Archive for the ‘Crime & Justice’ Category

Va. Woman Is Pr. George’s 29th Homicide Victim

Friday, April 8th, 2011

A Virginia woman was shot and killed in Bladensburg, Md., Thursday night, and a baby girl was found with her body, a Prince George’s County Police spokesman said.

Shawnta Lysheema Coleman, 33, of the 6400 block of Wilcox Court in Alexandria, Va., was found shot behind an apartment complex at about 10:20 p.m. Thursday, police Cpl. Henry Tippett said.

The baby, found with Coleman’s body in the 5600 block of Emerson Street, was unharmed, police Cpl. Larry Johnson said. She is in the custody of the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services, Johnson said.

A call made to the Department of Social Services was not immediately returned.

It was not known whether the baby was related to Coleman, Johnson said.

Coleman is the county’s 29th homicide victim in 2011, and the second this month.

Abraham Felipe-Lopez, 32, of the 1400 block of Kanawha Street in Langley Park, Md., was fatally stabbed during an argument on Saturday.

- By Maryland Newsline’s Alexander Pyles

Legislative Audit Details $71,000 Theft by DNR Employee

Friday, April 8th, 2011

A legislative audit released last week uncovered about $71,000 of likely fraudulent purchase card charges by an unnamed Department of Natural Resources  employee.

The audit, found here, was released on April 1. The Department of Legislative Services started its audit in February 2010 when the DNR alerted the agency and the state Attorney General’s Office to the potential employee theft.

A DNR spokeswoman said the employee “parted ways” with the agency by March 2010, but the spokeswoman would not say if the worker was fired. The audit report says the employee was fired. The Attorney General’s Office is still investigating the purchases.

The report says many of the purchases were sent to the employee’s home address and had been purchased online.

It says that invoices generated after the purchases by the employee misrepresented the items. In some cases, invoices described office supplies when the actual items purchased included computer games, clothing and gift cards.

The audit recommended that DNR ensure all employees follow state guidelines for purchase cards, since supervisors are supposed to approve purchases.

The DNR said those guidelines had not always been followed until the thefts were exposed.

“We immediately trained everyone to make sure everyone more clearly understood policies (following the thefts),” said Darlene Pisani, DNR spokeswoman.

The agency was audited from May 1, 2007, to March 17, 2010.

In addition to the fraudulent purchase card discovery, the audit found:

  • Some public land leases were not adequately monitored by DNR, which is charged with leasing 468 properties.
  • The DNR lost $30,000 by not applying for federal fund reimbursements in a “more timely manner.”
  • The DNR did not keep up-t0-date equipment records.

By Capital News Service’s Kerry Davis

Bowie Man Pleads Guilty in Prince George’s Extortion Scheme

Friday, April 1st, 2011

A Prince George’s County restaurant owner pleaded guilty to conspiracy and extortion in a scheme involving the transportation of untaxed cigarettes, said a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney in Baltimore.

Chun Chen, 34, of Bowie, Md., was named in charging documents as one of seven co-conspirators in the scheme. He is the first of the defendants to enter a guilty plea, Marcia Murphy said. The other six pleaded not guilty in November.

Chen faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He will also forfeit the $2.66 million in lost tax revenue the state attributes to his dealings.

Since July 2009 Chen, also known as Eddy Chen, bought untaxed cigarettes from two co-conspirators, including one Prince George’s County Police officer, according to the plea agreement. Chong Chin Kim, a Prince George’s Police officer for more than 16 years, also bought untaxed cigarettes, the agreement said.

Former Prince George’s Police officer Richard Delabrer and Amir Milijkovic bought cigarettes without state tax stamps on the cartons — making them contraband — from an undercover FBI agent, then re-sold them to Chen and Kim, among others, the document said.

Delabrer transported or aided in the transport of the untaxed cigarettes from Virginia to Maryland, the agreement said. Sales tax on cigarettes in Virginia is $0.30 a pack; in Maryland, it is $2 a pack. After buying from Delabrer and Milijkovic, Chen would then sell those cigarettes to people in New York, where taxes on cigarettes exceed $8 per pack, the agreement said.

Chen and others listed in charging documents paid Prince George’s County Police officers to help ensure safe transport, the agreement said.

