Court Digest

Man gets probation for smuggling pot across U.S.-Canada border

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont man who authorities say participated in a scheme that illegally moved hundreds of pounds of marijuana from Canada into the U.S. by using snowmobiles to haul it across a frozen border lake has been sentenced to probation, federal prosecutors said.

Jack M. Cohen, 36, of Hyde Park, was sentenced Friday in federal court in Burlington to time served of one day and three years of probation, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Vermont.

Cohen was arrested in the border community of Canaan on March 24 by a U.S. Border Patrol agent with 272 pounds (123 kilograms) of packaged marijuana in duffel bags in the bed of his truck, prosecutors said.

Cohen had just left an unoccupied camp along Lake Wallace, also known as Wallace Pond, where he had met others who had used snowmobiles towing sleds to carry the marijuana from the Canadian side of the lake to the American side, prosecutors said.

He had made at least two previous trips to the camp to bring pot across the border, for a total of about 882 pounds (400 kilograms) of marijuana, prosecutors said.

Cohen pleaded guilty to importation into the U.S. of more than 50 kilograms of marijuana.

“Cross-border smuggling by organized criminal enterprises and their clandestine exportation of large quantities of cash compromises our national security and undermines our relations with international partners,” acting U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ophardt said in a statement.

Man convicted of sex trafficking a child

BALTIMORE (AP) — A federal jury has convicted a Maryland man of forcing at least eight people, some of them children, to engage in sex acts for his personal financial gain, according to federal prosecutors.

Feliciano de Jesus Diaz-Martinez, 43, of Owings Mills, was convicted of multiple charges, including sex trafficking of a child and enticement of a minor to engage in prostitution, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Maryland said in a news release on Friday. Diaz-Martinez has been in custody since his indictment in July 2019.

Trial testimony confirmed that Diaz-Martinez knew that one of his victims was 16 years old when he first caused her to engage in commercial sex acts. Evidence proved that nearly all of the victims that Diaz-Martinez caused to engage in commercial sex acts suffered from serious substance abuse disorders, including addictions to heroin and crack cocaine.

Several victims testified that Diaz-Martinez frequently demanded that they engage in sex acts with him, free of charge, and that he retaliated against the victims if he was not satisfied with the encounter, the news release said.

Sentencing for Diaz-Martinez is scheduled for Feb. 11, 2022.

Inmate’s mother sentenced for smuggling contraband

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Maryland woman has been sentenced to 45 months in prison for her role in a scheme in which bribes were paid to correctional officers in exchange for allowing contraband inside a Virginia prison where the woman’s son was an inmate.

Kim Williams, 57, of Baltimore, facilitated over $60,000 in bribe payments consisting of both wire transfers and cash payments to former federal correctional officers Stephen Taylor, 49, of Wake Forest, North Carolina; and Shanice Bullock, 28, of South Hill, Virginia; according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

In return, Taylor and Bullock permitted contraband items throughout the Federal Corrections Institution in Petersburg, Virginia, court documents said. Williams’s son, Dontay Cox, 38, of Baltimore, was an inmate at the prison.
Prosecutors say Cox ran a gambling ring within the prison and distributed the contraband, including Suboxone, marijuana, heroin, cigarettes, and cellular telephones.

Between December 2016 and September 2019, Williams’s bank accounts show deposits of nearly $138,000, including almost $95,000 in untraceable cash deposits.

Man gets up to 35 years in prison in stabbing case

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A man convicted of stabbing his then-girlfriend, causing serious injuries, has been sentenced to up to 35 years in prison.

District Judge Peter Froelicher sentenced Anthony Brassard to 25 to 35 years in prison on Friday, the  Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported. Brassard was originally charged with first-degree attempted murder late last summer but in August he pleaded no contest to attempted second-degree murder as part of an agreement with prosecutors.

Cheyenne Police officers discovered the injured woman on Aug. 30, 2020, when they responded to reports that someone was crying for help from an apartment with blood around the door, according to court documents.

Inside they found the woman with stab wounds, as well as Brassard. She was taken to a hospital where medical staffers estimated that she had lost half of her blood volume. Police later learned the woman was stabbed and cut roughly 30 times on her legs, arms, chest and back, with one wound to her chest that sliced her spleen.

During the sentencing hearing on Friday, the woman said she lives in constant fear from the attack.

“Please, don’t make my survival worthless,” she said, addressing the judge.

