Day: August 12, 2019

The Latest: Trial opens for Utah man in major opioid ring

SALT LAKE CITY — The Latest on the trial of a Utah man accused of running an opioid ring (all times local):

12:30 p.m.

Lawyers for a man accused of running a multi-million-dollar opioid ring out of his suburban Salt Lake City basement say he was involved in drugs but wasn’t capable of running such a major operation.

Defence attorney Greg Skordas said Monday that 29-year-old Aaron Shamo has a learning disability and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that make him incapable of orchestrating the complicated scheme that prosecutors laid out in court documents.

Skordas spoke during opening statements at the trial of Shamo, who could be facing life in prison if convicted of just one of the counts against him.

Prosecutor Michael Gadd says several people involved will testify that Shamo ran the ring that sold pills laced with fentanyl that resulted in a fatal overdose.

Authorities have said the 2016 bust of the operation that sold nearly half-million pills ranked among the largest in the country.


6 a.m.

A 29-year-old former Eagle Scout accused of running a multimillion-dollar opioid drug ring out of his suburban Salt Lake City basement is set to go on trial Monday.

Prosecutors say Aaron Shamo was a prolific dark web kingpin who peddled poisonous fentanyl pressed to look like prescription drugs to thousands of people, killing at least one.

Authorities said the 2016 bust of the operation that sold nearly half-million pills ranked among the largest in the country.

But Shamo’s family and lawyers say that’s a false image of him. They say he made mistakes, but he’s being wrongly targeted as the sole ringleader, despite evidence his partners who were offered plea agreements were as deeply involved as he was.

The Associated Press

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Chief: Killing of young LA officer ‘leaves a lasting scar’

LOS ANGELES — A young Los Angeles police officer gunned down while off duty at a taco stand was memorialized by his chief for his big smile, bright mind and devotion to public service.

Hundreds of his fellow officers packed the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Monday to honour Officer Juan Jose Diaz.

“Juan’s death leaves a lasting wound, his murder a lasting scar,” police Chief Michel Moore told mourners.

The 24-year-old officer was shot July 27 after confronting a man spray-painting gang graffiti on a wall. Diaz had been hanging out and eating tacos with his girlfriend and her two brothers in the Lincoln Heights neighbourhood.

Diaz will be remembered as someone with humility and sharp sense of humour who “continually strove to help others,” Moore said.

The officer’s family and friends wore white and were seated in the front pews of the downtown cathedral, where Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez presided over a bilingual Mass.

His sister, Anahi Diaz, said her brother had wanted to be a police officer since he was 5 years old. She laughed as she remembered him eating cereal out of a Los Angeles Dodgers batting helmet and singing country music — “and not very well.”

A hearse arrived at the cathedral with a police motorcycle escort. After the service, the casket was escorted for interment at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills cemetery.

Diaz had been on the force for two years and was assigned to the police department’s Professional Standards Bureau, which conducts investigations into department personnel.

He was shot as he and his group tried to drive away to avoid a violent confrontation, investigators said. One of his girlfriend’s brothers was seriously wounded but is expected to recover.

Two men and a woman were arrested Aug. 2 in connection with the killing. They were identified as Francisco Talamantes, 23; Cristian Facundo, 20; and Ashlynn Smith, 18, police said. They’re due in court next month on multiple charges including murder with a gang allegation, prosecutors said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the defendants had obtained lawyers.

Detectives said the shooting occurred during a two-hour series of crimes by gang members that included another attempted shooting nearby where the targets were unhurt.

Diaz is the second off-duty officer killed in the Los Angeles area in recent months. In June, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano was shot at a Jack in the Box restaurant in the suburb of Alhambra.

The suspect, Rhett Nelson of Utah, is also charged in the killing of professional Russian snowboarder Dmitry Koltsov. Authorities have said that the killings of Solano and Koltsov are believed to be random. Nelson has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

The Associated Press

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Crown touts testimony depicting Joshua Boyle’s ‘pattern of behaviour’

OTTAWA — A Crown prosecutor argued during former hostage Joshua Boyle’s assault trial today that testimony about his controlling, abusive nature should be admitted into evidence because it depicts a relevant pattern of behaviour.

Boyle, 35, has pleaded not guilty in Ontario court to offences against estranged spouse Caitlan Coleman, including assault, sexual assault and unlawful confinement.

The offences are alleged to have occurred in late 2017 after the couple returned to Canada following five years as captives of extremists who seized them during an ill-fated backpacking trip to Asia.

Witnesses at the trial have described Boyle as angry and domineering in the days following his release from captivity.

Coleman’s sister, Jo Ann Rotenberry, visited the couple shortly after their return and recalled that Boyle always seemed frustrated and would speak demeaningly to Caitlan.

Crown prosecutor Meaghan Cunningham says the complete context of the relationship is relevant to the court proceedings.

