The Justice Department is proposing new regulations aimed at cracking down on the diversion of legal tobacco products onto the illegal market. The new regulations would expand a cigarette trafficking law, the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act, to cover smokeless tobacco, set up new reporting requirements and lower the minimum number of cigarettes required for a shipment to constitute illegal smuggling.
Organized crime and international terrorist groups including Hezbollah and al-Qaeda have links to illegal tobacco trafficking, according to investigations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and other law enforcement agencies.
ATF would have an expanded mandate under the new rules, which were proposed in the Federal Register last week. The proposed rules would impose new reporting requirements on companies that have delivery sales of more than 10,000 cigarettes.
They also would make it a crime for any person knowingly to ship, transport, receive, possess, sell, distribute, or purchase in excess of 10,000 cigarettes without paying state taxes. The previous definition of contraband cigarettes applied to purchases of more than 60,000 cigarettes.
The regulations would extend the law to apply to contraband smokeless tobacco, defined as any quantity above 500 single-unit consumer-sized cans or packages. Smokeless tobacco seized under the law could be either used in law enforcement operations or destroyed under the new guidelines.
The regulations would allow state and local governments or anyone with a federal tobacco permit to a bring civil lawsuit against companies and distributors who violate the law.
According to the Justice Department, billions of dollars in tax revenue are lost each year because of illegal tobacco trafficking. Since the enactment of the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act in 1978, cigarette smuggling has grown in complexity. Smugglers are not only crossing state borders, but international borders as well, ATF said.
Garland called his decision to return to private practice “bittersweet,” but said it was difficult to maintain the pace of his Justice Department job with his three young children.
“In this job, the schedule is so crisis driven, so emergency driven, you don’t have the ability in a real practical sense to plan your life, to plan your day,” Garland told the NLJ. “The pace of this job is like nothing I’ve ever known. It’s not sustainable for the long run with a family. The person who gets that most of all is the attorney general. He was supportive of my decision.”
Holder praised Garland’s work, pointing to his efforts on financial fraud, antitrust and intellectual property law.
Garland has been “instrumental in helping to reinvigorate the department’s core missions and re-establish its reputation for independence,” Holder said. “I’m grateful for his wise counsel, as well as his friendship, his sense of humor, and his tremendous respect for the work he’s helped to advance. Jim has served the Department of Justice—and his country—well, and we will truly miss him.”
In an interview with the newspaper last week, Garland described his time at the Justice Department as “an incredible life experience.”
Garland was born in Columbus, Ohio and graduated from Columbus Academy before heading to Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. After graduation, he took a job with Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers). After two years, Garland enrolled at the University of Virginia School of Law.
He worked as a summer associate at Covington during law school and later clerked for Appeals Judge R. Guy Cole of the 6th Circuit. When he returned to Covington in 2001, Garland worked as a litigator on commercial cases, antitrust issues and white-collar criminal defense, often working directly with Holder, then a partner at Covington.
Because his job did not require Senate confirmation, Garland was part of the so-called “Day One Group” at the Justice Department, according to WhoRunsGov.com. After President Barack Obama took his oath of office, Garland and a handful of other political appointees also took their oaths and started work.
At the Justice Department, Garland handled antitrust issues, state and local law enforcement, and all criminal matters not related to national security. He served as the Attorney General’s point man for the department response to the economic crisis and advised Holder about when the federal government should seek the death penalty.
Garland is not the first top Holder aide to announce his departure; national security adviser Amy Jeffress is also leaving her position to become the Justice Department’s attaché at the U.S. Embassy in London.
Read the full interview with The National Law Journal here.
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Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday the Justice Department is working to fix problems identified in a recent Inspector General report that found the DOJ is unprepared to respond to an attack on the U.S. using weapons of mass destruction.
“I looked at the report that was prepared by the Inspector General, and I was concerned about the issues that were raised there,” Holder told reporters at a news conference on an unrelated issue Thursday.
