Alleged Russian Agent Maria Butina Pleads Guilty In US To Conspiracy

Prosecutors dropped one other charge against Maria Butina as part of the plea deal.


A Russian woman pleaded guilty in a U.S. court on Thursday to a single conspiracy charge in a deal with prosecutors and admitted to working with a top Russian official to infiltrate a powerful gun rights group and make inroads with American conservative activists and the Republican Party as an agent for Moscow.

Maria Butina, a former graduate student at American University in Washington who publicly advocated for gun rights, entered the plea to a charge of conspiracy to act as a foreign agent at a hearing in Washington. She became the first Russian to be convicted of working to influence U.S. policy during the 2016 presidential race and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Butina admitted to conspiring with a Russian official and two Americans from 2015 until her July arrest to infiltrate the National Rifle Association, a group closely aligned with U.S. conservatives and Republican politicians including President Donald Trump, and create unofficial lines of communication to try to make Washington’s policy toward Moscow more friendly.

Alexander Torshin, who was a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, has been identified by Butina’s lawyers as the Russian official. Torshin was hit with U.S. Treasury Department sanctions in April. Paul Erickson, a conservative U.S. political activist with deep Republican ties who was romantically linked to Butina, was one of the two Americans to whom prosecutors referred.

Butina, a 30-year-old native of Siberia, agreed to cooperate “fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly” with any and all U.S. law enforcement agencies and could provide interviews, sworn statements and lie-detector tests and participate in under cover law enforcement stings.

She was jailed after being charged in July and initially pleaded not guilty. Other Russian individuals and entities have been charged in a separate investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller regarding Moscow’s role in the 2016 election.

Clad in a green jumpsuit with her red hair pulled back in a long braid, Butina replied “absolutely” when asked by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan if her mind was clear as she prepared to plead guilty. Prosecutors dropped one other charge as part of the plea deal.

The actions Butina acknowledged taking occurred during the same time period that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded Russia engaged in a campaign of propaganda and hacking to sow discord in the United States during the 2016 race and boost Republican candidate Trump’s chances against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

In a statement of offence read aloud in court, a prosecutor said Butina drafted a March 2015 “Diplomacy Project” calling for establishing unofficial back channels of communication with high-ranking American politicians to help advance Russia’s interests.

Although there are no U.S. sentencing guidelines for her specific crime, her lawyer, Robert Driscoll, estimated that under guidelines for similar crimes Butina could face up to six months in prison. Butina faces possible deportation to Russia after finishing her sentence.

Because of Butina’s ongoing cooperation, the judge did not set a sentencing date but scheduled a status hearing for February 12.


Robert Driscoll, the lawyer for Maria Butina, estimated that under guidelines for similar crimes Butina could face up to six months in prison

Leonid Slutsky, head of the lower house of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, reacted to Butina’s case by calling it a “modern political inquisition,” in comments quoted by the RIA news agency.

Erickson’s description appears to match “Person 1” mentioned in the prosecution’s statement of offence. Person 1 helped advise Butina on which American politicians she should target for meetings, and her plan was carried out on behalf of the Russian official, the statement said.


“Butina opined that the circumstances were favourable for building relations with a certain U.S. political party,” the statement added, in an apparent reference to the Republican Party. “Butina predicted that the candidate nominated by Political Party #1 would likely win the upcoming U.S. presidential election,” as Trump did.

The “Diplomacy Project” document was crafted by Butina with help from Person 1, prosecutors said. To carry out the plan, Butina requested $125,000 from a Russian billionaire to attend conferences and set up “separate meetings with interested parties” such as other Russian businessmen or people with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they added.

Erickson is a well-known figure in Republican and conservative circles and was a senior official in Pat Buchanan’s 1992 Republican presidential campaign. Erickson’s lawyer William Hurd said in an email, “Paul Erickson is a good American. He has done nothing to harm our country and never would.”

In April 2015, prosecutors said, Butina travelled to the United States to attend a gun rights event whose description appears to match the NRA’s annual meeting. At that event, she was “introduced to influential members of Political Party #1,” they added.

