The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

What about RICO?

Author Garrett M. Graff, writing for the Times, suggests that Rudy Giuliani's approach to prosecuting cases under the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) could provide the model for dismantling the Trump Organization:

Fighting the Mafia posed a uniquely hard challenge for investigators. Mafia families were involved in numerous distinct crimes and schemes, over yearslong periods, all for the clear benefit of its leadership, but those very leaders were tough to prosecute because they were rarely involved in the day-to-day crime. They spoke in their own code, rarely directly ordering a lieutenant to do something illegal, but instead offering oblique instructions or expressing general wishes that their lieutenants simply knew how to translate into action.

Those explosive — and arresting — hearings led to the 1970 passage of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO, a law designed to allow prosecutors to go after enterprises that engaged in extended, organized criminality. RICO laid out certain “predicate” crimes — those that prosecutors could use to stitch together evidence of a corrupt organization and then go after everyone involved in the organization as part of an organized conspiracy. While the headline-grabbing RICO “predicates” were violent crimes like murder, kidnapping, arson and robbery, the statute also focused on crimes like fraud, obstruction of justice, money laundering and even aiding or abetting illegal immigration.

The sheer number and breadth of the investigations into Mr. Trump’s orbit these days indicates how vulnerable the president’s family business would be to just this type of prosecution. In December, I counted 17, and since then, investigators have started an inquiry into undocumented workers at Mr. Trump’s New Jersey golf course, another crime that could be a RICO predicate; Mr. Cohen’s public testimony itself, where he certainly laid out enough evidence and bread crumbs for prosecutors to verify his allegations, mentioned enough criminal activity to build a racketeering case. Moreover, RICO allows prosecutors to wrap 10 years of racketeering activity into a single set of charges, which is to say, almost precisely the length of time — a decade — that Michael Cohen would have unparalleled insight into Mr. Trump’s operations. Similarly, many Mafia cases end up being built on wiretaps — just like, for instance, the perhaps 100 recordings Mr. Cohen says he made of people during his tenure working for Mr. Trump, recordings that federal investigators are surely poring over as part of the 290,000 documents and files they seized in their April raid last year.

Indicting the whole Trump Organization as a “corrupt enterprise” could also help prosecutors address the thorny question of whether the president can be indicted in office; they could lay out a whole pattern of criminal activity, indict numerous players — including perhaps Trump family members — and leave the president himself as a named, unindicted co-conspirator.

Of course, the President could try to pardon everyone but himself, even if that leaves himself open to state charges in New York and elsewhere. But for the time being, the Southern District of New York and other bodies seem to be laying out the larger RICO case just fine. Can't wait to see it.

The last moments of winter

Today actually had a lot of news, not all of which I've read yet:

And now, good night to February.

An end to civil forfeiture?

The US Supreme Court ruled today that the 8th Amendment rule against "excessive fines" applies to the states as well as to the Federal Government:

The decision is a victory for an Indiana man whose luxury SUV was seized after he pleaded guilty to selling heroin. It is also a blow to state and local governments, for whom fines and forfeitures have become an important source of funds.

In an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court seemed to regard the basic question before it as an easy one. The justices explained that the “historical and logical case for concluding that” the ban on excessive fines applies to the states through the 14th Amendment – which bars states from depriving anyone “of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” – is “overwhelming.”

States and municipalities have relied on civil forfeiture laws for revenue over the past three decades or so, with ridiculous and horrifying results. Today's decision will go a long way to curbing those abuses.

Messing with the wrong guy

A telephone scam artist is going to prison after picking precisely the wrong victim:

Keniel Thomas, 29, from Jamaica, pleaded guilty in October to interstate communication with the intent to extort, federal authorities said.

He was sentenced to 71 months in prison last week by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell in Washington, D.C., and will be deported after he has served his term, officials said.

Thomas made his first call to [William] Webster, 94, on June 9, 2014, identifying himself as David Morgan. He said that he was the head of the Mega Millions lottery and that Webster was the winner of $15.5 million and a 2014 Mercedes Benz, according to court documents.

Little did Thomas know that he was targeting the man who had served as director of the FBI and then the CIA under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Usually Webster just ignores these idiots, but apparently Thomas behaved particularly egregiously, even threatening Webster's wife. So basically Thomas will spend almost 6 years in prison because he's a stupid schmuck.

Still, it's nice to send one of those bastards to jail.

How to end blackmail, the Hamilton approach

Dan Savage (yes, that one), writing in the New York Times, suggests Jeff Bezos should publish all his sexts before the National Enquirer does:

Standing up to Pecker was a great start. But by self-publishing your own nude photos, you can turn the tables on the sexual and cultural hypocrisy that allows people like him to weaponize nude photos in the first place.

If I know one thing, having written a sex-and-relationship advice column for the last few decades, Jeff, it’s this: We’ve all taken and sent photos like the ones you sent your girlfriend. O.K., not everyone. But many of us. And many more of us every day.

After years of hearing about the dangers of youth sexting, researchers at Drexel University set out in 2015 to find how common the practice is among adults. And after interviewing 870 people, ranging in age from 18 to 82, they discovered that sexting is “more common than generally thought,” as the American Psychological Association primly observed. Fully 88 percent of adults reported swapping sext messages at least once; 82 percent had sexted with someone in the last year. Far from being a threat to our relationships, sexting correlated strongly “with greater sexual satisfaction, especially for those in a relationship.”

