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Visalia Criminal Law Blog

Federal agents arrest 4 men in dark web drug distribution ring

A U.S. attorney for the Central District of California described the international investigation that identified men profiting from online drug sales as an example of the Department of Justice's ability to counteract sophisticated dark web criminals. The investigation resulted in the arrest of four German men and another man from Brazil. They were allegedly involved with a dark web marketplace called Wall Street Market, which authorities described as the second-largest online market for contraband.

According to the criminal complaint filed against the Germans in a federal court, they allegedly served as administrators for the market website. The marketplace connected buyers with sellers of counterfeit goods, narcotics and malicious hacking software. Federal prosecutors said that the men funneled $11 million from the operation into their personal accounts.

Low-carb diets may cause false positives on roadside tests

Some Californians are on the keto diet in an effort to lose weight or manage diabetes. The keto diet involves following a strict low-carb regimen so that the body will go into ketosis. During ketosis, the body burns fat for fuel in the absence of carbohydrates. While the keto diet is popular, it might also cause people to have false positives on roadside preliminary breath tests when police suspect that the driver is under the influence.

According to an article in Men's Health, people who are on the keto diet emit ketones as isopropyl alcohol in their breath. This form of alcohol does not impair driving ability and is different from the ethanol alcohol that is found in alcoholic drinks. However, PBT machines that are used by police may not be able to differentiate between isopropyl and ethanol alcohol, leading to false positives and potential DUI charges for people who are sober.

Michael Avenatti to plead not guilty to fraud

Attorney Michael Avenatti says that he plans to plead not guilty to a raft of felony charges including embezzlement and fraud when he appears in California district court. The 48-year-old litigator is accused of using millions of dollars that should have gone to his clients to fund his lavish lifestyle. Avenatti faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars if he is convicted on all of the charges against him.

Avenatti's Twitter feed attracted hundreds of thousands of new followers in March 2018 when he announced that he had filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump on behalf of the adult film star Stormy Daniels. The controversial lawyer turned to the social media platform once again in April to profess his innocence and demand his day in court. Daniels has since fired Avenatti and hired another attorney.

California man sentenced in drug trafficking case

A 39-year-old California man has been sentenced to more than eight years in prison to be followed by four years of supervised release after being convicted of possessing a controlled substance with the intent to distribute and being a felon in possession of a firearm. A federal jury found the man guilty of all but one of the charges facing him after a trial lasting three days.

The man's situation took a turn for the worse in February 2016 when his Cadillac sedan was pulled over by police in Menlo Park for having an expired registration tag and unlawfully tinted windows. During the routine traffic stop, officers say they noticed a bag containing a substance that appeared to be marijuana near the center console and a scale on the passenger seat. According to court documents, a subsequent search of the vehicle led to the discovery of undisclosed quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin concealed in one of the car's air vents. Police are also said to have recovered a loaded Glock semiautomatic handgun.

Deputies make $1.5 million drug bust during traffic stop

On April 10, law enforcement officers arrested a California couple for allegedly attempting to transport a large amount of powdered fentanyl through San Diego County. They were taken into custody on Otay Mesa Freeway.

According to authorities, one of the defendants, a 24-year-old woman, was traveling west on Route 905 in a 2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor when a deputy pulled her over for speeding. During the traffic stop, a K-9 officer signaled that there may be drugs in the SUV. As a result, deputies searched the vehicle and allegedly found more than 20 kilograms of powdered fentanyl hidden "deeply" inside the vehicle. The estimated street value of the stash was estimated to be over $1.5 million.

California proposes lowering blood alcohol threshold

A bill proposed by a California lawmaker would lower the legal blood alcohol content in the state to .05 percent from the current level of .08 percent. However, lobbying groups do not support the proposed change to the law. The American Beverage Institute says that the law would do nothing but target responsible social drinkers.

Another piece of legislation would require all drivers convicted of drunk driving to use an ignition interlock device. However, those who oppose the law say that it would just make money for the interlock industry. Furthermore, those who don't agree with it say that it would take away a judge's ability to use discretion in a given case. Currently, those who are charged with their first offense don't need one if they didn't injure anyone while impaired.

Avenatti facing federal charges in California and New York

Controversial attorney Michael Avenatti became a media sensation in March 2018 when he took legal action against President Trump on behalf of an adult film star, and he was even said to be mulling a 2020 presidential bid. However, those aspirations took a major hit on March 25 when federal prosecutors in both California and New York filed felony charges against Avenatti that could put him behind bars for many years.

U.S. attorneys in New York have charged Avenatti with attempting to extort between $15 million and $25 million from the sports apparel manufacturer Nike. According to prosecutors, Avenatti threatened to go public with allegations about payments he claims Nike made to amateur basketball players if the company did not pay him and an unindicted co-conspirator millions of dollars for unneeded and unwanted legal work.

Tips to avoid traffic tickets

Drivers in California know that feeling of nervousness when they notice a police car driving behind them. It doesn't automatically mean the cop is ready to give a ticket, but traffic tickets can be such an expensive hassle that merely the sight of a cop car in the rear-view mirror can set many drivers' hearts racing. Here are a few simple tips drivers should keep in mind to avoid getting a ticket their next time out.

In California, it is a violation to drive without wearing a seat belt, so one of the simplest things drivers can do to avoid tickets is buckle up. Police departments often have special days or weeks during which they are looking to ticket people for seat belt violations. This is also among the first things police look for once they've made a traffic stop. They can see if the driver attempts to quickly put on his or her seat belt after the stop has been initiated.

Charges for parents, coaches in college admissions scam

Law enforcement says a California man is at the center of the so-called "Varsity Blues" scandal, in which wealthy parents paid large sums of money to get their children into prestigious universities using bribes, falsified test results, fake reports of athletic prowess and other illegal methods. Among those facing charges in the case are actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

The man was allegedly paid between $200,000 and $6.5 million by 33 parents, and 50 people have been detained for their participation in the scheme. On March 12, the man pleaded guilty to federal crimes that included obstruction of justice, money laundering and conspiracy to commit racketeering. Some of the schools targeted were Yale University, Georgetown University and Wake Forest University. Schemes included getting children extra time for tests on the false grounds that they had a disability, having someone else take the tests for them and photoshopping their faces onto stock photos of athletes as evidence of athletic prowess.

Paul Manafort receives sentence in fraud case

California residents may have heard that Paul Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in prison by a judge in Virginia. He was charged with bank and tax fraud, which the judge acknowledged were serious charges. The judge said that Manafort's actions were akin to stealing from every taxpayer in the United States. In addition to the jail time, Manafort was ordered to repay $24.8 million and pay a $50,000 fine.

Manafort had asked that the judge show leniency in determining his sentence. His attorneys pointed to the defendant's age, health issues and first-time offender status as reasons why he deserved to serve as little time as possible. Sentencing guidelines from the prosecution called for Manafort to spend up to 24 years in prison. However, the judge in the case said that such a sentence would fly in the face of precedent.

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