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US: FBI microphone leads to controversy in bid-rigging trial

 |  July 27, 2016

A federal judge ruled on July 22, that the practice of placing recording devices at the courthouse steps in two California counties is “unsettling” but does not run against constitutional guarantees against warrantless searches.

“While the court agrees with defendants that it is at the very least unsettling that the government would plant listening devices on the courthouse steps given the personal nature of many of the conversations in which people exiting the courthouse might be engaged, it is equally unrealistic for anyone to believe that open public behavior including conversations can be private given that there are video cameras on many street corners, storefronts and front porches, and in the hand of nearly every person who owns a smartphone,” U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton wrote in her 17 page ruling.

This ruling is part of an ongoing case accusing the four men of rigging bids to obtain hundreds of properties throughout Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

According to a the indictment filed in 2014, Michael Marr, Gregory Casorso, Javier Sanchez and Victor Marr agreed to not to compete with one another during the auctions for foreclosed properties and then splitting the proceeds or taking place in private secondary auctions known as “rounds.”

As a part of the case, the FBI placed recording devices in a light fixture along the steps of Alameda County Courthouse and just outside the Contra Costa County Courthouse and other locations in proximity to both courthouses. The conversations they gathered from the devices were then used during the grand jury proceedings.

The defense argued that the recordings were in violation of the Fourth Amendment provision that guards against illegal search and seizure, and asked for the recordings and the other evidence tainted by the recordings to be suppressed.

Hamilton agreed with the prosecution which argued that the men “did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their public oral communications outside the county courthouses.”

Currently, the trial against the four individuals will continue.

Full Content: Courthouse News Service

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