Punishments for Crimes through the ages – from the bizarre to outrageous, from the sublime to the ridiculous. We don’t know how lucky we are!
Many of us are apt to complain about sentences handed out by our Courts for crimes these days – too harsh, too lenient. But a quick look at some punishments for crimes through the ages, including in some countries today, we should really consider how much we really have to complain about.
Not only have punishments been truly shocking (and in some instances still are), but even some of the crimes are truly unbelievable.
Many Sydney criminal lawyers would have had their work cut out for them if some of these historical crimes were still on the statute books! Lucky for us that our complaints about the justice systems these days are limited to whether an offender should be given a jail sentence or community service, or whether a 2 year sentence is sufficient or whether 5 would have been better, and so on.
Thank goodness we don’t have to contend with crimes for which the penalty is being tortured to death by some truly unimaginable means. Criminal lawyers in Australia, as in Europe, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and others, these days don’t have to plead for the type of mercy that offenders of times gone by had to. And of course, some of these barbaric practices do still exist today in other parts of the globe, as you can see below.
Some Crimes and Some Punishments You Won’t Believe
LOS ANGELES — A campaign to oust Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón kicked off Saturday evening as pressure mounts over his criminal justice reforms that critics claim have gone too far.
Recall advocates, including victims’ families and law enforcement officials, claim Gascón, who ran on a progressive campaign to implement sweeping change in the district attorney’s office, has prioritized criminals over victims since taking office less than three months ago.
In an emailed statement, Gascón said that “the pain and trauma of losing a loved one is immeasurable” and he “respects that some victims want me to impose the maximum punishment in their case.”
“Research shows that excessive sentencing practices have exacerbated recidivism leading to more victims of crime,” he added. “Our system of justice can’t continue to rely on policies that create more victims tomorrow simply because some victims want the maximum punishment imposed in their case today.”
Organizers planned to collect at least 20 signatures on Saturday, the amount needed to file an intent to recall, during a “victims vigil” outside the district attorney’s office in downtown L.A. They expected up to 100 people to attend, including many crime victims and Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, an outspoken critic of Gascón’s changes, NBC Los Angeles reported.
The recall effort needs valid signatures from at least 10 percent of registered voters in the county, or just under 600,000 people, to qualify for the ballot, according to the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk office. Elected officials must be in office for at least 90 days before a recall effort can be officially launched. Gascón was sworn in on Dec. 7.
Since taking office, Gascón has quickly moved to overhaul the district attorney’s office through a series of directives, including no longer seeking the death penalty and stopping the practice of trying juveniles as adults.
According to a Recall George Gascon Facebook group with more than 39,000 followers, the district attorney “campaigned and was elected on a platform including no gang enhancements and not seeking the death penalty, so that is not a reason to recall him.”
“However, within minutes of being sworn in, he made other, drastic changes that he did not disclose when campaigning that are letting violent and dangerous criminals back out onto our streets. This is unacceptable. He fooled the voters of LA County and must be removed from office,” the group wrote on Facebook.
A Cuban immigrant, Gascón served as San Francisco’s district attorney from 2011 to 2019 and was a Los Angeles police officer before that. During his recent campaign, Gascón vowed to make many of the reforms he has since implemented during a bitter race against former L.A. County District Attorney Jackey Lacey. He won more than 53 percent of the vote.
Lacey had come under fire from Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and other progressive groups frustrated by her record of not prosecuting police accused of using excessive force. She was the first Black person and first woman to lead the office. Her predecessor, Steve Cooley, is listed among those backing the Gascón recall effort.
Also backing the effort are two Republican former officeholders. Gascón is a Democrat, although the election was nonpartisan.
Opposition to Gascón’s agenda has been swift since he took office. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that his policy change ending sentencing enhancements violates state law. Such enhancements can add years to a defendant’s prison sentence if certain criteria are met. The decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed less than one month into Gascón’s term by the union that represents hundreds of county prosecutors. In the lawsuit, the union claimed Gascón’s sweeping directives defy state law.
Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, said Saturday that the group supports Gascón’s progressive justice reforms and launched the hashtag #StandWithGeorge earlier this year.
Recall campaigns are also underway in other parts of the state. Organizers calling for the removal of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, say they have collected more than 1.8 million signatures of the 1.5 million needed to force an election. Less than half of that number has been certified by the Secretary of State’s office.
A third recall effort is also brewing in San Francisco to force out progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
Alicia Victoria Lozano
Alicia Victoria Lozano is a California-based reporter for NBC News focusing on climate change, wildfires and the changing politics of drug laws.
Ten years ago, lawyers could be forgiven for thinking bitcoin and blockchain were a flash in the pan.
Over the past decade, though, and particularly in recent months, digital assets have boomed.
Big names like MassMutual, MicroStrategy, and Tesla have bought Bitcoin; PayPal and Square’s CashApp have made it easy to buy crypto with the tap of a finger; and major financial players like BNY Mellon and Visa and Mastercard have said they’re planning to offer custody and transaction services for certain digital assets.
Some SPACs have even considered getting in on the action, according to people interviewed for this story.
While complex technology and scrutiny from regulators might deter some investors and big firms from adoption, lawyers have been riding the wave, clocking billable hours as they try to help clients reimagine finance while avoiding lawsuits, scandals, and enforcement action.
They’ve found that a mix of startups and established technology, banking and investment firms are clamoring for good advice.
“This is a very difficult space to get a good lawyer,” said Phil Liu, the chief legal officer at Arca, an investment-manager focused on digital assets. “You have to have a working knowledge of just about everything.”
