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'Boy Band' Creator Gets 25 Years
Headline News | 2008/05/21 15:52

Boy band mogul Lou Pearlman, who launched Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Wednesday for swindling investors and major U.S. banks out of more than $300 million.

But U.S. District Judge G. Kendall Sharp gave Pearlman the chance to cut his prison time by offering a one-month reprieve for every $1 million in cash he helps a bankruptcy trustee recover for his victims.

Theoretically, Pearlman could cancel his entire 300-month sentence by repaying the $300 million debt.

His lawyer, Fletcher Peacock, said in a written plea that 25 years amounted to a "sentence to death in prison" for the 53-year-old impresario who lived a jet-set life of mansions and luxury cars before the fraud scheme collapsed.

In an audacious two-decade scam, Pearlman admitted in his plea agreement to enticing individuals and banks to invest millions of dollars in two companies which existed only on paper -- Transcontinental Airlines Travel Services Inc and Transcontinental Airlines Inc.

He won investors' confidence with fake financial statements created by a fictitious accounting firm.

During sentencing, Sharp held up a book with letters from Pearlman's victims, saying they included "his family, his close friends and people in their 70s and 80s who have lost their life savings."

"So the sympathy factor doesn't run high with the court," the judge said.



Supreme Court will not hear appeal of Nazi guard
Headline News | 2008/05/20 16:06

The US Supreme Court denied certiorari Monday in Demjanjuk v. Mukasey, ending the appeals process of a deportation order for accused former Nazi concentration camp guard and Ohio resident John Demjanjuk. Demjanjuk, twice stripped of his US citizenship, had argued that the immigration judge who ordered his deportation lacked the authority to do so. Demajanjuk was appealing a 2005 ruling by then-US Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy ordering his deportation. Demjanjuk had previously lost an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals. The US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Demjanjuk's petition for review in January.

Demjanjuk is suspected of being "Ivan the Terrible," an infamously brutal guard at Poland's Treblinka death camp during World War II. Demjanjuk has argued that the accusation is based on mistaken identity. The case dates back to 1977, when the Justice Department originally asked for Demjanjuk's citizenship to be revoked. He was extradited to Israel and sentenced to death for war crimes, but the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1993 and he returned to the US. In 2002, Demjanjuk again lost his US citizenship after a judge found that World War II evidence showed he worked in the Nazi concentration camps.



Suzuki Scammed Them, 19 Customers Say
Headline News | 2008/05/19 15:50
Nineteen plaintiffs claim a Suzuki dealer offered them a free new car if they drove a promo vehicle for $43 a month for a year, then tricked them into signing purchase contracts for as much as $50,000.

Chad Franklin Suzuki made other promises on which it failed to deliver, the plaintiffs claim in Wyandotte County Court. They claim the dealer said the promo was an effort to get more Suzukis on the road, and that after leasing the cars for $43 a month for 6 or 12 months, they could "return the car and obtain a new car at no cost."

It was a scam, the plaintiffs say. They claim that when they turned in the car for a new one, the defendants subtracted the depreciated value of the old car from the second vehicle, told them "they were no longer in the program," and charged them $16,000 to $26,000 for the new cars, which, financed with "excessive costs," sometimes left them owing more than $50,000.

These defendants are accused of participating in the alleged scam: CFS Enterprise Inc. dba Chad Franklin Suzuki and/or Legends Suzuki, Wells Fargo Bank NA, Wells Fargo Auto Finance, Fifth Third Bank, Americredit Financial Services, and American Suzuki Motor Corp.

Plaintiffs are represented by Charles Kugler of Kansas City, Kan.


Missouri Mom Charged In 'Cyber Bullying' Suicide
Headline News | 2008/05/16 14:58

Federal prosecutors have charged a Missouri woman with creating a fraudulent MySpace account and using it to "cyber bully" a 13-year-old Missouri girl who committed suicide, in a case that drew national attention.

Using a criminal statute most often used to go after computer hackers, prosecutors charged Lori Drew, the mother of a former friend of Megan Meier, who hanged herself.

Drew, 49, of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., allegedly claimed to be a boy who befriended Meier online and then turned on her.

The case was filed in Los Angeles because Drew is accused of providing fraudulent information to MySpace, which is based in Beverly Hills. It accuses Drew of one count of conspiracy and three counts of illegally using MySpace computers to inflict emotional distress on a child.

