FBI studies two broken cameras outside cell where Epstein died: source

FILE PHOTO: U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services' sex offender registry March 28, 2017 and obtained by Reuters July 10, 2019. New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS

By Mark Hosenball

(Reuters) – Two cameras that malfunctioned outside the jail cell where financier Jeffrey Epstein died as he awaited trial on sex-trafficking charges have been sent to an FBI crime lab for examination, a law enforcement source told Reuters.

Epstein’s lawyers Reid Weingarten and Martin Weinberg told U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan on Tuesday they had doubts about the New York City chief medical examiner’s conclusion that their client killed himself.

The two cameras were within view of the Manhattan jail cell where he was found dead on Aug. 10. A source earlier told Reuters two jail guards failed to follow a procedure overnight to make separate checks on all prisoners every 30 minutes.

He had been taken off suicide watch prior to his death.

The cameras were sent to Quantico, Virginia, site of a major FBI crime lab where agents and forensic scientists analyze evidence.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that at least one camera in the hallway outside Epstein’s cell had footage that was unusable. The newspaper said there was other usable footage captured in the area.

The U.S. Justice Department declined comment. The FBI and Federal Bureau of Prisons did not respond to requests for comment. All are investigating his death. Lawyers for Epstein also did not respond to requests for comment.

Epstein, a wealthy 66-year-old money manager who once counted U.S. President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Prince Andrew as friends, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges involving dozens of girls as young as 14.

At Tuesday’s court hearing, 16 women said Epstein had sexually abused them, with some lamenting that his death deprived them of the opportunity to obtain justice.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball in London; Writing by Nathan Layne; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)

Florida trucker arrested, charged with plotting church shooting: prosecutors

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(Reuters) – Federal authorities said they have arrested a Florida truck driver who “was thinking about shooting up a church” in Memphis this week, making him at least the fourth person this month charged with plotting a mass shooting.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Thomas McVicker, 38, in Indianapolis on Monday after a friend in Alabama alerted agents to text messages he sent in which he described his plans for a mass shooting and suicide, according to court papers.

McVicker, who is from Punta Gorda but lives in his truck, is under treatment and is on medication for schizophrenia, according to his mother, FBI Special Agent Ketrick Kelley said in an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Alabama.

It was not immediately clear if McVicker had an attorney.

The alleged mass shooting, which Kelley said McVicker appeared to be planning to carry out on Thursday, comes after law enforcement authorities in Ohio, Florida and Connecticut said they arrested three men who planned mass shootings.

Since July 28, shooting sprees in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, killed 34 people.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

New York coroner ‘confident’ Epstein’s death was suicide: New York Times

An exterior view of the Metropolitan Correctional Center jail where financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

(Reuters) – New York City’s chief medical examiner is confident Jeffrey Epstein died by hanging himself in the jail cell where he was being held without bail on sex-trafficking charges, but is awaiting more information before releasing her determination, the New York Times reported on Sunday, citing a city official.

An autopsy was performed earlier in the day on the disgraced financier found unresponsive on Saturday in a New York City jail, chief medical examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson said. A private pathologist observed the autopsy on behalf of Epstein’s representatives, which she called “routine practice.”

A determination on the cause of death “is pending further information at this time,” Sampson said in a statement.

The suspicion in Epstein’s death was hanging, said a city official not authorized to speak on the record.

The Times did not say why it could not identify the source of information on the medical examiner’s likely determination of the cause of death.

Epstein, 66, was not on suicide watch at the time in his cell in the Special Housing Unit of the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a source said.

Epstein, a well-connected money manager, was found hanging by his neck, according to the source, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The wealthy financier, who once counted Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic former President Bill Clinton as friends, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14, from at least 2002 to 2005.

The FBI and the Department of Justice’s Inspector General opened investigations into his suicide while he was in federal custody.

Last month, Epstein was found unconscious on the floor of his jail cell with marks on his neck, and officials were investigating that incident as a possible suicide or assault.

Despite that incident, Epstein was not on suicide watch at the time of his death, and he was alone in a cell in the unit of the correctional center used to isolate vulnerable prisoners when his body was found.

It was not immediately clear why Epstein was taken off suicide watch, a special set of procedures for inmates who are deemed to be at risk of taking their own lives.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons, which operates the MCC, provided no explanation beyond its terse statement that Epstein was found dead in an apparent suicide.

His death touched off outrage from Attorney General William Barr, politicians and many of Epstein’s alleged victims, who fear that they may lose their day in court now that Epstein is dead.

