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December 2019 - Week 3


We cover issues of the week from some of the most recognized sources, but always from a PURPLE perspective. And we invite discussion of the same sort.

On each murrayTALK episode, our host Willam (Bill) Murray will call for PURPLE discussion and OPINION of some of the top issues of the week. There'll be no shortage of topics ..

We promise stimulating and thought-provoking presentations, and we'll seek additional ways for the audience to contribute .. perhaps via Facebook and Twitter if we can figure out how to do it.

For now we'll use the OPEN MIKE discussion forum and the panelists who call the show. Call in number: 516 / 531-9782

Stay tuned for more on this !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Los Angeles Times


Boys, girls and genders in-between: A classroom lesson for modern third-graders


School counselor Holly Baxter had prepared for this moment for months. She gathered the third-graders of Red Oak Elementary on the carpet for story time, opened the picture book and began to read.

Casey, she said, likes to play with blocks and his dump truck, but he also loves things that glitter and shine.

Casey admires his sister's glittery nail polish and says that he wants to wear it too. His sister tells him boys don't wear glittery nail polish.

“Right, Daddy?” she asks their father.

“Most boys don't wear nail polish,” their dad replies. “But Casey can if he wants to. There is no harm in that.”

Story time in this Oak Park Unified classroom last month unfolded in a way that relatively few 8-year-olds in the country have ever experienced.

The story by Lesléa Newman, the concepts, the questions and the answers between students and teacher culminated in a pioneering — and at times volatile — chapter in this suburban Ventura County school district after educators decided to teach elementary school students about the complexities of gender.

Baxter continued reading from the book.

When Casey and his sister were going to the library, Casey wore a shimmery skirt.

“Mama!” his sister cried. “Why is Casey dressed like that?”

“Because that's how Casey wants to dress,” Mama said. “I don't think Casey looks silly. I think Casey looks like Casey.”

Children, meet “Sparkle Boy.”

The explosion

The email blast from school Supt. Tony Knight hit parents' inboxes on July 30.

Oak Park, a well-off, well-educated and politically diverse community, prizes its high-performing public schools. In 2019, Oak Park High School ranked among the top 100 high schools in California, according to U.S. News and World Report. The district has won several awards for its robust environmental education program.

Now administrators planned to introduce bold, new school lessons about gender identity.

“It is expected that some families will be uncomfortable with this discussion, especially when it comes to how it is shared with children,” Knight wrote in the letter. “It is important, however, that our own personal uncertainties do not interfere with our ability to do the right thing to protect the safety and well-being of vulnerable children.”

The email touched off what Oak Park Board of Education President Denise Helfstein described as the most explosive controversy during her five years on the board.

More than 300 parents converged in September at a back-to-school meeting designed to address the issue. Outside, a small group of parents passed out fliers that called the lessons “unscientific ideology.”

“The school has made a choice to do this and be progressive and I respect that,” Amy Sitarz, who has three children in the district, said in an interview. “But I think they've crossed the line, as far as teaching my child what I believe should be taught at home.”

Inside, the parents' questions turned into a crash course for adults on gender diversity.

It's tantamount to sex education, some parents said.

Baxter explained that gender identity is separate and distinct from sexual identity.

“We're not talking about who you're attracted to and we're not talking about biology,” she told parents. “We're talking about gender as it's an authentic sense of self, and how a person feels about themselves in the world.”

Lessons will be developmentally appropriate, last 45 minutes and will occur once a year, she added.

Parents said that while they support anti-bullying initiatives, talk of gender complexities should stay out of the classroom.

“It's confusing enough being a child,” said Lester Kozma, an Oak Park parent. “Parents are the only ones who know whether they're ready for these kinds of talks.”

John Mallon, who has a second-grader in the district, said, “We're now throwing this into the schools and saying, ‘This is normal. This is OK.'”

Actually, educators replied, it's a good move.

They cited a 2015 National School Climate Survey, which showed that three-quarters of gender-nonconforming students felt unsafe at school. They explained that hostile school environments are among the factors that contribute to disproportionately higher rates of depression and suicide among LGBTQ youth.

Medical and research communities increasingly recognize that some people do not identify exclusively as male or female. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement in 2018 that recognizes gender diversity and the ever-evolving array of labels that come with it, as well as the importance of affirming those identities among children.

Yet only a handful of school districts in the country — including San Francisco, Oakland and Seattle — have introduced these concepts at the elementary level.

Some parents asked for an “opt out” option so their child could be excused from the lesson.

“If we had an opt-out program for this,” Knight said, “it would make it sound like it's potentially something immoral or obscene. And it isn't.”

And according to the California Education Code, parents can opt their children out of sex and HIV-prevention education only, not discussions about gender.

Helfstein, the school board president, agrees that the subject is sensitive. She's participated in numerous one-on-one meetings between administrators and parents, who've been encouraged to freely ask questions about the lessons.

The district had originally planned to define to fourth- and fifth-graders the terms transgender, non-binary (those whose gender identities fall outside the categories of male or female) and cisgender (those who identify with their gender assigned at birth). But after collecting feedback, they decided to explain the concept that gender sits on a spectrum.

Helfstein said it's been hard to gauge which proportion of parents disapproves. Critics have cited concerns about their religion, ethnicity and family values.

“I didn't know very much about [gender diversity], and I've learned a lot from this process,” Helfstein said. “I know how it feels to not want to say the wrong thing.”

A pressing need

In the fall of 2018, it became clear to Baxter that transgender and gender-nonconforming students were struggling. Up to 10 students, or their parents, sought her out for counseling every school year.

Some of the students suffered from severe anxiety and depression. Parents of the youngest — one in first grade and another in third — said their children were shunned in more subtle ways, such as not being invited to birthday parties.

Parents told Baxter that their kids were crying at night, afraid to go to school and wanted to change classrooms. And the parents, too, harbored fears for their isolated children.

The rejection wasn't felt only by transgender and non-binary students.

One girl in fifth grade asked to speak to a counselor after being teased for mostly hanging out with boys; she didn't really connect with the other girls. But now the girls were calling her a boy and taunting her for the way she dressed.

While administrators focused on how to support these students, Baxter saw a pressing need to create a safe and compassionate campus culture.

“If they're not seeing themselves represented in what we teach, they get a sense that who they are is not a part of the culture, that they are some kind of a secret, that they are something to be ashamed of,” Baxter said.

Supt. Knight agreed.

Knight, who has served as a public school teacher and administrator for 40 years, recalled gender-nonconforming students he knew in the district in the 1990s, when he was a principal — and before language existed to describe them and what they were experiencing.

“I didn't really know how to address the issue, to help the parents, to help the child, to help the teachers. And it was just something that everybody just chose to ignore,” Knight said. “I think that we all came to a revelation here in the school district, because of the way we love and care for our kids — that this is not something that can be ignored any longer.”

The California State Board of Education approved a new health education framework in May that offered guidance about how to talk to elementary school students about gender identity.

“While students may not fully understand the concepts of gender expression and identity, some children in kindergarten and even younger have identified as transgender or understand they have a gender identity that is different from their sex assigned at birth,” the kindergarten-through-third-grade guidelines state. “The goal is not to cause confusion about the gender of the child but to develop an awareness that other expressions exist.”

Knight and other administrators felt it was essential to begin teaching these lessons in the lower grades. A student as young as 5 had already transitioned, and a few wanted to be called by pronouns such as “they” and “them,” the most common identifiers used by non-binary people. Other students were talking about it among themselves, and they had a lot of questions.

Non-binary is also now a legally recognized gender category in California, meaning that residents can identify themselves as such on their driver's licenses and birth certificates.

Baxter, Knight and other educators wanted to normalize gender diversity concepts from the get-go, so that these ideas inform the way they think about themselves, their peers and human nature.

Without controversy, the lessons were unanimously approved by Oak Park's Board of Education on April 23 after a review by the curriculum council and parent-teacher organizations at each of the three elementary schools.

Sense of relief

When Oak Park parent Avon Dinh heard about the gender diversity lesson, she was elated for her second-grade son, Sawyer. As soon as Sawyer could talk, Dinh said, he was telling his parents that he wasn't a girl.

Sawyer began identifying as a boy by kindergarten. When he shared the fact that he's transgender with classmates, they have been mostly kind, but are sometimes confused, his mother said.

Sawyer uses the boys' restrooms, and boys have asked him why he uses the stalls instead of the urinals. A few times his peers have peeked over the stall.

Dinh tells her son that it's not his job to educate his classmates.

“I hate putting that pressure on him,” Dinh said. “Adults should be giving them the words for this.”

Mara Smialek, mother to an Oak Park second-grader, said she is glad that the district is “teaching children that everybody is different and our differences are what make us special,” something she already makes a point to teach her kids at home.

While some parents are having a hard time with changes, she said, she knows there is a lesson in that too.

“I hope the kids learn that even if you don't understand or aren't comfortable with something in the beginning, it's important to be respectful and accept people for who they are,” Smialek said, “instead of trying to judge or change somebody.”

Back in Room C-33

Baxter held up her copy of “Sparkle Boy” and asked the third-graders to consider why the words “sparkle” and “boy” usually don't go together. She then explained that the book title defied stereotypes.

The kids made a few guesses at what that word, “stereotype,” means. With Baxter's help, they came up with a definition: When you think you know something about someone just because of the group they belong to. Or when you assume the trait of one person applies to everyone in their group.

Baxter then drew three boxes — labeled “boy,” “girl” or “both” — on the smartboard, and told the students to sort words into these categories. First up was “sports,” which she placed in the “boy” box to get the game rolling.

“That's not right!” one girl exclaimed.

‘I hope the kids learn that even if you don't understand or aren't comfortable with something in the beginning, it's important to be respectful and accept people for who they are.' OAK PARK PARENT MARA SMIALEK

“Why?” Baxter asked.

“Because I like sports, and I'm not a boy,” the girl said. Everyone agreed that “sports” belonged in the “both” box.

With each new word, the students grew more excited. Dancing is for both! Art is for both! Pink is for both!

At one point, a boy piped up and said, “Casey wants to wear sparkly things because Casey is really a girl.”

“Remember what we talked about stereotypes?” Baxter replied. “You can still be a boy and wear sparkly things. Clothes don't tell you what your gender is.”

Baxter had sent the lesson plan to parents the day before and would send them an update on how it went. Four or five students on average have been absent for each lesson, though only a few parents have called in to say they kept their children home to shield them from the curriculum.

She explained to the children that gender is how they think of themselves as boys or girls. But some people don't think of themselves as either, or somewhere in the middle.

Just like a rainbow has a variation of colors, with many different shades of orange and purple, there are many kinds of boys and girls, Baxter said. Some people, she added, don't fit on the rainbow at all.

“So tomboys are in the middle?” one girl asked.

They talked about the term “tomboy,” and how some people don't like being called that, while others don't mind it.

“But we always respect how people like to be referred to, whether that's a girl, a boy, tomboy, girly girl or a sporty boy,” Baxter said. “All of those things are OK.”


  • Oak Park Unified School District turned to these resources when creating its gender diversity lessons.

    Gender Spectrum: An organization that assists parents and schools in addressing concepts of gender identity. Its staff helped train Oak Park counselors.

    Welcoming Schools: A professional development program by the Human Rights Campaign that provides training and resources to elementary school educators to promote gender-inclusive schools, prevent bias-based bullying and support transgender and non-binary students.

    Teaching Tolerance: Provides free teaching resources to educators who work with children from kindergarten through high school, with a focus on social justice and anti-bias curriculum.

  • Oak Park counselors use these books as the foundation for their lessons.

