Robert Joseph, a.k.a. Ruben Oakes, a convicted felon who conspired with, and directed, straw purchasers to obtain firearms that he would then deliver to a co-conspirator, Harold Gaines, in Maryland, was sentenced July 30, 2020 in U.S. District Court here to 27 months in federal prison. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen and Ashan M. Benedict, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Washington Field Division made the announcement July 30, 2020.
Joseph, 51, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to illegally possess firearms and illegal possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon. Harold Gaines, also previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to illegally possess firearms and was sentenced to 48 months in prison.
“Eradicating gun violence remains a top priority of this office, and we will seek to prosecute all individuals who break federal gun laws, putting guns in the hands of felons,” said First Assistant United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar. “This prosecution is a product of Project Guardian, and I am proud of the good work of our federal and state team.”
“This case epitomizes the danger of straw purchasing firearms, specifically, providing weapons to felons who clearly intend to use them in the commission of crimes,” said Ashan M. Benedict, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Washington Field Division. “The sentences handed out to both the purchaser and receiver of these illicit firearms is a clear indication that the criminal straw purchasing of weapons will have consequences. We are grateful to U.S. Attorney Cullen and our law enforcement partners for this successful outcome.”
According to court documents, Gaines paid Joseph to supply him with particular firearms, and Joseph, in turn, recruited, and directed, straw purchasers to obtain firearms from gun stores in the Western District of Virginia. Joseph then delivered the weapons to Gaines in Northern Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland. Gaines subsequently sold those weapons to others. Joseph obtained approximately 40 firearms for Gaines during the course of the conspiracy. Both Joseph and Gaines are convicted felons and are prohibited from legally possessing firearms.
The straw purchasers Joseph utilized, individuals whose lack of criminal history enabled them to purchase and possess firearms, were able to obtain the weapons on his behalf by falsely claiming on ATF Firearm Transaction Form that they were the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) when in fact they were not. For their role in this offense, Jazzmine Irvin, Janika Barksdale, and Ashley Gunter each were convicted of conspiracy to make false statements on a firearms form. Irvin and Barksdale were sentenced to 45 days in prison and a period of home confinement thereafter. Gunter received a sentence of 45 days of home confinement. All defendants in this conspiracy were also sentenced to a term of supervised release.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Danville Police Department, and the Lynchburg Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Coleman Adams prosecuted the case for the United States.
This case was brought as part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities.
Democrats in Congress press Biden to extend COVID-related prisoner releases
Christopher R. Kavanaugh sworn in as United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia
ROANOKE, Va. – In a ceremony Thursday evening, Christopher Robert Kavanaugh was sworn in as United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. The Honorable Lisa O. Monaco, Deputy Attorney General for the Department of Justice, administered the oath of office at a private ceremony at the Department of Justice in Washington D.C.
President Joseph R. Biden nominated Mr. Kavanaugh to be the United States Attorney on August 10, 2021. The United States Senate confirmed his nomination on October 5, 2021.
“It is the honor of my life to serve as United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. I know that the federal prosecutors here tirelessly serve the citizens of the Western District of Virginia in their pursuit of justice, and I am grateful for the opportunity to lead such a talented and dedicated team of public servants,” U.S. Attorney Kavanaugh said today. “I look forward to working closely with our law enforcement partners, defense counsel, and the court in serving the District.”
U.S. Attorney Kavanaugh, 41, of Charlottesville, is a career federal prosecutor, having served as an Assistant United States Attorney for both the United States Attorney’s Office in Charlottesville as well as the District of Columbia. During his career, Mr. Kavanaugh directed numerous multi-agency investigations and prosecutions, including the hate crimes prosecution of James Fields for the August 12, 2017 car attack in Charlottesville, Virginia. Mr. Kavanaugh also served as the District’s chief national security prosecutor and spent time supervising and training fellow prosecutors while serving as the Counsel to the U.S. Attorney and Senior Litigation Counsel. Most recently, Mr. Kavanaugh was Senior Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Kavanaugh graduated summa cum laude from Georgia Tech, where received his Bachelor of Science in Industrial and Systems Engineering. He earned his law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. Following law school, he clerked for the Honorable James C. Cacheris, U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Facebook needs regulation, experts say, but they see roadblocks
“It’s clear that some of these companies can’t always do the right thing on their own and need a regulatory stick to help them make better decisions,” Amanda Lenhart, a lead researcher at the Data & Society Research Institute, told Capital News Service.
Lawmakers appear to be moving toward a bipartisan consensus that some form of regulation of Facebook and other social media platforms is needed, especially after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed last week how her former employer allegedly manipulates its technology to focus on its growth rather than protect users from harmful content.
Facebook itself is publicly embracing regulation, at least in theory.
“We need greater transparency, so the systems that we have in place, …they should be held to account, if necessary, by regulation, so that people can match what our systems say they’re supposed to do from what actually happens,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, said on CNN Sunday.
