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Oregon coronavirus infection becomes third case of unknown origin in U.S.



U.S. lawmakers demanded answers from administration officials Friday about the whistleblower who said workers from the Department of Health and Human Services without proper training or protective gear were sent to receive the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. The workers were deployed to March and Travis military bases in California.

The whistleblower’s complaint alleges the workers had face-to-face contact with returning passengers in an airplane hangar and when they helped distribute keys for room assignments and hand out colored ribbons for identification purposes. The workers did not show symptoms of infection and were not tested for the virus, according to lawyers for the whistleblower, a senior HHS official based in Washington who oversees workers at the Administration for Children and Families, a unit within HHS.

The whistleblower is seeking federal protection, alleging she was unfairly and improperly reassigned after raising concerns about the safety of these workers to HHS officials, including those within Secretary Alex Azar’s office. She was told that if she does not accept her new position by March 5, she would be terminated.

After House Democrats had a closed-door briefing Friday morning, they said they were not satisfied by the answers they received and asked for a follow-up briefing from HHS. They were initially told they could expect such a briefing Friday afternoon, but that second briefing never came through.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who represents March Air Reserve Base, told reporters: “The question I asked was, ‘What assurances do we have that proper protocols were followed during the federal quarantine?’ And it was not as responsive as I would have liked.”

Takano said Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, had agreed to meet with him and other California lawmakers to follow up. As of Friday afternoon, that follow-up was not scheduled.

“I think those of us who represent these bases, you know, deserve and merit this extra attention,” Takano said. “But this, the possibility that procedures weren’t followed, proper protocols weren’t followed, and proper training was not in place is really concerning.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to Azar on Friday saying the whistleblower’s complaint showed that “mismanagement on the part of HHS placed these human services staff at risk.”

Wyden has asked Azar to describe in detail why the person was reassigned and details about the department’s protocols for deploying medical and agency personnel to health emergency locations, training and what steps HHS has taken to quarantine, monitor or test the ACF employees after their assignments.

HHS officials have said they take all whistleblower complaints very seriously, are providing the person “all appropriate protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act” and are evaluating the complaint.



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Michael Avenatti guilty on all counts in Nike extortion case


Disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti, who rose to fame representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump, was found guilty Friday of trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike.

The jury’s decision in U.S. District Court in Manhattan came after a three-week trial for the California lawyer, who faces a statutory maximum of 42 years in prison when he is sentenced in June.

“Today a unanimous jury found Michael Avenatti guilty of misusing his client’s information in an effort to extort tens of millions of dollars from the athletic apparel company Nike,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. “While the defendant may have tried to hide behind legal terms and a suit and tie, the jury clearly saw the defendant’s scheme for what it was — an old-fashioned shakedown.”

Avenatti glared at the jurors as the verdict was being announced, but didn’t say anything. Afterward, he shook hands with his lawyers and told them, “great job.”

One of his lawyers, Scott Srebnick, declined to comment but said he would appeal the conviction. Later, he released a statement to NBC News.

“Michael Avenatti has been a fighter his entire life. The inhumane conditions of solitary confinement he has endured over the past month would break anyone but he remains strong,” Srebnick said. ” We are all obviously deeply disappointed by the jury’s verdict. We believe there are substantial legal grounds for the appeal that he plans to pursue.”

Avenatti was arrested in March after he and an uncharged conspirator threatened to hold a news conference to ruin Nike’s reputation and crater its stock price unless it agreed to pay him and his client millions of dollars, the court papers said.

The next day, the FBI captured him on a recorded call hurling expletives as he pressured Nike reps to pay up, court papers said.

“I’m not f—ing around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,” Avenatti told Nike reps, according to court papers. “You guys know enough now to know you’ve got a serious problem. And it’s worth more in exposure to me to just blow the lid on this thing. A few million dollars doesn’t move the needle for me.”

“This is what extortion sounds like,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky said after repeatedly playing Avenatti’s recorded demands.

Avenatti still faces other legal hurdles, including federal charges in California for defrauding clients and absconding with payments to them that he was able to obtain, including theft from a quadriplegic man. He also faces a separate federal case in New York tied to allegations that he kept $300,000 in money from a book publisher that was supposed to be paid to Stormy Daniels.

He rose to fame almost two years ago when he brought a lawsuit on behalf of Stormy Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, saying her ‘hush agreement’ with President Trump was invalid because he never personally signed it. Daniels has said that she had an extramarital affair with the Trump prior to his candidacy, an affair the president has strenuously denied.

