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7 hours ago · by · Comments Off on Hollywood Actresses and Wealthy CEOs Indicted in College Admissions Scandal

Hollywood Actresses and Wealthy CEOs Indicted in College Admissions Scandal

 

 

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Hollywood actresses and a slew of chief executives are among 50 wealthy people charged in the largest college cheating scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Those indicted in the investigation, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues,” allegedly paid bribes of up to $6.5 million to get their children into elite colleges, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California, federal prosecutors said.

At a news conference, Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts said “This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud. There can be no separate college admissions system for the wealthy and, I’ll add, there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.” Lelling said “The parents charged in the case are a catalog of wealth and privilege. They include, for example, the CEOs of private and public companies, successful securities and real estate investors, two well-known actresses, a famous fashion designer and the co-chairman of a global law firm.”

The ringleader of the scam is William Singer, owner of a college counseling service called Key Worldwide Foundation and a company called Edge College & Career Network. Singer allegedly accepted bribes totaling $25 million from parents between 2011 and 2018 “to guarantee their children’s admission to elite schools.” Singer, of Newport Beach, California, pleaded guilty in a Boston federal court on charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice.
Steven Masera, 69, the accountant and financial officer for the Edge College & Career Network and the Key Worldwide Foundation, was also indicted. Mark Riddell, a private school counselor in Bradenton, Florida, and Masera allegedly worked closely with Singer in the scam, according to the indictment. According to the indictment, Mikaela Sanford, 32, of Folsom, California, another employee of the Edge College & Career Network and the Key Worldwide Foundation, and David Sidoo, 59, of Vancouver, Canada, were also indicted for allegedly working closely with Singer to facilitate the scam.

Singer would allegedly instruct parents to seek extended time for the children to take entrance exams or obtain medical documentation that their child had a learning disability, according to the indictment. The parents were then told to get the location of the test changed to one of two testing centers, one in Houston and another in West Hollywood, California, where test administrators Niki Williams, 44, of Houston and Igor Dvorskiy, 52, of Sherman Oaks, California, helped carry out the scam, the indictment alleges. Riddell, 36, allegedly took ACT and SAT tests for students whose parents had paid bribes to Singer. Singer typically paid Riddell $10,000 for each student’s test.
Singer also allegedly bribed school coaches to give to his clients’ admissions slots reserved for student athletes in sports including crew and soccer. He went as far as to stage fake photos of his student clients engaging in sports they never played, or to digitally place the faces of his clients onto images found online of athletes.

Others charged in the probe include nine coaches at elite schools, two SAT and ACT exam administrators, one exam proctor, a college administrator and 33 parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Robert Zangrillo, 52, of Miami, founder and CEO of the private investment firm Dragon Global; Bill McGlashan, 55, of Mill Valley, California, a businessman and international private equity investor; Gordon Caplan, a New York attorney; and Gregory Abbott, 68, founder and chairman of International Dispensing Corp., a New York food and beverage packaging company, and his wife, Marcia Abbott, 59.
Huffman’s husband, actor William H. Macy, was not indicted, but according to the court document he and Huffman were caught on a recorded conversation with a corroborating witness in the case, allegedly discussing a $15,000 payment to ensure their younger daughter scored high on a college entrance exam. Actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli allegedly paid $500,000 to USC to have their two daughters falsely designated as crew recruits, though neither daughter ever participated in the sport.

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2 days ago · by · Comments Off on Christchurch Mosque Shootings

Christchurch Mosque Shootings

 

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At least 49 people were killed and 48 seriously injured in mass shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on March 15, 2019.  The attack occurred around lunchtime when the mosques were full of worshipers. Footage of the massacre was streamed live online, and a rambling 87 page manifesto laced with white supremacist references was published just before the shootings unfolded.  Police also neutralized two improvised explosive devices attached to one vehicle near the mosque.

The suspected shooter, Brenton Tarrant, 28, live-streamed 17 minutes of video which included footage of himself inside the first mosque, going room-to-room, victim to victim, shooting the wounded from close range as they struggled to crawl away.  In the 6 minutes Tarrant was inside, forty-one people were killed at the Al Noor Mosque.  The live streamed footage also showed the gunman casually talking and laughing as he walked out of the mosque where he shot at people near the area before driving away at high speed, heading for the Linwood Islamic Centre, about 3 miles away.  Another 7 people were killed at the Linwood Mosque, an eighth victim later died in the hospital. Tarrant was apprehended as he fled the Linwood Mosque when two police officers ran his car off the road.

