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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: federal court

Ricin suspect ordered to obtain psychiatric evaluation

A federal judge has ordered a Spokane man accused of sending ricin-laced letters to government officials, including President Barack Obama, receive psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is competent to stand trial.

Matthew Ryan Buquet has been in federal custody since May, when several letters that initially tested positive for the castor bean-derived toxin arrived at the Thomas S. Foley Courthouse in downtown Spokane. The missives, which included the message “We have a bomb placed we are going to kill you! Hezbollah,” arrived in envelopes bearing the return address of a downtown Spokane law firm, according to court documents since sealed.

A female employee of the firm reported she began receiving notes and gifts, including a can of Coca-Cola, on her desk. Buquet, a member of the janitorial crew that cleaned the office space leased by the law firm, had been dismissed from previous jobs for similar behavior. The FBI detained Buquet at his apartment shortly after the letters were discovered and interrogated him at a hotel, according to court paperwork. An FBI agent with the investigation said at the time Buquet appeared “gravely disabled,” exhibited “bizarre behaviors” and was “delusional,” according to court records.

U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty authorized the mental evaluation. Haggerty, an Oregon judge, was assigned to the case after a Spokane judge recused himself because one of the poisoned letters was addressed to a colleague.

Haggerty wrote in his ordered he was “satisfied that there is reasonable cause to believe the defendant may not be competent to understand the charges against him and to assist in his defense.”

A hearing to argue the findings of the competency hearing is set for May, with a potential jury trial in the case pushed to October. Buquet has been indicted on a criminal charge of possessing a deadly biological agent and two counts of mailing threatening communications. If convicted of the charges, Buquet could spend 20 years to the rest of his life in federal prison.

Stalking suspect released from custody

The Spokane man accused of sending threatening letters to a former neighbor alluding to his belief he was the Archangel of Death has been released under supervision to seek psychiatric evaluation.

 

Brent Russ, 33, had been in custody of the U.S. marshals since his arrest in September. Federal agents investigating letters and phone messages to Russ’ southwest Spokane neighbor, a tribal police officer, discovered guns and a journal outlining Russ’ beliefs he was the “embodiment of God’s wrath.” Prosecutors were charging him with one criminal stalking count and two counts of mailing threatening communications.

 

Those charges were suspended for five years by a federal judge Friday, who ordered Russ stay with his parents in western Washington, surrender his guns and seek psychiatric evaluation. Russ will also be supervised by federal court officials as part of the pretrial agreement.

 

The order puts the prosecution on hold so that Russ can demonstrate “good conduct,” according to U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice. The ruling leaves the door open for future prosecution or to dismiss the charges entirely.

Defendant in massive Oxycontin bust arrested for DUI

A Spokane woman implicated in a massive 2013 bust of an alleged prescription painkiller peddling ring was arrested early Tuesday on suspicions of driving under the influence, according to court documents.

Ashley Arredondo, 28, is one of 62 named defendants in a federal court case that has grown so large the judge has separated defendants into three groups. She was arrested in late February 2013 and released after posting bond a week later, according to court records. Arredondo faces a federal count of conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, a charge which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Shortly after 3 a.m. Tuesday, Arredondo was arrested in North Spokane near the 500 block of West Sierra Way, according to court documents. Deputies found Arredondo after she allegedly crashed into a home in her 2004 Cadillac Escalade and drove off. She told police she'd been drinking at two bars.

When deputies attempted to walk Arredondo to a nearby patrol car to take her to jail, she allegedly turned and spit in the face of one of the officers “without warning,” according to court documents.

Arredondo faces charges of driving under the influence, leaving the scene of a collision and third-degree assault of an officer. She is listed in custody of the Spokane County Jail.

The federal drug case continues its lengthy trek through the legal system. A jury trial in the case has been tentatively scheduled for May.

