March 4th, 2011
By: The Associated Press
Two Roman Catholic priests, a former priest and a Catholic school teacher were charged Thursday with raping young boys, while a former high-ranking church official was accused of transferring problem priests to new parishes without warning anyone of prior sex-abuse complaints.
The charges stemmed from a two-year grand jury investigation into priest abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the second such inquiry in the city.
In the rare, if not unprecedented, move, the grand jury charged Monsignor William Lynn with endangering children in his role as secretary for clergy under former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
Lynn, 60, had a duty to protect children in the five-county archdiocese and refer priests with known sexual problems for rehabilitation or prosecution, District Attorney Seth Williams said in announcing the charges.
“He instead lied to parishioners and went out of his way to reassign priests without telling pastors or principals . that they were pedophiles,” Williams said.
Lynn’s defense lawyer said the two endangerment counts should not apply because Lynn did not have any children under his care. He also questioned the merits of the counts, which carry a maximum 14-year prison term.
“We certainly don’t concede for a moment that he knew he was putting children at risk,” lawyer Tom Bergstrom told The Associated Press.
While American dioceses have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to abuse victims to settle civil lawsuits in recent years, criminal charges in clergy sex abuse cases have been rare.
People who were molested as children often wait for decades before gaining the courage to come forward — usually long after the statute of limitation for criminal charges has run out. A small number of accused clergy have been prosecuted and convicted since 2002, when the clergy sex abuse crisis erupted in the Archdiocese of Boston. However, no bishop or church administrator has been taken to trial over their failures to protect children from accused priests.
February 21st, 2011
By: Fran Golden
A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport screening supervisor at Newark Liberty International Airport has admitted to taking kickbacks from a subordinate who stole cash from airline passengers.
Michael Arato, 41, admitted in federal court he was involved in stealing from passengers going through security screening at the New Jersey airport’s Terminal B. He was arrested for the crimes in October.
Prosecutors say Arato and his screener co-worker stole $10,000 to $30,000 in cash from passengers’ carry-on bags over a period of 13 months. As the boss, Arato made his subordinate give him a kickback on anything the man stole.
The two screeners reportedly targeted their victims, who were mostly non English-speaking women flying home to India.
The men were blatant in their thievery, even splitting up the cash in front of airport security cameras, according to authorities.
The other screener, who has not been named, cooperated with the investigation.
Arato faces a maximum of 15 years in prison at his sentencing on May 24.
February 8th, 2011
New York Times
By: William Glaberson
One judge who was driving drunk led the police on a half-mile chase, and when he was pulled over, asked for “professional courtesy.”
Another said “good boy” when a man who wanted to file a lawsuit made an insulting comment about Jews.
A third repeatedly jailed people without any trial and talked at length from the bench about how the decoration on a woman’s T-shirt made him think of a male sex organ. “I’m bringing down the house,” said the judge, Gilbert L. Abramson of Family Court in Saratoga County, evidently delighted with his own humor.
Those are a few of the cases that were handled over the last year by a secretive state agency, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, that is at the center of a new dispute about the state’s judicial-discipline system. Last week, the 77,000-member New York State Bar Association called for major changes in the commission’s structure and operations after a Manhattan lawyers’ group criticized the panel as unfair to judges.
The state bar association’s position is expected to set off a campaign in Albany to change the system in ways that could make it more difficult to remove judges, for example by allowing them to question investigators’ witnesses before a hearing. The proposal would also break the commission into two separate agencies, one to prosecute judges and another to rule on the charges. It is also likely to prompt the first detailed review in decades of the way the state handles the roughly 1,800 complaints made against judges every year.
The complaints filed with the 11-member commission vary from nuisance accusations by people who lost cases to sobering claims about judges’ fixing cases and ignoring constitutional rights, the agency’s reports show. Because of the power wielded by the state’s 3,500 full- and part-time judges, any system of policing them would be delicate.
