Alabama lawmakers push to arm school security volunteers

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Any trained school employee or citizen volunteer could join an armed security force in Alabama schools under a bill lawmakers are considering — one of several such measures being proposed in U.S. states after the Florida high school massacre.

Rep. Allen Farley, a Republican and former law enforcement officer, filed the bill on Thursday, and it has been referred to a committee for consideration. It replicates a local law in north Alabama’s Franklin County that was twice vetoed by the governor before becoming law in 2013. Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, a Republican who sponsored the local law, said it was needed because rural schools couldn’t afford School Resource Officers (SROs) and the emergency response time could be 30 minutes.

“We wanted to give students out there in remote rural schools with no resource officer a fighting chance,” Morrow said at a news conference Tuesday.

It’s not clear whether the law is actually being implemented in that county, however. Morrow said he doesn’t know how many school employees or citizen volunteers are armed and the school district wouldn’t confirm numbers for security reasons.

Under the law, school principals can request a volunteer armed security force. They submit names of individuals who are vetted and trained by the sheriff’s department to become reserve deputy sheriffs.

Heath Grimes, superintendent of Russellville City Schools in Franklin County, said not all principals are familiar with the law and none in the city schools he oversees had requested a security force because they have school resource officers. He originally opposed the local law but now supports an individual school’s decision to arm a security force.

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Secaucus to arm security guards at town schools

Secaucus announced on Friday the town will assign police officers to patrol the district’s schools while it provides firearms training to the schools’ currently unarmed security guards.

The announcement came nine days after a school massacre in Parkland, Florida left 17 dead, and in the wake of security scares at schools in Nutley and Bayonne. The Florida killings led President Trump to suggest arming teachers to avoid future massacres.

Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli told The Jersey Journal the town will pay between $500 and $900 a day for each officer assigned to patrol buildings. The 2,100-student district has four schools and a preschool.

The district’s 15 security guards are all retired police officers and will undergo psychological evaluations and other testing so they can possess firearms inside schools, Gonnelli said. He estimates the process will take about two or three weeks. While costly for the town, Gonnelli said town and school officials agreed having armed guards “had to happen.”

“In this day and age, we need to do something,” he said.

School officials did not return a request for comment. The town’s police department directed questions to the mayor’s office.

Secaucus’ school district reported seven instances of violence in the 2015-16 school year, up from four the year before, and zero incidents of weapons possession both years, according to a report submitted by the state Department of Education.

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Murder charge filed after nurses caught laughing at WWII vet

Two Georgia nurses and an aide have been indicted in the death of an elderly World War II veteran after they were caught on camera laughing as the man gasped for air and pleaded for help.

Authorities launched a criminal investigation in November after details and video were obtained by WXIA. The information was originally included as part of a lawsuit filed by the family of James Dempsey against Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation Center.

The video, which was taken February 27, 2014, showed Dempsey gasping for air and calling for help more than six times before losing consciousness.

After finding Dempsey unresponsive at 5:28 a.m., nurses waited nearly an hour to call 911 at 6:25 a.m.

During that hour, video shows nurses failing to help administer aid to Dempsey and laughing as they struggled to get his oxygen machine to work, the outlet reports.

Nursing supervisor Wanda Nuckles testified at a deposition that when she discovered Dempsey was not breathing she rushed to his room, took over CPR and kept going until the paramedics arrived.

Nuckles was then confronted with the hidden camera video that shows she did nothing when she first arrived at Dempsey’s room.

“Sir, that was an honest mistake,” Nuckles said in the deposition obtained by WXIA, “I was just basing everything on what I normally do.”

When asked why she was laughing about the oxygen machine not working, she told the family’s attorney she did not remember that.

The nursing home tried to stop WXIA from getting and releasing the videos but a DeKalb County judge refused to seal the footage

After WXIA went public, Brookhaven Police launched an investigation, which led to a grand jury handing down indictments Wednesday against two nurses and an aide, the outlet reports.

Loyce Pickquet Agyeman is charged with felony murder and neglect to an elder person.

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Louisville Plans to Become First U.S. City to Use Drones

Louisville, Ky., is vying to become probably the first city in the country to use autonomous drones to respond to the sound of gunfire.

The city has applied for a special program the Federal Aviation Administration is running, where it will give a handful of cities temporary permission to get around long-standing drone rules in order to run pilot projects. Those rules, which operators typically have to get individual waivers to get around, include flying drones outside the operator’s line of sight, flying at night and flying above people.

