Trump Promises to Defend Gun Rights in NRA Speech

May 4, 2018
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – President Donald Trump pledged Friday to continue to protect Second Amendment rights in light of recent mass shootings during a relaxed and free-wheeling address at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Dallas.

Trump praised the 80,000 attendees of the four-day gathering at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center for “never stopping to fight” for the U.S. Constitution, saying they have never taken the right to bear arms for granted.

“Your Second Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never be under siege as long as I am your president,” Trump told the applauding crowd during a speech that was more reminiscent of a campaign rally.

His remarks contradict statements in February that he would not shy away from fighting the NRA after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that killed 17 people.

After meeting with student survivors and parents, Trump said at the time he would support higher minimum age restrictions for certain rifles – a policy the NRA opposes – and tighter background checks with emphasis on mental health.

But on Friday, Trump openly mocked gun control advocates during his hour-long speech, sarcastically suggesting that trucks and vans should be outlawed now that Islamic terrorists have used them in New York City and throughout Europe to run over and kill large numbers of people.

“It seems that if we are going to outlaw guns like so many want to do, like Democrats … you better get out and vote,” he said. “We are going to have to outlaw immediately all vans and trucks, which are now the new form of death.”

Trump implored attendees to vote in November’s midterm elections, touting his administration delivering on key campaign promises. He told them to not be complacent.

“Ninety percent of the time you win the presidency and for whatever reason you lose the midterm,” he said. “We cannot let that happen. The word is complacent.”

Vice President Mike Pence echoed Trump’s embrace of the NRA, telling attendees immediately before Trump’s speech that both men “stand without apology” for the Second Amendment.

“In this administration, the right of the people to keep and bear arms will not be infringed,” Pence said.

Pence said it is possible to “protect public safety and due process at the same time.”

Trump appeared to wander from his script several times, taking time to thank rapper Kanye West for his statements on social media that he loves the president.

“Kanye West must have some power – I doubled my African-American poll numbers,” Trump said. “It went from 11 [percent] to 22 in one week. Thank you, Kanye. Thank you.”

West has faced growing backlash from fans and fellow entertainers after tweeting a selfie last week wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat and stating that he believes slavery was a choice.

Trump also continued his criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion with Russia by his campaign. Trump read aloud from a news report about a federal judge stating hours earlier that the money-laundering case against former campaign manager Paul Manafort was meant to hurt Trump.

The president repeated his accusations that the investigation is a “witch hunt.”

“Manafort was there for a short while but he is a good person,” Trump said. “I really believe he is a good person.”

Trump said the administration was “doing really well” regarding North Korea. He told the crowd he is trying to “calm it down a bit” regarding his criticism of the hermit state after a successful face-to-face meeting between dictator Kim Jong-un and South Korea President Moon Jae-in at the Korean Demilitarized Zone last week.

Trump had threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” last year as it conducted highly provocative nuclear missile test launches over neighboring Japan.

Before departing for the convention, Trump told reporters at the White House Friday morning that a time and place has been set for highly anticipated talks between himself and Kim.

Several protests were expected outside the convention center by Trump and NRA opponents, but a steady rain appeared to discourage some of them from showing up.

From Courthouse News.

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Survivors, Widows Sue Fluor for Catastrophic Explosion

April 24, 2018
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) — Survivors and relatives of 32 people killed at a catastrophic chemical plant explosion in southern Mexico have sued Fluor, the engineering and construction giant, accusing it of knowing about its “horrendous safety record” at the plant.

Lead plaintiff Maria Gope and 52 other named plaintiffs sued Irving, Texas-based Fluor in Dallas County Court on Friday for negligence and gross negligence. They claim the April 2016 explosion at the Petroquímica Mexicana de Vinilo chemical plant came after Fluor knew  that “flammable materials, including chlorine and ethanol, had been escaping from tanks and pipes” at the plant. Hundreds more people were injured in the blast.

“(Y)et they did nothing to shut down the facility so that the unsuspecting workers did not into what was essentially a ticking time bomb,” the 17-page complaint states. “In fact, the safety aspects for this work were being run and directed out of the defendants’ Houston area office. Defendants were also aware that the facility’s aged equipment and infrastructure had a history of failures; and that the site had a long history of catastrophic accidents.”

