Articles Posted in Legal News / Legal Information

Sexual AssaultSexual assault cases are on the rise in the United States because victims are finally opening up about it after allegations against Hollywood movie producer, Harvey Weinstein. Sexual assault, according to the Bureau of Justice is a wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape. These crimes include attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling verbal threat, and attempted rape.

On October 5th, 2017, the New York Times published the initial article that opened the door to the Weinstein sexual harassment epidemic and those of other Hollywood artists.  According to the Rolling Stones, the article from the New York Times revealed allegations of many women who explained that Mr. Weinstein has been sexually harassing women in the industry for decades.  The allegations of these women went into deep patterns of intimidation and even rape.  This event is just one of the thousands of situations that happen around us everyday but the victims decide to suffer through it alone due to fear.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), every 98 seconds, another person is experiencing sexual assault.  The number of people victimized each year is composed in the following way: 80,600 inmates were sexually assaulted or raped, 60,000 children were victims of “substantiated or indicated” sexual abuse, 321,500 Americans 12 and older were sexually assaulted or raped, and in the military 18,900 experienced unwanted sexual contact.  The majority of sexual assaults occur at or near the victim’s home, a public place, a relative’s home, parking lots or garages, or on school property.

The Rolling Stones explains that Weinstein’s victims date incidents back to 1984 and since then almost 30 reports followed into 2015.  The investigations have been able to reveal the pattern he had when committing these crimes.  Weinstein would invite younger women to his hotel room or apartment on a professional pretense, appear in a bathrobe or completely undressed, and request a massage and/or sexual favors, either implicitly or explicitly offering the exchange for career advancement. Many of the victims refused to speak about these incidents in public due to fear of jeopardizing their careers.

Many of these cases are not reported in a timely manner because woman believe that they live in a society where they are discouraged from coming forward with stories of harassment and rape.  According to the National Institute of Justice 9 out 10 victims of rape are females and only these statistics have not changed since 1998.  When these types of crimes are committed it is important to report them as soon as possible because each state has different statutes of limitations.

Since statutes of limitations vary from state to state it is important for victims to understand that the sooner they report these crimes the quicker the police will catch these perpetrators. This is crucial when there is DNA involved.  When conducting an investigation DNA evidence can make or break the outcome of the alleged crime. These types of forensic exams are beneficial in three ways:  it increases the likelihood of identifying the perpetrator, it increases the likelihood of holding them accountable, and it prevents them from committing future sexual assaults.

CrashThe State of Florida continues with its operations to crack down on Personal Injury Protection (PIP) fraud and it has encountered two more cases in the past two weeks. One of the PIP kickback schemes discovered totaled in $2 million and the other one totaled in $23 million dollars.  Attorneys, chiropractors, and clinic owners are all being charged with auto insurance fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, and health care fraud.

According to the court papers filed with U.S. District court in Miami, they are accused of orchestrating a kickback scheme to take advantage of the state’s mandatory personal injury protection car insurance program.   They are also accused of using chiropractors and tow truck drivers to solicit patients and clients.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation explains that the intent of the PIP program was to provide injured drivers up to $10,000 in immediate medical coverage in lieu of establishing fault through the court system.  Their goal was to reduce payment delay for injured drivers, as well as limit the utilization of the court system.  In the State of Florida, PIP coverage is required to be purchased by everyone who owns a motor vehicle that is registered in the state.

According to the Sun Sentinel, the state and federal government spent years and millions of taxpayer dollars wiring up witnesses and tapping phones thinking these clinics were leading a Russian organized crime network, instead they discovered a crime ring of corrupt clinic owners, chiropractors, and lawyers who operated in Miami, Broward, and Palm Beach County. Their operation was so elaborate that they defrauded the insurance companies more than $23 million between 2010 and this year.  If convicted the defendants could face 20 years or more in federal prison.

