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Monday, January 31, 2011

Haredi man convicted of sexually assaulting minors in Jerusalem

Hezkiyahu Kahalani, a previously convicted sex offender, was imprisoned in 1992-1993 after he was found guilty of indecent assault, and was sent to prison again for three years in 2001 after he sexually abused two minors.

The Jerusalem District Court sentenced Hezkiyahu Kahalani, a convicted sex offender, to 10 years in prison Monday after he was found guilty of molesting three children between the ages of 10-12, two of them siblings.

In addition to the 10 years in prison, Kahalani was put on two additional years of probation and required to pay 30,000 NIS in damages to the children's families, 10 thousand NIS per family.

Kahalani, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Haredi community, allegedly molested the children over the course of two years between 2008 and 2009. Before molesting them, Kahalani would allegedly gain the children's trust by giving them donkey rides and letting them pet kittens.

Once he was sure the children felt safe with him, Kahalani would lead them to an abandoned building in Mea Shearim, an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood, and allegedly molest them.

In Kahalani's verdict, Judges Tzvi Segal, Moshe Drori and Moshe Cohen wrote that the children who were victims "grew up in a religious environment, in a conservative and closed society. They trusted the defendant and believed he was their friend, and he took advantage of their innocence and abused them behind closed doors."

Kahalani was imprisoned in 1992 after being convicted of indecent assault, and was sent to prison again for three years in 2001 after he sexually abused two minors.

"The case at hand is particularly severe. The defendant is dangerous, he has a criminal background and he has shown no motivation or intent to rehabilitate himself," the judges wrote in Kahalani's sentence.

Kahalani's attorney, Hanan Rubenstein from the Public Defender's Office, claimed that the police and prison authorities were biased against him because of Kahalani's Haredi lifestyle and his opposition to Israel's secular government.

Glenn Wright Charged, Tied to Rothstein Rabbi

Developer Glenn Wright, whose firm was involved in the Cindi Hutchinson scandal that blew up Friday, was charged today with stealing $20,000 from the homeowners association of one of his upscale housing developments.

Wright allegedly used the stolen money to help Rabbi Schneur Kaplan close on property for the Downtown Jewish Center. Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein was also very close to Kaplan and helped finance the construction of the chabad.

The last time I saw Kaplan, he was dancing ecstatically on a boat in the Winterfest Boat Parade. He's been accused of no wrongdoing other than having a penchant for becoming the spiritual leader of high-profile thieves and rapscallions.

Wright's arrest report states that Wright came to Kaplan seeking "spiritual advisement." From the arrest report filed by BSO Det. Michael Johnson (who also made the Hutchinson case):

"Kaplan stated Wright was generous with donations and arranged a monthly $1,000 payment to be made to Kaplan through one of Wright's subcontractors, Hector Heguaburo. In November 2006, Kaplan was in the process of purchasing a new building for the Downtown Jewish Center and did not have enough funds to close on the property. In the days leading up to the closing, Kaplan stated he called Glenn Wright and requested $20,000 for this purpose."

Wright agreed and plucked $20,000 from the La Preserve HOA over which he and his wife, Patricia, still presided, according to BSO. Kaplan said Wright told him to pick up the check from Wright's project manager, Steven Goldstrom, but he thought it might have been delivered directly to Rothstein Rosenfeld Adler law firm, which was handling the closing. The check was written to the RRA IOTA account.

Kaplan repaid the "loan" in March 2008 when Patricia Wright called him and said they needed the money back.

When questioned by Johnston, Wright said he had no recollection of writing the check, which had his signature. Patricia Wright said she learned that the $20,000 was "mistakenly" given to the rabbi and that she got it back when she learned of it. She told Johnson she thought Goldstrom had given the money over.

During the housing boom, Wright built hundreds of controversial McMansions that Fort Lauderdale residents complained were ruining old neighborhoods like Victoria Park and Rio Vista. When the bust hit, Wright's projects fell more than $100 million in debt, and the buyers of his homes fell into foreclosure en masse. He left many homes unfinished despite having received deposits from buyers and has been accused in court of stiffing his subcontractors. Wright has been hit with dozens of lawsuits to date.

Inside, a look at "La Preserve," which is the development from which is accused of stealing.

Here's why they were called McMansions:

Notice that each La Preserve house looks extremely similar, though there's an effort to switch it up in the design (different colored roofs, altered faces, etc). Wright developments like La Preserve and Georgian Oaks were self-contained subdivisions, so they weren't nearly as controversial as his earlier days when he stuffed the McMansions on lots in Rio Vista and Victoria Park after bulldozing the existing house.

Wright built 67 of them in La Preserve and was selling them for $700,000 to $1 million before the bust hit. Then the whole thing blew up. Not only did the people who bought homes in the development go upside down but so did Wright, who was sued for foreclosure by Wachovia Bank when he still owed $8 million. That led to bankruptcy and events like this one:

Today the houses are assessed in the 400s. Many have gone into foreclosure; many owners still retain their homes despite the fact that their values have in some cases been cut in half.

This, of course, is happening across South Florida. But Wright's projects, because they were in such sharp contrast to the older and more charming surrounding neighborhoods, were as controversial as any in the county. His McMansion business started inside Rio Vista and Victoria Park, where he would buy existing properties, tear them down, and cram the lot with one of his cookie-cutter masterpieces. Well, actually his modus operandi was often to replace the existing house with two McMansions. The result was an aesthetic disaster, clashing with the neighborhood's Spanish architecture and lush landscaping.

The guy was so controversial that at one time, Wright had some 14 lobbyists on his payroll.

Wright hired Jon Albee, an appointed member of city boards, to work for him. Albee ran for commission in 2003. losing to Dean Trantalis. The fact that he worked for Wright didn't help his campaign. When he filed his public financial disclosure forms, he conveniently left out his employment with Wright, calling it an "oversight."

Rabbi questions atheism in lecture at Chabad House

The lack of scientific proof concerning the origin of life should force atheists to be open-minded about the existence of a divine creator, Rabbi Moshe Averick said in a lecture at the Tannanbaum Chabad House, 2014 Orrington Ave., on Friday.

Averick is an ordained Orthodox Rabbi and Chicago native who speaks at colleges across the country, usually addressing the skepticism of atheists in relation to the origin of life.

The lecture, "Origin of Life and Scientific Evidence for a Creator," was given to a crowd of about 35, which included Northwestern students and faculty as well as other students and community members from the area. The night started with a Shabbat dinner and prayers and continued with Averick's speech based on his new book, "Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist."

Despite his belief in a creator, Averick agreed there could still be a scientific answer to the origin of life and criticized those who remained close-minded to either of the explanations, whether scientific or religious. He said sometimes the psychological need to believe or not believe something is so great people will ignore other possibilities that could confuse their view of the world.

Averick discussed the argument of design, which means the existence of something proves the presence of its creator. He explained it using an analogy with the suit he was wearing, claiming the existence of the suit proved the existence of the tailor. He then applied this theory to a divine creator of human life.

He did not delve into the topic of creationism but instead strictly focused on the fact that no one — not even atheistic scientists — can satisfactorily explain the origin of life, making the idea of a creator seem more plausible.

"What I am trying to do — it's my way of waging an intellectual war on atheism," he said after the lecture.

The talk concluded with a question-and-answer session, at which dissenting views and skepticism were expressed among some of the attendees.

"While I don't agree with his ultimate conclusion, it was certainly interesting to hear his reasoning," said SESP senior Rachel Zinn, the president of Chabad's student executive board, in an e-mail after the event. "It's nice to hear a different perspective on life once in a while."

One of the interviewed attendees said they felt the sensitive topic was one that needed to be explored.

"I just felt it was important to get the topic out here and start talking about it because Judaism isn't against evolution," said Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, the head of the Chabad Center and organizer of the event. "Judaism can live very comfortably with the Big Bang theory and those theories."

Averick advocated seeking the truth and condemned atheists who use only science as the basis for their beliefs.

"Is science in the service of truth?" he said as he finished the speech. "Or is truth in the service of science?"

