Articles Posted in In The News

This week, one of the five Columbia University students who were charged with selling drugs on campus in December 2010 was sentenced by a Manhattan court to five years probation. 21-year-old Adam Klein was sentenced after he agreed to a plea bargain in which he pleaded guilty to attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance in January 2012. According to the agreement, if Klein completes his term of probation without any problems, the charge will be expunged from his record. Klein initially faced a prison term of up to 2 1/2 years.

In a statement read before the court, Klein, who is no longer a student at Columbia University, apologized to classmates and professors. He stated that he realized that his behavior was unacceptable and brought needless negative attention to Columbia. The former neuroscience and behavior major and fencing team competitor now attends the City University of New York. He also works as a tutor.

The five arrests were part of a New York City police sting operation during which narcotics officers purchased more than $10,000 worth of drugs from Columbia University students. Most of the drug sales took place inside three fraternity houses, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Pi Kappa Alpha, and Psi Upsilon. All of the students charged with drug sales and the three fraternity houses where drug sales purportedly took place were suspended from the school. The fraternities are currently on university required three-year improvement plans.

Previously, three of the other students charged pled guilty and another, 21-year-old Christopher Coles, was allowed to enter into a pretrial rehabilitation program for drug addiction. The drug treatment program is part of a 2009 reform of New York’s drug laws which provides state judges with the discretion to send some nonviolent criminals to rehabilitation in lieu of prison. Although Klein and two other students asked to enter the program, their requests were rejected. Three drug suppliers who did not attend the university also pled guilty in 2011.

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In a follow up to our post on March 2, 2012 “Rutgers Dorm Spying Trial Begins”, testimony in the case against 20 year old student Dharun Ravi ended on March 12, 2012 without Ravi taking the stand. The case involves Ravi spying on his Rutgers roommate Tyler Clementi with a webcam on September 19, 2010 and then trying to do the same on September 21st in order to capture Clementi in a sexual encounter with a male friend. A day later, Clementi committed suicide by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge, although the specific reasons for his suicide have never been made public by the family (a note was left) and Ravi is not charged with Mr. Clementi’s death.

Ravi was charged with invasion of privacy, attempted invasion of privacy, witness tampering, tampering with evidence, hindering apprehension, and the most serious charges, bias intimidation as a hate crime. This latter charge has garnered the case international attention due to the prevalence of bullying and “cyber bullying” in the news. The bias intimidation charges, which are premised on the claim that Ravi set up the webcam because he hated gays and was trying to intimidate Clementi due to his sexual preference, carries with it a ten year maximum sentence as well as the possibility of Ravi’s removal (formerly known as deportation) from the United States as he is not a U.S. citizen. The defense has refuted the bias intimidation charges with evidence that Ravi never expressed a dislike of gay people to any of his friends or classmates, and allegedly told friends he liked Clementi.

Based on witness accounts of the evidence at the trial, this is an assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case and the likelihood of a conviction on each of the charges.

Invasion of privacy: This charge arises from Ravi’s setting up the webcam in the room that he and Clementi shared to observe the sexual encounter between Clementi and his male friend. The evidence on this charge appears to be strong as numerous witnesses have confirmed that this occurred, including testimony from the male friend identified only as “MB.”

Attempted invasion of privacy: This charge results from the effort by Ravi two days after the original videotaping to record Clementi again. Apparently, Mr. Clementi was aware of the camera by this time, and either he disabled the webcam or it malfunctioned, since no video was obtained. However, there was testimony from a friend of Ravi’s, Lokesh Ojha, who admitted assisting Ravi in positioning the camera so that it was pointed at Clementi’s bed. The evidence seems strong on this count, increasing the likelihood of a conviction.

Tampering with physical evidence: This charge is based on the deleting of a tweet that Ravi initially sent to his friend Molly Wei (who testified in the case under a deal with prosecutors for a lighter sentence). Wei viewed the original video with Ravi on September 19th and is a critical witness in several counts of the prosecution’s case. This also appears to be a strong count for the prosecution.