The crime investigators stated that kickbacks between $500 to $2100 per patient were given to tow truck drivers and body shop owners who would direct the accident victims to clinic that were owned by the defendants.  They would have the doctors and chiropractors register the clinics under their names to cover up their ownership.  The defendants would tell these doctors and chiropractors the treatment the victims were going to receive based on the amount of money they believed the case was worth and not the treatment the victim actually need it. The medical staff knew exactly what to write on the medical reports in order for the victim to qualify for the entire amount of benefits available based on the insurance policy.

The prosecutors on this case are calling these clinics “PIP mills” in relation to “pill mills” that have also under been under investigation because of insurance fraud.  The defendants are both being held in federal prison and without bond because of fear that they will flee the country because of ties and frequent travels to Ukraine and Israel.

 

OpioidsThe opioid crisis continues to worsen throughout the entire county, but in certain states more than others because the drug has become more accessible.  To makes matters worse, insurance companies are taking advantage of this situation by overcharging for the drug treatment needed by those who suffer from all types of drug addictions. One of the rehab capitals of the United States is Palm Beach County, Florida.  The state of Florida has a billion-dollar drug treatment industry that, according to an NBC investigation, is overwhelmed by clients who continue to overdose and increase in insurance fraud.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others. The reason why people are abusing the use of the drug is because not only does it relieve pain but it produces euphoria that many become dependent on. Overdoses on opioids have continued to severely increase since 2007, especially because the drug is now being mixed with other drugs to produce other addictive effects.  Family members of the drug abusers rely on drug treatment centers to save their loved ones but the outcome is the complete opposite.

Dave Aronberg, Palm Beach County’s top prosecutor and State Attorney, stated to the NBC News investigator that the entire drug treatment industry has been corrupted by the accessibility of easy money.  Mr. Aronberg also explains that, the actors of this industry have taken advantage of well-intended federal law, and a lack of any good law at the state level, to profit off people at the lowest stages of their lives.

The law he refers to is the Affordable Care Act, which along with the federal Mental Health Parity Act passed in 2008, was meant to ensure people suffering from addiction could get the care they needed. People saw this as an opportunity to make a lot of money and have taken advantage of desperate people, who are usually young or dependent on their families. These scammers have also made it difficult for genuine and ethical centers to prosper because people are losing faith in the credibility of these centers.

According to the investigation done by NBC News, within a few months of a drug abuser reaching the drug treatment centers, they would call their family members stating that they had transferred to another sober home. Bills from the insurance companies kept arriving to their homes with treatment worth thousands of dollars. The bills included from medical treatments, lab tests, chiropractic therapy, and counseling.  When they family members of these victims called the treatment centers to figure out why the bills were so high, the person on the other end of the phone would hang up. The insurance bills detailed charges of $5,000.00 for things like a urine test or $1,800.00 for one counseling session. One of the victims bills reached $1.2 million for only 15 months of treatment, even though they were bounced among nine different facilities.

Governor Rick Scott, officially declared Florida’s opioid crisis a state of emergency in May of 2017. Also, legislators recently passed a bill that would increase penalties for brokering. They believe this will give prosecutors sharper tools to crack down on what a grand jury last December found was rampant brokering and fraud across the insurance industry.

StudentsAccording to the Florida Sun Sentinel in 2005, teacher Blake Sinrod, was accused of molesting four third grade students at Coral Sunset Elementary School.  He fondled the four girls in his classroom during their reading groups, a classroom movie, and he would also instruct them to touch his genitals or he would he would place their hands on his genitals over his clothes. After a 12-year-old lawsuit, the Palm Beach County School District gave the approval for a $3.6 million settlement.

Mr. Blake Sinrod was fired from Coral Sunset Elementary in 2006 and his teaching license was revoked in 2008.  Mr. Sinrod plead guilty in 2006 to molesting two of the four girls but the four families persisted in filing a joint civil suit against the school district.  According to file from 2006, the defense used by Mr. Dale Friedman, the defense attorney, was that the victims were old enough to understand the consequences of of their actions and conducted themselves in careless and negligent minor.  The parents of the four victims could not believe this was the defense tactic used by the school district.

