This is one of those cases where after I read it, I was filled with numerous emotions. I was saddened by knowing there are heartless people who take advantage of the vulnerable. I was saddened that those financially and emotionally damaged will not recover their losses. I felt despair because the perpetrators ran their scam for 7 years before they were brought to justice. I felt anger that the perpetrators would use the federal judicial system to illegally enrich themselves.
I was frightened because based on the charges, had they not used mail and wire in conducting their activity, they might have gotten away with it unless the states where they operated found an appropriate charge.
As Benjamin G. Greenberg, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, describes this case;
“Sentencing reduction fraud schemes that prey on the desperation, vulnerability and trust of federal inmates and their families exploit both the victims and the justice system. Federal partners across the nation will continue to target such schemes and prosecute the offenders.”
That is one reason why I feel this case is important to write about; i.e., there might still be con artists conducting this crime. The public needs to know about this.
Imagine that you have a relative serving time in federal prison. Along comes a company that promises they will get the sentence reduced by filing a Rule 35 Motion. They require payment for their services.
As an average person who knows little to nothing about Federal Rules, would you know how to look it up? Would you know about “standing” to understand the correct procedures?
In the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 35 allows the court to reduce a defendant’s sentence if the defendant is found to have provided substantial assistance in investigating or prosecuting another person. ONLY GOVERNMENT PROSECUTORS CAN FILE SUCH A MOTION, AND THEY DO IT WITHOUT CHARGE.
On June 29, 2017, 40-year old Alvin James Warrick of Beaumont, Texas was sentenced in Miami, Florida to 235 months in prison. On the same day, 36-year old Colitha Patrice Bush of Port Arthur, Texas was sentenced in Miami, Florida to 96 months in prison. They have been ordered to forfeit $4.4 million. U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard of the Southern District of Florida entered the sentence.
Previously, Warrick and Bush pled guilty to wire and mail fraud conspiracy charges in connection with the scam they operated that targeted federal inmates and their families in Miami-Dade County and elsewhere.
In addition to their sentences for the Southern District of Florida matter, Warrick and Bush were also sentenced in a related case originally brought in the Eastern District of Texas, and subsequently transferred to Florida.
A third person was involved named Roland Bennett Shepherd, 32, of Houston, Texas, was sentenced to 28 months. He pled guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud in the scam.
The scam was run from 2009 through September 7, 2016. The perpetrators held themselves out as owners and operators of Private Services, a company that reportedly worked with a network of informants and law enforcement personnel to identify and provide information and third party cooperation that could be credited to federal inmates in Rule 35 proceedings.
They used aliases such as “Peter Candlewood,” “Diane Lane,” and “Diane Rice,” targeting federal inmates and their families by phone, text, email, mail and in-person services. Read the rest of this entry
Reported by Reuters
“A Florida state court judge ruled on Monday that recent changes to the state’s “stand your ground” law are unconstitutional, finding that legislators overstepped when making it easier for defendants to argue self-defense to obtain immunity for violent acts.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Milton Hirsch said courts, not lawmakers, should set the process by which defendants can claim they were protecting themselves with an act of violence, according to the ruling posted online by the Miami Herald.
The revision shifted the burden of proof during pretrial hearings to prosecutors, rather than defendants, to show whether force was used lawfully. Supporters saw the changes backed by the National Rifle Association, the powerful U.S. gun lobby, as bolstering civilians’ rights to protect themselves.
Monday’s ruling in Miami circuit court is not binding on other state trial courts, the Miami Herald reported.
Advocates predicted the ruling would be reversed on appeal.
“It is the role of the legislature to write the laws that govern how Floridians may exercise their statutory and constitutional rights,” Richard Corcoran, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said in a statement. “The Florida House will continue to stand with ordinary citizens who exercise their right to self-defense.”
Florida’s “stand your ground” law, passed in 2005, received wide scrutiny and inspired similar laws in other states. It removed the legal responsibility to retreat from a dangerous situation and allowed the use of deadly force when a person felt greatly threatened.
This spring’s changes were adopted over outcry that gun owners could be emboldened to shoot first.