- By Maryland Newsline’s Alexander Pyles

Pr. George’s 22nd Homicide Victim May Have Been Homeless

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Homicides in Prince George’s County this year; the latest is in red. View in a larger map.

A man with no fixed address was found dead in Landover, Md., early Wednesday morning, becoming Prince George’s County’s 22nd homicide victim in 2011.

George Eugene Borden, 46, who police say was likely homeless, was found dead at 4:40 a.m. in a house in the 1300 block of Eli Place in Landover, Md. Details on how Borden was killed have not been released by police and the investigation is ongoing, a police spokesman said.

Police Cpl. Evan Baxter said crimes involving the homeless are sometimes more difficult to solve, but the difficulty varies from case to case.

“A homeless guy found alone dead for a couple days in a back alley is one thing,” Baxter said. “If people knew him, that’s another.

“We have in the past had homeless cases that got solved within 24 hours. It’s case by case.”

Borden’s killing is the 22nd homicide in Prince George’s this year, but only the 21st to be investigated as a criminal homicide. The other was deemed self defense.

–By Maryland Newsline’s Alexander Pyles

Johnsons to Appear in Federal Court Next Week

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Prince George’s County Council member Leslie Johnson is scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday, a day after her husband, former county executive Jack Johnson, is set to appear.

Leslie Johnson will be in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt for a preliminary hearing Wednesday at 4 p.m. Preliminary hearings have been postponed twice, the first time in December. The most recent postponement came in early February, when the 6th District Democrat requested more time to prepare.

Hardy Vieux, Leslie Johnson’s lawyer, declined to comment.

She faces charges of witness tampering and destruction of evidence in an FBI corruption probe, according to court documents. Federal prosecutors have until the day of the preliminary hearing to indict Leslie Johnson. If indicted, the preliminary hearing would be canceled and an arraignment would be scheduled in federal court.

U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Vickie E. Leduc would not comment on the likelihood of an indictment.

Jack Johnson is scheduled in court Tuesday at 1:45 p.m. to enter a plea. He was indicted on eight counts, including bribery, on Feb. 14.

Jack Johnson’s lawyer, Billy Martin, did not respond to a phone message.

Related Special Report: FBI Probe in Prince George’s

- By Maryland Newsline’s Alexander Pyles

Legislators Still Grappling with Juvenile Justice Equality Bill

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

ANNAPOLIS – The Department of Juvenile Services and legislators are trying to wiggle their way out of a $2 million price tag on a bill mandating equal services for girls.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin and Delegate Kathleen Dumais, Democrats from Montgomery, requires that the department “provide females a range and quality of services substantially equivalent to those offered to males.” A fiscal analysis of the bill estimated the cost at $2 million for new programs and facilities.

But supporters say the department can do it within the current budget.

Advocates for the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth and the attorney general’s Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, argue that the department can extend programs using existing resources and a little creativity.

“To do what we need to do does not require a new building,” Dumais said.

The department has vocational, recreational and educational programs for some boys in detention, like traveling basketball teams, wood shop, swimming pools and wilderness adventure programs. For boys in Baltimore, there is an evening reporting center, where kids receive help with homework, mentoring and a place to be during peak trouble-making hours.

No such programs exist for girls. According to advocates, this is a violation of the state’s equal rights amendment.

A night in an evening reporting center costs the state $50 for each child, while a day in detention at the only state-run, all-girls facility, Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center, costs the state $572.

Supporters of the bill understand that in a tough fiscal year, the bill can’t pass with a $2 million price tag. Advocates are working closely with the department and bill sponsors to draft an amendment that will make clear the department’s requirement to use existing resources.

One suggested amendment would list the services that need to be opened up to girls, like the vocational training and evening reporting classes. Sonia Kumar of the Maryland ACLU worries that a list could leave out some needs.

“Enumerating the services implies that other services need not be substantially equivalent,” said Kumar. “We are trying to provide the department with maximum flexibility to meet the requirements of the law.”

The legislative wrangling comes as the department gets new leadership in acting secretary Sam Abed, after the November resignation of Donald DeVore.

Many advocates, in both the lobby and the legislature, say they are encouraged by Abed’s willingness to work with them on necessary reforms in the troubled department.

O’Malley appointed Abed, who spent five years in Virginia’s juvenile justice agency, less than a month ago. He has not been confirmed.

– By Capital News Service’s Holly Nunn.