Attorney Dale Friedman, told the Sun Sentinel that the district’s outrageous claim was used in an effort to reduce potential damages the district might have to pay out, a tactic she referred to as “comparative negligence.” Friedman insists, “We have never blamed the girls or given them the appearance of holding the girls responsible for what their teacher did.” But this defense only weakened the defense’s case further because it re-victimized the victims. According to Mr. Jeffrey Herman, an attorney who represents victims of sexual abuse, explained that he had never witnessed the use of such a defense and the fact that the school district was blaming the four girls of what happened to them would remain as permanent record of the case.

However, when the parents of the four third grade students filed a civil law suit in 2006, their lawyer at the time, Charles Bechert, said that the parents believed their children were preyed upon in part because they were immigrants and that perhaps the teacher thought their parents would not know how to report the crimes, or feel comfortable doing so.  This is something that continues to happen to children all over the world but children do not speak out about it because of fear of their families being deported or hurt in any form.

According to 7 News what infuriated the parents of the victims and their attorneys is that the school district failed to investigate or take proper action against Blake Sinrod in the sexual molestation incidents in 2003.  The Sun Sentinel reports that the school district also uses as its defense that Mr. Sinrod’s actions were unknown and beyond the foresight of a reasonably prudent person.  But this insufficient for both the parents of the victims and their attorneys because they do not understand how the School District did not think that this man was a danger to the students and why he was not revoked of his teaching license from that very moment.

Police Officer During a huge undercover sex sting operation, Florida police arrested a total of 277 people for soliciting sex or for displaying themselves as prostitutes.   The operation was called “No Tricks, No Treats” and within the arrested were doctors, pharmacists, and even other cops according to the press release from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.  The operation started on October 10, 2017 and lasted until October 15, 2017.

The operation consisted of undercover detectives and investigators from different law enforcement agencies advertised false posts on websites, social media sites, and phone applications as either prostitutes or they would request sex workers.  The reports demonstrated that 209 of the people arrested were accused of soliciting sex of the undercover officials and 51 of them had exhibited themselves as prostitutes on the internet.  The remaining 17 were arrested for other offenses that were either worse or less than the rest of the group.

According to the Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, this operation composed the largest amount of people arrested in the history of the Polk County Sherriff’s Office.  The worst part about the operation was having to arrest Sergeant Luiz Diaz, who had been a police officer for 17 years, because he is suppose to be setting an example for the community.  But in situations like these, everyone is help accountable and now Sergeant Diaz no longer works for the Sheriff’s Office.

Sergeant Diaz wasn’t the only professional who broke the law, according to the police reports, some of the other suspects arrested were a cancer surgeon, teacher, pediatrician, Air Force veteran, retired deputy sheriff, retired police officer, active colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps and several pharmacists. Around 215 of the people arrested were traveling from other states because Florida is known for Human Trafficking and its accessibility.

The Department of Children and Families counted nearly 1,900 reports of human trafficking in 2016, which was a 54 percent increase from the year before, and in 2017 the numbers continue to increase.  According to the Polaris Project, which job is to track human trafficking across the United States, declared that the state of Florida had the third highest number of reported cases in 2016 after Texas and California. This is due to Florida’s favoritism amongst tourist and the temporary populations.

Advocates for victims call human trafficking modern day slavery and according to the Florida State Law, human trafficking is defined as soliciting, recruiting, harboring, transporting or otherwise obtaining another person to exploit him or her for labor, domestic servitude or sexual exploitation. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the victims are manipulated through means of force, fraud, or coercion. Some examples of these means of manipulation of fraud include false promises of work/living conditions, withholding promised wages, or contract fraud. Coercion may include threats of harm to self or others, debt bondage, psychological manipulation, or document confiscation. Many are forced to consume drugs, to the point that they become addicted and will do anything to obtain the drugs.