Big firms like Davis Polk, Goodwin Procter, Skadden, and White & Case tout blockchain specialists
Dozens of big firms, including Davis Polk, Goodwin Procter, Skadden, and White & Case, tout the presence of lawyers who can advise on blockchain issues and anything else a company in the space might need help with. And sought-after lawyers can also be found at boutiques like DLx Law and Waymaker and mid-size firms like Sullivan & Worcester.
Big-name lawyers who aren’t necessarily crypto specialists have been involved, too. When the Treasury unit FinCEN proposed a rule in December that would have required exchanges to gather information on the owners of private wallets, Coinbase’s scathing comments were filed by a lawyer at the elite litigation shop Bartlitt Beck. The Blockchain Association, a trade group, hired former solicitor general Paul Clement of Kirkland & Ellis to prepare a lawsuit to block a rule, if one had been issued. (Instead, the comment period was extended.)
“Simply being reactive to regulatory developments is no longer an option in the cryptocurrency industry,” said Marco Santori, the general counsel at the crypto exchange Kraken.
Regulatory scrutiny hangs over crypto adoption
The digital-asset industry is still young. Just 9% of US adults have bought cryptocurrency, per a recent Axios report that cited CivicScience data. While some crypto businesses, like Coinbase, are on the cusp of going public and have millions of users, most entities in the space are small and privately held, lacking the ubiquity and scale of finance and investment giants like JPMorgan Chase, Bridgewater, or BlackRock.
Regulatory uncertainty, and particularly the question of which tokens are securities, has been an impediment for crypto adoption. Industry players hope Gary Gensler, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, will provide more clarity around the issue. SEC officials have said they don’t see Bitcoin as a security and view Ether as “sufficiently decentralized,” but the agency recently deemed Ripple an illegal security, causing it to plummet in value and dividing legal observers.
Coinbase highlighted a list of regulatory risks in the S-1 paperwork it revealed this week. The company, which hired the Silicon Valley law firm of Fenwick & West on numerous deals in the past and turned to the firm once again for its planned direct listing, included the question of whether certain assets are securities as one of many risk factors.
Securities laws aren’t the end of the conversation, however. Depending on how a client plans to use blockchain technology or data, lawyers may need to be familiar with laws covering money transmission businesses, broker-dealers, asset managers, intellectual property, banks and trusts. Simple-seeming questions — like the tax implications of a particular transaction, and what “actual delivery” or “custody” looks like — can be hard to answer, and concepts like “forking” a blockchain or “airdropping” tokens are novel.
There have been efforts to make cryptocurrencies more useful for transactions over the years. Stablecoins, digital assets that are meant to hold their value, have promise as a low-cost means of money transfer, but an early effort — Libra, a digital asset now called Diem that is backed by Facebook and others — drew criticism in Washington.
The businesses behind Tether, another top stablecoin, recently paid $18.5 million to settle a case brought by New York’s attorney general that accused the companies of covering up the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of collateral. Tether did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement.
Another emerging area is decentralized finance, or DeFi, which uses protocols or apps written into a blockchain, rather than human-controlled platforms, to facilitate digital asset transactions like loans for crypto traders. While major investors like Andreessen Horowitz have backed DeFi projects like Compound and Uniswap, the field is something of a legal gray area — laws written in the 1930s and 1940s didn’t include provisions for self-executing smart contracts — and is said to be an area of focus for the SEC and other law enforcers.
Lawyers are also being consulted about potential issues raised by central bank-issued digital currencies, which policymakers in China and other countries have considered introducing. Bitcoin’s distributed-ledger technology meant control of the currency stayed out of the hands of governments, and sovereign-backed digital currencies may create privacy and cybersecurity law issues.
Given the complexity, the legal work can be costly. Kik paid its lawyers a reported $5 million to negotiate with the SEC before the agency ended up filing suit anyway. The cost of getting state money-transmission licenses across much of the US, a common regulatory strategy, can run into the millions, attorneys in the space said. One lawyer told Insider a client paid $700,000 to try to get a New York Bitlicense.
While lots of lawyers have done one-off matters involving blockchains and digital assets, some came up repeatedly in research and interviews with two dozen general counsel, entrepreneurs and lawyers who practice in the space. They have backgrounds in securities regulation, banking law, investment funds, criminal law and other fields, and all were named in interviews at least twice.
Do you think there’s a matter or an influential player that we missed? Let us know by contacting the reporter at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Signal at 314-971-1627.
So who are the top crypto and blockchain lawyers? Here’s our rundown.
Lewis Cohen, DLx Law
Cohen, who specialized in securities law as a partner at Big Law firms Clifford Chance and Hogan Lovells, founded DLx in 2018 with Angela Angelovska-Wilson, a regulatory specialist in Washington who was formerly the top lawyer at Digital Asset Holding.
Since then, DLx has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including the crypto exchange Kraken. Cohen’s client Pocketful of Quarters is one of just three companies to have gotten the SEC’s go-ahead to conduct a token sale, and his work on the question of whether tokens are securities was also cited by SEC Commissioner Hester Pierce earlier this year.
He said the clients run the gamut from traditional, large financial institutions to projects on the cutting edge of technology and regulation.
“We’ve represented large banks, but we also know how DeFi works,” Cohen told Insider.
Karl Cole-Frieman, Cole-Frieman & Mallon
Cole-Frieman & Mallon, a small firm on the West Coast focused on hedge funds, has quietly become one of the most in-demand players when it comes to creating digital asset investment funds. Its clients have included Coinbase, Blockchain Capital and MetaStable, according to its website.
