Friday, October 31, 2008

Trial Begins for Houston Woman Who Abandoned Her Children to Get Married


Every woman wants her wedding day to be perfect. She may spend hours pouring over photos of wedding cakes, requiring just the right combination of flour and sugar to make the celebration of her nuptials ideal. She visits every boutique in a tri-state area trying on white, flowing dresses until she looks in the mirror and feels like a princess. She hopes for beautiful weather, well-behaved groom's men, and the ring bearer not to trip. In the case of Shanell Mosely, her wedding day wishes were a little different. She hoped that the six children she left without adult supervision would be fine as she flew to Africa for a month or two to exchange her vows.

Ms. Mosely, of the Houston area, flew to Nigeria on New Year's Eve last year to marry a man she met on the internet. Plane tickets for international travel are expensive, so I guess she decided that her five children (ages one to fifteen) as well as the neighbor's children who were in her care could stay home alone in the States. The abandoned children were discovered nearly a week later when a deputy made a welfare check on the home. The teenaged daughter, who made the call to Child Protective Services, claimed that she had been left in charge and she had no idea how to reach her mom. Ms. Mosley insists that her sister was supposed to take a bus from New Orleans to care for the children, but some miscommunication prevented that from happening.

The trial for Shanell Mosely began yesterday. She is facing felony charges of child endangerment. She has been in jail since returning to the United States, unable to make the $275,000 bond, and her children are in foster care. The prosecution opened their case by asserting that Mosely is a reckless mother and providing witnesses who spoke of the severely underfed children and the roaches that were crawling throughout the home. The defense plans to argue that their client is only "guilty of love." I'm not sure what the minimum sentence is for that crime in Texas.

At Bertolino LLP, we have criminal defense and family law attorneys who can assist in a situation like the one mentioned in this blog. If the start of your wedded bliss has been interrupted by a felony charge, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today and let's discuss your case.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Houston Man Stabs Wife Because She Wanted to Leave a Party


Have you ever been to a party and the festivities were so amazing that repeated attempts by your date to head home fell on deaf ears? Maybe the charades tournament was just starting to reach a fevered pitch. Perhaps you could not be torn away from the amazing meat and cheese platter. Or, it may have been the heated conversation on the merits of the electoral college that kept you planted in the party room. No matter the quality of the revelry, there is never a justification for injuring your better half when she finally forced you into the car and back home. Just ask Victor Manuel Gutierrez.

Mr. Gutierrez, of Houston, got angry with his wife back in January when she wanted to leave a party before he did. He screamed with frustration at his wife during the entire car ride home, with his children as an unfortunate audience for the tirade. Upon getting home and ordering the kids to their rooms, Gutierrez allegedly stabbed his wife in the neck, punched her nose and threatened her with a knife to the neck. When the party-weary wife struggled against the attacks, Gutierrez cut her and threatened to kill her.

Following the incident, Mr. Gutierrez was charged with aggravated assault against a family member. Police have revealed that he is now on the loose and believed to be somewhere in the Houston area. Based on his alleged actions, I assume that Mr. Gutierrez should be considered armed and dangerous. Please call 713-222-TIPS if you have information that could lead to his capture.

Have you been enjoying a great time at a social function and been accused of an overzealous reaction when asked to leave? Were your actions of a criminal nature? If you find yourself in need of a defense attorney, please contact the Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office of Bertolino LLP today.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Actions of Texas Teacher May Overturn Thousands of DWI Cases


Most people appreciate being honored as a stellar participant in their chosen profession after working so many years. An engraved gold watch, a plaque to hang proudly on the wall of the office, and a specially marked parking space right next to the front door of her place of employment are all small gestures that make exceptional workers feel appreciated and respected. There is little doubt that Deetrice Wallace felt a deserved sense of pride when she was named 2006 Harris County Teacher of the Year award from the Education Foundation of Harris County, which was preceded by her selection as Teacher of the Year Award at Sharpstown Middle School. However, it is her second job that is now putting a damper on her achievements in the classroom.

Ms. Wallace was under contract with several police departments in the Houston area to maintain the accuracy of their breath-test machines. The Texas Department of Public Safety has discovered that she falsified records to make it appear that she had tested and adjusted the calibrations of the machines as needed. It appears that she had been practicing this deception for a year. Now, she finds herself facing charges of falsifying government records. She faces six months to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine. Until a resolution is reached in this case, Ms. Wallace has been reassigned to a position outside of the classroom.

This revelation is likely to affect many lives beyond those of Deetrice Wallace and her students. There are more than 2600 DWI cases that may possibly be revisited, as some of the evidence used in the convictions came from the breathalyzers that were in Ms. Wallace's care. For sure, Harris County criminal defense attorneys are going to be quite busy in the upcoming months!

