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Did the ED push Eknath Shinde into BJP’s arms?

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The claim on TV channels on Tuesday that more than 30 Shiv Sena MLAs have rebelled appears to be an exaggeration.The Shiv Sena has already accounted for most of those on the list of rebels and the BJP is in need of more MLAs in order to form a government in Maharashtra. Congress and Nationalist Congress party have swiftly secured their flocks but it’s now clear that the crossvoting that took place from Congress ranks during the Vidhan Parishad elections and the lone Sena MLA who deliberately ensured that his vote at the Rajya Sabha polls would be declared invalid acted under coercion or quid-pro-quo.

The Shiv Sena, which is trying hard to resolve the issue, sent trouble shooters to Surat in Gujarat, when Shinde made it clear that he was still with the Shiv Sena but would like the party to form a government with the BJP and not sacrifice on Bal Thackeray’s Hindutva.

Uddhav Thackeray faces possibly the deepest crisis of his political career and how he resolves it could make or break him and his party. His rebellion against the BJP in 2019 was based on the recognition that the BJP was out to decimate his party and any giving in to the demand to ally with the BJP again could sound the death knell of his party because the BJP is unlikely to forgive or forget all that has gone between them in the past.

He has also been redefining Hindutva to fit in with the larger concept of Hindu liberalism and the principle of Sarva Dharma Sambhav. When Thackeray Sr. had cottoned on to Hindutva in the mid-1980s, his rhetoric was too shrill for even the BJP which then had been experimenting with Gandhian socialism. Today, no one can do Hindutva better than the BJP and returning to its fold will completely submerge his party’s identity and make him a weakling who could not stand up to blackmail from his own legislators.

If the situation is not resolved amicably, the MVA partners may choose a mid-term poll ceding the government to the BJP. With several municipal elections round the corner as well, the stakes are very high for both sides, though MVA members insist that while they are facing a crisis, they are not worried about an imminent fall of their government. And that the desperation is all on the side of the BJP and former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.


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Insurance magnate wins new trial on bribery and fraud charges

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  • N.C. insurance commissioner recorded conversations with the exec as part of FBI sting operation
  • Appeals court faults a jury instruction about which both parties complained

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court has thrown out the 2020 bribery and fraud conspiracy convictions of insurance magnate Greg Lindberg and also consultant John Gray, who were caught on tape offering North Carolina’s insurance commissioner up to $2 million to replace the deputy in charge of monitoring Lindberg’s companies.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday said the trial judge improperly lowered the prosecution’s burden of proof by telling the jury that the staffing change was an “official act” – one of the elements of the fraud conspiracy charge.

Both the prosecution and defense attorneys had objected to the jury instruction, and with good reason, Chief Circuit Judge Roger Gregory wrote: the U.S. Supreme Court “clearly” considers the question of what constitutes an official act to be one for the jury.

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On appeal, the government argued the error was harmless. The 4th Circuit said it directly affected the fraud count and may have “effortlessly bled” into the jury’s consideration of the bribery count, requiring a new trial on both charges.

Lindberg, serving an 87-month sentence, said through a spokesman that he is “deeply grateful” to the 4th Circuit.

“The Court made clear that the trial court violated my Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights under the Constitution,” the statement said.

Gray’s attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte had no immediate response.

According to the opinion, Lindberg is the founder of the investment company now known as Global Growth Holdings and the owner of Global Bankers Insurance Group and several insurance companies.

Shortly after Mike Causey was elected insurance commissioner in 2016, Lindberg – who had supported his opponent – began making or offering large contributions to Causey’s reelection campaign, the opinion said.

Causey rejected the contributions, expressed “concern” about them to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and later agreed to cooperate in a sting operation. In a conversation recorded as part of the sting, he agreed to replace the regulator in charge of Lindberg’s accounts in exchange for $500,000 to be channeled through the North Carolina Republican Party.