Cole-Frieman estimated his boutique has about a 40% market share of US cryptocurrency fund formation work. While the firm still charges high rates, it tends to be able do the work more efficiently than Big Law competitors. He said interest in digital-asset funds tends to rise and fall with the price of bitcoin.
“We don’t like to do the same thing over and over again,” he said. “We gravitate more towards, ‘Is there something new? Let’s figure out how it works.'”
Alan Cohn and Jason Weinstein, Steptoe
Alan Cohn, who leads Steptoe’s blockchain and cryptocurrency practice, is named by lawyers practicing in the space as someone they frequently run into. He has advised exchanges, asset managers, and blockchain companies on legal and regulatory matters, according to his law firm bio.
Cohn has advised the Blockchain Alliance and other trade groups. Jason Weinstein, another top lawyer in the practice, represented the companies behind the cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex and the stablecoin Tether in a dispute with the New York State Attorney General over the integrity of the assets that backed tethers. That case was settled for $18.5 million this week, with the companies claiming vindication and agreeing to make certain disclosures, but agreeing to stay out of New York.
Gary DeWaal, Katten
DeWaal, a former lawyer with the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, came to Katten after having been the general counsel for the brokerage Newedge. His clients have included LedgerX, a CFTC-regulated crypto options company whose investors have included big names like Google Ventures.
Praised as “very thoughtful” by one GC, DeWaal has represented a range of clients on matters going beyond commodities. They include the publicly traded bitcoin miner Riot Blockchain, whose share price has jumped from under $4 as recently as November to over $70 earlier this month before falling to the $40 range.
Grant Fondo, Mitzi Chang and Karen Ubell, Goodwin Procter
Goodwin Procter has long been well-known in the tech and life-sciences industries, but the firm has also built a significant practice to service crypto companies. Grant Fondo, who leads the firm’s litigation team in California, is a go-to lawyer for companies facing lawsuits and regulatory problems, having represented Ripple before FinCEN and Tieron in an SEC settlement over its $25 million initial coin offering.
Fondo said the practice is global — he estimates 15% to 20% of his calls are with people outside the US — and growing, both in terms of the number of lawyers at the firm it touches and clients’ size and sophistication. A growing share of them tend to have general counsel or compliance staff, he said.
The firm’s lawyers have also done lots of corporate work. Chang, who co-leads the firm’s blockchain practice with Fondo, represented Blockfolio in its $150 million acquisition by FTX Trading, and Chang represented Xapo in the sale of its bitcoin custody business to Coinbase for a reported $55 million. Ubell, a veteran of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance who joined Goodwin from Cooley last year, was also praised by other lawyers in the space.
Dax Hansen and others, Perkins Coie
Perkins Coie is one of the biggest law firms to build what is widely recognized as a standout cryptocurrency practice. Hansen, who advises clients on deals and regulatory matters, was an early player in the space, helping Andreessen Horowitz with its $25 million Series B investment in Coinbase in 2013.
Several companies have tapped Perkins Coie for help with regulatory scrutiny. Keith Miller, a top lawyer in the firm’s New York office, was listed on Bitqyck’s settlement of fraud claims with the SEC and Adam Schuman represented BitClave in a $25 million settlement for allegedly selling unregistered securities. Hansen said digital-asset and blockchain work keeps 50 to 60 lawyers at the firm busy.
Others have turned to Perkins for help building their businesses in a compliant way. Its clients have included Anchorage Digital Bank, a unit of Anchor Labs Inc. that was recently granted what it calls the first federal charter for a digital asset bank.
Joshua Klayman, Linklaters
Klayman, of Linklaters, helps clients sort out the evolving regulatory landscape with the SEC’s FinHub. She was an early mover into blockchain, helping start a group that focused on it at her old firm, Morrison & Foerster.
Jet Token, which plans to use digital tokens to sell flight time on its private jets, has told the SEC that it’s working with Klayman to secure a no-action letter. She said she has also represented Polkadot, a blockchain network meant to promote connections between other blockchains whose own token is the among the ten most valuable, by market cap, the world, according to CoinMarketCap.com.
Brian Klein, Waymaker Law
Brian Klein, a former federal prosecutor, is “the guy” in crypto enforcement, said one litigator in the space. Marvin Ammori, the general counsel of Uniswap, compared him to Arya Stark, the cunning and deadly heroine of the Game of Thrones series. His clients have included Block.one, the developer of the EOS blockchain protocol, in litigation and in an SEC settlement that was far more lenient than precedents; the founders of Tezos, which raised over $220 million in a 2017 offering, in class actions; and Virgil Griffith, the Ethereum developer fighting charges that he violated sanctions on North Korea.
Crypto wasn’t always an in-demand area, though. Klein said one of his first forays into bitcoin was a 2013 conference whose setup was more like a grade-school science fair than a professionally planned event. It included a dinner on the second floor of a Mexican restaurant where he rubbed shoulders with speakers like Brian Armstrong, the CEO of Coinbase.
“There wasn’t a lot of litigation or even enforcement actions,” he said of the early days. “There [weren’t] a lot of fights over money because it wasn’t worth a lot at this point.”
Richard Levin, Nelson Mullins
Levin, who recently joined Nelson Mullins from Polsinelli, is a securities regulatory lawyer who works with a breadth of fintech clients. He has helped clients through interactions with federal and state regulators and has a particular focus on the design of alternative trading systems.
His clients have included Ouisa Capital, Liquid M and Templum in connection with a blockchain-based ATS, according to letters filed with the SEC. He has also worked with Opera, the web-browser company that introduced a digital wallet, and Prime Trust, one of the leading crypto custodians.
