Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sentencing Deal Is in the Works

Congress could limit the early release of crack cocaine offenders as part of a possible deal with the Bush administration to reduce a disparity in cocaine sentencing, a leading Democrat said yesterday.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) said there is growing support in Congress for revising a 22-year-old law that sets far harsher federal penalties for crack cocaine than for powder cocaine. A Justice Department willingness to reduce the disparities and revise a mandatory minimum sentence for crack possession makes a deal possible, Biden said.

He said he could consider in return the Bush administration's plea to limit a pending release of crack offenders whose sentences were cut by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

"I'm willing to consider a compromise [as long as] . . . there's a significant change relative to disparities, a significant change relative to minimum mandatory, and in return for that I'm willing to talk about a meaningful change in retroactivity," Biden said after a hearing of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee he chairs.

FBI Equipment Manager Is Indicted

An FBI employee was indicted for allegedly accepting an all-expenses-paid Caribbean cruise for his family's vacation after helping a shredding-machine company win a $2 million contract.

As an equipment program manager at the FBI's headquarters in Washington, Curtis Jones of Annapolis was responsible for overseeing the shredders purchased from the unnamed company. The shredders were bought as part of an FBI equipment upgrade to comply with national security regulations for destroying classified documents.

Prosecutors valued the trip at $7,500.

Jones was charged with accepting an illegal gratuity for the performance of his official duties.

Domestic Spy Plan Advances

A plan to use U.S. spy satellites for domestic security and law enforcement missions is moving forward after being delayed for months because of privacy and civil liberties concerns.

The charter and legal framework for an office within the Department of Homeland Security that would use overhead and mapping imagery from existing satellites is near completion, according to a department official who requested anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about it.

The future of the program will probably be addressed today on Capitol Hill, when Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will discuss his department's spending plan with lawmakers.

Last fall, senior Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee asked the department to put the program on hold until there was a clear legal framework for the program's operation. The new plan explicitly states that existing laws preventing the government from spying on citizens will remain in effect, the official said. Under no circumstances, for instance, will the program be used to intercept verbal and written conversations.

-- From News Services

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