Last year’s cases provide a sample of the kinds of decisions that are now drawing statewide attention. The commission, which operates behind closed doors, removed only one judge in 2010, Judge Abramson of the Saratoga Family Court, who, according to the commission, made comments about the woman’s T-shirt that “were ribald and replete with sexual innuendo.”
Two judges resigned while under investigation, including the town court justice in western New York who said “good boy” after the derogatory comment about Jews and another town court judge who the commission found had failed to sentence more than 100 convicted people.
Twelve judges were censured or admonished last year, including one who delayed resolving cases for up to five years, another who refused to handle cases until he received a pay increase, and one who threatened a man with jail for being rude to the judge’s wife. A Kingston City Court judge, James P. Gilpatric, was admonished after he did not even respond to letters from his administrative judge concerning long delays in deciding cases.
Privately, judges criticize the commission as an arrogant agency willing to destroy careers on flimsy evidence. But cases from last year show that other critics, including some of the commission’s own members, say the agency is far too lenient toward judges.
The judge who asked for special consideration when he was caught driving drunk, Gerard E. Maney, the supervising Family Court judge in Albany, was censured. But one of the commission members, Joseph W. Belluck, a Manhattan lawyer, wrote that it was “mind-boggling” that the judge would be left on the bench after making “a calculated effort” to ensure that the law “would not be applied to him personally.”
December 21st, 2010
By: Clifford Ward
Two brothers who say police unlawfully seized more than $190,000 from them during a traffic stop had been under surveillance and were suspected of drug-dealing, a lawyer for the city of Aurora said today during a court hearing.
Though neither Jose nor Jesus Martinez is charged with a crime, authorities are seeking forfeiture of $190,040 found in Jesus’ truck when he was stopped by an Aurora police officer on Oct. 18.
A Kane County judge ordered the money returned, but the city has refused.
The Aurora residents claim the money was family savings earned from a remodeling business. But during the hearing, an attorney disclosed reports from an Illinois State Police drug task force saying police had received court permission to tap the brothers’ phones on the suspicion they were involved in drug trafficking.
Chicago attorney John Murphey, who is representing Aurora, said the city had not been at liberty to discuss the case until today.
“We were constrained by a live, serious investigation,” said Murphey, who said he had been informed that the phase of the investigation involving the Martinez brothers was over.
Attorney Patrick Kinnally, who is representing the brothers, said the allegations did not change his assertion that the money had been unlawfully seized.
“Not a bit,” he said. “Let’s just see how the evidence plays out.”
The new documents allege that North Central Narcotics Task Force officers were listening in on a call between the Martinez brothers in which they discuss Jesus’ planned meeting with a man named Charlie in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Aurora.
According to the report, Jose tells Jesus, “The package is ready,” though there is no explicit mention of drugs.
The report said police observed Jesus Martinez arrive in the parking lot at 8:07 p.m. on Oct. 18 and talk with another man for a minute before both left in separate vehicles. No exchange is reported between the men, and police apparently did not stop the second driver, who was in a gray minivan.
“I noticed the gray minivan turn from westbound Indian Trail to northbound Orchard Road and leave the area,” a task force officer noted in the report.
Jesus Martinez was stopped by an Aurora police officer working with the task force about four minutes later. He and his passenger were questioned, and Jesus Martinez consented to have his vehicle searched.
Police brought in a drug dog but no drugs were found. However, they did find a sack of cash.
Aurora police were only involved in an intermediary fashion, Murphey said. After questioning Jesus Martinez at the Aurora police department and giving him a receipt for the money, Aurora police say they transferred the money that same night to the drug task force, which reported handing the money over the following day to the Department of Homeland Security.
The brothers have denied being involved in drugs, and neither has a criminal record. But another brother and a cousin had been convicted of drug charges following a 2002 arrest. Those convictions were overturned on appeal, and the charges were later dropped.