“I’ve asked the Deputy Attorney General, Gary Grindler, to look at that will all due speed and he has put together a group that is looking at the problems that were identified by the Inspector General and we will be dealing with them very quickly,” Holder said.
Holder did not answer a question on why he thought the Justice Department had overlooked the issue.
According to the Inspector General’s report, the FBI’s Washington branch was the only field office with a written plan and checklist for a WMD attack. Some officials in the Washington D.C. capital region field offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service weren’t even aware that ATF had been designated the lead agency to plan the DOJ’s WMD reponse, the report said.
One Justice Department official told the Office of the Inspector General that DOJ was “totally unprepared” and said that if there was a WMD attack, “everybody would be winging it.”
In a May 25 letter to Inspector General Glenn Fine, Associate Deputy Attorney General James A. Baker said that the Department of Justice “should do more in order to formally and centrally coordinate emergency response activities of all appropriate Department components.” Baker wrote that the department would create a clearer and more formal system to ensure emergency response functions were up to date and would name an individual from the Office of the Deputy Attorney General to coordinate the preparedness effort.
Click here to read the full Inspector General report.
Joe Palazzolo contributed to this report.
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Former Attorney General John Ashcroft will campaign Thursday for his former Justice Department protege who went on to help write the controversial Arizona immigration law.
Kris Kobach, who advised Ashcroft on immigration and border security at the Justice Department, is running for Secretary of State in Kansas. He is a constitutional law professor at University of Missouri Kansas City and has been the architect of several immigration laws, including the recent Arizona law. President Barack Obama has criticized the law and the Justice Department is considering whether to challenge it in court.
Ashcroft will speak at two events Thursday on the topic “Defending America Against Radical Islamist Terrorism.”
“As my counsel at the Justice Department, Kris Kobach had a tremendous impact,” Ashcroft told radio station WIBW. “He saw what needed to be done, and succeeded in making dramatic reforms quickly. His service to his country in the wake of 9/11 was extraordinary. He is exactly the kind of person that Kansas needs in the Secretary of State’s office. He is a resourceful man of principle who will protect the integrity of the election process. And he knows how to cut red tape to bring new jobs to Kansas.”
Kris also has a $300-an-hour contract to teach sheriff’s deputies in Maricopa County, Arizona about immigration policy.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is also at the center of an ongoing investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.
A man dressed as George Washington and a small gang of hemp fans protested outside the Justice Department Wednesday, asking Attorney General Eric Holder to allow United States farmers to grow the fiber cultivated from Cannabis plants.
Fewer than ten — who arrived in a van powered by waste vegetable oil and hemp oil — gathered as part of Hemp History Week.
Since 1937, when marijuana was classified as a narcotic drug, U.S. farmers have been effectively banned from growing the plant. But before then, hemp was a stable crop of many American farmers and several former Presidents, including Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, grew the plant.
Earlier this week, the North Dakota Speaker of the House, David Monson, brought a lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration, arguing that there have been unreasonable delays to his 2007 application to grow industrial hemp.
Holder said in October that the prosecution of medical marijuana users was not a priority for the Justice Department.
For more on Hemp History Week, see this NBC story.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) delivered a petition to the Justice Department building on Wednesday afternoon calling for a criminal investigation into investment firm Goldman Sachs.
The petition from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, signed by 140,000 people, urges the DOJ to investigate the firm’s actions leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. Kaptur also wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking him to open a probe.
“While the SEC lacks the authority to act beyond civil actions, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has the power to file criminal actions against those who commit financial fraud,” Kaptur wrote. “We ask assurance from you that the U.S. Department of Justice is closely looking at this case and similar cases to further investigate and prosecute the criminals involved in this, and other financially fraudulent acts.”
Alisa Finelli from the Office of Public Affairs accepted the petition on behalf of DOJ after Kaptur held a news conference outside the department’s headquarters.
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A man who threatened to blow up the J. Edger Hoover FBI building in Washington D.C. as well as CIA and the Justice Department building, was found guilty of sending a threatening communication in interstate commerce on Thursday.
