Grand Rapids Releases Audio Recording of Prosecutor Crash Investigation

After months of legal wrangling to try and keep the information out of public hands, Grand Rapids has finally released phone calls of its law enforcement officers investigating a then prosecutor for drunk driving. Although the officers thought the conversation was on an unrecorded police line, settings in place in the Grand Rapids Police Department triggered a recording of the call. In the recording, officers are heard scheming to allow the prosecutor to get away with drunk driving.

The call came in the early hours of November, 2016 after police responded to reports of a crash downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. A driver hit another vehicle and a pedestrian as the pedestrian existed the vehicle. The driver turned out to be former assistant prosecutor Josh Kuiper.

When officers arrive at the scene of the crash, they realize that the responsible driver is a prosecutor. That’s when phone calls start between police officers as they discuss how to give Kuiper a “pass” for his unlawful behavior, despite Kuiper being “visibly intox” according to the officer. Prosecutors eventually charged Kuiper with reckless driving causing serious injury. Officers on the scene gave Kuiper field sobriety tests but admitted that they didn’t honestly report his poor performance on the tests.

Kuiper has since left his position with the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office. The crash occurred after Kuiper was downtown with coworkers celebrating the retirement of another prosecutor. The victim in the lawsuit filed a civil case against Kuiper. That case is on hold as the criminal case slowly makes its way through the courts. At the time, Kuiper had 13 years of experience in the prosecutor’s office. He earned $94,857 a year.

In the newly released audio recording, officers discuss Kuiper’s state of intoxication. They say that he’s “hammered” and probably won’t do well on field sobriety tests. The officers talk about how many witnesses are present downtown to testify about what really happened. They aren’t sure of the extent of the victim’s injuries when they make the decision not to conduct a drunk driving investigation.

The City of Grand Rapids went to great lengths to try and keep the audio recording from becoming public. They went through several rounds of appeals claiming that they shouldn’t have to release the video because they recorded it accidentally. Media outlet MLive headed the legal campaign for release of the documents. The case even went to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Kuiper’s attorney says that the victim’s injuries aren’t severe enough to warrant his client facing a felony charge.

New York City Cracks Down on Airbnb

One New York landlord has some fines to pay after getting slapped with $11,000 in fines for running an illegal Airbnb in New York City. Not only did the landlord rent the nine-bedroom apartment on the home sharing website, but they stuffed as many as 34 guests into the property at any one time. The Bushwick apartment owner charged guests as much as $115 a night for a bunk bed in a room with other guests.

The health department put a vacate order on the door of the property. New York City’s mayor has an Office of Special Enforcement that’s cracking down on the home-sharing website. New York City’s laws prohibit most rentals of less than thirty days. In addition to banning the short term rentals, New York City’s laws prohibit advertising an illegal rental.

Airbnb is worth billions of dollars. However, they resist law enforcement’s efforts to collect information about property owners who rent their properties in violation of local ordinances. They say that they’re just a marketing service. The company generally avoids liability by saying that they don’t give legal advice, and that each owner has to affirm that they’re renting in compliance with local laws and regulations.

Even so, more and more local communities are debating the future of home sharing services such as Airbnb. Supporters say that the service is a great way for renters and homeowners alike to make ends meet and make a few extra bucks. They say that homeowners should be allowed to make their own decisions about how to use their property. They say travelers can find lower pries and more options for an authentic travel experience by using home sharing instead of traditional hotels.

Opponents of the service say that it’s not so simple. They say that the service doesn’t come with the same regulations and protections that hotels have to follow. From fire safety to security, critics say that there are real risks associated with the service that hosts and travelers alike may not realize. Neighbors complain about their homes lying in the wake of noisy travelers who come ready for a good time.

State and local officials around the United States are currently struggling with how to balance these different points of view. San Francisco has increased regulation of home sharing units. The State of Michigan is considering banning regulation of the rentals on the local level. In the meantime, one landlord in New York City has $11,000 in fines to pay while this debate continues to rage around the United States.

Michigan Debates New Law Governing Short-Term Rentals

Michigan legislators are in the process of making big decisions when it comes to regulating the short-term rental industry. Michigan House Bill 4503 addresses zoning in residential areas. Specifically, the bill says that short-term rentals such as Airbnb count as a residential use of the property. As a residential use, that means there’s nothing local governments could do in order to restrict or prohibit the rentals. If the bill passes, it means that homeowners could do whatever they wanted to rent their properties without local restrictions. Instead, homeowners would be free to rent their homes on Airbnb as long as they comply with other state laws.