Fluor did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment sent after office hours Monday.

The plaintiffs say Fluor ignored red flags such as leaking gas pipes and ordered employees to continue with construction work. They say the plant is jointly owned by two other companies and that the plant entered into a $205 million contract with ICA-Fluor to increase output capacity. ICA-Fluor is a joint venture between the defendant and Empresas ICA, a Mexican holding company, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs claim ICA-Fluor does not have a management team but is controlled by the defendant’s executives in Texas. They say Fluor acknowledged the explosion as the worst accident in company history.

The plaintiffs are represented by Tony Buzbee of Houston. He told Courthouse News he is representing 119 plaintiffs – 29 killed, 90 injured, mostly with burns. He said claims on behalf of 63 of those clients were filed in Los Angeles.

“We believe this to be a landmark case,” Buzbee said Monday evening. “It is manifestly wrong for a U.S. company to make decisions in the U.S. and control operations here and yet when people are killed and horribly burned claim they can’t be sued in the U.S. because the injuries and deaths occurred outside the U.S.

“It is also important to note that we attempted to file these cases against Fluor in Mexico and all were dismissed by the Mexican courts. Where else but the U.S. can these people seek redress?”

He said a related, pending case in Dallas has been going for over a year.

“That client remains in the burn unit in Galveston,” he said.

From Courthouse News.

Woman Claims R. Kelly Intentionally Infected Her

April 18, 2018
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) — A woman claims hip-hop singer R. Kelly “intentionally infected” her with a sexually transmitted disease while grooming her to join his alleged “sex cult.”

Attorney Lee Merritt said his client was in an 11-month relationship with Robert Kelly, 51, and that she filed a criminal complaint with Dallas police last week.

He said she was tested and cleared of sexually transmitted diseases before she met Kelly and that he was her only sexual partner during their relationship.

“A victim statement and medical evidence further establishes she was infected by Kelly during sexual encounters that took place in Dallas, Texas, in the month of December 2017,” Merritt said in a statement tweeted Monday. “Our client, whose identity is being guarded, was 19 years old at the time she began a sexual relationship with Kelly.”

Merritt said he is preparing a federal civil lawsuit. He said the woman was subjected to “unlawful restraint, furnishing alcohol and illegal drugs to a minor, and aggravated assault” and intentional transmission of the disease.

“There offenses occurred while our client was being groomed to join Kelly’s sex cult,” Merritt said. “Kelly gradually introduced the cult to our client over the course of their relationship, culminating with an explanation that she would have to sign a contract and offer collateral information about herself and her family for Kelly’s protection.”

Merritt says she discovered she tested positive for an STD after breaking up with Kelly two months ago, due to his “predatory, controlling and abusive behavior.”

Kelly’s representative “categorically denies all claims and allegations,” The Washington Post reported.

Kelly is best known for his hit song “I Believe I Can Fly” featured on the soundtrack for the 1996 Michael Jordan film Space Jam. He is also known for his serialized song “Trapped in the Closet,” which was famously spoofed by the animated television series South Park in 2005.

Kelly was acquitted in 2008 by a Cook County jury on 14 charges relating to child pornography. Jurors were not persuaded that the people depicted in a graphic sex video were Kelly or his alleged victim.

From Courthouse News.

Oklahoma Teachers End Strike, Raises in Hand

April 13, 2018
By David Lee

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) — Oklahoma teachers ended their statewide strike Thursday after nine days, claiming victory in getting a raise and more funding for public schools but acknowledging that additional concessions from lawmakers are unlikely.

Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest said the teachers’ efforts and “overwhelming support” from the public brought $479 million more for education. She said 77 percent of the union’s members doubted any more funding would come if the strike continued.

“Nevertheless, the Legislature has fallen well short of their responsibility to Oklahoma’s students,” Priest said at a Thursday afternoon news conference. “The presence and persistence of Oklahoma educators and supporters have brought the largest pay raise in state history to teachers, a line-item raise for support professionals for only the second time in history, and $70 million in recurring revenue for classrooms.”

Oklahoma teachers walked out after enduring no pay raises and repeated education funding cuts since 2008. State lawmakers failed to prevent the strike when they passed measures two weeks ago to raise teacher salaries by $6,100 a year and support staff salaries by $1,250, and education funding increases of $50 million. The concessions were only a fraction of what the teachers wanted, so the strike went ahead.

