Entries in Department of Justice (14)


Narwhal Tusk-Smuggling Ring Cracked, Feds Say

Hemera/ThinkStock(WASHINGTON) -- The narwhal, a kind of Arctic whale, has been called “the unicorn of the sea” because of the long, straight, often spiraling tusk that males of the species can grow. It is illegal to import the tusks into the United States because narwhals are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as near-threatened.

Now the Department of Justice says it has cracked a smuggling ring that operated for nearly a decade, often shipping narwhal tusks from the Canadian Arctic over the border into Maine in a trailer with a false bottom. Two Americans have been arrested, and an indictment, provided to ABC News by the Justice Department, says they will be charged next week with smuggling and money laundering.

The indictment says Andrew Zarauskas of Union, N.J., and Jay Conrad of Lakeland, Tenn., will each face 29 federal charges for buying the tusks illegally, and two Canadian citizens — their names redacted — will face charges there for being sellers.

The indictment says that from December 2000 to February 2010, the defendants conspired to “fraudulently and knowingly import and bring merchandise, consisting of narwhal tusks, into the United States contrary to law, and to attempt to import and bring such merchandise into the United States contrary to law, and to receive, conceal, buy, sell, and in any manner facilitate the transportation, concealment, and sale of such merchandise after importation, knowing that the merchandise was imported and brought into the United States contrary to law.”

Messages left for Conrad and Zarauskas were not immediately returned. The indictment cites an email in 2000 from Canada offering to sell a “5 foot narwhal tusk speciman [sic] — is in excellent condition — came from the Baffin Island area at Pond Inlet.” Over the years, it says, there were dozens of FedEx shipments and more than a hundred payments.

What kind of money could be involved?  A legal seller in British Columbia, Furcanada, said tusks can be more than 8 feet long and sell for $1,000 to $7,000 each.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


'Hacktivists' Target Justice Department -- Again

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The activist group "Anonymous" claims they've hacked into the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics and have leaked 1.7 gigabytes worth of data.  

Posts on the group's website claim they have obtained Justice Department internal emails.  The Department of Justice said they were looking into that unauthorized access to the bureau's online service, but department believes that all the information was available from the public website and that no internal operational information has been compromised.

“The department is looking into the unauthorized access of a website server operated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that contained data from their public website. The Bureau of Justice Statistics website has remained operational throughout this time," said a Justice Department spokeswoman.

She added, "The department’s main website,, was not affected. The department is continuing protection and defensive measures to safeguard information and will refer any activity that is determined to be criminal in nature to law enforcement for investigation.”

Anonymous' posted messages, however, claimed they were releasing the hacked information to expose internal Justice Department data and government corruption.
The FBI is launching a full field investigation of the computer intrusion.
Anonymous has previously targeted the DOJ website, hitting it with a denial of service attack earlier this year when the file-sharing website was targeted by the Justice Department for intellectual property violations.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


DOJ Sues Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Civil Rights Case

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, alleging the police force discriminates against Latinos, uses excessive force, runs its jail unconstitutionally and has taken illegal action to silence critics.

The civil lawsuit is an ongoing effort by the Justice Department to install an independent monitor to reform the police department. Arpaio, the self-proclaimed "Toughest Sheriff in America," will now have the fate of his office determined by a federal Judge.

Last month the Justice Department broke off negotiations with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office as talks broke down over having a monitor implement reforms.

"I will not surrender my office to the federal government," Arpaio said then.

The civil lawsuit filed at the U.S. District Court in Phoenix alleges the sheriff’s office has violated the First, Fourth and Fourteenth amendments of the Constitution, which protect free speech, unlawful searches and due process rights respectively.

"The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) and Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio have engaged and continue to engage in a pattern or practice of unlawful discriminatory police conduct directed at Latinos in Maricopa County and jail practices that unlawfully discriminate against Latino prisoners with limited English language skills," the lawsuit alleges. "Latinos in Maricopa County are frequently stopped, detained, and arrested on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and Latino prisoners with limited English language skills are denied important constitutional protections. In addition, Defendants MCSO and Arpaio pursue a pattern or practice of illegal retaliation against their perceived critics by subjecting them to baseless criminal actions, unfounded civil lawsuits, or meritless administrative actions."

Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, told reporters Thursday, "The police are supposed to protect and serve our communities, not divide them. At its core, this is an abuse of power case involving a sheriff and sheriff's office that disregarded the Constitution, ignored sound police practices, comprised public safety, and did not hesitate to retaliate against perceived critics."

In Arpaio's case, Perez said, "The traffic operations have very low 'hit rates,' and very high rates of stopping Latino U.S. citizens and legal residents, the specialized [police] units receive little oversight and inadequate training. If you looked Latino, you were all too frequently fair game for MCSO officers."

The lawsuit notes that Sheriff employees frequently use racial slurs and that supervisors have freely expressed anti-Latino bias in emails.

"MCSO and Arpaio's words and actions set the tone and create a culture of bias that contributes to unlawful actions," the lawsuit alleges. "The Defendants' violations of the Constitution and laws of the United States are the product of a culture of disregard in MCSO for Latinos that starts at the top and pervades the organization."

The Sheriff's office did not respond to an e-mail inquiry from ABC News asking about the filing of the lawsuit.

Aside from demonstrating examples of unconstitutional policing the lawsuit also alleges that Arpaio and Sheriff's employees tried to silence critics who spoke out against their actions.

"Since at least 2006 and continuing to the present, in violation of the First Amendment, MCSO and Arpaio have retaliated against critics of MCSO practices, and particularly MCSO's immigration practices, in an effort to punish these persons for their criticism and to prevent future criticism," the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit notes that Sheriff employees filed complaints against county judges with the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct and filed complaints with the Arizona state Bar targeting attorneys who publically complained about the Sheriff's office.

In December, the Justice Department released investigative findings of Arpaio's office, revealing significant civil rights violations, including the use of excessive force, and other systemic problems that lead the way to negotiations and the lawsuit.

The Justice Department's investigation into the sheriff's office began during the Bush administration in June 2008. There is also an ongoing criminal investigation into officials at the sheriff's office.

While no monetary damages are being sought by the Justice Department, the sheriff's office does receive federal funds that could be reduced as part of the investigation.

The Justice Department has only filed one other lawsuit against a local police department in the past 18 years since DOJ has been working on police reforms. That case against the Columbus, Ohio police department resulted in a settlement.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Fast and Furious Scandal: DOJ Official Faces Heat, Eric Holder to Testify

Sen. Charles Grassley. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, demanded on Wednesday that the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division resign over the controversial Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' gun trafficking program known as Fast and Furious.

Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer has provided inaccurate statements and information to Congress on Fast and Furious, which allowed thousands of weapons to flow into Mexico.

ATF officials say they hoped to track the guns to their ultimate destination, and then make arrests.  Instead, many of the guns were used in crimes, including one that was used in the murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

In recent months, ongoing Congressional investigations have focused on what senior Justice Department officials knew about the program. Attorney General Eric Holder -- who some accuse of misleading Congress about his involvement in the scandal -- is set to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday to testify again about it. Emails prove Holder was far more involved -- and for far longer -- than he previously admitted.

Last Friday, the Justice Department withdrew a Feb. 4, 2011 letter that was sent to Sen. Grassley that asserted that ATF did not let guns walk into Mexico.

Breuer has said that he was not involved in the review or drafting of the letter sent to Grassley’s office --despite emails showing that he was aware of the initial inquiry from Sen. Grassley and sending drafts of the letter to his personal non-government email account.

“So imagine my surprise when I discover from documents provided Friday night that Mr. Breuer was far more informed during the drafting of that letter than he admitted before the Judiciary Committee.  In fact, Mr. Breuer got frequent updates on the status of the letter while he was in Mexico.” Grassley said on the Senate floor.  “If you can’t be straight with Congress, you don’t need to be running the Criminal Division.  It’s time to stop spinning and start taking responsibility.  I have long said that the highest-ranking official who knew about gunwalking in Operation Fast and Furious needs to be held accountable.”

