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Federal Agents Raid Los Angeles Casino for Allegedly Laundering Money, Again

An ongoing investigation against the Bicycle Hotel and Casino in Bell Gardens, a city in Los Angeles, resulted in federal agents raiding the casino and closing the gambling floor this week. Since the warrant issued for the raid by a federal district court judge was filed under seal, there are only a few details about the investigation. However, this same casino was found, after a 1991 investigation, to have been built using drug money. Although numerous gamblers speculated that the raid was a result of rigged gaming tables, unnamed media sources clarified that the casino is under investigation for money laundering. Casino patrons holding stacks of chips will be pleased to know that the casino reopened this week after investigators finished their search. However, there may be some more legal trouble in their future, depending on what the search discovered. What is Money Laundering? The crime of money laundering occurs when a person exchanges illegally obtained money, such as the proceeds from the sale of drugs, stolen goods, or other criminal activities, for "clean" money. Many financial institutions are regulated in such a way that certain transactions are monitored for suspicious activity. However, businesses that operate with modest, or even sometimes large amounts of cash can sometimes fly under the radar of authorities, as we learned in Breaking Bad. Penalties for Money Laundering Money laundering is a relatively common type of white collar crime. Depending on whether charges are brought by federal or state authorities, the penalties for money laundering can vary. State laws tend to mirror federal laws, but vary from state to state. Typically, the penalties will increase with the amount of money laundered as well as the number of transactions. While one-off offenses can result in only misdemeanor charges, simple fines and short jail sentences, multiple money laundering transactions can lead to multiple offenses and felony jail sentences of several years. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) How Stacks of Cash Get People Arrested (FindLaw Blotter) Founder of For-Profit College Gets Prison Time (FindLaw Blotter) Feds Punish NY Corruption: Sheldon Silver Sentenced to 12 Years (FindLaw Blotter)
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Fair Housing Act Protects LGBT Couples

The Fair Housing Act, passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, protects renters and home buyers from a variety of discrimination based on everything from sex, race, and national origin to religion, marriage status, and pregnancy. But until Wednesday of this week, no court had extended those protections to include lesbian, gay, or transgender people. That all changed when a federal court in Denver ruled that sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act includes discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, including discrimination motivated by outdated stereotypes about how men and women should act and with whom they should romantically partner. Judicial Protection Rachel Smith, a transgender woman, and her wife Tonya Smith attempted to rent a townhouse for themselves and their two children in Boulder, Colorado, but were denied, according to their lawsuit, because the landlord did not approve of their "unique relationship." In a ruling their lawyer believes is the first of its kind, the court found that LGBT renters are protected from such discrimination under federal law. "This is the first case under the Fair Housing Act dealing with gender identity where there's been liability found for discrimination based on stereotypes," Omar Gonzalez-Pagan told the Washington Post. "It demonstrates the importance of bringing these cases. Housing discrimination is a significant unreported problem" for LGBT people. Judicial Reasoning The district court's ruling mirrored one issued a day earlier by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. There, the court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Both courts found that sexual stereotyping is a form of sex discrimination, and therefore illegal under federal statutes that bar discrimination based on "sex." In doing so, the courts relied on a 1989 Supreme Court case holding that male partners and managers discriminated against a female employee when they said she needed to "walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry" in order to advance. In the Smith's case, U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore wrote, "Such stereotypical norms are no different from other stereotypes associated with women, such as the way she should dress or act (e.g., that a woman should not be overly aggressive, or should not act macho), and are products of sex stereotyping." Such sexual stereotyping is illegal under federal law, and therefore the landlord's refusal to rent to the Smith's based on their relationship violated the Fair Housing Act. Related Resources: Find Landlord-Tenant Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Can Landlords Discriminate Against Unmarried Couples? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Housing Discrimination for LGBT Couples (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Understanding Your Rights: Housing Discrimination (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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3 Common Types of Tax Fraud

