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Friday, February 28, 2020

Easy Money: Three Quick and Simple Con Games

Case l

     A man and a woman, both well-dressed and in their mid-forties, approached an 86-year-old woman at a busy intersection in the Forest Hills section of Queens. The man showed the elderly woman a wallet fat with cash. "We just found it," the man said. "Look at all the money that's in it. Hundred dollar bills."

     Having interested the victim in the money, the man proposed they take the lost wallet to the local police precinct house. If the wallet was not claimed in 30 days, the three of them could divide up the cash. They could deposit the lost wallet with the police in the old woman's name. At the end of the waiting period, the police would release the wallet and its contents to her.

     But wait. How could the couple trust that a complete stranger will give them their share of the money? How about this? The woman could withdraw $10,000 from her bank account, money the couple could hold until the police release the wallet. If the wallet is claimed within the 30 day period, the couple will return the woman's good faith money.

     After the victim took $10,000 out of her bank account and handed it to the con artists, they asked her to wait on the street until they returned with the receipt from the police station. They of course disappeared with the scam victim's cash.

Case 2

     An 82-year-old man received a disturbing phone call regarding one of his grandsons. According to the caller, who identified himself as an officer with the New Jersey State Police, the young man had been arrested and needed $3,500 to get out of jail.

     To spare his grandson the horrors of criminal incarceration, the old man, from a Western Union Office, sent $3,500 to the con man. The good news, of course, was that the kid was not in jail. The bad news: the victim ended up $3,500 poorer and was left feeling like a sucker.

Case 3

     A con man impersonating an IRS agent informed a 35-year-old woman by telephone that she owed the government $2,000 in taxes. According to the faker, her problem was this: if she didn't pay up immediately, agents would come to her home and haul her off to prison.

     The terrified victim (the three most feared letters in America are IRS) rushed to a 7-Eleven convenience store where she purchased four $500 prepaid debit cards. The con man withdrew the $2,000 after the victim, using her cellphone at the store, read him the card numbers. With one phone call this scam artist stole $2,000. Easy money. 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Sierra "CeCe" Sims Kidnapping Hoax

     High school basketball standout Sierra "CeCe" Sims, in August 2008, arrived at Alabama's Auburn University with a full athletic scholarship. As a high school player in Brentwood, Tennessee, CeCe had led her team to three regional titles. The five-foot-seven inch point guard, a former teen pageant contestant, also played the guitar. (Her father, Tommy Sims co-wrote the Grammy-winning Eric Clapton hit, "Change the World.")

     The 18-year-old college freshman, as a member of the Auburn Tiger's women's basketball team, a powerhouse in the Southeastern Conference, had to deal with being away from home, academic life on the university level, and living up to expectations on the basketball court.

     Shortly after arriving at the university, CeCe began drinking heavily every night. In late September 2008, she called her mother Kathie and said she wanted to come home. Kathie told her distraught daughter to talk to coach Nell Fortner. Taking her mother's advice, CeCe called the coach. When CeCe hung up the phone after their chat, the coach felt that everything would be fine for the freshman prospect.

     The next morning, when CeCe failed to show up for the six o'clock practice, Fortner became concerned. When the coach made inquiries regarding CeCe's whereabouts he learned that at 2:30 that morning CeCe had stormed out of the dormitory and rode off on her bicycle. None of her acquaintances had seen her since.

     Not long after campus searchers couldn't find CeCe, university officials asked the authorities to issue an Amber Alert. Eighteen hours later, a parol officer looking for the missing student almost hit CeCe with his patrol car. When the officer approached the girl, she said, "I'm CeCe Sims."

     Questioned at the local police department, CeCe told detectives she had been kidnapped by a man and a woman who pulled up alongside her in a pickup truck. After being dragged into the vehicle, the abductors forced her to drink alcohol and take pills. As a result of being drugged, she couldn't recall in detail what had happened to her.

     Under close questioning by detectives, CeCe's story didn't hold up. In an effort to get the student to reveal where she had been since leaving the dorm at 2:30 the previous morning, officers threatened her with the possibility of being charged with a crime. Notwithstanding that threat, she stuck to her highly implausible story.    