Brassard did not address the court directly. His public defender Brandon Booth noted that he had no criminal history and said he had taken responsibility for his actions. Booth said he believed Brassard had some kind of childhood trauma that caused his heavy alcohol consumption, depression and past suicide attempts, as well as the violent incident in this case.

Froelicher said Brassard seemed to be genuinely remorseful, but said the crime was heinous and required a heavy punishment.

Man convicted of murder in botched drug robbery

FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — A Boston man charged with fatally shooting another man during a botched drug robbery in Attleboro in 2017 has been convicted by a jury of first-degree murder.

Jaquan Cohen, 30, was found guilty on Friday in Fall River Superior Court of killing Thomas Pomare, The Sun Chronicle reported. He was also convicted of armed home invasion and armed assault with intent to rob.

Pomare, 34, was visiting the home of a close friend who was the target of the robbery on Dec. 4, 2017.

He was shot when Cohen and another man forced their way into the home armed with handguns, threatened the residents and demanded to know “where is the weed,” according to trial testimony.

He was the last of four men to be prosecuted in the case. The others previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

First-degree murder carries an automatic sentence of life without the possibility of parole. He will remain held without bail pending sentencing on Dec. 2.

Cohen was convicted based largely on the testimony of Archie Charles, the getaway driver.

But Cohen’s lawyer, Mark Wester, said Charles told “lies and half-truths” to bargain for a deal with prosecutors and was not credible.

Ex-pastor pleads guilty to stealing from church
CHARLOTTE, Mich. (AP) — The former pastor of a mid-Michigan church has pleaded guilty to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the church over several years, prosecutors said.

Douglas Hammond pleaded guilty as charged to one count of embezzlement over $100,000 during a court hearing earlier this month in an Eaton County court, the Lansing State Journal reported.

Prosecutors said Hammond stole $285,000 from Olivet Assembly of God Church over nearly six years, from January 2014 through November 2019, when he was a pastor there.

Hammond’s attorney, David Carter, said his client pleaded guilty on Nov. 12 because he “wanted to do what was right.”

“He understands that he has disappointed his family and the church on so many different levels. He hopes that his family and church can one day forgive him as he seeks forgiveness with a repentant heart,” Carter told WSYM-TV.

Yvonne Good, the treasurer of Olivet Assembly of God Church, said the church was not interested in commenting on the case.

Carter declined to comment on what Hammond did with the stolen money, but said there were “a lot of special circumstances” with the case.

Hammond’s sentencing is set for June 9, 2022, due to concerns about his health, said Chris Anderson, Eaton County’s chief assistant prosecuting attorney.

Police officer charged with assaulting man with stun gun

PETERSBURG, Va. (AP) — A grand jury in Virginia has indicted a police officer on charges that he misused a stun gun on an unarmed man.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch report s that a Petersburg Circuit Court grand jury on Thursday indicted Petersburg Police Lt. Jason Sharp, 50, on two misdemeanor assault charges.

Sharp’s attorney, Doug Ramseur, said his client is “completely innocent” of the charges and properly used a Taser on the man, believing he was armed and dangerous.

Sharp, a 20-year veteran of the Petersburg Bureau of Police, is scheduled to make an initial court appearance on Dec. 16. He was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of his case.

Powhatan Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Cerullo was appointed to handle the case as a special prosecutor.

The charges against Sharp stem from an encounter with a man outside his home on Oct 4. Cerullo said police responded to a report that a man had two handguns tucked in his waistband and was possibly carrying a rifle. The man sustained minor injuries when Sharp shocked him twice with a stun gun, according to Cerullo.

Man convicted in fatal burning of mother, grandmother

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — An Oklahoma man has been convicted of murder and arson in the burning deaths of his mother and grandmother.

Joseph Allen Hernandez, 34, of Marble City was found guilty Friday by a jury in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma in Tulsa, according to acting U.S. Attorney Christopher Wilson.

An attorney for Hernandez did not immediately return a phone call for comment on Saturday.

Hernandez was initially charged in state court, but the charges were dropped and federal charges filed following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in what is known as the McGirt decision.

The McGirt ruling found that Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction over crimes committed on tribal reservations by or against tribal citizens.

Hernandez is a member of the Cherokee Nation and the crime occurred within the boundaries of the Cherokee reservation.

Prosecutors say Hernandez doused his mother, Audrey Hernandez, and his grandmother, Francis Wright, with gasoline in June 2019 then set them on fire at a home in Marble City.

Witnesses testified both women said Hernandez poured gasoline on them and set them on fire.

Hernandez faces life in prison when sentenced following completion of a presentence report, Wilson said.