Economist Predicts Growth in World Economy

   LEXINGTON, Mass. - (BUSINESS WIRE) - 12/13/2013 - After wallowing in an economic “soft patch” for the past two years, the global economy is likely to emerge in 2014 with modest growth of 3.3 percent compared with 2.5 percent this year, according to a forecast from Nariman Behravesh, chief economist of IHS.
   “The easing of the twin headwinds of private sector de-leveraging and public sector austerity will bolster the improved outlook, especially for the developed economies,” Behravesh said. “Many emerging economies will also likely enjoy stronger growth in 2014, pulled along by export-led growth to the United States, Europe and China. That said, the global growth rebound is likely to be quite modest.”
   The global growth outlook for 2014 is the summary forecast in Behravesh’s annual Top10 Economic Predictions, which were released on December 12. The U.S. economy is forecast to slowly speed up. The drag from fiscal policy will be less, allowing underlying strengths in the economy -- such as housing, the ripple effects of the boom in unconventional oil and gas production, steady growth of consumer spending, and an uptick in capital spending -- to become more visible, resulting in growth of 2.6 percent in 2014, compared with 1.7 percent in 2013.
   Despite signs of weakness, the European recovery will continue, but at a very sluggish pace. Forecast growth of 0.8 percent will be supported by very accommodative monetary policy, stabilizing labor markets, less emphasis on austerity, improved spending power, better competitiveness in peripheral countries and greater confidence in Eurozone politicians to manage their sovereign debt crisis. Germany and the United Kingdom will grow faster than they did in 2013; Greece, Italy and Spain will struggle to attain positive growth. IHS expects China’s growth to inch up from 7.8 percent in 2013 to 8.0 percent in 2014.
   The government is expected to apply additional moderate stimulus if growth dips below 7.5 percent and stronger stimulus if it goes below 7.0 percent as China looks ahead to problems of an aging population and the consequences of rapid credit growth, including a new housing bubble and rising debt levels.
   The other Top10 predictions include:
  • Other emerging markets will also perform a little better, with real GDP growth strengthening to 5.4 percent in 2014 from 4.7 percent in 2013. U.S. and Chinese growth will be stronger, and the Eurozone will no longer be a drag, resulting in emerging market exports becoming a source of growth. 
  • Unemployment rates in advanced economies will remain high, dropping only to 7.9 percent in 2014 from 8.1 percent in 2013. Improved productivity will erode demand for labor, and aggressive cost-cutting will continue unabated. In the U.S., the unemployment rate is forecast to decline from 7.5 percent in 2013 to 6.6 percent in 2014. 
  • Commodity prices will go nowhere in 2014, as they did in 2013, as gradually strengthening demand is matched by higher production and ample inventories. Inflation will remain a low-level threat. 
  • The Federal Reserve will begin scaling back stimulus, while other central banks will likely wait or provide more stimulus. The Fed is likely to start trimming its bond purchases no later than January 2014. The Bank of England is expected to raise interest rates in the second half of 2014. However, because of continued weak growth, the European Central Bank may engage in another round of Long-Term Refinancing Operations. 
  • Fiscal headwinds, particularly in the U.S. (thanks to the recent budget accord) and Europe will ease. The U.S. federal budget deficit is expected to be unchanged from 2013 to 2014 at just under $700 billion, following a sharp drop from about $1.3 trillion in 2011. Easing fiscal pressure will also be evident in Europe and many of the Eurozone’s crisis economies will be given a little more time to meet their fiscal targets. 
  • The U.S. dollar will strengthen against most currencies because U.S. growth will be strengthening, growth differentials with other advanced economies will be sizable, and the Fed is likely to remove stimulus sooner than most other major central banks. 
  • There will be more upside risk than downside risk for the global economy: Stronger than anticipated growth in the U.S., U.K. and Germany, combined with better emerging markets performance in China, India and Brazil will likely surprise to the upside; instability in the Middle East and North Africa, additional fiscal drag, and disappointing news from emerging markets will persist on the downside. 
  • For 2013, IHS forecast that global growth would hold steady at 2.6 percent and it stabilized at around 2.5 percent. Nine out of 10 predictions for 2013 were on the mark.

Cadiologist Sentenced to 78 Months for Fraud

Patients Given Treatments Deemed to be Unnecessary
   NEWARK, N.J. – 11/30/2013 - A well-known cardiologist and the founder, CEO and sole owner of two large medical services companies in New Jersey and New York was sentenced on Nov. 20 to 78 months in prison and ordered to pay $19 million in restitution for conspiring in a multimillion-dollar health care fraud scheme that subjected thousands of patients to unnecessary tests and potentially life-threatening, unneeded treatment, as well as treatment by unlicensed or untrained personnel.
   The sentence was announced by New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.
   Jose Katz, 69, of Closter, N.J., previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of Social Security fraud arising from a separate scheme to give his wife a “no show” job and make her eligible for Social Security benefits. Judge Linares imposed the sentence in Newark federal court.
   “Katz prized illegal profits over patients to a staggering degree, committing record-breaking fraud and compromising care,” Fishman said. “Prison is an appropriate consequence for ripping off the government and insurance companies through the shocking exposure of patients to unneeded or untrained treatment.”
   As part of his plea agreement with the government, Katz agreed that the loss amount sustained by Medicare, Medicaid and other insurers victimized by the fraudulent billings was $19 million. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General and FBI records indicate the loss amount suffered by the victims is the largest recorded in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut for an individual practitioner convicted of health care fraud.
   According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
   Katz was the founder, CEO and sole equity-holder of Cardio-Med Services LLC (Cardio-Med), and Comprehensive Healthcare & Medical Services LLC (Comprehensive Healthcare). From 2004 through 2012, Cardio-Med had offices in Union City, Paterson and West New York, N.J., and Comprehensive Healthcare had offices in Manhattan and Queens, N.Y. Both Cardio-Med and Comprehensive Healthcare provided cardiology, internal medicine and other medical services to individual patients. During that time period, Katz conspired to bill Medicare Part B, Medicaid, Empire BCBS, Aetna and others for unnecessary tests and unnecessary procedures based on false diagnoses and for medical services rendered by unlicensed practitioners.
   Between July 2006 and February, 2009, Katz spent more than $6 million for advertising on Spanish-language television and radio stations. The ads attracted hundreds of patients to Cardio-Med and Comprehensive Healthcare every day. Overall, Katz was able to bill Medicare and Medicaid more than $75 million for his services from 2005 through 2012.
   Over the course of the conspiracy, Katz ordered and performed essentially the same battery of diagnostic tests for nearly all the patients he treated, regardless of their symptoms. Katz also instructed his non-physician employees to order and perform diagnostic tests for patients of other doctors working at his offices, even though he had not examined those patients and the other physicians had not ordered the tests.
   Most significantly, Katz admitted that he falsified patient charts with fictitious and boilerplate symptoms and falsely diagnosed a majority of his Medicare and Medicaid patients with coronary artery disease and debilitating and inoperable angina. He also admitted to making the diagnoses to justify prescribing and administering an unnecessary treatment for those patients called enhanced external counter pulsation, or EECP. Katz even prescribed EECP treatments for some patients with contraindications for the treatment, therefore subjecting those patients to a substantial risk of serious injury or death.
   From 2005 through 2012, Medicare and Medicaid paid Katz more than $15.6 million just for his EECP treatments, most of which were fraudulent.
   In addition, Katz ordered conspirator Mario Roncal, 62, of Woodland Park, N.J. – who had a medical degree from San Juan Bautista School of Medicine in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but did not have a license to practice medicine in any of the 50 states – to treat patients, knowing he was not licensed. At Katz’s direction, Roncal held himself out to fellow employees and to patients as “Dr. Roncal,” examined new patients as well as Katz’s follow-up patients, ordered diagnostic tests, diagnosed patients with medical conditions and diseases and recommended and prescribed courses of treatment and surgery – including falsely diagnosing patients with angina and prescribing EECP treatments for those patients.
   To conceal this illegal and unlicensed practice of medicine, Roncal forged Katz’s signature on paperwork associated with Roncal’s unlawful medical services, including on patient charts. During the conspiracy, Katz used his own billing numbers to bill Medicare Part B and Medicaid for the illegal services Roncal provided as though they were provided by Katz.
   Roncal was indicted on March 2, 2012, for conspiracy to commit health care fraud. He entered a guilty plea on Jan. 4 and awaits sentencing.
   Katz also admitted to a Social Security fraud scheme in which, from 2005 through 2012, he kept his wife on Cardio-Med’s payroll though she performed little or no work. During the course of the scheme, Katz sent false W-2 forms for calendar years 2005 through 2011 to the U.S. Social Security Administration purportedly reflecting $1,251,604 in earnings for his wife, making her eligible for an estimated $263,000 in Social Security benefits to which she was not entitled.
    In addition to the prison term and restitution, Judge Linares sentenced Katz to serve three years of supervised release.
   U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Thomas O’Donnell; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Inspector in Charge Maria Kelokates; the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Ryan; IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Shantelle P. Kitchen; and criminal and civil investigators with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the investigation leading to today’s sentence. He also thanked the Medicaid Fraud Division of the Office of the New Jersey State Comptroller for its assistance.
   The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott B. McBride of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Health Care and Government Fraud Unit in Newark.
   Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; U.S. Department of Justice