     The police did not open a kidnapping investigation, and CeCe was not charged with false reporting. She dropped out of school and returned home to Brentwood, Tennessee.

     In 2014, CeCe Sims posted a video on the Internet acknowledging that she had indeed made up the kidnapping story in September of 2008. When she left the dormitory that night she had ridden her bike to a nearby Walmart where she hid for almost eighteen hours.

     According to CeCe Sims, the pressure at Auburn had been too much for her. "I didn't want to disappoint my parents," she said, "so I thought, what better way to say I was kidnapped? That way I wouldn't have to quit and be known as a quitter."

     When the story broke regarding CeCe and the kidnapping hoax, former Auburn coach Nell Fortner described to an ABC reporter the pressure student/athletes are under at schools like Auburn. "Your schedule might take you to the Bahamas or to Hawaii. They are going to get a great education. But they pay heavily for that because working out is tough. They are up at five in the morning, and they don't get to bed until eleven at night."

     Following the scandal, Sierra CeCe Sims moved in with her parents while she pursued a career in the music business. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Levi Norwood Murder Case

     In 2020, 37-year-old Joshua Norwood lived in a home on Elk Road in Midland, Virginia with his 34-year-old wife Jennifer and their two sons, Wyatt, 6 and and 17-year-old Levi. The family had moved to Virginia from Maine in 2010. Mr. Norwood, until recently, had been a sales representative. His wife Jennifer was a licensed nurses's assistant.

     At six o'clock in the evening of February 14, 2020, Joshua Norwood called 911 and reported that he had just arrived home and found that his wife and his 6-year-old son had been shot to death. Shortly after entering the house, someone in the house shot and wounded him in the head. Armed with his own gun, Mr. Norwood fired back. He didn't see the shooter, but believed the bullet that struck him had been fired from the doorway leading into his basement. Mr. Norwood ran out of the house.
     The 911 operator dispatched an ambulance and officers with the Fauquier County Sheriff's Office to the scene.
     As Joshua Norwood was transported to a nearby hospital in stable condition, deputies, thinking that the other son, 17-year-old Levi Norwood may have been the shooter and was barricaded in the dwelling, surrounded the house.
     At ten-fifteen that night, police officers forcibly entered the Norwood house. Inside they found the bodies of Jennifer and Wyatt Norwood but not Levi. They searched the house and did not find the murder weapon. 
     Officers placed the immediate neighborhood on lockdown, and instituted a search for the five-foot-nine, 125 pound suspect with hair recently dyed purple. Since the teen did not have access to a vehicle, officers assumed he was on foot. 
     The next day, Saturday, February 15, a teenager meeting Levi Norwood's description was seen driving a 2007 red Toyota Camry that had been stolen that morning from a home about ten miles from the murder scene.
     At four o'clock that day, a security guard at a Target store on Chapel Hill Boulevard in Durham, North Carolina caught a teenage boy with purple hair stealing hair dye, items of clothing, and a backpack. The shoplifter was identified as Levi Norwood. The stolen Toyota was parked outside the store.
     Officers with the Durham Police Department ran Levi's name through a national fugitive database and learned that the teen was wanted in connection with a double homicide in Midland, Virginia. Police officers booked Livi Norwood into a local jail where he was held for extradition back to Fauquier County, Virginia.
     On Sunday, February 16, 2020, a television reporter questioned a Norwood family member named Victoria Eaton who said the violence at the Norwood house was not something she thought Levi Norwood was capable of, describing the act as "totally out of his character." She also said, " It doesn't make any sense" and noted that Levi had a difficult home life.
     Levi Norwood was a junior at Liberty High School in Bealton, Virginia. Local reporters spoke to several of his classmates who identified Levi's parents as racists who didn't like black people. Moreover, his father had been extremely upset over the fact Levi had been dating a black girl.

Human Road Kill: The Paul Joseph Garcia Jr. Fatal Hit and Run Case

     In Austin, Texas at ten-thirty at night on February 15, 2020, a motorist driving erratically at high speed without headlights plowed into a man on the side of the road pushing a shopping cart. The pedestrian, 55-year-old Martin Cagle, crashed through the speeding car's windshield and landed in the vehicle's front passenger seat. He was killed instantly.