That investigation into conduct described in the indictment, including the conspiracy count, will continue despite Epstein’s death, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, said on Saturday.

The indictment – which accused Epstein of knowingly recruiting underage women to engage in sex acts, sometimes over a period of years – came more than a decade after he pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of solicitation of prostitution from a minor in a deal with prosecutors that has been widely criticized as too lenient.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Editing by Frank McGurty and Bill Rigby)

Heading to El Paso, Trump nixes assault weapons ban, supports stronger background checks

A woman kneels at a memorial three days after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Nandita Bose and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed legislation to ban assault rifles as politically unfeasible on Wednesday as he prepared to visit the sites of two deadly mass shootings that shocked the country and drew criticism of his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

As he left the White House, Trump said he wanted to strengthen background checks for gun purchases and make sure mentally ill people did not carry guns. He predicted congressional support for those two measures but not for banning assault rifles.

“I can tell you that there is no political appetite for that at this moment,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “But I will certainly bring that up … There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he departs on travel to Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas following back-to-back mass shootings in the cities, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he departs on travel to Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas following back-to-back mass shootings in the cities, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The president faced an uncertain welcome on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, where nine people and the suspect were killed in a rampage early on Sunday and in El Paso, Texas, where 22 people were killed at a Walmart store on Saturday before the gunman was taken alive.

The back-to-back massacres, occurring 13 hours apart, have reopened the national debate over gun safety and led protesters in Dayton to heckle Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, at a vigil for the shooting victims with chants of “Do something!”

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, said on Tuesday she would welcome the Republican president, who has said he wants to meet law enforcement, first responders and survivors.

But Whaley said she planned to tell Trump “how unhelpful he’s been” on the issue of gun violence, referring to the speech he gave on Monday focusing on mental health reform, tighter internet regulation and wider use of the death penalty.

Critics have said Trump stokes violence with racially incendiary rhetoric. The El Paso massacre is being investigated as a hate crime and the FBI said the Dayton shooter had explored violent ideologies.

Democrats accuse Trump of hiding behind talk of mental illness and the influence of social media rather than committing to laws they insist are needed to restrict gun ownership and the types of weapons that are legal.

In Iowa, Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden planned to say, “We have a president with a toxic tongue who has publicly and unapologetically embraced a political strategy of hate, racism, and division.”

In a sign of higher tensions after the shootings, a motorcycle backfiring on Tuesday night in New York’s Times Square sent crowds running for fear of another gun attack. “People are obviously very frightened,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told CNN.

Authorities in Texas have said they are investigating Saturday’s shooting spree in the predominantly Hispanic west Texas border city of El Paso as a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism. They cited a racist manifesto posted online shortly before the shooting, which they attributed to the suspect.

An open letter to Trump on Wednesday in the El Paso Times described the border city as having “a deep tradition of racial harmony” whose people came together after the tragedy. It admonished Trump for calling El Paso one of the country’s most dangerous cities in his February State of the Union address.

“The violence that pierced El Paso, drawing you here today, is not of our own community,” wrote editor Tim Archuleta. “An outsider came here to shatter our city, to murder our neighbors. A white man from another Texas city came to target the more than 80% of us who share Hispanic roots.”

‘SINISTER IDEOLOGIES’

Trump, in his televised White House speech on Monday, condemned “sinister ideologies” and hate. His supporters say Democrats unfairly blame him for the behavior of criminals.

Democrats say Trump’s own anti-immigrant, racially charged language at rallies and on Twitter has done much to fan racist, white nationalist sentiments, creating a political climate more conducive to hate-based violence.

U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat whose congressional district includes El Paso, declared that Trump “is not welcome here.”

Trump staged his first political rally of 2019 in El Paso in February.

She said on Twitter on Tuesday she declined a White House invitation to join Trump in El Paso after being told he was too busy to speak with her by phone in advance. “I refuse to be an accessory to his visit,” Escobar later told CNN.

Former Texas congressman and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, said Trump “helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible” and thus “has no place here.”

In an apparent answer to his criticism, Trump said on Twitter late on Tuesday O’Rourke “should respect the victims & law enforcement – & be quiet!”

Not everyone agreed that Trump should stay away.

“This is not a political visit,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo told reporters. “He is president of the United States. So in that capacity, I will fulfill my obligations as mayor of El Paso to meet with the president and discuss whatever our needs are in this community.”

