Court Digest

2 plead guilty in police overtime fraud scheme

BOSTON (AP) — One current and one former Boston police officer have pleaded guilty to charges connected to an investigation into overtime fraud at the department’s evidence warehouse, federal prosecutors said.

Officer Michael Murphy, 61, of Boston, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiracy to commit theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and embezzlement from an agency receiving federal funds, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston.

Murphy, between September 2016 and February 2019, left shifts early and claimed pay for more hours than he actually worked, prosecutors said. He collected more than $16,000 in pay he was not entitled to, prosecutors said.

He faces sentencing Oct. 7.

Former Boston police Sgt. George Finch, 59, of Franklin, pleaded guilty in a separate hearing to the same charges, prosecutors said.

Finch admitted that between July 2016 and February 2019 he submitted fraudulent overtime slips for overtime hours he did not work, collecting more than $11,000 in fraudulent overtime pay, authorities said.

He faces sentencing on Sept. 16.

A total of 12 current and former officers are charged in the scheme in which more than $250,000 was embezzled, prosecutors said.

Four plead guilty to multi-state dogfighting conspiracy

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Four people have pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting and conspiracy charges for their roles in an interstate dogfighting network spanning the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and New Jersey, a federal prosecutor said.

The four defendants and their co-conspirators participated in animal-fighting ventures from April 2013 through July 2018, said Raj Parekh, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in a news release.

In one instance in April 2016, three of the defendants met up with others at a store parking in King George, Virginia, and went to a fight location, the news release said. The three then participated in a “two-card” dogfight, in which there are two separate dogfights with different dogs and handlers. One of the dogs died from injuries suffered in the fight, court documents said.

Odell Anderson Sr. pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiracy to violate the animal-fighting prohibitions of the Animal Welfare Act and other charges, according to the news release. Emmanuel Powe Sr. pleaded guilty on May 10, and Chester Moody Jr. and Carlos Harvey each pleaded guilty to charges on April 28, the news release said.

Authorities said the case was prosecuted as part of Operation Grand Champion, which combatted organized dogfighting.

West Virginia
Feds: Nine men accused of online fraud scheme

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Nine men have been accused in West Virginia of participating in romance and other online scams that defrauded at least 200 people of more than $2.5 million, prosecutors said.

Grand jury indictments in federal court in Charleston charged the men with mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and receipt of stolen property. All nine men have been apprehended, prosecutors said in a news release Tuesday.

Two of the defendants lived in Huntington and Martinsburg, and two others lived in Washington, D.C. The others were from Columbus and Westerville, Ohio; Stone Mountain, Georgia; Beltsville, Maryland; and Omaha, Nebraska, the statement said. Six of the men were Nigerian citizens and two others were from Ghana.

According to the indictments, victims were coerced into sending money to various bank accounts controlled by the defendants from 2016 to 2020. Many of the victims were elderly, the statement said.

Judge orders early end to Blagojevich’s supervised release

CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday put an early end to the two-year period of supervised release of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whose 14-year prison sentence for corruption was commuted  by President Donald Trump.

U.S. District Judge Sara Ellis issued an order saying, “early termination of supervision is granted as to Rod Blagojevich.” Ellis noted the order was agreed to by prosecutors.

President Donald Trump commuted the 64-year-old Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence in February 2020. However, the then-president left intact Blagojevich’s two-year period of supervised release imposed by U.S. District Judge James Zagel.

FBI agents arrested then-Gov. Blagojevich in 2008 after wiretaps recorded him gushing about using his power to appoint someone to Barack Obama’s old Senate seat to land a well-paid job or campaign cash and trying to shake down a children’s hospital. He was convicted in 2011 on corruption charges.

“I didn’t do the things they said I did and they lied on me,” Blagojevich, a one-time contestant on Trump’s reality TV show “Celebrity Apprentice,” said as he walked through O’Hare International Airport after being freed following a yearslong lobbying effort b y his wife, Patti.

Since his release from the federal prison camp in Littleton, Colorado, Blagojevich has earned money by making videos on Cameo, a website where users pay for personalized video messages from celebrities. He has also hosted a weekly podcast called “The Lightning Rod” for WLS-AM radio.

New Jersey
Cop accused of running home meth lab will remain jailed

LONG BRANCH, N.J. (AP) — A veteran police officer accused of operating a methamphetamine lab at his home will remain jailed until his trial, a state appellate court judge ruled.

Christopher Walls, a 19-year veteran of the Long Branch force, was suspended without pay from his job following his May 15 arrest. City officials have said they plan to file disciplinary charges with the intent to fire Walls, though it’s not clear when that could happen.

A state Superior Court judge had ruled last week that Walls should be released pending trial, finding that Monmouth County prosecutors did not present enough evidence to overcome the presumption that Walls should be freed. Walls’ attorney, Peter O’Mara, said no drugs had been found on the property and claimed prosecutors did not have the evidence to support a charge like maintaining a drug manufacturing facility.

The judge stayed his order while prosecutors appealed it to the higher court. The appellate court ruling, which was made public late Tuesday, overturned that decision.

