Tag Archives: criminal

Warren wants to pull pot shops out of banking limbo

As pot shops sprout in states that have legalized the drug, they face a critical stumbling block — lack of access to the kind of routine banking services other businesses take for granted.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, is leading an effort to make sure vendors working with legal marijuana businesses, from chemists who test marijuana for harmful substances to firms that provide security, don’t have their banking services taken away.

It’s part of a wider effort by Warren and others to bring the burgeoning $7 billion marijuana industry in from a fiscal limbo she said forces many shops to rely solely on cash, making them tempting targets for criminals.

After voters in Warren’s home state approved a November ballot question to legalize the recreational use of pot, she joined nine other senators in sending a letter to a key federal regulator, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, calling on it to issue additional guidance to help banks provide services to marijuana shop vendors.

Twenty-eight states have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use.

Warren, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, said there are benefits to letting marijuana-based businesses move away from a cash-only model.

“You make sure that people are really paying their taxes. You know that the money is not being diverted to some kind of criminal enterprise,” Warren said recently. “And it’s just a plain old safety issue. You don’t want people walking in with guns and masks and saying, ‘Give me all your cash.””

A spokesman for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network said the agency is reviewing the letter.

There has been some movement to accommodate the banking needs of marijuana businesses.

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of the Treasury gave banks permission to do business with legal marijuana entities under some conditions. Since then, the number of banks and credit unions willing to handle pot money rose from 51 in 2014 to 301 in 2016.

Warren, however, said fewer than 3 percent of the nation’s 11,954 federally regulated banks and credit unions are serving the cannabis industry.

Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade organization for 1,100 marijuana businesses nationwide, said access to banking remains a top concern.

“What the industry needs is a sustainable solution that services the entire industry instead of tinkering around the edges,” Taylor said. “You don’t have to be fully in favor of legalized marijuana to know that it helps no one to force these businesses outside the banking system.”

Sam Kamin, a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law who studies marijuana regulation, said there’s only so much states can do on their own.

“The stumbling block over and over again is the federal illegality,” he said.

The federal government lumps marijuana into the same class of drugs as heroin, LSD and peyote. Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration has essentially turned a blind eye to state laws legalizing the drug, and supporters of legalizing marijuana hope Republican President-elect Donald Trump will follow suit.

Trump officials did not respond to a request for comment. During the presidential campaign, Trump said states should be allowed to legalize marijuana and has expressed support for medicinal use. But he also has sounded more skeptical about recreational use, and his pick for attorney general, Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, is a stern critic.

Some people in the marijuana industry say the banking challenges are merely growing pains for an industry evolving from mom-and-pop outlets.

Nicholas Vita, CEO of Columbia Care, one of the nation’s largest providers of medical marijuana products, said it’s up to marijuana businesses to make sure their financial house is in order.

“It’s not just as simple as asking the banks to open their doors,” Vita said. “The industry also needs to develop a set of standards that are acceptable to the banks.”

Wisconsin student accused of assaulting 4 more women

A University of Wisconsin-Madison student already accused of sexually assaulting a woman in his apartment this month has been charged with sexually assaulting four other women since early 2015.

Alec Cook, 20, of Edina, Minnesota, faces seven counts of second-degree sexual assault, three counts of third-degree sexual assault, two counts of strangulation, two counts of false imprisonment and one count of fourth-degree sexual assault.

The complaint prosecutors filed Thursday accuses Cook of assaults dating back to March 2015. Prosecutors said one of the women was assaulted multiple times during a ballroom dancing class she was attending with Cook this past spring. Cook also is accused of assaulting a woman he met at a party in March 2015; a woman he met in a human sexuality class in February; and a woman he met during a psychology class experiment in August.

Cook was charged last week with assaulting a woman in his apartment the night of Oct. 12 after the two studied together.

Media apeports of those charges have driven dozens of women to report to police their encounters with Cook.

Officers searching Cook’s apartment found a black book listing women he’d met and documenting his “sexual desires” and including the word “kill” without explanation, authorities said.

Dane County Circuit Court Commissioner Brian Asmus set Cook’s bail at $200,000 cash during a brief hearing. Cook made no statement at the hearing.

His attorneys, Jessa Nicholson and Chris Van Wagner, told reporters after the proceeding that they believe the ballroom assaults never happened. The rest of the encounters, they claimed, were consensual.

