Archive for January, 2009

Talk About Bi-Coastal
January 30, 2009

That title will make sense in a minute. First, I want to thank Local 2 viewer Erick for passing this one along to me. Erick received this very official looking e-mail…

From the Desk of the Secretary
U.S Department of Treasury
Office of Foreign Assets Control
NW, Washington D.C, 20220, U.S.A
Operators Tel #: (206) 299 2709

Dear Beneficiary, 

This is to inform you that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) under
the U.S Department of Treasury, has declared that all outstanding transactions
involving U.S. persons and non U.S persons, including BGs, CDs and MTNs payments
and fund transfers to common carriers, incident to the blockage of funds and the
person whose property and interests in property are blocked, are presently
authorized to be unblocked, thus, issuing a tentative license to this effect, as
all payments will be effected in due process, following the new mandates that
was published to the Treasury Department by the new U.S President, Barack
Hussein Obama.

Therefore, if you are affected in one way or the other in reagrds to this
development, kindly get back to me immediately with your personal details
through my private email ( for further
clarifications and information on how to file in an application to unblock your
funds/property immediately to aid the transfer of your funds into your account
through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York- Automated Clearing House (ACH)
System. Please attend urgently to this message.

Derrick Johnson,
Director, Office of Foreign Assets Control

This is definitely one slickly worded scam. For those of you who don’t know, the Office of Foreign Assets Control enforces economic and trade sanctions. This is just a new twist on a very old scam. The scam being you are entitled to a lot of money all you have to do is give me your bank account and social security numbers to process the transaction. Hey, I give the scam artists credit on this one, at least all the words are spelled correctly. Plus, note the vague nature of the e-mail. There are a lot of 10-cent words in there but nothing specific as to what sanction has been lifted or from what country. Also, what government employee, conducting official government business is going to ask you to send sensitive information to their personal g-mail account? As for the Bi-Coastal title of this blog, that’s because the Office of Foreign Assets Control is a part of the Treasury Department, which is in Washington, D.C. The number on the e-mail has an area code for Seattle. I called it and, what a shock, no one answered. The only response is a pre-recorded voice with a British accent telling me to leave a message. I also couldn’t find any record of a Derrick Johnson working for this office.


Double Bond, Double Mistake?
January 23, 2009

I ran a story Tuesday at 10pm about an issue few people realize is happening in our criminal justice system. Most of us know if a person is charged with a crime, that person has the right to post bond (unless it is a capital crime, the person is a  flight risk or there’s evidence the person is a danger). But what about double bond? Here’s the drill..a person is charged with a crime, posts bond and is released from jail to await trial. While out on bond and awaiting trial the same person gets arrested and charged with a new crime, yet is again allowed to bond out of jail a second time. Now this person has two bonds and two criminal charges pending against them. I would like to know what you think. I’m taking a poll…

Ladies Beware!
January 21, 2009

Here’s a copy of an e-mail that was sent to me to check out. Spoiler’s just another urban myth. Here’s the e-mail in case it pops up in your in-box….

Share with your sisters, daughters, nieces, mothers, and female friends.  This


Incident has been confirmed. In Katy , TX

A man came over and offered his services as a painter to a female putting gas in her car and left his card. She said no ,but accepted his card out of kindness and got in the car.  The man then got into a car driven by another gentleman.  As the lady left the service station, she saw the men following her out of the station at the same time.   Almost immediately, she started to feel dizzy and could not catch her breath.  She tried to open the window and realized that the odor was on her hand; the same hand which accepted the card from the gentleman at the gas station.
She then noticed the men were immediately behind her and she felt she needed to do something
at that moment.   She drove into the first driveway and began to honk her horn repeatedly to ask for help.  The men drove away but the lady still felt pretty bad for several minutes after she could finally catch her breath.  Apparently,  there was a substance on the card that could have seriously injured her.
This drug is called ‘BURUNDANGA’ and it is used by people who wish to incapacitate a victim in order to steal from or take advantage of them.

This drug is four times more dangerous than the date rape drug and is transferable on simple cards.
So take heed and make sure you don’t accept cards at any given time alone or from someone on the streets.  This applies to those making house calls and slipping you a card when they offer their services .

