May 16, 2013
By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER
WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is investigating potential civil rights violations at the Internal Revenue Service after the agency acknowledged the agency had singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny, Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday.
Other potential crimes include making false statements to authorities and violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in some partisan political activities, Holder said.
“I can assure you and the American people that we will take a dispassionate view of this,” Holder told the House Judiciary Committee at a hearing Wednesday. “This will not be about parties, this will not be about ideological persuasions. Anybody who has broken the law will be held accountable.”
But, Holder said, it will take time to determine if there was criminal wrongdoing.
Holder announced a day earlier that the Justice department had opened a criminal investigation, joining three committees in Congress that are looking into the matter. As the investigation widened, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters he had this question: “Who’s going to jail over this scandal?”
“There are laws in place to prevent this type of abuse. Someone made a conscious decision to harass and to hold up these requests for tax exempt status,” Boehner said. “I think we need to know who they are and whether they violated the law. Clearly someone violated the law.”
Legal experts, however, said it could be difficult to prove that IRS officials or employees knowingly violated the civil rights of conservative groups. If there is a violation, the experts said, investigators can sometimes prove more easily that officials made false statements or obstructed justice in some other way.
“I think it’s doubtful that any of these knuckleheads who engaged in the conduct that gave rise to this controversy knowingly believed that they were violating the law,” said David H. Laufman, a former Justice Department lawyer. “But that remains to be seen. That’s what investigations are for.”
“It’s more likely than not that,” he said, “the conduct at issue here may constitute violations of IRS rules or standards or protocols or procedures but may fall short of what is necessary to constitute a criminal offense.”
Even if IRS agents broke criminal laws in targeting conservative groups, investigators may have to prove they knowingly did it, a high standard, said Brian Galle, a former Justice Department lawyer who teaches law at Boston College.
“If the reason they were pursuing them was in order to punish them for their political activity, there might be a First Amendment concern there,” Galle said. “On the other hand, if the reason that they were looking for tea party groups is because there had been press reports about this new group, the tea party, who was aimed primarily at getting more conservative people elected to office, then they were just responding to the evidence. It really depends on what their motives were.”
Wednesday’s hearing was the first of several in Congress that will focus on the issue.
The House Oversight Committee announced Wednesday that it would hold a hearing May 22, featuring Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS division that oversees tax exempt organizations, and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, whose five-year term ended in November.
The Senate Finance Committee announced a hearing for next Tuesday.
The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing Friday, featuring the acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller, and the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, J. Russell George.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Lerner misled him and his staff when they asked her about complaints from conservative groups that they were being harassed by the IRS.
“I know for a fact, Lois Lerner lied to me, she lied to our personal staff, she lied to committee staff, she lied in correspondence,” Jordan said.
Lerner learned about the targeting on June 29, 2011, according to a report Tuesday by the inspector general.
The report said ineffective management at the IRS allowed agents to improperly target tea party and other conservative groups for more than 18 months.
The report said that while their applications for tax exempt status languished, tea party groups were asked a host of inappropriate questions, including: Who are your donors? What are the political affiliations of officers? What issues are important to the organization, and what are your positions on those issues? Will any officers in the group run for public office? Where do you work?
The IRS started targeting groups with “Tea Party,” “Patriots” or “9/12 Project” in their applications for tax exempt status in March 2010, the inspector general’s report said. By August 2010, it was part of the written criteria used to flag groups for additional scrutiny.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said Wednesday that no union employees had been disciplined, as far as she knew. She noted that the IG's report said agents were not motivated by political bias.
Kelley told The Associated Press that low-level workers could not have specifically targeted conservative groups for long without the approval of supervisors. However, she noted, there are many levels of supervisors at the IRS.
“No processes or procedures or anything like that would ever be done just by front-line employees without any management involvement,” Kelley said. “That’s just not how it operates.”
Also Wednesday, the IRS released a list of 179 advocacy groups that had been approved for tax-exempt status as of May 9. The list includes both seemingly conservative and progressive groups, including the Nevada County Tea Party Patriots and Progress Texas. A total of 34 included the words “tea party” in their names.
“Progress Texas and the tea party strongly disagree on the role of government,” said a statement from Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas. “Yet, when we applied for tax-exempt status, Progress Texas received the same type of additional scrutiny that tea party groups are complaining about.”
