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Palm Beach Drug Defense Lawyer: The State Will do Anything to Get a Conviction


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Ex-secret service agent who stole $800,000 in bitcoin newly arrested


Utah Software Engineer Mints Physical BitcoinsSALT LAKE CITY, UT - APRIL 26: A pile of Bitcoin slugs sit in a box ready to be minted by Software engineer Mike Caldwell in his shop on April 26, 2013 in Sandy, Utah. Bitcoin is an experimental digital currency used over the Internet that is gaining in popularity worldwide. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images) paul boyd / year in tech

 Shaun Bridges was prosecuted for the theft of $800,000 in bitcoin. Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images

Shaun Bridges, a former secret service agent who was part of the investigation into the now-defunct dark website Silk Road – but who was subsequently prosecuted for stealing $800,000 in the online crypto-currency bitcoin from the site – has been arrested at his home in Laurel, Maryland, the day before he was scheduled to hand himself in to begin his prison sentence.

An arrest warrant was issued under seal on Wednesday and executed on Thursday. During the arrest, according to court documents, officers found bags containing Bridges’s passport and a notarised copy of his passport, as well as corporate records for three offshore entities in Nevis, Belize and Mauritius.

He also had several secret service-issued bulletproof vests which the state contends had been stolen from the government.

The web of corruption surrounding the Silk Road investigation was nothing short of breathtaking. Along with an undercover agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency, Carl Force, Bridges was involved in the investigation into “Dread Pirate Roberts”, the mysterious figure behind Silk Road. Force was in communication with the Roberts account under the alias “Nob”.

“Dread Pirate Roberts” turned out to be Ross Ulbricht, who was arrested in 2013 and charged with conspiracy to traffic drugs and the attempted purchase of a murder-for-hire. In 2015, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

But the Force and Bridges affair was to prove a humiliating coda for the government, leading attorneys for Ulbricht to say that corruption “pervaded the investigation of Silk Road”.

Force, using the other aliases “French Maid” and “Death From Above”, used the knowledge gleaned during the investigation to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoin from Ulbricht. The pair also siphoned bitcoin given to them by the government for use in the investigation into personal accounts, even setting up bitcoin investment funds, called Quantum Investments and Engedi LLC, in their own name.

Ulbricht believed the bitcoin had been stolen by a Silk Road employee, Curtis Green, who was in fact a state’s witness. He used “Nob” – who was really Force – to procure the murder-for-hire for which he was eventually convicted, and Force, Green, and Bridges faked Green’s death.

Force is currently serving a 6.5-year sentence, and Bridges is in custody and considered a flight risk, according to the government’s motion detailing his arrest, though the Department of Justice did not respond to several requests by the Guardian for more information.

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Federal Jury Convicts Former Houston Police Officer of Conspiracy

U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite announced that a federal jury has convicted former Houston Police Officer NOE JUAREZ, age 47, of conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine hydrochloride and conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.

According to evidence presented at trial, Juarez, a veteran Houston Police officer, became involved with an international drug conspiracy that reached into the Eastern District of Louisiana. The conspiracy, spearheaded by brothers Efrain and Sergio Grimaldo, distributed thousands of kilograms of cocaine throughout the United States. The drugs were supplied to the conspiracy by the Los Zetas drug cartel. Juarez played a pivotal role by providing law enforcement sensitive information, including running license plates and sharing police tactics and activities with conspirators. Juarez further supplied vehicles, body armor, and semi-automatic handguns and assault rifles to the conspirators, some of which ended up among senior cartel leaders in Mexico.

The conspiracy to distribute cocaine conviction carries a sentence of ten years to life imprisonment, followed by a minimum of five years of supervised release, and up to a $10,000,000 fine.  The conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense carries a maximum penalty of twenty years imprisonment, followed by a maximum of three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.  U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance set sentencing on April 20, 2016.