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Rich McKay, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washingon, Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Paul Tait and Howard Goller)

FBI finds gunman in Dayton, Ohio, rampage was obsessed with violence

A Oregon District resident stands at a memorial for those killed during Sunday morning's a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, U.S. August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

By Matthew Lavietes and Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – The gunman who killed his sister and eight other people in Dayton, Ohio, before he was slain by police had a history of violent obsessions and previously mused about committing mass murder, an FBI official said on Tuesday.

FBI agent Todd Wickerham told a news conference two days after the massacre in the streets of Dayton’s historic downtown Oregon District that investigators have yet to conclude what motivated the killer or whether he may have had an accomplice.

Police said in the initial aftermath of Sunday morning’s bloodshed they believed the slain suspect, identified as 24-year-old Connor Betts, a white man from the Dayton suburb of Bellbrook, had acted alone.

The gunman, who was wearing body armor and a mask, opened fire with an assault-style rifle fitted with a high-capacity ammunition drum that could hold 100 rounds, police said. Authorities said officers patrolling the area arrived on the scene and shot the gunman dead 30 seconds after the violence began.

In addition to the nine people killed, including Betts’ sister, more than two dozen others were injured in the attack, which came 13 hours after a shooting spree that claimed 22 lives in El Paso, Texas.

“VIOLENT IDEOLOGIES”

The suspected assailant in Texas surrendered to police and has been charged with capital murder in what authorities are treating as a hate crime and act of domestic terrorism. Most of the victims were Hispanic.

Federal agents have found no clues suggesting the Dayton gunman was influenced by the rampage in El Paso, said Wickerham, the agent in charge of the FBI’s Cincinnati office.

However, he said, “The individual had a history of obsession with violent ideations, including mass shootings, and expressed a desire to commit a mass shooting.”

“We have uncovered evidence throughout the course of our investigation that the shooter was exploring violent ideologies,” Wickerham added.

Much remains unclear. The agent said investigators were seeking to determine what particular ideology may have influenced the gunman, “who, if anyone, helped him or had any advance knowledge of his intentions to conduct this attack, and why he committed this specific act of violence.”

Wickerham said nothing so far indicated the shooting spree was racially motivated, though six of the nine dead were African-American.

Authorities have said that Betts was known to have been a troubled youth in high school, at one point drawing up a “hit list” of students he wanted to kill or otherwise harm.

The Dayton Daily News, citing the recollections of former classmates, reported Betts had been suspended from high school, and detained by police, over the hit list. But Bellbrook police said it had no record of such an incident, the paper reported.

A former girlfriend of Betts, Adelia Johnson, told CNN that he had once shown her a video on his phone of a mass shooting.

“It wasn’t a red flag, which I know is weird to a lot of people, but given the context of him being a psychology student and fascinated in the psychology of these things, that’s what made it digestible,” Johnson told CNN.

“DO SOMETHING”

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, responding to mounting public pressure for action to curb gun violence, proposed a “red flag” law that would allow a judge to order firearms confiscated from any individual deemed to be a threat to themselves or others. Law enforcement and family members could petition the court for such an order.

“We have an obligation to each other,” DeWine, a Republican-backed by the National Rifle Association gun lobby, said at a news briefing. “If someone is showing signs of trouble or problems, we must help and we must not turn away.”

The governor was heckled on Sunday night as he spoke at a vigil for the victims of the rampage. Protesters repeatedly chanted “Do something!” a reference to perceived state and federal inaction to curb U.S. gun violence.

DeWine, who took office in January, previously expressed support for red flag laws after a deadly shooting at a California synagogue in April.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have red flag laws on the books, according to the gun-control advocacy group Giffords. Most are under majority Democratic governments. DeWine’s proposal could meet resistance in the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature.

In an address to the nation on Monday, President Donald Trump also backed laws to allow guns to be seized from dangerous individuals while calling for tighter monitoring of the internet, mental health reform and wider use of the death penalty in response to mass shootings.

The president confirmed on Tuesday that he planned to visit both Dayton and El Paso on Wednesday to meet with first responders, law enforcement officials and victims.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, said she would welcome the president but plans to tell Trump that his comments “weren’t very helpful to the issue around guns,” referring to his remarks on Monday about ways to curb gun violence.

(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Eric Beech in Washington and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Diane Craft and Leslie Adler)

‘Good old boy network’ dominates FBI academy, lawsuit claims

FILE PHOTO: FBI headquarters building in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

(Reuters) – Sixteen women filed a lawsuit against the FBI on Wednesday, claiming sexual discrimination and accusing it of running “a good old boy network” in its training program.