    “It's Okay to Be Different” by Todd Parr (kindergarten)

    “Red: A Crayon's Story” by Michael Hall (first grade)

    “Neither” by Airlie Anderson (second grade)

    “Sparkle Boy” by Lesléa Newman (third grade)

    “Jamie is Jamie” by Afsaneh Moradian (fourth and fifth grades)



Washington Post


Pope Francis lifts secrecy rule in sexual abuse cases

ROME — In a move toward greater transparency in the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has lifted a long-standing form of classification used in sexual abuse cases, a change designed to open the door for the Vatican to share information with civil authorities.

The abolition of the "pontifical secrecy" rule does not mean that the documents and testimony from the church's abuse trials will become public. Instead, the Vatican said in making the decree public Tuesday, the information can be handed over to "lawful authorities" who make the request.

The Vatican had long said that its highest form of confidentiality was necessary to safeguard its in-house legal process and the privacy of victims. But the practice has drawn criticism from many advocates and some figures inside the church, who say pontifical secrecy keeps hidden the crimes of abusers and the full scale of the crisis.

"At last a real and positive change," Marie Collins, an Irish abuse survivor and former member of the pope's commission on sexual abuse, said on Twitter.

The change comes as the latest in reforms that attempt to make the Vatican more cooperative with outside criminal authorities — and ultimately more competent in dealing with its central crisis. Francis's own missteps on several high-profile cases have added to the pressure to reform, following a year in which numerous cardinals and bishops have been accused of protecting abuser priests or committing crimes themselves.

The Vatican touted the changes on Tuesday as "historical" and "epochal," and said it continues Francis's "path of transparency." Abolishing pontifical secrecy was a common demand made by abuse survivors, as well as several prelates, at a summit on tackling the abuse crisis that the pope convened in February.

A major U.S.-based group for people who have been abused by clergy members called the reforms "overdue," but said the on-paper changes needed follow-through.

"For years church officials have resisted releasing information publicly that could help protect children and support survivors, such as the names, whereabouts, and current status of accused clergy," the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement. The group pointed to the Catholic Church in Illinois, which last year was said to be withholding the names of 500 priests accused of abusing minors, according to a state attorney general's report.

The changes have no bearing on another area of Catholic Church confidentiality: information relayed to priests during sacramental confession. Even as some jurisdictions have tried to hold the church accountable for not sharing information about abuse learned during confession, the Vatican has called the "seal of confession" inviolable and an "intrinsic" requirement of the church.

<< more >>


Los Angeles Times


Across India, opposition builds against citizenship law


NEW DELHI — Thousands of university students flooded the streets of India's capital, while a southern state government led a march and demonstrators held a silent protest in the northeast on Monday to protest a new law giving citizenship to non-Muslims who entered India illegally to flee religious persecution in several neighboring countries.

The protests in New Delhi followed a night of violent clashes between police and demonstrators at Jamia Millia Islamia University. People who student organizers said were not students set three buses on fire and police stormed the university library, firing tear gas at students crouched under desks.

Members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said opposition parties were using the students as pawns.

Modi's government says the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which was approved by Parliament last week, will make India a haven for Hindus and other religious minorities in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But critics say the legislation, which for the first time conditions Indian citizenship on religion, violates the secular constitution of the world's largest democracy.

At Jamia Millia Islamia University on Monday, thousands stood outside the locked-down campus. Inside, hundreds of students took part in a peaceful sit-in, holding placards denouncing the injuries of dozens of students the night before.

Mujeeb Ahmad, a 21-year-old Arabic major, returned to campus Monday to join the sit-in and retrieve the book bag he lost fleeing the library, where he had been studying for exams.

“We thought we were safe in the library,” he said, adding that he and others had locked the library doors from the inside. Police broke them down, and at least one officer fired tear gas, he said, holding up an empty canister he said he picked up from the library floor.

About 2,000 people including students and families with young children gathered at New Delhi's iconic India Gate memorial to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act and reports of students demonstrating against the law who were beaten by police at several university campuses. Priyanka Gandhi, a leader of the opposition Congress party, participated at a sit-in at India Gate for two hours. Police stood on the sidelines of the demonstration.

The law's passage has triggered protests across India, but Assam, the center of a decades-old movement against illegal immigrants, has seen the highest toll.

Assam police officials say officers have fatally shot five protesters in the state capital of Gauhati while attempting to restore order to a city that has been engulfed in demonstrations since last week. About 1,500 people have been arrested in connection with violence including arson and vandalism, police spokesman G.P. Singh said, adding that authorities were reviewing surveillance videos and anticipated making more arrests.

Schools remain closed through Sunday, the government has blocked internet service statewide and a curfew has been imposed from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Foreign journalists are not permitted to travel to India's northeastern region, including Assam, without a permit.

Municipal workers were clearing the city of burned tires and other debris Monday and some businesses had reopened as the All Assam Students Union, which has spearheaded Assam's anti-immigration movement for decades, led a silent protest. The group and its followers fear an influx of migrants will dilute native Assamese culture and political sway.

The citizenship law follows a contentious citizenship registry process in Assam intended to remove people who immigrated illegally. Home Minister Amit Shah has pledged to roll it out nationwide, promising to rid India of “infiltrators.“

Nearly 2 million people in Assam were excluded from the list, about half Hindu and half Muslim, and have been asked to prove their citizenship or else be considered foreign. India is constructing a detention center for some of the tens of thousands of people the courts are expected to ultimately determine came to the country illegally.

The Citizenship Amendment Act could provide protection and a fast track to naturalization for many of the Hindus left off Assam's citizenship list.

Bangladesh has repeatedly said that it would not accept anyone India determines to be a foreigner, but on Sunday, Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen said it has asked the Modi government for details on Bangladeshis living illegally in India so that they could be repatriated.

Momen made the comment amid concern that people were being pushed into Bangladesh from the Indian state of West Bengal.

Authorities in Bangladesh say at least 329 people were arrested on charges of trespassing from India last month and failing to prove they are Bangladeshis.

Momen said if they are determined to be non-Bangladeshi they will be sent back to India.

Wall Street Journal

India Protests:
Protests spread against a new citizenship law that disadvantages some Muslim immigrants, with critics assailing what they call Prime Minister Narendra Modi's attempts to rewrite India's secular political underpinning.


Los Angeles Times


U.S. to send asylum seekers to Honduras, bypassing American asylum


The U.S. is preparing to send asylum seekers to Honduras, even if they are not from the Central American country, and effectively end their chances of seeking asylum in the United States, according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Under an agreement signed in New York on Sept. 25 by Kevin McAleenan, at the time the secretary of Homeland Security, and Honduras' foreign minister, María Dolores Agüero, adults and families seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border could be sent to Honduras without the chance to seek asylum in the U.S.

A source provided a copy of the agreement to The Times this week.

Earlier this year, the administration reached a similar agreement with Guatemala to take asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, even if they were not Guatemalan.

Since the Guatemala agreement took effect on Nov. 22, U.S. officials have forcibly sent a number of Honduran adults to Guatemala, and last week, they began sending some Honduran families, according to communications obtained by The Times and several U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials.

What's significant about the Honduras agreement is that it is the first to explicitly state that if Honduras or another country rejects the individuals' asylum claims, they won't get another chance to apply in the United States, according to the text. Previously, the administration had suggested that if, say, a Guatemalan were forcibly sent to Honduras and denied asylum there, she might get another chance in the United States. The text of the U.S.-Honduras agreement makes clear that is not the case.

The new agreement is part of a broader effort to restrict asylum-seeking at the southern border. The Trump administration has reached similar agreements with El Salvador and Guatemala, obligating them to take other Central Americans who reach the U.S. border. The administration described the agreements as an “effort to share the distribution of hundreds of thousands of asylum claims.”

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for stricter limits on immigration, called the latest agreement “pretty significant.”

“It's an important part of a broad effort to return asylum to the narrow use for which it was intended,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

But a member of Congress condemned the move.

Calling Honduras “a narco-state that is every bit as unprepared to participate as the other partner nations of Guatemala and El Salvador,” Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona), the only member of Congress born in Guatemala, said, “These agreements are anything but safe – the Trump administration is rejecting our moral obligations and shipping asylum seekers to the very same danger zones that they are fleeing.”

She added: “Not only does this endanger the lives of those most in need, but it also telegraphs to the world a moral bankruptcy that is completely at odds with American values.”

Advocates for immigrants have condemned the agreements, saying they make it nearly impossible for Central Americans to seek asylum in the U.S.

“The administration is seeking to end asylum at the southern border,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit group that opposed the Trump administration's highly restrictive policies.

Reichlin-Melnick says he fears the administration will use the latest agreement to start sending Guatemalan asylum seekers to Honduras as soon as next month.

The agreements were signed after the Trump administration announced a new rule in July deeming ineligible for protection in the U.S. virtually any migrant who passes through another country before reaching the U.S.-Mexico border and does not seek asylum there first. That rule currently faces legal challenges.

New York Times

Rush for licenses

Undocumented immigrants in New York lined up for blocks on Monday, seeking to take advantage of a new state law allowing them to obtain driver's licenses. On the same day, New Jersey lawmakers approved a similar measure.


Wall Street Journal


Private Texas Border Wall Caught in Legal Fight

Government wins restraining order halting construction over concerns $40 million barrier, being built with private funds, could change course of the Rio Grande

By Elizabeth Findell

McALLEN, Texas—An effort to build a privately funded wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as the Trump administration's efforts progress slowly, is running into trouble over concerns that its design may alter the border itself.

Construction of the three-mile section in South Texas was halted last week after a U.S. attorney for Texas's southern district obtained a temporary restraining order Dec. 5 against its builder, Fisher Industries, a North Dakota-based contractor.

The attorney's office argued that the wall is being built too close to the Rio Grande and could violate a treaty with Mexico by eroding soil and potentially altering the course of the waterway, which demarcates the U.S. border in Texas, when it floods. 

Comparing Walls

The wall from Fisher Industries has some similarities with and differences from sections of wall under construction by the government in South Texas and elsewhere.

Fisher Wall Government Wall
The wall stands around 18 feet tall, with 5-inch gaps.

Lack of horizontal structures is designed to prevent ladders from hanging.

Steel bollards are filled with concrete.
The wall ranges from 18-30 feet, with 4-5-inch gaps.

A horizontal plate at the top is designed to halt climbers.

Steel bollards are filled with concrete.
The Fisher model, which uses galvanized steel, is supposed to resist rust, lessening climbing traction.

Source: Fisher Industries; U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Meanwhile, a group called We Build the Wall has raised $25 million online and said it has contributed $2 million toward the South Texas wall's construction. 

Such private moves to build sections of wall come as supporters of President Trump, who agree with him that more secure barriers could help stop illegal immigration and related crimes, seek to speed construction. The federal government has built or strengthened only 90 miles of wall since Mr. Trump took office nearly three years ago, and virtually none in Texas, due in part to resistance from landowners.

Fisher Industries this month won a $400 million contract from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build 31 miles of government-funded border wall near Yuma, Ariz. The Pentagon's internal watchdog said Thursday it would investigate the contract award after reports that Fisher Industries, which received the award after vocal support from Mr. Trump, hadn't previously met qualification criteria.  

Fisher Industries hopes it can demonstrate the value of the company's preferred construction style to help it win future federal contracts. “Most people wouldn't invest $40 million on the fly unless they really believe in it,” the company's president, Tommy Fisher, said, referring to the projected cost of the wall.

The property being used for construction is owned by a family who support Mr. Fisher's work. The riverbanks themselves, however, belong to the government, under the treaty with Mexico. Mr. Fisher began construction last month by clear-cutting the thick brush that lines the river and making the natural vertical bank into a beach. He hasn't yet begun installing the wall's vertical panels.    

Mr. Fisher said he is attempting to conduct an environmental analysis to prove that his wall won't pose a flood danger. Federal attorneys said in a court hearing last week that they fear that Fisher Industries's flattening of the natural riverbank and dredging behind it has already done irreparable damage.