“A once proud member of the Houston Police Department, Noe Juarez breached his oath to protect and serve by providing weapons and other resources to known violent drug traffickers,” stated U.S. Attorney Polite. “This conspiracy’s conduct resulted in drugs and firearms ending up on the streets of Houma, Louisiana.  Today’s guilty verdict ensures that Juarez will now face a lengthy jail sentence for his crimes.  In addition, this prosecution reaffirms our commitment to fighting violence and corruption in Southeast Louisiana.”

“Law enforcement officers take an oath to work for the public good. The crimes committed by Noe Juarez are a slap in the face to the vast majority of law enforcement across the globe who are dedicated to taking down violent drug trafficking organizations. Those who commit such crimes are not worthy to stand among the ranks of the good men and women who wear their badges with pride in order to protect the citizens of this great country,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Keith Brown.

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Stevenson, Alabama, Police Chief Charged with Civil Rights Offenses for Assaulting Arrestee

The Justice Department announced today that a grand jury in the Northern District of Alabama charged the Chief of Police of Stevenson, Alabama, Daniel Winters, 55, with two counts of deprivation of civil rights under color of law.

The indictment alleges that on or about March 22, 2015, Winters physically assaulted an arrestee, and willfully failed to intervene to stop another person from using unreasonable force during the arrest.  The assault caused the arrestee to suffer bodily injuries.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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Former Miami Dade Police Officer Pleads Guilty to Accepting Bribes

A former uniformed police officer with the Miami Dade County Police Department pled guilty today to accepting bribes in furtherance of an illegal pirate towing scheme.

Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, and Juan Perez, Acting Director, Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD), made the announcement.

Yuri Millan, pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy against the laws of the United States, that is, engaging in a wire fraud scheme resulting in the deprivation of his honest services and accepting bribes in connection with his official duties at MDPD, an agency that receives federal funding, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.  Millan’s codefendants, Oriel Ugardes, and Jose Guim, previously pled guilty to the same charge on January 13, 2016.

According to the court record, including documents filed in support of the defendants’ guilty pleas, between December 2013 and May 2014, Millan accepted bribes from Ugardes and Guim in exchange for Millan secretly using his position as a police officer to assist their towing businesses.  Millan would provide Ugardes and Guim information regarding and access to MDPD accident scenes, where Ugardes and Guim would illegally solicit stranded drivers for business.  In January 2014, after MDPD switched to an encrypted radio communication system, Millan agreed to rent his MDPD radio to Ugardes and Guim so that they could listen to encrypted police communications in an effort to locate accidents before their competitors.  Millan’s misconduct resulted in Ugardes and Guim illicitly acquiring more than $5,000 worth of business.

The plot was uncovered through the use of recordings by confidential informants, wire intercepts on Ugardes’s telephone, and the seizure of Millan’s police radio from Ugardes after investigators watched Ugardes pick the radio up from Millan’s residence.  In their own separate plea agreements, Ugardes and Guim also admitted paying thousands of dollars of bribes to Millan and another former MDPD employee, Public Service Aide Elina Rodriguez.

Millan, Ugardes, and Guim are scheduled to be sentenced on April 14, 2016, in front of U.S. District Court Judge Darrin P. Gayles.  Each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment and 3 years’ supervised release.  The court may also impose a maximum fine of $250,000.

In December 2015, Rodriguez pled guilty to related federal conspiracy charges before U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro.  Rodriguez is scheduled to be sentenced in that case on February 22, 2016.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI Miami Area Corruption Task Force and the MDPD Internal Affairs Division.  This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Lacosta.

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Former Marion County, Florida, Deputy Sheriff Charged with Excessive Use of Force

Former Marion County, Florida, Deputy Sheriff Jesse Alan Terrell, 33, was indicted late yesterday on charges of violating the civil rights of “D.P.”, an unnamed victim, by using excessive force during an arrest.  The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in the Middle District of Florida, and was announced by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida.

The indictment alleges that on Aug. 7, 2014, Terrell, while working as a deputy sheriff with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, assaulted “D.P.,” resulting in bodily injury.  The indictment alleges that Terrell repeatedly struck, kneed and kicked the victim in the head, neck and shoulder area.