Pr. George’s 20th Homicide Victim Identified

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Prince George’s County police have identified a Laurel, Md., man who was killed Feb. 17.

Aaron Patrick Brown, 24, was found dead in the 13000 block of Laurel Bowie Road in Laurel, near Deerfield Run Elementary School, at about 6:15 p.m., police Cpl. Evan Baxter said.

Brown was the county’s 20th homicide victim in 2011. Of those 20, 19 are being investigated as criminal homicides. The other was ruled self defense.

Baxter said police were still investigating the county’s most recent slaying and that no suspects had yet been identified.

Police are increasingly looking to the community to help solve the county’s homicides this year, the first of which occurred New Year’s Day. On Tuesday, Prince George’s County police teamed with a local radio conglomerate in Lanham, Md., taking phone calls from listeners and doing on-air interviews with radio personalities.

Police co-hosted the radio-thon with Radio One, which owns and operates five stations in the area, as a way to encourage listeners to provide information on crimes. A police spokeswoman said police hoped they would receive calls about information that could be used to help close some of those homicide cases, but calls from listeners were limited to community crime issues.

“The reaction has been very good,” Lt. Tammy Sparkman said. “Most of the calls are … citizens calling in to let us know about criminal activity in their neighborhood.”

Eight phone lines were manned by a team of 12 Prince George’s police officers, working in shifts, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Radio One stations WKYS 93.9 FM, WYCB 1340 AM, WOL 1450 AM, WMMJ 102.3 FM, and Praise 104.1 FM all participated.

-By Maryland Newsline’s Alexander Pyles

Bethesda Bar Owner Awarded Liquor License for Thirsty Turtle Space

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

The space on Baltimore Avenue in College Park formerly occupied by the Thirsty Turtle may have just gotten a new tenant.

The Prince George’s County Liquor Control Board unanimously voted Tuesday to award John F. McManus, owner of The Barking Dog in Bethesda, Md., a Class B liquor license for beer, wine and liquor at 7416 Baltimore Ave. A Class B license allows alcohol to be served and consumed on location.

The approval allows McManus to negotiate a contract with the space’s landlord and Thirsty Turtle owner Alan Wanuck, who still holds the lease. McManus said the three parties have been in discussions for three months, but a deal was contingent on McManus securing a liquor license.

The Thirsty Turtle had its liquor license stripped Nov. 3, after evidence of underage drinking was brought to light after the stabbing of four men, three of them underage, following an altercation inside the bar.

The Barking Dog owner said he expects details to be worked out quickly. Though McManus said he felt badly for Thirsty Turtle ownership, he said he wouldn’t make the same mistakes as his predecessors. “I have nothing to do with those people,” he said.

“It’s a great location, it’s a great space,” McManus said. “University of Maryland’s not going anywhere. There’s not a whole lot of options (in College Park), really. … That building is inherently really nice. It needs some spit and polish. Right now, it looks like a wounded animal. Once it gets cleaned up, and fixed up, and organized and set up, people are going to be really surprised.”

McManus said he will have a target on his back at first, given the space’s history, but hoped to win over the community quickly. But he said some who were fans of the Thirsty Turtle probably won’t be fans of The Barking Dog. “The freshmen won’t like it,” McManus said. “They’re welcome to come in and eat, but not drink.”

Sgt. Ken Leonard, spokesman for University of Maryland police, said he wants to meet McManus soon to “get on equal footing,” given the space’s recent history.

“Hopefully it’ll be a successful business and a good draw for the community and students at large,” Leonard said. “But do it in a responsible manner.”

Franklin D. Jackson, chairman of the county liquor board, said voting to award the license to McManus, who owned five other bars and restaurants before The Barking Dog, was not difficult for him. Jackson said documents showed McManus did not have any violations on record for his bar in Bethesda.

“It appeared the applicant was fit and proper, he had significant experience in terms of running a restaurant,” Jackson said. “And he’s bringing a restaurant concept he’s proven elsewhere.”

Jackson said the space on Baltimore Avenue is the “largest retail commercial enterprise in College Park. (McManus has the ability) to keep it safe, (and) run such a space. Since he’s already running a business that’s extremely large, it just makes sense that he’d be able to transfer those skills over.”

McManus said he hopes The Barking Dog could open in College Park by May 1.

