FBI said to have committed 40,000 violations of privacy laws since 2001

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The San-Francisco watchdog-group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, released a report today saying it has discovered “indications that the FBI may have committed upwards of 40,000 possible intelligence violations in the 9 years since 9/11.”

The documents suggests, “that FBI intelligence investigations have compromised the civil liberties of American citizens far more frequently, and to a greater extent, than was previously assumed.” The report said that there was no indication whether anyone was disciplined for the violations.

The documents were provided by various agencies to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board, and reported nearly 800 violations of privacy laws. The EFF took the data from records it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The records were received from a number of agencies, but most were censored, making it difficult to evaluate them. The FB records were most intact, although names, exact dates and other identifying information had been obscured.

The report said that on average, a delay of 2 ½ years passed between the occurrence of a violation, and its reporting to the IOB.

Valerie Caproni, the FBI’s general counsel, told the Los Angeles Times, the violations were mostly technical or procedural, although many involved far more serious infractions, including “lying in declarations to the court, using improper evidence to obtain grand jury subpoenas, and accessing password-protected files without a warrant.”

Caproni offered that “the number of substantive violations someone’s rights is very small and we take them very seriously.” She added “Am I confident that, by and large, 99.9 percent of the time our agents are acting in compliance with the Constitution, the statutes, executive orders and FBI and DOJ policies on civil liberties? I am.”

Mark Rumold, the EFF lawyer who obtained the documents said “These guidelines were put in place to prevent civil rights abuses. And when the FBI is glibly treating violations as technical mistakes, it’s indicative of a broader problem — the FBI’s attitude toward dedicated, effective oversight.”

Most of the violations took place during the George W. Bush administration, the period covered by the investigation.

However, Rumold also took aim at the Obama administration. He said the president declared repeatedly that he would run a more transparent White House, “but when it comes to national security and intelligence investigations, that just hasn’t been the case.” The Obama administration has refused to say whether anyone is currently serving on the oversight board, which was formed in 1976 to monitor the collection intelligence data.

Access the EFF report here

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Former NJ city councilman sentenced to 18 months in prison

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Former Hoboken councilman and commissioner on the North Hudson Utilities Authority, Michael Schaffer, was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months in prison for funneling illegal cash contributions into the election campaign of former Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano.

Former Hoboken councilman, Michael Schaffer, took $25,000 in cash from an FBI undercover informant, as an advance against future favorable votes from the city's mayor.

Schaffer was arrested in July 2009 as part of a three year corruption investigation that targeted local public officials and the religious community. He was charged with taking $25,000 in illegal campaign contributions from a crooked developer-turned-FBI informant, Solomon Dwek.

Schaffer was caught on surveillance tapes taking cash from Dwek in exchange for future votes and zoning approvals, on real estate development projects that Dwek claimed to be planning. Much of the cash was handed over in $5,000 stacks of $100 bills, in FedEx mailing envelopes.

Schaffer took $15,000 from Dwek when Cammarano was running for mayor, and another $10,000 after Cammarano was elected. Cammarano was arrested less than 30 days after taking office and later pleaded guilty to receiving the illicit contributions. He is now serving a 24-month sentence in a federal prison.

The developer, Solomon Dwek, agreed to be an FBI undercover witness after he was taken into custody for a $50 million bank fraud involving PNC Bank. Dwek helped federal authorities conduct a wide-ranging public corruption and money laundering probe that ultimately resulted in charges against 44 politicians and rabbis in New Jersey and New York.

more coverage at The Jersey Journal

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Feds sue Kilpatrick associate for $16.4 million

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Federal prosecutors filed forfeiture papers over the weekend, seeking more than $16.4 million from Bobby Ferguson, the contractor friend of ex-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Ferguson was indicted in September on charges of bid-rigging a $12 million contract connected to a Detroit affordable housing development.

Officials are looking to recover more than $3.9 million in cash, checks and certificates of deposit seized or frozen by authorities, as well as two handguns and ammunition.

In addition, if Ferguson and his co-defendants are convicted, the government wants damages of $12.5 million, the amount they received on the bid-rigged housing contract.

Ferguson’s co-defendants are all executives at companies owned by Ferguson, and include Shakib Deria, vice president of A&F Environmental/Johnson Construction Services; Michael Woodhouse, president of Xcel Construction and Calvin Hall, vice president of Xcel Construction.

Separately, in December, Ferguson was indicted on charges of extortion, bribery and fraud over construction contracts involving city sewer and water main work, in which millions of dollars were diverted to Ferguson, Kilpatrick’s father and other city hall insiders.

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House legislators using constitutional clause to stop corruption investigations

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A clause in the U.S. Constitution is causing concern at the Justice Department, as legislators under investigation on corruption charges are using it to defend themselves from federal prosecutors, according to a story in The Washington Post.

The clause, simply known as the “speech and debate” clause, shields legislative work from executive branch interference. House members have successfully used the clause in recent years in corruption probes to limit the FBI’s ability to search for evidence and install wiretaps on their phones.

A 2007 court decision ruled that government agents violated the constitutional rights of then-Rep. William J.  Jefferson when they conducted a search of his Washington D.C. office. At the time, the Justice Department warned that the decision would “seriously and perhaps fatally” undermine congressional corruption investigations by limiting the scope of federal investigators.