In the Nike case, prosecutors said Avenatti demanded that the sportswear behemoth pay a client of his $1.5 million and compensate him and his co-conspirator $15 million to $25 million to conduct an “internal investigation” for the company.

The lawyer allegedly had debt of over $11 million at the time of his extortion scheme.

He had met with Nike representatives on March 19 claiming to represent a youth basketball coach who had information that Nike employees made illicit payments to the families of high school athletes, and threatening to hold a news conference to expose the company unless it agreed to pay him and his client millions of dollars, according to court papers.

Avenatti had pleaded not guilty. His lawyers said he was simply pursuing an honest negotiation with the company on behalf of a client, Gary Franklin, an amateur basketball coach who wanted Nike to clean up its act.

During closing arguments, one of his attorneys, Howard Srebnick, urged jurors to disregard the California attorney’s four-letter words. “This was exactly what the clients wanted. He acted in good faith,” Srebnick said. “Not guilty.”

“In the words of Nike itself, he went in there to ‘Just Do It,’ for his client,” he added with flourish.

But prosecutors drilled down on Avenatti’s debt, and said he was looking out for his bottom line, not his client. “Michael Avenatti, facing a mountain of debt, saw light at the end of the tunnel,” Podolsky said. “He saw a meal ticket: Gary Franklin.”

Avenatti’s former law firm office manager had testified that money was so tight there that some employees had been forced to leave their offices and work from home.

He owed the IRS $850,438 in unpaid taxes, plus interest and penalties, prosecutors said.

Avenatti has also pleaded not guilty to the accusation that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars of Daniels’ book proceeds.

Daniels was owed money from a book deal, and Avenatti allegedly used a “fraudulent document purporting to bear his client’s name and signature to convince his client’s literary agent to divert money owed to Avenatti’s client to an account controlled by Avenatti,” according to a statement by federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors, who say he pocketed nearly $300,000 in the scheme, accused him of spending the money lavishly, like to pay off his Ferrari.

“No monies relating to Ms. Daniels were ever misappropriated or mishandled. She received millions of dollars worth of legal services and we spent huge sums in expenses. She directly paid only $100.00 for all that she received. I look forward to a jury hearing the evidence,” Avenatti responded when he was charged in May.

Both the case involving Daniels in New York and the case alleging fraud in Los Angeles federal court are scheduled to go to trial in the spring.

The Associated Press contributed.





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J’accuse! The Case for Pre-modernism, or, the Rural-urban Divide


Emile Zola’s now world-famous letter to the President of the French Republic, dated 13 January 1898, “J’Accuse!” (complete text of the letter in English translation here), set the stage for correcting a grave miscarriage of justice carried out by the French military and the secular French state against an innocent Jewish military officer, Alfred Dreyfus.  The degree of corruption that Zola identified in his letter occurred not in pre-Revolutionary France as a mobilizing force for the (secular) revolution.  Rather, it occurred in late-19th century France, a hundred years after the Revolution, at the height of modernism, secularism, and centralized state authority.

Without the Dreyfus Affair, which Zola brought to light with his letter, Theodore Herzl might not have had his political conversion experience in which he lost faith in the promises of the European secular Enlightenment and decided that Jews must have a national home of their own to defend their interests everywhere.  The Dreyfus Affair was some combination of beginning-point and turning-point for Herzl, as with many Jewish Europeans at the time.

Political corruption, then, for small favors or nodes of power that seem consequential at the time may end with results in world historical shifts that the small (and large) instigators would never anticipate, nor likely desire.  It is unlikely that the anti-Semites who wrongfully imprisoned Alfred Dreyfus on charges of treason would have favored the establishment of a Jewish state.  At the risk of being too cheeky, although not, I think, heretical, the Dreyfus-Zola-Herzl-Israel chain of (at least in retrospect) path-dependent events is some of the best evidence I have ever heard for the existence of God – and that S/He has an awesome sense of humor.

Enter several of my great intellectual heroes, including James Scott, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Clifford Geertz, Benedict Anderson, Ernest Gellner, Timothy Mitchell, E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, and Mircea Eliade.  Putting them together suggests a story for the late-modern era (approx. mid-1700s to present) that looks something like the following:

Modernist bureaucrats and technocrats, acting upon their [almost certainly woefully flawed] understandings of contemporary science decide to raze the center of cities like Paris, or to flatten villages altogether.  They replace said cities, towns, and neighborhoods with quarters built upon grids that will require no local knowledge to navigate.  Local practices – social, political, economic, and otherwise – are violently, non-violently, and through intimidation crushed and banned in efforts to “homogenize” the populations into something that bureaucrats and technocrats can understand as one people or nation.  The state takes over lands that had supported many peoples, who are thus evicted and made homeless.  It takes over agriculture, or, it works in tandem with a few capital holders to institute mono-cropping on said lands, which results in forest death in old growth forests in parts of Europe.

