Texas AG Paxton Cleared in a Bribery Probe

October 30, 2017
By David Lee

KAUFMAN, Texas (CN) – A Dallas-area district attorney said she will not charge embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton with bribery, after closing an investigation into his accepting a $100,000 gift from the head of a company investigated for Medicaid fraud.

Kaufman County District Attorney Erleigh Wiley, a fellow Republican, said late Friday that she considered a section of the Texas Penal Code that bans gifts to public servants by a person under his or her jurisdiction, and an exception that allows gifts “on account of kinship or a personal, professional or business relationship independent” of the receiver’s office.

“After a thorough review of the evidence gathered during this investigation, my office concluded that Attorney General Paxton had a personal relationship with the donor, in addition to a prior attorney/client relationship, which relationships render Penal Code Section 36.08 inapplicable to this donation,” Wiley said in a statement. “Accordingly, this investigation has been closed.”

Paxton accepted the gift for his legal defense fund in 2015 from James Webb, the head of Preferred Imaging LLC. Federal prosecutors said in July 2016 that the Dallas-based company would pay $3.5 million to resolve a whistleblower’s False Claims Act and Texas Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act claims that it engaged in improper billing.

Preferred Imaging admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. The U.S. Department of Justice acknowledged at the time the Texas Attorney General’s Civil Medicaid Fraud Division for helping in the investigation.

Paxton at the time denied any violation of the gift rules and denied that his office investigated the company, saying he “never received a referral.”

Paxton spokesman Matt Welch called the exoneration “the latest in a long line of baseless taxpayer-funded investigations” of his boss.

“We are pleased, but not surprised, that Attorney General Paxton was once again cleared of false allegations,” Welch said in a statement Friday evening.

Paxton is awaiting trial in Harris County on two first-degree felony counts of securities fraud and a third-degree felony count of failing to register with a state securities regulator, dating back to his time in the Texas House of Representatives in 2011. He faces up to 99 years in state prison if convicted.

From Courthouse News.

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Labor Union Drops Anthem-Related Complaint Against Dallas Cowboys

October 30, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A labor union has withdrawn a National Labor Relations Board complaint against the Dallas Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones over his threat to punish players who kneel in protest during the national anthem.

Local 100 of the United Labor Unions said Friday it withdrew the complaint after a well-publicized meeting this month between National Football League owners and players, in which they discussed shifting the focus from protesting during the anthem to more social reforms, ESPN first reported.

The union’s chief organizer Wade Rathke said the union will “immediately refile these charges with the NLRB” if Jones threatens or disciplines his players on the issue.

Jones became the first NFL owner to explicitly threaten discipline players for the practice when he told reporters after a 31-35 loss to the Green Bay Packers that “we will not disrespect the flag.”

The union’s Oct. 10 complaint accused Jones of “attempting to threaten, coerce and intimidate all Dallas Cowboys players on the roster in order to prevent them from exercising concerted activity” protected under the National Labor Relations Act.

Rathke said in a statement: “We are hopeful that Jones has learned that there are legal limits that guide his treatment of his workforce and rights that cannot be abridged, regardless of his own personal opinion.

“We will continue to monitor this closely. We hope a lesson was learned, and that we had some small impact on this debate, and the actions of the NFL doing the right thing.”

Individual Cowboys players have yet to kneel during the anthem, although two have held up a fist at the end of the song. Defensive end David Irving has not been disciplined for doing so, but defensive end Damontre Moore was released last week.

Cowboys officials denied that Moore was cut from the team for that.

Jones remains unapologetic for his support for the anthem, telling CBS Radio KRLD-FM on Friday that he believes the Cowboys fan base “unquestionably, without even blinking, wants and expects” players to stand for the anthem.

Local 100’s announcement came four days after it settled a racial discrimination suit filed by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. The agency claims the union fired two employees because they are black, after hiring them in 2014 to recruit public school employees in Houston. Local 100 agreed to pay $30,000 to settle the claims and to implement policies and training to prevent racial discrimination, the agency said in a statement.

From Courthouse News.

‘Clock Boy’ Settles Defamation Case Against Glenn Beck

October 26, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – Conservative commentator Glenn Beck and his TheBlaze network have settled defamation claims brought by the family of “clock boy” Ahmed Mohamed, the black Muslim teenager arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school that a teacher thought looked like a bomb.

On Tuesday, the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas granted an unopposed motion to partially dismiss an appeal filed by Mohamed’s father due to the settlement. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

TheBlaze and Beck did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Thursday afternoon.

Mohamed made headlines in 2015 when he was arrested at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, after he brought a homemade clock to school to show a teacher. The clock consisted of a circuit board and power supply that he wired to a digital display inside of a metal pencil case. Another teacher allegedly thought it looked like a bomb, resulting in Mohamed being questioned and detained by school officials and police.

