Welcome to the LSIS Investigative Journal

Welcome to the LSIS Investigative Journal

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Private Investigators Plead Guilty to Hacking Conspiracies

Courthouse News Service

Shamuses Plead Guilty to Hacking Conspiracies

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Two private investigators have pleaded guilty to conspiring to hack into the computers, emails and Skype accounts of people that opposed their clients in civil lawsuits.   Nathan Moser, 41, and Peter "Bobby Russo" Siragusa, 59, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, accessing protected computers and obtaining information and intercepting electronic communications. Both men were indicted on federal charges earlier this year.

     The men own private-investigation firms in the Bay Area. Moser owns Moser and Associates in Menlo Park, Calif., while Siragusa heads Siragusa Investigations in nearby Novato.

     In exchange for pleading guilty, agreeing to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney and testifying against co-conspirators, Moser and Siragusa were both assigned a final offense level of 13 and will receive sentences of one to three years and fines of $3,000 to $30,000 under federal sentencing guidelines.  Both men faced a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and $750,000 in fines for the three offenses.  Their co-defendants - alleged hackers Trent Williams, of Martinez, Calif., and Sumit Gupta of Jabalapur, India, and one of Moser's clients, ViSalus' director of security Carlo Pacileo of El Segundo, Calif., still face charges related to the conspiracy.

     Moser said Pacileo hired him to investigate executives working for one of ViSalus' competitors, Ocean Avenue LLC, by obtaining unauthorized access to their computers.   "Pacileo paid for the hacking, either by paying the hackers directly, or by paying me and having me pay the hackers," Moser stated in the July 20 plea agreement.  The "conspiracy members" were paid approximately $38,950 to conduct the illegal activity, according to the plea agreements.

     In 2013, ViSalus filed three lawsuits against Ocean Avenue LLC and former employees that jumped ship to its competitor for allegedly violating non-compete clauses by soliciting Visalus' distributors. 

     Moser and Siragusa said they conspired to hire hackers, including co-defendants Williams and Gupta, to infiltrate the email accounts, Skype accounts and computers of three Ocean Avenue executives.   One of those executives, Kauri Thompson, sued Moser, Pacileo and ViSalus in Utah's Salt Lake County District Court this past March for allegedly stealing trade secrets and engaging in malicious cyber activity. Siragusa also ordered hackers to infiltrate computers belonging to an employee of Santa Clara-based design software company Silvaco to gain an advantage in his client's lawsuit seeking child support and employment benefits, according to the plea agreement.

     Moser and Siragusa entered their guilty pleas in open court on July 20. They will be sentenced on Nov. 2.  Siragusa is represented by Anthony Brass of San Francisco. Moser is represented by Katharine McClure of San Francisco.  Neither the U.S. Attorney's Office nor the men's attorneys returned requests for comment.

 ***  PREVIOUSLY ***

FBI Press Relase

Private Investigators Indicted in E-Mail Hacking Scheme
February 11, 2015

SAN JOSE—Nathan Moser, Peter Siragusa, AKA Bobby Russo, Carlo Pacileo, Trent Williams, and Sumit Gupta, AKA Sumit Vishnoi, were charged with crimes related to a conspiracy to access the e-mail accounts, Skype accounts, and computers of people opposing Moser’s and Siragua’s clients’ in civil lawsuits, announced United States Attorney Melinda Haag and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson.

A federal grand jury indicted Moser, 41, of Menlo Park, Calif.; Siragusa, 59, of Novato, Calif.; Pacileo, 44, of El Segundo, Calif.; Williams, 24, of Martinez, Calif.; and Gupta, 26, of Jabalapur, India, on January 15, 2015, charging them with one count of Conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1030(b), six counts of Accessing a Protected Computer and Obtaining Information, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C), and two counts of Interception of Electronic Communications, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2511(1)(a). The indictment was unsealed in court in San Jose, Calif., yesterday.

According to the Indictment, Moser was a private investigator and owner of Moser and Associates in Menlo Park. Siragusa was also a private investigator and owner of Siragusa Investigations in Novato. Although Moser and Siragusa operated separate businesses, they often assisted in each other’s investigations. The Indictment further alleges that Williams and Gupta were computer hackers hired by Moser and Siragusa to access the e-mail accounts, Skype accounts, and protected computers of individuals without authorization. Pacileo was the director of security for ViSalus, a network marketing company based in Los Angeles and one of Moser’s clients.

The Indictment alleges that the object of the defendants’ conspiracy was to obtain information that would assist Moser’s and Siragusa’s clients, including Pacileo, in the clients’ lawsuits. According to the indictment, once retained by a client, Moser and Siragusa would hire Williams and Gupta, among others, to hack into the victims’ e-mail accounts, Skype accounts, and protected computers. In addition to that conduct, the defendants allegedly installed and used a keylogger—a tool that intercepts and logs the particular keys struck on a keyboard in a covert manner so that the person using the keyboard is unaware that his or her actions are being monitored—to obtain information that would assist Moser’s and Siragusa’s clients.

According to the Indictment, Ocean Avenue, a network marketing company based in South Jordan, Utah, was a competitor of ViSalus that had hired several former ViSalus employees. As a result, ViSalus initiated a civil lawsuit against Ocean Avenue employees. Pacileo hired Moser to investigate Ocean Avenue. Moser allegedly enlisted Siragusa to assist with the investigation, and together they hired hackers to illegally obtain information to assist in the lawsuit.

Moser, Siragusa, and Williams made their initial appearances in San Jose yesterday before the Honorable Paul S. Grewal, U.S. Magistrate Judge. Moser was released on a $100,000 bond, with his wife signing as surety and custodian. Moser’s next hearing is scheduled for identification of counsel today before Judge Grewal. Siragusa was released pending the filing of a $100,000 secured bond on or before February 20, 2015. His next hearing is scheduled for February 23, 2015, at 1:30 p.m. before the Honorable Edward J. Davila, U.S. District Judge, in San Jose. Williams, who remains in custody, has a detention hearing scheduled for February 13, 2015, at 1:30 p.m., before Judge Grewal.

Pacileo made his initial appearance in Los Angeles before the Honorable Ralph Zarefsky, U.S. Magistrate Judge, and was released pending the filing of a $25,000 secured bond on or before February 13, 2015. His next hearing is scheduled for February 23, 2015 before Judge Davila.

An arrest warrant has been issued by the court for Gupta, who is believed to be in India. FBI Agents in San Jose are working with the FBI office in New Delhi, India, to secure Gupta’s prosecution.

The maximum statutory penalty for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1030(b) is five years custody, three years’ supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. The maximum statutory penalty for each violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C) is 10 years custody, three years’ supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. The maximum statutory penalty for each violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2511(1)(a) is five years custody, three years’ supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. However, any sentence will be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

Matt Parrella and Michelle Kane are the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Elise Etter. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI.
This content has been reproduced from its original source.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ahmed clock in a pencil case.