Kinnally filed a complaint on behalf of the brothers about a month after the seizure. In late November, Kane County Judge Michael Colwell signed a temporary injunction against Aurora, ordering the city to return the money because it had been seized unlawfully.
Since then, Colwell has retired. Judge Thomas Mueller, who has taken over the case, set Jan. 5 for a hearing.
A call to the North Central Narcotics Task Force was not immediately returned.
December 13th, 2010
A Duke University cancer scientist resigned Friday amid concerns about his research that arose after the university started probing whether he’d lied on a grant application.
School spokeswoman Debbe Geiger also said another researcher at the school is asking the journal Nature Medicine to retract a paper he published with Anil Potti, the scientist who’s stepping down. Potti’s collaborator Joseph Nevins said some of the tests in the research they produced for that paper can not be duplicated.
Other papers submitted by Potti are also being reviewed, and three clinical trials based on his research have been closed, Geiger said.
A phone message left at a listing for Potti was not immediately returned Friday.
Potti was an associate professor of medicine at Duke who has been under investigation by the school since this summer, when his claim on a federal grant application to be a Rhodes Scholar was scrutinized. Geiger didn’t immediately return a call seeking further information on what the school found out about the Rhodes Scholar claim.
Potti’s research was questioned by statisticians at the University of Texas’ M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, who were troubled by methods used in a study that described gene patterns that might help predict a breast cancer patient’s response to chemotherapy.
The December 2007 study also was questioned by 15 European scientists involved in the research, who expressed “grave concerns about the validity of their report” to the National Cancer Institute.
Potti has received a five-year, $729,000 grant from the American Cancer Society, but that award was suspended during the investigation into his work.
December 10th, 2010
By: Daniel Wagner and Larry Neumeister
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has raided three hedge funds in what one of the targets is calling a wide-ranging probe of insider trading in the financial industry.
Bureau employees searched the New York offices of Level Global Investors LP, and the Stamford, Conn. headquarters of Diamondback Capital Management LLC, a law enforcement official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss an ongoing case.
Another FBI official said the agency also searched a third site, at 30 Federal St. in Boston. Hedge fund Loch Capital Management LLC has its headquarters at that address.
The FBI said in a statement that it had executed search warrants in the three states “in an ongoing investigation.” Agency spokesmen said they could not comment further because the court documents are under seal.
A spokesman for Level Global acknowledged the raid took place Monday.
“We can confirm that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation visited our offices this morning as part of what we believe to be a broader investigation,” the spokesman said in a statement. “We are cooperating fully with the authorities and, at the same time, we are fully operational and continue to work diligently for the benefit of our investors.”
The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are investigating insider trading by hedge funds, mutual funds and investment bankers, the Wall Street Journal reported this weekend. The companies allegedly earned tens of millions in illegal profits using secret information about mergers, according to the Journal.
Diamondback and Level Global both are run by former managers of SAC Capital Advisors LP, of Stamford, Conn. Diamondback manages about $4.71 billion, according to public filings. Level Global manages $3.09 billion, filings show.
Loch Capital is run by brothers Timothy and Todd McSweeney. The brothers have been linked in news reports to hedge-fund manager Steven Fortuna. Fortuna pleaded guilty last year to charges stemming from an earlier insider trading investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The raids come a month after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan told the New York City Bar Association that white-collar crime was on the rise, carried out by Wall Street heavyweights who consider inside information “a performance enhancing drug that provides the illegal ‘edge’ to outpace their rivals and make even more money.”
Bharara said his office and the FBI had both recently added more resources to exposing insider trading and considered it a top criminal priority.
“Disturbingly, many of the people who are going to such lengths to obtain inside information for a trading advantage are already among the most advantaged, privileged, and wealthy insiders in modern finance,” he said last month.
Diamondback portfolio manager Andrea Feinstein declined to comment about the search. A spokesman for the SEC did not respond to requests for comment.
Calls to Loch Capital were not returned. Leonard Pierce, a lawyer for the fund, did not return a call seeking comment.