In a statement, Justice Department Director of Public Affairs Tracy Schmaler said, “Assistant Attorney General Breuer has acknowledged his mistake in not making -- and therefore not alerting Department leadership to -- a connection between the allegations made about Operation Fast and Furious and the unacceptable tactics used years earlier in Operation Wide Receiver.  He has acknowledged that mistake to Congress and to the Attorney General, who continues to have confidence in Assistant Attorney General Breuer’s ability to lead the Criminal Division.”

According to a CBS News report, documents show ATF authorities sought to use U.S. weapons found in Mexico -- guns it allowed to flow over the border -- as justification to stiffen gun laws in the U.S.


Justice Dept. Targets Marijuana Distributors in Calif. 

Cavan Images/Digital Vision(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- The Justice Department announced Friday it is cracking down on the illegal distribution of marijuana in four federal districts in California, which has had a growing cannabis industry since legalizing medicinal marijuana in 1996.

The action places into question marijuana-related activities in 15 other states and the District of Columbia, which have legalized medicinal marijuana in some form.

The U.S. attorneys for Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego revealed enforcement actions against at least 16 cannabis distributors in those federal districts at a news conference in Sacramento.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the department will not focus the investigation on individual patients with serious illnesses like cancer or their immediate caregivers.

California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, legalizing medical marijuana.

"However, U.S. attorneys continue to have the authority to prosecute significant violations of the [federal Controlled Substances Act] and related federal laws," Cole said in a statement.

The attorney generals in California say the medical marijuana industry has grown to include drug-trafficking enterprises that operate "commercial grow operations, intricate distribution systems and hundreds of marijuana stores across the state."  

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Justice Department Moves to Halt Alabama's Immigration Law

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The federal government has gone to court over Alabama's controversial new immigration law - widely considered the toughest in the nation.

The U.S. Justice Department is asking a federal appeals court to suspend enforcement of Alabama's new immigration law until the matter can be litigated.  The Justice Department argues that the state of Alabama has overstepped its bounds and is usurping the federal government's role to enforce immigration law.  The Justice Department also claims that the new law places undue burden on foreign-born Americans, here legally.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


State Voter ID Laws Draw National Scrutiny

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Justice is reviewing, and has the power to reject, a controversial new law passed in South Carolina that requires a registered voter to present a government-issued photo ID before his or her vote is counted.

Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill into law in May and she’s not alone.  Four other states have passed similar voter ID laws in 2011, including Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee and Kansas.  But thanks to the DOJ, South Carolina’s law could still be rejected by federal officials.

And while other states have passed voter photo ID laws in the past, the laws passed in 2011 are by far the strictest with the exception of the law passed in 2005 by the state of Indiana.

Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act empowers the DOJ to review election laws passed in select southern states, as well as Alaska and some counties throughout the country.  Crafted in a time of great racial strife, the act was meant to codify the power of the 15th Amendment, which forbids racial discrimination at the polling booth.

South Carolina, which is subject to federal review, is the only state to have petitioned the Obama Justice Department for approval while other states such as Texas opted to clear their law through the D.C. District Court, which is also permitted.

Critics of a stricter photo ID law argue that the requirement will make it tougher for poor and minority voters to cast their ballot while proponents call it a common sense provision.

Voters without the means to produce correct documents or the disabled can verify their identity through an affidavit but many still see the ID requirements as too burdensome.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Feds: Al-Shabaab Terror Recruiter Extradited to US

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- After nearly two years in custody abroad, a Minnesota man charged with recruiting Americans to join the ranks of an al Qaeda-linked Somali terror group has been brought back to face trial, the Department of Justice announced Monday.

Mahamud Said Omar, formerly of Minneapolis, was indicted in Aug. 2009 for allegedly conspiring "with others to provide financial assistance as well as personnel to al-Shabaab."  Al-Shabaab, an Islamic militant group linked to al Qaeda, has claimed at least one deadly, high-profile attack in Uganda during the 2010 World Cup, and is suspected of planning to expand its operations to attacks on the U.S. homeland.