Tarrant has been charged with murder and two other men remain in custody, although their link to the attack is unknown.  None of the men in custody have a criminal history.  Tarrant is an Australian-born former personal trainer who is believed to have been radicalized during his travels abroad. According to the Independent, Tarrant met with right-wing extremists while taking a trip to Europe in 2017, and also traveled to Pakistan and North Korea.  Authorities have said that Tarrant had become obsessed with terrorist attacks committed by radical Islamists in Europe in 2016 and 2017.

According to his manifesto, he started planning a revenge attack about two years prior to the attack and chose his targets three months in advance.  The manifesto expresses several anti-immigrant sentiments including hate speech against migrants, white supremacist rhetoric, and calls for non-European immigrants such as Roma, Indians, Turkish people, Semitic people and others allegedly “invading his land” to be removed.  Tarrant describes himself as an ethno-nationalist and refers to revenge for European civilians who were casualties in Islamic terrorist attacks within Europe as motivation for his attack.  He repeatedly mentions revenge for Ebba Åkerlund, a victim in the 2017 Stockholm truck attack.

Prime Minister Ardern called the incident an “act of extreme and unprecedented violence” and said “this is one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”  She also described it as a well-planned terrorist attack.  Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel stated that she never thought “anything like this” could happen in New Zealand, saying “everyone is shocked”.  Many other politicians and world leaders have condemned the attacks and world leaders attribute the attack to rising Islamophobia.

Prime Minister Ardern announced: “Our gun laws will change, now is the time… People will be seeking change, and I am committed to that.”  Attorney-General David Parker was later quoted as saying that the government will ban semi-automatic guns but later said the government had not yet committed to anything and that regulations around semi-automatic weapons was “one of the issues” the government would consider.

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4 days ago · by · Comments Off on Ethiopian Airlines Plane Crash Kills 157 People

Ethiopian Airlines Plane Crash Kills 157 People

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An Ethiopian Airlines flight traveling from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to Nairobi, Kenya, crashed, killing all 157 passengers and crew on board. The Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliner was carrying passengers of 35 different nationalities, including eight Americans and 21 United Nations staffers.  Sunday’s crash triggered a global grounding of Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after data suggested similarities between the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash and the Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610 crash in October that killed 189 people.

The pilot of the Boeing 737 jetliner that crashed Sunday immediately noticed trouble as the plane accelerated wildly after takeoff.  Within one minute of Flight 302’s departure, Captain Yared Getachew calmly reported a “flight control” problem.  “Break break, request back to home,” the captain told air traffic controllers as they scrambled to divert two other flights approaching the airport. “Request vector for landing.”

Air traffic controllers knew the plane was in trouble even before the pilot radioed in that he wanted to turn the plane around.  They noticed the plane’s speed accelerated inexplicably and it oscillated up and down by hundreds of feet.  Radar showed the aircraft’s altitude was well below what is known as the minimum safe height from the ground during a climb.  The plane appeared to stabilize and climbed to a higher altitude, but then began to speed up again in a way that is deemed unsafe.  The plane then sped up even more just before it disappeared from radar screens and crashed six minutes after takeoff.

The ill-fated flight crashed near the town of Bishoftu, about 39 miles southeast of Bole International Airport.  The plane’s crash left a large crater and debris from the Boeing 737 jet was broken into hundreds of small pieces, making the task of recovering each part complex. The largest engine piece on the site was around the size of a small table.  Several dozen forensic investigators and Ethiopian Airlines employees slowly combed the crash site in search of any evidence, raising their hands when they come across anything significant.

The flight data and cockpit voice recorders were sent to Paris where French aviation authorities will probe the heavily damaged black boxes for clues to the tragedy.  Preliminary conclusions will take several days and aircraft accident investigations can often take years to complete.  Senior Transportation Correspondent David Kerley said investigators will look into the MAX 8’s autopilot functions and the training of the pilots who flew the plane, as well as a mechanical part of the control system that alters the up-and-down movement of the plane’s nose.  The mechanism, called a “jackscrew,” is a threaded rod in the tail section of the aircraft that affects the plane’s stability.