‘Archangel of Death’ stalking suspect remains in custody

Though a clinical psychologist concluded he was not a danger to the community, a Spokane man facing a federal stalking charge who was arrested after a cache of weapons and a disturbing journal was found in his home will remain in jail until his scheduled January trial date, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Brent Russ, 33, has remained in the custody of U.S. marshals since his arrest in September. Federal agents searched Russ' southwest Spokane home and discovered several guns modified to inflict greater harm, as well as photos of weapons on the man's computer that have yet to be located, according to subsequent briefs from investigators.

The search was prompted by a complaint from a female tribal police officer and former neighbor of Russ'. According to a now-sealed affidavit, Russ allegedly made statements indicating he had the woman under surveillance and sent her a threatening package when she approached mental health experts about his erratic behavior.

Among the written materials discovered by investigators were claims Russ was slaying nocturnal demonic creatures by slicing their brains with a sword and the construction of a “kill room” like something you would see in the television show “Dexter,” which details the exploits of a forensics investigator who moonlights as a serial killer.

Defense attorneys have elected not to pursue an insanity plea in the case, however they have signaled intentions to prove Russ was not fully aware of the consequences of his alleged criminal acts through a diminished capacity argument. United States District Judge Thomas O. Rice ruled the evaluation of Mark Mays, a psychologist who examined Russ, that the 33-year-old was not a danger to the community was not enough to release him from custody.

“… the Court still has reasonable concerns about the Defendant's competency,” Rice wrote.

A trial date in late January has been tentatively scheduled. Russ faces a maximum five-year prison term and a fine of up to $25,000 if convicted on the stalking charge.

Government shutdown may slow trial of Spokane ricin suspect

Add the investigation of a Spokane man accused of mailing letters laced with ricin to various government agencies to the list of casualties from the 16-day federal government shutdown last month.

Matthew Buquet, 38, has been indicted on federal charges alleging he sent mailings in May containing the castor bean-based poison to President Barack Obama and a federal judge. Subsequent letters to a post office and Fairchild Air Force Base were also discovered by the FBI, but were not mentioned in a superseding indictment in the case filed in June.

No one was harmed by the mailings. The letter sent to Obama allegedly read, “We have a bomb placed, we are going to kill you! Hezbollah,” referring to the militant group formed by members of the Shiite sect of Islam.

The trial has been delayed by the recusal of U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko, who is a colleague of the intended target of one of the alleged mailings, as well as Buquet's request to have an expert witness examine the substance that was included in the packages. The alleged toxin is being housed at a federal government lab whose workers were the target of furloughs during last month's government shutdown, according to a filing by Buquet earlier this month.

No delays in the anticipated May 2014 trial date have yet been announced.

Medical expenses thrown out in repo man case

A federal judge ruled Friday a Liberty Lake father had not proven the police officers who used a stun gun to subdue him  were liable for the man's past and future medical expenses.

Franklin Duncan rested his case against Victor Grant and the Liberty Lake Police Department on Friday afternoon after four days of testimony from his family, doctors and other parties in the civil case. Duncan alleges Grant, a repo man tasked in February 2010 with towing a 1997 Audi A8 belonging to Duncan's son, intentionally crushed his hand using the truck's winch, while Grant says Duncan struck his girlfriend in the truck's cab then attempted to strangle him before police arrived. When they did, the officers - including Liberty Lake Police Chief Brian Asmus - eventually used a stun gun to arrest Duncan on charges of vehicle prowling and assault.

Duncan was seeking medical damages totaling less than $20,000, according to his attorney, Marcia Meade. But U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice ruled Friday that Meade had not proven Liberty Lake should have to pay any amount for Duncan's medical expenses.

Claims that the officers made Duncan's existing injuries worse through their conduct and used excessive force in detaining him remain in play with jurors, who will this week consider a countersuit brought by Grant against Duncan before their deliberations. The federal court is shuttered Monday in observance of Veteran's Day, but the trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning.