Van Wagner showed reporters a page from Cook’s book with the word “Killed?” written at the top and said it’s unclear what it means.

He said Cook has been vilified on social media but the prosecution’s case is “just dust.” Women are coming forward because they’ve seen social media postings about Cook and have become frightened, he said.

“He’s been painted as the face of evil,” Van Wagner said. “That’s wrong.”

According to the complaint, the accuser from the Oct. 12 incident says she went to his apartment after studying with him at a campus library. She said he assaulted her for 2 1/2 hours, maintaining what she described as a “death grip” on her arm or body.

Another woman came forward two days after charges were filed in that case. She said she met Cook at her friend’s birthday party in March 2015. Two weeks later she visited his apartment, where he began kissing her forcefully, then sexually assaulted her.

The same day that Cook was charged with the Oct. 12 assault, two other women reported being assaulted by him.

One woman told police she was in a ballroom dance class with Cook during the spring 2016 semester. She accused him of repeatedly touching her while they were dancing despite her telling him to stop. The touching occurred 15 to 20 times over the semester, she said.

The class instructor told investigators she got an email from the woman saying she was uncomfortable with how Cook touched her. The instructor responded by speaking to the class about appropriate contact during dances. Another woman told police that she met Cook during a human sexuality class and began dating him in January, the complaint said. She said he assaulted her at his apartment in February.

Another woman told police that she met Cook during a psychology class experiment. They had consensual sex at his apartment in August, the woman said, during which he tried to choke her. After taking a break to smoke marijuana, Cook tried to have sex with her again, this time slapping her and leaving bruises.

Looming marijuana ruling could limit federal prosecutions

Rolland Gregg and his family have fought federal marijuana charges for more than three years, arguing that the roughly 70 marijuana plants investigators found on their Washington property were for their own medicinal use and fully complied with state law.

A federal jury last year convicted Gregg, his mother and his wife of growing 50 to 100 marijuana plants — amounts their attorney said are in compliance with state medical marijuana law.

With prison sentences looming, they have now turned to a recent act of Congress that they say should have stopped the U.S. Department of Justice from prosecuting them because they were doing what their state allowed. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and the DOJ disagrees with Gregg’s understanding of the new law.

“It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life when you see the government coming down on you for simply trying to be healthy,” Gregg said.

A federal appeals court is expected to issue a ruling soon on the scope of the law that could pave the way to end or overturn at least six federal marijuana criminal prosecutions and convictions in California and Washington, including Gregg’s, and limit future prosecutions of medical marijuana users and dispensaries in eight Western states that allow them.

“The 9th Circuit is the biggest circuit, one that contains lots of marijuana states. If they were to say, ‘The federal government is prohibited from enforcing medical marijuana law,’ that would be huge,” said Sam Kamin, a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law who studies marijuana regulation.

At issue is a Congressional amendment that said the DOJ could not use funding Congress allocated to it for 2015 and 2016 to prevent states that have legalized medical marijuana from implementing laws that permit its use, distribution and possession.

The amendment’s bipartisan sponsors — California Congressmen Sam Farr, D-Carmel, and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa — say it prohibits the DOJ from prosecuting people who are complying with state medical marijuana laws. California and more than 20 other states have legalized marijuana for medical use. The drug, however, remains illegal under federal law.

The DOJ has interpreted the law more narrowly, saying it prevents prosecutors from trying to block state medical marijuana laws or charging state officials who implement them, yet permits U.S. attorneys to go after marijuana dispensaries and growers.

The 9th Circuit is expected to clarify the amendment in appeals by three sets of defendants who have cited it as grounds for judges to dismiss their marijuana charges.

Steve McIntosh, a dispensary owner in Los Angeles, had permits from local officials that show him in compliance with state law, according to his attorney, Marc Zilversmit. Under the Congressional amendment, the most the federal government can do is refer him to state authorities for prosecution, Zilversmit said.

Another defendant, marijuana grower Samuel Doyle, met Washington’s requirements for collective cannabis grows for medical marijuana patients, his attorney Douglas Hiatt said.

“He was growing medical marijuana for people who needed it, whether they could afford it or not,” Hiatt said.

The DOJ says McIntosh’s dispensary had ties to a street gang, and Doyle and his co-defendants did not meet the legal requirements for medical marijuana in Washington. Investigators found more than 550 plants growing on the Spokane property Doyle oversaw, and at least one of Doyle’s co-defendants indicated the marijuana was being sold, prosecutors said.

