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Arizona man guilty of making ammo sold to Las Vegas shooter
By KEN RITTER | 04:09 EST
LAS VEGAS (AP) — An Arizona man pleaded guilty Tuesday in a U.S. court in Nevada to illegally manufacturing tracer and armor-piercing bullets found in a hotel room where a gunman carried out the Las Vegas Strip massacre two years ago.
Douglas Haig, 57, was not accused of a direct role in the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting that killed 58 people and injured more than 850 at an open-air music festival. Prosecutors never alleged that he had advance knowledge of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
“Doug had no indication whatsoever about Stephen Paddock’s plans,” defense attorney Marc Victor said, invoking the name of the shooter during a prepared statement outside U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. Haig declined to comment.
“Doug was absolutely devastated when he learned of the tragedy” and that he previously sold ammunition to Paddock, Victor said.
Haig acknowledged before U.S. District Judge James Mahan that he had no license to disassemble, remanufacture and reload bullets at his home workshop in Mesa, Arizona. He used the business name Specialized Military Ammunition during sales on the internet and at gun shows around the country.
Haig closed the business permanently following an FBI raid less than three weeks after the shooting, Victor said. As a convicted felon, Haig now cannot possess weapons or ammunition.
The plea avoided a trial that had been scheduled to begin next month. If convicted, Haig could have faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. His plea agreement could get him about two years at sentencing Feb. 19. Victor said he’ll seek probation.
Victor argued that as the only person to face a criminal charge following the shooting, Haig could not be fairly judged by a jury drawn from the trauma-scarred Las Vegas community.
Victor lost bids to get the judge to dismiss the case; move the trial to Phoenix or Reno; draw jurors from throughout Nevada; and for the judge to hear the case from the bench himself instead of convening a jury.
Haig, an aerospace engineer, acknowledged publicly in 2018 that he sold 720 rounds of tracer ammunition to Paddock in the weeks before the massacre. Tracers illuminate the path of fired bullets.
Haig said he hadn’t noticed anything suspicious about Paddock during the exchange at his home. A criminal complaint filed in Phoenix said Haig told investigators that Paddock went to his car to get gloves and put them on before accepting the purchase.
Authorities said Haig’s fingerprints were found on unfired bullets in the high-rise hotel suite from which Paddock spent more than 10 minutes firing more than 1,000 rounds into the open-air concert crowd before killing himself.
Ammunition in the room also bore tool marks consistent with Haig’s reloading equipment, prosecutors said, and Haig’s address was on a box that police found near Paddock’s body. Authorities have not said if ammunition made by Haig was used in the shooting.
Police and the FBI determined that Paddock, a 64-year-old retired accountant and high-stakes video poker player, meticulously planned the attack and acted alone.
Police reported finding 23 assault-style weapons and a handgun in the suite, including 14 equipped with bump stocks that allow for rapid firing like an automatic rifle.
Investigators theorized that Paddock may have sought notoriety but said they never determined a clear motive.
Prosecutor Patrick Burns filed documents to let the government keep thousands of bullets and casings seized from Haig’s home, and hundreds of pounds of ammunition components.
Haig’s plea came four days after the death of a Southern California woman who was paralyzed by a spinal wound while fleeing with 22,000 other attendees of the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
The San Bernardino County sheriff’’s office said Kimberly Gervais, 57, of Mira Loma died at a nursing facility in Redlands. The cause of her death was not immediately attributed to her injury.
EarthLink – News
Official: Oregon lags in socially conscious investing
By ANDREW SELSKY | Tue, November 19, 2019 02:32 EST
TIGARD, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s state employee pension fund is invested in an Israeli company whose smartphone spyware has been used against dissidents, human rights defenders and journalists by repressive regimes. It’s also invested in two prison companies that run immigrant detention facilities, even though Oregon pioneered statewide sanctuary status.