Male instructors exposed the former recruits to a hostile work environment, sexual harassment and inappropriate jokes, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court in Washington.

Seven of the women still work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and some did not use their full names in the suit, fearing retaliation, according to a court filing.

According to the suit, the bureau’s instructors are mostly men and they penalized and dismissed female trainees at a significantly higher rate than male trainees.

Some of the litigants accused the instructors of making inappropriate jokes and making multiple sexual advances on at least one of the female trainees.

The lawsuit asked that the bureau review its training evaluation process, pay $300,000 to each of the women for emotional stress, and that it hire more female instructors.

The FBI said in a statement to the New York Times, which first reported the lawsuit, that it was “committed to fostering a work environment where all of our employees are valued and respected.”

A representative for the bureau could not be reached early on Thursday by Reuters.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Scale, sophistication of Sri Lanka attack point to foreign links: U.S. ambassador

Friends and relatives carry the coffins of eight-month-old Mathew and his grandmother Agnes Vnikpridha, 69, who died during a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, at their funeral in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

By Sanjeev Miglani and Joe Brock

COLOMBO (Reuters) – The scale and sophistication of the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka suggested the involvement of an external group such as Islamic State, the U.S. ambassador said on Wednesday, as the death toll from the bombings rose to 359.

The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks on three churches and four hotels, and details have begun to emerge of a band of nine, well-educated suicide bombers, including a woman, from well-to-do families.

Sri Lankan officials have blamed two domestic Islamist groups with suspected ties to Islamic State.

“If you look at the scale of the attacks, the level of coordination, the sophistication of them, it’s not implausible to think there are foreign linkages,” the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina Teplitz, told reporters in Colombo.

“Exploring potential linkages is going to be part of (investigations),” she said.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and military were supporting the investigation, she said. Britain was also sending a team to help, Sri Lanka said.

Teplitz’s comments came as Sri Lanka’s junior defense minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, conceded that there had been a significant intelligence failure before the attacks, with reports of warnings of strikes not acted on and feuds at the highest levels of government.

“It is a major lapse in the sharing of intelligence information,” Wijewardene told a separate news conference. “We have to take responsibility.”

President Maithripala Sirisena had asked the police chief and defense secretary to quit, two sources close to the president said.

MISSED WARNINGS

Lakshman Kiriella, the leader of parliament, said senior officials had deliberately withheld intelligence about possible attacks.

“Some top intelligence officials hid the intelligence information purposefully … the top brass security officials did not take appropriate actions,” Kiriella, who is also minister of public enterprise, told parliament.

He said information about possible suicide attacks was received from Indian intelligence on April 4 and a Security Council meeting was chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena three days later, but it was not shared more widely.

Police said the death toll had risen overnight to 359 from 321, making it the deadliest such attack in South Asian history. About 500 people were wounded.

Islamic State also released a video late on Tuesday through its AMAQ news agency, showing eight men, all but one with their faces covered, standing under a black Islamic State flag, declaring loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

The one man in the video with his face uncovered was Mohamed Zahran, a Sri Lankan preacher known for militant views.

If the Islamic State connection is confirmed, it would be the deadliest ever such overseas attack linked to the group.

LAW DEGREE

The early Sunday bombings shattered the relative calm that has existed in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since a civil war against mostly Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions.

While the Islamic State video showed eight men, Wijewardene said there were nine suicide bombers. Eight had been identified and one of them was a woman, he said.

“Most of the bombers are well-educated, come from economically strong families. Some of them went abroad for studies,” Wijewardene said.

“One of them we know went to the UK, then went to Australia for a law degree. Foreign partners, including the UK, are helping us with those investigations.”

Wijewardene told parliament on Tuesday that two Sri Lankan Islamist groups – the National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim – were responsible for the blasts. He said on Wednesday the leader of one of those groups blew himself up in the attack on the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo.

A total of 60 people had been detained for questioning across Colombo since Sunday, Wijewardene said. That total includes a Syrian, according to security sources.

Police searched more homes overnight, leading to the detention of 18 more people.

The overnight raids included areas near the Gothic-style St Sebastian church in Negombo, north of the capital, where scores were killed on Sunday, a police spokesman said.

An unspecified number of people were detained in western Sri Lanka, the scene of anti-Muslim riots in 2014.