On the fifth day of the strike, Priest offered to end it if the Legislature passed bills eliminating a capital gains tax exemption and Governor Mary Fallin vetoed a bill repealing a hotel and motel tax. Lawmakers have held their ground since, refusing to give any more concessions and saying the budget for the year is set. Priest said that during negotiations with the Oklahoma House and Senate, Senate Republicans refused to “budge an inch” on finding any more revenue.

“We need to face reality,” Priest said. “In spite of tens of thousands of people filing the capital and spilling out onto the grounds of this capitol for nine days, we have seen no significant legislative movement since last Friday.”

Fallin, a Republican, has endured heavy criticism for supporting tax cuts and business subsidies that have eroded state agency budgets. She angered teachers last week when she compared their demands to teenagers who “want a better car.”

Defiant teachers spent the rest of the strike loudly jingling their keys in the capitol, chanting: “Where is our car?”

Reporters pressed Priest on what the strike accomplished, as the bulk of concessions were signed into law before the strike began. Priest lauded the passage of two bills last Friday that raised $40 million in additional revenue for schools. One expands tribal gaming in the state to include games with a ball or dice, while the other imposes sales tax on certain internet sales.

The strike matches the length of a similar walkout in March by West Virginia teachers over low pay. That strike was called off after lawmakers passed a bill giving teachers and all other state employees a five percent raise.

Kentucky teachers have protested for two weeks, and threatened to strike over a Republican proposal to cut their retirement benefits. Kentucky lawmakers quietly attached the cut to a sewage bill at the last minute, which prevented any public feedback.

From Courthouse News.

Backpage.com, CEO Plead Guilty in Sex-Trafficking Crackdown

April 12, 2018
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – Texas authorities said Thursday that Backpage.com will plead guilty to human trafficking and its leader will plead guilty to money laundering, one week after the classified ad website was seized by federal officials.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said CEO Carl Ferrer faces up to five years in prison once he has fulfilled the terms of his plea agreement. He said Ferrer’s cooperation in the ongoing investigation into Dallas-based Backpage “could lead to other criminal charges” being filed against the company’s associates.

Calling it the “largest online sex trafficking marketplace in the world,” Paxton said Backpage facilitated the sex trafficking of innocent women and children at 943 locations in 97 countries and 17 languages. He said over 73 percent of all child trafficking cases reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children involved Backpage.

“Taking down Backpage and obtaining a criminal conviction for the company and its CEO represents a significant victory in the fight against human trafficking in Texas and around the world,” Paxton said in a written statement. “I want to thank the attorney general of California, the U.S. Department of Justice, federal law enforcement officials, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez, and the prosecutors and law enforcement in my office for their outstanding collaborative work on this investigation and prosecution.”

Ferrer was arrested at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston in October 2016 after arriving on a flight from Amsterdam, accused of running a “pimping conspiracy.” State officials concurrently executed a search warrant on the Backpage offices in Dallas’ Oak Lawn neighborhood.

Ferrer was indicted in Sacramento County Superior Court in California a month earlier. The 9-page indictment described 17 alleged incidents of pimping conspiracy, including accepting payments for posting escort advertisements featuring minors.

Federal prosecutors in Arizona unsealed a 93-count indictment on Monday against Backpage creators Michael Lacey, 69, James Larkin, 68, and five others. Ferrer was not charged in the indictment. It came three days after Backpage was seized – its homepage currently displays a notice that it was seized under an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service.

Federal prosecutors dispute Backpage’s claims that it bars customers offering illegal services and uses “computerized filters” and human moderators to edit wording of ads that explicitly offer sex for money, arguing the defendants acknowledge in company documents and private meetings they were aware of the prostitution being offered on the website.

From Courthouse News.

Mexican Drug Kingpin Sentenced to 43 Years in U.S. Prison

April 11, 2018
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced the boss of the La Familia Michoacan drug cartel whose arrest led to the revenge killing of 12 Mexican police officers to over 43 years in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade sentenced Arnoldo Rueda-Medina, 48, in Dallas and ordered him to pay $5 million in fines – an amount the judge acknowledged was a “drop in the bucket.”