Tech guru removes clock interior from plastic shell / case below in seconds and inserts into same style pencil case.  Components are near identical.

Hmmmmm ... look familiar?  Near identical and took less than 20 seconds. 







Soldier uses a GoPro camera to prove his estranged wife's abuse - and it catches her grabbing his genitals during a custody handover

Soldier uses a GoPro camera to prove his estranged wife's abuse - and it catches her grabbing his genitals during a custody handover

A former US Army Ranger from Florida has strapped a GoPro camera to his belt to catch his estranged wife forcibly grabbing his genitals during a contentious custody handover.

'This is just one of many instances where I've had to use the camera to either prove her guilt or prove my innocence and that's the only reason I am carrying it,' the solider, identified only as 'Michael,' told the station 10News.

Michael, a resident of Pinellas County, has been locked in a drawn-out custody battle with his spouse, 37-year-old Corinne Novak, over their 2-year-old twin boys. The couple are also in the process of getting a divorce.

The husband has accused Novak of domestic violence, and in order to prove his claim he took to tying a small camera to his belt using a parachute cord during his encounters with her.

Michael's GoPro was rolling when he met his wife last Thursday to exchange custody of their sons.

The video, obtained by 10News, opens with the retired solider reaching into the back of his car to unbuckle one of his sons. Suddenly, he lets out a scream and jerks his body back.

Upon closer inspection, the blurry footage shows what appears to be Corinne Novak's hand in the bottom right corner grabbing her estranged husband's testicles.

Novak is then heard off camera yelling at Michael: 'call the police. I'm gonna tell them that you just assaulted me.'

When Michael shared the video documenting his alleged assault with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, it was enough to have Corinne Novak arrested on a domestic battery charge.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Chapman Kids First program provides support during a split

Chapman Kids First program provides support during a split

Orange County Register
Sept. 13, 2015
Updated Sept. 14, 2015 10:18 a.m.

There’s nothing easy about divorce, but as parents deal with all the drama and legalities, there are muffled voices that too often go unheard – the children whose worlds are being split in two.

Kids First, a program operating out of Chapman University’s Smith Hall, has worked for nearly two decades to make sure kids are able to make it through the divorce process as smoothly as possible.

Chapman alumna Arione Capolupo is the associate clinical director for Kids First, but she started on the program’s first day as a student volunteer. Over the years, Capolupo has worked with over 5,000 families going through separations.

Growing up with divorced parents, Capolupo experienced a kind of stigma from her peers, whose parents were all still together. This personal connection attracted her to the program even before it began operations; she jumped at the chance to make a difference for kids with separated parents.

Since its inception, Kids First has worked in conjunction with Chapman’s Department of Psychology. Every semester, students from Chapman’s master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy program get involved with the program to help make a difference – not just for kids stuck in the divorce process, but for those with parents going through any kind of separation.

Kids First isn’t intended to replace therapy, but to serve as an educational opportunity for children to learn about divorce and to give them a chance to share their feelings. For eight weeks, children are divided into age-appropriate workshops by age, with ages ranging from 4 to 17.

Capolupo explains that younger kids are able to learn and express themselves easily through play, so workshops for younger visitors include a lot of games, puppet shows and other fun activities supplemented with basic education on emotions, the divorce process and coping methods.

Older children have two major activities to choose from, one being a mock divorce trial where kids play the parts of parents, judges and attorneys. While this allows kids to a unique way to express their feelings, it isn't the more popular option.

The more popular option – and one of the more emotionally charged of the Kids First offerings – is called “Kids First News.” In this activity, kids work together to come up with “interview questions,” which a representative of the group then asks all of the parents involved in the program. Parents can then volunteer to respond, which Capolupo explains often does a lot of good for both sides of the interview.

Most of the Kids First children are attending due to court order, and not everyone is happy to be there, but Capolupo says that by the time the program is done, she’s seen some impressive transformations.

“I’ve been in groups where the kids hated being there, but on the last day, they give me a hug and say, ‘You made it bearable,’” Capolupo said. “They say things like ‘I’m glad to know it wasn’t my fault,’ or ‘My dad’s not so bad!’”

Children with separated parents are caught in a difficult situation, with a laundry list of potential challenges. Battles for custody time can be especially harrowing – a 16-year-old girl that Capolupo once worked with was caught in a 10-year custody battle, and her parents traded custody of her every other day. They thought they were making sure she didn’t miss out on love from either parent, but the stresses of nonstop swapping only hurt her in the end.

Even in less dramatic cases, separation brings a plethora of problems. Some kids are made to play messenger between their parents, while some have to put up with each parent constantly bad-mouthing or trying to attain information on the other. Young kids tend to think that the separation is their fault, while teens face frustration in not having a voice in the matter. In some particularly unfortunate cases, children are exposed to the sordid details of the separation – that one parent had an affair, or even worse, that their parents never wanted a child in the first place.

Of course, parents have a lot of emotions to work through of their own in a divorce or separation, but Capolupo says they should focus on their child’s well-being above all else, asking, “Do you hate your child'’ other parent more than you love your child?”

“Your child should come first, your child needs come before your own. That means you get along with that other parent no matter how you feel,” Capolupo said. “The number one indicator of a child’s resilience and adjustment to the divorce is how the parents behave, that's a proven fact.”

Registration and more information on Kids First is available at kidsfirstoc.org.

Contact the writer: jwinslow@ocregister.com


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Amber Telford - The Rest of the Story

 Amber Telford - The Rest of the Story

You probably remember former Utah jazz dancer  Amber Telford (33) was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 30 days in jail for having sex with a 17-year-old student of her dance studio. 

Paul Telford had a suspicion that his attractive wife, who owned and operated a dance studio at the time was having an affair, so he hired a private investigator to follow her.  

The married woman was video taped picking up the minor in the middle of the night and would have sex with him in her car, at her mom’s house (weird) and at her dance studio.

It was at the dance studio where the private investigator with video camera in hand, confronted them as they were under a blanket with their cloths strewn about the floor.

But as Paul Harvey would say, Now for the Rest of the Story.

The 17-year old boy, was the private investigator's own son! 


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Tampa lawyer sues over anonymous online review in case with First Amendment overtones

Tampa lawyer sues over anonymous online review in case with First Amendment overtones

Tampa Bay Times
Richard Danielson, Times Staff Writer
Friday, May 29, 2015 12:45pm

If someone online makes false statements that anonymously trash your professional reputation, should you be able to find out who posted the review?

Yes, says Tampa divorce and family law attorney Deborah Thomson, a central figure in a precedent-setting case now on appeal in the state of Washington.

