February 13, 2014
NEW ORLEANS — Former News Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, best remembered for his impassioned pleas for help after the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina, was convicted Wednesday of accepting bribes in exchange for helping businessmen secure millions of dollars in city work, including after the devastating storm.
The federal jury found Nagin guilty of 20 of 21 counts against him, involving a string of crimes before and after the storm. He sat quietly at the defense table after the verdict was read and his wife, Seletha, was being consoled in the front row.
Before the verdict, the 57-year-old Ray Nagin said outside the New Orleans courtroom: “I’ve been at peace with this for a long time. I’m good.”
Sentencing was set for June 11. Nagin left the courthouse more than an hour after the verdict was read, and after U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan ordered that his bond be modified to provide for “additional conditions of electronic monitoring and home confinement.”
The Democrat, who left office in 2010 after eight years, was indicted in January 2013 on charges he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes — money, free vacation trips and truckloads of free granite for his family business — from businessmen who wanted work from the city or Nagin’s support for various projects.
The granite and some of the money came from developer Frank Fradella. More money came from another contractor, Rodney Williams, for Nagin’s help in securing city contracts. Convicted former city vendor Mark St. Pierre, who got a no-bid contract with the city in Nagin’s first term, provided trips to Jamaica and Hawaii.
A movie theater owner seeking tax breaks provided a trip to New York, prosecutors said. In a conspiracy count, prosecutors also said Nagin sought and got granite work for his business from a major retailer, identified in court as The Home Depot, while helping the retailer work out details related to the opening of a new store in post-Katrina new Orleans. The company was not accused of any wrongdoing.
Nagin had vehemently denied it all during several hours of testimony that spanned two days of trial. But the jury didn’t believe him. The only not-guilty verdict came on one count of bribery involving a portion of the money from Williams.
Nagin had testified that key witnesses lied and prosecutors misinterpreted evidence including emails, checks and pages from his appointment calendar linking him to businessmen who said they bribed him.
As Nagin and defense attorney Robert Jenkins left the courthouse Wednesday, walking with a throng of media, photographers and video cameras, Nagin could be heard saying: “I maintain my innocence.”
The defense repeatedly said prosecutors overstated Nagin’s authority to approve contracts. His lawyer said there is no proof money and material given to the granite business owned by Nagin and his sons, Stone Age LLC, was tied to city business.
The charges against Nagin included one overarching conspiracy count along with six counts of bribery, nine counts of wire fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy and four counts of filing false tax returns.
The charges carry a variety of maximum sentences ranging from three to 20 years, but how long he would serve was unclear and will depend on a pre-sentence investigation and various sentencing guidelines.
Jenkins said Nagin’s testimony didn’t hurt the case and that an appeal would be filed after sentencing.
The conviction wasn’t a surprise to Rainelle Smith, 64, of New Orleans, who said she voted for Nagin.
“I don’t believe he served the city as well as he should have,” she said. “He was supposed to come in and prevent the corruption the city was known for. We, in my family, thought of him as the ‘cleanup man.’ Instead he gets in office and he soiled it more.”
The charges resulted from a City Hall corruption investigation that had resulted in several convictions or guilty pleas by former Nagin associates by the time trial started on Jan. 27.
Fradella and Williams, both awaiting sentencing for their roles in separate bribery schemes alleged in the case, each testified that they bribed Nagin.
Nagin’s former technology chief, Greg Meffert, who also is awaiting sentencing after a plea deal, told jurors he helped St. Pierre, bribe Nagin with lavish vacation trips. St. Pierre did not testify. He was convicted in the case in 2011.
Associated Press writers Janet McConnaughey and Chevel Johnson contributed to this report.
LAWT News Service
A 21-year-old man was convicted February 11, of four counts of attempted murder for a shooting that wounded four people outside a Halloween party on the USC campus, prompting the defendant to flip over a chair in anger and beg deputies to shoot him. The nine-woman, three-man panel took less than three hours to reach its verdict against Brandon Spencer. Prosecutors told jurors that the October 2012 shooting was the result of a longstanding feud between Spencer and a rival gang member.
