Friday, May 31, 2013

USA Mother from Arizona Released from Mexico Prison

The attorney for an Arizona mother locked up in a Mexico prison on a drug-smuggling charge says she is expected to be released soon.

The family's lawyer in Nogales, Jose Francisco Benitez Paz, told reporters outside the Mexico jail that Yanira Maldonado's release was pending Thursday night.

He said earlier that he was confident the charges will be dropped after court officials reviewed video Thursday that showed her and her husband, Gary Moldonado, boarding a bus with only blankets and bottles of water in hand.

Father Said: "Here, we are guilty until you are proven innocent."

Her husband and other family members were gathered outside the Nogales jail late Thursday night in anticipation of her release.

The husband of an Arizona mother locked up in a Mexico prison on a drug-smuggling charge said he is confident the charges will be dropped after court officials reviewed video Thursday that showed the couple boarding a bus with only blankets and bottles of water in hand.

Gary Maldonado said the video should exonerate he and his wife in the nightmare scenario that has prompted outrage in the U.S. among politicians and pitted the conservative Mormon family against a judicial system that has long struggled with corruption.

"It showed exactly what I hoped it would show, what we brought on this bus," Gary Maldonado said after the court hearing Thursday. "The nightmare is not over yet, but having this evidence here, that was key to get that evidence, the witnesses, and the bus video to prove she is innocent."

Gary Maldonado was arrested by the Mexican military last week after they found nearly 12 pounds of pot under his wife's bus seat on a commercial bus traveling from Mexico to Phoenix. After Yanira Maldonado begged the soldiers to allow her to come along to serve as her husband's translator, the military officials decided to release him and arrest her instead, he said.

The family's lawyer in Nogales, Jose Francisco Benitez Paz, told reporters outside the court house that he is "100 percent" confident Yanira Maldonado will be released after a judge reviewed the video from the bus company.

He noted that it was a fairly sophisticated smuggling effort that included packets of drugs attached to the seat bottoms with metal hooks — a task that would have been impossible for a passenger like Maldonado.

"All the evidence they have is the drug under the seat," he said.

The Maldonados were traveling home to the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear after attending her aunt's funeral in the city of Los Mochis when they were arrested.

Gary Maldonado said authorities originally demanded $5,000 for her release, but the bribe fell through. When the couple tried to defend themselves, military officials told them the court would sort it out, Gary Maldonado said.

Gary Maldonado said a man sitting behind them on the bus fled during the inspection. He believes the man might have been the true owner of the drugs.

Mexican officials provided local media with photos that they said were of the packages Maldonado is accused of smuggling. Each was about 5 inches high and 20 inches wide, roughly the width of a bus seat. The marijuana was packed into plastic bags and wrapped in tan packing tape.

Earlier this week, Benitez presented testimony from Yanira Maldonado and from two relatives who accompanied the couple to the Los Mochis bus station, and two fellow passengers on the bus. All four testified that she had not been carrying any drugs.

He described her as depressed but said she had not been abused or mistreated.

"She doesn't accept any of the accusations that are being made," he said. "She is sad because of the situation, in which she's being accused of a crime she didn't commit."

On Wednesday, an army lieutenant, a private and another sergeant were supposed to appear in court but they did not show up. The army did not explain why, Benitez said.

The lawyer said he had requested a list of the bus passengers and video of the passengers boarding in Los Mochis, and presented letters from people he described as prominent American officials vouching for Maldonado's character. He said he was awaiting financial information proving she would have no need to earn cash smuggling drugs.

He said the judge would decide by Friday whether to free Maldonado.

A search of court records in Arizona didn't turn up any drug-related charges against Yanira or Gary Maldonado.

The Mexican Embassy in Washington said in a statement Tuesday that Yanira Maldonado's "rights to a defense counsel and due process are being observed." The embassy didn't respond to allegations she was framed.

Yanira Maldonado is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, her family said. She and Gary Maldonado were married one year ago, and they celebrated their anniversary while she was jailed.

Jen Psaki, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, said U.S. consulate officials in Mexico were closely monitoring the case. State Department officials visited her Friday and will likely attend any open proceedings in the case per protocol, Psaki said.

"Private citizens who travel abroad are expected to, of course, abide by the law in the country where they are visiting, and the consular office is in touch when cases like this arise to be helpful in advising," Psaki said in a press briefing in Washington on Wednesday.

Gary Maldonado said if his wife is freed, they will likely avoid future trips to Mexico.


Singer Tim Lambesis Charged With "Murder For Hire" with $2 Million Bail - Released

Heavy metal singer accused of trying to hire someone to kill his estranged wife has been released from a San Diego County jail after posting $2 million bail.

U-T San Diego ( reports Tim Lambesis was released from the jail in Vista on Thursday.

A judge last week reduced Lambesis' bail from $3 million to $2 million.

Lambesis must wear a GPS monitor, is subject to strict travel restrictions and must stay away from his wife and children.

Prosecutors say Lambesis, frontman for Grammy-winning band "As I Lay Dying," paid $1,000 to an undercover detective posing as a hit man. He has pleaded not guilty to solicitation for murder.

Lambesis' attorney Thomas Warwick says the singer had been using steroids and they'd had a devastating effect on his mind.


Court Ruling for Sly Stone's Financial Downfall

The psychedelic funk superstar alleged that in 1989, he was induced into giving up much of his song royalties by a manager and attorney fueling his drug addictions. Sony Music and Warner Music won't have to pay for that.

The subject of the ruling is Sly Stone, born as Sylvester Stewart, who as the front man for Sly and the Family Stone, blazed a path for a progressive mixture of funk, soul and psychedelic music and whose songs like "Everyday People" and "Hot Fun in the Summertime" remain well-played on radio.

Stone's troubles with drugs and the Internal Revenue Service are well known, but in a lawsuit over "tens of millions" of dollars in allegedly misappropriated royalties against nearly three dozen individuals and entities, including an ex-manager, a lawyer and Sony, Warner and Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI), he detailed the full extent of his financial troubles and poor deal-making. Unfortunately, for Stone, an appeals court isn't giving him much relief.