Jai Massari and others, Davis Polk
Davis Polk is an old-school firm, but its lawyers have worked on a wide variety of digital-asset and blockchain matters. Several GCs and other lawyers named partner Jai Massari and Annette Nazareth, senior counsel at the firm and a former SEC commissioner, as active, savvy attorneys in the space.
Gregory Rowland, an investment management partner, helped asset managers like Anthony Scaramucci’s SkyBridge Capital create digital currency funds. Joseph Hall helped Grayscale Investments create a trust to give investors exposure to Ether, and Derek Dostal, a rising capital markets partner, advised underwriters on an equity offering last month by Silvergate Capital, the holding company for a California bank known for its internal network called SEN that is widely used by cryptocurrency investors and exchanges.
It’s not just corporate lawyers at Davis Polk who have been active, either. Litigators at the firm helped the Tezos Foundation settle a class action over its initial coin offering, and they worked on the bankruptcy of the digital asset exchange Cryptopia Ltd.
Giovanni Prezioso and others, Cleary Gottlieb
Prezioso has a long history representing the broker-dealers, investment managers and financial institutions that work with Cleary. A securities specialist, he was the SEC’s general counsel in the early 2000s and represented big banks in litigation and regulatory fallout from the late 2000s financial crisis. More recently, he has helped digital-asset upstarts like Anchor Labs and Polychain communicate with regulators.
Other lawyers at the firm also have major representations under their belt. Michael Krimminger, a partner, represented Paxos, formerly itBit, in its bid to become a crypto custodian, according to a 2018 report. Colin Lloyd, another partner at the firm, represented Goldman Sachs on its foray into cryptocurrency matters. And litigators at the firm, Matthew Solomon and Alexander Janghorbani, have been representing Bradley Garlinghouse, the CEO of Ripple, in the SEC’s action against him.
Rob Rosenblum, Wilson Sonsini
Rob Rosenblum, who runs the blockchain and cryptocurrency practice at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, is one of a handful of go-to corporate lawyers in digital assets. He also runs the firm’s fund formation practice, and his clients have included a range of companies, from venture-backed startups to bigger players, according to people familiar with his work.
Much of Rosenblum’s work isn’t public, but he has corresponded with the SEC on behalf of YouNow, a livestreaming platform that got SEC approval for a security token to reward content creators, and the bitcoin apps developer Blockstacks PBC, now called Hiro Systems.
Joel Telpner, Sullivan & Worcester
Telpner, a longtime banking lawyer, was an early mover into the cryptocurrency space. He was one of several lawyers to advise Overstock.com’s parent company, which owns an alternative trading system called tZERO, on the issuance of digital securities using blockchain.
With central banks also at the center of many discussions about digital currency, Telpner also has experience advising governments — of the Marshall Islands, the Bahamas, and an undisclosed group of countries — on cryptocurrency matters.
Lilya Tessler and others, Sidley Austin
Tessler leads the fintech and blockchain group at Sidley and is active in several major industry groups. She came up as a securities and financial-services lawyer, helping clients working on algorithmic trading programs, dark pools, alternative trading systems and other technological tools and platforms that were novel at the time.
That was before she got involved with digital assets. While the early clients and matters were small, she said, they supplied valuable experience that could be parlayed into continued work for emerging companies as well as Fortune 500 types and trade groups. Tessler’s clients have included the Chamber of Digital Commerce when it weighed in on the SEC’s case against Telegram over its planned token sale and has worked for Anchor Labs.
Other partners at Sidley also have digital-asset industry engagements under their belts. Andrew Blake, a partner there, helped the crypto custodian Paxos secure a no-action letter from the SEC in 2019. And David Teitelbaum helped Tagomi Holdings, now part of Coinbase, with broker-dealer regulatory matters in 2018.
Pratin Valabhaneni, White & Case
Valabhaneni doesn’t mention cryptocurrency or blockchain on his law firm bio, but he’s advised dozens of companies operating in the space. Praised by one in-house lawyer as someone who gets both technology and law, he’s represented Anchor Labs and helped clients in the digital-assets space build out trading desks and offer custodying services, he told Insider.
The firm’s engagements on blockchain regulatory matters include Novi, Facebook’s digital currency wallet, and TrustToken, the company behind a stablecoin called TrueUSD. White & Case’s fintech lawyers also represented the Victory Park Capital-sponsored SPAC that is taking the crypto futures exchange Bakkt public and advised Pfizer on its participation in the test of a blockchain securities-trading platform created by JPMorgan.
Stephen Wink and Yvette Valdez, Latham & Watkins
Lawyers in Latham’s blockchain practice have represented major clients as the industry has grown. They’ve helped ConsenSys, one of the larger companies in the space, with numerous matters over the years, including the launch of its ConsenSys Capital venture arm.
Wink and Valdez, who leads the firm’s derivatives regulatory practice, have also worked on a number of DeFi representations, according to the firm. Clients have included Uniswap and two of its investors, Paradigm and Andreessen Horowitz, on issues related to its governance token. Another client is Airswap, a peer-to-peer crypto trading network.