The IRS also pushed back against one aspect of the inspector general’s report. The report said the chief counsel was briefed about conservative groups being targeted on Aug. 4, 2011.
The IRS, however, said in a statement that the meeting involved staff attorneys “several layers below” chief counsel William Wilkins.
“Wilkins did not learn about specific groups being singled out by name until earlier this year,” the IRS statement said.
By Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News
This week, Guyana’s main opposition party blasted the South African government for withdrawing a post-Apartheid award to a former Guyana president, saying the Caribbean nation did more than any in the hemisphere to fight white racism, including allowing Cuban planes with heavily armed troops to refuel there in the dead of night on their way to southern Africa.
Former Vice President Robert Corbin, an executive member of the People’s National Congress (PNC), which governed the country for 28 years until losing in 1992, called last week’s decision by the government in Pretoria to “indefinitely postpone” awarding the Order of the Companion of O.R Tambo to late Guyana President Forbes Burnham an insult, saying it should have been given to him decades ago.
“We did not beg for it. The fact that he is only now being recognized for all that he did for the liberation struggle in Southern Africa is in itself an insult, [and it’s insulting to] say it is being withdrawn,” said Corbin, who is the immediate past leader of the PNC.
Corbin said that Burnham’s Canada-based daughter and son-in-law were preparing to travel to Pretoria later this month to receive the award after being invited by authorities when they were told about its postponement because of his alleged involvement with the death of Guyanese academic Walter Rodney in 1980.
Rodney, who had taught in Africa and had authored the respected “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” was killed in a bomb blast in Guyana. Government critics back then had blamed the PNC—charges it has persistently denied.
A clearly angry attorney at law, Corbin argued that “no other leader in the Caribbean or hemisphere would have risked allowing Cuban planes with troops to fight Apartheid to land and refuel in Guyana during the Cold War era. Such was his commitment to the liberation struggle, but he did it and we can release that fact to the world now.”
He said that Burnham had also given Guyana passports and local addresses to hundreds of liberation fighters to allow them to travel undetected internationally and pointed out how the country donated $50,000 a year to the struggle to liberate Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and South Africa). Regardless, the award has been withdrawn.
“His contribution was outstanding and beyond match in the region and hemisphere, but frankly, it is an insult to even offer him the award after all these years,” said Corbin. “I would not have accepted it personally.”
By Maya Rhodan
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – For Malcolm Shabazz, grandson of Malcolm X, trouble seemed to come easy.
His troubles began in 1997, when at age 12 he plead guilty to setting fire to the apartment of his grandmother, Betty Shabazz, that resulted in her death in New York. As a result, young Malcolm spent four years in juvenile detention centers.
In 2003, he was back behind bars—this time as a result of an attempted robbery. And in 2006, it was for punching a hole in a donut shop wall in Yonkers, N.Y..
His troubles ended for good in Mexico City last Wednesday, when the 28-year-old was killed after being beaten outside of a bar, according to sources close to Shabazz.
Well-known publicist and family friend, Terrie Williams of New York, confirmed Malcolm’s death via Twitter and Facebook.
“I’m confirming, per US Embassy, on behlf of family, the tragic death of Malcolm Shabazz, grandson of Malcom X,” Williams tweeted.
Shabazz was reportedly traveling to Mexico City with RUMEC, a Mexican labor organization based in California, when he was beaten to death in an attempted robbery, according to Juan Ruiz, a member of RUMEC.
Ruiz, who spoke to the political news website, Talking Points Memo, was one of the first to get in contact with RUMEC leader Miguel Suarez, who was with Shabazz at the time of his death. Suarez had been deported to Mexico from the U.S. last month and Shabazz reportedly traveling to Mexico to support the labor rights activist.
Reporters from the Associated Press spoke to Suarez who said, Shabazz was beaten outside of a bar in downtown Mexico City, after the owner asked to two to pay a $1,200 bar tab for drinks, music, and dances with women inside the establishment.
The owners of the club hassled the two, demanding the cash, according to Suarezm and the two were separated—a man with a gun took Suarez into a room, Shabazz was left in the hall. Suarez reportedly managed to get away, and left the bar in a cab. When he came back, he told reporters, he found Shabazz outside of the bar.