A few days before the office raid, FBI agents, searching his Washington, D.C. home, found $90,000 in cash hidden in his kitchen’s freezer.  Jefferson was eventually convicted of corruption using that and other evidence, and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Since the Jefferson court ruling, the speech and debate defense has killed off, or severely limited the investigations into potential corruption activities of former-Reps. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) and veteran Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.).

Instead of any opposition to the constitution clause, House leaders of both parties have been supportive of the use of it by members under investigation by Justice Department officials. A recently-filed brief by House lawyers compared the extensive wiretapping of Renzi, who was accused of financially benefitting from a land deal, to the wiretapping of former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

Law enforcement officials say that the clause is used now in virtually every defense, because many involve legislative acts in which the lawmaker was involved. For example, a potentially illegal action might involve a  lawmaker who introduces legislation in exchange for campaign contributions or other favors.

In the Visclosky investigation, investigators sought to determine if the lawmaker used his influence on the House’s Appropriations Committee, of which he was a member, to steer government contracts to clients of lobbyist PMA Group. Over a period of 10 years, Visclosky took $1.36 million in campaign donations from PMA, while voting for over $137 million in purchases from PMA clients.

The lawmaker’s lawyers refused to turn over most of the documents requested by investigators, citing the speech and debate clause. The investigation has stalled, and sources say the congressman is unlikely to be charged based on a lack of evidence.

More at The Washington Post

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FBI wants bribe money back from Boston politician caught in sting

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Adding to his mounting troubles, Boston city councilor Chuck Turner, convicted on corruption charges in October 2010, is now being asked by prosecutors to return the $1,000 bribe he took from an FBI informant.

After taking a $1,000 bribe from an FBI informant, the feds want their money back.

Turner was caught on videotape taking a $1,000 bribe from the local businessman turned FBI informant, for agreeing to help secure a liquor license. After the incident, he lied three times to the FBI about it. The sting was part of an operation targeting corrupt politicians. Turner is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan.25.

Last week, Turner filed complaint with the U.S. District Court seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the action the city council took on Dec. 1 to remove him from office.

Turner’s lawyer, Barry Wilson, also filed papers yesterday seeking a postponement of the scheduled hearing date. Wilson said that Turner is suffering from depression, and is out of the country recovering from his “rigorous trial schedule.”

Wilson has proclaimed his innocence, telling jurors that he only took $200 in what he called “a preacher’s handshake.”

The Boston Herald

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Boston ex-councilor sues to regain seat after being ousted for bribery conviction

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Ex-city councilor, Chuck Turner, who was convicted of bribery in October 2010, has filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the action the city council took on Dec. 1 to remove him from office.

Turner was caught on videotape taking a $1,000 bribe from a local businessman turned FBI informant, for agreeing to help secure a liquor license. After the incident, he lied three times to the FBI about it. The sting was part of an operation targeting corrupt politicians. Turner is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan.25.

Turner’s lawyer, Chester Darling, said the city had no authority to remove him from office, and said that council members relied on a flawed reading of the law. “It was a disgrace what happened up there. They had no authority to remove him,” Darling told The Boston Herald.

The motion also seeks to halt the scheduled special election in February to fill his vacant seat.

Turner was re-elected to office in 2009 for a two year term which runs through Dec.31, 2011. The city council voted 11-1 to remove him, following his felony conviction. The expulsion was the first time in the city council’s 100 year history that anyone had been voted off the council.

Another prominent Boston politician, former state senator Diane Wilkerson, was sentenced on Thursday to 3 ½ years in prison after pleading guilty to eight counts of attempted extortion, as part of the same FBI sting. Wilkerson took $23,500 in bribes from the same FBI informant for her help in securing a liquor license and for her influence to get an approval for a real estate development project.

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Former Mass. senator sentenced to 3 ½ years for corruption

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Dianne Wilkerson, the first black woman elected to the Massachusetts Senate, was sentenced on Thursday to 3 ½ years in prison , after pleading guilty to eight counts of attempted extortion for taking $23,500 in bribes from a Boston business owner, Ronald Wilburn, who was cooperating with the FBI.

Former Mass. state senator Dianne Wilkerson was taped on eight occasions taking bribes from an FBI informant.

Wilkerson was a high profile member of the state Senate, where she served for nearly 16 years. She resigned in Oct. 2008 following her arrest on the bribery charges.

Wilkerson was infamously videotaped by FBI agents stuffing a roll of cash into her bra, on one of eight occasions that she received the bribes.  Wilkerson took the bribes in exchange for her help in securing a liquor license for a nightclub and to intercede on a property development deal.

After her sentencing, Wilkerson told the press that the government’s action against her was “the most corrupt and outrageous abuse of the justice system.” Although she said she accepted her sentence, she added “My acceptance can’t negate the despicable actions of the government and its collaborators.”

U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock handed down the sentence, also noting her conviction on tax evasion charges in the 1990’s and repeated violations of state campaign finance and ethics laws. Prosecutors earlier promised that they would recommend no more than four years of prison time, in exchange for the guilty plea.

The Boston Democrat said she wasn’t motivated by money and always worked hard to serve her constituents.

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