EWG Questions White House, EPA Over Decision

   WASHINGTON, D.C. – 11/26/2013 - The Environmental Working Group has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the White House to learn whether industry improperly influenced the government’s decision to drop two proposals to strengthen public health protections from toxic chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency withdrew the proposals in September after they had been bottled up at the White House Office of Management and Budget for more than a year.
   “Once again red tape appears to have choked EPA efforts to enhance environmental and human health protections, forcing EPA to go back to the drawing board,” EWG’s General Counsel Thomas Cluderay said.
   Under the leadership of former EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, the agency had launched two initiatives to protect the public from toxic chemical exposures, relying on its limited authority under the weak federal law known as the Toxic Substances Control Act. In 2010, EPA proposed a regulation to establish a short list of chemicals thought to pose a risk to public health. Then in 2011, the agency set out to require chemical companies to disclose more information about their products.
   As required by law, EPA submitted the proposals to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the White House’s powerful gatekeeper that oversees rulemaking by federal agencies. The proposed rules never cleared OMB, and on Sept. 6, EPA surprised the public interest groups by abandoning the effort. Officials said the rules had been made unnecessary by other steps EPA had taken and that requiring companies reveal the identity of chemicals in health and safety studies submitted to the agency would cause industry to stop providing its studies.
   The public had no opportunity to weigh in on either initiative because they were never published for public comment, but White House records show that OMB met with a host of special interests to discuss the rules, particularly representatives of the chemical industry.
   “The public deserves to know what hand the chemical industry had in pressuring OMB to hold up, and EPA to fold on, these efforts to protect public health,” Cluderay said. “EWG will use the requested records to answer that very question.”
   EPA’s backpedaling is particularly relevant to the ongoing debate over reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act. The chemical industry is backing the proposed Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013, a deeply flawed bill that, among other defects, would expand companies’ ability to keep information about chemicals confidential.
   Source: Environmental Working Group

COPD Study: Patient-Provider Dialogue Lacking

   (NIH) - 11/23/2013 - Lack of communication between patients and health care providers about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) remains a major barrier to diagnosis of this disease, according to the results of a Web-based survey released on Nov. 15 by the National Heart Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health. More Americans, particularly smokers, are talking to their doctor or health care provider about the symptoms of COPD, which is an encouraging sign that awareness efforts are taking hold. Patients and providers, though, can still do more.
   “A good conversation between patients and providers about COPD can make a real difference for disease sufferers. It’s no secret that early diagnosis and treatment can improve daily living for those who have COPD – but you can’t get there without an open line of dialogue in the exam room,” Director of the NHLBI Division of Lung Diseases Dr. James Kiley said.. “That’s why patients and providers need to be aware of COPD, its risk factors and symptoms, how it affects daily life and what can be done to help get them back to doing the things they love.”
   COPD, which in 2010 surpassed stroke to become the third leading cause of death in the United States, is a serious lung disease which over time makes it harder to breathe. It affects an estimated 24 million Americans, but as many as half of those affected remain undiagnosed. This is partially because symptoms of the disease – such as shortness of breath, chronic coughing or wheezing, production of excess sputum, or a feeling of being unable to take a deep breath – come on slowly and worsen over time, leaving many to dismiss their symptoms and delay seeking diagnosis and treatment until the disease is advanced.
   The survey found a dramatic increase in the numbers of current smokers, a key COPD risk group, who had discussed their symptoms with their doctors - from 42 percent in 2009 to 67 percent in 2013. Overall, 26 percent of adults who reported experiencing these symptoms stated they had not discussed these symptoms with their doctor or health care provider. Physicians also missed opportunities; 82 percent of current smokers who reported symptoms had a conversation with their doctor about their smoking history, but only 37 percent of former smokers, who are also at risk, reported a similar conversation.
   According to the survey, COPD awareness issues contribute to this missed dialogue. For example, three of the top reasons cited by people with COPD symptoms who did not talk to a doctor were “I did not think of it,” “I’ve had these problems for years,” and “these problems will just go way in time.” Also, only 18 percent of symptomatic people who discussed their symptoms heard their provider mention COPD.
   “Regardless of positive developments, the challenge remains that more than one in three Americans do not know what COPD is or how it affects them – and less than half understand that COPD can be treated,” said Kiley. “COPD is the only major chronic disease where deaths are not decreasing. It is critical for people to understand whether they may be at risk and recognize their symptoms as early as possible.”
   Kiley said the NHLBI will continue to lead in public education and outreach, primarily through the COPD Learn More Breathe Better campaign. COPD Learn More Breathe Better, the first national awareness campaign on COPD, aims to improve knowledge among those with and at risk for the disease, as well as health care providers – particularly those in a primary care setting. Now in 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Breathe Better Network of state and local organizations will be conducting activities and events throughout November as part of National COPD Awareness Month. The COPD Learn More Breathe Better campaign also has developed tools to facilitate discussions between providers and patients in the exam room.
   As part of the NHLBI’s broader effort to bolster the federal dialogue on COPD, the institute also recently hosted a workshop attended by representatives from 22 federal agencies and institutes invested in COPD research and education, to discuss ways to enhance the federal response to this serious public health problem. The attendees shared information about current COPD activities and identified areas where collaboration could improve disease prevention, ascertainment, diagnosis, and treatment. The representatives next aim to meet with external, non-federal stakeholders to discuss ways to respond to the growing COPD burden.
   COPD most often occurs in people age 40 and older with a history of smoking. However, as many as 1 in 6 people with COPD have never smoked. COPD also can occur in people with a genetic condition known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency or through long-term exposure to substances that can irritate the lungs, such as dust or fumes.
   COPD is diagnosed with a simple test called spirometry, which can be conducted in a doctor’s office. The test involves breathing out as hard and fast as possible into a tube connected to a machine that measures lung function.
  The NHLBI analyzed the results of the annual HealthStyles survey of public health attitudes, knowledge, practices, and lifestyle habits among a nationally-representative sample of U.S. adults, conducted each year by Porter Novelli, the communications contractor for the NHLBI’s COPD Learn More Breathe Better campaign.
   The latest survey was conducted in summer 2013; results represent a sample of 4,703 U.S. adults, and have a margin of error of 1.4 percentage points. Part of the National Institutes of Health, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) plans, conducts, and supports research related to the causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart, blood vessel, lung, and blood diseases; and sleep disorders.
   The Institute also administers national health education campaigns on women and heart disease, healthy weight for children, and other topics. NHLBI press releases and other materials are available online at 
   Source: National Institutes of Health

FBI Releases Data On Officers Killed in 2012

   (FBI) - 11/15/2013 - According to statistics collected by the FBI, 95 law enforcement officers were killed in line-of-duty incidents in 2012. Of these, 48 law enforcement officers died as a result of felonious acts, and 47 officers died in accidents. In addition, 52,901 officers were victims of line-of-duty assaults. Comprehensive data tables about these incidents and brief narratives describing the fatal attacks are included in the 2012 edition of Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, released today.  
Felonious Deaths
   The 48 felonious deaths occurred in 26 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. The number of officers killed as a result of criminal acts in 2012 decreased by 24 when compared with the 72 officers who died in 2011. The five- and 10-year comparisons show an increase of seven felonious deaths compared with the 2008 figure (41 officers) and a decrease of four deaths compared with 2003 data (52 officers).
   Officer Profiles: The average age of the officers who were feloniously killed was 38 years. The victim officers had served in law enforcement for an average of 12 years at the time of the fatal incidents. Forty-three of the officers were male, and five were female. Forty-two of the officers were white, and six were black.  
   Circumstances: Of the 48 officers feloniously killed, 12 were killed in arrest situations, eight were investigating suspicious persons or circumstances, eight were conducting traffic pursuits/stops, six were ambushed, five were involved in tactical situations, and four were answering disturbance calls. Three of the slain officers were handling, transporting, or maintaining custody of prisoners; one was conducting an investigative activity, such as surveillance, searches, or interviews; and one officer was killed while handling a person with a mental illness.
   Weapons: Offenders used firearms to kill 44 of the 48 victim officers. Of these 44 officers, 32 were slain with handguns, seven with rifles, and three with shotguns. The type of firearm used was not reported in the deaths of two officers. Two officers were killed with vehicles used as weapons, one with personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.), and one with a knife.
   Regions: Twenty-two of the felonious deaths occurred in the South, eight in the West, six in the Midwest, and six in the Northeast. Five of the deaths took place in Puerto Rico, and one officer was killed in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
   Suspects: Law enforcement agencies identified 51 alleged assailants in connection with the felonious line-of-duty deaths. Thirty-three of the assailants had prior criminal arrests, and eight of the offenders were under judicial supervision at the time of the felonious incidents.
Accidental Deaths
   Forty-seven law enforcement officers were killed accidentally while performing their duties in 2012. The majority (22 officers) were killed in automobile accidents. The number of accidental line-of-duty deaths was down six from the 2011 total (53 officers).
   Officer Profiles: The average age of the officers who were accidentally killed was 39 years, and the average number of years the victim officers had served in law enforcement was 12. Forty-five of the officers were male, and two were female. Thirty-six of the officers were white, nine were black, and two officers were Asian/Pacific Islander.
   Circumstances: Of the 47 officers accidentally killed, 22 died as a result of automobile accidents, 10 were struck by vehicles, six died in motorcycle accidents, three were killed in falls, three died in aircraft accidents, two were accidentally shot, and one died in another type of duty-related accident.
   Regions: Twenty-seven of the accidental deaths occurred in the South, nine in the Northeast, eight in the West, and three in the Midwest.
   In 2012, of the 52,901 officers assaulted while performing their duties, 27.7 percent suffered injuries. The largest percentage of victim officers (32.5 percent) were assaulted while responding to disturbance calls. Assailants used personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.) in 80.2 percent of the incidents, firearms in 4.3 percent of incidents, and knives or other cutting instruments in 1.7 percent of the incidents. Other types of dangerous weapons were used in 13.9 percent of assaults.
   Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation release of 10/28/2013