Critics cited the 2012 death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in the Orlando area, which spurred national protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. The neighborhood watchman who killed him, George Zimmerman, was acquitted of murder after the law was included in jury instructions. ”
There were debates on whether George Zimmerman claimed stand your ground during his trial. As Reuters correctly reports, Judge Nelson included stand your ground jury instructions in those given to the jury to decide Zimmerman’s fate.
Hat tip to Yahtzeebutterfly for keeping up with this case.
Florida’s controversial stand your ground law came upfront when 17-year old, unarmed Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012. The law allows people to use deadly force when they fear death or great bodily harm. Stand your ground, if granted, gives the defendant immunity from being placed on trial for the results of using deadly force. If the person who used deadly force was the initiator, they might not qualify for immunity under stand your ground.
That is part of the controversy with stand your ground law. It depends on perception, and when the person is dead, they cannot testify of their perception.
You might have heard of the “popcorn murder.” It is the Reeves’ case. In January 2014, 71-year old Curtis Reeves shot Chad Oulson (43) to death in a movie theater over texting. Reeves also wounded Oulson’s wife. Reeves is charged with second degree murder and he claims self-defense, alleging that Chad hit him with something so hard that it knocked his glasses off his face. Read the rest of this entry
This is a report on what happened to three Florida Department of Corrections staff members after they testified under oath before a Florida State Senate committee about murdering, brutal, dishonest guards in Florida’s prisons.
Florida is the nation’s third largest prison system. The Miami Herald began an investigative project into reports of alleged brutality and corruption in the prison system. Only then did prison officials begin to acknowledge the complaints. In September 2014, I reported on the firing of 32 guards from the Florida Department of Corrections.
One of the correction officers that was terminated is Rollin Austin. Records show that Austin ordered the gassing of Randall Jordan-Aparo, a 27-year-old check forger who died at Franklin Correctional in September 2010.
Randall Jordan-Aparo begged to be taken to the hospital for a blood disorder that had flared up. Instead, Austin ordered the gassing in close quarters cell. Three years after Randall Jordan-Aparo’s death, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement visited the Franklin prison to look into an unrelated wrongdoing and stumbled onto the circumstances behind Jordan-Aparo’s death. Florida Department of Law Enforcement inspectors now call what happened a case of “sadistic retaliatory” behavior by guards.
The cover-ups, corruption and other wrong-doing did not end in 2014. On November 29, 2016, Tampa Bay news reported that Florida agreed to settle a case for $800,000. That case was filed by whistle blowers who alleged retaliation.
Here is President Obama’s conference on Hurricane Matthew. If those in its path in Florida get instructions to evacuate, please do so. You can replace property, but not life.
Fior Pichardo de Veloz is a lawyer. She is also a local elected official in the Dominican Republic. In November 2013, she flew into the Miami International Airport in Florida to witness the birth of her grandchild. She was taken into custody on a federal, 1988 warrant for a drug charge in a case that she thought had been resolved.
That was two years ago, and on September 13, 2016, Fior filed a lawsuit in federal court; not because of the mix-up with the warrant, but because a nurse at the Miami-Dade jail assumed that Fior had been born male and had her placed in a general holding cell with 40 men.
According to her lawyers, Fior was initially placed into a jail cell as a woman, but a nurse alleged to evaluating her for exhibiting “non-traditional male characteristics.” The nurse alleged that she determined Fior had male reproductive organs and she was then sent to Metro West Detention Center, a male-only facility. Read the rest of this entry
In May of 2015, Apperson shot at Zimmerman while the two were in separate vehicles on the road. It was the third confrontation between Apperson and Zimmerman.
Prosecutors charged Apperson with attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault with a firearm and shooting into an occupied vehicle. If convicted he would face a minimum-mandatory sentence of 20 years in prison under Florida’s 10-20-life statute.
Apperson is claiming self-defense, saying that Zimmerman threatened to kill him and pointed a gun at him. Zimmerman denies that although he had two guns in his truck. Apperson is represented by defense attorney Michael LaFay.
Trial is scheduled to run through Friday.