But industry observers say regulating Facebook would be complicated and has potential pitfalls. In any case, such a step would require both technical knowledge that Congress may lack and a drive to overcome inertia, they said.
“They have been trying to pass comprehensive privacy reform for over five years and it hasn’t happened yet,” said Dr. Jessica Vitak, associate professor at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies.
In testimony last week before the Senate’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee on consumer protection, Haugen revealed that Facebook’s leadership is aware of the dangers its platform’s algorithm poses but said the company is willing to sacrifice users’ safety over profit.
An exchange between Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, underscored bipartisan concerns over the impact of Facebook and other social media platforms are having on children and teens.
Moran suggested the pair should put their differences aside to take on Facebook together.
Blumenthal responded: “Our differences are very minor, or they seem very minor in the face of the revelations that we have now seen, so I am hoping we can move forward.”
In March, Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-New Jersey, re-introduced a bill in the House called “Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act.” The legislation would hold social media platforms accountable for the content that leads users to harmful behavior offline. Algorithms are computer calculations that platforms use to determine what content users see.
So far, the House has not acted on the measure.
Haugen repeatedly recommended during her testimony that a federal oversight agency be appointed to regulate tech companies like her former employer, Facebook.
Vitak agreed with Haugen that there are implementable changes that could and should be made related to how technology companies are governed in the U.S.
A new agency could immediately implement “soft interventions,” such as requiring social media platforms to force users to click on a link before resharing that link, according to Haugen.
An oversight committee in Congress, however, could be a problem, warned Dr. Richard Forno, assistant director at the Center for Cybersecurity at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Many lawmakers are far behind the learning curve on technology, he said.
“You can’t have decrepit lawmakers who don’t understand the internet and think it’s this big scary place holding hearings and asking questions as everybody in the room rolls their eyes,” Forno said. “You have congressmen and senators who have never sent emails yet they’re on subcommittees overseeing parts of the internet.”
While some new laws governing social media and minors might be passed by Congress, anything technology-specific is in danger of being outdated, he said.
The more realistic options for regulation include creating a new agency that provides oversight or pumping more resources into the Federal Trade Commission, the agency most responsible for protecting consumer privacy, experts said.
“This is the kind of thing that takes specific industry expertise, it’s the job for a regulatory agency and not a congressional committee,” said Dr. Mark MacCarthy, adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Continuously updating regulations will be a challenge, said Dr. Joyram Chakraborty, associate professor at Towson University’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences.
“The policy created will have to be revised within six to nine months because technologies are going to change,” Chakraborty said.
Children are not the only ones at risk though, according to Chakraborty.
Anyone who does not fully understand how to use the technology faces potential harm from social media platforms, he said.
Lenhart has spent much of her career studying young people and their use of technology.
If regulations are not created thoughtfully, there will be downstream consequences that aren’t actually beneficial, she told CNS.
Such consequences include creating regulatory dead zones, imposing heavy restrictions on tech companies who in turn, refuse to build any protections at all, Lenhart said.
Some critics of social media platforms want Congress to revisit a provision of federal law, known as Section 230, that currently shields social media platforms from liability for content posted by third parties.
“Most of America doesn’t know about Section 230 and if you pushed a lot of members of Congress, they wouldn’t know either,” Blumenthal said.
In March, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg submitted prepared testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on consumer protection, proposing changes to that provision.
Platforms should be required to have “systems in place” for identifying unlawful content but they should not be liable if they miss something, Zuckerberg said. He did not testify in person.
Haugen told lawmakers that she strongly supports changing Section 230, but she warned reforms must be much broader.
“The severity of this crisis demands that we break out of our previous regulatory frames,” Haugen said.
There might be some momentum in Congress, but it’s counterbalanced by concerns over protecting free speech, said Dr. Anupam Joshi, director at the Center for Cybersecurity at UMBC.
“On one hand you could argue that large companies like Facebook are sort of getting away with stuff behind Section 230,” Joshi said. “On the other hand, if you repeal it, Facebook is still a behemoth.”
Haugen tweeted on Monday that she will brief the Facebook Oversight Board on what she learned working at the company.
The Oversight Board, consisting of 20 independent experts helping Facebook make content policy decisions, posted on its website that the meeting would take place in the “coming weeks.”
By NATALIE DRUM
Capital News Service
Social Security announces 5.9 percent benefit increase for 2022
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for approximately 70 million Americans will increase 5.9 percent in 2022, the Social Security Administration announced today.
The 5.9 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2022. Increased payments to approximately 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 30, 2021. (Note: some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits). The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Some other adjustments that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $147,000 from $142,800.
