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Alexa and Uber Take the Stand: Your Data as a Witness

Silicon Valley’s amazing technology has made our lives easier. Voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa can tell us the weather, play our favorite music on command, and add grocery items to our shopping lists. With the tap of a button, we can catch a ride using the Uber app. Countless other products offer similar conveniences and provide greater simplicity to our lives. However, this added convenience comes with strings attached.

By using these products, we generate vast amounts of data. These giant tech companies store that information to improve their products (and their targeted advertising). This data is increasingly entering the crosshairs of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes. By putting enough pieces of your digital footprint together, law enforcement can generate a pretty complete picture of a person’s life.

Law enforcement is relying more and more on digital evidence because of how enlightening (or incriminating) this information can be. Warrants for a cell phone search are commonplace in today’s world, but as Silicon Valley develops newer products, law enforcement sees additional opportunities to gather evidence.

Recently, police in Arkansas turned their sights on an Amazon Echo smart speaker found in a murder suspect’s home. The Amazon Echo has a built-in microphone that is always listening, waiting for the user to issue a command. According to Amazon, the speaker only starts recording once it hears “Alexa.” Amazon stores the recorded commands or questions that follow in a database to improve its voice-recognition accuracy.

Police issued Amazon a search warrant for any data the speaker may have recorded on the night of the murder. Since a judge signed off on the warrant, Amazon became the last line of defense against turning over the data. Amazon refused to grant the request, citing the privacy concerns of its customers.

The murder suspect ultimately granted Amazon his consent to provide the data, moving the resolution of this legal showdown to another day. While Amazon was likely more concerned about future customer’s fear of losing their privacy, the takeaway is that this data may be easily obtainable if the company possessing it complies with the request.

The focus of this case was past data already recorded and stored, but something to consider is the possibility of tapping into the Amazon Echo’s microphone in real time. Law enforcement can obtain judicial authorization for a wiretap of a suspect’s electronic communications. Any internet-connected smart device with a microphone can theoretically be remotely activated without the user knowing, creating a bugging device. On a scarier note, hackers have demonstrated the ability to do this with ease. The average citizen probably has nothing to worry about, but public figures, politicians, journalists, etc. may want to weigh whether the convenience of these devices is worth the privacy risks they pose.

Another recent target of law enforcement has been data generated by Uber riders and drivers. Just as in the Amazon case, a judge approved the subpoena for these records. The likely trend will be that judges grant these requests with regularity. One can imagine these records being requested in a divorce or custody proceeding, revealing a spouse’s habitual Uber rides from the bar or to his or her paramour’s house.

Technology will continue to progress and tech companies will continue to vacuum up more and more data about our daily lives. It’s possible we may never be able to delete that data, or only with varying degrees of difficulty. When enjoying the conveniences of Silicon Valley technology, it must always be assumed a detailed trail will be left behind.


Fighting Fraud Following Disaster: What to Watch out for

The waters recede, the winds calm, the storm passes. Finally, power returns to homes and neighborhoods, and the cleanup begins.

But as community members come together during the days following the storm to rebuild their city, clean up their parks, and feed their neighbors, scammers wait in the wings.  

The rush to provide aid to those in need following a disaster creates an ideal environment for fraudsters.  According to a report in The Washington Post, “In Baton Rouge, where the National Disaster Fraud Center is located, the number of fraud reports went from 79 the week before Hurricane Harvey to 425 in the week after the storm hit,” center director and U.S. Attorney Corey R. Amundson said.

One such fraud is the too-familiar business practice of price gouging. In fact, following Hurricane Harvey, Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton told CNBC of “reports of $99 cases of water, doubling and tripling of hotel room prices.”

Similarly, in the recent wake of Hurricane Irma, Floridians took to social media to complain about various airlines escalating their flight prices thousands of dollars for those trying to evacuate before the storm hit. Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi, Bondi told The New York Times that Floridians logged more than 7,000 price-gouging complaints with her office.

Most states have laws against these unscrupulous practices, resulting in stiff penalties with high fines.

Other immediate fraud practices that may impact storm survivors:

  • The Better Business Bureau warns – beware of unlicensed contractors looking to rip-off homeowners.
  • Be on the lookout for robocalls. According to NPR, some reports from Florida claim that callers are posing as insurance agents demanding immediate payment for continuation of policies.
  • Watch out for charity scammers. Seemingly well-meaning people set up fake GoFundMe donation accounts to rake in money for themselves. Instead, if you wish donate to victims, find a reputable organization that can put your money to work.