Hindering apprehension of prosecution: These charges arise from Molly Wei’s testimony that Ravi instructed her to tell the police that the taping was a “prank” and that they did not intend to spy on anyone. This is another charge which if Ravi was convicted of, he could serve jail time of 5-10 years. However, apparently the judge indicated before the trial that he would be lenient on sentencing if there is a conviction on this charge.

Witness tampering: This charge also relates to communications that Ravi had with Molly Wei when she was being questioned by police. He sent her a message stating: “Did you tell them we did it on purpose…because I said we were just messing around with the camera…He told me that he wanted to have a friend over and I didn’t realize they wanted to be all private.” This also would seem to be a solid charge for the prosecution.

Bias intimidation: This is the primary part of the State’s case, that Ravi meant to intimidate Clementi and his friend because they were gay. The prosecution has offered evidence to establish Ravi’s negative feelings toward gay people including computer messages from Ravi as follows: “We have to keep the gays out…[I saw] Clementi making out with a dude…Ew.” To counter these charges, the defense has noted that even the prosecution’s witnesses indicated that Ravi never expressed animosity towards homosexuals and told some of his friends that he liked his roommate. Thus, it may be a very hard sell to make to the jury, and particularly with the harshness of the outcome of a guilty verdict on this charge, including a possible ten year sentence and removal from the United States, it is unclear if the jury will convict on this charge.

It is likely that the jury will reach a verdict this week and we will report further after this very interesting and potentially trend setting case is decided.

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On February 24th, the trial of 20 year old Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi began in Middlesex County, New Jersey. Ravi has been charged with 15 counts of invasion of privacy, evidence and witness tampering, and the most serious charge of bias intimidation as a hate crime. Ravi is accused of having set up a webcam in the dorm room he shared with his then roommate Tyler Clementi on September 19, 2010 in order to record Clementi’s intimate sexual encounter with another man. Ravi also posted on Twitter that he observed his roommate “making out with a dude.”
Three days after Ravi recorded and viewed the encounter, Clementi, 18, committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge. The case is being followed nationally, and raises many issues prevalently in the news, including privacy in the age of Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and cyber bullying resulting in teen suicide. The evidence and witness tampering charges arise out of several text messages sent by Ravi to witness Michelle Wei when she was being questioned by prosecutors. She testified that Ravi wanted to know what she was telling them, and stated: “Did you tell them we did it on purpose? What did you tell them when they asked why we turned it on? Ravi wanted Wei to give investigators the impression that the videotaping was “more of an accident.”

On the bias intimidation charge, if found guilty, Ravi could be sentenced to up to 10 years in jail. Additionally, as Ravi was born in India and is not a U.S. citizen, he faces potential deportation (now officially called “removal”) from the United States if convicted of the most serious criminal charges.

Prosecutors contend that Ravi’s actions were “meant to cross one of the most sacred boundaries of human privacy—engaging in private sexual human activity…and were planned to expose Tyler Clementi’s sexual orientation.” In contrast, the defense denied that there was any element of intimidation in Ravi’s actions, and claimed that Ravi did not dislike gay people. The defense argued that Ravi made a “stupid mistake”, and “did not intend to intimidate anyone.”

Generally, New Jersey’s 10 year old bias intimidation statute has been utilized when there has been an assault or other physical intimidation, rather than in invasion of privacy cases. But in recent years, there have been reported cases of online intimidation leading to tragic instances of suicide and serious mental distress. In order to prevail on the most serious charge of bias intimidation, the prosecution will have to show that Clementi reasonably believed that he was singled out for his sexual orientation, and was intimidated by Ravi’s actions. Thus, the state of mind of both Clementi, as victim, as well as Ravi, as alleged perpetrator, will be critical in deciding the outcome.