     Following the violent impact, 24-year-old Paul Joseph Garcia Jr. continued driving his damaged 2014 white Ford Focus with the mangled dead man in the seat next to him. Garcia drove a half-mile, leaving a trail of Mr. Gagle's body parts on the road, then parked his vehicle in front of the South Austin Beer Garden.

     Mr. Garcia, covered in his victim's blood, climbed out of his car, and in his bare feet, walked calmly into the beer garden for a drink.

     Shortly after he entered the bar, officers with the Austin Police Department took the highly intoxicated suspect into custody.

     A Travis County prosecutor charged Paul Joseph Garcia with intoxication manslaughter and with another felony called accident involving injury while driving without regard for the safety of others. The magistrate set his bail at $110,000.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Mark Latunski Mutilation Murder Case

     On Christmas Eve, 2019, Kevin Bacon, a 25-year-old hairstylist from Swartz Creek, Michigan, a suburb of Flint, left his house to meet a man he had met on the LGBTQ app Grindr. That man was 50-year-old Mark Latunski.

     The next morning, when Keven Bacon didn't show up for a family Christmas breakfast, his mother reported him missing to the local sheriff's office.
     Later that Christmas day, police officers located Bacon's car parked not far from his home. Inside, they found his wallet, cellphone, and other personal belongings. Mr. Bacon's roommate, Michelle Myers, told investigators that Bacon had left the house on Christmas Eve to visit a man he had recently met on Grindr named Mark Latunski.
     Mark Latunski, a resident of Morrice, Michigan, a rural town 23 miles from Bacon's home in Swartz Creek, was known to officers with the Shiawassee County Sheriff's Office. 
     On November 25, 2019, one month before Kenvin Bacon left his house to meet Latunski, deputies with the sheriff's office, when responding to a disturbance call at Latunski's home, encountered a man running out of the house screaming at the top of his lungs with Mr. Latunski in hot pursuit.The 29-year-old man had blood on his face and wore nothing but a leather kilt.
     When questioned by officers, Latunski explained that he was chasisng the man because the guy had run off with his expensive kilt. He wanted it back. The bloodied, kilt-wearing man who was running for his life from Latunski, refused to press charges. As a result, the case did not go beyond the filing of a police report.
     On December 28, 2019, police officers entered Latunski's house in search of Mr. Bacon. They found him--naked, mutilated and hanging dead from the ceiling. 
      Officers took Mr. Latunski into custody. The suspect quickly confessed to stabbing the victim in the back then slitting his throat with the knife he used to cut off the dead man's testicles and eat them. 
     A Shiawassee County prosecutor charged Mark Latunski with open murder and mutilation of a human body. At the suspect's arraignment hearing on January 6, 2020, the judge asked the defendant, "Are you Mr. Latunski?"
     "No," he replied. "My name is Edgar Thomas Hill. Mark Latunski is my nephew."
     Police officers and the prosecutor believed that response to the judge was a ploy in anticipation of an insanity plea. The judge ordered that Mark Latunski be held in the county jail without bail. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Reagan National University: A Visa Mill?

     Over the past several years, dozens of colleges and universities in the United States have been designated so-called "visa mills." A visa mill is defined generally as a substandard educational institution that doles out visas to high-paying foreign "students" who are less interested in acquiring an American education as an American job and place to live. Most of these aliens overstay their visas and end up being in the country illegally.

     In January 2020, reporters with USA Today launched an investigation into Reagan National University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The reporters were unable to find any faculty members, administrators, or the president of the university. Moreover, they could not identify a single student of the school.

     When the investigative journalists visited the address listed for Reagan National University, the building was empty. Also, no one answered phone calls or e-mails to the school.

     In 2017, Reagan National University received accreditation from the Accrediting Council For Independent Colleges and Schools, an organization known for accrediting schools that turned out to be visa mills. 

