Posts tagged with "DOJ"

Nikola founder Trevor Milton sentenced to four years in prison for defrauding investors

December 21, 2023

Nikola founder Trevor Milton was sentenced on Monday, December 18, to four years in prison for lying to investors about the company’s hydrogen and electric truck technology, reports CNN.

The sentence is significantly lower than the 11-year sentence federal prosecutors were seeking. Milton was facing up to 60 years behind bars if he was sentenced to the maximum penalty.

Trevor Milton lied to investors again and again—on social media, on television, on podcasts, and in print,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. “But today’s sentence should be a warning to start-up founders and corporate executives everywhere—‘fake it till you make it’ is not an excuse for fraud, and if you mislead your investors, you will pay a stiff price.”

Milton also will turn over property in Utah and pay a $1 million fine, the Justice Department said in a news release. He will also face three years of supervised release after completing his prison sentence.

Milton’s legal team told CNN it had no comment on the sentence.

In October 2022, a New York jury convicted Milton on federal charges of securities fraud and wire fraud. Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York had accused Milton of making false and misleading statements about “nearly all aspects of the business” as it pertained to developing electric and hydrogen-powered trucks, as well as defrauding the public through social media and podcast interviews.

Nikola—a Phoenix-based automaker focused on developing semi-trucks vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology and electric batteries—was regarded as a competitor to Elon Musk’s Tesla when it first went public in 2020, and saw its share price skyrocket. That year, it also entered into a $2 billion dollar partnership deal with General Motors.

Allegations of investor fraud later avalanched into a federal probe, an indictment and a conviction.

“Among the retail investors who ultimately invested in Nikola were investors who had no prior experience in the stock market and had begun trading during the COVID-19 pandemic to replace or supplement lost income or to occupy their time while in lockdown,” the Department of Justice wrote in its indictment of Milton in 2021.

The case revolved, in part, around the Nikola One, a prototype of a hydrogen-powered semi-truck. According to prosecutors, Milton claimed the vehicle “fully functions and works, which is really incredible” even though it was missing important parts and systems, including motors and a control system.

In 2018, Milton posted a video on X, formerly known as Twitter, that showed the truck seemingly cruise down a flat road. But it was all smoke and mirrors, prosecutors say. “In fact, to film these clips, the Nikola One was towed to the top of a hill, at which point the ‘driver’ released the brakes, and the truck rolled down the hill until being brought to a stop in front of the stop sign,” the Department of Justice wrote in the release Monday.

Research contact: @CNN

Trump has no immunity from second E. Jean Carroll lawsuit, Justice Department says

July13, 2023

On Tuesday, July 11, the Justice Department reversed a holding first made by the agency during Donald Trump’s term in office—saying that the ex-president is not immune from a second defamation suit by writer E. Jean Carroll, reports USA Today.

Carroll, who in May won a $5 million judgment against Trump for sexual abuse and defamation, has another defamation suit pending against him for comments he made about her after the case was closed.

The letter clears the way for another defamation trial against Trump, currently scheduled to begin in January.

Carroll wrote about Trump’s alleged sexual assault in a 2019 memoiraccusing him of attacking her in a New York department store more than 20 years ago. The case has been mired down in appeals, many of them involving the question of Trump’s legal standing as president.

In its letter and a court filing, the Justice Department also said new evidence against Trump has surfaced since he left office—citing the recent civil trial and harsh comments that Trump made about Carroll after the verdict.

The new evidence “supports an inference that … Trump was motivated by a ‘personal grievance’ stemming from events that occurred many years prior to … Trump’s presidency,” the Justice Department said. 

The reversal also means the Justice Department will not help defend Trump at the upcoming defamation trial, although few have predicted such a move.

Trump has alleged he did not know Carroll and accused her of making up a story to hurt him politically. The former president protested Carroll’s legal action in a Truth Social post early Wednesday, alleging “The Carroll civil case against me is a Miscarriage of Justice and a total Scam.”

After a civil trial in New York that focused on the 1996 incident itself, a jury found Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation, assessing damages adding up to $5 million. Trump has appealed that verdict.

Carroll has since requested more damages over comments Trump made since the trial. Trump, meanwhile, has countersued Carroll and is seeking to dismiss the second defamation case.

Research contact: @USATODAY

Trump charged in classified documents case, second indictment in months

June 12, 2023

Former president Donald Trump disclosed on Thursday night, June 8, that he had been charged by the Justice Department in connection with the discovery that hundreds of classified documents were shipped to his Mar-a-Lago home after he left the White House—a seismic event in the nation’s political and legal history, reports The Washington Post.