December 10th, 2010
By: Kevin Ransom
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an investigation into how rental car companies deal with manufacturer recalls. It is specifically looking into whether or not rental car companies are properly fixing vehicles that have been recalled before renting or selling them and whether those repairs are being done promptly. Currently, there is no law in place that requires rental agencies to perform recall repairs before renting vehicles to customers. But the head of one consumer advocacy group is hoping that changes.
As surprising as it is, but no law currently exists that specifically prevents such a practice, according to the president of the American Car Rental Association. However, Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) says that the Federal Trade Commission Act states that companies “shall not engage in unfair trade practices. And, not repairing a defective vehicle after it has been recalled, before renting it out, is an unfair trade practice, and is a violation of the act.”
The NHTSA probe will look at almost 3 million General Motors, Ford and Chrysler vehicles — covering 29 different models, and spanning model years 2001 through 2010 — that were sold to rental car companies, and were subsequently recalled. Why just the Detroit Three? The American carmakers are the top providers of vehicles to rental car companies.
Ditlow says he would like to see the investigation lead to a more detailed law that specifically addresses this practice.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car At Fault For Deaths
In a statement, NHTSA declared that “particularly in recent months, (NHTSA) has been informed of incidents involving allegations of personal injury and death claimed to have been caused by safety defects and failures to conform to minimum Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) on rental car vehicles for which a safety recall to remedy the safety defect or noncompliance had allegedly not been performed prior to the rental car company’s lease of the vehicle.”
In the statement, NHTSA also noted, “there is presently a petition before the Federal Trade Commission seeking to prohibit at least one rental car company from renting vehicles on which safety recall campaign remedies remain outstanding.”
That rental car company would be Enterprise Holdings, which is presently the largest provider of rental cars in North America, via its three car-rental brands: Alamo, Enterprise and National.
The FTC petition was filed in August by CAS and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) after Enterprise admitted liability at the end of a five-year lawsuit that stemmed from the 2004 deaths of two young women in a car wreck. According to the petition, the women, Rachel and Jacqueline Houck, were killed in a collision that was indirectly caused by a defect in a Chrysler PT Cruiser that had been recalled.
That defect was not fixed before it was rented to the women by Enterprise, according to the petition, which said the PT Cruiser had been recalled due to a risk of under-hood fires. The women were not informed of the risk and while driving in California, the car caught fire, causing a loss of steering power that led to a head-on collision with a semi-trailer truck. The women were killed instantly, according to the document.
Further, the petition said that at least four individuals had rented the vehicle after Enterprise received a recall notice.
After five years of fighting the suit, Enterprise admitted liability, and the parents of the Houck women were awarded a damages-only verdict of $15 million.
Compliance Required By Rental Companies and Manufacturers
NHTSA stated that the purpose of the probe is to “investigate recall remedy completion by rental car companies on (the above-mentioned) safety recall campaigns. These campaigns were chosen due to their inclusion of vehicles used in the rental market. This information is expected to provide the agency an indication of how completely and how quickly rental car fleets, in general or individually, perform necessary recall-related repairs or other remedies on the vehicles owned and then leased for use on the roadways.”
Laura Bryant, spokesperson for Enterprise Holdings, said that the company is “willing to cooperate with the Federal Trade Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in any inquiry they wish to make concerning our current practices. We are confident those practices and procedures are fully consistent with our commitment to provide customers vehicles that are safe to drive… In most cases, we place a ‘hold’ on recalled vehicles so they are not rented until the recall work is completed.”
Ditlow strongly supports the NHTSA investigation, “because we need to find out how widespread this practice is in the rental-car industry — either not fixing the vehicles before they are rented, or not fixing them soon enough — or selling recalled vehicles to consumers without fixing the defect or informing them of the recall.”
Ditlow said that CAS knows of two specific instances of the latter practice.