An image of a bewildered Mohamed wearing a NASA T-shirt being led away from the school in handcuffs went viral. Mohamed claimed he was threatened with expulsion if he did not make a written statement.

Mohamed’s father sued Beck, TheBlaze, Fox Television Stations LLC, political commentator Ben Ferguson, Ben Shapiro, former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, the Center for Security Policy and its executive vice president Jim Hanson in September 2016 in Dallas County District Court about the statements they made in the media coverage after his arrest.

“It was a staged event where someone convinced this kid to bring a device that he didn’t build, as you mentioned,” Hanson told Beck during a Sept. 22, 2015, broadcast on TheBlaze, according to the complaint. “It’s a RadioShack clock that he put in a briefcase, and in a briefcase it looks like a bomb … They did that to create the exact scenario that played out. They wanted people to react, and they wanted to portray this kid as an innocent victim. I think he was a pawn of potentially his father.”

The lawsuit claims that Van Duyne said several times that Mohamed was not forthcoming with the school or police, and that he brought a “hoax bomb” to school, citing an interview broadcast on Fox affiliate KDFW, in which she allegedly said the family was “non-responsive” to a city request to release records about the incident.

Beck allegedly said to Van Duyne during the broadcast on TheBlaze, “My theory is that for some reason Irving is important to the Islamists, not the Muslims, but the Islamists. It could be as simple as the progressives trying to turn Texas blue, and this is just the place where they’re just going to start planting the seeds and taking a stand. You pissed them off, and now this is a dog whistle. This is not a story that is for anybody to hear, except for the Islamists because once you create a boogeyman, now all the money, all the resources, all the intellectual power, all is focused on your little town of Irving, Texas.”

The trial court dismissed the claims against Beck, TheBlaze, CSP and Hanson in January under the Teas Citizens’ Participation Act, the state’s Anti-SLAPP law. SLAPP is short for Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation.

The settlement frees Beck and TheBlaze from Mohamed’s appeal of the January ruling.

Mohamed’s other lawsuit against the Irving Independent School District was dismissed in Dallas federal court in May. The judge concluded he failed to state a valid claim of racial discrimination.

From Courthouse News.

Macy’s Fined $375,000 for Hazardous Waste Violations

October 26, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – Retail giant Macy’s will pay $375,000 to settle claims it violated federal hazardous waste regulations for three years, the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

Macy’s generated more than 269,158 lbs. of hazardous waste from 2012 to 2015 from 44 locations identified in the settlement, the EPA said in a statement. Each site should have registered with the EPA and state, but did not.

This violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which gives the EPA authority to control hazardous waste from “cradle to grave.” The EPA estimates Macy’s manages as much as 1.2 million lbs. of hazardous waste nationwide annually, based on the average rate of hazardous waste generated by the 44 stores in the civil settlement.

“During these times, each Macy’s store identified in the settlement generated thousands of pounds of hazardous waste to qualify as a small-quantity generator but failed to notify EPA and state authorities,” the EPA said in a statement. “Macy’s also failed to meet the conditions for small-quantity generator status and did not complete appropriate manifests.”

Macy’s agreed to develop a program to train 400 retailers in Oklahoma and Texas how to comply with the regulations, and conduct third-party audits of 11 of its largest facilities in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico.

Macy’s did not immediately respond to an email message seeking comment after business hours Wednesday.

From Courthouse News.

NAACP Warns Black Travelers Not to Fly American Airlines

October 25, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – The NAACP warned African-Americans on Tuesday against flying on American Airlines, citing several recent “disturbing incidents” against black passengers, including an activist being kicked off a flight.

“In light of these confrontations, we have today taken the action of issuing national advisory alerting travelers – especially African Americans – to exercise caution, in that booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions,” the civil rights group said in a written statement. “The series of recent incidents involve troublesome conduct by American Airlines and they suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias on the part of American Airlines.”

The NAACP cited an incident last week involving Tamika Mallory, an organizer of the Women’s March in Washington in January.

Mallory said she was kicked off a flight by a white male pilot after she was told at the gate that a seat she had changed into at an airport kiosk had been assigned to another passenger. Mallory claimed she was treated disrespectfully by a black female gate agent and that the pilot asked if she could control herself on the flight.

Another alleged incident last year involved the Rev. William Barber, the former head of the North Carolina NAACP. Barber sued Fort Worth-based American, claiming he was removed from a plane after asking a flight attendant to tell a white passenger to be quiet.

American CEO Doug Parker said Wednesday he is “disappointed” with the travel advisory.