Retail Industry Adds 37,600 Jobs in October

   WASHINGTON-- (BUSINESS WIRE) - 11/10/2013 - The National Retail Federation issued the following statement on October 8 from NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay and Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz on the October jobs report:
   “The latest jobs report, which came in stronger than anticipated, provides some positive indication that the economy and employment situation are steadily improving”
   “It is now incumbent upon policymakers to address our pending fiscal and budgetary questions sooner rather than later. We cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes, which led us to a government shutdown and to the brink of default.”
    NRF calculated retail industry job gains at 37,600 in October, and 295,000 year-over-year, a 2.4 percent increase over 2012. Job gains were seen in every retail sector with the exception of clothing and clothing stores, which witnessed a contraction of 12,500 positions in September.
    In its annual holiday sales and employment forecast, NRF predicted that retailers would see a 3.9 percent increase in sales, and hire an additional 720,000 to 780,000 employees this holiday season.
    “Today’s report puts the U.S. economy in a very positive light heading into the fall and winter seasons,” Kleinhenz said. “The government shutdown had little to no impact on the improving employment situation, which is steadily improving along with GDP. While retailers and businesses are hiring, consumers remain cautious, but we remain steadfast in our belief that consumer confidence and spending will improve.”
    The Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation report showed that the economy added 204,000 jobs in October. Unemployment was calculated at 7.3 percent.
   See: National Retail Federation forecast

Government Prayer Case Before Supreme Court

  WASHINGTON – (ACLU) - 11/6/2013 - The Supreme Court heard arguments on November 6 in Town of Greece v. Galloway, a case challenging a New York town’s practice of regularly starting town meetings with Christian prayer. The challenge was brought by citizens of the town of Greece, N.Y., who felt that Christian prayer was being imposed upon them as a condition of attending public meetings.
   The court previously ruled on this issue in a 1983 decision upholding the Nebraska Legislature’s practice of opening its sessions with a nonsectarian prayer. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief calling on the court to rule in favor of the residents of Greece and overturn the earlier ruling.
   "Government-sponsored prayer is off-limits in every other context, and it shouldn’t be allowed here, either," said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "The court should close this constitutional loophole and keep the government out of the religion business. At the very least, the court should limit the divisive harm of this contentious practice by requiring that official invocations be non-sectarian."
   Art Eisenberg, legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, added: "When a municipality opens its meetings with a religious prayer, it conveys the message that those who do not share the religious views being expressed are regarded as outsiders and are not true members of the community. This is wrong and the court should correct it."   
More information about the case can be found at:

EFF Says Lavabit Subpoena Violates Constitution

   (EFF) - 10/27/2013 - Federal law enforcement officers compromised the backbone of the Internet and violated the Fourth Amendment when they demanded private encryption keys from the email provider Lavabit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) argues in a brief submitted Thursday afternoon to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In the amicus brief, EFF asks the panel to overturn a contempt-of-court finding against Lavabit and its owner Ladar Levison for resisting a government subpoena and search warrant that would have put the private communications and data of Lavabit's 400,000 customers at risk of exposure to the government.
   For nearly two decades, secure Internet communication has relied on HTTPS, a encryption system in which there are two keys: A public key that anyone can use to encrypt communications to a service provider, and a private key that only the service provide can use to decrypt the messages.
   In July, the Department of Justice demanded Lavabit's private key—first with a subpoena, then with a search warrant. Although the government was investigating a single user, having access to the private key means the government would have the power to read all of Lavabit's customers' communications. The target of the investigation has not been named, but journalists have noted that the requests came shortly after reports that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden used a Lavabit email account to communicate.
   "Obtaining a warrant for a service's private key is no different than obtaining a warrant to search all the houses in a city to find the papers of one suspect," EFF Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch said. "This case represents an unprecedented use of subpoena power, with the government claiming it can compel a disclosure that would, in one fell swoop, expose the communications of every single one of Lavabit's users to government scrutiny."
   EFF's concerns reach beyond this individual case, since the integrity of HTTPS is employed almost universally over the Internet, including in commercial, medical and financial transactions.
   "When a private key has been discovered or disclosed to another party, all users' past and future communications are compromised," EFF Staff Technologist Dan Auerbach said. "If this was Facebook's private key, having it would mean unfettered access to the personal information of 20 percent of the earth's population. A private key not only protects communications on a given service; it also protects passwords, credit card information and a user's search engine query terms."
   Initially, Levison resisted the government request. In response, a district court found Lavabit in contempt of court and levied a $5,000-per-day fine until the company complied. After Levison was forced to turn over Lavabit's key, the certificate authority GoDaddy revoked the key per standard protocol, rendering the secure site effectively unavailable to users.
   Since Lavabit's business model is founded in protecting privacy, Levison shut down the service when it no longer could guarantee security to its customers.
   "The government's request to Lavabit not only disrupts the security model on which the Internet depends, but also violates our Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures," EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury said. "By effectively destroying Lavabit's legitimate business model when it complied with the subpoena, the action was unreasonably burdensome and violated the Fourth Amendment."
   The deadline for the government's response brief is Nov. 12, 2013.
   For EFF's full amicus brief, see:

Rating Implications of U.S. Debt Ceiling Crisis

   LONDON - (BUSINESS WIRE) -10/12/2013 - Fitch Ratings spokespersons said they continue believe that an agreement will be reached to end the current political impasse and raise the U.S. debt ceiling. Nonetheless, the U.S. Treasury has said that extraordinary measures could be exhausted as soon as October 17, leaving a cash balance of just $30 billion.
   The treasury would still have limited capacity to make payments after that date but would be exposed to volatile revenue and expenditure flows. As in the debt-ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011, it is useful to outline how Fitch may react to a failure to raise the debt ceiling, and to the potential consequences, including a default on U.S. Treasury securities.
   As we said when the U.S. government shut down on Oct. 1, a formal review of the U.S. sovereign 'AAA'/Negative Issuer Default Rating (IDR) with potentially negative implications would be triggered if the U.S. government has not raised the federal debt ceiling in a timely manner before the treasury exhausts extraordinary measures and cash reserves. In such a scenario, Fitch would consider placing the U.S. sovereign IDR on Rating Watch Negative (RWN), reflecting the increasing risk of a near-term default event. If the U.S. sovereign IDR were placed on RWN, all outstanding U.S. sovereign debt securities would also be placed on RWN.
   A widespread and prolonged delay of payments to suppliers of goods and services to the federal government, including salary payments to federal employees, would not in itself constitute an event of default from Fitch's rating perspective. It would, however, damage perceptions of U.S. sovereign creditworthiness and, if payment delays were extensive on non-prioritized obligations, signal that the U.S. government was in financial distress, with negative rating implications. It would also have a detrimental effect on the economy.
   Fitch would only recognize a sovereign default event if the government failed to honor interest and/or principal payments on the due date of U.S. Treasury securities. In this scenario, Fitch would lower the U.S. sovereign IDR to 'Restricted Default (RD)' until the default event was cured. We would also lower the rating of the affected issue(s) from 'AAA' to 'B+', the highest rating for securities in default in expectation of full or near-full recovery. Debt approaching maturity would be vulnerable to a downgrade.
   Once cured, the U.S. sovereign IDR would be raised to a level reflecting Fitch's assessment of the creditworthiness of the U.S. sovereign. This would reflect the scale and duration of the default, the perceived risk of a similar episode occurring in the future, the likely impact on the U.S. sovereign's cost of funding and cost of capital for the economy as a whole, and the implications for long-term growth.
   Willingness to pay, as reflected in the sovereign debt service record, is an important component of all sovereign credit analysis. Even a short-lived default that did not impair the long-term capacity of the U.S. government to service its obligations would call into question the effectiveness of the country's political institutions in ensuring that sovereign debt obligations are honored in a timely manner. This means that if the U.S. sovereign IDR were lowered to 'RD', it would be unlikely to return to 'AAA' in the short to medium term.
   If the U.S. sovereign IDR were downgraded to 'RD', there would be negative rating consequences for those entities whose issuer and issue ratings are underpinned by U.S. sovereign support, such as the government sponsored entities (GSEs). Any rating impact on those entities would be influenced by the potential path of the U.S. sovereign rating as well as the stand-alone credit profiles of the affected issuers.
   The ratings of U.S. states and municipalities would not be directly affected, reflecting their autonomy and discrete powers and taxing authority, although a limited number of U.S. municipal obligations with direct links with the U.S. rating would be. These include pre-refunded and other municipal bonds secured by AAA rated U.S. government and agency obligations held in escrow and U.S.-guaranteed debt obligations, such as debt guaranteed by the Department of Energy under its renewable energy programs. If Fitch downgrades the U.S. sovereign to 'RD' - following the placement on RWN - that would not necessarily lead to an immediate downgrade of these linked ratings. These ratings would remain on RWN and would not be adjusted until the sovereign rating is ultimately resolved.