Prosecutors called Molly Wei to the stand as one of their first witnesses. Ms Wei was initially charged with invasion of privacy for watching the furtive video as well, but in a plea deal with prosecutors, the charges against her were dropped in exchange for her testimony against Ravi and the requirement to perform 300 hours of community service. Wei testified that she observed Clementi kissing another man for a few seconds. She alleged that although Ravi knew his roommate was gay, but did not consider this to be an issue. Similarly, other witnesses offered by the prosecution denied that Ravi had a problem with homosexuals, and one witness claimed that the only comment that Ravi made about the encounter he witnessed is that the male guest of Clementi “looked shady.”

In an important victory for the defense, they were able to prevent the jury from hearing that Mr. Clementi had requested a room change from the Rutgers administration due to “roommate with webcam spying on me.” The jury was only advised that Clementi did make the room change request, but not the reason. Although there has been a presumption that Clementi committed suicide due to his exposure in the webcam video, his motivation for killing himself has never been publicized.

We will monitor developments in this potentially groundbreaking trial.

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On February 17, 2012, ex Westchester County Police Officer Michael Brady pled guilty in the U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut to federal charges of accepting bribes in connection with an Oxycodone distribution ring. The case began back in September of 2011 when Brady was charged with being a participant in a conspiracy to distribute and sell Oxycodone from Florida to Connecticut. The other alleged members of the ring included two TSA Officers from Florida, a Florida State trooper, two livery drivers from Westchester County, and three couriers whose job it was to transfer the drugs to Connecticut and return cash proceeds to Florida.

Brady was accused of having accepted approximately $20,000 in bribes between late 2010 and April of 2011. He was with the Westchester County Police for 11 years, and had previously been employed as an officer with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

The investigation by the U.S Attorney’s Office in Connecticut began in April of 2011, and was called “Operation Blue Coast”. In April of last year, a courier was arrested by DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) officers in Bridgeport in possession of 6,000 Oxycodone pills. The Courier admitted to agents that he shuttled several times a week between Florida and Connecticut carrying thousands of pills on each trip. He began cooperating with the DEA, leading to Mr. Brady’s apprehension and arrest on September 13, 2011. Brady had been out on $750,000 bond with the requirement that he wear an electronic monitoring device.

As part of the guilty plea on February 17, 2012, Mr. Brady agreed to a prison term between 37 and 46 months, and will pay fines between $7,500 and $75,000. Additionally, he will have to make a payment of $20,000, which is alleged to be the amount he received in bribes. Had Mr. Brady gone to trial, he could have faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail and up to $250,000 in fines. He will be sentenced on May 10, 2012.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that Oxycodone was responsible for 176,000 emergency room visits in 2009. Last June, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman stated that he was behind a bill to create an online database to record the prescription and provision of controlled substances, which include Oxycodone. The bill would attempt to curtail excessive prescription of controlled substances and seek to track down traffickers with multiple prescriptions. Schneiderman noted that the amount of Oxycodone prescriptions in Westchester increased 31% between 2008 and 2010. Federal authorities claim that Florida prescribes ten times more Oxycodone pills than all other U.S. states combined. One Oxycodone pill can sell for between $10.00 and $40.00 on the black market.

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On January 18, 2012, Steven Rivera, a 25 year old resident of Ossining, was arrested by the New York State Police and charged for his role in a fatal car accident on June 26, 2011 on Interstate 287 in Yonkers. In the incident, which police have charged was an “Unauthorized Speed Contest”, two people were killed in the vehicle Rivera was reportedly racing, Travis Clark, 27, and Jillisa McCarthy, 20. Clark was the driver of the other vehicle and Ms. McCarthy a front seat passenger.

Allegedly, Rivera and his friend Clark were racing at speeds over 100 m.p.h when Clark lost control of his vehicle and struck a signpost, tearing the post from the pavement. Initially, Mr. Rivera gave a statement to police but did not acknowledge any role in the fatal crash other than as a witness, according to the New York State Police.

