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US sends mixed messages on Saddam's execution
Law & Politics | 2007/01/04 07:45
US forces left security during Saddam Hussein's execution to Iraqi authorities Saturday but would have handled the hanging "differently", US Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said during a press conference in Baghdad Wednesday.

Caldwell said that US-led coalition forces transported Saddam to the execution site, left him in the care of Iraqi authorities, and then withdrew from the premises, and had no part in the searching of witnesses for unauthorized media equipment, including mobile phones and video devices: “We were not involved in any search of any people, we had nobody present, we did not dictate any requirements that had to be followed. … The multinational force had absolutely no direct involvement with that whatsoever.”

The release of an unofficial video of the hanging, allegedly taken by a witness with a camera phone, has prompted protests from Sunnis, outrage outside of Iraq, and an investigation by the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki into its taping and distribution. The video shows that Saddam was taunted by his guards before the hanging took place.

U.S. law firm again at center of big CEO payout
Headline News | 2007/01/03 21:49

Law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz is again at the center of a massive and controversial CEO payout, representing the board of Home Depot Inc.that gave its departing boss a $210 million goodbye.

Wachtell's work for Home Depot marks the third time in recent years that it gave advice to boards during other large payout controversies, including executive ousters at Morgan Stanley and the New York Stock Exchange.

Home Depot confirmed Wachtell is representing its board. Wachtell, a respected New York city corporate law firm led by prominent takeover attorney Martin Lipton, did not respond to a call seeking comment on Home Depot.

The home improvement retailer said on Wednesday that Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Nardelli had resigned after a year of heavy criticism of the company's underperformance and Nardelli's pay package. The company also found past problems with its stock option grants.

Nardelli's $210 million exit package sparked widespread criticism and thrust Wachtell back in the CEO pay spotlight.

Martin Lipton was also chairman of the legal-advisory committee of the NYSE, where former Chairman Richard Grasso was forced out in 2003 after a furor over his $187.5 million pay package.

IRS Warns of Scams and Fraud in 2007
Legal Career News | 2007/01/03 19:41

The dawning of a new year for many is an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and resolve to do more in the months ahead—lose more weight, be more generous, and, of course, make more money. Unfortunately scammers of all stripes will be seeking their own fortunes in 2007, often by preying on the public's general affinity to get something for nothing.

Fraud appears in many ways and robs innocent victims of billions of dollars every year. Mortgage fraud alone is estimated to have cost $1 billion in 2005 and is expected to be a continuing problem in 2007—a recent analysis shows mortgage loan fraud reports rose 35 percent in the past year. Internet fraud last year cost victims $183 million, much of it through bogus online auctions and the non-delivery of goods.

As the new year emerges with its infinite possibilities, add another resolution to the mix-resolve not to be a victim. Don't fall for scams designed to steal your identity or your money. Be vigilant with your personal data, know what scams are lurking, and be mindful of the golden rule "If it looks too good to be true…," which happens to have its own website: lookstoogoodtobetrue.

Here is a short list of scams to be aware of. It is by no means complete, but offers a glimpse of ways scammers try to take what is yours. More information can be found on our Common Fraud Schemes page and at LooksTooGoodToBeTrue. Meanwhile the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) keeps a running list of emerging Internet scams.

The links below describe different types of fraud and offer tips on how to protect yourself:

Telemarketing Fraud: When you give personal or financial information to unknown callers, you increase your chances of becoming a victim of fraud.

Nigerian Letters or "419" Fraud: A letter, often mailed from Nigeria, offers the recipient the "opportunity" to share in a percentage of millions of dollars.

Identity Fraud: The sources of information about you are so numerous that you cannot prevent the theft of your identity. But you can minimize your risk of loss by following a few simple hints.

"Ponzi" Scheme: A Ponzi scheme is essentially an investment fraud wherein the operator promises high financial returns or dividends not available through traditional investments.

Internet Auction Fraud: Understand as much as possible about how an auction works, what your obligations are as a buyer, and what the seller's obligations are before you bid.

Scams Targeting Senior Citizens: The elderly are targeted for fraud for several reasons: they are more likely to have a "nest egg," they are typically more trusting, and they are less likely to report-or realize-they have been scammed.

