National Roundup

Rhode Island
Man serving 660 years for money laundering wants gold back

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island man serving a 660-year prison sentence for laundering money for a Colombian drug cartel wants the federal government to give back millions of dollar’s worth of gold bars, jewelry and cash it had seized during his arrest in 1991.

The Providence Journal reports Stephen Saccoccia and his wife, Donna are challenging the federal order that forced them to pay nearly $140 million for their crimes.

Stephen Saccoccia argues he legally obtained certain assets the government seized to pay back the debt, including dozens of gold bars buried in the couple’s backyard and valuables stowed in safe deposit boxes in Europe.

Saccoccia is now 60 years old. His release from prison would be in 2567. Donna Saccoccia was sentenced to 14 years and was released in 2004.

Pennsylvania
Ex-state AG loses appeal of criminal conviction

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania appeals court on Friday upheld the conviction of former state attorney general Kathleen Kane for leaking secret grand jury information and lying about it, saying among other things she wasn’t entitled to use evidence of a pornographic email scandal in her defense.

A three-judge Superior Court panel rejected arguments made by Kane, who has remained out on $75,000 bail since her October 2016 sentencing to 10 to 23 months in jail.

The court turned down claims that all Montgomery County judges should have been prevented from handling her case, evidence against her was illegally obtained, she was the victim of selective and vindictive prosecution and jurors should have been given certain information about grand jury secrecy rules.

The judges also denied her argument she should have been able to use evidence about a pornographic email scandal that involved the office she ran, or the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case that her former office prosecuted.

The Montgomery County district attorney’s office said it was pleased with the ruling and has not decided whether to seek the revocation or increase in her bail.

Kane may still appeal the conviction to the state Supreme Court.

Kane, 51, who had been the first woman and first Democrat elected attorney general in Pennsylvania, resigned in 2016 after being convicted of two counts of felony perjury and seven misdemeanor counts, including obstruction and conspiracy.

Her criticism of how the office had handled the Sandusky investigation at Penn State before she took office created resentment among some of the lawyers who had worked on it. After secret grand jury information about another case was leaked to The Philadelphia Inquirer, two former attorney general’s office prosecutors contacted a Montgomery County judge, leading him to appoint a special prosecutor.

The appeals court said Kane did not meet the legal standard required to have every judge in the county prevented from presiding in her case.

“The mere fact that some judges of a particular court may have some familiarity with a particular case has not been held to be a basis for recusal of an entire bench of judges,” wrote Superior Court Judge Anne Lazarus.

Kane’s challenge of the special prosecutor’s appointment was previously denied by the Supreme Court, Lazarus noted.

The appeals court decision concluded Kane cited “a plethora of specious reasons” in arguing she should have been able to present evidence of the pornographic emails, a scandal that rocked the state’s judicial community and the state prosecutor’s office in particular and led to the resignation of two Supreme Court justices, or the investigation and prosecution of Sandusky, who is appealing a 45-count conviction for child sexual abuse.

The two lawyers who contacted the judge about grand jury leaks, former state prosecutors Frank Fina and Marc Costanzo, were also implicated in the pornographic email scandal and played key roles in Sandusky’s prosecution.

The judges said the facts don’t support Kane’s assertion of vindictive prosecution, and didn’t show that others in a similar situation were not prosecuted for similar conduct.

Kane asked that jurors be told that “not all information relating to grand jury proceedings is secret,” but the judges ruled that would have implied she could have legally disclosed information the law prevented her from making public.


California
Court rules defendants get crack at some social media

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Facebook and other social media companies can be compelled to give criminal defendants preparing for trial user content that is already public, California’s highest court ruled last week.

The state Supreme Court’s ruling gives an opening to defense lawyers whose requests for information have been ignored by social media companies that argue a federal privacy law prevents its release.

Specifically, the high court rejected an appellate court’s ruling that providers were barred from disclosing communications that were set by the user to be public, and that remained public at the time defendants issued subpoenas to the companies.

The case has pitted some of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies against public defenders, who say they need equal access to mount a proper defense. Attorneys for the companies have argued that defendants have other ways to get the material.

“The Supreme Court, by rejecting the idea that social media providers can simply ignore a defense subpoena is a huge step forward,” said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

But the narrow ruling sidestepped the greater issue of leveling a playing field for criminal defendants whose attorneys do not have the powers of police and prosecutors to demand individual private records from social media companies, said Stephanie Lacambra, criminal defense staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties nonprofit.

“The evidentiary field is still tilted, and the scales are still compressed and weighted in favor of the prosecution,” Lacambra said.

The Supreme Court said it will instruct the appellate court to send the case back to the trial court to gather more information and determine the appropriate level of disclosure and address stickier questions, such as what to do with publicly posted tweets or posts that are later deleted.

At issue are requests by a defendant charged in a San Francisco killing who wants videos and other content posted to Facebook and Instagram by the victim and a witness. The defendant, Lee Sullivan, and a co-defendant, Derrick Hunter, also sought information from Twitter.

Prosecutors charged the two men with murder in an alleged gang-related drive-by-shooting in 2013.
 

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