September 2015: A Month of Evolving Issues in the Criminal Realm in NY & Beyond

Bronx District Attorney and Appellate Judge Ballot Controversy

Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson was recently nominated for a New York State Supreme Court position and gave his spot on the upcoming November ballot for the Bronx District Attorney to Justice Darcel D. Clark of the New York State Appellate Court. Mr. Johnson was voted unanimously by delegates for an open state Supreme Court position. Soon thereafter, the Bronx Democratic County Committee’s executive board voted to give Mr. Johnson’s spot on the ballot for Bronx District Attorney to Justice Darcel D. Clark. As a result of this ballot entry, government accountability groups are upset since Mr. Johnson said he wanted a judgeship after the primary which results in county leaders selecting a ballot replacement. There has been resulting criticism of Mr. Johnson for his late decision to change positions but Mr. Johnson has defended himself speaking about his long years of public service and need for a job to transition into in order to silence his critics.

Transparency vs. Surveillance—Law Enforcement’s use of the StingRay is Creating a Difficult Balance

In recent years, U.S. law enforcement officials have been relying more on the StingRay electronic surveillance device in tracking criminals although there is unclear legal precedent regarding the device’s use. In some states, police are required to get a court order and local consent before using the device. In practical terms, StingRays are similar to cellphone towers and force mobile phones in the immediate area to connect to the StingRay thus giving police immediate tracking ability. After recent scrutiny of the device by Congressional members, the U.S. Department of Justice has announced new guidelines that require federal agents to obtain search warrants before using a StingRay. However, the true extent of proper use of a StingRay remains to be seen in light of unclear legal precedent from the state and federal level with no U.S. Supreme Court case yet on point regarding the device’s use.

False “Attorney” dupes numerous clients in Brooklyn before being unraveled

An “attorney” has been recently uncovered in Brooklyn for operating a fake law practice after coming under initial scrutiny in 2014. The “attorney”, Mikhail Perlov, recently admitted to officials that he made clients think he is a licensed attorney. While acting as an “attorney”, Mr. Perlov posted advertisements in a Russian newspaper where he stated he was a licensed attorney in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Mr. Perlov advertised that he practices in criminal law and family law, amongst other legal specialties. Recently a court found Mr. Perlov engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, false advertising, fraud, and deceptive trade practices and has been ordered to stop “practicing” law and to refund at least $52,000 to his former clients.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara-Widening the Net in Albany

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, has prevailed on nine cases against various New York State lawmakers since taking the position in 2009 when appointed by President Obama. Currently, in two cases set for November trials, Mr. Bharara is working to obtain criminal convictions against former state assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and former state senate majority leader Dean Skelos. In addition, Mr. Bharara is currently investigating $1 billion in funding provided by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo to help revive Buffalo. Only time will tell what new criminal cases or investigations the U.S. Attorney for SDNY will undertake in his remaining years in office.

New State Court Opens in Staten Island seven years after groundbreaking but leaving concerns

Staten Island’s $230 million new court site, housing the state Supreme Court and Criminal Court, opened on September 28th. The new facility is approximately 180,000 square feet with magnificent views of Manhattan and Brooklyn and is the first freestanding courthouse in Richmond County to open in more than 80 years. The initial ground-breaking for the newly opened facility took place in September 2008 with an original anticipated completion date of August 2012. However, problems with materials, bidding, and Hurricane Sandy pushed back the facility’s completion. On the other hand, the court’s recent opening and new technology has created concern about the use of cameras in the facility as no other courts within New York City have cameras in interview booths in the arraignment areas. These concerns are currently being explored and will likely be resolved in the near future.

Bitcoin Ponzi Scheme— Man Pleads Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court

Mr. Trendon Shavers recently pled guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn in New York federal court to securities fraud regarding a Bitcoin-related Ponzi scheme. Mr. Shavers created and ran Bitcoin Savings and Trust (“BCS&T”) where he sold Bitcoin related investments through the Internet to clients. As a result of Mr. Shaver’s efforts, he was able to obtain approximately 146,000 Bitcoins in BCS&T investments, which is approximately $807,380 in present day dollars. After his guilty plea, Mr. Shavers will be sentenced before U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan on February 3, 2016.

U.S. Attorney announces criminal charges against GM for faulty ignition switch

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and related parties announced the filing of criminal charges against General Motors (“GM”) for the production and sale of a faulty ignition switch in many of its vehicles. Affected vehicles include the 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt; the 2005-2007 Pontiac G5; the 2003-2007 Saturn Ion; the 2006 & 2007 Chevrolet HHR; the 2007 Saturn Sky; and the 2006 & 2007 Pontiac Solstice. The relevant charges against GM include concealing a safety defect from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 2012 through 2014 and misleading consumers regarding important safety aspects of the relevant vehicles. As a result of the faulty ignition switch, GM has acknowledged a total of 15 deaths to date in addition to numerous injuries.

Volkswagen Emissions Fallout—Are Criminal Charges Probable?

After Volkswagen (“VW”) recently admitted to installing software for cheating emissions tests, it is highly likely that VW will face numerous civil and criminal charges. In a recent Brooklyn news conference, the head of American VW Operations admitted that the company was “dishonest” and “totally screwed up” regarding this matter. Now the question is what charges will be placed upon VW and which individuals within the company will be held responsible. Under current law, the E.P.A. can impose civil penalties of up to $37,500 for every vehicle sold which violates the Clean Air Act. In Volkswagen’s case, this could amount to a total penalty of about $18 billion which is calculated on the sale of approximately 500,000 defective vehicles. This probable penalty and others are still being plotted by attorneys regarding VW’s faulty emissions reporting in thousands of its vehicles.

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