If you have been convicted of a DWI in Brazoria, Galveston or Harris counties and believe you may have been a victim of inaccurate evidence, please contact the Houston office of Bertolino LLP today. We can help you get the justice you deserve.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Texas Student Wearing Brass Knuckle Belt Buckle Will Not Be Charged


Teenagers have always searched for unique ways to express themselves, from their choice of music to room decor to the clothes they wear every day. And, if their attempts at individuality manage to disturb authority figures -- even better! Here in Texas, what better way could there be to make a statement than through your carefully selected belt buckle? Mark Wells of Pasadena, TX took this approach when the school year started last month, and his decision landed him in jail and suspended from South Houston High.

How could a belt buckle lead to legal problems? Instead of wearing a buckle showing his name or a rhinestone reproduction of our state flag, Mark decided that his belt needed a finishing touch made from a set of brass knuckles. As the student himself stated, "“I try to make different things that don't normally go together, work." In this instance, the combination was a wide strip of leather and a tool crafted specifically to inflict severe pain to someone's face, usually as retribution for unpaid gambling debts if the movies I watch are accurate.

The assistant principal did not appreciate Mark's sense of style and he was arrested. While spending the first day of school at the local jail, the young man was charged with the third-degree felony of bringing a weapon to school. A spokesperson for the Pasadena school district insisted that administration was just following the rules, releasing a statement that stated, “The district and students operate under rules set by the state. These rules are provided to students in the Student Code of Conduct."

Mark Well may finally be allowed to return to school and move forward with his junior year. Yesterday, prosecutors in the case decided to drop the felony charges against the student and the case was dismissed. Let's just hope he decides to leave those barbed wire shoelaces at home as he heads out to resume his education.

At Bertolino LLP, we have criminal defense attorneys who can assist with any charges you may be facing. Whether you received unwanted attention for your outfit at school or you are facing more serious accusations, we can provide the representation that you deserve. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Police Officer Shoots at Beer Thieves in San Antonio


Here's the setting: A gentleman is enjoying a few drinks with friends along the River Walk. Perhaps you have not seen each other in a while and you were reminiscing over some wild times in high school. They get so caught up in the conversation that you lose track of time and, next thing you know, the bartender is announcing last call. Not ready to end the night of revelry, they quickly discuss what could be done to prolong the evening. One guy in the group suggests robbing a liquor store and then attempting an escape in his American automobile that is not exactly known for quick acceleration and dizzying speeds. If you can relate to this scenario, consider yourself warned by the story of Marlena Vaughn Guerra and her two cohorts. Maybe, when the bars close, you will decide just to go home instead.

Ms. Guerra of San Antonio chauffered two young men to a South Side liquor store around 3:30am on Saturday morning. Although a late-night beer run may seem innocent enough, the events become problematic when the two men craving fermented barley and hops decided to run out of the store without paying. A police officer who happened to be in the parking lot was alerted to the robbery in progress. The Ford Escort being used as the getaway car accelerated towards the officer, who was forced to shoot. No one was hurt in the incident, but all three beer bandits were apprehended.

Guerra has been charged with deadly conduct. Ricky Dean Kellum Jr. and Christian Gabriel Rocha were charged with theft under $50. Now the offenders must ask themselves this crucial question. Was the potential for a few free six-packs worth aiming a heavy machine at a member of law enforcement and then punching the accelerator? Of course, Ms. Guerra, Mr. Kellum and Mr. Rocha are all presumed innocent until proven guilty.

At Bertolino LLP, we encourage you to purchase all of your alcoholic beverages (we actually encourage abstinence). However, if you have been charged with stealing beer or any other crime, we have defense attorneys in Austin, Houston and San Antonio who can help. Please contact our offices today to discuss your case.

Friday, October 24, 2008

UT Fraternity Must Pay Millions for Hazing Death


Parents understandably experience a mixed set of emotions when they leave their children on a college campus for the first time. There is pride for the accomplishments of their son or daughter. There is also sadness knowing there is an empty bedroom that will wait until Thanksgiving break for its occupant to return. Unfortunately, there is also legitimate concern for the safety of these young men and women who will no longer be under daily supervision. Will they make smart choices? Will the school administration enforce the rules created to keep their students safe? As parents' minds wander through the potential dangers, it must be difficult even to fathom the possibility of death. This reality was experienced by the Cross family and, on Wednesday, the court spoke on their behalf.