According to Emile Durkheim, God, Grandfather and Grandmother are replaced with the [centralized] State in effort to maintain social solidarity based upon a social unit too small to have any chance of success at ever achieving social solidarity (e.g., the nuclear family).  The state is suddenly fascinated with collecting all manner of intimate minutiae about its citizens and its landscape, including family practices and home addresses for whatever eventualities might arise in terms of the state’s need to know (Enter, the state as voyeur.)

The “thick description” and “local knowledge” necessary to navigate (what Scott calls to “make legible”) pre-modern towns, villages, cities, agricultural works, and social relations (e.g., privacy) is replaced with the great impersonal (centralized and benevolent) State.  In reality, ethnographic variation, social solidarity, and the local knowledge needed to navigate it all are replaced with anomie for many and suicide for some (in increasing numbers at the time).  For others, new enforced land laws eventually result in mass migration to urban centers, and the demotion of agricultural peasants – who freely directed their own personal schedules and largely engaged in self-rule at the local level – to urban factory workers (e.g., prior to approximately the early 20th century, paid slave labor), often with no political franchise.

The replacement of God with secular authority is a significant part of the picture, as seen in important fictional works from the period, such as The Brothers KaramazovThe grounding, stabilizing, and (emphasis on self-) self-disciplining effect of experiencing the Divine for most people is crushed (at least in public expression) and discredited as a sort of heresy against modernism in what has long-since come to be known as modernization theory.

Closer to home, (sub-)urban cultural norms – which many officials and academics alike appear to approach as necessarily hegemonic, or which, at the least, go unquestioned as naturally hegemonic – are contrasted with that great enemy, Country Music, in as much as it appears to (and does) represent a sort of cultural and political opposition to the cultural hegemony of the Center.  In the U.S., by my observation, said self-appointed (cultural) hegemonic Center is dispersed geographically but is represented primarily by people whose families came from the Eastern Seaboard at least as recently as the 1950s and 1960s.

(Sub-)urban politics vis à vis rural peoples today smack of the worst of 19th century technocratic efforts to quash difference.  Difference and diversity exist within ethnic groups, not only across them. I suggest the rural/urban as our great and typically unquestioned divide in significant parts of the West today.  With it come our own religious-secular tensions, or what I am calling premodernism (e.g., an evoking of tradition in religion and social practices) in contrast to and in conflict with both modernization and postmodernization.  The latter two, when it comes to these questions, are very much the same in orientation: secular, top-down, authoritarian, and disappointingly non-self-reflective.





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J’accuse! The Case for Traditional Capitalism


Max Weber brilliantly demonstrated the impact of religion and culture on politics, and even on world-scale institutions, at the beginning of the 20th century in his famous work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. A single religious idea, a theological principle, through a causal chain that Weber eloquently demonstrates, led to the establishment of modern, rationalized capitalism. Modern, rationalized capitalism, for Weber, was a particular form of capitalism to be distinguished from what he calls “traditional capitalism”. Modern, rationalized capitalism was characterized, for Weber, by an emphasis on constant production linked with worldly asceticism. Worldly asceticism, likewise, was made up of various factors, including: frugality, wealth accumulation, and various forms of (especially economic) self-abnegation. The (economic) self-abnegation implied abnegation of one’s family as well, as applied by a “responsible” adult (assumed to be a father in those cultural contexts). And, all of this, from the single religious – theological – notion of “the Calling”, as understood by John Calvin, and as mediated into cultural systems through the interpretations of specific communities in Europe and North America.

How does the causal chain work for Weber? Basically, like this:

The Protestant Ethic Causal Chain (causal schema is original to Patricia Sohn)

 

It short: it is okay, and even religiously positive, to accumulate as much wealth as you can as long as you self-abnegate. Just do not spend it (on yourself, your spouse, or your children) and you will be fine.

I am in no way advocating this position. In fact, I think that it is completely backward, morally, ethically, and – probably, in terms of God’s Grace!

Let me make a case for Traditional Capitalism. According to Weber, traditional capitalism was that capitalism more characteristic of Catholic societies in Europe in which one worked to maintain one’s chosen standard of living, where one was most comfortable. Rather than striving constantly to accumulate surplus wealth – more than one would need or be allowed, in terms of forceful social pressures, to spend – traditional capitalism involved striving for some periods, and spending long periods in quality time with one’s spouse, children, and extended family. It was also, typically, tied with large extended family units such that the striving to maintain the standard of living of one’s family was not a burden carried by only one or two people (in what Durkheim calls the “conjugal” or nuclear family), but, likely by several dozen people or more.