The defense maintained it was a case of mistaken identity, with Spencer's father contending his son was prosecuted in a rush to judgment to satisfy the University of Southern California and its donors. After Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Edmund Clarke Jr. thanked the jurors for their service and they filed out of the courtroom, Spencer reacted in anger and frustration, yelling expletives about a life in prison.
Then he yelled, ``Shoot me, I don't give a (expletive),'' as three deputies pushed furniture out of way and tried to restrain him.
``I love you dad,'' he hollered, before again asking the armed deputies to kill him. He struggled as court officers held him down, calling him by his first name and urging him to ``calm down'' as they got him handcuffed. He broke loose once more and three deputies pinned him to the ground as family members cried and called out to Spencer.
Clarke cleared the courtroom shortly afterward. Outside in the hallway, Spencer's father leveled charges of racism, telling reporters that his son was not a gang member and that prosecutors were driven by pressure from USC.
``(They) want to keep all these black men off the USC campus,'' James Spencer charged. ``This is just to satisfy USC.”
The elder Spencer said jurors were not allowed to hear that his son was a licensed security guard, and said his son had enrolled at UCLA to begin studying to be an emergency medical technician. Deputy District Attorney Antonella Nistorescu told jurors during her closing argument that the defendant was a ``documented, well-known'' gang member who had been shot in the stomach in August 2011 by an unidentified rival gang member. She said Spencer was seeking vengeance when he fired at reputed gang member Geno Hall outside the party at USC. Hall, a former Crenshaw High School football standout, testified that he had just been talking to his girlfriend when he was shot and didn't know who did it or why.
``Gang members don't snitch, they don't talk to the police ... even rivals,'' Nistorescu told the jury.
Three other witnesses testified that it was Spencer who shot Hall and three others: Mysson Downs, Thomas Richie and Davonte Smith. The prosecution used tweets that had been sent on Spencer's phone as evidence of his gang links, while defense attorney John Blanchard countered that ``the younger generation likes to trash talk.'' The prosecutor pointed to the fact that Spencer pulled off his shirt in the wake of the shooting as evidence of his guilt. But Blanchard said his client pulled off his red shirt to avoid sporting gang colors.
``When he heard gunshots, deja vu, nightmare relived, he's going to run,'' Blanchard said.
The shirt was tied to Spencer via DNA, but there were no fingerprints on the gun found by police and DNA evidence was inconclusive. The gunfire broke out near a party sponsored by the Black Student Assembly and attended by about 400 people. Neither Spencer nor any of the four victims were USC students.
Blanchard said he would file an appeal, citing what he said were contradicting statements by the three eyewitnesses. Blanchard told jurors during his closing argument, ``When you consider all the evidence, the huge inconsistencies and holes ... it's called reasonable doubt, ladies and gentlemen.''
However, Nistorescu countered that the three agreed that Spencer was the shooter, telling jurors they should expect disagreements on smaller details of the shooting. Spencer, who is being held without bail, is due back in court on Feb. 21 for sentencing. He is facing a possible life sentence, as jurors also found true gang and gun allegations.
``He's destroyed,'' his father said.
By Margaret Summers
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer
Although food stamps can only be used to purchase food, the GOP believes food stamps create welfare dependency.
One of five children in the U.S. lives in poverty, according to a new report from a children’s advocacy organization.
The report, conducted by Children’s Defense Fund, also found that one in every 10 children, or 7.1 million children, is extremely poor.
“We are in a very dangerous time right now,” Dr. Marian Wright Edelman, the organization’s president and founder, told an audience of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. members at a recent legislative conference in D.C. “If [African-American women] don’t stop our children’s backward slide, no one else will.”
The report — “The State of America’s Children 2014″ — is produced annually by the nonprofit advocacy organization for children and families. This year’s report said that in five years, children of color in the U.S., who are disproportionately poor, will comprise the majority of all children in the U.S. These economically disadvantaged and undereducated young people will grow up to be the nation’s consumers, workforce and military, it noted.
Edelman said she is especially alarmed at the “cradle-to-prison pipeline” trend, in which growing numbers of impoverished African-American children, particularly males, become involved in the juvenile justice system and ultimately end up in adult penitentiaries.
“The prisons are full of our sons,” she said. “One in three black boys born in 2000 will go to prison. Imprisonment is becoming the new American apartheid.”