Taxes can be scary for many people. The system is not necessarily user friendly. While debtors’ prisons are supposed to be a thing of the past, failing to abide by tax laws can result in criminal penalties, including fines and jail time. To make matters even more complicated, in addition to federal tax laws, there are also state and local tax laws that can have just as harsh, if not harsher, penalties, as one California man recently learned. Below, you’ll find three common types of tax fraud. 1. Underreporting Income Underreporting income is extraordinarily common for any person who is paid, or earns money, in cash form. However, this is a form of tax fraud and tax evasion and can result in serious criminal consequences. The IRS, and even state tax boards, require that all income be reported, which includes cash earned from the sale of goods, tips, and even casino winnings. Because there can often be little-to-no paper trail for industries where workers receive cash tips, or cash payments, oftentimes cash income will go unreported. However, not all underreported income will rise to the level of criminality, at least under federal law. It is conceivable that some cash income received is not reported due to ordinary negligence or a genuine mistake. However, underreporting can be charged as a felony with penalties including a couple years behind bars, and up to $250K in fines. 2. Using Fake Numbers Fudging numbers can result in serious criminal penalties for tax fraud. A person should never just guess, and should especially never knowingly use incorrect numbers, as it can be considered as making a false statement or falsifying a document. There are some checks and balances in place, some of which are computer automated, as well as specialized systems and tools, which can alert the IRS to inconsistencies.It will be hard to prove the defense that using wrong dollar amounts was unintentional, particularly if the results weigh in your favor, and there is not a clear explanation on how it unintentionally occurred. Fudging numbers is likely to be charged as a felony, and carry a few year jail sentence and up to $250K in fines. 3. Claiming Unqualified Deductions Another common act of tax fraud is claiming deductions, credits, and expenses, that an individual or business does not actually qualify for. Doing so can expose an individual to felony charges, a few years in jail, and the same hefty fines listed above. Related Resources: Need help with your taxes? Get your tax issue reviewed by an attorney for free. (Consumer Injury) What Is a Tax Haven? (FindLaw’s Law and Daily Life) Avoiding Behavior the IRS Considers Criminal or Fraudulent (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law) Wesley Snipes Must Report to Prison on Tax Evasion Sentence (FindLaw’s Celebrity Justice)
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Can the Feds Force You to Unlock Your Phone With Your Fingerprint?

You might've thought enabling Touch ID on your iPhone made it more secure. After all, it's harder to fake your fingerprint than to guess a passcode. But when it comes to the law enforcement searches, your smartphone might've gotten a lot more vulnerable. According to Forbes, federal law enforcement officers recently served a warrant on a California home which gave them "authorization to depress the fingerprints and thumbprints of every person who is located at the SUBJECT PREMISES during the execution of the search and who is reasonably believed by law enforcement to be the user of a fingerprint sensor-enabled device that is located at the SUBJECT PREMISES and falls within the scope of the warrant."Essentially, cops could force everyone in the residence to open their phones. Is this really legal? Fourth Amendment Concerns The Fourth Amendment protects people "against unreasonable searches and seizures," and generally requires law enforcement officers to get a warrant before searching someone's home or personal effects. In order for the Fourth Amendment to apply, a person must show that he or she has a "reasonable expectation of privacy" in the place being searched or thing being seized. But courts have consistently found that a person has no expectation of privacy in physical characteristics like fingerprints, and that a police may therefore require that a person give fingerprint samples. So requesting a fingerprint to open a phone likely doesn't violate the Fourth Amendment's reasonableness requirement. In terms of search warrants, they must be based on probable cause, and "particularly [describe] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." This has generally been interpreted to mean the warrant must be narrow in scope, but, as Electronic Frontier Foundation staff Andrew Crocker told the Washington Post, a warrant that "extended to include any phone that happens to be on the property, and all of the private data that that entails" could stretch those limits. Fifth Amendment Concerns The Fifth Amendment, on the other hand, protects people against self-incrimination and could apply to warrants for biometrics in certain circumstances. In general, courts have not found fingerprints, by themselves, to be self-incrimination because they aren't "testimonial" in the sense that they don't amount to a statement about something. But does that necessarily mean that officers can force you to use your fingerprint to unlock your phone? Law professor and blogger Orin Kerr looked at three such scenarios and opined that, as long as the officers already know that the phone is yours, the answer is probably yes. At that point your fingerprint would not be telling officers anything they didn't already know, or, as Kerr put it, "No testimonial statement from the person is implied by the act of placing his finger on the reader." But when -- as in the case above that involves a search of a residence with multiple phones and multiple people -- cops don't know which device belongs to whom, being forced to unlock a phone could be testimonial: It amounts to testimony that says, "yes, this is my phone," or at least, "yes, this phone was set to recognize a part of my body as a means of access." It further says: "I am familiar enough with this phone to know that the fingerprint reader was enabled and which part of me was used by me to program the fingerprint reader." According to Forbes, the warrant in this case is "unprecedented," but we may see similar warrants as more people use their fingerprints to secure their smartphones. If you've been subject to a similar search, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Do You Have to Let Cops Search Your Cell Phone? (FindLaw Blotter) Cell-Phone Fingerprint Ruling: 5 Things You Should Know (FindLaw Blotter) Geo-Tracking: Should Phone Location Info Require a Warrant? (FindLaw Blotter)
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How to Legally Challenge an Election