Lawyer Sentenced for Securities, Wire Fraud

   (NEW YORK) - 10/4/2013 - Everette L. Scott, Jr., a New Jersey attorney, was sentenced on Sept. 24 in New York federal court to 30 months in prison for engaging in securities and wire fraud in connection with two separate schemes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara recently announced. 
   In the larger of the two schemes, Scott and co-defendant Tyrone L. Gilliams, Jr., solicited and misappropriated $5 million in investments in a bogus U.S. Treasury Strips investment program. In the other scheme, the defendants solicited and misappropriated a $450,000 investment in a Utah coal mine. In addition to buying luxury cars, jewelry, and other items, Gilliams spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of investor money organizing and promoting a multi-day festival in Philadelphia that headlined Sean “Diddy” Combs. Scott and Gilliams were found guilty following a jury trial in February 2013, and Scott was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Deborah A. Batts.
   “With his sentence today, Everette Scott meets the just punishment that befalls an attorney who uses a law license as a vehicle for fraud – time in federal prison,” Bharara said. “This office will continue to make sure the perpetrators of fraud are brought to justice and pay the price for their crimes.”
   According to the Indictment and the evidence presented at trial:
   In 2009 and 2010, Gilliams was the owner of TL Gilliams, LLC, which purported to engage in transactions in commodities like oil and gold. Scott was an attorney at a small law firm in New Jersey and acted as TL Gilliams’s general counsel.
   In the summer of 2010, Gilliams solicited $5 million dollars from two investors for purposes of trading in U.S. Treasury Strips, which are a derivative of U.S. Treasury Bonds. Gilliams and Scott arranged for the investors to make their investments by wiring them into an attorney trust account maintained by Scott’s law firm. Upon receiving the money, Scott – at Gilliams’s direction – misappropriated more than $700,000 to satisfy expenses stemming from an unrelated and failed venture to buy a coal mine in Utah. Scott also claimed $50,000 of the investment money for himself as purported fees. At Gilliams’s direction, Scott transferred most of the remainder to bank and brokerage accounts that Gilliams controlled.
   At most, Gilliams purchased $250,000 worth of Treasury Strips with the more than $4 million in investment money transferred by Scott. Over a span of less than six months, Gilliams spent more than $1.6 million on an unrelated gold investment; more than $200,000 to purchase a commercial warehouse in Denver; at least $100,000 to buy or lease luxury cars; at least $50,000 for construction work on his home; at least $100,000 on luxury hotel and travel expenses; and more than $500,000 promoting two events – “Joy to the World,” involving an album release party with Jamie Foxx at the Vault nightclub in Philadelphia, and culminating in a red carpet, black tie gala at the Philadelphia Ritz-Carlton, headlined for a $120,000 fee by Sean “Diddy” Combs, and the “Gatta Be Jokin’ Comedy Jam,” a December 2010 comedy performance in Nassau, Bahamas.
   Gilliams did not engage in any trading of Treasury Strips and, as a result, did not derive any profits. Nonetheless, during the period when he was spending investor money, Gilliams provided investors with false reports of trades and profits, and made occasional, nominal payments that he falsely claimed represented profits from Treasury Strips trading. Other than these purported profit payments, which totaled approximately $100,000, neither investor received any of his combined $5 million investment back.
   In a separate scheme, Gilliams and Scott arranged in late 2009 for an investor to transfer $450,000 to SCOTT’s attorney trust account, to be held in escrow until used in connection with a venture to purchase the assets of a bankrupt Utah coal mine. Once the money was in Scott’s account, he secretly misappropriated approximately $112,000 by claiming it as purported fees, and transferred the rest to Gilliams or other individuals and entities at Gilliams’s direction. Until August 2010, Gilliams and Scott falsely assured the victim that his $450,000 remained safely in escrow, long after Scott’s escrow account had been emptied. Although the victim repeatedly demanded the return of his funds, Gilliams and Scott pacified him by producing forged bank documents and a false attorney attestation letter written by Scott purporting to show that Gilliams was in possession of the millions of dollars necessary to purchase and operate the Utah coal mine. In August 2010, after an attorney for the victim threatened Scott with professional discipline for his failure to return the escrowed funds, Gilliams and Scott paid the victim $450,000 using funds they raised for investment in Treasury Strips.
   In addition to the prison term, Batts sentenced Scott, 52, of Sewell, New Jersey, to three years of probation. He was also ordered to make restitution in the amount of $1,005,000, and pay a $300 special assessment fee.
   Gilliams is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Batts on Oct. 31, 2013, at 10:30 a.m.
   Source: Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force

Web Tool Expands Access to Info on Chemicals

(EPA) - 9/19/2013 - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a web-based tool, called ChemView, to significantly improve access to chemical specific regulatory information developed by EPA and data submitted under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
   “This online tool will improve access to chemical health and safety information, increase public dialogue and awareness, and help viewers choose safer ingredients used in everyday products,” said James Jones, assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “The tool will make chemical information more readily available for chemical decision-makers and consumers.” 
   The ChemView web tool displays key health and safety data in an online format that allows comparison of chemicals by use and by health or environmental effects. The search tool combines available TSCA information and provides streamlined access to EPA assessments, hazard characterizations, and information on safer chemical ingredients. Additionally, the new web tool allows searches by chemical name or Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) number, use, hazard effect, or regulatory action. 
   It has the flexibility to create tailored views of the information on individual chemicals or compare multiple chemicals sorted by use, hazard effect or other criteria. The new portal will also link to information on manufacturing, processing, use, and release data reported under the Chemical Data Reporting Rule, and the Toxics Release Inventory. In the months ahead, EPA will be continuously adding additional chemicals, functionality and links. 
   When fully updated, the web tool will contain data for thousands of chemicals. EPA has incorporated stakeholder input into the design, and welcomes feedback on the current site. By increasing health and safety information, as well as identifying safer chemical ingredients, manufacturers and retailers will have the information to better differentiate their products by using safer ingredients. 
   In 2010, EPA began a concerted effort to increase the availability of information on chemicals as part of a commitment to strengthen the existing chemicals program and improve access and usefulness of chemical data and information.
   This included improving access to the TSCA inventory, issuing new policies for the review of confidential business information claims for health and safety studies, and launching the Chemical Data Access Tool.  
   The recent launch of the ChemView provides the public with a single access point for information that has been generated on certain chemicals regulated under TSCA. View and search ChemView at:
Source: U.S. EPA

