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Court Overturns Rod Blagojevich Convictions

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Court Overturns Rod Blagojevich Convictions

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich will have another day in court, but his hopes of being freed from prison anytime soon remain dim at best.

In a long-awaited ruling, a federal appeals court in Chicago threw out five of 18 counts against Blagojevich, vacated his 14-year sentence and ordered him retried on the five counts.

But it remained uncertain how Blagojevich’s fate would ultimately be resolved — prosecutors could opt against a third trial, throw out the disputed counts and proceed to a resentencing on the remaining convictions.

While finding the five counts invalid on technical grounds, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called the evidence against Blagojevich “overwhelming” and made clear that the former governor wouldn’t be released from prison in the meantime.

“It is not possible to call the 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich’s crimes, but the district judge should consider on remand whether it is the most appropriate sentence,” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote in the unanimous opinion by a three-judge panel.

If prosecutors elect to drop the counts that were thrown out on appeal, then U.S. District Judge James Zagel should “proceed directly to resentencing,” the opinion stated.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago had no immediate comment Tuesday. Both U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon and his top assistant, Joel Levin, likely won’t be involved in deciding how the office responds to the court’s ruling because of their representation of Blagojevich co-defendants while in private practice.

Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, is scheduled to hold a 5 p.m. news conference with her husband’s attorneys outside the family’s home in Chicago’s Ravenswood Manor neighborhood.

Lauren Kaeseberg, one of Blagojevich’s attorneys, told the Tribune on Tuesday that the defense team was pleased the court acknowledged in reversing the five counts that there was a certain amount of political horse-trading taking place.

“We’ve always maintained that Blagojevich’s actions were done in the political context,” Kaeseberg said. “To the extent of the five counts that were reversed today, the court has shown this was a political case.”

Kaeseberg said Blagojevich was looking forward to a new sentencing hearing regardless.

“Hopefully because of these reversals, Rod’s sentence will be shortened at least and he’ll be able to have some time with his family, who he misses dearly,” she said. “His girls are growing up and he wants to be home as soon as possible.”

Jeff Cramer, a former federal prosecutor, said the ruling did not represent “a victory for Blagojevich,” noting that the court did not find that he was wrongfully convicted.

“This is a technicality on jury instructions,” he said of the decision.

Blagojevich, now 58, was convicted of misusing his powers as governor in an array of shakedown schemes, most famously for his alleged attempts to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after Obama’s  2008 election as president. Blagojevich has been locked up in a federal prison in suburban Denver since March 15, 2012, and is not scheduled to be released until May 2024, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website.

The appellate court had mulled the ruling since holding oral arguments more than 17 months ago, a delay that led to speculation over a split among the three judges — Easterbrook, Ilana Diamond Rovner and Michael Kanne — on the panel making the decision.

Blagojevich has long claimed he was no different from other elected officials who leveraged their political power, and much of the 23-page appellate opinion focused on that sometimes gray line between traditional political horse-trading and flat-out bribery.

The court ruled that the instructions given to the jury in the second trial should have differentiated between Blagojevich’s various schemes to sell the Senate seat, in particular his proposal to use his power of appointment to ask for a position in Obama’s Cabinet. The opinion called that a “common exercise of logrolling.”

Another aspect of the scheme — to give the seat to longtime Obama friend Valerie Jarrett in exchange for money — represented a much brighter line of criminal activity, the court held.

“The (jury) instructions treated all proposals alike,” the opinion stated. “We conclude, however, that they are legally different: a proposal to trade one public act for another, a form of logrolling, is fundamentally unlike the swap of an official act for a private payment.”

Patti Blagojevich, left, attends a news conference outside her home following the announcement that a federal appeals court in Chicago threw out five of 18 counts against Blagojevich. (Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune)

Patti Blagojevich, left, attends a news conference outside her home following the announcement that a federal appeals court in Chicago threw out five of 18 counts against Blagojevich.
(Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune)

The opinion also invoked a key exchange from the December 2013 arguments when Easterbrook pressed a federal prosecutor on how Blagojevich’s conduct differed from a famous political deal supposedly struck more than 60 years ago: President Dwight Eisenhower’s nomination of Earl Warren to the U.S. Supreme Court in exchange for the California governor’s support in the 1952 election.