Thomson, 44, is a partner at The Women's Law Group in Carrollwood. Last year she filed a defamation suit against an anonymous reviewer on the attorney ratings website Avvo.com. She has asked courts in Seattle, where Avvo is based, to enforce a subpoena for information that would unmask her anonymous critic.

Among other things, she argues that the First Amendment does not protect defamatory speech.

"If there aren't some guidelines and some protections, it is very easy for any individual to go and post any kind of defamatory comment about anybody else when they feel like it, because they can hide behind the First Amendment," Thomson said Thursday after arguing her case to a three-judge panel in Seattle.

It's not a new question.

"This is a question that is sort of sweeping the country state by state," said David Ardia, an assistant professor of law and co-director of the Center for Media Law and Policy at the University of North Carolina School of Law. "Each state is kind of weighing in at its own time on this question, and not all states are in perfect agreement on what should be done."

Thomson's case has drawn opposition not only from Avvo, but from the nonprofit advocacy group Public Citizen in Washington, D.C. They contend Thomson should have to meet a multi-part test that includes showing she has a legitimate claim that is likely to succeed in order to pierce her critic's veil of anonymity.

With Amazon, Microsoft and other tech companies based in Washington state, the case is seen as having an impact beyond Avvo.

"This is one of the national tech centers in the country, and the ruling in this case could affect the rights to speak pseudonymously and anonymously on a number of platforms," said Paul Alan Levy, an attorney for Public Citizen, founded in 1971 by consumer watchdog Ralph Nader. "If it's too easy to out your critics, the result will be that one side of the debate about the quality of businesses will be suppressed."

On Avvo, Thomson has 11 reviews.

Ten former clients praise her with headlines like, "Excellent attorney," "Experienced Grade A+ Lawyer" and "Very caring."

The 11th came from a reviewer who posted a critical review under the headline "Things to consider" in September 2013.

"I am still in court five years after Ms. Thomson represented me during my divorce proceedings," it says. "Her lack of basic business skills and detachment from her fiduciary responsibilities has cost me everything. She failed to show up for a nine-hour mediation because she had vacation days. She failed to subpoena documents that are critical to the division of assets in any divorce proceeding. In fact, she did not subpoena any documents at all. My interests were simply not protected in any meaningful way."

Thomson wrote a response that Avvo posted right below her critic's review. First, she said, the reviewer "was not an actual client of mine."

"This is a personal attack from someone that I know," Thomson added. Five years before, she said, she worked at a law firm where "any cases were not my own." She also said courts have procedural safeguards in place to ensure that cases don't drag on. She also said a mediation would not have taken place if an attorney didn't show up, and mediations are not scheduled for set blocks of time as described.

Thomson also noted Avvo does not verify what users post or whether someone writing a review was, in fact, an attorney's client.

But she didn't stop there.

In May 2014, Thomson sued her critic in Hillsborough County Circuit Court. She alleged defamation and issued a subpoena to Avvo seeking identifying information about the reviewer. In her lawsuit, Thomson called her critic Jane Doe. She said she thinks she knows Doe's identity, though she declined to share it last week. In court records, not even Doe's gender is acknowledged with any certainty.

Thomson said similar critical reviews about her appeared on Google and Yelp, both based in California, a state where judges have set specific standards for those seeking to expose anonymous online posters. After her subpoena to Google, the company reached out to Doe and when Doe didn't respond, Google took down the posting, Thomson said. She said she is in contact with Yelp.

A Washington trial judge denied Thomson's request to force Avvo to turn over Doe's records, saying she failed to sufficiently establish the case behind her defamation claim. Her appeal set up Thursday's hearing.

Anonymous free speech has a long history in the United States, going back to the Federalist Papers and beyond, and courts have protected anonymous speech under the First Amendment. They've also worked to create standards in defamation cases that balance the interests of people who have suffered real harm from false statements with the rights of anonymous speakers writing about important matters.

Generally, courts that have set these standards require some sort of proof showing that the plaintiff's claim is legitimate and likely to succeed on its merits, Ardia said. They also have required that the plaintiffs make an effort to notify the anonymous poster that their identity could be disclosed through a subpoena so they have a chance to defend themselves. And that can be hard, because the poster is, well, anonymous.

A Delaware court introduced a modified version of those standards, though its case was political, not commercial. A key question in Washington is what standard that state will adopt. Thomson and Levy said it could be months before they get a ruling.

"It has been a struggle," Thomson said, and there's "a feeling of helplessness when you find something like this online, and you realize that there's really nothing that you can do about it, which is why I'm pursuing this matter as hard as I am."

There were a rash of these cases a few years back, Ardia said, though the numbers seem to have tapered off. He said there might be a couple of possible reasons for that.

As judges set standards that require plaintiffs and their lawyers to meet certain requirements, some may be thinking twice about the expense of heading to the courthouse.

Also, there's the idea that court battles over online speech might be not be effective — and can even be counterproductive.

This is known as the "Streisand Effect," named for movie star and pop diva Barbra Streisand. In 2003, she filed an invasion of privacy suit over an aerial photo of her Malibu beach mansion posted on an environmental website that documents changes to the California coastline. In the three months before she sued, the photo of her home had been downloaded six times, twice by her lawyer. In the month after, the number of views rose to 420,000.

"Now," Ardia said, "it's part of the lore of the Internet that sometimes if you complain about something, you bring more attention to it."

Information from the San Jose Mercury News was used in this report.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Philadelphia Police-Corruption Probe story

Philadelphia Police-Corruption Probe story

Associated Press
April 16, 2015 3:39 PM


Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A disgraced ex-police officer testifying against his drug squad colleagues acknowledged Tuesday that he stole drug money, planted evidence and lied on police paperwork too many times to count.

Jeffrey Walker told jurors that the Philadelphia Police Department drug squad targeted white "college-boy ... khaki-pants types" who were "easy to intimidate."

That matches the description of some of the drug dealers who have testified at the six-week police corruption trial that the squad stole as much as $110,000 at a time during violent, no-warrant raids.

Lead defendant Thomas Liciardello always got a cut of the stolen money, while the others split "jobs" that they worked, Walker said. The city's police brass often celebrated the squad's work with splashy news conferences to announce large seizures.

"They liked that, as far as the bosses and supervisors were concerned. It made them look good. It was nothing but a dog and pony show," Walker testified.

More than 160 drug convictions have been overturned since Walker pleaded guilty and the others were named in a 26-count indictment. Scores of civil-rights lawsuits are pending over the arrests. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has voiced his disgust with the squad's alleged crimes while continuing his effort to clean out and reform the 7,000-member department.

Walker, 46, said he first stole money as a uniformed patrolman when he chased a dealer into a house and spotted a large bag of cash on top of the refrigerator.

"I never saw that much money. I was a young kid," Walker told jurors. "I took some money, put it in my jacket pocket."