The government typically builds its border walls up to a mile north of the Rio Grande to avoid affecting the river and causing potential ecological damage.

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Washington Post


Mormon Church has misled members on $100 billion tax-exempt investment fund, whistleblower alleges

A former investment manager alleges in a whistleblower complaint to the Internal Revenue Service that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has amassed about $100 billion in accounts intended for charitable purposes, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by The Washington Post.

The confidential document, received by the IRS on Nov. 21, accuses church leaders of misleading members — and possibly breaching federal tax rules — by stockpiling their surplus donations instead of using them for charitable works. It also accuses church leaders of using the tax-exempt donations to prop up a pair of businesses.

A spokesman for the church did not respond to detailed questions from The Post about the complaint. “The Church does not provide information about specific transactions or financial decisions,” spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement.

The complaint provides a window into the closely held finances of one of the nation's most visible religious organizations, based in Salt Lake City. It details a church fortune far exceeding past estimates and encompassing stocks, bonds and cash.

The complaint was filed by David A. Nielsen, a 41-year-old Mormon who worked until September as a senior portfolio manager at the church's investment division, a company named Ensign Peak Advisors that is based near the church's headquarters.

Nonprofit organizations, including religious groups, are exempted in the United States from paying taxes on their income. Ensign is registered with authorities as a supporting organization and integrated auxiliary of the Mormon Church. This permits it to operate as a nonprofit and to make money largely free from U.S. taxes.

The exemption requires that Ensign operate exclusively for religious, educational or other charitable purposes, a condition that Nielsen says the firm has not met.

In a declaration signed under penalty of perjury, Nielsen urges the IRS to strip the nonprofit of its tax-exempt status and alleges that Ensign could owe billions in taxes. He is seeking a reward from the IRS, which offers whistleblowers a cut of unpaid taxes that it recovers.

Nielsen did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails seeking comment.

His twin brother, Lars P. Nielsen, provided a copy of the complaint to The Post, along with dozens of supporting documents. Lars Nielsen, a health-care consultant in Minnesota, said he prepared the complaint with his brother and helped him submit it to the IRS.

Lars Nielsen said in a statement to The Post that his brother asked him to write an exposé on his former employer.

“Having seen tens of billions in contributions and scores more in investment returns come in, and having seen nothing except two unlawful distributions to for-profit concerns go out, he was dejected beyond words, and so was I,” Lars Nielsen wrote.

He said he was coming forward without his brother's approval because he believed the information was too important to remain confidential. “I know that sometimes newspapers use anonymous sources,” he said. “But that is usually not best for a story.”

In remarks last year, a high-ranking cleric in the church, Bishop Gérald Caussé, said it “pays taxes on any income it derives from revenue-producing activities that are regularly carried on and are not substantially related to its tax-exempt purposes.”

The church typically collects about $7 billion each year in contributions from members, according to the complaint. Mormons, like members of some other faith groups, are asked to contribute 10 percent of their income to the church, a practice known as tithing.

While about $6 billion of that income is used to cover annual operating costs, the remaining $1 billion or so is transferred to Ensign, which plows some into an investment portfolio to generate returns, according to the complaint.

Based on internal accounting documents from February 2018, the complaint estimates the portfolio has grown in value from $12 billion in 1997, when Ensign was formed, to about $100 billion today.

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The Marshall Project


The Hidden Cost of Incarceration

Prison costs taxpayers $80 billion a year. It costs some families everything they have.

The Marshall Project is partnering with The New York Times Race/Related newsletter to present a weeklong series on families of the incarcerated. This is the first of five parts.

Every month, Telita Hayes adds nearly $200 to the commissary account for her ex-husband, William Reese, who has been in the Louisiana State Penitentiary for 28 years.

Each prisoner there is given three meals a day and some personal hygiene items, like soap and toothpaste. But when Reese gets hungry between meals, or when his state-issued supplies run out, the commissary money buys him extra food and other necessities.

That is not the only way his imprisonment drains her wallet. On top of the $2,161 she has put in his commissary account so far this year, Hayes has paid $3,586 in charges for talking to him on the phone when she cannot make the hourlong drive to the prison, and even $419 for emails sent through the prison's email system.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reckons that the United States spends more than $80 billion each year to keep roughly 2.3 million people behind bars. Many experts say that figure is a gross underestimate, though, because it leaves out myriad hidden costs that are often borne by prisoners and their loved ones, with women overwhelmingly shouldering the financial burden. These costs rise during the holiday season, relatives of people in prison say, as they make more visits, call more often and send more care packages.

National data is rarely gathered on how much prisoners' families pay into the corrections system. So to better understand the hidden costs of incarceration, The Marshall Project asked people to document their spending. Nearly 200 people responded. Many families said they shell out hundreds of dollars each month to feed, clothe and stay connected to someone behind bars, paying for health care, personal hygiene items and phone calls and other forms of communication.

Hayes said she spends an additional $200 on visits and phone calls around Christmastime. Prison is tough enough; surviving it alone is even harder—especially during the holidays.

“I think the biggest misconception that people have about prison is that ‘the state' pays for everything,” wrote Connie Martin, 50, from Hazel Park, Michigan. “No one realizes that it's the friends and families of loved ones that pay.”

The Prison Policy Initiative, an organization working to reduce mass incarceration, estimates that families spend $2.9 billion a year on commissary accounts and phone calls. Families are also often responsible for paying court fees, restitution and fines when a member goes to prison. According to a 2015 report by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the average family paid roughly $13,000 in fines and fees.

Kae Boone, 52, says she spends $100 a month on her boyfriend, Charles Lee Isaac, 52, who is incarcerated at the Graceville Work Camp in Graceville, Florida, for failing a drug test, a violation of his parole for an earlier offense. Boone says the money mostly goes toward toiletries and food. The one hotel-sized bar of soap Isaac gets each week from the prison won't last through a full week of showers.

Keeping him clean and fed has forced Boone to make trade-offs in her own life. Sometimes she struggles to pay her own bills. “I had one of my cars repossessed because I would prefer to send him money and make sure he's taken care of,” she said.

In many facilities, basic items are sold by private vendors, often with substantial markups or added service fees. Over the years, the cost to families has increased as prisons and jails across the country increasingly outsource many of the basic functions of running a correctional facility to private companies.

It is a trend that has accelerated since the 2008 recession, as state legislatures have looked for ways to bring down the rising cost of incarceration, according to Hadar Aviram, a professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. “Public prisons are public only by name,” she said. “These days, you pay for everything in prison.”

Prison officials often say the switch to private vendors makes the prisons more secure and prevents contraband from being smuggled in with outside food or gifts. Many families say they're now paying more for the same goods they used to be able to purchase on their own.

“Back in the day, we could buy underwear and tennis shoes and jeans and have it shipped directly to the inmate,” said Hayes, who is 50. Now, she said, she has to go through approved vendors.

“The price is jacked up on everything,” she said. Over the two years since the couple reconnected after a 12-year separation, Hayes estimates that she has spent upward of $10,000 supporting him in prison. Her ex-husband is serving a life sentence for aggravated rape, so the costs of staying in touch could extend for many years.

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Los Angeles Times


Supreme Court to decide whether Trump's tax returns must be released to House


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court stepped into the midst of a major clash between Congress and President Trump on Friday, saying it will consider three cases in which Trump argues the Constitution gives him sweeping immunity to shield his tax returns and business records from being released to House Democrats or prosecutors.

The court's action sets the stage for a politically charged decision next year, just as Trump campaigns for reelection.

At issue in two of the cases, involving subpoenas from House committees, is a fundamental question involving the separation of powers: Does Congress have broad power to investigate and demand information from the executive branch, including from the president, or is the chief executive shielded from congressional meddling into his personal affairs? The third case involves a subpoena from New York prosecutors.

Trump has claimed a near-absolute immunity from having to reveal such personal records while he's president — an assertion that has, so far, been rejected by federal district and appeals court judges in all three cases.

If the justices uphold the subpoenas — two from House committees and one from a New York grand jury — Trump's tax returns and other financial records could be turned over by the summer. However, if the high court rules for Trump, he could continue his reelection campaign without having to disclose private financial details that most other presidential aspirants have, including the amount and sources of his income, taxes he has paid and business dealings of the Trump Organization.

Lawyers for the House say Congress has a long and honored history of conducting investigations, and they argue that “valid subpoenas” to Trump's accountants and bankers carry the force of law. They won before federal district judges and the U.S. appeals court in Washington in October and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York this month.

Trump has been confident he would prevail before the Supreme Court because five of the nine justices are Republican appointees.

In the past, however, the court has been united on major questions of presidential power. In 1974, an unanimous court including appointees of President Nixon refused to shield his Watergate tapes. And in 1997, a unanimous court refused to shield President Clinton from responding to a civil suit alleging he sexually harassed an Arkansas state employee.

The humanitarian organization is helping kids around the world, around the clock.

In their appeals, Trump's lawyers said the House demands for the president's personal and business records are unprecedented in their aim and scope. “It is the first time that Congress has subpoenaed personal records of a sitting president,” they told the court. It is also “the first time that Congress has issued a subpoena, under the guise of its legislative powers, to investigate the president for illegal conduct.”

The Constitution does not specifically say Congress has the power of oversight or investigation, but it has been understood that its “legislative powers” include the authority to investigate the workings of the government. Trump's lawyers insist this general congressional authority does not include investigating “lawbreaking” or “illegal conduct.”

The dispute over the tax subpoenas comes before the court at the same time that House Democrats are moving to impeach Trump and to seek his removal from office. Though the two battles are separate and are operating on different time schedules, the Democrats see a common theme. In both instances, they say the president has refused to cooperate and has blocked their investigations.

Three House committees — on Oversight, Financial Services and Intelligence — sent subpoenas this year to Mazars USA, Trump's accountants, and to Deutsche Bank and Capital One, which handled financing for the Trump Organization.

The subpoenas seek a massive amount of information, including eight years of Trump's tax returns. Lawmakers said they were looking into Trump's potential conflicts of interest and hush-money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Trump as well as allegations that the Trump Organization profited from “money laundering” by Russian oligarchs.

Trump's lawyers sued in federal court in Washington to block the subpoena from the Oversight Committee, and they sued in New York to block the subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Capital One from the Financial Services and Intelligence committees. They said the subpoenas were “extraordinary” and “sweeping” in their scope.

In the Deutsche Bank case, they said the committee's subpoena “demands information about seven business entities, as well as the personal accounts of not only the president, but also Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump” as well as “all of the named individuals' immediate families — meaning their spouses and minor children, and in the president's case, his grandchildren.... They seek documents reaching back more than a decade [and] cover individuals who have never held government office.”

Separately, a New York grand jury at the urging of Manhattan Dist. Atty. Cyrus R. Vance Jr. subpoenaed Trump's tax returns and financial records as part of an investigation of the hush-money payments to two women. Trump's lawyers said the president had an “absolute immunity” from a criminal investigation, but they lost before a federal judge and the 2nd Circuit. Last month, Trump's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to reverse that ruling as well.

So far, the lawyers on both sides have taken broad positions that may not fare well before the justices. The House lawyers have argued that lawmakers have a nearly unlimited authority to demand documents and personal records because they might bear on some future legislation. Trump's lawyers have contended the chief executive has a nearly absolute shield from being forced to disclose information to Congress.

The famous precedent in this area is the 1974 ruling in United States vs. Nixon, in which the Supreme Court upheld an order requiring Nixon to turn over his Oval Office tapes to the grand jury investigating the Watergate break-in.

Not surprisingly, the competing lawyers see it differently. To lawyers for the House, the Nixon ruling demonstrates the president is not above the law and can be required to disclose even his private conversations in the Oval Office. But Trump's lawyers point out the subpoena came from a criminal grand jury, not Congress, and it sought information that was crucial to a pending criminal case.