Known as “La Minsa,” Rueda-Medina pleaded guilty in September 2017 to one count of conspiracy with intent to distribute drugs and one count of conspiracy to launder money. The judge ordered a 520-month sentence on the drug charge and 240 months on the conspiracy charge, to run concurrently.

Mexican authorities extradited Rueda-Medina to the United States in January after arresting him in the state of Michoacan in July 2009.

An unidentified Mexican federal police officer testified Wednesday that he will never get over the “cowardly assassination” of his fellow officers after Rueda-Medina’s arrest.

Prosecutors say cartel members unsuccessfully tried to free Rueda-Medina after his arrest, attacking the police station where he was held and engaging in a firefight with police on the streets of Morelia in Michoacan.

“On July 13, 2009, a group of 12 officers were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered.  A note found at the scene where the bodies were dumped stated ‘Vengan por otro, los estamos esperando’ (‘Come for another, we are waiting for you’),” prosecutors said in a written statement. “At least four other officers and two Mexican Marines were killed by LFM operatives responding to the arrest of Arnoldo Rueda-Medina.”

Formed in the 1980s, La Familia Michoacan is accused of producing thousands of kilograms of methamphetamine in laboratories in Michoacan. The cartel then smuggles the drugs into stash houses in the Dallas-Fort Worth area through border checkpoints near Tijuana, Mexico, and Laredo, Texas, according to court filings.

“The drug proceeds that were collected were delivered to cartel members or associates in Mexico either by way of bulk cash smuggling in vehicles utilized by LFM couriers or through money remitters such as Western Union,” prosecutors said.

U.S. Attorney Nealy Cox thanked Mexican authorities for their “critical assistance and sacrifice” in the case.

Prosecutors say Rueda-Medina was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2010 under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, which blocked all of his property subject to U.S. jurisdiction and virtually froze all of his assets. The law also bans American citizens and companies from doing business with him.

From Courthouse News.

Democratic States Fight Texas’ Attempt to Kill Obamacare

April 10, 2018
David Lee

FORT WORTH (CN) — Sixteen Democratic attorneys general intervened Monday in Texas’ lawsuit to kill Obamacare, disagreeing that the Republican-controlled Congress’ gutting of the individual mandate tax penalty last year leaves the law unconstitutional.

Led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the intervenors say Texas’ lawsuit against the federal government is “based on a dubious legal claim with the sole goal of stripping Americans of their health care.”

Becerra told reporters that “we can’t and we won’t go back” to the days before the Affordable Care Act.

“In California, millions of people receive quality, affordable health care under the ACA, many for the first time,” Becerra said at a news conference.

“In addition, the proponents of the Texas lawsuit want to eliminate the preventive care and prescription drug benefits for working families, seniors and people with disabilities. To roll back the clock and risk the health of millions of Americans is irresponsible and dangerous.”

Becerra said California stands to lose over $160 billion in health-care funding and that citizens in the intervening states stand to lose $500 billion if Texas’ lawsuit succeeds.

His 37-page motion to intervene says Illinois will lose almost $50 billion and New York more than $57 billion.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, both Republicans, led a 20-state coalition in suing the federal government in February.

They say Congress’ ending of the individual mandate tax penalty in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 guts the constitutionality of the ACA, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning that the individual mandate would be an unconstitutional exercise of federal power without the tax penalty. The high court reached that conclusion when it upheld Obamacare subsidies in 2015.

Becerra said Obamacare has survived almost 70 repeal attempts since it was passed into law in 2010.

“But courts have routinely rejected claims that would have gutted its key reforms,” the motion states. “In the landmark [National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius (2012)] decision, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate — a requirement that certain people pay a penalty for not obtaining health insurance.”

The intervenors disagree with the plaintiffs’ claim that the law should be thrown out as a whole, saying Congress merely reduced the individual mandate tax penalty, from 2.5 percent to zero.

“This change, effective in 2019, did not repeal any statutory provision of the ACA,” the motion states. “Yet plaintiffs rely on this change to ask this Court to strike down the entire ACA.”

Paxton’s office did not answer telephone calls requesting comment late Monday evening.

Texas and Wisconsin are joined in the lawsuit by Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.

California’s motion to intervene is joined by Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

From Courthouse News