New start-up: Kosher clothing stores

Extreme haredi group hands out kashrut certificates to shops in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim, Geula neighborhoods

An extreme ultra-Orthodox body has established a kashrut department supervising clothing stores in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim and Geula neighborhoods.

Haredi women have begun supervising businesses in the neighborhoods on behalf of the new department, checking whether the clothes sold in the stores meet the requirements of Jewish Law. The department's findings will be published across the neighborhoods.

According to an ad issued by the Committee for the Sanctity of the Camp, many of haredi women buy clothes which do not meet proper standards, "damaging our camp's modesty."

The ad also stated, "Experience shows that there is no other way to defeat this horrible breach other than having rabbis supervise the clothes' kashrut."

The committee added that haredi women must "support the kosher stores" by buying their clothes there.

A source in the Geula neighborhood told the Yedioth Jerusalem paper and the Mynet website that some clothing stores refused to meet the new department's demands. Other businesses, however, gave in to the new rules for fear of creating a dispute with the sector's leaders, which may lead to protests outside the shops.

Child Prositution In Israel

Thousands of teen prostitutes ignored by social services, says organization for youth in distress

On a Tuesday night at around 10 pm Tel Aviv's Hashmal Park appears deserted, but appearances can be deceiving. Out of the shadows suddenly a man emerges, and then the shadow of a teenage boy wearing a hooded sweatshirt and backpack. Money changes hands and the two disappear again behind the trees.

When Doron (alias) was 15, he too was such a shadow. He would wait for men at various parks in the city in order to fulfill their sexual requests for money or anything else he desired.

Three years earlier, Doron traveled the Dead Sea with a group of friends. "I went to shower," he recounts. "The man in charge of the facilities came up to me and offered me a can of coke, and free entry to the showers. I agreed and did everything he asked.

"When he went away I was confused. I didn't know if what I had done was good or bad. I didn't know if I could talk to anyone abut what had happened. I withdrew into myself, but the incident stayed in my mind."

No one noticed the change in him, and when he went to a boarding school at age 15 he became accustomed to trading sex for material goods. "I don't even know how it happened," he says.

"I was in the public toilet at the mall with my friend. Maybe I made a movement or something that made an older man offer me to go with him. I was afraid, but I went… When it was over he paid me NIS 150 ($40) and returned me to the mall. I didn't tell anyone what had happened, and no one asked."

After that, Doron began meeting with the man's friends, too. "Even when I tried to disappear, he would find me, so I decided to make the best of it" he recalls. "I realized there were some advantages to it – I got money and he would drive me from the boarding school to Tel Aviv, buy me cigarettes and drop me off at the parks. He taught me everything."

Our meeting with Doron was held at the Erim Balayla (lit. "Awake at Night") center for damage-control, where volunteers from an organization called ELEM – Youth in Distress in Israel try to nip teen prostitution in the bud.

Average age of 13

Hundreds, or even thousands, of girls and boys are abused for prostitution purposes in Israel each year, sucked into a dark world from which they often cannot escape. They sell their bodies online or become trapped in apartments owned by pimps, where they are often abused by "clients". They all have a history of abuse, often of the kind not reported to social services.

According to worldwide surveys, the average age in which prostitution begins is 13. "Prostitution of minors is one of the most serious problems we face today, despite the fact that it is relatively hidden," says ELEM Director General Efrat Shaprut.

"Teen prostitutes are transparent. It can be a girl or a boy who goes to school in the morning and apparently functions normally. Prostitution is also spurred by the internet. Once, teens would stand at the beach or darkened parks to wait for customers, but today most of this takes place online or in private apartments."

Two Knesset committees – the Sub-Committee on Trafficking of Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child – have been hearing from social services on the matter since 1997, and various plans have been constructed. The committees have recommended programs for finding and treating the teens, enforcing laws against pimps, legislation against customers, and even just measuring to what extent teen prostitution exists in Israel, but none of this has been implemented, despite support from various MKs.

Perhaps most disturbing is that no one knows whether to measure the phenomenon in the hundreds or thousands. Volunteers and ELEM employees on the ground estimate that thousands of Israeli teens are trapped within this vicious cycle, but social services can only point to a few hundred cases.

This data is needed in order to create the proper response for the teens. There are currently many programs for teens in distress, but teen prostitutes require different care, ELEM employees say. Unfortunately, they receive little help from social services.

"The Welfare Ministry is not responsible for data published by various organizations or its reliability," the ministry said in response, adding that programs exist for prostitutes of all ages.

Accepting without judgment

Asaf Rajuan, who manages the Erim Balayla program, says three different factors contribute to teen prostitution – the pimp or the first person who offers the teen to exchange sex for material goods, the teen, and the customer.

In Israel, the latter is in violation of the law. But according to a report published by the Sub-Committee on Trafficking of Women, in the years 2000-2009 just 35 police records exist for trafficking of minors for sex, of them 19 were closed due to lack of evidence. Only two were against customers, and they were both closed.

Yitzhak Kadmon, the chairman of the National Council for the Child, told the Knesset committees that a police unit investigating computer crimes – which include both sex crimes and financial crimes – numbers just 12 detectives despite a 2007 state order that stipulates it must have 200.

"The unit was established, among other things, to enforce laws against online sexual harassment of minors," Kadmon said. "What is going to be done in order to focus detectives on sexual criminals online?"

Meanwhile, ELEM tries to offer the teens as much assistance as possible. "Volunteers at Erim Balayla accept the teens without judgment and try to help them find out what their interests are in order to find employment that will gradually replace prostitution," Rajuan explains. The damage-control centers, located in Tel Aviv and Haifa, offer teens a place to stay, do laundry, eat, shower, and talk.

The customers: Councilmen and celebs

Doron, who is now 21, abandoned prostitution after five years thanks to the program. He now works and studies, and recalls the old days with horror.

"The customers came from every possible sector – even regular people who work and have families," he recounts. "There are doctors, lawyers, press agents, cops, and criminals… There are famous customers, too. I had a returning customer whose face looked familiar but I couldn't understand where I knew him from. Then, when I was taking a bus to some town, I saw his face on a sign. He was running for chairman of the local council."

Doron also felt threatened numerous times. "Some customers would ask me to do horrible things. Some wanted me to strangle them, some to beat them, and this is where it's easy to lose control. How do I know he won't hit me back? Or maybe he has a heart disease and could die if I hit him?"

As a final word, Doron wants the state to tailor programs to boys. "There are many teen prostitutes who are boys. I know some who worked with me and committed suicide, or got horrible diseases," he says.

But teen prostitution is very difficult to find, mainly because no one will admit to either being a minor, or having sex with minors. Magazines sold at every street corner advertise "18-year old girls", which is often code for minors.

Sex for clothes, jewelry

Much of the clients' search for minors takes place online, which makes enforcement even more difficult. When we enter an internet chat-room as "Noa15", within seconds we are bombarded with messages from users named "supporting daddy", "warm", and "married religious man", to name a few.

Noa15 tells "warm" she likes expensive clothes, and he asks what they will do afterwards if he takes her shopping. "What do you like in sex?" he asks. Noa15 answers, "Whatever you like. But don't you care that I'm 15?" "No problem," is the response. In the end, "warm" agrees to pay Noa15 NIS 1,000 ($280) for a night, but demands that she arrive by bus.

ELEM is currently in touch with many teenaged girls whose behavior mimics Noa15. They are registered at schools and often live with their parents at home. "In the earlier stages of teen prostitution, teens are not aware of what they are getting into," says Reli Katzav of ELEM. She cites cases of girls who perform sexual acts for new jeans and jewelry, often leading their friends and younger siblings onto the same track.

All of the investigators and professionals who deal with teen prostitutions agree that it is closely linked to sexual abuse – by parents, relatives, or authority figures – who introduce children to sex in exchange for goods. "No girl suddenly decides to stand on the street and look for clients," Rajuan says. "She will always be someone who has had the idea of sexual favors planted in her head since childhood. It could be an uncle who touched her and then gave her ice-cream, and when she grew up the boy she let touch her in exchange for alcohol and cigarettes. Now this girl knows about the possibility of selling her body."