Mr. Rivera is now charged with three misdemeanors. The first is “Unauthorized Speed Contest”, an unclassified misdemeanor under Section 1182 of the New York Vehicle & Traffic Law. If found guilty of this charge, the maximum penalty is up to 30 days in jail, a $300.00 to $525.00 fine, or both. He is also charged with Reckless Endangerment under section 120.25 of the Penal Law of the State of New York, which is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1-3 years in jail and a $1,000 fine. Lastly, Rivera is charged with Falsely Reporting an Incident under section 240.50 of the Penal Law, also a Class A misdemeanor with the same possible penalties.

Due to the two fatalities in this case, a New York State Police spokesperson noted that the charges against Mr. Rivera could be superseded and enhanced, depending on a determination by the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.

Mr. Rivera has been released on his own recognizance and for the moment, his case is pending in the Yonkers City Court. If the charges against Mr. Rivera were upgraded to felonies, this would be beyond the jurisdiction of the local City Court in Yonkers and the case would be transferred to the Westchester County Court in White Plains.

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In what has the potential to become one of the biggest scandals in NFL history, (and possibly in any of the major sports), Chicago Bears wide receiver Sam Hurd was arrested by Department of Homeland Security Agents on December 14, 2011 and charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine. Hurd, 26, is in his first year with the Bears and previously played for the Dallas Cowboys for 5 years. There was a 5 month investigation leading up to the arrest, which began in Dallas. Federal authorities allege that Hurd was attempting to set up a drug distribution network. There have been reports, denied by the NFL and Hurd’s defense attorney, that Hurd had a list of at least 20 NFL players that he was distributing drugs to.

Immediately upon learning of his arrest on drug distribution charges, the Chicago Bears announced that they were releasing Hurd.

The facts as they are presently reported are that Mr. Hurd arranged to meet with a man he believed to be a drug distributor on December 14th. He told the man, who was in fact George Ramirez, a special agent with Homeland Security, that he was seeking to develop a drug distribution network in which he could obtain 5 to 10 kilograms per week of cocaine, and 1000 pounds of marijuana per week at a price of $25,000 per kilogram of cocaine and $450.00 per pound of marijuana. (A kilogram is approximately 2.2 lbs.). Hurd reportedly informed Ramirez that he had been distributing four kilograms of cocaine weekly in Chicago but his supplier was not able to provide him with sufficient quantity.

After believing that they had an agreement, Hurd took possession of one kilogram of cocaine and assured the agent that he would pay for the drugs after practice the next day. When Hurd walked to his car, he was arrested when he placed the bag in his vehicle.

I have reviewed the criminal complaint and the affidavit of Agent Ramirez, which was sworn to on December 15, 2011. In the United States of America v. Samuel George Hurd III, Hurd is charged with a violation of Title 21 of the United States Code, Sections 841 (a)(1), (b)(1)(B)(ii)(II), and 846, in that he allegedly:

Knowingly, intentionally and unlawfully combined, conspired, confederated and agreed with other persons known and unknown, to possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, a controlled substance.

Reviewing Mr. Ramirez’ affidavit, it indicates that back in July of 2011, Hurd’s associate, identified only as “T.L”, was involved in a routine traffic stop in Dallas. A search of T.L.’s car revealed bag containing marijuana and $88,000.00 in cash. T.L. informed the authorities that the money was Hurd’s, that he serviced Hurd’s vehicles and claimed that Hurd frequently left large sums of money in his vehicles. (At the time, Hurd was still playing for the Dallas Cowboys). Rather than simply forget about the money, Hurd began contacting the Homeland Security requesting a return of the $88,000. Over the next month, Homeland Security agents determined that Hurd was associated with four individuals from California who were apparently involved in narcotics trafficking and money laundering.

For the next four months, according to the affidavit, Hurd continued to pursue the drug trafficking network, and placed numerous phone calls and text messages to pursue this goal. Ultimately, Hurd arranged to meet with the “supplier” to discuss terms of an agreement and a “long term business relationship.” It was after this meeting that Hurd was arrested.

Hurt was arraigned on December 16th in Chicago and released on $100,000 bond, with the requirement that he surrender his passport and any firearms. The case will be tried in Texas, where the charges originate. If Hurd is convicted on the drug conspiracy charges, he faces up to 40 years in jail and a $2,000,000.00 fine.