It is operations like “No Trick, No Treats” that allow for the government to help these victims and make them feel safe.  These official operations take off the streets people who continue to abuse these people for their personal pleasure or profit.

MarijuanaAccording to ABC News a senior citizen and her son, in Pasco County Florida, explain that the nursing home where she lives is denying her potential pain relief, by refusing to allow her to have the medical marijuana she has a legal prescription to take. This seems to be an issue that is affecting Florida residents who live in long term care facilities throughout the state. Ms. Simpson, who is  attached to a wheelchair and suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, has tried everything she could have possibly tried to assist her with the medical conditions she suffers from, but medical marijuana  had given her faith in a new alternative that would allow to live a little more comfortably.

Medical marijuana legislation in the State of Florida was finally established by the governor on June 16, 2017 after years of Florida residents explaining to the government all its health benefits. In Amendment 2 of the Constitution of the State of Florida, patients with a debilitating medical condition will not be found subjects to criminal or civil liability for consuming medical marijuana.  Debilitating medical conditions mean cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.

Ms. Simpson’s son explains that after medical marijuana became legal in Florida, a doctor prescribed it for his mother and she applied for a compassionate use permit. When she was finally approved, and the medicine was delivered, they gave it to him and told him he had to take it home with him because it would not be permitted inside the nursing home. But according to a healthcare expert from the University of Florida, even though Ms. Simpson had a legitimate medical therapy reason for the use of medical marijuana and a prescription for it, it doesn’t mean they have to allow her to take it if they can provide her with other options for her pain.  This is one of the biggest dilemmas with the statue because it is not completely clear on the regulations of long term health care facilities and the acceptance of medical marijuana therapy.

States like California, Colorado, and other states have found other alternatives to balancing the use of medical marijuana in long term health care facilities.   Instead of having their patients, who suffer from chronic diseases, consume the marijuana inside the medical facilities, they offer to take the patients to close by dispensaries where they can practice this therapy without breaking the law. Unfortunately, medical marijuana is a scheduled narcotic and is considered a private business, therefore nursing homes can set their own rules regarding its use in their facilities, even if it causes their residents to live uncomfortably.  Issues such as this one will push the government to amend Section 381.986, F.S., or to create a brand new legislation that clarifies the rules and regulations of the use of medical marijuana with better ways of providing it to its consumer.

PillFentanyl, a very addictive and dangerous narcotic, continues to rise in popularity among the United States.  On October 05, 2017, two people were arrested and charged with a 24-page federal indictment, along with seven others, of distributing the imitation opioid fentanyl through the United States, especially through states such as Florida where drug abuse has always been an issue.  According to the Sun Sentinel, Anthony Santos Gomes and Lisa Gomes, told the judge they were trying to hire attorneys to represent them but most likely both will be transferred to North Dakota to face the charges against them in that state.

According to the officials of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service, and the Department of Homeland Security the Gomes are being charged with five different counts in the indictment.  The indictment explains that Anthony Santos Gomes and Lisa Gomes were running a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute…controlled substances and controlled substance analogues resulting in seriously bodily injury and death. The indictment also explains that they did all this knowingly and intentionally with the purpose of distributing the drug.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse, describes fentanyl as a powerful synthetic opioid that is very similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent. If prescribed, it is given to patients with severe pain or to manage severe pain after surgery.  The way drug abusers use this new dangerous imitation of fentanyl is swallowing it in solid form, snorting it in powder form, or by burning it and then injecting it or having it absorbed by the mucous membrane. Similar to heroin and morphine, fentanyl works by binding to the body’s opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotion.  Then they drive up dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation.  On the streets this drug is combined with cocaine or morphine, making it more addicting and requiring higher dosages which usually lead to overdoses and killing those who consume it.