There’s vocal support for the bill as well as significant opposition. Grand Haven City Manager Pat McGinnis says that the City of Grand Haven opposes the bill, because it removes local control from the residents in the community where they live. They say that each local jurisdiction should be able to decide what to do with regulations for short-term rentals in their location. McGinnis says that a Grand Haven resident shouldn’t have to approach state legislators in Lansing in order to address a local housing concern.

Supporters of the bill say that the changes are good for commerce, and that reducing regulations allows each homeowner to use their property in a reasonable way. They say that tourists want to be able to find places to stay when they travel. They say that short-term rentals like Airbnb give travelers more choices in order to find a unique experience when they’re away from home. Supporters also see the bill as a way to increase tax revenue for the State of Michigan. Michigan imposes an occupancy tax, and supporters of the bill say that the new legislation stands to increase revenue and make it easier to collect taxes on existing rentals.

In addition to the bill that’s currently pending in the Michigan House of Representatives, there’s a similar bill that’s pending in the Michigan Senate. For now, the bills sit in their respective committees. Legislators plan to debate the issue before it heads to a vote in the fall legislative session. Some legislators have set up meetings and town hall opportunities, so that residents and government organizations can voice their opinion.

Charlotte School of Law to Close

Aspiring lawyers have one less option for their legal education as Charlotte School of Law has announced plans to shut down immediately. The move comes as school leadership failed to impress government officials with their plans to improve standards. The school operated in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a for-profit institution.

Government officials say that the school was unable to meet deadlines for improvements. They say the mandates for changes started under the Obama administration. Because the school failed to meet certain educational standards, the Obama administration stopped the school from accessing federal student loans. When the school failed to make required changes on time, education officials shut the school down completely.

Alumni association representative R. Lee Robertson Jr. informed alums of the decision by email. He said students could expect an official announcement later in the day. The school has since taken its website down. Communications representative Victoria Taylor didn’t respond to a request for comment. Liz Hill of the Department of Education also failed to respond to a request for comment.

Because of the closure, displaced students can get their federal student loans erased. That means they can have a clean slate as they make other plans. Some 170 students may take advantage of this option. There were 100 students actively enrolled in June, and another 70 on inactive status. As many as 90 percent of Charlotte Law students depended on federal student loans to fund their education. There’s no word yet on just how many millions of dollars the U.S. Department of Education may have to forgive because of the closure.

Even if the students don’t have to pay back the loans, Charlotte School of Law officials aren’t off the hook. U.S. officials might look to the school’s owners to make the payments. Because the school is for-profit, the owners might have to foot the bill for their education venture gone wrong. These investors, a Chicago-based investment firm, also own Arizona Summit and Florida Coastal law schools.

Education officials began the crackdown when they concluded that the school wasn’t being honest with students about accreditation compliance and bar passage rates. The school said that wasn’t true, and they tried to convince U.S. officials to change their minds. They even hired a lobbyist to make their case. Even though officials gave the school the opportunity to demonstrate its financial viability, the efforts ultimately failed, and students will not report for classes in the fall.

Lawyering: TV Techniques Don’t Work in Real Life

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio has affirmed a decision from the trial court that convicted Matthew King, the Breaking Bad replicator, of two counts of money laundering and one count of attempted money laundering. King sought appellate review of the trial court decision based on two arguments: that the Confrontation Clause was violated and that the trial court improperly admitted evidence of his prior conviction.

According to the trial record, King had approached a gentleman, Marcus Terry, at a strip club. Terry had held himself out to be a drug dealer with substantial funds needing laundering. Terry explained that he had drugs shipped in from Mexico, and had others sell the product at the street level. King then proposed two methods to “clean” the money for Terry. First, he would create a sham entertainment corporation, an idea he stole from a Breaking Bad episode. Second, he would funnel money through his legal IOLTA account for Terry. Ultimately, they decided on the IOLTA approach. Putting words into action, Terry brought $20,000 to King, who deposited it into his IOLTA account. King then promised to return it a few thousand dollars at a time. King then made two $2,000 payments to Terry in February and March 2014. Based on that, King was charged with two counts of money laundering and one count of attempted money laundering. He was convicted on all three counts.

In addressing the Confrontation Clause argument, King argued that the trial court improperly admitted recorded conversations between himself and Terry, in that it violated his right to confront the witnesses against him. The Court first looked at whether the statements were offered for the truth of the matter asserted. The Court held that they were not offered for their truth, but rather as a representation of what had been presented and ultimately believed by King. Although it eventually helped establish an element of the offense, it didn’t equate to being offered for the truth of the matter.