"Prostitution is one of three survival strategies – in addition to drugs and crime – used by teens who have been abused," explains Rajuan. "Teen prostitution is not about money. If it were, they would go steal. These teens come from all socio-economic backgrounds. Some of them come from 'good homes', study in schools, and basically lead a double life."

ELEM is currently the only organization trying to find these teens wherever they may be hiding, before it's too late. "Our treatment approach is to combine warmth and support on the side of the employee or volunteer – to give the teens a place to rest from the life of prostitution – with development of motivation to get out," says ELEM's director-general. "The process of leaving this lifestyle is long and difficult."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kosher Consumers Can Sue

Kosher Consumers who were misled by false advertising and bought a non Kosher product can sue the manufacturer, a court ruled.

Consumers who buy a product as a result of misleading advertising can sue the manufacturer even if the product was not defective, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The 5-2 decision resolved a long battle between consumers and business over the scope of Proposition 64, the 2004 ballot measure intended to end so-called “shakedown” lawsuits against business. The initiative said a person could sue only if he or she suffered an injury and lost money as a result of the false advertising.

The case involved a suit against an Orange County-based company that made locksets labeled “Made in U.S.A. “ In fact, the company closed down an Orange County plant and transferred some of its most labor-intensive work to Mexicali, according to a lawyer who brought the suit. The company eventually dropped the label after a federal investigation.

Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, writing for the majority, said merely buying a product as a result of a false claim was enough to sue under Proposition 64.

“Simply stated: Labels matter,” Werdegar wrote for the court.

“Whether a particular food is kosher or halal may be of enormous consequence to an observant Jew or Muslim,” she added. “Whether wine is from a particular locale may matter to the oenophile who values subtle regional difference. Whether a diamond is conflict free may matter to the fiancée who wishes not to think of supporting bloodshed and human rights violations each time she looks at the ring on her finger.”

In a dissent, Justice Ming W. Chin, said Proposition 64’s backers on their website identified the lawsuit against the lockset maker as the kind of “shakedown” suit the measure would prevent.

He said the ballot measure limited lawsuits to persons who suffered injuries as a result of a false claim, and those who sued the manufacturer “did not allege that these mislabeled locksets were overpriced or defective.”

As a result of today’s ruling, all consumers “now have to allege is that they would not have bought the mislabeled product,” wrote Chin, joined by Justice Carol A. Corrigan. “This cannot be what the electorate intended” in voting for a measure aimed at reducing frivolous lawsuits against California businesses.

A tort reform group predicted that the ruling would clog state courts at a time when funding for them is being cut.

Man Arrested With Explosives Outside One of Nation's Largest Mosques

Terrorist Threat At Local Mosque:

A 63-year-old Southern California man who had explosives in his vehicle was arrested outside one of the nation's largest mosques in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, authorities in Michigan said.

Dearborn police said Roger Stockham was arraigned Wednesday on one count of making a false report or threat of terrorism and one count of possessing explosives with an unlawful intent. Stockham had a large but undisclosed quantity of class-C fireworks including M-80s, which are outlawed in Michigan, Chief Ronald Haddad said.

"I was comfortable with the fact that we had taken him off the street -- he isn't going anywhere," Haddad told The Associated Press Sunday afternoon. "I think the society he wanted to impact is safe."

Haddad said Stockham was arrested Monday evening without incident in the parking lot of Islamic Center of America, while a large group was gathered inside. He said police received a 911 call from a resident.

Haddad said authorities believe Stockham was acting alone but still take him "very seriously." He said Stockham has "a long history of anti-government activities," though he declined to elaborate.

Stockham remained jailed Sunday on a $500,000 bond. A preliminary examination is scheduled for Friday.

Police didn't know whether Stockham had an attorney. A public records search did not turn up a listed number for Stockham, though Haddad said he lives in Imperial Beach, near San Diego.

Dearborn, located about 10 miles west of Detroit, is the capital of the Detroit area's Arab-American community, which is one of the largest in the U.S.

Multimillion-Dollar Ponzi Scheme Roils the Orthodox Jewish Community of St. Louis

Motivation for the scheme allegedly was to impress his father-in-law and his new bride.

These days, Joshua David Gould of University City dances in a Statue of Liberty costume to lure customers toward an income tax preparer. But the 31-year-old Orthodox Jew knows how to sing, too. To the feds, that is.

Gould, a former securities broker for Woodbury Financial Services, recently came clean to authorities and admitted to stealing millions of dollars from dozens of his coreligionist clients over the past two years. (The total may be around $4 million, according to several sources.)

Gould is also the son-in-law of Jonathan Spetner, the well-respected third-generation operator of Spetner Associates, a local insurer).

No federal charges have been filed yet against Gould, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith isn't talking. But records show the Missouri Commissioner of Securities is looking into him.

And now the young man's attorney, Al Watkins, acknowledges that in the late fall of 2010, Gould "self-reported his crimes" to investigators and is "fully cooperating."

But why did he do it? The answer, Watkins says, involves enough intrigue for a 90-minute movie.

Gould grew up in Milwaukee and arrived in St. Louis in 2002. Within a couple years, he was working for Jon Spetner, whose daughter, Temima, he soon married.

Gould badly wanted to impress his father-in-law and provide his new wife with the standard of living she'd grown up with, as Watkins tells it. So when a pair of businessmen offered the young man a large chunk of change to invest in mid-to-late 2007, Gould jumped on it.

However, that money -- which eventually added up to $1 million -- had come from a third party, who was promised a high rate of return. Gould invested, but didn't make enough to fulfill that expectation.

So first, he raided his family trust, of which he was a trustee. Then he started skimming off the accounts of the clients he'd picked up as a broker for Woodbury Financial, for whom he'd begun working in October 2008 (this was separate and distinct from his employment at Spetner, records show).

"He was robbing Moishe to pay Saul," says Watkins.

Yet Watkins acknowledges that Gould did much more than that: He enriched himself too, using the stolen money, for example, to remodel his kitchen and pay the mortgage on his Amherst Avenue home, which sits in the Orthodox neighborhood of west University City.

Gould also dropped "tens of thousands" in east-side strip clubs, Watkins confirms, but hastens to clarify: Gould was majority owner of at least one online sports ticket broker called The Sports Nook.

Says the attorney:

"He was entertaining people that were going to help him in the Sports Nook and also potential clients for his financial clients. Let's not pretend that my guy was wearing a nun's habit while this was going on, but at the same time, do not assume the tens of thousands were spent for his own gratification. This was atypical behavior of a desperate man."

Gould was desperate for money from The Sports Nook, Watkins explains, because his work at Woodbury wasn't meeting the demands of the middle men who'd provided him that load of investment capital back in 2007.

When Gould suggested they all admit to the man who'd originally put up the money that Gould couldn't meet his end of the bargain, the middle men made "an explicit threat against his life and safety," Watkins insists.

Watkins declines to identify these middle men. But he does say they were "perpetrating a much bigger fraud" in "an unrelated segment of the financial industry," and his client, Gould, helped the government's investigation into that.

Mayer Klein, the lawyer who represents Gould's father-in-law, Jonathan Spetner, tells Daily RFT that his client feels "terrible" about what's happened. Spetner knows many of the victims, and is trying to help them recoup their losses by appealing to Woodbury Financial, which is a subsidiary of The Hartford Financial Services Group.

"Woodbury has responsibility for what their representative does," Klein says. "They're a fine company. We hope that they will make these people whole. The hope is that it won't require litigation."

Woodbury Financial has not responded to several requests for comment.

None of the individual victims have filed a civil suit against Gould. However, one of them did submit a written complaint to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, alleging that the broker stole almost $700,000 from that victim's account alone.

Watkins says of Gould: "This is a young man who for the first time in over two years is able to wake up without living beneath the shroud of one lie upon another. He has deep personal remorse and a religiously-based commitment to doing right for those people from who he has stolen."

Keeping the faith - Jewish college students observe special Sabbath

PORTLAND - It's not unusual to see college students gathering on a Friday night to relax after a long week of study.

