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News Story

Confusion Over ATF Gun Approvals for Manunfacturers

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

The Washington Times reports that there’s some confusion between gun manufacturers and the ATF.

“ATF regulations for the manufacture of weapons are often unclear,” the paper reports, “leading to reliance on a secretive system” where proposed guns are submitted for approval one by one and “judgements are private and, it turns out, sometimes contradictory.”

The approval process is known as “letter rulings,” according to the Washington Times, and a major critic of the process is former assistant director of criminal investigations for the ATF Robert E. Sanders, who said that letter rulings are often “definitely contradictory and inconsistent,” though still necessary because regulations are ill-defined.

“It is hard to tell what ATF wants you to do without submitting your product and asking for a letter ruling,” he said. “You can’t tell what the agency has said in the past to others, because those letter rulings are generally secret. How could somebody know how to comply with the law?”

To read more click here.

Military Man with Carry-On Explosives Proclaims Ignorance

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

Sgt. 1st Class Trey Scott Atwater, the military man who shut down a Texas airport over the weekend when he tried to carry on explosives to a flight, said he didn’t know the prohibited materials were in his bag, FayObserver reports.

Atwater had not used his carry-on bag since bringing it back from Afghanistan in April, a federal affidavit released on Tuesday say. Atwater took the bag from his garage to carry children’s items for a family trip to Texas, he said, according to the website.

Atwater waived a hearing scheduled for Tuesday and will remain in custody in Midland, Tex. , the US Attorney in Midland said. If convicted he faces up to ten years in federal prison, in addition to fines.

To read more click here.

FBI Says Man Threatened to Kill Jews and Blacks

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

Abraham Foxman, the leader of the Anti-Defamation League leader, may have been targeted by a white supremacist planning to kill Jews and blacks, the FBI said, according to the Jewish news website JTA.

Danny Lee Warner, 33, told his wife about the plan before being arrested on Dec. 28 outside of an Arizona McDonald’s, according to the website. Warner’s wife had received a letter postmarked Dec. 19 from Warner saying he planned to kill “niggers and Jews” until the government “stopped him,” the report says.

His wife and his internet browser indicated  he may have possibly been planning a trip to New York to target  the ADL’s Foxman,  police say. Warner had also been a leader of the white supremacist group the Silent Aryan Warriors during a 10-year stint in the Utan prison system, law enforcement officials said.

To read more click here.

 

Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Gets Rare ‘Red State’ Endorsement

doj photo

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

Attorney General Eric Holder, a favorite target of Congressional Republicans in the wake of the Fast and Furious debacle in which ATF officials let guns “walk” from Southwestern dealers in the US to drug cartels in Mexico, is getting a rare endorsement from a prominent official in Utah–“perhaps the reddest of Republican-red states”–the website Main Justice reports.

“To come all the way out here to a red state and speak to us on a big occasion, I think it’s huge,” Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Holder is expected to give the keynote address at the Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission’s annual launch in Salt Lake City.

Shurtleff has been a vocal supporter of Holder, co-authoring an editorial in the Arizona Republic in November with former Utah AG Terry Goddard which argued, as Holder did before Congress, that Congress has failed to give the Justice Department the tools and funding needed to stop the flow of guns across the border, Main Justice reported.

Still, other state Republicans are as unhappy about Holder’s appearance as some might expect. The Attorney General “needs to be held responsible for the ‘Fast and Furious’ debacle and should be immediately removed from office,” State Rep. Carl Wimmer said. “…The man has no right to be in the position he is in,” he said.

To read more click here.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST:

ATF Agent Was Likely Killed by Friendly Fire, NY Daily News Reports

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Sadly, investigators believe the off-duty ATF agent who was shot and killed while struggling with a robbery suspect last Saturday at a Long Island pharmacy, was likely shot by friendly fire from a retired Nassau County police lieutenant, the New York Daily News reported, citing unnamed sources.

The paper reported that agent John Capano, 51, was picking up cancer medicine for his father at Charlie’s Family Pharmacy in Seaford when he ran into a robbery in progress.