Defense lawyers have attacked his credibility and will no doubt point out on cross-examination Wednesday the times he admits acting alone, even before he joined the elite undercover drug unit. He also said he developed a drinking problem and became forgetful.

Walker had nearly 24 years in when he was arrested in an FBI sting in 2013. He was making $119,000 a year, and padding overtime for court appearances and undercover work. The illicit drug money provided yet more "gravy."

Walker and defendant Linwood Norman were known as "The Twin Towers," often assigned by Liciardello to rough people up.

In one of their more memorable assignments, Norman leaned drug suspect Michael Cascioli over a high-rise balcony to elicit the passcode for his Palm Pilot, according to Walker, who helped scare the suspect.

City police officials later held a news conference to announce that the 2007 search had yielded more than $1.5 million in marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms, and $440,000 in cash. Federal prosecutors now say the squad raided the apartment before they got a warrant.

In another episode, Walker admitted carrying a heavy safe full of drug money down 17 flights of stairs to avoid being seen on the elevator security camera. And he described another heist when he stuffed so much bundled cash into his police vest that he had to wear Liciardello's vest over his to cover the bulges.

Walker agreed to cooperate after the FBI caught him stealing $15,000 from a suspect and planting drugs in his car. He has been in custody ever since and hopes to avoid a life sentence through his testimony.

Liciardello, he said, warned squad members not to change their spending habits so dramatically that they attracted attention. The other ex-squad members on trial are Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts and John Speiser.

Walker said he once worked closely with Liciardello and Reynolds but was ostracized as he went through a divorce, weight loss surgery and other personal problems. Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen late Tuesday introduced a series of threatening texts Liciardello sent Walker once he suspected Walker was talking to Internal Affairs.

"Your now a rat I hope you die," Liciardello wrote. "I will have you locked up by midnight. Goodbye loner."

"You will be in jail before me," Walker replied.

That didn't quite prove true. Liciardello — the only defendant denied bail after the July 2014 indictment — was jailed a year after him.

LINK: > Philadelphia Police-Corruption Probe story


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Woman submits profanity-laced tirade after lawsuit is dismissed ... " FUCK THIS COURT "

Woman submits profanity-laced tirade after lawsuit is dismissed ...  " FUCK THIS COURT "

Atlanta - After a woman's civil rights suit, filed on behalf of her son and husband, was tossed out in court, she responded with a nine-page, profanity-filled submission to the court

Link to Document: > FUCK THIS COURT

In September 2010, Tama Jada Clark was pulled over in Camilla, Georgia. Police searched her vehicle and discovered she had a AK-47 rifle and a .45-caliber pistol, both fully loaded, plus wilderness survival gear. Officers also allegedly heard cell phone recordings suggesting Clark was trying to break her husband — currently serving a 30-year sentence — out of jail, and she was arrested.

In 2014, Clark filed a lawsuit, saying her civil rights were violated. She claims she was not in the same city as the jail her husband is being kept in, though the town she was pulled over in is close by. She also says she legally owned the two guns.

During her court appearance, she apparently claimed to be born in Pensacola, Florida, though she says she's not a "citizen or national" of the United States. Her lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Willis B. Hunt on March 31. In response she submitted a nine-page legal filing accusing the court of favouring authorities and ignoring her more than 100 pages of "proper rebuttals."

"F*ck this court and everything it stands for," Clark said in the document. "Look here, old man, when I told you I AM Justice – I meant it." She goes on to say she took a month to study the "history of the world" and "American jurisprudence" and that the FBI and CIA have been trying to recruit her. She also said she thinks the court ignored her because it couldn't defend itself against her legal arguments.
She also submitted 25 pages of supplementary materials, including an article she wrote called "Why Most Americans Do Not Inherently Owe Federal Income Taxes."


Sunday, April 19, 2015

FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades

FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades

The Washington Post
By Spencer S. Hsu
April 18, 2015 

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’slargest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.

The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said. The question now, they said, is how state authorities and the courts will respond to findings that confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques — like hair and bite-mark comparisons — that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.

In a statement, the FBI and Justice Department vowed to continue to devote resources to address all cases and said they “are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis testimony, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, commended the FBI and department for the collaboration but said, “The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.”

“We need an exhaustive investigation that looks at how the FBI, state governments that relied on examiners trained by the FBI and the courts allowed this to happen and why it wasn’t stopped much sooner,” Neufeld said.

Norman L. Reimer, the NACDL’s executive director, said, “Hopefully, this project establishes a precedent so that in future situations it will not take years to remediate the injustice.”

While unnamed federal officials previously acknowledged widespreadproblems, the FBI until now has withheld comment because findings might not be representative.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former prosecutor, called on the FBI and Justice Department to notify defendants in all 2,500 targeted cases involving an FBI hair match about the problem even if their case has not been completed, and to redouble efforts in the three-year-old review to retrieve information on each case.

“These findings are appalling and chilling in their indictment of our criminal justice system, not only for potentially innocent defendants who have been wrongly imprisoned and even executed, but for prosecutors who have relied on fabricated and false evidence despite their intentions to faithfully enforce the law,” Blumenthal said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), urged the bureau to conduct “a root-cause analysis” to prevent future breakdowns.

“It is critical that the Bureau identify and address the systemic factors that allowed this far-reaching problem to occur and continue for more than a decade,” the lawmakers wrote FBI Director James B. Comey on March 27, as findings were being finalized.

The FBI is waiting to complete all reviews to assess causes but has acknowledged that hair examiners until 2012 lacked written standards defining scientifically appropriate and erroneous ways to explain results in court. The bureau expects this year to complete similar standards for testimony and lab reports for 19 forensic disciplines.

Federal authorities launched the investigation in 2012 after The Washington Post reported that flawed forensic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people since at least the 1970s, typically for murder, rape and other violent crimes nationwide.

The review confirmed that FBI experts systematically testified to the near-certainty of “matches” of crime-scene hairs to defendants, backing their claims by citing incomplete or misleading statistics drawn from their case work.

In reality, there is no accepted research on how often hair from different people may appear the same. Since 2000, the lab has used visual hair comparison to rule out someone as a possible source of hair or in combination with more accurate DNA testing.

Warnings about the problem have been mounting. In 2002, the FBI reported that its own DNA testing found that examiners reported false hair matches more than 11 percent of the time. In the District, the only jurisdiction where defenders and prosecutors have re-investigated all FBI hair convictions, three of seven defendants whose trials included flawed FBI testimony have been exonerated through DNA testing since 2009, and courts have exonerated two more men. All five served 20 to 30 years in prison for rape or murder.

