May 23, 2013

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — There were no bidders and no locksmiths willing to force entry for a scheduled auction Tuesday to sell artworks and other belongings of Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife.

The bid to force Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to pay an old debt for school fees for her grand-niece failed.

Court sheriff John Maluleke and two other officials joined reporters gathered outside her gated home but were denied entry despite repeated ringing of the bell and banging on the metal gate.

Lawyer Stephen Karnavos of Alan Levy Attorneys, who listed the auction, said the former first lady owes nearly R46,000 ($5,000), which includes the unpaid fees as well as interest, legal costs and sheriff’s fees. A check for the equivalent of $1,700 was paid to the law firm Monday but is yet to clear, Karnavos said in a statement. Madikizela-Mandela earns R900,000 (more than $95,000) a year as a member of South Africa’s Parliament.

An assistant who answered the telephone at her office said Madikizela-Mandela would not be commenting on the auction or any money problems.

While reporters camped outside the main gate of her home, a black car sped out of the compound, exiting through a second gate. That car later returned with two unidentified women who did not comment to the press. Madikizela-Mandela was not in the car and it was not known if she was at her house in Soweto, near the Johannesburg home that she shared with Mandela when he first was released from prison in 1994.

No bidders showed up for the auction, which listed some paintings and sculptures, furniture and a 24-piece silver tea set.

Madikizela-Mandela is adored by many for her leading role in the anti-apartheid struggle and abhorred by others for various run-ins with the law, including allegedly ordering the kidnapping deaths of several young men in the 1980s when she was aggressively militant. In 1991, a court found her guilty in the kidnapping and assault of one youth who died of his injuries, and sentenced her to six years’ jail. She appealed both the conviction and sentence, was found guilty of being an accessory in the assault and got the sentence reduced to a fine and a suspended prison term.

Karnavos confirmed the auction was called off. The auction was cancelled because officials could not find a locksmith willing to force entry into Madikizela-Mandela’s home, a sheriff's official told The Associated Press.

Mandela and Madikizela-Mandela married in 1958 but were separated by his 27-year imprisonment by the racist white minority government. They were reunited when he was freed in 1994 but the marriage did not survive and they divorced in 1997, while he was South Africa’s first black president.

Madikizela-Mandela remains prominent, sometimes feared, in her community. She is known to travel with bodyguards, who have been accused of several assaults and murders in the past.

Repeated calls to the sheriff’s office to determine if a new auction date will be scheduled went unanswered.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

May 23, 2013

(AP) — A man was charged Monday with a $565,000 bank robbery in which his girlfriend — an assistant bank manager — was forced to strap on a fake bomb so she would seem to be a hostage and could take the money.

The woman said she was abducted in September from her home and forced to put on what she believed was a real bomb. Her abductors told her if she didn't help steal the money the bomb would explode, according to the indictment.

She went to her Bank of America Corp. branch in Huntington Park, got an employee to help her take the money from a vault and left it outside, where the robbers picked it up and fled, authorities said. The money has not been recovered.

According to the indictment, Reyes “Ray” Vega, 34, used two cars registered to his father for the robbery. He and two other men were charged with bank robbery, conspiracy to commit bank robbery, and aiding and abetting each other by force, violence and intimidation.

The woman, identified only as “A.B.,” was not charged. It’s unclear whether she had any knowledge of the plot, and federal officials declined to provide details beyond the indictment, citing an ongoing investigation.

Vega appeared in federal court in Atlanta on Monday and will be returned to Los Angeles.

The two other defendants, Richard Menchaca, 36, and Bryan Perez, 27, pleaded not guilty in federal court in Los Angeles, according to their attorneys. Perez was released on a $40,000 bond with electronic monitoring and travel restrictions, said his attorney, Jerome Haig.

The indictment alleges that Menchaca picked up the cash placed outside the bank’s side door and gave it to Perez, who authorities say met Vega at a motel later that day to split the cash.

If convicted, the men face a maximum of 25 years in prison, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Rhoades.

More people are believed to have knowledge of the robbery and the whereabouts of the stolen cash, Rhoades said.

Bank of America offered a $10,000 reward Monday for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

May 23, 2013

Associated Press

 

President Barack Obama pledged urgent government help for Oklahoma Tuesday May 21 in the wake of “one of the most destructive” storms in the nation's history.

“In an instant, neighborhoods were destroyed, dozens of people lost their lives, many more were injured,” Obama said from the White House State Dining Room. “Among the victims were young children trying to take shelter in the safest place they knew — their school.”

The president added that the town of Moore, Okla., “needs to get everything it needs right away.”