Drew allegedly created an account in the name of an imaginary boy, Josh Evans, used it to get information about Meier, and then used the information to inflict emotional distress on the girl.

U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien said it was the first such use of the statute in the nation.

Megan Meier hung herself in the small, wealthy town of 7,400 in October 2006, allegedly about an hour after receiving a message from the fictional boy stating, "The world would be better without you."

Previously, the fictional boy had sent Meier messages such as, "I love you so much," the complaint states.



9th Circuit Halts Logging In Sierra Nevada Forest
Court Center | 2008/05/15 14:39
The 9th Circuit has blocked the government's plan to log parts of the Sierra Nevada forest, rejecting the U.S. Forest Service's argument that it needs to cut and sell large trees in order to raise money for forest-fire prevention.

Sierra Forest Legacy and the state of California appealed the denial of an injunction against the Forest Service to ban the cutting of larger trees, in which several wildlife species thrive. Environmentalists claimed that the agency's plan to sell off trees to cover the costs of fire prevention failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Forest Service shirked its duty to "rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives" to logging in the Basin, Empire and Slapjack sites of the Sierra Nevada forests, plaintiffs claimed.

"In one sale, a fire hazard can be removed and the USFS paid so that it can remove the fuel of future fires," Judge Noonan wrote, acknowledging the seeming practicality of the plan. "Two for one always has an attractive ring. But are there no alternative ways of getting money to do the clearing that is imperative? Obviously, there may be."

Noonan suggested that the mere existence of a lumber-for-funds plan indicates that Congress needs to step in and provide more funding for forest fire prevention. Plaintiffs suggested other alternatives, including reprioritizing other funding and altering the Forest Service's fuel treatment program.

So long as the alternatives remain unexamined, the agency's plan violates federal law, Noonan wrote.

The court stressed that it was not deciding the merits of the case, but ruling that the government's choice of funding for fire reduction does not outweigh the state's preservation interests.
 


Supreme Court rules magistrates may preside
Court Center | 2008/05/15 14:36

The US Supreme Court ruled Monday in Gonzalez v. United States that allowing a magistrate judge to oversee jury selection does not deprive a criminal defendant of the right to a jury trial and complies with the Federal Magistrates Act. The holding affirmed a judgment of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that defendant's counsel may waive the right to have an Article III judge preside over voir dire, and that it was not error to proceed without first getting the defendant's personal consent. Justice Kennedy announced the judgment of the Court; his opinion was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito. Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, and Justice Thomas wrote a dissent.

In affirming the Fifth Circuit ruling, Justice Kennedy wrote:

Numerous choices affecting conduct of the trial, including the objections to make, the witnesses to call, and the arguments to advance, depend not only upon what is permissible under the rules of evidence and procedure but also upon tactical considerations of the moment and the larger strategic plan for the trial. These matters can be difficult to explain to a layperson; and to require in all instances that they be approved by the client could risk compromising the efficiencies and fairness that the trial process is designed to promote.

In a separate concurrence, Justice Scalia agreed with the conclusion but not with the reasoning upon which it was based. He wrote:

I would not adopt the tactical-vs.-fundamental approach, which is vague and derives from nothing more substantial than this Court’s say-so.

In his dissent, Justice Thomas advocated overruling the precedents for the decision and wrote:

Where, as here, a mistaken interpretation of a statute leaves the Court with no principled way to answer subsequent questions that arise under the statute, it seems to me that the better course is simply to acknowledge and correct the error.



Widow Says Hamster Virus Killed Husband
Headline News | 2008/05/13 15:26
A transplant recipient died of a virus he contracted from the donor, who got it from her pet hamster, the recipient's widow claims in Superior Court. Three other, similar claims have been filed, at least one of them alleging the organ recipient died from the hamster's virus.

Mary Petraszewski claims her husband, John, received a lung transplant at a Massachusetts hospital on April 10, 2005, and died of lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) 23 days later.

She claims the unnamed donor contracted the disease from her pet hamster, which she bought at Petsmart store in Warwick, R.I., which bought it from the defendant in this case, MidSouth Distributors of Ohio.

She claims that "scientists determined" that her husband died of LCMV that the donor got from her hamster.

Petraszewski claims it was "practical and feasible" for MidSouth to screen its rodents for LCMV, but "Defendant completely failed to conduct such screening."

Petraszewski's complaint names three other organ recipients, all of whom, she says, "have similar cases pending in this court."


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