The Canadian Press

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New rules can deny green cards for immigrants on food stamps

WASHINGTON — Trump administration rules that could deny green cards to immigrants who use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance are going into effect, potentially making it more difficult for some to become U.S. citizens.

Federal law already requires those seeking green cards and legal status to prove they will not be a burden to the United States, or what’s called a “public charge,” but the new rules, made public on Monday, detail a broader range of programs that could disqualify them.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers will now weigh public assistance along with other factors such as education, household income and health to determine whether to grant legal status.

Much of President Donald Trump’s effort to crack down on illegal immigration has been in the spotlight, but the rule change is one of the most aggressive efforts to restrict legal immigration. It’s part of a push to move the U.S. to a system that focuses on immigrants’ skills instead of emphasizing the reunification of families, as it has done.

The rules will take effect in mid-October. They don’t apply to U.S. citizens, even if the U.S. citizen is related to an immigrant who is subject to them.

The acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, said the rule change fits with the Republican president’s message.

“We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient,” Cuccinelli said. “That’s a core principle of the American Dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration.”

Immigrants make up a small percentage of those who get public benefits. In fact, many are ineligible for public benefits because of their immigration status.

But advocates worry the rules will scare immigrants into not asking for help. And they are concerned the rules give too broad an authority to decide whether someone is likely to need public assistance at any time, giving immigration officials the ability to deny legal status to more people.

On average, 544,000 people apply annually for green cards, with about 382,000 falling into categories that would be subject to this review, according to the government.

Guidelines in use since 1999 referred to a public charge as someone primarily dependent on cash assistance, income maintenance or government support for long-term institutionalization.

Under the new rules, the Department of Homeland Security has redefined a public charge as someone who is “more likely than not” to receive public benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. If someone has two benefits, that is counted as two months. And the definition has been broadened to include Medicaid, housing assistance and food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Following publication of the proposed rules last fall, Homeland Security received 266,000 public comments, more than triple the average number for a rule change at the agency, and it made a series of amendments to the final rules as a result.

For example, women who are pregnant and on Medicaid or who need public assistance will not be subject to the new rules during the pregnancy and for 60 days after the birth of the baby.

The Medicare Part D low-income subsidy won’t be considered a public benefit. And public benefits received by children up until age 21 won’t be considered. Nor will emergency medical assistance, school lunch programs, foster care or adoption, student loans and mortgages, food pantries, homeless shelters or disaster relief.

Cuccinelli said the comments resulted in changes that “we think it made a better, stronger rule.”

Green card hopefuls will be required to submit three years of federal tax returns in addition to a history of employment. And if immigrants have private health insurance that will weigh heavily in their favour.

Refugees or asylum seekers would be exempt, and the rules would not be applied retroactively, officials said. But the Trump administration also has moved to drastically reduce asylum in the U.S.

The administration recently tried to effectively end the protections at the U.S.-Mexico border before the effort was blocked by a court. It has sent more than 30,000 asylum seekers mostly from Central America back to Mexico wait out their immigration cases.

According to an Associated Press analysis of census data, low-income immigrants who are not citizens use Medicaid, food aid, cash assistance and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, at a lower rate than comparable low-income native-born adults.

In general, immigrants are a small portion of those receiving public benefits. For example, non-citizen immigrants make up only 6.5 per cent of all those participating in Medicaid. More than 87 per cent of participants are native-born. The same goes for food assistance: Immigrants make up only 8.8 per cent of recipients, and more than 85 per cent of participants are native-born.

The new public assistance threshold, taken together with higher requirements for education, work skills and health, will make it more difficult for immigrants to qualify for green cards, advocates say.

“Without a single change in the law by Congress, the Trump public charge rules mean many more U.S. citizens are being and will be denied the opportunity to live together in the U.S. with their spouses, children and parents,” said Ur Jaddou, a former Citizenship and Immigration Services chief counsel who’s now director of the DHS Watch run by an immigrant advocacy group. “These are not just small changes. They are big changes with enormous consequences for U.S. citizens.”

The new rules come at a time of increased criticism over Trump’s hardline policies and his rhetoric.

On Aug. 3, 22 people were killed and dozens were injured in a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, a border city that has become the face of the migration crisis. The shooting suspect told authorities he targeted Mexicans in the attack.

Critics contend Trump’s words have contributed to a combustible climate that has spawned death and violence, but Trump disagrees.

Colleen Long, The Associated Press

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Federal New York lockup draws new scrutiny in Epstein death

NEW YORK — The apparent suicide of Jeffrey Epstein has brought new scrutiny to a federal jail in New York that, despite chronic understaffing, houses some of the highest-security inmates in the country.

Epstein’s death is also the latest black eye for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the jail’s parent agency that already was under fire for the October death of Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, who was fatally beaten at a federal prison in West Virginia shortly after his arrival.