It's no secret that Donald Trump thinks the upcoming presidential is "absolutely being rigged." When given the opportunity to clarify his stance, Trump said, "I would accept a clear election result, but I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result." If the results are "questionable," what would such a legal challenge look like? And what grounds would you need to challenge an election's results? Legal Questions Republican election lawyer Chris Ashby told PBS that it wasn't necessary for Trump to reserve his right to contest the election this far in advance, and "after the election, if there is some evidence that an election of electors in a particular state was tainted by fraud, then he could pursue that." Ashby added: "You can't just say that there was generally fraud. You have to know how many votes either from fraud or by mistake. And it has to be enough votes to cover the margin between the candidates. And so, if you think that you have to go out and actually get this evidence, you have to find voters, you have to election records, and you have to quantify this, and you have to do it in a time period of about a month." So, in order for Trump, the Republican Party, or someone else to legally challenge the results of an election, the election must particularly close and there would need to be credible evidence of fraud or miscounting of votes, enough to cover the margin of victory. State and Federal Questions Even though president is a federal office, voting in federal elections is still run by the states. Each state has its own rules and procedures for counting and contesting votes, and any challenge to the results would occur at the state level. Some state laws may require a manual recount if results are within a certain margin, while others may provide a means for a candidate or party to request a recount. Either way, the challenge would need to be made regarding a particular state's results, and it would need to come quickly. Most states have their own deadlines to certify final election results, and federal law requires all states to certify and report their results within 35 days of the election. Trump would need an extremely tight result, legitimate claims of fraud or mistake, and he would need to, very quickly, follow state-specific procedures for challenging that state's result. So a little bit more than simply not winning. Related Resources: Browse Civil Rights Lawyers by Location (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Why Voter Fraud Doesn't Matter, but Allegations of Rigged Elections Do (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) What Should I Bring to the Ballot Box? An Update on State Voter ID Laws (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) 7 Important Voting Rights Questions (and Answers) (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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What’s the Punishment for Selling Stolen Goods?

The law in every state allows some latitude when it comes to the crime of selling and buying stolen goods. The one factor that can make the most significance is whether buyer or seller knew that the goods were stolen. Although knowledge makes all the difference, however, not knowing generally will not allow a purchaser, nor seller, to keep the proceeds, nor the goods. Depending on the jurisdiction and the value of the goods, certain states can charge the offense as a petty crime. Petty crimes, typically, are misdemeanors, or infractions, that do not carry very stringent sentences. Usually, this is reserved for situations where the value of the goods is less than $500 or $1,000, and did not involve an additional crime, such as a weapons, assault or battery charge. If a seller has no knowledge the goods they are selling are stolen, it is likely they would be treated similarly to a buyer who had no knowledge. Value Matters When a prosecutor is deciding whether to charge a defendant with a misdemeanor or felony for selling stolen goods, the value of the goods is very significant. In California, for example, if the value is less than $950, then selling stolen goods cannot be charged as a felony. However, if there were other crimes committed in conjunction with the sale of the stolen goods, this could change how a prosecutor decides to charge the case. Misdemeanor convictions carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail, while felony convictions can carry sentences of several years or more. Typically, for a felony selling stolen goods charge in California, assuming there are no other crimes, a guilty party could be facing up to one to three years in prison. Under the federal law, selling stolen property across state lines could land you a ten year prison sentence. Business Types Matter If you are a private party found to be selling stolen goods, you may have less to be concerned about than if you are a pawn shop owner or swap meet vendor. In most states, these business operators face stricter regulation when it comes to selling goods.Generally, pawn shop owners and swap meet vendors need to keep track of where and from whom they received the items they sell. Some states require these businesses to conduct a reasonable inquiry into whether the item was legally obtained before they offer the item for sale. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Is It Illegal to Threaten Someone Online? (FindLaw Blotter) Arrested for Vaping? (FindLaw Blotter) Juvenile Carjacker Arrested Twice in 48 Hours (FindLaw Blotter)
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5 Things You Need to Know About Restraining Orders

