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FEMA told to resume Katrina housing payments
Legal Career News | 2006/11/30 20:35

US District Judge Richard J. Leon ruled in Washington, DC, Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) must reinstate certain housing payments for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Leon granted the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction against the payments stoppage, maintaining that FEMA had failed to provide evacuees with adequate explanations for their denials of housing assistance and their means of appeal under the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)  filed the lawsuit on behalf of displaced hurricane evacuees alleging violations of their due process rights.

FEMA responded Wednesday by defending its policies and saying it will consult with the US Department of Homeland Security and US Department of Justice to determine a formal response to the district court's ruling. FEMA still faces several other suits relating to its termination or withdrawal or housing benefits to Katrina victims.



Las Vegas Court Blocks Tax Preparer’s Alleged Scheme
Court Feed News | 2006/11/30 20:34

WASHINGTON – Lynn Lakers, a Boulder City, Nev., tax-return preparer, has been permanently barred in connection with an alleged offshore-trust tax scam, the Justice Department announced today. It is alleged that Lakers, participating with three others, prepared false tax returns for phony trusts sold by her fellow defendants. She consented to the injunction order. According to the complaint, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimates that this tax fraud scheme resulted in at least $31 million in lost revenue to the federal Treasury.

The other two defendants who consented to a permanent injunction earlier this year are Daniel Young of Las Vegas, who allegedly created phony domestic and foreign trusts to move customers’ assets from the United States to offshore banks located in the West Indies, and Stephen Nestor of Boise, Idaho, a former IRS revenue officer who allegedly signed false tax returns on behalf of customers’ bogus trusts. The case remains pending against a fourth defendant, Reinhold Sommerstedt.

Judge Brian E. Sandoval of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada entered injunctions against Nestor and Young in May 2006 and against Lakers on Nov. 20th. The injunctions prevent the three individuals from promoting the alleged tax-fraud scheme or preparing tax returns based on it. They must also give the government a list of their customers’ names, addresses, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and Social Security numbers. Nestor and Young have already complied with this portion of the injunction order.

According to the government’s complaint, the scheme allegedly helped customers hide their income from the IRS in Caribbean bank accounts. The defendants’ customers allegedly used phony loans and gifts to repatriate their money while concealing it from the IRS. Customers allegedly paid as much as $14,500 to participate in the scheme.



Insurance may cover Katrina damage
Legal Career News | 2006/11/30 00:46

Flood damage caused by Hurricane Katrina may be covered under those insurance policies that do not specifically exclude from coverage damage caused by negligence, according to a federal court opinion handed down Monday. Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. of the US Eastern District of New Orleans rejected a bid by insurers to dismiss plantiffs' actions in a set of consolidated cases.

Applying the Louisiana Civil Code, Duval ruled that insurance policies should be strictly construed against insurers after finding that much of the flood damage resulting from the hurricane was caused by levee failures. He concluded that the term policy "flood" refers only to naturally-caused flooding unless the policy specifically defines the term to cover flooding caused by man as well. He nonetheless noted that certain policies, including those written by State Farm and Hartford Insurance Company, categorically excluded all coverage for flood damage and should not be construed to cover any flood damage. The cases against the insurers will now go forward pending review of Duval's ruling by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the first Katrina-related insurance lawsuit to go to trial, a federal judge in Mississippi ruled in August that Nationwide Insurance was not obligated to cover a policyholder's claims for water damage caused by the hurricane.



Judge rules US currency discriminates against blind
Court Feed News | 2006/11/29 22:45

In a Tuesday ruling, Judge James Robertson of the US District Court for the District of Columbia declared that "the Treasury Department’s failure to design and issue paper currency that is readily distinguishable to blind and visually impaired individuals violates section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act." Section 504 provides that no disabled person shall be "subjected to discrimination . . . under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency." In support of its decision, the court noted that over half of all countries that print their currency vary its size or texture to aid the blind. The court rejected the government's arguments that the change would be cost prohibitive, increase counterfeiting, and disrupt international recognition of US currency.

Robertson wrote:

Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they lack meaningful access to US currency. They have put forth several potential accommodations that are reasonable on their face. The government has not sustained its burden of showing that any of them would be unduly burdensome to implement... I will grant plaintiffs’ prayer for a declaratory judgment.

The American Council of the Blind filed the action four years ago. Under 28 USC s.1292(b), the government has ten days to appeal the ruling.



KBR to Pay $8 Mil to Settle Allegations of Fraud
Court Feed News | 2006/11/29 19:38

WASHINGTON – Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) has agreed to pay the United States $8 million to settle allegations of overcharging and other procurement irregularities regarding the Houston-based company’s billings to the Army under a contract for logistical support of military operations in the Balkans during 1999 and 2000, the Justice Department announced today. The settlement resolves allegations under the False Claims Act that concerned various purchase orders awarded to 10 different foreign KBR subcontractors or vendors.

Part of the allegations concerned double-billing or delivery of non-comforming products by aggregate suppliers for use in the construction of Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. The other matters generally involved inflation of prices for various goods resulting from the alleged failure to ensure competitive procurements.

“The Department of Justice remains committed to vigorously pursuing allegations of procurement abuses affecting the military,” said Peter D. Keisler, Assistant Attorney General for the Department’s Civil Division.

The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service participated in the investigation of this matter.



Saddam genocide trial resumes
Court Feed News | 2006/11/28 17:24

Saddam Hussein's genocide trial resumed Monday with testimony from witnesses describing how Hussein's soldiers executed civilians during the "Anfal" campaigns against ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq from 1987 to 1988. All seven defendants appeared in court, though several were represented by court-appointed lawyers while members of the defense team continue their boycott of the proceedings.

In a separate case and ruling issued earlier this month, Hussein was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity committed in the Iraqi town of Dujail. An appeals panel is expected to rule on the verdict and sentence by mid-January 2007. Prosecutors hope to complete the Anfal trial before Hussein is executed.



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