Latham lawyers have also represented several crypto exchanges or their parent companies, including Binance, OKcoin, and eToro
More of Insiders’ lawyers to know across practice areas:
Top IPO lawyers who worked with companies like DoorDash and Airbnb give a behind-the-scenes look at a hectic 2020 — and share their predictions for what’s ahead
Currently, the first 12 seasons of Criminal Minds have a streaming home on Netflix. While you might think that fans would have already had their fill of those episodes, especially seeing as how the show wrapped up after Season 15, it turns out that people still just can’t get enough of the dark, unsub-filled drama. According to Deadline, Nielsen’s latest Top 10 list of streaming shows, which was released Thursday and details the most watched shows from the last week in January, reveals that Criminal Minds was the top of the charts. This means that it knocked major Netflix hit, Bridgerton, out of the top spot.
M. Michael O’Steen, 41, a Dixie County attorney, was also indicted on conspiracy and extortion charges and pleaded not guilty Friday in Jacksonville’s federal court.
The two were accused of a set of crimes that included arranging payments in 2017 and 2018 to close criminal cases, including an attempted murder prosecution.
“I need $75,000 and everything goes away and you pay the money,” the indictment quotes O’Steen telling an unnamed client whom Siegmeister’s office charged with keeping a gambling house, a felony.
The client ultimately paid $60,000, the indictment said.
The attorneys were charged in a 12-count indictment, with Seigmeister named in 11 counts and O’Steen in four. Both could face prison sentences lasting decades.
The indictment charges that Siegmeister, who raised bulls as a side pursuit, discussed selling some of his herd when O’Steen contacted him on behalf of a man charged with attempted murder, arson and violating a domestic violence injunction.
“When Are you and [V.] and [S.] and [M.] and everybody else going to buy one of my registered bulls?” it said the prosecutor texted the defense lawyer the morning after O’Steen texted Siegmeister, seeking lenience for his client.
When the two attorneys negotiated a plea several months later that dropped the attempted murder charge, Siegmeister texted the defense lawyer a photo of four of his bulls later that day, the indictment said.
The indictment also charges that Siegmeister agreed with another attorney representing the manager of a tractor dealership charged in two drunk-driving cases that he’d reduce both charges in exchange for a $20,000 discount on a tractor and accessories Siegmeister’s wife bought.
That attorney, Ernest Maloney Page IV, pled guilty in September to conspiracy to commit bribery and agreed to have his law license permanently revoked.
Page’s plea agreement recounted that he told FBI agents his client “obviously bribed a damn official,” identified in the agreement as J.S.
The indictment also accused Siegmeister of three counts of wire fraud for orders he issued after a wealthy octogenarian’s death that, prosecutors said, were meant to “divert the assets of L.T.’s estate to himself and his relative.” L.T. has been identified elsewhere as Leonard Whitman Thomas, who died in 2015, several years after Siegmeister completed an application to become the guardian of the old man with shares of Coca-Cola stock valued at $664,751.
The indictment says Siegmeister bought things for himself with Thomas’s assets and put false asset and expense information in filings to probate court about the estate.
Siegmeister was also charged with three counts of filing false tax returns for 2015 through 2017.
He’s scheduled to make a first appearance Monday in federal court in Flagstaff, Ariz., the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
For an informant calling in with a hot tip about a potential national security threat, the generic voicemail greeting provides little sense of urgency or adventure.
Without introduction, a man’s voice announces, “The Office of Investment Security and Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States” … followed immediately by the ubiquitous pre-recorded greeting of, “is not available. Record your message after the tone.”
You wouldn’t know it from calling the Washington, D.C. phone number, but the greeting is one of the newest weapons in the federal government’s escalating battle with China for tech supremacy. The phone number serves as a “tip line” set up by the the government in the summer of 2020 to gather on-the-ground intelligence about potentially dangerous foreign involvement in American businesses.
The businesses most in the crosshairs these days are tech firms developing the advanced algorithms and infrastructure that undergird modern society. And the threat the government is most concerned about comes from China, whose influence within US tech businesses remains a chief concern of federal officials.
In setting up its tip line, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) seems to be betting that venture capital partners, startup founders and computer programmers can be turned into a loose-knit network of informers, dutifully calling in to drop a dime on suspicious deals involving their peers and competitors.
So far, the tech industry’s citizen spies do not appear to have gotten the message.
In Silicon Valley, the front lines of the US-China tech trade war, awareness of the CFIUS tip line is negligible at best. In interviews with more than two dozen VCs, tech execs and other industry insiders, the most common reaction to the topic of the tip line was obliviousness.
Of the few VCs who were aware of the tip line, most said they were told about it from either the Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit or the government-backed In-Q-Tel investment firm. None were aware of anyone who had actually called the tip line.
“I honestly didn’t even know that it was set up,” said one long-time venture capitalist who, like many industry insiders contacted for this story, was unwilling to speak on the record about CFIUS enforcement.
Treasury department spokeswoman Alexandra LaManna declined to answer basic questions about the tipline, including how often it has been used, what, if anything, the committee has done to promote it to companies and potential whistleblowers, and how many staff the agency has to process information that comes in. “We are not commenting on this story,” she said.
The tip line’s muted reception in Silicon Valley reflects a broader challenge facing the US as it tries to fortify the firewall between American enterprises and the Chinese state in a deeply interconnected, global tech economy. Many of the biggest US tech companies, like Apple and Tesla, have significant parts of their supply chains in China; popular internet apps like TikTok, meanwhile, have parent companies headquartered in China, while hot new services like Clubhouse rely on Chinese companies for parts of their back-end infrastructure. And startups, hungry for the financing to scale their operations, generally enjoy easy access to money from all over the world.
Against that backdrop, the question for many of the potential tipsters in Silicon Valley that CFIUS hopes to tap is what, exactly, are they supposed to be blowing the whistle on?
