Baylor Rape Victim Settles Lawsuit Against School

August 16, 2017
By David Lee

WACO, Texas (CN) – A former Baylor University student who claims school counselors told her they were too busy to see her after she was raped by a football player settled her lawsuit against the school, her lawyer said Tuesday.

Irwin Zalkin, of San Diego, said his client, Jasmine Hernandez, is “very happy” with the settlement and that “we are moving on.” He declined to discuss monetary figures.

“I can’t talk about the terms of the agreement,” he toldthe Waco Tribune-Herald. “But I’ll let you guess.”

Baylor declined to comment on the settlement announcement.

Hernandez sued the Baylor Board of Regents, former head football coach Art Briles and former athletic director Ian McCaw in March 2016 in federal court for gender discrimination and negligence. She claimed football player Tevin Elliott grabbed her at a party near campus in 2012 and raped her behind a secluded shack.

Zalkin moved to have Briles and McCaw dropped from the lawsuit earlier Tuesday.

Elliott has been accused of raping or assaulting at least five women between October 2009 and April 2012. He was sentenced in 2014 to 20 years in prison on each of two counts of sexual assault.

Hernandez claims that when her mother was told by school counselors that they were too busy to see her, she was also rejected by the psychology department at Baylor’s Student Health Center. She claims that the school’s Academic Services Department later told her that even “if a plane falls on your daughter, there’s nothing we can do to help you.”

Hernandez alleges her parents tried to contact Briles, but that neither he nor anyone from his office called back. A nursing student on an academic scholarship, Hernandez claims her grades suffered after the rape, resulting in the loss of the scholarship and her dropping out of school.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman refused Baylor’s requests to dismiss the lawsuit in April 2016, although he did pare some claims.

The growing number of rape accusations against football players resulting in the school’s board hiring Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton to conduct an external investigation into the school’s handling of the cases. The damning results released in May 2016 resulted in the removal of former school president Ken Starr, Briles and McCaw.

Regent Ron Murff apologized to the sexual assault victims at the time, saying “we are deeply sorry for the harm that survivors endured.”

Baylor asked Judge Pitman in June 2016 for more time to file an answer to Hernandez’ lawsuit, indicating it was trying to settle the case.

Later that month, Zalkin made explosive allegations against Briles, saying that he reneged on a promise to come to a mediation session “to support Jasmine” and “help her, and to apologize to her and her family.”

Briles allegedly reached a settlement with the school on the remaining years on his contract the day of the mediation. Zalkin denounced Briles at the time as using “the threat of helping” his client “as leverage” to negotiate his own claim against the school.

Briles steadfastly denied the allegations, asking to be dropped from the lawsuit in July 2016.

Briles’ attorney, W. Mark Lanier, of Houston, said Tuesday that other schools have contacted the coach and he expects his client to be coaching next year.

“There’s no question this is one step toward him getting back into coaching,” Lanier told the Tribune-Herald. “He did not want to get back into coaching until he finished through the legal system.”

Lanier confirmed Hernandez had dropped her claims against Briles and did not ask for money or an apology.

“He does feel bad for anybody who was hurt at all,” he said. “Whether through Baylor or otherwise, he’s still got a soft heart for a victim of any crime at all. He’s cognizant of that.”

From Courthouse News.

Oklahoma Man Accused of Trying to Bomb Bank

August 14, 2017
By David Lee

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – An Oklahoma man was arrested for allegedly trying to detonate a massive car bomb in downtown Oklahoma City out of hatred for the federal government, prosecutors said Monday.

Jerry Drake Varnell, 23, of Sayre, Okla., was charged Sunday with one count of malicious attempted destruction of a building used in and affecting interstate commerce by means of an explosive. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted.

Varnell is accused of trying to detonate “what he believed to be an explosive laden van” he parked next to a BancFirst location in downtown Oklahoma City at 1 a.m. on Saturday. Varnell had earlier agreed to have an undercover FBI agent “obtain the needed explosives in lieu of making it himself,” according to a 16-page affidavit.

FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Raul Bujanda assured citizens that Varnell was under surveillance for months and was at no time a danger to the public.

“Once we were aware of his intent, we controlled the situation from beginning to end,” he said at a press conference Monday. “So there was never a threat to the citizens of Oklahoma … there was never a risk to the American people.”

Bujanda said that if the bomb had been real, a detonation would have “damaged at least 50 percent” of the building.