The report details how poverty results in hunger and homelessness among poor U.S. children. Roughly 1.2 million public school students were homeless from 2011 to 2012, 73 percent more than before the recession. More than one in nine children lacked access to adequate food in 2012, a rate 23 percent higher than before the recession.
“This summer we’ll be facing a serious child hunger problem,” Edelman said. “There will be a [huge] drop in summer school free breakfasts and lunches. I’ve heard stories about how sometimes when Mississippi school buses are late taking children to school, the children cry because they missed the free school breakfast.”
The summer feeding program in the schools provides nutritious meals to young people, the only source of food all day for many of them. The program is also a source of employment for many adults, but not all states make use of the program, Edelman said.
“There is a special need for these programs in poor rural areas of the country,” she added.
A substandard education is another major barrier to overcoming poverty.
“Eighty percent of our black children in fourth and eighth grade can’t read at grade level,” Edelman said. “Our children are being sentenced to social and economic death.”
The report says that in six states — Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin — at least half of African-American children are poor, and nearly half the states had African-American child poverty rates of 40 percent or more.
“How can [House Speaker] John Boehner (R-Ohio) represent a state where 50 percent of its African-American children are poor and do nothing about it?” asked Edelman.
She told the sorority audience that it was not only important to lobby their representatives and senators to pass legislation that ends childhood poverty, but to meet with them in their home districts.
“When Congress members hear from you back home, it will really scare them,” she said.
To illustrate how effective women can be in getting measures passed to lift children out of poverty, Edelman discussed a favorite analogy of her hero, slave abolitionist and feminist Sojourner Truth.
“In describing the political power of minorities, Sojourner often talked about fleas,” she said. “She would say that enough fleas biting strategically can fell the biggest dog. They are small but indestructible, and they keep reproducing. This is a lesson for all of us. We have to be disciplined, focused, strategic ‘fleas.’”
“The State of America’s Children 2014″ can be read at and downloaded from the Children’s Defense Fund website at www.childrensdefense.org.
By Princess Manasseh
LAWT Contributing Writer
In a packed ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel Wednesday, February 5, the National Action Network (NAN) held its inaugural Black History Month Awards Luncheon.
NAN founder and president, Reverend Al Sharpton who hosted the event was careful to recognize the day as also being the birthday of the late Trayvon Martin, who would have been 19 years old.
The afternoon’s honorees were Danny Bakewell Sr., publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel; Honorable Aja Brown, mayor of Compton, CA; Jon Platt, president North America, Warner/Chappell Music; Reverend Xavier L. Thompson, pastor, Southern Missionary Baptist Church; and Randy Falco on behalf of Univision Communications Inc.
Irving “Magic” Johnson helped to get the program started. The former Laker received a warm welcome from the crowd as he took to the podium.
“I have to first of all apologize to the Rev for being late,” Johnson told the guests, “but I was downtown, I just bought the Sparks Basketball team,” he announced to roaring applause. “I just cut the press conference short, because I told them I promised Reverend Sharpton I’d be here!”
A video presentation of some of the work and achievements of NAN played as lunch was served. Following the video Rev. Sharpton addressed the crowd, welcoming a few special guests in the audience. Rev. Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray who Sharpton described as “walking Black history”, “God Father” Clarence Avant, businessman and mobilizer J. Anthony Brown, and Rev. Sister Omarosa, were among those mentioned.
Next, came time to present the awards to the afternoon’s honored guests.
“Today we initiate these Black History Month honors with the National Action Network because Black history is not something in the past,” Reverend Sharpton related. “We reduce history too often as something that happened, rather than what continues to happen. Black history is living, and we want to honor those that help to make history now. “
President of North America Warner/Chappell Music Jon Platt was one of those Sharpton described as currently making history. First to receive his award, Platt “has risen as a giant in an industry that many Blacks have never been able to reach [such a] level of achievement and accomplishment,” said the Reverend of the executive side of the music industry.
Next Rev. Sharpton introduced Compton’s newly elected Mayor Aja Brown, the youngest the city has ever seen.
“We honor a lady now who has made a difference. Around the country Compton was known in a negative , now we have a mayor who has begun turning that around,” he said of Brown who accepted her award with honor and humility, expressing great pride at being awarded amongst “such powerful individuals.”