Why VCs aren’t snitching
Until recently, the government committee behind the tip line — CFIUS — was not a recognizable name to anyone other than policy wonks and corporate lawyers who joke that the acronym is often mistaken for a rare disease. The multi-agency committee, which includes staff from the departments of Treasury, State, and Defense, among other agencies, is tasked with reviewing foreign investments and mergers that could pose a national security risk to certain technologies deemed “critical,” or, more broadly, to companies that maintain sensitive data.
The Trump administration’s attempt in 2020 to force Chinese company ByteDance to divest the US operations of TikTok put CFIUS in the spotlight. While the effort to force a sale of TikTok — on the grounds that the data of American citizens was at risk — ultimately failed, CFIUS was already playing a much more active role behind the scenes.
A 2020 Congressional Research report found that of the more than 1,100 investment transaction notices filed with CFIUS between 2009 – 2017, roughly half led to an in-depth review by the committee. The report noted that CFIUS’s expanded purview under a 2018 law stems from concerns that “investments by Chinese firms are receiving government support through subsidized financing or other types of government support that give Chinese firms an ‘unfair’ competitive advantage over other private investors.”
The increased scrutiny has had a chilling effect on startups pursuing or accepting investments with ties to China, many venture capitalists and M&A attorneys say. But if techies are thinking twice about doing deals with Chinese firms and investors, they don’t appear to be burning up the phones lines to snitch on their peers.
Trae Stephens, a partner at Founders Fund and co-founder of Anduril Industries, which sells AI technology to the federal government, said he hadn’t heard of anyone using the CFIUS tip line. When asked why some Silicon Valley VCs had expressed reservations about calling in, Stephens said he was “continually shocked” by what he sees as a “lack of willingness to critique foreign nations or make moral judgement” among tech firms.
The Committee on Foreign Investment has done little to get the word out about its special hotline.
The phone number, and a corresponding email address (CFIUS.email@example.com), are tucked away on the Treasury Department’s policy FAQ page. There, visitors are invited “to report a tip about a potential foreign investment that may implicate national security, or to report a possible breach of a CFIUS mitigation agreement.”
A disclaimer at the bottom of the page reminds would-be tipsters that sending information to the committee “does not guarantee a further response, and CFIUS assumes no obligation to take action on the basis of the information provided.”
Former Treasury employees who spoke to Insider characterized the tip line as a valuable tool of the committee’s growing enforcement arm, but said that it hadn’t become a focal point.
One former Treasury official told Insider that in the years before a formal tip line was established this summer, CFIUS typically received a few reach-outs every week to its general phone number or email address. For the most part, he said, the messages were “absolute nonsense” — such as people “ranting against the government” or complaining about taxes and the IRS — rather than in-the-know industry insiders with actionable information.
“See something, say something”
The lack of promotion of the CFIUS tip line is in sharp contrast to a similar tip line operated by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security. The bureau’s tip line has been operational for more than 30 years and is frequently publicized to attendees at specialized industry conferences by badge-wearing enforcement agents.
The small Commerce bureau, which enforces export laws governing sensitive technologies such as encryption software and certain semiconductors used by the military, relies on the hotline for tips about illegal sales and shipments to buyers blacklisted by the federal government. Last year alone, the bureau opened 58 investigations and received more than 117 leads from its tip lines, a spokeswoman said. The bureau’s most recent annual report, meanwhile, notes nearly 1,400 total “outreach contacts,” a metric used to measure engagement between agents and company employees.
Even before the Commerce bureau made its tip line a prominent part of its website, it offered an 800-number for anonymous voicemail messages.
“In the 90’s, once [a tipster] made contact, they’d be set up with the nearest field office” to provide additional information, said former top bureau official Thomas Andrukonis, who spent 41 years at the agency before leaving last month to join the global advisory firm, FTI consulting.
Andrukonis said the bureau’s tip line was an “extremely useful tool to continue what enforcement deems a partnership with industry,” and described the promotion of it as a “‘See something, say something’ kind of message.”
But while the types of activities policed by the Commerce bureau are fairly straightforward, CFIUS’s mission and jurisdiction are not so obvious. And not everyone is convinced that an anonymous tip line makes sense as a tool for CFIUS.
Since the statute the committee operates under doesn’t define “national security” or what constitutes “sensitive personal data,” enforcement is subject to the wide latitude of the Presidential administration to set priorities, something attorneys say was demonstrated perhaps more than any prior president by Donald Trump, who adopted a frequently unpredictable and combative trade policy during his time in the White House.
China is expected to remain the top priority for CFIUS in the Biden administration, according to former Treasury staff, attorneys and policy experts who spoke with Insider. But the types of cross-border deals and transactions the administration will view as permissible, versus those that set off alarm bells, remains an open question.
That leaves any aspiring VC-spies in Silicon Valley, for the moment at least, with their mission on hold
“Anything new like that takes time,” said Benjamin Powell of the law firm Wilmer Hale, regarding the uptake of the CFIUS tip line. And besides, he adds, the bulk of the committee’s work stems from information brought from companies directly, rather than whistleblowers. “They’re not chasing after things that are necessarily in the shadows.”
Additional reporting by Berber Jin and Candy Cheng.
The BAU is getting back together. Roughly a year after the Criminal Minds series finale aired on CBS, the show is making a triumphant return. A Criminal Minds revival is coming to streaming service Paramount+. (CBS All Access will be rebranded as Paramount+ on March 4.) Details about the new show are scant, including which original cast members will return. But one key piece of information has been revealed.