Talking Versus Writing

Those who tell stories better than they write them are the bane of editors. Editors dread wasting time on captivating talkers whose words lose their fizz on the page. Obviously, writing skills transcend conversational skills. But the drama and flair we bring to telling stories is too often lost once our words are nailed down on paper. Most of us converse better than we write because we feel so much less vulnerable when addressing a limited number of ears. While talking, we can alter material or adjust our delivery in response to cues from others. If things get out of hand, we can change the subject altogether. Even when they bomb, spoken words float off toward Mars. They can always be denied. "That isn't what I said!" is a great court of last resort. But words we've committed to paper [or online] can be held in evidence against us as long as that paper exists. Is it any wonder that we're scared to make this commitment?

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Murder Trial Jury

Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind--unanimous. It's one of the miracles of Man's disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.

Police Lieutenant Parnell Emmett McCarthy in Robert Traver's true crime classic, Anatomy of a Murder, 1958

Thornton P. Knowles On The Suicidal Rhetoric Professor

I once met a Rhetoric professor who, before he killed himself, spent three weeks laboring over the wording of his suicide note. I guess "Good-bye cruel world" wasn't good enough for him.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Kentucky Fried Chicken Hoax

     In April 2014, a pit bull in Jackson, Mississippi mauled a 3-year-old girl named Victoria Wilcher. The attack left the toddler with healing facial scars and an eyepatch. On June 12, 2014, the girl's grandmother, Kelly Mullins, on a Facebook site called "Victoria's Victories," posted an account of an outrageous incident involving her granddaughter that supposedly had occurred at a Jackson KFC restaurant on May 15, 2014.

     According to Kelly Mullins, after ordering their food at the KFC place that day, an employee asked them to leave the premises. The employee, according to the story, kicked Mullins and her granddaughter out of the place because the other customers were disturbed by the girl's eyepatch and facial scars.

     The day after Mullins posted her account of the KFC insult, the story went viral. Victoria's family quickly took advantage of public sympathy generated by the Facebook posting by setting up a GoFundMe website to solicit donations on behalf of the humiliated little girl.

     Investigators looking into the KFC scandal uncovered information that cast doubt on the veracity of Kelly Mullins' story. Initially, members of the girl's family said the incident took place at the KFC restaurant located at State and High Streets. But later, according to family accounts, the fast-food expulsion occurred at the KFC place on Woodrow Wilson Drive not far from the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children.

     A review of restaurant surveillance footage at both KFC restaurants failed to reveal a woman in her forties and a toddler matching the descriptions of Mullins and the girl. The investigators found no video evidence that the couple had entered the restaurant on May 15, 2014. Moreover, cash register entries did not confirm the food items Mullins said she had ordered that day.

     On June 21, 2014, a plastic surgeon responding to Mullins' story flew to Mississippi to consult with the family regarding the girl's disfiguring injuries.

     As doubts grew regarding the truthfulness of the grandmother's gut-wrenching story, the GoFundMe website released a statement regarding the Mullins account. In less than two weeks since the inflammatory Facebook posting, the site had raised $135,000 in donations, money the website would return to donors. GoFundMe personnel also shut down the Mullins site.

     Kelly Mullins, amid the expanding scandal, insisted that her accounts of the KFC incident were "true and accurate."

     A local prosecutor charged the owner 0f the pit bull, the girl's grandfather, with child endangerment. The prosector charged Donald Mullins' girlfriend, Rita Tompkins, with the same offense. There was no doubt that the little girl had been mauled by the dog. At least that part of the story was true. Public sentiment, however, turned against the grandmother.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Who Murdered Vindalee Smith?

     Vindalee Smith, a 38-year-old unemployed health care worker lived by herself in a basement apartment in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York. The Jamaican-born Seventh Day Adventist was eight and a half months pregnant. Her other children, two girls and two boys, lived with friends or relatives. The man who fathered these offspring, now teens and young adults, lived in England.

