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Baton Rouge Legal Blog

Understanding Jefferson Parish councilman's wire fraud charges

A few years ago, federal investigators began to probe then Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts’s finances. In May, a federal jury handed Roberts a 29-count indictment. Roberts, who resigned from the Council in April, pleaded not guilty to the crimes. If convicted, Roberts faces a maximum penalty of 475 years in prison and $6.2 million in fines.

In addition to tax evasion, the indictment accuses Roberts of committing 18 instances of wire fraud.

Louisiana scientists accused of computer fraud

Two scientists have been charged with attempting to steal valuable trade secrets from the Louisiana-based Water Institute of the Gulf. The Baton Rouge hydrology research facility develops computer models designed to determine how environmental changes could affect the Mississippi River Delta. The information is used to earn seven-figure contracts. The two men were indicted by a federal grand jury on conspiracy and computer fraud charges on May 31. The indictments were sealed until the men were taken into custody on June 4. U.S. attorneys announced the indictments on June 5.

The scientists are accused of downloading valuable trade secrets from institute computers in order to sell them to another research facility. One of the men is said to have been fired on Jan. 11 when he was caught downloading a computer model. After leaving the institute, both men accepted positions at Tulane University. The university, which is not named in court documents, is said to be cooperating with federal authorities. Both scientists maintain their innocence.

How Louisiana residents can prove driver negligence

Motor vehicle accidents impact the lives of thousands of Americans every year. When a car accident results in a personal injury or loss as the result of another driver's actions, it may be considered negligent driving by the court. However, determining whether a driver was negligent can be complicated, even if the injured driver or passenger feels that the case should be straightforward. A court will look at everything from the condition of the allegedly negligent driver's vehicle to whether the driver had both hands on the wheel at the time of the accident.

Vehicle condition can be a major factor in determining negligence. For instance, if a driver rear-ends the vehicle he or she is following and the vehicle's brakes are found to be in poor condition, that could be considered negligent driving. Driving a vehicle with dim or broken headlights at night or in inclement weather may also be considered negligent driving.

Supreme Court throws its weight behind whistleblowers

A recent decision by the Supreme Court was relatively little noticed in the national news media.

But it was striking decision for its clear and vivid signal to anyone aware of fraud against the federal government. In this case, the Supreme Court firmly sided with whistleblowers.

Michael Avenatti charged with fraud in Stormy Daniels case

Louisiana residents are likely aware that Michael Avenatti has been charged by federal prosecutors in multiple states with a raft of felony counts including extortion, wire fraud, and money laundering. The controversial litigator suffered yet another legal setback on May 22 when U.S. attorneys in New York charged him with identity theft and fraud over his dealings with the adult film star Stormy Daniels.

It was representing Daniels in her lawsuit against President Trump that made Avenatti a household name and regular guest on cable news shows. Prosecutors allege that the 48-year-old attorney obtained a $300,000 book advance that should have gone to Daniels by forging his client's signature on a document he then submitted to the publisher. Avenatti is alleged to have used the money to pay the expenses of his struggling law firm and fund a lavish lifestyle that featured exotic automobiles and luxury apartments.

NIH study: teen drivers more dangerous once they are licensed

The National Institutes for Health and Virginia Tech University published the results of a study where researchers compared 90 teens' driving behaviors when they had a learner's permit and when they became licensed. Teens in Louisiana and their parents should know that the 90 participants were eight times more likely to crash during their first three months as licensed drivers than during their last three months with a permit.

Adult supervision has a role to play in this. Researchers believe that there are certain driving skills one can only learn alone and that supervision can be an obstacle in this regard. With that supervision withdrawn when they obtain a license, teens become unsafe.

Business owner prevails in lawsuit filed by city

Many Louisiana businesses engage in commercial litigation when legal disputes arise. In some cases, the issues involve zoning and permitting problems. Recently, a swamp tour business in St. Martin won a ruling in its favor regarding a lawsuit that was filed by the St. Martin Parish Council.

According to media reports, the council filed a lawsuit against the Wharf on Lake Martin and Champagne's Cajun Swamp Tours, both of which are run by the same owner. The council was seeking to revoke the owner's permit that he obtained to locate his business on the shore of Lake Martin in 2011. The city said that the approval was made in error due to a clerical mistake because the area was not zoned for commercial purposes.

Online study: drivers distracted by group chats, social media

Distracted driving, a widespread issue in Louisiana and elsewhere, was the subject of a new online study from the market research firm Wakefield Research. Nearly 2,000 drivers from across the nation responded to it. The results were recently shared by Root Insurance, a company known for providing insurance discounts to drivers who avoid phone use.

According to the study, respondents admitted to using their phones for an average of 13 minutes a day while behind the wheel. About 52% cited group chats, including text and email chains with multiple people, as the one phone-related distraction that they would most frequently engage in on the road. Another 33% said the same for social media, including newsfeeds and even memes, while 18% said it for the streaming of videos.

Louisiana woman who staged her own kidnapping sentenced

A 32-year-old Louisiana woman who admitted to faking her own kidnapping has been sentenced to 41 months in prison. The woman learned of her fate during an April 17 sentencing hearing held in a district court in East Feliciana Parish. Court records indicate that the Hammond resident entered a guilty plea to a charge of wire fraud in January.

According to prosecutors, the woman sent a series of text messages to her Ouachita Parish employer in November that claimed she had been kidnapped and would be killed if a ransom of $4,500 was not paid. The texts are said to have instructed the woman's former employer to deliver the money to an address in Jackson, Mississippi. After contacting the Louisiana State Police, court records reveal that the employer spoke with the woman on at least two occasions. During these conversations, the woman is claimed to have said that her situation was precarious and she would suffer serious harm if the ransom was not paid.

Bicycling in Louisiana may require extra caution

Riding your bicycle is a great way to get exercise and fresh air, whether you commute on your bike to work or ride just for fun. Although many people think of biking as a carefree form of transportation, bicycle crashes can cause serious injuries or death.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 800 bicyclists were killed in traffic crashes in 2016. Also, the Wall Street Journal determined late last year that more bicyclist deaths have occurred in Louisiana than all other states in the country except one.