Courtchatter has the videos on their Youtube channel, but the sound is not the best. I started the first below video with the unremorseful, unemployed, bumpy head, homeless man who killed Trayvon Martin coming into the courtroom. It is interesting that Don West was in the courtroom.
The second video continues with Zimmerman’s testimony, where he testified of calling a detective a “bitch” and “blonde bimbo,” saying he did not know she is a detective because she was dressed in plain clothes.
Apperson’s attorney began cross examining Zimmerman, which you can watch in the following video. Cross-examination continued Wednesday morning. Subsequent videos of the trial will be posted in the comment section of this blog.
When I heard that Trayvon Martin was killed, and that his killer was claiming Florida’s stand your ground defense, that law peeked my interest. I had not heard of stand your ground and wanted to know of other cases in Florida where the defendant claimed that defense.
Among the cases I found was that of Trevor Dooley. On January 23, 2013, I wrote an article on the significance of the Dooley decision. It is a Florida case where the defendant claimed self-defense.
I expected that Dooley would prevail on his claim of stand your ground because of testimony that Dooley retreated when David James came up behind him, knocking him to the ground. Dooley shot and killed David James.
At trial, prosecutors argued that Dooley could not claim that he stood his ground because he broke the law by showing his gun to the victim, thereby committing the crime of unlawful exhibition of a weapon.
In November 2012, Dooley was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 8 years in prison. He remained free on bond until his first appeal was denied and on November 2014, Dooley began serving his prison time.
After the verdict in Dooley’s case, and when I wrote the first article about the case, it was my position that the jury applied the facts to Florida law from the beginning, finding that if not but for the fact that Trevor Dooley left his garage with a loaded gun and approached David James for mouthing off at him, the two would not have come into physical contact. If Dooley was truly the initial aggressor, then the jury should find the same in George Zimmerman’s case.
In George Zimmerman’s case however, Judge Debra Nelson omitted the part of initial aggressor from the jury’s instructions because the defense asked her to.
Tampa Bay Times reports that now, Trevor Dooley gets a new trial because the 2nd District Court of Appeal found that the wording in the jury instructions on the justifiable use of deadly force was “erroneous.”
The 2nd District Court of Appeal also found that the state was wrong — that “stand your ground” doesn’t depend on whether or not a person is “engaged in unlawful activity.”
Dooley, who is now 73-years old, is being returned to Hillsborough County and his lawyer said he will be eligible to be freed on bond pending the new trial.
This is Dooley’s second appeal. On his first appeal in 2014, the court said that the attorney handling that appeal should have raised the error in the jury instructions about self-defense. The jury’s instructions included; Read the rest of this entry
At about 2 a.m. this morning, shots ranged out. An officer working extra duty in full uniform at the club responded.
CNN reports that the he and two other officers nearby opened fire on the shooter, and a gun battle ensues. The shooter went inside the club, where a hostage situation developed.
Some 100 officers from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Orlando Police Department respond to the chaotic scene. At about 2:22 a.m. the shooter called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS. He also mentioned the Boston Marathon bombers.
It was around 5 a.m. when heavily armed SWAT team members use an armored vehicle to smash down a door at the club, clearing the way for some 30 people inside to flee to safety. SWAT officers confronted the suspect in the doorway, shoot and kill him. One officer was injured.
A grand jury was investigating the conduct of deputies of the Marion County, Florida Sheriff’s office for using excessive force when making arrests. Sheriff Chris Blair was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. He did, and now he’s been charged with two counts of perjury in an official proceeding, and a third charge of official misconduct. All charges are third-degree felonies. Officials said that Sheriff Blair “knowingly testified falsely in that while testifying in regard to Dustin Heathman.”
Dustin Heathman was involved in a 6-hour standoff with a SWAT team in 2014. He was charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder of a law enforcement officer; five counts of aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer; and firing into a vehicle. In December 2015, a jury of 6 found Dustin Heathman guilty of attempted second-degree murder. He was acquitted on the charge of shooting into a barn at deputies. Read the rest of this entry
Wait a minute! I thought that stand your ground hearings are decided by judges; not juries. If Reeves’ defense attorneys sincerely believe they can prevail in a SYG immunity hearing, why are they concerned with tainting the jury pool? Another thought is that case documents are not free to the public. It is generally the media who obtains documents filed in the case and they only pay for documents that have significance and not depositions.
