News Roundup

The trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump for alleged falsification of business records is nearing its conclusion. The prosecution’s key witness, Michael Cohen, was on the stand for four days, describing what he and Trump discussed back in 2016 and 2017 when Cohen served as Trump’s lawyer. He outlined a plan to conceal a sexual affair from the public by making hush-money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Trump’s intent in making these payments, and whether a falsification occurred in furtherance of another crime, are the central questions of the trial. The defense engaged in a lengthy cross-examination to undermine Cohen’s credibility.

The prosecution then rested, and the defense presented the testimony of one witness, also an attorney. The witness, Robert Costello, had previously given legal counsel to Cohen after Cohen’s house was raided by FBI agents. After the defense rested, the parties debated the appropriate jury instructions. Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday, and the jury could begin deliberations Wednesday.

Senator Menendez bribery trial. Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez is also on trial in Manhattan, but in a federal court. He faces multiple charges relating to allegations of bribery and acting as a foreign agent for Egypt. An attorney, John Moldovan, testified that businessman Wael Hana asked Moldovan in 2019 to make a $20,000 mortgage payment toward Menendez’s wife’s home in New Jersey. In 2022, FBI agents found 13 gold bars and $480,000 in cash in the home. Prosecutors contend that Hana was bribing Menendez to obtain favorable treatment toward Egypt, which in turn benefited Hana, whose business involved certifying that meats exported from the U.S. to Egypt conformed with Islamic dietary restrictions.

DA election in Portland, Oregon. This week, voters in Portland, Oregon went to the polls to select their next District Attorney. Incumbent Mike Schmidt was defeated by the challenger, Nathan Vasquez, 54% to 46%. Schmidt was elected as a progressive prosecutor in 2020, promising to reduce incarceration and decline to prosecute certain low-level crimes. After taking office, he also formed a Justice Integrity Unit to review prior convictions and sentences. DA-elect, Vasquez, had served in the DA’s office for more than 20 years. During his campaign, Vasquez argued that Schmidt did not do enough to curb gun violence and drug crime.

Arrest warrants sought at ICC. In global criminal news, the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Court has requested arrest warrants for Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, as well as three leaders of Hamas, Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh. The request has drawn strong reactions, with U.S. officials voicing disapproval, while countries such as France and Belgium have shown support for the court. The pragmatic effect of the issuance of warrants may be limited, though the warrants could affect the subjects’ ability to travel freely across borders. Seeking an arrest warrant for a western official is unprecedented in the 21-year existence of the ICC. Notably, the United States, Israel, Russia, and China are not members of the court and do not recognize its jurisdiction.

Founder of dark web drug marketplace arrested. After Incognito Market, one of the largest online illegal drug marketplaces, was shut down in March, its founder, Rui-Siang Lin, was arrested this week. Lin was on his way from St. Lucia to Singapore when authorities intercepted him during his stopover in New York. According to a federal indictment, the dark web marketplace had many features associated with legitimate online business, such as “branding, advertising, and customer service.” However, the $100 million operation specialized in the sale of dangerous drugs including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Five percent of each purchase went to the website.

No more automatic expunctions? Closer to home, the North Carolina Legislature appears to be moving toward ending automatic expunctions for dismissed criminal cases. Automatic expunctions went into effect in 2021 after passage of the 2020 Second Chance Act, but logistical difficulties led to a suspension in August 2022. A working group made recommendations to resolve these issues, but a legislative committee approved a bill to repeal the expunction law.

Lego theft. Finally, authorities in Davis, California seized approximately $80,000 in stolen Legos. WRAL reports that authorities “pieced the cases together” by working closely with businesses to “identify patterns.”

Have a good Memorial Day weekend, and see you next week.