Social Security and SSI beneficiaries are normally notified by mail starting in early December about their new benefit amount. Most people who receive Social Security payments will be able to view their COLA notice online through their personal my Social Security account. People may create or access their my Social Security account online at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
Information about Medicare changes for 2022, when announced, will be available at www.medicare.gov. For Social Security beneficiaries receiving Medicare, Social Security will not be able to compute their new benefit amount until after the Medicare premium amounts for 2022 are announced. Final 2022 benefit amounts will be communicated to beneficiaries in December through the mailed COLA notice and my Social Security’s Message Center.
The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated. To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.
Wildlife biologist to explain changes to deer hunting season during October supervisors meeting
BERRYVILLE, VA — A wildlife biologist from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has been invited by the Clarke County Board of Supervisors to talk about the significant changes to the 2021-22 deer hunting season in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren counties. Fred Frenzel makes his public presentation during the Supervisors’ evening session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19. The session includes public hearings on proposed code changes. The presentation and public hearings are in the second-floor meeting room of the Berryville-Clarke County Government Center at 101 Chalmers Ct.
DWR made changes to this year’s deer season because of chronic wasting disease, Frenzel said. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease that can pass between deer through saliva, feces, and urine as well as through water or contaminated soil. CWD was first diagnosed in deer in West Virginia in 2005. It was first detected in Virginia in 2009, and has been reported in Fauquier, Frederick, Clarke, Culpeper, Loudoun, Madison, Montgomery, Rappahannock, Shenandoah, and Warren counties.
“As a result of chronic wasting disease, DWR made drastic changes to deer season in four of the counties I cover,” said Frenzel, the DWR district wildlife biologist for Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, Warren, and Page counties. He said the changes were made to mitigate the spread of CWD, noting only minor changes were made to deer season in Page.
Supervisor Doug Lawrence, who represents the Russell District, requested the Supervisors host a public presentation to address questions about the current deer season. “When they changed deer season, it caught a lot of people by surprise,” Lawrence said. “I thought our hunters should understand the rationale behind the changes.”
Clarke Supervisors have also asked Frenzel to discuss coyote bounties, game bird preserves, and Clarke’s prohibition of hunting within 300 feet of public roads.
Read about Virginia’s 2021-22 deer season at dwr.virginia.gov/hunting/regulations/deer/.
For more information about the Oct. 19 public presentation on deer hunting and/or the public hearings, contact County Administration at (540) 955-5100 or email@example.com.
September marks second consecutive month of cargo volume in excess of 300,000 TEUs
Strong import loads at The Port of Virginia® in September have helped the port achieve consecutive months of cargo volume in excess of 300,000 TEUs (twenty-foot-equivalent units).
In September the port processed more than 306,000 TEUs, which is an increase of nearly 50,000 TEUs (+19%) when compared with last September; loaded import volume was more than 152,000 TEUs, or 31,000 units (+26%). In August, the port handled more than 307,000 TEUs. Last September is when the port began seeing a considerable rebound in its volumes from the COVID period.
To see the port’s operational metrics on productivity at the berth, rail ramp and truck gates, click here.
“The growth we’re seeing is not artificial and the movement of loaded and empty containers is up, for both exports and imports,” said Stephen A. Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “Last September is when volumes began coming back and since then we have posted growth each month. The operation is fluid and the Virginia Model of being an operating port, where we own, lease and operate all of the assets, allows us to be agile in meeting the needs of our customers and cargo owners.”
In the last two months, three vessel services, Maersk’s TP20, Hapag-Lloyd and CMA CGM’s Indamex 2 and MSC’s Indus 2 began making Virginia their first-in US East Coast port call. This and the port’s commitment to efficiency is helping to drive growth, Edwards said.
“There is no congestion here and ocean carriers and cargo owners are taking notice of our track record and what we are doing to ensure consistency in our operation,” he said. “We are maintaining our efficiency and service levels because we are monitoring the operation so closely and continuing to add modern assets. The result is that they are choosing Virginia because they see value here.”
With three months left in the calendar year, the port’s TEU volume is 2.58 million TEUs, an increase of 589,136 units (+30%) when compared with the same period last year. Edwards is not anticipating a slowdown in volume before year’s end.
“We may see a dip as the retail season comes to its end, but this is normal and any fall-off in volumes will be small,” Edwards said. “Looking into 2022 we see nothing that leads us to believe that there is going to be a drop in volumes. It is going to take some time before the supply chain returns to normal.”
September Cargo Snapshot (2021 vs. 2020)
- Total TEUs – 306,219 up 19.4%
- Loaded Export TEUs – 80,697 up 6.8%
- Loaded Import TEUs – 152,197, up 25.7%
- Total Containers – 170,998, up 21.6%
- Virginia Inland Port Containers – 2,297, down 31%
- Breakbulk Tonnage – 4,332, up 1.8%
- Total Rail Containers – 53,405 up 16.4%
- Total Truck Containers – 110,452 up 25.2%
- Total Barge Containers – 7,141 up 9.4%