County Attorney arrested again, this time for OWI, child endangerment

Michelle Murphy Rivera

For the second time in three months, the Clarke County prosecutor has been arrested.

Outgoing Clarke County Attorney Michelle Rivera was arrested Friday on suspicion of operating while intoxicated, according to court records. The 42-year-old was also hit with a child endangerment charge.

A Clarke County sheriff’s deputy made contact with Rivera after getting a call about an erratic driver. The woman who called said someone nearly hit her car, ran a stop sign and pulled in at the Clarke County Courthouse, according to court documents. Authorities were given a license-plate number and located the car at the Clarke County Courthouse.

Near 8 a.m. Friday, the deputy came to the courthouse and asked Rivera about the driving complaint. She acknowledged that someone honked at her near a stop sign. When the deputy asked if she had been drinking, she said not since Thursday night, but she was concerned that there was still alcohol in her system.

The deputy said he could smell alcohol on Rivera’s breath and asked her take standardized field sobriety tests and a breathalyzer. She declined to blow, but took the field tests and exhibited signs of intoxication, court records state.

Rivera was taken to Clarke County Jail where she again declined to provide a breath sample. The deputy said after talking with Rivera, he figured that she had taken her daughter to daycare that same day. The child is not believed to have been in the car when the erratic-driver call came in, but the officer surmised that Rivera was operating while intoxicated when dropping the girl off.

Rivera, a Democrat who lost her re-election bid in November, was arrested in October on suspicion of being drunk on the job in a Clarke County courtroom. A sheriff’s deputy said in a criminal complaint that he noticed Rivera “slurring her words and stumbling on her feet” in the Osceola courtroom. He arrested her after she refused to take a breath test. She was charged with public intoxication.

She later apologized and asked voters to give her another chance.

Rivera is due in court in court at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Rivera’s office was closed Saturday and was not accepting messages. A home phone number for Rivera could not be found.

Man Stole Cars Using Child’s SS Number

Nanuet Man Stole Cars Using Child's SS Number

A Nanuet man was arrested driving away from a court appearance for unlicensed driving and DWI — in a stolen car. Now he will serve time in the Westchester County jail for crimes involving identity theft and auto theft — the former to commit the latter.

Andre Mendez created a synthetic, false identity using his actual name and date of birth along with the Social Security number of a 10-year-old, unbeknownst to the child or parents.

He then opened two Bank of America bank accounts to establish credit with that identity. Investigators believe that Mendez was able to use the child’s Social Security number because banks and credit agencies had no record of that number, and therefore, were not aware the number identified a child.

Once these bank accounts were established, Mendez leased or financed two cars.

On Feb. 1, 2017, he financed a 2017 Toyota Camry SE from Westchester Toyota in Yonkers giving the victim child’s Social Security number as his own. The following day, he leased a 2017 Honda Accord Sport from White Plains Honda in White Plains using the same synthetic identity. In support of both of these purchases, Mendez provided the dealerships with forged earning statements purported to be issued by a hospital for which he did not work.

Mendez made no payments toward either of these vehicles. He had been driving both cars although his license was revoked and insurance lapsed.

This investigation began in May 2017 and culminated in his arrest Sept. 8, 2017, as he left the Town of Greenburgh Court driving the fraudulently purchased Toyota.

He was in court that day on charges of Aggravated Unlicensed Operation in the First Degree, and Driving While Intoxicated. (He was arrested March 3, 2017.) In addition, he was charged with Driving While Intoxicated stemming from a March 26, 2017, incident on the Bronx River Parkway.

After Mendez’s arrest, District Attorney’s Office investigators recovered the stolen and fraudulently purchased Honda Accord at an auto body shop in the Bronx. Mendez was indicted in April by a Westchester County Grand Jury.

Mendez pleaded guilty Sept. 5 to Identity Theft in the First Degree, a class D felony, and Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, a class E felony, and three vehicular charges including Aggravated Unlicensed Operation in the First Degree, a felony, and two counts of Driving While Intoxicated, misdemeanors.

Mendez, of Nanuet, was sentenced by Westchester County Court Judge Larry J. Schwartz as follows: on the charge of identity theft, he will serve one year in county jail and must repay $14,551.73 restitution to Honda and $16,781.18 to Toyota for the theft of vehicles. On the second count, he will serve one year in county jail to run concurrently, Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. announced Thursday.

In addition, on the three vehicular charges, he will serve one year each in county jail to run concurrently with each other but consecutively to the other sentence. Mendez will also face fines for each count, will lose his license for a total of six months, and will have to install an ignition interlock device in his vehicle.