Investors around the globe are increasingly incorporating social values like climate change and human rights in deciding where to put their money. Asset managers in the United States consider such criteria across $11.6 trillion in assets, representing roughly $1 out of every $4 under professional management, according to a 2018 survey by the U.S. Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment.
Oregon’s situation shows the practice remains aspirational in even some liberal states, while others have made strides.
A new initiative in New York, for instance, allows its state employee pension plan, with $210 billion in assets, to divest from coal and other sectors with climate considerations. New York also decided in July to sell nearly $10 million in pension investments in GEO Group and CoreCivic, two prison companies that operate immigrant detention facilities in California, Florida, Texas and New Mexico.
GEO Group and Core Civic also were among 217 companies that California pension fund managers removed from an index fund as they sought to mitigate risks, fund spokeswoman Megan White said in an email.
But $2 million in Oregon’s pension fund remains invested in the two companies as part of an index fund, according to the Oregon State Treasury.
“Does this mean (we) are insensitive to and/or unconcerned with the various social and political challenges? No,” Treasurer Tobias Read’s office said in a statement.
Read’s staffers insisted only the index provider can determine what’s added or dropped from the index and that if Oregon officials intervene, the pension fund would incur costs that violate the “paramount objective” of making money.
Some residents, including Portland attorney Pamela Quinlan, have advocated for divestment. Quinlan wrote to Read on Oct. 30, saying nothing prevents officials from shedding the prison stocks.
“I feel that owning these stocks is an insult to many Oregonians, and an insult to our values as Oregonians,” she said in a telephone interview.
Quinlan also warned Read that if one of the several top Democratic presidential candidates who want to eliminate private prisons wins the White House, the stocks could become worthless. The Obama administration ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to phase out private prisons in 2016, but the Trump administration reversed that decision.
Meanwhile, Oregon’s pension fund has a $233 million investment in Novalpina Capital that, along with partners, recently bought a majority share of NSO Group, the Israeli spyware company.
The seeds for Oregon’s current NSO Group involvement were planted at Oregon treasury offices in a nondescript office park in the Portland suburb of Tigard.
Stephen Peel and Stefan Kowski, two founding Novalpina Capital partners, showed up in November 2017 to make a pitch to the Oregon Investment Council, which oversees the state’s $77 billion pension fund.
Newly created, the London-based private equity firm was seeking $1.1 billion for its debut fund. Private equity investments go into companies that are not publicly traded on a stock exchange.
Peel described the Novalpina partners’ experience in Europe and explained their strategies, according to an audiotape of the meeting posted on treasury’s website.
“As investors, we assume we have to be contrarian,” Peel told the council. “We have to find deals that other people don’t see or don’t want to do for various reasons.”
After Peel and Kowski left, a senior investment officer who had investigated Novalpina recommended a $233 million commitment. The council unanimously voted yes.
Later, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation and England’s South Yorkshire Pensions Authority invested $59 million and $33 million respectively.
This year, Novalpina Capital became the focus of controversy when it and the founders of NSO Group acquired a majority stake in the company from another private equity firm, Francisco Partners, that the Oregon pension fund had previously invested in.
Amnesty International and other rights groups wrote to Novalpina Capital, saying NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, which can steal data from smartphones and turn them into eavesdropping devices, targeted at least 24 human rights defenders, journalists and parliamentarians in Mexico; an Amnesty International employee; and a human rights campaigner in the United Arab Emirates.
The spyware also was implicated in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year. NSO Group has said the allegations are unfounded.
Last month, Facebook sued NSO Group for allegedly targeting some 1,400 users of its encrypted messaging service WhatsApp.
It’s unclear whether Novalpina’s founders already intended to invest in NSO Group when they came to Oregon. Novalpina did not respond to a request for comment.
Peel told the human rights groups in a May 15 letter that Novalpina intends to “establish a new benchmark for transparency and respect for human rights in full compliance with the U.N. Guiding Principles.”