“Traditionalism”, that term maligned and beleaguered by modernization theory, begins to look a lot like “post-materialist values” when laid out in some of its everyday details. If one wanted to increase one’s standard of living in that period, one was free to head on to the Silk Route and be on the road for some years in order to do so. But if the open road was not appealing, having time for weekday lunch with the family, chess and tea in the afternoons does not sound so terrible. In fact, it reminds me of sheshbesh and sahlab on the Red Sea, or anywhere in North Africa. Keeping up with the painting on the walls and window sills can wait for a few years here and there in exchange for such freedom. It is all about priorities and accepting imperfection in some areas in exchange for freedom and quality of life.

Both freedom and quality of life defined are differently by different peoples. For modernists in the U.S., they seem to be defined, most often, in terms of having excess capital to spend.  For much of the world – and I am thinking here of Africa, the Middle East, parts of Asia, parts of the Caribbean and Latin America as well (e.g., much of the world) – both freedom and quality of life may be defined more in terms of Time. That is, the freedom to set one’s own schedule, the freedom to spend quality time with one’s family, the freedom to have time to cook delicious meals, all of these are more substantive freedoms for some people than are the “freedoms” offered by cold, hard cash.

Post-materialist values suggest that we choose “quality of life” over dollars, at least in relation to increasing numbers of issues. Quality of life is precisely one of the prime goals of Traditionalism, and of traditional capitalism, in as much as it was intended to uphold one’s freedoms to decent housing, enough food, and enough time to enjoy both of those and family.  It is worth noting that traditional societies rarely demonstrate the same distorted and, even, at times, pathological social behaviors among families that are epidemic within societies characterized by modern, rationalized capitalism.

We are getting somewhere in choosing post-materialist values over modern, rationalized capitalism. We are coming closer to Traditionalism and to some of the wisdom of parts of the Old World, which tended to maintain a focus on quality over quantity, and which did not posit meaningless (and, at times, cruel) abnegation of the self and the family in service of an existence better defined by Scrooge than by any positive models of this worldly existence as striving for something holding paradise as its prototype.

The greatest difference that I have observed, as a political ethnographer, between Old World Orthodoxy (across religions) and modern New World secularism is that the former continues to strive to make this worldly existence into something modeled on paradise in small ways and large on a daily basis; whereas, the latter has resolved that this world is meant to be hellish, brutish, etc., and moves forward full-force to make that happen in practice on a daily basis.

I offer, instead, Traditionalism, or pre-modernism, which looks an awful lot like post-materialist values, as a viable way for religious and non-religious people alike to strive for the former rather than the latter.





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Scandinavian woman ‘forced to withdraw rape claim’ in case similar to British teen’s Cyprus ordeal


The British woman is led into a courthouse in Paralimni, Cyprus - AFP
The British woman is led into a courthouse in Paralimni, Cyprus – AFP

A Scandinavian woman says she was forced by Cypriot police to withdraw a rape claim or face arrest, in a striking parallel to the case of a British teenager who was allegedly gang raped on the Mediterranean island.

The Scandinavian woman said police officers questioned her aggressively for several hours after she was raped by two men outside a nightclub.

The officers accused her of lying and said that if she did not withdraw the rape claim they would arrest her and send her to prison.

Her account bears striking similarities to the alleged treatment of a British teenager who was convicted last week of lying about being gang-raped by Israeli tourists in the resort town of Ayia Napa.

She made the initial complaint in July but 10 days later, after being questioned without a lawyer for eight hours in a police station, signed a retraction statement.

<span>The alleged gang rape of the British teenager happened in the resort of Ayia Napa</span> <span>Credit: AFP </span>
The alleged gang rape of the British teenager happened in the resort of Ayia Napa Credit: AFP

She faces sentencing on Tuesday  and could be jailed for up to a year and fined 1,700 euro (£1,500) at Famagusta District Court in Paralimni.

The 19-year-old British woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the trial that officers threatened to arrest her and her friends unless she retracted the claims of being gang raped by a group of young Israeli men.

After reading about the Ayia Napa case, the Scandinavian woman decided to come forward with her account of similar treatment at the hands of the Cypriot police 20 years ago.

It is the first time she has spoken publicly of the assault and has previously only discussed it with her doctor and her husband.

Now aged 43, she was 21 when she met the men in a nightclub in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, in January 1998.

They offered to give her a lift to her hotel. Instead, they raped her in a car park. “I fought for my life and thought I was going to die,” she told The Telegraph.