**end of e-mail**

This one started showing up around May of last year. Naturally I checked with Katy PD and no such incident was ever reported. Plus, variations of this e-mail have this happening all the way from lil’ ol’ Katy, Texas all the way to Ontario and even in the UK. The only factual thing in the e-mail is there is a drug called Burundanga. I looked it up and found out Burundanga is from a shrub in Colombia. The drug has been used to incapacitate victims in Colombia, but not in the U.S. The shrub is called barrachera (“drunken binge”). The drug derived from the shrub, Burundanga, has been used by tribal cultures since the beginning of time. It’s been referred to by exotic names such as “zombie powder” or “Nightshade”. More commonly it’s known as a date rape drug. A couple of things show this e-mail as being a hoax right off the bat (these observations can be applied to similar e-mails). While the e-mail mentions a location it doesn’t mention a specific location, i.e. which gas station or even a rough address. The e-mail also doesn’t mention “who” this happened to. It’s just another in a long line of vague references. However, earlier versions of this e-mail did include that this happened to a “neighbor of Jaime Rodriguez”. The last red flag (this one would take a little checking) is the part where the e-mail states the “woman” noticed a strong odor coming from the hand used to take the business card. Burundanaga is odorless and tasteless (hence its effectiveness at being a date rape drug). Plus, Burundanga has to be ingested or inhaled(the drug itself has to be inhaled, not just the odor) for it to have any effect.

This e-mail is actually just a new twist on a tired, old urban legend. That one involved men selling perfume in parking lots. The “men” would hand “women” a card scented with a particular perfume that turned out to be chloroform. I really need one of those game show buzzers to hit everytime I see an e-mail like this.

Right to a Speedy Trial
January 15, 2009

I wanted to go into a little more detail about my story last night. (For any attorneys, paralegals or law students reading this I want to apologize in advance if my explanations are a little too colloquial.) The right to a speedy trial is one of our most basic rights, its guaranteed in the constitution. This is not such a cut-and-dry issue. There is no magic period of time when this right kicks in. The Fifth Circuit and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has found that a delay of three and-a-half years is “stretched far beyond the minimum needed to trigger the inquiry.” The U.S. Supreme Court has stated a delay of eight and-a-half years is “extraordinary”. But don’t think that if a person is charged with a crime, takes off and stays gone for eight years that their case is automatically dismissed under the Speedy Trial Act. Far from it (remember this only applies to cases where there is a delay between a person being charged with a crime and the case actually going to trial–this does not apply to old unsolved cases where no one has been charged). Several things have to happen for a person to get a case dismissed under the Speedy Trial Act. First, the person has to assert that their right to a speedy trial has been violated (this doesn’t happen automatically). Second, the length of the delay is taken into consideration. Third, the reason for the delay(this one is a biggie I’ll explain later). Fourth, whether the person charged with the crime has lost the chance to adequatelydefend them-self because too much time has passed (another biggie with a capital B). In my story last night the man who went 21 years in between being charged with murder and the case being brought to court was, in one prosecutor’s opinion, “a perfect storm”. Since this man had been living under his real name, date-of-birth and social security number (he held jobs, paid taxes, had a driver’s license, etc.) it was hard for the prosecution to argue he was hiding from the law. Especially when it turned out clerical errors and lapses in following leads greatly contributed to this case not seeing the inside of a courtroom for 21 years. This is why number three in a speedy trial claim is so important. Had this man fled to a foreign country or lived under a fake name then the prosecution could have argued the reason for the delay is because the accused did everything he could to hide from law enforcement. The State must also show that is has made every reasonable (and diligent) effort to find a person. Defense attorney Dick DeGuerin  argued “the State’s negligence is primary reason for the delay”. The fourth part of a speedy trial is also a critical component. A person has to show that so much time has passed there’s no way they can put on a defense. What this usually means is that witnesses are dead, gone or just don’t remember anything. In the case I showed last night this was a big factor. Almost all witnesses from the original case couldn’t be found(prosecutors did find one) and the prosecution wasn’t even able track down a relative of the victim. Plus, the original defense attorney, prosecutor and HPD officerwho worked the case couldn’t remember it. Prosecutor Bill Exley talked to all of those people and said, “They could look at the notes and say that’s my hand writing but they can’t remember the actual events themselves.” Little factoid..the HPD officer who caught the case in 1987 was a rookie cop who is now a seasoned sergeant with the homicide division. Plus, relying on twenty year old memories can be tricky at best for both the defense and the prosecution. As Local 2 legal analyst Brian Wice so aptly put it, “memories, unlike fine wine, don’t get better with age.” So you put all this together and that’s what led to this case being dismissed.