NHTSA and the auto safety groups are also concerned about how promptly the recall notices are sent to the car-rental companies. “We would like to see NHTSA require the automakers to do a direct and early notification of the defect to the car-rental companies — instead of waiting for the general recall letter to go out to car owners,” said Ditlow. “If the NHTSA investigation concludes that this is a widespread problem, and it gets the attention of the public, and consumers are constantly going up to rental-car counters and saying, ‘Please check to see if there is an outstanding recall on this vehicle,’ then I think this practice would change.”
In a statement, Bob Barton, president of the American Car Rental Association, said that most recalls issued by manufacturers “do not require the owner of the vehicle (whether it be a rental company, leasing company or a private individual) to ground a vehicle and cease operation.”
Although the Association does not maintain an industry standard, Barton explained, each car-rental company follows its own pre-established operating guidelines. He said that in most cases, the rental-car companies do not rent the vehicle until the recall work is completed, and that the practices of many companies “exceed what is required.”
November 2nd, 2010
By: Gergana Koleva
For the third time in as many months, Pfizer has issued a recall of its blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor in response to consumer complaints of unusual moldy odor.
The drug giant said the smell poses minimal health risk to patients, but it is recalling two lots — approximately 38,000 bottles of Lipitor 40mg tablets — out of caution. An internal company investigation, triggered by two customer complaints, found the odor was related to Tribromoanisole, a chemical used as a wood preservative. Pfizer suggested a third-party bottle manufacturer had applied it to packaging for the shipment of its medicines.
Earlier this month, the world’s top drug maker recalled 191,000 bottles of the cholesterol-lowering drug over the same issue. And in August, it withdrew 140,000 bottles from the market.
In a statement, the company said the recall is a result of increased surveillance of odor-related issues after other reports in the industry. Johnson & Johnson’s multiple recalls since last year of over-the-counter medicines included the withdrawal of malodorous Tylenol that had sickened consumers.
Tribromoanisole is often applied to pallets used to transport and store products. Pfizer says as a result of stepped-up monitoring, it now prohibits its use in the shipment of its drugs. The recalled Lipitor lots were packaged and shipped before these changes went into effect, the company said.
Lipitor is the best-selling drug in the world, with nearly $6 billion in sales in the first half of 2010.
October 13th, 2010
By: Brian Prince
A Pennsylvania school district has agreed to a $610,000 settlement in a controversial legal battle over its use of Webcam technology on school-issued laptops.
The Lower Merion School District confessed to taking thousands of Webcam photos and screenshots from school-issued laptops. The district contended the technology was meant to find missing computers. However in February, the parents of Harriton High School student Blake Robbins, then 15, accused the district of using it to spy on him inside his home.
The settlement calls for $175,000 to be placed in a trust for Robbins, while a second student who sued, Jalil Hassan, will get $10,000. In addition, the students’ attorney, Mark Haltzman, will get $425,000 in legal fees—bringing the district’s tab to $610,000.
In August, the FBI declined to bring any charges in the case, ending several months of investigation.
“A major impetus behind settling this matter now is the recent agreement by our insurance carrier, Graphic Arts, to cover more than $1.2M of the fees and costs associated with this litigation to date,” Lower Merion School Board President David Ebby said in a statement.
“Although we would have valued the opportunity to finally share an important, untold story in the courtroom, we recognize that in this case, a lengthy, costly trial would benefit no one,” he said. “It would have been an unfair distraction for our students and staff and it would have cost taxpayers additional dollars that are better devoted to education. We also wanted to be sensitive to the welfare of the student involved in the case, given the possible ramifications of what would have been a highly-publicized trial.”
According to the suit, the district gave high school students computers as part of a technology initiative, but did not notify families that the laptops were equipped with Webcams that could be turned on remotely. The Robbins family alleged they did not learn of the capability until school officials accused their son Blake of “improper behavior in his home” and cited a photograph from the Webcam embedded in the laptop as evidence.
The district is no longer using the tracking technology.