Taken together, the deaths underscore “serious issues surrounding a lack of leadership” within the BOP, said Cameron Lindsay, a former warden who ran three federal lockups, including the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

A defence attorney for Epstein, Marc Fernich, also faulted jail officials, saying they “recklessly put Mr. Epstein in harm’s way” and failed to protect him.

The Bureau of Prisons did not respond to repeated requests for details about Epstein’s death. But Attorney General William Barr demanded answers, saying he was appalled by the apparent suicide and announcing a pair of federal inquiries by the FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general.

Epstein, 66, had pleaded not guilty to federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. His lawyers maintained the charges against him violated a non-prosecution agreement he signed over a decade ago.

Epstein’s death brings fresh attention to the staffing at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, where shortages worsened by a partial government shutdown prompted inmates to stage a hunger strike in January after they were denied family and lawyer visits.

Eight months later, the lockup remains so short-staffed that the BOP is offering correctional officers a $10,000 bonus to transfer there from other federal lockups. That’s on top of a so-called “recruitment incentive” that amounts to 10% of new guards’ first-year salaries.

Staffing shortfalls are resulting in extreme overtime shifts, in which guards may work up to 16 hours a day. A person familiar with the jail’s operations told The Associated Press that a guard in Epstein’s unit was working a fifth straight day of overtime and another guard was working mandatory overtime the day he was found.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he lacked authorization to publicly discuss jail operations.

Those conditions could make it more difficult for correctional officers to enforce the BOP’s strict measures for screening security risks. Those protocols acknowledge that inmates held in so-called special housing units, as Epstein was, “may be at a higher risk for suicidal behaviour.”

Those safeguards — including cell checks every 30 minutes — were not followed the night before Epstein’s death, The New York Times reported on Sunday, citing a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

Epstein had been alone in his cell when he was found unresponsive Saturday, even though he only recently had returned to the Special Housing Unit from suicide watch. The jail had placed him on 24-hour monitoring — with daily psychiatric evaluations — after he was found injured on the floor of his cell two weeks ago with neck bruises.

Catherine Linaweaver, who retired in 2014 after 16 months as the MCC’s warden, said some people were overreacting to Epstein’s suicide because he was well known. She noted the limitations jailers face when someone decides to take his or her own life.

“If someone really wants to commit suicide,” Linaweaver said, “they’re going to do it.”

For more than a decade, the union that represents federal correctional officers has been warning of what it describes as “unsound” and “dangerous” staffing levels at prisons around the country. In general population units, there’s often just one officer to deal with more than 125 inmates.

Eric Williams, a correctional officer at a federal penitentiary in Canaan, Pennsylvania, was working alone on a bi-level unit in February 2013 when inmate Jessie Con-ui hurled him down a concrete staircase and stabbed him repeatedly with a makeshift blade, killing him.

The attack came so suddenly and with such force, Williams never had a chance to call for help. No one at the prison thought to look for Williams until an officer noticed he had not returned at the end of his shift.

The MCC’s sister federal lockup — the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, which houses more than 1,600 inmates — has had its own troubles in recent years.

Former prison guard Eugenio Perez was recently sentenced to 25 years in prison for sexually abusing female inmates. Another prison guard arrested along with Perez was convicted of raping a female inmate, while a third pleaded guilty to sexual abuse.

In February, the Justice Department asked the Office of Inspector General to review whether the Bureau of Prisons responded appropriately to a weeklong power outage at the facility that left inmates shivering and led defence lawyers to sue over what they described as a “humanitarian crisis.”

“What I see is a continued deterioration of leadership in the BOP,” said Jack Donson, a retired correctional treatment specialist who worked for the agency for more than two decades.

Epstein’s death is hardly the first scandal at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, which last year saw a prison guard plead guilty to taking more than $25,000 in cash bribes to smuggle cellphones, alcohol and food to a wealthy Turkish gold trader. The guard, Victor Casado , was sentenced in January to three years in prison by a judge who called the crime an assault on “our entire system of justice.”

The 12-story jail had been designed to house 449 inmates when it opened in 1975 near the Brooklyn Bridge. Its population ballooned within two years to 539 inmates, prompting a judge to declare it “unacceptably cramped and oppressive for most healthy inmates.”

Today it holds more than 760 inmates and counts among its former star inhabitants the Mexican drug lord and escape artist Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mafia boss John Gotti, several close associates of Osama bin Laden and Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff.

Authorities tightened security after a guard was seriously injured in 2000 by a terrorist convicted in the deadly 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Ron Kuby, who once represented a blind Egyptian sheik sentenced to life in prison after a 1990s Manhattan terrorism trial, said the lockup houses some of “the highest-security prisoners on earth.”

He said that while suicide attempts among inmates are commonplace, “it’s been a long time since they lost somebody.”

“The overall quality of staffing tends to be better than your average county jail in Bumbleberg,” he said.

Larry Neumeister, Jim Mustian And Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press

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