Wall Street Journal


Rise in Anti-Semitic Incidents Goes Beyond Recent Violent Attacks

Incidents have jumped since 2016, with some Jews citing feelings of vulnerability not experienced for generations

By Ian Lovett

The deadly attack in a New Jersey kosher market last week punctuated several years of growing, increasingly violent, incidents of anti-Semitism in the U.S., a marked turnaround from declines that had lasted more than a decade.

The shooting in Jersey City, where three people were killed at the market, was the third deadly attack at a Jewish space in just over a year. In April, a shooting at a synagogue outside San Diego killed one worshiper and injured three others, including the rabbi. In October last year, a shooter killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.

“It would appear these kinds of acts of anti-Semitism are now the new normal,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks anti-Semitic incidents.

Mr. Greenblatt said that anti-Semitic incidents had been declining in the U.S. since 2001. That trend began to reverse in 2014.

In 2017, anti-Semitic incidents—including harassment, vandalism and assault, as reported to the league by victims, law enforcement and the media—jumped 57%, the largest single-year increase since the group began tracking such data in the 1970s. While 2018 was slightly better, it still had the third-highest total of anti-Semitic incidents the group has ever recorded, with anti-Semitic assaults more than doubling from 2017.

The FBI, which compiles hate-crime data based on reports from local law-enforcement agencies, found the number of such incidents rose 29% in 2018 from 2015.

As of September, anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City -- home to the U.S.'s largest Jewish population -- were up 51% this year from the same period last year, according to New York Police Department data. That included a string of assaults against Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, as well as a sharp rise in anti-Semitic subway graffiti. In one incident this year, “DIE JEW BITCH,” along with a swastika, was scrawled over a poster of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

For some Jews, the abrupt rise has been jarring -- something they never thought they would have to deal with in the modern U.S.

Rabbi Stewart Vogel, president-elect of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international organization of Conservative rabbis, said he never thought he would give a sermon on anti-Semitism, which he had considered a vestige of the 1930s and '40s in the U.S. At age 60, it wasn't something he had seriously dealt with—until recently.

“It creates a vulnerability that our community has not felt in several generations,” he said.

Anti-Semitism in the U.S. has paralleled a similar rise in Europe, where Jews have been targeted in a series of attacks in recent years, including one where a Holocaust survivor was thrown out of a window. A report by France's National Human Rights Advisory Committee found that anti-Semitic incidents in the country rose 70% in 2018 from a year earlier.

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New York Times


China Responds Slowly, and a Pig Disease Becomes a Lethal Epidemic

The bungled effort to contain African swine fever could result in higher Chinese food costs for years and shows the limits of Beijing's top-down approach to problems.

By Keith Bradsher and Ailin Tang

WULONGQIAO, China — A devastating disease spreading from China has wiped out roughly one-quarter of the world's pigs, reshaping farming and hitting the diets and pocketbooks of consumers around the globe.

China's unsuccessful efforts to stop the disease may have hastened the spread — creating problems that could bedevil Beijing and global agriculture for years to come.

To halt African swine fever, as the disease is called, the authorities must persuade farmers to kill infected pigs and dispose of them properly. But in China, officials have been frugal to the point of stingy, requiring farmers to jump through hoops to seek compensation from often cash-poor local governments.

As a result, Chinese officials are not reaching farmers like Peng Weita. When one of his pigs suddenly died three months ago from swine fever, he said, he quickly slaughtered his other four dozen before they could fall sick as well. But he buried them and took a big loss rather than reporting the deaths to the government for compensation.

“Three years of costs were all for nothing,” Mr. Peng said.

His loss was the government's as well. Because he did not report the episode, local officials could not make sure he followed all the steps necessary to halt the spread, like burying carcasses a considerable distance from the farm. Mr. Peng said he probably buried them too close to his farm but declined to discuss details of the disposal.

The epidemic shows the limits of China's emphasis on government-driven, top-down solutions to major problems, sometimes at the expense of the practical. It has also laid bare the struggle of a country of 1.4 billion people to feed itself.

China has long viewed food security as tantamount to national security. It had become essentially self-reliant in pork as well as in rice and wheat thanks to subsidies and aggressive farmland management. The swine fever epidemic will test that commitment to its increasingly affluent people, who more often expect meat at the dinner table.

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Los Angeles Times


How Homelessness Law Now Stands

Los Angeles and dozens of other cities across the West, all struggling to deal with a growing number of people living on the streets, had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would hear a challenge to a case known as City of Boise vs. Martin , which has curbed the ability of police to stop people from sleeping on public property if no other shelter is available.

Instead, the high court decided to not hear the case and let last year's 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling stand. Why? The Supreme Court did not explain its decision to turn down the appeal — the justices usually don't do so — but they may have thought the dispute was moot.

Advocates for the homeless cheered the court's move, which in effect means that, for now, the only solutions to homelessness in nine western states are more housing and more services. But there is discussion of a possible California ballot measure that would create a legal “right to shelter” or “right to housing”

Now that the Supreme Court has sent the message that homelessness is not a crime, L.A. city and county officials should focus not on prettifying the streets but on building more shelters and creating permanent support housing, The Times' editorial board writes.

Los Angeles Daily News

LA Officials Respond To Supreme Court's Refusal To Hear Homeless Camping Case

The ability of Southland governments to enact and enforce restrictions on homeless people sleeping on sidewalks or in other public areas was left in doubt Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling barring such regulations unless adequate shelter space is available. The city and county of Los Angeles, along with a host of other government agencies, had filed court papers in support of an appeal of the ruling in the case known as Martin v. City of Boise. The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals essentially bars cities and counties from citing people for sleeping on sidewalks unless there is enough alternative shelter space available for the homeless. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, declined to hear the case, meaning the 9th Circuit ruling will stand. “With unprecedented numbers of people falling into homelessness nationwide, we are experiencing an urgent humanitarian crisis,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “More than 1,000 individuals will die on Los Angeles County streets this year. Supporting the city of Boise's position to appeal to the Supreme Court was never an attempt to criminalize the homeless. Rather, it was a pursuit of a legal framework that is clear, in comparison to a status quo that is ambiguous and confusing.”


LA County To Use Data-Driven Research Models to Prevent Homelessness

Struggling to keep up with an estimated 150 people who fall into homelessness daily in Los Angeles County, officials announced Monday they will use data-driven models to identify and help individuals who are most likely to end up on the street. The models, developed by the California Policy Lab and the University of Chicago Poverty Lab, used data on Los Angeles County residents receiving county services between 2012 and 2016 to try to identify residents at the highest risk of becoming homeless. Researchers found that nearly half of those identified actually became homeless in 2017. The individuals identified were 27 times more likely to become homeless than the average person receiving county services.

New York Times

Inside California's homelessness crisis

After visiting a homeless camp in Oakland last year, a United Nations official compared it to the slums of Brazil, Mexico and Pakistan, saying many residents had “no access to toilets or showers and a constant fear of being cleaned off the streets.”

Two Times journalists later spent three months at the camp, getting to know dozens of its residents. They traveled to a shantytown in Mexico City as a comparison.

Another angle: The Supreme Court said on Monday that it would not review a decision to strike down laws making it a crime for homeless people to sleep outdoors.


Wall Street Journal

Amazon & Holiday Shipping

Amazon is blocking its third-party sellers from using FedEx's ground delivery network for Prime shipments. The ban on using FedEx's Ground and Home services starts this week and will last "until the delivery performance of these ship methods improves," according to an email Amazon sent to merchants. and FedEx broke up earlier this year. Now, Amazon is forcing some of its third-party sellers to stop using the shipper's service in the final throes of the holiday shopping season. The online giant says that due to suboptimal performance by FedEx's Ground network, it wants shippers to stop using that service if they're selling items using its speedy Prime service.

Meanwhile, many startups and services are creating what amounts to a virtual logistics system in Amazon's shadow. It's creating new competition even as Amazon itself continues to upend traditional retail and distribution strategies. Some new offerings cater to brands that may sell on Amazon but don't want to pay the company's fulfillment charges, or that view Amazon as a potential competitor. Some major brands, such as Nike, have pulled back from selling directly through Amazon.

The new e-commerce ecosystem includes software that helps businesses figure out where to put inventory and digitally focused fulfillment operations that pick, pack and ship online orders from multiple locations near big populations, which helps shrink delivery times and transportation costs. “Amazon has shown that to truly compete on the customer experience companies need to invest in the supply chain experience," says Kevin Iaquinto, chief marketing officer at supply-chain software business JDA Software. "That's where the game is being played today."




Pakistan's former President and military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, has been sentenced to death for high treason after a legal case that went on for six years. A special court convicted the 76-year-old, who seized power in a military coup in 1999 and ruled Pakistan as President until 2008, of violating the constitution by unlawfully declaring emergency rule while he was in power. It's the first time in the country's history that an army chief has been tried and found guilty of treason. Musharraf, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai for more than three years, can appeal the verdict. He claims he's innocent.


New York Times


China's blueprint for a digital totalitarian state includes phone scanners, facial-recognition cameras and other technologies being employed to heighten the authorities' ability to spy on China's nearly 1.4 billion people, according to police and private databases examined by The Times.
Individually, none of the tracking techniques are beyond the capabilities of other countries, including the U.S. But together, they could propel China's spying to a new level, making its cameras and software smarter and more sophisticated. The surveillance networks fulfill a longtime goal of ensuring social stability, but it's unclear how well the police are using the capabilities, or how effective they are. “Each person's data forms a trail,” said a technology worker in the southern city of Shenzhen. “It can be used by the government, and it can be used by bosses at the big companies to track us. Our lives are worth about as much as dirt.”




A Russian spy ship is making its way toward the US East Coast, operating in what officials call an “unsafe manner.” The Viktor Leonov has been sailing off the coast of South Carolina and Florida in the last few days and is using running lights in low visibility conditions and ignoring hails from commercial vessels that are trying to help avoid potential accidents, according to one official. The Coast Guard is alerting mariners in the area, and a defense official said the Navy's USS Mahan was operating nearby. The Russian vessel has patrolled in international waters along the eastern US coast every year since 2015. Its presence there comes as a US Navy destroyer visited Constanta, Romania, yesterday in an effort to bolster US presence in the Black Sea.


Wall Street Journal


GOP senators are seeking a quick acquittal for President Trump. But the president wants more: He hopes to be vindicated. On the verge of becoming the third president to be impeached, Mr. Trump said he "wouldn't mind a long process," suggesting that a Senate trial would be used to unmask a whistleblower, settle scores with House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) and undermine others who view his dealings with Ukraine as highly improper.

A growing number of Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, want a quick trial without witnesses. Yet there is no consensus among Republicans on how a trial should look.

More Democrats from competitive House districts said they would back impeachment.

Impeachment may be completing the tribalization of politics in America, writes the WSJ's Gerald F. Seib.

New York Times

Skeptical Democrats line up to impeach

A group of lawmakers from conservative-leaning districts announced on Monday that they would vote to impeach President Trump, a sign that the Democratic Party is unifying around the effort.

About a half-dozen Democrats from districts that Mr. Trump won in 2016 said they had come around to supporting impeachment, while acknowledging that the decision could cost them their seats.

The House is all but certain to pass two articles of impeachment, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, on Wednesday.

The details: So far, the divide is largely along party lines, with all but two Democrats supporting and no Republicans doing so. Here's where every representative stands.

Related: Rudy Giuliani told The Times that he informed Mr. Trump that the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was, in Mr. Giuliani's view, impeding investigations that could benefit the president. The ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, was later removed.



