Month: August 2015

Feds fighting to keep cash seized from person never charged with crime

Federal prosecutors are battling in court to keep $167,000 in cash seized in a 2013 traffic stop, despite the motorist never being charged in the incident and the Obama administration clamped down this spring on such asset seizures and forfeitures. The case — which highlights the ongoing concerns about the government unjustly seizing money and property — began when a Nevada state trooper pulled over the motorist on a cross-country trip to California. The trooper stopped Hawaii resident Straughn Gorman’s motor-home in January 2013 for allegedly going too slow along Interstate 80. According to court documents, Gorman was allowed to proceed without a citation despite the trooper suspecting he was hiding cash. The trooper said he couldn’t inspect the vehicle because he would have needed a canine unit and for the dog to detect drugs, which would have created enough probable cause to get a search warrant. However, no canine unit was available so the trooper released Gorman but not before requesting the county sheriff’s office stop him again — about 50 minutes later and this time with a drug-sniffing dog. No drugs were found during the second stop, in which Gorman was pulled over for two alleged traffic violation. But his vehicle, computer, cellphone and the cash, stashed throughout the vehicle, were seized. In June, a federal judge in Nevada ordered Gorman’s cash be returned. In his ruling, District Judge Larry Hicks cited Gorman’s “prolonged detention” for the alleged traffic violations and criticized federal authorities for failing to disclose that the first officer requested the second stop. “The second stop was not based on independent, reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify the prolonged investigation,” wrote Hicks, a Bush administration appointee. “The two stops were for minor traffic violations, and they both were extended beyond the legitimate purposes for such traffic stops.” Hicks also said in his ruling the second stop never would have happened if the first officer had not relayed information about the first stop, which included a vehicle description, suspicion about concealed cash and that a “canine sniff” would likely be needed to get probable cause for a search. The federal government earlier this month appealed Hicks’ ruling in the 9th Circuit Court, in San Francisco, considered among the most liberal in the country. Federal attorneys did not submit a reason for the appeal in their one-paragraph request, according to The Daily Signal, which first reported the request. The court is expected to also decide whether Gorman should be reimbursed $153,000 in legal fees, which federal lawyers don’t want to pay. The first court proceeding is scheduled for November 19. The Justice Department earlier this year issued a series of directives to reform and restrict its policies on asset seizures and forfeitures, amid the complaints about government abuse and overreach. “We are keenly aware of concerns raised about certain seizures and forfeiture practices,” the agency told the Senate Judiciary Committee in April. “The department takes seriously any and all allegations of perceived or actual abuse.” The first of the changes were announced in January by then-Attorney General Eric Holder, starting with forfeitures. Holder said federal agencies could no longer take assets seized by state and local law enforcement agencies, except for those “directly related to public safety concerns” including firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography. Among the valuables the agencies can no longer take are cash and vehicles. In March, Holder announced changes to banking laws that allow money to be seized from people who make deposits below specific amounts to intentionally keep the transaction from being reported to federal authorities — a scheme known as “structuring.” Holder said authorities would now focus on “the most serious offenses” and essentially that money could be seized only after the defendant is charge with a crime or found to have been engaged in a crime beyond structuring, according to document the Justice Department gave FoxNews.com this week. The minimum-deposit laws were enacted to detect and nab drug dealers, terrorists and other money-launders and criminals trying to conceal their enterprise and cash. And they were enacted to create a money stream to provide financial compensation to crime victims. The IRS seized more than $242 million in roughly 2,500 alleged structuring violations, from 2005 to 2012. However, no other criminal activity was alleged in roughly 33 percent of the cases, according to the Institute of Justice, which worked on a more recent case in North Carolina. Last year, the IRS took $107,000 from Carolina small-business owner Lyndon McLellan after he made a series of deposits under $10,000. McLellan owns a convenience store-restaurant-gas station. And many of his transactions are in cash. The federal government offered to return half of McLellan’s cash, a standard move by federal officials who know many people cannot afford a lengthy court battle and would rather settle. McLellan got back all of the money but wasn’t reimbursed roughly $22,000 in legal and accounting fees, Institute attorney Robert Everett Johnson said Tuesday. “We’re pleased that Lyndon’s money has been returned,” Johnson said. “That the federal government returned the money validates he didn’t do anything wrong.” However, Johnson expresses dismay that his client is still battling to recoup his costs and interest on the seized money, to which he appear entitled under the 2000 Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act. “We think the federal government should make him whole,” he said. “It simply cannot pretend that nothing happened.”