We live in a world where two things are true: Nearly everyone has a few nude photographs out there somewhere (saved on a stranger’s phone; archived on a dating app you forgot you signed up for; lingering on some tech company’s servers). And yet a single solicited dirty pic has the power to end someone’s career.

Let’s end this ridiculous state of affairs.

 

Yes! Let's end Victorian hypocrisy. By the way, when you apply for a security clearance, you are required to disclose all of your dirty laundry, specifically to reduce the risk of blackmail.

Hey, Alexander Hamilton did this when an affair really was a huge scandal. And it (mostly) worked for him.

Home sick and tired

I'm under the weather today, which has helped me catch up on all these stories that I haven't gotten to yet:

And now, I will nap.

Pants on fire for what reason?

People in and out of the Trump Administration have lied so often and about so many things. The Post asks, but why?

Did the president’s men lie to protect a still-hidden dark secret about the campaign’s interaction with Russia, engaging in a broad effort to obstruct the probe — one that included perhaps even Trump?

Did they lie to avoid diminishing Trump’s victory by acknowledging Russia played a role in his election?

Did they each lie for their own reasons, taking their cue from the president — who has told many whoppers of his own, including about Russia?

Trump’s former campaign chairmandeputy campaign managerformer national security adviserpersonal lawyerand a campaign foreign policy adviser have all been accused of lying to investigators exploring Russia activity.

In the first two years of his administration, the president made 8,158 false or misleading claims. Perhaps like attracts like? 

Restauranteur caught in Spain

Former Embeya owner Attila Gyulai, accused of embezzling over a million dollars from the restaurant he co-owned with chef Thai Dang his wife Komal Patel, was arrested in Spain yesterday:

Gyulai and his wife, Komal Patel, disappeared in summer 2016 after abruptly shutting the restaurant. They abandoned their Ford Flex SUV in front of their River West home, a detail uncovered in an exhaustive investigation by Crain's. Police ticketed the car two​ weeks later and impounded it in mid-August. By then, bank records later would show, their accounts had been used for a series of payments outside the United States.

Though the West Loop restaurant had won praise for its design and Asian cuisine, Cook County Circuit Court records show the couple took $1.5 million out of the restaurant, which was partly owned by chef Thai Dang. Judges had ordered Gyulai and Patel to pay the money back. Gyulai and Patel were last known to be living in Tulum, Mexico.

Dang, who was left to pay creditors after his partner disappeared, now owns Haisous, a restaurant in Pilsen, with his wife, Danielle. "We never thought this day would come this quick," he said via text upon learning of Gyulai's arrest. "We just knew we had to keep moving on with our lives."

Good. If the accusations prove true, he needs to go to jail.

Stuff to read on the plane

Just a quick post of articles I want to load up on my Surface at O'Hare:

Off to take Parker to boarding. Thence the Land of UK.

How sellers use Amazon's monopsony power against each other

Via Bruce Schneier, a report on how third-party Amazon sellers use Amazon's own policies to attack their rivals:

When you buy something on Amazon, the odds are, you aren’t buying it from Amazon at all. Plansky is one of 6 million sellers on Amazon Marketplace, the company’s third-party platform. They are largely hidden from customers, but behind any item for sale, there could be dozens of sellers, all competing for your click. This year, Marketplace sales were almost double those of Amazon retail itself, according to Marketplace Pulse, making the seller platform alone the largest e-commerce business in the world.

For sellers, Amazon is a quasi-state. They rely on its infrastructure — its warehouses, shipping network, financial systems, and portal to millions of customers — and pay taxes in the form of fees. They also live in terror of its rules, which often change and are harshly enforced. A cryptic email like the one Plansky received can send a seller’s business into bankruptcy, with few avenues for appeal.

Sellers are more worried about a case being opened on Amazon than in actual court, says Dave Bryant, an Amazon seller and blogger. Amazon’s judgment is swifter and less predictable, and now that the company controls nearly halfof the online retail market in the US, its rulings can instantly determine the success or failure of your business, he says. “Amazon is the judge, the jury, and the executioner.”

An algorithm flags sellers based on a range of metrics — customer complaints, number of returns, certain keywords used in reviews, and other, more mysterious variables — and passes them to Performance workers based in India, Costa Rica, and other locations. These workers choose between several prewritten blurbs to send to sellers. They may see what the actual problem is or the key item missing from an appeal, but they can’t be more specific than the forms allow, according to Rachel Greer, who worked as a fraud investigator at Amazon before becoming a seller consultant. “It feels like it’s a bot, but it’s actually a human who is very frustrated about the fact that they have to work like that,” she says.

The Performance workers’ incentives favor rejection. They must process approximately one claim every four minutes, and reinstating someone who later gets suspended again counts against them.... When they fall behind...they’ll often “punt” by sending requests for more information....

Scary. And an example of why monopolies are bad. As Schenier says, "Amazon is basically its own government—with its own rules that its suppliers have no choice but to follow. And, of course, increasingly there is no option but to sell your stuff on Amazon."

Note that I say this while watching an old TV show on Amazon Prime, waiting for Amazon to deliver a replacement Fitbit band, and on and on.