The call from the Justice Department came to his attorneys in the early evening, around 7 p.m., and the former president wanted to announce the indictment himself, two of people familiar with the matter said.

A seven-count indictment has been filed in federal court naming the former president as a criminal defendant, according to confidential informants, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a case that has yet to be unsealed.

The charges include willful retention of national defense secrets, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy, which carry the potential of years in prison if Trump is found guilty.

Trump, who currently is the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, will appear in federal court in Miami for an arraignment on Tuesday, June 13, at 3 p.m. (EDT).

The willful retention charge is a violation of a section of the broad Espionage Act, although spying is not among the charges against the former president. It is the second time he has been criminally charged since March, when he was indicted in state court in New York on 34 counts of falsifying business records related to hush money payments from 2016. Trump, who has denied wrongdoing in both cases, is the only former president ever charged with a crime.

I have been indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax,” Trump wrote on the social media site Truth Social. He claimed he was being treated unfairly. “I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former President of the United States,” he said in a lengthy post that ended: “I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!”

A spokesperson for Special Counsel Jack Smith, who has been running the classified-documents investigation, declined to comment.

Trump learned of his indictment while at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey, huddled with advisers, according to multiple people familiar with the situation, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details that had not been publicly released.

His team had expected his indictment and staff already had fundraising pitches, statements and videos ready, according to advisers. He dictated his own Truth Social post within an hour after getting the news. Surrogates also were lined up, advisers said, and a satellite truck was at Bedminster for the legal team to appear.

“Nobody is disappointed that the venue is Miami,” one person said of the legal team’s thinking.

Trump lawyer Jim Trustywhom Reuters reports resigned the morning after the news broke, on Friday, June 9, along with John Rowley, Trump’s other lawyer—took to CNN on Thursday night to defend his client as innocent, while also confirming the charges against the former president. In addition to willful retention, obstruction, and conspiracy, he said Trump was charged with false statements. Trusty said he was not sure when Trump’s legal team would receive the indictment, and was not aware of whether any other individuals connected with the case had also been charged.

The charges cap a high-stakes investigation that began in early 2022 and slowly built steam over the summer, until FBI agents conducted a court-ordered search of Trump’s home and private club in early August that turned up more than 100 classified documents. Trump’s advisers had told the Justice Department in June that they had conducted a diligent search for such papers in response to a subpoena and had handed over all they could find.

In the months since that search, investigators have been gathering evidence to determine whether the former president set out to obstruct law-enforcement efforts to recover the top-secret material that was stashed at Mar-a-Lago.

While the charges will likely test Trump’s staying power as the leader of an increasingly crowded Republican field, the case will also put new strains on the Justice Department and FBI, which must bring to trial a tycoon-turned-politician who has publicly demonized federal law enforcement for years. In preempting any official announcement of the charges, Trump sought to gain the upper hand and blame the Biden Administration.

The White House declined to comment on the indictment Thursday night and referred inquiries to the Justice Department. But earlier Thursday, before Trump announced he had been charged, President Biden  was asked by a reporter what he could say to Americans to “convince them” that they “should trust the independence and fairness of the Justice Department.”

Biden replied that he has “never once, not one single time, suggested to the Justice Department what they should do or not do relative to bringing a charge or not bringing a charge.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Neo-Nazi leader and Maryland woman plotted to ‘completely destroy’ Baltimore, DOJ alleges

February 8, 2023

Two people charged with conspiracy to damage energy infrastructure—a neo-Nazi leader and a woman with whom he had a personal relationship—allegedly planned to attack electrical substations encircling Baltimore and “completely destroy” the entire city, according to federal court documents.

CNN reports that the Justice Department has charged Brandon Clint Russell and Sarah Beth Clendaniel with conspiracy to damage energy facilities—alleging that the Maryland-focused plot was driven by ethnically or racially motivated extremist beliefs.

They “conspired to inflict maximum harm on the power grid,” Tom Sobocinski, who heads the FBI’s field office in Baltimore, said during a news conference Monday. “The accused were not just talking, but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals.”

The charges come as domestic violence experts have warned that attempts by extremist groups to attack power facilities are trending up.

Clendaniel made her initial appeared in federal court in downtown Baltimore on Monday afternoon, February 6,  before District Court Judge Richard Collins. Kirstin Hopkins, Clendaniel’s court-appointed attorney, consented to the government’s request to keep Clendaniel detained pending further hearings. Clendaniel is expected to enter a plea during a future court appearance. A preliminary hearing in her case is scheduled for February 15.

Russell made his initial appearance in a federal courthouse in Florida on Monday. He will remain detained pending further hearings and his case has been committed to the District of Maryland.