The DOJ did not respond to a request for further comment.

Gregg’s case is not among the ones the 9th Circuit is set to rule on. But he has raised the same argument as the other defendants, and the 9th Circuit has put his appeal on hold pending the outcome of the other appeals, his attorney Phil Telfeyan said.

“The feds think they have the power to override voters of the State of Washington and the will of Congress,” said Telfeyan, co-founder of the nonprofit civil rights group Equal Justice Under Law. “It’s up to the 9th Circuit to tell them, ‘Enough is enough. You can’t keep prosecuting people who are using medical marijuana for their needs.””

The DOJ cited a county investigator’s testimony that he saw evidence of a for-profit marijuana growing operation on Gregg’s family property. The investigator said he found records that he believed were for drug sales, a scale and packaging material in the house as well as firearms, according to court documents.

Gregg, 34, who owns an alternative energy company, denied he sold marijuana, saying he used the drug to treat pain following a snowboarding accident that left him with a broken back and neck. His mother has rheumatoid arthritis and his ex-wife had an eating disorder, he said, adding that all three had medical marijuana authorizations.

But the DOJ argued in his case and Doyle and McIntosh’s cases that the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment doesn’t bar it from prosecuting people violating federal drug law, even if they meet state law.

Alex Kreit, a marijuana law expert at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, said the DOJ and marijuana defendants have strong arguments for their conflicting interpretations of the amendment.

“The (amendment’s) language is not a model of clarity,” he said. “It really is open to a number of different interpretations.”

Wisconsin Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force meets, sets goals

The Wisconsin Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force held its first meeting recently, with 37 members from public and private organizations sharing their experiences of the sexual exploitation of young people and their efforts to eradicate modern day slavery.

Victim advocates, as well as the results of investigations nationwide, have identified Wisconsin as a hub of human trafficking. 

The nonpartisan task force is co-chaired by Attorney General Brad Schimel and Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson, who ended the meeting with a challenge. 

“We challenged everyone in the room to make this a true working group — one that works to improve training, law enforcement, prevention, awareness, advocacy, resources for victims seeking help, sensible legislation, counseling and other direct services to survivors, housing for survivors, and aftercare,” Schimel said, according to a news release. “We have to protect our children and what we saw in the room was a group of people who are willing to work hard and to show progress.” 

Just a few weeks ago, a 15-year-old girl was rescued from the sex trafficking by DOJ-Division of Criminal Investigation agents. Undercover officers found her information posted on an Internet site under “escort.” She had been reported missing since late October. 

“Every time we get a glimpse of this crime, we are alarmed with what we see,” Schimel stated. “We ask ourselves, ‘How can this be happening?’ We have an amazing multi-disciplinary group from all across this state. If anyone can accomplish something, it is this group.” 

Human Trafficking exists in small and large cities, towns and villages, both urban and suburban. A statement from the task force said municipalities with truck stops or clusters of inexpensive motels can be centers for human trafficking, which is why one player in the effort to combat the crime is Truckers Against Trafficking.

The task force is working with local and regional human workgroups to better coordinate prevention, training, data collection and service delivery efforts. Through enhanced planning, resources and communication, the state-level task force will offer additional support to existing efforts, increase public awareness of the issue, create statewide practices and expand residential and community-based services throughout Wisconsin.

The task force will oversee five work groups: Training; Identification and Screening; Prevention and Public Awareness; Placement and Services; and Data.

Schimel said, “We heard from many eloquent and passionate advocates today and there are many more in the room who did not have a chance to talk simply because there was not enough time at this first meeting. I challenge you to hold this task force’s feet to the fire and demand that we do something.

“There is so much we know we need to do to prevent the spread of this scourge and to turn victims into survivors. If we do our work well, we can make our social services and criminal justice systems friendly and more welcoming places for victims. Until they truly believe they can count on us to really help, they will not come forward.” 

No federal charges in the killing of Dontre Hamilton

The Justice Department announced on Nov. 10 that there is insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against former Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney for the death of Dontre Hamilton on April 30, 2014.

Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI met on Nov. 10 with Hamilton’s family and their representatives to inform them of this decision.

In a statement to the press, the Justice Department said federal authorities conducted a “comprehensive and independent review of the evidence” collected related to the death of Hamilton, who was shot during a struggle with Manney. This included reviewing all information from the state investigation, reviewing all recorded interviews, consulting with the Milwaukee County medical examiner and reviewing the transcripts from Manney’s termination hearing by the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission.