But a group of collegians who met up in Portland on Friday evening came together -- from several campuses around northern New England -- to share a traditional Jewish observance of the Sabbath.

The gathering, the third annual College Shabbaton for Brandeis and Maine College Students, was held at Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh, a 107-year-old Orthodox Jewish congregation on Noyes Street, near the University of Southern Maine.

One goal of the event is to give college students who grew up with traditional Jewish observances a chance to reconnect while they're away from home, said Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld.

Another, said Herzfeld, is to help bring youth and energy to Orthodox Judaism in Maine, at a time when many Jews have shifted away from Orthodox practices.

For the college students who came Friday afternoon, including many who will stay until the Sabbath ends today, one big draw was the chance to be with young people who share their religious beliefs.

"It's nice to be able to interact with other young Jewish adults who share the same tradition," said Shoshana Cohn, 23, a senior at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, who grew up in West Hartford, Conn. "An Orthodox (Sabbath) allows us to do the traditional rituals we don't get to do on a weekly basis at college."

Rabbi Herzfeld, 32, said that at many Maine colleges there are Hillel Houses -- Jewish student organizations -- but often there is no real traditional Jewish celebration of the Sabbath, when work and travel cease.

"We get calls from people saying, 'Can you reach out to my son, or reach out to my daughter, while they're away from home?'" said Herzfeld. "We want to let college students come together here and know they don't have to feel isolated."

Many of the students came from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. They said they were happy to bring the energy of their Jewish community to Portland.

"We're a very spirited group, very into our religion and practices," said Jacob Chatinover, 22, who came to Portland with the Brandeis group for the third straight year.

Most of the students arrived by about 4 p.m., in time for the afternoon prayers just before sunset. Many planned to spend the night in the synagogue, so as not to violate rules about traveling in a vehicle on the Sabbath. Cell phones, laptops and other electronic gadgets were turned off.

Later in the evening, the group shared a meal in the synagogue's social hall.

Michael Warmflash, 25, a first-year student at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland, said that when he came to Maine from Stamford, Conn., he was happy to find an Orthodox Jewish synagogue.

He's happy that the congregation of Shaarey Tphiloh is taking steps to cultivate its future generation, with events like the shabbaton.

"It's important to always be reaching out to young people," he said, "so bringing so many college students here is a great way to promote growth, to look for the next generation."

Yemeni Jewish Child Kidnapped in Amran

A Yemeni Jewish child was kidnapped from Reda district in Amran province on Saturday, informed source told media outlets.

Yameen Ameran Al-Nahari, 8 years, disappeared while the Jewish community was practicing their religious rituals on the weekend.

Sources said that the kidnapping of the child targeted to pressure the Jewish community to forgive Abdul-Aziz Al-Abdi, who shot dead a Jewish fellow citizen, Mashaa Yehiya bin Yaeesh Al-Nahari, and accept his fine in which he will pay 5.5 million riyals.

Lately, a Yemeni court upheld a death sentence on a Muslim man after being accused of killing a Jewish citizen.

Huckabee Arriving in Israel Sunday, Tops Two Primary Polls

Unofficial Republican party presidential candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a solid supporter of Israel, is en route for his 15th visit. He has said he probably will wait until summer before announcing whether or not he will run for president in 2012.

"Headed to Israel with family and friends. Looking forward to my 15th trip there," Huckabee's tweet read on Saturday, as results show him topping the polls in West Virginia and North Carolina.

Huckabee often has said that if the Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza want a state, they can choose from among several Arab nations and that Jews, who are indigenous to the area, should be able to build wherever they wish to in their country.

Huckabee’s visit this week will take him to the Knesset, as guest of MK Nissim Ze'ev wo will host a luncheon for him and where the Immigration and Absorption Committee will make a rare exception and host him at a meeting. He also will visit Jewish communities in united Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, including the Barkan Industrial Center at the city of Ariel.

Dr. Joseph Prager, Dr. Paul Brody and Odeleya Jacobs, all known Zionist American figures who are active in promoting positive public relations between Israel and the United States, have already arrived to help arrange the details of his visit.

His trip follows a recent visit by another GOP-Tea party contender, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Huckabee will be accompanied by actor Jon Voight, who can be seen and heard in the following video backing Huckabee and condemning U.S. President Barack Obama for “raping” the nation of the United States.

Two polls show Huckabee leading in West Virginia with 28 percent of the projected vote, three percent ahead of Sarah Palin, and more than 10 percent ahead of Romney and Newt Gingrich.

In North Carolina, he leads with a nine-point advantage

Geezer Bandit strikes again, robbing his 13th bank in California, FBI says

The Geezer Bandit has apparently struck again, this time in Santa Barbara County, for his 13th bank robbery in California, the FBI announced Saturday.

Given his nickname due to his apparently advanced age, the robber hit a Bank of America branch in Goleta in Santa Barbara County on Friday afternoon, threatening tellers with a revolver.

His appearance -- 60 to 70 years old, about 6 feet tall, dressed in a blazer, dark pants and a baseball cap -- and demeanor matched the other robberies.

The same person is suspected of 10 bank robberies in San Diego County, one in Kern County and one in Riverside County, starting in August 2009.

In recent robberies, authorities have suggested that the robber may be wearing an "old-man" theatrical mask.

The FBI and several banks are offering a reward of $20,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

NY: Vestal school officials address fallout from 'Kick a Jew' day

VESTAL -- Students involved in "kick a Jew day" at Vestal High School will be required to attend a counseling and education session as well as face disciplinary action, school district officials said Friday.

The high school is also developing a lesson plan on dignity and respect that will be taught to all students during a class period, probably the third week in February, Principal Catherine Hepler said.

Hepler, Superintendent Mark D. LaRoach and Asst. Superintendent Mary Surdey met privately Friday with six local clergy and representatives of the Jewish community to discuss the school district's response to "kick a Jew day" in which Jewish students were targeted for "kicks" by some fellow students.

"The focus during the meeting was what we can do to help long-term, and short-term, to address behavior," said Michael Wright, chairman of community relations for the Jewish Federation of Broome County.

Wright said, from what he's heard, events on that day were the result of "stupidity and ignorance," not overt anti-Semitism. He credited school officials for responding appropriately to the incident and beginning an investigation as soon as it was brought to their attention.

School officials confirmed 17 students were involved in the incident which was publicized through a Facebook message. LaRoach would not comment on what disciplinary action the students face but indicated it could vary based on the nature of their involvement.

Young people can make mistakes and not be aware of the historical implications of their actions, the superintendent said. At the same time, "it's incorrect to categorize this as 'kids will be kids.'"
"Kick a Jew day" took place on Dec. 1, the first day of the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah. Hepler said she found out about the incident that night in a call from a staff member who had been contacted by the parent of one of the students kicked.

Officials then conducted an investigation that included talking to about 30 students, officials said. They did not specify how many were actually kicked. During the investigation, school officials learned "another day similar to this" had taken place, although that day was free of religious overtones, Hepler said.

Reportedly, "kick a blond" day and, or "kick a redhead" day had taken place at the school, a parent said last week.

One issue that came up at Friday's meeting was the lack of awareness by students on the method and procedure for reporting incidents of this type to school officials, Wright said. One suggestion was for the school to establish an e-mail address or phone number for students to anonymously report slurs or inappropriate behavior.

The district will be studying the implementation of such a reporting system, LaRoach said.

Other immediate actions include:

* Forming an advisory team of staff members and teachers to meet with Hepler to discuss and refine educational efforts and programs at the school.

* Forming a broad-based committee of students to meet with Hepler about events at the high school.

* Training staff and counselors on intervention techniques.
The school district already has programs in place to infuse character education grades, K-12, LaRoach said. The school also sponsored the Rachel's Challenge, a national effort to fight school violence and bullying.

"During the course of the meeting, we were very pleased to learn efforts are already underway," Wright said.

However, school officials realize they need to refocus their efforts, he said.

Yocheved’s new life...

A woman divorces her abusive husband – who an Israeli civil court found abused her and who sexually abused her children – and tries to start new life in US with her kids. Despite the civil court ruling that found bringing the kids to the US would benefit them because it would keep them far away from their abusive father, a rabbinic court decides to hear the ex-husband’s petition for visitation rights and block the children's travel to the US.