“Search operations are going on everywhere, there is tight checking of Muslim areas,” a security source said.

Most of those killed and wounded were Sri Lankans, although officials said 38 foreigners were also killed. That included British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals. Forty-five children were among the dead.

The government has imposed emergency rule and an overnight curfew. It said it has also blocked online messaging services to stop the spread of inflammatory rumours that it feared could incite communal clashes.

(GRAPHIC: Sri Lanka bombings – https://tmsnrt.rs/2Xy02BA)

(GRAPHIC: A decade of peace shattered – https://tmsnrt.rs/2W4wZoU)

(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)

Leader of armed group at U.S. border boasted of assassination training: FBI

Larry Mitchell Hopkins appears in a police booking photo taken at the Dona Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, U.S., April 20, 2019. Dona Ana County Detention Center/Handout via REUTERS

By Andrew Hay and Julio-Cesar Chavez

TAOS, N.M./LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Reuters) – The leader of an armed group stopping undocumented migrants who cross into the United States from Mexico had boasted that his members had trained to assassinate former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an FBI agent said in court papers on Monday.

Larry Hopkins was arrested Saturday on a weapons charge. His camouflage-wearing armed United Constitutional Patriots members claim to have helped U.S. officials detain some 5,600 migrants in New Mexico in the last 60 days.

The UCP says its two-month presence at the border is intended to support U.S. Border Patrol, which has been overwhelmed by record numbers of Central American families seeking asylum.

Critics including the American Civil Liberties Union accused the UCP of being a “fascist militia” whose members illegally detain and kidnap migrants by impersonating law enforcement. New Mexico’s Democratic Governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, on Friday ordered an investigation of the group. She said “menacing or threatening migrant families and asylum-seekers is absolutely unacceptable and must cease.”

The FBI in court papers said that while it was investigating allegations of “militia extremist activity” in 2017, witnesses accused Hopkins of saying the UCP was planning to assassinate Obama, former Democratic presidential candidate Clinton and financier George Soros.

On Monday, Hopkins appeared in court in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to face charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The FBI said it found guns during a 2017 visit to his home.

Defense attorney Kelly O’Connell said Hopkins planned to plead not guilty and noted that the charges were unrelated to UCP’s actions at the border.

“This is not even dealing with what’s going on right here,” O’Connell said.

UCP spokesman Jim Benvie previously said the group was helping the U.S. Border Patrol and publicizing the “border crisis.” He was not immediately available for comment.

Crowdfunding sites PayPal and GoFundMe last week barred the group, citing policies not to promote hate or violence after the ACLU called the UCP a “fascist militia.”

FBI Special Agent David Gabriel said in a criminal complaint filed on Monday that in October 2017 the agency received reports a militia was being run out of Hopkins’ home in Flora Vista, New Mexico.

PISTOLS, RIFLES

When agents entered the home they collected nine firearms, ranging from pistols to rifles, Horton was illegally in possession of as he had at least one prior felony conviction, according to the complaint. The FBI said in court papers that in 2006, Hopkins was convicted of criminal impersonation of a peace officer and felony possession of a firearm and that in 1996 he was also convicted on a firearms charge.

Hopkins, the UCP’s national commander, told the agents that his common-law wife owned the weapons in question, according to court papers.

At the time, the FBI had received information that the UCP had around 20 members and was armed with AK-47 rifles and other firearms.

“Hopkins also allegedly made the statement that the United Constitutional Patriots were training to assassinate George Soros, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama” because it believed that they supported left-wing, anti-fascist protesters, the complaint said.

Former state and federal prosecutor David S. Weinstein said Border Patrol’s tacit allowance of the UCP to operate may have allowed it to go beyond what citizens are legally allowed to do.

“To the extent where the FBI has got involved, I think it’s escalated to a point where they need to send a stronger message out to them that ‘No, we told you not to do this,'” said Weinstein, a partner at the law firm of Hinshaw and Culbertson.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Editing by Scott Malone, Tom Brown and David Gregorio)

FBI not properly assessing potential U.S. maritime terrorism threats: report

FILE PHOTO: A sign of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen outside of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, U.S., March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation is not taking appropriate steps to review and assess potential maritime terrorism risks facing U.S. sea ports, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog has found.

The audit, released on Thursday by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, found that while top FBI officials believe the country faces a low maritime terrorism threat, that view is actually based on “incomplete and potentially inaccurate information.”

Moreover, the audit found that the FBI had not conducted its own formal assessment of the matter.