ACLU Lawsuit Prompts NSA Document Release

   NEW YORK (ACLU) - 9/10/2013 - The government today declassified 14 documents relating to legal violations by the NSA’s spying program. The documents were released pursuant to an agreement in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in May 2011. The ACLU’s FOIA request seeks documents related to the government’s use and interpretation of the Patriot Act’s Section 215.
   “These documents show that the NSA repeatedly violated court-imposed limits on its surveillance powers, and they confirm that the agency simply cannot be trusted with such sweeping authority,” ACLU National Security Project Staff Attorney Alex Abdo said. “The abuses revealed in these documents are alarming but also predictable. These violations are the inevitable result of allowing the NSA to assemble a vast database of sensitive information about every American. The documents provide further evidence that secret and one-sided judicial review is not an adequate check on the NSA’s surveillance practices. The so-called ‘compliance incidents’ are troubling, but this is a program that should never have been authorized to begin with. The NSA should end the bulk collection of information about Americans.”
   Yesterday in Washington, Abdo and ACLU Legislative Counsel Michelle Richardson met with members of a group appointed by the Obama administration to review surveillance policies with the stated purpose of ensuring that national security needs are properly balanced with civil liberties.
   The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSA’s mass phone records collection program. Oral argument in the case is scheduled for November 1 in New York.
   The documents turned over today, which include opinions and orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court, were also released to the Electronic Frontier Foundation under a separate FOIA request.
   Information on the ACLU’s Section 215 FOIA lawsuit can be found at:
   Source: ACLU release

Industry Analysts See Overall Food Prices Rise

   Woodland Hills, Calif.  (Business Wire) - 8/31/2013 - Analysts with Great American Group, Inc. report that pricing for meats and dairy products remains higher than average. The trend reflects the continued market response to the 2012 drought, in which pricing for corn used in animal feeds was at a historic high.
   “Increases in meat and dairy products were due to the lingering effects of the drought,” said Ken Bloore, chief operating officer of Great American Group’s Advisory and Valuation Services division. “As a result of higher costs for animal feed, many farmers were forced to sell off their stocks at the height of the drought, thereby lowering the current supply of meat in the marketplace.”
   According to Great American Group’s newest Food Monitor, margins have been increasing for meat and processed foods as many companies have been able to fully pass along price increases to customers. While seafood prices have recently been down, due primarily to excess supply in the market, companies were able to preserve margins by selling off lower-priced inventory at a markup to customers. The drought conditions that plagued U.S. crops last year appear to have abated, and farmers report favorable growing conditions. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) expects a record corn harvest of 13.95 billion bushels this year, an increase of 29 percent from 2012. Lower prices for animal feed would enable farmers to restore their herds to normal levels.
   “A return to normal feed prices would result in ample supplies of animal-based products such as meat and dairy,” explained Bloore. “As a result, food prices could be expected to experience only minimal inflation next year.”
    For more information about industry trends in food, download Great American Group’s latest Food Monitor available on the company’s website at

Genetic overlap seen between mental disorders

   (NIH) - 8/23/2013 - The largest genome-wide study of its kind has determined how much five major mental illnesses are traceable to the same common inherited genetic variations. Researchers funded in part by the National Institutes of Health found that the overlap was highest between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; moderate for bipolar disorder and depression and for ADHD and depression; and low between schizophrenia and autism. Overall, common genetic variation accounted for 17-28 percent of risk for the illnesses.
   “Since our study only looked at common gene variants, the total genetic overlap between the disorders is likely higher,” Naomi Wray said. Wray is with the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, and co-led the multi-site study by the Cross Disorders Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC), which is supported by the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
   “Shared variants with smaller effects, rare variants, mutations, duplications, deletions, and gene-environment interactions also contribute to these illnesses,” Wray said.
   Wray, Kenneth Kendler of Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Jordan Smoller, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and other members of the PGC group reported on their findings on August 11 in the journal Nature Genetics.
   “Such evidence quantifying shared genetic risk factors among traditional psychiatric diagnoses will help us move toward classification that will be more faithful to nature,” Bruce Cuthbert said. Cuthbert is director of the NIMH Division of Adult Translational Research and Treatment Development and coordinator of the Institute’s Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project, which is developing a mental disorders classification system for research based more on underlying causes.
   Earlier this year, PGC researchers — more than 300 scientists at 80 research centers in 20 countries — reported the first evidence of overlap between all five disorders. People with the disorders were more likely to have suspect variation at the same four chromosomal sites. But the extent of the overlap remained unclear. In the new study, they used the same genome-wide information and the largest data sets currently available to estimate the risk for the illnesses attributable to any of hundreds of thousands of sites of common variability in the genetic code across chromosomes. They looked for similarities in such genetic variation among several thousand people with each illness and compared them to controls — calculating the extent to which pairs of disorders are linked to the same genetic variants.
   The overlap in heritability attributable to common genetic variation was about 15 percent between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, about 10 percent between bipolar disorder and depression, about 9 percent between schizophrenia and depression, and about 3 percent between schizophrenia and autism.
   The new found molecular genetic evidence linking schizophrenia and depression, if replicated, could have important implications for diagnostics and research, say the researchers. They expected to see more overlap between ADHD and autism, but the modest schizophrenia-autism connection is consistent with other emerging evidence.
   The study results also attach numbers to molecular evidence documenting the importance of heritability traceable to common genetic variation in causing these five major mental illnesses. Yet this still leaves much of the likely inherited genetic contribution to the disorders unexplained — not to mention non-inherited genetic factors. For example, common genetic variation accounted for 23 percent of schizophrenia, but evidence from twin and family studies estimate its total heritability at 81 percent. Similarly, the gaps are 25 percent vs. 75 percent for bipolar disorder, 28 percent vs. 75 percent for ADHD, 14 percent vs. 80 percent for autism, and 21 percent vs. 37 percent for depression.
   Among other types of genetic inheritance known to affect risk and not detected in this study are contributions from rare variants not associated with common sites of genetic variation. However, the researchers say that their results show clearly that more illness-linked common variants with small effects will be discovered with the greater statistical power that comes with larger sample sizes.
   “It is encouraging that the estimates of genetic contributions to mental disorders trace those from more traditional family and twin studies. The study points to a future of active gene discovery for mental disorders," NIMH Genomics Research Branch Chief Thomas Lehner said.
   Source: National Institutes of Health

Health Data Exchange Growing, New Study Finds

  (NIH) - 8/10/2013 - New research, published on August 5 in Health Affairs, from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), shows that health information exchange (HIE) between hospitals and other providers jumped 41 percent between 2008 and 2012.
   The research – authored by National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Farzad Mostashari, M.D., and ONC researchers – indicates that six in 10 hospitals actively exchanged electronic health information with providers and hospitals outside their organization in 2012.
   The research suggests that electronic health records (EHRs) and health information organizations (HIOs) are complementary tools used to enable health information exchange. Stage 2 Meaningful Use, which requires eligible hospitals to exchange with outside organizations using different EHR systems and share summary of care records during transitions of care, can help accelerate hospital use of HIE as a means to enhance care quality and safety.
   “We know that the exchange of health information is integral to the ongoing efforts to transform the nation’s health care system and we will continue to see that grow as more hospitals and other providers adopt and use health IT to improve patient health and care,” said Dr. Mostashari. “Our new research is crystal clear: health information exchange is happening and it is growing. But we still have a long road ahead toward universal interoperability.”
   Highlights of the new study show:
   Fifty eight percent of hospitals exchanged data with providers outside their organization in 2012 and hospitals’ exchanges with other hospitals outside their organization more than doubled during the study period.
   Hospitals with basic EHR systems and participating in HIOs had the highest rates of hospital exchange activity in 2012, regardless of the organizational affiliation of the provider exchanging data or the type of clinical information exchanged.
   The proportion of hospitals that adopted at least a basic EHR and participated in an HIO grew more than five-fold from 2008 to 2012.
   Between 2008 and 2012, there were significant increases in the percent of hospitals exchanging radiology reports, laboratory results, clinical care summaries, and medication lists with hospitals and providers outside of their organization.
   Eighty four percent of hospitals that adopted an EHR and participated in a regional HIO exchanged information with providers outside their organization.
   One area that the research found needs more attention is that of care summaries and medication lists. The research found that only about one-third of hospitals exchanged clinical care summaries or medication lists with outside providers.
   To see state-level estimates for several of the measures included in the new study, visit ONC’s Health IT Adoption and Use dashboard at The abstract of the Health Affairs study can be found at .
   Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services release.