Hopkins declined CNN’s request for comment on Clendaniel’s case and an attorney for Russell has not been listed on the court’s public docket.

In a recorded voice conversation last month, Clendaniel allegedly told the FBI source that targeting the facilities would “completely destroy this whole city.”

She and Russell allegedly sent the source information about the facilities, and according to the charging papers, Russell sent the source a YouTube video about a recent substation attack in North Carolina.

The FBI also obtained a document allegedly written by Clendaniel that authorities say resembles a manifesto. In it, she allegedly references Hitler, as well as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and the perpetrator of the 2011 terrorist attack in Norway.

Russell, according to the the charging documents, ascribes to having neo-Nazi beliefs and had started his own local National Socialist Group.

Before allegedly conspiring to attack the Maryland power grid, authorities say he had plotted with his roommates in Florida to attack energy facilities there. That alleged plot was revealed during an investigation into the 2017 murder of two of Russell’s roommates by another roommate.

Law enforcement officials at Monday’s news conference described Russell and Clendaniel as having both a personal and online relationship, but did not elaborate further.

The Justice Department says that Russell, allegedly under the username “Homunculus,” has been in contact with the FBI’s source since at least June of last year. Homunculus allegedly made several statements to the source throughout 2022 about attacking critical infrastructure.

At one point, as Homunculus and the source discussed Mylar balloons, Homunculus allegedly said that “putting holes in transformers though is the greatest thing somebody can do,” and he allegedly floated other ideas to the source about attacking electrical substations.

Clendaniel, said to be going by the username “Nythra88” and “Kali1889,” introduced herself to the FBI’s confidential source last month, according to the charging papers. She allegedly told the source she wanted “to accomplish something worthwhile,” before she died of a terminal illness, as she sought help obtaining firearms.

The source discussed the plans with Homunculus for Clendaniel to participate in an attack on energy facilities, and the source also taped a nearly two-hour voice conversation he had with Clendaniel on January 24 about the plot, according to the charging papers.

In a separate conversation five days later, Clendaniel told the source in a recorded voice conversation that the targets were facilities surrounding Baltimore.

Clendaniel and Russell had been corresponding since at least 2018 while both were serving time behind bars in separate prisons, according to the charging documents.

Russell was sentenced to 60 months in prison in January 2018 after pleading guilty to possession of an unregistered device and improper storage of explosive materials.

In that case, according to court documents, Russell’s roommate at the time told authorities that he was the leader of a neo-Nazi group to which their two other roommates belonged and that they were planning to attack US infrastructure—including a nuclear power plant and power lines along the part of Interstate 75 known as Alligator Alley.

The roommate was being interviewed by authorities after he had killed the two other roommates because, he said, they bullied him for converting from neo-Nazi beliefs to Islam, court documents show.

Russell served his time in the explosive materials case and was on supervised release at the time of his arrest in the newly announced case against him.

For her part, Clendaniel’s record includes a 2006 arrest on several offenses; including armed robbery at a convenience store, where she wielded a large butcher knife, according to court documents. She was sentenced to five years in prison.

Research contact: @CNN

DOJ seeks to speak with Pence as part of January 6 investigation

November 25, 2022

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is seeking testimony from former Vice President Mike Pence for its investigation into Donald Trump’s attempts to stay in power after losing the 2020 presidential election, reports HuffPost.

Sources familiar with the matter confirmed the DOJ’s efforts to The New York TimesCNN, and ABC News on Wednesday, November 23. All reported that Pence, who has developed a fraught relationship with Trump after refusing to support his election fraud claims, is open to the request.

DOJ investigators reportedly contacted Pence before Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel―Jack Smith, who once led the public integrity section―to take over the probe last week. As of now, Pence has not been subpoenaed.

Although he is reportedly open to testifying before the DOJ, Pence has refused to participate in a similar investigation led by a House select committee, saying last week that Congress “has no right to my testimony.”

But that doesn’t mean that Trump is happy about it: Indeed, according to HuffPost, the former president may seek legal avenues to stop Pence from testifying by invoking executive privilege, which at the very least, could stall the DOJ’s efforts to convene with him.

Pence could be a key witness in the investigations into the efforts by Trump and his allies to subvert democracy, including a plan to create a fake slate of pro-Trump electors in several states Biden won in 2020, because of his close communications with the ex-president in the days leading up to January 6, 2021, when an angry mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol with Trump’s encouragement.

Pence detailed many of their exchanges in his recently released book, saying Trump summoned him to meet with attorney John Eastman, who then pressured Pence to block the electoral college certification process in Congress.