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On December 13, 2011, Jerry Sandusky, the 67 year old former Penn State assistant football coach accused of 52 counts of sexual assault of 11 victims, made the decision to waive a preliminary hearing in the case. There was tremendous anticipation and drama attached to this hearing, as Sandusky’s attorney and Sandusky himself have denied the charges, and this would have been the first opportunity for Sandusky to confront his accusers and learn exactly what they would be testifying to in a trial of this case. The drama was heightened this week due to inflammatory statements by Joseph Amendola, Sandusky’s attorney, who accused the young men of pursuing their cases to receive compensation, stating: “What better motivation can there be than money?” Amendola further lit the flames by stating that the defense team was “in a fight to the death.”

At a preliminary hearing, unlike a trial, the purpose is to determine if there is sufficient evidence to hold the defendant for a trial of the charges against him. Thus, rather than proving the elements of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution only needs to establish that there is probable cause to believe that the charges are valid and can be proven in a Court of law. The defense does have an opportunity to cross examine witnesses, but not to the same extent as the full cross examination permitted during a criminal trial. The key advantage from the defense point of view is the opportunity to pin down the complainants’ testimony as to exactly what occurred, for later use in cross examination at trial if there are contradictions between hearing testimony, and testimony at trial.

Therefore, it was somewhat surprising that Sandusky chose to waive the preliminary hearing, depriving his defense attorneys of the opportunity to obtain definitive evidence of what he will be facing at trial. Considering that Mr. Amendola waived the preliminary hearing within minutes of its commencement, it appears that a last minute decision to waive the hearing was made by Sandusky and his attorney.

During an interview on NBC News, Mr. Amendola was confronted with the late waiver issue by newscaster Ann Curry, and his explanation was that he had received assurances that if the hearing was waived, Mr. Sandusky’s bail would not be increased at this time (it is presently $250,000) and he could continue to remain out of jail (on house arrest) with an ankle monitor to assure that he does not flee the jurisdiction.

Many legal analysts speculated that the reason for the waiver of the hearing was that a plea deal is in the offing. However, given Sandusky’s age of 67, and the likelihood that a plea would have to involve at least 12-15 years of jail time, it is doubtful that a plea will be accepted by Sandusky, assuming that the prosecution was prepared to offer a plea. Mr. Amendola vehemently denied that a plea deal was offered or being considered, indicating that this would amount to a “life sentence” based on Sandusky’s age.

Another explanation might be that Mr. Sandusky was fearful of the graphic nature of the allegations of abuse that might be offered by the six accusers who were prepared to testify at the hearing. In the “Court of public opinion”, Sandusky is guilty as charged, and he may have been concerned that the additional details of abuse testified to during the hearing would exacerbate an already complicated defense. If the case does reach trial, Mr. Amendola will likely attempt a motion to change venue in the case to avoid jurors who are too familiar with the case to be objective, but with the national notoriety of this case, this will be an exceedingly difficult task.

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The sexual abuse allegations against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has led to an upheaval at the renowned university and the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno. The bigger issue presented by this scandal is the fact that in a majority of the larger colleges and universities, law enforcement is the responsibility of police personnel who report to university authorities, rather than the general public.

The substantial discretion afforded to local campus police in determining whether to refer cases to police and prosecutors answerable to the public rather than school authorities has resulted in some tragic cases in universities throughout the United States, and the promulgation of The Clery Act in 1990. The Clery Act was named for Jeanne Clery, a 19 year old Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered by another student in her residence hall in 1986.

The Clery Act, also known as the Jeanne Clery Disclosure Of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crimes on and off their campuses. Enforcement of the Act is monitored by the United States Department of Education, and mandates that institutions give timely warnings of crimes that could be a threat to the safety of students and school employees. A violation of the Clery can result in fines of up to $27,000 for each violation.