     On Sunday, October 21, 2012, at the New Dimension Church, Vindalee Smith and a 33-year-old man named Anthony Jackman, were scheduled to participate in a faux marriage ceremony. They weren't really getting married because her "fiancee" already had a wife in New Jersey with whom he was estranged. (I don't know if Vindalee knew about Jackman's wife. I presume he is the one who had impregnated her.) Jackman was living with his parents who had an apartment down the block from Smith's place.
     On Saturday, the day before the "wedding," Vindalee didn't show up for morning services at the New Dimension Church. A fellow member of the congregation called Smith's landlord to check on the pregnant church member. When the landlord used a duplicate key to enter the apartment, he found Smith lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She and the baby were dead.
     At the site of this woman's violent death, New York City detectives determined that the victim's apartment had not been entered by force, and that the murder weapon, a knife or other sharp object, was not at the scene. There were blood spatter patterns throughout the apartment. The victim had bled to death from a gaping incised wound in the neck. 
     Beneath the victim's body, detectives found an envelope containing a one-page note that had been typed in large block letters and printed out of a computer. (The envelope bore a bloody latent fingerprint.) According to the note, the killer promised to murder one pregnant woman a week until the authorities released Lee Boyd Malvo from prison. (Malvo and Allen Mohammed were the so-called Beltway Snipers who murdered several people in the DC area in 2002. Mohammed was executed in 2009, and Malvo was serving a sentence of life without parole.) The note was signed, "The Apprentice."
     Detective were skeptical of the notion that Vindalee Smith had been murdered by some crazed serial killer. They found it more plausible that the note had been planted by a killer who knew the victim, and had a more traditional motive for her death. The person who killed this woman had been careless enough to leave behind a bloody fingerprint. Unless, of course, the print belonged to the victim. 
     On Sunday night, October 21, detectives from the 67th Precinct arrested Anthony Jackman on charges related to a fake New Jersey automobile registration. They questioned him about the Smith murder, and the next day, he was released from custody. (I don't know if Jackman agreed to be questioned about the murder or exercised his Miranda rights.) Detectives, when asked by reporters if Jackman were a suspect, denied that he was. 
     According to press reports, Anthony Jackman had a history of fourteen arrests involving petit larceny (petty theft), burglary, weapons possession, and the possession of a forged instrument. (I would presume, unless he had an airtight alibi, that Jackman was considered a suspect. In terms of motive, I think it was important to know if Vindalee Smith knew that Jackman was married. 
     As for other possible suspects, detectives learned that months earlier Smith had feuded with a neighbor who accused her of letting his dog out of the building. This man had reportedly threatened to kill her. (I don't know if the police identified and questioned this man.) The Vindalee Smith murder case didn't look like a killing committed for sex, or money. The key to solving this case was motive, and of course identifying the person who left the bloody, crime scene fingerprint.

   As of February 2020, the Vindalee Smith murder case remained unsolved, and the person who left the crime scene latent fingerprint, unidentified. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Lisa Irwin Missing Person Case

     In Kansas City, Missouri, during the early morning hours of October 4, 2011, Jeremy Irwin told the police he had gone into his 10-month-old daughter's room and found her missing from the crib. He said he had last seen the baby, Lisa Irwin, around 10:30 the previous night. When he arrived home from work the next morning (he worked the 11 PM to 3 AM shift), he found his front door unlocked and most of the inside lights on. He had also discovered, he said, an open front window, presumably the kidnapper's point of entry.

     The missing baby's mother, Deborah Bradley, at home that night, had put the baby to bed. She and her husband had not called the police immediately upon discovering the crime because, according to their stories, someone, presumably the intruder, had stolen their three cellphones. On Friday, October 7, 2011, Bradley, appearing on "The Today Show," said that on Thursday the police had informed her she had failed a polygraph test. At that point the parents stopped cooperating with the authorities investigating the abduction of their daughter.  In the meantime, local police and FBI agents were searching for the missing child.

     It has not always been the case that babies stolen by strangers was a rarity. During the 1920s, kids from wealthy families were regularly kidnapped by organized racketeers who returned the children after receiving the ransom money. The families, relieved to have their infants back, rarely reported the crimes. The so-called "snatch racket" ended after the Lindbergh case in 1932. Following the intruder's abduction of 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh Jr., kidnapping became a federal offense investigated by the FBI. Today, kidnapping for ransom is committed by stupid people who almost always get caught when they show up for the ransom money.