If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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The Real work of a Criminal Defense Investigator!!!

Here’s what he actually does:

Maybe you think it is a glamorous life. Or perhaps you imagine us as sketchy characters, lurking in the shadows, dealing with the dirty underbelly of society. While you can find examples of those types in our ranks, that’s not the real world for most PIs.

Keep in mind that a lot of different jobs fall under the heading of “private investigator.” Some PIs conduct surveillance for family attorneys or insurance companies. Others do computer forensics or spend their days in courthouse archives (or their virtual equivalents). Many do a little bit of everything.

In this article, I’d like to pull back the curtain and give you a glimpse of what one private investigator’s days look like—while working a criminal case.

The Definition

The two definitions for to investigate in provide some insight into our work:

1. to examine, study, or inquire into systematically; search or examine into the particulars of; examine in detail.

2. to search out and examine the particulars of in an attempt to learn the facts about something hidden, unique, or complex, especially in an attempt to find a motive, cause, or culprit.

As a criminal defense investigator, my job is to gather information. I think of it as solving a puzzle: I collect a pile of jumbled information; then I try to figure out how it all fits together. To do that effectively, I have to envision what the scene will look like once the pieces are in place.

Often, we don’t have all of the puzzle pieces, so we have to figure out how to fill in the part of the picture that the missing pieces represent.

At Work on a Criminal Case

Recently, I was hired to work a criminal case years after the crime happened, to provide a fresh set of eyes a few weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin. First, I sat down to talk with the defense attorney and investigator, to get an overview of the state’s case and the defense’s trial strategy.

Then I went to work, reading through hundreds of pages of evidence: reports from responding patrol officers, crime scene techs, detectives, and medical examiners; witness statements; and interviews. After that, I had to review hundreds of photographs and about 20 hours of video. I could have easily spent weeks combing through case notebooks, but we didn’t have time for that.

We drove to the crime scene so we could understand the views and distance relationships of objects we saw in photos and videos. We drove from one location to another to understand what a typical driver would do in this situation. We measured distances from where witnesses were to the scene of the crime. We talked to witnesses on the phone to review their statements from years ago. We put together PowerPoint presentations for use in court. We worked during the day. We worked on the weekends. We worked late into the night.

What was I looking for? Inconsistencies. Contradictory information. Facts that conflicted with the prosecution’s claims. Anything, big or small, that might support our client’s innocence.

When I review evidence in a criminal case, I’m looking for holes in the police work, or areas where the prosecution seems to be stretching the truth. I’m looking for parts of their narrative of the crime in which they make assumptions that are not supported by facts. And I’m looking for facts that support our client’s version of the events.

I’m looking at crime scene photos, trying to piece the whole scene together in my mind’s eye. Guessing at what’s under that cloth, and if that item was within reach of the victim. Trying to determine if that stain could have been caused by something else, and what that something else might be. Deducing whether what they claim happened could really happen in that setting.

I’m also trying to conjure alternative explanations that offer a believable alternative to the scenario the prosecutors are alleging.

I’m wondering why the photo numbers skip on the picture files. Where are the missing photos? What do they show?

We push against the prosecutor. We clamor for the missing evidence. We question what they have to hide. Our client’s future rests squarely on our efforts. So we give it all we have.

And what about the camera I noticed on the ground in one of the pictures? There were two cameras being used at the scene. Why do we only have one set of photos? They might not show anything new or useful, but I must ask, and we must demand to see them. Because they might, just might, contain important evidence that may give the attorney an advantage in his defense of the client.

If I can provide the defense attorney with information that he can use to argue and demonstrate reasonable doubt, then I have done my job well. So we push against the prosecutor. We clamor for the missing evidence. We question what they have to hide. Our client’s future rests squarely on our efforts. So we give it all we have.