Prior to the sexual abuse charges against Sandusky at Penn State, which spanned a 15 year period and at least 8 victims (although there have been numerous reports of additional victims coming forward), there have been several sexual abuse cases in U.S. colleges and universities in which the rights and interests of students received short shrift and the Clery Act appears to have been violated. These include:

Two alleged sexual assaults at Marquette University in October of 2010 and February of 2011 involving student athletes, who were allowed to meet with coaches prior to discussing the incidents with campus police. Apparently, the campus police never notified the Milwaukee Police Department about either alleged assault;
The case of an Eastern Michigan University freshman whose body was found naked from the waist down with a pillow over her head in her dorm room in 2006. The Chief of University Police shockingly found “no reason to suspect foul play” and led her parents to believe that she died of natural causes. The University kept quiet for two full months about the fact that the student eventually convicted in her murder had been previously apprehended climbing into a university building window;

An Arizona State student who was raped in her dorm room in 2004 by a football player who had been expelled from a summer class at the University for threatening and sexually harassing several women on campus. The student was readmitted to the university within weeks of his expulsion at the request of his coach.

The Eastern Michigan University case resulted in a federal investigation and lawsuit that was resolved with Eastern Michigan paying the victims’ family $2.5 million. In the Arizona State University case, the student received a settlement of $850,000 for a violation of her Title IX rights to be free of a hostile environment, with the exact statutory language of the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 requiring that: “”No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…” Arizona State was also required to revise its sexual assault policies and appoint a student safety coordinator.

As for the Marquette University assault cases, they are still being reviewed by the Education Department as to Clery Act violations.

Penn State is now under investigation for its own potential violations of the Clery Act. Further, the scandal has placed the school under the scrutiny of the Education Department’s Civil Rights Division, which sent out a letter this past April to all colleges and universities that accept federal money warning them that they must take cases of sexual violence more seriously and in accordance with Title IX to prevent a hostile environment which would impede equal access to education.

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The United States Attorney for the Southern District, Preet Bharara, has had a busy few months, with successful large scale prosecutions against health insurance officials, New York State lawmakers, and inside trading investment bankers. On October 27, 2011, the latest bombshell was dropped: Several former L.I.R.R. workers, including a former railroad union president, and two physicians, have been charged in a massive fraud scheme which could end up costing the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board up to one billion dollars. The charges are premised on a scheme in which former L.I.R.R. employees, who were eligible to retire on a pension at age 50, would be seen by three physicians, Dr. Peter J. Ajemian, and Dr. Peter Lesniewski, (and a third unnamed doctor who recently died), who would prepare false medical assessments in support of the employees’ disability pensions, which would be paid in addition to the retirement pensions. Allegedly, these three doctors were involved in 86% of the false disability applications. The U.S. Government alleges that the doctors were paid between $800.00 and $1,200 in cash for each false assessment and narrative reports, along with millions of dollars to perform unnecessary medical treatments.

The former employees would be able to receive disability and general pension funds which equaled their pre-retirement income. The discovery of the purported fraud was developed from videotapes of many of the defendants playing golf, tennis, working out at the gym and going on 400 mile bike rides, while having claimed that they suffered from severe and disabling back, neck and other injuries. Allegedly, surveillance video obtained by the government depicts one defendant at the gym for over two hours after claiming she could no longer walk stairs, and another defendant shoveling snow for 40 minutes after alleging that she could no longer stand for more than five minutes and had terrible shoulder and hand pain. In the case of the former railroad union president, Joseph Rutigliano, he allegedly never took a sick day, worked 570 hours of overtime in the 12 months before his retirement, and then received disability payments after his retirement in 2006. Rutigliano is also charged as a “facilitator” in assisting other employees in preparing false applications for disability benefits.