“If the prosecutor is right, and a swap of political favors involving a job for one of the politicians is a felony, then if the standard account is true both the President of the United States and the Chief Justice of the United States should have gone to prison,” the opinion stated.

But the opinion was also clear that the evidence against Blagojevich was overwhelming, “much of it from Blagojevich’s own mouth” as a result of wiretaps on his phone and his rambling testimony in his second trial.

The court wrote that while it was forced to reverse convictions on the five counts, prosecutors were “free to try again without reliance on Blagojevich’s quest for a position in the Cabinet” and focus instead on the evidence involving Jarrett, calling it “sufficient to convict.”

Since many other convictions remain and the sentences Zagel imposed were concurrent, prosecutors “may think retrial unnecessary,” the court said.

Cramer said the government will almost certainly throw out the five counts reversed by the court and attempt to defend the 14-year prison sentence Zagel already handed down.

“The appeals court even said the remaining counts still gets you to 168 months,” he said.

In fact, the court noted that Zagel had already found that the original sentence called for under federal guidelines was too harsh.

“He had already given (Blagojevich) more than half off,” Cramer said.

Entrepreneur, contributor, writer, and editor of Sostre News. With a powerful new bi-lingual speaking generation by his side, Sostre News is becoming the preferred site for the latest in Politics, Entertainment, Sports, Culture, Tech, Breaking and World News.

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80 Million Stimulus Check Direct Deposits Have Been Processed. When Will They Arrive?

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80 Million Stimulus Check Direct Deposits Have Been Processed. When Will They Arrive?

Americans will start to see their stimulus payments this week, a centerpiece of the $2.2 trillion rescue package meant to provide a buffer against the coronavirus pandemic that’s shuttered much of the U.S. economy.

The Internal Revenue Service has begun sending $1,200 payments to middle and lower income adults, plus $500 for their minor children, though it could take until September for every eligible person to get the money.
The first payments “should be deposited directly into individuals’ bank accounts; the precise date you will see payments in your account depends on how long individual banks typically take to process direct deposits,” according to a press release from House Ways and Means Committee Republicans.

The IRS will first send the money to individuals for whom the agency has direct deposit information. The remainder will be mailed as checks. That process is expected to begin April 20 but could take until the fall to complete.

The IRS processed more than 80 million payments on Friday that should be available in bank accounts early this week, Sunita Lough, the IRS deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, said in a video conference Monday.

Payments will be made first to those earning the least.

The IRS has launched a tool for non-tax filers, such as those who had income under $12,200 last year and weren’t required to file a federal return, to enter direct deposit information to get their payments.

The agency plans to have a second website up by April 17 that will show people the status of their payments, including the date the money is scheduled to be deposited or mailed. That tool will also let people who’ve typically gotten their tax refund in the mail to provide their bank account details to get their stimulus payment more quickly.

The IRS is using information from 2018 and 2019 tax returns to process the payments. It says taxpayers who’ve yet to file a return this year should do so as soon as possible, and elect to receive the refund via a direct deposit. The information can then be used to distribute the stimulus payments. Social Security and disability recipients will receive their payments automatically.

The tax deadline was extended to July 15 from April 15 to give people more time to file and pay during the pandemic.

Taxpayers who don’t need extra time and who expect to get a stimulus payment should file as soon as possible so the agency has their most up-to-date details on file, said Christina Taylor, head of operations for Credit Karma Tax.

“The quicker, the better,” she said.

Americans earning $75,000 or less, or $150,000 and below as a couple, are eligible for the full $1,200 payout per adult, plus $500 for each child under 17. Those amounts are reduced for people with higher incomes, and people who make $99,000 or more in earnings (or $198,000 for a couple) get nothing, even if they have children. Individuals must have a Social Security number to receive a payment.

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A Case of Hantavirus Has Been Reported in China. Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry.

A man who died in China Monday reportedly tested positive for a hantavirus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should worry another pandemic is coming…

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A Case of Hantavirus Has Been Reported in China. Here's Why You Shouldn't Worry.

A man who died in China Monday reportedly tested positive for a hantavirus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should worry another pandemic is coming.

Hantaviruses are a family of virus that spread through rodents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Yunnan Province, a man died on his way back to Shandong Province, according to Global Times, an English-language Chinese news outlet.

“He was tested positive for #hantavirus. Other 32 people on bus were tested,” the news outlet tweeted.