The team of federal prosecutors and FBI agents considered whether Manney violated federal law by willfully using unreasonable force against Hamilton.

The Justice Department said under federal criminal civil rights statute, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right. To establish willfulness, federal authorities must show that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. “Mistake, misperception, negligence or poor judgment are not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation,” according to DOJ. 

In the Milwaukee case, there were civilian witnesses who saw some part of the physical confrontation between Manney and Hamilton. Based on those eyewitness accounts, the account of the former officer involved, the physical evidence and the assessments of independent use of force experts, the federal team determined “the evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Manney acted willfully with a bad purpose to violate the law.”

Accordingly, the federal review of the killing of Dontre Hamilton has been closed without prosecution.

Justice’s statement said, “This decision is limited strictly to an application of the high legal standard required to prosecute the case under the federal civil rights statute; it does not reflect an assessment of any other aspect of the incident that led to Hamilton’s death.”

Responding on Nov. 10, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, said, “As a mother to two young black men, I am especially saddened by the Department of Justice’s decision not to bring criminal civil rights charges against Officer Christopher Manney. More than 18 months have passed since Officer Manney fatally shot Dontre Hamilton — an unarmed black man struggling with mental illness — and many unanswered questions still remain. Although this decision is certainly a setback, it is by no means the end of our collective efforts to pursue justice for the Hamilton family. I continue to hold them in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time, as I know the wounds from such a devastating loss will take time to heal.”

Moore also said, “With violence in Milwaukee on the rise, we must strive to mend the relationship between the police and the people they serve, especially for those with disabilities and in communities of color.”

Common Cause wants special counsel on campaign finance violations in presidential race

Common Cause on June 15 urged U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to appoint a special counsel to investigate possible criminal violations of campaign finance laws.

The watchdog nonprofit made the call as Jeb Bush officially announced his candidacy for president.

“It’s good to see Gov. Bush acknowledge what has been apparent for some time — he is a candidate,” said Common Cause president Miles Rapoport. “Unfortunately, he and other candidates in both major parties have been testing the limits of laws that were sensibly designed to limit the influence of big dollar donors in our elections and our government. Because the Federal Election Commission is paralyzed by the partisan split among its members and thus unable to act, the Justice Department must see that the laws are enforced.”

Evidence provided to the U.S. Department of Justice in late May by Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center more than justifies their request for appointment of a special counsel to investigate fundraising by Bush for his Right to Rise super PAC and an affiliated non-profit organization, Rapoport said.

And whoever is appointed should have authority to extend the inquiry to cover fundraising by other candidates as needed, whether the candidates are declared and undeclared, Republican, Democratic and independent, Common Cause said.

Bush tweeted a message on December 10, 2014, saying, “I am excited to announce I will actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States.”

Since then, he has helped the Right to Rise super PAC in a reported quest to raise $100 million by the end of June, including some contributions of $1 million or more, despite the federal limit of $2,700 on solicitations by candidates.

“Today’s announcement is not the first time Gov. Bush publicly has called himself a candidate,” Rapoport noted. “But for months he also has insisted that his mind was not made up. Today’s declaration is powerful evidence that his apparent indecision was a convenient way to skirt laws that limit fundraising by candidates while he helped Right to Rise and its nonprofit arm collect six- and seven-figure checks, including some from anonymous donors.”

Rapoport said the law makes it clear that anyone who behaves like a candidate, declared or not, must observe campaign finance laws.

Even those who are simply “testing the waters,” are subject to fundraising limits, he noted.

Reward offered after throats of 14 pelicans are slashed, 10 die

Two national organizations — the Humane Society of the United States and The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust — are offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for slashing the throat pouches of 14 brown pelicans in South Florida, leaving 10 dead and another four injured.

This adds to existing rewards totaling $6,000 offered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and a local construction company. FWC is investigating the incidents, which occurred in January.

Over a period of a few weeks, the pelicans began turning up on Cudjoe Key and in areas from Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key. Officers believe the injuries were intentionally inflicted on the birds with a sharp knife. Slitting the throats of pelicans, who use their pouches to skim the water and collect fish, causes them to suffer agonizingly slow deaths from starvation. 