This investigation was carried out by investigators from the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office and the case was prosecuted by ADA Stefanie DeNise of the Investigations Division Identity Theft Unit, and ADA Jonathan Strongin of the Superior Court Trial Division.

Speeding Drunk Driver Threatened To Urinate In Squad Car

Speeding Drunk Driver Threatened To Urinate In Squad Car: Cops

RIVERSIDE, IL — A Chicago woman was arrested after speeding 54 mph over the limit in Riverside, police said. Corina Dominguez, 25, was charged with aggravated speeding, DUI and numerous other traffic violations.

An officer on patrol at 4:23 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 9 saw a car traveling at a high rate of speed northbound on First Avenue at Forest. According to police, the car was first clocked at 78 mph in a 35 mph zone, but the car accelerated to 89 mph in the 35 mph zone. When the officer tried to stop the car, Dominguez accelerated to 100 mph before pulling over at 31st and First.

Police said the officer approached the vehicle and asked Dominguez for her license. The officer smelled a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from the mouth of Dominguez and saw she had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. She was asked to exit the vehicle and perform roadside standard field sobriety testing, which she failed.

On the way to central booking Dominguez told the officer, “If you don’t release me without charges, I’m going to urinate in your squad.” Police said she also offered additional unsolicited
information that she had been drinking all night and bar hopping and that she had been drinking vodka at Midway Mules all evening and then decided to drive home to Summit. Dominguez was driving northbound on First Avenue, not southbound to Summit. It was also found that she did not live in Summit.

Police said Dominguez’s criminal history includes retail theft, trespass to property, aggravated
battery to police officer, assault and battery.;_ylt=AwrXnCcPqRNcGBwAmHnQtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTBzdmVvZmlwBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxMAR2dGlkAwRzZWMDc3I-

Drunk driver involved in wreck said ‘stranger’ was driving his SUV

Driver had previous DWI conviction in 2016

Police charged Jesus Ponce, 31, with Intoxicated Assault. The wreck happened on Friday, December 7, 2018 shortly after 8 p.m. on the 2100 block of Montwood. 

Police said the victim, identified in court documents as 51-year-old Jose Vasquez, said his Jeep broke down. Vasquez said he turned on his vehicle’s emergency lights and lifted the hood while he tried to restart his Jeep. Vasquez “was in and out of his vehicle attempting to get it started again and only remembers waking up on the ground in severe pain,” the criminal complaint states.  The court document further states Vasquez suffered a pelvic fracture and internal bleeding – “life threatening injuries that required immediate surgery.”

Police accuse Ponce of crashing his Nissan Armada into Vasquez’s Jeep, causing Vasquez to be thrown from the Jeep. A driver who witnessed the aftermath of the wreck told police he saw Ponce in the driver’s side seat of the Nissan Armada, looking for something inside the vehicle. Ponce, the witness claimed, then exited the Nissan Armada and ran away from the scene of the wreck, the criminal complaint states.

The Nissan Armada Ponce was allegedly driving the night of the wreck.  

The court document states Ponce later returned to the scene of the wreck and told police he is the owner of the Armada, but a “stranger” was the one driving the SUV. Ponce allegedly told the officers at the scene, that after he got out of work that evening, he drank a beer at the Pockets bar in West El Paso, two beers at Coconuts in Central El Paso and two shots and a beer at Zocalo in East Central. 

Ponce told police he did not want to drive and a “stranger offered to drive him home.”  The plan was to order an Uber ride for the stranger once they arrived at Ponce’s home. Ponce “stated they stopped at a Whataburger to order food, and as they were driving home, all he remembers is being hit.”  Ponce said the stranger driving his SUV told him to get out of the vehicle and walk around so Ponce “could throw up.”

Ponce, the document states, told police he could not drive because he had a suspended driver’s license and he had not driven in “forever.”  When the officer asked Ponce how he got to work that day, Ponce allegedly said he drove the Armada to work. 

The Jeep Ponce allegedly rear-ended with the Nissan Armada.  

Police told Ponce that a witness identified him as the driver of the Armada after it collided with the Jeep, but Ponce remained adamant he was not driving the Armada when it collided with the Jeep. When the officer asked Ponce about the injury to his nose, Ponce said he “had a bad habit of not wearing his seatbelt.”

Ponce allegedly refused to perform a field sobriety test because he was not the driver of the Armada, police said. Police arrested Ponce for alleged DWI and ordered him to take a breathalyzer test. “The defendant (Ponce) provided a breath specimen that resulted in a .161/.178,” the criminal complaint states.

Ponce had a previous DWI conviction in April 2016, the criminal complaint states.

