Crime & Justice News- October 12, 2020

The National Interest

Michigan Sheriff Defends Man Suspected of Planning Whitmer Kidnapping Conspiracy During ‘Wild’ Interview (Law & Crime)

A sitting sheriff in Michigan defended one of the men recently charged in a plot to kidnap the Wolverine State’s Democratic Governor Gretchen WhitmerVideo of the shocking display went viral late Friday morning.

In the footage, Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf can be seen standing on stage with William Null, one of the men charged in the kidnapping conspiracy, at a rally in May of this year protesting Whitmer’s stay-at-home order in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Leaf himself was a speaker at the rally.

The video then cuts to Leaf being interviewed by Fox 17’s Aaron Parseghian. The sheriff’s comments appear to begin mid-thought.

“Well, I haven’t read everything up on it,” Leaf begins. “I’ve got other duties to do. It wasn’t our investigation. So, I was shocked–I did not see this coming from those guys. But, still, we can’t convict them in the news media here. They do have the right to a fair trial.”

The sheriff was then asked if he has any “regrets” about sharing a stage with a man who has since been accused of trying to kidnap the governor. To which Leaf replied:

Well, it’s just a charge. And they say a plot to kidnap. And you gotta remember that–are they trying to kidnap? Because a lot of people are angry with the governor and they want her arrested. So, are they trying to arrest or was it a kidnapping attempt? Because you can still, in Michigan, if it’s a felony, you can make a felony arrest.

The sheriff goes on to cite what he believed to be the statute that authorizes citizens’ arrests in Michigan.

“It doesn’t say if you’re in an elected office that you’re exempt from that arrest,” Leaf continued. “So, I have to look at it from that angle and I’m hoping that’s more of what it is. In fact, these guys are innocent until proven guilty–so I’m not even sure if they had any part in it.”

Reactions to the sheriff’s suggestion that the defendants were possibly plotting to make a “felony arrest” of the governor were summarily harsh.

“This is wild,” said noted criminal justice reform expert and Fordham Law Professor John Pfaff via Twitter. “The sheriff goes out of his way to lay out the defense for those accused of terrorism. Rarely has a sheriff emphasized so strongly the presumption of innocence or tried to create reasonable doubt.”

“Pretty terrifying, honestly,” he continued. “A sheriff [who is] clearly [okay with] the plot.”

Angelo Guisado is a Civil Rights attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. In a message to Law&Crime, he offered a prismatic view of the law enforcement official’s comments.

“Sheriff Dar Leaf’s supposition that the act was not a kidnapping of Governor Whitmer but a citizen’s arrest has to be understood in the historical context of citizen’s arrests,” he explained. “Originating from 13th century England, the precept followed to the colonies, including America, which many states used to justify slave patrols, wherein private citizens or, as here, militias, were empowered by the state to arrest and forcibly seize slaves to return them to their owners.”

“When you consider Governor Whitmer’s support for Black Lives Matter–including recently declaring racism a public health crisis–the motivations underlying the attempted seizure of the Governor start to come into clearer focus,” Guisado concluded.


When Your Last $166 Vanishes: ‘Fast Fraud’ Surges on Payment Apps (NY Times)

People are getting defrauded as they turn to Square’s Cash App and PayPal’s Venmo to do more online banking in the pandemic.
A Cash App marketing campaign known as “Cash App Fridays” provided fraudsters with a ready phone book of potential victims, according to security experts.
A Cash App marketing campaign known as “Cash App Fridays” provided fraudsters with a ready phone book of potential victims, according to security experts.Credit…Melissa Golden for The New York Times

Charee Mobley, who teaches middle school in Fort Worth, Texas, had just $166 to get herself and her 17-year-old daughter through the last two weeks of August.

But that money disappeared when Ms. Mobley, 37, ran into an issue with Square’s Cash App, an instant payments app that she was using in the coronavirus pandemic to pay her bills and do her banking.

After seeing an errant online shopping charge on her Cash App, Ms. Mobley called what she thought was a help line for it. But the line had been set up by someone who asked her to download some software, which then took control of the app and drained her account.

“I didn’t have gas money and I couldn’t pay my daughter’s senior dues,” Ms. Mobley said. “We basically just had to stick it out until I got paid the following week.”