“He was in shock. His face was messed up,” Suarez told the AP. “He was alive.”
Suarez later called the police and took Shabazz to the hospital, but Shabazz died soon after as a result of blunt-force trauma.
In a statement, the family of Shabazz expressed grief, but added that the slain 28-year-old can now rest “in peace in the arms of his grandparents and the safety of God.”
The stated released through Terrie Williams said, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved El Hajj Malcolm El Shabazz. To all who knew him, he offered kindness, encouragement and hope for a better tomorrow.”
In February, as he traveled to Iran, it was widely reported that Shabazz had been arrested by the FBI. Though the Shabazz family later deemed the news report untruthful, it didn’t come as a surprise given the record of Malcolm X’s namesake.
Like his grandfather Malcolm X, whose own young life was littered with troubles, Malcolm Shabazz was no stranger to the legal system.
When Malcolm was young his mother Qubilah, the second of Malcolm X’s six daughters, was charged with planning to murder Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan with her boyfriend. She believed Farrakhan played a role in the assassination of her father, a charge the Nation of Islam leader has consistently denied.
Though her charges were dropped and she was sent to a rehabilitation center in Texas instead of prison, Malcolm was sent to live with his grandmother in Yonkers, N.Y. at age 10.
Two years later, after an attempt at living with his mother in San Antonio failed, young Malcolm set fire to the apartment he and his grandmother shared. The fire that killed of Betty Shabazz, 61, the widow of Malcolm X.
Her grandson was considered schizophrenic and paranoid. He said he heard voices telling him to set things on fire. He was sentenced to 18 months in a juvenile detention center. The initial sentence led to Malcolm spending the next four years of his youth in and out of detention centers.
According to a 2003 New York Times profile, he joined a gang, sold drugs, and built a rapport among the street thugs of Manhattan. In 2002, he skipped bail after an arrest for an attempted robbery in Middletown, N.Y. and spent another three and a half years in the penal system, this time in Great Meadow Correctional Facility, a prison in Washington County New York, Malcolm was 18.
Malcolm told the Times of his plans for the future, as he studied Islam behind bars, again, like his grandfather before him. He is quoted as saying, “My name will bring attention. People know Malcolm Shabazz, whether you like me or not.”
He found inspiration in his grandfather’s life, as the two both got off to similarly rocky starts. “He didn’t know he was going to be Malcolm X. He didn’t know that,” Shabazz said in the 2003 New York Times interview. “But with me, I know what I want to do. I know what I want to be.”
According to the New York Amsterdam News, Shabazz was in the process of writing two books and was attending Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. He is survived by two daughters, his mother, and several aunts.
LAWT News Services
CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — Kobe Bryant and an auction house that wants to sell memorabilia from his high school days and early pro career are heading for a trial next month, unless they can work out a deal before then.
U.S. District Judge Renee Bumb on Monday set June 17 as a trial date, but also set a court-guided mediation session for Friday in a case that’s the manifestation of an ugly family dispute that all sides seem to want to resolve quickly.
“Maybe I should have had you bring your witnesses today and we would have tried the case,” Bumb said at a hearing. “You’re all so ready to go.”
The main reason she didn’t schedule the trial for an earlier date was that Bryant’s father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, said he could not get to a trial sooner because he’s coaching a Thai team in the Asian Basketball League playoffs.
The animosity became public earlier this month, shortly after Berlin, N.J.-based Goldin Auctions announced its plan to auction off Bryant's mementos, which date to his days at Lower Merion High School outside Philadelphia. Goldin’s April 30 announcement promised a June sale of 100 items provided by Bryant’s mother, Pamela Bryant.
The collection includes high school uniforms, signed basketballs, trophies and other items, to be auctioned off along with 900 other items. It gave Pamela Bryant a $450,000 advance, which she used to buy a home earlier this year in Las Vegas.
The same day the firm announced the auction, the NBA star’s lawyers sent Goldin a letter asking it not to hold the sale, arguing that the collection belonged to Kobe Bryant, not to his mother.
Since then, the auction house filed a lawsuit in New Jersey seeking the right to sell the materials.
Kobe Bryant has sued in California, saying that some of the items — a surfboard from the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards and a trophy — were last seen in his home there.
Several family members have submitted statements taking sides.