All of those rules would make it pretty difficult for a city to do what Louisville wants to do. The city has ShotSpotter sensors spread throughout its urban fabric, listening for gunshots. When such a noise is picked up, and interpreted by ShotSpotter’s analysts to be gunfire and not a similar sound, a notification is sent to police who can respond to the scene.

Louisville wants to try out the concept of sending self-routing drones to fly to the scene first. That could bring about several possible benefits: Since they’re airborne, drones would likely be able to arrive on scene faster than a police officer. With an aerial view, they could capture video evidence to help authorities find the person who fired the weapon. And in the case of a false alarm — there have been reports of sensors interpreting fireworks and backfiring cars as gunshots — the drones might be able to keep an officer from responding to nothing.

It’s an idea that came out of need. According to Chris Seidt, Louisville’s director of information technology, Mayor Greg Fischer tasked the city’s Office of Performance Improvement and Innovation — which Seidt was in before moving to his current position — with finding outside-the-box solutions to some urgent problems.

Gun violence was a big one. According to LouieStat, the city’s statistics portal, Louisville saw shootings more than double from 228 in 2014 to 460 in 2016. They fell in 2017, but around that time the city was installing ShotSpotter. The new system gave officials an indication that there was still a lot of shooting to worry about.

“In its first six months of existence, we had 800 activations of the system,” Seidt said. “In the 400 square miles of Jefferson County, that’s a bit of a problem.”

Another bad statistic for the city: Its clearance rate, or the rate at which homicide cases end in an arrest, is about 50 percent. That’s below the national average.

“We thought, ‘What’s the likelihood of getting a better clearance rate if we get to the site of a gunshot incident quickly?’” Seidt said.

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Las Vegas Doctor Arrested And Charged

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – A pain management doctor practicing in Las Vegas was arrested today and charged with 29-counts of unlawful distribution of fentanyl and for committing health care fraud, announced Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Attorney Dayle Elieson of the District of Nevada, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Dan Neill for the DEA’s Las Vegas field office, Special Agent in Charge Aaron C. Rouse for the FBI’s Las Vegas Division, and Special Agent in Charge Christian J. Schrank for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office Los Angeles Region.

Dr. Steven A. Holper, 66, is charged in an indictment with seven-counts of distribution of Fentanyl, a controlled substance, and 22-counts of providing a false statement relating to a health benefit program.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid painkiller that is 100 times more potent than morphine and 40 to 60 times more potent than 100% pure heroin. Fentanyl is available in various forms, including Subsys. Subsys is only available through the Transmucosal Immediate-Release Fentanyl (TIRF) Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) Access program. The only FDA-approved indication for TIRF medicines are for use to manage breakthrough pain in adults with cancer. Dr. Holper routinely prescribed Subsys for his patients without cancer.

According to allegations contained in the indictment, which was unsealed today, from about July 19, 2015 through March 12, 2016, Holper allegedly prescribed Subsys to a patient without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice. The indictment further alleges that, from about November 21, 2013 through March 24, 2017, Holper knowingly made false statements to Medicare and private health insurance companies. Dr. Holper prescribed Subsys for patients without cancer and falsely represented 22 patients were cancer patients with breakthrough cancer pain, who were opioid tolerant and eligible for Subsys.

“Our great country has never before seen the levels of addiction and overdose deaths that we are suffering today. Sadly, some trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and exploit this crisis for cash—with devastating consequences. Our goals at the Department of Justice for 2018 are to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions, the number of overdose deaths, and violent crime—which is often drug-related. That’s why I created the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit and sent 12 top prosecutors to opioid hotspots around the country: to help us find the medical fraudsters who are flooding our streets with drugs. These prosecutors are already issuing indictments from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas. I want to thank the DEA, FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Henderson, Nevada Police Department, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kilby Macfadden for their hard work on this case. I am convinced that these efforts make drugs less available on the streets, send a message to criminals, and ultimately make our communities much safer,” said Attorney General Sessions.

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Two Sentenced in $10 Million Investment Fraud Scheme

The victims’ stories of losing their retirement savings in a $10 million investment fraud scheme were heartbreaking: some lost their homes, some had to declare bankruptcy, and many suffered—and continue to suffer—from physical and emotional ailments upon learning they had virtually nothing left to retire with.

The fraudsters responsible for this fallout—who lined their own pockets with the hard-earned money of working people trying to save for their golden years—were Merrill Robertson and Sherman Carl Vaughn, Jr., two Virginia businessmen. After a joint federal law enforcement investigation into the pair’s Ponzi-like scheme, the two were ultimately brought to justice for their crimes against more than 60 victims in multiple states. In light of Robertson’s earlier conviction at trial and Vaughn’s previous guilty plea, Robertson was recently sentenced to 40 years in prison, and Vaughn—who testified at Robertson’s trial—received 12 years. The men were also ordered to pay nearly $9 million in restitution to their victims.