Yocheved (a fictitious name) and her children suffered for years from sexual, emotional and physical abuse perpetrated by the husband/father.

It’s enough to cite only part of the horrifying description in the judgment rendered by the Family Court: "The defendant hit his children, locked them in the bathroom for hours, sat on them and didn’t let them move… brought other women home when the children were there and even slept with them in a room in the house… behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner with his daughters… offered them money to dance in front of him… caressed his daughter’s chest… the minors avoid physical contact with the defendant… from all of the stated it is clear that under the described circumstances an ongoing connection with the defendant is not good for the children.”

Throughout the years of their marriage the husband limited Yocheved’s contact with friends and family and she became isolated without any social support in Israel. After Yocheved managed to obtain a divorce from her husband, she petitioned the court to allow her to move to the States with the children in order to allow her to build a new life for herself.

The Family Court ruled, in accordance with the jurisdiction that it properly asserted over the case, that it was clearly in the children’s best interest to move to the States with their mother.

So what happened? In spite of the unequivocal decision written by the Family Court, the father applied to the rabbinic court in Jerusalem to determine his visitation rights with the children. The rabbinic court was apparently of the opinion that the fact that the Family Court had already adjudicated the issue and written a decision on the matter was a negligible detail. The husband, after all, has the right to have his petition heard.

By ignoring the rules of procedure and the jurisdiction, the rabbinic court makes a clear and crass statement: its jurisdiction will be forced on anyone who is sued in the rabbinic court, even if the civil court has already ruled in the matter. An appeal to the High Rabbinic Court was not effective.

Through her attorneys, Esther Shaanan and Yaakov Katzin, Yocheved filed a petition with the High Court of Justice. They appeared at the hearing two days before Yom Kippur, and, immediately after the Succoth holiday, they received judgment from the High Court that the rabbinic court did not have jurisdiction to adjudicate regarding the children, and that the orders for a stay of exiting the country from 2006 were cancelled. Great. Now, one would assume, Yocheved could board a plane with the children and finally start her new life? No!

It transpires that, by law, only the judicial entity that issued a stay of exiting the country can cancel it. There is no way, technically, to get around the computerized system. Ms. Shaanan spoke with all kinds of officials, and everyone tried to help, but the only way to cancel the order preventing Yocheved and the children from exiting the country that had been entered into the state's computerized travel system was to receive instructions from the body that imposed the stay in the first instance, i.e., the rabbinic court.

But the rabbinic court refused to cancel the stay - playing innocent and asserting that the High Court of Justice ruled that the stays were cancelled but had not ruled that the rabbinic court had to act in order that the Border Police remove the stays from the computerized system.

Ms. Shaanan calls on the rabbinic court judges: You are part of the legal system in the State of Israel. You are appointed, like every judge in the State of Israel to serve the citizens of Israel and to ensure enforcement of the law. You are a governing body and you are required to honor the values of the State, including the value of the rule of law.

If you are the only body that can cancel the restraining order issued by your courts and filed with the Border Police, you must do so without playing games. You rabbinic judges – instead of taking part in the great mitzva of saving Jewish souls - have chosen to wage a battle of prestige on the backs of innocent children. We can no longer close our eyes to this. This time, honorable rabbinic judges, you’ve gone too far.

The end of the story? There are good people in the Border Police who, after hearing this terrible saga and studying the decision of the High Court of Justice, decided to make an exception to the rule and they allowed the children to leave the country despite the fact that stays remain (to this day) in effect with respect to them.

Israeli Arab who spied for Hezbollah jailed for nine years

Ameer Makhoul was detained by the Shin Bet and police anti-terror units last May; struck plea bargain with prosecution.

The Haifa District Court on Sunday sentenced Israeli Arab activist Ameer Makhoul to nine years in prison and another year suspended sentence for charges of spying and contact with a foreign agent from the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant organization.

Makhoul's lawyers struck a plea bargain with the prosecution in October 2010, in which they asked for a reduced sentence of seven years, while the prosecution asked for 10 years - the maximum sentence for the charges against him.

The verdict stated that Makhoul handed intelligence to a Hezbollah agent on Shin Bet installations in the Haifa region and on Mossad offices in the center of the country. He also attempted, the verdict said, to pass on information about a military base and sought details about the residence of Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin.

Makhoul, director general of the charity Ittijah (Union of Arab Community-Based Associations), was detained by the Shin Bet security services and police anti-terror units on May 6, along with fellow Israeli Arab activist Omar Saeed.

Saeed struck a plea bargain in August, under which he will be charged with working for an illegal organization, a crime that carries a punishment of several months' jail-time.

Upon his arrest, Makhoul was kept from meeting with a lawyer or speaking with his family for nearly two weeks, during which he confessed to the accusations. His lawyers later claimed the confession was coerced. They were finally allowed access to Makhoul only after threatening to boycott a hearing.

Makhoul, a veteran activist well-known among Arab charities and NGOs, was a regular participant in conferences on discrimination in Israel and abroad and has been a virulent critic of government policy.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Student leader faces barrage of anti-Jewish abuse at rally as protesters accuse him of being a Tory

The president of the National Union of Students, Aaron Porter, was surrounded by a 150-strong mob who broke away from a student fees protest in Manchester yesterday

The president of the National Union of Students was yesterday rescued by police from angry protesters chanting anti-Jewish abuse and demanding his resignation.

Aaron Porter was surrounded by a 150-strong mob who broke away from a student fees protest in Manchester.

As 12 officers led him to safety, there were chants of ‘Aaron Porter we know you, you’re a f******* Tory too’.

A photographer said he also heard cries of ‘Tory Jew scum’.

Mr Porter, 25, a Labour Party member, was due to speak at the rally but later cancelled.

The demonstration, attended by thousands of students, began peacefully but around 150 demonstrators broke off from the agreed route and headed towards the city centre, where they targeted Mr Porter.

Scuffles broke out after a number of protesters attempted to break through police lines into the University of Manchester Students’ Union building.

Mr Porter has been accused of failing to support those involved in the demonstrations at Millbank Tower in November and in the protest that led to the attack on the Prince of Wales in his car the following month.

The violence led to scores of arrests. One student was later jailed for throwing a fire extinguisher from the roof of the tower.

While strongly supporting peaceful protest Mr Porter was resolute in condemnation of violence, saying ‘this was not part of our plan’.

He has also been strongly criticised by students after saying that while he is ‘not happy’ about the new tuition fees, he will not be campaigning for their repeal, instead calling for them to be capped at £6,000 rather than £9,000.

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has called for him to step down as NUS president, claiming he has ‘lost the confidence of the movement’.

A Leeds University student said: ‘He is completely unrepresentative of us. He condemned the protests in Millbank and on December 9 saying he condemned the violence. But it was caused by the police kettling.

‘He is not representing us because he is not trying to stop this Government. He should be arguing to stop the cuts. We went to confront him to tell him what we thought and he ran away with a police escort.’

Last night around 80 protesters were being contained in Deansgate near to the Hilton Hotel as the centre of Manchester returned to normal. Police said there were 14 arrests.

Meanwhile, in Central London 5,000 students and trade unionists demonstrated against fees and cuts. Around 300 protesters tried to storm Conservative Party headquarters at Millbank, scene of last year’s clashes, but were held back by lines of police.

One protester who broke through was tackled to the ground and held there for several minutes.

Yeshiva, suspected of fraud, returns $410k in stipends to Masa

The Tomchei Tmimim Chabad yeshiva in Migdal Ha’emek

Israel program fund provider tightens control in wake of audit in which only a quarter of registered students were present.

The police recently concluded an extended investigation into the alleged fraud of a local yeshiva accused of defrauding the Masa Israel project, Anglo File has learned. The police officer in charge of the case said the results of his investigation were transferred to the state attorney’s office due to a “strong suspicion” of illegal activity by yeshiva administrators.