It was New Year’s Eve day, and Capano had planned to spend the evening with his wife, two children and father, the Daily News reported. His mother had just died of cancer two weeks before.

FBI and ATF are running ballistics tests, the paper reported, but investigators’ working theory is that Capano was killed by friendly fire.

To read the full story click here.

 

Sentences Rise While Crimes Fall, Legal Experts Say

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

When William Jefferson was convicted on public corruption charges in 2009, he got hit with a  13-year sentence–the highest prison term a Congressman has ever received. Bernie Madoff, the financial scammer who pleaded guilty in New York in 2009 to running a massive Ponzi scheme, was handed a whopping 150-year sentence. And just recently, the ever-chatty former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, convicted of public corruption charges, was given 14 years–the harshest sentence an Illinois governor has ever received in a state known for its history of public corruption.

In federal courts across the United States, criminal sentences collectively have risen steadily in recent years, all while actual crime levels are falling.

“The national data is crystal clear on this,” Harvard Law Professor Ron Sullivan said in a phone interview with ticklethewire.com. “Sentences are getting increasingly harsher even though the crime rate is lower.” Sullivan teaches courses in criminal law and criminal procedure at Harvard Law.

Sullivan attributes the change in the last couple decades to a shift from discretionary sentencing to sentences often determined by federal sentencing guidelines — even after the guidelines went from mandatory to discretionary.

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 sought to bring more consistency to federal sentencing, with mandatory sentences for certain convictions and for determinate sentencing–a firm and automatic sentence for different crimes and actions. The act created the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) and the federal sentencing guidelines used in federal cases today. It also put some judges in a regrettable position when they felt the guidelines were excessive, but could do little about it.

Ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham/gov photo

But in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the mandatory guidelines were in violation of the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury, in the case United States v. Booker. The guidelines then became legally regarded as suggestions, not requirements.

Still, judges almost always at least start with the guidelines, and a federal case law requires a judge to write their reasoning for departing from the guidelines if sentences exceed them by a certain percentage.

Ex-Rep. William Jefferson

Studies clearly point to the hike.

In November of 2004, the USSC published a report called “Fifteen Years of Guidelines Sentencing,” a look at the impact of the changes since sentencing reform was initiated.

“The data clearly demonstrate that, on average, federal offenders receive substantially more severe sentences under the guidelines than they did in the pre-guidelines era,” the report states. The first year in which a majority of federal offenders were sentenced under the guidelines–a period between 1987 and 1989–the average prison sentence nearly doubled; by 1992 it had more than doubled, from 26 months in 1986 to 59 months in ’92.

A 2006 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission evaluating the impact of the Supreme Court’s Booker decision found that “the majority of federal cases continue to be sentences in conformance with the sentencing guidelines.” The report placed the rate at which federal judges conformed to sentencing guidelines at 85.9 percent, and found that the average sentence length had actually increased after Booker. Above-guideline sentences doubled after Booker, according to the report.

The decade between 1997 and 2007 saw about a ten percent rise in the rate of prison sentences for federal offenders, according to a January 2009 report by the United States Sentencing Commission entitled “Alternative Sentencing in the Federal Criminal Justice System.” That corresponded with a decrease in alternative sentencing like probation, or combinations of lower prison terms with probation and other alternatives.

Legal experts suggest the shift to tougher sentences is also, at least in part, due to changing attitudes about incarceration. They say the popularity of the rehabilitative component of incarceration declined in the 1970s, which precipitated the reform of the 80s. Incarceration became more about taking the criminal element out of society.

Ex-Gov Rod Blagojevich

The crew of crooked Illinois governors provides a little snapshot of the upward climb in sentences. In 1973, Ex-Gov. Otto Kern Jr. was convicted on 17 counts including bribery, conspiracy and perjury, and was sentenced to three years in prison.  He was released early after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Ex-Gov. George Ryan was convicted on public corruption charges in 2006 and got 6 1/2 years in prison.  As an aside, Ex-Gov. Daniel Walker, who had already left office, was convicted in 1987 on charges related to the First American Savings & Loan Association in Illinois and got seven years.