Data from the “black boxes,” devices will provide further guidance for investigators as well as some answers for the families of the victims. The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent U.S. agency that investigates transportation accidents and issues widely-respected safety recommendations, also sent three additional investigators to assist in the analysis.

Many speculate whether the software in the plane’s autopilot system might have played a role in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, as it seemed to have done in the fatal crash of an Indonesian Lion Air 737 MAX 8.  In the October 2018 Lion Air crash, it appears the pilots failed to disengage the autopilot when the plane’s nose began pitching up and down.  It’s possible they were unaware of how to do so since some pilots have complained that the information to disengage autopilot was not readily available, and others have raised concerns about the adequacy of the training process.

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1 week ago · by · Comments Off on R Kelly Arrested Hours After Tense Interview With Gayle King

R Kelly Arrested Hours After Tense Interview With Gayle King

 

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R&B singer R. Kelly’s legal troubles seem far from over with Chicago police charging him with failure to pay more than $161,000 in child support owed to his ex-wife Andrea-for their three children.  The arrest came just two weeks after he was arrested and charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault against four women and girls—three of whom were under the age of consent at the time.  Prosecutors say three of Kelly’s victims were underage girls and that Kelly abused them over a span of about a dozen years.  Kelly was once again released from custody after someone paid his bail three days after his arrest.

His second arrest came just hours after an interview with Gayle King where he became visibly upset and was screaming and cursing.  During the interview, which broadcast on ”CBS This Morning,” Kelly again denied the allegations that have followed him for years as well as the more recent allegations that he is holding several young women in what has been described as a sex cult.  The 52 year old singer went from tears to yelling throughout the interview as he claims that the accusations are lies.  During the tense interview, at times, Kelly jumped from his seat, standing over King as he yelled and pounded on his chest.

  1. Kelly: “I didn’t do this stuff! This is not me! I’m fighting for my [bleep] life! Y’all are killing me with this [bleep]! I gave y’all 30 years of my [bleep] career!”

Gayle King: “Robert.”

  1. Kelly: “Thirty years of my career, and y’all are trying to kill me!”

During the interview, when asked about whether he pays child support to his ex-wife, he claimed to only have about $350,000 left in his bank account.

Kelly has faced scrutiny for more than a decade, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at his record sales over the years.  He is notably known for his music as much as the allegations involving underage girls.  It’s been well-known that Kelly settled four cases involving underage girls before his 2002 indictment.  During the six years it took that case to go to trial, Kelly churned out hits like “I Believe I Can Fly,”  “I Wish” and “Fiesta”.  He was eventually found not guilty and though the allegations were well known, they faded from the publics’ mind as his record sales soared.

Attention to the allegations were reignited in January after the six-part Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” aired.  It featured interviews with seven accusers and former members of his inner circle. They all said Kelly preys on vulnerable women and young girls.  All of the girls were willing involved with him but were underage at the time.  They claim that at the time, they loved him and began their relationships believing they had a special connection but began to realize that he had a sickness.

Gayle King also asked King about the two women that currently live with Kelly, whose parents both claim he has isolated them- abusing and brainwashing their daughters.  Aspiring singer Jocelyn Savage, 23, met Kelly when she was just 17 years old and has been living with Kelly since she was 19.  She broke off contact with her parents soon after she began living with him.  Another aspiring singer, Azriel Clary, 20, also met Kelly when she was 17 years old and she broke off contact soon after moving in with him.  In an interview with Gayle King, Clary and Jocelyn defended R. Kelly saying, that their parents are just after money and that they were happy being his girlfriends and living with him.  R.Kelly was in the room during the interview.rkelly.jpg

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2 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on Boulder Police Draw Gun On Man Cleaning His Yard

Boulder Police Draw Gun On Man Cleaning His Yard

 

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Police in Boulder, Colorado, have launched an internal affairs investigation after video surfaced showing a police officer drawing a pistol on a black man who was picking up trash outside his own home on March 1st.  The police officer, who called other officers to the scene, is on paid administrative leave while the investigation continues.

