Monday, December 15, 2008

Attorney sentenced to three years for working with wiretapper Pellicano

KPCC News In Brief
November 24, 2008
An attorney convicted in a high-profile Hollywood wiretapping case landed a three-year federal prison sentence today.

Details from KPCC’s Cheryl Devall:

Private investigator Anthony Pellicano used to brag about his star-studded clientele. He used unconventional methods to dig dirt on and intimidate potential adversaries of celebrities, including action star Sylvester Stallone and comedian Chris Rock.

In August a federal jury convicted Pellicano and lawyer Terry Christensen of conspiring to wiretap the phone calls of the former wife of billionaire developer Kirk Kerkorian in a dispute over paternity and child support. Christensen said little during his sentencing hearing, except to refer to a written statement in which he expressed remorse for having done business with Pellicano.

The judge sentenced Christensen to three years in prison, three years probation and a quarter-million dollar fine. He’s free on $100,000 bond pending an appeal. Pellicano’s scheduled for sentencing next month. He may face prison time for a separate wiretapping and racketeering conviction.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Don Siegelman case: political prosecution by Bush justice department?

Questions Linger About Siegelman Prosecution
by Kathy Lohr
National Public Radio
All Things Considered
Dec. 13, 2008

A federal appeals court heard arguments this week in the case of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Siegelman, a Democrat, was convicted of corruption and bribery and served nine months in prison. But the appeals court ordered his release earlier this year after it found substantial questions with his case. Siegelman argues that the prosecution was a politically motivated attack, and Congress is looking into the case.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"We were running a guilty-plea factory" --public defender Anne Moore

Anna McHugh accidentally caused public defender Anne Moore to becoome a whistleblower

Young producer hits gold with public defender documentary
by Mike Janssen
May 22, 2000

...McHugh started following [public defender Anne Moore] through the complex workings of Nevada County [California] justice--Moore's office, courtrooms, the district attorney's office—all the while meeting people who couldn't afford a lawyer and felt cheated by the legal system. Watching Moore struggle with her huge caseload and the pressures of public work deeply affected McHugh...

"Clients were just so emotionally charged. The public defenders were so stressed out. The atmosphere really got to me."

...Anne Moore, a former schoolteacher and activist for tenants' rights who entered public defense with a strong sense of duty. She was also the first woman hired in her office's 24-year history.

...McHugh says. "I got the sense that she was the exception, rather than the rule, of public defenders."

By the time she met McHugh, Moore had reached the end of her rope as a public defender. The huge caseloads and limited time were stressing her out. And she was increasingly troubled by problems in her office.

"We were running a guilty plea factory," Moore says. She alleges that in 1998, only one of hundreds of cases in her office ever went to trial. She also claims that an ex-cop on probation interviewed clients as a way of fulfilling his work release requirements, and that staff relations were rocky.

...After months of dissenting internally, Moore took her concerns to the county board of supervisors, which eventually publicized a critical evaluation of the public defenders' office. In the end, reports emerged that supported some of her allegations, and the head public defender was fired. Moore, who no longer works for the office, claims she also was fired as a result of her actions, but county officials say she resigned.

Though Moore already knew the problems in her office all too well, it took McHugh's straightforward approach to inspire her to blow the whistle...

"I could see that the person that I was could not tolerate the wrongdoing that I was part of, and that I thought I was someone who stood up for the rights of those who were traditionally underrepresented. ... I saw a person who needed to put my ethical obligations and my ideals above my career, and above security."

News of Moore's whistle-blowing shocked McHugh. "I didn't really quite know how to respond," she says. "I didn't quite feel like I had done anything in particular. I must have touched a nerve somewhere, stumbling around in the dark."

Public defender and judge ignore crushingly obvious mistaken identity

With new US Attorney, it's a good time to be a white-collar criminal in San Diego

Voice of San Diego
Without Lam, U.S. Attorney's Office Takes Different Tack
Dec. 2, 2008

..."There's been a precipitous decline in white-collar investigations and prosecutions over the last two years," said Michael Attanasio...

[Carole] Lam's tenure turned out to be glory days for the FBI's financial crime squads, for federal prosecutors working major frauds and for dream-team defense attorneys whose clients made headlines around the country.

When Karen Hewitt took over 22 months ago, controversy raged over what was perceived by some as politically motivated firings of Lam and seven other U.S. attorneys around the country...

Lam, a healthcare fraud specialist, had branded herself a champion of these high-impact corporate and public corruption cases. As for border crime, she bypassed the small players and went after leaders of large drug- and human-smuggling rings and corrupt border officials.

[Blogger's note: good call, Carole.]

...Criminal prosecutions in fiscal 2008, Hewitt's first full year in office, have increased 54 percent since Carol Lam's first year in office, fiscal 2003, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which monitors federal prosecution statistics. Comparing the same five-year period, immigration cases in the Southern District of California are up 88 percent.