     On October 18, 2011, while appearing on three national television shows, Deborah Bradley informed her interviewers that she was drunk and on anxiety medicine the night her baby was abducted. Perhaps she had blacked out. Bradley also changed her story regarding when she last saw Lisa. She now said she last saw the infant at 6:40 PM. This meant the baby could have been snatched anytime between 6:40 PM and 4:00 AM the next morning.  She had also retained a celebrity defense attorney and had a private investigator working on the case.

     In January 2012, Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin appeared on the "Dr. Phil" television show. The mother pleaded with the abductor to return her child. "Nobody takes a baby to hurt her," Bradley said. "She's coming home." The couple also reiterated their previous denials that they had anything to do with their daughter's disappearance.

     A month after appearing on "Dr. Phil," Bradley told an Associated Press reporter that, "She's out there somewhere, and I am desperate to find her…I just want my daughter home. People don't understand just how difficult it is to wake up and find out that someone has come into your house and taken your baby, and then you are accused of doing something to her or covering something up."

     In early February 2012, detectives had their first interview with the couple since they questioned them on October 8, 2011. According to a spokesperson with the Kansas City Police Department, the interview didn't produce anything new.

     Notwithstanding a $100,000 reward offered by an anonymous benefactor and the running down of 1,500 leads generated by the TIPS Hotline, Lisa Irwin's whereabouts was still a mystery. As the volume of investigative tips faded, detectives returned to working on other cases.

     In December 2014, a former CIA interrogator questioned Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin and concluded they did not exhibit any behavioral signs of deception when they denied involvement in the disappearance of their daughter. However, some people familiar with the case, inside law enforcement and out, still considered Deborah Bradley a viable suspect who had not revealed everything she knew about what happened to Lisa Irwin.

     As of February 2020, no arrests had been made in the case. Lisa Irwin remained missing. 

The Criminal Defense Attorney

In the world of the defense attorney, half the country is either insane or disadvantaged. When a street thug with an extensive criminal record commits a serious crime, this poor defendant, through no fault of his own, was disadvantaged. In other words, society was to blame. Whenever an upper middle class defendant commits an atrocious crime, that defendant was insane, and therefore not responsible for his or her act. Defense attorneys are paid to embarrass themselves.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley: Prosecutorial Politics in a High Profile Rape Case

     In 2007, 26-year-old Grant Robicheaux graduated from the Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans. He did his residency as an orthopedic surgeon at the University of California at Irvine Medical Center. Dr. Robicheaux, in 2008 resided in Newport Beach, California, an Orange County city 45 miles south of Los Angeles. He practiced medicine at the Chapman Spine and Orthopedic Institute in Orange, California and at the Newport Care Medical Group in Newport Beach.

     In 2008, Dr. Robicheaux's girlfriend, a 19-year-old dance instructor named Cerissa Laura Riley, moved in with the doctor at his Newport Beach home.

     In September 2009, detectives with the Newport Beach Police Department questioned a woman who reported she had been raped. She claimed to have met Dr. Robicheaux at a bar in the city after which he took her to his house and sexually assaulted her. The alleged victim said the doctor owned a lot of guns and that she was afraid of him. The woman's rape complaint did not result in any charges against Dr. Robicheaux.

     Some publication, in 2013, named Dr. Robicheaux Orange County's "Most Eligible Bachelor of the Year." In 2014, the doctor appeared on an episode of Bravo TV's short-lived series, "Online Dating Rituals of the American Male." The low-brow show, typical of the network's offerings, featured the plight of a busy young doctor in search of the perfect woman. Doctor Robicheaux was quoted in the program as saying: "I am not looking for a party girl. I am looking for a wife to raise a family." While on television advertising for the perfect woman, the doctor was still living with Cerissa Riley in Newport Beach.

     In 2016, two women, in separate complaints, informed detectives with the Newport Beach Police Department that at Dr. Robicheaux's house, they had been drugged and raped. One of the alleged victims described the doctor and his girlfriend as a "Bonnie and Clyde" team who drugged and forced her to engage in sex acts.

     The second complainant said she met Dr. Robicheaux at a Newport Beach Halloween party. She went home with him and it was there he spiked her drink with the date rape drug GHB (Dopamine Beta-Hydroxylose, a substance that quickly metabolizes in the body and is therefore difficult to detect). The alleged victim said she awoke during the sexual assault.