This story should infuriate every American with half a brain.  This is our federal government, in cooperation with these state troopers in Nevada, totally out of control.  This is the United States; NOT Nazi Germany, the former Soviet Union, or N. Korea.  These troopers had NO right whatsoever to take this man’s cash.  So, kudos to Judge Larry Hicks for calling them on it.  Hopefully the 9th Circus will follow his smart lead.  We, of course, will keep an eye on this..

Researchers in Hawaii find sunken U.S. Navy tanker missing for decades

Researchers made a surprising find when diving in the waters off Hawaii: a large US naval tanker that had been sitting unseen in 80 feet of water for nearly 60 years. “I turn around, and this giant, looming structure, so eerie,” Melissa Price, a maritime archaeologist, told Hawaii News Now. Price was one of three divers to discover the Mission San Miguel on Aug. 3 off the coast of Hawaii. During 1957 trip from Seattle to Guam, it hit a reef in the area and sank. The crew was able to escape, but the ship went down. “I had to stare at it for a little bit, then I started freaking out under water, screaming and motioning,” said Rebecca Weible, a UH Manoa Marine Biology student who was diving with Price. As a U.S. naval tanker in World War II and the Korean War, Mission San Miguel transported fuel for military machines. It received several commendations for its service. “This is a ship that wasn’t a glamorous part of World War II history, but was an important part,” said Kelly Keogh, Maritime Heritage Coordinator for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. The Mission San Miguel is now in the protected waters of the Papahanaumokuakea monument. It will be mapped and studied on the ocean’s floor. “It’s really very, very exciting discovery for the monument,” Jason Raupp, who led the dive team that discovered the vessel.

Very cool!! 🙂

Judge rules Missouri family’s purple swingset can stay

A Missouri judge has ruled that a suburban Kansas City family’s purple swingset won’t need to have its color changed after a homeowners’ association threatened the family with fines or jail time. “We’re super excited, we’re very happy,” Marla Stout, who owns the swingset, told Fox4KC at a neighborhood barbecue Sunday celebrating Friday’s ruling. Stout told “Fox & Friends” earlier this month that she painted the swingset purple at the request of her two young daughters more than two years ago. But it was only this summer that the homeowners’ association for the subdivision the Stouts live in told Marla that the color was not in harmony with others in the neighborhood. Stout also told Fox4KC that she received a letter from the homeowners’ association saying that she hadn’t gotten the playset color pre-approved. Another letter from the homeowners’ group said the lawsuit will cost the Stouts “far greater than any principal [sic] you are trying to prove.” Stout said that when she and her husband Jack offered to repaint the swingset gray, the association refused. “We got very frustrated,” Stout said. “There’s somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 homes in our community. There’s all kinds of colors. There’s people with bright purple doors. There’s trees that are the color of this swing set.” After an initial hearing Aug. 21, the ruling in the Stouts’ favor came down Friday. Now Marla Stout said she believes the homeowners’ association should apologize to the entire neighborhood. “It’s been very embarrassing for our community and its cost every resident in this community a lot of money and reputation,” she told Fox4KC. “I think it said a lot that the judge took a week to review the case, review the facts, review everything,” said T.R Hoefle, the family’s attorney. “I’m thrilled with the decision she made.”

And, of course the HOA has yet to comment on this decision…because they just had their asses handed to them in court. And, an outstanding verdict by this judge! Having spent some time on the Board of Directors (BOD) for MY HOA, and having spent a couple years as an HOA manager managing HOAs in the greater Denver area, I am intimately aware of what a good HOA is, and what a really bad HOA can be. I’ve seen the full spectrum…and boy howdy are there some really bad ones out there! The thing you can do is either run to sit on your HOA’s BOD OR be sure you attend the annual homeowner’s meeting, as well as the monthly BOD meetings. Know what the BOD is doing, and make sure your voice is heard. If you don’t, then it’s like failing to vote.. you have NO right to whine/complain.

Sales of unearthed Atari games total more than $100,000

A cache of Atari game cartridges dug up in a New Mexico landfill last year has generated more than $100,000 in sales over the last several months. The April 2014 dig ended speculation surrounding an urban legend that Atari had discarded hundreds of games, including “E.T. The Extraterrestrial,” more than 30 years ago, reported The Alamogordo Daily News. A film crew documented Joe Lewandowski as he dug up the Atari cartridges. In addition to the “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” cartridges, Lewandowski found more than 60 other titles. Those included Asteroids, Missile Command, Warlords, Defender, Star Raiders, Swordquest, Phoenix, Centipede and Super Breakout. Atari’s E.T. game, based on the Steven Spielberg film, was released in 1982 after only 34 days of development. It earned a reputation as the worst video game ever created. It didn’t live up to its financial expectations and is considered by many to have contributed to Atari’s demise, as shown in Zak Penn’s documentary “Atari: Game Over.” The 881 games sold on eBay brought in close to $108,000, Lewandowski told the Alamogordo City Commission earlier this week. Buyers came from 45 states and 14 countries. Twenty-three games also made their way to museums around the world, including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the Deutsches Film Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. But Lewandowski said there are hundreds more cartridges that aren’t for sale at this time. “There’s 297 we’re still holding in an archive that we’ll sell at a later date when we decide what to do with them,” he said. “But for now we’re just holding them.” The city will receive about $65,000 from the sale of the games, and $16,000 will go to the Tularosa Basin Historical Society. About $26,000 will go toward expenses such as shipping fees.