Robertson is a former University of Virginia football star who had worked for a large broker-dealer and was licensed as a broker. Vaughn had a business degree from another Virginia college but has never been licensed as a broker. Together, in 2010, the pair formed Cavalier Union Investments, LLC, which claimed to be a “leading private investment firm” catering to IRA account holders and offering investment opportunities—with fixed annual returns of 10 to 20 percent—in restaurants, real estate, and alternative energy. Cavalier purportedly had a variety of divisions, investment funds, and investment advisers.

But in reality, Cavalier did not have any divisions, investment funds, or investment advisers—it was just Robertson and Vaughn. And what a pair they were—Robertson no longer had his broker’s license, and Vaughn had filed for personal bankruptcy four times, including the two times he did it while working at Cavalier. Shortly after the company was formed, Cavalier became insolvent and relied on cash from newer investors to stay afloat and pay back older investors who asked for their money back—the perfect Ponzi scheme, at least for a while.

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Feds bust twin brothers from the Bronx for trying to build bombs

Bronx NY Cops have busted twin brothers from the Bronx for allegedly stockpiling explosive materials and crafting bombs inside their home — with help from high school students.

Christian Toro, a former teacher at Harlem Prep, and his brother, Tyler Toro, were arrested by the FBI on Thursday as part of a joint investigation with the NYPD.

The two 27-year-olds had been forging explosive devices inside their Pelham Parkway apartment since last October — using gunpowder from fireworks as the base for their bomb-making, according to the complaint.

A search of the residence turned up a slew of dangerous chemicals, including 20 pounds of iron oxide and aluminum powder, which form thermite when combined.

A “diary” was also allegedly found — which contained disturbing, handwritten notes, such as “WE ARE TWIN TOROS STRIKE US NOW” and “WE WILL RETURN WITH NANO THERMITE.”

As if that wasn’t enough, federal agents then discovered “a yellow backpack in a living area of the apartment, which contained, among other things, a purple index card with handwriting that reads, ‘UNDER THE FULL MOON THE SMALL ONES WILL KNOW TERROR.”

The complaint, obtained by The Post on Thursday afternoon, outlines numerous allegations against the Toro brothers — including how they’d been researching the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and paying teens to construct their makeshift weapons.

Christian allegedly met the youths through his job as a teacher and offered to pay them $50 per hour to “break apart fireworks and store the powder that came out of the fireworks in containers,” the complaint says.

Investigators spoke with “multiple students” who said that at least two people had agreed to work for the Toros in exchange for cash.

“Based on the interviews, it appears that the students visited the apartment between in or around October 2017 and in or around early January 2018,” the complaint says.

Authorities were tipped off earlier this year by officials from Harlem Prep after they found instructions on how to construct explosives on Christian’s laptop.

The FBI had launched an investigation back in December after the school received a bomb threat, but they didn’t start probing Christian until after the information was found on his computer.

“This case likely saved many, many lives,” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said at a press conference Thursday night.

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Pittsburgh Mortgage Broker Defrauded Banks, Borrowers to Enrich Himself

With hundreds of pages of paperwork and thousands of dollars on the line, getting a mortgage can be a complex and intimidating transaction for homebuyers, who often depend on experts to get them through the process.

Unfortunately for some mortgage applicants in Western Pennsylvania, dishonest real estate professionals took advantage of that trust with fraudulent practices.

As the real estate market boomed before the 2008 crash, Pittsburgh-based Century III Home Equity was a successful brokerage, closing an estimated $100 million in loans annually. As a broker, the company acted as a middleman between the mortgage applicant and the lender, but the company’s employees manipulated both sides to enrich themselves. The owner—James Nassida, IV—and his loan officers misleadingly sold customers mortgage products that were not always appropriate for their financial situation but racked up the most fees. The brokerage also fooled lenders by lying about applicants, doing things such as inflating income, misrepresenting home values, or not disclosing that down payments were actually borrowed money.

“There was massive fraud here. They were not looking out for their borrowers; they were looking out for themselves,” said Special Agent Neal Caldwell of the FBI’s Pittsburgh Division, who investigated the case with the U.S. Secret Service as part of the Western Pennsylvania Mortgage Fraud Task Force. The task force, which came together in 2008, looked holistically at the mortgage fraud threat throughout the Pittsburgh area as part of a multi-agency team involving the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI, IRS Criminal Investigations, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and others, including state agencies. The task force’s work over a 10-year period led to 140 convictions, ranking the Western District of Pennsylvania as one of the most successful districts in the country in prosecuting mortgage fraud.