She went to the nearest police station to report the rape and was taken to a hospital for an examination.

She was then taken to a police station for questioning. “The main investigator was extremely brutal and aggressive. I was in big shock so I had some difficulties remembering details.

“This made him very angry. He then started accusing me of making the whole story up to receive money from my insurance company.”

The same allegation was made by in court by Cypriot police against the British woman.

Both alleged victims said they were mystified by the accusation because they did not think that holiday insurance covered rape and had no intention of claiming any financial compensation.

“I was very afraid and felt trapped in the room with them. They treated me as a big criminal. They kept me in the police station for many hours. They told me that if I didn’t withdraw the rape allegation they would arrest me and send me to prison. So I did and they let me go,” said the Scandinavian woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

She said she was still deeply affected by the ordeal and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder – just like the British teenager who is on trial. “The treatment I received from police was terrible,” she said.

<span>Michael Polak, a British lawyer representing the teenager in the trial</span> <span>Credit: AFP </span>
Michael Polak, a British lawyer representing the teenager in the trial Credit: AFP

Michael Polak, a British lawyer representing the British woman, told The Telegraph: “This case bears remarkable similarities to the teenager’s case. It raises serious questions about the investigation of rape in Cyprus and the treatment of rape complainants there.”

In a report in 1998, a Norwegian newspaper claimed that police on the island routinely dismissed rape claims, treating the victims as liars.

The report quoted a Norwegian tour operator who said that “police never take rape claims seriously. All such claims are treated as false.”

“Police have a theory that tourists make such allegations so they can claim expenses for their holiday,” the report said.

A senior Cyprus police officer was quoted as saying: “Why rape when it’s so easy to find somebody to have sex with?”



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Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Ban Against Homeless Sleeping In Public Spaces : NPR


San Francisco police officers wait while homeless people collect their belongings in San Francisco. Nearly a quarter of the country’s homeless population lives in California.

Ben Margot/AP


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Ben Margot/AP

San Francisco police officers wait while homeless people collect their belongings in San Francisco. Nearly a quarter of the country’s homeless population lives in California.

Ben Margot/AP

Updated at 1:40 p.m ET

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal in a case originating from Boise, Idaho, that would have made it a crime to camp and sleep in public spaces.

The decision to let a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stand is a setback for states and local governments in much of the West that are grappling with widespread homelessness by designing laws to regulate makeshift encampments on sidewalks and parks.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed nearly a decade ago. A handful of people sued the city of Boise for repeatedly ticketing them for violating an ordinance against sleeping outside. While Boise officials later amended it to prohibit citations when shelters are full, the 9th Circuit eventually determined the local law was unconstitutional.

In a decision last year, the court said it was “cruel and unusual punishment” to enforce rules that stop homeless people from camping in public places when they have no place else to go. That means states across the 9th Circuit can no longer enforce similar statutes if they don’t have enough shelter beds for homeless people sleeping outside.

Los Angeles attorney Theane Evangelis, who is representing Boise in the case, argued the decision ultimately harms the people it purports to protect because cities need the ability to control encampments that threaten public health and safety.

“Cities’ hands are tied now by the 9th Circuit Decision because it effectively creates a Constitutional right to camp,” Evangelis told NPR in an emailed statement.

In court documents, lawyers for Boise said, “Public encampments, now protected by the Constitution under the Ninth Circuit’s decision, have spawned crime and violence, incubated disease, and created environmental hazards that threaten the lives and well-being both of those living on the streets and the public at large.”

Major west coast cities and counties with soaring homeless populations had backed Boise in its petition, including Los Angeles County, where the number of people without a permanent place to live has jumped by 16% in the last year.

As NPR reported, California is where nearly a quarter of the country’s homeless population live.

The homeless and their advocates say ticketing homeless people does nothing to solve the bigger housing crisis.

“Paying lawyers six figures to write briefs is not really going to build any more housing,” said Howard Belodoff, a Boise civil rights attorney.

Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, added: “housing, not handcuffs, is what ends homelessness.”

The center, which was one of three groups to file the case in 2009, hailed the decision as being essential to encouraging cities to propose constructive alternatives to homelessness.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development found that more than 550,000 people experienced homelessness on a single night in January 2018. Of those, nearly 200,000 were unsheltered.

The case now returns to the 9th Circuit. The city of Boise says it’s evaluating its next steps.



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Jury gets final instructions in case of ex-SNC-Lavalin boss charged with fraud



Former SNC-Lavalin vice-president Sami Bebawi leaves a courtroom in Montreal on Friday, February 15, 2019.


