- Federal prosecutors charged guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas with falsifying documents that said they had completed prisoner checks the night convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein died.
- An indictment alleges that the two did not complete any rounds, and instead, both spent time online shopping and sleeping.
- Both guards rejected a deal from prosecutors and pleaded not guilty.
Guards Charged With Falsifying Records
Federal prosecutors charged two guards on Tuesday for falsifying documents on Aug. 10, the night that sex offender Jeffrey Epstein died.
Epstein reportedly committed suicide in New York at the Metropolitan Correctional Center where he was awaiting trial on federal charges of sex trafficking minors. Shortly after his imprisonment began, Epstein reportedly tried to commit suicide and was placed on suicide watch for a week before being taken off.
Even though Epstein was no longer on suicide watch, prison officials moved his cell to within at least 15 feet of the guards’ desks to monitor him more closely.
The indictment, however, alleges that guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas lied on signed documents to say they had carried out required half-hour rounds, when in fact they had not.
According to the charges, both were also supposed to have performed additional sets of more-detailed prisoner checks and headcounts at midnight, 3 a.m., and 5 a.m. The accusation, however, states that the guards “repeatedly failed to complete mandated counts of prisoners under their watch.”
In fact, according to the charge, the last time anyone saw Epstein alive was around 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 9 when Noel reportedly briefly walked up to and then away from the door to the tier that held Epstein. The indictment asserts that video footage showed no one else approaching Epstein’s cell for the rest of the night.
The indictment claims the two “sat at their desk” and “browsed the internet,” with Noel spending part of the night shopping for furniture while Thomas shopped for motorcycles and looked at sports news.
At one point, the indictment says both sat at their desks for two hours without moving, concluding that the guards had fallen asleep on duty.
Noel and Thomas then allegedly “repeatedly signed false certifications attesting to having conducted multiple counts of inmates when, in truth and in fact, they never conducted such accounts.”
Around 6:30 the next morning, Noel found Epstein’s body when delivering his breakfast. She then reportedly told a supervisor that they hadn’t completed their 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. rounds.
Thomas, however, said that they hadn’t done any of their rounds that night.
“We messed up,” he said, then adding of Noel: “I messed up. She’s not to blame. We didn’t do any rounds.”
Following their Tuesday indictment, both guards were taken into custody. In federal court, they both pleaded not guilty to six different counts of record falsification after they rejected a plea deal where they would have admitted to the crime.
Shortly after their arrests, both were released on bail for $100,000 each.
Arguments from Attorneys
During their hearing, Thomas’ attorney argued that the guards were being scapegoated.
“We feel this is a rush to judgment by the U.S. attorney’s office,” he said. “They’re going after the low man on the totem pole here.”
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman rejected such a conclusion and said the guards were being charged for breaking federal law.
“As alleged, the defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Center [MCC],” he said. “Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates, and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction.”
AOC and Sanders Ask for HIV Medicine Patent to be Rejected
- A petition filed by advocacy group PrEP4All Collaboration alleges that biotech company Gilead Sciences suspended the development of a potentially safer HIV prevention drug for five years in 2005 so they could continue to profit from their current monopoly on the market, despite the fact that it was less safe.
- Gilead is asking now asking to extend the patent on the new drug while PrEP4All is asking for this patent to be rejected.
- Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also wrote a joint letter urging the Trump administration to reject this request, calling the alleged practice a “disgrace.”
- Gilead has denied these accusations.
Petition Filed Against Gilead
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are calling on the Trump administration to reject a patent extension request from Gilead Sciences after the company was accused of delaying the development of a safer HIV prevention drug.
A petition filed by advocacy group PrEP4All Collaboration alleges that when Gilead suspended the development of a newer and potentially safer HIV prevention drug in 2005, it did so in order to maximize its monopoly on profits from its less-safe drug that was already on the market. The petition says they wanted to leave this old drug on the market until its patent expired, and before generic competition came up. The company did not submit the new drug, tenofovir alafenamide, or TAF, to the Food and Drug Administration until 2010. It was approved in 2015.