Jeff Henry Williamson, 45, of Jackson, Miss., left voicemail messages at a U.S. Attorney’s Office claiming he was being harassed by the government and would shoot up the office with a submachine gun if it continued. He also sent e-mail messages to the Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and the House Select Intelligence Committee about his plan to blow up FBI, CIA and DOJ buildings in the Washington, D.C. area.
FBI agents arrested Williamson on July 30, 2008, as he stood outside of FBI Headquarters in D.C. He claimed he was waiting for FBI Director Robert Mueller.
A jury found Williamson guilty after he represented himself during the trial. He will be sentenced on June 2, 2010, and faces up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
On one of Williamson’s Web sites, he claims that “If the American people found out the truth-the dangerous game going on in WASHINGTON DC-they would tear it down brick by brick.”
“Several times a week the pyschopath intelligence agents seek to attempt to frame me such as a drug user by placing drug paraphernalia in my hotel rooms; attempting to portray me as a drug dealer sending morons to ask for a cigarette or change while video taping; staging computer crimes at the library; sending underage teenage girls and a wide rage of dirty government tricks,” writes Williamson.
DOJ news release below:
Houston Jury Convicts Mississippi Man of Sending Threat to Blow Up FBI, DOJ, and CIA
HOUSTON—A federal jury has found Jeff Henry Williamson, 45, of Jackson, Miss., guilty of sending a threatening communication in interstate commerce, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today. The jury returned its verdict finding Williamson guilty of the sole count of an indictment this afternoon. United States District Judge David Hittner presided over the four-day trial.
During the trial, the jury heard testimony that a series of messages had been left by Williamson on the U.S. Attorney’s Office voicemail system claiming he was being harassed by the government. He said he would shoot up the U.S. Attorney’s Office with a submachine gun if the harassment continued. The FBI traced one of the phone calls to the Houston Public Library downtown and on June 11, 2008, FBI agents encountered Williamson in the library. After admitted to making the phone calls, Williamson was admonished by FBI agents not to threaten to harm individuals in the government.
A few weeks later, on June 27, 2008, Williamson sent an e-mail from the Houston Public Library public access computers to the United States Attorney’s Office in downtown Houston stating in part, “Please advise FBI Director Mueller I will take justice into my hands and blow the front of the J Edger Hoover building off to get everyone’s attention—then the CIA HQ and DOJ.” The e-mail was also sent to the Department of Justice Inspector General and the House Select Intelligence Committee. The e-mail also directed the recipients to Williamson’s political websites that expressed views about the government harassing him.
FBI agents executed a federal arrest warrant on July 30, 2008, and arrested Williamson as he stood outside of FBI Headquarters Building in Washington, D.C. The arrest warrant had issued after the filing of a criminal complaint in the Southern District of Texas charging him with sending threatening communications relating to the June 27th threat. Williamson told agents that he was waiting for FBI Director Mueller. After he was arrested, agents found a piece of paper in his bag with the e-mail address for the House Select Intelligence Committee scribbled on it. The jury heard testimony that the e-mail came from Williamson’s Yahoo.com e-mail account and that similar content was found on Williamson’s political websites. Williamson’s Yahoo.com e-mail account also contained similar political messages about government harassment.
A few months earlier, in February 2008, Williamson had sent a similar message while in Reno, Nev., to the FBI in Washington D.C. The message was sent from the Washoe County Law Library using the FBI’s tip page from one of the library’s public access computers. In that message, Williamson threatened to kill FBI agents. FBI agents traced the tip back to the law library using the library’s IP address. When they arrived at the library they interviewed Williamson, who claimed he was on a “smoke break” during the time in which the tip was sent.
Williamson, who represented himself during trial, unsuccessfully attempted to convince the jury he was being framed by the FBI. The jury returned its guilty verdict after a short period of deliberation.
Williamson faces a sentence of up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine his conviction. Judge Hittner has set sentencing for June 2, 2010. Williamson is in custody.
The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by the FBI. Assistant United States Attorneys Jay Hileman and Ryan D. McConnell tried the case.