Joe Bryant, a former NBA player himself, and Kobe Bryant’s grandmother are siding with Pamela Bryant, saying that Kobe told his mother she could have the items.
Bryant’s sister, Sharia Washington, gave lawyers a statement supporting her brother.
The court filings also dredge up old troubles, including Pamela and Joe Bryant saying Kobe made them move out of his California home after he met the woman who would become his wife. Washington brought up other times when she said her mother wanted to make money off Kobe Bryant's name.
Though a trial date was set, there are several legal questions.
Bryant’s lawyer, Christian Carbone, said he may continue to argue that the case should be dealt with in California, though Judge Bumb said there is no reason not to handle it in New Jersey.
Also, Bumb said the case could be decided by a jury if either side demanded it. So far, though, neither side has done so.
A California judge last week ordered that Goldin not sell any of the items yet. Goldin’s lawyer, Jeffrey Cohen, said in court Tuesday that the auction house would voluntarily extend that ban on sales until after the matter is resolved.
Two items — 2000 NBA championship rings made for Pamela and Joe Bryant — are exempt from that order.
May 09, 2013
LAWT Staff and Wire Report
President Barack Obama nominated veteran Rep. Melvin Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the government regulator that oversees lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He also has chosen a former telecommunications lobbyist to head the Federal Communications Commission, the White House said.
Watt, a North Carolina Democrat who has been in Congress for 20 years, would replace Edward DeMarco, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, who has been a target of housing advocates, liberal groups and Democratic lawmakers.
Obama also has settled on Tom Wheeler, one of his top campaign fundraisers, to become the country's top telecommunications regulator. The president is expected to name FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to serve as acting chairwoman.
Senate confirmation is required for both posts.
“I commend President Obama on his nomination of Congressman Melvin 'Mel' Watt as director of the FHFA,” said Attorney General Kamala D. Harris on May 1 after the nomination.
“As Californians work to recover from the mortgage crisis, they need a strong director at FHFA who will be an advocate for homeowners and champion their rights. My number one priority has always been the welfare of Californians, and I am confident that Congressman Watt will advance policies that serve the best interest of working families in California and across the country. I look forward to working with him.”
Watt's nomination comes at a crucial time for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government-controlled mortgage-finance enterprises. The government rescued the companies at the height of the financial crisis in September 2008 as they teetered near collapse from losses on mortgage loans gone bad.
Taxpayers have spent about $170 billion to rescue the companies. So far, they have repaid $55.2 billion.
Fannie and Freddie together own or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million home loans. Those loans are worth more than $5 trillion. Along with other federal agencies, they back roughly 90 percent of new mortgages.
The nomination comes as the housing industry is making a comeback. Home prices are up, foreclosures are down and housing construction is on the rise. Moreover, Fannie Mae had its biggest yearly profit last year, earning $17.2 billion.
Watt, a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee and former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, played an influential role in the passage of a financial regulatory overhaul in 2010. That legislation, however, did not address the fate of the major mortgage lenders, an issue likely to come up during Obama’s second term.
His colleague Congresswoman Maxine Waters described Watt as “thoughtful, well informed, principled and fair.”
“I have worked very closely with Representative Watt for almost 20 years,” Waters said in a statement, also released May 1 after the nomination.
“We have served together on the House Financial Services Committee since 1994, where Mel is highly respected by colleagues on both sides of the aisle as a consummate legislator with the vision to see what Congress can do to help make people’s lives better and the determination to move a good bill through the legislative process. Representative Watt is always respectful of opposing viewpoints and can often find common ground when others can find none. He is accepting, open-minded and collaborative – and he gets things done.”
Watt represents the Charlotte area, home base of behemoth Bank of America Corp. He becomes yet another high-profile African-American and the second North Carolinian nominated by Obama in three days to a top government post. On Monday, Obama nominated Anthony Foxx, mayor of Charlotte, to head the Transportation Department.
Watt, who has a consistently liberal voting record, is expected to face Republican opposition to his confirmation and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was among the first to express disappointment.
The White House was already lining up supporters who might hold some sway with GOP senators.
“This gives new meaning to the adage that the fox is guarding the hen house,” Corker, a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, said in a written statement. “The debate around his nomination will illuminate for all Americans why Fannie and Freddie failed so miserably.”
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