According to a report from the Washington Post, Gilead is currently requesting that its patent on TAF be extended for another three years. PrEP4All is asking the Patent and Trademark Office to reject this request because of this allegation.
TAF is meant to prevent HIV infections via a process called pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP. Extending the patent would make sure they had a monopoly on the drug.
Letter from Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez
PrEP4All’s fight got a new push of support on Monday when Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez gave their support. In a letter to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office obtained by The Guardian, the leaders condemned Gilead for these accusations.
“It is an absolute disgrace that in America, a greedy drug company like Gilead can deprive hundreds of thousands of Americans of lifesaving HIV medicine to extract more profit, lie about it, and then have the audacity to ask the US government to award it with a longer monopoly to reap tens of billions more in profits,” Sanders wrote.
Ocasio-Cortez said this practice “inhibited efforts to end the HIV epidemic.”
Together, the two urged the Trump administration to “not reward Gilead for this immoral behavior.”
If the Trump administration followed their requests, it would not be the first time they took action against Gilead. In November, the administration sued the company in a patent infringement case. They accused the company of profiting off of taxpayer-funded research without giving taxpayer money back.
Statements From Those Involved
Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders have not been the only ones to speak out.
“Gilead has not only intentionally delayed clinical development of a drug to artificially manipulate its eligibility for a patent-term extension, but it has done so despite the apparent harm to patients,” said attorney Christopher Morten, who filed PrEP4All’s petition in a statement to the Washington Post.
The Post says that the petition cites statements made by the company’s executives in 2011, where some indicated a desire to “avoid cannibalizing sales of the old drug” with the expectation that TAF could maintain the patent longevity of their HIV drug franchise. The petition also says that Gilead stated that clinical trials had indicated that TAF is safer than older drugs. A study funded by them found that restricting patients from the new drug could cause 16,000 deaths over the course of nine years.
Still, the Washington Post said the outcome of PrEP4All’s petition is not set in stone.
“Odds of success are steep because the patent office will review such third-party petitions only in ‘extraordinary’ circumstances, according to its rules,” their report said.
“Patient safety is of foremost importance to us, and any implication that Gilead delayed the development of a drug known to be safer than [the older drug] is false,’’ Gilead spokesperson Ryan McKeel said in a statement obtained by the Post.
See what others were saying: (The Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Advocate)
Florida Shootout Involving Hijacked UPS Truck Ends With 4 Dead
- Two armed robbers hijacked a UPS truck and held the driver hostage in an attempt to escape police on Thursday.
- The police chase ended with a shootout that left both suspects, the UPS driver, and another civilian dead.
- Many are condemning the police officers for their actions and blaming them for the death of the innocent victims.
Armed Robbery Leads to Shootout
Two suspects and two civilians were killed in gunfire on Thursday after an armed robbery attempt led to a violent shootout.
The suspects, identified as Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Jerome Hill, held up a jewelry store in Coral Gables, Florida yesterday afternoon. Gunfire was exchanged between the thieves and a store employee, and police arrived shortly after.
One female store employee was injured and taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital, NBC Miami reported.
The suspects escaped in a van but ditched their getaway vehicle about a mile away from the jewelry store. They then hijacked a UPS truck, holding the driver hostage at gunpoint, local authorities said at a press conference Thursday night.
Police chased the robbers across two counties. Approximately an hour after the UPS driver was abducted, the pursuit ended with a shootout at a crowded intersection in Miramar. A total of 19 officers from five different agencies were firing at the UPS truck.
Videos from the deadly exchange have been posted on Twitter, showing police officers crouching behind civilian vehicles in standstill traffic as they shot at the truck. The gunfire is thundering and consistent.
The two suspects were fatally shot in the crossfire. The UPS driver was also killed, as well as another innocent bystander sitting in her car.