Before Congressman Jefferson’s history-making 13-year sentence, former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif) set the record in 2006 when he got eight years for bribery involving the defense industry.  Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the legendary Illinois Democrat,  got 17 months after pleading guilty in 1996 for mail fraud. (Jefferson is free pending his appeal).

The tougher sentences involving public officials may also be a sign that the public and judiciary are becoming increasingly agitated about crooked politicians, and politicians in general. Real Clear Politics reports the average job approval rating for Congress at 12 percent, though some polls report as low as eight.

Bernie Madoff

“The quid pro quo–taking money in exchange for improper use of a public office–is viewed as undermining confidence in government and fostering distrust of public officials,” said George Washington University Law Professor Stephen Saltzburg, “which ultimately harms a democracy.”

“Federal judges have been increasingly tough on most, if not all, defendants who have breached the public trust by seeking to profit through the illegal acceptance of funds,” said Saltzburg.

Legislators see higher sentence recommendations as a low-cost means to look tough, even though they know judges will most often hand down sentences well below the highest recommendations, Harvard Prof. Sullivan says. “They know that most people probably are not going to get the top level sentences, but will get some sentences somewhere lower on the range,” which are still tough and pushes sentences up overall, he said.

Further more, prosecutors are more often using very high sentences instrumentally to induce plea bargains. “Most rational actors can’t take the risk of extraordinarily high sentences,” said Sullivan, “so they are kind of forced to accept plea bargains.”

John Janiszewski, an attorney in Detroit, agrees. “Only about five to ten percent of cases go to trial,” he says. “Most end in a plea deal.”

“Determinative sentencing and mandatory sentences really take the human element of any case out of the judge’s hand,” Janiszewski says, “and in criminal cases the human element is really important; every case is different.”

 

 

Three Arrested, One at Large in Illegal Stem Cell “Cure” Scheme

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

Three men were arrested in the past ten days for a scheme that involved exploiting the last hopes of the terminally ill, according to a Reuters report.

The three men —  and a fourth still being pursued by the FBI — were accused of scheming to market stem cells, unapproved by the FDA, as miracle cures for the desperate and terminally ill.

The arrests come after two indictments were issued in November charging the four with 39 counts of mail fraud and the unlawful manufacture, distribution and sale of unapproved stem cell procedures, according to Reuters.

Vincent Dammai, 40, has been identified as a researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina; Francisco Morales, 52, is accused of falsely claiming to be a medical doctor while operating a clinic in Texas specializing in stem cell treatment for “incurable diseases”; Alberto Ramon, a 48-year-old also from Texas, is a licensed midwife who is accused of obtaining umbilical cord blood to create stem cells from patients.

The fourth charged is Lawrence Stowe, 58, of Dallas, Texas. Stowe remains at large, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

To read more click here.

Whitey Bulger Prosecutor Named ‘Bostonian of the Year’

U.S. Atty. Carmen Ortiz

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney who made headlines as the lead prosecutor in  the case of the infamous crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger and his long-time girlfriend Catherine Greig, has been named “Bostonian of the Year,” by the Boston Globe Magazine, the publication announced in a press release on Friday.

The Globe, which will feature a profile of Ortiz in a special Sunday edition of the paper, called the Attorney “the fighter” due to her “long history prosecuting political corruption cases,” according to the release, beginning with an internship in 1980 with the US Department of Justice’s public integrity unit, where she worked alongside Eric Holder.

“We are excited to honor a woman who has faced, and cleared, many hurdles – she is Boston’s first female and first Hispanic US attorney – as Bostonian of the Year,” Susanne Althoff, editor of The Boston Globe Magazine, said. “Ms. Ortiz’ successful prosecutions of corruption cases have had an indelible impact on the Massachusetts political landscape.”

To read more click here.