Tyler Cross was a freshman at University of Texas-Austin and a pledge with the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity in 2006. He fell to his death from the fifth floor of an off-campus dormitory after a night of hazing that included drinking a half-gallon bottle of liquor. In days leading up to this tragic event, Tyler also had endured sleep deprivation, paddling and large quantities of alcohol. Now, a state district judge has ordered the national and University of Texas chapters of the fraternity to pay $16.2 million in damages to the parents of Tyler Cross. This was a default judgment, as the chapters never responded to the charges filed in September.

This ruling follows the sentencing of individual members of UT's Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity back in April. Two pledge trainers spent four days in jail and the chapter's president was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service and an alcohol awareness course. The Cross family expressed pleasure at the time of this ruling, since one of their primary intentions always has been to reduce the plague of campus hazing.

Binge drinking and fraternity hazing are sad facts of college life today. If you have a family member who has become involved in these unfortunate activities and criminal charges resulted, Bertolino LLP has attorneys who can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Houston Lawyer Found Guilty of Fraud and Conspiracy


I can understand why celebrities are appealing targets for shady investment schemes. When you get paid one million dollars per episode of a hit sitcom, $5000 every time you throw a pitch from the mound of a major league stadium, or $100,000 to lip sync on Saturday Night Live, you usually have an enviable amount of disposable income. And, if your schedule is hectic or you just have a particularly trusting disposition concerning your fortune, people will ill intentions will find you. One such person, Houston attorney Ted Russell Schwartz Murray, had his crimes revealed and has been found guilty on 22 counts of conspiracy, fraud and filing false tax returns.

Mr. Murray was the owner of Premiere Holdings real estate investments and, along with two co-defendants who testified against him, he stole more than $67 million from investors including retired baseball player Vince Coleman and actor Chuck Norris. Has Mr. Murray seen the finely tuned martial arts skills that Norris displays on his television programs? Perhaps not a wise target. Murray promised these men, and many other wealthy investors, real estate investments that would bring high interest and quick money. Instead, he used the swindled cash for items such a $29,000 Rolex, casino gambling, and spa treatments for his mother (such a good boy!).

As it stands now, Mr. Murray will receive his sentence from Judge Vanessa Gilmore in March 2009. However, Murray's attorney, Ed Tomko, plans to ask for a new trial for his client and asserts that the other two defendants were solely responsible for the fraudulent activity. Also, as is popular these days, Mr. Tomko blamed the economy. He said, "I don't think the jury seeing the economy collapse because of bad mortgages could have helped us."

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who specialize both in celebrity law and white collar criminal defense. So, if you are a Oscar-winning actor who is the victim of a scam or a business owner who is being accused of perpetrating the scam, we can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today to discuss the details of your case.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Baytown Police Looking for Man Who Stole Lottery Tickets


The struggling economy is affecting people throughout the country, as men and women attempt to cut back on spending or perhaps even look for an additional source of income. Coupon clipping is becoming a favorite hobby of bargain shoppers. Many businesses are concerned about what the economic downturn will mean for holiday spending and perhaps will not hire as many seasonal workers as in years past. The use of public transportation is up and the willingness to make multiple trips in a car is down as we all try to conserve gas in the wake of record prices. Despite understandable frustrations, most people are managing to stay on the right side of the law during this difficult time. Not so for one Baytown man who decided to place his fate with the Lady Luck of a scratch-off variety.

Baytown Police are looking for a man who visited the RPS Discount convenience store on October 13. As surveillance pictures show, he waited patiently in line for assistance from the clerk. When he finally reached the counter, he asked the employee for several items. While the clerk was busy providing good customer service, the suspect swiped a stack of lottery tickets and then left the store.

If you see a man dressed in black pants and a black shirt who is feverishly scratching at small pieces of thick paper with loose change and then discarding the paper in disgust, please contact Baytown police immediately. You can call Baytown Police at 281-422-8371 or Baytown Crime Stoppers at 281-427-TIPS (8477) and remain anonymous.

Has the tough economy led you to make a poor decision, such as the one made by the Baytown lottery snatcher? The criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP can make sure you are afforded all of your rights in court. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Police Use Taser on Houston Man Breaking into Parents' Home


Relationships between parents and children often can be strained. The generational divide provides battles that go back to the ancient Greeks and the Old Testament of the Bible. Maybe dad is disappointed because his son was never a star football player. Mom may want her daughter to study music, but her offspring insists on pursuing a degree in anthropology. On a more serious note, addiction to drugs or alcohol can cause heartache and distrust in families that can last a lifetime. It is unclear if any of these factors were at play on Monday morning when a son was tasered after breaking into his parents' home.