According to the Florida Sun Sentinel, the indictment explained that the drug ring was operated from January 2013 through August 2016 with two organizers participating from a Canadian prison and another operating out of China. The ring moved more than 400 grams of fentanyl and more than 100 grams of a fentanyl analog online using internet sites designed to be hidden from the public. The drugs were obtained from China and Canada, records show, and distributed in Florida, California, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon and South Carolina where records also show that the drug has been the cause of many deaths in those states due to drug overdose.

Both Anthony and Lisa Gomes and the other members of their drug trafficking ring could be punished with life sentences or a fine of up to 8 million dollars due the alleged charges on the indictment.

Car Accident

According to the Florida Sun Sentinel, four Personal Injury attorneys were arrested on September 6 and charged with organized crime, money laundering, and brokering. The attorneys hired other people to appeal to victims of car accidents and then would receive “kick backs” from the doctors who they referred the victims to for medical treatment. The police also arrested six other people who were involved with the attorney’s “kick back” scam as well.  One of the attorneys was from Boca Raton and other three from Fort Lauderdale and they have all been released on bond.  According to investigators, they received $521,070.00 in “kick backs” from May 2015 to December 2016.  Now the attorneys are all waiting to go to trial.
Per Florida Statue 817.505 on Fraudulent Practices and the Florida Patient Brokering Act, it is unlawful for any person, including health care providers or facilities, to offer or pay, benefit, rebate, kickback, receive or give any form of compensation in exchange for referrals, regardless of the form of payment for the service or product. This Statue and Act were passed by the Florida Legislators after discovering that many mental health and substance abuse hospitals were making payments to individuals for the referral of patients identified in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, homeless shelters, and other similar environments.  The medical facilities would come to an agreement with the patient brokers whose task was to evaluate patients at these facilities and determine if they had insurance. Then the patient broker would refer the patient to one of those medical facilities and in return receive some form of payment.

The Florida Sun Sentinel explains that patients were brokered to the health facilities, those facilities would begin to bill the auto insurance companies for claims that were covered by PIP benefits, which also resulted in fraud for the insurance companies.  It gets worse… One of the attorneys is also being accused of embezzling his client’s settlement funds, meaning that he was also taking half of his client’s settlement checks.  The attorney would give his clients their settlement checks, pay the high medical bills, and in return he received cash payments in half the amount of the amount written on the original settlement checks.

Three of the attorneys are each facing over 12 felony charges of organized fraud, insurance fraud, illegal interception of communication and fraudulent patient brokering, money laundering, and violating patient brokering laws. One of the attorneys is only facing 3 charges of the same illegal acts as the other three attorneys.

Activity like “kick backs” are not only banned by the Florida and American Bar Association, but it is illegal by both State and Federal law.  According to the government, the reason activities such as these are illegal is because it takes away choice from US citizens. The government explains that by approaching a person in the middle of a situation like a car accident, where they are most likely panicking, is taking advantage of them and it prohibits them from clearly thinking and deciding on their own.  The health care facilities are still waiting to see what form of action the government is going to take regarding their involvements in these crimes.

GovermentEarlier this week, twelve Floridians who defrauded the federal government of $20 million are being charged with food stamp fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to make the wire fraud. The defendants were between the ages of 30-65 years and have been running this conspiracy since April 2012.  According to the Justice Department this has been the largest food stamp fraud crackdown in history.

Per Florida Statue 414.39, fraud is committed when any person is knowingly purchasing with food assistance benefits a product with the intent of obtaining cash or consideration other than eligible food by reselling the product, and subsequently intentionally reselling the product purchased with food assistance benefits in exchange for cash or consideration other than eligible food; or is intentionally purchasing products originally purchased with food assistance benefits in exchange for cash or consideration other than eligible food. This is exactly what the defendants did for almost eight years and in different counties of South Florida.

In a short period of time, these defendants committed an astounding amount of fraud and investigators are still surprised at how they did it.  The defendants involved in this matter owned, operated, or worked at retailers who accepted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits as payments or they worked at unauthorized stores, but supposedly used point-of-sale terminals of authorized retailers to carry out the fraudulent transactions.  The way the fraud was committed was that the store owners and employees accepted payments for illegal cash transactions involving no purchases of food.