Paul Chiasson / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Jurors received final instructions Wednesday in the six-week corruption trial of a former SNC-Lavalin executive.

Sami Bebawi, 73, has pleaded not guilty to five charges that include fraud, corruption of foreign officials and laundering proceeds of crime.

The Quebec Superior Court judge presiding over the trial began his charge to the jury late in the afternoon, with deliberations expected to start Thursday.

The Crown has alleged that Bebawi was the architect of a scheme to grease the wheels in Libya in order to secure lucrative deals.

Prosecutors have argued the Montreal engineering giant transferred about $113 million to shell companies used to pay off people who helped the company collect and secure deals in Libya beginning in the late 1990s.

What remained in the accounts of those firms after the kickbacks were paid was then allegedly split between Bebawi and Riadh Ben Aissa, a former colleague, with Bebawi allegedly pocketing $26 million.

The trial looked at several major infrastructure projects and centred on dealings with Saadi Gadhafi, one of the sons of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, to facilitate deals.

The defence argued that the amounts transferred to Bebawi’s accounts were bonuses authorized by the SNC-Lavalin’s ex-president, Jacques Lamarre, for the successful completion of complicated contracts in Libya.

Bebawi’s lawyer argued that the Crown’s key witness in the case, Ben Aissa, was unreliable and that there was no evidence any of the contracts secured in Libya were inflated.

The defence also disagreed that the younger Gadhafi was a foreign public official, describing him instead as a “spoiled child” who had a direct line to the late dictator but no real power or authority.

Bebawi did not testify or present a defence — which was his right as it was up to the Crown to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, Justice Guy Cournoyer told jurors.

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New parent charged in college cheating case, agrees to plead guilty


A California woman was charged and has agreed to plead guilty as part of a sweeping college admissions cheating scheme that has resulted in charges against dozens of parents and others, federal prosecutors said this week.

Karen Littlefair, 57, of Newport Beach, was accused of paying $9,000 to have someone from the company of the scheme’s alleged mastermind, William “Rick” Singer, take online courses so that her son could graduate from Georgetown University, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts said in a statement Monday.

Littlefair will plead guilty at a later date to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, prosecutors said.

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That charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, but prosecutors said they will recommend a sentence of four months in prison, one year of supervised release and a fine of $9,500 and restitution.

A lawyer for Littlefair, Kenneth Julian, said his client has “taken the earliest opportunity to take responsibility for her conduct,” The Associated Press reported.

Littlefair is the latest person charged in the scheme. Prosecutors in March announced charges against 50 people as a result of the FBI investigation called Operation Varsity Blues, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. The employee for Singer’s company completed four classes for her son at Georgetown and elsewhere, prosecutors said.

Huffman, a one-time Oscar nominee and the wife of actor William H. Macy, a one-time Oscar nominee and the wife of actor William H. Macy, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and honest services fraud in May for paying $15,000 to Singer to cheat on daughter Sophia Grace Macy’s SAT in 2017. She was sentenced to 14 days in prison and served her sentence and has been released.

Loughlin, known for her role in “Full House,” and her fashion-designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are fighting the charges. They were among those hit with a new bribery charge in October, and they pleaded not guilty in November.

Littlefair’s son graduated from Georgetown in May of 2018 using the credits from the online courses taken by an employee of Singer’s business, prosecutors said.

Georgetown declined to comment about any possible disciplinary action to the AP on Monday but said that the school can revoke degrees in cases of major misconduct.

Singer has pleaded guilty and is cooperating in the government investigation. He wore a wire for the FBI in the case.

In some of the cases, wealthy parents paid to have their children’s scores boosted or tried to get them admitted as fraudulent athletic recruits, or both, officials have said.

Associated Press contributed.



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Prince Andrew’s Accuser Takes Her Case to the BBC


LONDON — Virginia Roberts Giuffre recalled a whirlwind trip to London with her employer, the financier Jeffrey Epstein, when she was 17. It began at a townhouse where Prince Andrew was talking about his ex-wife, the Duchess of York. It moved on to a club, where she said she and the prince danced, and he sweated profusely. And it ended when, she said, she was ordered to have sex with him.

“It was disgusting,” Ms. Giuffre said in an interview broadcast Monday by the BBC. “I sat there in bed and felt horrified and ashamed.”

“I had just been abused by a member of the royal family,” she continued. “These powerful people were my chains.”

Ms. Giuffre’s account of the trip in 2001, and of two other incidents when she said she had sex with Prince Andrew at Mr. Epstein’s homes in New York and in the Caribbean, was the first time she described her story for a British audience.

