez maintains he installed the motion-activated cameras to investigate suspicions that an employee was using illegal drugs.

“He’s been a very good employee for the Border Patrol for two decades,” Anthony Colombo, who represented Gonzalez on Thursday, said.

Saudi Arabian Man to Be Deported After Pleading Guilty to Punching TSA Officer

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A Saudi Arabian man will be deported after pleading guilty this week to punching a TSA officer in the face at the Orlando International Airport in January.

Mohammed Abdullah Alomaim, 43, was sentenced to time served and a two-year supervised release, The Orlando Sentinel reports.

“As a result of his conviction, Alomaim will be deported from the United States,” a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida said.

In January, a TSA officer approached Alomaim for acting erratically and leaving his bag unattended. Alomaim responded by punching the officer in the face.

“Alomaim was immediately taken into custody,” the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

The FBI handled the investigation.

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House Committee Subpoenas 2 Secret Service Agents Over Crash

secret service photo

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Two Secret Service agents have been subpoenaed for more information on an incident involving a pair of agents involved in a drunken accident outside of a White House barricade, The Huffington Post reports.

A House of Representatives committee said earlier this week that the subpoenas were necessary because the Secret Service has not been cooperative.

“We therefore must take the regrettable step of compelling the agents for interviews before the Committee,” Republican Jason Chaffetz, head of the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement.

Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson criticized the action, saying his department has been forthcoming. He called the subpoenas “unprecedented and unnecessary.”

The committee did not identify the agents who are being subpoenaed.

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TSA’s List of Suspicious Behaviors Is Revealed As ACLU Sues for Document

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

What do airport screeners look for when they are trying to detect suspicious behavior?

The suggestions are part of the TSA’s controversial behavior-detection program, Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques, which outlines suspicious actions.

Although the TSA considers the list of behaviors to be confidential, it was posted online.

The ACLU, which is concerned that the list encourages racial and ethnic profiling, is suing the TSA to force the release of details of the program, The Washington Post wrote.

Here are some of the suspicious behaviors: tightly gripping a bag, appearing disoriented and whistling.

“Airports are rich environments for the kind of stress, exhaustion, or confusion that the TSA apparently finds suspicious, and research has long made clear that trying to judge people’s intentions based on supposed indicators as subjective or commonplace as these just doesn’t work,” Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement.

Senate Republicans Probe Claims That Agents Disciplined over Obama Immigration Policies

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com 

Senate Republicans want to know whether Border Patrol agents or Homeland Security officials were disciplined for refusing to follow President Obama’s immigration policies.

Fox News reports that Republicans are investigating claims that federal managers are retaliating against employees who don’t follow the president’s order.

“We are aware of multiple allegations of targeting and retaliation against DHS personnel who refuse to comply with this administration’s willful disregard of our immigration laws,” members of a Senate judiciary subcommittee on immigration told Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in a letter on Tuesday.

The letter comes after Chris Cabrera, a National Border Patrol Council (Local 3307) executive, told a Senate committee that Border Patrol agents are facing discipline for repeatedly reporting a gathering of more than 20 illegal immigrants.

“Needless to say, agents got the message and now stay below this 20 person threshold no matter the actual size of the group,” Cabrera testified.

Robert Durst Attorneys: FBI Illegally Searched Hotel in New Orleans

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Robert Durst, the millionaire real-estate heir who was the subject of a popular TV show, was subjected to an illegal FBI search before he was arrested on murder charges, his attorney said this week.

The Boston Herald reports that the FBI “rummaged” through the 71-year-old man’s hotel room without a proper warrant.

The warrant led to Durst’s arrest and the confiscation of a revolver and 5 ounces of marijuana in New Orleans.
Durst’s attorneys argued that the sworn statement used to get the warrant “contains a material misrepresentation designed to cover up the FBI’s unlawful, warrantless search of Mr. Durst’s hotel room.”

Durst is accused of killing his friend friend Susan Berman in 2000 to keep her quiet about another murder investigation involving Durst.

Grand Jury Indicts Sen. Menendez on Corruption Charges Involving Doctor

Robert Menendez

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey was indicted on corruption charges Wednesday, marking the first time a sitting U.S. senator has been criminally charged since Alaska’s Ted Stevens in 2008, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The 61-year-old Democrat and key opponent of President Obama’s key foreign-policy initiatives said he was “outraged” by the charges, which came after a two-year investigation by the FBI.

The focus of the probe was on the senator and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.

“Prosecutors at the Justice Department do not know the difference between friendship and corruption,”Menendez said. “I’m confident at the end of the day I will be vindicated and they will be exposed.”

The grand jury handed down a 14-count indictment, which alleges Menendez used his authority to help Dr. Melgen in exchange for campaign contributions.

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