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December 2017 Archives

2017: The Year in Cybercrime

As more and more of our social life and day-to-day business exists online, the more criminals will try to take advantage of the internet and access to our personal information. But identity theft is far from the only cybercrime, and the past year demonstrated that.

Here are the major cybercrime stories from 2017:

If you've watched any cop show or cop movie, you can probably recite the warning from memory:

You have the right to remain silent;
If you do say anything, what you say can be used against you in a court of law;
You have the right to consult with a lawyer and have that lawyer present during any questioning;
If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you if you so desire.

That admonition comes from a famous criminal law case, Miranda v. Arizona, and must be given to any person prior to custodial interrogation. But there are three major exceptions to what's become known as the Miranda rule or Miranda rights.

A Reuters investigation into Taser use in just one Ohio jail turned up more than a dozen stun-gun videos that have families of the victims, state legislators, and even United Nations torture experts calling for criminal inquiries into the incidents. Officers at the Franklin County Jail were found to have used Tasers on 80 inmates over the course of two years, 60 percent of whom were classified by the jail as intoxicated or mentally ill.

The revelations have many questioning the limits of Taser and stun-gun use for law enforcement personnel, and whether officers accused of exceeding those limits face any punishment whatsoever.

Sounds ridiculous, right? I mean, you're not even driving, so why would your driver's license be affected by a pedestrian ticket? But an investigation by the Florida Times-Union and ProPublica discovered that thousands of people have had their licenses suspended for not being able to pay fines tied to pedestrian tickets.

And the violations involved are not just jaywalking -- the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office was allegedly enforcing over two dozen obscure pedestrian statutes, more often than not against black citizens.

A Long Island woman has been indicted on federal bank fraud and money laundering charges after attempting to transfer over $150,000 to overseas ISIS-related accounts. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Zoobia Shahnaz was apprehended at JFK International Airport attempting to board a flight to Islamabad, Pakistan, with the intent to join ISIS forces in Syria.

The scheme included converting credit into bitcoin to avoid detection. It didn't work.

The protection racket is an old criminal enterprise, consisting of extorting money from people or businesses to keep them safe. Safe from whom? Well, from you of course.

And it turns out you can teach an old crime new tricks. Paras Jha and Josiah White ran a company that specialized in mitigating DDoS attacks (when multiple computer systems flood the bandwidth of a targeted system, shutting it down). The two also created the Mirai botnet and, as Brian Krebs put it, "[l]ike firemen getting paid to put out the fires they started," targeted organizations with DDoS attacks in order to boost their clientele. Jha, White, and co-conspirator Dalton Norman pleaded guilty to federal computer crime charges this week, after their botnet shut down large swaths of the internet last year.

Akayed Ullah set off a pipe bomb in a section of the New York City subway system near Times Square during rush hour on Monday morning this week. The joking response was that it merely inconvenienced some hard-nosed New Yorkers on their way to work.

But the terrorism charges Ullah is facing are serious -- if convicted, Ullah could face life in prison.

Houston Bounty Hunter Charged With Sex Trafficking

On December 7, 2017, bounty hunter Luis De Jesus Rodriguez and his girlfriend Helen Leon Mesa were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking by force, fraud, visa fraud, and coercion. According to San Antonio news station KSAT, the allegations are based on the recruitment and exploitation of women, mainly Colombian nationals.

To persuade the women to accept their assistance in obtaining fraudulent visas, Rodriquez, who coined himself as "the best bounty hunter in Houston" and Mesa allegedly guaranteed them jobs and a better life. As a bounty hunter, Rodriquez, coercively presented himself to the women as law enforcement.

All civil lawsuits have statutes of limitation -- time limits after which you can longer sue. These statutes can vary depending on the type of offense and the state, but all are designed to have parties litigate an issue while evidence and memories are still fresh.

This can be tough when dealing with certain offenses like sexual assault, especially when the victim is a child at the time. Children can be too fearful to report sexual assault until they are older, and by then, the statute of limitations on their ability to sue their attacker may have tolled. New York has some of the nation's most restrictive statutes of limitations when it comes to child sex assault lawsuits, but the state is trying to change that.

The key to any testimony in court is credibility: is the person telling the truth, and is there any reason why they would lie? Often times, members of law enforcement are given the benefit of the doubt when they testify in criminal cases, despite direction from judges that officer testimony should be given the same weight and skepticism as any other witness.

That credibility may have taken a serious hit, at least when it comes to sheriff's deputies in Los Angeles County testifying in court. The Los Angeles Times reports that the L.A. County Sheriff's Department had an internal list of around 300 deputies with histories of dishonesty and misconduct such that, if revealed in court, would damage their credibility as witnesses.

For the most part, public defenders are to be admired -- they work long hours at a largely thankless job with very little resources. But, as with any other profession, not all public defenders are great at what they do, they may not agree with every defendant they represent, and even a good public defender can have a bad day.

So if you're not happy with your public defender, what can you do about it?

Michael Slager, the white former police officer who gunned down Walter Scott, an unarmed black man running away from Slager, was sentenced to 20 years in prison today after he pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges. Slager had been charged with murder by the state of South Carolina, and a judge ultimately ruled that he committed second-degree murder and obstruction of justice.

Slager had claimed Scott wrestled his stun gun away from him, and that he was forced to use his firearm in self defense. But video of the incident showed otherwise.

By now most people are familiar with quite possibly the most famous person to ever be convicted of tax evasion, Al Capone. Capone was a Chicago mob boss during Prohibition who, despite ordering the deaths of dozens, was sentenced to just eleven years in prison on federal income tax evasion charges in 1931.

Slightly less well-known is Salvatore "Sallie" Demeo, described by the New York Post as a "Genovese soldier" and charged with tax evasion related to real estate deals. So why is it that so many mobsters or organized crime leaders are charged with tax evasion?