Nassida required his employees to do whatever it took to close a loan, even if it was dishonest or illegal. In many cases, the company would sell a borrower a loan with a temporary minimum payment option, designed for those with seasonal or fluctuating income, without fully disclosing the terms. In actuality, the temporary minimum payment didn’t even cover all of the interest each month, causing the loan to “negatively amortize,” or actually increase the balance of the loan. While some customers, such as house flippers, understood these products, others found them disastrous financially when they were not fully informed of the consequences of paying the lower amount over a longer period of time. This was especially difficult for borrowers once the housing market crashed in 2008—they could no longer rely on a consistent increase in their home values to keep them from going “underwater,” or owing more than their homes were worth.

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Wiretap investigation leads to seizure of more than 30 pounds of fentanyl

State and federal law enforcement officials announced Thursday they seized some 77 pounds of various illicit drugs in the Boston area — including more than 30 pounds of fentanyl — as the result of “Operation High Hopes,” according to a press release by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. They say it’s “one of the longest, most far-reaching, and most successful state wiretap investigations in Massachusetts history.”

Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley says the investigation led to more than a dozen arrests and dismantled two Boston-area drug trafficking organizations. About $300,000 in alleged drug money was also seized. He added that fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and opiate tablets are believed to have originated from Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel.

Fentanyl is so powerful, Conley says, that mere milligrams can be lethal.

“The number of overdoses it could have caused is truly staggering,” Conley wrote in the press release. “Individuals who buy and sell at this level aren’t users. They’re not small time dealers, either. They’re certainly not selling to support a habit. They’re trafficking in addictive substances that claim more lives in Massachusetts than all homicides, all suicides and all car crashes, statewide, combined.”

Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans heralded the successful sting in the written statement: “These arrests and seizures will have a tremendous impact on the quality of life in Boston and many other Massachusetts cities and towns,” Evans said. “I commend the work of my detectives and all our law enforcement partners who worked tirelessly over the past six months of Operation High Hopes.”

The DEA Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Ferguson echoed that sentiment: “Those responsible for distributing lethal drugs like fentanyl to the citizens of Massachusetts need to be held accountable for their actions. DEA’s top priority is combating the opioid epidemic by working with our local, county and state law enforcement partners to bring to justice those that distribute this poison.”

Wiretap investigation

Edward Soto-Perez, 43, of Roxbury, Nelson Catala-Otero, 37, of Brockton and Julio Cuello, 52, of Dorchester were arraigned in November on multiple drug trafficking charges after the execution of wiretap-based search warrants, according to the press release. They were held on bails ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 and will return to court Feb. 13.

Robert Contreras, 42, of Roxbury, is their alleged supplier and was one of more than a dozen people arrested Thursday. He’s being held on $1 million bail and will return to court Feb. 28.

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Insider Sentenced for Economic Espionage

On July 7, 2016, three days after his fellow Americans had celebrated the nation’s Independence Day, engineer Gregory Allen Justice—who worked for a cleared government contractor in California—was arrested in a hotel room for selling sensitive satellite information to someone he believed was a Russian agent.

Unfortunately for Justice, that foreign agent turned out to be an undercover FBI employee. And this wasn’t the first time that Justice had passed satellite secrets to his “handler”—but it would be his last. He was immediately taken into custody by the FBI on charges of selling proprietary trade secrets and technical data that had been controlled for export from the United States.

Justice had been employed with the government contractor—under its satellite systems program—since 2000. He was assigned to a team working to build and test U.S. military satellites, including projects for the Air Force, Navy, and NASA that involved satellites with communication, navigational, and observational technology.

The trade secrets and other technical data he had access to as part of his job related to areas such as satellite operations testing, firmware installed on satellites, and anti-jamming technology.

After the FBI’s Los Angeles Division opened its investigation into Justice’s activities, a lawful search of his vehicle uncovered handwritten notes containing addresses for the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the Russian Consulate in San Francisco.

In February 2016, the Bureau’s undercover employee—in the guise of a Russian agent—was able to make contact with Justice, who was more than willing to talk and eventually meet with the employee a total of six times. They first met at a coffee shop and then in various hotel rooms—and each time, Justice turned over a thumb drive with information downloaded from his employer’s computer network. All told, Justice received $3,500 in cash from the undercover employee.

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