University of Virginia law professor Brandon L. Garrett said the results reveal a “mass disaster” inside the criminal justice system, one that it has been unable to self-correct because courts rely on outdated precedents admitting scientifically invalid testimony at trial and, under the legal doctrine of finality, make it difficult for convicts to challenge old evidence.

“The tools don’t exist to handle systematic errors in our criminal justice system,” Garrett said. “The FBI deserves every recognition for doing something really remarkable here. The problem is there may be few judges, prosecutors or defense lawyers who are able or willing to do anything about it.”

Federal authorities are offering new DNA testing in cases with errors, if sought by a judge or prosecutor, and agreeing to drop procedural objections to appeals in federal cases.

However, biological evidence in the cases often is lost or unavailable. Among states, only California and Texas specifically allow appeals when experts recant or scientific advances undermine forensic evidence at trial.

Defense attorneys say scientifically invalid forensic testimony should be considered as violations of due process, as courts have held with false or misleading testimony.

The FBI searched more than 21,000 federal and state requests to its hair comparison unit from 1972 through 1999, identifying for review roughly 2,500 cases where examiners declared hair matches.

Reviews of 342 defendants’ convictions were completed as of early March, the NACDL and Innocence Project reported. In addition to the 268 trials in which FBI hair evidence was used against defendants, the review found cases in which defendants pleaded guilty, FBI examiners did not testify, did not assert a match or gave exculpatory testimony.

When such cases are included, by the FBI’s count examiners made statements exceeding the limits of science in about 90 percent of testimonies, including 34 death-penalty cases.

The findings likely scratch the surface. The FBI said as of mid-April that reviews of about 350 trial testimonies and 900 lab reports are nearly complete, with about 1,200 cases remaining.

The bureau said it is difficult to check cases before 1985, when files were computerized. It has been unable to review 700 cases because police or prosecutors did not respond to requests for information.

Also, the same FBI examiners whose work is under review taught 500 to 1,000 state and local crime lab analysts to testify in the same ways.

Texas, New York and North Carolina authorities are reviewing their hair examiner cases, with ad hoc efforts underway in about 15 other states.

LINK >  Federal review stalled after finding forensic errors by FBI lab unit spanned two decades


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

V. Stiviano to appeal order to return $2.6 million to Sterling Family Trust

V. Stiviano to appeal order to return $2.6 million to Sterling Family Trust

LA Times
By Matt Hamilton
April 15, 2015

V. Stiviano, the former companion of Donald Sterling, will appeal a Los Angeles County judge’s tentative decision that she return more than $2.6 million in cash and gifts to the former NBA team owner, her attorney said.

On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin Jr. ruled a home worth $1.8 million and more than $800,000 in luxury cars and cash gifts that Sterling gave his 32-year-old companion were assets he shared with his wife, Shelly. He ordered Stiviano to turn them over to the Sterling Family Trust.

Her attorney, Mac Nehoray, said Stiviano would appeal.

"We are very disappointed," Nehoray said. "Judges are supposed to interpret the law, not make them."

Stiviano contended the gifts were made when the Sterlings were separated.

The judge was not swayed, however, finding that the couple didn’t live separately “during any part” of 2011 through 2014.

“Their marriage had difficulties,” wrote Fruin, noting Shelly Sterling’s interview with Barbara Walters in which she admitted being estranged from her husband.

“However, the parties continued to live together, to travel together, to hold parties together and to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries together.”

The court decision bookends a tumultuous year for 80-year-old Donald Sterling, a real estate magnate who owned the NBA’s Clippers franchise for 33 years.

Shelly Sterling’s attorney, Pierce O’Donnell, announced the court decision Tuesday night.

"Shelly is thrilled with the decision,” said O’Donnell, who also called it “a victory for the Sterling family.”

Public outcry erupted in April 2014 after TMZ.com posted a recording of Donald Sterling scolding Stiviano for associating with blacks in public. On the recording, Sterling warned Stiviano not to bring blacks to Clippers games.

In the ensuing uproar, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million, banned him for life and moved to force the sale of the team, which was held by the Sterling Family Trust.

Following a probate trial, a Los Angeles County judge ruled Shelly Sterling had acted properly when she ousted her husband from the trust and said she had the authority to sell the Clippers. Former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer subsequently paid $2 billion for the team.

During the nearly 2-½ years that Stiviano and Sterling were companions, he gave her a Bentley, a Range Rover and a Ferrari. He also bought her a Los Angeles duplex valued at $1.8 million.

Shelly Sterling contended Stiviano was her husband’s mistress, but they denied it.

At trial, Stiviano argued family members contributed a portion of the home’s payments. But the judge, after analyzing banking records and ledgers from Sterling’s company – along with testimony from both Sterling and Stiviano – found the octogenarian alone had bought the property. 

“Ms. Stiviano testified that Donald Sterling made payments to her or for her benefit that she acknowledged were gifts,” Fruin said.

The judge gave the parties 15 days to file objections or seek changes before his order becomes final.

LINK: >  V. Stiviano to appeal order to return $2.6 million to Donald Sterling

Thursday, April 9, 2015

LA Times Exclusive: Scientology head's father was spied on, police report says

Exclusive Scientology head's father was spied on, police report says

LA Times
Kim Christensen
April 8, 2015

For 18 months private detectives tracked every move made by the father of David Miscavige, leader of the Church of Scientology, as they eavesdropped, spied on his emails and planted a GPS unit on his car, according to police records.

The church paid the two detectives $10,000 a week through an intermediary, the records indicate, all because Miscavige feared that his father would divulge too much about the organization's activities.

The episode, detailed in documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, is the latest in a decades-long series of allegations that the church has intimidated, harassed or abused current and former members, at times going to great lengths to dissuade them from discussing their experiences or knowledge of the secretive religion.

The surveillance of Ronald Miscavige Sr., a longtime Scientologist who had recently parted ways with the church, was described by Florida private eye Dwayne S. Powell, after he was arrested in July 2013 near Milwaukee with two rifles, four handguns, 2,000 rounds of ammunition and a homemade silencer in his rented SUV.

When confronted by West Allis, Wis., police responding to a report of a suspicious man in the neighborhood, Powell said he was house-hunting, according to the documents.

"Do I have to give you my name?" he asked the officers. "What law did I break?"

Police placed Powell, now 43, under arrest on suspicion of obstruction and in his pockets found a folding knife, a flashlight and his Florida driver's license and private investigator credentials. His Ford Edge also contained two laptop computers, binoculars, a GPS tracking device and a stun gun.

Powell initially declined to name his employer. But at the police station, he told Det. Nicholas Pye that he was hired by the Church of Scientology to conduct "full-time" surveillance of the elder Miscavige, now 79, who lived in a nearby town, the records state.

David Miscavige and the church deny any connection to Powell.