Cannabis Chocolate Bars Landed This Pilot in Trouble. He’s Now in the DC Circuit.

Jeffrey O. Siegel was flying a Lancair Evolution plane, like the one above, when he made an emergency landing in Kansas. Credit: Wiki commons 

Shortly after takeoff Oct. 1 2016, Jeff Siegel encountered a problem in the skies over Kansas: His airplane’s engine failed, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing on a road near the small town of Iola.

The Lancair Evolution single-engine plane suffered heavy damage, but neither Siegel nor his passenger were seriously hurt. The Kansas State Highway Patrol, called to the scene, found a briefcase onboard that would ultimately put Siegel on the radar of federal officials.

Inside were three chocolate bars labeled “Lab tested to 100 mg of THC,” a reference to tetrahydrocannabinol—the psychoactive chemical in cannabis.

Siegel soon received a notice from the Federal Aviation Administration saying his private pilot certificate would be revoked. Months later, in February 2018, the FAA’s acting administrator issued an emergency order formally revoking Siegel’s private pilot certificate. According to the FAA, Siegel had not demonstrated the “degree of care, judgment, and responsibility required of the holder of an airman certificate.”

Siegel was not alleged to have been under the influence of cannabis, and his passenger—now his wife—later claimed she had packed the chocolate bars without his knowledge. He faced a drug possession charge in Kansas that was later dropped.

His challenge to the FAA’s penalty is set to come before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Wednesday morning, in a case that muddles transportation safety rules with the tension between states and the federal government over the lawfulness of marijuana.

Siegel’s lawyer, Greg Winton of the Annapolis-based Aviation Law Firm, said the case is the first he’s aware of involving the revocation of a pilot certificate over “simple possession” of cannabis, as opposed to trafficking. Winton is set to argue in the D.C. Circuit before a panel of three judges: Sri Srinivasan, Gregory Katsas and David Sentelle.

DC Circuit Judge Gregory Katsas is on the panel that will hear Siegel’s case. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi / NLJ 

In court papers, Winton has argued that the FAA ignored mitigating factors—such as the fact that the chocolate bars were purchased legally, “apparently in Colorado”—and went against agency policy with such a stiff punishment. A suspension, Siegel has argued, would better fit the offense.

Winton has also argued that Siegel inadvertently took flight with the cannabis-infused chocolate bars.

“It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t deliberate. And it wasn’t reckless,” Winton said in an interview. “Suspension is the appropriate sanction, I think, in that circumstance.”

An FAA spokeswoman declined to comment on the case but said the agency “has been consistent in its position that marijuana is a ‘significantly impairing’ drug with respect to operating an aircraft.”

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Even with the revocation of his certificate, Siegel, a Utah resident who runs his own health and nutrition company, will be allowed to reapply for one early next year. He is pressing his case to avoid having the revocation on his record and go through a full recertification process.

The Justice Department, representing the FAA, has argued that the agency’s administrator and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have broad authority to revoke certificates when pilots are found to have flown with marijuana or narcotic drugs onboard. The government’s lawyers have noted that, while the chocolate bars might have been purchased in Colorado, federal law continues to prohibit possession of cannabis regardless of where it is bought or consumed.

The NTSB “rightly found it immaterial that the drugs might have been procured in Colorado: regardless of any state’s law, ‘it remains illegal under Federal law to possess this controlled substance and transport it on an aircraft within the national air space,’” Justice Department attorneys wrote in a D.C. Circuit brief, adding that Siegel’s punishment was consistent with the board’s precedent.

Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department has adopted a toughened stance—at least on paper—toward state-legalized marijuana. In January, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew guidance issued under the Obama administration that called for a hands-off approach to marijuana that was legal under state law.

At the NTSB, Siegel found one official who agreed that a lighter punishment was warranted.

In his appeal of the administrator’s emergency license revocation, Siegel went to an in-house judge at the NTSB, where his wife testified that she placed the chocolate bars in the briefcase without Siegel’s knowledge.

The judge lowered Siegel’s penalty to a 90-day suspension of his private pilot certificate, drawing a distinction between his case and a case two years earlier involving 200 pounds of marijuana that were found on an airplane.

“Guess what the sanction was? Revocation,” the administrative law judge said, referring to the earlier case. “How is that consistent with what we’ve got here today?”

“This was a simple possession of a substance that was purchased legally, apparently in Colorado,” the in-house NTSB judge said. “There wasn’t any use involved. There wasn’t any transporting for commercial purposes involved.”

Siegel and the FAA’s acting administrator both appealed to the full NTSB, which reinstated the revocation of the certificate.