Santa Fe, Sep 1 (AP/UNB) — The FBI on Friday arrested five former residents of a ramshackle compound in New Mexico on firearms and conspiracy charges as local prosecutors dropped charges in the death of a 3-year-old boy at the property.
Taos County District Attorney Donald Gallegos said his office will now seek grand jury indictments involving the death.
He said seeking indictments will allow more time to gather and analyze evidence, and enable his office to avoid calling juveniles from the compound as witnesses in court.
Three of the adults from the compound had been released Wednesday after state judges dismissed child neglect charges, noting that prosecutors missed deadlines to present evidence and that charges may have been improperly filed by the sheriff and prosecutors.
Deadlines loomed in state court next week to show evidence backing up charges of child abuse resulting in death against Jany Leveille and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, the father of the boy whose body was found in an underground tunnel at the compound near the Colorado border.
Those charges were subsequently dropped Friday in lieu of taking the case to a grand jury set to convene in late September.
"Going to a grand jury allows us to get that information and vet it and not be under the 10-day window, which is quite burdensome," Gallegos said, describing state rules on due process for jailed defendants that require a quick showing of probable cause that a crime was committed.
All five people arrested by the FBI will remain in custody pending a Tuesday hearing in federal court.
Joe Shattuck, an Arizona-based criminal defense attorney who has practices in New Mexico, described the firearms possession and conspiracy as "low hanging fruit" that keeps all five defendants behind bars.
"The feds are looking to get their thumbs into the pie — they may want to get deeper into the case later," said Shattuck, who is not involved in the case.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Albuquerque said Leveille has been charged with being an alien unlawfully in possession of firearms and ammunition.
The other four people are charged with conspiring with Leveille. They include Lucas Morton; his wife, Subhannah Wahhaj; and her sister Hujrah Wahhaj
Federal immigration authorities have accused Leveille, a native of Haiti, of residing illegally in the U.S. for 20 years after overstaying a visitor's visa, though she was authorized to work in the U.S. from April 2017 through April 2018.
In federal court filings on Friday, the FBI said handguns, rifles and a shotgun found at the compound were purchased by Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj, while one rifle had no purchaser information.
Some firearms were transported in a vehicle registered to Leveille during a portion of the family's journey from Georgia to New Mexico in late 2017, and guns were later stored under Leveille's bed. An unnamed child at the compound saw Leveille train with a gun once and fire it, the FBI said.
Kelly Golightley, a defense attorney for Leveille, said she was unfamiliar with the new charges and could not immediately comment.
"I need to investigate my cases more thoroughly to determine if charges were properly filed," she said.
Eleven children were taken into state custody in an Aug. 3 raid on the squalid compound, where a half-submerged camper was surrounded by walls of used tires and adobe walls topped with broken glass.
Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said the property was under surveillance since May, and that he launched the raid based on an intercepted message that children were starving. A district court judge says authorities have failed to provide evidence that the children were physically neglected.
Authorities say that Abdul-ghani, the deceased boy found at the property, initially was reported missing by his mother last year from Jonesboro, Georgia, after Siraj Ibn Wahhaj said he was taking the child to a park and didn't return.
Forensic medical investigators have not yet identified the cause and manner of the boy's death.
Law enforcement officials previously accused Wahhaj and Leveille of denying the boy proper medicine and health care before he died in December 2017 during a religious ritual aimed at casting out demonic spirits.
In filings in federal court on Friday, an FBI agent reiterated accusations drawn from accounts by children at the compound that Leveille expected Abdul-ghani to be resurrected as Jesus and provide instruction to "get rid of" corrupt institutions that involve teachers, law enforcement and banks.
Portland, Sep 1 (AP/UNB) — The only Oregon hospital to offer heart transplants abruptly shut down its program Friday, leaving nearly two dozen patients on its waitlist to seek out-of-state treatment and hundreds of others in limbo for post-operative care.
It came just two days after Oregon Health & Science University in Portland said it was putting its program on hold for two weeks as it sought to replace three heart failure transplant cardiologists who had left or would be gone by Sept. 30.
The decision by the leaders of the 32-year-old program is unusual. Nationwide, only a handful of other heart transplant programs have shut down because of staffing issues or poor success rates.
Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center in Houston temporarily closed its world-renowned program in June after The Houston Chronicle and ProPublica investigated the departure of several key doctors and an unusual number of patient deaths in a few years.
Hospitals in Philadelphia, South Carolina and Nashville, Tennessee, also have halted their programs, but all have since reopened, The Oregonian/Oregonlive reported earlier this week.
In Oregon, the doctors are leaving for family and personal reasons, OHSU said.
The hospital initially said it would not accept donor hearts, do transplants or accept or evaluate new heart transplant patients for 14 days. It said, however, that the program's remaining doctor could handle post-operative care for patients who have already had the surgery.
But Thursday, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported that the final doctor also was leaving.
The hospital said in a statement Friday that all 20 patients on its waitlist will transfer to programs at other hospitals or have decided not to transfer but wait it out.
OHSU said it's aggressively recruiting heart specialists, but it was unclear if or when the program would reopen.
The University of Washington said eight patients have already been accepted into its program in Seattle.
An additional 327 patients who have had the surgery are being evaluated to determine the best way forward, the Oregon hospital said. Five others who were being evaluated for possible inclusion on the heart transplant waitlist were meeting with staff to decide what to do, it said.
The hospital also was encouraging patients who have left-ventricular assist devices, or LVADs, to seek care elsewhere. The devices keep the heart pumping as it weakens and are considered a bridge to a heart transplant.
The hospital's other cardiac programs and its liver, kidney and pancreas transplant programs were not affected.
The Portland hospital performed 30 heart transplants last year, compared with 18 in 2016, according to federal data. There are 3,930 people awaiting new hearts on the national transplant list.
The facility is not the first to run into trouble with its heart transplant program.
In 2016, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia paused its program for several months while it recruited new surgeons and cardiologists, the newspaper reported.
The Medical University of South Carolina halted its program in 2014 after a patient died and other transplant recipients had weak hearts. It resumed the following year.
St. Thomas Health in Nashville suspended its heart transplant program in 2011 when key staff left. It took five years to restart it.
Sao Paulo, Sep 1 (AP/UNB) — A majority of justices on Brazil's electoral court voted late Friday to bar ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from running in October's presidential election, virtually ending any chance that the front-runner will get on the ballot.
The decision, while long expected, leaves tens of millions of voters without a candidate and adds uncertainty to the race to lead Latin America's largest nation.
After several hours of debate late Friday, five justices had voted against da Silva's candidacy and just one in favor. One more was still to vote, though the majority was enough to seal da Silva's fate.
Da Silva was wildly popular as president of Latin America's largest nation between 2003 and 2010. U.S. President Barack Obama once called him the "most popular politician on earth." But da Silva and his Workers' Party have lost much of that appeal over the last several years amid a sprawling corruption probe that has ensnared many top businessmen and politicians, including da Silva.
Da Silva, serving a 12-year-sentence for corruption and money laundering, is the front-runner despite being in jail. Under Brazilian law, da Silva is ineligible to run because his conviction was upheld on an initial appeal. But da Silva and supporters had hoped the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which makes final decisions on candidacies, would allow him to run.
Da Silva has long argued that he should be allowed to run because his conviction was a sham. Judge Sergio Moro convicted da Silva of trading favors with construction company Grupo OAS in exchange for the promise of a beach house apartment.
Supreme Court Justice Luis Roberto Barroso cast the first vote, saying barring da Silva was "very simple" due to the conviction and upheld appeal.
He said the Workers' Party should replace da Silva within 10 days, and he should not appear as a presidential candidate in free airtime that is given to political parties on nationwide TV and radio starting on Saturday
Da Silva's lawyers complained the court was rushing a decision because they submitted their defense only on Thursday, noting that the court rarely holds sessions on Fridays.
With da Silva out, former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad was expected to take his place on the Workers' Party ticket. Currently Haddad is candidate for vice president. Polls show tepid support for his bid as replacement, but the party hopes da Silva's popularity could boost the former mayor's hopes.
Washington, Sep 1 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump "nodded with approval" at the suggestion of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a court filing Friday night that seeks leniency for a former campaign aide who lied to the FBI.