[Blogger's note: The higher the prosecution rate, the more likely it is than innocent people are being charged. I'll bet the conviction rate has gone down for those who are brought to trial. I'll also bet that not many cases actually go to trial. If Hewitt charges everybody who gets scooped up by over-eager agents, then underpaid public defenders can't afford to defend them properly, and advise even their innocent clients to accept plea-bargains.]

Also during that span, prosecutions of white-collar cases referred by the San Diego FBI are down 74 percent, from 78 cases in 2003 to 18 cases in 2008, the lowest level in two decades. And public corruption cases are down 71 percent, from seven cases to two. Under Lam, the number of such cases had reached the highest levels in two decades, hitting 12 in 2004, TRAC found.

"She's very aware of the reasons her predecessor was axed," criminal defense attorney Bob Rose said of Hewitt. "I really doubt she would like that to happen to her."

...until a few weeks ago, the major frauds unit was at its lowest staffing levels in years -- a decline that began toward the end of Lam's 4.5-year tenure as resources dwindled. Four junior attorneys were assigned to the unit recently, bringing the number to about 11, lawyers in the office said. That appears to be in step with a national trend to crackdown on mortgage fraud and other financial crimes associated with the nation's economic meltdown.

Hewitt's office declined to provide statistics or answer questions, but said from 2007 to 2008, immigration cases were up 48 percent, gun cases were up 17 percent, child pornography cases were up 60 percent, and frauds were up 71 percent. Hewitt was interim U.S. attorney for eight months of fiscal 2007...

Former FBI chief Bill Gore, now the undersheriff, raved about Hewitt while introducing her as speaker at a Rotary Club meeting in October, calling her a "team player."

...the vast majority of cases prosecuted by Hewitt's troops comes from Customs and Border Protection (73 percent) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (17 percent), both part of the Department of Homeland Security. Only about 2 percent of the U.S. attorney's cases are referrals for prosecution by the San Diego FBI, according to TRAC, which analyzes Justice Department data...

The federal government reported filing 151 criminal mortgage fraud prosecutions in the first 10 months of FY 2008, 10 of which are in the Southern District of California, which includes San Diego and Imperial counties, according to data obtained by TRAC.

The 151 federal mortgage fraud prosecutions so far reported for fiscal 2008 were clustered in only 10 judicial districts, with Florida South (Miami) the most active with 69 cases, followed by Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) with 26 prosecutions. San Diego was tied for third with 10, sharing that distinction with Northern Georgia.

In its analysis of the data, the TRAC report said: "Given the broad troubles now confronting the economy of the United States, and the role that mortgage fraud may have played in these problems, the relatively small number of cases in this area is somewhat surprising. For example, during the same period U.S. attorney offices criminally prosecuted 554 individuals for simple drug possession, 399 cases for environmental wildlife protection and 405 for child pornography."

...Hewitt, a Republican and avid sports fan, joined the San Diego U.S. Attorney's Office in 2000 and prosecuted civil fraud cases before Lam appointed her as third in command -- executive assistant U.S. attorney -- in 2006...

With the election of Democrat Barack Obama to the White House, Hewitt almost certainly will be stepping down, and priorities are likely to shift again with the unnamed new appointee. The position is a political appointment, and incoming presidents typically choose their own U.S. attorneys. But that process could take up to a year.

[Blogger's note: Unfortunately, Democrats often let big fish get away, just like Republicans. I would like to see the appointment of Eliot Spitzer or someone with equal courage to go after the criminals in insurance companies. And I'd like to see the US Dept of Justice do something more important than going after prostitutes.]

Hewitt apparently prefers to put little guys in jail, burdening the taxpayers and contributing the United States reputation as having the highest percentage of incarcerated population in the world. It's not hard to get someone to plead guilty when their exhausted lawyer doesn't have time to work on the case. You end up with lots of guilty pleas, often from innocent people who fear more years in jail if they don't plead guilty.]

...the additional cases under Hewitt have had a significant impact on workload for the U.S. District Court, the clerk's office, court-appointed defense lawyers and the jails and prisons.

Federal Defenders of San Diego Inc. has been forced to increase the number of staff lawyers by 25 percent in the last year to handle the caseload. "There've been points in the year when everybody's been just absolutely under water," said Reuben C. Cahn, executive director. "Everyone can work 80 hours a week for a couple months at a time but they just can't do it longer than that without the quality of work eroding or without burning out. It's been a very difficult year for us."

Cahn said the numbers tell the story. His office handled 892 immigration cases in FY 2006, then 1,240 in 2007 when Hewitt first took over, and 1,660 in 2008. "That's essentially doubled in two years," he said.

So, the prominent white-collar defense lawyers are doing a lot of civil cases now. There have been no new high-profile corruption cases like Cunningham, who is serving more than eight years in prison.

An Office of the Inspector General report has concluded that Lam's firing, while mishandled, did not appear to be an effort by the Bush Administration to derail Lam's pursuit of Cunningham and spinoff cases targeting GOP colleagues. Her firing was about failing to prosecute border crimes, a Justice Department priority, the report said...

[Blogger's note: There's obviously no need for meddling. The Bush Administration hired Hewitt because they were confident she would do exactly what they wanted.]