Varnell allegedly told an unidentified FBI source on Facebook Messenger that he changed his target from the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C. to the bank because “I don’t wanna kill a bunch of people.”

He allegedly told the source and a second FBI employee at an Elk City restaurant in June that he wanted to “start the next revolution.”

“Varnell said he wanted to be a part of something and was of the same mind with people who wanted to use explosives and make a statement,” the affidavit stated. “Varnell states, ‘something needs to be done,’ but killing a bunch of people was never a good idea.”

“He identified BancFirst as the target, prepared a statement to be posted on social media after the explosion, helped assemble the device, helped load it into what he believed was a stolen van, drove the van by himself from El Reno to BancFirst in downtown Oklahoma City, and dialed a number on a cellular telephone that he believed would trigger the explosion,” prosecutors allege in a written statement.

The Justice Department claims Varnell’s initial plan of blowing up the Federal Reserve Building involved using a device similar to the one used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

BancFirst said it has been “working cooperatively” with the FBI and “at no time” were employees, customers or the public in dander.

“We believe our BancFirst downtown Oklahoma City building was a random and convenient selection by the suspect,” BancFirst said in a statement. “There is no further threat or reason for concern.”

From Courthouse News.

Dallas Stars First Pro Team to Denounce Texas ‘Bathroom Bill’

August 10, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – The Dallas Stars hockey club announced its opposition Wednesday to Texas’ “bathroom bill” that would require transgender people to use public facilities matching their biological sex, becoming the first professional sports team to do so.

Team president and CEO Jim Lites said Dallas “was warm and welcoming” when the National Hockey League team moved from Minnesota 25 years ago.

“The Dallas Stars stand strongly opposed to any legislation perceived as discriminatory, including proposed bathroom legislation,” Lites said in a written statement. “We welcome fans from all over the globe, and our roster boasts players from half a dozen countries. Dallas welcomes all, and we welcome all.”

Lites noted the city was selected to host the NHL’s draft next year, and the league “sees the true Dallas” that is friendly and vibrant.

“We are proud of our home and want every visitor to feel at home here, too, and that’s why we oppose this discriminatory bathroom legislation,” he said.

Currently under consideration by a special session of the Texas Legislature, Senate Bill 3 would restrict the use of bathrooms, showers and changing rooms in public schools and government buildings to facilities matching a person’s sex as recorded on his or her birth certificate or on state-issued identification cards.

Critics of the bill say it legalizes discrimination against transgender people and is based on fear and hatred. Supporters contend the law is necessary to protect the safety and privacy of women and children from predators and voyeurs.

Several versions of the “bathroom bill” failed to pass during the legislature’s regular session this year. Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott listed it as one of his priorities when he called for the special session that is scheduled to end on Aug. 16.

No other professional sports team in Texas has publicly voiced opposition to the proposal, although some team owners have personally expressed views against it.

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair told the Houston Chronicle in March he doubted it would pass and that the state does not need it.

“There’s opposition in the House,” he told the newspaper. “I think there are other things more important going on in the world.”

Dallas Mavericks owner and TV personality Mark Cuban told The Dallas Morning News last month that the debate over the “bathroom bill” has yet to damage Dallas or Texas, but that it is a “different story” if the bill passes.

“We can only use the excuse of having crazy, entertaining state politicians who are merely a sideshow for so long,” he said.

In February, the National Football League and National Basketball Association warned Texas that passage of a “bathroom bill” would negatively impact the likelihood of the state being selected for major events in the future.

From Courthouse News.

Texas Attorney Admits to $26M Workers’ Comp Scam

August 4, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A Dallas-area lawyer pleaded guilty Thursday to a scheme to rip off over $26 million in workers’ compensation benefits, federal prosecutors said.

Tshombe Anderson, 54, of Grand Prairie, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

Anderson will also forfeit $375,000 seized from his home, a 2015 Mercedes and his share of over $8.3 million seized from 25 bank accounts.

Prosecutors say Anderson conspired with four relatives to file over $26 million in fraudulent claims for durable medical equipment with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Worker’s Compensation Program.

His sister Lydia Bankhead, 63, wife Brenda Anderson, 47, sister-in-law Janet Anderson, 43 and niece Lydia Taylor, 30, will stand trial on Sept. 25.

Anderson was formerly employed as an attorney at Union Treatment Center in Austin.

He and his wife were fired in May 2011 after an audit showed “they appeared to be engaging in fraudulent billing practices,” according to the criminal complaint.

