Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tymoshenko Appeal Dropped

by Peak Positions

Original article appeared in Reuters

A Ukrainian high court regjected an appearl by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko earlier this week. Tymoshenko is fighting against her conviction for abuse of office. The outcome will complicate already fragile relations with the West.

"The judges of the court have reached the conclusion that the appeal cannot be satisfied," said the judge after delivering an unexpectedly speedy ruling.

Western leaders condemned the seven-year prison term handed to the 51-year-old opposition leader in October as political persecution, and blocked strategic agreements with the European Union on political association and a free-trade zone.

But despite months of chiding by the European Union and the United States, which see Tymoshenko as a victim of selective justice, President Viktor Yanukovich has refused to act to secure her release. No-one had expected her to be released on Wednesday.

Tymoshenko, known in her heyday for a peasant-style hair braid and fiery rhetoric, was not present in court because of persistent back trouble which has kept her confined to a state-run hospital in eastern Ukraine.

About 300 of her supporters gathered outside the courtroom, chanting slogans such as "Yulia - Freedom!" and "Keep convicts inside and get Yulia out!"

In tough remarks last Friday, Yanukovich said he would not negotiate integration with the EU at the price of allowing it to interfere in her case.

The release of Tymoshenko - by far the most vibrant opposition figure on Ukraine's political landscape - had seemed even more unlikely given the approach of an Oct. 28 legislative election.

Yanukovich's Party of the Regions goes into that election with the government highly unpopular over reforms that have increased taxes on small businesses and raised retirement ages, and it will have to work hard to retain its majority.


The abuse of office conviction relates to a gas deal that Tymoshenko brokered with Russia in 2009 when she was prime minister. The Yanukovich government says the agreement was reckless and saddled Ukraine with an enormous price for strategic supplies of gas which is taking a toll on the heavily stressed economy.

Ukrainian state prosecutors had urged the court to uphold her conviction, saying Tymoshenko's guilt was clearly established at her Kiev trial last year.

She has denied betraying the national interest. Her defence lawyers had argued that negotiating the gas agreement with Russia was a political act which did not amount to criminal action.

In Wednesday's judgment, the three-member panel said: "The judges believe that the previous courts reached correct decisions on the crimes of Tymoshenko."

Her daughter Yevgenia, who has been active in seeking international support for her mother's cause, and Arseniy Yatseniuk, a former foreign minister who has joined opposition forces with Tymoshenko, both attended the hearing.


The authorities have ignored Western criticism and piled up fresh charges against Tymoshenko for alleged past misdeeds.

In a separate trial, which has been adjourned several times because of Tymoshenko's health, she is accused of embezzlement and tax evasion going back to alleged offences when she was in business in the 1990s.

Lawyers for Tymoshenko pressed her case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on Tuesday, arguing that her pre-trial detention had been unlawful and that she had been subjected to degrading treatment in prison.

"The only reason for her detention was to exclude her from Ukrainian political life and to prevent her running in the parliamentary elections," her defence counsel, Serhiy Vlasenko, told judges.

Tymoshenko's lawyers said she had been held in inhumane conditions - in permanently lit, unheated cells and tracked by surveillance cameras.

The former prime minister was a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests against sleaze and cronyism in Ukraine that derailed Yanukovich's first bid for the presidency.

She served two terms as prime minister under President Viktor Yushchenko, but the two fell out and their partnership dissolved into bickering and infighting.

Tymoshenko narrowly lost to Yanukovich in a run-off for the presidency in 2010 after a bitter political campaign. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Workers Comp Ruling Favors Tom Tupa

by Peak Positions

Original article appeared in the Associated Press

Maryland's highest court ruled Wednesday in favor of NFL punter Tom Tupa. Tupa sought help from a Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyer. Tupa suffered a career-ending back injury while warming up for a pre-season game in 2005. The court rejected the idea that football injuries should not be considered accidental because of the rough nature of the sport.

Tupa's injury happened "out of and in the course of (his) employment," the Maryland Court of Appeals said in its 16-page opinion.

"He was warming up for a game when he landed awkwardly and thereafter sought immediate medical treatment," the judge for the case wrote in the opinion. "Ample evidence was presented to show that Tupa suffered a compensable accidental injury during the course of his employment." Workers Compensation Insurance prevents costly trials.

The team and insurers argued that Tupa's injury was not an accidental personal injury within the meaning of Maryland's workers' compensation law. An Atlanta Workers Compensation Lawyer can help negotiate settlements with insurance companies.
The court rejected that argument.

"I don't think that clubs are now able to argue that, since football is a hazardous employment, players don't get workers' compensation benefits," said an attorney for the injured player. Contact a Hackensack Personal Injury Lawyer if you have been injured in a workplace enviornment.

The 46-year-old Tupa played 18 seasons in the NFL for seven teams from 1988 to 2005. He never played again after the injury, which happened in Landover, Md.

The team and insurers argued that the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission did not have jurisdiction over Tupa's claim, because he was contractually bound to bring it in Virginia, where the Redskins are headquartered. The court, however, cited case law that found Maryland's workers' compensation law can apply to an employee's claim, despite language in a contract saying otherwise.

An NFL spokesman says the league hasn't seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment. A portion of the collective bargaining agreement does deal specifically with the filing of worker's compensation claims.

Tupa fell down after a punt during warm-ups and felt a sharp pain in his lower back at a pre-season game on Aug. 19, 2005. He described the pain as a "jarring" sensation, sought immediate medical attention and received medication, according to court documents.