We get it: The impeachment process is exhausting, and it feels obvious how things will ultimately end. Following a House Rules Committee hearing today, the full House is expected to impeach Trump tomorrow, making him the third US president ever to be impeached. The Senate would then hold a trial next year to consider whether to remove him from office.

Though Senate Democrats don't have the numbers to send Trump packing, an impeachment trial would put his legacy and reputation at stake. Chuck Schumer, the Senate's top Democrat, is pushing for a trial to include new testimony from White House officials and new documents.

Many Republicans, though, would like to get it all over with quickly. GOP leaders need 51 votes for things to go their way, but they don't have that yet – which means it's still unclear how a trial would play out.


New York Times


Sacklers transferred billions during opioid crisis

The family whose members own Purdue Pharma withdrew more than $10 billion from the company from 2008 to 2017, as scrutiny of the drugmaker's role in the U.S. opioid epidemic intensified, a new audit found.

The money, which was distributed among trusts and overseas holding companies, is more than eight times what the family took out in the 13 years after OxyContin, Purdue's signature product, was approved in 1995.

The new report was filed in bankruptcy court on Monday. It was commissioned by Purdue to help guide the company through Chapter 11 restructuring.

Background: The Sacklers have offered to pay at least $3 billion in cash as part of a settlement in thousands of lawsuits. A group of states, led by Massachusetts and New York, has argued that the family should pay more. The report does not detail how much the Sacklers are worth or where their money is.

New York Times

Methamphetamine deaths are rising fast

The number of deaths associated with meth use is climbing across the U.S., a trend that public health officials have struggled to explain.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show about 13,000 deaths involving the drug nationwide in 2018, more than twice as many as in 2015. Opioid deaths are much more common, but that number has flattened, while the pace of meth fatalities is accelerating.

Another angle: Teenagers are drinking less alcohol, smoking fewer cigarettes and trying fewer hard drugs, according to federal data released today. But there has been a sharp increase in vaping of marijuana and nicotine.


Washington Post


While Larry Nassar victims wait, lawyers cash in on USA Gymnastics bankruptcy

One year after USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy in the face of hundreds of lawsuits filed by girls and women sexually assaulted by former Olympic team physician Larry Nassar, the legal fight over the organization's money has yet to produce a dollar for an abuse victim.

For the case's lawyers, however, USA Gymnastics' bankruptcy has been a lucrative endeavor, according to a review of court filings and interviews with experts, who said the $1,000-plus hourly rates charged by the case's top attorneys rank as extremely high for a bankruptcy of this size involving sexual abuse victims.

Three lawyers have billed more than $600,000 individually in the first year of the case, according to a review of legal bills filed in court, part of more than $7 million in legal fees approved, by a judge, on a preliminary basis.

Among the case's highest-paid lawyers, records show, is an attorney who specializes in representing abuse victims in bankruptcies who is charging $1,145 per hour in this case, though he's representing abuse victims of Catholic priests in two other cases for far less.

To some attorneys and victims, the rising legal fees are prompting concerns about how much will be left for victims when the case is over. In bankruptcy court, the corporation that has filed for bankruptcy has influence over only one side of legal representation. Creditors — the people and companies seeking payment from the corporation — also select a lead law firm to represent their interests. But the legal bills from both sides are paid out of the bankrupt corporation's assets, and corporate bankruptcies can take years to conclude.

“It's outrageous .. and the only losers are the kids here,” said Jonathan Little, an Indianapolis attorney representing four victims. “.. Millions of dollars are not going to be there, when this is all over, for these kids.”

Corporate bankruptcy work can be among the most lucrative legal disciplines, experts said, but $1,000-plus hourly rates are more commonly seen in cases involving organizations with $500 million or more in assets — or more than six times the size of USA Gymnastics, which has listed $84 million in assets.

“In that universe, these hourly rates would be totally normal,” said Stephen Lubben, a professor at Seton Hall law school and an expert in corporate bankruptcies. “So I guess the question here is, if [the lawyers are] doing this as a charitable exercise .. should they be acting more charitably?”

In cases involving sexual abuse, lawyers commonly discount rates, experts said — sometimes by as much as 40 percent — to ensure legal fees don't overly deplete the amount of money left for victims.

“All of us have discounted our rates on these cases because, if all the money goes to the lawyers, there's not going to be anything left for survivors,” said Susan Boswell, an Arizona bankruptcy attorney who has worked on several abuse cases involving the Catholic Church in which she has dropped her hourly rate — normally $700 — to as low as $450, she said.

Jenner & Block, the national firm hired by USA Gymnastics to represent its interests, is discounting its services by 10 percent, but even at reduced rates the firm has billed more than $3.1 million, records show, led by two partners in the firm's Chicago office.

Jenner & Block partner Melissa Root, who makes $935 per hour, has billed about $860,000, records show, and fellow partner Catherine Steege, who makes $1,150 per hour, has billed about $780,000. These figures represent Root's and Steege's normal hourly rates, according to Jenner & Block's bills filed in court. The 10-percent discount is applied to the firm's total amount billed, and it's unclear from court filings whether Root and Steege are working at reduced rates. Steege and Root declined to comment, as did a Jenner & Block spokeswoman.

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3,600-year-old disposable cup shows even our ancestors hated doing dishes

A disposable cup sits in a museum gallery, fully intact even after being cast aside thousands of years ago.

But this isn't a vision of the future -- a 3,600-year-old cup, designed to be thrown away after a single use, will go on display at the British Museum in London.

The handleless clay cup was made by the Minoans -- one of the first advanced European civilizations -- between 1700 and 1600 BC on the Greek island of Crete.

Thousands of the vessels, designed to contain wine, have been discovered in archeological sites on the island, and experts believe the cups were designed to be used just once and then cast aside after feasts.

"The elite were showing off their wealth and status by throwing these great big parties, feasts and festivals," Julia Farley, a curator at the British Museum, told the PA Media news agency.

"People were getting together in large groups and much like today, nobody wants to do the washing-up," Farley added.

The cup will go on show in the display "Rubbish And Us" at the British Museum, alongside more modern examples of single-use products shown to have unexpected endurance -- including a waxed paper cup made for serving hot drinks on flights and airports in the 1990s.

"People may be very surprised to know that disposable, single-use cups are not the invention of our modern consumerist society, but in fact can be traced back thousands of years," Farley said in a statement.

"Three and a half thousand years ago, the Minoans were using them for a very similar reason to us today: to serve drinks at parties. The only difference is the material," she said.

"With ceramics being a higher status material to us now, it seems strange to throw them away after just one use. But like plastic today, clay was readily available, cheap to acquire, easy to mold. But also like plastic, clay stays in the ground for many, many years," she added.

Packaging is filling up landfills and polluting our oceans, where materials like plastic and polystyrene can take centuries to decompose.

While some governments and companies are taking steps to reduce the use of throwaway packaging, we are already seeing the effects of pollution on the natural world.

Earlier this year, researchers found that seabirds are becoming smaller and lighter and suffering from a litany of health problems after ingesting the plastic that litters the world's oceans.

Almost 1 million shoes and over 370,000 toothbrushes were among more than 400 million pieces of plastic recently found washed up on a remote group of islands in the Indian Ocean.



KTLA 5 TV - Los Angeles

‘Lifeless' Dog Resuscitated After Being Rescued by Firefighters From Burned Home in Exposition Park


Firefighters rescued and successfully revived a dog found inside a duplex that burned in the Exposition Park area of South L.A. on Monday morning.

The blaze erupted around 9:45 a.m. on the bottom floor of the two-story building, according to a Los Angeles Fire Department alert.

It was contained to one area and extinguished in approximately 17 minutes, the alert stated.

While looking for victims inside the damaged unit, firefighters came upon a lifeless dog. The canine was found to be in respiratory and cardiac arrest, according to the Fire Department.

Firefighters performed life-saving measures and were able to resuscitate the small dog. They used a pet oxygen mask, something carried by all fire engines in the county, the L.A. County Fire Department said over the weekend.

The pet was then reunited with its owner, who had escaped the burning structure as firefighters arrived, officials said.

No human injuries were reported, but some residents have been displaced, according to LAFD.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.



Washington Post


Santa's a sleazebag. The elves are drunk. How did Christmas sweaters get so raunchy?

By Maura Judkis

The Santa Claus you see on Christmas sweaters lately is not the jolly old elf with a sack full of toys, an emblem of holiday cheer and generosity. He's kind of a dirtbag, to be honest. He's probably saying something like, “I do it for the ho's,” or “I have a big package for you.”

He's constantly relieving himself — spelling out “Merry Christmas” in cursive with urine on one sweater, or pooping down a chimney. Like the worst dudes on Tinder, he demands: “Send nudes.”

His companions aren't much better. His reindeer? They and their antlers are on a sweater that reads “Horny.” The elves are gathered around the North Pole, throwing money at a stripper who is dancing on it. If the newest wave of holiday sweaters has anything to say about the Christmas spirit, it's that December is a 31-day-long kegger, and Mrs. Claus should probably consult a divorce attorney.

Ugly holiday sweater parties are not what they used to be. When the trend kicked off in the early aughts, it was a chance to browse the racks at thrift stores for over-the-top, ill-fitting kitschy knits of teddy bears and nutcrackers. But it's rarer that people wear a thrifted ugly sweater these days, with the proliferation of companies offering stylishly unstylish new ones. And designers want to push the envelope.

“I feel like certain brands are trying to go for the edgiest, dirtiest, bro-iest dude they can find,” said Amanda Neville, an ugly sweater designer for the wholesale company Fashion Avenue.

She's designed some of those kinds of sweaters, too. In a previous job for a brand called Alex Stevens, she conjured up puking reindeer and naked Mrs. Clauses. One of their buyers told her they were “seeing all these people searching for ugly Christmas sweaters,” she said, and she made those designs to keep up with trends.

In her current company, which produces branded sweaters for companies including T.J. Maxx, Target, Walmart and department stores, as well as its own brand, Blizzard Bay, the sweaters are cheeky, but less sexual. She's made sweaters featuring, separately, the drag performer Divine, President Trump and Kim Jong Un, and a break dancing Jesus --“probably the one that's going to get me a good table in hell,” she said.

The ugly sweater trend began earnestly, when they were just called Christmas sweaters and not yet considered ugly. They were the kind of outfit a certain kind of person (your elementary school teacher, your one aunt who tries too hard) would wear. As The Post's Hank Stuever wrote in 2001: “A woman in a Christmas sweater believes in the healing power of teddy bears and hugs and Hershey Kisses, and she isn't wrong.” Characters in movies including “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation” and “Bridget Jones's Diary” wearing ugly sweaters helped encourage the trend.

So innocent and pure. In those days, no one would have dreamed of wearing a sweater that featured one reindeer mounting another.

There are hundreds of retailers that stock ugly sweaters now, with varying degrees of raunchiness. Big-box retailers such as Target and Walmart mostly sell the PG-rated ones, though Walmart Canada recently issued an apology for a sweater that said “Let it snow,” which depicted Santa doing lines of cocaine.

“I think ours tend to be a little more on like the playful side,” said Nick McPherson, a designer for Tipsy Elves, the home of the “Send Nudes” sweater. “We definitely are very mindful not to cross a certain line. We'll never use cuss words on a sweater.”

Online search advertising, which can make or break a sweater company's business, plays a large part in this race to the bottom, says Jeff Benzenberg, the director of e-commerce marketing for, which makes customizable sweaters.

“The edgier, the more controversial it is, the more attention it brings, so the higher it ranks everywhere,” he said. “So controversial things aren't always the best for society, but that's the cycle.”

Ugly Christmas sweaters are a year-round endeavor for the companies that make them. Companies are already working on designs for next year, which will be sent to factories in China in the spring. The ugly sweater industrial complex is growing every year. Tipsy Elves, which appeared on ABC's “Shark Tank,” has done more than $125 million in sales since its founding in 2011. Fashion Avenue estimates it sells about 6 million holiday sweaters a year.