A resident of southeast Houston broke a window and destroyed a door in his efforts to get inside his parents' residence. My assumption is that the mom and dad were not strangers to difficulties with their son, as they chose to call 911 knowing that their own child was the one responsible for the destructive entrance into their home. The arrival of police officers apparently was not enough to deter the son from ending his violent pre-dawn activities. He proceeded to put up a fight and made the last in a series of unwise decisions when he grabbed the flashlight of one of the officers.

The police were forced to subdue the man with a Taser and, in his weakened state, the unwelcome son was finally arrested. He now faces charges of trespassing and resisting arrest. At this time, it is unclear why the man was trying to get inside his parents' home as well as what was the source of his violent behavior. I imagine that all of those details will be shared with a Houston judge soon enough.

There are certainly heightened emotions at play when a crime is committed within a family. Victims are often conflicted between holding a loved one responsible for his actions and protecting him. At Bertolino LLP, we have defense attorneys who are experienced and ready to handle these delicate relationships. If you have been accused of a crime, by your parents or just a stranger on the street, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office for assistance today.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Corpus Christi Cops Ordered to Cover Tattoos


There are many reasons why person may decide to have a tattoo inked into his or her skin as a permanent body decoration. Angelina Jolie has the coordinates for the birth locations of each of her children on her arm. Many men want to show their eternal dedication to MOM, often in conjunction with a sword or skull of some sort. Sometimes a great romantic relationship inspires such artwork, and also can result in an expensive and painful removal process. If you have chosen a tattoo as a form of personal expression and you are a member of the Corpus Christi police force, you will now be required to hide your dyed skin while protecting the citizens of that fine city.

Starting November 1, officers will need to cover all tattoos, including those not already covered by the standard long-sleeve shirts that come as part of the uniform. So, if you see a Corpus Christi cop with a large bandage on his neck for an extended period of time, a strong assumption can be made that he is hiding the result of a very brave evening spent in a tattoo chair. The decision for this policy change stemmed from concerned citizens who were unsure if the tattooed guy pulling them over for speeding was really a member of law enforcement. Police Chief Bryan Smith said that he is striving to increase the "level of professionalism perceived by the public."

The Corpus Christi Police Officers Association does not have any disagreement with the policy in general. However, the president of the organization, Sgt. Mike Staff, would like to see a grandfather clause enacted for those already on the force. He provides the example of former members of the military and says that they "wear their military tattoos as badges of honor. It's their way of showing respect for their country. It wasn't a problem when they were hired, so what's the harm of having a tattoo now?" The department is considering the request for such an exception.

If your employer is implementing restrictions that you believe are not relevant to your job performance, we have attorneys at Bertolino LLP who specialize in issues of business and employment law and can assist you with your case. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Friday, October 17, 2008

San Antonio Man Kidnaps Ex-Girlfriend


There are usually strong emotions at play when a long-term relationship comes to an end. If the break-up was not a mutual decision, the unwilling partner can have difficulty accepting the situation. He may spend endless hours plotting ways to win back the love of his significant other. Maybe he sends flowers with a note of promises to be a better man. Perhaps he makes an effort to change bad habits that became too much for his girlfriend to handle. The course of action taken by a man in San Antonio yesterday is not recommended to anyone who has real hopes of reconciliation. He kidnapped his ex-girlfriend at knife point.

The man, whose name has yet to be released, kicked in the back door of his 24-year-old former girlfriend's apartment and forced her out of the home. Her five children, ranging in age from two years to eight years, were left behind in the care of another family member who, fortunately, was also inside the apartment. The estranged couple drove around in the female's car until a local police officer recognized the vehicle and arrested the man without incident.

According to the woman's best friend, the couple had been together for about six years and the mother of five gave her abducting boyfriend many chances to mend the relationship. But, it appears her patience had come to an end and, according to police, "that was a problem for the suspect." The man now faces charges of kidnapping and the possibility that he may have to win back his girlfriend from behind prison bars.

We certainly do not advise that you resort to criminal tactics if a romantic relationship comes to an end. However, if you have been accused of such a crime, the defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP are here for you. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today to discuss your case.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Political Yard Signs Targeted in Austin


We are only nineteen days away from the culmination of the political circus that happens every four years in this country. Our nation will elect either Senator John McCain or Senator Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States. We watched the final debate in a series of three last night and our television screens have been filled with an endless barrage of campaign commercials (well, maybe not as much here in Texas as in Ohio or Florida). Supporters on both sides are passionate and want everyone to know who they think will make the better leader. One way this support is demonstrated is through planting yard signs in our front lawns. However, as occurs during every election, destruction or stealing of these signs by the opposition is inevitable.