The prosecutors said Butina invited “powerful members” of the NRA for a visit to Moscow where they met with high-level Russian officials. Apparent photos of the NRA Moscow trip are posted on her social media accounts.

After the visit, according to court records, she sent a Russian official a message apparently referencing the NRA saying, “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”

Butina also hosted “friendship dinners” in the hope of establishing ties with people who “would have the ear of the next U.S. presidential administration,” prosecutors said.

After the 2016 election, she proposed creating a dialogue with Trump’s advisors, but the Russian official told her he did not think the foreign affairs ministry would “go for it,” prosecutors said.

Butina even asked then-candidate Trump a question at a gathering of U.S. conservatives in 2015 about relations with Russia and economic sanctions imposed by his predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump responded that as president he would “get along very nicely” with President Vladimir Putin and “I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.”

Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Moscow to help him win the 2016 election. Trump has denied collusion with Moscow. Russia has denied interfering in American politics.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Free My Husband, Pleads Wife Of UK Academic Jailed In UAE

Daniela Tejada, wife of British academic Matthew Hedges who was jailed in UAE. (Reuters)


The wife of a British academic jailed by a UAE court on spying charges called on the Emirati authorities on Thursday to review her husband’s life sentence and set him free.

The Gulf state said Matthew Hedges had been treated “fairly” but also that it wanted an “amicable solution” in the case, which has shaken relations between two countries which are old allies.

Hedges, 31, was sentenced on Wednesday on charges of spying for the British government, in a move described as deeply disappointing by Prime Minister Theresa May.

“Matt is innocent,” Hedges’ wife Daniela Tejada told Reuters. “Handing a life sentence to an innocent researcher who held the UAE in high regard speaks volumes about their lack of tolerance and respect for human life,” she added.

“They must review their sentence and release my husband, who has already had more than six months taken away from us.”

She later met Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and told reporters afterwards: “He has assured me that he and his team are doing everything in their power to get Matt free and return him home to me.”

The foreign ministry of the United Arab Emirates said in a statement that Hedges “has been treated fairly and according to the constitution of the UAE”.

The ministry denied reports that Hedges had not been provided with translators while in detention, saying “it is not true that he was asked to sign documents he did not understand.”

“Key Ally”

The doctoral student at Durham University has been held since May 5, when he was arrested at Dubai International Airport after a two-week research visit.

The evidence presented against him consisted of notes from his dissertation research, his family said.

A life sentence for a non-Emirati entails a maximum of 25 years in jail followed by deportation, according to UAE state-run media.

Hunt has warned the handling of the case by Emirati authorities will have repercussions on relations between the two countries and urged the UAE to reconsider its decision.

He said he had held a constructive conversation on Thursday with his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed.

“I believe and trust he’s working hard to resolve the situation ASAP (as soon as possible),” Hunt added on Twitter.

The UAE said both sides were looking for a solution.

“The UAE is determined to protect its important strategic relationship with a key ally,” its statement said. “Officials from both countries have discussed the matter regularly over recent months. Both sides hope to find an amicable solution to the Matthew Hedges case.”

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US Pain Clinic CEO Pleads Guilty To $150 Million Opioid Scheme

The massive opioid painkiller and heroin epidemic that has killed tens of thousands of Americans


A businessman who operated pain clinics in the US states of Ohio and Michigan pleaded guilty Monday to a $150 million scheme to fraudulently distribute millions of doses of highly-addictive opioid medications.

Mashiyat Rashid, CEO of Tri-County Wellness Group, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud, and one count of money laundering, the US Justice Department said.

The 38-year-old allegedly fueled a lavish lifestyle of luxury clothes and exotic automobiles by creating a massive fraud scheme to illegally prescribe 4.2 million doses of opioid medications such as oxycodone to patients, including addicts.

The investigation was part of an initiative by President Donald Trump’s administration to crack down on medical professionals who unscrupulously distribute the dangerous drugs to addicted patients for profit.