Wednesday’s news comes the week after Pence shared that he’s giving “prayerful consideration” to running for president in 2024―a race for which Trump already has announced his candidacy. Pence said there are “better choices” than Trump for president last week when asked if he’d be a good presidential candidate again.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Six cases of alleged Arizona voter intimidation are referred to DOJ

October 27, 2022

Six cases of alleged voter intimidation at drop box locations in Arizona have been referred to the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said on Monday, October 24, with early voting options open for nearly two weeks across the state, reports ABC News.

 “Voter harassment may include gathering around ballot drop boxes questioning voters, brandishing weapons, taking pictures of people voting, and following or chasing voters who are attempting to drop off their ballots—and it can all be considered voter intimidation. It is unacceptable,” Hobbs said in a release. “I will continue to forward reports received to law enforcement, and I urge law enforcement to take action to protect voters from ongoing intimidation.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland, asked on Monday about voter intimidation at Arizona ballot drop boxes, said, “The Justice Department has an obligation to guarantee a free and fair vote by everyone whose qualified to vote and will not permit voters to be intimidated.”

Five recorded complaints obtained by ABC News occurred between October 17 and October 22, outside ballot drop boxes at 501 S. 3rd Ave. in Phoenix and at the Mesa Juvenile Court, both in Maricopa County.

Most described an instance of groups of individuals loitering near the drop boxes, filming and photographing voters as they returned their ballots and in some cases, taking photographs of the voters’ license plates. One report described individuals dressed in “camo-clad gear” and photos from election officials show at least two armed individuals outside the Mesa drop box Friday, October 21.

“As we were getting up to our car, two individuals took pictures of our license plate and our car. I got out and asked what they were doing. They claimed they were taking pictures for “election security” and I took pictures of them to report them to the DOJ for voter intimation and harassment. As we were pulling out, they continued to film my wife, myself, and our car,” the complaint said

Early voting in the 2022 midterm elections began on October 12 in Arizona, where 402,000 early ballots have been returned so far, according to data compiled by the secretary of state from 15 county recorders. Aside from voters and credentialed government or party officials, individuals must stay at least 75 feet away from secure drop box locations, according to Arizona law.

“There’s a group of people hanging out near the ballot dropbox filming and photographing my wife and I as we approached the dropbox and accusing us of being a mile [mule],” another incident report, filed on October 17 at 6:40 p.m. at Mesa Juvenile Court said. “They took photographs of our license plate and of us and then followed us out the parking lot in one of their cars continuing to film.”

Accusations of being “mules” is in reference to a widely debunked, far-right film, ‘2,000 Mules,’ which falsely alleges that individuals hired by Democrats stuffed numerous drop boxes with potentially fake absentee ballots during the 2020 election.

Hobbs’ office in its release on Monday also referred at least one report of election worker harassment to law enforcement over the weekend after she and two other employees were sent a menacing and vulgar message: “Remember the French Revolution of 1799??….” it said.

 Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone told reporters on Monday, October 24, that his office also is working with the DOJ to identify which cases qualify as voter intimidation. Since voting began, he said his team has written two criminal reports and submitted those to the county prosecutor.

 “I think it’s undermining who we are as a nation, and I think that it’s self-serving in many ways. And what do I see now as the sheriff of one of the biggest counties in the nation, I see that every day I’m dedicating a considerable amount of resources, just to give people confidence that they can cast a vote safely and that is absurd,” he said.

Research contact: @abcnews

Legal experts say Trump admitted guilt at Arizona rally

October 11, 2022

While speaking at a rally in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday night, October 9, former President Donald Trump effectively admitted to his own criminal behavior when he stole government documents, reports Raw Story.

“I had a small number of boxes in storage,” Trump told the audience. “There is no crime. They should give me immediately back everything they have taken from me because it’s mine.”

In fact, it is a crime, which is why the Justice Department, the FBI, a federal judge and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals have gotten involved in the issue.

Watching the video of Trump, legal experts noted that Trump’s comments are an admission of guilt that will likely be used in trial.

“This is what we call a summation exhibit,” said former FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann, who also served as a prosecutor under special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. “Proof from the defendant’s own mouth. And on video.”

“There is more than ample evidence to indict Trump for crimes listed in the FBI search warrant,” explained former special counsel Ryan Goodman. “The question will come down to aggravating factors for Garland DOJ to consider. Outrageous, open defiance of the law—like this—must surely rank high among those factors.”

Teri Kanefield, a former appellate defender, noted in Trump’s comment that he’d been saying over and over that the documents were his. But from his own lawyers replying to the Special Master, the ex-president said: “There is no question and, indeed there is broad agreement, that the matters before this Court center around the possession, by a President, of his own Presidential records.”