The yeshiva received $410,000 in stipends from Masa for students who signed up for the program but apparently did not attend the institution. The yeshiva, Tomchei Tmimim in Migdal Ha’emek − which belongs to the global educational network of the Chabad movement − denies any wrongdoing.

The money the yeshiva received on behalf of students who were not present when Masa staff audited the yeshiva in May 2010 has since been returned to Masa, the government-sponsored umbrella organization for long-term Israel programs for young Diaspora Jews, according to the police. As a result of this episode, however, Masa says it has instituted a new policy of rigorous comprehensive checks of participant lists from all program providers.

Referring to the yeshiva’s Hebrew name − which means supporters of the pure ‏(or innocent‏) in English − the fraud unit director of the police’s Northern branch, Superintendent Aharon Gal-Or, said there was little “innocence” [tmimut] on behalf of the yeshiva regarding this case. “The money was taken wrongfully but was also given back,” he told Anglo File.

The alleged scam came to light after a student approached Masa last spring asking to sign up for the one-year program at the yeshiva, sources familiar with the case said. Masa officials noticed he was already registered as a participant of the program, they told Anglo File.

In May, Masa officials asked the yeshiva for the passports of all participants, but only 13 of the 53 students signed up for the yearlong program were still present, several sources familiar with the case said.

“We were concerned that false information was being provided to Masa Israel and to the Israel Experience company regarding the number of participants registered in the program,” Masa CEO Ayelet Shiloh-Tamir told Anglo File earlier this month. “Following unsatisfactory explanations provided by the program, we immediately filed a fraud charge with the police.”

The yeshiva had offered the yearlong program under the auspices of Israel Experience Educational Tourism Services, a subsidiary of the Jewish Agency for Israel. The company offers numerous educational short- and long-term Israel tours, many of them in the framework of Masa. Amos Hermon, Israel Experience’s director-general, did not reply to several requests for comment.

Masa has since severed all ties with the yeshiva, Shiloh-Tamir told Anglo File.

The yeshiva’s director, Baruch Avisrur, denies Masa’s version of the story. “This is an incorrect interpretation and an attempt to blame us for having intentions we never had. Everything was done according to what was demanded from us by the contract we signed [with the Israel Experience].” He declined to provide Anglo File with a copy of the contract or to further comment.

The 2009/10 school year was the third time Tomchei Tmimim received stipends for hosting a program for young Jews from the Former Soviet Union, according to Masa. In the previous two years, Masa officials said they paid a total of about $600,000 to the yeshiva, via Israel Experience. Masa subsidizes every participant of this particular program with about $10,000.

Masa officials said the registration forms and visas the yeshiva submitted for the students on the list were impeccable. There was no reason to be suspicious about the program because about 50 students were present at the mandatory excursions and Hebrew lessons provided by the Israel Experience, they explained. In order to be eligible for Masa grants, a yeshiva must offer such activities in addition to its regular program of Torah studies.

More than 55,000 participants have participated in Masa-supported programs since the umbrella organization’s founding seven years ago. For 2011, Masa officials expect 10,000 participants. The program currently has an annual budget of about $40 million, 80 percent of which pays for scholarships and stipends for participants.

The Jewish Agency and the government of Israel share the program’s costs. ‏(Stipends are need-based: North American gap year participants, for example, receive on average $1,500. Tomchei Tmimim received much larger payments on behalf of the students because as Jews from the FSU they are considered to be in greater need of financial aid.‏)

In the wake of the Tomchei Tmimim episode, Masa has instituted “new control measures − beyond our regular checks and audits in order to help prevent such incidents from happening in the future,” Shiloh-Tamir said.

Detroit police release shocking footage of station shootout that left four officers wounded and a crazed gunman dead

Aftermath: Security at the precinct drew criticism after the attack, with questions being asked about how an armed member of the public could simply walk in through the front door and begin firing

Detroit police have released harrowing footage of the moment a deranged gunman opened fire on officers from the front desk of their precinct house.

The gunman, 38-year-old Lamar Moore, was wanted for questioning by police and had gone briefly missing before suddenly turning up at the Sixth Precinct house on January 23.

Dramatic surveillance video footage shows two different camera angles of the station - the public area at the front desk, and the section behind the front desk for officers.

Moore can be seen calmly walking into the station and heading toward left-hand side of the front counter.

At the same time seven officers, including the station commander, can be seen going about their usual working day.

Moore is out of frame when he opens fire on the officers, but the results of his deadly actions can be clearly seen - as one officer immediately collapses, others duck for cover and smoke from Moore's gun can be seen billowing in from the right of the frame.

The ensuing gun battle is both terrifying and fascinating, as officers display incredible courage in a bid to face down the gunman.

It is made all the more heroic when, seconds earlier, the officers had no idea they were about be facing death in a firefight at their own station.

It is suggested that Moore decided he was going to commit 'death by cop' suicide, and was prepared to continue his rampage until shot dead.

The precinct commander, a female and male sergeant and another officer suffered wounds in the attack, although all have since been released from hospital.

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee said the video was released to show the 'tremendous acts of heroism' of the Detroit police.

Detailing the injuries sustained by the officers, Chief Godbee said the female sergeant was undoubtedly saved by her bullet-resistant vest, which absorbed a shot to her chest.

Another officer and a male sergeant suffered a grazing wound to the head, while the precinct commander was shot in the back but was still able to return fire.

The shootout only came to an end when Moore dived over the front desk and continued firing at the officers from merely feet away.

Chief Godbee would not reveal how many times Moore was shot, or which officer fired the fatal round, but the footage shows the gunman finally collapsing and dying at the station.

According to Detroit News, Moore was under investigation for allegedly holding a 13-year-old girl as a sex slave.

And authorities told CNN that police had stopped by Moore's home several hours before the shooting, but he wasn't there. The residence had caught fire and was severely damaged. That fire has been ruled as arson.

Questions have been raised about the security of the precinct house, as the lobby was open and unprotected, there were no metal detectors at the entrances and the front desks were not fitted with Plexiglass-type shields.

Chief Godbee said Moore entered the precinct house around 4.20pm through the front door. There was no warning before he opened fire.

Chief Godbee said: 'As you can imagine, utter chaos and pandemonium took place. But through it all, our officers maintained courageous calm. They returned fire. They took cover.

They did all the things that we train them to do under pressure.'
Reacting to criticism about security, Chief Godbee said: 'We have to take a step back and reassess security at each one of our facilities.

It's more than likely that we will be changing a number of things relative to standard operating procedures as to how we screen our public before they come in.'
The department wanted to continue its 'community policing' format at the precincts, he said, but added: 'By the same token, incidents like this... remind us just how vulnerable we all are.'

Friday, January 28, 2011

Alleged Bank Robber Takes Hostage - Shot And Killed By Police After Slipping And Falling On Ice

Bank Robber Takes Hostage, Slips and Falls on Ice, then Shot and Killed by Police:

TAKOMA PARK, Md. - At least one civilian was injured by gunshot wounds Friday, along with a suspect and a police officer, after a woman was taken hostage during a bank robbery in Takoma Park, authorities said.

Montgomery County fire department Assistant Chief Scott Graham said four people were injured. He says a second civilian was also injured, possibly with a puncture wound to the shoulder.

Video from the incident shows a man walking out of a Capitol One bank on University Boulevard toward police officers using a woman as a shield. As he was backing away from police, he tripped over a pile of snow from this week's snow storm. She ran away from the suspect toward police and held her hands up to cover her ears.

Witnesses said gunfire erupted shortly after. It wasn't immediately clear who shot first.

Prince George's County fire department spokesman Mark Brady said one civilian who is not the suspect was taken to a hospital with gunshot wounds. A Prince George's County police officer also was shot, but the wounds are not life-threatening as he was grazed in the leg, Brady said. It is possible that the Prince George’s Police officer who was shot was struck by the fire of another officer.

Prince George's County police spokeswoman Lt. Tammy Sparkman said the suspect also was shot. His condition was not immediately known.

Bill Benjamin, who witnessed the incident from a nearby store, told WTTG-TV that he had walked outside to take out the trash. He said he heard three quick shots fired and saw police chase down the suspect.