Mortgage Fraud: It's one of the fastest growing white-collar crimes in the U.S. We list seven common mortgage loan fraud schemes, including "flipping," when property is purchased, falsely appraised at a higher value, and then quickly sold.

Combating major white-collar crime is one of the FBI's top priorities. You can learn more about our efforts on our White-Collar Crime page. And you can do your part to help us by being vigilant and not falling for promises of quick riches in 2007.

Bush Looking Forward to Working with New Congress
Law & Politics | 2007/01/03 19:31

President Bush says the new year brings new opportunities for progress, and he is looking forward to working with the new Congress.

"The Congress has changed. Our obligations to the country have not changed," he said. "Tomorrow, members of the 110th Congress will take their oath of office and I congratulate them. I welcome their arrival into town. I am looking forward to working with them."

President Bush says he is encouraged by what he says have been productive meetings with leaders from both parties. He says it is time to set aside politics and focus on the nation's future.

Democrats won control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in November elections that focused largely on voter discontent over the war in Iraq.

With the president preparing what he says will be a new way forward in Iraq, Democratic leaders plan to start their legislative agenda with domestic issues, including a higher minimum wage.

President Bush says the new Congress should make sure it spends the people's money wisely. He says legislators should reform the federal retirement program and subsidized medical care.

He wants Democrats to give him a line-item veto and to rein in spending on legislative earmarks that direct money to specific projects in members' districts, a tactic that has come to be known as pork-barrel politics.

"One important message we all should take from the elections is that people want to end the secretive process by which Washington insiders are able to get billions of dollars directed to projects, many of them pork-barrel projects that have never been reviewed or voted on by the Congress," he said.

The president says he will send Congress a five-year budget proposal that will balance the federal budget by 2012. He says his proposal will restrain spending, but will continue to fund the fight against terrorism.

Installment Agreement Fee Increases for Taxpayers
Lawyer News | 2007/01/03 19:21

WASHINGTON – Beginning Jan. 1, 2007, the Internal Revenue Service will implement revised user fees for installment agreements. For eligible individuals with income at or below certain levels, the fee for entering new agreements will not increase but remain at the 2006 level.

The Office of Management and Budget has directed federal agencies to charge user fees reflecting the full cost of goods or services that convey special benefits to recipients beyond those accruing to the general public. The installment agreement user fees have not been increased since first implemented in 1995. Increases in labor and other costs of processing have increased the cost of processing installment agreements. 

User fees for entering into a non-direct debit installment agreement will increase from $43 to $105, and the fee for direct debit installment agreements will increase from $43 to $52.

Taxpayers with income at or below established levels, based on the Department of Health and Human Services poverty guidelines, can apply and be qualified to pay a reduced user fee of $43 for establishing new agreements including direct debit installments. Information about requesting the reduced user fee will be included in installment agreement acceptance letter sent to individuals.

The fee for restructured or reinstated agreements will increase from $24 to $45 regardless of income level.

New U.N. secretary-general in early flap
Legal Career News | 2007/01/03 02:15

New UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that resolving the crisis in Darfur was "very high" on his agenda and would be one of his top priorities. Ban, whose tenure as secretary-general officially began Monday, said that he has already spoken to Jan Eliasson, former UN General Assembly President and current Special Representative for Sudan, and that he has a meeting with Eliasson scheduled for Wednesday to discuss the Darfur situation. Ban's predecessor Kofi Annan had in the final weeks of his own term pressed UN bodies - especially the new UN Human Rights Council - to focus more on Darfur.

Ban, however, took a different approach, never mentioning the U.N. ban on the death penalty in all its international tribunals, and the right to life enshrined in the U.N. Charter.

"Saddam Hussein was responsible for committing heinous crimes and unspeakable atrocities against Iraqi people and we should never forget victims of his crime," Ban said in response to a reporter's question about Saddam's execution Saturday for crimes against humanity. "The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide."

His ambiguous answer put a question mark over the U.N.'s stance on the death penalty. It also gave the new chief an early taste of how tricky global issues are, and how every word can make a difference.

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