“We are determined to do whatever is necessary to ensure that NSO technology is used for the purpose for which it is intended — the prevention of harm to fundamental human rights arising from terrorism and serious crime,” Peel wrote.
But David Kaye, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, said NSO Group has not explained how its new policy will improve things for surveillance-harassment victims.
In a telephone interview from Berlin, Likhita Banerji, Amnesty International’s adviser for technology and human rights, called Peel’s letter an “attempt to whitewash violations” and said it’s critical that Oregon and other Novalpina Capital investors respect human rights obligations.
Rukaiyah Adams, chairwoman of the Oregon Investment Council, said she cannot comment on private equity investments but insisted investors have limited say in them once they’re completed.
Private equity has tended to do better for Oregon in the long run, with 14% returns over 10 years compared with 9% for public equity, treasury documents show. About 22% of Oregon’s pension fund is invested in private equity, and 33% in public.
“The story about private assets is, you have one moment of leverage: before you invest,” Adams told The Associated Press. “And so, the challenge in such a big program is exerting influence before we invest. We’re not monkeying around in the day-to-day operations of our private equity partners.”
She said the investment council is moving toward stronger environmental, social and governance standards, known as ESG, and noted the treasury last year hired a staffer to focus on it. But she acknowledged the state has catching up to do.
“I would say that we’re late to the party, frankly,” Adams said.
Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky
EarthLink – News
Border activist says he’d never hide migrants from US agents
By ASTRID GALVAN | 07:46 EST
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A member of a humanitarian aid group whose criminal case has garnered international attention testified Tuesday that neutrality guides his work near the U.S.-Mexico border, denying that he has ever helped migrants hide or told them how to avoid authorities.
That’s what U.S. prosecutors say Scott Warren did when he was arrested in January 2018 by U.S. agents who were staking out a humanitarian aid station in Arizona known as “The Barn,” where two Central American men had been staying for several days.
Prosecutors say Warren harbored them and later gave them instructions on how to evade a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint, an assertion that authorities made based on seeing him motion with his hands.
Warren, a member of the group No More Deaths, says that goes against the group’s training and protocols. He told jurors that he was orienting the men so they wouldn’t get lost in the desert.
It’s the second trial for Warren, 37, after a federal jury in Tucson deadlocked on charges last June, leading to a mistrial. It’s likely that attorneys will begin closing arguments Wednesday.
He said his legal training does not allow him to give directions or rides to migrants he encounters in the desert and that his interest is in saving lives.
“We need to work within the spirit of humanitarian aid and within the confines of the law,” Warren said.
Warren and his supporters say President Donald Trump’s administration has increasingly scrutinized humanitarian groups that leave water in the desert and conduct search and rescue operations when they are asked to help find a missing migrant.
But there was no mention of Trump after the federal judge overseeing the trial approved prosecutors’ request to ban Warren and his defense from mentioning the president.
Legal experts say the request itself is not particularly unique because prosecutors often want to keep the jury focused on the charges but that the judge’s approval shows how polarizing Trump and his immigration policies are.
On the stand, Warren recounted how he began humanitarian aid work shortly after moving to the small town of Ajo for postgraduate research. Warren has a doctorate in geography and teaches high school and college courses.
He walked jurors through his interactions with the migrant men, which began when he found them at The Barn on a Sunday and ended with their arrest on a Wednesday.
Warren said he was surprised to find the men when he arrived to prepare dinner for a group of volunteers who were searching the desert and were expected back soon.
“No, they did not seem like hardened criminals. They seemed like teenage boys, frankly,” Warren said.
Months earlier, Border Patrol agents had launched an investigation into The Barn, a camp used by several aid groups, according to documents released after news outlets sued to obtain them.
The documents show that in April 2017, an anonymous Ajo resident told Border Patrol officials that he suspected members of the group were harboring immigrants there.
About three months later, officials detained members of the group No More Deaths on suspicion of vandalizing a camera at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, where they regularly left water jugs.