Enter Pat Lykos…

This case was dismissed before Judge Pat Lykos took office. When she heard about it she created a new Fugitive Apprehension Unit within the office (I hear the title is work in progress). Veteran prosecutor Russell Turbeville is the head of this new unit. Lykos wanted her Office to find every capital murder and murder case on the books where the person charged has never gone to trial. They found 639 cases going to back to 1970(only five of these cases was the defendant ever even arrested). The point is to go over every single one of these cases to make sure the same problems don’t happen like they did with the one in my story last night. Primarily checking to see if wanted fugitives have been entered into the National Crime Information Center or the Texas Crime Information Center. These are massive databases that keep track of, among several things, wanted fugitives. If you’ve ever been pulled over for speeding and wondered what the officer is doing with your license, he’s running it through these databases to see if you’re wanted. Since some of these cases are so old the DA’s Office will also check to see if DNA evidence has been tested or if it has been entered into something called, CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System. This is a databased loaded with DNA profiles from crimes. A lot of unsolved sexual assault cases get solved through CODIS. An example, law enforcement gets DNA from a suspect in a rape case and puts it into CODIS and finds that a suspect’s DNA matches the DNA from other unsolved rape cases. Turbeville and his staff will also be checking to see if every lead was thoroughly checked out. This is a unique move since there are so many fugitive units already out there. Lykos wanted her new division to bring everyone together from the Feds to the bondsman to make sure nothing has been missed. I’ll keep you posted on how this new office does in its hunt for these fugitives. In case you were wondering…I checked the Texas Office of Court Administration Trial Court Judicial Management Information System(somebody has got to work on that name) and found that from January 1st, 2005 to this month there have only been 96 cases in Harris County dismissed under the Speedy Trial Act.

Gone Phishing
January 14, 2009

No, I haven’t lost the ability to spell properly I just wanted to let everyone know about a new scam hitting inboxes. This is a new and rather clever twist on the phishing scam. In case you don’t know”phishing” is a scam that involves sending a person an e-mail that looks to be from a reputable organization, usually a bank, that then tricks the person into handing over sensitive information. This can happen through a virus embedded in an attachment or by tricking the person into entering personal data like bank account numbers, credit card numbers, etc. This newest one comes in the form of an e-mail from an airline company. The e-mail gleefullythanks you for your purchase of airline tickets and informs you that your credit card has been charged several hundred dollars. The e-mail comes with  a .zip attachment and tells you to open the attachment to view your tickets and receipt. Naturally the people who receive this e-mail panic, thinking someone has gotten a hold of their credit card and is going on a spending spree. So what is the first thing they do…wait for it….drum roll….they open the attachment. BAM! Their computer has just been infected with a nasty little virus that gathers all their passwords, documents stored on the computer and embeds software that allows hackers to send remote commands to their computers. I understand that when you receive an e-mail stating your credit card has been charged a specific amount the first thing you want to do is look at the attachment. RESIST THE URGE!!! The e-mail never states which of your cards has been charged so here’s what you do if you receive one of these e-mails. Pull up your credit card/bank accounts on-line or call the 800 number to ask about recent charges. Since all of these e-mails state a specific dollar amount it should be easy to determine if your card/bank account has been compromised or if the e-mail you received is just a phishing scam. For future reference Microsoft has simple page that helps you recognize a phishing scam.

Read the Fine Print
January 8, 2009

The bad boy just bfore landfall.

The bad boy Ike just before landfall.


I hope everyone had a great holiday. I apologize for the lack of posts but I am just getting caught up from being out of the office. This post comes from a question I received from one of the people in the Local 2 sales department. I don’t have to tell you the destructive nature of hurricanes. Personally I’ve lived through several growing up on the Mississippi coast and as a reporter I have covered about two dozen of these nasty tempests. Even if you have insurance recovering from a Hurricane is tricky at best. One thing you may not know is that insurance companies have what’s called a “named storm deductible endorsement”. What this means is your deductible may be different when damage from comes from a “named storm”, as opposed to other disasters or random acts of unpleasantness. Make sure to check your policy to see if this clause in there or call your agent. If it’s unclear you can also call the Texas Department of Insurance at 1-888-327-8818 for help.


Trivia question: Do you know where the word Hurricane comes from?

Answer: The Mayan god, Huracan.