"Please be advised that Mr. Miscavige does not know Mr. Powell, has never heard of Mr. Powell, has never met Mr. Powell, has never spoken to Mr. Powell, never hired Mr. Powell and never directed any investigations by Mr. Powell," Michael Lee Hertzberg, Miscavige's attorney, said in an email to The Times.

Gary Soter, an attorney for the church, said Scientology lawyers hire private investigators "in matters related to litigation" but he called the allegations involving David Miscavige "blatantly false." He declined to answer questions about David Miscavige's relationship with his father.

Once, while tailing Miscavige on a shopping trip, Powell and his partner watched him grasp his chest and slump over while loading his car. After his arrest, Powell told police he'd thought Miscavige was having a heart attack and might die. He said he phoned his intermediary for instructions.

Two minutes later a man who identified himself as David Miscavige called him back, according to records.

"David told him that if it was Ron's time to die, to let him die and not intervene in any way," the records state, noting that the apparent emergency passed "and nothing further happened."

Miscavige's lawyer, Hertzberg, did not specifically respond to The Times' question about the incident.

Scientology was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer who parlayed his self-help system, Dianetics, into a worldwide religion-without-a-deity. It has its own "study technology" developed by Hubbard, a quirky vocabulary and long held secret story of Xenu, a soul-stealing galactic overlord from 75 million years ago.

The church teaches that spiritual freedom — the state of "clear" — can be reached through one-on-one counseling known as auditing, aided by a polygraph-like device called an "e-meter." The sessions, along with extensive training courses, can cost Scientologists hundreds of thousands of dollars.

David Miscavige, 54, who spent his teenage years as an aide to Hubbard, has divided his time between the church's international headquarters near Hemet in Riverside County, known as the Gold Base, and its facilities in Clearwater, Fla.

He rose to the head of Scientology after the founder's death in 1986 amid a federal tax investigation that was later settled, resulting in the church's tax-exempt status. As chairman of the board of the Religious Technology Center, which holds the lucrative rights to the Scientology and Dianetics trademarks, he is the church's ultimate authority.

Ex-members, including four former top officials who told their stories to the St. Petersburg Times in 2009, have accused Miscavige of physical assaults and other violent behavior — all previously denied by Miscavige and the church.

Among other things that day in West Allis, Det. Pye quizzed Powell about the guns in his SUV.

"I asked Powell if he was hired as a hit man to kill Ron if the Church of Scientology ordered such action and he stated that he was not," Pye wrote in his report.

The weapons were for "sport shooting," Powell told Pye. He said his only mission was to keep a close watch on Ronald Miscavige, the records state.

"He explained that Ron and his younger wife, Becky, left the church and David is worried that they will divulge details about the church's activities and that their job was to know who Ron talked to, emailed with, where he went, what he did, etc.," Pye wrote.

Powell told police the church paid him through another Florida investigations firm, Terry Roffler and Associates. Although he reported directly to that firm — hourly, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — "the main client is a David Miscavige, who is the son of Ronald Miscavige," the records note.

Roffler, reached by telephone, said he was "not too familiar" with the case and declined to discuss it.

In a brief telephone interview, Powell said he had let his investigator's license expire and no longer worked for the church. He declined to comment further.

Ronald Miscavige Sr. also declined to comment, although he and his wife told police as recently as last September that they believed they were still being followed.

"They advised that Ronald's son, David Miscavige, the leader of the Church of Scientology, is obviously having them watched because they left the church two years ago and David is afraid that Ronald will speak with the media about the negative inner workings of the church and David's abuse of the members of the church," a police report states.

In his July 2013 interview with police, Powell said he and a second investigator, his 21-year-old son Daniel, searched the elder Miscavige's garbage, photographed him wherever he went and tracked him with a GPS device attached to his car and linked to an iPad that read out his location, the documents state. Police found marks on the underside of the car that they concluded were made by the magnetic GPS device, the records say.

"When Ron would go to the library to check his emails, they would stand behind him and take pictures of the screen," one report notes. "When he would be eating at a restaurant, they would sit nearby or at his table and listen to his conversations. If Ron was in his vehicle on the phone, they would pull up next to him and monitor his conversation."

Powell's son, in an interview with police, corroborated key details of his father's story, including that they worked for the church, records state. He also recalled the incident in the parking lot and David Miscavige's purported response, the documents say.

"Who could let their father die like that?" he said, according to the records.

Dwayne Powell was indicted last year on one count of possessing an illegal silencer, a federal offense. The indictment was dismissed when prosecutors agreed to allow him to enter a pre-trial diversion program.

His son was not arrested or charged.

LINK: > Scientology head's father was spied on, police report says

Monday, April 6, 2015

Rolling Stone Apologizes, Retracts UVA Rape Article After CJR Review

Rolling Stone Apologizes, Retracts UVA Rape Article After CJR Review

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism conducted an independent review of the Rolling Stones article, Rape on Campus (at the University of VA), written by Rolling Stone "investigative journalist" Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

According to the investigative report, Rolling Stone:
(1) Failed to engage in basic, even routine journalistic practices,
(2) Failed to check even the most basic details of the story,
(3) Failed to give the accused a fair opportunity to respond,
(4) Allowed their trust of one source to override their basic tenets of investigative journalism,

Additionally, Police found No Witnesses, No Victims, No Corroboration

The UVA President, Teresa Sullivan said, "Irresponsible journalism unjustly damaged the reputations of many innocent individuals and the University of Virginia."

The reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely called the review "brutal and humbling".  I wonder how much more brutal than her article? 

Rolling Stone has issued a retraction of the story, however they DID NOT fire the writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely or the editors. 

I wish the media in general would take note ... we may not have had a Ferguson, if reporters had merely dug a little deeper which would have revealed "key eyewitnesses" were liars.  Or Duke lacrosse, etc., etc., etc.


Rolling Stone Apologizes, Retracts UVA Rape Article After CJR Review

Apr 6, 2015, 12:45 AM ET

 Rolling Stone issued an apology for a November 2014 article that detailed allegations about a gang rape at the University of Virginia, retracting the article and posting a critique of the magazine's editorial process on the story in its place.

The Columbia University Journalism School review published Sunday on the Rolling Stone web site said that it found the journalistic failure was avoidable, and encompassed problems with reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking.

Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the article, "A Rape on Campus," also issued an apology.

"The past few months, since my Rolling Stone article 'A Rape on Campus' was first called into question, have been among the most painful of my life. Reading the Columbia account of the mistakes and misjudgments in my reporting was a brutal and humbling experience. I want to offer my deepest apologies: to Rolling Stone’s readers, to my Rolling Stone editors and colleagues, to the U.V.A. community, and to any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article," she said in the statement.

Erdely concedes that she "didn't go far enough to verify her story."

"I allowed my concern for Jackie’s well-being, my fear of re-traumatizing her, and my confidence in her credibility to take the place of more questioning and more facts. These are mistakes I will not make again," she wrote in the statement.