In Austin, police have received twenty-nine complaints of vandalized signs between August 1 and Tuesday of this week, with Barack Obama signs receiving the brunt of the criminal activity. As is to be expected, the perpetrators usually are not caught. As frustrating as the destruction of one's personal property is, law enforcement understandably does not place some bent spokes and a spray painted piece of laminated cardboard at the top of its investigation list.

Whether the yard sign vandals are young people who find the activity an amusing outlet for some late-night energy or supporters of a candidate who cannot stand the sight of the other party's yard sign in their cul de sac, people should know that destroying and/or removing yard signs is a crime. According to Kevin Stryker, assistant county attorney in Williamson County, tolen signs that are valued at less than $50 could be classified as a class C misdemeanor theft and result in a maximum fine of $500. Beware. If you take part in massive yard sign thievery or deface one of the large, billboard-style signs, that decision actually could result in some jail time.

The attorneys at Bertolino LLP encourage you to support the candidate of your choice and give others the freedom to do the same. However, if you have been accused of wrongdoing involving political yard decorations, please get in touch with our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office. We can help you resolve the situation quickly so that you can focus your concerns solely on the daily tracking polls.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Houston Mom Leaves Kids Home Alone to Enjoy Night of Drinking


As a parent, nothing takes precedence for me over the welfare of my three children. The responsibility that comes with being a dad or a mom is constant and needs to be practiced with love and dedication. Unfortunately, as I have noted on this blog before, there are some parents in Texas who have fallen short of their obligations and have either abandoned their children or used them in despicable ways. Heather Lynn Vaughan, a Houston mother, was arrested yesterday and can add her name to the list of parents who have committed crimes against their children.

Neighbors of Ms. Vaughan became concerned when they heard her children, a four-year-old and one-year-old twins, cry all night on Monday. When police arrived at the scene, they discovered the children had been left alone and later learned they had been without supervision since 10:00pm the night before. What could have caused a mother to leave her children alone for hours in the dark of night? At first, authorities feared that Vaughan herself had been a victim of a crime. Or, perhaps she could not afford to miss an evening of work, had a babysitter cancel at the last minute, and was left with having to make a desperate choice? While either circumstance would be tragic, neither was true. Instead, this young mother decided that her three preschool daughters could take care of themselves while she enjoyed a night of drinking.

Vaughan has been charged with three counts of child abandonment, a crime that is punishable by 180 days to two years in state jail and up to a $10,000 fine if convicted. In the meantime, she sits in a Harris County jail with bail set at $2000 for each charge. The children have been placed in the care of their father.

At Bertolino LLP, we know that issues of family law require heightened sensitivity and patience. We have attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who specialize in family law and can assist you in such matters. Please contact us today to discuss your case.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Houston Woman Fatally Stabbed Over Stolen Cell Phone


It is not unusual for couples to fight over petty matters, especially when they live together. Why didn't you clean up the dishes after dinner? Why do you always get to hold the remote? Don't your socks belong somewhere better than piled up on the floor? After a couple of slammed doors and some time spent on opposite ends of the house, these issues are usually resolved. Never should such arguments lead to acts of violence. Unfortunately, Houston resident Darwin Dario Melgar did not get that message and he killed his girlfriend on Sunday night. The reason? Melgar claims that she stole his cell phone.

Upon being called a thief by her own boyfriend, the victim (whose name has not been released) slapped and bit Melgar. Convinced that his cell phone was stolen by his live-in love and angry at her unfair retaliation, Melgar took off to his cousin's house and returned with a large kitchen knife. He stabbed his girlfriend several times in the chest and then fled the scene of the crime he committed. No word on whether or not the cell phone was retrieved.

Darwin Melgar has been charged with murder. He is being held at the Harris County Jail on $50,000 bond. The young man, who is only twenty-two years old, may have destined himself to a majority of his life in a prison cell simply because he was possessive when it came to a small, telecommunications device. He serves as yet another sad example -- the best option is always to walk away when anger starts to take over.

At Bertolino LLP, we want you to find peaceful ways to resolve conflicts with your loved ones. However, if you find yourself accused of a violent crime, our defense attorneys can make sure that you receive aggressive representation in court. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today and let's discuss your situation.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Texan Wanted on Capital Murder Charges Captured with Help from Wife


There is a case unfolding in Texas that involves many areas of intrigue --an estranged spouse, murder, and an attempted escape across the border -- that make for a blockbuster movie or at least an ongoing plot in a daytime soap opera. However, the events occurring a Cleveland family are very real and wrought with tragedy. Over the weekend, two of the main players in this story planned a meeting, with one of them ending up behind bars and facing the death penalty.

