Court Digest

New York
‘Twilight’ backer gets 5 years in prison for fraud

NEW YORK (AP) — A tech entrepreneur who invested in the film studio that made the “Twilight” movies was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison for his fraud conviction.

Omar Amanat, 48, was sentenced in Manhattan federal court by Judge Paul G. Gardephe.

Amanat, who once boasted on his website of having helped make 30 movies through his stake in Summit Entertainment, which produced films including “The Hurt Locker” and the “Twilight” films, was convicted of conspiracy, wire fraud and other charges in 2017 after a two-month trial. The conviction stemmed from his role in the technology startup Kit Digital.

In a release, U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said Amanat defrauded investors of millions of dollars through years of lies and deceit.

She said the fraud included manipulating stock prices and hiding investment losses through years of false account statements. The fraud stretched from 2010 to 2012.

“When finally caught, Amanat doubled down on his lies by introducing fake emails into the trial record as ‘exculpatory’ evidence. Neither the Government nor the jury was fooled,” Strauss said.

Before the sentence was announced, Amanat apologized to the fraud victims.

State to pay $2.2M in legal costs in child welfare lawsuit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge ruled on Thursday that Kansas must pay more than $2.2 million in attorney fees to the groups that filed a lawsuit over problems in the child welfare system.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree also ordered the state to pay more than $72,000 in expenses.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families said in an emailed statement after the decision that it “continues to focus on improving services for youth in foster care. This has been our priority even before the settlement.” The agency said it was reviewing Thursday’s ruling and would have no further comment at this time.

Crabtree approved a settlement to the lawsuit in January, saying at the time that it provided a real value to the more than 7,000 children in the foster care system  and addressed the need to end extreme housing disruption and inadequate mental health care.

But the parties had continued to wrangle over attorney fees and other legal expenses.

The judge wrote in a 58-page opinion that the plaintiffs prevailed and were entitled to recover those costs. However, he substantially pared down the more than $3.7 million that the plaintiffs had initially requested for attorney’s fees and the almost $115,000 they wanted for expenses.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in 2018 by Kansas Appleseed, Lori Burns-Bucklew, Children’s Rights and the National Center for Youth Law against the Kansas Department for Children and Families and others.

Prosecutors: 8 people indicted in $467K fraud case

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — Eight people, including a former deputy clerk for a Georgia county court, have been indicted on various charges including bank and wire fraud, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

A federal grand jury indicted the group on Aug. 11. The document was unsealed Wednesday.

It charges Willie Demps, 63, of Phenix City, Alabama, with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, 35 counts of wire fraud and 34 counts of interstate transportation of stolen property.

Demps worked for the Muscogee County clerk’s office in neighboring Georgia for about 30 years where he supervised monetary deposits received by the clerk’s office. He is accused of making checks from the clerk’s office payable to various codefendants in the case. The codefendants would then cash the checks and return the money to Demps, who allegedly would give the participants in the scheme a portion of the money.

It is alleged that from January 2019 to November 2019, Demps and his co-defendants cashed at least $467,331 in checks stolen from the Muscogee County Clerk’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia said. That money came from fines collected for felony and misdemeanor criminal offenses, forfeitures resulting from criminal activities, and certain monies received from condemnation accounts.

If convicted, Demps faces up to 30 years on the conspiracy charge, up to 20 years on each of the wire fraud charges and up to 10 years on each of the interstate transportation charges. He is scheduled to appear Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles in Columbus.

Also indicted were four residents of Columbus, another from Lawrenceville, Georgia, and two others from Smiths Station, Alabama.

It was not known if Demps had an attorney who could comment on the charges.

Fight over teen skier’s death in avalanche ends

DENVER (AP) — The Colorado Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by the family of a 13-year-old skier who was killed in an inbounds avalanche at Vail ski resort.

The court’s decision effectively ends the nearly decade-long fight by the parents of Taft Conlin, the Eagle teen who was killed after entering an open lower gate on the Prima Cornice run in January 2012 and sidestepping up a ridge to terrain below a closed upper gate, The Colorado Sun reported Wednesday. The boy’s parents, Louise Ingalls and Steve Conlin, argued that Vail should have done more to close the run.

Jurors in Eagle County District Court ruled in 2018 that Vail had properly closed the upper run. But Taft’s parents argued that the boundaries of the closure were unclear, and the resort violated the Ski Safety Act by not closing both entrances to Prima Cornice.

The case marked one of the few times the safety act was tested in a jury trial. Most lawsuits challenging the legislation are dismissed well before trial. The Colorado Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case follows a 2020 ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals that affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the negligence lawsuit.

Woman sentenced to 25 years in hate attacks on 2 kids

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A white Iowa woman who said she drove her SUV into two children in 2019 to try to kill them because of their race was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison on federal hate crimes charges.

Nicole Poole Franklin had already been sentenced to up to 25 years, including a mandatory minimum of 17 1/2, on state attempted murder charges in the Dec. 9, 2019, attacks in Des Moines.

In a separate federal proceeding, U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose sentenced Poole Franklin on Thursday to 304 months in prison, or 25 years and four months. Poole Franklin, 43, pleaded guilty  to two federal hate crimes charges in May.