October 7th, 2010
By: Kim Zetter
A California student got a visit from the FBI this week after he found a secret GPS tracking device on his car, and a friend posted photos of it online. The post prompted wide speculation about whether the device was real, whether the young Arab-American was being targeted in a terrorism investigation and what the authorities would do.
It took just 48 hours to find out: The device was real, the student was being secretly tracked and the FBI wanted their expensive device back, the student told Wired.com in an interview Wednesday.
The answer came when half-a-dozen FBI agents and police officers appeared at Yasir Afifi’s apartment complex in Santa Clara, California, on Tuesday demanding he return the device.
Afifi, a 20-year-old U.S.-born citizen, cooperated willingly and said he’d done nothing to merit attention from authorities. Comments the agents made during their visit suggested he’d been under FBI surveillance for three to six months.
An FBI spokesman wouldn’t acknowledge that the device belonged to the agency or that agents appeared at Afifi’s house.
“I can’t really tell you much about it, because it’s still an ongoing investigation,” said spokesman Pete Lee, who works in the agency’s San Francisco headquarters.
Afifi, the son of an Islamic-American community leader who died a year ago in Egypt, is one of only a few people known to have found a government-tracking device on their vehicle.
His discovery comes in the wake of a recent ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals saying it’s legal for law enforcement to secretly place a tracking device on a suspect’s car without getting a warrant, even if the car is parked in a private driveway.
Brian Alseth from the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington state contacted Afifi after seeing pictures of the tracking device posted online and told him the ACLU had been waiting for a case like this to challenge the ruling.
“This is the kind of thing we like to throw lawyers at,” Afifi said Alseth told him.
“It seems very frightening that the FBI have placed a surveillance-tracking device on the car of a 20-year-old American citizen who has done nothing more than being half-Egyptian,” Alseth told Wired.com
Afifi, a business marketing student at Mission College in Santa Clara, discovered the device last Sunday when he took his car to a local garage for an oil change. When a mechanic at Ali’s Auto Care raised his Ford Lincoln LS on hydraulic lifts, Afifi saw a wire sticking out near the right rear wheel and exhaust.
Garage owner Mazher Khan confirmed for Wired.com that he also saw it. A closer inspection showed it connected to a battery pack and transmitter, which were attached to the car with a magnet. Khan asked Afifi if he wanted the device removed and when Afifi said yes, Khan pulled it easily from the car’s chassis.
“I wouldn’t have noticed it if there wasn’t a wire sticking out,” Afifi said.
Later that day, a friend of Afifi’s named Khaled posted pictures of the device at Reddit asking if anyone knew what it was and if it mean the FBI “is after us.” (Reddit is owned by CondeNast Digital, which also owns Wired.com).
“My plan was to just put the device on another car or in a lake,” Khaled wrote, “but when you come home to 2 stoned off their asses people who are hearing things in the device and convinced its a bomb you just gotta be sure.”
A reader quickly identified it as an Orion Guardian ST820 tracking device made by an electronics company called Cobham, which sells the device only to law enforcement.
No one was available at Cobham to answer Wired.com’s questions, but a former FBI agent who looked at the pictures confirmed it was a tracking device.
The former agent, who asked not to be named, said the device was an older model of tracking equipment that had long ago been replaced by devices that don’t require batteries. Batteries die and need to be replaced if surveillance is ongoing so newer devices are placed in the engine compartment and hardwired to the car’s battery so they don’t run out of juice. He was surprised this one was so easily found.
“It has to be able to be removed but also stay in place and not be seen,” he said. “There’s always the possibility that the car will end up at a body shop or auto mechanic, so it has to be hidden well. It’s very rare when the guys find them.”
He said he was certain that agents who installed it would have obtained a 30-day warrant for its use.