Meanwhile, I’m also looking for facts that support the prosecution’s claims. I need to find the most damning pieces of evidence that do exist. I want to understand them, and how those hurt our client’s claims of innocence. You cannot argue or defend against what you don’t know or don’t understand.

Ultimately, I want to find the truth. I don’t make up the truth. I don’t decide what the truth is. I seek it out. If I find facts that help our client, then I have done my job. However, if I can only find facts that point to a client’s guilt, I have still done my job.

I’m doing my job if I tell the attorney that all the evidence I’ve found supports the assertion that the client is guilty, just as much as when I tell the attorney that there are holes or mistakes in the work the police have done. The attorney needs to be able to give his client the best legal advice possible given the circumstances and facts present. This is critical in our adversarial legal system. So he needs to know all the facts…the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Was working that case glamorous? Nope. Sometimes it was tedious and exhausting. Each time I discovered something important that hadn’t been noticed before, there were moments of exhilaration; but more often, it was mind-numbing. It also felt like important work, a worthy way to apply my skills. It was work that made me proud.

Why? Because in a criminal case, I want the prosecution to be forced to prove their case beyond all reasonable doubt. I want every hole in their case exposed, every inconsistency brought to light.

Prosecutors have lots of resources at their disposal…In the interest of fairness, the defendant deserves that same effort from professionals working on his side. That’s the only way to keep innocent people from being found guilty.

Prosecutors have lots of resources at their disposal. The defense of an average person, regardless of their actual guilt or innocence, is important to all of us. Sure, we all want criminals to be punished. But they should be proven to be guilty in a “fair fight.”

There were multiple police officers, detectives, technicians, medical personnel, and lawyers involved in prosecuting our client. In the interest of fairness, the defendant deserves that same type of effort from professionals working on his side. That’s the only way to keep innocent people from being found guilty.

What We Don’t Do

Notice the things I did not do. I didn’t break into anyone’s house. I didn’t surreptitiously rifle through the files in someone’s office. I didn’t place hidden cameras anywhere. I didn’t slip a GPS tracker on a vehicle. I didn’t shoot anyone, or even point a gun at anyone. I didn’t fabricate evidence. I didn’t threaten anyone or coerce witnesses. I didn’t take a bat to anyone’s car. I didn’t lie to anyone. I didn’t wear a disguise. Those things all fit better into a script for a TV show than in real investigations work.

I worked hard. I worked logically. I worked passionately. I followed a couple of hunches. I posited alternative explanations, and set out to see if the facts supported them.

So no secret spy stuff here, and no Thomas Magnum, Jim Rockford, or Kalinda Sharma type behavior. Just the kind of private investigative work you will want someone to do for you if you are ever in a difficult legal situation.

But hey, I do wear a Fedora during the winter. Maybe that will restore your fantasy a tiny bit.

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12 keys !!

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Florida Deputy Charged With Violating Suspect’s Rights

A former Florida deputy sheriff has been charged with violating the rights of a suspect by excessive force.

Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that Jesse Terrell was indicted by a federal grand jury.

The indictment says that 33-year-old Terrell hit and kicked the unidentified suspect in the head, neck and shoulders in August 2014.

If convicted, Terrell faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Terrell was fired last year after surveillance video of the encounter was made public.

Four other deputies involved in the confrontation resigned from the force. Two of the deputies have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with authorities.

Terrell’s attorney, Charles Holloman, said in an email that Terrell planned to plead not guilty.

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Is Obama’s Drug Clemency a Mirage?

President Obama once promised hope and that is what some non-violent drug offenders have left as they serve draconian “drug war” sentences. But Obama’s offer of clemency may be more mirage than reality, says ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou, who himself was imprisoned for telling the truth about illegal torture.

By John Kiriakou

The federal government’s program to reduce prison sentences for thousands of federal offenders sentenced under draconian drug laws will fail to help almost anybody without the immediate intervention of the White House. In the meantime, thousands of federal drug offenders are stuck in a rut with no end in sight.