Such proliferation of prescription drugs helps fuel a massive opioid painkiller and heroin epidemic that has killed tens of thousands of Americans.

Last week, prosecutors unveiled charges against five New York doctors, a pharmacist and their associates.

“The Department of Justice has made ending the opioid crisis a top priority and taken historic new steps to stop the spread of addiction,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

“Today’s guilty plea helps us bring the defendant to justice and reduce the supply of illegal drugs flowing into our communities.”

Rashid agreed to forfeit more than $51 million, as well as properties prosecutors considered ill-gotten gains, such as various real estate holdings. He is scheduled to be sentenced in April.

The CEO owned and operated numerous pain clinics, laboratories and other health care facilities.

Twelve others, including seven doctors, have also pleaded guilty in the case.

The US opioid epidemic has led to the first drop in life expectancy over two consecutive years since the early 1960s, American statisticians say.

In 2017, a record 71,568 people died from overdose deaths, far more than traffic accidents and gun-related deaths, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The crisis is rooted in decades of overprescription of OxyContin and other addictive painkillers, leading to more than two million people becoming addicted.

In recent years, addicts have been forced to turn to heroin and the cheaper, far more potent fentanyl as authorities have cracked down on prescription painkiller sales.

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Indian Man Pleads Guilty To Misusing Facebook, WhatsApp For US Immigration Fraud

Kanwar Sarabjit Singh claimed himself to be a US immigration employee over Facebook, WhatsApp

New York: 

An Indian citizen has pleaded guilty to operating a fraud scheme by falsely representing as an employee of the US immigration service in which he used social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp to scam people seeking to obtain American visas.

Kanwar Sarabjit Singh, 51, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, used Facebook and WhatsApp to falsely represent himself as an employee of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He claimed he worked in the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service, and would obtain genuine US visas in exchange for a fee of $3,000 to $4,000, US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said.

Mr Singh pleaded guilty to wire fraud and impersonation of a federal officer and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison when sentenced on December 14.

As part of his scheme, Mr Singh created a fake photo identification document pretending to be from the DHS, which he mailed to others in an effort to show that he was capable to obtain US immigration documents.

Mr Singh instructed individuals seeking immigration documents to e-mail him passport photographs, copies of their passports and other personally identifying information and to send him money through overnight delivery service or by wire transfer.

After receiving these documents and the requested fee up front, Mr Singh created and mailed fake letters purporting to be from the US Embassy in New Delhi which falsely represented that there was an appointment to pick up the requested visa documents. Many of Mr Singh’s victims resided overseas and were impoverished.

In addition to this visa fraud scheme, Mr Singh also admitted to engaging in an investment fraud scheme in Tennessee in 2012 in which he defrauded approximately 22 investors of approximately $340,000.

Mr Singh gained the trust of a local pastor and his church, including elderly members, and falsely represented to them that he owned a small company in India that provided labour for services, including data entry, to two large, international companies and that for a small, up-front investment, they would see a large return on their money.

Federal authorities said those defrauded by Mr Singh should contact the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

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Former Donald Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort Pleads Guilty In Robert Mueller Probe

Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States (Reuters)


U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort will plead guilty to two criminal counts as part of a deal with prosecutors on Friday, court documents showed in what could be a blow to Trump in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s long-running probe of Russian election meddling.

As part of the deal, Manafort, 69, could be required to cooperate with Mueller’s probe into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Details of the deal were likely to emerge in a plea agreement hearing scheduled for 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT) in federal court. Manafort would become the most prominent former Trump campaign official to plead guilty in Mueller’s investigation, which has cast a shadow over Trump’s presidency.

It remains unclear if the deal will include Manafort’s cooperation with Mueller’s probe, dealing a blow to Trump ahead of congressional elections on Nov. 6.

Another approach would be for Manafort to plead guilty without cooperating in hopes of a presidential pardon. Trump has not said whether he would pardon Manafort, but the president has not publicly ruled it out.

