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Visalia Criminal Law Blog

Paul Manafort's former son-in-law sentenced on fraud charges

A judge in California sentenced a man to nine years in a federal prison on Nov. 8 for orchestrating a string of fraudulent schemes. The judge also ordered him to pay $6.7 million in restitution to his victims. The man, who was once married to the daughter of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, faced the judge after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

During the sentencing hearing in Los Angeles, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case made scathing criticisms of the man's attitude and behavior. He said the man showed no remorse for attempting to bilk his victims out of about $13 million and suggested that he actually seemed to prefer illegal activities to honest work. The U.S. attorney also pointed out to the judge that the man had committed some of his crimes while out on bond for similar offenses.

New York Times study reveals problems with breath tests

In California and across the United States, breath tests may no longer constitute accurate ways to measure whether drivers are inebriated while driving their vehicles. A recent New York Times report mentioned that approximately 30,000 breath tests were not used in court because of their inaccuracies. Sometimes, the breath tests are not even properly calibrated, which often results in inaccurate readings. The thorough investigation involved interviews with more than 100 attorneys, business executives, law enforcement officers and scientific researchers.

The report investigated numerous corporate documents and records. According to the study, it is not feasible to determine blood alcohol levels based solely on breath test results. Many things can go wrong with a breath test. In addition to faulty calibrations, older machines may have bad components, causing them to yield false readings. Breath testing devices can also fail due to poor programming resulting in numerous mistakes. Some handheld devices cause inaccurate readings if drivers are tested while they have breath mints in their mouths.

A rare disease that turns the body into a brewery

California residents may be interested in learning about a condition that can, in essence, turn the human body into a brewery. Doctors were working with a patient who constantly had elevated blood alcohol levels. However, the patient denied ever drinking alcohol. Research led to the discovery of a condition known as auto brewery syndrome, or ABS. This condition leaves the body's gastrointestinal system to turn carbohydrates that are ingested into alcohol.

The man who was in the aforementioned study was healthy and had no other medical conditions. Out of nowhere, he started to lose his memory, have bouts of depression and have changes in his mental state. All of these changes linked to back to him taking antibiotics for a thumb injury that he had.

California authorities make massive fentanyl bust

In mid-October, Southern California authorities announced the seizure of 18 pounds of the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl. Investigators say the amount was sufficient to create 4 million deadly doses of the drug and has an estimated street value of $1.25 million.

Local media outlets report that deputies from the Orange County Sheriff's Department uncovered the fentanyl after executing a search warrant at the home of a 60-year-old man. They also allegedly discovered heroin, methamphetamine, a semi-automatic handgun and $71,000 in cash during the search. The man was arrested and charged with multiple drug crimes.

Marijuana raid leads to arrest of 12 people

On Oct. 7, California authorities arrested 12 people during a drug raid in Ceres. The incident occurred at around 7 a.m.

Local media outlets report that members of the Ceres Police Department and the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Office executed a search warrant at a residence on the 1600 block of Richard Avenue. During the ensuing search of the property, they located six outbuildings that contained processed marijuana and marijuana plants. Twelve unidentified defendants were taken into custody as a result of the raid.

California woman charged with immigration fraud

A California woman has been indicted on five counts of wire fraud for allegedly promising to help immigrants become permanent residents or American citizens and then pocketing their money. U.S. attorneys say she did not file any paperwork on behalf of her clients with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was not licensed to practice law in any state and had no business license. The woman was released from custody after posting an undisclosed bond.

Federal prosecutors say the woman used online advertising to attract clients. Many of her alleged victims were Iranian nationals according to media reports. She is said to have told her clients that she could guarantee them green cards, work visas and even U.S. citizenship. When her clients complained about the length of time it was taking for their applications to be approved, the woman is said to have refused to provide refunds and ceased all communication.

The latest sentence in the U.S. college admissions scandal

California residents have likely heard of the ongoing college admissions scandal that involves famous names like Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Several wealthy individuals were charged with allegedly using fraudulent means to gain acceptance into prestigious universities for their children. One of the parents charged in the scandal was sentenced on Sept 24.

Felicity Huffman and 15 other parents charged for bribery-related offenses pleaded guilty to federal charges as part of a plea deal. Devin Sloane, who is a 53-year-old California businessman, was the second parent to be sentenced. Sloane's sentence includes a $95,000 fine, 500 hours of community service and four months in prison.

Actress sentenced to 14 days over SAT fraud

California readers might be interested to learn that actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison on Sept. 13 for participating in a college admissions bribing scheme intended to boost her daughter's SAT scores. She was also sentenced to 12 months of supervised release, assessed a $30,000 fine and ordered to serve 250 hours of community service. She must begin her prison sentence on Oct. 25.

According to prosecutors, Huffman confessed to paying $15,000 to arrange for her daughter's SAT test score to be illegally inflated to 1420. The money was paid to the mastermind of the scandal, who paid someone to correct wrong answers on her test. The former Desperate Housewives star would have had to shell out $75,000 for her daughter to receive a perfect score of 1600.

Police question the value of THC testing devices

Police officers in California and around the country may soon be issued with portable devices that are able to detect the compound that gives marijuana its psychoactive properties in a breath sample, but legal experts and scientists are not convinced that the results of these tests will be of any real value. One of the THC breath-testing devices currently being tested uses nanotubes thousands of times smaller than a human hair to detect THC. Its developers say that it will only return a positive result when marijuana has been consumed recently, but even that may not be enough to support an impaired driving charge.

This is because scientists are not able to link specific THC levels with degrees of impairment. Any driver with a blood alcohol level higher than the .08% driving limit is considered legally intoxicated, but no such measurement exists for THC. Casual marijuana users could be dangerously impaired with levels of THC in their bloodstreams that a habitual smoker would barely even notice, which means that the results of a THC breath test alone would not be enough to establish impairment beyond reasonable doubt.

Narcotics agents seize 20 pounds of meth

Prosecutors in California say that a 35-year-old man taken into custody following a traffic stop during the early morning hours of Aug. 31 was a leading figure in a narcotics trafficking organization that distributed methamphetamine throughout Humboldt County. The man is being held without bond at the Humboldt County Correctional Facility pending a court hearing that will examine the legitimacy of the funds proffered to pay his bail. He has been charged with possessing and transporting illegal drugs.

Agents from the Humboldt County Drug Task Force took the man into custody without incident after pulling his vehicle over near Phillipsville at approximately 12:30 a.m. According to media reports, agents obtained search warrants for the man's car and Eureka residence after identifying him as a key suspect during a year-long narcotics investigation. A search of the vehicle was ordered after a K-9 unit allegedly alerted during an air sniff. Agents say that they discovered 20 pounds of methamphetamine inside the car that had been packaged in a way that suggested it was for sale.

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