Lindberg, Gray, and then-party chairman Robin Hayes were charged with the “honest-services” fraud conspiracy and bribery after the party contributed $250,000. Hayes admitted lying to the FBI as part of a 2019 plea deal.

In an emailed statement, Causey declined to comment on the prospect of new trials for Lindberg and Gray, “other than to say that I look forward to continuing to cooperate with law enforcement.”

The case is USA v. Lindberg and USA v. Gray, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Nos. 20-4470 and 20-4473.

For the USA: Amy Elizabeth Ray and William Stetzer, Office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina

For Lindberg: Howard Rubin and Robert Smith Sr. of Katten Muchin Rosenman; Josh Rosenkranz and Joey Kolker of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe

For Gray: David Brown Sr of Flannery Georgalis; Howard Rubin of Katten Muchin Rosenman

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Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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Court Orders New Trial for Insurance Exec Convicted of Bribing NC Commissioner

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New You can now listen to Insurance Journal articles!

It may seem a minor point to some, but it’s fundamental to the American system of justice, advocates said: It’s up to a jury – not a judge – to decide what is considered an “official act” by a state insurance commissioner or other elected official who’s been offered an alleged bribe.

“It’s a complete violation of the constitution. The judge is not the tryer of facts,” said attorney Hank Asbill, who helped write an amicus brief in the appeal of Greg Lindberg, a North Carolina insurance entrepreneur who was convicted of attempting to bribe the state’s insurance commissioner in 2018.

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday agreed with Asbill and ordered a new trial for Lindberg and his co-defendant John Gray. The court found that the lower court judge had erred in his instructions to the jury that replacing a deputy insurance commissioner with one more favorable to Lindberg’s business investments was an official act.

The term is considered a key part of the federal law that defines what constitutes bribery and what’s known as honest services fraud.

Causey

North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, who triggered the investigation into Lindberg when he reported Lindberg’s offers to the FBI, then recorded conversations with the businessman, declined to talk about the turn of events Thursday.

“Since I anticipate that I would be asked to testify again, I have no comment on the matter at this time other than to say that I look forward to continuing to cooperate with law enforcement,” Causey said in a statement.

Lindberg, once head of several insurance companies, including Southland National Insurance and Southland National Reinsurance, along with investment firms, has served 21 months of a 7-year sentence. His attorneys have asked the court to release him on bond. Federal prosecutors have until mid-July to respond. A date for a new trial has not been set.

Lindberg said in a statement that he could not describe “the challenges of being separated from family and friends, from the work I care about and the communities I work closely with.” He said that he has been teaching other inmates business courses during his sentence, according to state news reports.

The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of North Carolina could not be reached for comment, nor could the former prosecutor in the case, William Stetzer, now a county attorney in Gaston County, near Charlotte.

Lindberg (Robert Brown Public Relations/Greg Lindberg via AP, File)

In ordering a new trial, the appellate court relied on a similar high-profile case, that of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. McDonnell was convicted in 2014 on charges of illegally accepting gifts and loans from a Virginia company. But the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 overturned the conviction, deciding that prosecutors had overreached in claiming that the governor had performed official acts in return for the gifts.

“There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that,” U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the McDonnell decision. “But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute. A more limited interpretation of the term ‘official act’ leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, while comporting with the text of the statute and the precedent of this court.”

The amicus brief in that case, which supported the “official act” argument, was written by Asbill and other attorneys with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The organization may be better known for its pro-bono work in blue-collar criminal cases, in working to overturn erroneous convictions, and in addressing systemic racism in the legal system. But Virginia attorney David Smith, who works with the NACDL, said the group also intervenes on behalf of many white-collar defendants in cases that involve overreach by prosecutors and over-criminalization of defendants’ actions.

The courts in the McDonnell case and in the Lindberg appeal help limit overly broad interpretations of criminal actions and they correctly focused on the importance of what an official act is, Asbill said.