     In April 2017, another woman reported being raped by the orthopedic surgeon at his Newport Beach house. The complainant told detectives she had met Dr. Robicheaux on an Internet dating site. While having drinks with him at a Newport Beach bar, they were joined by Cerissa Riley who held herself out as his friend. After getting the alleged victim drunk, the couple took her to their house and raped her while she was out cold.

    In the summer of 2017, another one of Dr. Robicheaux's dates came forward alleging he had raped her. This woman told the police she had met the doctor at a Fourth of July party. A few days later, she was spending an afternoon with Robicheaux and Rily on a boat. The couple, according to the woman's story, invited her back to the house where they drugged and raped her.

     In January 2018, officers with the Newport Beach Police Department showed up at Dr. Robicheaux's house armed with a search warrant. Officers seized the couple's cellphones and computers, and according to police documents, found cocaine, ecstasy and the date rape drug DBH. Searchers also seized two assault rifles and several other guns.

     Newport Beach police officers, on September 2, 2018, arrested Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley at the doctor's house. Officers booked the couple into the Orange County Jail on charges of rape, illegal gun possession, and possession of controlled substances. The magistrate set their bail at $100,000 each. Through their attorneys, the suspects pleaded not guilty.

     The Robicheaux-Riley date rape investigation and arrests generated an enormous amount of media attention. The case had everything the true crime media loves--violent sex, drugs, and prominent, glamorous suspects. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, in the midst of a re-election campaign, had taken full advantage of the publicity. He had appeared frequently on local and national television, had given dozens of interviews in the print media, and held regular, well-attended press conferences. He essentially tried and convicted the doctor and his girlfriend in the media.

     Critics of the district attorney accused him of timing the suspects' arrest with an eye toward the upcoming November 2018 election. Rackauckas was being challenged by his old political rival, Todd Spitzer who was ahead in the polls.

     At a press conference held on the day of the arrests, District Attorney Rackauckas announced that the couple had been charged with 17 counts of rape covering the period 2009 to 2017. The suspects faced charges of rape by use of drugs; oral copulation by anesthesia or controlled substance; assault with the intent to commit a sexual offense; and possession of controlled substances for sale. Dr. Robicheaux had also been charged with several gun violations.

     A few days after the high profile arrests, District Attorney Rackauckas, through his office spokesperson, announced that six more women had come forward with date rape accusations against Dr. Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley. Moreover, according to the district attorney's spokesperson, there could be many more victims--up to 1,000. And there was more: detectives had viewed more than 1,000 cellphone videos that depicted the suspects having sex with women who were either unconscious or semiconscious. The district attorney told reporters that Dr. Robicheaux and his girlfriend had used their "good looks" to lure their victims to the Newport Beach house where they  drugged and sexually assaulted them.

     Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley, on September 12, 2018, posted bail and were released from custody. If convicted as charged, they could both serve up to 30 years in prison. Dr. Robicheau was now 38, and Riley 30.

     On November 2, 2018, voters in Orange County, notwithstanding all of the publicity generated by the Robicheaux-Riley case, voted District Attorney Tony Rackauckas out of office.

     The date rape defendants' attorneys, in January 2019, accused the former district attorney of making false and reckless public misstatements regarding the videos allegedly depicting the defendants sexually assaulting drugged and intoxicated women. The attorneys had hired a team of consultants who viewed more than 1,000 cellphone videos. According to the defense lawyers, only a few of the videos showed any kind of sexual activity. None of the sex videos depicted women who were in any way unable to consent.

     Shortly after taking office, Todd Spitzer, the new Orange County District Attorney, assigned a team of prosecutors to review the Robicheaux-Riley rape investigation. These prosecutors combed through a trove of evidence that included photographs, videos, text messages, and alleged rape victim interview transcripts.

     In March 2019, one of the women who claimed to have been raped by the suspects in 2016, asked an Orange County judge to put a hold on her $12 million lawsuit against the couple until the criminal case against them played out.

