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New York City Public School Employee Pleads Guilty
Court Feed News | 2006/12/15 16:37

A New York City Public School custodial engineer pleaded guilty today to conspiring to defraud the New York City Department of Education and its predecessor, the Board of Education of the City of New York (collectively NYCDOE), the Department of Justice announced.

Kenneth Loeffler, a custodial engineer and resident of Valley Stream, N.Y., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to participating in a conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with a kickback scheme used to defraud NYCDOE. Beginning in approximately July 1997 and continuing until at least June 2003, Loeffler received approximately $6,000 in kickbacks in exchange for allocating contracts for industrial cleaning and maintenance supplies to companies associated with his two unnamed co-conspirators. These kickbacks were paid through cash, dinners and tickets to sporting and theater events. “The Antitrust Division will prosecute anyone who subverts the competitive process, particularly where public monies are involved,” said Thomas O. Barnett, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department’s Antitrust Division.

As a NYCDOE custodian, Loeffler was responsible for purchasing goods and services necessary for the maintenance of NYCDOE schools to which he was assigned. In July 1999, NYCDOE began requiring its custodians to engage in competitive bidding before making purchases or awarding contracts worth more than $250 to vendors who were not on NYCDOE’s list of approved vendors and to award contracts to the bidder who provided the “maximum quality for the minimum price.” Also under the competitive bidding policy, employees are required to submit bid summary sheets for each purchase and to get written bids for purchases or contracts worth more than $5,000.

After NYCDOE’s implementation of the competitive bidding policy, Loeffler accepted kickbacks in exchange for ensuring that he would not invite potential competitors who were not co-conspirators to bid on contracts awarded by NYCDOE schools for industrial cleaning and maintenance supplies, the Department said. Also, the Department said that some of the kickbacks Loeffler received were the result of his participation in a phony invoice scheme whereby NYCDOE paid for supplies delivered only in part or never delivered at all.

Today’s case is the second to arise out of an ongoing investigation of fraud and bidding irregularities in the award of contracts for industrial cleaning and maintenance supplies being conducted by the Antitrust Division, the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In November 2006, a former NYCDOE custodial engineer pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in connection with participating in a similar kickback scheme.

Loeffler is charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 371, which carries a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victim, if either of those amounts exceeds the statutory maximum fine.

Antitrust Division Announces Merger Review
U.S. Legal News | 2006/12/15 10:34

WASHINGTON-- The Antitrust Division announced today that it is amending its 2001 Merger Review Process Initiative in order to further streamline the merger investigation process to improve the efficiency of the Division's investigations while reducing the cost, time and burdens faced by parties to transactions that are reviewed by the Division.

"Efficient merger enforcement" reaching the right answers as quickly as possible with the least burdens necessary  "is one of our top priorities," said Thomas O. Barnett, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department's Antitrust Division. "The amendments to the Division's already successful Merger Review Process Initiative are part of our ongoing efforts to reduce enforcement burdens, while at the same time preserve our ability to conduct thorough investigations and protect consumers from anticompetitive transactions."

The goal of the 2001 Merger Review Process Initiative was to help the Division identify critical legal, factual and economic issues regarding proposed mergers more quickly; facilitate more efficient and more focused investigative discovery; and provide for an effective process for the evaluation of evidence.

The amended initiative is the culmination of an extensive internal review of the Division's best practices for investigating mergers and acquisitions, as well as an analysis of the progress the Division has made since first launching its initiative.

The amendments announced today include a voluntary option that will enable companies to reduce significantly the duration and cost of merger investigations. The new option would limit the document search required by a Division information request, known as a "second request," to certain central files and a targeted list of 30 employees whose files must be searched for responsive documents. This option will be made available to parties to most transactions that are reviewed by the Division, and will be conditioned on certain timing and procedural agreements that, among other things, protect the Division's ability to obtain appropriate discovery should it decide to challenge the deal in federal district court.

The Division is also changing its model second request to reduce compliance burdens further. For example, the default search period, which is currently three to four years depending on when the request is issued, will be reduced to two years prior to the date of the request's issuance. The changes also include other limitations that will reduce the volume of materials that companies must collect, review, and produce in response to a second request.

The 2001 initiative enabled the Division to deploy its investigative resources more efficiently and effectively and reduce the investigative burden placed on parties to transactions that are reviewed by the Division. Largely as a result of the initiative, in an increasing number of matters the Division has been able to focus its investigations on discrete dispositive issues. The result has been an improvement in how quickly the Division is able to close investigations into transactions that prove not to be anticompetitive, which enables the Division to focus its resources more effectively on those transactions that do threaten competition. The number of days that pass from the opening of a preliminary investigation to the early termination or closing of the investigation, on average, has fallen from about 93 days to 57 days since the initiative was first announced.

