A Memphis man was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison Wednesday for helping drug traffickers launder money through his used car dealership.
Wayne David McAlpin, Jr., 50, was the president of Budget Auto Sales. He pled guilty last year to one count of money laundering and one count of filing fraudulent tax documents with the Internal Revenue Service.
The two dealerships were frequented by known drug traffickers, according to the Department of Justice. The businesses sold multiple vehicles to them, knowing they had vehicles seized by law enforcement for transporting or concealing illegal drugs.
The trio of salesmen concealed the fact that the vehicles were being purchased with drug money by filing false tax documents. They also titled vehicles in the names of other people to try to hide the transactions from police.
“While masking themselves as legitimate businessmen, these individuals lined their pockets with excessive profits by helping drug dealers enjoy the lavish fruits of their criminal acts,” said U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton III. “These guilty pleas should serve as a clear reminder to those business operators who facilitate fraud and money laundering schemes that while you think you may be flying under the radar, you are not. It’s just a matter of time before you are caught and brought to justice.”
The trio will forfeit about $12 million in bank accounts, investment accounts, and vehicles including a Bentley, an Audi, a Cadillac, and a Lexus.
This crime was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS Criminal Investigations, the Memphis Police Department, and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department.
Daniel Puckett, 58, will be sentenced to the crime in January. He faces five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and supervision upon release.
Puckett was employed by Aerotech Corp., a temporary employment service, which placed him at Unilever Corp. in Covington, about 40 miles north of Memphis.
Unilever released Puckett and he responded by mailing his former supervisor a copy of “The Torch,” a Ku Klux Klan publication, with the following message written on the front: “We have space for you and your family under a big oak tree.”
Inside the publication, Puckett wrote that the the supervisor was not a member of the “Knights” but wanted to attend the “National Klan Congress,” according to the Department of Justice.
“Today’s guilty plea reflects the vile nature of the threatening communication Daniel Puckett sent to his fellow co-worker,” said U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to vigorously prosecute those who commit heinous acts like Puckett’s, as there is simply no room in a civilized society for this kind of hateful conduct.”
A Memphis woman was sentenced to six years in prison after she and a co-conspirator filed hundreds of false tax claims using the identities of dead people.
Cheryl Wright, 30, of Memphis was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court. Her conspirator Nakita Brooks, 31, was sentenced in July to serve 10 years. Together, they will have to pay the Internal Revenue Service back the $690,767.84 they stole from the government.
Brooks and Wright also set up phony tax return service companies. In 2010, the name of the company used to prepare the returns was Rattler’s Tax Pals. In 2011, the name of the company was Taxes Express.
The women used stolen identities as the preparers of the returns, including the identity of a nine-year-old girl from Indiana.
“Through her fraudulent tax scheme, Cheryl Wright victimized the IRS and the people whose identities she stole,” United States Attorney Edward L. Stanton III, said in a statement. “And while she may have avoided paying taxes and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in refunds she was not owed, she will now pay the ultimate price of spending the next six years in a federal prison for her criminal acts.”
A former Navy employee from Millington was sentenced to eight months in federal prison Thursday for filing false travel claims using the identities of family members of dead sailors.
Brown filed 19 false travel claims between June 2012 and March 2013 as she worked for the Navy assigned to the Navy Personnel Command Onboard Naval Support Activity Mid-South in Millington.
She would file for travel reimbursement money from the Navy using the personal identification information, like Social Security numbers, of family members of deceased Navy sailors. Brown would then deposit the money into banking accounts controlled by her or her family members.
Her prison sentence will be followed by one year of supervised release with two months of home confinement and electronic monitoring.
The case was investigated by the United States Naval Criminal Investigative Service. She was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sheryl H. Lipman.
A Memphis preacher and a Memphis woman both pleaded guilty to stealing money from the government Thursday in separate cases, according to Edward L. Stanton III, United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.
Craig Wilson, 45, of Memphis, pleaded guilty to helping others steal about $168,000 from the federal government while he was the pastor of New Beginnings Church.
Wilson said he helped people file false income tax returns. The tax refund checks were deposited into bank accounts controlled by Wilson and some others involved in the scam.
The case was investigated by the IRS Criminal Investigative Division and the United States Secret Service.
Wilson faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervision upon his release. He will be sentenced in federal court on October 25.
Janet Wheeler, 48, of Cordova, told prosecutors in a guilty plea that she falsely claimed she was qualified for federal housing assistance.