When George Piro, the special agent who heads the FBI’s Miami Field Office, was asked if it’s possible that the civilians were killed by bullets fired by police officers, he remained vague.
“As I mentioned earlier, it is very very early on in the investigation and it would be completely inappropriate to discuss that,” Piro said. “We have just began to process the crime scene. As you can imagine this is going to be a very complicated crime scene.”
The UPS driver has been identified by his family as Frank Ordoñez, a 27-year-old father of two young girls. According to his sister, Sara Ordoñez, he had just been promoted at work for the holiday season.
“He was excited because he was saving up to buy an apartment, a home,” Sara Ordoñez told the New York Times. “We didn’t have it so easy, so he wanted to give the best for his daughters. Everything he would do was for his daughters.”
A GoFundMe has been created for Ordoñez’s family.
UPS released a statement on their official Twitter page addressing the loss of their employee.
“We are deeply saddened to learn a UPS service provider was a victim of this senseless act of violence,” it said.
The second slain civilian has not yet been publicly identified.
Criticism of Police Action
An interview with Joe Merino, Frank Ordoñez’s stepfather, revealed that he blames the death of his son on the police’s “negligence” and “disregard for life for a victim.”
“We’ve all seen hostage situations where local police surround the house, SWAT comes in, there’s a negotiator… and everyone walks away alive,” Merino said. “They didn’t give Frank that opportunity.”
Many others condemned the decisions made by law enforcement, calling for the officers to be held responsible for the civilian deaths.
See what others are saying: (CBS) (NPR) (Washington Post)
Nearly 700,000 People to Lose Food Stamp Aid Under New Policy
- A new rule was finalized on Wednesday that tightens work restrictions for the federal food stamp program.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 688,000 people will be cut from the program when the rule takes effect next year.
- Those in favor of the change argue that it will push unemployed individuals to find jobs, while critics say it will hurt them more than it will help them.
Trump administration finalized a new rule that could remove almost 700,000 people from the federal food stamp program. The rule, announced in a press release on Wednesday, creates stricter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) final rule promotes work for able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without dependents,” the press release said.
Under current regulations, this demographic can receive three months of SNAP benefits throughout a three year period, unless they work or undergo professional training for at least 20 hours a week.
States have had the ability to waive this time limit to account for economic turbulence, and counties with unemployment rates as low as 2.5% were eligible for these remissions. The new rule will make 6% the minimum unemployment rate to qualify for these waivers, according to the Washington Post.
It will take effect on April 1, 2020.
Impact on Americans
While the USDA originally estimated that up to 750,000 people would be cut from SNAP with this change, now they have adjusted that number to 688,000.
The finalized regulation is the first of three proposed measures to limit access to the federal food stamp program. A new study by the Urban Institute found that if the other two rules are approved, nearly 4 million people would lose access to food benefits.
After the new rule was proposed in February, there was an abundance of public comments imploring the administration not to go through with it.
But the USDA was not swayed and held strong in their argument that SNAP should be a form of temporary assistance instead of a long-term lifestyle.
“Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream,” said Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture. “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.”
Those who support the rule are optimistic that it will push unemployed individuals to find jobs.
“The changes reflect the belief that more Americans can enter and reenter the workforce,” Brandon Lipps, the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary, told the Washington Post. “So they can know the dignity of work.”
Critics of the change were extremely disappointed upon the news of the rule’s finalization, deeming it a step in the wrong direction.
“The Trump administration is driving the vulnerable into hunger just as the Christmas season approaches,” Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, said on the floor Wednesday. “It is heartless. It is cruel. It exposes a deep and shameful cruelness and hypocrisy in this administration.”
Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on nutrition, released a press statement on Wednesday after hearing the news.
“The Administration refuses to take an honest look at the people they are targeting with this rule and what challenges they face that contribute to their hunger…” she said. “…Instead of considering hungry individuals and their unique struggles and needs, the Department has chosen to paint them with the broadest brush, demonizing them as lazy and undeserving.”