Manafort will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Five other charges were dropped in the new court filing.

A Virginia jury convicted Manafort last month on bank and tax fraud charges.

Jury selection was due to begin on Monday in a second trial on charges including conspiring to launder money, conspiring to defraud the United States, failing to register as a foreign agent and witness tampering.

Manafort’s decision could be a blow to Trump, who last month praised his former aide for not entering into an agreement with prosecutors, as the president’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen had.

On Twitter on Aug. 22, Trump wrote: “Unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal. Such respect for a brave man!”

According to the court filing, the charge of conspiracy against the United States includes money laundering, tax fraud, failing to disclose foreign bank accounts, and acting as an unregistered lobbyist for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. The second count, for conspiracy to obstruct justice, concerns attempts to tamper with witnesses related to Manafort’s foreign lobbying.

Manafort’s conviction in Alexandria, Virginia, last month was at a trial arising from Mueller’s investigation. Trump has denied colluding with the Russians and the Russians have denied interfering.

Rick Gates, Manafort’s former business partner and the campaign’s deputy chairman, pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his cooperation, later testifying against Manafort in Virginia. Gates may have been a prosecution witness in his Washington trial as well.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is now representing Trump in the Russia probe, told Reuters on Friday that a guilty plea to avoid a second trial would not crush Manafort’s chances of receiving an eventual presidential pardon.

“It’s not going to hurt him if he pleads guilty. Usually it helps you get a pardon down the road. It shows you’ve admitted your guilt,” he said on Friday before a deal was announced. He declined further comment until after the hearing.

© Thomson Reuters 2018

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Trump Aide Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty To 2016 Campaign Finance Offenses

Cohen said he arranged to make payments for the principal purpose of influencing the election (File)

New York: 

US President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty in New York on Tuesday to campaign finance violations and other charges, saying he made payments to influence the 2016 election at the direction of a candidate for federal office.

The guilty pleas came in the same hour that a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, convicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of eight charges of tax and bank fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.

Cohen, 51, appearing in federal court in Manhattan, pleaded guilty to one count of wilfully causing an unlawful corporate campaign contribution and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution.

Cohen, one of Trump’s closest associates for more than a decade, said he arranged to make payments “for (the) principal purpose of influencing (the) election” at the direction of a candidate for federal office. He did not give the candidate’s name.

Porn star Stormy Daniels has said Cohen paid her $130,000 shortly before the November 2016 election to keep quiet about a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

In addition, Cohen recorded a conversation with Trump two months before the election in which they discussed buying the rights to a story by former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said she had an affair with Trump, lawyer Rudy Giuliani said last month.

Under U.S. election law, campaign contributions, defined as things of value given to a campaign in order to influence an election, must be disclosed. A payment intended to silence allegations of an affair just before an election could constitute a campaign contribution, some experts have said.

Cohen, who once said he would “take a bullet” for Trump, agreed to a plea bargain with federal prosecutors earlier Tuesday. He also pleaded guilty to five counts of tax fraud and one count of making false statements to a financial institution.

The plea deal includes a possible sentence of up to five years and three months in prison, Judge William Pauley III said during the hearing. Pauley scheduled sentencing for Dec. 12 and set bail at $500,000.

Manafort conviction’s resulted from U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible coordination with Trump’s Republican campaign.

The probe also led to a referral from Mueller about Cohen to federal prosecutors in New York, who began their own probe of the attorney.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia or having sex with Daniels or McDougal, and has called the Mueller investigation a witch hunt. Russia has denied meddling in the election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded Moscow interfered.

Cohen, who worked as Trump’s personal attorney at the Trump Organization, continued to advise the president after the election. But their relationship had frayed in recent months.

In court on Tuesday, Cohen’s voice cracked as he answered questions from Pauley.

Asked a standard question about whether he had consumed any alcohol or drugs before making his guilty plea, Cohen said he had had only a glass of 12-year-old Glenlivet, single-malt scotch with dinner the night before.