Asbill

The North Carolina appellate decision “is broader than what happened to Lindberg,” Asbill said Thursday. If the district court’s jury instructions had been allowed to stand, “it would have set a terrible precedent that judges can make decisions for the jury.”

“Without the ‘official act’ requirement, constituents could be prosecuted for small campaign contributions if they expressed opinions to an elected official on any non-trivial project such as a plant closing or the restoration of power after a storm,” reads the Lindberg amicus brief from the NACDL.

The 4th Circuit’s opinion, nonetheless, laid out a compelling account of Lindberg’s and Gray’s actions that led to the investigation and convictions.

The story began in 2015, just before Causey was elected insurance commissioner. Deputy Commissioner Jacqueline Obusek, a 20-year veteran of the department, had expressed concerns about some of Lindberg’s business practices, noting that Lindberg’s insurance companies had made an inordinate amount of investments in his affiliated companies.

“Insurance regulators monitor affiliated investments because they are seen as illiquid and, therefore, can limit the ability of an insurance company to pay policyholders,” 4th Circuit Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote.

Prior to 2019, North Carolina law did not limit the amount of affiliate investments of regulated companies, but the Department of Insurance had the authority to impose such limits on its own. After Causey was elected, he promoted Obusek to a senior deputy commissioner position. Within weeks, Lindberg donated $10,000 to Causey’s campaign, then another $500,000 to the North Carolina Republican Party, with $110,000 of that to be sent to Causey’s campaign treasury.

Related: NC Judge Orders Lindberg to Give Up Control of Firms to Repay Insurers

Causey testified that he would not accept the money, and he reached out to the FBI. The commissioner then recorded subsequent talks with Lindberg and his associates, the court explained. At one point, Lindberg and Gray expressed their dissatisfaction with Obusek and urged Causey to replace her with John Palermo, vice president at Eli Global, one of Lindberg’s companies.

When Causey balked at that, Lindberg requested another employee at the department. Over several meetings, Lindberg discussed donating as much as $2 million to Causey’s reelection campaign. Causey, with recording device rolling, agreed to the staff change. A few months later, Lindberg and Gray were charged with conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and bribery.

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Video of biker “making away without paying” Padma Bridge toll goes viral

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Toll plaza authorities deny this happened

Photo: Screengrab of the video

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biker making away without paying

Photo: Screengrab of the video

A video of a motorbike making away without paying toll at Padma Bridge has gone viral on social media.

This correspondent, however, could not confirm whether the incident happened at Mawa Toll Plaza in Munshiganj or Shariatpur’s Jazira Toll Plaza. The authorities of the two toll plazas have denied that this incident happened.

In the video, it is seen that on the night of June 26, 2022, the motorbike approached the toll plaza booth. The toll collector was ready to give the token to the biker, but the latter sped away without paying.  

The toll plaza staff could not stop the biker as he was inside the booth. There were no security guards to stop the motorcycle either.

Seeking anonymity, a toll collector working at Mawa Toll Plaza said that on June 26, when Padma Bridge was opened to traffic, there was a rush of motorbikes. Many bikers were gathering in front of the toll plaza. Staff members were having a difficult time getting them to stop to pay toll.

Tofazzal Hossain, supervising engineer of Bangladesh Bridge Department at Mawa Toll Plaza, told The Daily Star that there is no scope to enter the bridge without paying toll. On the first day, there was a lot of pressure of motorbikes, “but I was in the toll plaza, and I didn’t see any speed away without paying. If anyone tries to cross the bridge without paying toll, they are immediately caught by the security personnel.”

He said work is underway to install CCTV cameras at Mawa Toll Plaza.

Abul Hossain, supervising engineer of Bangladesh Bridge Department at Jazira Toll Plaza, said that on June 26, bikers paid toll with much enthusiasm. Many of them took pictures of paying toll and uploaded those on Facebook.

The two officials claimed that entering the bridge without paying toll, as being claimed in the viral video, is not true.




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