The tweet, sent amid a pandemic caused by a new coronavirus, has been shared more than 15,000 times.

Though countries across the globe are on high alert due to uncertainty around the coronavirus, there is no indication that the hantavirus poses a global public health threat.

According to the CDC, hantavirus cases are rare, and they spread as a result of close contact with rodent urine, droppings or saliva.

Certain kinds of rats and mice in the United States can carry the virus, which is transmitted when someone breathes in contaminated air.

“The hantaviruses that cause human illness in the United States cannot be transmitted from one person to another,” the CDC says on its website. Rare cases in Chile and Argentina have seen person-to-person transmission when a person is in close contact with someone sickened by a type of hantavirus called Andes virus, the CDC says.

In the U.S., the virus can cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, a severe respiratory disease that can be fatal. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, muscle aches, headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems. Coughing and shortness of breath can occur later in the disease as the lungs fill with liquid, the CDC says,

Hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, found mostly in Europe and Asia, can also occur, which causes pain, fever, chills, nausea, and blurred vision, the CDC says. More serious symptoms include acute kidney failure.

Cases in the United States have typically been concentrated in the western and southwestern states.

From 1993 to 2017, there were only 728 confirmed hantavirus cases in the United States, with most being non-fatal, according to CDC data. In comparison, since late January, when the first known coronavirus case was identified in the U.S., there have been 46,805 confirmed coronavirus cases nationwide, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.

In May 1993, a hantavirus outbreak occurred in an area between Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. A 2012 outbreak in Yosemite sickened 10 people. In seven states, 17 people were infected in a 2017 outbreak.

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Developments in Presidential Race, Trump does Terribly at Forum as Clinton shines

November is lurking around the corner and will be here before you know it, so my question to you is, have you decided who you will vote for? I have, and I proudly say my choice is Hillary Rodham Clinton. I am informing you all that there are ample development in the race for the presidency of the United States…

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November is lurking around the corner and will be here before you know it, so my question to you is, have you decided who you will vote for? I have, and I proudly say my choice is Hillary Rodham Clinton. I am informing you all that there are ample development in the race for the presidency of the United States.

First of all, Donald Trump, according to Kristina Vong’s article at Thehill.com, wrongly corrected a veteran Marine during a forum. The veteran, a woman named Rachel Fredericks, asked Mr. Trump how he plans to stop 20 veterans from committing suicide, daily. Trump tried to correct the woman, who needed no correction. He said it is actually 22, trying to emerge correct, when he was essentially incorrect.

Mr. Trump also does not have a real plan to defeat ISIS, as “his plan is to have a plan” according to Igor Bobic at the Huffington Post. He also insulted military leaders calling them embarrassments to the country when they were under President Obama. He wants to give the generals 30 days to come up with a plan to defeat ISIS.  Of course, this even makes it more obvious that Mr. Trump does not have a plan to defeat ISIS. Why, then did he call our current president the founder of ISIS? How can you give your vote to someone so unprepared and unfit for the presidency that constitutes a whole country? Sorry to say, but Donald Trump is not someone to vote for, at least not as US President!

According to Sean Colarossi at PoliticusUSA.com, a presidential forum highlighted how prepared Trump and Clinton are compared to each other, with Clinton appearing as the more prepared one, very easily. Clinton was engaged with questions, expressed gratitude, and was very prolific and intelligible in her responses. To reiterate, Trump has not a plan to defeat ISIS, where Hillary has a well thought-out plan. She outlined her plan, entailing it could take any form and she iterated and supports the idea that terror suspects should not be able to purchase firearms. Clinton also covered issues like mental health, illuminating the fact that it is overlooked, and mental health should no longer be stigmatized and victims of mental disorders should have access to resources. On the other hand, Trump gave generic answers like that he knows what is going on in the world. Also according to Colarossi’s article, Trump showed as an “empty suit” and “showed he is not prepared to be commander-in-chief” and that the contrast between him and Clinton could not be clearer”; this essentially means Clinton showed to be immensely more prepared to lead and did not focus on attacking others, like Trump’s approach does.

Lastly, Donald Trump has insulted women, children, ethnic groups, religious groups, his opponent, our current president, the military, and the list goes on. He is patronizing and unprepared to preside over our country as well. He constantly attacks others, with no action in mind. Consider if you want to have him as president, seriously!

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