"He looked like he was struggling to get away," Benjamin said. "Then they put him in the police car."

Herschel Ivy, who saw the incident from across the street, told WTTG-TV that he saw the suspect's hands go up when shots were fired. Ivy said he heard seven or eight gunshots fired as a woman who was held hostage ran toward police.

"She ran directly through the cordon of police officers," Ivy said. "You couldn't tell if they were firing from the left or from the right."

Several police and fire departments responded to the scene because Takoma Park is near the border between Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland.

FBI misconduct reveals sex, lies and videotape

An FBI employee shared confidential information with his girlfriend, who was a news reporter, then later threatened to release a sex tape the two had made.

A supervisor watched pornographic videos in his office during work hours while "satisfying himself."

And an employee in a "leadership position" misused a government database to check on two friends who were exotic dancers and allowed them into an FBI office after hours.

These are among confidential summaries of FBI disciplinary reports obtained by CNN, which describe misconduct by agency supervisors, agents and other employees over the last three years.

The reports, compiled by the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility, are e-mailed quarterly to FBI employees, but are not released to the public.

And despite the bureau's very strict screening procedure for all prospective employees, the FBI confirms that about 325 to 350 employees a year receive some kind of discipline, ranging from a reprimand to suspension.

About 30 employees each year are fired.

"We do have a no-tolerance policy," FBI Assistant Director Candice Will told CNN. "We don't tolerate our employees engaging in misconduct. We expect them to behave pursuant to the standards of conduct imposed on all FBI employees."

However, she said, "It doesn't mean that we fire everybody. You know, our employees are human, as we all are. We all make mistakes. So, our discipline is intended to reflect that.

"We understand that employees can make mistakes, will make mistakes. When appropriate, we will decide to remove an employee. When we believe that an employee can be rehabilitated and should be given a second chance, we do that."

Will, who oversees the bureau's Office of Professional Responsibility, said most of the FBI's 34,300 employees, which include 13,700 agents, follow the rules.

"The vast majority of our employees do not lie," Will said. "The vast majority of our employees do not cheat. The vast majority of our employees do not steal. The vast majority of our employees do not engage in the type of misconduct you are describing. There is an occasional employee who will engage in such misconduct, and that employee will answer for it."

However, the internal summaries show that even with serious misconduct, employees can keep their job (names and locations of the employees are not listed in the reports):

-- An employee had "a sexual relationship with a source" over seven months. The punishment was a 40-day suspension.

-- The supervisor who viewed "pornographic movies in the office while sexually satisfying himself" during work hours received a 35-day suspension.

-- The employee in a "leadership position" who misused a "government database to conduct name checks on two friends who were foreign nationals employed as exotic dancers" and "brought the two friends into FBI space after-hours without proper authorization" received a 23-day suspension. The same employee had been previously suspended for misusing a government database.

-- An employee who was drunk "exploited his FBI employment at a strip club," falsely claiming he was "conducting an official investigation." His punishment was a 30-day suspension.

-- And an employee conducted "unauthorized searches on FBI databases" for "information on public celebrities the employee thought were 'hot'" received a 30-day suspension.

Will said she could not discuss individual cases, and added: "I can't even confirm whether or not your information is accurate."

She said the bureau follows established guidelines for punishing employees.

"What we try is the holistic approach of the total employee," she said. "You look at the full record of that employee's career. You look at whatever the division has to say about the employee and you look at the facts in the particular case. You look at the employee's disciplinary history as to whether or not they have ever been in trouble. You look at how well they performed in the past, and you try to get a sense of whether or not this is an employee who can be rehabilitated, and if so, a period of suspension is imposed and if not, the employee is removed."

The employee who made the sex tape with the reporter, for instance, resigned before being fired, according to the report.

That employee "misused administrative leave, misused his credentials to get into a night club, misused a government vehicle, provided law-enforcement-sensitive documents to his girlfriend, who was a news reporter, improperly stored secret documents in a hotel room, which were viewed by his girlfriend, and following their break-up, threatened his girlfriend with the release of a sex tape the two had made, which threats she referred to a U.S. attorney's office," the internal summary report said.

Another employee, who used a "video camera to record (a) co-worker changing in (the) women's bathroom," also resigned, according to the report. The employee "lied about his conduct to (a) co-worker and attempted to erase the video when asked to relinquish the camera upon being caught."

And an employee who harassed a "former boyfriend, his mother and his new girlfriend" with "repeated phone calls, text messages, e-mail" was fired, the report said.

"If you lie under oath, you are gone," Wills told CNN. "If you tell the truth --- it's sort of Watergate 101. It's not always the behavior itself that results in a seriously adverse finding. It can just be the cover-up."

Konrad Motyka, the president of the FBI Agents Association, said, "Specifically, demonstrable, incorrect conduct or criminal conduct is not acceptable and never should be. But...our rate of conduct is actually less than in a lot of places, and human beings, being what they are, with the size of the organization we have, occasionally there will be some issues that come up."

Asked if there should be zero tolerance for serious misconduct, Motyka told CNN: "I believe there is zero tolerance for serious misconduct. Once it is adjudicated and proven to be a fact, just as anywhere else, people have the right to a fair hearing to determine whether the facts actually meet the circumstances."

James Wedick, a former veteran FBI supervisor who owns a consulting firm, said the misconduct is an embarrassment to the bureau.

"We are horrified, we're embarrassed. It bothers every official. It bothers everyone who works for the bureau. But law enforcement, the FBI, is made up of men and women. Men and women do make mistakes, and unfortunately, sometimes the mistakes are little bit more egregious than others."

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the behavior described in the disciplinary summaries obtained by CNN is surprising.

"People in government, particularly the federal government, ought to be the best people that you can ever have, and people want to respect federal government employees. And most respected would be FBI agents," Grassley said.

Bethel, NY - Residents Trying to Stop Chasidic Group from Getting Sewer Services

Bethel, NY - A Satmar Hasidic group that went to war with town officials in 2009 and organized bloc votes against certain town officials is again at the center of a storm in Bethel.

Residents and two Town Board members are trying to stop the group from getting sewer services for future residential buildings off Route 17B on Schultz Road.

The colony is affiliated with the United Talmudical Academy, which had a highly publicized standoff with town officials in the summer of 2009 over the rapid construction of a synagogue and later started a petition drive targeting Town Board members. On Dec. 8, the Town Board voted by majority to extend the boundaries of the Kauneonga Lake Sewer District, prompting residents to gather petitions to force a permissive referendum on the extension.

Bethel Supervisor Daniel Sturm said the board had no good reason to deny the extension.

The applicant, Kollel Averichim Torah Veyirah, has asked for an extension across Schultz Road. Sturm said group members plan to tear down some old bungalows and build a couple of multifamily buildings on a 5-acre parcel near the synagogue.

Roughly 90 residents of the district signed the petition, which was filed with the town this month. Kollel has challenged the legitimacy of the petition in state Supreme Court. The matter is tied up in court.

FBI executes search warrants in probe of pro-WikiLeaks cyber attacks

FBI agents have executed 40 search warrants throughout the United States as part of an investigation into recent coordinated cyber attacks targeting major companies, the agency said.

The United Kingdom's Metropolitan Police Service executed additional search warrants and arrested five people for their alleged role in the attacks, the FBI said in a statement Thursday.

A group calling itself "Anonymous" has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the FBI said. The attacks were allegedly carried out by people who are active supporters of WikiLeaks, but are not affiliated with the website, a federal law enforcement source said.

Late last year, the group launched take-down campaigns against organizations that have shunned the site WikiLeaks. Under the banner "Operation Payback," the Anonymous group successfully crashed and strained the websites of Visa and PayPal.

Anonymous allegedly makes its attacks not through hacking, but merely by directing a giant traffic surge to the targeted website. That's called a DDoS attack, short for distributed denial-of-service -- and it's hard for most websites to defend against.

"The attacks were facilitated by software tools the group makes available for free download on the internet," the FBI said in a statement.

Facilitating or conducting such attacks is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison, the FBI said.