The Justice Department announced the Clemency Project in 2014 as a way for drug offenders to argue that their sentences are overly long, and that, if their crimes had been committed today, they would have been given significantly less time in prison. For many federal prisoners, this program is the only chance they have to have some semblance of a real life, to die outside prison walls, or to spend whatever time they may have left with family.

President Barack Obama talks on the phone with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in the Oval Office, March 1, 2013. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken listen at right. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The way the program is supposed to operate is that any federal drug offender who meets a strict set of criteria can apply for a sentence reduction. If they meet these criteria, they are assigned an attorney, and that attorney can go before a federal judge and ask for resentencing.

The criteria are that the prisoner must be currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today; the prisoner must be a non-violent, low-level offender without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels; the prisoner must have served at least 10 years of his sentence; the prisoner must have no significant criminal history; he must have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and he must have no history of violence prior to or during his current incarceration.

I spent 23 months in prison after blowing the whistle on the CIA’s illegal and immoral torture program. During those 23 months, I made friends, many of whom were doing very long stretches for what seemed to me to be innocuous drug offenses. When the Clemency Project was first announced, it seemed too good to be true. I fear that as the end of the Obama administration nears, it may be.

Let me give you some examples of the people this program is supposed to help. My closest friend in prison was “Mark.” Mark is in his mid-40s and is from Philadelphia. Back in the 1990s, Mark’s stepfather taught him how to make high quality methamphetamine, which they and a group of cohorts then sold to a crime ring in the city. There were nine people in the conspiracy.

After about six months, Mark decided that this wasn’t the life for him, and he voluntarily left the operation. He was the only person to do so. Mark went on to open a successful small business that employed a half dozen people, he got engaged, and he started to build a life for himself.

Years passed. Finally the FBI, DEA, and ATF swooped in and arrested everybody except Mark. He waited another year for the other shoe to drop and, finally, he was arrested, too.

Mark refused to testify against his co-defendants. He didn’t realize that they had all agreed to testify against him. Eight of the defendants took pleas and got sentences of five and a half years. Mark went to trial, where he was found guilty of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.

Despite the fact that he was the only defendant to leave the conspiracy, and despite the fact that he had the least involvement in the conspiracy, he was given three consecutive sentences of life without parole. That was later reduced on appeal – to 30 years. This was for a first-time, nonviolent drug offender.

Mark has been in prison for more than 16 years. His record has been exemplary. He’s earned a variety of certifications, he has a loving and supportive family, and he’s never been in trouble. He can and should be a productive member of society. His only hope is the Clemency Project.

Mark’s case is not unusual. There are thousands of people in our prisons like him. And many are in even worse situations. The Huffington Post recently reported on the story of Carlos Tapia-Ponce, a 94-year-old serving a life sentence for managing a cocaine warehouse. He has been in prison for 26 years and has twice been denied compassionate release for chronic health problems.

Even though he has also been denied release under the Clemency Project, his attorney is appealing the decision, and the application apparently will be reconsidered. If the Clemency Project is not for Carlos Tapia-Ponce, then who is it for? Is this 94-year-old man that much of a threat?

One question that the Justice Department – and sentencing judges – ought to ask themselves is, “Is society truly served by keeping these people in prison, in some cases for the rest of their lives?” I would posit that it is not. Society would be better served if these prisoners could work, pay taxes, tend to their families, and lead normal lives. Long sentences are punitive. They don’t help “society” in any way.

As for the President, addressing draconian drug sentences is a great idea, even if it doesn’t address the sentencing laws themselves. The Clemency Project has the potential to help thousands of people – indeed, thousands of families – rebuild their lives.

But it will only work if the Justice Department can process the applications. And that hasn’t happened. A year after the program was announced, only two out of 30,000 prisoners had had their sentences shortened. By December 2015, the list of those whose sentences were commuted grew by only another 95.

We need presidential action right now. Without it there will be no legacy of justice in drug sentencing. And there’s not a lot of time.

Posted in Drug Bust, QUESTION OF THE DAY??? | Leave a comment