“Mayor Aja Brown believes in the resurrection. A women who has taken a city that had surrendered to despair, and took it to a place where people are looking upward.”
Reverend Xavier Thompson received his award to heavy applause and cheers as many community members whose lives he has personally touched were in attendance, along with his family and expectant wife.
President and CEO of Univision Randy Falco accepted the award on behalf of the communications company. Reverend Sharpton stressed the importance of Black and Brown coalitions and Falco echoed his sentiments.
Of the five honorees, Sentinel Publisher Danny Bakewell Sr. was the only civil rights era activist, a fact Reverend Sharpton was deliberate in pointing out.
“I have marveled at him because California is not an easy place to organize,” the Revered noted. Sharpton commended Bakewell for being on the “front lines” in community activism over the years, while simultaneously making business work so as “not to have to beg from those he had to confront.” “He’s the quintessential renaissance man of the civil rights movement around this country,” proclaimed Sharpton before inviting Bakewell up to receive the award.
The luncheon is intended to be the first of an annual recognition of community leaders and corporations who are actively making Black history.
February 06, 2014
LAWT Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — Eight Los Angeles police officers violated department policy when they mistakenly riddled a pickup truck with bullets, injuring two women, during a manhunt last year for cop-turned-killer Christopher Dorner, a civilian oversight board announced Tuesday.
Police Chief Charlie Beck and Alex Bustamante, inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Commission, independently recommended that shooting be ruled out of policy, commission President Steve Soboroff said. He did not provide further details.
Beck will decide disciplinary measures for the officers, who were assigned to non-field duties during an LAPD investigation. Possible measures include reprimands, suspensions or even firings.
Last year, the city paid the women $4.2 million to settle a claim. That was in addition to a separate $40,000 settlement for the loss of their truck.
The Police Commission determination didn’t surprise Glen Jonas, their attorney.
“There (are) 4.2 million reasons I have to believe it’s out of policy,” he said. “Anyone with any common sense would agree it's out of policy.”
Dorner, a fired Los Angeles police officer, claimed he was unfairly dismissed and vowed revenge against law enforcement officers in a rambling online manifesto.
He killed the daughter of a former LAPD police official along with her fiance and two law enforcement officers over 10 days before being cornered and killing himself in a burning mountain cabin in San Bernardino County.
On Feb. 7, 2013, Los Angeles police guarding the Torrance home of a target named in Dorner’s manifesto opened fire on a pickup truck they thought was Dorner's.
It actually contained two women delivering newspapers.
The pickup was riddled with more than 100 rounds while 30 to 40 shots hit the walls, windows and garages of nearby homes, Jonas said.
Emma Hernandez, 71, was shot in the back and her daughter, Margie Carranza, suffered minor injuries. Hernandez recovered except for some slight shoulder problems but neither woman returned to work, Jonas said, adding that Carranza tried but “it was too traumatic for her.”
“The emotional and mental trauma is still there and they’re still dealing with that,” he said.
The shooting occurred hours after Dorner opened fire with an assault rifle on two Los Angeles police officers who had stopped his pickup in the Riverside County city of Corona.
During the resulting gun battle, one officer was grazed and the other was sprayed with shattered glass. Donner fled and a short time later shot two Riverside police officers, killing one.
“Both of these incidents were tragic for all involved, the officers who were injured in the first incident and the innocent women injured in the incident in the City of Torrance,” Soboroff said in a statement. “As in all use of force incidents, the department has completed a thorough review and will adopt the lessons learned, both good and bad from these incidents.”
Soboroff said the Police Commission followed Beck’s recommendation that the lethal use of force in Torrance was out of policy, making its determination after nearly three hours of discussion and months of investigation by the Police Department.
The same day that the women’s pickup was shot up in Torrance, a police officer in that Los Angeles suburb opened fire on another pickup truck.
Torrance police Officer Brian McGee believed Dorner was in the truck when he rammed it and opened fire, according to Los Angeles County prosecutors who determined that his use of force was reasonable and declined to file criminal charges. McGee has not been disciplined by his agency.
David Perdue of Redondo Beach, who was on his way to surf, wasn’t shot but suffered head and spinal injuries. The city of Torrance paid him $20,000 for the damage to his truck and he has filed a federal lawsuit.
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