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Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Convicted Of All Counts In US Criminal Case, Faces Life In Prison

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NEW YORK (AP) — Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, better known as “El Chapo,” was convicted Tuesday of running an industrial-scale smuggling operation after a three-month trial packed with Hollywood-style tales of grisly killings, political payoffs, cocaine hidden in jalapeno cans, jewel-encrusted guns and a naked escape with his mistress through a tunnel.

Guzman listened to a drumbeat of guilty verdicts on drug and conspiracy charges that could put the 61-year-old escape artist behind bars for decades in a maximum-security U.S. prison selected to thwart another one of the breakouts that made him a folk hero in his native country.

A jury whose members’ identities were kept secret reached a verdict after deliberating six days in the expansive case, sorting through what authorities called an “avalanche” of evidence gathered since the late 1980s that Guzman and his murderous Sinaloa drug cartel made billions in profits by smuggling tons of cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana into the U.S.

As the judge read the verdict, Guzman stared at the jury without expression. When the jurors were discharged, he leaned back in his chair to catch the eye of his wife, who gave him a subtle thumbs-up.

U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan lauded the jury’s meticulous attention to detail and the “remarkable” approach it took toward deliberations. Cogan said it made him “very proud to be an American.”

Evidence showed drugs poured into the U.S. through secret tunnels or hidden in tanker trucks, concealed in the undercarriage of passenger cars and packed in rail cars passing through legitimate points of entry — suggesting that a border wall wouldn’t be much of a worry.

The prosecution’s case against Guzman, a roughly 5½-foot figure whose nickname translates to “Shorty,” included the testimony of several turncoats and other witnesses. Among them were Guzman’s former Sinaloa lieutenants, a computer encryption expert and a Colombian cocaine supplier who underwent extreme plastic surgery to disguise his appearance.

One Sinaloa insider described Mexican workers getting contact highs while packing cocaine into thousands of jalapeno cans — shipments that totaled 25 to 30 tons of cocaine worth $500 million each year. Another testified how Guzman sometimes acted as his own sicario, or hitman, punishing a Sinaloan who dared to work for another cartel by kidnapping him, beating and shooting him and having his men bury the victim while he was still alive, gasping for air.

The defense case lasted just half an hour. Guzman’s lawyers did not deny his crimes as much as argue he was a fall guy for government witnesses who were more evil than he was.

In closing arguments, defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman urged the jury not to believe government witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”

U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue called the conviction “a victory for the American people who suffered so much” while the defendant poured poison over the borders. He expected Guzman to get life without parole.

“It is a sentence from which there is no escape and no return,” Donoghue told a news conference outside the courthouse, through snow and sleet.

Lichtman said the defense “fought like complete savages” and will appeal the case. “No matter who the defendant is, you still have to fight to the death.”

He said his client was a positive thinker who “doesn’t give up.”

Upon hearing the verdict, Guzman was “as cool as a cucumber,” Lichtman added. “Honest to god, we were more upset than he was.”

Deliberations were complicated by the trial’s vast scope. Jurors were tasked with making 53 decisions about whether prosecutors have proven different elements of the case.

The trial cast a harsh glare on the corruption that allowed the cartel to flourish. Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes caused a stir by testifying that former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto took a $100 million bribe from Guzman. Peña Nieto denied it, but the allegation fit a theme: politicians, army commanders, police and prosecutors, all on the take.

The tension at times was cut by some of the trial’s sideshows, such as the sight of Guzman and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, showing up in matching burgundy velvet blazers in a gesture of solidarity. Another day, a Chapo-size actor who played the kingpin in the TV series “Narcos: Mexico” came to watch, telling reporters that seeing the defendant flash him a smile was “surreal.”

While the trial was dominated by Guzman’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun and stayed one step ahead of the law, the jury never heard from Guzman himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.

But his sing-songy voice filled the courtroom, thanks to recordings of intercepted phone calls. “Amigo!” he said to a cartel distributor in Chicago. “Here at your service.”

One of the trial’s most memorable tales came from girlfriend Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez, who testified she was in bed in a safe house with an on-the-run Guzman in 2014 when Mexican marines started breaking down his door. She said Guzman led her to a trap door beneath a bathtub that opened up to a tunnel that allowed them to escape.

Asked what he was wearing, she replied: “He was naked. He took off running. He left us behind.”

The defendant had previously escaped from jail by hiding in a laundry bin in 2001. He then got an escort from crooked police officers into Mexico City before retreating to one of his many mountainside hideaways. In 2014, he pulled off another jail break, escaping through a mile-long lighted tunnel on a motorcycle on rails.

Even when Guzman was recaptured in 2016 before his extradition to the United States, he was plotting another escape, prosecutor Andrea Goldbarg said in closing arguments.

“Why? Because he is guilty and he never wanted to be in a position where he would have to answer for his crimes,” she told the jury. “He wanted to avoid sitting right there. In front of you.”