Ramiro Contreras is accused of inviting himself into his mother-in-law's home last month, where his wife was taking refuge with their four children. He started firing shots at the residents, shooting his wife's mother, Barbara Swearingen, and two other people. Ms. Swearingen died on the way to the hospital, at the same time that Contreras was abducting his wife and kids from the scene of the crime. Contreras' kidnapped family was discovered safe and unharmed the next day.

Apparently, Contreras did not believe that the murder of her mother was enough to keep his wife from marital loyalty. He made plans to meet her early Saturday morning, after being on the run for over two weeks, with the intention of using her as his chauffeur into the extradition-unfriendly (concerning death penalty cases) country of Mexico. Unfortunately for the alleged mom killer, his spouse was working with law enforcement and he was arrested by members of the Cleveland Police and San Jacinto County Sheriff's Department. He now faces charges of capital murder and aggravated assault, the first of which being punishable by death in the state of Texas.

At Bertolino LLP, we have experienced attorneys who work in the areas of criminal defense and immigration and can fight for your legal rights if you face a situation like the one involving Mr. Contreras. If you have been charged with the most serious of crimes, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

New TexasSure Program Designed to Target Uninsured Texan Drivers

Reports have shown that twenty-five percent of Texan drivers do not carry autmotive liability insurance. The TexasSure program is based on a database comprised of the names of all insured Texas drivers and their insurance companies along with their respective license-plate numbers and VINs. If a driver is involved in an accident or stopped for an infraction, the police officer can enter the license-plate number or VIN into the system and verify that individual's insurance coverage. The result is an increased aresenal for law enforcement.

With fines ranging as high as $1,000 for a second offense, the program will likely target the State's poorest drivers. Illegal immigrants should especially fear the new program as encounters with the police can lead to arrests. As discussed previously on Beloblawg, Federal authorities have begun officing in state correctional facilities and more aggressively enforcing the country's immigration laws.

The insurance industry and its politicians estimate that Texas drivers shell out nearly $1 billion a year to protect themselves against those without coverage.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fish Pedicures Banned in Texas


There are endless ways in which the vain try to maintain the outward appearance of youth and beauty, and our cosmetic industry is more than happy to oblige with ever more unusual services. They go to luxurious spas to be slathered with mud or seaweed. Tweezers, wax, and even lasers are used to create the perfect eyebrows. They willingly have needles stuck into their cheeks and lips to remove any hint of a wrinkle. However, there is one procedure that will no longer be allowed in the state of Texas. Pedicures using live fish to nibble way at the dead skin on your feet have been banned for health and safety reasons.

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation indicated a concern over using the same fish for multiple customers and therefore creating an opportunity for infection. Also, because some of the standard disinfectants would threaten the well-being of the little guppies, the foot baths and holding tanks cannot be cleaned to the extent that would result in acceptable levels of hygiene. So, it appears that men and women who wish to be bitten hundreds of times by aquatic creatures will now have to dip their feet in one of Texas' fine lakes or creeks and just take their chances on the results.

If your son and daughter is looking for a new addition for the family fish tank, I recommend that you stop by your local salon. Chances are that the owner will be eager to sell you some of their out-of-work fish for a bargain price!

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who specialize in the details of business law. If you believe that you are being unfairly restricted from your entrepreneurial goals, please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office to discuss your case.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

New Texas Policy Requires Proof of Immigrant Status for Driver's License


Just listen to a typical traffic report in the Houston area during rush hour and you quickly will conclude that we all want our vehicles and we are willing to sit in a standstill of other cars in exchange for the convenience and comfort. Getting a driver's license is a major rite of passage. Teenagers cross off the days on their calendars until they can have that piece of plastic that symbolizes freedom. However, if you live in Texas and you cannot prove your legal status in the country, you now will be denied a driver's license. Is this an important security measure or a piece of political pandering?

As of October 1, immigrants now must produce documentation provided by the Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Naturalization Service or Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services that verifies their legal presence in the country. The licenses given to immigrants will look different than those issued to citizens so that they are easily recognizable by police, and they will have the date that the person's admission in the United States expires.

State law requires applicants to present a social security card in order to get a driver's license. However, proponents of this new policy asserted that illegal immigrants were either presenting fake social security cards or simply signing a form indicating that they were ineligible for social security benefits and therefore did not have a card at all. The hope is that the new documentation requirement established by the Texas Department of Public Safety will close these loopholes for people in our country illegally.