Cohen agreed to the plea deal to save millions of dollars, protect his family and limit his exposure, Politico said, quoting an unnamed source.

The investigation of Cohen included a raid in April by FBI agents, who seized documents and files from his office, home and hotel room.

The New York Times had reported on Sunday that federal prosecutors were focused on more than $20 million in loans obtained by Cohen from taxi businesses owned by him and his family.

Mueller’s investigation, which began in May 2017, has resulted in the indictment of more than 30 people and five guilty pleas.

The April FBI raids provoked an immediate reaction from Trump, who asked a judge to block prosecutors from reviewing the materials they had seized, citing attorney-client privilege. The effort was unsuccessful.

A number of Cohen’s financial dealings since Trump’s January 2017 inauguration have become public.

Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG has said it had paid Cohen nearly $1.2 million in a consulting deal; U.S. telecommunications company AT&T Inc said it made payments of $600,000; and South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd said it hired him for $150,000.

Critics have said the payments may have been attempts to buy influence with the president.

Cohen also received $500,000 from Columbus Nova LLC, a New York company linked to Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg. The firm has said the transaction had nothing to do with Vekselberg.

© Thomson Reuters 2018

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Wife Of Japanese Journalist Jumpei Yasuda Held In Syria Breaks Silence, Pleads For His Release

Ms Myu, wife of a Japanese freelancer journalist Jumpei Yasuda kidnapped in Syria (AFP)


The wife of a Japanese journalist kidnapped in Syria more than three years ago broke her silence Tuesday to plead for his release after he appeared in a hostage video.

Jumpei Yasuda, a 44-year-old freelancer, was kidnapped in the war-torn country in June 2015, and appeared in a rare video that emerged last week warning that he was in a bad situation.

“There are a lot of people in Japan — his family, relatives, friends — waiting for my husband,” his wife Myu told a news conference in Tokyo.

“Please return my husband safe as soon as possible,” she said tearfully. “As his wife, as his family, I want him… to set foot back on Japanese soil.”

Last week Yasuda and captured Italian national Alessandro Sandrini appeared in two separate videos that were similar in their staging.

Both men were wearing orange outfits similar to those of captives in jihadist hostage videos, with armed men whose faces were covered standing behind them.

The videos did not identify which group was holding the men or include specific demands.

Myu, who married Yasuda in 2008, said she had previously avoided speaking publicly about his abduction for fear she could affect negotiations for his release.

But she said when she watched the video, she felt her husband’s situation was “not optimistic but urgent” and decided to publicly seek his release.

The video also prompted some of the journalist’s friends and family to form a group to free him, campaigning to boost public awareness of the abduction.

Yasuda is thought to have been seized by the group previously known as the Al-Nusra Front, a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, in northern Syria.

But with the shifting territory of Syria’s complicated conflict, it is unclear whether he is still being held by his original abductors or has been transferred to other captors.

In the latest video, he identified himself as Korean and gave a different name, but spoke in Japanese.

He gave the recording date as July 25, saying he was in a bad situation and asking for help.

His wife said she had no idea why Yasuda had identified himself as Korean in the video, but confirmed that it showed him and that he is Japanese.

She said Japanese government officials were in frequent contact with her but she was not aware if a ransom had been demanded.

In 2015 militants from the Islamic State group beheaded Japanese war correspondent Kenji Goto and his friend Haruna Yukawa in Syria.

The Japanese government was criticised for what detractors saw as its flat-footed response to the crisis at the time, including apparently missed opportunities to free both men.

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Indian-Origin Man Bhaskar Patel Pleads Guilty For Taking $2.5 Million In Bribes In US

Pre-sentence investigation will be conducted before formal sentence for Bhaskar Patel (Representational)


An Indian-origin man has pleaded guilty to taking $2.5 million in bribes and kickbacks from companies seeking contracts to work on energy saving projects in the US government buildings.

Bhaskar Patel, 67, of Windermere, Florida, received the bribes and kickbacks when he served as a senior project manager for Schneider Electric Building Americas, based in Andover, Massachusetts.