Afifi considered selling the device on Craigslist before the FBI showed up. He was in his apartment Tuesday afternoon when a roommate told him “two sneaky-looking people” were near his car. Afifi, already heading out for an appointment, encountered a man and woman looking at his vehicle outside. The man asked if Afifi knew his registration tag was expired. When Afifi asked if it bothered him, the man just smiled. Afifi got into his car and headed for the parking lot exit when two SUVs pulled up with flashing lights carrying four police officers in bullet-proof vests.
The agent who initially spoke with Afifi identified himself then as Vincent and told Afifi, “We’re here to recover the device you found on your vehicle. It’s federal property. It’s an expensive piece, and we need it right now.”
Afifi asked, “Are you the guys that put it there?” and the agent replied, “Yeah, I put it there.” He told Afifi, “We’re going to make this much more difficult for you if you don’t cooperate.”
Afifi retrieved the device from his apartment and handed it over, at which point the agents asked a series of questions – did he know anyone who traveled to Yemen or was affiliated with overseas training? One of the agents produced a printout of a blog post that Afifi’s friend Khaled allegedly wrote a couple of months ago. It had “something to do with a mall or a bomb,” Afifi said. He hadn’t seen it before and doesn’t know the details of what it said. He found it hard to believe Khaled meant anything threatening by the post.
“He’s a smart kid and is not affiliated with anything extreme and never says anything stupid like that,” Afifi said. “I’ve known that guy my whole life. “
The agents told Afifi they had other agents outside Khaled’s house.
“If you want us to call them off and not talk to him we can do that,” Afifi said they told him. “That was weird. [...] I didn’t really believe anything they were saying.”
When he later asked Khaled about the post, his friend recalled “writing something stupid,” but said he wasn’t involved in any wrongdoing. Khaled declined to discuss the issue with Wired.com.
The female agent, who handed Afifi a card, identified herself as Jennifer Kanaan and said she was Lebanese. She spoke some Arabic to Afifi and through the course of her comments indicated she knew what restaurants he and his girlfriend frequented. She also congratulated him on his new job. Afifi recently got laid off from his job, but on the same day was hired as an international sales manager of laptops and computers for Cal Micro in San Jose.
The agents also knew he was planning a short business trip to Dubai in a few weeks. Afifi said he often travels for business and has two teenage brothers in Egypt whom he supports financially. They live with an aunt. His U.S.-born mother, who divorced his father five years ago, lives in Arizona.
Afifi’s father, Aladdin Afifi, was a U.S. citizen and former president of the Muslim Community Association here, before his family moved to Egypt in 2003. Yasir Afifi returned to the U.S. alone in 2008, while his father and brothers stayed in Egypt, to further his education he said. He knows he’s on a federal watchlist and is regularly taken aside at airports for secondary screening.
Six months ago, a former roommate of his was visited by FBI agents who said they wanted to speak with Afifi. Afifi contacted one agent and was told the agency received an anonymous tip from someone saying he might be a threat to national security. Afifi told the agent he was willing to answer questions if his lawyer approved. But after Afifi’s lawyer contacted the agency, he never heard from the feds again until he found their tracking device.
“I don’t think they were surprised that I found it,” he told Wired.com. “I’m sure they knew when I found it. [...] One of the first questions they asked me was if I was at a mechanics shop last Sunday. I said yes, that’s where I found this stupid device under my car.”
Afifi’s attorney, who works for the civil liberties-focused Council on American Islamic Relations, said this kind of tracking is more egregious than the kind her office usually sees.
“The idea that it escalates to this level is unusual,” said Zahra Billoo. “We take about one new case each week relating to FBI or law enforcement visits [to clients]. Generally they come to the individual’s house or workplace, and there are issues that arise from that.”
However, she said that after learning about Afifi’s experience, other lawyers in her organization told her they knew of two people in Ohio who also recently discovered tracking devices on their vehicles.
Afifi’s encounter with the FBI ended with the agents telling him not to worry.
“We have all the information we needed,” they told him. “You don’t need to call your lawyer. Don’t worry, you’re boring. “
They shook his hand and left.