Not everyone is thrilled with the policy change. Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said that, "People have to drive to get to work. You want people to get insurance. They can't get insurance if they don't have a driver's license." Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Democrat from Houston, argues that the tactic equates to "demagoguery" by the governor during an election year.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who specialize in immigration law. If you believe you have been denied your rights based on your immigrant status, please contact one of our offices today to discuss your situation.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Houston Woman Killed Over Loud Music


In our crowded and busy communities, tensions between neighbors are all too common. Most of us are familiar with the phrase, "Good fences make good neighbors" coined by Robert Frost. But, sometimes, we aren't able to separate ourselves enough to prevent conflict. We roll our eyes when Mr. Jones fails to mow his lawn for three straight weeks. We complain to our friends when Ms. Smith across the street decides that a spinning snowman, five bowing deer and a strobe light searching for Santa are beautiful house adornments at 2:00am in December. However, it is only in rare and sad instances that our disagreements escalate into violence. In Houston on Monday night, a feud between neighbors resulted in murder.

Ashley Tillis paid a visit her neighbor, Veyonka Pouncy, to let her know that she intended to host a party and warned that loud music may be a part of the evening. Pouncy apparently did not appreciate this piece of news. She pulled out a pistol and began firing. Tillis managed to stumble back to her home but died later at Ben Taub General Hospital. She leaves behind a three-year-old son and a job as a parole officer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Veyonka Pouncy has been charged with murder and remains in jail with bail set at $50,000. According to one of Houston's homicide dectectives, Pouncy has not been particularly cooperative and has given conflicting stories during questioning. What is becoming clear from interviews with neighbors is that this feud did not start on Monday. There may be a long list of legitimate grievances that Pouncy has based on past interactions with Tillis. However, I am certain that none of these frustrations justifies murder.

We certainly do not want to see any dispute settled with violence. However, if you have been accused of a crime against your neighbor ... or anyone else, Bertolino LLP has defense attorneys who will represent you aggressively and thoroughly. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio offices today.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Round Rock Man Charged with Stealing Computers


I suppose there are many reasons that a person could need thirty computers. Perhaps he loves interactive gaming but cannot decide on just one character to create for himself. It could be that he has thirty jobs, and while he is developing spreadsheets on one screen, he is chatting online with a client on a second computer and editing a video clip on yet another. Or, there is simply the most likely reason for the acquisition of so many computers ... he hopes to sell most of them for a nice profit. Whatever the reason may be, Round Rock resident David Hudson made a mistake of federal proportions in obtaining thirty laptops from Dell Inc. using a false name.

Mr. Hudson somehow got his hands on account information for current clients with Dell. He then requested replacement computers and had them shipped to postal businesses in Round Rock. While this plan might have seemed ingenious to Hudson on the front end, it doesn't seem that he thought through what might eventually happen in the process. Practicing good customer service, Dell called the people who supposedly received replacement computers and discovered that a new machine had never been requested. Raising suspicions, an investigation ensued and Hudson was arrested last week at Postal Annex as he was picking up two more computers.

The computer re-router has been charged with felony theft and tampering with a government record. If he is convicted of these crimes, Mr. Hudson faces up to twenty years in prison. He already has confessed to stealing sixteen computers but has not accepted responsibility for the other fourteen that fit the same theft scheme.

At Bertolino LLP, we have criminal defense attorneys who are ready to assist you with any charges you may be facing. If the government has accused you of falsifying information in order to receive free electronics, please call our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today to discuss your case.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Austin Man Arrested for Threats to Local Mosque


When I was considering the topic that should begin my blog posts for this week, my first instinct was to write about the play of the Houston Texans yesterday. If that collapse in the last four minutes against the Colts does not constitute criminal activity, I'm not sure what would qualify. However, I will cut the team some slack and let the radio call-in shows take care of the criticism over the next several days. Instead, I will focus on a much more serious story that developed Sunday evening in Austin. A man was arrested and his backpack detonated after he made threats against a local mosque.

Azzam Baytie has been described by police as "emotionally disturbed" and led credence to that diagnosis with his pledged intent to do damage to the North Austin Muslim Community Center. When his traveling shoulder tote was put through an x-ray machine, electronic parts were discovered and it was destroyed just in case the wires constituted something more than an iPod or extra guitar strings. The details in this case are still developing, so it's unclear as of this writing whether or not Baytie's threat had real reason for concern.

Mr. Baytie is facing charges of criminal trespassing and a terroristic threat. Concerning the latter charge, it is determined by the threat to "commit any offense involving violence to any person or property with intent to place any person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or prevent or interrupt the occupation or use of a building, room, or place of assembly."