Prop. 8 judge speaking at GU tonight

The federal judge who ruled California's Proposition 8 unconstitutional will be speaking today at Gonzaga Law School.

Retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker will be discussing cameras in the courtroom in a lecture titled  “Hauptmann’s Ghost.”

“The lecture’s title refers to the media frenzy surrounding the trial of Richard Hauptmann, who was convicted of kidnapping and killing the Lindbergh baby in 1932,” according to a news release. “The subject of media in the courtroom is an ongoing controversy in the federal courts.”

The lecture, part of the annual Justin L. Quackenbush Lecture series, begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Barbieri Courtroom at the Gonzaga University School of Law.

Abortionist threat may bring home detention

A Spokane man could serve his sentence on home dention after pelading guilty Wednesday to threatening a Colorado doctor who offers late-term abortions three weeks after the killing of a Kansas doctor who also provided the procedure, according to a plea agreement.

Donald Hertz, 70, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Spokane to one count of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and one count of transmitting a threat in interstate commerce.

The charges carry up to six years in federal prison and up to $350,000 fine at his Oct. 27 sentencing, but the plea agreement says prosecutors won’t oppose Hertz’s request to serve an incarceration sentence in home detention.

Hertz admitted that he intentionally intimidated Dr. William Hern of the Boulder Abortion Clinic and his employees. According to court records, Hertz contacted the clinic and stated that two of his associates were driving to Boulder, Colo., to kill members of the doctor’s family.

Hertz made the threat just after the May 2009 killing of Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita, Kan., physician who was one of a few doctors in the nation who performed late-term abortions.

“The defendant’s conviction should sent a clear message to others who would carry out similar criminal acts that they will be brought to justice and held accountable for their actions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Perez said in a news release.

Past coverage:

Aug. 28, 2009:  Threat to abortion doctor may have stemmed from news article

B.C. woman busted at border with $150,000

A B.C. woman is due in federal court in Spokane today after being arrested at the United States border at Oroville last week with nearly $150,000 in unreported cash.

Marina Cantarero-Cruz, 48, was driving a 2004 Acura when border agents discovered a secret compartment July 14 about 2:10 p.m.

Cantarero-Cruz, of Oliver, B.C, and two passengers had said they were traveling to the Rancho Chico restaurant in Tonasket and had denied transporting more than $10,000, according to court documents.

A K-9 dog detected the cash in the compartment, documents allege.

Agents seized $132,980 in U.S. cash and $12,200 in Canadian cash. An additional $2,100 in U.S. currency and $870 in Canadian was falling out of her underwear, documents allege.

Her bail hearing for a cash smuggling charge is set for today at 3 p.m. She remains in Spokane County Jail.

Happy April 15: Man charged with tax evasion

A former North Idaho resident has been charged with federal tax evasion.

Michael George Fitzpatrick is accused of using offshore bank accounts to hide his assets and of failing to file individual income tax returns in 2003 and 2004.

He also allegedly didn’t filed corporate income tax returns in 2004 for the Washington corporation Dynamic Solutions, and a Nevada corporation, NAES.

Both companies claimed to allow people “to completely eliminate their credit card debt and other types of debt,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Fitzpatrick, a former resident of Sandpoint and Hope, as well as Kent, Wash., is charged with two counts of tax evasion and two counts of failure to file a tax return, according to a grand jury indictment filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Boise.

Tax evasion carries a maximum of 5 years in prison; failure to file brings a maximum of one year.

Man in abortion-clinic threat to plead guilty

A Spokane man accused of threatening to kill family members of a Colorado abortion doctor is scheduled to plead guilty to federal charges.

Donald Hertz, 70, is scheduled to enter the plea on April 5. He was too ill to attend a plea hearing that had been scheduled today in Denver, according to court documents.

Hertz is required to attend the court hearings in person after a judge denied his request to transfer to the case to Eastern Washington District Court. His doctors have written letters saying that travel and Colorado’s high elevation could be hazardous to Hertz’s ongoing medical issues.