He was responsible for obtaining bids from subcontractors and recommending for selection the subcontractors that would be awarded a contract under an energy saving project.

The payments were associated with federal energy savings performance contracts issued to Schneider Electric by various federal agencies from June 6, 2011, to April 19, 2016.

He pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court in Rutland to two felony charges, each carrying maximum penalties of 10 years in prison. He remains free on his personal recognizance pending a December 7 sentencing hearing.

Judge Geoffrey Crawford said federal probation officials would conduct a pre-sentence investigation before he formally hands down a sentence for Bhaskar Patel.

As part of a plea agreement, federal prosecutors filed a notice of forfeiture totalling $2,536,119 from Bhaskar Patel, VT Digger, a Vermont news portal, reported.

The plea agreement states that prosecutors have agreed to reduce the forfeiture amount to $1.75 million if Patel pays $950,000 on or before his sentencing.

He also faces fines of up to $5,072,238.38, or twice his ill-gotten gains.

Among the items federal prosecutors are seeking to seize as part of the forfeiture are his property in Windermere; a 2012 Mercedes-Benz E Class E350 vehicle; a watch; six rings; 43 earrings; 10 bracelets; 18 bangles; six pendants, USD 35,700 in Indian rupees and a timeshare property in Hilton Head, South Carolina, the portal reported.

Assistant US Attorney Abigail Averbach, a prosecutor in the case, said charges against other individuals involved in the case are possible, though she declined to say who those people might be.

Court records do indicate that in some cases Patel directed those paying him to write checks to his adult son and daughter. His children are only identified in court papers as “JP” and “FP”.

David Smith, a spokesman for Schneider Electric, said after the hearing that Mr Bhaskar Patel was terminated as soon as the allegations of wrongdoing came to light.

Mr Bhaskar’s scheme came to light when law enforcement received information that he had altered and falsified a bid document submitted to Schneider Electric by a Vermont subcontractor bidding for work on an energy savings project at the White River Junction VA facility, according to court records.


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Indian-Origin Physician Madhu Aggarwal Pleads Guilty To Healthcare Fraud In United States

Madhu Aggarwal will face 10 years imprisonment with USD 250,000 as fine. (Representational)

New York: 

An Indian-origin woman has pleaded guilty to charges of unlawfully distributing controlled substances and healthcare fraud, US Attorney Scott Brady said.

Ms Madhu Aggarwal, 68, of Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to the charges before United States District Judge Arthur Schwab.

Ms Aggarwal, a physician who practiced at a clinic in Pennsylvania, and others conspired together to create and submit unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances such as buprenorphine and then unlawfully dispensed those substances to other persons.

Ms Aggarwal is also charged with healthcare fraud for allegedly causing fraudulent claims to be submitted to federal insurance programme Medicare for payments to cover the costs of the unlawfully prescribed buprenorphine.

Mr Schwab scheduled the sentencing for November, when she will face a sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of USD 500,000 for the controlled substances offenses.

Ms Madhu Aggarwal faces an additional maximum imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of USD 250,000 for the healthcare fraud charge.

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Don’t Blame Lionel Messi, Pleads Argentina Manager Jorge Sampaoli

“We need to move on to the next phase, that’s what we came here for,” he said. “We don’t want to go to the last match not having resolved that.”

Asked repeatedly about Messi, Sampaoli said the disappointing start against Iceland was not the fault of his star player, despite the penalty miss.

“We were quite upset about not having won the match but I think… Leo should not shoulder all the responsibility.” 

He added: “When we succeed with Argentina, everyone takes credit for it but when Argentina loses, it’s always Leo’s fault. I think that’s quite unfair.”

Sampaoli is expected to make several changes to his team for the Croatia match, but would not be drawn on his selection as he said he had not yet spoken to his players.

Croatia are the group leaders after a 2-0 victory against Nigeria in their first match.

Anything but a win on Thursday would leave Argentina needing a positive result in their final group game against the Africans in Saint Petersburg on June 26.

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