In addressing the prior conviction, King argued that the trial court improperly allowed the prosecutor to question him about his prior arrest for cocaine possession. Although, the Court agreed that the information was improperly admitted, the Court held that it was a harmless error. The Court reasoned that the arrest evidence was consistent with King’s own testimony about his history of substance abuse, and that King was not convicted based on his prior cocaine arrest. The Court felt there was sufficient basis in the record to support the conviction, despite this harmless error.

Original Article: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/6th_circuit_upholds_money_laundering_conviction_of_lawyer_who_suggested_bre

 

Karl Heideck Explains: Effects of the Philadelphia Soda Tax

The rates of obesity in America continue to rise, and many public officials are concerned about the consequences this can bring upon society as a whole. Nearly 70% of American adults are either overweight or obese and more than 35% fall into the obese category. Just over 6% of adults in this country are considered extremely obese, and these weight issues are even beginning to trickle down and affect children as young as three years of age.

The implications of overweight and obesity are enormous and impact many areas of life. The healthcare system estimates that millions of tax dollars are spent annually on issues stemming from obesity. It’s clear that we need a solution to this problem. What’s not clear is what that solution should be. Some states have attempted to offset the problems created by obesity by instituting taxes and other penalties on junk food and soda. Philadelphia is one such example, having created a soda tax in the hopes of reducing the rates of obesity and the adverse effects that stem from it.

What is the Philadelphia Soda Tax?

Philadelphia recently became one of the first states to introduce a tax on sugary soft drinks. This tax took full effect early in 2017. What was the idea behind this 1.5 cent per ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks? Many public officials felt this tax would discourage people from purchasing and consuming as much soda, one of the many calorie laden products that have resulted in health issues such as weight gain. The thought was that those who were unable to afford to pay this tax would simply stop buying these products and those who chose to pay the tax anyway would be contributing financially toward offsetting some of the costs associated with the health problems that can result from consuming these beverages. While from the outside it may appear to have been a lofty idea with good intentions, the results have been far from what was intended when this tax was brought about.

How is the Philadelphia Soda Tax Impacting Society?

Armed with good intentions and many supportive citizens, the Philadelphia soda tax was seen as a solution to a growing problem that affects all of us in various ways. However, some unintended effects have already been seen in the short time this tax has been in existence.

First of all, this tax affects the low-income citizens of Philadelphia on a much larger level than other citizens who can simply afford to pay more for these drinks. As it turns out, low-income individuals are the largest consumers of these types of soft drinks. Low-income residents of Philadelphia without their own mode of transportation have no choice but to shop at local stores and pay this tax if they want to continue drinking these beverages.

This tax is also negatively affecting small mom and pop types of grocery stores. These stores are already competing daily with major chains who have much more capital, more power, and more advertising dollars. Small grocery stores are also now seeing a major reduction of sales and income due to customers traveling further away to do their shopping at stores in areas that have no tax on these soft drinks. When these previous customers opt to do their shopping at another store, they don’t just buy their soda from another location. They buy all of their groceries at another large retailer, leaving these small grocery stores struggling with a lack of sales. The lost income can be so large in some cases that these mom and pop stores have no choice but to close their doors permanently. In just two short months after the soda tax was initiated, one large retailer experienced an increase in sales of 20% while a small business owner experienced a loss of revenue of over 30%. These numbers are large enough to lead to the death of a small business, creating horrible ramifications for that business owner and his family.

Last but not least, it is estimated that this well-intended tax will result in a multi-million dollar deficit for the state overall. According to one financial advisor, both a short and long term deficit will be created due to the fact that government officials have not been calculating this tax based on accurate numbers. Government officials based their projected earnings from this tax to be far too high, which in the coming years will result in a deficit that will have to be made up for in other areas.

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Soft Drink Industry Appeal of the Philadelphia Soda Tax

It should come as no surprise that this tax has also negatively affected the soft drink industry. Canada Dry and Pepsi both reported that their Philadelphia branches had laid off as many as 20% of their employees since this tax came about.

Not surprisingly, the soft drink industries are fighting back and attempting to appeal this tax. The litigation involved in this case has made its way to the Supreme Court in an attempt to stop this tax and the affects that have already been seen from it. Supporters of the tax are calling the appeal disappointing and feel that it takes the focus away from the benefits they believe this tax will have for everyone involved in the long run. The outcome remains to be seen as the two sides continue to struggle and those who can travel continue driving to more distant locations to purchase their soft drinks at a lower price.

Who is Karl Heideck?

