Money Laundering and Russians
Court documents were released on Friday, Feb. 1 detailing a money laundering scheme of more than half a million dollars committed by a San Antonio luxury car dealer with Russian connections. Karen Mgerian, 40 — one of two men arrested in raids Thursday in which more than 100 high-end vehicles were seized — is accused of laundering $575,000 in four separate money-laundering sting transactions in 2018 with undercover IRS and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents.
Before his arrest Thursday, Mgerian was in negotiations to launder another $4.7 million for the undercover agents by selling his business, MGM Auto, to the agents in return for a 12.9 percent money laundering fee. He also admitted to undercover DEA agents that he had recently laundered $780,000 “through a real estate transaction with a California marijuana distribution organization.”
Mgerian, a naturalized US citizen who traces his roots to the countries of Georgia and Armenia, denies the allegations, according to one of his lawyers, Jay Norton. Norton and his law partner, former Bexar County district attorney Nico LaHood, jointly represent Mgerian with former federal prosecutor Mike McCrum.
From what it looks likes with what he admitted to the DEA agents, this appears to be a cut and dry case that should be resolved fairly quickly.
Texas Tax Relief
On Thursday, Jan 31, identical property tax reform bills were introduced into the Texas State House and Senate by State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock) and State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston). House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 2 are also part of Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen long-anticipated “big bill” on property tax reform.
Highlights from the bills include:
- Lower the rollback rate from 8 percent to 2.5 percent for taxing units that collect more than $15 million in tax revenues and establish election notice requirements based on whether a school district will or will not exceed a 2.5% rollback rate for Maintenance and Operation property tax.
- Requires an automatic tax ratification election in November if the rollback rate is exceeded in a taxing unit, and;
- Creates a property tax administrative advisory board that recommends improvements to the effectiveness and efficiency of the property tax system, best practices and complaint resolution procedures.
These bills are a huge step in the right direction for Texas in their effort to slow down property tax increases and provide tax relief to many across the state. Vance Ginn, Ph.D., TPPF’s senior economist and director of the Center for Economic Prosperity, stated:“This is a positive step toward providing taxpayers the support they are looking for and we are eager to work with leadership on securing the greatest relief possible.”
Texas Clergy Identifies Abusers
On Thursday, Jan 31, fourteen Texas dioceses identified 286 priests and others accused of sexually abusing children. This represents one of the largest collections of names to be released since an explosive grand jury report last year in Pennsylvania. The move by Texas Church leaders comes a month after the Illinois attorney general reported that at least 500 Catholic clergymen in that state had sexually abused children.
It is unclear whether any local prosecutors will bring up criminal charges as the majority of those identified have since died. Some investigations dated back to 1950 while other reviews, as in the case of the Diocese of Laredo, only went to 2000 because that’s when that diocese was established. Of the 286 men named in Texas, 172 are no longer alive, a percentage comparable with the national tally.
Marc Rylander, spokesman for the Texas attorney general’s office, went on record to state “Our office stands ready to assist local law enforcement and any district attorney’s office that asks for our help in dismantling this form of evil and removing the threat of those who threaten Texas children.”
With Catholic clergy and Texas law enforcement willing to work together on this issue, everything should hopefully be resolved by the end of the year. And with the Catholic Church taking a harsher stance on abuse committed by its clergy, this issue should hopefully largely disappear within the next few years.
Virginia Can’t Catch a Break
Over the past week, Virginian Democrats, and by extension Gov. Ralph Northam, have come under fire for various reasons that many have found appalling.
The first being a new bill that would allow a pregnant woman to have an abortion throughout the entire 3rd trimester. House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert asked bill sponsor Kathy Tran if this bill would allow a woman who was in active labor to request an abortion if a doctor determined that childbirth would impair her mental health. In response, Tran stated, “It would allow that, yes.”
Gov. Northam is especially under fire for what this bill allows after he made comments regarding it on a local radio on Wednesday.
“In this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I could tell you exactly what would happen: the infant would be delivered; the infant would be kept comfortable; the infant would be resuscitated, if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother,” Northam said.
These statements earned Northam the ire of conservatives, moderates and liberals across the nation as he described this scenario as one of “infanticide”. But the controversy doesn’t end there.
The governor is also now facing controversy for a supposed picture of him in his medical school yearbook wearing either a KKK hood or blackface in a manner that makes it look like a minstrel show. In the 24 hours it took the news story to circulate on Friday and Saturday, Northam has gone from apologizing for his behavior when he was younger to denying that the is even in the photo.
“When I was confronted with the image, I was appalled that it appeared on my page, but I believed then and I believe now that I am not either of the people in that photograph,” he said at a news conference at the governor’s mansion.
If this photo does indeed include him, then Gov. Northam needs to resign if he wishes to save face (no pun intended) following not one but two controversies within the span of a few days.
It was a good week for US stocks, with quite a few gains in the stock market. The Dow Jones increased to 25,063.89 on Friday, increasing by +262.47 points, or +1.06% percent over its Jan 25 close of 24,737.20. The S&P 500 increased by +39.39 points or +1.48% percent on Friday. In addition, the Nasdaq had a decreased on Friday by +1.63 percent.
In addition to this, January gave the US an excellent jobs report despite the government shutdown. In January non-farm payrolls increased by 304,000, versus the expected number of 165,000, which analysts are calling the strongest number relative to expectations they’ve seen since June 2009. The labor force participation rate also increased to 63.1%, the highest since 2013, sending unemployment to 4.0%. Wages also continue to outpace inflation with yearly growth of weekly wages reaching 3.48% while inflation continues to stay around 2.0%.
With such a strong showing in January, despite the government shutdown, the US can look forward to continued excellent growth in the economy. All Trump needs to do now is finish trade negotiations with China and the US economy will be looking at growth rivaling that of 2018.