Court Digest

Rhode Island
Ex-bookkeeper gets 5 years for stealing from law firm

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A former bookkeeper and office manager at a Rhode Island law firm who previously pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly three-quarters of a million dollars from her employer has been sentenced to five years in prison, federal prosecutors said.

Sarah Gaulin, 39, a former employee of the law firm of Hamel, Waxler, Allen and Collins, was also ordered Tuesday to pay full restitution, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Providence.

Gaulin pleaded guilty in October to stealing from her employer and also to lying on a bank mortgage application and fraudulently collecting nearly $20,000 in temporary disability insurance payments while she continued to work, prosecutors said.

According to prosecutors, she prepared and cashed law firm checks made payable to herself, made out firm checks payable to her own creditors, and prepared firm checks payable to credit card companies for personal expenses including rent, mortgage, and an automobile lease.

She also used more than 550 forged law firm checks to purchase nearly $300,000 worth of gift cards from Staples.

As part of the scheme that ran from January 2012 until May 2019 she forged the signature of a firm partner, authorities said.

South Dakota
Another lawsuit filed over abandoned mine in Black Hawk

BLACK HAWK, S.D. (AP) — Thirty people who lost their homes when the ground collapsed in a Black Hawk neighborhood and exposed an abandoned mine have now signed on to a lawsuit seeking compensation from the state of South Dakota.

The Hideaway Hills residents say the state mined underneath the entire neighborhood up until 1993 but failed to reclaim or warn buyers about the now-collapsing mine.

The lawsuit says that failure resulted in residents purchasing and living in homes that are both worthless and dangerous. Initially, about 40 people in 15 homes were forced to evacuate when the ground collapsed in April 2020 revealing a shallow gypsum mine.

“Hideaway Hills is essentially sitting upon ‘Swiss cheese’ as a result of the mining activities of the state,” the complaint said. “The land over the Gypsum Mine is collapsing” and “eventually all of it is going to collapse into the mine,” the Rapid City Journal reported.

“You could have a kid fall in a hole, you could have a school bus fall in a hole” or a collapse could cause a gas explosion, said attorney Kathleen Barrow of Fox Rothschild, a large national law firm.

Barrow said she suspected the mine was larger than previously thought because homes and roads outside of the collapse are experiencing small collapses and shifts in the ground and walls.

The lawsuit filed in Meade County is one of at least two that have been filed over the sinkhole and abandoned mine.

Sentence reduced for ex-cop convicted of abuse

BELLLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) — A former Bellingham police officer who was convicted of multiple crimes related to a years-long pattern of abusing a woman has had a little more than a year and a half taken off of his original prison sentence.

Former Cpl. Brooks Owen Laughlin, 36, was resentenced to 6? years in prison with three years probation this week in Whatcom County Superior Court, The Bellingham Herald reported. Laughlin will not be eligible to own firearms upon his release from prison and must attend anger management and mental health counseling, according to court records.

Laughlin was required to be resentenced after the Washington State Court of Appeals Division 1 overturned Laughlin’s convictions for one count each of felony stalking and misdemeanor harassment in December, according to court records.

The appeals court upheld Laughlin’s seven other convictions for three counts of felony-second degree assault, one count of felony harassment, two counts of misdemeanor violation of a no-contact order and one count of misdemeanor fourth-degree assault, court records show.

Former longtime prosecuting attorney David McEachran — who handled the resentencing as a special deputy prosecutor — said in court the amended sentence was a recommended agreement between the prosecution, defense and the victim.

Laughlin was originally sentenced to eight years in prison in Dec. 2018.

West Virginia
State Supreme Court sides with State Police in teen’s lawsuit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A circuit judge should have dismissed civil claims against West Virginia State Police by a teenager who alleged excessive force when he was beaten during a traffic stop while handcuffed, the state Supreme Court ruled.

The high court ruled 3-2 in sending the lawsuit back to Berkeley County Circuit Court. The justices acted on a State Police appeal of a judge’s 2019 denial to dismiss the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged State Police should be held responsible for its officers’ actions because the agency was negligent in its training and supervision.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Evan Jenkins, writing for the majority last week, said the teen failed to prove that state police should not be granted immunity from prosecution. Jenkins also wrote the lower court erred in considering dashcam footage that had not been properly introduced into the record.

The lawsuit stemmed from a November 2018 incident when the teen was involved in a crash with a sheriff’s cruiser. A pursuit ensued and the teen crashed again. Dashcam video captured what happened next: Two officers yanked the teen through the open driver’s side window to the ground, where he landed face-first. He was handcuffed before they kicked, stomped and punched him repeatedly.

The teen’s name has not been released.

In a dissent filed Monday, Justice William R. Wooton accused the majority of favoring form over substance in ordering the claims dismissed based on technical issues.

West Virginia State Police Troopers Michael Kennedy and Derek Walker were terminated in January 2019 after an internal investigation. Walker was reinstated in September 2020. Two sheriff’s deputies were fired but later reinstated.