Investment Fund Chief Pleads Guilty in Scheme

   NEW YORK - July 19, 2013 - Abdul Walji and Reniero Francisco, the chief executive officer and president, respectively, of Arista LLC (Arista), a California investment fund, pleaded guilty on July 2 in New York federal court to defrauding and misappropriating nearly $10 million from more than 35 investors by misrepresenting the nature and performance of the fund, and issuing fraudulent account statements to investors to cover up massive losses, announced Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
   Walji also pleaded guilty to perpetrating a multi-million dollar fraudulent scheme with pension plan funds that he managed through three California-based trusts: Allied Benefits Inc., Allied Benefits Trust, and Stone Lamm Trust (collectively, the Trusts). Both defendants were charged in December 2012, and pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Denise Cote.
    “Abdul Walji and Reniero Francisco told one lie after another in order to squeeze millions of dollars out of their investors, even as they misappropriated nearly $10 million, including at least $2.7 million solely for their own personal benefit,” Bharara said. “Walji even went a step further and orchestrated a second scheme that ultimately cost his victims another approximately $9.5 million. With today’s guilty pleas, they will begin to be held responsible for their actions and repay those wronged by their unlawful conduct.”
   According to the three-count superseding information to which Walji pleaded guilty, the indictment to which Francisco pleaded guilty, the defendants’ plea agreements and other documents in the public record:    
   The Arista Fraudulent Scheme :
   Arista began operations as an investment firm in February 2010, with its principal place of business in Newport Coast, Calif. In April 2011, Arista became a registered commodity pool operator with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and a National Futures Association member.
    In early 2010, Walji and Francisco began to solicit individuals to invest in Arista. From 2010 through 2011, the defendants carried out their fraudulent scheme through three methods. First, Walji and Francisco misrepresented to several Arista investors the nature of the company’s investments and the returns that investors would receive from investing in Arista. For example, Walji and Francisco falsely told investors that their money would be invested in safe, risk-free securities, when in fact much of the money was invested in options and futures. Second, Walji and Francisco sent fraudulent account performance statements to Arista investors that misrepresented the value of their investments. In an effort to secure additional contributions, the defendants also concealed Arista’s trading losses, and told investors that they were profiting from their investments when they were actually losing money. Finally, Walji and Francisco misappropriated at least $2.7 million from Arista’s investors through fees to which they were not entitled, and which Walji and Francisco diverted for their own personal benefit. Based on their false representations, Walji and Francisco collected nearly $10 million from over 35 investors, and they ultimately misappropriated a large portion of the money.
    From early 2008 through June 2013, Walji also perpetrated a separate fraudulent scheme using pension plan funds that he administered. Similar to the scheme set forth above, Walji executed his fraudulent scheme through three principal methods. First, Walji made oral misrepresentations to existing and potential clients of the Trusts concerning: (i) the nature of the Trusts’ pension plan investments; (ii) the investment value and past performance of the pension plans; and (iii) the source of funds distributed to plan participants who had reached retirement and/or who had requested distributions. Second, Walji distributed fraudulent statements to clients concerning the value of their accounts and the prior performance of their pension plans in order to forestall redemption requests, induce new clients to contribute to the plans, and induce existing clients to make additional contributions. As selected clients reached retirement age or requested disbursements, Walji sent those clients money that he represented to be proceeds of their individual pensions, when in fact he knew that the purported disbursements were often funds contributed by other clients. Third, Walji misappropriated approximately $300,000 of client funds for his personal use. In total, this scheme caused losses to approximately 35 additional victims in an aggregate amount of approximately $9.5 million.
   Walji, 60, of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud, one count of commodities fraud, and one count of securities fraud. The securities fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; the commodities fraud charge carries a maximum sentencing of 10 years in prison; and the conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Francisco, 57, of Newport Coast, Calif., pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud and one count of securities fraud.
   In connection with their guilty pleas, Walji consented to forfeit $13.6 million and Francisco consented to forfeit $4.1 million. The defendants also agreed to forfeit the proceeds of several bank and trading accounts.
   This case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorneys David I. Miller and Christopher D. Frey are in charge of the prosecution. Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni is in charge of the asset forfeiture related to the prosecution.
   Source: Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force

Domestic Surveillance Practices Are Indefensible

                     By Steve Rensberry
   (RPC) - 7/4/2013 - The massive data mining practices currently being undertaken by agencies in the United States are like a knife in the heart to a free and open society.
   Irrespective of the government's stated intent that it means us no harm and that they are only seeking to protect us from terrorism, the mass surveillance and collection of an entire population's Internet communications and phone records--and who knows what else--is deeply damaging to the body politic.
   The goal, it would seem, is not merely to apprehend criminals and punish them when others are hurt, but to predict the behavior of all of us through an analysis of both our behavior and thoughts -- gleaned from the words we use and the things we share and derived from digital algorithms and selected criteria hatched behind guarded doors and the walls of secretive agencies. There is nothing inherently wrong with taking reasonable steps to prevent crime, but what is freedom worth without the basic right to free and open communication? Digital communication is all but ubiquitous in a modern society.
   The government, and the National Security Agency in particular, has no justifiable reason in digging for data on innocent Americans, or in collecting metadata that contains details of who people talk to, what they read and what they do in the digital world. Certainly the objective of fighting terrorism can be accomplished with far less intrusive means, that respects our privacy.
   What we now know is that every email you send to your relatives, every phone call you make and receive, every business dealing,  financial transaction and text message that you make using electronic communication, will now be analyzed, scanned, profiled and stored indefinitely for easy access by agents snooping for dirt.
   Who will be watching the watchers?
   It is not Google the search engine you will be using to search the Internet. It is, for all practical purposes, a government search engine. The same can be said for Yahoo, Microsoft's Bing, Facebook and all the rest of today's Internet giants who are now routinely ordered to hand over records containing some of the most personal electronics transactions we make.
   Entrusting our data with private-sector corporations is one thing. Having it collected and stored by powerful government agencies as though we were common criminals who need constant surveillance is another thing entirely.
   David Rosen, writing about "6 Government Survillance Programs Designed to Watch What You Do Online," noted in June of 2012 the growing list of methods by which the U.S. government tracks, without probably cause, the behavior and habits of its own civilians. These include a procedure by the Justice Department's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property section to gather data from social networking sites in order to "establish motives and personal relationships"; the IRS practice of using sites such as Facebook and Google to investigate taxpayers; an effort by the Director of National Intelligence to obtain a mechanism to "integrate all online information,"; a Defense Department effort involving a "Social Media Strategic Communications (SMISC) program; and an FBI effort to develop an "FBI Social Media Application," program.
   Add to these a long list of other government surveillance projects such as the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative; PRISM; DCSNet: Main Core: NSA Call Database; Intelligence Community (IC); Financial Crimes Enforcement Task Force: Terrorist Finance Tracking Program; Tailored Access Operations and Boundless Informant .
   A June 15, 2013 story by the Associated Press entitled "PRISM part of a much larger government surveillance program,"  cites a program called US-98XN which predates the PRISM program and which it says has been collecting data on U.S. citizens from private sector companies for years.
   Other past efforts have included Project Echelon, the Total Information Awareness System, the COINTELPRO program and Spygate.
   Computer and digital technology has provided us with tremendous freedom to express our ideas and to communicate, all at speeds that would have been unimaginable just 20 years ago. We can send, receive and store practically an endless number of photos, documents and messages.
   But it's a freedom that clearly has become a two-edged sword.
   It's sad and unfortunate, but the days of deep encryption, digital privacy fences, multiple aliases and the serious mistrust of everything we see and hear, appear poised to grow exponentially.
   Unless things change, the days of a free and open Internet, of corporations that can be trusted to safeguard our data for an exchange of services and revenue, would appear all but dead. (Edited with corrections, July 5, 2013)

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NIH Launches Dietary Supplement Label Database

(NIH) - 6/26/2013 - Researchers, as well as health care providers and consumers, can now see the ingredients listed on the labels of about 17,000 dietary supplements by looking them up on a website. The Dietary Supplement Label Database, free of charge and hosted by the National Institutes of Health, is available at
   The Dietary Supplement Label Database provides product information in one place that can be searched and organized as desired. "This database will be of great value to many diverse groups of people, including nutrition researchers, healthcare providers, consumers, and others," said Paul M. Coates, Ph.D., director of the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). “For example, research scientists might use the Dietary Supplement Label Database to determine total nutrient intakes from food and supplements in populations they study."
   For consumers, the My Dietary Supplements (MyDS) app from ODS is available at The app is an easy way to keep track of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other products you take, and has science-based, reliable information on dietary supplements.
   Dietary supplements, taken regularly by about half of U.S. adults, can add significant amounts of nutrients and other ingredients to the diet. Supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbals and botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and more. They come in many different forms, including tablets, capsules, and powders, as well as liquids and energy bars. Popular supplements include vitamins D and E; minerals like calcium and iron; herbs such as echinacea and garlic; and specialty products like glucosamine, probiotics, and fish oils.
   By law, any product labeled as a dietary supplement must carry a Supplement Facts panel that list its contents and other added ingredients (such as fillers, binders, and flavorings). The Dietary Supplement Label Database includes this information and much more — such as directions for use, health-related claims, and any cautions — from the label.
   The Dietary Supplement Label Database offers these features:
   Quick Search: Search for any ingredient or specific text on a label.
   Search for Dietary Ingredients: An alphabetical list of ingredients is also provided.
   Search for Specific Products: An alphabetical list of products is also provided.
   Browse Contact Information: Search by supplement manufacturer or distributor.
   Advanced Search: Provides options for expanding a search by using a combination of search options including dietary ingredient, product/brand name, health-related claims, and label statements.
   Hundreds of new dietary supplements are added to the marketplace each year, while some are removed. Product formulations are frequently adjusted, as is information on labels. “The Dietary Supplement Label Database will be updated regularly to incorporate most of the more than 55,000 dietary supplement products in the U.S. marketplace,” said Steven Phillips, M.D., director of the National Library of Medicine’s Division of Specialized Information Services.
   The Dietary Supplement Label Database is the result of collaboration between ODS and NLM, with input from federal stakeholders who participate in a federal working group on dietary supplements. These include representatives from most NIH institutes and centers, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Administration for Community Living, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Trade Commission, Health Resources and Services Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institute of Standards of Technology, and Department of Agriculture.
   The Office of Dietary Supplements, ODS, seeks to strengthen knowledge and understanding of dietary supplements by evaluating scientific information, stimulating and supporting research, disseminating research results, and educating the public to foster an enhanced quality of life and health for the U.S. population.
   The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is the world's largest library of the health sciences, and collects, organizes, and makes available biomedical science information to scientists, health professionals, and the public.