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Software company Privasoft has won a contract from the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) to provide Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) processing software, according to a company press release.
Under the contract, OIP will use Privasoft’s AccessPro Suite to “facilitate the expedient processing of FOIA requests,” says Privasoft. The contract specifies an initial 40 users to be placed on a centralized automated FOIA response system.
The software, says Privasoft, “is a purpose-built software solution designed to capture, analyze, track, process and report on case work related to managing requests for information under such laws as FOIA.”
According to the company’s Web site, it provides software to several other federal agencies, including the Federal Labor Relations Authority, Minerals Management Service, the Federal Reserve Board and several divisions of the Agriculture Department.
Main Justice previously wrote about the Justice Department working with the Office of Government Information Services in its training of federal workers on how to handle FOIA requests. The office is within the National Archives and Records Administration.
The massive snowstorm that dumped nearly two feet of snow in the nation’s capital over the weekend closed the Justice Department and all federal government offices in Washington on Monday.
Sidewalks and streets around Justice Department headquarters at 9th & Pennsylvania Ave. NW were mostly passable. But the storm partially shut down the Metro train system which many DOJ employees use to get to work.
At least one tree on the south side of building, formally known as the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, came down under the weight of the snow on its branches. Security guards at the Justice Department were still clearing snow off the top of their booths Monday afternoon.
On Friday Attorney General Eric Holder was scheduled to receive the Medal for Excellence from Columbia Law School, his alma mater. But his trip to New York was canceled because of the weather. Holder conveyed his regrets through a professor at the event.
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger lauded Holder for his long career in public service, according to Columbia.
“Has there ever been an attorney general given more controversies to solve and a department more in need of leadership and respect?” Bollinger said. He also praised President Barack Obama and Holder for what he called not sacrificing constitutional rights to fight crime and terrorism.
“In Eric Holder, we have an Attorney General of the United States who is not afraid of the hard, principled path to the pursuit of justice, the defense of our security, and the fulfillment of our founding ideals,” said Bollinger.
Holder did, however, make it to a Super Bowl party at the White House on Sunday, along with other Cabinet officials and members of Congress.
A series of photos of the main Justice Department building post-snowstorm are placed below.
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Dupont attacked rival seed manufacturer Monsanto today, calling on the Justice Department to intervene and accusing the company of engaging in “anticompetitive practices” that limited innovation and raised prices in the market for genetically modified seeds.
In a report released today, the Dupont-owned Pioneer Hi-Bred International said Monsanto had 98% of the market for genetic traits created for soybeans, and 79% of that market in corn.
Dupont said Monsanto engaged in “anticompetitive practices designed to protect and extend that power.”
The report was filed with the Justice Department and the Department of Agriculture in the context of a series of workshops the agencies are holding this year on competition issues in agriculture.
The report details claims similar to those in a December report by the Associated Press about Monsanto’s tactics. Both accuse the seed giant of using restrictive licenses which shut out competitors and force farmers to pay higher prices for seeds.
“Monsanto’s license agreements prevent seed companies from combining different characteristics in a single seed,” the Dupont report said.
In its own filing last month, Monsanto said the seed market is a competitive one. “No single company has a dominant share of seed sales in corn, soybean or cotton,” the company said.
Monsanto also told farmers last month they could continue to use a popular soy bean product and would not have to switch to a new, more expensive, version when the patent expired.
In its report to the Justice Department, Dupont likened Monsanto’s behavior to the chip giant Intel Corp., which is under fire from multiple antitrust regulators, including the Federal Trade Commission, for allegedly using its monopoly power to keep rivals out of the market for computer chips.
“An important premise of the FTC case is that Intel has inordinate leverage because its processors are “must haves” for its customers,” the report says.
“And Monsanto, like Intel, is using its restrictive agreements and practices to foreclose new competitors from gaining access to customers.”
Dupont also suggested that Congress might explore legislation that would promote generic competitors to enter the seed trait market, similar to laws governing generic drug manufacturers.