In the pandemic, people have flocked to instant payment apps like Cash App, PayPal’s Venmo and Zelle as they have wanted to avoid retail bank branches and online commerce has become more ingrained. To encourage that shift, the payment apps have added services like debit cards and routing numbers so that they work more like traditional banks.

But many people are unaware of how vulnerable they can be to losses when they use these services in place of banks. Payment apps have long had fraud rates that are three to four times higher than traditional payment methods such as credit and debit cards, according to data from the security firms Sift and Chargeback Gurus.

The fraud appears to have surged in recent months as more people use the apps. At Venmo, daily users have grown by 26 percent since last year, while the number of customer reviews mentioning the words fraud or scam has risen nearly four times as fast, according to a New York Times analysis of data from Apptopia, a firm that tracks mobile services.

Driving the surge is the apps’ ease of use. People need just an email address to create a Cash App account and a phone number to make a Venmo account. That simplicity has made it seamless for thieves to set up accounts and to send requests for money to other users, something that was not possible with traditional bank payments.

The apps’ instantaneous transactions — compared to the two or three days needed for a standard bank transfer — have also meant that Venmo and Cash App have less time to detect whether a transaction is fraudulent.

“Fast payments equals fast fraud,” said Frank McKenna, the chief fraud strategist for the security firm PointPredictive. The apps, which are sometimes known as peer-to-peer payments services, “are super convenient for customers but that also makes them ripe targets,” he said.

Square, PayPal and Zelle do not disclose the rate of fraud on their apps. PayPal takes steps to “limit potential fraudulent activity and mitigate any customer impact,” a spokeswoman said, but she did not address whether it had seen more cases of fraud.

Zelle, which was founded by a coalition of banks, appears to have experienced less fraud because it has more robust authentication for new users and more legal protections in case of loss, security experts said.

“Protecting consumers from abusive scams and fraud is a top priority for Zelle,” said Meghan Fintland, a spokeswoman for Early Warning, the company that runs the app.

Of all the payment apps, fraud issues have been particularly acute for Square’s Cash App. As the number of people using the app daily has grown 59 percent over the last year, the number of reviews about it that mention the words fraud or scam has risen 165 percent, according to Apptopia.

The Better Business Bureau also said it had received more than twice as many complaints about Cash App as Venmo over the past year. That is significant given that Venmo has twice as many users as Cash App, according to Apptopia.


Watchdog: Trump’s ‘Secret $30 Million Loan in 2016’ Violated Federal Law (Law & Crime)

President Donald Trump likely violated federal campaign finance laws when he secretly loaned himself $30 million in 2016, according to a nonprofit government watchdog organization.

“Voters had a right to know where Trump was getting the money for his 2016 campaign,” Campaign Legal Center (CLC) said in an email excoriating the 45th president for an alleged accounting trick that may have been used to skirt campaign contribution limits.ADVERTISING

On Friday morning, the New York Times reported that in September 2016, with his electoral chances surging and fading by the day–and his campaign unable to convince GOP megadonors to hand over huge chunks of cash–Trump surreptitiously took out a $30 million bank loan in the name of a limited liability company (LLC) that he jointly owns with billionaire “casino mogul” Phil Ruffin. CLC dubbed this a “secret $30 million loan.”

The transaction used Trump Tower Las Vegas as collateral.

Six weeks later, Trump gave $10 million to his cash-poor presidential campaign–without acknowledging the apparent source of the funds. Federal campaign finance law contains special reporting rules for bank loans to candidates as well as special and specific reporting rules for personal loans from a candidate to themselves. In each case, such reporting standards are mandatory.

Per the Times:

The new findings, part of The Times’s continuing investigation, cast light on Mr. Trump’s financial maneuverings in that time of fiscal turmoil and unlikely political victory. Indeed, they may offer a hint to one of the enduring mysteries of his campaign: In its waning days, as his own giving had slowed to a trickle, Mr. Trump contributed $10 million, leaving many people wondering where the burst of cash had come from.

The order of events set off alarm bells among legal experts steeped in the country’s campaign-finance laws.