Finally, following a declaration of a state of emergency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a federal agency dedicated to helping individuals, businesses, and communities recover and rebuild following a natural disaster, may step in. Unfortunately, according to The Washington Post, this phase of recovery often “brings the largest amount of fraud.”

According to Don Cazayoux, Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm Partner and former U.S. attorney and director of the National Disaster Fraud Center, “Scammers will often steal the identities of others who were actually affected by the disaster, file a claim for relief and divert the funds to themselves instead of the person who actually needs the assistance.”  

And because of the increased cases of identity fraud, federal agencies are “more aggressive in fighting disaster fraud related to identity theft,” Cazayoux said.  These cases often bring stiffer penalties including mandatory minimum sentences.  

People should be vigilant of price gouging, identity theft, and scammers.  If you feel that you are a victim of a scam, you should contact the National Disaster Fraud Center hotline at 866-720-5721 or email disaster@leo.gov.  


Public Corruption Crimes: Charges You Can’t Afford

For most people, the term “public corruption” probably conjures up images of pinstriped politicians in a dimly-lit, smoke-filled room, exchanging promises in exchange for money (more commonly referred to as “bribes”). But public corruption encompasses a broad array of activities, including fraud, bribery and racketeering to name a few, which ultimately pose a threat to our security or way of life. Thus, Congress has passed many statutes to punish and deter corruption of public officials.[1]

And while understanding these statutes is essential to understanding your duties and responsibilities as a person of public trust or as a person or organization that regularly deals with public officials, because the laws are so complex, it is fundamental that you consult with knowledgeable and experienced defense attorneys to protect your rights and interests as well.

Generally, most public corruption crimes are prosecuted by U. S. attorneys’ offices and the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section. These offices are armed with a wide net to catch—and ultimately charge—both high-profile defendants (like members of Congress and governors) and more innocuous, career-level government or public employees. Courts have broadly construed the title of “public official” to include: an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)[2]; a postal employee who had the responsibility of ensuring that bulk mail had the appropriate charge[3]; and a Private in the Army[4]. Thus, it is critical that all public officials and employees remain cognizant of both ethical and legal “red lines.”

Closer to home, recently the Attorney General for the state of Louisiana, Jeff Landry, “has vowed to make ending public corruption a priority statewide as part of his new Administration and to work closely with the FBI and other officials on these efforts moving forward.” And true to word, most recently is the guilty plea of former Homer Mayor on charges of malfeasance, the arrest of former Angola Mayor for misuse of public funds, arrest of former manager of Lafayette non-profit apartment complex for theft of public funds, the arrest of former Pointe Coupee Parish sheriff’s deputy for payroll fraud, and the arrest of former coroner for East Feliciana Parish for conspiracy. According to Attorney General Landry’s website (https://www.ag.state.la.us/Corruption), all aforementioned arrests, charges and indictments have occurred since March 2017. Convictions would mean possible job loss, restitution, probation and/or imprisonment.

While public corruption charges carry significant legal implications, they may also cause a very serious and damaging impact to your reputation as a public servant or politician; therefore, it is imperative that you have experienced and professional advocates on your side to defend your rights.

 

This article is intended for information only and should not be considered legal advice.

[1] Ashley Kircher et. al., Public Corruption, 45 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 825, 826 (2008).

[2] United States v. Gjieli, 717 F.2d 968 (6th Cir. 1983) (holding that an ATF agent was within the statutory definition of “public official” even though he did not have the ability to carry out the target action of the bribe).

[3] United States v. Gelb, 881 F.2d 1155 (2d Cir. 1989) (holding that a postal worker that was responsible for ensuring that bulk mail had the appropriate postage was a “public official” within the meaning of the federal bribery statute).

[4] United States. v. Kidd, 734 F.2d 409 (9th Cir. 1984) (dismissing defendant’s argument that Army Private was not a “public official” because she was an enlisted soldier, rather than an officer).


Cazayoux Ewing Represents Case Against the Federal Government


Original post: Louisiana Record on March 10, 2017 by Michael Abella

LAFAYETTE – A Lafayette Parish resident alleges she was injured in a motor vehicle accident with a federal employee.

Crystal Gerard filed a complaint on March 3 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Lafayette Division against the United States of America alleging that the government entity failed to perform its obligations.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that on Jan. 29, 2015, she filed a Federal Tort Claim Act claim against defendant due to an injury she allegedly sustained in a vehicular accident caused by Robert Bannon, an employee of defendant’s Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. As a result of the accident, she alleges she has suffered physical and mental pain, lost wages and medical expenses.

The plaintiff holds United States of America responsible because on Sept. 26, 2016, the Office of the General Counsel for the Department of Agriculture allegedly denied to pay her claim.

