Archive for Thursday, September 28, 2000

National briefs

September 28, 2000



Panel clears 'Cookiegate' judge

Ending a case that became known as "Cookiegate," state officials ruled that a county judge did not break the law when he gave cookies to poll workers on the day he was elected to the bench.

D. Todd Ehlers sent the cookies along with "thank you" cards signed by his children to poll workers during the April 4 election in Sturgeon Bay.

State election law prohibits electioneering, defined as any campaign activity, within 100 feet of a polling place.

Although Ehlers' conduct did not rise to the level of a violation, Assistant Atty. Gen. Steven Tinker said Monday it may reflect "misguided conduct."

Ehlers received 51.4 percent of the ballots cast, defeating Philip Johnson, a lawyer and court commissioner, by 247 votes.


Alleged mob members indicted

Nine alleged members and associates of a New York crime family have been indicted on federal charges, including involvement in a stripper's murder and plotting the death of her accused killer.

All nine men, including the alleged head of the Gambino family's Florida operations, are charged with racketeering, U.S. Atty. Guy Lewis announced Wednesday. Some also are charged with loansharking, counterfeiting checks and being accessories to murder.

Anthony "Tony Pep" Trentacosta, 61, who prosecutors say has run the family's Florida operations since March 1999, is charged only with racketeering.

According to the indictment, a Sunny Isle restaurant owned by Frederick Massaro, 60, was used as a front to procure information for counterfeiting checks, sell stolen merchandise, conduct loansharking and plot the March slaying of 22-year-old Jeanette Smith.


Former top cop faces charges

Don Warshaw, who built a 28-year legacy as a Miami public servant fighting crime on the streets and corruption at city hall, is expected to surrender today on federal charges he looted $86,000 from a police pension fund and a police charity.

Warshaw allegedly used the money to live high for season hockey tickets, for expensive dinners and for getaways to such romantic retreats as Aspen, Colo., and Colonial Williamsburg.

Wednesday's federal indictment against Miami's former police chief and city manager was just the latest in a string of allegations that have brought down several Miami-Dade public officials and put corruption at the top of the county's agenda.

"It's a sad day for law enforcement," said Miami-Dade Police Director Carlos Alvarez, who for years worked closely with Warshaw as a crime fighter. "Donald Warshaw has tarnished the badge, the badge that all police officers put their lives on the line for every day."


Students want mascot out

The student council at San Diego State University voted Wednesday to dump the university's sports mascot, Monty Montezuma, after hearing American Indian students complain that the mascot is demeaning and racist.

The controversy will now proceed to the University Senate, a group of faculty, administrators and students. University President Stephen Weber will make the final decision on whether or not the mascot will be retained or retired.

The mascot's costume is meant to suggest Montezuma II, the Aztec emperor. Since 1941, Monty has performed at football and basketball games.


GAO: Medicare overpays for drugs

The federal government overpays hundreds of millions of dollars a year for drugs through the Medicare program, congressional investigators report.

An 18-month study by the House Commerce Committee found that for dozens of drugs, most of which are used to treat AIDS and cancer, drug companies report one wholesale price publicly, then charge doctors a much lower price to encourage them to use the drug. The federal government reimburses at a rate similar to the publicly announced price, so doctors can make large profits a practice the report acknowledged is legal.

The committee chairman, Rep. Thomas Bliley, criticized the Health Care Financing Administration, which runs Medicare, for not doing more to ensure reimbursement rates are more in line with what drug companies actually charge doctors.

The report found Medicare is overcharged by $447 million per year.


Ex-stripper wins inheritance

A federal bankruptcy judge awarded former Playboy Playmate of the Year Anna Nicole Smith $449.7 million Wednesday in her claim to the estate of her late billionaire husband, Texas oilman J. Howard Marshall.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Samuel Bufford ruled that Marshall's youngest son, E. Pierce Marshall, had deprived Smith "of her expectancy of an inheritance." Marshall called the ruling a "miscarriage of justice" and said he would appeal.

Bufford's decision came just a day before jury selection was scheduled to begin in probate court in Houston, in a dispute over the validity of Marshall's will, which left all of the oilman's estate to his youngest son.

Smith testified last year that E. Pierce Marshall defrauded her of between $556 million and $820 million she was entitled to as her share of her late husband's estate.

The former model for Playboy, Guess jeans and other magazines and advertisements, was working as a stripper at a topless bar in Houston when she met Marshall. She was 26 and he was 89 when they were married in 1994.


