A grand jury investigating whether a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic sold the organs of aborted fetuses cleared the clinic and instead indicted the undercover videographers behind the allegations, surprising the officials who called for the probe and delighting supporters of the women’s health organization, the Houston Chronicle reports. The Harris County grand jury indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, both of California, on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a felony with a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison. It also charged Daleiden with the same misdemeanor he had alleged – the purchase or sale of human organs, presumably because he had offered to buy in an attempt to provoke Planned Parenthood employees into saying they would sell. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us,” said District Attorney Devon Anderson, a Republican. “All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury.
How did David Petraeus, the storied wartime general and former CIA director, avoid prison for lying to the FBI and violating the Espionage Act? The Washington Post tells the inside story. Not everyone at the U.S. Justice Department shared the prosecutors' confidence in the case, and lawyers for Petraeus and his mistress, Paula Broadwell, separately pushed back hard, saying they would fight and beat the charges being considered. With its mix of sex and government secrets, a trial promised to be an uncomfortably tawdry affair, one some in the government as well as defense lawyers preferred to avoid. The Justice Department has never discussed how it reached its decision to accept a plea on a lesser charge.
The conservative Koch brothers’ financial investment in criminal justice reform is reviewed by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, who has just published a book on the Kochs. Mark Holden of Koch Industries, who has overseen Koch Industries' criminal-justice-reform work, acknowledges that the brothers were motivated to give money to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in 2004 after being prosecuted for environmental crimes. A federal case against the company, says Holden, “was a huge overreach, a grave injustice,” adding, “We were very skeptical, going forward, of criminal prosecutors having too much power. So we got involved in criminal-justice reform.” Skeptics who see the Kochs' sentencing-reform effort as a publicity stunt say that they have continued to give money to groups and candidates that have run scurrilous tough-on-crime campaigns, like that of Senator David Vitter (R-LA), who made a failed bid for governor last fall.
The Supreme Court agreed to review former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell’s conviction of corruption for his efforts on behalf of a businessman who bestowed money and gifts on the governor and his family, the Washington Post reports. The case gives the justices a fresh opportunity to define what kind of political conduct crosses the line into criminal behavior. McDonnell's attorneys told the court that if his “routine political courtesies” to businessman Jonnie Williams Sr. could be construed as felonies, it would make all politicians vulnerable and arm federal prosecutors “with a frightening degree of control over the political process.” The McDonnells, who were convicted in 2014, were accused of intervening with state officials on Williams's behalf in exchange for $177,000 in loans, vacations and luxury goods. The former governor was sentenced to two years in prison; His wife, Maureen, received a year and a day.
Goldman Sachs will pay about $5 billion to resolve state and federal investigations into its handling of mortgage-backed securities in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, NPR reports. The agreement will settle “actual and potential civil claims” by the U.S. Justice Department and the attorneys general of New York and Illinois, as well as the Federal Home Loan Banks of Chicago and Seattle and the National Credit Union Administration. The firm will pay a civil penalty of $2.385 billion, a cash payment of $875 million and $1.8 billion in consumer relief. Ever since the subprime mortgage crisis upended the global financial system, authorities have been investigating a number of large financial institutions and their sale of mortgage-backed securities. The investigations centered on whether the banks misrepresented the real value of the assets.
Workplace safety is emerging as a key issue in 2016, and corporate executives could find themselves criminally responsible for failing to protect their employees, reports Corporate Counsel. The U.S. Departments of Labor and Justice announced last month a joint initiative to crack down on environmental and workplace safety crimes. Under the “worker endangerment initiative,” officials will seek to prosecute workplace safety violations under federal environmental laws, in addition to long-standing workplace safety statutes such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). The law firm Holland & Hart says the marriage of environmental and safety prosecutions is about imposing stiffer criminal penalties. That's because OSHA and other workplace safety statutes generally provide for misdemeanor penalties, while federal environmental laws call for more serious sanctions.
Dealing with a rise in financial exploitation of the elderly, state officials are pressing for laws that require financial advisers to report suspected “elder fraud” to authorities, reports the Wall Street Journal. The mandate faces pushback from the financial industry, which says it could result in a massive number of reports that turn out to be false. People over 60 were involved in 171,230 fraud complaints tracked by the Federal Trade Commission in 2014, more than double the number in 2010. Retirees are exercising greater control over their finances, given the decline in traditional pension plans. The complexity of managing and investing savings poses a challenge.
Crime victims and the FBI were two of the big winners in the annual battle over spending U. S. Justice Department funds. A Congressional budget deal for the current fiscal year that was finalized by negotiators early yesterday morning provided an estimated $2.26 billion for state and local organizations that help crime victims. Under a law dating from the 1980s, those groups are supposed to receive fines paid in federal cases, but Congress has long put a cap on the total. The total amounts to an increase of about 15.5 percent over the current level of support, which itself was a big increase over recent years, says the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators, which tracks the spending. The future of funding for victims is not certain. Major fines and settlements in white-collar-crime cases have raised the fund's total to $12 billion, but executive and legislative branch leaders have insisted that some of that money go to other government functions, over the objection of victim advocates.
Dean Skelos, the former majority leader of the New York Senate, and his son were found guilty of federal corruption charges on Friday. The New York Times called it “a quick and devastating follow-up punch to the State Capitol, which has seen two entrenched leaders convicted and removed from office in less than two weeks.” The federal jury in Manhattan took eight hours over two days to reach its verdict against Skelos, 67, and his son, Adam, 33, finding them guilty of all eight bribery, extortion and conspiracy counts. The Skeloses used the father's position as majority leader to pressure a developer, an environmental technology company and a medical malpractice insurer to provide Adam Skelos with roughly $300,000 via consulting work, a no-show job and a direct payment of $20,000. Dean Skelos, a Republican from Long Island, had been one of the most powerful men in state government.
In 30 New York City cases, people allegedly forged or attempted to forge new deeds for property using easily available online records to sell homes and collect the proceeds, reports the Wall Street Journal. Prosecutors in Chicago and Detroit also have seen a spike in a category of crime known as deed fraud. Investors who own several properties are especially vulnerable, prosecutors said, because they are less likely to notice if someone moves into a home they don't visit regularly. “This crime has always happened, but it's been made much more prolific” by having records online, said David Szuchman, chief of the investigation division for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. The rise in such crimes is an unintended consequence of an effort to put documents on the Internet to promote transparency in local real-estate markets. “It had a noble purpose and was a good idea, but in fact has become one-stop shopping for fraud,” said Szuchman, calling the problem “epidemic” in Manhattan.