Crime

Neo-Nazi Holden Matthews Faces Prosecutors

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This booking image released by the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal shows Holden Matthews, 21, who was arrested Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in connection with suspicious fires at three historic black churches in southern Louisiana. Matthews faces three counts of simple arson of a religious building on the state charges. Federal investigators also were looking into whether hate motivated the fires. (Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal via AP)

OPELOUSAS, La. (AP) — The white man charged in the burnings of three Louisiana black churches faces a mountain of evidence tying him to the crimes, documenting the fires on his cellphone and an interest in arson on Facebook, the state fire marshal said Monday at a hearing that offered new insight into how officials tracked their suspect.


Holden Matthews bought a gas can and oil rags similar to those found at the site of the fires, he recorded a conversation with a friend in which he talked about using gasoline to burn churches, and his cellphone held images of the fires before law enforcement even arrived to the blazes, Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning testified at Matthews’ bond hearing.

The 21-year-old Matthews – the son of a sheriff’s deputy – entered a not guilty plea Monday via video conference from the St. Landry Parish jail, as prosecutors added new charges declaring the arsons a hate crime.

“There is a substantial amount of evidence, it appears,” state District Judge James Doherty said before denying Matthews’ bond request, keeping him in jail.

In his testimony for prosecutors, Browning outlined a litany of evidence that he said tied Matthews to the torching of the three black churches over 10 days.

The fire marshal described cellphone records placing Matthews at the fire locations. On his phone, Browning said, Matthews had images of the church fires in the early stages and the destruction days after the churches were set ablaze, in addition to copies of news reports about the fires.

“He actually superimposed himself on those news reports, claiming responsibility for these fires,” Browning said.

Video surveillance near the churches showed a truck similar to the one Matthews drives, Browning said. Matthews also exchanged text messages with a friend who asked about the fires: “Was that your work?” the fire marshal said.

In addition, Browning said Matthews posted on Facebook about and showed interest in a movie called “Lords of Chaos,” which Browning said is a recent Norwegian film that involved church burnings.

“The evidence we have was unequivocal,” Browning said. Later he added: “He has clearly demonstrated the characteristics of a pathological fire setter.”

The fires, all started with gasoline, occurred in and around Opelousas, about 60 miles west of Louisiana’s capital city of Baton Rouge.

The first blaze happened at the St. Mary Baptist Church on March 26 in Port Barre, a town just outside of Opelousas. Days later, the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas were burned. Each was more than 100 years old.

Matthews, who had no previous criminal record, was arrested Wednesday on three charges of arson of a religious building. Prosecutors filed documents Monday adding three more charges, accusing Matthews of violating Louisiana’s hate crime law, a link authorities had previously stopped short of making.

Browning said federal officials also are considering filing additional federal hate crime and arson charges against Matthews.

The churches were empty at the time, and no one was injured. But at one location, two occupants of a nearby home had to evacuate when the siding on the home started to catch fire from the church.

The fires set the community on edge. Gov. John Bel Edwards said the church burnings were a reminder “of a very dark past of intimidation and fear.”

Matthews, shackled and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, never spoke to the court during Monday’s hearing, letting his court-appointed lawyer enter the not guilty plea for him. His parents watched their son’s appearance on video conference from the courtroom, his dad repeatedly wringing his hands and, at one point, leaving the room in tears.

Matthews’ attorney Quincy Cawthorne questioned some of the evidence cited by Browning and said Matthews didn’t have the financial means to be a flight risk. He also objected to suggestions that the house near one of the churches was intentionally set on fire, putting the residents’ lives in danger.

A pretrial hearing in the case was set for July 17, with jury selection scheduled to begin in the trial on Sept. 10.

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City of Chicago Sues Actor Jussie Smollett For Costs Of Investigating His False Report

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The city of Chicago’s Law Department has filed Thursday a civil complaint against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett under the city’s false statements ordinance.


Smollett has refused to pay more than $130,000 to reimburse Chicago investigative costs and the city said last week it will sue him for the money as reimbursement for investigating what officials say was phony racist, anti-gay attack that Smollett staged.

“This follows his refusal to reimburse the City of Chicago for the cost of police overtime spent investigating his false police report on January 29, 2019,” the city said Thursday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s law chief sent Smollett a March 28 letter demanding he pay $130,106 — plus 15 cents — within seven days.

The City Law Department said in a  statement last week that Smollett had refused to pay, adding that it was already drafting a lawsuit in response and would file it “in the near future.”

“In reality, Defendant knew his attackers and orchestrated the purported attack himself,” the complaint reads. “Later, when police confronted him with evidence about his attackers, he still refused to disclose his involvement in planning the attack.”

The complaint also says Smollett told one of the Osundairo brothers, the initial persons of interest, before the alleged attack “he was unhappy with the way his employers handled the racist and homophobic letter he had allegedly received and as a result wanted to stage an attack.”

According to the complaint, Smollett texted one of the brothers that his flight was delayed and the attack needed to postponed. 