“Reporting on rape has unique challenges, but the journalist still has the responsibility to get it right. I hope that my mistakes in reporting this story do not silence the voices of victims that need to be heard.”

The article prompted an investigation by police in Charlottesville, Virginia, that concluded last month with officials saying they found "no evidence" that the allegations were true.

The woman, identified as "Jackie," alleged in the article that she was gang-raped by seven men at a UVA Phi Psi fraternity party in September 2012.

After the article was published, the magazine backpedaled on the story and Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana said Erdely did not talk to any of the students involved in the alleged rape before publishing the story out of respect for Jackie.

Alex Pinkleton, a friend of Jackie's and advocate for sexual assault victims, shared her own story with Erdely.

"I did encounter skepticism with Sabrina because it seemed like she was unwilling to listen to anyone besides Jackie," Pinkleton said.

"I think in the report, the most surprising part of it was that there seemed to be a lack of ownership on the terms of the Rolling Stone. They still talked a lot about Jackie and what she had supposedly done wrong, when in reality the article should not have been written at all," Pinkleton told ABC News. "I don't think the review can help the damage that was done to Jackie and I think it's been an unfortunate situation and something that should not have been published."

University of Virginia Student Council President Abraham Axler said he did not find the report particularly shocking, and was pleased to see that it vindicated particular university figures.

"I think the most important lesson to be learned from all this stuff is that when we read something really evocative, we read something that really hits us at a visceral level that we wait until we hear all of the facts before rushing to judgement," Axler told ABC News. "I think one lesson that our community has learned is that we cant target people on the basis of a narrative."

University President Teresa A. Sullivan addressed the review, and the article's negative impact, in a statement.

"Rolling Stone’s story, 'A Rape on Campus,' did nothing to combat sexual violence, and it damaged serious efforts to address the issue," the statement reads. "Irresponsible journalism unjustly damaged the reputations of many innocent individuals and the University of Virginia. Rolling Stone falsely accused some University of Virginia students of heinous, criminal acts, and falsely depicted others as indifferent to the suffering of their classmate. The story portrayed University staff members as manipulative and callous toward victims of sexual assault. Such false depictions reinforce the reluctance sexual assault victims already feel about reporting their experience, lest they be doubted or ignored."

LINK > Rolling Stone Apologizes, Retracts UVA Rape Article After CJR Review

Thursday, April 2, 2015

California Court Issues Ruling About out-of-Control Kids

California Court Issues Ruling About out-of-Control Kids

SAN FRANCISCO — Apr 2, 2015, 4:42 PM ET
By SUDHIN THANAWALA Associated Press

The state can remove an out-of-control child from the custody of a parent even if the mother or father is not to blame for the child's behavior, a California appeals court said Thursday.
If children face substantial risk of harming themselves, it doesn't matter whether the parent did anything intentional to put them in that position, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled.

"When a child thereby faces a substantial risk of serious physical harm, a parent's inability to supervise or protect a child is enough by itself to invoke the juvenile court's dependency jurisdiction," the court said in its 3-0 ruling.

The ruling came in the case of an unnamed Los Angeles County mother whose teen daughter repeatedly ran away from home and had a child at the age of 15. The appellate court said the girl remained incorrigible despite her mother's best efforts, which included looking for her each time she left home, sending her to live with her grandparents and calling the police and Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services for help.  "(The) mother in this case was neither neglectful nor blameworthy in being unable to supervise or protect her daughter," the court said.

But state law is clear that children can still be taken if they have suffered or are at substantial risk of suffering serious harm that a parent is unable to stop, Associate Justice Brian Hoffstadt wrote.
The court's ruling upheld a juvenile court's decision to assert control over the child and allow the county to place her elsewhere. The county placed her back with her grandparents.

The mother appealed the decision, and the girl turned 18 while the appeal was pending. The court disagreed with another state appellate court that ruled in 2010 that a parent had to be shown to be culpable for a failure or inability to supervise or protect a child.

 Calls to the mother's attorney and Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services were not immediately returned.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Blurring of Work, Personal Tech Drives Privacy Disputes

Blurring of Work, Personal Tech Drives Privacy Disputes

The Recorder
January 30, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO — Administrators at Granada Middle School had first grown suspicious of Charles Brautigam after noticing a 17-year-old former student seemed to spend a lot of time hanging around his classroom.

Brautigam, who taught social studies and language arts at the southern California school, assured them he was tutoring the girl—nothing more. Then, in 2008, shortly after she turned 18, the two married. Brautigam was 36.

Complaints began pouring in from parents. Brautigam photographed his underage students without permission, "stalked" them on Twitter at night, and humiliated them in front of their peers, according to a statement of charges filed against him by the East Whittier School District.

District officials placed Brautigam on administrative leave in 2013 and went to work building a case to fire him. During a search of Brautigam's work laptop, an administrator found passwords to his personal Facebook and Gmail accounts saved in the browser, and logged on. According to Brautigam's lawyers, the "online surveillance campaign," went on for months, during which time officials accessed messages Brautigam sent from home to his friends, family, attorneys and union representative.

"If plaintiff had left his house keys in his classroom," Brautigam's attorneys wrote in a 2014 suit against the district for violation of privacy, "one wonders whether defendants would have donned ski-masks and pried into his home."

Brautigam's case may be an extreme example, but disputes involving employees' personal accounts and communications represent a new front in the workplace privacy war. Today many workers use personal cellphones to conduct business or check private email from work computers, blurring the line between work and personal technology.

While U.S. companies have vast leeway to monitor computer use, it's unclear just how deep employers can pry into employees' online history or under what circumstances they can read private emails or social media posts.

Lawrence Julius Turman, an employment partner with Reed Smith in San Francisco, said clients are increasingly asking how to monitor their employees' online activities without setting themselves up for a lawsuit.

Supervisors may be concerned that employees are uploading trade secrets to the cloud or disparaging the company brand on social media, he said. But as the law evolves, often far more slowly than technology, employers aren't sure how to watch for those things without stepping on privacy rights.

"The rules change," Turman said, "and the employers have to keep up with that."

San Francisco lawyer Jeffrey Rosenfeld of Kronenberg Rosenfeld, who represents Brautigam, says the district's intrusion was out of bounds. But he concedes the boundary isn't perfectly defined.

"There's not a wealth of authority on these issues," he said. "Email is a relatively new technology. Monitoring people's email is even newer. So I think we're just starting to see the beginnings of these cases."The East Whittier City School District, represented by McCune & Harber in Los Angeles, says its monitoring of Brautigam's accounts was justified because his passwords were saved and anyone could "stumble upon" them. They say the messages uncovered "prove inappropriate conduct" by Brautigam and are "critically important" to the district's case.