According to the police department, an officer observed a man sitting in a partially enclosed patio area behind a “private property” sign and asked if the man was allowed to be there.  The man said he lived and worked at the building and produced an identification card but the officer continued to question the man.    The unidentified man is a student at Naropa University in Boulder, and the building is listed as a school residence.

The 16 minute video shows the officer approaching the man, who was using a trash picker and bucket to clean up his yard.  The officer is shown talking with the man and has his hand on his hip, near his gun.  As the video continues, several other officers arrive at the scene as the man is shouting “You’re on my property with a gun in your hand, threatening to shoot me because I’m picking up trash. I hope that camera is on.”  The man’s roommate, who is filming, is shouting “He’s picking up trash, and you have your hand on your gun? He lives here, go home!”  The officer repeatedly tells the man to drop his weapon and both the man and his roommate respond that he does not have a weapon.

The man is shouting that he lives there, on private property and is picking up trash outside his dorm.  He refuses to sit down and tells police to get off his property before asking if they are going to shoot him, tase him or beat him up for picking up trash outside his own home.  The man holds the trash picker in the air saying “you’re calling this a weapon?” and the officer responds that it can be used as a weapon.  The man argues that it is not ok for them to harass him with their hands on their guns for picking up trash in his front yard and repeatedly tells them to leave.  His roommate who is filming comments that one of the officers is holding a shotgun.

A total of eight officers responded, including a supervisor and it was later confirmed by police that the object the man was holding was used to pick up trash.  Boulder police released a statement saying “Officers ultimately determined that the man had a legal right to be on the property and returned the man’s school identification card,” the release said. “All officers left the area and no further action was taken.”  In a police report, the officer claimed the man was uncooperative and “unwilling to put down a blunt object”—even though the man and his roommate repeatedly identified the object as a trash picker.  The officer who drew his weapon has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation.

The video has gone viral and sparked outrage throughout the community.  During a city council meeting, Police Chief Greg Testa told the crowd: “All aspects of this incident, specifically the actions of the initial officer, are being investigated… in contrast to what was stated in the video that is on social media, body-worn camera video indicates that only one officer had a handgun out, and it was pointed at the ground.”

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3 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on Patriots Owner’s Arrest Spotlights Sex Trafficking Investigation

Patriots Owner’s Arrest Spotlights Sex Trafficking Investigation

 

 

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The billionaire owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, was charged with two counts of soliciting sex during a wide ranging sting operation investigating prostitution and human trafficking at day spas in South Florida.  The charges against Mr. Kraft, 77, in Jupiter, Fla., came after the police used video surveillance to observe activity inside several day spas and massage parlors.  Prosecutors say they have video evidence of Kraft engaging in the criminal acts.  While Mr. Kraft lives in Massachusetts, he has owned property in Palm Beach, Fla., for a number of years.  Kraft is accused of patronizing a spa in Jupiter called Orchids of Asia, a small storefront business in a strip mall on two occasions.

All of the sexual encounters that have resulted in charges were videotaped as part of the prostitution investigation.  Investigators had been conducting surveillance of massage parlors in the area for 6 months and have charged nearly 200 people, though only a fraction have been arrested so far.  The police said that the massage parlors and spas had been used for prostitution and that many of the women involved were considered to be victims.  Many of the women involved in the case came to the U.S. from China on temporary visas, and some reportedly had sex with 1,000 men a year.  The investigation involved several law enforcement agencies and resulted in raids and arrests connected to nearly a dozen businesses in the region.  At least one person was charged with human trafficking while others, including several women, are accused of racketeering and money laundering. More than two dozen customers, men ranging in age from their 30s to at least one in his 80s, have been arrested.

Acting on a tip, the police began their investigation of Orchids of Asia by searching online reviews for the business, several of which used a slang term for a sex act that was available to male customers.  After conducting 24-hour video surveillance in November, the police noticed that only male clients had entered.  A Florida Department of Health investigator inspected the business on behalf of the police and noticed several indications that women were living there, including beds, dressers with personal items and a refrigerator containing food and condiments.