The ‘Criminal Minds’ revival will follow a single case
Most episodes of Criminal Minds were self-contained. The team of FBI profilers usually investigated a single case in each episode, successfully tracking down the UnSub by the time the credits rolled. A few baddies did recur over multiple episodes or seasons — who can forget The Reaper, who killed Hotchner’s (Thomas Gibson) ex-wife. However, most were one-and-done villains.
That will change in the revival. The show will take a serial rather than episodic approach, with the BAU investigating a single case over the course of a 10-episode season.
Fans want the original ‘Criminal Minds’ cast to return
So far, there’s no word on who will appear in the Criminal Minds revival. But Deadline reports most of the cast from the show’s final season is in talks to return to the series. Criminal Minds Season 15 cast members included Joe Mantegna, Matthew Gray Gubler, A.J. Cook, Kirsten Vangsness, and Aisha Taylor.
On Twitter, many fans of the show made it clear they were only interested in the revival if it brought back beloved cast members. Others said they wanted to see old characters return, including Gibson and Shemar Moore, who left the show in season 12 and season 11, respectively (though Moore made guest appearances in seasons 12 and 13).
A ‘Criminal Minds’ true crime series is also in the works
In addition to the new scripted Criminal Minds series, a new true crime docuseries is also in the works. The Real Criminal Minds will feature a real-life former FBI profiler and look at actual cases. A Criminal Minds cast member may host the show, Deadline reported. Criminal Minds previously spawned two scripted spinoffs, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.
In addition to the two new series, Criminal Minds fans will also be able to watch all 15 seasons of the original show on Paramount+. The first 12 seasons of Criminal Minds are currently streaming on Netflix. Seasons 13-15 are streaming on Hulu. Criminal Minds was one of the most-streamed shows in 2020, according to Nielsen data (via Variety.) Netflix subscribers streamed over 35 million minutes of the series last year, making it the third-most popular streaming show after The Office and Grey’s Anatomy.
The arc of history may ultimately bend toward justice, but Linda Tirado says she isn’t waiting around for the passage of time.
“I think that, every step in the process, the judicial system has a chance to kind of nudge things toward being more right,” Tirado said in an interview following a legal victory that could have broad ramifications for police and how they treat reporters. “And I think that any time you can nudge things towards being more correct or more just, that’s a net good outcome, not only for me but for anybody who’s going to be affected by this.”
It left her partially blinded, in pain — the headaches persist to this day — and racking up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills for two surgeries. In a lawsuit filed last year, Tirado alleged that she was not the victim of a mere accident, but of a conspiracy, involving city leaders, police, and recently retired union boss (and Trump rally speaker) Bob Kroll, to tolerate rank-and-file officers targeting the press.
Last August, Kroll filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint. The police chief did as well. The city filed a motion to dismiss part of the amended complaint. (The city did not dismiss Tirado’s “common-law battery claim.”)
“How am I doing? It’s pretty mixed, man,” Tirado said in an interview, eight months later. “It’s a pandemic, and I don’t have sight in my left eye.”
Tirado has slowly returned to her craft; she now specializes in extreme close-up photography, while still venturing out to cover protests from time to time. “When I’m using a camera, I find I’m able to see what I could before, and that’s been really kind of soothing,” she said.
Beyond the comfort of a routine, Tirado also has that court victory.
In a February 22 order, US Judge John R. Tunheim wrote that what happened to Tirado was not only “serious and troubling,” but seemed to be part of pattern that gestures toward a policy of institutional disregard for the US Constitution.
“Although not every incident involved the use of foam bullets or projectiles,” Tunheim wrote, “the alleged police misconduct toward journalists occurred under similar circumstances: journalists were identifiable as press, separated from protestors and at a distance from police, and were not engaging in any threatening or unlawful conduct.”
The judge, while not in a position to issue a final judgment, did determine that Tirado’s lawyers (at the powerhouse firm Sidley Austin) had made a compelling case that the lawsuit should move forward. To dismiss it as but a single injustice from one police action would give police a de facto “window” for violating the constitution on the basis that, legally — as the city and its law enforcement argued — it is not possible to demonstrate a pervasive, formal custom of abuse based on actions that transpired over a period of just a few days.
In Minneapolis, over a half-dozen other journalists alleged abuse at the hands of police around the time of Tirado’s injury. These incidents were widely reported, her attorneys note, arguing that subsequent failure to rein in police suggests widespread complacency, if not outright support.
“There are important constitutional rights that we believe were violated,” Tai-Heng Cheng, global head of international arbitration and trade at Sidley Austin, told Insider. He took up the case not because it’s a singular injustice, but because it speaks to a broader and systemic wrong in the United States. “This case of course is important not just for Linda, but for journalists everywhere — and especially for journalists who put their lives at risk in covering civil protests in America.”
This week’s ruling means that Tirado’s legal team can now proceed with discovery, gaining access to communication between the city, the police, and their union. The goal is to demonstrate that the repeated targeting of the media was known, and hardly discouraged.
A spokesperson for the city of Minneapolis declined to comment.
Law enforcement elsewhere will likely be watching the case, and not just on the local level. In Portland, for example, Trip Jennings, who has worked with PBS and National Geographic, told Insider last June — just weeks after Tirado was shot — that he believed he was likewise targeted by law enforcement with a less-lethal round; his vision was saved by protective eyewear.
On March 8, meanwhile, a trial will begin in another case: that of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd.
“I’m going to be watching that with close attention,” Tirado said. She has friends who will be covering it and any protests that take place outside. “My concern right now is, well, I hope we all collectively learned some lessons because what we don’t need is for happened to me to ever happen again to any citizen,” she said, “but particularly a journalist who is reporting out a story.”