Hertz was charged in August for a phone call authorities say he made on June 23 to the Boulder Abortion Clinic that threatened members of Dr. Warren Hern’s family. Hern is a friend of slain abortion doctor George Tiller.

Two days before Hertz allegedly made the threats, The Spokesman-Review ran a front page story detailing Hern’s late-term abortion practice and the increase in business he’s seen since Tiller’s murder.

Hertz is charged with making an interstate threat and violating a 1994 law that protects access to reproductive health services. He faces up to six years in prison.

Past coverage:

Spokane man accused of threatening Colorado abortion doctor

Doctor on trial for overprescribing

The second trial of a former Shoshone County doctor accused of overprescribing drugs is set to begin this week in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene.

Christopher Arthur Christensen faces three counts of prescribing methadone, hydrocodone and/or alprazolam, an anti-anxiety drug, “outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose” for incidents between Dec. 28, 2000 and Jan. 12, 2001.

Christensen had been indicted on additional counts relating to the care of at least five patients, including a Mullan, Idaho man who died in February 2001 after taking a mixture of methadone and alprazolam.

A North Idaho jury acquitted Christensen on six counts in June after a federal trial but couldn’t reach a verdict on 12 counts.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office dismissed all but the three counts Christensen faces at trial this week.

Federal prosecutors will call four witnesses, including the case investigator for Idaho State Police and a former employee of Christensen’s, according to a trial briefing filed last week.

Also expected to testify is ISP Detective Beth Bradbury, who posed as a patient visiting Christensen during the investigation, and Dr. Arthur Jordan, an experts on the drugs Christensen is accused of overprescribing.

Christensen’s attorney, David E. Dokken, of Lewiston, plans to call Dr. Jon Hillyer, of Bremerton, Wash., and former patients of Christensen’s.

“Certainly, the defendant in no way acted as a ‘pusher,’” according to a trial briefing prepared by Dokken. “…He was a thorough and competent doctor who passionately pursued his practice.”

Christensen had a practice in Victor, Mont, as of May 2009, but it’s unclear if it’s still open.

Checking in: Fake paraplegic

Columnist Doug Clark’s annual Budnick awards were a fun reminder of the odd stories that made news in 2009.

He mentioned one case that deserves an update - that of former Bonner County sheriff’s Deputy James M. Sebero, who pleaded guilty in April to charges relating to him lying about being paralyzed and defrauding the federal government out of more than $1.5 million in benefits.

Sebero was sentenced in November to 15 months in prison and ordered to forfeit $950,000. He was ordered to report to prison at a date determined by the probation office, and he’s not in custody, according to the federal inmate locator.

Sebero claimed to be paraplegic after serving in the Air Force in the 1970s, according to indictments filed last year in Idaho and Eastern Washington federal courts.

The scheme fell apart after federal agents investigating Sebero for fraudulently performing annual inspections on airplanes learned he’d been receiving VA benefits since 1976, a year after he ended a six-year stint in the Air Force at Fairchild Air Force Base.

In September 2007, more than a year before he was indicted on charges related to the VA fraud, investigators secretly videotaped Sebero being examined at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in northwest Spokane. He used a wheelchair then, but government surveillance cameras showed him walking in and out of the U.S. Courthouse downtown the next day, according to previously published reports.

Read past coverage here.

Sentencing closed in drug case

A drug runner arrested in the investigation of a smuggling ring that used helicopters to fly marijuana, cocaine and other narcotics throughout the region was sentenced during a secret proceeding Wednesday in federal court, his attorney said.

The courtroom was closed and the transcript will be sealed under orders from U.S. District Judge Lonny Suko. No reason for the unusual closure was given.

Leonard J. Ferris, 50, pleaded guilty in April after being charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine. He was planning to exchange the cocaine for marijuana in the Colville National Forest when he and Ross N. Legge, 53, were arrested near Ogden, Utah, on Feb. 21, according to court documents.