“If Trump secretly financed his 2016 campaign using an undisclosed bank loan backed by a billionaire developer, then voters have been illegally deprived of important information about the true sources of Trump’s financial support,” said CLC President Trevor Potter, in a statement. “If Trump took out a bank loan in the LLC’s name for the purpose of financing his election, then the Trump campaign violated its legal reporting requirements by failing to disclose the loan, and failing to disclose that Trump’s Vegas property was used as collateral.

The Times also reported that the LLC in question–Trump Las Vegas Sales and Marketing–claimed a deduction on the payment made to Trump in 2016. If the $30 million loan was, in fact, used to finance the president’s then-money-starved campaign, the potential criminality would be amplified.

“Additionally, if the LLC took a tax deduction for the payments to Trump, it would mean that Trump secretly relied on taxpayers to help subsidize his 2016 campaign,” Potter added. “Disclosure to voters in 2016 would have been important, since Trump’s claim that he was self-financing his campaign was central to his campaign message, and created a veneer of credibility for him to accuse rivals of being beholden to wealthy special interests.”

CLC’s press release also added one further would-be legal wrinkle for Trump’s loan co-signer:

The Times also reports that Ruffin guaranteed the loan. Under campaign finance law, such a guarantee is treated as a contribution to the candidate, subject to legal limits and reporting requirements. If the loan was used in connection with Trump’s campaign, then Ruffin would have made an illegal contribution to the Trump campaign, potentially valued as high as $30 million. Trump would have violated the law by accepting an excess contribution from Ruffin in the form of a loan guarantee and failing to report it.

The New York Times

The Press Found Two More Apparent Trump Financial Crimes Today

By Jonathan Chait

Donald Trump is in far more legal peril than most people understand. Just as his surprising victory over Hillary Clinton has made us unduly optimistic about his prospects of pulling out another comeback over Joe Biden, his ability to escape the Mueller investigation and impeachment has created an aura of impunity. But Trump does not have a magic power that enables him to stymie any investigation. The probes he is facing down right now are serious.

How serious? This afternoon alone, the New York Times and Washington Post both have reported stories revealing two apparently new financial crimes by Trump. These are in addition to the already-known crimes.

The Times story, mining its acquisition of the president’s tax returns, focuses on a $21 million payment he received during the 2016 campaign. The funds came at a time when Trump was draining his savings to self-fund his campaign and seemed to be in need of money. The $21 million came from “Trump Las Vegas Sales and Marketing,” a firm co-owned by Trump and his friend and political support Phil Ruffin, and which had “had little previous income, no clear business purpose and no employees.”

The reporters do not have quite enough information from the tax returns to prove a crime. But the circumstances seem difficult to explain legally. “Unless the payments were for actual business expenses,” tax lawyer Daniel Shaviro tells the Times, “claiming a tax deduction for them would be illegal.” And if the money was used to fund Trump’s campaign, which seems likely based on the timing, it would also constitute an illegal campaign donation. Trevor Potter, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, believes the payments show evidence of Trump accepting an illegal campaign donation.

The Times does not have any reporting as to whether this payment is the subject of an ongoing investigation. But prosecutors are examining his financial information, and the chances that this deal reveals some criminal activity seem reasonably high.

The Post account is even worse. It covers a conservation easement Trump claimed on his Seven Springs estate north of New York City. Trump’s purchase of the property has already been reported as a potentially fraudulent tax deduction. He wrote off its cost as a business expense, but has reportedly used it as a vacation home, and the Trump Organization’s own website describes it as “a retreat for the Trump family.”

The new revelation concerns another tax deduction involving the property. Trump claimed a $21 million tax break for leaving the woodland surrounding the mansion undeveloped. The way a conservation easement works is that a person gives up the right to build something in order to preserve its natural beauty, and then gets to treat the value of the forfeited building as a charitable donation, which comes off their taxes.

Conservation easements are rife with fraud, and this one appears especially shady. Trump told the IRS he surrendered the chance to build 24 mansions on the land. But the Post reports in detail that building anything on that property was impossible, due largely to objections by neighbors. Which is to say, he was paid by the government not to build mansions that he never could have built.

The Seven Springs tax deduction is already the subject of an investigation by New York State attorney general Letitia James.

In his appearance today on “Rush Limbaugh,” where the president took time away from his regimen of Fox News to spend two hours talking with a completely different conservative broadcaster, Trump depicted the New York investigations as merely the latest witch hunt. “I had to beat off the phony Mueller report, I had to beat off all this stuff, I had to beat off impeachment, I had to beat off Congress, everything else … they then sent it to New York, which is all political … have to beat that off.”