US Senator challenges war on terror methods
Legal Career News | 2006/12/14 15:46

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy Wednesday laid out an ambitious agenda for the reshuffled Senate Judiciary Committee he will chair when the Democratic-controlled US Congress begins its new session in January. Speaking at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, Leahy, who will take over from current Republican chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), promised what he called "an agenda of restoration, repair and renewal: Restoration of constitutional values and the rights of ordinary Americans. Repair of a broken oversight process and the return of accountability. And renewal of the public’s right to know."

The veteran senator from Vermont said that oversight of the FBI and the Department of Justice would be among his top priorities in an effort to restore checks and balances to a government dominated by executive "unilaterialism." In the process, he said he wanted to give more effective protection to American's privacy rights in the face of security-driven government data collection and data-mining, to support the independence of the judiciary, and restore fundamental protections for human rights that had been most recently eroded in the Military Commissions Act, which he labeled a "sweeping, ill-conceived law" that in its elimination of habeas corpus protections for alien "enemy combatants" had "eliminated basic legal and human rights for 12 million lawful permanent residents who live and work among us, to say nothing of the millions of other legal immigrants and visitors whom we welcome to our shores each year."

Nebraska's Ban On Corporate Farming Shot Down
Headline News | 2006/12/14 15:44

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled Wednesday that a 1982 ban on corporate farming in Nebraska is unconstitutional because it violates the dormant commerce clause. The federal appeals court upheld a lower court decision, which was appealed by the state attorney general. As described by the appeals court, the ban "prohibits corporations or syndicates (non-family-owned limited partnerships) from acquiring an interest in 'real estate used for farming or ranching in or engaging in farming or ranching,' with certain exceptions," and the court found that this "discriminates against out-of-state entities both on its face and because of its discriminatory intent."

The lower court also ruled that the corporate farming ban violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because it requires at least one member of the family who owns the farm to be involved with day-to-day physical farming activities, but the appeals court did not address this issue. Nebraska could appeal Wednesday's decision to the US Supreme Court, but in 2004 the high court refused to hear an appeal of a similar ruling from the Eighth Circuit declaring South Dakota's corporate farming law unconstitutional.

Former Enron CEO reporting to prison
Court Feed News | 2006/12/13 17:27

Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling is expected to report to a minimum security federal prison in Waseca, Minnesota to begin a 24-year sentence for fraud, conspiracy and insider trading after a three-judge panel of the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late Tuesday against his application for bail pending appeal of his sentence. Skilling had earlier been allowed to postpone his prison date while the bail application was considered. Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote for the court: Our review has disclosed serious frailties in Skilling's conviction..., difficulties brought by a decision of this court handed down after the jury's verdict, as well as less formidable questions regarding the giving of jury instruction on deliberate ignorance. Yet Skilling raises no substantial question that is likely to result in the reversal of his convictions on all the charged counts. We are not then persuaded that any resulting sentence will likely exceed the expected duration of his appeal.

Overriding of gun-bill veto kills local laws
Court Feed News | 2006/12/13 17:25

The Ohio Senate voted Tuesday to override outgoing Gov. Bob Taft's veto of a bill that will wipe out local gun laws, marking the first time in 29 years the legislature has rejected a gubernatorial veto.

Members of the Ohio Senate voted 21-12 Tuesday to override outgoing Ohio Governor Robert Taft's veto of a revised concealed-carry gun law that Taft claimed would preempt local gun-related legislation in some 80 Ohio communities. The House approved an override last week, making this the first time since 1977 that the Ohio legislature has successfully overcome a veto by the state's chief executive.

In his veto message last week, Taft noted that the new legislation would effectively replace several stricter local legal regimes, including assault weapons bans in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo, and emphasized the importance of allowing local communities to make laws appropriate to their own challenges and circumstances. Supporters of the new legislation have emphasized the importance of statewide legal uniformity.

A majority of respondents to an Ohio survey said overriding local gun laws was a bad idea, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Hamden, Conn.-Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The vote was the first override by the legislature since lawmakers rejected a veto by Gov. James Rhodes of an election revision bill in 1977.

"The governor strongly believes his veto was the right thing to do and that our cities should have the ability to protect their citizens through reasonable firearms regulation," said Taft spokesman Mark Rickel.

The Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, which opposes concealed carry, accused lawmakers of giving in to the powerful and politically generous National Rifle Association.

"The passage of HB 347 and the override of Gov. Taft's veto is an appalling arrogance against the will of and respect for the people of Ohio to govern themselves," coalition Executive Director Toby Hoover said in a statement.

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