Texaco settles royalties claim

Texaco Inc. has agreed to pay $43 million to settle charges that it intentionally underpaid royalties due for oil produced on federal and Native American land leased from 1980 to 1998.

The settlement resolves allegations that Texaco paid less than it owed by systematically underreporting the value of the oil, officials with the U.S. Department of Justice said Wednesday.

The federal government has already reached settlement agreements with several other oil companies for underpayment of royalties, including: Chevron, $95 million; Mobil Oil, $45 million; BP Amoco, $32 million; Conoco, $26 million; and Pennzoil, $11.9 million.

The total amount recovered to date is more than $262 million.

The settlements stem from charges made by two whistleblowers in a 1996 lawsuit against 18 large oil companies.


County to pay wrongly convicted men

Two men who were convicted but later acquitted in the 1983 rape and bludgeoning death of a 10-year-old girl will share in a $3.5 million settlement from the county that prosecuted them.

A third defendant, whose trial ended in a hung jury, also will receive part of the settlement.

Rolando Cruz, Alejandro Hernandez and Stephen Buckley had originally sought $135 million in civil lawsuits claiming that a former county sheriff and his deputies conspired to frame them in the killing of Jeanine Nicarico. Cruz and Hernandez were sentenced to death, but after an appeal Hernandez was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

The DuPage County Board voted 14-9 on Tuesday to settle the lawsuits. County prosecutor Joseph Birkett reluctantly endorsed the settlement, saying it could cost taxpayers much more to fight the lawsuits.

He noted that the settlement will be paid by the county's insurance company.


Old rape evidence sent for testing

Trying to clear thousands of unsolved rapes, New York City has contracted with three DNA labs to analyze evidence before the statute of limitations on the crimes runs out.

Officials said Wednesday that New York is the first city to award such contracts to clear a backlog of rape investigations. The contracts total $12 million.

The city has a backlog of about 16,000 "rape kits" containing semen, hair or other biological evidence collected from victims. About half of the kits were assembled more than five years ago, too long to even prosecute the cases.

Tests on the rape kits will be performed first for rapes that occurred within the state's five-year statute of limitations for prosecuting sex crimes. Rape kits for crimes that can no longer be prosecuted will be analyzed anyway.

But of the 16,000 rape kits that need analysis, the three contracts cover testing for only 12,000. The rest, some dating from the early 1990s, will be analyzed later, city officials said.

New Jersey

Mosquito-borne illness claims first victims

An 82-year-old New Jersey man has become the first person in the United States this year to die of the West Nile virus, Gov. Christie Whitman said Wednesday.

Officials did not immediately identify the man, who died on Sept. 14, 11 days after he became ill. They said that he had other ailments but that the West Nile virus had been the principal cause of death.

"People shouldn't panic," said Whitman, who urged residents to wear insect repellent and long-sleeved clothes.

Last year, seven people died and 55 others were infected in the New York metropolitan area during the first known appearance of the virus in the Western Hemisphere. The virus is carried by birds and mosquitos. This year, 12 people have been infected in New York and four in New Jersey, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Eye wash solution recall issued

A Massachusetts company is recalling thousands of bottles of eye wash the special solutions factories use when workers splash harmful substances into their eyes because some may be contaminated with an eye-threatening germ.

The bottles, recalled by manufacturer H.L. Bouton of Buzzards Bay, Mass., sell under the brand names Lavoptik, Zee Medical and Rapid Clear.

No injuries have been reported, but people should not use the recalled eye wash, instead returning it to H.L. Bouton or discarding it, the company said Wednesday.

The Food and Drug Administration said the sterility problem was discovered when a distributor sampled some of the eye wash and discovered a bacterium that can cause infections, possibly even blindness. Between 40,000 and 50,000 bottles were sold to workplaces nationwide, the FDA said.


House votes sanctions against Palestinians

The House voted Wednesday to cut off all except humanitarian aid to the Palestinians should Yasser Arafat unilaterally declare a Palestinian state.

The 385-27 vote came as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright testified before the House International Relations Committee. It has not passed the Senate. Albright told a Senate panel Tuesday that senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had returned to Washington at the request of President Clinton to try again to arrange a peace settlement.

In the past, the Clinton administration has questioned the wisdom of singling out the Palestinians but not the Israelis for actions that could hinder the peace process.

But the House International Relations Committee approved the Palestinian sanctions bill late Tuesday and sent it to the House floor for debate.