We'll pick up Stone's story in the mid-70's when already a successful musician, he began to run into some personal problems that required Ken Roberts, Stone's friend and one-time manager, to advance some money and pay off some debts. In return, Stone irrevocably assigned Roberts his BMI-administered performance-right royalties.

Then, in 1980, the IRS levied a multi-million dollar tax lien upon Stone's income. For about the next 15 years, much of the money that was derived from Stone's hit songs was routed to government tax collectors.

In 1985, Stone sold his publishing interest in most of his existing musical compositions to Michael Jackson's MiJac Music company, but retained the songwriter's share of the royalties. But that too ended up with the IRS.

Full Ruling Here...

The California Appeals Court ruling on Thursday only addresses the liability of the big music companies -- Sony, BMI and Warner -- that allegedly allowed royalties to be diverted without doing the necessary due diligence.

In short, Stone may have made bad deals in lifetime, but for the purposes of holding these companies accountable, the appeals court affirms that he has no standing to sue. He can't allege breach of contract against BMI because he assigned his royalty payments to Roberts. He can't make various claims against Sony because the record label "properly relied on" those 1989 agreements presented when figuring out where to direct royalties. Similarly, he can't sue Warner. Quoting the trial judge, the appeals court notes "the royalty companies were simply doing what they were instructed to do for years upon years.”

In the ruling, an appeals court overturns the trial judge's ruling that Roberts lacked standing to sue BMI. It also waives away BMI's contention that his claim of breach of contract is barred by statute of limitations, although the appeals judge says he can only possibly collect for four years prior to the launch of the lawsuit for allegedly bad actions. Yes, BMI paid out to Majoken, but the appeals court says "that is neither the beginning nor the end of the story" as "BMI had a contractual duty to insist on written instructions from Roberts" when in 1996, it changed where the money was going.


$500 Million Lawsuit for 'Twilight' Parody Company that Sues Lionsgate

The plaintiff wasn't able to find a distributor for "Twiharder" but it has a lawyer with a pretty outrageous idea.

The award for legal chutzpah this year goes to a New York attorney named James H. Freeman, who has crafted a 219-page lawsuit that accuses Lionsgate Entertainment and its subsidiary Summit Entertainment of becoming "a dominant market force in the movie industry during the last five years" on the strength of its Twilight franchise.

There's always been some tension between intellectual property law and antitrust law. IP entitles an owner to a legal monopoly while the latter aims to take apart such market control. In this whopping lawsuit -- which Bloomberg reports has actually been filed --  Lionsgate and Summit are charged with making "anticompetitive conduct" on their lucrative rights on Twilight.

Specifically, the plaintiff is Behind the Lines Productions, which says it made a feature-length film entitled Twiharder that "portrayed hyper-exaggerated caricatures from The Twilight Saga movies and lampooned expressive elements embodied in Defendants’ pre-existing works through imitative reference."

The company says several major distributors expressed interest in Twiharder, and its movie passed scrutiny by lawyers, insurers and fair use experts. Then, the defendant film companies allegedly heard about it.

"On June 27, 2012, Plaintiff became just one more victim in a long line of independent auteurs to receive a sham 'cease-and-desist' C&D Notice from Defendants," says the lawsuit. "Within days of disclosing the communication to its contractual offers, the WMPI distributors and E&O insurers unceremoniously revoked their offers to deal with Plaintiff."

Not stopping there, the lawsuit then provides  an overview of legal protections in the movie industry, the history of "movie franchises," details about the "tentpole" franchise era (with pictures of an actual tentpole construction), discussion of Twihards, critical reaction to the blockbuster films (e.g., "The Twilight Saga has also been heavily criticized by civil rights activists and academic scholars for perpetuating one-dimensional stereotypes about Native American heritage") and so forth.

Summit has long been known as aggressively protective of its intellectual property on Twilight and has endured some digerati condemnation because of this. The studio said it had no comment about the lawsuit.

See Full Complaint and Read More....

Wrongful Death Lawsuit in TV Helicopter Crash of Discovery Channel

The suit charges the death of cameraman Darren Rydstrom was the result of negligence by the aircraft's pilot, its owner and the producers of the Discovery Channel show.

The mother of the cameraman killed Feb. 10 in a helicopter crash during a night shoot for a military-themed Discovery Channel reality TV series filed a lawsuit Wednesday in L.A. Superior Court, charging wrongful death and property damage.

Darren Rydstrom was killed when a Bell helicopter crashed in a rugged canyon north of Los Angeles. The helicopter's pilot, David Gibbs, and castmember Michael Donatelli also were killed.

Rydstrom’s mother, Jerie S. Rydstrom, filed suit against Van Nuys Helicopters and two men identified as the company principals, David Child and Cherif Amin. The suit also names as defendants Orbic Air, which it says is owned by David Child; Crossbow Helicopters and its owner David G. Gibbs, pilot of the doomed craft; and the producers of the show, J.D. Roth and Todd Nelson.

Read Full Complaint Here...

The suit says Gibbs was flying the Bell 206B helicopter under “visual flight rules” and had a duty to “look and avoid” a collision with the terrain.

The suit says the producers “breached their duty” when they entrusted the helicopter to Gibbs and Crossbow Helicopters, adding the “defendants negligently failed to ensure that David G. Gibbs was competent, qualified and sufficiently informed for the flight.”


Walt Disney's Leadership Pulls out of Bangladesh and Other Countries

It’s been two weeks since Cambodian workers at a shoe factory south of Phnom Penh died after a ceiling cave-in. In the grim game of counting casualties, it was not the kind of massive disaster that befell Bangladesh in late April when a structure housing five garment factories collapsed, killing 1,127 people.

Yet the Cambodian tragedy had an awful resonance of its own if only as a reminder that such disasters in the developing world occur with predictable regularity – and that corporations will never escape the necessity to define how or if they can do anything about it.