The plaintiff requests a trial by jury and seeks judgment against defendant in an amount which is just and reasonable in the premises, plus interest, all costs of these proceedings and all other relief that may be just and equitable. She is represented by Donald J. Cazayoux Jr. and J. Lane Ewing Jr. of Cazayoux Ewing LLC in Baton Rouge and Yul D. Lorio and Kevin P. Tauzin of Tauzin & Lorio, Attorney at Law in Lafayette.

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Lafayette Division Case number 6:17-cv-00348


Don Cazayoux weighs in on Attorney General’s visit to Baton Rouge

Attorney General Loretta Lynch met with Justice Department officials in Baton Rouge last week. The meeting was possibly to discuss ways for police and the communities they serve, according to former U.S. Attorney Don Cazayoux, of the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm.

Cazayoux says that the Attorney General may be trying to understand the way communities are policed in light of Baton Rouge’s recent police tragedies. On July 5th, Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police officers while numerous bystanders filmed the incident. Days later, on the 17th, three Baton Rouge police officers were killed by a shooter. With similar events in St. Paul and Dallas, July has been a tense month for the relationship between police and minority communities.

Cazayoux believes that these issues were a primary topic of discussion during the AG’s visit. Learn more about Mr. Cazayoux’s input here.


DOJ Issues Corporate Accountability Guidelines

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates sent out a memorandum to all U.S. Attorneys last September issuing guidelines for how to investigate cases against corporate entities. Corporations oftentimes are able to evade being held accountable for crimes because it can be challenging to find an individual to try.

However, the contents of the memo might encourage corporations to behave in a more guarded manner during investigations. This is because it requires attorneys to build cases against individuals in corporations as soon as an investigation is opened rather than after a great deal of information has been gathered. The idea is that lower-level employees should provide the government with information about higher ups who make decisions to violate laws. This means a corporation’s internal investigation might be compromised, as people will be less likely to bring up wrongdoing for fear of being blamed or prosecuted. It can also create issues of infighting within corporate employees.

In an article posted on businessreport.com, the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm‘s own Don Cazayoux explains how this shift in policy may make it more challenging to receive cooperation from corporations who are facing criminal charges. He says that defining “full cooperation” in these investigations can already be difficult. Generally, corporations want to provide just enough information to say they’ve cooperated with an investigation, but they are likely to hold back more damaging facts about their actions.

Ideally, these guidelines will help deter corporate wrongdoing. However, their effect remains to be seen.


Donald Cazayoux Named a 2016 Super Lawyer

Attorney Donald Cazayoux of the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm was recently named a 2016 Super Lawyer for Criminal Defense. The Super Lawyers designation is given to those attorneys who demonstrate excellence in practice, and are chosen through a selective review process. At the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm, we are dedicated to representing those who have been accused of committing white collar crimes and those who have suffered catastrophic injuries caused by the negligence of another party. To find out what our team of experienced attorneys can do to help you with your legal concerns, contact us today at (225) 650-7400.


Don Cazayoux and Lane Ewing Volunteer at “Lawyers in Libraries” Event

Attorneys Don Cazayoux and Lane Ewing of the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm recently volunteered at Louisiana State Bar Association’s “Lawyers in Libraries,” an event in which lawyers seek to help the public become aware of options available to them when they cannot afford an attorney. As a part of Louisiana’s “National Celebrate Pro Bono Week,” the program is designed to deliver information about pro bono attorneys through the city’s public libraries. Volunteers and the Legal Education & Assistance Program that help coordinate the event also work to provide online and print resources that are available to the public year-round. Click here to read more about this important event.


Attorney Don Cazayoux appears on Jim Engster show

On Monday, November 23rd, attorney Don Cazayoux of the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm once again appeared on The Jim Engster Show. This week, he discussed the Louisiana Gubernatorial elections, and specifically, candidate John Bel Edwards. You can listen to this episode and Don Cazayoux’s appearance by clicking here.


Don Cazayoux and Lane Ewing participate in “Lawyers in Libraries” event

Attorneys Don Cazayoux and Lane Ewing of the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm recently participated in a “Lawyers in Libraries” event hosted by the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Legal Education and Assistance Program (LEAP). The important “Lawyers in Libraries” events provide an opportunity for individuals throughout Louisiana to connected with attorneys in their area and also gain access to helpful information and legal resources.

LEAP is committed to helping low-income individuals secure the legal information and representation that they need, while also helping those who can afford legal representation find an attorney. The “Lawyers in Libraries” program is just one way in which LEAP works to meet this goal. You can learn more about this program by clicking here.

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