Attorneys for the former cop charged with killing a man & shooting the man’s wife in what is called the “popcorn shooting” have filed a motion to stop public access to court records as a stand your ground hearing approaches. They claim that media coverage leading up to the trial may prejudice prospective jurors.
Retired Tampa Police Department Captain Curtis Judson Reeves, 73 years-old, is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree battery in the shooting death of 43-year-old Chad Oulson and wounding of Oulson’s wife, Nicole. The incident happened inside a movie theater in Pasco County on January 13, 2014 during an argument.
Reeves is claiming self-defense under Florida’s stand your ground law, saying he fired on Oulson after the younger man threw an “unknown object” at him, which turned out to be a box of popcorn, and presumably a cell phone. Circuit Court Judge Susan L…
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In Palm Beach County Florida, in October 2010, 17 –year old Jeremy Hutton took the keys to his parent’s van and took off in it. Jeremy has severe Down Syndrome. Jeremy’s mom called 911 and reported it. Deputies located and followed the van. Deputy Jason Franqui got out of his car and fired 6 times, hitting Jeremy with three bullets. Jeremy’s family has filed a lawsuit against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office for unjustified shooting. They are represented by attorney Stuart Kaplan, who stated;
“The deputy says, ‘I looked at him, he looked at me and made a sharp right turn and turned the vehicle towards me. That’s a lie.”
The Palm Beach County’s internal investigation and the state’s attorney found the deputy’s decision to use force was justified. Kaplan also stated that Jeremy, who has the mental capacity of a 6-year old, wasn’t a threat. Read the rest of this entry
Juries, not judges, must decide whether ultimate penalty is justified. I am opposed to the killing of humans, and that includes the government sanctioned death penalty. Yesterday, Richard Wolf of USA Today reported that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that judges deciding on the death penalty rather than juries, is unconstitutional.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down Florida’s system of letting judges, not juries, decide whether convicted criminals deserve the death penalty.
The 8-1 ruling is significant because Florida has about 400 prisoners on death row, second only to California — and unlike California, it conducts executions regularly. However, most of the state’s prisoners are not likely to be affected because their appeals have run out or their convictions were based on indisputable aggravating circumstances.
In Florida, judges can impose the death penalty even if the jury has not ruled unanimously or agreed on any aggravating circumstance. If the jury has issued a recommendation, the judge doesn’t have to follow it. No other state gives judges such discretion.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the decision for the nearly unanimous court, with Justice Samuel Alito dissenting.
“We hold this sentencing scheme unconstitutional,” Sotomayor said. “The 6th Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.”
Alito disagreed, contending that past Supreme Court rulings allow judges to establish the facts leading to a death sentence. Even so, he said, “under the Florida system, the jury plays a critically important role.”
The case was brought before SCOTUS by Timothy Hurst, a death row prisoner in Florida. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that juries, not judges, must determine whether the necessary facts exist to justify a death sentence. In Hurst’s case, the jury voted 7 – 5, and it was not clear what the majority voted.
Twenty-nine year old Lukace Kendle is going to prison. Friday, he was convicted of second-degree murder with a firearm and attempted murder in the June 1, 2012, shooting that killed Kijuan Byrd, 29, and paralyzed Michael Smathers, 38. Kendle faces life behind bars.
Smathers, who is paralyzed from Kendle’s bullets, testified at the trial that after barbecuing, he and Michael Smathers went to Club Rol-lexx to shoot pool. They played a few games and watched the Miami Heat game, then left the Club and went to Smather’s truck in the parking lot to smoke a joint. They had planned to go back inside the club.
Kendle showed up, parking in a tight spot next to Smathers’ truck. He got out of his car and put on an all-black uniform with a vest, baton, gloves, a knife, ammunition and his gun. The three men exchanged looks. Michael and Kijuan got out of Michael’s truck to go back into the club. Kendle opened fire. He continued firing bullets into Kijuan Byrd’s back even as he tried to crawl to safety under Michael’s truck.