- By Maryland Newsline’s Alexander Pyles

Guantanamo Bay Detainee Plea Deal

Monday, February 21st, 2011

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — A military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay sentenced Noor Uthman Muhammed, a Sudanese native, to 14 years confinement on Friday but a plea agreement suspended the sentence and he will serve 34 months in exchange for his future cooperation in other investigations. Noor, as he requested to be called in an earlier hearing, will not get credit for the nine years he already served in Guantanamo.

Noor pleaded guilty to conspiracy and materially supporting terrorism on Tuesday. Under the charges, he admitted to training terrorists recruits at Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2000.

A nine-member commission heard arguments in the sentencing phase without knowledge of the plea arrangement and sentenced Noor to the maximum punishment after more than five hours of deliberation.

Capital News Service was among more than two-dozen news organizations permitted to observe Noor’s trial at the detention center in Cuba.

“Terrorists are not born, they are made,” said Lt. Cmdr. Arthur Gaston in the opening remarks for the prosecution. “And Noor Uthman has made hundreds of them.”

In his opening statement for the defense, lead counsel Howard Cabot, a civilian attorney from Phoenix countered: “I don’t have a catchy phrase to start my remarks.”

Though Noor made some mistakes, Cabot said, he has changed from the young man who left the Sudan for Pakistan 17 years ago.

The parties agreed to a stipulation of facts and offered no live testimony. The commission members- all military officers- saw statements of expected testimony and other documents including terrorism tactic manuals found in the safe house where Noor stayed just before his capture in 2002.

Defense counsel read an unsworn statement from Noor which detailed the alleged abuse he suffered in detention. “The worst time that I spent in Guantanamo Bay was while I was locked in Camp 5. I was there for two years in a cell by myself. I thought that I would lose my mind,” the statement read.

In closing arguments, the defense again offered photographs of the defendant as a young man and his family. They reassured commission members that Noor’s family and tribe would provide support if he is permitted to return to Sudan.

Several non-governmental organizations sent representatives to observe the trial.

Laura Pitter, counterterrorism advisor for Human Rights Watch, questioned the proceedings saying, “There’s a lot of pressure on these people to make a deal.”

Noor is the sixth individual to be convicted through the military commissions proceedings. Capt. John Murphy, chief prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions, said he was pleased with the outcome calling it, “another step in the justice we are achieving.”

–By Capital News Service’s Laura E. Lee

Johnson Indicted on Eight Counts, Including Bribery

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson was indicted by a grand jury on eight counts in federal court Monday, setting up a probable court appearance for Johnson in early March, a U.S.  Attorney spokeswoman said.

Johnson had been scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., tomorrow for a preliminary hearing in which Magistrate Judge William Connelly would have made a ruling on whether or not there was enough evidence for the case to continue forward.

But Johnson’s indictment made the preliminary hearing unnecessary. The former executive, arrested by FBI agents in November as part of a sweeping county corruption probe, was charged on eight counts including conspiracy, bribery, witness and evidence tampering.

The 31-page indictment alleges Johnson committed extortion and accepted bribes totaling more than $200,000 from developers starting in 2003 until he was detained by the FBI on Nov. 12, 2010. In return, Johnson assisted two developers, not named but listed as co-conspirators in the indictment, in obtaining land and county funding for projects.

Billy Martin, Johnson’s lawyer, did not respond to phone messages left at his office.

The indictment also includes quotations from a number of phone conversations in which Johnson allegedly asked liquor store owner Amrik Singh Melhi to contribute money to the County Council campaign of his wife, Leslie Johnson.

Melhi was charged in November in a scheme to distribute untaxed alcohol and cigarettes.

A full transcript of a phone conversation that took place between Jack Johnson and Leslie Johnson, as the FBI waited at the couples’ door in Mitchellville, also appears in the indictment.

“There’s a little box and in the box there’s a check,” Jack Johnson said, according to the indictment. “Just tear it up or, or, or chew it up, somethin’, OK?”

Jack Johnson also told Leslie Johnson to hide cash in her underwear, the indictment said. FBI agents found $79,600 cash in her bra and underwear after a search, the indictment said.

Leslie Johnson, who was elected to the County Council in November, is scheduled to be in federal court for a preliminary hearing on March 16. She faces charges of witness tampering and destruction of evidence.

-By Maryland Newsline’s Alexander Pyles