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Never a dull moment in federal prison

Perks of prison? How about guitar lessons and Civil War history.

Those activities are keeping former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich busy while his attorneys work on an appeal, AP reports said (AP photo left).

Blagojevich is teaching the history course, writes his wife, Patti Blagojevich, on a Facebook post, according to reports. She laments that her husband missing birthdays, holidays and music recitals as well.

He’s staying at a Colorado federal prison in Englewood which actually made a list by Forbes in 2006 for the best prisons to go to.

The Englewood prison offers a recreation yard, gymnasium, weight room, hobby shop, music room and wellness center, according to the Bureau of Prison’s website.

Blagojevich is expected to serve time until 2024, according to the Bureau of Prison’s website, for corruption charges including his attempt to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat, reports said.

Meanwhile at Seattle’s Sea Tac federal facility, they offer chess club, a workout class for abs and a screenwriting class.

Duncan’s death penalty NOT overturned

BOISE – The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ordered convicted child-killer Joseph Duncan back into court in Idaho, saying a federal judge should have ordered a competency hearing before allowing Duncan to waive his appeal of his death sentence.

The high court ordered U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge to hold a “retrospective” competency hearing, exploring whether Duncan was competent in November 2008 when he told Lodge he didn’t want to appeal his triple death sentence for the kidnapping, torture and murder of a North Idaho boy. If he’s found competent after the hearing, the death sentence would go forward.

Read the rest of Betsy Z. Russell's story here.

Man gets 6 months for spider smuggling

By GREG RISLING, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A German man considered to be among the world's top spider smugglers was sentenced to six months in federal prison Monday for bringing hundreds of tarantulas into the United States by mail.

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero said he hoped the sentencing of Sven Koppler, 37, of Wachtburg, Germany, would deter others from trying to smuggle animals into the U.S.

Court documents filed in the case estimated the illegal wildlife trade generates as much as $20 billion a year.

Koppler earlier this year pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling goods into the U.S. and faced up to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors had recommended Koppler serve 10 months.

Koppler portrayed himself as a spider breeder and said shipping the arachnids is legal in Europe and other countries. A prosecution expert said in court documents he believed Koppler was one of the three largest spider smugglers in the world.

"I just can say I'm very sorry about what happened and it wasn't my intention to defraud anyone or anything," said the slender Koppler, who wore a dark suit and striped tie in court. "I definitely would not do this again."

Federal prosecutors said Koppler sold thousands of tarantulas to more than 50 people in 16 countries between 2008 and 2010. Some of the spiders, including a protected Mexican species, were mailed by Koppler from Germany to Los Angeles.

Fish and Wildlife Service agents intercepted the packages then posed as customers and ordered dozens more spiders. Koppler made nearly $350,000 by selling spiders, authorities said.

Federal public defender Neha Mehta said her client's reputation has been tarnished, and no one will be willing to do business with him in the future.

"He has spent his whole life for the preservation of wildlife," Mehta said. "He had no intention of harming any wildlife."

Koppler said many of the spiders he shipped were babies. However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Williams said some of the animals were adults and measured six inches long.

Williams also noted Koppler purposely mislabeled the protected tarantulas to avoid detection by U.S. customs.

Koppler also must pay $4,000 in fines and will be placed on three years of probation. He will likely be deported to Germany once he finishes his sentence.

Duncan returns to federal death row

A man who tortured and killed two boys in California and Idaho has been returned to death row in federal prison.

Federal prison officials say 48-year-old Joseph Edward Duncan III — who spent more than two years in a Riverside County jail — arrived at a federal prison in Indiana Wednesday.

Duncan was sentenced Tuesday for killing Anthony Martinez, who was kidnapped in 1997 as he played near his Beaumont home. Duncan confessed to the crime after his arrest in Idaho.

He was convicted of kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing a Coeur d'Alene boy, Dylan Groene, in 2005 and beating to death the boy's older brother, mother and her fiance with a hammer.

He will await execution in Terre Haute, where the nation's federal death row inmates are held.

Read past coverage here.

Arsonist pleads guilty after just 13 days

A longtime felon and litigation seeker faces 10 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges related to two arson fires in Spokane Valley.

Anthony W. Sotin, 42, was indicted by a grand jury just 13 days ago. He pleaded guilty this morning in U.S. District Court in Spokane to use of a fire to commit a federal felony and malicious use of property to damage property used in interstate commerce.

Sotin will remain in custody pending sentencing, which is scheduled for May 27. The first charge mandates 10 years in prison; the second by at least five years and no more than 20. 

The plea deal calls for prosecutors to recommend Sotin be sentenced to 120 months in prison and three years probation. It also drops one count of wire fraud, which carried a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison.

Sotin was accused of starting a fire in a building on Nora Avenue Feb. 9 and setting a car on fire Jan. 12, then filing a false insurance claim.

Sotin is well known by law enforcement and has filed more than 15 lawsuits against various government entities, including 12 in 1996 alone.

He currently has a lawsuit filed against the city of Spokane, alleging his rights were violated because he wasn't allowed to leave messages for a public defender representing him in a Municipal Court case.

Past coverage:

Feb. 19: Arrest made in building, vehicle fires

Aug. 8, 1997: Latest antics add to Sotin's long rap sheet