A restraining order or order of protection can be a person's last resort against threatening or harassing behavior. They can also be a person's only means to stop domestic violence or abuse. In some cases, restraining orders can save lives. In other cases, they can ruin lives or be a tool for harassment. There are two sides to every restraining order, and cops and courts are often caught in between. When properly administered, restraining orders are an important tool in keeping people safe. So here what you need to know about restraining orders: 1. What is a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)? Start with the basics -- a restraining order or protective order is a court order enforceable by police that prohibits contact between two people. In many instance, it forbids one person from coming within a certain distance of another, and in some cases can include additional restrictions regarding gun ownership. 2. How to Get a Restraining Order Many courts publish protective order processes on their websites. Either there or at the courthouse you should find and fill out a petition for a restraining order and file it with the court. Generally the court will set a hearing on the matter and grant a temporary restraining order in the meantime. 3. Legal How-To: Responding to a Temporary Restraining Order A person against whom a restraining order has been filed must receive notice of the order, the conditions, and any future hearings on the matter. Normally, this entails a written response filing and participation in the court hearing, which can include presenting evidence and witnesses. 4. How to Enforce Your Restraining Order in a New State Nobody seems to stay in one place anymore. So does your restraining order follow you when you move to another state? Federal law requires all states to honor and enforce valid protection orders issued by others states, but are there additional steps you need to take? 5. Legal How-To: Appeal a Restraining Order Even though a court has issued a restraining order, that order can still be appealed, amended, modified, or dismissed. A restraining order can be appealed on paper or, more likely, in court, and there are better and worse ways to appeal a restraining order. The best source of information on restraining orders, whether you're thinking of filing one or trying to fight one, is an experienced attorney -- if you've got restraining order questions contact one in your area today. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Legal How-To: Fighting a Restraining Order (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Domestic Violence: Getting a 'Permanent' Restraining Order (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Can Facebook Contact Violate a Restraining Order? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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What Is the Crime of Providing ‘Material Support’ to Terrorists?

When a terrorist act occurs, authorities look to punish the perpetrators. But they also investigate known associations and try to tie the act to people involved in planning: those who provided material support. In the case of the recent San Bernardino, California shootings, for example, federal agents charged Enrique Marquez, 24, according to a statement from the Department of Justice, reported on CNN. Marquez bought the two rifles eventually used in the shooting, apparently in preparation for different terror attacks that never happened. But he is still facing life in prison for his involvement, however passive, in the San Bernardino tragedy that took place earlier this month. What Is Material Support? According to federal law, "whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both." When a death occurs as a result of the support, an unlimited term of incarceration, up to and including life in prison, is available. To qualify as having provided material support, the person must know the organization is a designated terrorist organization or that the organization has engaged or engages in terrorism as defined by statute. So, even if the person is not necessarily aware of their involvement in an act, the fact of having knowingly associated with a terror organization is sufficient for guilt. Material support for terror is a crime for institutions as well as people. Financial institutions are subject to serious fines -- $50,000 per violation or double the amount involved in the transaction -- for possessing or controlling funds from a terrorist organization. Cooperating With the Feds After the San Bernardino shootings, Enriqe Marquez, in Pennsylvania, reportedly called 911, and explained to operators that his once-close friend Syed Farook was behind the California attack, using guns Marquez gave him for storage. Marquez has cooperated with investigators and provided information, officials said. He also checked himself into a mental health facility. His cooperation will probably go a long way to helping Marquez resolve the charges he faces. He says that he ultimately never went through with attacks with Farook and stopped regular contact in 2012 after getting spooked when he heard people get charged for the very crime he is accused of now, providing material support to terrorism. Defense Attorney Necessary If you or anyone you know is charged with a crime, whether at the state or federal level, speak to a criminal defense attorney immediately. Get help. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) What Are Terroristic Threats? (FindLaw Blotter) Making a Bomb Threat: What Can Happen? (FindLaw Blotter)
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Criminal Consequences of Stealing Packages

It is a federal criminal offense to tamper with the mail. So no matter how delightful and intriguing the neighbor's deliveries seem, avoid the temptation to pilfer a package from their porch because you're short on Christmas gifts. Theft of a letter, post card, package, bag, or mail from a US post office or a collection center associated with USPS is subject to fines and up to five years imprisonment, according to the United States Code, Section 1708. Receiving mail that was stolen is similarly punishable. Postal Police The United States Postal Inspection Service is the federal law enforcement and security arm of the Postal Service. It has 3,000 Postal Inspectors and Postal Police Officers charged with safeguarding the nation's mail system and combating mail theft and fraud. The Service has 1,600 Postal Inspectors who investigate postal-related crime, such as identity theft, mail bombs, postal robberies, and burglaries. In an average year, postal police make about 10,000 arrests of criminal suspects, they say. Many of the arrests are for mail theft or possession of stolen mail. Additionally, the Inspectors respond to an average of 900 postal-related assaults and threats, leading to hundreds of arrests. The Service investigates roughly 3,000 mail fraud cases and about 4,000 reports of suspicious substances and items in the mail, including mail bombs. According to the Service, "the overwhelming majority of incidents are nonhazardous." Non-Governmental Deliveries The United States mail belongs to the federal government and is protected by it. But that does not mean that you can steal from other delivery services. Although not all packages come with the heft of the feds behind them, it is still a crime to steal. Last year, a Texas woman caught a man stealing a package from her porch on camera. "Just backed up like they belonged here. Gentleman comes out the back of the car, grabs the package, puts it in the car and they leave," explained the theft victim. The thief was later arrested and charged with theft. Too Tempting? If you do end up charged with theft of mail or any other crime, do contact a criminal defense attorney. Counsel can defend you, whether or not you are guilty. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Theft Defenses (FindLaw) Shoplifting (FindLaw)
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What If I Can’t Pay My Student Loans?