From 2009 to 2011, she was a participant in the Housing Choice Voucher Program by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In that time, she made false claims to the local Memphis Housing Authority and received about $30,000 in undue government assistance.
Wheeler now faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release. Sentencing is scheduled for December 5.
Two victims of serial rapist Anthony Alliano went public Wednesday in hopes of putting a human face to their lawsuit against Memphis and Shelby County agencies for a long delay in testing their rape kits.
Meaghan Ybos and Madison Graves met with reporters and photographers in an open news conference after many in the Memphis media excluded their names from the coverage of their lawsuit that was filed late last week. The names of sexual assault victims are often withheld from news stories for many reasons but mainly to protect the victims’ privacy.
Ybos and Graves are two of the three victims named in the lawsuit that is seeking “redress for special damages” as the victims experienced post traumatic stress disorder and lived in perpetual fear for nearly a decade until Alliano was finally arrested in May 2012.
All three of the victims in the new lawsuit gave body fluid samples and DNA evidence to investigators after they were raped, according to the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The evidence was placed in sexual assault kits and transported to city and county agents for testing, the suit says. But the local governments “failed to timely submit, responsibly handle, and make due diligence” on about 12,000 such rape kits.
Graves said Wednesday she wanted to “be the shining light for other girls who were too scared to come forward.”
“I want the kits tested and I want girls (who have been sexually assaulted) to know that it’s OK and that you’re not disgusting and you’re still a human,” she said.
Ybos was assaulted on May 19, 2003, she said, and Graves was assaulted two days after that on May 21. Ybos was 16 at the time and Graves was 12. Their descriptions to police about their attacks were “the exact same,” Ybos said, even drawing the same knife that Alliano used in the attacks. They have even been told they look alike, they said, both of them with long, dark hair and slender builds.
Ybos and Graves said they hope the suit sheds light on the systemic failures that allowed their attacker to remain at large for nearly 10 years. They also hope the suit changes the procedures local law enforcement uses in future sexual assault investigations.
“If you report your assault to law enforcement and you don’t get the result that you think you should, don’t think it’s because of you; it’s because the system is that way,” Ybos said. “It’s not your fault and it’s not anything you’ve done or anything because of you. We hope some change can come from this disaster.”
Another lawsuit regarding the untested rape kits was filed against local government agencies in December. That federal, class action lawsuit was filed by an unnamed Memphis woman who said she was raped in 2001 and her identity will never be revealed. That suit says local law enforcement must test all rape kits. The new suit filed by Ybos and Graves takes a less extreme position.
“We don’t expect you to solve all crimes and we don’t expect you to have a perfect system. That’s a fantasy,” said Lofton, the victims’ attorney. “But if any of these cases could have been effectively prioritized, it should have been this one.”
The Memphis man indicted earlier this month for killing his dog in his dishwasher pleaded guilty to the charges this week and will serve 16 months in prison, according to Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich.
Curry pleaded guilty in criminal court to felony charges of aggravated animal cruelty.
A man accused of killing a puppy by putting it in a running dishwasher was indicted Thursday by a Shelby County Grand Jury on felony charges of cruelty to animals, according to Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich.
Workers found the dog’s body in a dumpster and notified police.
Curry was also indicted on misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty by the grand jury. Those charges allege Curry left the same dog, a small mixed-breed named Daisy, tied to the porch of his Fox Meadows-area apartment last June with no food or water.
Curry could face up to six years in prison for the aggravated animal cruelty charges related to the dishwasher incident. The misdemeanor animal cruelty charges carry a maximum jail sentence of 11 months and 29 days. He is scheduled in Criminal Court on March 26.
Curry is also up on charges of charging $600 on his great aunt’s credit card without her authorization. He’s due in General Sessions Criminal Court on that case on March 12.
Curry is now being held in the Shelby County Jail on bonds totaling $50,000 for all of the pending cases.
A Memphis attorney has been disbarred by the Tennessee Supreme Court and will have to pay restitution to two of his past clients for “dishonesty, deceit, and misrepresentation.”
The board found that Skouteris accepted and deposited settlement checks for six clients but failed to maintain sufficient funds in his trust account to cover the settlement payment back to those clients. He failed to deliver timely payments to some of his clients. He also deposited one settlement into a personal operating account.
Also, he “failed to provide competent representation” to clients and did not respond to their requests for information. He did not use written contingency fee agreements, which guarantee payments to an attorney only if money is won in a settlement or trial.
