Thirty People Have Been Convicted for Participating in Asylum Fraud Ring

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Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, 1887
Federal prosecutors notched three more convictions this week of defendants accused of filing false asylum claims for immigrant clients. That brings the total to 30.

On Tuesday, a jury in Manhattan federal court found Ling Liu, Vanessa Bandrich, and Rui Yang guilty of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. The three were arrested in the December 2012 FBI sweep that targeted lawyers and staffers suspected of coaching Chinese immigrants on how to lie about their past to be eligible for asylum.

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New York State's Long-Running War on Weed

Categories: Longform

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Louisa Bertman
Despite Andrew Cuomo's promises, the end might not be near.
A U.S. map that shows where pot is legal looks a lot like recent electoral college maps, except instead of blue, the liberal states are rendered in green: the entire West Coast (California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada), progressive mountain and Midwest states (Colorado, New Mexico; Michigan, Illinois), all of New England, plus New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Hawaii. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws legalizing medical marijuana; in two of them, recreational weed is all good, too.

Conspicuously absent from that map: New York.

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A Day in the Life of Your Friendly Neighborhood Weed Messenger

Categories: Marijuana

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Jeremy Eaton
Desmond* has been a weed courier on and off for almost four years. He's in his mid-twenties now, but he was still in college when he heard about the opportunity through a classmate. He works three days a week, and makes, on average, 15 deliveries a day. If he makes more than 20, he gets a free bag. Usually he'll give it away or resell it — he used to be a big stoner, but he doesn't smoke much any more; certain strains make him anxious.

The work helps him pay off his student loans and subsidizes his creative pursuits (he's in two bands and does photography on his days off). When he's working, he looks like any one of the hundreds of bike messengers who speed around New York City, clad in shorts, perched on a single-speed bike, with a bag and a couple of delivery tubes slung over one shoulder. And like any other messenger, he can be at your door in 20 minutes or less.

*Not his real name.

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NYPD Dissolves Unit That Spied on Muslims, But Is the Spying Really Over?

Categories: Islam, NYPD

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Police Commissioner Bill Bratton
Yesterday, the New York Times was first to report that the New York Police Department has abandoned its Demographics Unit, also known as the Zone Assessment Unit, a program that spied on Muslims in their mosques, student groups, neighborhoods, and homes, and which was the subject of two separate lawsuits.

Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York told the paper that she and other community leaders had met with new-old Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and other senior NYPD officials last week. "She and others in attendance," the paper writes, "said the department's new intelligence chief John Miller told them that the police did not need to work covertly to find out where Muslims gather and indicated the department is shutting the unit down."

It's interesting news, and perhaps an indication of a different and, dare we say, less blatantly discriminatory, approach to law enforcement. But lawyers for spied-upon Muslims have just one question: Is the spying actually going to stop?


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Texas Monthly Wants $1 Million From the New York Times for Poaching Editor Jake Silverstein

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Texas Monthly editor Jake Silverstein had several reasons to celebrate on March 28. The last installment of an exhaustive five-part, 25,000-word series on a botched triple homicide investigation was live online; the day before, a big Texas Monthly-branded barbecue event had gone off without a hitch in Brooklyn... and, after an extensive search, the New York Times was finally ready to announce it would be naming Silverstein the new editor of its Sunday magazine.

The news, announced on the Times' website that Friday came as a surprise -- Silverstein's name had not been mentioned in speculative articles leading up to the announcement -- and a nasty one for Ian Arnold, vice president of Emmis Publishing, the owner of Texas Monthly.

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10 Things to Do for Less Than $10 in NYC This Week

Categories: Events

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This whole blood moon brouhaha is throwing our mental state for a loop, so we're planning on taking it easy this week with some light social activities. You still with us? All right then! HousingWorks Bookstore celebrates first-time published female authors (including Voice alum Jen Doll) with a panel tonight and a poetry reading on Thursday. Tomorrow, Videology pays homage to Freaks and Geeks by screening two episodes and hosting a trivia night. You best start cramming now. This plus much more (nothing super intense, we promise).

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Empire State Building Says Photographer of Topless Ladies Is Making a Mockery of Its Very Serious Lawsuit

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Photo by guy being sued Allen Henson, obviously
The offending photograph
Back in January, as you may recall, we told you about Allen Henson, the fine art photographer who was slapped with a million-dollar lawsuit after he took photographs of a model, Shelby Carter, topless atop the Empire State Building's observatory deck. Not to be outdone, Henson roundly mocked the lawsuit in the press and then countersued the company behind the iconic building for $5 million.

Representatives for the Empire State Building have never publicly commented on the lawsuit. As it turns out, though, lawyers for very tall buildings have feelings, too, and those feelings are, at the moment, deeply bruised. In new court filings, the building's representatives accuse Henson of "relishing" the publicity around the lawsuit, and planning an in-court demonstration consisting of dozens of topless women.