The sentence will run concurrently with the state punishment but ensure she will be incarcerated for longer, since the federal system does not have parole.

Prosecutors asked for a 27-year sentence in a filing last week, saying Poole Franklin targeted a 12-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl because of their race and ethnicity. Both were walking down the street near their schools.
Federal sentencing guidelines had recommended a term of 30 years to life.

Prosecutors say she first drove over a curb and struck the 12-year-old Black boy, saying she ran him over because he’s “just like ISIS” and “he’s not supposed to be there and he’s going to take me out.” She narrowly missed the boy’s older sibling who was walking alongside him.

Minutes later, Poole Franklin drove up over a sidewalk, prosecutors said, striking a 14-year-old Latina girl, who had bruises, cuts and a concussion. Poole Franklin said she targeted the girl because she thought she was Mexican, was taking over “our homes, and our jobs” and “wasn’t supposed to be in the country,” the filing said.

Poole Franklin fled after both crashes and was later arrested after going to a gas station where she called an employee and customers racial epithets.

“Holding Poole Franklin accountable, not only for her intentional actions, but for the malicious beliefs behind them, is what our justice system should be, and a must to provide just punishment, afford adequate deterrence, and protect the public from further crimes by this defendant,” prosecutors wrote.

Poole Franklin’s public defender asked Rose for nothing longer than a 27-year term. He argued in a filing that she was suffering from “severe pre-existing mental illnesses that were exacerbated by methamphetamine use, numerous extremely difficult life events hitting at nearly the same time, and with some of the worst aspects of the culture acting behind the scenes and further poisoning her mental state.”

Before the hate crimes, Poole Franklin had received a series of breaks from the legal system, including after she allegedly stabbed a boyfriend in the chest in 2017 and threatened another with a butcher’s knife months later.

North Dakota
Navy vet convicted in gruesome killing of 4 people

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A jury found a chiropractor and Navy veteran guilty Friday in the gruesome killings of four people at a North Dakota property management firm two years ago.

Jurors returned guilty verdicts on all counts against Chad Isaak, who was charged in the April 1, 2019, deaths of RJR Maintenance & Management co-owner Robert Fakler, 52, and co-workers Adam Fuehrer, 42, and spouses Bill and Lois Cobb, 50 and 45.

Isaak 47, of Washburn, whose mobile home is on property managed by RJR, pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder and three other counts. He faces life in prison without parole.

A jury of six men and sex women deliberated for four and a half hours before finding Isaak guilty following the three-week trial.

It was one of the most heinous crimes in North Dakota history, defense attorney Bruce Quick acknowledged in his opening statement. Three of the victims were shot and stabbed at the business in Mandan, a city of about 20,000. Combined, the four of them were stabbed about 100 times.

Quick said during the trial that the case amounts to a rush to judgment based on bad information that led to the wrong conclusion. The defense rested its case Wednesday.

Prosecutor Karlei Neufeld described the horrific crime scene during the trial and said evidence that included photos, surveillance video, bullet fragments, a knife and other items found during searches of Isaak’s home and vehicle led to the defendant.

Prosecutors presented the case as a puzzle in which all of the pieces pointed to Isaak, including a knife found in his clothes washer, gun parts found in his freezer and the security camera footage tracking his pickup.

BCI Supervisory Special Agent Arnie Rummel testified that investigators were not able to determine a possible motive, but that isn’t a requirement for a conviction.

The defense maintained that authorities overlooked numerous possible suspects. Isaak’s attorneys also questioned the sourcing, collection and processing of evidence; said some testimony doesn’t match police reports; and questioned the absence of visible blood on the clothing of a person seen in security camera footage leaving RJR the morning of the killings.

Prosecutors last week showed security camera footage from numerous businesses that authorities say tracks Isaak’s white pickup from Mandan to Washburn the day of the slayings, along with footage from a week earlier that they say indicates the killer planned out the attack.

Forensic experts testified earlier that fibers on the clothing of the slain workers were matches for fibers taken from Isaak’s clothing, and that DNA evidence found in Isaak’s pickup truck was linked to Fakler and possibly also to Lois Cobb.

Kyle Splichal, who worked at the North Dakota State Crime Lab in 2019, said the odds were 1 in 482 billion that anyone other than Fakler could have the profile developed from samples found in Isaak’s pickup. The samples might also have included some of Lois Cobb’s DNA, he testified.

Man pleads guilty to threatening Biden, Congress

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A Tulsa man has pleaded guilty to sending emails to a Tulsa television station threatening to kill President Joe Biden, members of Congress and their families.

Court records show John Jacob Ahrens, 58, pleaded guilty Thursday to threatening the president and two counts of interstate communication with a threat to injure.

In a signed statement, Ahrens said he had no plea agreement, but pleaded guilty on his attorney’s advice in hopes of a lenient sentence.

“My attorney told me I was unlikely to prevail at trial and that entering a plea of guilty and taking responsibility for my actions would likely result in lesser punishment,”

He faces up to 15 years in prison when sentenced, according to the document. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 22, according to federal prosecutors.

Ahrens was arrested  June 18 after sending emails to KOTV that said he would kill the president and unnamed others if he did not receive an unspecified amount of money. Station personnel notified the FBI of the emails.