HHS: Consumers saved $3.9 billion on premiums

   (HHS) - 6/20/2013 - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on June 20 that nationwide, 77.8 million consumers saved $3.4 billion up front on their premiums as insurance companies operated more efficiently. Additionally, consumers nationwide will save $500 million in rebates, with 8.5 million enrollees due to receive an average rebate of around $100 per family.
   The report includes the 2012 health insurer data required under the Affordable Care Act’s Medical Loss Ratio, or “80/20 rule.” The report shows that, compared to 2011, more insurers are meeting this standard and spending more of their premium dollars directly toward patient care and quality, and not red tape and bonuses.
   Created through the Affordable Care Act, the rule requires insurers to spend at least 80 cents of every premium dollar on patient care and quality improvement. If they spend a higher amount on other expenses like profits and red tape, they owe rebates back to consumers. For many consumers, the report found that the law motivated their plans to lower prices or improve their coverage to meet the standard. This new standard and other Affordable Care Act policies contributed to consumers saving approximately $3.9 billion on premiums in 2012, for a total of $5 billion in savings since the program’s inception.
   “The health care law is providing consumers value for their premium dollars and ensuring the money they pay every month to insurance companies goes toward patient care,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. “Thanks to the law, 8.5 million Americans will receive $500 million back in their pockets and purses.”
   If an insurer did not spend enough premium dollars on patient care and quality improvement, rebates will be paid in one of the following ways: a rebate check in the mail; a lump-sum reimbursement to the same account that they used to pay the premium if by credit card or debit card; a reduction in their future premiums; or their employer providing one of the above, or applying the rebate in another manner that benefits its employees, such as more generous benefits.
   Insurance companies that do not meet the standard will send consumers a notice informing them of this new rule. The notice will also let consumers know how much the insurer did or did not spend on patient care or quality improvement, and how much of that difference will be returned as a rebate.
   The 80/20 rule, along with the required review of proposed double-digit premium increases, works to stabilize and moderate premium rates. And, with the new market reforms, including the guaranteed availability protections and prohibition of the use of factors such as health status, medical history, gender and industry of employment to set premiums rates, this policy helps ensure every American has access to quality, affordable health insurance.
   To access the report, visit: Loss Ratio
   For more information on MLR, visit:
   Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Securities Broker Sentenced to 84 Months

   (DOJ) - 5/22/2013 - A former stock broker was sentenced to prison on May 16 for his role in an extensive pump-and-dump stock manipulation scheme.
   The announcement was made by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division , U.S. Attorney Danny C. Williams Sr. of the Northern District of Oklahoma, Special Agent in Charge James E. Finch of the FBI’s Oklahoma City Division and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Chief Richard Weber.
  Joshua Wayne Lankford, 39, of Dallas, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge James H. Payne in the Northern District of Oklahoma to serve 84 months in prison. In addition to his prison term, Lankford was ordered to forfeit $250,000. Proceeds from forfeited assets will be used to bring partial restitution to victims.
  On Dec. 10, 2012, Lankford pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering.
   “Mr. Lankford and his co-conspirators took advantage of innocent investors to the tune of millions of dollars, pumping and dumping penny stocks without regard to anything but their wallets,” Raman said. “As this case shows, stockbrokers and other professionals will be punished if they break the law. Lankford now faces substantial time in prison for his manipulation scheme.”
   According to court documents and evidence presented at the 2010 trial, Lankford and his co-defendants manipulated the stocks of three companies: Deep Rock Oil & Gas Inc. and Global Beverage Solutions Inc., formerly known as Pacific Peak Investments, both of Tulsa, Okla., and National Storm Management Group Inc. of Glen Ellyn, Ill. The defendants devised and engaged in a scheme to defraud investors known as a “pump and dump,” in which they manipulated publicly traded penny stocks. A penny stock is a common stock that trades for less than $5 per share in the over the counter market, rather than on national exchanges. Lankford and his co-defendants executed the scheme by obtaining a majority of the free-trading shares of stock of the company they intended to manipulate, using fraudulent and deceptive means to acquire the stock and/or remove the trading restrictions on the shares they obtained.
   According to court records, Lankford and other conspirators “parked” their shares with various nominees, such as friends, relatives or other entities that they owned and controlled. Subsequently, they engaged in coordinated trading in order to create the appearance of an emerging market for these stocks, after which they conducted massive promotional campaigns in which unsolicited fax and email “blasts” were sent to millions of recipients. According to evidence presented at the 2010 trial, these blasts touted the respective stocks without accurately disclosing who was paying for the promotions, omitted that the defendants intended to sell their shares, and induced unsuspecting legitimate investors to purchase stock in the companies. The defendants and their nominees obtained significant profits by selling large amounts of shares after they had artificially inflated the stock price. For each of the three manipulated stocks, the conspirators’ sell-off caused declines of the stock price and left legitimate investors holding stock of significantly reduced value.
   According to Lankford’s guilty plea, he laundered $250,000 in proceeds derived from the stock manipulation scheme.
   Evidence presented in the 2010 trial showed that the overall scheme resulted in illegal proceeds of more than $43 million from more than 17,000 investor victims.
   Lankford was originally charged in a 24-count indictment unsealed on Feb. 10, 2009, against five defendants. Prior to trial, Lankford fled to Costa Rica, where he remained until he was extradited to the United States in May 2012. James Reskin, 54, of Louisville, Ky., was sentenced today to serve five years of probation for his role in the scheme. Co-defendants George David Gordon and Richard Clark, were convicted by a federal jury in May 2010 for their roles in the scheme. Gordon was sentenced to serve 188 months in prison, and Clark was sentenced to serve 151 months in prison. The fifth defendant, Dean Sheptycki, remains a fugitive.
   The case is being prosecuted by trial attorneys Andrew Warren and Kevin Muhlendorf of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Depew for the Northern District of Oklahoma. The case is being investigated by IRS-CI and the FBI.

Flu in Pregnancy Linked to Child's Bipolar Risk

   (NIH) - 5/14/2013 - Pregnant mothers’ exposure to the flu was associated with a nearly fourfold increased risk that their child would develop bipolar disorder in adulthood, in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health. The findings add to mounting evidence of possible shared underlying causes and illness processes with schizophrenia, which some studies have also linked to prenatal exposure to influenza.
   “Prospective mothers should take common sense preventive measures, such as getting flu shots prior to and in the early stages of pregnancy and avoiding contact with people who are symptomatic,” said Alan Brown, M.D., M.P.H, of Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, a grantee of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “In spite of public health recommendations, only a relatively small fraction of such women get immunized. The weight of evidence now suggests that benefits of the vaccine likely outweigh any possible risk to the mother or newborn.”
   Brown and colleagues reported their findings online on May 8, 2013 in JAMA Psychiatry.
   Although there have been hints of a maternal influenza/bipolar disorder connection, the new study is the first to prospectively follow families in the same HMO, using physician-based diagnoses and structured standardized psychiatric measures. Access to unique Kaiser-Permanente, county and Child Health and Development Study databases made it possible to include more cases with detailed maternal flu exposure information than in previous studies.
   Among nearly a third of all children born in a northern California county during 1959-1966, researchers followed 92 who developed bipolar disorder, comparing rates of maternal flu diagnoses during pregnancy with 722 matched controls.
   The nearly fourfold increased risk implicated influenza infection at any time during pregnancy, but there was evidence suggesting slightly higher risk if the flu occurred during the second or third trimesters. Moreover, the researchers linked flu exposure to a nearly sixfold increase in a subtype of bipolar disorder with psychotic features.
   A previous study, by Brown and colleagues, in a related northern California sample, found a threefold increased risk for schizophrenia associated with maternal influenza during the first half of pregnancy. Autism has similarly been linked to first trimester maternal viral infections and to possibly related increases in inflammatory molecules.
   “Future research might investigate whether this same environmental risk factor might give rise to different disorders, depending on how the timing of the prenatal insult affects the developing fetal brain,” suggested Brown.
   Bipolar disorder shares with schizophrenia a number of other suspected causes and illness features, the researchers note. For example, both share onset of symptoms in early adulthood, susceptibility genes, run in the same families, affect nearly one percent of the population, show psychotic behaviors and respond to antipsychotic medications.
   Increasing evidence of such overlap between traditional diagnostic categories has led to the NIMH Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project, which is laying the foundation for a new mental disorders classification system based on brain circuits and dimensional mechanisms that cut across traditional diagnostic categories.
   The research was also funded by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
   The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit

Illegal Scheme Targeted Debt-ridden Customers

   NEW YORK - 5/10/2013 - Mission Settlement Agency, its owner Michael Levitis and three of its employees – Denis Kurlyand, Boris Shulman and Manuel Cruz – were charged recently with mail and wire fraud charges in connection with a multi-million dollar scheme that victimized more than 1,200 debt-ridden individuals across the country, announced U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara and Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Philip R. Bartlett.
   As alleged, the defendants fraudulently tricked people into paying Mission for debt settlement services by lying to prospective customers about its fees and its purported affiliation with the federal government and one of the three leading credit bureaus in the U.S., as well as the results it supposedly achieved for its customers. 
   In connection with the scheme, Mission received over $6.6 million in fees. For over 1,200 of its customers, Mission took fees totaling nearly $2.2 million and has never paid a penny to the customers’ creditors. Each of the individual defendants was arrested this morning. They are expected to be arraigned in New York federal court before U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe. Also unsealed were the guilty pleas of two former Mission employees, Felix Lemberskiy and Zakhir Shirinov, for their participation in the fraudulent scheme. 
   Shirinov pleaded guilty pursuant to an information before U.S. District Judge Denise Cote on April 26, 2013 and Lemberskiy pleaded guilty pursuant to an information before U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams on April 29, 2013. 
   In a separate action, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced civil charges against Mission and Levitis, among others.
    “As alleged, Mission preyed upon the financial desperation of people around the country who – like so many ordinary Americans – were simply struggling to pay down their debts after the financial downturn. But the true mission of Mission turned out to be fraud and deceit, and for more than 1,200 consumers, the dream of debt relief turned into a nightmare of deeper debt trouble. Today’s case is a harbinger of an especially potent partnership between this Office and the CFPB that will benefit hardworking Americans everywhere,"   Bharara said.  
   According to the allegations in the indictment unsealed today and the forfeiture complaint filed in New York federal court: 
   Since its inception in 2009, Mission has offered “debt settlement” services to financially disadvantaged individuals who were struggling or unable to pay their credit card debts. Like other purported debt settlement providers, Mission held itself out as a company that could successfully negotiate to lower the overall debt its customers owed to credit card companies and banks. Levitis operated and controlled Mission which, at varying times, had offices in Brooklyn and/or Manhattan, N.Y. 
   The defendants targeted financially disadvantaged individuals known to be struggling to pay credit card debt and reached out to them through telemarketing and mail solicitations. Thereafter, Mission’s sales representatives typically spoke to the prospective customers on the phone, describing Mission’s work and its ability to renegotiate debt. Where an individual ultimately expressed an interest in engaging Mission, Mission then had the individual enter into a contract. 
Overview of the Fraud 
   From 2009 through May 2013, the defendants systematically exploited and defrauded over 1,200 financially disadvantaged individuals across the country who were struggling to pay their credit card debts. The individual defendants falsely and fraudulently tricked them into becoming Mission’s customers by making materially false and misleading statements about Mission’s ability to help settle their debts and about the fees Mission would charge in exchange for that help. 
   Specifically, the defendants commonly lied about and/or concealed Mission’s fees, falsely stating both verbally and in their written solicitations, that Mission would charge a mere $49 per month and/or that there would be no up-front fees. In fact, Mission took thousands of dollars in up-front fees from funds that its customers had set aside because they had been told the funds would be held in escrow and used to pay creditors. The defendants also deceived prospective customers by fraudulently promising that Mission could help slash their debts – typically by 45% – when, for the majority of customers, Mission actually did little or no work and failed to achieve any reduction in debt whatsoever. And the defendants deceptively created an air of legitimacy for Mission’s business by falsely suggesting that it had affiliations with the federal government and with one of the three leading credit bureaus in the U.S. 
   Overall, Mission had approximately 2,200 customers who paid a total of nearly $14 million in connection with its purported debt settlement services. Of these funds, Mission took over $6.6 million in fees, while paying only approximately $4.4 million to customers’ creditors. For over 1,200 of its customers, Mission took fees totaling nearly $2.2 million, but never paid a single penny to the customers’ creditors as payment for any negotiated debt. Levitis used the money that Mission took from its customers to pay for things including the operating expenses of a restaurant/nightclub he controlled, lease payments for two different luxury Mercedes cars and credit card bills for his mother. 
Lies About Mission’s Fees 
   In conversations with prospective customers, the defendants represented that customers would be asked to make affordable monthly payments for a set period of time, that these payments would be held in escrow by a third-party payment processor until Mission had negotiated down the customers’ debt obligations and that the money held in escrow would then be used to pay the creditors. The defendants further promised that Mission would only charge a nominal monthly fee of $49 in exchange for its efforts and they often explained that Mission would charge an additional fee only if it succeeded at obtaining a greater reduction in debt than what had been promised. They also claimed in both their written solicitations and in scripted phone calls that there were no up-front fees. 
   In reality, in addition to the $49 monthly fee, Mission also charged an up-front fee equal to as much as 18% of the debt the customer owed. Mission deducted these fees from the monies that customers paid to the third party payment processor, in accordance with a monthly payment plan it established and that customers understood would be held in their escrow accounts and used to pay their creditors. Instead, Mission regularly took as fees for itself all of the funds that its customers paid to the payment processor during the first three months of their contracts with Mission. This was done in order to insure that the company would receive up-front fees before any of the customers’ debt was even paid down. Lies About Mission’s Results The defendants typically promised prospective customers that Mission would negotiate a substantial reduction in their debt, promising prospective customers that they would have to pay only 55% of the amount owed to creditors. 
   When potential customers questioned that assertion because it sounded too good to be true, a written script directed sales representatives to tell them: “The creditors today are content to get the settled amount in light of all the bankruptcies, charge offs and bad debt out there today.” This assertion and the underlying promise were false. In reality, Mission did little or no meaningful work to negotiate reductions in debt for many of its customers and the sort of result Mission was promising prospective customers was substantially more favorable than the results Mission typically achieved for prior customers. The written script also instructed sales representatives to promise potential customers that if they worked with Mission, their credit scores would ultimately go up. 
   The script said, “Your credit score will go down in the short term while the accounts are put into position for settlement. Then your score will go up as the payments are made and ultimately your score will be significantly higher.” 
   This was also untrue. 
Lies About Mission’s Affiliations 
   The defendants also made material misrepresentations to prospective customers about Mission’s relationships and affiliations in a deceptive effort to make Mission seem more credible and trustworthy. For example, in an effort to attract business, Mission sent a solicitation letter to prospective customers that falsely suggested that it was acting on behalf of or in connection with a federal governmental program. The letter included an image of the Great Seal of the United States and indicated that it was coming from the “Reduction Plan Administrator” of the purported “Office of Disbursement.” However, the only phone number and address provided in the letter belonged to Mission and Mission did not have any relationship with any federal agency, nor was it operating in connection with any federal program. 
   Bharara also announced the filing of a civil forfeiture complaint seeking to forfeit the proceeds of the alleged fraud and the assets involved in money laundering related to the scheme. Those assets and proceeds include: the Rasputin nightclub, the title for which is in the name of Levitis’ mother, whom the government alleges is the real owner of the club; two pieces of real property; and 40 bank accounts.
   Levitis, 36, of Brooklyn, Kurlyand, 30, of Brooklyn, Shulman, 27, of Brooklyn, and Cruz, 30, of Brooklyn, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud. Each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on each count. 
   Lemberskiy, 29, of Staten Island, New York and Shirinov, 29, of Brooklyn each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud. They each face a statutory maximum sentence of 60 years in prison.
   Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the USPIS. He also thanked the CFPB for referring this case to this Office and acknowledged with appreciation, this extraordinary partnership. If you believe you were a victim of this crime, including a victim entitled to restitution and you wish to provide information to law enforcement and/or receive notice of future developments in the case or additional information, please contact Wendy Olsen-Clancy, the Victim Witness Coordinator at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, at (866) 874-8900, or 
   For more information, go to: For guidance on coping with debt or credit issues and information about dealing with debt settlement companies in particular, consider the following links to publications issued by the Federal Trade Commission and the Council of Better Business Bureaus:; and The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nicole Friedlander and Edward Imperatore are in charge of the prosecution. Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolina Fornos of the Office’s Asset Forfeiture Unit is responsible for the forfeiture aspects of the case. The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.