Unrest in Egypt: Mubarak expected to speak; curfew imposed in major cities

Former NYPD Pension Fund employee claims top officials framed him on criminal charges

A former employee of the NYPD Pension Fund claims vengeful top officials framed him on trumped-up criminal charges because he reported a hostile work environment, a federal lawsuit alleges.

Anthony Bonelli, 48, the former director of network services, claims he was punched, choked and called a "f----t" and other anti-gay slurs by pension fund security director Ken Pece.

The suit, filed in Brooklyn Federal Court, also claims that the pension fund's integrity officer, NYPD Sgt. Richard Conte, ordered another employee to cut Bonelli's paisley necktie with scissors because Conte thought it was "too gay."

"It was like a boys' club, where they were acting like children in a playground bullying my client," said Bonelli's lawyer, Stuart Jacobs, who noted Bonelli is heterosexual.

Bonelli reported the incidents to his superior, then-Executive Director Anthony Garvey, but nothing was done, according to the lawsuit.

After Bonelli made an official complaint to police about the alleged assault - which was backed up by surveillance tape - pension fund officials allegedly conspired to squash Pece's arrest and set up Bonelli instead, according to the lawsuit.

Bonelli claims he was falsely arrested in 2009 for allegedly stealing computer records from the fund. He was acquitted of all charges in Staten Island Supreme Court.

"It's really outrageous and points to a large amount of corruption at the Police Pension Fund," Jacobs said.

Bonelli was later fired from his $122,700-a-year job at the fund, which services 75,000 active and retired cops and their beneficiaries.

A Law Department spokeswoman said city lawyers have not yet received the suit.

"I am confident Anthony Bonelli's claims have no merit," said pension fund general counsel Rhonda Cavagnaro, who is also a defendant in the suit. Pece declined comment when reached at home.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Controversial Muslim cleric is arrested while sneaking into the U.S.

Said Jaziri's deportation case drew attention in Canada three years ago because the imam's views were disliked by many in that country

Deported from Canada to Tunisia three years ago, Muslim cleric Said Jaziri was found hiding in the trunk of a BMW near the Mexican border.

Reporting from San Diego — U.S. border authorities have arrested a controversial Muslim cleric who was deported from Canada to Tunisia three years ago and was caught earlier this month trying to sneak into California in the trunk of a BMW, according to court documents.

Said Jaziri, the former imam of a Muslim congregation in Montreal, was hidden in a car driven by a San Diego-area man who was pulled over by U.S. Border Patrol agents near an Indian casino east of San Diego on Jan. 11. Jaziri had allegedly paid a Tijuana-based smuggling group $5,000 to get him across the border near Tecate, saying he wanted to be taken to a "safe place anywhere in the U.S."

The arrest marks the unexpected resurfacing of the 43-year-old cleric, whose protracted legal battle to avoid deportation drew headlines in Canada. A Tunisian immigrant, Jaziri was deported for failing to disclose a criminal conviction in France while applying for refugee status in the mid-1990s.

But Jaziri's supporters said he was targeted for his fundamentalist views: He backed Sharia law for Canadian Muslims and led protests over the publication of the Prophet Mohammed cartoons in a Danish newspaper in 2006.

Jaziri is being held as a material witness in the criminal case against the BMW's driver, Kenneth Robert Lawler, who has been charged with alien smuggling. He is at the San Luis Detention Facility near Yuma, Ariz., according to his attorney, Wayne Charles Mayer. His bond has been set at $25,000.

In Quebec's large Muslim community, Jaziri stood out for his outspoken views, and though his mosque was small, he drew outsized media attention for his strict interpretation of the Koran. Jaziri labeled homosexuality a sin and pushed for government subsidies to build a large mosque for Montreal's growing Muslim population.

"His nickname in Quebec was the controversial imam," said Lise Garon, a professor of communications at Laval University in Quebec City, adding that his case tapped into the anti-immigrant mood in the community. "I think he was deported because people hated his ideas."

Jaziri opposed his deportation to Tunisia out of fear that he would be tortured by the government. His case drew support from Muslim organizations and Amnesty International. It's unclear what his treatment was like in Tunisia after his deportation, or whether his subsequent journey was related to the recent unrest there.

According to the court documents, a Mexican foot guide led Jaziri and a Mexican immigrant over the border fence near Tecate, and they trekked overnight through the rugged back country to a road where drivers frequently pick up immigrants for smuggling runs into San Diego.

Border Patrol agents, alerted by firefighters who saw the two immigrants get into the car's trunk, pulled the driver over near the Golden Acorn Casino about 50 miles east of San Diego. Jaziri told agents that his journey had been a long one: He had taken a flight from Africa to Europe, then to Central America and Chetumal, Mexico, on the Mexico-Belize border, where he took a bus to Tijuana.

Iranian Book Celebrating Suicide Bombers Found in Arizona Desert

A book celebrating suicide bombers has been found in the Arizona desert just north of the U.S.- Mexican border, authorities tell Fox News.

The book, "In Memory of Our Martyrs," was spotted Tuesday by a U.S. Border Patrol agent out of the Casa Grande substation who was patrolling a route known for smuggling illegal immigrants and drugs.

Published in Iran, it consists of short biographies of Islamic suicide bombers and other Islamic militants who died carrying out attacks.

According to internal U.S. Customs and Border Protection documents, "The book also includes letters from suicide attackers to their families, as well as some of their last wills and testaments." Each biographical page contains "the terrorist's name, date of death, and how they died."

Agents also say that the book appears to have been exposed to weather in the desert "for at least several days or weeks."

Authorities told Fox News that there were no people in the area at the time the book was found, and no arrests have been made in connection with it.

"At this time, DHS does not have any credible information on terrorist groups operating along the Southwest border," a Department of Homeland Security official said in a statement. "We work closely with our partners in the law enforcement and intelligence communities and as a matter of due diligence and law enforcement best practice, report anything found, no matter how significant or insignificant it may seem."

Statements from U.S. officials, including FBI director Robert Mueller, have raised serious concerns in recent years over "OTMs" -- or illegal immigrants other than Mexicans -- who have crossed the southwest border at alarming rates.

Mueller testified before the House Appropriations Committee in March 2005 that "there are individuals from countries with known Al Qaeda connections who are changing their Islamic surnames to Hispanic-sounding names and obtaining false Hispanic identities, learning to speak Spanish and pretending to be Hispanic."

Just last year, the Department of Homeland Security had in custody thousands of detainees from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. U.S. Border Patrol statistics indicate that there were 108,025 OTMs detained in 2006, compared to 165,178 in 2005 and 44,614 in 2004.

Authorities would not release a picture of the book to Fox News, or reveal how long they believe it was lying in the desert. Immigration officials have previously discovered items along the U.S.-Mexico border from Middle Eastern origin, including Iranian currency in Zapata, Texas, and a jacket found in Jim Hogg County, Texas, that was covered in patches including an Arabic military badge that illustrates an airplane flying into a tower.

All clear on Utah Army base after lost lethal VX nerve gas causes 'serious concern,' lockdown

The Army gave the all-clear Thursday after loosing track overnight of a vial of lethal VX nerve agent at a Utah base.

An emergency lockdown went into effect around 6 p.m. Wednesday at the sprawling Dugway Proving Grounds when the vial turned up missing during a routine inventory check.

More than 1,000 employees were held at the base southwest of Salt Lake City as military officials launched a frantic search.

The missing vial was found on the base around 3 a.m.

A military spokesman said "all personnel are uninjured and safe. The public is safe as well."

The vial contained less than 1 milliliter, or roughly a quarter-teaspoon, of the VX, considered the deadliest agent in the military's arsenal.

Earlier in the day, military officials mysteriously said the shutdown went into effect amid a "serious concern."

Armed sentries blocked the entrances while Army officials refused to say what prompted the lockdown.

"No one is in immediate danger but these steps are required," Col. William King IV, the base commander, said at the time.

Dugway is used by the Army Reserves and the U.S. National Guard for training, and the base also serves as a bombing range.

The Army Test and Evaluation Command center also conducts training and tests of defenses against biological and chemical weapons attacks.