Finally, Skouteris failed to respond to the Board of Professional Responsibility on three complaints of misconduct.
“By his conduct, Mr. Skouteris engaged in dishonesty, deceit, and misrepresentation, and engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice,” according to a news release from the Board of Professional Responsibility.
According to a November judgment from the Supreme Court, Skouteris was disciplined by the board in 1997, 2000, and 2003.
In 1997, the attorney was informally punished for withholding money from two clients to pay their medical bills and issuing worthless checks to their medical providers.
In 2000, he was censured by the board for withholding money from clients to pay their medical bills, failing to pay medical their medical providers, and failing to maintain the clients’ settlement proceeds in his trust accounts. For this, he had to attend a board workshop on ethics, complete six hours of ethics education, speak at three seminars on how he mismanaged his trust account, have that trust account monitored for the year 2000, and submit quarterly reports to a disciplinary counsel during that period.
The most recent case against him comes from six complaints of misconduct from 2007 to 2011. They all deal with mismanagement of settlement accounts.
The board asked Skouteris to explain some of these failures and he testified that he had been going through tough times personally, had lost both of his parents, had gone through a divorce, and tore his Achilles tendon. But maintained that he was still a “good lawyer, not such a great accountant.”
A high-ranking Shelby County prosecutor was publicly reprimanded by the Tennessee Supreme Court late last month for what some say amounts to hiding evidence in a murder trial and his office said they don’t plan any disciplinary action against him.
Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Henderson pleaded guilty to violating Tennessee Supreme Court evidence rules and was censured by the body on Monday, December 23.
“While prosecuting a capital murder case in 1998, and again in 2004 during a retrial, Mr. Henderson responded to the discovery in a manner that did not make timely disclosure of all exculpatory evidence,” according to the release from the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee.
Larry Buser, a spokesman for Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich’s office, said flatly that his office plans no reprimand for the attorney.
“Tom has been a long-time prosecutor in this office; he’s been here since 1976,” Buser said. “He’s prosecuted over 400 jury trials, including 50 first-degree murder trials, many of them the most heinous in Shelby County. He’s never been disciplined and never had a disciplinary action in all that time.”
A censure is a “rebuke and a warning to the attorney, but does not affect the attorney’s ability to practice law,” according to information released by the court a week after the censure on Monday, December 30.
At the center of Henderson’s censure is the capital murder case of Michael Rimmer, who was convicted for killing motel clerk Ricci Ellsworth. The victim’s body has never been found.
Rimmer was originally convicted in 1998 and again in a 2004 re-trial. Henderson served as prosecuting attorney in both cases. The 2004 re-trial was granted because a judge ruled that Henderson had suppressed evidence in the original trial.
Rimmer, now a death row inmate, will get a new trial in July as a judge ordered that it was likely that Henderson had suppressed evidence that could have helped Rimmer’s defense.
Rimmer’s attorneys have requested a special prosecutor to be brought in for his new trial.
Attorneys representing the family of slain Memphis resident Steven Askew have filed a $3 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city and several Memphis Police officers.
On January 17th of last year, 24-year-old Steven Askew was shot and killed by two Memphis police officers as he sat in his Ford Crown Victoria. Minutes before the shooting, Askew was asleep in his car awaiting the arrival of his girlfriend at the Windsor Place Apartments complex. Multiple residents have stated that Askew waited in his car for his girlfriend on a regular basis.
The police officers involved in the shooting, Ned Aufdenkamp and Matthew Dyess, noticed Askew sleep in his car and upon suspicion, approached the vehicle. The officers stated that as they got to the window of the car, they noticed a handgun in between Askew’s legs.
The officers tapped on the window while shining flashlights into the car, awaking Askew. The officers stated they gave Askew verbal commands to raise his hands. Instead of complying with the officers’ request, they allege Askew threw some “gang signs" before arming himself with the handgun and pointing it at them. The officers reacted by discharging their weapons. In the end, 22 shots had been fired, nine of which hit Askew in the back, arms, and back of the neck.
The incident led some to question whether or not the shooting was justified. It was later revealed that one of the officers involved, Aufdenkamp, had a past history of performance issues. It was also disclosed that Askew had a permit for the handgun in his car; ballistics tests determined that Askew’s firearm wasn’t discharged during the incident.