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NYPD Testifies In Trial of Cecily McMillan, Occupy Wall Street Protester Accused of Assaulting Cop

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McMillan talks with one of her lawyers, Martin Stolar, after court Monday
On Friday, the trial of Occupy Wall Street protester Cecily McMillan began, more than two years after she's accused of assaulting NYPD officer Grantley Bovell during a March 17, 2012 demonstration at Zuccotti Park. Jury selection took the better part of a week, as both sides had difficulty finding jurors who didn't have opinions about the Occupy movement. Testimony began late Friday; this morning, court was almost immediately interrupted when supporters of McMillan entered the courtroom wearing pink paper hearts on their lapels. After the hearts were confiscated by court security, Officer Bovell finally took the stand for the first part of his testimony, telling the jury that McMillan deliberately elbowed him in the face as he was trying to escort her from the park.

McMillan and her attorneys, Martin Stolar and Rebecca Heinegg, don't disagree that she elbowed Bovell, but say she was doing so instinctively, in self-defense, not knowing he was a police officer. During opening statements, Heinegg told the jury of of 10 women and five men that McMillan, now 25, is known by other activists "for her commitment to non-violence." The incident occurred, Heinegg said, as McMillan was stopping by Zucotti Park during a night out celebrating St. Patrick's Day with out-of-town friends. She only elbowed Bovell after he suddenly grabbed her from behind by her right breast and yanked her backwards, "leaving the shape of a handprint" on her body.

"Reacting to being grabbed by a stranger is not a crime," Heinegg told the jury.

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Dennis Guerra, NYPD Officer Lost in Coney Island High-Rise Fire, "Did Not Die in Vain"

Categories: Arson, NYPD

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C.S. Muncy
Fellow NYPD officers carry Dennis Guerra's casket into St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church
On Monday morning, members of the NYPD filed quietly into the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn. They were there to mourn one of their own: Dennis Guerra died five days earlier of severe smoke inhalation. He was 38 years old, a father of four, and the first New York police officer to lose his life in the line of duty in more than two years.

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Derrick Deacon, Who Was Locked Up for 24 Years After Wrongful Conviction, Sues NY

Categories: Justice

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Derrick Deacon spent 24 years in prison because city investigators coerced a witness to lie in her testimony. This dirt came out during Deacon's retrial last fall. On November 18, a Brooklyn Supreme Court jury needed just nine minutes of deliberation before declaring Deacon innocent.

New Yorkers have become familiar with this kind of story by now. There has been a wave of exonerations in recent years, freeing men who were wrongfully convicted in the '80s and '90s. Brooklyn alone has had five exonerations over the past year, all involving men who spent at least 15 years locked up.

A lot of shoes are about to drop. Here is one of them: Deacon has filed a lawsuit against the state for the wrongful imprisonment, the New York Post reported on Monday.

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In Bundy Ranch's War Against the U.S., Rightbloggers Pick Guess Which Side

tomt200.jpgThis weekend a scofflaw gathered some gunmen and drove off some federal agents who were trying to confiscate his property.

Rightbloggers approved for several reasons. For one, the scofflaw is a rancher, just like Ronald Reagan; for another, there is an environmental angle, which always makes them mad, and a Harry Reid angle, which makes them apoplectic; and perhaps most importantly, the scofflaw refuses to acknowledge the authority of the federal government, which puts him right in the emerging mainstream of conservative doctrine.

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10 Things to Do for Less Than $10 in NYC This Weekend

Categories: Events

We're finally into spring -- and, more importantly, spring weather -- which means we're finally able to enjoy a good art crawl, some street festivals, and take in the beauty of wandering about the city. Now that we're in better spirits, share what happiness means to you with complete strangers at "Own Happy," in Tribeca, watch Selena and learn how to do the "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" at Videology, and meet your favorite writers at the Downtown Literature Festival. So much to do!

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At Least 60 Feral and Outdoor Cats Have Vanished in Astoria

Categories: Astoria, Cats

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Photo by Mary Witty
Old Orange, a ginger tomcat who disappeared from a feral cat colony around December 12.
A mystery in Astoria is growing stranger by the day. Caregivers for the neighborhood's feral and outdoor cats report that at least 60 felines have gone missing between early December and now.

"Just for Astoria alone it looks like it's between 66 and 70," says Mary Witty. "Just in this neighborhood."

Witty, who works at NYU, has lived in Astoria for 14 years. She's cared for a colony of feral cats for about five years, seven of them, all of whom were part of a Trap Neuter Return program to keep the city's outdoor cat population down. She set up food and shelters for them in her yard, and most of them slept there every night; several were related to one another.

Then, one morning in December, she realized they'd begun to vanish.


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Supreme Foamposite Sales Show How Secondary Market Dominates Sneaker Trade

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ebay.com
Retail prices are meaningless in the sneaker scene these days. Only way you pay retail for a pair of fresh, high-demand Jordans or Foamposites or SB Dunks is: 1) stand outside the sneaker store for at least several hours--several days in some cases; or 2) get lucky and snag them online in the five minutes before they sell out.