One day in January, the police stopped men leaving the spa and the men told police officers that they had taken part in sex acts during their visits. Using that information, the police obtained a search warrant allowing them to monitor and record conduct inside the spa on video.  At 11:30pm on January 17th, the police entered the Orchids of Asia massage parlor under the pretense of investigating the report of a suspicious package.  They evacuated the parlor and set up surveillance cameras to capture what went on inside.  For five days, starting on Jan. 18, the police monitored the video, and they said they had observed more than 20 men receiving manual or oral stimulation during massage sessions.  Police say they did not observe sexual intercourse in any of the instances.

It is extremely difficult for law enforcement to takedown the rings that operate these types of parlors and even more difficult to prove human trafficking charges because of workers’ reluctance to testify, cultural barriers and an international business structure that makes identifying the masterminds next to impossible.  In the last several years, law enforcement has started to view the women in these situations as victims and have cracked down on arresting johns in an effort to eliminate the demand.  In many cases, they refer these women to social services after a parlor is raided.  Many of the women who are working in these establishments are recruited from rural parts of China with promises of legal employment in the US.  Some are fleeing domestic abuse, have little education or their families are heavily in debt.  Agencies in China charge them thousands in travel fees to the US and they agree to work off the debt, eventually being forced into the sex trade with little to no other options for housing or income once in the US.

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3 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on ISIS Bride Hoda Muthana Barred Re-Entry To US

ISIS Bride Hoda Muthana Barred Re-Entry To US

 

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The US Government has said that Hoda Muthana, a 24 year old Alabama woman who fled to Syria in 2014 to join ISIS fighters will not be allowed to return to the United States.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Muthana is not a U.S. citizen, but her attorneys insist she does hold U.S. citizenship and was born in Hackensack, New Jersey.  She is now in a refugee camp in Syria with her 18-month-old son.

In 2014, Muthana, then a 20-year-old student, apparently left Alabama after first registering for classes and then withdrawing and getting a refund check.  She lied to her parents saying she was traveling to Georgia for a university event.  She went to Turkey instead and was then smuggled into Syria to join the Islamic State at the height of the Caliphate. She reportedly served as a recruiter and urged attacks on the West.

Muthana briefly made headlines again after her takfiri husband of 87 days was allegedly killed during an airstrike carried out by the Royal Jordanian Air Force on March 17, 2015.  Now, years later, with the militant group she belonged to driven out of Syria, she is hoping to return to the United States.  Along with 12 other Americans, mostly women and children, Muthana is being held by U.S. Kurdish allies in Syria.  She claims she regrets her decision to join the group and is ready to face the consequences of her act -including jail time.  She said during a recent interview “I hope they excuse me because of how young and ignorant I was. Now I’m changed. Now I’m a mother and I have none of the ideology and hopefully everyone will see it when I come back.  I hope America doesn’t think I’m a threat to them and I hope they can accept me.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s unprecedented statement declaring that Muthana was not a U.S. citizen with no legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States has been controversial.  Muthana, was in fact, born in Hackensack, New Jersey in 1994 which does make her a U.S. citizen via birthright.  Some believe she is not a U.S. citizen because her father was a Yemeni diplomat in the U.S. on official business.  The US Constitution grants citizenship to everyone born in the country – with the exception of children of diplomats, as they are not under US jurisdiction.

Muthana’s father has filed an emergency lawsuit asking a federal court to affirm that his daughter is a US citizen and to let her return along with her toddler son.  In the lawsuit, Muthana’s father said he was asked by Yemen to surrender his diplomatic identity card on June 2, 1994, as the Arab country descended into one of its civil wars.  Hoda Muthana was born in New Jersey on Oct 28 of that year and the family later settled in Hoover, Alabama.  The State Department initially questioned her right to citizenship when her father sought a passport for her as a child because US records showed he had been a diplomat until February 1995, the lawsuit said.  The State Department accepted a letter from the US mission to the UN that affirmed that he had ended his position before his daughter’s birth, and granted her a passport.  The lawsuit said that Hoda Muthana was also entitled to citizenship due to her mother, as she became a US permanent resident, anticipating the loss of diplomatic status, in July 1994.