Fun!   🙂

10 unique waffle recipes

Grab the syrup because Monday Aug. 24 recognizes the patent of the waffle iron. In 1869, Cornelius Swartout of Troy, New York received a patent for a “device to bake waffles.” Although waffle irons have existed since the 1300s, Swartwout added a shorter handle and clasp that would allow the waffle-maker to flip the iron without the danger of potential burns, and breakfast hasn’t been the same since. Whether you like your sweet or savory–exotic or decadent –here are some great recipes to whip up in celebration.

Well, its a week late.  But, click on the text above to see some of these yummy waffle recipes!     🙂

California sinking faster than thought, aquifers could permanently shrink

California is sinking even faster than scientists had thought, new NASA satellite imagery shows. Some areas of the Golden State are sinking more than 2 inches per month, the imagery reveals. Though the sinking, called subsidence, has long been a problem in California, the rate is accelerating because the state’s extreme drought is fueling voracious groundwater pumping. “Because of increased pumping, groundwater levels are reaching record lows — up to 100 feet (30 meters) lower than previous records,” Mark Cowin, director of California’s Department of Water Resources, said in a statement. “As extensive groundwater pumping continues, the land is sinking more rapidly, and this puts nearby infrastructure at greater risk of costly damage.” What’s more, this furious groundwater pumping could have long-term consequences. If the land shrinks too much, and for too long, it can permanently lose its ability to store groundwater, the researchers said. The state’s sinking isn’t new: California has long suffered from subsidence, and some parts are now a few dozen feet lower than they were in 1925, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. But the state’s worst drought on record — 97 percent of the state is facing moderate to exceptional drought — has only accelerated the trend. To quantify this accelerated sinking, researchers at the Department of Water Resources and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, compared satellite imagery of California over time. Thanks to images taken from both satellites and airplanes using a remote-sensing technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR), which uses radar to measure elevation differences, researchers can now map changes in the surface height of the ground with incredible precision. For the current study, the team stitched together imagery from Japan’s satellite-based Phased Array type L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar and Canada’s Earth Observation satellite Radarsat-2, as well as NASA’s airplane-based Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar. Certain hotspots are shrinking at an astonishing rate — regions of the Tulare Basin, which includes Fresno, sank 13 inches in just eight months, they found. The Sacramento Valley is sinking about 0.5 inches per month. And the California Aqueduct — an intricate network of pipes, canals and tunnels that funnels water from high in the Sierra Nevada mountains in northern and central California to Southern California — has sunk 12.5 inches, and most of that was just in the past four months, according to the new study. The unquenchable thirst for groundwater in certain regions is largely a result of agriculture: Most of the state’s agricultural production resides in the fast-sinking regions around some of the state’s most endangered river systems — the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers. As the heat and lack of rainfall have depleted surface-water supplies, farmers have turned to groundwater to keep their crops afloat. Subsidence isn’t just an aesthetic problem; bridges and highways can sink and crack in dangerous ways, and flood-control structures can be compromised. In the San Joaquin Valley, the sinking Earth has destroyed the outer shell around thousands of privately drilled wells. “Groundwater acts as a savings account to provide supplies during drought, but the NASA report shows the consequences of excessive withdrawals as we head into the fifth year of historic drought,” Corwin said. “We will work together with counties, local water districts, and affected communities to identify ways to slow the rate of subsidence and protect vital infrastructure such as canals, pumping stations, bridges and wells.”

Appeals court reverses ruling that found NSA program illegal

A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of the Obama administration in a dispute over the bulk collection of phone data on millions of Americans. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday reversed a lower court ruling that said the program likely violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches. But the impact of the ruling is uncertain, now that Congress has passed legislation designed to replace the program over the next few months. The court sent the case back for a judge to determine what further details about the program the government must provide. The uproar over the surveillance program began in 2013 when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked details to news organizations.

I know this will probably irk my libertarian friends, but this is a good decision.  The President, regardless of who it is, needs to be able to have these tools at his disposal.  This decision upholds his ability to use this specific tool in the interest of national security.  So, while it may be moot at the moment, it may not be at some point later on down the road.