While we may not be able to help Mr. Rosenfels on the football field, at Bertolino LLP we do have experienced criminal defense attorneys who can provide legal assistance with any charges you may be facing. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio offices to discuss your case today.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Texas Attorney General Sues Hotels for Price Gouging


The aftermath of a natural disaster can, unfortunately, produce many reasons for seeking legal assistance. Over the past month, I have written several posts on this blog concerning problems that people in Texas (and throughout the region) are facing at a result of Hurricane Ike. From insurance companies who drag their feet in addressing claims to the unfortunate decision by some of our fellow residents to cheat the system to the looting of personal and business property, there are many reasons that high winds and torrential rains leave behind many instances for which an attorney is required. Yesterday, hotel owners who took advantage of hurricane evacuees were in the legal spotlight.

The Attorney General of Texas, Greg Abbott, is suing Hotel Nacogdoches north of Houston and the Super 8 Brookshire Motel west of Katy for price gouging during Hurricane Ike. These two destinations for weary travelers are accused of increasing rates anywhere from 50 to 100 percent leading up to, and during, the storm. In addition, they continued to charge sales tax to those escaping the destructive hurricane even though Governor Rick Perry ordered that the tax be suspended during this emergency.

The two businesses will be charged under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which makes it illegal to "sell or lease fuel, food, lodging, medicine or other necessities at an exorbitant price" during a declared state of emergency. These hotels face a $20,000 fine for every instance of a violation. How many people will come forward with evidence that rooms normally costing $49 were going for as much as $109? This ill-advised attempt at a profit instead could become quite costly for Hotel Nacogdoches and Super 8 Motel.

Have you been the victim of deceptive or unfair business practices following Hurricane Ike? At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who are experienced in the specifics of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Please give us the opportunity to get you the justice you deserve. Contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today and let us know what happened to you.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

San Antonio Dad Abandons Young Children in Apartment


Parents struggle with determining at what age a child is old enough to stay home alone. Can I drive down the street for some milk and bread while my twelve-year-old son sits at the kitchen table doing his homework? Should I trust my high school senior to be without parental supervision overnight while my spouse and I celebrate our anniversary? Usually, that decision needs to be made considering the maturity level of the child and basic common sense. In no circumstances would it be deemed acceptable for a two-year-old and an eight-month-old to be left alone in an apartment. Earlier this week, Anthony Lee Mason learned that such an act will get you charged with two counts of child abandonment.

A resident of San Antonio, Mason was supposed to watch his two children on Tuesday morning while their mother worked. Apparently, he determined that he had more important activities in need of his urgent attention. Local police officers found the older child wandering around the parking lot of his apartment complex. Somehow, the cops managed to get the little boy back to his correct apartment and discovered his younger brother sitting alone in the home. As if leaving a toddler and an infant alone is not crime enough, police also discovered drug paraphernalia and the kids appeared to be malnourished. It should come as no surprise that child protective services have been asked to assist with this sad situation.

No legal situations require more sensitivity than those involving children. At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who specialize in the unique needs surrounding family law. We also have outstanding criminal defense lawyers who are ready to assist you if you have been accused of the crime like the one described above. Please contact us today to discuss your case.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Houston Woman Charged with Filing False Hurricane Claims


Following Hurricane Ike's destructive path through Texas a couple of weeks ago, I urged all affected residents to file their insurance claims immediately. Those who provide accurate and thorough records in a timely fashion have the best chance to receive the compensation they desperately need during such a challenging time. However, perhaps I also should have mentioned that you SHOULD NOT file a claim if you survived the hurricane without any damage to your property. False claims are frowned upon by state and federal authorities, and could result in a lengthy amount of time living in a prison cell (which, on the plus side, is probably pretty secure in a hurricane). Phyllis Ann Taylor is learning the consequences of lying to federal agents this week in a Houston courtroom.

Ms. Taylor filed a false claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on September 13, the day that Hurricane Ike made landfall, claiming damage to her primary residence in Galveston. She certainly was a prepared resident, having that paperwork ready to go practically as soon as the first wind gust approached her home (wherever that may be ... she doesn't live at the address she provided in her claim). As it turns out, Taylor was a seasoned veteran with the process of filing FEMA claims. According to the 16-count indictment she is now facing, Ms. Taylor also made at least seven false claims following Hurricane Katrina and five more after Rita. She used different social security numbers, slightly altered versions of her name, and false addresses to steal money from the federal government.

Following other instances of fraud stemming from Katrina, Congress passed a statute concerning disaster-assistance fraud. Ms. Taylor may now brag to her friends that she is the first person to be charged under this new law. She also has been charged with eight counts of mail fraud and seven counts of aggravated identity theft related to her actions after Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf in 2005. If convicted, she faces up to 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Are you battling some honest problems concerning the collection of your insurance claims? If you have filed the details of your damage and you are not getting the response you need from the government or your insurance agency, please contact us at Bertolino LLP for help. We have experienced attorneys in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio ready to help you collect what you deserve.