Brautigam signed a employee computer-use policy, which stipulated the district could monitor activity on his work computer. But Rosenfeld, counsel for Brautigam, argues the policy said nothing about accessing personal messages sent from outside computers.

Dana McCune of McCune & Harber didn't respond to calls or emails seeking comment. So far judges have sided with the teacher. A Los Angeles County judge denied the district's demurrer in early January, and last year Administrative Law Judge Vincent Nafarrete ruled the school district cannot use the personal messages to make its case for Brautigam's removal, a decision the Whittier district has appealed.

Lothar Determann, a Baker & McKenzie partner not involved with the case, said such disputes often hinge on what is covered in an employer's computer-use policy. A worker might compromise his position by returning his work laptop with the passwords saved in the browser, Determann noted.

"Usually the employee would change the passwords," he said. "Or not store the passwords for confidential accounts."

A similar issue has surfaced in a suit pitting Lyft's onetime chief operating officer against his former employer. Travis VanderZanden, now vice president of international growth at Uber Technologies Inc., accused his ex-employers at Lyft Inc. of reading personal texts and emails he sent after his last day at the company.

Lyft has its own gripes with VanderZanden, who the company's lawyers claim made off with thousands of sensitive documents before defecting to Uber. In a countersuit, VanderZanden insists Lyft learned of his job talks with the company's rival by sifting through his private communications.

The heavily redacted complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court doesn't make clear just how VanderZanden believes Lyft accessed the messages. A Lyft spokeswoman has said the claims are baseless, though the company has acknowledged conducting a full forensic investigation on VanderZanden's work computer.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner Joseph Liburt said clients have legitimate reasons for monitoring computer use and workplace privacy has become a hot topic at legal seminars. Companies come to him, Liburt said, looking for "bright line" rules.

So far courts haven't created a clear framework. In August, U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong of the Northern District of California ruled for equipment rental company Sunbelt Rentals Inc. A Sunbelt sales representative had synced his work iPhone and iPad to his personal Apple account and neglected to remove the devices when he left the company, allowing his former employer to read messages sent from his new iPhone. In Sunbelt Rentals v. Victor, Armstrong ruled "the transmission of those messages was entirely Victor's doing" and said the company couldn't be faulted for reading them.

A federal judge in Ohio came down differently in a 2013 case, allowing a claim to proceed against Verizon Wireless Inc. under the Stored Communications Act. The judge ruled Verizon had no authority to read 48,000 personal emails still viewable when a former employee turned in her BlackBerry without first closing her Gmail account.

Brautigam's suit in Los Angeles Superior Court includes a federal Wiretap Act claim, which Fenwick & West special counsel Robert Brownstone said can be a difficult one to win. The law, passed in 1968 to address telephone eavesdropping, was last updated in 1986. The archaic language doesn't fit perfectly with email snooping.

Courts in the past have interpreted the Wiretap Act narrowly, Brownstone said. But that could be changing.

"It's possible that over time judges have grown impatient waiting for Congress to update the rules," Brownstone said.

He said the best defense for companies is an airtight computer-use policy.

"What I work with clients on is being very, very clear in the written policy that there's no expectation of privacy," he said, "and it extends to any and all information passing through, received, stored or transmitted on any network device not only provided by the employer, but cost-reimbursed or supported by the employer."

Still, he wouldn't suggest clients draft policies that explicitly say they can log in to employees' personal email accounts. That, he said, is "going to run afoul of too many laws."

Contact the reporter at mkendall@alm.com.

Blurring of Work, Personal Tech Drives Privacy Disputes

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Private investigator pleads guilty in NY hacker-for-hire case

Private investigator pleads guilty in NY hacker-for-hire case

By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK Fri Mar 6, 2015 7:14pm EST

(Reuters) - A private investigator pleaded guilty on Friday in New York to conspiracy to engage in computer hacking, in what prosecutors said was a five-year scheme to access email accounts of people his clients were paying him to investigate.

Eric Saldarriaga, 41, of Queens, New York, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan in Manhattan.

The defendant is scheduled to be sentenced on June 26, and under a plea agreement could face six months in prison. His lawyer Peter Brill declined to comment after the hearing.

According to court papers, Saldarriaga used the online alias "Emmanuela Gelpi" to locate hackers who helped him infiltrate more than 60 email accounts.

The defendant would then provide information he learned from email communications to his clients, or else use it for personal reasons, the papers show.

"Eric Saldarriaga didn't honorably serve his clients," FBI Assistant Director Diego Rodriguez said in a statement. "Unlawfully accessing personal information is no minor crime."

The New York Times said Saldarriaga's plea followed a roughly year-long investigation by federal prosecutors and the FBI into the "hacker-for-hire" business, and could lead to attention on some of the defendant's clients.

Saldarriaga in 2013 incorporated Iona Research and Security Services Inc. In a message board posting, he said he has worked with 19 law firms in the New York City area, mainly in the areas of personal injury, medical malpractice and divorce.

At Friday's hearing, Saldarriaga admitted to having paid money to access personal email accounts of people he was investigating.

"You knew it was against the law?" Sullivan said.

"Yes, your honor," Saldarriaga replied.

Prosecutors said Saldarriaga's scheme began in 2009 and ran through at least March 2014.

The case is U.S. v. Saldarriaga, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Friday, February 13, 2015

San Jose: Private eyes hacked computers, feds say

San Jose: Private eyes hacked computers, feds say

Posted:   02/11/2015 12:11:07 PM PST

SAN JOSE -- A loose-knit group of private investigators has been indicted on federal charges of hacking into private computer accounts to aid clients who were embroiled in lawsuits against rival companies.

In an indictment revealed Wednesday, federal prosecutors accuse five defendants of orchestrating a plot to illegally forage in private computers, hacking into e-mail and Skype accounts on behalf of their clients.


Nathan Moser, 41, of Menlo Park, Peter Siragusa, 59, of Novato, Carlo Pacileo, 44, of El Segundo, Trent Williams, 24, of Martinez, and Sumit Gupta, 26, who lives in India, were named in an indictment returned by the grand jury in early January.

Moser, Siragusa and Williams made their first court appearance Tuesday and were released on $100,000 bond. Pacileo appeared in federal court in Los Angeles, and the FBI is working on bringing Gupta back from India.

The key figures in the alleged conspiracy were Moser, who owns a Menlo Park-based private investigation firm, and Siragusa, head of a Novato-based outfit. 

The indictment alleges they enlisted computer hackers to gain information to aid Pacileo and others involved in lawsuits against rival companies.

The indictment names several companies victimized by the hacking, including Silvaco, a Santa Clara software company, and Ocean Avenue, a Utah network marketing company. Those companies were competitors to ViSalus, which had sued them for raiding their employees.

Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236

San Jose: Private eyes hacked computers, feds say