“The mission statement of the NAACP states that it ‘seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination,’” he said in a letter to employees. “That’s a mission that the people of American Airlines endorse and facilitate every day – we do not and will not tolerate discrimination of any king, We have reached out to the NAACP and are eager to meet with them to listen to their issues and concerns.”

Parker asked American employees to “keep doing the great and noble work you always do” and to “treat our customers and each other with respect.”

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement, “All travelers must be guaranteed the right to travel without fear of threat, violence or harm.”

“The growing list of incidents suggesting racial bias reflects an unacceptable corporate culture and involves behavior that cannot be dismissed as normal or random.  We expect an audience with the leadership of American Airlines to air these grievances and to spur corrective action.  Until these and other concerns are addressed, this national travel advisory will stand,” Johnson said.

From Courthouse News.

Dallas Elections Official Targeted for Ouster Over Voter Fraud

October 24, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A local attorney claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that Dallas County’s elections administrator should be removed from office for reportedly distributing hundreds of absentee ballots to elderly voters who did not request them.

Justin Jay Koch, an attorney with William M. Woodall PC, sued Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole in Dallas County District Court.

The lawsuit was filed three months after the arrest of Miguel Hernandez, 27, who faces a second-degree illegal voting charge.

Prosecutors said a voter picked him out of a lineup after saying she handed him a blank ballot that he allegedly offered to deliver to election officials on her behalf.

Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson began investigating in May after several elderly voters in West Dallas complained about receiving absentee ballots in the mail that they did not request. Others complained they were unable to vote on Election Day as someone apparently had mailed in absentee votes in their names.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton – a fellow Republican – soon joined the investigation, saying it was to “solidify” public trust in elections.

Koch’s lawsuit claims the voter fraud could have been stopped if Pippins-Poole did her job competently.

“It was her duty to oversee the examination of signatures for the purpose of comparison on mail in ballots and requests for mail in ballots,” the five-page complaint states. “It was her duty to ensure the mail in ballots were handled in a competent manner free of systematic fraud.”

Koch also claims Pippins-Poole engaged in official misconduct when she allegedly accepted a $1,500 gift from county elections vendor ES&S “to pay for lapel pins for her bid to become president of the International Association of Government Officials,” a Raleigh, N.C.-based association of government clerks, recorders, election officials and treasurers.

In addition, Koch accuses Pippins-Poole of “soliciting $500 to $800 from six elections company vendors” for a charity on behalf of her IAGO delegation from Texas.

County officials did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment late Tuesday afternoon.

Koch seeks Pippins-Poole’s removal from office under the Texas Election Code, Texas Government Code and Local Government Code.

From Courthouse News.

Police Sergeant Describes How Waco Biker Carnage Began

October 18, 2017
By David Lee

WACO, Texas (CN) — A Waco police officer testified Tuesday that the owner of a Twin Peaks “breastaurant” declined to cancel a biker event where a deadly 2015 shootout broke out between the rival Cossacks and Bandidos motorcycle gangs.

Police Sgt. Stephen Drews testified that the owner said nothing bad ever happened during previous bike nights at the restaurant. He said police planned a large, visible presence at the restaurant as a deterrent for violence, but did not expect and were not prepared for the shootout.

“It looked like somebody took Cabela’s [hunting and fishing supplies] and turned it on end and shook it into the parking lot,” Drews testified. “There were so many knives, guns, clubs, you name it.”

Drews testified for the prosecution during the second week of the trial of Jacob “Jake” Carrizal, 35, of Dallas, in McClelland County Court.

Carrizal, a leader of the Dallas chapter of the Bandidos, is charged with directing the operations of a criminal gang, and two counts of engaging in organized criminal activity. The shootout on May 17, 2015 killed nine bikers and injured 20.

More than 150 people have been charged. Carrizal, the first to go to trial, faces up to life in state prison if convicted of all charges.

Tensions ratcheted up between the gangs when the Cossacks started wearing “Texas” bottom rocker patches on their vests without permission from the Bandidos, who claim the state as their territory.

Drews said police planned for the biker event with assurances that both gangs considered it foolish to have a violent confrontation in such a busy place on a Sunday afternoon. He testified that nothing happened between the two gangs until a column of Bandidos, led by Carrizal, rode into the parking lot. He said gunfire broke out seconds after hearing a fellow officer report heavy tension.

Prosecutors say Carrizal directed members to Waco and told them to be ready for a violent confrontation. A gang expert testified Monday that he saw evidence on Carrizal’s cellphone instructing members to “bring their tools,” or guns, not to travel alone, to leave women at home, not to tolerate disrespect and that “this is the life” they have chosen.

Carrizal’s attorneys disagree. They say the Cossacks instigated the shootout, that they showed up wearing bulletproof vests and ambushed the Bandidos before they could dismount their motorcycles.

From Courthouse News.