Ms. Giuffre acknowledged that the passage of time may have fogged her memory about the dates or places of certain events. But she said she had a vivid memory of dancing with Prince Andrew. “He is the most hideous dancer I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said. “His sweat was like, ‘it’s raining everywhere.’”

The reaction to Prince Andrew’s remarks was swift and overwhelmingly negative. Several charities with which he was associated distanced himself from him, he was urged to testify under oath to the F.B.I. and his brother, Prince Charles, urged the queen to strip him of his public duties, which she did.

For the royal family, it was the worst public relations debacle since the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana in a car crash — stirring questions about the aging queen’s control over her family and drawing calls from the British news media for Prince Charles to take a more central role at Buckingham Palace.

For Ms. Giuffre, who described a history of abuse dating back to her childhood, the alleged encounters with Prince Andrew left her, she said, even more sickened than those with Mr. Epstein, whom she described as “having a sickness that could not be cured,” or with his girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, who is accused of procuring teenage girls for him, and who Ms. Giuffre described as vicious.

“This is not some sordid sex story; this a story of being trafficked,” she said. “This is a story of your guys’ royalty.”



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Jurors convict both men of gang sexual assault in College Street Bar case


Two men are guilty of sexually assaulting and drugging a 24-year-old woman over several hours at the College Street Bar in downtown Toronto three years ago, a jury found Saturday after deliberating for four days.

The jurors could not agree on whether bar owner Gavin MacMillan, 44, and bar manager Enzo DeJesus Carrasco, 34, forcibly confined the woman at the bar on the night of Dec. 14, 2016 and whether DeJesus Carrasco raped her at his apartment the next morning. They acquitted DeJesus Carrasco on a charge of sexual assault where he was accused of repeatedly penetrating the complainant with his fingers when they were alone at the bar without her consent.

After the jury announced their verdict, both men appeared stunned. MacMillan later wiped away tears.

Crown Rick Nathanson said they are very happy with the result and that the complainant is relieved. “(We are) grateful first to the complainant, I think this is an apt case for the term survivor, who showed tremendous strength and courage through all of this. She seemed more motivated, frankly, out of concern for the community than for herself.”

He also thanked the jury for their hard work in a case that involved “difficult and troubling evidence” and requested that the court ensure they were aware of counselling supports available to jurors.

Since the complainant said she could remember little about what happened on the night of Dec. 14, 2016, the central evidence in the case was several hours of graphic video obtained from the College Street Bar’s security cameras. The video, however, does not have audio, and what can be seen on it was described in dramatically different ways by the Crown and defence.

The defence said the video shows the two men sexually dominating the complainant at her explicit request. They said she then faked her memory loss and lied about being sexually assaulted because she didn’t want her boyfriend to see her bruises and find out she cheated.

The Crown argued the video shows a woman being given alcohol and cocaine until she was disoriented and hovering in and out of consciousness, then being overpowered by the two men and forced to perform painful and humiliating sexual acts over several hours.

After the jury verdict, Nathanson sought to have bail for both men revoked. MacMillan was permitted to remain on bail, but under a strict house arrest. DeJesus Carrasco was handcuffed and taken into custody with a bail hearing set next month. He faces two future trials on three counts of sexual assault involving three women.

His lawyer Uma Kancharla said, after the verdicts, that her client maintains his innocence in all the charges and they are considering grounds for appeal.

MacMillan’s lawyer Sean Robichaud declined to comment. MacMillan walked out of the courthouse by the waiting television cameras but did not respond to questions.

A sentencing hearing has been set for the end of January. The Crown has said they will be seeking “significant penitentiary sentences.” The maximum possible sentence for gang sexual assault is 14 years, with the Crown likely to seek a sentence of between four to eight years, said defence lawyer Daniel Brown, who has written a book about sexual assault law and was not involved in the case.

The charges the jury could not reach a verdict on were stayed by the Crown.

During deliberations the jury asked questions about the law around consent and forcible confinement. A jury does not give reasons for its verdicts and jurors’ deliberations are kept secret by law, making it impossible to know what evidence or reasoning they relied on to come to their decision.

The trial is one of several in recent years that show the challenges posed when a complainant may be too intoxicated to consent but has little memory of what happened. Such cases often rely on the testimony of other witnesses or video.

In this case, the jury watched video footage from the time the complainant entered the bar at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 14 — a Wednesday — until she left just before 6 a.m. the next morning with DeJesus Carrasco.

The complainant testified she has a hazy memory of the night, and could only recall bits and pieces of what happened. She said she did remember being forced to perform oral sex on MacMillan, being penetrated by both men and wanting desperately to leave but her body not co-operating.

The defence argued she was faking her memory loss to avoid answering difficult questions.