The White House said it had no announcement yet of a presidential trip to Oklahoma, only that Obama wants to make sure any travel he makes to the disaster area doesn’t interfere with recovery efforts. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would travel to the state Wednesday to make sure state officials are getting the federal assistance they need.

Obama spoke on the disaster following a meeting with his disaster response team, including Napoli­tano and top White House officials. On Monday, he spoke with Okla­homa Gov. Mary Fallin and Republican Rep. Tom Cole, whose home is in the heavily damaged town of Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City.

The president has also declared a major disaster in Oklahoma, ­ordering federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig Fugate was due in Oklahoma later Tuesday to ensure that federal resources are being properly deployed.

Carney said FEMA has enough funds at this time to pay for recovery efforts, but did not rule out an additional request for money from Congress in the future.

The state medical examiner’s office has revised the death toll from the tornado to 24 people, including seven children. Authorities had said initially that as many as 51 people were dead, including 20 children.

Teams are continuing to search the rubble in Moore, 10 miles south of Oklahoma City, after the Monday afternoon’s more than half-mile-wide twister.

The Senate, meanwhile, held a moment of silence Tuesday for the victims of the tornadoes.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

May 23, 2013

By Martin Griffith

Associated Press

 

Two men have been arrested in the killing of a teenage boy over an iPad in Las Vegas, police said on May 19.

Jacob Dismont, 18, and Michael Solid, 21, were booked last Saturday into the Clark County jail on charges of open murder, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.

According to investigators, Marcos Arenas, 15, was walking down a street with the iPad on Thursday when a passenger got out of a vehicle and tried to steal the device from him.

Dismont is accused of trying to wrest the tablet away and dragging Arenas toward the SUV when the youth wouldn't let go of the device. After Dismont re-entered the vehicle and Solid sped away, the teen was dragged until he fell. The vehicle ran over Arenas and he died at a hospital.

“I think both the public and police department share the same sentiment that this was a senseless act of violence,” police spokesman Bill Cassell told The Associated Press.

The suspects succeeded in making off with the device, officers said, but it was not immediately recovered.

Ivan Arenas said he bought the iPad for his son less than two months ago. The family has never had a lot, the father said, and his son valued everything he had.

“For him to lose his life over an iPad, it’s just not fair,” Ivan Arenas told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Never in my life would I imagine that me buying my kid an iPad for his birthday would end up with him getting run over.”

Similar thefts of iPads, IPhones and other Apple devices have become so widespread nationwide that the crime has earned the nickname, “Apple picking,” Cassell said.

“This is a nationwide phenomenon where thieves are targeting individuals who are carrying them,” he said.

Police urge victims of such crimes to always let go of the devices.

According to investigators, Solid has an arrest record of possession of a stolen vehicle, petty larceny, robbery and assault. Dismont does not have any prior adult arrests.

Arenas family spokeswoman Tabitha Guertler said family members are relieved by the arrests and grateful for the quick response by police and the public.

“We are very, very relieved and grateful that these men have been apprehended and can’t hurt anyone else,” she said. “We’re traumatized. Marcos’ loss is something that will be with us forever. He was such an incredible person.”

The oldest of 10 children in the family, the teen was a student at Bonanza High School. The attack occurred in the late afternoon about a half-mile from the school.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

May 23, 2013

By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER and ALAN FRAM | Associated Press

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The man who led the Internal Revenue Service when it was giving extra scrutiny to tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status told Congress on Tuesday that he knew little about what was happening while he was still commissioner.

Douglas Shulman, who vacated his position last November when his five-year term expired, told the Senate Finance Committee he didn't learn all the facts until he read last week's report by a Treasury inspector general confirming the targeting strategy.

In his first public remarks since the story broke, Shulman said: "I agree this is an issue that when someone spotted it, they should have brought it up the chain. And they didn't. I don't know why."

Shulman testified at Congress' second hearing on an episode that has largely consumed Washington since an IRS official acknowledged the targeting and apologized for it in remarks to a legal group on May 10. Shulman and the two officials who testified at Tuesday's three-and-a-half hour session — the outgoing acting commissioner, Steven Miller, and J. Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general who issued the report — were all sworn in as witnesses, an unusual step for the Finance panel.

Shulman said he first learned about the targeting and about the inspector general's investigation in the spring of 2012, during the presidential election. He said that in a meeting with Miller, he was told that IRS workers were using a list to help decide which groups seeking tax-exempt status should get special attention, that the term "tea party" was on that list and that the problem was being addressed. But he said he didn't know what other words were on that list or the scope and severity of the activity.

Pressed by committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., on how the improper screening system could have occurred in the first place, Shulman said, "Mr. Chairman, I can't say. I can't say that I know that answer."

Shulman said he took what he thought were the proper steps — making sure the inspector general was looking into the situation. He said he did not tell Treasury officials about the improper activity.

"I don't recall talking to anyone about it," Shulman told the committee. "This is not the kind of information" that, with an inspector general's probe underway, "should leave the IRS."

Asked by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, whether he owed conservative groups an apology, Shulman said, "I'm certainly not personally responsible for creating a list that had inappropriate criteria on it."

That was a reference to a list of words IRS workers looked for in deciding which groups to screen, a list that included the terms including "tea party" and "patriot."

"I very much regret that it happened and that it happened on my watch," Shulman said.

The testimony by Shulman and Miller drew skepticism from lawmakers of both parties, including critical remarks from people who have been unhesitant to say anything negative about the IRS since its activities were revealed nearly two weeks ago. Republicans openly rejected George's assertion that he has no evidence that the decision to target conservative groups was politically motivated.

A lack of political motivation "is almost beyond belief," said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

George's report blamed ineffective management for allowing agents to inappropriately target conservative groups for more than 18 months during the 2010 and 2012 elections. Shulman was appointed by President George W. Bush and served from March 2008 until last November.

At a separate hearing, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the IRS's actions against conservative groups were "unacceptable and inexcusable."

Lew told the Senate Banking Committee that he has directed the agency's incoming acting director, Daniel Werfel, to hold people accountable and to fix any flaws in IRS management to make sure there is no recurrence of the problems.

Lew said he first learned about the inspector general's investigation in March but that he was unaware of the findings until they became public this month. Lew became Treasury secretary in February, and was White House chief of staff before that.

For more than a year, from 2011 through the 2012 election, members of Congress repeatedly asked Shulman about complaints from tea party groups that they were being harassed by the IRS. Shulman's responses, usually relayed by a deputy, did not acknowledge that agents had ever targeted tea party groups for special scrutiny.

At one House hearing on March 22, 2012, Shulman was adamant in his denials, saying, "There's absolutely no targeting."

On Tuesday, Republicans expressed anger that Shulman and Miller didn't reveal the screening of conservative groups to Congress, despite lawmakers' repeated inquiries. Miller learned of the situation in early May 2012.

"Mr. Miller, that's a lie by omission," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, top Republican on the Finance committee. "There's no question about that in my mind. It's a lie by omission and you kept it from people who have the obligation to oversee this matter."

President Barack Obama has forced Miller to resign, and he is leaving office this week.

Shulman said he didn't later tell lawmakers about the targeting because he didn't have full information about the situation.

"I had a partial set of facts," Shulman said. "Sitting there then, sitting here today, I think I made the right decision" to let George, the inspector general, conduct his audit of the targeting.

Shulman said that when he did finally read about the details of the targeting in the inspector general's report, "I was dismayed and I was saddened."

Hatch and Baucus both criticized the agency and said they would investigate how and why the improper screening occurred.

"I intend to get to the bottom of what happened," Baucus said.

George, the Treasury inspector general, has said he told Shulman on May 30, 2012, that his office was auditing the way applications for tax-exempt status were being handled, in part because of complaints from conservative groups. However, George said he did not reveal the results of his investigation.

The IRS agents were conducting the screening to determine whether the groups were engaged in political activity. Certain tax-exempt groups are allowed to engage in politics, but politics cannot be their primary mission. It is up to the IRS to make the determination, so agents are supposed to look for clues when reviewing applications for tax-exempt status.

In March 2010, agents starting singling out groups with "Tea Party" or "Patriots" on their applications. By August 2010, it was part of the written criteria for identifying groups that required more scrutiny, according to George's report.

Agents did not flag similar progressive or liberal labels, though some liberal groups received additional scrutiny because their applications were singled out for other reasons, the report said.

Meanwhile, a conservative organization that says its tax-exempt status is being unfairly held up by the IRS filed a federal lawsuit in Washington against the agency. True the Vote, a Houston group that watches for voting irregularities, is seeking damages and asking to immediately be granted tax-exempt status.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a campaign finance watchdog, also sued the IRS on Tuesday, seeking to force it to write new rules clarifying restrictions on political spending by some non-profit groups. The law says some groups qualify for tax-exempt status if they engage "exclusively" in social welfare projects, but IRS regulations allow the status if they are "primarily engaged" in social welfare — giving them leeway for some political activity as well.

Parent Category: ROOT
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