The accumulated student loan debt for all Americans is nearly $1.3 trillion, and rising by the second. And these aren't just people seeking advanced degrees like law and medicine -- some 40 million Americans have some student debt. For many of those who owe money for their education, making payments on those loans is difficult, if not impossible. So what can you do if you can't pay your student loans? Repayment and Settlement Options If you're able to pay some, but not all of your monthly payment amount, you can try restructuring your payments. There are two mains options to help ease your monthly payments:Income-Based Repayment: Some lenders will permit income-based repayments or graduated repayment plans. Income-based repayment (IBR) has been offered since 2009 for federal student loans. The plan is designed to keep loan payments affordable, even if you don't make a substantial income. Monthly loan payments are based upon your income and family size. In general, you should expect to pay 15 percent of your income. The good news is that, under IBR, your loans will be forgiven after 20 or 25 years if you consistently make your payments on time.Settling Your Debts: If your debts are truly out of control, you can try settling with the lender. However, settling student loan debt is notoriously difficult. If you legitimately cannot afford to make payments on your student loans, your options become much more limited. What About Deferment or Forbearance? A deferment on your student loan payments allows you to stop making payments for a specific amount of time, provided you can qualify. A lender may grant a deferment if you can show: Economic hardship. You will need to prove that your income is not sufficient to make payments. Unemployment. You will need to prove your unemployment and/or your search for a job. Re-enrollment in School. You will need to prove your acceptance and continued enrollment in a qualifying educational program. One benefit to a deferment, depending on the type of loan you have, is that it will stop interest from accruing on the unpaid balance during the time you can't make payments. (Although not every loan or lender offers this option.) A forbearance is similar to a deferment, only interest will normally continue to accrue during a forbearance, so your loan balance will be higher when you come out of the forbearance. Forbearances are limited to certain amounts of time and require proof of an inability to meet your loan payments. But a forbearance may be easier to obtain than deferments because they are not always dependant on the type of student loans you have or covered by the rules that apply to deferments. Both deferments and forbearances require you to file applications with your lender, and your eligibility and benefits under deferments and forbearances will vary depending on your loan. Bankruptcy Isn't Much of a Bailout Here's the biggest problem with federal student loans: most student loans can't be discharged through bankruptcy. This means that, in most cases, even if you file for bankruptcy, you'll still owe your student loan debt. In fact, the only way to discharge student loan debt through bankruptcy is to prove that making the loan payments is an undue hardship, a legal standard that is almost impossible to meet. To Default, or Not to Default? The latest information regarding defaulting on your student loans has been confusing at best. It was generally understood that defaulting on federal student loans would produce disastrous consequences: hijacked tax returns, garnished wages, federal lawsuits, and even revoked professional licenses. Conventional wisdom said that all these horrors awaited those with the temerity to stop paying their loans back. But there are stories out there, like urban myths or legends, of people defaulting and turning out fine. These tales include people who ignored the robocalls and potential lawsuits and credit score demolition long enough to have the debt wiped away and their credit restored. One of these fables was recently printed in the New York Times. And of course the obvious backlash followed, noting the extraordinary collection powers of the federal government and the permanence of federal debt. With all of the certainty in this case falling on the side of creditors, those with student loan debt probably shouldn't consider defaulting on that debt as a viable option. Before taking any action on your student loans, you may want to consult with an experienced student loan relief and bankruptcy attorney in your area. Related Resources: Browse Bankruptcy Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) The FindLaw Guide to Student Loan Debt (PDF from FindLaw) Legal How-To: Getting Student Loans Forgiven (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Will Obama's Executive Order on Student Loans Pay Off for You? ...
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