In November 2017, agents interviewed residents who said they had noticed more traffic and littering outside The Barn.
Agents eventually encountered a man who said he had traveled across the desert with two other men who were picked up by a van.
Suspecting they might be at the No More Deaths building, agents began watching it on Jan. 17, 2018, arresting Warren and the two Central American migrants. The men were deported after providing video testimony.
Thousands of immigrants have died crossing the border since the mid-1990s, when increased enforcement pushed many to Arizona’s scorching desert.
EarthLink – News
Ruling threatens smuggling cases against Marines
By JULIE WATSON | 05:55 EST
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Marine Corps prosecutors were scrambling Tuesday to save numerous cases tied to a human smuggling investigation after a military judge ruled it was illegal for the military to arrest the Marines during a morning battalion formation and accuse them in front of their peers.
Maj. Kendra Motz said prosecutors were meeting at Marine Corps Camp Pendleton to explore their options, but she did not know what they were considering.
The judge, Marine Col. Stephen Keane, gave prosecutors until Nov. 25 to offer a way to remedy the situation.
When ruling Friday, Marine Col. Stephen Keane agreed with defense attorneys who said the command violated the rights of the defendants when they pulled 16 Marines out of a battalion formation of 800 troops at Camp Pendleton on July 25 and accused them of the crimes in front of their unit.
The unit’s leaders called them “a cancer” and “bad Marines,” defense attorneys said.
In the end, only 10 of those in the formation were charged with various crimes ranging from the distribution of LSD, stealing smoke grenades to illegally transporting immigrants to help a smuggling operation, according to charge sheets.
Two Marines were arrested near the U.S.-Mexico border after being stopped by the Border Patrol and found to have immigrants in their car, according to court documents. Another service member was arrested, but not during the formation.
Keane said the public display of the arrests amounted to unlawful command influence. That is when commanders use their positions of power to affect a case and compromise the ability to hold a fair trial.
The judge said that if the prosecution cannot remedy the situation, the court would be left with only one option. Defense attorneys for some of the Marines have asked for charges to be dismissed. They say otherwise it will be difficult to find an impartial jury pool.
“I don’t know how they can un-ring the bell,” said defense attorney Bethany Payton-O’Brien, who is asking that the charges be dismissed against her client, Cpl. Trenton Elliot, 27, citing unlawful command influence.
The Marine Corps filmed the arrests, and part of the video was later obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
A battalion commander and a sergeant major can be heard on the video calling the detained “bad Marines” and “a cancer,” Payton-O’Brien said.
“The Marine Corps that day essentially announced to the world that they are guilty,” she said. “How do we now go and defend them?”
The Marine Corps said in a statement after the newspaper reported on the video that it was made to document the arrests “in an unbiased, non-editorialized manner.”
The video is for official use only and would not be released, Motz said. Prosecutors declined to be interviewed, saying they do not comment on pending cases.
The arrests came after two Marines were stopped by the U.S. Border Patrol about 7 miles (11 kilometers) north of the border on July 3. Three Mexican migrants who came into the country illegally were sitting in the back seat of the black BMW driven by one of the Marines, according to the federal complaint.
The three migrants told authorities that they were from Mexico and had agreed to pay $8,000 to be smuggled into the United States, documents say.
U.S. Border Patrol officials say smuggling rings have been luring U.S. troops, police officers, Border Patrol agents and others to work for them as drivers — a crucial component of moving migrants further into the United States once smugglers get them over the border from Mexico.
None of the Marines are accused of bringing immigrants across the border.
Elliot was charged with the illegal transportation of immigrants within the United States, position of drug paraphernalia, and larceny of a government training pistol and small rounds, Payton-O’Brien said.
He was working out a plea deal with prosecutors when defense lawyers obtained the video. When the motion was filed alleging unlawful command influence, the prosecution withdrew from the agreement, Payton-O’Brien said.