Legge is awaiting trial in federal court in Utah.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office wanted Ferris to serve at least 17 years in prison, according to a sentencing memorandum filed Nov. 25.

Read the rest of my story

Jail guards in drug bust released

Two Franklin County corrections officers were released from the Spokane County Jail today after a bail hearing on federal drug charges.

Kevin J. Still, 44, (left) and Sonya K. Symons,

31, (right) were arrested last week by members of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force on federal charges of criminal conspiracy to distribute narcotics. Also arrested in Spokane was Troy Green, 29.

The U.S attorney’s office in Spokane moved for them to be released at a hearing in U.S District Court today. Judge Cynthia Imbrogno agreed. They were released by 3 p.m. today, according to jail records.

The three must have no contact with each other, take random drug tests, remain in Eastern Washington, undergo substance abuse counseling and refrain from “excessive use of alcohol,” according to release conditions filed today.

Court documents allege the Symons and Still wanted to start selling large quantities of marijuana and started working on the plan with a former jail inmate who turned out to be a confidential informant.

Their arrests on Thursday came after Still and Green gave an undercover DEA agent $15,000 for 12 pounds of marijuana, with the agreement that they’d pay another $15,000 later, according to the documents.

The allegations connect Green to a major drug ring busted in February. Read a previous blog post here.

Jail guards due in federal court tomorrow

Two Franklin County corrections officers are due in federal court in Spokane Wednesday for a bail hearing on drug charges.

Kevin J. Still, 44, (left) and Sonya K. Symons, 31, (right) were arrested Thursday by members of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force on federal charges of criminal conspiracy to distribute narcotics.

Still, a 21-year county corrections veteran, was arrested in Spokane while Symons, a 6-year veteran, was arrested at their Pasco home. Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim said the two have been suspended without pay pending termination, according to the Associated Press.

Also arrested in Spokane was Troy Green, 29. All three are in Spokane County Jail. Court documents allege the Symons and Still wanted to start selling large quantities of marijuana and started working on the plan with a jail inmate who turned out to be a confidential informant.

Their arrests on Thursday came after Still and Green gave an undercover DEA agent $15,000 for 12 pounds of marijuana, with the agreement that they’d pay another $15,000 later, according to the documents.

The allegations connect Green to a major drug ring busted in February. (Read more about the bust, called Operation Green Tree, here.)

“Still and Symons told CS1 that they wanted to find a new source of supply for themselves and Green who had recently lost his source of supply in Spokane, Washington, due to law enforcement activities,” according to the complaint. “Still and Symons told CS1 (a confidential informant) that Green’s previous source of supply was a Drug Trafficking Organization made up of mostly Vietnamese Americans.”

Couple in $800,000 fraud get prison

A woman and her boyfriend who bought a trip to the Super Bowl and other luxury items with more than $800,000 in embezzled funds from a Spokane business will spend time in prison.

Michelle A. Wing, 34, will spend more than six years in a federal prison after pleading guilty to six county of bank fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, a judge ruled this morning.

Kenneth A. Marsh, 40, was sentenced to 14 months in prison and a year probation last week after pleading guilty to two counts of filing a false income tax return.

Wing, who will be on probation for five years, was ordered to pay more than $755,000 in restitution and Marsh more than $165,000 for money they stole from Centaur, which provided administrative services to two advertising companies, E. Media and Power Marketing Services.

Wing was hired as Centaur’s bookkeeper in April 2006 after working as a temporary employee since Dec. 2005.

She and Marsh used fraudulently opened credit cards to pay for Hawaii vacations, jewelry, private school tuition and plane tickets. Wing forged the signatures of Centaur owners to pay the bills, according to federal court documents.

The scheme fell apart when an accountant noticed the checks.

The two were charged in November. Read Bill Morlin’s story on their arrest here.

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