Trump is going to have a lot on his hands.

Trump did beat off — actually, let’s just say, defeated — impeachment because the jury was Republican senators, who are accountable to his cult. And he defeated the Mueller report because Mueller followed a narrow strategy of completing already-established criminal investigations, did not examine Trump’s financial documents, and Trump was able to use his pardon power to persuade the two lieutenants most likely to have incriminating information, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, to stay quiet.

None of these advantages pertain to his criminal exposure now. He is being pursued by authorities in New York. They are investigating state crimes, for which there is no pardon power. If they bring charges, the jury will be selected from New York residents whose careers do not depend on fending off challengers in a Republican primary. He might skate. But his previous success does not mean he will escape the law this time.


Homicide

Security guard held on suspicion of murder in shooting at Denver political rallies (REUTERS)

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A security guard hired to protect a Denver television news crew covering opposing rallies of right-wing and left-wing political activists is being held in custody on suspicion of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of a protester, police said on Sunday.

The deadly gunfire erupted on Saturday following a “verbal altercation” between the suspect and victim just as a “Patriot Rally” and a counter-demonstration dubbed a “BLM-Antifa Soup Drive” was drawing to a close, Denver Police division chief Joe Montoya said.

The suspected gunman, identified by police as Matthew Dolloff, 30, was arrested just after the shooting, which occurred in a courtyard outside an art museum, but he has not been formally charged, Montoya said.

The man shot to death was not immediately named by authorities, but the Denver Post identified him, according to the victim’s son, as Lee Keltner, 49, a Navy veteran who ran a hat-making business in the Denver area for many years.

“He wasn’t a part of any group,” the son, Johnathon Keltner, told the Post. “He was there to rally for the police department, and he’d been down there before rallying for the police department.”

Denver station KUSA-TV, an NBC affiliate, said in its own account posted online that Dolloff was contracted by KUSA through the Pinkerton security agency, and that one of the station’s news producers was with Dolloff during the altercation.

Pinkerton did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Denver police tweeted on Sunday they are unaware if Dolloff was affiliated with any political group but said he was not a protest participant.


Ex-wife, two teens arrested in alleged murder-for-hire plot in Bellevue (KOMO)

by Tammy Mutasa, KOMO News Reporter

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Bellevue Police said they have arrested a 30-year-old woman and two 17-year-old males in connection to an attempted murder-for-hire scheme in Bellevue.

King County court documents paint a deliberate and disturbing murder for hire scheme.

Bellevue police said Shaerin Kelley hired a 17-year-old boy to murder her ex-husband Baron Li and promised to pay the teenager $13,000.

“Something like this is rare,” said Bellevue Police Major Travess Forbush. “It is rare.”

On the day of the shooting on July 10, 2020, police said the 17-year-old got his friend to drive him from Mount Vernon to the Overlook at Lakemont apartments in Bellevue, where court documents say, “he was going cap someone and empty the clip.”

Police said the 17-year-old gunman ambushed Li as he was walking to his car and shot him nine times.

“The victim fell to the ground, the suspect stood over him and continued to fire,” said Major Forbush.


4th person charged in connection to murder of Olney, IL man (NBC 14 NEWS)

OLNEY, Ill. (WFIE) – A fourth person is being charged in connection to a murder that took the life of Kyle Johnson in Olney, Illinois, on September 6.

According to Illinois State Police, 32-year-old Dale Boatman Jr. is charged with three counts of first-degree murder by accountability and one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

33-year-old Tara Haws and 19-year-old Rick Meador have previously been charged.

Boatman is being held on a $1 million bond.


Texas police officer antagonized people in small town prior to shooting, residents say (Washington Post)

By Arelis R. HernándezMark Berman and Mary Beth Gahan

WOLFE CITY, Tex. — Few people knew his real name, but in the short six months that Shaun Lucas patrolled this tiny Texas community, he earned a reputation.

Black residents of Wolfe City, a town of 1,400 people about 70 miles north of Dallas, warned each other about the “new cop” and the harassing behavior a growing list of people had experienced over minor violations that would raise nary an eyebrow in the quiet community before Lucas arrived.

