Two Long Island Men Get $18 Million in Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit

Flickr / Rüdiger skINMATE
John Restivo and Dennis Halstead spent 18 years in prison after a jury convicted them on charges of raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl on Long Island in 1984. In 2003 DNA evidence showed that somebody else actually committed the crime, and Nassau County prosecutors dismissed the charges, setting the men free.

They sued the county. Jurors in federal court in Central Islip heard testimony suggesting that a detective planted evidence on Restivo and hid evidence that worked in the defendants' favor. On Thursday, the jury awarded Restivo and Halstead $18 million each.

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Thirty People Have Been Convicted for Participating in Asylum Fraud Ring

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

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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Jonathan Fleming Released by Brooklyn D.A. 24 Years After Wrongful Conviction

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson
Derrick Hamilton, Shabaka Shakur, David Ranta, Derrick Deacon, Anthony Yarbough, Sharrif Wilson, Sundhe Moses, Kevin Smith, Eric Glisson, Cathy Watkins, Devon Ayers, Michael Cosme, Carlos Perez, Jabar Collins, William Lopez, et al.

Today we add Jonathan Fleming to the list: people released from prison within the last four years after a wrongful conviction during the Tough on Crime era of the '80s and '90s.

As Pro Publica first reported, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson is dismissing charges against Fleming, who has spent the past 24 years in prison on a murder conviction.

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Men Convicted of Hollywood-Style $200k Pay-O-Matic Robbery Receive 32-Year Sentence

United States Attorney 's Office, Eastern District of New York
A still from the security camera footage of the February 2012 robbery.
In August, a federal jury in Brooklyn convicted Akeem Monsalvatge, Edward Byam, and Derrick Dunkley of robbing two Pay-O-Matic cash checking outlets in Queens. The second robbery, on Valentine's Day 2012, made headlines because the culprits wore masks that were so realistic that the employees in the cash check didn't realize they were masks.

On Friday the men stood before a judge for sentencing. Two dozen family members and friends watched from the benches in the back of the courtroom. There were tears and shaking heads and blown kisses. There was much sadness and little hope. The crimes the men were convicted for carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 32 years in prison and the only question at this hearing was whether the men would get more than that.

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Richard Rosario Is Still Fighting to Prove His Innocence After 17 Years in Prison

Roaring Jellyfish via Compfight cc
Richard Rosario has been in prison for 17 years. His daughter was three years old and his son was two when he was convicted of murdering a man in the Bronx on June 19, 1996. One of the hardest parts of these 17 years was figuring out how the kids should learn about where their dad was. At first their mother Minerva told them that their father was in the military and based in Japan. He couldn't come home right now but he would be home soon, she told them. "I didn't want them to have this portrayal of their father as a criminal," she says.

But by the time Amanda Rosario was 12, she'd caught on that her mother was hiding something and she told her mother so. Minerva decided to tell her: "your father is in prison for a crime he didn't commit." Amanda didn't understand.

"She would ask the same question that I ask," says Minerva. "'Why is he there if he didn't do it?'"

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Simcha Bulmash Is the Fourth Person to Plead Guilty in Divorce Extortion Case

Brian Stauffer
Our December cover story on the divorce extortions.
The convictions in the divorce extortion case keep rolling in this month. On Tuesday Simcha Bulmash, 30, pleaded guilty in federal court in New Jersey to participating in the kidnapping and assault scheme that targeted Orthodox Jewish men who refused to grant their wives a divorce. He is the fourth to do so over the last three weeks.

Like the three before him, Bulmash was arrested in an October 2013 FBI string operation that led to charges against 10 men, including Mendel Epstein, the divorce broker from Brooklyn accused of orchestrating the plot. And also like the other three others who have pleaded guilty, Bulmash admitted that the October 2013 incident was not the first time he had participated in the scheme.

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Rikers Captain Terrence Pendergrass Arrested for Inmate's Death

On August 18, 2012, Jason Echevarria, a 25-year-old inmate at Rikers Island, swallowed a chunk of detergent powder. Guards had passed out the soap balls so that the inmates could clean their cells, which had been flooded by a sewage back-up. Echevarria soon began shouting for help. He banged on his cell door, told correction officers that he had eaten the soap ball, and demanded medical attention. A guard informed his captain about the situation and the captain told the guard that he should only call him if he needed help pulling a body out of a cell. A pharmacy technician and another guard also told the captain that Echevarria looked like he was in bad shape. The captain did nothing.

Guards found Echevarria dead the next morning.

On Monday, federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced that the Rikers captain, Terrence Pendergrass, has been arrested and charged with violating Echevarria's rights.

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Risk Would Replace Money in Bail System Under NJ Court's Reform Proposal

Creative Commons
The rising crime rates of the '70s and '80s ushered in the Tough on Crime era of policymaking. Some of those policies worked, and with help from many other social forces, crime rates dropped across the country. Now most of us feel safe walking anywhere in New York City. And now that the country is no longer preoccupied with public safety, the overreaching and cruel policies of the Tough on Crime era appear much clearer.

So there's been a backlash recently, or at least a roll back. The Department of Justice reduced the crack-versus-powder-cocaine sentencing disparity. The Supreme Court declared overcrowded prisons unconstitutional. States like New York have vowed to lock-up less inmates in solitary confinement. Prosecutors like Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson are reviewing possible wrongful convictions. The President himself has criticized the unfairness rooted in his country's criminal justice system.

We've entered an era of criminal justice reform. The push for change has been particularly strong on the topic of pretrial detention, and New Jersey is the latest state to jump on board. This week a judiciary panel headed by the state's chief justice announced a proposal that would revamp New Jersey's bail system.

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Three Paralegals Sentenced to Prison for Helping Asylum Seekers Craft False Stories

Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, 1887.
For the chance to live in America people walk for days across sprawling desert, traverse thrashing waves in small boats, hand over life savings to men whom they aren't sure they can trust, and do all sorts of other things only desperate people do, including lie about their past.

In December 2012, FBI agents arrested more than two dozen people who allegedly helped Chinese immigrants lie about their past. Prosecutors charged that these defendants coached immigrants on how to submit false asylum claims that increased their chances of staying in the U.S. Since then, 25 of the 30 defendants have been convicted. And on Friday, a federal judge in Manhattan sentenced three of them to three months in prison.

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