National Roundup

Last defendant pleads not guilty in BP fraud case

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - The last of seven defendants in a BP claims fraud case, 33-year-old Thi Houng Le, has pleaded not guilty to 95 felony charges.

The Sun Herald reports Le was represented in U.S. District Court on Monday by Public Defender John Weber because, she said, she could not afford an attorney. Weber said he has been representing the Grand Bay, Alabama, resident for two years.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert H. Walker released Le, 33, on an unsecured bond of $25,000, which she will have to pay in cash if she fails to appear in court.

All seven defendants are scheduled to be tried together in the court term beginning Dec. 7, although they could ask for more time to prepare their cases.

The government alleges the seven defendants, including San Antonio attorney Mikal Watts, conspired to submit fraudulent claims over the BP oil catastrophe in April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. The indictments outlines 95 charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, identity theft and aggravated identity theft filed against all seven defendants.

Two charged are employees of Watts' law firm Watts, Guerra and Craft: Mikal Watts' brother David Watts and mass-injury coordinator Wynter Lee, neither of whom are attorneys. The other defendants are Gregory P. Warren of Lafayette, Louisiana, who partnered with Le to set up a Biloxi office for handling BP claims; Hector Eloy Guerra of Weslaco, Texas, who ran a company called JEG Development; and Thi Hoang "Abbie" Nguyen of Grand Bay, Le's sister-in-law, who allegedly worked with the Biloxi claims operation.

Nguyen is the only other defendant with a court-appointed attorney.

Mikal Watts allegedly paid Warren, Le and Nguyen more than $10 million for gathering names and personal information used in BP claims. The indictment outlines more than $3 million in payments to Guerra. The payments were wired to an unnamed Jackson attorney, who then wired the money to Warren, the indictment alleges. Warren and Le were partners in K&G Consulting, the company that set up the Biloxi claims office, according to the government.

The law firm's BP client roster allegedly included 40 individuals identified as deckhands on commercial fishing vessels and one owner of a commercial vessel, none of whom actually worked in the industry and one of whom had died in 2007. In addition to the 41 unnamed victims, the indictment says four other claimants died before the catastrophe and a fifth, "Lucy Lu" was a dog.

The indictment also outlines emails indicating the Watts brothers knew there were problems with the claimants whose names were being submitted. In all, the law firm said it represented more than 41,000 BP claimants. In the end, the government contends, only four of the claimants were eligible for BP payments.

Sheriffs oppose Guantanamo detainee transfer

DENVER (AP) - Fifty sheriffs in Colorado have written to the White House to oppose any plan to move detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention center to prisons in the state.

The letter sent Monday says that Colorado would be in danger if the Pentagon sends Guantanamo detainees to either of two prisons under consideration in the central part of the state.

The sheriffs say that although the prisons are capable of securing the detainees, the action would attract "sympathizers who would mount an attack ... or commit other acts of terror."

The letter includes most of Colorado's 64 sheriffs.

The Pentagon also is looking at sites in Kansas and South Carolina for its proposal to move some 53 detainees eligible for transfer. Congress would have to approve the Pentagon's plan.

Hospital not lia­ble for post on patient's STD

CINCINNATI (AP) - A judge has found that a Cincinnati hospital is not liable for a worker's Facebook post that included a screenshot of a patient's medical records showing she had a sexually transmitted disease.

The University of Cincinnati Medical Center employee posted records in 2013 on a Facebook group with a name that includes a derogatory name for women considered promiscuous. The records listed the woman's diagnosis as "maternal syphilis." She was pregnant.

The patient sued the hospital, her former boyfriend and the now-former employee last year.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge on Monday found that the employee wasn't acting within the scope of her employment and that the hospital needs to be dropped from the lawsuit.

The patient's attorney says he expects an appeal.

Man who shot wife claims self-defense

MIAMI (AP) - Opening statements are set in the murder trial of a Florida man who says he shot his wife in self-defense before allegedly posting a photo of her body on Facebook.

A jury was seated Monday to hear evidence in the case of 33-year-old Derek Medina in the August 2013 killing of 27-year-old Jennifer Alfonso. Opening statements are scheduled for Tuesday in Miami-Dade circuit court.

Defense attorneys say the self-defense claim centers on evidence that Alfonso abused drugs, battered her husband and was involved in Satan worship. Prosecutors say that Medina shot his wife coldly during an argument and that he was an accomplished boxer with little to fear from his wife.

Medina faces life in prison if convicted. After the shooting, authorities say Medina uploaded a photo of Alfonso's body on Facebook.

Bookmaker dies in federal prison of cancer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A convicted Philadelphia-area bookmaker whose operation took high-dollar sports bets online or through offshore call centers has died in a federal prison medical center.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports Joseph Mastronardo Jr. died Monday afternoon at the Federal Medical Center, Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts.

Mastronardo, the son-in-law of late Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, was sentenced to 20 months in prison in February after pleading guilty to racketeering, illegal gambling and money laundering charges.

A 2012 raid of Mastronardo's sprawling estate in Abington turned up $1.1 million in cash in the yard, and more money hidden inside.

Mastronardo was 65 and had recently suffered from throat cancer, pneumonia and a stroke.

His defense attorney, John Morris, had argued that sentencing Mastronardo to prison would likely amount to a death sentence.

Published: Wed, Nov 11, 2015