Research contact: @RawStory

Special master expresses skepticism about declassification claims by Trump’s lawyers

September 22, 2022

A federal judge expressed skepticism on Tuesday, September 20, about the efforts by former President Donald Trump’s legal team to avoid offering any proof of his claims that he had declassified sensitive government documents that were seized from his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, last month, reports The New York Times.

The statements by the judge, Raymond J. Dearie, who is acting as a special masteran independent arbiter reviewing the seized materials, were an early indication that he may not be entirely sympathetic to the former president’s attempts to bog down the judge’s evaluation with time-consuming questions over the classification status of some of the documents.

“My view is, you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Judge Dearie said at a hearing called to determine the process he would use to do a sweeping review of materials seized from Trump under a search warrant executed by the FBI.

Judge Dearie, who had been suggested for the role by Trump’s legal team, was referring to a set of sometimes confusing arguments made by that team as it seeks to limit or delay the Justice Department’s criminal investigation.

Days after the extraordinary search of Mar-a-Lago, the former president made public statements claiming that he had in fact declassified some of the seized records, suggesting that the Justice Department had no case against him for illegally retaining sensitive government material. But neither he nor his lawyers have ever made those same assertions in court—or in court papers—where they could face penalties for lying.

Instead, they have danced a fine line between suggesting that, as president, Trump had the authority to declassify the documents, while remaining silent on the issue of what he actually did—or did not do. At the same time, Trump’s lawyers have pursued another line of argument, telling Judge Dearie that he should not simply take the Justice Department’s word that some of the seized records are classified, as prosecutors claim.

At his first hearing as special master, Judge Dearie seemed to cut through this confusing web, telling Trump’s lawyers in direct terms that he was likely to deem the documents classified — unless they offered evidence to the contrary.

That prompted one of the lawyers, James Trusty, to say that Trump’s legal team might in the future offer that sort of evidence—in witness statements, for example—but that to do so now would telegraph its legal strategy to the government.

Trusty told Judge Dearie at the hearing that he wanted some of his legal partners to get expedited top secret security clearances so that they, too, could view the documents–all but admitting that the documents are, in fact, classified and top secret. Trusty said he already had a top-secret clearance from another case.

Complicating the matter even further, Julie Edelstein, a lawyer for the Justice Department, told Judge Dearie that a handful of the documents at issue were so secret that even Trusty’s clearance might not be enough.

Research contact: @nytimes

Massachusetts state lawmaker requests federal human trafficking probe of DeSantis migrant move

September 20, 2022

A state lawmaker representing Martha’s Vineyard has called for a federal investigation into Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis’s relocation of migrants to the island last week, reports The Hill.

Massachusetts State Representative Dylan Fernandes (D)—who has repeatedly attacked DeSantis for chartering two planes to transport the migrants—made the request on Sunday, September 18.

“We are requesting that the Department of Justice open an investigation to hold DeSantis & others accountable for these inhumane acts,” Fernandes wrote on Twitter. “Not only is it morally criminal; there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”

Fernandes said he has spoken with U.S. Attorney Rachel Rollins, adding that she was pushing for a Justice Department response.

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.

Two flights with nearly 50 migrants landed on Wednesday, September 14 ,in Martha’s Vineyard, an island known for its popularity among the wealthy. The migrants have since been moved to Joint Base Cape Cod.

“They already bused them out, they’re gone,” DeSantis said on Friday. “They said we want everyone, no one’s illegal, and they’re gone within 48 hours.”

The flights raised questions as to how the migrants came to believe boarding the planes were there best option. Local officials have suggested the migrants were misled.

The relocations were the latest iterations of Republican governors busing and flying migrants to Democrat-run, northern areas of the country. The governors argue the relocations provide relief to border communities overwhelmed by President Joe Biden’s immigration policies—hoping to raise awareness for immigration policy changes in Washington, D.C.

Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based group that represents more than 30 of the migrants flown to Massachusetts, similarly called for a federal investigation into their relocations.

“While we are working to protect our clients’ rights in immigration proceedings and exploring remedies for civil rights violations, we also strongly believe that criminal laws were broken by the perpetrators of this stunt,” the group wrote in letters to Rollins and Massachusetts’s attorney general.

“We therefore ask that you open a criminal investigation into this matter,” the letters continued.

DeSantis is one of three Republican governors who have relocated migrants in recent months. Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) has bused thousands of migrants to Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago in recent months, while Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) has sent nearly 2,000 migrants to D.C.

Research contact: @thehill