 

 

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4 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on Coast Guard Lieutenant Suspected of Planning Terror Plot

Coast Guard Lieutenant Suspected of Planning Terror Plot

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An active-duty Coast Guard lieutenant who was arrested on gun and drug charges, allegedly wanted to conduct a mass killing.  Christopher Paul Hasson, 49, of Silver Spring, Maryland, reportedly had a stockpile of 15 guns and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Federal investigators uncovered a domestic terror plot to kill high-profile liberal figures including Democratic lawmakers, media personalities and judges.  He was ordered held without bail on drug and gun charges while prosecutors gather evidence to support more serious charges involving what they portrayed as a domestic terror plot.

Hasson’s “hit list” included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, civil rights pioneer Angela Davis, freshman Congressmembers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, MSNBC host Chris Hayes and Democratic presidential hopefuls Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, among others.  Hasson, a self-described white nationalist, was reportedly inspired by the far-right Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, who in 2011 killed 77 people in a bomb attack and a mass shooting.

Court documents say Hasson holds extremist and white supremacist views and allege that he relied on the manifesto of Anders Breivik.  In a draft email obtained by prosecutors, Hasson wrote, “I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth.” Court documents also revealed he wanted to “establish a white homeland”.  Court records show Hasson also stockpiled steroids and human growth hormone “to increase his ability to conduct attacks,” consistent with the directions in Breivik’s manifesto.

Spokesman for US Coast Guard Headquarters, Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Barry Lane said in a statement that the arrest was part of an investigation led by the Coast Guard.  “An active duty Coast Guard member, stationed at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC, was arrested on illegal weapons and drug charges as a result of an ongoing investigation led by the Coast Guard Investigative Service, in cooperation with the FBI and Department of Justice. Because this is an open investigation, the Coast Guard has no further details at this time,” Lane said.

Hasson served as an aircraft mechanic in the Marine Corps from 1988 to 1993 and was then on active duty with the Army National Guard for approximately two years. He has been in the Coast Guard for more than twenty years and has held his current position since 2016.  Hasson is married with two children, one of whom is in the Marine Corps.  Prosecutors allege that Hasson had been amassing guns and ammunition since 2017 in preparation for his plot to assassinate high-profile Democratic and left-leaning politicians and media figures.

Hasson used work computers to plan the attack during his job as a Coast Guard Lieutenant and studying the manifestos of various mass shooters.  He created a spreadsheet with a list of journalists, Democratic politicians, and socialist figures and organizations.  He also attempted to find out where Democratic politicians and media figures lived.  Federal prosecutors say “The defendant intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country. He must be detained pending trial” and: “The defendant is a domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life” as well as his charges being the “proverbial tip of the iceberg”

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4 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on El Chapo Found Guilty

El Chapo Found Guilty

 

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A New York City federal jury rendered a guilty verdict on all 10 federal criminal counts against notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, after a 3-month trial. The counts include conspiracy to launder drug money, international distribution of drugs, the use of firearms and engaging in a criminal enterprise.  The 61 year old faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for the guilty verdict of leading a continuing criminal enterprise, and a sentence of up to life imprisonment on the remaining drug counts.  He will be sentenced on June 25.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera once headed a criminal enterprise that spanned continents and triggered waves of bloodshed throughout his native Mexico, claiming more than 100,000 lives in drug-related violence.  During the more than 200 hours of testimony at the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, 56 witnesses took to the stand with stories of murder, violence, spying, widespread corruption and even one tale of the drug lord escaping arrest in 2014 by climbing naked through a sewer alongside a former lover.   The kingpin is just as notorious for leading the violent cartel as he is for his extensive measures of escaping arrest and daring prison escapes.  Since Guzmán’s capture in 2016 and extradition one year later, he has been kept in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison with little to no human interaction for as many as 23 hours a day.

Over 2½ months, the partially sequestered and anonymous jury sat through testimony from 56 witnesses about unspeakable torture and ghastly murders, corruption at nearly every level of Mexico’s government, narco-mistresses, gold-plated AK-47s and monogrammed, diamond-encrusted pistols.  Fourteen of those witnesses — mostly admitted drug traffickers and cartel associates — cooperated with prosecutors in hopes of reducing their own prison sentences.  There were also surveillance photos, intercepted phone calls and text messages involving Guzmán, as well as evidence showing extravagant firepower and bricks of cocaine that dropped with the force of potato sacks.