Officer charged with manslaughter

A policeman was charged with manslaughter Wednesday for shooting to death a deaf-mute who approached officers with a rake in his hands.

David Krupinski, 23, fired on 39-year-old Erol Shaw after police were called about a family dispute Aug. 29.

According to prosecutors, Shaw, who has been unable to hear or speak since birth, approached Krupinski and three other officers while carrying a wooden-handled rake, and Krupinski shot him twice.

"Basically, our position was that it was unreasonable to resort to fatal force without exploring other options," including the use of pepper spray or simply backing away, prosecutor Kevin Simowski said.

Krupinski was freed on $100,000 bail. The manslaughter charge carries up to 15 years in prison. The Detroit News quoted police as saying that Shaw did not respond to repeated orders from officers to stop and that he was holding the rake like a baseball bat.

New York

Cuban denied visa to visit his dying mother

A 70-year-old cancer patient who last saw her son when she left him in Cuba in 1968 wants to see him again before she dies, but her family says immigration officials won't let him into the United States.

The family has enlisted three members of Congress to write letters asking immigration officials to reverse their decision to deny Jorge Febles Sanchez a visa.

Bersabe Febles almost died Tuesday in a Long Island hospital, the relatives said. The U.S. government "won't allow him to come and see this wonderful person, who is losing her life," 46-year-old daughter Ibis Pozo told Newsday. "All I want is for him to come and see her. Is that asking too much?"

The Febles family was separated in 1968 when fleeing Cuba for the United States. Sanchez, then 15, was left behind with hopes that a bribe to a government official would allow him to come a few days later, but the official disappeared, and the son was stranded.


Report criticizes FAA security

Lapses in computer security have put the safety of U.S. skies at risk, according to a congressional report released Wednesday.

Congressional investigators said "serious and pervasive problems" plagued the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that runs the nation's air-traffic control system and oversees its airlines and airports.

Until the agency puts itself through the comprehensive measures suggested by the GAO, it will continue to have "undue exposure to intrusions and malicious attacks on its facilities, information and resources," the report said.

The GAO report said FAA efforts had fallen short when it came to policing the most critical security areas, including the physical security of facilities, systems security and personnel security. The report did not deal with how a computer attack might happen, or what problems it might cause.


IRA gunrunners sentenced to prison

Three men accused of supplying guns and ammunition to the Irish Republican Army were sentenced Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale to prison terms ranging from three to nearly five years.

IRA member Conor Claxton, 28, was sentenced to four years and eight months, while Martin Mullan, 30, and Anthony Smyth, 43, were each given three-year terms.

The men were convicted in June of gun smuggling and related charges, but were acquitted of the more serious charges of sending weapons to terrorists and conspiracy to maim or murder in another country. The last charge could have resulted in a life sentence.

While sentencing Claxton, U.S. District Judge Wilkie Ferguson said federal guidelines made it impossible for him to impose a longer term. "If in a crack cocaine case a person can get a life sentence for possessing $400 worth of cocaine, this kind of offense ought to be a death penalty."


Jailed sect member released after hearing

A member of a religious sect who was jailed for refusing to tell a grand jury about the deaths of two infants, one of them his own, was freed from jail Wednesday after taking the Fifth Amendment.

David Corneau, whose pregnant wife was ordered into custody because she refused to have a medical examination, had been jailed since June.

Prosecutors say they have evidence Corneau's infant son, Jeremiah, died minutes after being born because he did not receive medical attention. Another sect member's child, 10-month-old Samuel Robidoux, allegedly starved to death after he stopped nursing; prosecutors say he was developing normally until the group stopped feeding him.

Members of the small fundamentalist Christian sect reject the legal system, organized religion, banking, science and medicine. Their total refusal to cooperate with the grand jury investigation landed eight of them, including Corneau, in jail for contempt of court.

Corneau's attorney, Robert George, said his client had decided that it wouldn't violate his beliefs to assert his right against self-incrimination.


Fan malfunction sends plane back to airport

A cooling fan malfunction caused a grinding noise and a burning odor and forced a Delta Air Lines jet headed for Hawaii to return to Los Angeles, federal officials said Wednesday. The jetliner was at 19,000 feet when "all three crew members heard a grinding noise behind the flight engineer's position and began to smell some electrical fumes. At no time did anyone see smoke or flames," Kress said Wednesday.

The cockpit crew heard the noise about 20 minutes into the flight. Pilots headed back and made the landing about 3 p.m.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.