The companies are doing well, in part, because of a culture that encourages ugly sweater aficionados to purchase a new sweater with the latest designs every year. Hanukkah is not exempt, with its “We Last Eight Days” and “Gelt Digger” designs.

Some, like Ryan Jones, 29, even own one for all 25 days leading up to Christmas. Last year, Jones posted a picture every day of himself and his sweaters on Instagram. Among his collection: sweaters featuring a baby shark wearing a Santa hat, a reindeer with middle fingers for antlers, and one that says "You go, Glen Coco", a reference to a Christmas scene in the movie “Mean Girls".

“It's kind of become like the second Halloween,” he said. “It's more like, let's feel a little gaudy and crazy, and wear some tinsel and ornaments.” (Though some sweaters, “I honestly wore for, like, a second, to take the picture,” he admits.)

The more companies jump into the ugly sweater game, the more they take cues from their autumnal cousin, the sexy Halloween costume, a retail category that plumbs the depths of absurdity and taste. And they've followed a similar creative trajectory — starting out childlike, sweet and wholesome, transitioning into an object of mockery, and finally, a commercial product that is in on its own meta-joke.

Some even take the Halloween connection literally: A genre of spooky Christmas sweaters has emerged, with horror figures like Freddy Krueger, blood-splattered snowmen, and Krampus, a Christmas demon from Central European folklore. Sarah Hayden, 34, who makes and sells horror-themed Christmas ornaments, says the connection began with holiday-themed slasher movies such as “Silent Night, Deadly Night.”

“They're such a great conversation starter,” said Hayden, a self-professed “Halloween meme queen.” When you wear them to the office, “it's just a way to kind of express yourself, or something that you're into, that maybe other people wouldn't know.”

Christmas is kind of like St. Patrick's Day, too, because for a certain demographic, ugly sweater parties and events such as SantaCon are a chance to get totally hammered. Some sweaters even function as drinking games, with adhesive balls you can throw at a target emblazoned on a person's torso, which reads “You Miss, You Drink.”

An especially popular seller this year has been a sweatshirt from that says “Epstein didn't kill himself” a popular meme about the suspicion surrounding financier and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, surrounded by faux-cross-stitched nooses.

“It's just an Internet meme, it's a joke. It's more about the conspiracy than about Epstein himself,” said Benzenberg, who notes the sweater is the second-best seller for the ERetailing-owned company. There are other products with the same design — “some ornaments, and, I'm a little ashamed to say, a onesie for a baby,” he said.

As for the bro-iest sweaters, maybe they're just another way of telling who is naughty and who is nice.

“I feel like that kind of sweater is very useful to know who to watch your drink around at the bar,” said designer Neville.



Washington Post


He was sexually abusing underage girls. Then, police said, one of them killed him.

Now Chrystul Kizer, who was 16 when she met Randy Volar, is accused of murdering her alleged sex trafficker. She faces life in prison.

KENOSHA, Wis. — Metal cuffs strained against her ankles as she shuffled down the courthouse hallway. She passed her mother, who had grown used to seeing her teen daughter in a jail uniform. She passed the activists, who saw her as a victim of child sex trafficking.

She entered the courtroom, where she was facing life in prison on charges of murdering her alleged sex trafficker.

“The court calls 18CF643,” said the judge at this November hearing. “State of Wisconsin versus Chrystul Kizer.”

Chrystul looked up at him, then down at her hands. She sat between the public defenders assigned to her when she couldn't afford her own lawyer. Beside them was the district attorney, the lead prosecutor for Kenosha County, a lakefront community of about 169,000 people between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Both sides agreed to certain facts about what had brought them here:

When Chrystul was 16, she met a 33-year-old man named Randy Volar.

Volar sexually abused Chrystul multiple times.

He filmed it.

She wasn't the only one — and in February 2018, police arrested Volar on charges including child sexual assault. But then, they released him without bail.

Volar, a white man, remained free for three months, even after police discovered evidence that he was abusing about a dozen underage black girls.

He remained free until Chrystul, then 17, went to his house one night in June and allegedly shot him in the head, twice. She lit his body on fire, police said, and fled in his car.

A few days later, she confessed. District Attorney Michael Graveley, whose office knew about the evidence against Volar but waited to prosecute him, charged Chrystul with arson and first-degree intentional homicide, an offense that carries a mandatory life sentence in Wisconsin.

Graveley says he believes Chrystul's crime was premeditated. The evidence, he argues, shows she planned to murder Volar so she could steal his BMW.

Chrystul, now 19, maintains she was defending herself. Speaking publicly from jail for the first time, she said that when she told Volar she didn't want to have sex that night, he pinned her to the floor.

“I didn't intentionally try to do this,” she said.

Her case comes at a time when police and prosecutors across the country are reevaluating how victims of sex trafficking should be treated. This year, Tennessee released Cyntoia Brown, whose story went viral in the midst of the #MeToo movement. She went to prison at age 16 and served 15 years for killing a man who purchased her for sex.

Brown's story, along with the downfall of financier Jeffrey Epstein and singer R. Kelly, reveal what most child sex trafficking actually looks like in America: vulnerable kids, not kidnapped and held captive, not chained and smuggled across borders, but groomed by someone they trust and manipulated into believing they are the ones to blame for the abuse.

Under federal law, all children who are bought or sold for sex are trafficking victims, regardless of the circumstances. Thirty states and the District have stopped charging minors with prostitution.

Most states also have a law that gives sex-trafficking victims an “affirmative defense.” If they can prove at trial they committed a crime because they were being trafficked, they can be acquitted of certain charges against them.

Wisconsin is one of those states — and Chrystul wanted to use that law to defend her actions. Despite prosecutors' certainty that her crime was premeditated, her lawyer argues she still has a complete defense to the charges.

But the affirmative defense law has never been used in a homicide or any other violent crime. Not in Wisconsin and, as far as advocates know, not anywhere else.

At this hearing, the judge was going to decide whether it could be.

With handcuffs on her wrists, Chrystul pulled at the rosary around her neck. Behind her, the courtroom was filled with her supporters and with members of Volar's family.

“Your honor,” her lawyer began, and Chrystul listened closely as the men debated what she deserved.

"Fire! House is burning!"

Just after 5 a.m. on the morning of June 5, 2018, a woman looked out the window of her Kenosha home and spotted flames on the roof of the tiny tan ranch house on the corner. She punched 911 into her phone.

“Fire!” she told the dispatcher. “House is burning!”

“Do you know if anyone is in the house?” the dispatcher asked.

Within two minutes, Kenosha police arrived to find the answer. Inside, a badly charred body lay slumped on the ground. There were two gunshot wounds in the head.

Dispatchers said that earlier that year, the house was involved in a call about a runaway child. Officers didn't yet know the details of that case, but it did give them a name for the homeowner: Randall Phillip Volar III, who went by Randy.

Police combed the house for evidence. Alcohol bottles on the floor. A pizza box in the fridge. Multiple hotel room keys. Credit card records showed that the night before, he paid for an Uber from Milwaukee to his home. The Uber driver told police he had given a ride to a short black girl named “Chrystal.”

Neighbors reported that there was usually a BMW in Volar's driveway. The car was found abandoned in Milwaukee. A receipt inside led police to a Family Dollar store, where security footage revealed that four teens had driven the BMW. One of them said he had a sister named Chrystul Kizer.

Police found her Facebook page, filled with photos of a slender girl who wore long, colorful wigs. On the night of the fire, she posted a selfie at 3:10 a.m. Behind her were curtains detectives recognized from Volar's house. The caption: “My Mug Shot.”

Three days later, Chrystul live-streamed on Facebook. She talked about giving her brother a BMW. She showed off a gun. She told her 20-year-old boyfriend, Delane Nelson, “I don't want to shoot anybody else.”

The next morning, police drove a battering ram into Nelson's front door. They found Chrystul inside, a shower cap on her head. Zip ties were placed around her wrists as she was escorted into a squad car.

<< more >>


Dept of Justice


Federal Jury Convicts 7 Defendants of Conspiracy and Mail Fraud in $126 Million Telemarketing Scheme Dating Back to 1980s

By Nicola T. Hanna, United States Attorney, Central District of California

SANTA ANA, California
– A federal jury this morning found seven people guilty of conspiracy and mail fraud for participating in a decades-long, multi-million dollar telemarketing scheme that targeted thousands of small businesses and charities.

During a seven-week trial in United States District Court, the jury heard evidence that members of the conspiracy – going as far back as 1988 – bilked more than 50,000 victims by posing as their regular supplier of printer toner and selling them toner at greatly inflated prices. Over one six-year span, victims were induced to send more than $126 million to the telemarketing scammers.

The defendants found guilty today are:

· Gilbert N. Michaels, 77, of West Los Angeles, who orchestrated the scheme, and who owned and operated IDC SERVCO, a Culver City-based business that sold toner to small businesses, charities (such as Easter Seals Disability Services and the United Way), schools, churches, city governments and other entities in the United States and Canada;

· James R. Milheiser, 53, of Huntington Beach, who owned and/or controlled Material Distribution Center, PDM Marketing, Bird Coop Industries, Inc., and Copier Products Center;

· Leah D. Johnson, 54, of Ignacio, Colorado, who owned Capital Supply Center and LJT Distribution, Inc.;

· Jonathan M. Brightman, 52, of Westlake Village, who owned Copy Com Distribution, Inc.; Independent Cartridge Supplier; and Corporate Products;

· Sharon Scandaliato Virag, 54, of West Hills, who owned XL Supply, Inc.;

· Tammi L. Williams, 44, of Chino Hills, who was the office manager at Elite Office Supply, and also worked at Specialty Business Center, Rancho Office Supply and Select Imaging Supplies; and

· Francis S. Scimeca, 54, of Woodland Hills, who owned Supply Central Distribution, Inc. and Priority Office Supply.

Each defendant was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Michaels also was found guilty of 10 counts of mail fraud and five counts of money laundering. Milheiser, Johnson, Brightman, and Scimeca were also found guilty of mail fraud.

In furtherance of the scheme, the telemarketers typically posed as the regular suppliers of the victim companies and told the companies that the price of toner had increased, they had not been notified of the increase, and the victims now had a chance to purchase toner at the previous, lower price. Believing that they were dealing with their regular supplier of toner, employees at the victim companies signed order confirmation forms, which prompted defendant Michaels' company IDC SERVCO to ship toner to victims and send invoices that demanded payment at inflated prices.

When the victim companies realized they had been scammed, they called IDC SERVCO to complain. The victims were typically told that IDC could not cancel the order or refund money because the victims had signed order confirmation forms. IDC also failed to disclose its relationships to the telemarketing companies that had actually brokered the fraudulent deals.

In many cases, IDC employees threatened victims with collections or legal action if they did not pay an invoice. In the cases where IDC agreed to take toner back, victims were forced to pay significant “restocking fees.”

Most victims received toner at no extra cost as part of their printer or copier service agreements. The telemarketers knew there had not been a price increase for toner, and failed to disclose that the prices they were charged were two to ten times the regular cost of toner.

Another aspect of the fraud was that the telemarketers failed to disclose that they were affiliated with IDC. In a series of court orders dating back to November 1988, Michaels and his companies were prohibited from making false statements – such as that they were a usual supplier of photocopier supplies or that there had been price change – and they were required to provide oversight to “independent sales companies.” Michaels violated these court orders by working with and providing financing to independent sales companies that were engaged in deceptive and fraudulent practices, despite the fact that IDC received hundreds of thousands of complaints from victims claiming they had been defrauded.

Fourteen other defendants charged in this case previously pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges.