The complain also says Smollett positively ID’d his attackers in a still image during an interview with Good Morning America, but had previously told police he could not identify them.

“At no point did Defendant inform police that he knew his attackers or recognized their appearance or voices,” the complaint reads.

But Smollett “made further false statements claiming his only relationship with the Brothers was as trainers and acquaintances and that they could not have been his attackers,” the complaint reads.

(Reporting by NBCDFW)

Read the newly-filed lawsuit against Jussie Smollett below:

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Michael Avenatti Indicted on 36 Counts By Federal Grand Jury

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Attorney Michael Avenatti has been charged in a 36-count federal indictment alleging he stole millions of dollars from clients, did not pay his taxes, committed bank fraud and lied in bankruptcy proceedings.

Avenatti, 48, was indicted late Wednesday by a Southern California grand jury on a raft of additional charges following his arrest last month in New York on two related counts and for allegedly trying to shake down Nike for up to $25 million.

The attorney best known for representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump said Thursday on Twitter that he will plead not guilty to the California charges.

“I look forward to the entire truth being known as opposed to a one-sided version meant to sideline me,” he wrote.

The new charges do not include the New York extortion case alleging Avenatti demanded millions to stay quiet about claims he planned to reveal about Nike paying high school players. Avenatti has said he expects to be cleared in that case.

The 61-page Southern California indictment alleges Avenatti embezzled from a paraplegic man and four other clients and deceived them by shuffling money between accounts to pay off small portions of what they were due to lull them into thinking they were getting paid.

Avenatti, 48, is also charged with not paying personal income taxes, not paying taxes for his various businesses, including two law firms, and pocketing payroll taxes from the Tully’s Coffee chain that he owned, the indictment said.

Between September 2015 and January 2018, Global Baristas US, the company that operated Tully’s, failed to pay the Internal Revenue Service $3.2 million in payroll taxes, including nearly $2.4 million withheld from employees, the indictment said.

When the IRS put tax levies on coffee company bank accounts to collect more than $5 million, Avenatti had Tully’s employees deposit cash receipts in a little-known account, the indictment said.

Avenatti was also charged with submitting fraudulent tax returns to get more than $4 million in loans from The Peoples Bank in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 2014. The tax returns he presented to the bank were never filed to the IRS, prosecutors have said.

The charges are the latest major blow to a career that took off last year when Avenatti represented Daniels in her lawsuit to break a confidentiality agreement with Trump to stay mum about an affair they allegedly had.

Avenatti became one of Trump’s leading adversaries, attacking him on cable news programs and Twitter. At one point, Avenatti even considered challenging Trump in 2020.

But back home, his business practices had come under scrutiny from the IRS and a former law partner who was owed $14 million by Avenatti and the Eagan Avenatti firm, which filed for bankruptcy.

The indictment said Avenatti made false statements in bankruptcy proceedings by submitting forms under penalty of perjury that under reported income his firm received.

The most glaring example of deception and fraud was described in the indictment as scheming Avenatti allegedly did to deprive clients of money they were due from legal settlements or sales of stock and the actions he took to cover his tracks.

In a case involving one client, Avenatti allegedly funneled a $2.75 million settlement into his bank accounts and spent $2.5 million on a private airplane, the indictment said.

Although Avenatti was due a portion of settlement funds for his work, the charges said he paid only a fraction of the money clients were due in some cases and strung them along while they waited to be paid.

Avenatti allegedly drained a $4 million settlement he negotiated in 2015 on behalf of Geoffrey Johnson, who was paralyzed after trying to kill himself in the Los Angeles County jail, the indictment said. Johnson was referred to as “Client 1” in the indictment, but was named at a recent court hearing involving the money Avenatti was ordered to pay his former partner.

Until last month, Avenatti had only provided $124,000 over 69 payments to Johnson, the indictment said.

Two years after the settlement was reached, Avenatti allegedly helped Johnson find a real estate agent to buy a house. But when Johnson was in escrow to purchase the property, Avenatti falsely said he had not received the settlement funds, the indictment said.

In November, when the U.S. Social Security Administration requested information to determine if Johnson should continue to receive disability benefits, Avenatti said he would respond, but didn’t because he knew it could lead to the discovery of his embezzlement, the indictment said. The failure to respond led to Johnson’s disability benefits being cut off in February.

After Avenatti was questioned about the alleged embezzlement during a judgment-debtor examination in federal court March 22, the indictment said he fabricated a defense for himself.

Avenatti had Johnson sign a document a day or two later saying he was satisfied with his representation, which the lawyer told him was necessary to get the settlement that had in fact been paid four years earlier, the indictment said.

When asked by The Associated Press last month about Johnson’s case, Avenatti said his client approved all transactions and accounting and had been kept in the loop.

“He has repeatedly thanked me for my dedication to his case and the ethics I have employed,” Avenatti wrote in an email response.

Read the grand jury indictment against Michael Avenatti below:

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