The 13 cases are being handled separately. Experts say lawyers representing the 10 Marines arrested during the battalion formation could use the ruling to argue that their cases should be dismissed.
“Having been a judge, I know courts are not eager to dismiss a case. But the law is the law, and if the judge is unsatisfied with the remedies that result from his warning, then he is going to have little choice than to dismiss the charges,” said Gary Solis a former Marine Corps prosecutor and military judge who teaches law at Georgetown University.
EarthLink – News
Thousands of teachers pack Indiana Statehouse for protest
By TOM DAVIES | 04:08 EST
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Several thousand teachers wearing red surrounded the Indiana Statehouse on Tuesday to call for better pay and more respect from the Republican-dominated state government in a protest that closed more than half of the state’s school districts for the day.
The union-organized rally represented Indiana’s biggest such teacher protest amid a wave of educator activism across the country over the past two years.
Teachers chanted, “Fund our schools,” and “Put kids first,” as hundreds of them lined entrances to the Statehouse, many holding handmade signs with sayings such as, “Less Money on Testing, More Money on Students.” Teachers with marching band instruments played “We’re Not Gonna Take It” from the Statehouse steps.
High school math teacher Angela Cooper said she and more than 40 fellow teachers from the Gibson Southern schools near Evansville left about 4:30 a.m. for the rally. She said a top worry is low pay causing many new teachers to leave for other jobs.
“We need to make sure we keep teachers in the classroom,” Cooper said. “They start in the classroom but then they leave because they aren’t paid enough.”
Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill told a few thousand teachers who covered the Statehouse lawn that the Legislature should direct money from the state’s $2 billion in cash reserves toward helping schools.
“The crisis is now, and we need action now,” Gambill said to cheers from the crowd. “The issue is funding, and the state has the money.”
Nearly 300 school districts closed because of the rally, according to teachers unions. It came as legislators gather for organizational meetings ahead of their 2020 session that starts in early January. The unions said more than 15,000 people registered for the rally. Indiana State Police reported at least 5,000 people entered the Statehouse through public entrances, but the agency didn’t estimate how many total were on the grounds.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature have avoided direct criticism of teachers or school districts for the closings. They seem intent on not antagonizing educators as Kentucky GOP Gov. Matt Bevin, who lost his reelection bid this month, did in lashing out at teachers who used sick days to rally. However, they said they don’t expect to take action on further boosting school funding until at least 2021.
Other teacher protests were held last year in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona.
While some Indiana protesters chanted, “Red for Ed,” in a Statehouse hallway, Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma spoke before lawmakers defending the state budget approved by Republicans in April that boosted base school spending by 2.5% each of the next two years. Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders touted the plan as making strides toward improving teacher pay.
Bosma said lawmakers would take action to prevent the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers and schools after lower scores on the state’s new ILEARN standardized exam taken last spring — one of the top concerns of the teachers unions.
“We get that you’re frustrated,” Bosma said. “We get that you are concerned about issues.”
Teachers didn’t see Holcomb at the Statehouse on Tuesday. His office said he was keeping long-standing plans for traveling to Florida for a conference of the Republican Governors Association, which gave nearly $5.9 million toward Holcomb’s 2016 election campaign.
The governor said he was waiting for a teacher pay commission he appointed in February to make recommendations on increasing salaries by the end of 2020.
Education advocacy groups estimated this year that a 9% funding increase was needed to boost average teacher pay to the midpoint of neighboring states. Republican state schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick has cited a study showing Indiana as the state with the lowest teacher salary increases since 2002.
McCormick, who has split from many fellow Republicans on issues such as the state’s private school voucher program, told cheering teachers that they weren’t “asking for the moon.”
“What a shame that it takes today to get what our kids deserve,” she said.
Joel Schlabach, a teacher at eastern Indiana’s Richmond High School, said politicians have “vilified” educators.
“They think they know better about education than us,” he said. “They don’t trust us to make important decisions about students whose names we know when we’re in the classroom.”