Lawyers for George Papadopoulos are seeking probation, saying the foreign policy adviser misled agents during a January 2017 interview not to harm an investigation but rather to "save his professional aspirations and preserve a perhaps misguided loyalty to his master."
Papadopoulos is a pivotal figure in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation as the first Trump campaign aide to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors. The revelation that he'd been told by a professor during the campaign that Russia had "dirt" on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of emails helped trigger the FBI's counterintelligence investigation in July 2016 into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The 16-page defense memo paints Papadopoulos as an eager-to-please campaign aide who was in over his head and aims to counter the prosecution's narrative that Papadopoulos's deception irreparably damaged the investigation.
The defense lawyers say Papadopoulos was hired by the campaign in March 2016 despite having no experience with Russian or U.S. diplomacy. That month, he traveled to Italy and connected with a London-based professor who introduced him to a woman described as a Putin relative. That professor, Joseph Mifsud, would later tell him that individuals in Moscow possessed "dirt" on Clinton.
"Eager to show his value to the campaign," defense lawyers say, Papadopoulos suggested during a meeting with Trump and his foreign policy advisers that same month he could leverage his newfound Russian connections to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin.
"While some in the room rebuffed George's offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it," defense lawyers wrote.
That language is a reference to Jeff Sessions, who at the time was a Republican senator from Alabama and key campaign aide and later became the Trump administration's attorney general.
Defense lawyers acknowledge that Papadopoulos "lied, minimized, and omitted material facts" to the FBI about his foreign contacts, saying, "Out of loyalty to the new president and his desire to be part of the administration, he hoisted himself upon his own petard."
But they rejected the idea that those lies impeded the investigation, calling that argument by prosecutors speculative.
They also argued that he participated in four proffer sessions with prosecutors and provided important information, including a description of the March 31, 2016 meeting at which he proposed to arrange a meeting with Putin.
Charlotte, Sep 1 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump says the prospect of North Carolina drawing new congressional districts just weeks before the November midterm elections is "unfair."
A panel of federal judges this week struck down the state's congressional map, saying Republican state legislators went too far in using political data to preserve GOP-held seats. The judges raised the possibility of drawing new districts by mid-September so they can be used in the Nov. 6 elections, or at least before the new Congress is seated in January.
Republicans are objecting to the plan, which comes as the party — and Trump — fight to defend the GOP House majority.
Trump addressed the redistricting issue during a fundraising appearance Friday in Charlotte for a pair of GOP congressional candidates.
"I think it's unfair with this whole redistricting thing they're doing in North Carolina. How unfair is that?" he said.
"It's very unfair. You have an election in a little more than 60 days and they change the district on you? And you've already won primaries. How does that work? The court system, OK. How does that work?" Trump said. "You've all gone through primaries or most of you have. It's been districted for many years and now you have to redraw lines to have a new district even though you won a primary in another district?"
Trump added: "I don't know. There has to be something going on there."
Before arriving at the country club fundraiser for GOP House candidates Rep. Ted Budd and Mark Harris, Trump held a separate event where he signed an executive order directing the Labor and Treasury departments to help small businesses band together to offer retirement plans to their workers.
Trump asked the departments to take steps to eliminate regulatory hurdles that he said keep small businesses from sharing costs so they can offer what are called association retirement plans. He said administrative costs and other barriers discourage small businesses from making retirement plans available to their employees.
"They'll be banding together. They'll have such strength," Trump said. "They'll be able to negotiate incredible deals."
Most Americans use plans offered by their employers to save for retirement. But about one-third of all private-sector workers, and just under a quarter of all full-time workers in the private sector, lack access to workplace retirement plans, James Sherk, assistant to the president for domestic policy, said Thursday.
The problem is more acute among businesses that employ fewer than 500 people.
About half of workers at these businesses don't have access retirement plans, Sherk said. He referenced surveys in which more than one-third of small- and medium-sized business that don't offer retirement plans cited high costs as the main reason.
The fundraiser also benefited the state Republican Party and the National Republican Congressional Committee. The NRCC said the event was expected to draw 300 people and raise $750,000.