United States District Judge James V. Selna has scheduled a May 29, 2020 sentencing hearing, at which time the seven defendants convicted today will face, at least, a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

The investigation into this toner fraud case was conducted by the Huntington Beach Police Department, the United States Secret Service, the FBI and the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Gregory W. Staples, Bradley E. Marrett, and Benjamin D. Lichtman of the Santa Ana Branch Office.


Ciaran McEvoy, Public Information Officer


Dept of Justice


4 Face Federal Drug Trafficking Charges after Ultralight Aircraft Used to Smuggle 184 Pounds of Meth from Mexico into United States

By Nicola T. Hanna, United States Attorney, Central District of California

RIVERSIDE, California
– Four men who used off-road vehicles to retrieve a load of methamphetamine that was smuggled into the United States on an ultralight aircraft and dropped near the Salton Sea are scheduled to make their first court appearances this afternoon on federal narcotics trafficking charges.

The four men were arrested early Friday morning after authorities tracked the ultralight aircraft as it entered U.S. airspace and flew to the area of North Shore, a community on the edge of the Salton Sea. After the aircraft descended to a low altitude, Border Patrol agents observed two off-road utility vehicles leaving the area. Two of the men were in one vehicle and were arrested without incident; the other two were taken into custody after they fled from a marked Border Patrol vehicle and drove into the Coachella Canal.

The four men were named in a criminal complaint filed Saturday that charges each with one count of possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, which carries a statutory maximum penalty of life in federal prison.

The four defendants are Victor Bugarin-Perez, 28, of Mecca; Juan Favela-Paredez, 25, a Mexican national in the United States illegally; Juan Carlos Iturriaga-Centeno, 33, a Mexican national in the United States illegally; and his brother, Leonardo Iturriaga-Centeno, 28, of North Shore.

According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, the Border Patrol and the Air and Marine Operations Center in Riverside tracked the ultralight as it crossed the international border near Calexico. After radar surveillance indicated that the ultralight descended and then headed back to Mexico, a California Highway Patrol aircraft saw two vehicles. The two vehicles left the area and were intercepted by a marked Border Patrol vehicle. A Polaris off-road vehicle with the Iturriaga-Centeno brothers stopped, but a Can-Am vehicle with the other two men sped away. The Can-Am vehicle was driven into the Coachella Canal, and the Border Patrol rescued Bugarin-Perez and Favela-Paredez when they were unable to exit the canal.

After the men were taken into custody, authorities recovered from the canal 26 Tupperware containers that contained a total of 184.5 pounds of methamphetamine. Two GPS devices were found in the Polaris, which authorities believe were attached to the narcotics dropped from the ultralight.

A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

This investigation is being conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin J. Weir of the Riverside Branch Office.


Thom Mrozek, Director of Media Relations



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Daily Local & Regional NewsWatch - 2019 Archives

The LA Police Protective League, the union that represents the rank-and-file LAPD officers, presents a weekday digest of local news, which often includes the union's perspective.

The material is often from local and national newspapers as well as other sources.

It constitutes but a small percentage of the information available daily to the community policing and neighborhood activist public.

But most of the material includes issues of some interest to the Los Angeles community-policing community.

Law Enforcement News - Wed, 12/18/19

South Carolina Deputy Dies In Crash While Responding To Call
A Marion County sheriff's deputy died in a single vehicle crash while he was responding to a call. SCNow reports PFC Michael Shawn Latu's police cruiser ran off the side of the road and into a bridge support at about 1:05 a.m. Tuesday morning. Latu was a five-year veteran of the department and had previously served as a dispatcher. In 2018, he was recognized as both Deputy of the Year and Patrolman of the Year. In a release on Facebook, the Marion County Sheriff's Department wrote that ‘Mike,' as Latu was known, was “quiet with a genius level IQ.”  “He was the workhorse of the department and was always eager to help,” the post continued. “The voice left by our brother will never be filled. We ask for your prayers of comfort during this time.” 

LA Police Commission To Receive Public Comment On Use Of Deadly Force Policy
The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners decided Tuesday to take additional comments on a new policy regarding when officers are justified in using deadly force. A new state law, AB 392, was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in August and takes effect at the beginning of the year. It establishes that police officers may only use deadly force when it is “necessary” to protect human life or to apprehend a known suspect who has committed deadly actions. The law mentions various circumstances that require officers to consider circumstances at greater length before deciding whether to use deadly force, which includes but is not limited to the use of firearms. Commissioners said they hadn't had much time to review the proposed policy changes to the Los Angeles Police Department, and it voted unanimously to tentatively adopt the changes. The commission will accept comments from the public and LAPD officers for 30 days, after which the commission will take two weeks to consider the comments, make adjustments to the policy and take another series of comments before officially adopting it.
Los Angeles Daily News

Man Found Beaten To Death Near North Hollywood Railroad Tracks
A man's body was found down an embankment near railroad tracks Tuesday in North Hollywood, and the person or persons responsible for his death were on the loose. Officers responded to an ambulance death investigation near the railroad tracks on the 12500 block of Raymer Street, just west of Whitsett Avenue, at 10:30 a.m. and were directed to the victim, a white man in his mid-40s, at the bottom of an embankment, according to the LAPD. The victim appeared to have suffered blunt force trauma to his head and was pronounced dead at the scene by LAFD paramedics, police said. Detectives believe the assault occurred between 7 and 10:30 a.m. on the south side of the train tracks near the intersection of Whitsett Avenue and Raymer Street, police said. A motive for the attack is unknown. Anyone who witnessed this deadly attack was asked to call LAPD Detective Christine Moselle at 818-374-9550.
Los Angeles Daily News

Officers Fight With Burglary Suspect At Reseda Home
Officers fought with a possible burglary suspect at a home in Reseda Wednesday morning. Police responded to a burglary in progress in the 8000 block of Reseda Boulevard, north of Strathern Street, about 12:30 a.m. and got into a fight with a suspect, prompting an officer needs help call, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. A news photographer at the scene said the suspect was taken to a hospital with injuries suffered in the altercation with officers and the homeowner and her son were also injured, but it was unclear how they were hurt. Police could not immediately confirm any injuries to the suspect or victims. There were no reports of any officers injured, the LAPD said.

Teacher Charged In Hit-and-Run That Severely Injured Bicyclist In Silver Lake

A 52-year-old woman pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges tied to a hit-and-run crash that left a male bicyclist severely injured in Silver Lake , the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said. Molly Jane Hoene has been charged with two felony counts of hit-and-run in connection with the incident, prosecutors said in a news release. Hoene entered the not guilty plea during her arraignment Tuesday, according to a public information officer for L.A. Superior Court. She is due back in court Jan. 23. Hoene, a teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District, is accused of being behind the wheel of a vehicle that slammed head on into a bicyclist in the area of Berkeley Avenue and Berkeley Circle on Oct. 25, investigators said. She fled the scene without rendering aid to the seriously injured 52-year-old man, according to the DA's office. Police called his injuries severe, and it's not clear if he has recovered.

Venice Man To Be Sentenced For Illegal Oxycodone Sales
A man who illegally sold prescriptions for opioid pain pills from a sham clinic he owned in Long Beach is expected to be sentenced Wednesday to a federal prison term. James Wilson, 56, of Venice was found guilty of two counts of distribution of oxycodone in March by a judge in Los Angeles federal court. Prosecutors said that Wilson, who is not a physician or pharmacist, wrote and sold four prescriptions, each for 120 tablets of maximum-strength immediate-release oxycodone, to a person he believed to be a drug customer but was in fact a confidential informant working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The government is asking for a sentence of 57 months, while Wilson's defense attorney recommends a 41-month term behind bars.

SoCal Man, Daughter Charged With Kidnapping, Raping Las Vegas Woman They Abandoned In Mojave Desert: DA
Charges have been filed against a father and daughter accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a Las Vegas woman before dumping her in the Mojave Desert, prosecutors said Tuesday. Stanley Alfred Lawton, 55, of Riverside, and Shaniya Poche-Lawton, 22, of Palmdale have been charged with one count each of kidnapping to commit robbery, attempted murder, kidnapping, and forcible rape, and three counts of first-degree ATM robbery, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. The complaint also alleges a firearm was used, and that Stanley Lawton was previously convicted of attempted murder and robbery in 1984 and 1988, the DA's office said. The defendants are suspected of kidnapping the 46-year-old victim at gunpoint in Las Vegas in late October and driving the woman — whom they knew — across state lines, a news release from the DA's office stated.

The Golden State Killer's Invisible Victims: The Men Whose Lives Were Shattered
The salt shaker teetering on a pot lid on his naked back could not fall. Victor Hayes kept his face pressed into his mattress. The gunman promised to kill him if he heard the objects slip. Until that moment, pinned by kitchenware, Hayes embodied all the swagger of the 1970s American male. He was 21, with the long thick hair and heavy mustache of a rocker, a souped-up Chevelle in the garage, and a custom chopper parked in the living room like something off the set of “Easy Rider.” Hayes protected his property with similar machismo — a pit bull in the backyard, guns in the house. His girlfriend slept against the wall, and Hayes took the outside of the bed because “I'm the man.” But just after midnight on Oct. 1, 1977, an intruder blinded Hayes with a flashlight and held a gun on him as he removed Hayes' rifle by the headboard. There was no time for Hayes to go for the .22-caliber Magnum. The single-action revolver stayed beneath the mattress and box spring just inches away. He was rolled over in bed, his ankles and wrists bound with shoelaces. Then the intruder perched a metal lid and a salt shaker on Hayes' naked back, and said if he heard them fall, he would “blow his f------ head off.”
Los Angeles Times

California Leads The Country In Meth And Fentanyl Border Seizures By CBP
More than 60% of methamphetamine seized by Customs and Border Protection across the country came through California ports, according to data from the federal agency. During fiscal 2019, which ended Sept. 30, CBP agents in California seized more than 80,000 pounds of methamphetamine at the border. That figure accounted for 63% of all methamphetamine seized by CBP agents nationwide this year and represented a 66% increase from the amount seized in California in the last fiscal year. “Some of these numbers are staggering,” said Pete Flores, director of field operations for CBP in San Diego. Flores noted that 10 years ago, CBP agents in California seized less than 4,000 pounds of methamphetamine. “These impressive results should be credited to the men and women serving on the front lines at our ports of entry,” Flores said. “Their daily efforts secure our nation's borders while facilitating the flow of legitimate travel and trade.”
Los Angeles Times

Ninety-five percent of American schools now conduct drills to prepare students for a school shooter. For adults who were out of high school by the time of the 1999 Columbine shooting, this is an unfamiliar phenomenon. We don't have a clear picture of how the drills are experienced by the children they were designed for. In this partnership between Slate and The Trace, we spoke to more than 20 students from different parts of the country, to learn what they see, hear, and feel during what has become a routine experience in American schools. We turned those experiences into an audio story you can listen to in the audio player just below, or on your preferred podcast app. You can also scroll further to read and hear selections from the kids we spoke to, kindergartners and high school seniors alike, as they describe how these drills frighten and bore, annoy and perplex. Every school performs the drills in a different way, and every child experiences them alone. But even the younger students know better than we might expect what the drills are for. Here are their stories.
The Trace

Public Safety News

LAFD Rescues 2 People Trapped In Sherman Oaks Trench, 1 In Critical Condition
Two construction workers were rushed to the hospital Tuesday afternoon after a shallow trench collapsed and trapped the men under a slab of concrete. The contractor in charge of the work site, where the men were in the process of building a two-story addition to a home in the 5300 block of North Tyrone Avenue, said it happened in a split second. “It was a very poor built foundation,” Rogelio Ramirez, of Rojo Green Inc., said. The 911 call went out around 2:30 p.m. to report that the men were trapped. Ramirez said one man suffered broken ribs, while the other man is in critical condition. “We just pray and hope these guys are OK,” Ramirez said. “That's the main thing.” The battalion chief on the scene said there were no obvious signs of code violations and that the site appeared to be within safety parameters.