The large crowd that gathered outside Supreme New York last Wednesday night arrived with pipe dreams of paying $250 (plus tax) for the Supreme X Nike Air Foamposite One the following morning. So many dreamers packed the sidewalk and spilled into the street that the NYPD shut down the release for public safety reasons.

It was a spectacle that sparked headlines. But this isn't 1994; the setting for sneaker madness is not a sidewalk in front of a storefront. Madness in 2014 is not standing in line the night before a release; madness is having to pay $690 for a pair of sneakers on eBay the day after a release.

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The Zombie Apocalypse Is Located on a Terrifying Street Corner in Vinegar Hill, According to Google Maps

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Google Maps directs us to our doom
In these uncertain times, it's natural for one's thoughts to turn towards the inevitable nuclear war/pandemic/act of bioterrorism that will finally doom us as a species. Most of us will be wiped out, of course, and most of the ones who remain will be drooling, shuffling, hollow-eyed wraiths, subsisting only on the brains of the living. (No, not members of Congress. Although that's also a good guess.)

The bad news, as Business Insider recently pointed out, is that New York ranks almost dead last on the list of states most likely to survive the zombie apocalypse. (We rank in at number 48, mercifully beating Jersey, who are at the absolute bottom.)

The worse news, we regret to inform you, is that the zombie apocalypse is already here.

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Wrongful Conviction Rally: "There Are Many Scarcellas Out There"

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Photo by Albert Samaha
"Twenty-four years," one woman said to the other, as they stood in the security line to enter the city hall premises.

"Wow," replied the second woman.

"How about yours?"

"Seventeen years."

"That's a long time."

The women were here for a rally about wrongful convictions. Seconds later they walked to city hall's steps to join dozens of exonerated men and the family members of current inmates who claim to be innocent.

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Call the Village Voice Dial-a-Poem Service at (347) 618-6376

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As we mentioned in this week's cover story, we've set up a dial-a-poem service so you can hear many of the poems first published in this week's poetry issue, as read by the poets themselves. It's not an original idea by any stretch, but we're happy to continue the tradition. If you hate listening to voicemail, this might just change your opinion. (No, we can't just text you the poems.)

Call Dial-a-Poem at (347) 618-6376. (Touch-tone phones, only!)

You can download a podcast (but how 2014, really) of the poems here:

Local Strippers Also Horrified by Long Island Nursing Home That Hired a Male Dancer

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Photo via Ray, Mitev & Associates
The classiest news story of the week comes to us from West Babylon, Long Island, where a man named Franklin Youngblood is suing his mother Bernice's nursing home, on the grounds that they hired a male stripper to perform for the residents. Youngblood is suing East Neck Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on behalf of both himself and his mother, alleging that the strip show caused "disrespect, dishonor, embarrassment, ridicule and humiliation" in the residents, as well as "loss of dignity."

Franklin states in his suit, filed by attorney John Ray, that he went to visit his mother in January of 2013. It was then that he discovered the photo you see above, depicting a muscular, tighty-whitey-clad gentleman leaning over Bernice, hands on the back of her wheelchair, "clutching a wad of bills," as the suit notes. The elderly woman on Bernice's left, Franklin adds, "appear[ed] to be crying."

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The Ten Best Movie Performances by Nicolas Cage

Categories: Film and TV

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Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in Joe.
As video-on-demand continues to become the preferred route of distribution for a certain kind of independent film, much is being made of Nicolas Cage's willingness to slum for a paycheck, with recent examples including already-forgotten, small-screen-friendly items like Seeking Justice, Trespass, Stolen, and The Frozen Ground. (His character names in these projects -- Will Gerard, Kyle Miller, Will Montgomery, and Jack Halcombe -- are as interchangeable as the titles of the films.) Aside from citing the obvious appeal of doing work for money (a defense Cage himself brought up in a recent interview with The Guardian), it's also possible to back Cage by acknowledging the consistency with which he's taken on "serious" roles over the years.

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Film Podcast: Only Lovers Left Alive Is One of Our Favorite Movies This Year

Categories: Film and TV

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Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive.
On this week's Voice Film Club podcast, this paper's film critics discuss Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive, starring Tom Hiddleston and David Gordon Green's Joe, starring Nicolas Cage.

"I loved this movie so much," says film critic Stephanie Zacharek of the vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive. "It might be my favorite Jim Jarmusch movie...This movie, especially being made at this point in his career...this movie is filled with mournfulness for all of these things that seem to be kind of floating out of our culture and out of grasp -- the idea of actual books where you can turn a page, or records that you put on a record player and listen to, opposed to just downloading music and having it exist in some invisible cloud library somewhere."

To listen to the full podcast, subscribe on iTunes or listen below.

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