Both MacMillan and DeJesus Carrasco testified in their defence and said the sexual activity was entirely consensual and they had no concerns about her being too intoxicated to consent.

Dambrot instructed jurors that they could find the men guilty of gang sexual assault if they found the complainant was not consenting, too intoxicated to consent or unconscious at any moment during the several hours of sexual activity that night. The jurors did not have to agree on the same moment or reasons, as long as they all found one that satisfied them beyond a reasonable doubt.

The complainant would not have capacity to consent, Dambrot said, if she was intoxicated enough not to know the sexual nature of the act, the identity of her partner or partners or that she had the right to say no.

“Mere proof of intoxication does not in and of itself negate capacity to consent,” he said.

If the jury found the complainant was unconscious at any point, she would automatically lack capacity to consent. Both accused have said she never lost consciousness.

The jury was also told to consider whether the accused could have an honest belief that the complainant was consenting and whether they took reasonable steps to determine she was consenting. Dambrot noted a reasonable person would take more care in ascertaining consent before invasive and dangerous sexual activity with a stranger.

The complainant had been shown brief clips of the video by the Crown prior to the trial, so that she would not have to see them in court for the first time, prosecutor Rick Nathanson said in court. He said it was extremely difficult to decide how much of it was necessary to show her, given that she cannot remember much of it and she found it extremely upsetting to watch.

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When she saw a clip of her staggering through the bar and crashing into tables at around 11:45 p.m. she said it was clear why her memory was so impaired.

“That right there itself — how would I remember that?” she said, testifying via video from another room in the courthouse.

“Obviously I wouldn’t remember that,” she said. “It looks really messed up.”

The sexual activity began about twenty minutes later.

The jury heard that the woman went to the College Street Bar that night to meet a friend who was doing a bartending course through MacMillan’s Bartender One training school. DeJesus Carrasco said she was flirtatious and making lewd comments, though the exact comments he alleged she made were ruled inadmissible.

The video shows her being served two cocktails and five whiskey shots, though it was disputed how much she consumed and how big the shots were.

She had three of the shots with the two men in the span of ten minutes around 10 p.m.

When the complainant and DeJesus Carrasco were in the bar alone around 10:20 p.m., the Crown alleged he sexually assaulted her by repeatedly penetrating her with his fingers without her consent or while she was incapacitated.

The jury acquitted DeJesus Carrasco of this count of sexual assault.

At around 10:55 p.m. the two left the bar together for about half an hour. DeJesus Carrasco said they got food and then he left the complainant alone with the College Street Bar unlocked while he got a drink at another bar.

When he returned to the College Street Bar several minutes later to meet a cocaine dealer he saw her swaying on the sidewalk outside.

He asked what happened and said she told him in a normal voice: “I’m fine but sometimes the pills screw up my head.” He didn’t ask her what the pills were and it is unknown what the pills are.

They went into the bar at about 11:30 p.m. and the security video shows the complainant staggering into the bar, lurching into a table and sinking into a chair. She remained in the chair barely moving with her head slumped forward for ten minutes. DeJesus Carrasco said she never lost consciousness and continued to ask for cocaine.

He said a text message he sent to the drug dealer shortly before entering the bar that he “had a girl pass out” wasn’t literal, nor was a text to MacMillan that the complainant was “dead dead dead.”

DeJesus Carrasco pulled the complainant over to the bar when the cocaine was ready, slapped her face repeatedly and positioned her head over the cocaine. After this she got up and staggered out of the bar, crashing into tables on her way out. She came back in two minutes later, still walking very unsteadily. MacMillan came back to the bar and the complainant is seen having three lines of cocaine in 13 minutes.

The sexual activity began minutes later at about 12:10 a.m. and continued until shortly before 6 a.m.

The defence argued that the complainant’s inability to walk was only temporary and that she appeared to improve rapidly, showing that her state was not caused by alcohol. They said she was being held up and supported by MacMillan because she wanted to be submissive and controlled, not because she was too intoxicated to stand or hold herself upright on her own.

The video shows the complainant and DeJesus Carrasco leaving the bar shortly before 6 a.m. They both got in a taxi, which she said she thought was taking her home, but which actually took them to his basement apartment. She said he raped her in his bedroom, though her memory of that time is hazy and she had no memory of anyone being in the apartment. DeJesus Carrasco said there were two other people in the apartment at the time and that she was the one who wanted to have intercourse.

The jury was unable to come to a verdict on this charge, which has now been stayed.

The complainant called 911 to report being sexually assaulted later that day. She testified that there has been lasting damage to her knees and jaw from what happened to her.

Alyshah Hasham





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