California's New Earthquake Early Warning System Sent Its First Public Alert To Smartphones Tuesday
In a milestone, California's new statewide earthquake early warning cellphone app sent out its first public alert for a magnitude 4.3 earthquake that ruptured Tuesday in the mountains between the Central Coast and San Joaquin Valley. More than 40 people received the warning, said Jennifer Strauss, project manager for the MyShake app, which was created by UC Berkeley and released publicly in October. It is available on iOS and Android systems. Because of the weak magnitude of Tuesday's quake, the area in which shaking was felt was relatively small and close to the epicenter in the Cholame Valley, confined to just portions of San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Kings and Kern counties. There were no reports of damage. The MyShake app relies on earthquake information calculated by the U.S. Geological Survey's backbone ShakeAlert system, which gathers earthquake sensing data from a network of hundreds of ground sensors throughout the West Coast.

Local Government News

LA City Clerk Announces Qualified Candidates For March 3 Primary Election
The Los Angeles City Clerk's Office on Monday released the official list of 33 candidates who have qualified to appear on the ballot for the March 2020 City Council and Los Angeles Unified School Board of Education primary elections. In the primary, the top two candidates with the most votes will move on to a general election runoff on Nov. 3. 
Los Angeles Daily News


Law Enforcement News - Tue, 12/17/19

Earl Paysinger, Longtime LAPD Leader, Dies At 64
Earl C. Paysinger, a pillar of the Los Angeles Police Department and a respected leader in South L.A. who was credited with driving down crime by focusing on community partnerships, died Monday. He was 64. Paysinger was with his family at a hospital when he died from lung cancer, according to LAPD Cmdr. Al Labrada. Chief Michel Moore, who visited Paysinger on Monday morning at the hospital, praised his former colleague in a statement as “a man with a tireless work ethic who knew cops count. Who cared deeply for our community's youth. A professional and family man I respected for his dedication to his family, beliefs and convictions.” During 41 years with the LAPD, Paysinger rose through the ranks from patrol officer to first assistant chief, the second-highest-ranking post in the department. He was instrumental in Chief William J. Bratton's success in reducing violence, first as deputy chief of the South Bureau and later as head of operations. Inside the department he could be a stern task master, delivering incisive lines of questioning that startled captains.
Los Angeles Times

Alabama Lawmakers Consider Protecting Law Enforcement Officers Under Hate Crime Law
Alabama has faced an “exceptionally tough year” for law enforcement with six deaths occurring at the hands of gunmen, as Gov. Kay Ivey noted earlier this month. Few states had as many tragedies occur to law enforcement while they were on duty. And those that did have a much larger population – California, New York and Texas. The latest of the state's tragedies unfolded Dec. 6 in Huntsville after a Tennessee man with a long history of criminal activity allegedly shot Huntsville Police officer Billy Fred Clardy III in the heart and killed him. While Huntsville is mourning Clardy's death, public officials are looking to see if something can be done to ensure that law enforcement doesn't suffer a repeat of the danger in 2020. “It's a tragedy we shouldn't have to put up with,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said. One effort expected to surface in the halls of the State House in Montgomery will occur in February: Adding law enforcement to those protected under the state's hate crime law.
Alabama Media Group

Police Seek Suspect, Victim's Family After Man Critically Injured In Florence Hit-and-Run
Police reached out to the public Monday for help in tracking down a hit-and-run driver who left a man critically injured following a collision in the Florence neighborhood of South Los Angeles over the weekend. Officials say they're also searching for family members of the severely injured victim, officials said. Jose Artega, 39, was struck by a car about 11:30 p.m. Friday while crossing Central Avenue at 67th Street, the Los Angeles Police Department said in a written statement. “A vehicle described as a four-door, black or dark blue Kia was traveling southbound when it collided with a pedestrian,” according to the statement. “The driver of the Kia failed to stop and identify him/herself and render aid as required by law.” Los Angeles offers a standing $25,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of drivers involved in injury hit-and-run collisions.

LAPD Searches Exposition Park Neighborhood For Kidnapping Suspect
A search was on Monday evening in the Exposition Park area for a kidnapping suspect who is the subject of a felony arrest warrant. The perimeter search began about 8:25 p.m. in the area of Wisconsin and 38th streets for the suspect, who was identified as 25-year-old Joshua Maiden, according to Los Angeles Police Department Officer Tony Im. No details were immediately available about the alleged kidnapping. Maiden is described as black, 6-feet tall, 170 pounds with a light moustache. He was wearing a blue jacket and khaki pants, Im said.

Hollywood Sexual Assault Caught On Video

Shock, outrage, and fear in a Hollywood apartment building after an apparent break-in and brutal assault, possibly involving the homeless. The initial images from the multiple security cameras at an apartment building on North Vermont are dramatic. You clearly see a man dragging what appears to be a young woman into a parking garage, and put her up against a parked car. The next part of the video isn't very clear, but it seems some type of sexual assault took place. When tenant Eliot Rosenberger saw this, he emailed FOX 11, and he called police. Rosenberger discovered this video almost by accident, as he was reviewing it because his motorcycle had been vandalized apparently by the same man. He thinks, and the LAPD is still investigating, that both the suspect and the alleged victim came from a homeless encampment that's popped up behind the apartment building.  
FOX 11

Police Arrest Two Home-Invasion Robbery Suspects Following Pursuit That Ended In Hawthorne
Authorities Monday arrested two alleged home invasion robbery suspects who led Los Angeles Police officers on a pursuit to Hawthorne. The chase began near Rosecrans Avenue and the 110 Freeway and led to the area of 136th Street and Jefferson Avenue, according to LAPD officials. Authorities said that around 10:20 a.m., officers responded to a report of a home invasion robbery in the 300 block of Ninth Street. When officers arrived, they saw a vehicle and suspects they believed were related to the crime fleeing the scene, and a chase ensued. A male suspect was arrested after the vehicle came to a stop, and a second male suspect was arrested a short time later, police said.
FOX 11

L.A.'s Most Wanted: Public's Help Sought Bringing Three Fugitives To Justice
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva sought the public's help bringing three of the county's most wanted criminals to justice. Sheriff Villanueva said the three suspects are highly sought after due to the violent crimes they have committed. Carlos Humberto Gamarro is wanted for committing lewd acts with a minor at a 99 Cents Only store, now Ekono 99, on North Bullis Road in Compton where he worked as an armed security guard. The 9-year-old victim was sexually assaulted while shopping with her mother at the store. The 49-year-old suspect was last seen in a silver Dodge Ram truck with black rims. The sexual assault occurred on July 28, 2014. esus Ramirez Laredo also goes by the names of “Acapulco Torres” and “Jesus Ramirez.” The 27-year-old is wanted for murder in a deadly shooting at Sosa's Market in South Gate located in the 9700 block of Long Beach Boulevard. The shooting occurred on September 2. He was described as a Hispanic male, 5 feet 6 inches tall, 230-250 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. Robert Bustamante is wanted for grand theft auto and embezzlement.
FOX 11

Former Reseda Man Gets Time Served For Mortgage Fraud Scheme Targeting Wells Fargo Bank
A longtime international fugitive who willingly returned to Los Angeles to face federal charges for his role in a multimillion-dollar bank swindle against Wells Fargo was sentenced Monday to the nine months he already served behind bars. Napoleon Olarte, 42, formerly of Reseda, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder to pay a share of $2.4 million in restitution and serve three years on supervised release, including six months of electronic monitoring. Olarte was the third and final defendant charged in the mortgage fraud scheme. His two co-conspirators — Juan Jose Calle and Nancy Karina Coleman — pleaded guilty to federal charges and served brief prison sentences, prosecutors said. According to court documents, Coleman worked as a mortgage consultant at Wells Fargo while Olarte and Calle ran Fast Escrow, a rogue brokerage and escrow company in Northridge.
Los Angeles Daily News

Border Patrol Agents Find 65 Pounds Of Cocaine Hidden In Pickup's Seats
More than 65 pounds of cocaine were found hidden inside the seats of a pickup when Border Patrol agents pulled over the driver of the truck near Temecula late last week. Officials said a man in a 2011 Dodge Ram was heading north on Interstate 15 near the Temecula checkpoint around 8:50 a.m. Friday when agents noticed he was driving erratically and pulled him over. After a drug-sniffing police dog reacted to the vehicle, agents searched the truck. They found two metal boxes embedded in seats where foam had been removed — and discovered 25 plastic-wrapped packages holding nearly 65.4 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of $653,600. The driver, a 27-year-old Mexican national with a valid visa, was arrested, and the drugs were turned over to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The vehicle was seized by the Border Patrol.
Los Angeles Times

Public Safety News

‘Lifeless' Dog Resuscitated After Being Rescued By Firefighters From Burned Home In Exposition Park
Firefighters rescued and successfully revived a dog found inside a duplex that burned in the Exposition Park area of South L.A. on Monday morning. The blaze erupted around 9:45 a.m. on the bottom floor of the two-story building, according to a Los Angeles Fire Department alert. It was contained to one area and extinguished in approximately 17 minutes, the alert stated. While looking for victims inside the damaged unit, firefighters came upon a lifeless dog. The canine was found to be in respiratory and cardiac arrest, according to the Fire Department. Firefighters performed life-saving measures and were able to resuscitate the small dog. They used a pet oxygen mask, something carried by all fire engines in the county, the L.A. County Fire Department said over the weekend.

Health Officials Warn Of Possible Measles Exposure At LAX During Busy Travel Season
Los Angeles County public health officials are warning the public about another case of measles involving three people who traveled through LAX during its busy holiday travel period. The three travelers went through the airport at Terminals 4 and 5 on Dec. 11 between 6:50 a.m. and noon while they were infected, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Health officials believe more people could be exposed, adding that anyone who was there there at that time may be at risk for developing measles for up to 21 days. Health officials are reminding the public to check their immunization records and monitor themselves for symptoms. If any symptoms develop, such as a fever or unexplained rash, individuals should stay home and contact a health care provider immediately.

Local Government News

LA Officials Respond To Supreme Court's Refusal To Hear Homeless Camping Case
The ability of Southland governments to enact and enforce restrictions on homeless people sleeping on sidewalks or in other public areas was left in doubt Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling barring such regulations unless adequate shelter space is available. The city and county of Los Angeles, along with a host of other government agencies, had filed court papers in support of an appeal of the ruling in the case known as Martin v. City of Boise. The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals essentially bars cities and counties from citing people for sleeping on sidewalks unless there is enough alternative shelter space available for the homeless. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, declined to hear the case, meaning the 9th Circuit ruling will stand. “With unprecedented numbers of people falling into homelessness nationwide, we are experiencing an urgent humanitarian crisis,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “More than 1,000 individuals will die on Los Angeles County streets this year. Supporting the city of Boise's position to appeal to the Supreme Court was never an attempt to criminalize the homeless. Rather, it was a pursuit of a legal framework that is clear, in comparison to a status quo that is ambiguous and confusing.”
Los Angeles Daily News

LA County To Use Data-Driven Research Models to Prevent Homelessness
Struggling to keep up with an estimated 150 people who fall into homelessness daily in Los Angeles County, officials announced Monday they will use data-driven models to identify and help individuals who are most likely to end up on the street. The models, developed by the California Policy Lab and the University of Chicago Poverty Lab, used data on Los Angeles County residents receiving county services between 2012 and 2016 to try to identify residents at the highest risk of becoming homeless. Researchers found that nearly half of those identified actually became homeless in 2017. The individuals identified were 27 times more likely to become homeless than the average person receiving county services.
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