In a letter to Horowitz dated Aug. 30 that was released as part of the final audit, FBI Acting Section Chief Thomas Seiler for the External Audit and Compliance Section of the Inspection Division said the FBI concurs with all of the report’s recommendations and will work to implement them.

In 2005, the FBI created a Maritime Security Program as part of its National Joint Terrorism Task Force in its counterterrorism division. That program is meant to “prevent, penetrate, and dismantle criminal acts of terrorism” directed at ports.

The audit said that top FBI officials believed the terrorism threat in this space was low based on a small number of maritime incidents and investigations logged into its database.

However, the inspector general’s office found that the FBI was not properly coding maritime-related events into its database, and identified at least 10 incidents in the system that were not categorized correctly.

In addition, the report was critical of the role the FBI plays in helping the federal government vet port and rail workers and truck drivers who are able to gain unescorted access to ports through the use of biometric smart transportation security cards.

Although the program for issuing such cards falls to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a part of the Department of Homeland Security, the audit uncovered “significant deficiencies” related to the FBI’s role in providing information to TSA, such as information about terrorism watch-list targets and other intelligence to help reduce the risk that someone who poses a threat may be granted unfettered access to U.S. ports.

Some of the specific findings in the report were redacted due to national security.

However, in one section of the report that was unredacted, the audit revealed that FBI memos documenting threats that certain individuals may have posed were not shared with TSA.

Those unidentified people were later removed from the FBI’s terrorism watch list and still have transportation security cards.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Lori Loughlin latest to surrender after $25 million U.S. college cheat scheme exposed

FILE PHOTO: Actress Lori Loughlin arrives at the People's Choice Awards 2017 in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo

By Nate Raymond and Alex Dobuzinskis

BOSTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – “Full House” actor Lori Loughlin and the former head of financial firm Pimco are due to face criminal charges on Wednesday related to a $25 million scheme to help wealthy Americans secure places for their children in top U.S. colleges.

The two are among 50 people charged for taking part in the largest such scam in U.S. history, which steered students into elite universities including Yale, Georgetown and Stanford by cheating the admissions process.

Loughlin was taken into custody by FBI agents in Los Angeles on Wednesday morning, Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said. Former Pimco Chief Executive Douglas Hodge is due to be arraigned in federal court in Boston, officials said.

Another parent charged in the scheme, Manuel Henriquez, resigned as chief executive officer of the finance company Hercules Capital, the company said early on Wednesday.

The mastermind of the scheme, William “Rick” Singer, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to racketeering charges. Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston say his company, Edge College & Career Network, amassed $25 million through the fraud.

Singer ended up cooperating with investigators last year, helping them record incriminating conversations he had with Loughlin, Henriquez and other parents.

The elaborate scheme involved bribing the administrators of college entrance tests to allow a child’s wrong answers to be corrected and bribing university athletic coaches to attest a child was a gifted athlete even if he or she was anything but.

In some instances, Singer helped doctor photographs to make a child appear athletic. Parents made their payments to a sham charity that Singer ran, prosecutors said, which also allowed them to make a fraudulent tax write-off. The sham charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation, purported to help provide an education to “underprivileged students.”

It was unclear how many children benefited from the scheme, though investigators said more parents and coaches may yet be charged. In telephone conversations intercepted by investigators, Singer brags he helped 760 students in just the first few months of 2018 and 96 the year before, while in other conversations he reassures parents that he has helped more than 20 or 30 other students cheat in recent years.

Loughlin is accused of paying Singer $500,000 to help cheat her daughters’ way into the University of Southern California (USC) by bribing rowing coaches at the school to pretend the girls were gifted rowers. Her husband, the designer Mossimo Gianulli, is also charged with fraud, and appeared in court in Los Angeles on Tuesday before being released on $1 million bail.

One of the daughters, Olivia Gianulli, has become a prominent influencer on social media under the name “Olivia Jade.”

“Officially a college student!” she captioned an Instagram photograph she posted in September, which showed her in her USC dorm room decorated with items she had ordered from online retailer Amazon, which paid her for the post.

Other prominent parents charged by the Boston U.S. attorney’s office include Felicity Huffman, the actor who starred in “Desperate Housewives”; Gordon Caplan, the co-chairman of international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher; and Bill McGlashan Jr., who heads a buyout investment arm of private equity firm TPG Capital.

Representatives of accused parents either declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries. Several of the coaches accused of accepting bribes have been fired, placed on leave or have resigned.

(Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas)