Crime doesn’t pay but it might not harm your reelection chances

News came out Thursday that U.S. Rep.  Trey Radel, R-Fla., will be returning to Capitol Hill next week after a leave of absence. Radel, you may remember, pleaded guilty in November for possession of cocaine and is under investigation from by the House Ethics Committee for his drug use.

Trey Radel

Rep. Trey Radel

With Radel’s reelection prospects uncertain, potential challengers are weighing their options and opposition money begins to flow into southwest Florida.

Could Radel win reelection, though? It wouldn’t be the first time a politician in trouble with the law was kept in office. (A certain politician in Toronto will be testing this theory in October, too.) Which brings us to this gem of a footnote brought to my attention by my former TDR colleague, Andy Marso, on Twitter.

It concerns an appeal by Percy Z. Giles, a longtime Chicago alderman who was sentenced to more than three years in jail in 2001 for racketeering and mail fraud, among other charges.

Giles won a special election for his seat in 1986 and won four-year terms in 1987, 1991, 1995 and 1999, according to an opinion by 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals written by the late Judge Terence T. Evans. Giles prevailed in the ’99 election “despite the fact he was under the dark cloud of the indictment in this case,” Evans wrote, prompting the judge to include the following footnote:

In the old days, an indictment charging 13 felonies would have been the kiss of death for a politician. Apparently that is no longer the case.

The appellate court upheld Giles’ conviction.

(Evans, it should also be noted, was no stranger to a good footnote.)

Would you like fries or our tips to go with that?

hamburglarHelpful hint for job applicants: It’s best that you don’t steal before you even get the job.

A woman who filled out an application at a Five Guys in Rehoboth Beach, Del., lifted about $15 from tip jars at the burger joint, police said. Authorities looked at surveillance video and her application, then arrested Melissa Brittingham, 44, of Rehoboth Beach. She pleaded guilty to theft and got a year of probation.

Oh, another hint, this one for would-be thieves: It’s best that you don’t leave your contact information with the place you’re stealing from.



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Scam involving AG’s office a (phone) numbers game

We regularly receive press releases from attorney general’s office warning us of various scams and frauds being perpetuated on the good citizens of Maryland.

telephoneBut a press release sent Friday morning was unusual because of the unwitting pawn in a “caller ID spoofing” scheme — the attorney general’s office.

In this scam, the scammers mask the number they are calling from. If you try to call back the number or retrieve it through caller ID, you are directed to the Attorney General’s Mediation Unit Hotline.

“This scam is particularly deceitful and hits too close to home as our office would never call consumers and ask for their bank account information,” Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said in a statement.

Separately, the release noted several consumers have reported receiving calls from a debt collector claiming to be calling on behalf of the AG’s office.

“This, too, is a scam,” the press release states, “as the Attorney General’s office does not employ any debt collectors, and does not solicit consumers.”

Spare a square, lose your purse?

bathroom-stalls1Thursday night, while using the restroom during our Leading Women event, I got to thinking about male urinal usage strategy. (If you’re not familiar, here’s the world’s leading expert on the subject.)

This got me to thinking about female stall usage strategy. So, I gave several women in the office this hypothetical — you enter a public bathroom and someone is in one of the stalls. Which one do you use?

The women that didn’t immediately call our HR department gave me a few answers: the cleanest stall; the farthest one away from the stall in use; and the first stall, which many say is the cleanest stall.

All of which brings us to Thursday’s sentencing of Crystal Barner in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Barner received more than four years in prison and must pay more than $140,000 in restitution for her role in a scheme to steal wallets from women’s purses and using the credit cards to make purchases at nearby stores.

How did the group pull off the heists? According to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, the spare-a-square strategy:

Specifically, the leader of the scheme, Ida Mae Weathers, an experienced pickpocket, would linger in women’s restrooms and steal the wallets from purses hung on the hooks in the stalls. Often, Barner or one of the other co-conspirators would create a distraction in an adjacent stall, such as asking for toilet paper, so that the victim would be looking away from her purse. Barner and other conspirators also sometimes served as a “lookout” for Weathers. Often Weathers was able to remove cash and credit cards and return the wallet to the victim’s purse without the victim seeing or suspecting the theft.

(Weathers was sentenced to more than 21 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $150,000 in restitution.)

So there you have it, one more reason to be wary while using a public restroom. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to take this call from our corporate office.

Alleged former BGF member refiles suit against officers

A former self-described member of the Black Guerilla Family has refiled a lawsuit alleging he was assaulted by Baltimore City Detention Center officers who also gave BGF members information that “guaranteed he would be seriously injured.”

Calvin Hemphill is seeking more than $60,000 from several officers, including the BCDC’s former security chief, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday afternoon in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

GavelThe lawsuit contains similar allegations to one Hemphill filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in July 2012, almost nine months before the first corrections officers were indicted for their involvement in a widespread prison drug ring run by the Black Guerilla Family.

Hemphill dropped the federal lawsuit in April 2013, shortly after the indictments were handed down, because he had been transferred to Hagerstown (where he is now incarcerated) and he said continuing the litigation was becoming too costly, according to federal court filings.

Hemphill’s state lawsuit is typed and contains more legalese than his federal lawsuit, which was handwritten and more conversational. But gist remains the same — Hemphill claims he was assaulted and beaten by corrections officers June 2, 2012, after he attacked a female officer. Hemphill alleges he assaulted the officer in order to get transferred out of the BCDC for his own safety. The female officer told BGF leader Tavon White that Hemphill told her about the gang’s dealings and that White had impregnated two other female officers, according to Hemphill’s lawsuit.