     In early February 2020, District Attorney Todd Spitzer made a shocking press conference announcement: His investigators had not found "a single piece of evidence or video or photograph that shows an unconscious or incapacitated woman being sexually assaulted by Dr. Robicheaux or Cerissa Riley."

     At that press conference, District Attorney Spitzer accused the former Orange County prosecutor of using the sensational rape case to help in his bid for re-election. In Spitzer's opinion, there was not enough evidence against the couple to support a rape conviction. As a result, the district attorney planned to ask a judge to dismiss all charges against Dr. Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley. "I didn't create this situation," he said, "but it is my responsibility to fix it. Doing justice is not always pretty. But these are important decisions that affect people's lives."

     At his own press conference, former district attorney Tony Rackauckas said, "I feel terrible for the women who had the courage to come forward and give their evidence to the authorities in this case. Certainly, any prosecutor should think long and hard before dismissing such a case where multiple women have independently come forward and subjected themselves to the hard process of baring their souls to the authorities."

     Defense attorney Thomas M. Ferlauto, in publicly thanking District Attorney Spitzer, said, "He made a very courageous decision. It was the right decision, but one that might expose him to criticism. Grant and Cerissa's lives were destroyed by the prior administration's misuse of the justice system."

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Life in New York State

We are angry about paying the highest income and property taxes in the nation and getting less and less for it. We are angry about our incompetent, dysfunctional government that pays no attention to the desires of the people. We are angry about the cesspool of corruption and conflicts of interest that is Albany [the state capital].

Carl Paladino, businessman who unsuccessfully ran for governor of New York in 2010

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Chinese Economic Espionage: The Arrest of a Harvard Professor

     In 2008, Dr. Charles Lieber, a chemistry professor at Harvard University who specialized in the area of nanoscience, was named the Principal Investigator of the Lieber Research Group at the school. In 2017, Professor Lieber, Chairman of the Chemistry Department, had reached the highest rank of University Professor, a position held by only 26 professors at the university. That year he was given the National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award for inventing syringe-injectable mesh electronics that integrates with the human brain.

     During Dr. Lieber's tenure at Harvard, he received $15 million in grand funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense (DOD). Recipients of these grants are required by the government to disclose any financial support they receive from foreign governments that could pose a conflict of interest.

     In April 2018, federal investigators looking into China's attempts to steal American scientific and technical secrets, asked Professor Lieber if he had received financial benefits from the Chinese. The professor allegedly said that he had not received any money from China.

     NIH investigators, in November 2018, asked administrators at Harvard if Dr. Lieber had disclosed to the university his professional and financial affiliation with Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China. WUT is a large university in Wuhan, a city of 11 million, and the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. The city, located in central China, is home to 30 colleges and universities. Besides a center of higher education, Wuhan is also a massive Chinese transportation hub.

     Harvard administrators informed the NIH investigators that Professor Lieber "had no formal association with WUT after 2012." However, according to federal agents, this was not true. NIH investigators believed that from 2011 to 2017, Dr. Lieber held the position of Strategic Scientist at the WUT. According to the federal inquiry into the professor's relationship with WUT, China's Communist government paid Dr. Lieber $50,000 a month for his services. Moreover, the professor received, from China, $150,000 a year for living expenses. He also allegedly received a $1.5 million grant to built a laboratory in Wuhan.

     When informed of the results of the NIH investigation, officials at Harvard claimed they had no knowledge of Professor Lieber's financial connections to China after 2012.

     On January 28, 2020, in Boston, Massachusetts, FBI agents and other federal investigators arrested Professor Charles Lieber and two Chinese nationals. The Chinese arrestees were Yanqing Ye, a Boston University robotics researcher, and Zoasong Zheng, a cancer researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

     According to the United States Attorney's Office in Boston, Ye is a lieutenant in the Chinese People's Liberation Army. She is accused of passing information on research conducted at Boston University to the Chinese government.

     Dr. Lieber was charged with one count of making a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement to a federal agency. Professor Lieber has not been charged with sharing sensitive scientific information with the Chinese government. Shortly after his arrest, Harvard University placed Dr. Lieber on indefinite leave.

    Professor Lieber denied the federal allegations against him.