According to prosecutors, the arrest of 45-year-old Omar came out of "Operation Rhino," described as an "investigation that focused on the disappearance of young ethnic Somali men who lived in the Minneapolis area and were ultimately found to have been recruited to fight with al-Shabaab back in Somalia."  Omar is accused of not only recruiting the young men, but also providing them financial assistance to acquire weapons and travel to Somalia for training.  Though born in Somalia, Omar was given permanent resident status in the U.S. in 1994.

Once in Somalia, the "travelers" were housed in al-Shabaab safe houses and trained by senior al-Shabaab and al Qaeda members.  Omar was tracked down and arrested in the Netherlands in November 2009.  After being held for months, he was extradited and appeared in federal court in Minneapolis Monday.

Omar's appearance in court coincided with the appearance of a new video from al Qaeda's new commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in which he urged al Qaeda followers to launch attacks on the U.S. to avenge the death of the group's former leader, Osama bin Laden.

"America today is staggering... Hunt her down wherever you may encounter her. Hunt her down to cut what is left of her corruption's tail," Zawahiri says in the video, posted online Monday.  "Hunt her down until history says that a murderous country spread corruption in the earth so God sent his faithful to her to make an example out of her."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Department of Justice, Texas Battle Over 'No Pat-Down' Law

Creatas/Thinkstock(AUSTIN, Texas) -- In a showdown with national implications for travelers, the Department of Justice has threatened to cancel flights to and from Texas if the state's legislators enact a law forbidding security pat-downs that include private parts.

John Murphy, U.S. Attorney for the western district of Texas, wrote a letter to leaders of the Texas state legislature indicating that if the bill is enacted, the TSA would "likely be required to cancel any flight…for which it could not ensure the safety of passengers and crew."

House bill 1937, passed unanimously by the Texas House this month, forbids Transportation Security Administration officials from intentionally touching the private parts of another person.  The bill had passed through a Senate committee unanimously before Murphy sent the letter this week.

"As you no doubt are aware, the bill makes it a crime for a federal Transportation Security Official (TSO) to perform the security screening that he or she is authorized and required by federal law to perform," Murphy wrote.

In response to Murphy's threat, Texas state representative David Simpson wrote a response correcting alleged "inaccuracies" in the attorney general's letter and saying that the federal government is "attempting to deprive the citizens of Texas of their constitutional rights."

"The attorney general's letter claims we are stopping all searches.  The bill just says you can't touch privates without probable cause," Simpson told ABC News.  "This bill was supported unanimously by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives."

Simpson said the bill states that a TSA official commits an offense if "without probable cause performs a search for the purpose of granting access to a publicly accessible building or form of transportation and intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly touches the anus, sexual organ, buttocks or breasts of the other person."

Simpson said if only 3 percent of air travelers in the U.S. undergo pat-downs, as cited previously by the TSA, then flights to Texas could be shut down "because TSA would not be able to ensure the safety of passengers and crew if agents could not touch the genitals of 3 percent."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


80+ Armenian Power Members Arrested in Crackdown

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) - Federal, state and local authorities continue to round up more than 100 people tied to international organized crime groups who will face indictments in the U.S.

The indictments, unsealed Wednesday in Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Calif., Miami and Denver, charge 102 defendants in a variety of offenses linked to various transnational groups.

“Today’s indictments allege literally hundreds of criminal acts in three states – from extortion and kidnapping to firearms trafficking and health care fraud,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division. “The common denominator among these defendants and their criminal enterprises is the use of violence and intimidation to commit crimes for profit."

Among those arrested Wednesday include more than 80 Armenian Power members, a racketeering enterprise that will be the focus of indictments in Southern California.

“These types of criminal organizations – through the use of extortions, kidnappings and other violent acts – have a demonstrated willingness to prey upon members of their own community,” said U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr.

The AP group, which began as a street gang in East Hollywood in the 1980s, is known for carrying out fraud schemes including large-scale check fraud and identity theft.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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