So far we’ve seen a variety of responses. The Walt Disney Company resolutely announced its decision to pull out of certain countries altogether, including Bangladesh, until local standards improve. Others are weighing their options, which include remaining in problematic areas but actively engaged in efforts to ensure that local suppliers improve worker safety.

Ee need only consider what The Walt Disney Company has just accomplished.

Disney’s decision to cut production in five countries – Ecuador, Venezuela, Belarus, and Pakistan as well as Bangladesh – was well-covered in the media, a not insignificant public relations coup despite reminders that, since less than 1% of the factories used by Disney contractors are in Bangladesh, the corporate sacrifice, at least on that turf, may not have been particularly painful. According to reports, companies like The Gap and Children’s Place, presumably with more at stake in Bangladesh, were still mulling what to do.

Meanwhile, Disney seems to have taken a textbook communications approach. The company announced its decision two days after dozens of other companies, including Walmart, Carrefour, and Li & Fung, met with German government officials and NGOs to advance a plan ensuring safety at garment factories in Bangladesh. Intentional or not, Disney’s timing dramatically underscored its leadership.

Disney also aggressively directed its whole supply line to cut production in the five countries and nimbly let the world know it had so directed. Disney also provided a credible basis for its selection of which countries to disallow, advising that a World Bank report had guided its decision. To complete the balancing act, Disney told licensees that its decision not to disengage until April 2014 provided a transitional period that “mitigates the impact to affected workers and business.”

At the same time, Disney is also opting to pursue the alternative strategy of staying engaged in certain other countries ranked low in the World Bank report, including Cambodia and Haiti where Disney will do business but only with factories that participate in the Better Work program co-sponsored by the International Labour Organization and the International Finance Corporation. Should countries like Pakistan also participate in that program, they could be reinstated on the approved list. In 101 other countries, Disney will allow licensees to do business only if independent monitors approve the factories.

It is a balancing act indeed, but with real teeth and the potential to do some good. Disney did not draw up this battle plan overnight. It was obviously the product of much consideration inspired by a long series of tragedies around the world. Right now, companies like Walmart are proposing their own alternatives to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Reactions have been mixed.

They may want to look a little harder not only at what Disney did, but how that company sold its strategy to diverse stakeholders throughout the marketplace.


Without Permission, School Scans Students Iris' in Florida Parents Outraged

Parents in Polk County, Florida are outraged after learning that students in area schools had their irises scanned as part of a new security program without obtaining proper permission.

Students at three facilities — an elementary school, a grade school and a high school — had their eyeballs scanned earlier this month as part of a ‘student safety’ pilot program being carried out by Stanley Convergent Security Solutions.

“It simply takes a picture of the iris, which is unique to every individual,” Rob Davis, the school board’s senior director of support services, wrote home to parents in a letter dated May 23. “With this program, we will be able to identify when and where a student gets on the bus, when they arrive at their school location, when and what bus the student boards and disembarks in the afternoon. This is an effort to further enhance the safety of our students.The EyeSwipe-Nano is an ideal replacement for the card based system since your child will not have to be responsible for carrying an identification card,” he added.

Parents at Daniel Jenkins Academy, Bephune Academy and the Davenport School of the Arts received the letter from the school board on May 24 informing them of the EyeSwipe-Nano program and that their child’s principal should be notified if they don’t want their son or daughter to participate.

But elsewhere in the letter, the board explained that the program would begin last Monday, May 20. By the time the letter was received on Friday, iris scans had already been completed at the three area schools without a single student opting out, Angel Clark wrote for The Examiner this week.

Because Memorial Day landed on May 27, parents were unable to receive confirmation from the school until this Tuesday, nearly one week after the scans began.

In the letter, Davis described the scanning as a safe and noninvasive way of collecting students’ biometric data as a way of ensuring the safety of pupils in the Polk County school district. Parents are appalled that they weren’t informed of the program ahead of time, though, and are calling it an invasion of privacy.

“It seems like they are mostly focused on this program, like the program was the problem. It's not, it's the invasion of my family's Constitutional right to privacy that is the problem, as well as the school allowing a private company access to my child without my consent or permission,” one concerned parent wrote in a Facebook post that has since been shared hundreds of times. “This is stolen information, and we cannot retrieve it.”

When the parent reached the school on Tuesday, she was told that the program was suspended.

Reporter Michelle Malkin caught up with Davis on Wednesday and he apologized for the board’s actions and confirmed that the data had been destroyed.

“Davis told me that ‘it is a mistake on our part’ that a notification letter to parents did not go out on May 17,” she wrote. “He blamed a secretary who had a ‘medical emergency.’”

Polks planned to install EyeSwipe-Nano units on 17 local school busses starting next year. The scandal comes just months after a high school student in Texas was suspended for refusing to wear an identification card to class.


Comedian "Yoo Se Yoon" Turns Himself In for DUI but Stopped for Ramen First!

Yesterday, Korean Comedian Yoo Se Yoon turned himself in to Ilsan Police Station for drunk driving.

We're calling this one a "DUIR" - "Driving Under the Inflence of Ramen"

To this somewhat weird news, people have been interested in why Yoo Se Yoon turned himself in. Was it really because he felt guilty like he said?

It turns out that after drunk driving more than 30 km from Gangnam to Ilsan, Yoo Se Yoon stopped by a ramen restaurant in Ilsan right before turning himself in to the police.

A witness who saw Yoo Se Yoon at 4 a.m that night said: “I saw Yoo Se Yoon around 4 a.m on the 29th. He was eating ramen noodles by himself at the table right next to me. I was excited to see a celebrity. When I heard the news about his drunk driving and turning himself to the police, I was so shocked.”

I guess Yoo Se Yoon was very hungry, so he wanted to have a bite of ramen before seeing the police. Many South Korean netizens question if the reason behind all this is because Yoo Se Yoon wanted a break.

                     What ever the reason was, it was a good honest move! Bravo to "Yoo Se Yoon"!


Sued Over 'Pirates of the Caribbean' Copyright Infringement Franchise

The company has been hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit by a man who claims that he came up with numerous elements of the hugely successful "Pirates" film series, including characters, supernatural elements, storylines, plots, themes, sequence structures and screenplay elements, according to court documents obtained by TheWrap.

In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Florida on Tuesday, Florida resident Royce Mathew claims that Disney infringed on a story that Mathew had written, and fraudulently procured a settlement from him when a previous lawsuit was filed.

In addition to the Walt Disney Co. and Walt Disney Pictures, the suit lists numerous other defendants, including "Pirates of the Caribbean" producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Mathew alleges that he created numerous supernatural stories in the late '80s and early '90s, including a "Supernatural Pirate Story," along with a related Supernatural Pirate Movie.

Mathew claims that he provided Disney with copies of his creations over a period from 1991 to 1995, both through direct meetings and the Creative Artists Agency and William Morris Agency, but Disney subsequently credited "Pirates of the Caribbean" writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio with the creation of those works.

Though Mathew doesn't list specific damages in the suit, the complaint claims that Mathew "is entitled, inter alia, to the billions of dollars that Disney has generated, or allowed others to generate, from the defendants' unauthorized use and exploitation" of Mathew's works.

Disney has not yet responded to TheWrap's request for comment.

Mathew claims that he initiated a copyright infringement action against Disney in 2006, but that the defendants "fraudulently procured" a settlement, prompting him to execute a release agreement in mid-2007.

Mathew is seeking a rescission of the earlier release agreement. However, his suit argues, even if a rescission isn't granted, he's still entitled to enforce his copyright claims after mid-2007. (The "Pirates" movie franchise is still very much a going concern; as reported by TheWrap on Wednesday, Disney has tapped "Kon-Tiki" directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg to helm the fifth installment of the series.)


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Explosive Chemicals Often Kept Secret Near School Children, Elderly and the Sick, Exist Nationwide

Fears of terrorism have made it harder than ever for citizens to find out what dangerous chemicals lurk in their backyards, The Associated Press has found. Secrecy and shoddy record-keeping have kept the public and emergency workers in the dark about stockpiles of explosive material.

A monthlong reporting effort by the AP, drawing upon public records in 28 states, found more than 120 facilities within a potentially devastating blast zone of schoolchildren, the elderly and the sick. But how many others exist nationwide is a mystery, as other states refused to provide data.

People living near these facilities who want to know what hazardous materials they store would also have to request the information from state environmental agencies or emergency management offices. County emergency management officials would also have it. The federal government does not have a central database, and while the Homeland Security Department has a list of ammonium nitrate facilities, it does not share it because of security concerns.

Until the local fertilizer company in West, Texas, blew up last month and demolished scores of homes, many in that town didn't know what chemicals were stored alongside the railroad tracks or how dangerous they were. Even some of the rescue workers didn't know what they were up against

"We never thought of an explosive potential," said Dr. George Smith, the EMS director who responded to the factory fire by running to a nearby nursing home to prepare for a possible chemical spill.

Around the country, hundreds of buildings like the one in West store some type of ammonium nitrate. They sit in quiet fields and by riverside docks, in business districts and around the corner from schools, hospitals and day care centers.

At least 60 facilities reported to state regulators as having about as much or more ammonium nitrate than the 540,000 pounds West Fertilizer Co. said it had at some point last year. The AP contacted 20 of the facilities individually to confirm the information, and three companies disputed the records. Some of the facilities stored the chemical in solid form, which is among the most dangerous.

Exactly how many other facilities exist nationwide is a mystery.

Ammonium nitrate is an important industrial fertilizer and mining explosive that, stored correctly, is stable and safe. But industrial history is dotted with dozens of deadly accidents involving the chemical.

Before Texas, the most recent incident occurred at a fertilizer factory in Toulouse, France, in 2001. An explosion killed 31, prompting France to pass a law requiring tougher regulations on the chemical.

Texas investigators still don't know what caused the fire that triggered the West explosion, but the devastation was a reminder of the chemical's power. Anti-government terrorist Timothy McVeigh used a truckload of ammonium nitrate to destroy the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Because of that explosive potential, if a fire were to break out at an ammonium nitrate company, everyone within a quarter- to a half-mile radius could be at risk, according to scientific papers. Debris from the Texas explosion landed more than two miles away.

In the states that provided verifiable data, the AP's analysis found more than 600,000 people who live within a quarter-mile of a facility, a potential blast zone if as little as 190 tons of ammonium nitrate is detonated. More send their children to school or have family in hospitals in those blast zones.

More often than not, census data show, the danger zones are middle-class or poor neighborhoods.

In the western Michigan farming town of Shelby, the Rev. Ruth D. Fitzgerald said she walks by the local branch of the Helena Chemical Co. every day. Her church is just around the corner.

The building doesn't look like a factory, she said, so she never thought about what was there. State records show that the company, which sells fertilizer to large farms, orchards and golf courses, reported storing as much as 1 million pounds of ammonium nitrate on any given day last year.

"I don't have any understanding of this at all," Fitzgerald said.

Recently, an abandoned house caught fire a half a block away from the chemical company, said Tim Horton, a real estate agent who sits on the local hospital board and the Shelby Area Chamber of Commerce.

Horton also didn't know how much ammonium nitrate was there: "I would say people don't know and don't care."

"Ignorance is bliss," he said.

And that's in a state where officials make the information available.

More than a half-dozen others, including Ohio, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho and South Carolina, refused to provide such information to the AP, citing the risk of terrorist attacks and their interpretations of federal law. Others, such as West Virginia, said the AP had to review paper records in person or request records one by one.

The result is a peculiarity of the post-9/11 age: Statistically, Americans are more likely to be hurt from chemical or industrial accidents like the one in Texas than from terrorist attacks like the one in Boston. Yet information intended to keep people safe is concealed in the name of keeping people safe.

Since the 1980s, states have been required under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act to tell people where dangerous chemicals are stored and how much is nearby in Tier II chemical inventory reports.

That law followed a chemical leak in Bhopal, India, that killed more than 1,700 people and another in West Virginia that led to an evacuation. Ammonium nitrate has been responsible for some of the largest industrial disasters in history. In fact, what remains the worst industrial accident in the nation's history was an ammonium nitrate-triggered explosion in 1947 that killed more than 570 people in Texas City, Texas, and injured about 5,000.

But times have changed. Fears of chemical spills have given way to fears of terrorism.

In Hawaii, for example, officials said people must prove a "need to know" before they can obtain information. Though the state did not respond to a request for an explanation, the policy echoed others that cited a 2007 federal law intended to protect chemical plants from terrorist attacks. But the need-to-know requirement does not apply to the data submitted for Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know, said Bob Stephan, a former Homeland Security Department assistant secretary who was in charge of the U.S. government's chemical facility anti-terrorism program from 2007-09.

"They are giving you incorrect information or incorrect rationale for not providing the data," Stephan said.

Under Hawaii's interpretation of the law, people who want information about specific chemical facilities near their homes are qualified to see it. But that presupposes they already know enough to ask. Clarence Martin of the state's Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response Office said people deserve to know what's in their neighborhoods.

But, he added, "I'm not going to let you tell them."

Even when the information is available, though, it's not always accurate. Years of lax oversight and scant enforcement have resulted in shoddy records. Hundreds of companies listed approximate or inaccurate amounts of dangerous chemicals, not just ammonium nitrate.

For instance, data from Louisiana said a Jimmy Sanders Inc. facility stored nearly 50 million pounds of ammonium nitrate. But the company said it never had any at all.

Others misidentified their locations. One plant in Tucson, Ariz., listed an ambiguous address ("end of cement plant road") and a geographic coordinate so off base that the Environmental Protection Agency's reporting software flagged the facility as being in a different county.

Arkansas reported that the Polk County Farmers Association stored 50,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate in the rural town of Mena. But the store's manager, Paul Stanley, said it had been moved to a facility about three miles outside of town years ago.

"I'm happy that it's not in town," he said, "because people don't understand it and they jump to conclusions."

Wisconsin documents showed that the C. Reiss Coal Co.'s facility had stored tons of ammonium nitrate in a facility in Sheboygan last year. But people would be hard pressed to use that information when deciding where to buy a home or send their kids to school. That's because state officials say the facility is inactive and should not have been on the list.

The fertilizer building that exploded in West had been there since 1962. As the years passed, a nursing home, school and apartment buildings sprung up nearby. Townspeople thought little of the facility; it was as common a sight in the farming community as a tractor driving down the road.

The company filed the required reports listing the hazardous chemicals on site. There's no indication that the documents were incorrect. But the county's emergency planners had not read them.

The Monroe County Co-Op in Aberdeen, Miss., stored as much as 1 million pounds last year, according to state records. But David Hodges, the store manager, said he had about half that on site and has sold it for about 50 years without a problem.

"I've been here, oh, 34, 35 years, and it's always been there," said Larry Middleton, a retired English teacher who lives up the street and visits to buy weed remover and snake repellent.

Horton said the same about the building in Shelby. Many townspeople have lived there all their lives, he said, and the fertilizer has been there, too. Though he didn't think most people knew the explosive potential, he said he feared that public knowledge of the building's contents would attract terrorists.

"I can't predict when an accident is going to happen. It just happens," he said. "Terrorists are actively seeking ways to harm us."

Behavioral scientists call this "probability neglect": People are far more likely to overreact to emotional, extremely unlikely events such as terrorism than to address potential problems that are far more likely to occur.

What's more, people are more afraid of risks brought on by outsiders, like terrorists, than threats closer to home. In experiments, people were more outraged by the thought of being exposed to radiation from nuclear waste than from radon in their own basements — even when they were told the danger was the same and the likelihood of radon exposure was much higher.

"It's been here all this time," Middleton said, "and nothing has happened."
Do you live near a Plant that uses Chemical?


Leading Form of Crime - Identify theft Growing at a Rapid Rate and Expected to Surpass Traditional Theft

Your credit-card data is out there. And criminals are buying and selling it in bulk.

Credit-card data theft is exploding, increasing 50% from 2005 to 2010, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Millions of card numbers are for sale. A single number might go for $10 to $50; a no-limit American Express card number for a consumer with good credit can sell for hundreds of dollars, said Monica Hamilton, marketing director at cybersecurity firm McAfee Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif.

As a result, identity theft has become big business. The number of malicious programs written to steal your information has grown exponentially to an estimated 130 million from about 1 million in 2007, Hamilton said.

The most successful identity thieves have learned that it's more lucrative to hack into businesses, where they can steal card numbers by the thousands or even millions.

Losses suffered by the businesses they hack can be staggering — an estimated $150 to $250 for each card number stolen. Those costs come in the form of legal settlements, fees for consultants hired to remove malware, and personnel hours spent notifying customers. The costs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher retail prices and credit-card fees.

Identify theft, defined as the successful or attempted misuse of credit-card, bank-account or other personal information to commit fraud, is expected to surpass traditional theft as the leading form of property crime. Security analysts say everyone should prepare to become a victim at some point.

Other types of identity theft, including the filing of fraudulent tax returns, also are growing fast.

Yet identity theft often goes unreported, and the crimes that are reported are rarely investigated.

Most merchants are content to clean up the damage from an attack, rather than pay for better preventive measures, said Mark Rasch, a cybersecurity specialist and a former federal cybercrime prosecutor in Bethesda, Md.

That approach isn't likely to change unless consumers pressure businesses they patronize to get serious about security.

Financial institutions have become savvy about spotting potentially fraudulent activity and quashing questionable transactions. Thus far, banks have made identity theft relatively painless for consumers by covering their immediate losses. But some analysts wonder whether that approach will be sustainable as the problem grows.

Most local law enforcement lacks the personnel and expertise to investigate smaller identity crimes, and the FBI is only interested in massive cases involving hundreds of victims or more, Rasch said.

"Police don't want to be bothered," he said. "It's a difficult crime to investigate, and the feeling is, 'Oh, we're never going to catch these guys.' "

According to Phoenix police, it is often impossible to locate the perpetrators of identity-related crimes, which makes them among the most difficult cases to solve.

Unhappy returns

Kellie Droste got surprising news from her accountant last month.

An identity thief had stolen the Maricopa, Ariz., resident's personal information and filed a tax return in her name to claim her refund.

"He (her accountant) couldn't file our joint tax return, because someone had already filed a tax return under my Social Security number," Droste said.

Droste reported the fraud and was told it would take at least six months to sort out the matter. Meanwhile, she would have to wait to receive her $2,700 tax refund.

Droste is among thousands of taxpayers victimized by a fast-growing form of identity theft in which stolen personal information is used to file fraudulent tax returns. And although fraudulent tax returns are popular with criminals right now, they represent the tip of the iceberg.

Identity theft is especially prevalent in Arizona, which had more victims per capita than any other state in 2010, with about 149 victims for every 100,000 residents. California, Florida, Texas and Nevada also were leading states for identity theft, according to Federal Trade Commission data.

Victims suffer

Most victims suffer little more than the inconvenience of having to replace their credit and debit cards.

But when a stolen identity is used to apply for additional lines of credit, the victim can spend years trying to resolve bad debt run up by thieves in their names. Some struggle to borrow money because of the damage to their credit scores. Others have been forced to file bankruptcy and lose their homes.

It's not uncommon for victims to suffer multiple forms of identity theft, as was the case with Droste. A customer-service representative from Discover called in August to inform Droste, a speech therapist, that her recent credit-card application was incomplete.

"I hadn't applied for a Discover card," she said.

The identity thief somehow had managed to get her Social Security number, full name and date of birth, Droste was told.

Droste said she spent dozens of hours on the phone trying to stop the fraudulent applications. She filed a police report and even had an excellent lead for investigators to pursue: an address which had been used on some of the applications.

It didn't seem to matter, Droste said. She was told there was little the police could do.

When asked for comment on the challenges of investigating identity theft, Phoenix police deferred to the department's online identity-theft victim packet.

"In identity theft cases it is difficult to identify the suspect(s) as they often use inaccurate information such as addresses and phone numbers," it states. "Frequently the investigator cannot find evidence to prove who actually used the victim's name and/or personal information over the phone or Internet."

A 2012 study, by the Washington, D.C.-based Identity Theft Assistance Center, found that child identity theft is even more difficult to detect and resolve than adult identity theft.

One problem is children often don't find out until years later that their identities were stolen and their credit histories damaged.

Another disturbing aspect of child identity theft is the prevalence of "friendly fraud," in which a family friend or relative — often the child's own parents — steals the child's identity, using the child's pristine credit history to open credit-card accounts and take out mortgages and loans.

According to the study, more than 70% of reported child identity fraud is friendly fraud.

Challenge for retailers

Individuals can have their identity stolen in a number of ways, including while swiping credit or debit cards at the cash registers of trustworthy retailers.

Identity thieves use computer programs to infiltrate retail systems and begin siphoning off bank-card numbers when purchases are made.

Point-of-sale system hacking is a serious and growing problem, according to business-security expert Kim Singletary.

Singletary, director of technical solution marketing at McAfee, said the security-software company has discovered about 130 million unique malware programs from across the Internet, up from just 1 million in 2007.

Many of the programs are designed to infiltrate point-of-sale systems and steal customer data that can be sold or used to make fraudulent purchases, Singletary said.

The fact is, no retailer can protect customer data with 100% certainty because every store, from huge chains to small mom-and-pops, relies on computer systems that are inherently vulnerable, she said.

"Software is fallible, and software can be compromised," Singletary said.

Little enforcement

Merchants, who usually incur the greatest losses from identity theft, often don't pursue an investigation because it's expensive, and the chances of solving the crime are slim, former federal prosecutor Rasch said.

As a result, identity thieves usually get away with their crimes, Rasch said.

"They get to do this with impunity," he said.

The upshot is that it's easier and safer for an identity thief to steal $100,000 worth of credit-card numbers than it would be to shoplift an inexpensive item from the store, Rasch said.

Rasch said he worries about the cumulative effect of that lack of enforcement.

"These crimes are going to become more numerous, and they're going to become more sophisticated," he said.

What thieves want

According to Phoenix-based cybersecurity expert Mark Pribish, identity thieves look for specific pieces of information:

• User names, passwords and PIN numbers.

• Social Security numbers.

• Phone and utility account numbers.

• Bank and credit account numbers.

• Employment and student identification numbers.

• Driver's license and passport numbers.

• Professional license numbers.

• Insurance identification numbers.

• College or university financial-aid form information.


Takedown Largest International Money Laundering Prosecution in History

The Manhattan U.S. attorney and representatives from several law enforcement agencies announced Tuesday an indictment charging Liberty Reserve, one of the world’s largest digital currency companies, and seven of its principals and employees with money laundering and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. The charges stem from an investigation by the Global Illicit Financial Team which consists of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Secret Service and the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Criminal Investigations Division.

Law enforcement officials arrested five defendants Friday.
Arthur Budovsky, 39, the principal and founder of Liberty Reserve, and Azzeddine El Amine, 46, a manager of Liberty Reserve’s financial account, were both arrested in Spain. Vladimir Kats, 41, the cofounder of Liberty Reserve, was arrested in Brooklyn. Mark Marmilev, 33, and Maxim Chukharev, 27, both who helped design and maintain Liberty Reserve’s technological infrastructure, were arrested in Brooklyn and Costa Rica, respectively.

The defendants are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison, one count of conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business, which carries a maximum term of five years in prison, and operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business, which carries a maximum term of five years in prison.

Two other defendants, Ahmed Yassine Abdelghani ("Yassine") and Allan Esteban Hidalgo Jimenez ("Hidalgo") are at large in Costa Rica.

The defendants are accused of structuring Liberty Reserve as a criminal bank-payment processor, designed to help users conduct transactions anonymously and launder the proceeds of their crimes. Liberty Reserve is alleged to have had more than one million users worldwide, including more than 200,000 users in the United States, who conducted approximately 55 million transactions – virtually all of which were illegal. Law enforcement officials believe that more than $6 billion in suspected criminal proceeds have been laundered via Liberty Reserve because it provided an infrastructure that enabled cyber criminals around the world to conduct anonymous and untraceable financial transactions.

The defendants also protected the criminal infrastructure of Liberty Reserve by, among other things, lying to anti-money laundering authorities in Costa Rica and pretending to shut down the company after learning it was being investigated by U.S. law enforcement. They continued operating the business through a set of shell companies, moving millions of dollars through shell company accounts maintained in Cyprus, Russia, China, Hong Kong, Morocco, Spain, Australia and elsewhere.

In addition to the criminal charges brought in the indictment, law enforcement seized the Liberty Reserve domain name and the domain names of four exchanger websites that were controlled by one or more of the defendants. They also restrained or seized 45 bank accounts. Prosecutors filed a civil action against 35 exchanger websites seeking the forfeiture of the exchangers’ domain names because the websites were used to facilitate the Liberty Reserve money laundering conspiracy and constitute property involved in money laundering.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network also named Liberty Reserve as a financial institution of primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the Patriot Act.

"The actions of the U.S. Secret Service, IRS and HSI in dismantling the Liberty Reserve operation are critical because transnational criminal organizations can succeed only so long as they can funnel their illicit proceeds freely and without detection," said HSI New York Special Agent in Charge James T. Hayes Jr. "HSI is proud of its partnership through the Global Illicit Financial Team and will continue to aggressively target financial institutions that deliberately enable businesses and individuals to evade global financial systems in furtherance of criminal schemes."

The investigation and takedown involved law enforcement action in 17 countries, including: Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Spain, Morocco, Sweden, Switzerland, Cyprus, Australia, China, Norway, Latvia, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Russia, Canada and the United States.

Several international law enforcement agencies also participated in the investigation, including: the Judicial Investigation Organization in Costa Rica, the National High Tech Crime Unit in the Netherlands, the Spanish National Police, the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation’s Financial and Economic Crime Unit and Cyber Crime Unit, and the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office.


Thousands Busted in Identity Theft Cases

Chinese Police have busted 4,382 cases of personal information theft, involving 5 billion pieces of stolen information, People's Daily reported Thursday.

More than 4,000 suspects have been arrested in three national crackdowns launched in 2012 and 2013, and at least 1,200 gangs selling and buying personal information illegally have been destroyed.

More than 200 suspects have been punished for providing, selling and obtaining personal information illegally, and the rest face punishment.

On the Rise in the USA as well.




Federal Lawsuit Against IRS Abuse from 25 Tea Party Groups

The American Center for Law and Justice today filed a significant lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of 25 Tea Party and conservative organizations against the U.S. Attorney General, Treasury Secretary, and Internal Revenue Service - including top IRS officials.

"The IRS and the federal government are not going to get away with this unlawful targeting of conservative groups," said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ. "As this unconstitutional scheme continues even today, the only way to stop this flagrant and arrogant abuse of our clients' rights is to file a federal lawsuit, which we have done. The lawsuit sends a very powerful message to the IRS and the Obama Administration – including the White House: Americans are not going to be bullied and intimidated by our government. They will not be subjected to unconstitutional treatment and unlawfully singled out and punished because of their ideological beliefs. Those responsible for this unprecedented intimidation ploy must be held accountable."

The lawsuit, posted here, urges the court to find that the Obama Administration overstepped its authority and violated the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act, as well as the IRS's own rules and regulations. The lawsuit requests a declaratory judgment that the Defendants unlawfully delayed and obstructed the organizations' applications for a determination of tax-exempt status by means of conduct that was based on unconstitutional criteria and impermissibly disparate treatment of the groups. The suit also seeks injunctive relief to protect our clients – and their officers and directors – from further IRS abuse or retaliation. Further, the lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive monetary damages to be determined at trial at a later date.

In the lawsuit, the ACLJ cites six counts arguing the federal government violated the Constitution, federal law, and even its own rules and regulations.

The suit contends that the Obama Administration "unlawfully delayed and thereby effectively denied approval of Plaintiffs' applications for tax exempt status by means of a comprehensive, pervasive, invidious and organized scheme that purposefully established unnecessary and burdensome inquiries and scrutiny of Plaintiffs' applications based solely upon Plaintiffs' political viewpoints (or Defendants' assumption of Plaintiffs' viewpoints, based on their organizational names)."

Further, the complaint asserts that the federal government's "unlawful conduct included but was not limited to excessive scrutiny of Plaintiffs' applications by requiring donor names, listing of issues important to Plaintiffs' organizations, including their positions on such issues, the contents of communications between the organizations and legislative bodies, the applicants' criteria for membership, volunteer names and the political affiliations of persons associated with the organizations . . ."

The ACLJ represents a total of 25 organizations in the lawsuit, with additional groups likely to be added to the suit as it progresses. The names of the organizations represented are available here. Of the 25 groups, 13 organizations received tax-exempt status after lengthy delays, 10 are still pending, and two withdrew applications because of frustration with the IRS process.

The ACLJ lists as defendants in the case: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ; the Internal Revenue Service; Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew ; Steven Miller , former acting Commissioner of the IRS; Lois Lerner , Director of Exempt Organizations Division for the IRS; Holly Paz , Director, Office of Rulings and Agreements; and unknown named officials inside the IRS.

The IRS contends that the targeting scheme originated with a couple of rogue IRS agents out of the Cincinnati, Ohio office and contends the abusive conduct has been halted. However, the ACLJ has correspondence showing this tactic was used not only in the Cincinnati office, but also from two offices in California – El Monte and Laguna Niguel – as well as the national office in Washington, D.C. In fact, the Washington office sent a letter to one of our clients as recently as one month ago.

Furthermore, the ACLJ has letters signed by Lois Lerner, Director of Exempt Organizations, suggesting her personal involvement in sending invasive questionnaires to 15 of our clients in March 2012 - some nine months after she was told about the scheme and promised to stop it.

The ACLJ has heard from nearly 100,000 Americans calling on President Obama and members of Congress to end the IRS abuse.

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Unapproved Monsanto crop found growing in Oregon, USA

A genetically modified strain of wheat that was never approved by the United States Department of Agriculture as been discovered growing in Oregon, triggering a federal probe that is now spanning several states.

Investigators with the USDA want to know why the GMO crop, made by biotech company Monsanto but never approved for use, sprouted up in a field in the Pacific Northwest.

America’s wheat trade could be jeopardized if concerns grow among foreign consumers already weary of genetically engineered and modified organisms. Several countries across the European Union have banned the cultivation of GMO crops, and last weekend anti-Monsanto demonstrations were attended by millions of protesters on six continents.

The USDA has yet to approve any GMO strain of wheat to be grown in the US, but Monsanto field tested a genetically engineered variety from 1998 through 2005 before withdrawing their application from the agency’s regulatory approval process.

The wheat, resistant to Monsanto’s patented pesticide Roundup, is one of many GMO crops in the company’s line  of “Roundup Ready” products. After a farmer in Oregon noticed that wheat plants on his property were still growing despite dousing his field with the pesticide, he alerted Michael Firko, the deputy administrator of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday.

“We are taking this very seriously,” Firko said. “We have a very active investigation going on in several states in the western US.”

According to a 2003 article in the Billings, Montana Gazette, Monsanto pledged that its GMO wheat crop resistant to strong pesticides would not be introduced commercially until proven complete safe and approved in the US, Canada and Japan.

"We have to prove the safety of the gene, the food, the animal feed and the environment. That it is as safe as unmodified varieties and (nutritionally) is substantially equivalent to commercial varieties,” Monsanto’s then director of industry affairs, Michael Doane, told the Gazette at the time.

So far, the USDA has determined that the wheat crop in question was the same variety tested by Monsanto up until eight years ago. The US Food and Drug Administration found no safety concerns with the crop after completing a test in 2004, but Monsanto suspended plans to follow through with the product the following year without receiving the USDA’s stamp of approval.

Despite growing criticism from agriculturalists, environmentalists and consumers over potential health risks, Monsanto continues to attest that GMOs could change the world’s food landscape for the better.

“There is space in the supermarket shelf for all of us,” Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant told a reporter for Bloomberg earlier this month.

USDA Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Scuse confirmed to Agri-Pulse that state agriculture directors in Oregon, Washington and Idaho are now coordinating a multi-state investigation, and foreign trade representatives in Canada, Mexico and Asia have been contacted.

“Hopefully our trading partners will be very understanding,” Scuse said, emphasizing “this is not a food or feed issue.”

Takes on Puppy Mills and Pet Stores - Deborah Howard founder of Companion Animal Protection Society

Deborah Howard was on her way into an Atlanta mall in November 1989 when she passed by a pet shop displaying adorable puppies in the window.

After stepping inside for a closer look, she realized what she was seeing wasn't so adorable after all.

"There were sick puppies, dirty cages and one Labrador retriever had this cut on his leg that he was pressing against the wire of the cage," says Howard, 53, who now lives in Cohasset, Mass.

"I knew something had to be done," she says.

So, one year later she founded the Companion Animal Protection Society, which has helped rescue thousands of dogs from inhumane puppy mills, breeders and pet shops all over the nation.

She admits it's tough to see all these abused animals.

"When I started doing this, I used to cry," she says, "but I've learned to become a little detached. If not, I wouldn't be able to do my job."

Horrific Findings
She started out small, first enlisting the help of a kennel worker to go undercover at a Docktor Pet Center store in Atlanta.

"He'd get there at 6 in the morning and find puppies dead in the freezer," she says.

Once they gathered the gruesome footage, Howard contacted producers at 20/20, and in 1990 an investigative report aired, exposing the horrors of animal cruelty.

"Docktor Pet Centers went bankrupt in February of 1993," she says, "due to our protesting and all of the publicity."

Howard's group also partners with rescue groups and humane societies to help find homes for the neglected dogs.

Clare Smith, 71, adopted Marina, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, from the Paws and Claws Humane Society in Rochester, Minn., in 1999 after Howard's group rescued her from a local pet store.

Her "knees and shallow hip sockets were causing her walking problems," Smith says. "She was confined to a cage and reportedly could only walk on three legs."

Two knee surgeries and 14 years later, Marina is still alive – and flourishing.

"We are blessed to have Marina," says Smith, of Rochester, Minn. "We need many Deborahs to stop these money-mongers who abuse these innocent ones."

Howard knows this joy firsthand.

Among her own five rescue pets is Beatrice, a 1-year-old basset hound who had pneumonia and glaucoma and was rescued from a South Dakota pet store in 2003.

"She looked so pathetic," says Howard, who once owned her own public relations agency but now works with CAPS full time. "She just nudged a place in my heart," says Howard.

Beatrice is one of the stars of the new CAPS campaign "Models Against Pet Shops and Puppy Mills," which pairs fashion models and rescue dogs to raise awareness about the dangers of buying pets online.

"Most are coming from puppy mills," says Howard.

For model and rescue dog owner Kylie Wertz Jennings, it's a message she's happy to spread.

"Deborah's work has informed me," she says, "and I just wanted to help shed light in some way."

Though the job can be emotionally draining at times, Howard says it's all worth it.

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