Residents say the 22-year-old officer had been overly aggressive with his traffic enforcement and berated longtime Black locals. At least one former resident who had moved out of town resisted visiting her parents within city limits, just to avoid Lucas. Black men told The Post about antagonistic interactions with the officer after being mistakenly arrested for public intoxication. Residents, both White and Black, shared a Facebook post in August warning of “another mean police officer” stopping “everything that moves at night.”

“Where the hell did he come from?” a bemused Veronica Brown questioned this week during a conversation with her sister and daughter outside their home. “He is the worst cop Wolfe City ever had.”

Lucas is being held on a murder charge at Collin County jail on $1 million bail after fatally shooting 31-year-old Jonathan Price last Saturday. The officer’s friends say the behavior described by residents and investigators is out of character for the man they know. His attorneys did not respond to requests for comment about the residents’ accounts.

On Thursday, Wolfe City fired Lucas — one of three officers on its roll — citing the fatal shooting. City attorney Daniel Ray said he did not think any complaints had been filed against Lucas before that incident. And a former employer in his hometown of Rockwall, Tex., rejected the characterizations of Lucas he had seen in news reports and on social media.AD

“They’re making him sound like this redneck, you know, KKK member,” said Samee Dowlatshahi, owner of Samee’s Pizza Getti Restaurant. “Nothing like that. He’s nothing like that.”

But the more than a dozen residents who spoke to The Post described Lucas’s conduct as an anomaly for a town as small as Wolfe City, where people know their police chief and sergeant by their first names. Law enforcement officers typically would have known that Price — a beloved city worker, neighbor and friend — was not a threat, they said.

When Lucas, a rookie fresh out of the police academy, came upon Price at the local Kwik Chek convenience store last Saturday following a call about a “possible fight in progress,” nothing went down as it normally would in Wolfe City. The encounter began with a seemingly anodyne greeting before quickly turning violent, according to an investigator’s account.


North Carolina man charged with murder in death of girlfriend’s baby (KIRO)

HAYWOOD COUNTY, N.C. — Authorities in North Carolina have charged a man with murder in connection with the 2019 death of his girlfriend’s baby.

According to WLOS and the Mountaineer, Dylan Brian Green, of Haywood County, initially faced a felony child abuse charge after 10-month-old Chloe Evans died July 18, 2019. Authorities said the child suffered arm, leg, rib and skull fractures; brain and eye bleeding; bruises; and other abrasions while Green was watching her, the Mountaineer reported in August 2019. The baby had methamphetamine and alcohol in her system, as well, officials said.

Green, who was the boyfriend of Evans’ mother but not the girl’s father, has since been charged with first-degree murder, the news outlets reported Friday.

Green, whose next court appearance is set for Oct. 26, remains jailed without bond, according to the Mountaineer.


Several child abuse allegations made before 1-year-old girl died in car (KTNV)

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Clark County Department of Family Services says it received five reports of possible child abuse connected to 1-year-old Sayah Deal before her death on Oct. 5 inside of a car parked at a residence on H Street.

The child’s father, 27-year-old Sidney Deal, was arrested and charged with child abuse. He claims that he accidentally locked his daughter in the car and thought she was only sleeping.

Tiffany Tyler-Garner, the executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, says this is a heartbreaking situation.

“It highlights the peril of the economic time that we’re in. Where you see a young father choosing between his ability to do his car repair and ensuring his daughter’s safety,” she said.

REPORT: Father seemed more concerned about damage to car than child

According to the report from the CCDFS, they received three allegations of neglect in July and September of 2018, one in January 2019 and one in June 2020.

Child Protective Services says that all of the allegations were found to unsubstantiated.

“I’m not surprised that there were a number of previous contacts, particularly if the goal of the system is to have families stay intact or reunify where appropriate,” Tyler-Garner said.

RELATED: Family gathers to remember 1-year-old girl after death in locked car

Deal was granted bail on Thursday by a Las Vegas judge. His next court hearing is set for Dec. 3. Currently, Deal is still in the Clark County Detention Center.

This is not the first time that a child has died after an investigation about possible child abuse.

13 Action News Chief Investigator Darcy Spears looked into the issue in 2018 after a toddler named Dejah Hunt was reported missing and found dead near Lake Mead.


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