Prosecutors say Anderson first opened a durable medical equipment company with his wife called Best First Administration to provide equipment to patients referred from UTC.

He later opened Union Medical Supplies and Equipment with Bankhead in April 2013 and started Skycare Medical Supplies and Equipment in with his sister-in-law  in August 2013.

“Both companies were created in order to submit claims that were inappropriate to OWCP,” prosecutors said in a statement Thursday. “The same medical information that BFA had received from UTC was used and billed to the same universe of claimants for duplicate, unwanted durable medical equipment that was not medically necessary, using outdated medical information.”

Prosecutors say that every single bill submitted by at least two of the defendants’ companies was fraudulent.

They claim Anderson “had access to the operating accounts for UMSE and routinely transferred large sums of cash from those accounts for his personal use or to launder through business accounts” for a shell account and accounts for his law office.

Anderson is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 29.

From Courthouse News.

Wedding Photographer Wins $1.1 Million From Malicious Clients

August 2, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) — A Dallas County jury awarded a wedding photographer more $1 million in damages against a disgruntled married couple who defamed her in a malicious campaign on social media that ruined her business.

In a 10-2 verdict, the jury found on Friday that Neely and Andrew Moldovan of Dallas knowingly published false statements about Andrea Polito that disparaged her business. The jury awarded $880,000 in damages for injury to Polito’s reputation, mental anguish and lost profits, and $200,000 in punitive damages for making false statements to harm Polito with malice.

Polito sued the Moldovans in 2015 after shooting their wedding the previous year.

Polito’s attorney Dave Wishnew, with Gruber Elrod in Dallas, said Monday that the dispute focused on the defendants’ objection to the contract stating they must pick a $125 photo album cover before Polito could turn over photographs taken of the rehearsal dinner and wedding ceremony.

“In a 2014 TV interview, the couple charged that Ms. Polito was ‘holding their pictures hostage,” Wishnew said in a statement. “The Moldovans’ allegations went viral, damaging Ms. Polito’s then-thriving business. Ms. Moldovan, who maintains a lifestyle and beauty blog, said in one Facebook conversation that she was ‘pretty sure [Polito’s] business is done.”

Polito said she hopes the verdict will send the message that “freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences,” the attorney said.

Polito said in the complaint that when she was informed of the defendants’ demands, she wanted to keep her clients happy and asked for an album cover to be selected with the intent of waiving the cost.

“In fact, the Moldovans were already meeting with NBC 5 and [reporter Scott] Gordon by the time Polito sent her January 14 [2015] email, dead set in their pursuit of publicity and public shaming,” the complaint states.

“The Moldovans proceeded to republish the story on different electronic forums, such as blogs, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, NBC, text messages, and emails, and to make disparaging and defamatory statements in those same forums with the direct intent to harm plaintiffs.”

Polito said in the complaint that the Moldovans disparaged her by saying she “cheated,” “scammed,” and “blatantly stole money while holding pictures ransom and then adding on extra fees that weren’t in [the] original contract.””

From Courthouse News.

Seattle Man Charged With Extorting Legal Website

July 31, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A Seattle man was arrested Friday and charged with extortion: allegedly threatening a Dallas-based case law aggregator website with cyberattacks if an unflattering court decision about his criminal history was not taken down.

Federal prosecutors announced the arrest of Kamyar Jahanrakhshan, 32, on a criminal charge of extortion by threats to cause damage to Leagle.com. If convicted, he faces up to 5 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

A man named Andrew Rakhshan allegedly contacted the website in December 2014 and asked that a link to the offending court decision be taking down,

“Claiming that he was the plaintiff in the case, Rakhshan stated that he did not want the opinion available on the internet as it was tarnishing his reputation and violating his privacy,” according to an affidavit filed with the complaint. “Rakhshan offered to pay a fee to have the post removed.”

Jahanrakhshan had been accused by Canadian authorities of interfering with a police investigation and running a credit card scam using cards in his name to buy several luxury cars and a boat, according to CBC News.

Prosecutors say Rakhshan continued to send email messages for several weeks offering to pay for removal of the link.

“On January 24, 2015 Rakhshan again sent an e-mail claiming that he met a group of hackers online who were willing to launch a massive cyber-attack on Leagle.com,” prosecutors said in a statement. “Rakhshan claimed that he had no other options to resolve the matter. He threatened to use these hackers to conduct a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack to force Leagle.com to comply with his demands. On January 25, 2015, a large amount of traffic targeted the IP address for Leagle.com.”