White confronted Hemphill and was planning to have gang members attack Hemphill before he attacked the officer, according to the lawsuit.

In a court filing to dismiss the federal lawsuit, lawyers for the state said Hemphill was still a BGF member at the time of the incident and that he was “combative and resistant” when officers arrived after he assaulted the female officer so any force used was to restore order, not punish.

Would you like fries with your getaway car?

Burger-King-Chicken-SandwichWe posted a story earlier Tuesday about a Baltimore man sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for being the getaway driver in 22 armed robberies.

Rico Bias, 34, conspired with two other men to rob mostly convenience stores and fast-food restaurants between January and June 2012, according to the plea agreement signed in February.

In most of the robberies, Bias drove a Ford Windstar minivan. In at least one robbery, he rented a Zipcar.

And in another robbery, this one of a Burger King, Bias did more than drive, according to the plea agreement:

Prior to [co-defendant Hatratico] Smith entering the Burger King, the defendant entered and checked to make sure the robbery could occur. Bias purchased two chicken sandwiches while he checked for Smith to commit the robbery.

Hatratico Smith, who committed the robberies, pleaded guilty in September and faces life imprisonment when he is sentenced in January. (Smith used a gun to commit the robberies, in one incident wounding a convenience store customer.)

A third accomplice, Monzell Lee, was sentenced in May to nine years in prison.

Facebook program to stop cyberbullying launches in Md.

facebookMaryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has made stopping cyberbullying one of his key initiatives. On Thursday, Gansler, who is also running for governor, announced Maryland would serve as the pilot location for a Facebook-backed program to combat cyberbullying.

The Education Escalation Channel is designed to streamline reporting of cyberbullying on Facebook and provide each school system with a direct line of communication with the social media company.

Facebook outlined the plan Thursday during the Maryland Association of Boards of Education fall conference.

“We can no longer brush off these [cyberbullying] episodes and we must reject a ‘kids will be kids’ mentality that ignores how to confront this troubling trend,” Gansler said in a statement. “I commend Facebook for working with us to give educators a more streamlined way to report possible instances of cyberbullying among their students.”

The launch coincides with the start of National Bullying Prevention Month and with a new law in Maryland that broadens email harassment to include text messaging and social media.



Settlement unlikely in wrongful death lawsuit against Tshamba

Gahiji Tshamba

Gahiji Tshamba

A $30 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a man killed outside a Baltimore nightclub by a former city police officer appears headed to trial.

A lawyer for Gahiji Tshamba, the ex-officer, wrote in a status report filed Tuesday in federal court that they “believe there is no prospect of settlement.”

Tshamba is serving a 15-year sentence in the shooting death of Tyrone Brown outside of a Baltimore nightclub in June 2010. Tshamba was off-duty at the time and shot Brown 12 times with a department-issued gun. The incident began when Brown slapped Tshamba’s female friend on the backside.

The lawsuit filed by Brown’s family in March 2011 seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages.

The Baltimore Police Department and City of Baltimore were also named as defendants in the suit but had claims against them bifurcated, meaning they will be heard separately from Tshamba’s.

In their status report filed last week, lawyers for police and the city said their clients want to participate in Tshamba’s trial as intervening parties on the issue of whether Tshamba acted “under the color of law,” meaning he was still acting in his official duties as a police officer.

Lawyers for Brown’s family in their status report said Monday they objected to police and the city intervening because there would be no chance for discovery from police and the city since the case was bifurcated.

A supplemental settlement conference is scheduled for Dec. 3, according to court documents.

Dying cat not enough to bounce DUI conviction

GavelI’ll admit I’m not a cat person, unless said feline is found on the comics pages. I’ll also admit I don’t understand the lengths some people go to for their pets.

Which brings us to Christopher Brooks. He was busted for a DUI in Florida in 2010, going 84 mph and crossing three lanes of traffic to a highway exit ramp.

Brooks admitted at trial he was under the influence when he was stopped but told the jury had a good reason — his friend’s cat was sick and Brooks was the only person able to take the cat to an all-night clinic.

Brooks was found guilty but appealed, arguing he had a legitimate excuse. Last week, a state appeals court in Florida upheld the lower court ruling.

In its opinion, the appellate court didn’t buy the so-called “defense of necessity” when it comes to our four-legged friends:

Although Mr. Brooks’ wish to obtain treatment for the ailing feline is understandable, the elements of the defense and the plain language of the jury instruction compel us to the conclusion that a claim of necessity is not available as a defense to a DUI charge in Florida when the asserted emergency involves the threat of harm to an animal instead of a person.

To add insult to injury, the cat died “during or shortly after the vehicle stop,” according to the opinion.

(Or, if you’re a cat person, maybe that’s the injury.)

Law blog roundup

scalesofjusticeimageWelcome to Monday, the 92nd anniversary of the first radio broadcast of a baseball game. Here are some news items to get the week started.

– Turkish court sets the price for a failed coup attempt.

– Online gun sales might provide a show-like loophole.

– Buying someone a drink has landed one Texas man in big trouble.

– Court-martial of accused Fort Hood shooter begins Tuesday — nearly four years after deadly rampage.