Paramount+ is getting the team back together for a big 10-episode case. The streaming service (which launches on March 4th) has officially revived the Criminal Minds TV series for a 16th season. The crime drama previously ran for 15 years on CBS, concluding in February 2020 after 324 episodes.
Criminal Minds follows the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) out of Quantico, Virginia. The BAU remains dedicated to understanding predators’ motives and triggers, in order to stop them before they strike again. The stories follow the team as they work on various cases while tackling their own personal struggles.
The season 15 cast includes Joe Mantegna, Paget Brewster, Matthew Gray Gubler, A.J. Cook, Aisha Tyler, Kirsten Vangsness, Adam Rodriguez, and Daniel Henney. It’s unclear at this point how many of these actors will be returning for the revival.
It’s conceivable that past cast members like Thomas Gibson and Shemar Moore (currently on SWAT) could return in some capacity for the revival. It’s also possible that Criminal Minds could become a regular series again on Paramount+. The show’s future will likely depend on how many people watch the revival.
In addition, the streaming service has also announced the launch of a new true-crime series, The Real Criminal Minds. The show will feature a former real FBI profiler and will examine real cases, and real criminal behavior, illustrated by clips that fans will remember from the fictional series.
There’s no word yet on premiere dates for either series.
What do you think? Do you like the Criminal Minds TV series? Do you plan to watch the revival on the Paramount+ streaming service? Are you interested in the new true-crime series?
LawGeex, a startup that automates the contract review process, has patented its artificial intelligence technology — a milestone that signals growing comfort with machine learning in law and could accelerate growth for the business.
The AI analyzes documents based on the contract’s context with “the mind of a human lawyer,” according to Noory Bechor, the company’s co-founder and CEO. This contextual approach takes into account surrounding factors like company policies, the document type, and whether the client is the buyer or seller.
Risk-averse lawyers and their clients can have millions of dollars hinging on specific wording or a single clause in a contract, so accuracy is top of mind. However, humans can actually only reach about 85% accuracy, according to Ilan Admon, co-founder and CTO of LawGeex.
“If you put ten lawyers in a room, they often don’t agree on everything,” added Bechor. These differences in interpretation prolong contract negotiations, leading to time and money wasted.
Founded in Tel Aviv in 2014, LawGeex is used by large investment banks like UBS and law firms like Simpson Thacher to automate contract review. It’s since raised a total of $45 million in funding from investors like Aleph, Corner Ventures, and Lool Ventures.
LawGeex’s patented technology boosts the accuracy of contract review — anywhere from a 90% to 100% accuracy rate, depending on how common the contract type is — speeding up the closing deal time by threefold. This translates to 80% time saved reviewing and approving contracts and 90% cost saved compared to manual processes, per the company.
The patent not only serves as a “proof point” for the AI’s prowess but also advances LawGeex along its broader plan for growth in the contracts space, said Bechor.
The five-year brainchild
It took five years for LawGeex to have its patent approved. The initial resistance came from the fact that the United States Patent and Trademark Office said that the tech mimicked human behavior.
“The reviewer decided that it’s a force of nature, that we’re building a brain. And you can’t patent thought,” said Ilan Admon, co-founder and CTO of LawGeex. “We initially had trouble explaining that it’s not a brain, it’s an algorithm — it just works the same way.”
LawGeex’s AI is pre-trained by screening thousands of documents of different types, from non-disclosure agreements to sales contracts. The technology mimics what a lawyer would do by looking at the document at a high-level and deciding what the context is. It’ll then use the algorithm best suited for that context to drill down into each provision of the contract.
“Think of the algorithms as different glasses: You have one for near-sightedness, another for reading, and so on. Each algorithm switches depending on the context of that particular contract,” explained Admon.
Over the course of the five years it took for the patent to be approved, LawGeex continued to hone its technology and improve its accuracy.
Differentiating from other tech
Although there are open-source tools for language analysis, like Google Cloud’s AI, LawGeex’s patented contextual tech is tailored to the specific way lawyers think.
“We originally thought it should be an easy problem to solve because it’s natural language processing,” said Admon. “But there’s nothing natural about legalese. You can change the entire meaning of the contract by adding one word.”
By folding the contract’s context into the algorithm, LawGeex is able to drill down into the minutia of each document with greater accuracy.
LawGeex also developed its AI further to the document markup aspect of the contracts process, so that it could not only locate any mistakes, but also correct them with the right context in mind — saving lawyers even more time.
Patents and partnerships: LawGeex’s strategy for growth
The patent is part of LawGeex’s big-picture strategy for growth: Bechor said that it wants to triple its revenue growth and customer base this year. The company declined to share the figures.
The legal tech company’s ultimate goal is to have legal professionals delegate the low-level contract work to Lawgeex, whose client roster includes Fortune 500 and Global 2000 companies like HP, eBay, and General Electric Power. The new patent is a “vote of confidence” for its AI, and Bechor hopes that it will allow potential clients to become more comfortable with using tech.
LawGeex still has “fuel in the tank” from its $20 million Series C round in May, and plans to use the capital to advance its AI to apply to other aspects of contracting like automated negotiation, said Bechor. It also will grow its AI and research team, and is eyeing the beginning of next year for its next round of fundraising.
While it doesn’t have any immediate plans for mergers or acquisitions, LawGeex is establishing a partnership program, where its patented technology can be integrated with other contract and business systems like Ironclad and Salesforce.
“We want to be the brain that connects to every workflow and makes it better and smarter,” Bechor said.