The killing was captured on video surveillance. Read the rest of this entry
The Lawtey, Florida police department received a call for motorist assistance.
The following video shows how Officer Jay Raulerson assisted the motorist.
Bradford County Florida Sheriff Gordon Smith has made a public statement that officer Jay Raulerson “was confronted with a dangerous situation.”
I wonder. Does 911 follow-up with officers to see if they arrive on scene? Shouldn’t dispatchers have concern when the radio is silent about a medical emergency 911 call?
This is obviously an exception to the rule. I’ve been on the receiving end of an emergency call on more than one occasion and I have nothing but praise for the Police and Fire Department personnel who arrived promptly and administered first aid or monitored vital signs until a family member was transported to the hospital…
On March 13th, a woman in Lee County, Florida tried calling 911 because she was having a medical emergency. She was having difficulty talking, and was later found passed out in her driveway. Per policy, 911 issued an order to the nearest deputy on duty, Yvan Fernandez, to check on the call and to see if the person was in trouble.
Deputy Fernandez was not going to let an emergency call get between him and lunch, however. So he sat and enjoyed his meal at Raider’s Pizza and Wings on Palm Beach…
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Congratulations! My heart leaps for you. Here’s to a long life of love.
~~January 6, 2015~~
Today was a very important day for me. Those who have been following “It Is What It Is” know that I’ve been reporting about marriage equality in Florida, where I live.
A dream has become a reality …. I got married today to the love of my life.
I would like to share with you my wedding vows.
~MY WEDDING VOWS TO MJ~
There is an Oriental legend called the “red string of fate”.
Every time a child is born an invisible thread is tied around the little finger.
The two people connected by the red thread are destined lovers, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. This magical cord may stretch or tangle, but never break.
Our journey together has been a very long one. This time from 1969 through 2015. There were some bumps along the way when the string got stretched and tangled…
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(Hat tip to Mindyme, our reporter on the ground in Florida)
In 2012, Marissa was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Last year around this time, Marissa Alexander was released on bond and was home for Thanksgiving. Her conviction was overturned on appeal because of an error in jury instructions. Her new trial was scheduled to begin on December 1, 2014.
Since that time, Marissa’s lawyer has zealously fought for her. The Appellate Court ordered a new trial. She petitioned the court for, and was denied, another stand your ground immunity hearing.
It’s a case that did not get much attention outside of the Florida. In or about April 2012 after George Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder for killing unarmed 17-year old Trayvon Martin, I began researching stand your ground cases in Florida. Smithey’s case was one of several that caught my attention, along with the cases of John Orr, and Trevor Dooley.
On May 4, 2010, Smithey shot and killed Robert Cline III, her estranged husband. She claimed that he was raping her after they had consensual sex, and cut her throat and stabbed her in the side. Smithey claimed that she shot Robert once in the chest. The medical examiner however, said that there were two entrance wounds. Read the rest of this entry
In August 2012, we reported on the John Orr case in Florida.
On October 2, 2011, John Orr killed 67-year old Jon Wayne Joseph of Naples, FL, and claimed self-defense under Florida’s stand your ground law. Joseph was unarmed.
On March 6, 2012, during an hour and a half on the stand at his immunity hearing, Orr testified that after a brief verbal exchange, Joseph;
- got on a bicycle and rammed him from behind; and
- straddled him, pinning him down; and
- bashed his head into the ground three times; and
- tried gouging his eyes; and
- threatened to kill him.
John Orr’s self-defense claims in October 2011 appeared to be patterned by George Zimmerman as his reason for killing unarmed 17-year old Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Zimmerman claimed that Trayvon came out of the darkness, hit him in the nose and thereafter, he stumbled about 40 feet before falling. Zimmerman also claimed that Trayvon straddled him, pinning him down, bashed his head on the sidewalk, smothered him, and threatened to kill him. A jury of six women acquitted Zimmerman.
John Orr however, wasn’t as fortunate. Read the rest of this entry