The jury deliberated roughly 34 hours over six days before rendering guilty verdicts on all 10 counts.   Jurors did not look at the defendant, who reportedly pocketed nearly $14 billion in cash proceeds as the decades-long head of the Sinaloa cartel.  Under El Chapo, the Sinaloa cartel smuggled narcotics to wholesale distributors in Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York.  Federal prosecutors said they will seek a forfeiture judgment for billions of dollars constituting the cartel’s illegal drug-trafficking proceeds.

One of Guzmán’s lawyers described him as “extremely upbeat” after the verdict, “He’s a fighter, he’s not done yet by far” defense attorney Michael Lambert said.  After jurors left the room, Guzmán waved and smiled at his wife, Emma Coronel, a former beauty queen and courtroom regular who smiled back and touched her hand to her heart.  Another member of the defense team, Jeffrey Lichtman, said they waged a vigorous defense and are disappointed in the jury’s verdict but they plan to file an appeal on a number of issues.

According to experts, his conviction will not diminish the power and reach of the Sinaloa cartel.  According to researchers, the violent crime group has not been affected despite the arrests of some of the cartel’s top leaders and important associates.    El Chapo created an extraodinary criminal organization that operates in more than 40 countries and was designed to carry on even in his absence.  Once El Chapo started running from authorities, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, who lead a faction of the cartel, made sure the cartel still functioned, which he still does to this day.

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1 month ago · by · Comments Off on Investigation Reveals 20 Years of Sexual Abuse in Southern Baptist Church

Investigation Reveals 20 Years of Sexual Abuse in Southern Baptist Church

 

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sexual abusesbc.jpgAn investigation led by Robert Downen, a Houston Chronicle reporter, reveals 20 years of sexual abuse allegations within the Southern Baptist Church (SBC).  The joint investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News- includes over 700 victims, including many children—some as young as 3 years old.  With about 15 million members, the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the country and the shocking report has prompted calls for investigations into the church and their role in covering up and enabling the abuse.

Three hundred eighty Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers have been accused of rape, abuse and various forms of sexual misconduct.  Around 220 of those have been convicted of sex crimes or were given plea deals.  Of those 220, 90 remain in prison and 100 are registered sex offenders.  The report also found that members of the church pressured some women to get abortions after becoming pregnant as a result of assault, or threatened to shun them from the church.

The investigation comes as other religious bodies, including the Catholic Church, face accusations of widespread sexual abuse of its members, especially children, over decades.  The investigation of the SBC began because of Debbie Vasquez, who was 14 years old when she was first molested by the pastor of her church and at 18 she became pregnant with the pastor’s child.   In 2008, she and others started asking SBC leadership to track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers but the church’s leaders resisted such reforms.  As a result, Lise Olsen, deputy investigations editor at the Chronicle, says the newspaper created its own database of abusers.

Olsen says it was easier for the abuse to stay a secret because of the church’s culture which does not allow women in leadership positions or condone same-sex relationships.  She says many of the victims are either young women who are told it’s a sin to have sex before marriage, even if you’re forced to by your pastor or they’re young men who are being forced into homosexual acts with pastors and other leaders, and then are stigmatized.  These “purity teachings” leave victims feeling un-empowered to come forward, with some victims losing their faith and even becoming suicidal.

Abusers in religious organizations often don’t just groom victims, they groom communities, preparing them to rise up and protect them.  Those who speak out about sexual abuse in authoritarian religious communities are often shamed in an attempt to quiet them with accusations seeking attention or of trying to bring down a godly man.  They may be told they’re selfish — indulging in their own pain when they should be paying attention to the pain they are causing others, including the people who will turn away from the church and spend an eternity in hell because of the poor light they’ve portrayed the church in.

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, who was elected last June, responded to the newspapers’ investigation with a series of tweets:  “The abuses described in this @HoustonChron article are pure evil.”

“There can simply be no ambiguity about the church’s responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe place for the vulnerable. The safety of the victims matters more than the reputation of Southern Baptists.  As a denomination, now is a time to mourn and repent. Changes are coming. They must. We cannot just promise to ‘do better’ and expect that to be enough. “It’s time for pervasive change, God demands it. Survivors deserve it. We must change how we prepare before abuse (prevention), respond during disclosure (full cooperation with legal authorities), and act after instances of abuse (holistic care).”

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