Friday, September 14, 2012

District of Columbia Businesswoman Pleads Guilty to Illegal Campaign Contribution Charges

Mayor Vincent Gray’s donor Eugenia "Jeanne" Harris, 75, of Washington, DC, pleaded guilty to disguising the source of campaign contributions in federal and local elections and to hiding those activities from federal investigators. She admitted guilt to three charges: one count of conspiring to violate federal campaign finance law and to obstruct justice; one count of engaging in fraud and making false statements; and one count of conspiring to violate District of Columbia campaign finance law.

According to the FBI, Harris allegedly used her two businesses and the buinesses of someone they dubbed as her "Co-Conspirator #1" to buy campaign supplies and make donations in the names of family members and employees without reporting such expenses or activities to the DC Board of Elections and Ethics’ Office of Campaign Finance.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fall of the Ohio Bridge Would-Be-Bombers

On April 30, five self-proclaimed anarchists who had been active with the Occupy Cleveland Movement were taken into custody by the FBI on suspicion of hatching a plot to bomb a four-lane highway bridge in Ohio. The eldest of them, 35-year-old Anthony Hayne, pleaded guilty in July and agreed to testify for the government. On Wednesday last week, three of his alleged co-conspirators, namely, 26-year-old Douglas Wright, 20-year-old Brandon Baxter and 20-year-old Connor Stevens - also entered a guilty plea before U.S. District Court Judge David Dowd. The four thus all admitted guilt to the charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted use of an explosive device to destroy property used in interstate commerce. The fifth suspect - 23-year-old Joshua Stafford, is still undergoing a psychiatric evaluation for competency to stand trial.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Three of “Agency Five” Publishers in Alleged E-Book Price-Fixing Conspiracy with Apple Settles Antitrust Lawsuits with Feds, States for $69 Million

In a press statement released Friday, Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto announced that Hachette Book Group, CBS Corp's Simon & Schuster and News Corp.'s HarperCollins Publishers - three of the so-called “Agency Five” publishers, the other two being Macmillan and Penguin - which have been named along with Apple Inc. in government antitrust lawsuits alleging illegal e-book price-fixing conspiracy have agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement with the Department of Justice and fifty-four states and territories including the District of Columbia.

Subject to court approval, the settlement would eliminate Apple’s “most favored nation” status with the publishers. According to Masto, the three big publishers also agreed to pay a total of more than $69 million to compensate consumers who purchased e-books during the period of April 1, 2010 through May 21, 2012. Payments will begin 30 days after court approval of the settlement becomes final.   Consumers in Nevada are collectively expected to receive up to $600,000 in total compensation. Eligible Nevada consumers will receive funds in the form of a credit or check from the settlement’s proceeds. Consumers who are eligible will receive direct notice by email.  Notice will also be published in print and web media.  A web site, created and maintained by a claims administer, will also be available providing detailed information on the settlement, Masto’s office announced. The three publishers likewise agreed to pay approximately $7.5 million to the states for fees and costs.

The antitrust lawsuits came about as a result of a probe conducted by DOJ on deals made by Apple with the “Agency Five” publishers two years ago when it launched the iPad and entered into direct competition with and Barnes & Noble. Apple used an “agency model" in its e-book pricing strategy whereby publishers set prices and Apple would take a 30 percent commission. In theory, that pricing model should stimulate competition and encourage varied pricing among the publishers. However, the prosecutors maintain that the parties may have conspired or worked in concert to set or fix the prices of e-books with Apple acting as the "hub" of coordination. They contend that by moving from a "wholesale model" to an "agency model," and through collaboration with Apple, the publishers allegedly ended retail price competition. The lawsuit accuses Apple of facilitating the transition with the clear understanding that it would result in higher prices. The complaint in fact quotes the late Steve Jobs as saying, "We'll go to [an] agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30%, and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that's what you want anyway."

Recently, the DOJ has been taking on large tech companies like Apple to force some policy changes. Most notably, in 2010  it was able to come to a deal with Apple, Google, Pixar, and others to terminate their "no employee poaching" agreements with each other under threat of a possible lawsuit.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Supreme Court Rejects Death Sentence, Found Prosecution Lied, Withheld Vital Evidence

The California Supreme Court on Monday unanimously rejected a 25-year-old death sentence after it was found that the prosecution deliberately lied and withheld vital evidence favorable to the defense during both the guilt and penalty phases of the capital trial of Miguel Angel Bacigalupo who was convicted of the 1983 murders of a San Jose jewelry store owner and his brother.

Bacigalupo, a Peruvian immigrant, had admitted after his arrest on December 1983 that he shot Orestes and Jose Luis Guerrero but he maintained that a Colombian cartel had "contracted" him to do it and had threatened to kill him and his family if he refused.

The lead prosecutor then, Joyce Allegro, who is now a Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge, told the jury that the duress brought about by the alleged threat from a Colombian drug cartel was "a total fabrication" notwithstanding that an investigator for her office, Sandra Williams, had interviewed a confidential informant who admitted driving a Colombian drug kingpin to meet Bacigalupo the night before the crime, presumably to arrange the contract killings.

In 2001, the Supreme Court referred Bacigalupo's habeas case to retired Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Richard Arnason for an evidentiary hearing. Seventeen witnesses were called to testify, including Gail Kesselman, the confidential informant who had once been romantically involved with a Colombian drug kingpin who leased space to one of the murder victims. Kesselman testified that she had told Williams that she drove the kingpin to a meeting with a man who looked like Bacigalupo the night before the killings and that after the killings, the kingpin told her it was "an organized murder" because of "something that happened years ago.” Williams, when her turn came during the hearing, told Arnason that she did not consider Kesselman's testimony reliable.

The evidentiary hearing stretched over three years after which Arnason concluded that Kesselman was telling the truth and that Williams was lying. The retired judge also established  that Williams had instructed Kesselman to deny any knowledge of a contract killing at the 1985 in camera hearing before Judge Read Ambler. Arnoson further states in his report to the Supreme Court that as for Allegro, she "knew about the San Francisco meeting as she testified that she thought information about the meeting had been provided in discovery."

Justice Joyce Kennard who wrote the ruling for a unanimous court concurred with the evidentiary hearing finding that Williams "failed to disclose favorable and material evidence...  without this evidence, the jury likely disregarded as self-serving and implausible petitioner's claims to police that the Colombian Mafia had ordered him to kill the Guerrero brothers, and that his entire family would have been killed had he disobeyed that order.”

Justice Goodwin Liu concurred separately, saying  Arnason's finding that "Williams lied and induced Gale Kesselman to lie at the September 1985 ex parte hearing...that misconduct concealed the very information that would have led Judge Ambler to conclude that Kesselman was a material witness at least for the penalty phase of the trial...Thus, the prosecution did not simply suppress favorable, material evidence. It also affirmatively dissuaded the defense from pursuing a line of inquiry that would have uncovered such evidence."

Bacigalupo is hence officially out of death row. However, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said he would review the decision and "will then decide whether to retry the penalty phase or simply allow Mr. Bacigalupo to die in prison."