Kate MacFall, Florida state director for The HSUS, said, “The particularly gruesome and malicious nature of the attacks on these pelicans, who pose no threat to anyone, is heartbreaking. Whoever is serially mutilating these animals must be caught and severely punished. We are so thankful to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for their determination to find those responsible.”

Pelicans have suffered from a rash of violence in Florida, including two other attacks in January. A local bird rescue found 18 pelicans near Jacksonville that were beaten and suffering from severely broken wings.

In a separate incident in Fort Lauderdale, a teenager faces criminal charges for allegedly torturing a pelican with vapor from an electronic cigarette and suffocating the bird to death. In 2013 and 2014, at least 10 pelicans were victims of throat-slashing.

Pesticides, trophy hunting and mass killing by fishermen decimated brown pelican populations in the early 1900s. While their century-long recovery effort is considered by many to be a major conservation success story, they still face serious threats from oil spills, habitat destruction, entanglement in fishing lines, and the disappearance of major food sources.

Brown pelicans were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2009 but remain protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a State Species of Special Concern by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.

Harming a brown pelican is punishable by fines and jail time.

Poaching:

• Wildlife officials estimate that nationwide, tens of millions of animals are poached annually.

• It is estimated that only 1 percent to 5 percent of poached animals come to the attention of law enforcement.

• Poachers injure or kill wildlife anytime, anywhere and sometimes do so in particularly cruel ways. Wildlife officials report that poachers often commit other crimes as well.

• The HSUS and The Trust work with state and federal wildlife agencies to offer rewards of $5,000 for information leading to arrest and conviction of suspected poachers.

President calls for reforming criminal justice system

President Barack Obama is calling for reform to America’s criminal justice system after racially-charged controversy over police shootings in Missouri, New York, Milwaukee, Cleveland and elsewhere.

The president says Americans may have different takes on the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York. Both were unarmed black men who died after confrontations with white police officers.

But Obama says all can understand a father’s fear that his son can’t walk home without being harassed. And he says all can understand the concerns of a policeman’s wife who can’t rest until he comes home.

Obama says in his State of the Union address that lower crime and incarceration rates should allow all sides to come together to reform America’s criminal justice system so it protects and serves all.

AT&T supports stricter standards for police cellphone tracking

AT&T has filed a federal court brief arguing that courts must account for people’s Fourth Amendment rights before authorizing law enforcement to get phone location histories from their cell service companies.

The ACLU characterized this as “a landmark move in the battle over privacy rights and new technologies.”

The company’s filing is a friend-of-the-court brief in the appeal of a criminal case, U.S. v. Davis, in which the government obtained four people’s cellphone location records over a 67-day period for a robbery investigation. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has also filed a brief supporting the defendant, praised AT&T’s entrance into the case.

“We have a right to expect that companies that hold great volumes of our sensitive data will protect our privacy,” said Christopher Soghoian, ACLU principal technologist. “AT&T is doing a real service to its customers by adding its voice to the chorus seeking more robust legal protections for cell phone location information, which can reveal deeply private details of our lives.”

In this case in June, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that police need to get a warrant to get the location information, a first for a federal appeals court. The government has appealed that decision to the full 11th Circuit, and oral argument is scheduled for February 2015.

“Use of mobile devices, as well as other devices or location based services, has become integral to most individuals’ participation in the new digital economy: those devices are a nearly ever-present feature of their most basic social, political, economic, and personal relationships,” AT&T wrote in its brief. “Nothing in [past cases] requires that individuals must choose between participating in the new digital world through use of their mobile devices and retaining the Fourth Amendment’s protections.”

To get the information, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami got what is known as a “D-order” from a federal magistrate judge, named for the applicable section of the federal Stored Communications Act. However, the standard for getting a D-order is that it be “relevant and material” to an investigation, which is lower than the probable cause standard required by the Fourth Amendment. Although getting D-orders for location information has been a common law enforcement practice, the appeals court rejected it.

For one suspect, Quartavious Davis, police got 11,606 location records — an average of one location point every 8 minutes. Davis was convicted based largely on the cellphone location evidence, and he appealed.

Despite the court’s June ruling that the government should have gotten a warrant, the court allowed the conviction to stand because law enforcement had relied in good faith on the decision of the magistrate judge to issue a D-order.

The full 11th Circuit may also consider this “good-faith exception” in the appeal.

A similar case, U.S. v. Graham, is currently awaiting decision in the Fourth Circuit.