National Roundup

2 plead guilty to role in nationwide phone scam

PITTSFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Two men who participated in an elaborate phone scam that cheated people from across the nation have agreed to repay their victims but avoided time behind bars, Massachusetts prosecutors said.

Ajaykumar Chaudhari, 26, of Pownal, Vermont, and Jitendra Chaudhari, 29, of Williamstown, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty in Berkshire Superior Court to larceny and attempt to commit larceny, according to a statement Wednesday from the office of Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington. They were arrested in June 2020.

The guilty pleas were filed by the court, meaning the defendants won’t be sent to jail as long as they stay out of additional legal trouble.

They, together with a third defendant, have agreed to pay more than $200,000 in restitution. That third defendant, Parth Chaudhari, pleaded guilty to the same charges in December and was sentenced to time served. The restitution money has already been secured, prosecutors said.

All three men are members of the same family, the district attorney’s office said.

“The victims in this case overwhelmingly supported a resolution that would return the most money in the most timely manner while sparing them, many of whom are aging and live out of state, from having to travel to Massachusetts to testify,” Harrington said in a statement.

The three men, sometimes posing as government employees, targeted about 20 victims, some of whom sent packages of cash, often to an address in Adams, Massachusetts, prosecutors said.

In one case, they told the victim their Social Security number had been compromised and they needed to send money to fix the problem, according to the DA’s office. Victims came from multiple states including California, Missouri, Ohio and Virginia, prosecutors said.

Adams police started investigating in March 2020 after getting tips from out-of-state law enforcement agencies.

During the investigation, victims and law enforcement intercepted packages of cash together worth more than $100,000.


County, governor spar over protests at justices’ homes

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Fairfax County officials have rebuffed a request from Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin to establish a security perimeter around the neighborhoods of U.S. Supreme Court justices living in the county after some have faced protests outside their homes.

Youngkin, a Republican, made the request Wednesday in a letter to the county board of supervisors. “I fundamentally believe such demonstrations and picketing should not be allowed at the Justice’s (sic) homes as they are meant to intimidate and influence the Justices,” he wrote.

Three Supreme Court justices — Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett and Clarence Thomas — live in the county. Justices living in and outside the county have been confronted with protests outside their homes since a draft of Alito’s opinion that would overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion-rights decision was leaked.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said Youngkin’s request for a security perimeter is unnecessary and improper. He said establishing a perimeter would amount to creating an unconstitutional neighborhood “checkpoint” that would infringe on First Amendment protest rights. He also noted that protests that have occurred outside Alito’s home in the Fort Hunt neighborhood have been peaceful.

“We will enforce laws that serve to protect persons and property,” McKay wrote. “Our officers are equally committed to protecting the First Amendment guarantees afforded to those who gather to exercise their freedom of speech.”

Fairfax County Police, for their part, said through a spokeswoman that they’re providing extra staffing in response to reports of planned protests “to maintain the safety and security of the public, while ensuring First Amendment rights are protected.”

Youngkin also joined Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan in calling on federal law enforcement entities to “take the lead and provide sustained resources” to protect the justices and ensure the neighborhoods are secure in the weeks and months ahead.

In a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, the governors called on the Department of Justice to enforce a federal law that prohibits “pickets or parades” with the intent to influence a judge.

Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement Wednesday that Garland continues to be briefed on security matters related to the Supreme Court and justices. He noted that Garland had directed the U.S. Marshals Service to help support the Marshal of the Supreme Court and Supreme Court Police.

Timber company settles suit for $600K over water violations

LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) — Timber company Weyerhaeuser will pay $600,000 after reaching a settlement with conservation group Columbia Riverkeeper, despite denying allegations it had broken Washington state water quality laws.

The Daily News in Longview reported Riverkeeper in March sued Weyerhaeuser NR Company’s Longview mill.

Under the settlement reached this week, the timber company will pay $600,000 to Seeding Justice for its Columbia River Restoration Fund. Each violation after the agreement goes into effect will cost Weyerhaeuser $5,000.

“While we acknowledge the stormwater exceedances stemming from one or more of the facilities at the site, we did not break the law and continue to deny any wrongdoing related to this issue,” Weyerhaeuser Public Affairs Manager Mary Catherine McAleer said in a statement. 

Weyerhaeuser also was ordered to pay about $119,000 to cover Riverkeeper’s legal costs.

Weyerhaeuser by Dec. 31 must also reroute one of its stormwater pipes so it no longer flows into the Columbia River and instead goes to a waste treatment plant, according to court documents.

The court also ordered the company to install aerators, one or more flow meters with monitoring probes, particulate streams and biochar sock filters at its facility.

The U.S. Department of Justice has 45 days to review the settlement and after that a federal district court judge must approve the agreement.

“People rely on the Columbia for clean water and strong salmon runs,” Riverkeeper staff attorney Simone Anter said in a news release. “No corporation, including Weyerhaeuser, has the right to flout the law and pollute this irreplaceable river. The requirements of this agreement will see significant steps to reduce pollution at this massive facility.”

Riverkeeper sued Weyerhaeuser on grounds it had violated the Clean Water Act.