The lab was discovered when police responded to a domestic disturbance call at Walls’ home in Long Branch and someone there told officers about it, authorities have said. A state police hazmat team responded and found equipment and substances commonly used to make meth in the home’s basement and in a shed on the property, authorities said, along with books about making the drug, explosives and poison.

Authorities also found an open, unsecured gun safe with two long guns, four handguns, eight high-capacity magazines and ammunition inside. The safe was accessible to a child living in the home, police said.

Walls, 50, is charged with maintaining or operating a narcotics production facility, manufacturing and possessing methamphetamine, risking widespread injury, child endangerment and a weapons charge. He faces several decades in prison if convicted on all counts.

‘Stand your ground’ defense rejected in killing of iguana

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A judge has rejected the “stand your ground” defense of a Florida man who said he beat an iguana to death only after it attacked him, biting him on the arm.

PJ Nilaja Patterson, 43, must stand trial on a felony animal cruelty charge, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen ruled recently in denying the unusual defense, the South Florida SunSentinel reported.

The “stand your ground” law allows a person who is under attack and reasonably fears death or great bodily harm to use deadly force, even if they could retreat to safety. It has been used in several high-profile cases since it was adopted 16 years ago, but this might be the first time the recipient of deadly force was an animal.

Prosecutors say Patterson “savagely beat, tormented, tortured, and killed” the 3-foot (1-meter) iguana in a half-hour attack caught on surveillance video. Prosecutor Alexandra Dorman said that “at no time was the iguana posing any real threat” to Patterson last September and he “was not justified in his actions when he kicked this defenseless animal at least 17 times causing its death.”

Animal control officials said Patterson tormented the animal, which is why it bit him on the arm, causing a wound that required 22 staples to close. Under state law, people are allowed to kill iguanas, an invasive species, in a quick and humane manner. A necropsy, though, showed the iguana had a lacerated liver, broken pelvis and internal bleeding, which were “painful and terrifying” injuries, prosecutors contend.

But Patterson’s public defender, Frank Vasconcelos, wrote that the iguana was the aggressor when it “leaned forward with its mouth wide open and showing its sharp teeth, in a threatening manner” and attacked Patterson. Bleeding from his bite, Patterson “kicked the iguana as far as he could,” Vasconcelos said.

“Patterson believed that the iguana could have injected poison in him and thus he rushed to incapacitate the iguana the best way he could in order to preserve its antidote,” Vasconcelos wrote.

Iguanas are not poisonous and typically run when a human approaches.

“Any force used by Patterson in order to further avoid great bodily harm or even death was reasonably justified,” Vasconcelos wrote.

Judge Gillen rejected that argument. Patterson could get up to five years in prison if convicted.

Former Make-A-Wish Iowa CEO pleads guilty to theft of funds

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The former CEO of Make-A-Wish Iowa has pleaded guilty to charges of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the charity that supports sick children and their families.

Jennifer Woodley admitted in a written guilty plea last week that she made unauthorized charges on a foundation credit card, gave herself an unapproved bonus and salary increases and made false entries into foundation records related to those expenses.

Woodley, 40, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree theft and one count of fraudulent practices, all felonies. Under a plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend a sentence of five years of probation, along with fines and restitution.

A charging document alleges that Woodley’s embezzlement totaled nearly $41,000, but restitution has not yet been set.

Judge Scott Beattie accepted the guilty pleas Tuesday and scheduled a sentencing hearing for July 20.

Woodley’s attorney, Nicholas Sarcone, said that he would be asking for a deferred judgment at sentencing. If granted, that means the case would be dismissed if Woodley successfully completes her probation and the other parts of her sentence.

Based in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale, the Iowa group is one of 60 chapters of Make-A-Wish America, which provides support and memorable experiences for children with critical illnesses and their families.

The theft began shortly after Woodley became the group’s president and CEO in 2019 and continued until the group discovered financial irregularities during an internal compliance review last summer. That’s when the organization fired Woodley and sought a criminal investigation.

Woodley turned herself in to face the charges in January and has been free on bond.

Man accused of killing ex-wife found competent

PEABODY, Mass. (AP) — A judge ruled that a man accused of beating his ex-wife to death in 2015 is competent to stand trial.

Lawrence Superior Court Judge William Barrett decided on Friday that Joseph Buonanduci, 52, is able to participate in a trial, the Salem News reported.

Buonanduci is accused of murdering his ex-wife Donna Buonanduci when she came to his home to pick up some items and let him visit with the family dog. She was found dead in the home in Peabody hours after visiting, the newspaper reported.

Joseph Buonanduci also disappeared and police tracked him using his cellphone signal to New Hampshire. He led police in a vehicle chase, eventually crashing the car, killing the dog and injuring himself, the newspaper reported.

An attorney for Buonanduci, John Morris, has previously said he planned to defend his client by arguing Buonanduci was not responsible for his actions due to mental impairment from a stroke and alcohol use, the newspaper reported.

In his decision, the judge referenced a statement from a medical provider at Bridgewater State Hospital, a mental health facility run by the Department of Corrections. That provider said Buonanduci had said he did not want to be found competent so “I do not have to leave here.”