Mr. Bharara noted that: ”Employees, in many cases, after claiming to be too disabled to stand, sit, walk or climb steps, retired to lives of regular golf, tennis, biking and aerobics.” The 74 page complaint filed in the United States District Court in Manhattan on Thursday, October 27th charges the defendants under Section 18 of the United States Code, section 1347, which states in pertinent part as follows:

“Whoever knowingly and willfully executes, or attempts to execute, a scheme or artifice—
(2) to obtain, by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, any of the money or property owned by, or under the custody or control of, any health care benefit program, in connection with the delivery of or payment for health care benefits, items, or services, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both. If the violation results in serious bodily injury (as defined in section 1365 of this title), such person shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both;”

The defendants were also charged under section 1349, the conspiracy statute, which states:

“Any person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense under this chapter shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.”

It appears that one of the reasons that the scheme was uncovered was reporting in the New York Times as early as 2008 in which it was noted that the federal Government Accountability Office found that LIRR employees applied for disability pensions 12 times as often as any other commuter railroad. MTA data showed that 79% of LIRR employees over the age of 50 received disability benefits from 2004 through 2008. Additionally, the defendants seemed to have not been at all concerned that the scheme would be uncovered. The federal complaint alleges that one of those charged was receiving $105,000 in pension and disability benefits while playing tennis several times a week and golf 140 times during a nine month time frame.

The defendants were arraigned on October 27th and October 28th, with most released on personal recognizance bonds, which would be forfeited if they failed to appear in Court. If convicted on all charges, the defendants could be facing up to 20 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.

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On October 12, 2011, Barbara Sheehan, the 50 year old Queens mother charged in the shooting death of her husband Raymond Sheehan, was acquitted by a Queens County jury of 2nd degree murder but convicted on a gun possession charge. The case achieved both national and international notoriety as a test of the “battered woman” defense, by which the defendant claims to have committed a violent act due to fear for her life.

The shooting occurred on February 18, 2008 in their Howard Beach, New York residence. Ms. Sheehan shot her husband 5 times using a .38 revolver. When Mr. Sheehan reached for, and then lost control of his 9 mm Glock, Ms. Sheehan grabbed that weapon before he could retrieve it and shot him an additional 6 times.

Ms. Sheehan’s defense was premised on a 17 year history of both physical and verbal abuse by her ex-police sergeant husband, who she alleges committed acts including throwing boiling hot pasta sauce at her, smashing a phone in her face, and locking her out of the house in freezing weather in her pajamas. Sheehan’s daughter Jennifer testified that her father abused her mother for years, and after the verdict, stated that even if her mother had to spend some time in prison, “she’s safe…he was going to kill her.” Raymond Sheehan Jr. called his father an abusive monster who would eventually kill their mother.

The prosecution’s focus appears to have been on the fact that Ms. Sheehan never attempted to leave her husband before the shooting, went on family vacations with him, and killed her husband to end a miserable marriage utilizing the battered woman defense to elude prison. The jury deliberated for three days, and at one point, they claimed that they were “hopelessly deadlocked”, leading to the possibility of a mistrial. However, using what is known generically (and more specifically in the federal Courts), as the “Allen charge”, the judge instructed the jury to reexamine their opinions and try to reach a unanimous verdict. It is likely that the 9 woman, 3 man jury finally reached a compromise by acquitting on the much more serious murder charges and convicting on the illegal weapons possession charge.

Apparently, the jury was of the opinion that Mr. Sheehan was seriously wounded after the initial five bullets struck him, and was not a threat to her safety when she fired another six bullets from the Glock. However, if Ms. Sheehan’s accounting of events was accepted by the jury, it is hard to fathom how a violent abuser reaching for his Glock would not be a threat to her safety.

Ms. Sheehan could have faced anywhere from 15 years to a maximum of life in prison on the second degree murder charge under Section 125.25 of the Penal Law of the State of New York, which is an A1 felony. On the criminal possession of a weapon charges, she will likely be sentenced to approximately three years in prison. Although she had been free on one million dollars bail, Ms. Sheehan was immediately taken into custody after the verdict. This was somewhat surprising, since having relinquished her passport, she is not a flight risk, she has apparently appeared for all Court appearances, and has ties to the community, including her two children in Queens. Her attorney has indicated his intention to file an appeal of the gun possession charge, and Ms. Sheehan is due back in Court for sentencing on November 10, 2011.

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