This is an issue that many states are seriously focusing on because millions of dollars that come from the United States tax payers are being stolen by fraudulent acts such as this one.  In states like Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Maryland, judges sentenced the defendants between several of months in prison to at least 4 years depending on the amount that was stolen and how involved was the defendant in the criminal act. According to the inspector of the United States Department of Agriculture, the retailers who were arrested in Florida, created an illegal benefits exchange system that denied healthy foods to needy children and their families. The retailers pocketed all the fees that were charged for converting food assistance benefits into cash.

The State of Florida is the home of the nation’s second largest population of public assistance participants, therefore every dollar counts. This is why public assistance fraud is a severe issue in the state. Each of the public assistance programs play a crucial role in abetting its members during their greatest time of need, and if these fraud incidents are not reported, the programs will have a harder time providing help to everyone who truly needs it. In the state of Florida, the twelve suspects could face between five to twenty years of prison if convicted of defrauding the government.

PrisonAlong with the evolution of law, came wrongful convictions.  Wrongful convictions have been displayed in movies, books, music, and in all forms of mass communication but people seem to not care about it until it involves someone they care for, especially in capital cases.  The problem with this is that all of those cases where the defendants have been wrongfully convicted are either ignored or forgotten.   Many because they can not afford private attorneys and others because of underpaid public defenders who do not spend thorough time on each case they are assigned to. So this brings us to two important questions; What are the main causes of wrongful convictions? What are the best ways to prevent wrongful convictions?

There are many reasons as to why wrongful convictions continue to occur, even in capital cases, but two of the most influential factors according to Death Penalty Information Center are: official misconduct and perjury.  Official misconduct is the illegal acts of public officers which violate their duties to follow the law and protect the public. Perjury is false accusations that are voluntarily told in a court room after taking an oath and swearing honesty. The most recent data from the National Registry of Exonerations illustrates that both official misconduct and perjury make up for 68.3% of the total contribution of wrongful convictions and that the rest is composed of mistaken witnesses, false or erroneous forensic evidence, fabricated confessions, and weak prosecution and defense.

Also, in two other reports conducted by the National Registry of Exonerations: Exonerations in 2016 and Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States it is explained that a person’s race is one of the greatest links to wrongful convictions because 87% of black death-row exonerees had been victims of official misconduct in comparison to the 67% of white death-row exonerees. Therefore, the increase of hate crimes is happening both inside and outside of prison walls because the government is not taking it as seriously as they should.

Wrongful convictions can be reduced if both governmental officials and the legal system do a better job in making rightful arrests, using advanced technology and forensic science, putting pressure on attorneys to prosecute and defend a case as accurately as possible, and to open closed cases if new evidence is discovered.  A study by the American University  provides different way in which different procedures can be reformed in order to provide accurate convictions.  The most important part of any case is making sure to have an attorney that is dedicated to all their cases.  The defendant should meet with their attorney right after the arrest is done and provide to them as much truthful information as possible in order for the attorney to thoroughly investigate the case.

Another important point the report points out is the way police officers go about making an arrest on suspects of crimes because most of the time they by just the appearance of someone instead of an actual description.  Officers should have a book with photos with descriptions and different tools to help them better identify the suspects.  Officers should also become more comfortable with video taping their interrogations because it provides a safeguard for both the police officer running the investigation and the defendant.  Lastly, police departments need to start using the most advanced forensic science available because things such as DNA testing and finger printing are crucial for any investigation. If police departments took these suggestions into considerations the accusations of official misconduct would decrease because now the chances of racial bias or other forms of corruption are less likely to take place without notice.

These are just a few ways to understand wrongful convictions and the solutions that will help to decrease the conviction of innocent people.  Everyone deserves a just and fair opportunity to prove their innocence.