Karl Heideck is a successful and dedicated Philadelphia attorney with many years of experience in risk management and compliance related issues. A member of the Hire Council since 2015, Karl Heideck provides personal consulting for both large and small businesses on the topics of compliance, product liability, and risk management. In addition to being a successful lawyer and personal advisor, Karl Heideck also operates an educational blog designed to inform the public on topics relating to changes in public policy and other legal news that affects Philadelphia area residents.

Karl Heideck earned his undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College in 2003 and went on to earn a law degree from Temple University in 2009. For over a decade, he has filled important roles within the legal field and continues to provide his expertise to helping area business owners and residents.

For more information on Karl Heideck and his legal services in Philadelphia, contact him via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

More Articles by Karl Heideck:
Karl Heideck’s Guide to Pennsylvania Employment Law for Small Businesses

Career Spotlight: Litigation with Karl Heideck

The Sierra Club And Georgia Power Prepare For Litigation

Last week, the nonprofit Sierra Club, an environmental watchdog group, notified Georgia Power about the organization’s intent to sue over a proposed utility company plan to clean ponds in the State of Georgia containing toxic coal ash residues. The utility firm has indicated it will remove environmental waste generated by 11 coal-burning plants in the Peach State. However, it seeks to empty out water from containment ponds at some sites without first obtaining updated permits.

Moving Away From Coal Ash Ponds

As a subsidiary of Southern Company, Georgia Power operates as a utility in 155 of the state’s 159 counties. It provides power for business and residential customers using a combination of resources. Energy sources utilized by the firm include nuclear power, natural gas, coal, solar power, wind energy and hydroelectric power.

The company for several years has sought to modernize some coal-burning facilities which generate coal ash. This waste product occurs following the burning of coal for energy. Coal ash sometimes includes toxic heavy metal components, such as lead, mercury and arsenic. Previously, some 29 coal ash waste ponds contained much of this material. The Sierra Club seeks to ensure the water removed from these sites won’t damage adjoining waterways or public drinking water systems.

The Coal Ash Pond Cleanup Effort

Georgia Power recently indicated the closure of the existing coal ash ponds will constitute part of a projected $2 billion cleanup plan. The firm will shut down all the coal ash ponds. It expects to treat contaminated water, or recycle it. Workers will also remove coal ash deposits to other locations, seal them in place, or recycle them, too. The details of this effort have generated concern on the part of Georgia environmentalists, who fear the recycling of heavy metals may contribute to public health problems unless conducted in strict accord with federal clean water regulations.

The utility began emptying coal ash ponds near its McManus Plant outside Brunswick, Georgia late last year. Since this action occurred without the company first seeking updated permit approvals, the Sierra Club has indicated it will seek an injunction. It wants remediation to ensure the water removal efforts comply with environmental safety standards. A spokesman for Georgia Power contended in an email responding to an Atlanta journalist the firm has complied fully with rules enforced by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and will launch a robust defense.

Legal dispute forces Snopes to launch GoFundMe campaign

Snopes, the fact-checking website, has had to launch a GoFundMe page to keep operating, according to an article in PC Mag. Snopes has been forced to ask readers and supporters for money because they are not receiving any advertising revenue. The lack of advertising revenue is caused by a complicated legal dispute that stems from the divorce of David and Barbara Mikkelson, who jointly owned Snopes while they were married.

In 2015, the Mikkelsons hired Proper Media to manage advertising sales and ad placement on Snopes. The contract also called for Proper Media to manage advertising revenue. The Mikkelsons owned Snopes through a company by the name of Bardav Inc. When they divorced in 2016, David and Barbara each received 50 percent of Bardav. Barbara wanted to sell her stake to Proper Media, but the agreement splitting the company prevented her from selling her share to a company. She overcame this obstacle by selling shares to executives at Proper Media individually.

In March of 2017, David Mikkelson gave Proper Media 60 days notice that he planned to terminate Bardav’s contract with Proper Media. In May, he requested “certain information” from Proper Media, which Proper Media did not provide to him. Proper Media filed suit against David soon after, contending that he and Vincent Green – one of the Proper Media executives who had purchased a small stake in Bardav from Barbara – had blocked other Proper Media executives from access to the content management system. The suit also alleged that David Mikkelson and Vincent Green stole $10,000 worth of computer equipment from Proper Media. Bardav filed a counter-suit against Proper Media.

While the litigation is pending, Proper Media is withholding advertising revenue generated by the Snopes website. Snopes started the GoFundMe campaign to pay staff and cover other operating expenses. They requested half a million dollars. Contributors helped them to exceed that goal.