In December 2019, Kennedy was acquitted of federal charges in the beating after U.S. District Judge Gina M. Groh ruled that prosecutors did not prove the trooper had acted willfully.

New Hampshire
Man accused in unlicensed virtual currency biz stays jailed

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A judge has ruled that a leader of a libertarian group and self-described minister in New Hampshire will remain jailed on charges that he ran an unlicensed virtual currency exchange business, saying that he’s a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Ian Freeman, 40, of Keene, has pleaded not guilty to charges of participating in a conspiracy to operate the business; wire fraud; money laundering; operating a continuing financial crimes enterprise; and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.

In her ruling late Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrea Johnstone said Freeman “has substantial financial resources.” He told court officers he gets $23,000 a month in income, and has $60,000 in a checking account.

FBI agents seized $178,000 from a bedroom safe. Among other assets, they identified about 28 Bitcoin — equivalent to about $1.6 million — that Freeman can access. The government indicated “these funds are almost impossible to trace and can be accessed anywhere,” Johnstone wrote.

She also wrote that Freeman allegedly built and oversaw “a wide-ranging criminal enterprise that misled financial institutions, enabled fraud, and allowed those engaged in criminal activity to exchange their ill-gotten gains for virtual currency.”

Freeman offered to surrender his passport and wear a monitoring device so he could be released. Johnstone said those proposals don’t “reasonably assure” his appearance at future court proceedings.

No ruling in case deciding fate of DACA program

HOUSTON (AP) — A federal judge did not immediately rule Tuesday on a closely watched case over the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which confers limited protections on hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought into the U.S. as children.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen set an early April deadline for lawyers on both sides to provide more information.

Texas heads a coalition of Republican-led states that want Hanen to invalidate the DACA program, instituted in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama.

Defending the program is the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the state of New Jersey.

DACA recipients are granted a two-year reprieve from deportation that can be extended and receive a work permit and a Social Security number. The more than 600,000 people currently in the program must meet several requirements, including having no criminal record. Immigrants who are accepted and later get arrested face deportation to their country of origin.

Hanen declined in 2018  to issue a preliminary injunction, saying Texas and other states had waited too long to sue. But in that ruling, he said he believed DACA was unconstitutional and called on Congress to enact legislation shielding people under the program, often known as “Dreamers.” Separate federal court rulings barred former President Donald Trump from ending the program and required him to reinstitute admissions.

But the program remains on potentially precarious ground. Lawyers for Texas on Tuesday pushed Hanen to quickly invalidate DACA. MALDEF has asked Hanen to delay any new order as President Joe Biden’s administration and Congress consider legislation addressing DACA recipients.

Proposals on Capitol Hill have already faced strong Republican opposition and the politics of immigration have been complicated by a sharp increase in border crossings by immigrant children unaccompanied by a parent. GOP lawmakers have alleged Biden’s limited reversal of Trump immigration restrictions have driven families to attempt to cross the border, though migrant families and experts interviewed by The Associated Press have offered a multitude of reasons.

Hanen noted that there had been dozens of failed proposals in the years since Obama enacted DACA.

Firm, exec indicted in Vegas school nurse wage-fixing case

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A health care staffing firm and its former representative have been indicted in a federal antitrust case alleging they fixed wages of nurses caring for medically fragile public school students in the Las Vegas area, U.S. authorities said.

Ryan Hee, a former manager of Advantage On Call LLC, and the company now called VDA OC LLC were accused in documents filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas of conspiring with an unnamed competitor not to recruit or hire each other’s employee nurses and not to grant nurses pay increases.

No attorney for Hee was identified in the court record, and contact information was not immediately found for him and VDA OC.

A representative of VDA OC successor company Cross Country Healthcare Inc. said Wednesday the charges against Hee and VDA OC do not involve Cross Country or its subsidiaries.

The events alleged in the indictment occurred between October 2016 and July 2017, company Counsel Susan Ball said, the month that Cross Country acquired assets of what had been Advantage On Call.

The competitor in the August 2013 contract was referred to in the seven-page indictment as “Company A.”

The case involves an August 2013 contract with the Clark County School District, the nation’s fifth-largest, with more than 300,000 students at 336 school campuses in an area almost the size of New Jersey.

The nurses hired by the two companies were to provide constant care to eligible students, according to the indictment, including classroom time, in hallways and during meals, bus rides, field trips and other school activities.

School district spokesman Mauricio Marin said Tuesday he didn’t immediately know the value of the contract or the number of medically fragile students it involved. The school district is not a party in the criminal case.

A court date was not immediately set on the charge of conspiracy in restraint of trade, a Sherman Act violation that can result in 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for Hee and a fine of $100 million or more for the corporation.

Hee is accused of declaring in a 2016 email to an unidentified representative of Company A about refusing to negotiate wage increases with district nurses: “If anyone threatens us for more money, we will tell them to kick rocks!”

Richard Powers, acting assistant Attorney General, said in a Justice Department statement that conspiring to allocate employees and fix wages “robs American workers of higher pay and the ability to bargain for better, higher-paying jobs.”