Under the representation of attorneys Jeffrey Rosenblum and Howard Manis, Askew’s family is suing the city along with both officers involved and Memphis Police director Toney Armstrong for $3 million in damages for the killing. View the Askew family's complaint here
A week before Askew’s shooting, 67-year-old Donald Moore was fatally shot by an Memphis Police officer at his Cordova home on January 11th. The officer involved, Phillip Penny, said he shot Moore after he pointed a gun at him and several Memphis Animal Services employees who were there to serve an animal cruelty warrant.
Moore's family has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, Penny (who also has a troubled past with the department), TACT unit commander Major Charles Morris, and Armstrong. The case is also being represented by Manis and Rosenblum. Similar to the Askew family, they’re seeking $3 million in damages. View the Moore family's complaint here
None of the officers involved in the two shootings were prosecuted and remain employed with the department. Both of the fatal shootings took place a month after Memphis Police officer Martoiya Lang was killed while serving a search warrant on December 14th, 2012.
Last week, the historic Roland Darnell house at 1433 Union, which once housed the women's philanthropy organization, the Nineteenth Century Club, seemed destined for the wrecking ball after Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter said he had little choice but to allow the building's new owners to go forward with demolition plans.
But the brakes have been pressed on demolition after four current and former members of the Nineteenth Century Club, represented by Shelby County Commissioner and attorney Steve Mulroy, managed to get a temporary injunction from Shelby County Chancery Court. The women — Teresa Hurst of Memphis, Gloria McDaniel of Memphis, Connie Lee of Memphis and Nancy Walker of Germantown — allege that the organization's leadership auctioned the property in January without full approval of the club's membership.
The four must post a $650,000 bond within 10 days. Memphis Heritage has launched a fund-raising campaign to help the women raise the bond money.
Judge Larry Potter said he had little choice today but to allow the new owners of the former Nineteenth Century Club headquarters at 1433 Union to do what they wanted with their property. The owners have expressed plans to demolish the property, but Potter said they must show him proof that they've pulled the proper permits by August 26th before the demolition can begin.
"I do not like the fact that your client wants to demolish the building, but they have met all the requirements under the law," Potter said, addressing Linda Mathis, an attorney with Union Group LLC who represents the new owners, Liang Lin and Xiao Dan Chen.
The case had been reset to today because preservationists were attempting to salvage the hundred-plus-year-old home by asking an attorney to look into possible illegalities around the sale of the building. The Lins won the property at auction in January, but there was some belief that the Nineteenth Century Club may have violated its by-laws with the decision to sell because the sale may not have been properly authorized by all of the club's membership.
Attorney Webb Brewer told Potter today that the Tennessee Attorney General's office had said they'd evaluate the complaint, but they gave him no guarantee they'd take on the case. No action had been filed in chancery court, the court that would have jurisdiction to look into such a case. Potter's Environmental Court would not have jurisdiction over the possible illegality of the sale of property.
Potter told the courtroom that, although he wasn't happy about his decision, he had little choice but to let the new owners move forward with plans to demolish the historic home. Since the attorney general's office had not promised to take up the case or provide a timeline of when they may, Potter said the court must move forward.
Click here for more on this story.
The ban on nudity, alcohol, and physical contact between dancers and customers at Shelby County strip clubs was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati on Tuesday.
The ban, which was approved by the Shelby County Commission in 2007, has been appealed by club owners several times. It went into effect in January of last year.
But the ruling likely won't make much difference in the way most former strip clubs now operate. After the new rules went into effect last year, many clubs took on a bikini bar format so they could continue to sell beer. Dancers at the bikini bars wear two-piece bathing suits or Hooters-style crop tops and extremely short shorts.
Click here to read the Flyer's coverage of how the rules affected business at the once-thriving clubs.
Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter has reset the case for the Nineteenth Century Club house at 1433 Union to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 10th.
The case, at which the building's new owners are ordered to present a plan for the building's demolition, was originally set to be heard this morning.
Last week, Potter told the new owners that they couldn't move forward with any demolition plans until he'd approved them.
Potter made clear in court last week that he opposes the idea of demolition but that he has no legal means to stop the owners from tearing down the building.
"We are losing something we will never re-gain. I do not think it’s a wise decision to demolish this building,” Potter told the courtroom. “But frankly, that doesn’t matter. If there were legal means for me to stop this, I would.”
Memphis Heritage and the Midtown Action Coalition have been vocal opponents of the planned demolition.