The website was unable to mitigate the attack traffic, which subsided when it removed the link.

Prosecutors accuse Rakhshan of carrying out similar cyberattacks on the CBC, Canada.com, The Metro News newspaper and Fairfax Media5, a media company in Australia and New Zealand.
“At times Rakhshan escalated his threats from DDoS attacks to threats of bomb attacks,” prosecutors said.

From Courthouse News.

Oklahoma Holiday Inn Owner Accused of Exploiting Filipinos

July 31, 2017
By David Lee

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma claims a Holiday Inn Express, steakhouse and water park operator exploited a group of Filipino nationals as cheap labor and intimidated them with ties to law enforcement.

Lead plaintiffs Madelyn Casilao, Harry Lincuna and Allan Garcia filed a class-action lawsuit in Oklahoma City federal court on Wednesday against Walter and Carolyn Schumacher, of Clinton, Okla., and their companies: Hotelmacher LLC dba Holiday Inn Express, Steakmacher LLC dba Montana Mike’s Steakhouse and Schumacher Investments LLC dba Water Zoo.

They also sued Apex USA Inc., which allegedly recruited the foreign workers and functioned as a human resources office for the other defendants.

Casilao, Lincuna and Garcia – represented by the ACLU of Oklahoma – claim they were only paid $4.25 per room cleaned, less than their contracted pay or federal wage and hour minimums.

They allege servers at Montana Mike’s Restaurant were paid a little over $2 per hour plus tips and that breakfast cooks and water park employees were paid up to $2 less per hour than what was promised.

The plaintiffs also claim they were not given full-time work as promised, instead working only three to four days per week for a few hours per day.

“Due to their sparse and fluctuating work hours, plaintiffs and other putative class members were barely able to earn enough to pay their living expenses in Oklahoma, and were not able to send money home to the Philippines to repay any debts they had incurred to obtain the H-2B visas,” the 42-page complaint states. “Defendants refused to reimburse plaintiffs and other putative class members for their travel expenses to the United States or for the amounts paid in recruitment expenses.”

Casilao, Lincuna and Garcia say they were promised “stable, long-term work potential,” full-time jobs, free housing, food and transportation under their guest-worker visas.

They were also allegedly induced to pay “substantial fees” for their recruitment, the immigration process and their travel to Oklahoma.

The plaintiffs say they could not have returned to the Philippines or left their jobs without first repaying the debts, which was impossible due to the alleged reduction in working hours, wage rates and unexpected living expenses of up to $300 a month to be put up at a local motel, often in shared rooms with other workers.

They were also not given transportation to their work sites and had to cross a highway on foot, according to the lawsuit.

The workers allege Walter Schumacher made it known that he “was a current and/or former police sheriff, suggesting his close ties with law enforcement,” the complaint states, and would intimidate them by talking to them from a police patrol car.

They claim he told Garcia and other workers that he had a gun in his car as he was picking them up from the airport.

“When plaintiff Garcia and other putative class members inquired about the promised airfare to and from the Philippines, defendant W. Schumacher informed them he would only pay for a return airfare to the Philippines if the employee was returned ‘in a box,’” the complaint states.

Up to 100 Filipino nationals who received H-2B visas through the defendants from 2008 to 2014 are included in the proposed class.

An employee at one of the Schumacher businesses told Fox affiliate KOKH last week that immigrant workers were paid a fair wage, but that they have not been recruited for years.

Holiday Inn Express parent InterContinental Hotels Group PLC is not a party to the lawsuit, but it said in a statement that its business strategy is “underpinned by a commitment to operating responsibly.”

“While we are aware of the allegations against the independently-owned and operated Holiday Inn Express & Suites Clinton, IHG has a long-standing commitment to human rights, including establishment of a formalized Human Rights Policy in 2009 and signing of the UN Global Compact in 2010, through which we aligned with universal principles that include commitments to human rights and labor standards,” the company said Monday afternoon.

Casilao, Lincuna and Garcia seek class certification and compensatory and punitive damages for alleged breach of contract and violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

Their lead attorney in the case is Brady Henderson with the ACLU of Oklahoma, based in Oklahoma City.

They are also represented by attorneys from Legal Aid at Work in San Francisco, Pro Bono Law in Boston and Washington, D.C., and the Equal Justice Center in Austin, Texas.

From Courthouse News.