Tupa filed for benefits because of his back injury in May 2006 with the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission, a claim he later withdrew.

He filed with the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission in March 2007. The team and its insurer challenged Tupa's claim on the issues of jurisdiction, whether the injury was an accidental and whether his disability was related to the injury in August 2005.

In 2008, the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission held a hearing on the contested claim, and it decided in March that year that it could exercise jurisdiction over Tupa's claim. Tupa was awarded temporary partial disability benefits and medical expenses. The team and its insurer then went to court and requested a trial by jury, which decided Tupa had sustained an accidental injury and that his disability was connected to the accidental on-field injury.

The state's intermediate appellate court agreed with the commission and the jury's initial findings.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mom Convicted of Son's Murder Released

by Peak Positions

Original article appeared in the AP

A woman convicted in 1995 of setting an Indiana house fire that killed her three-year-old son, was released today, after spending 16 years in prison.

Decatur County judge set bail for Kristine Bunch at $5,000 cash Wednesday while she awaits a new trial on murder and arson charges stemming from a mobile home fire that some experts now say appears to have been accidental.
Bunch said after the hearing that she never gave up hope "because I knew this was gonna work out in the end." She said she appreciated her supporters and will be going to stay with her mother in Columbus.
"It's overwhelming to be able to do anything," she said before being led out in shackles.
Her attorney said he thinks the State made the right decision, but added, "I'm disappointed that they want to have a new trial."
Bunch's case drew the attention of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. Experts there questioned the evidence used to convict her, saying scientific advances since the 1990s suggested that no crime was committed.

Child abuse defense lawyers are specialists in defending the rights of individuals accused of child abuse, or in this case, homicide.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in March that Bunch should receive a new trial, finding the evidence used to convict her was outdated, weak and wrongly withheld from the defense. It said prosecutors should have provided her defense with a lab report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that allegedly found no trace of kerosene in her son's bedroom, as prosecutors alleged.
The appeals court last week ordered the Decatur County court to either reinstate Bunch's original $5,000 bail or hold a new hearing.
Bail is rarely granted in murder cases in Indiana. The chief deputy prosecutor at the time, said Bunch was granted bail in 1996 because prosecutors weren't able to proceed to trial within Indiana's 180-day limit.
Bunch's attorney had said he didn't expect the court to set the Greensburg woman's bail any higher now than it did 16 years ago.
"Bond is set to make sure that someone doesn't recidivate and that they appear," he said. "The $5,000 bond worked. Why would it be higher?"
The prosecuting attorney said he will seek a gag order to restrict attorneys' public comments regarding the case as it proceeds to a new trial. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for Aug. 30, he said.
The defendant's attorney said he will oppose the gag order.
Bunch was sentenced to 60 years in prison in 1996 after a Decatur County jury convicted her of murder and arson. The same judge who sentenced her denied a 2006 petition for post-conviction relief based on new evidence.
Prosecutors said Bunch poured kerosene in the bedroom of her son, Tony, and the living room of their mobile home and lit it on fire. No clear motive was ever established, but they said Bunch had asked a friend to take custody of the boy about a year before the fire so she could "get away from it all" and that she had made inconsistent statements about the fire.
The Center on Wrongful Convictions said investigators at the time misinterpreted burn patterns as indicating an accelerant and that there was no evidence of arson. They also argued that advances in toxicology showed the child would have died from fire, not smoke inhalation, had the blaze been set in his room.
While in prison, Bunch earned a GED and a paralegal degree, and, if freed plans to attend law school.

Man Who Threatened President Due in Court

by Peak Positions

Original article appeared in the AP

A man who sent threatening emails against President Barack Obama and wielded a shotgun when officers approached him for questioning, appeared in federal court today.

A Secret Service spokesman says 31-year-old Anton Caluori was arrested Tuesday at an apartment in Federal Way for investigation of making threats against the president and assault on a federal officer.

U.S. attorney's spokeswoman Emily Langlie says the threat was sent to a general purpose FBI email address.

A Secret Service agent and a Federal Way police officer went to an apartment, knocked and announced themselves for about three minutes, then found themselves facing a man armed with a shotgun when the door opened.

Caluori appeared in court earlier today. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Licenses to 'Unlawful Aliens' Denied in Arizona

Original article appeared in the Courthouse News Service

The Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act, which allows "unlawful alien applicants" to remain in the U.S. for the next two years, is being targeted as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order Wednesday denying driver's licenses and taxpayer-funded public benefits to those applicants. Contact a Raleigh Immigration Lawyer to learn more about the DACA act.

"The issuance of Deferred Action or Deferred Action USCIS employment authorization documents to unlawfully present aliens does not confer upon them any lawful or authorized status and does not entitle them to any additional public benefit," the order states.

According to the order, about 80,000 applicants would be allowed "improper access to state or local public benefits, including state issued identification, by presenting a USCIS employment authorization document that does not evidence lawful, authorized status or presence will have significant and lasting impacts on the Arizona budget, its health care system and additional public benefits that Arizona taxpayers fund."
Illegal immigrants under the age of 30 that are students, graduates, or military veterans and came to the U.S. before the age of 16, may apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Applications are deferred deportation if accepted into the program.
"[The governor] is perpetuating the myth that deferred action applicants are somehow submitting fraudulent documents and that is completely false," a representative with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, in a statement. The representative went on to say the governor's action exclude other non-citizens who are authorized to be in the country, including survivors of domestic violence, from obtaining state-identifications.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

HSBC Banker Sues Yahoo Singapore for Impostor’s Identity

Story first reported from Bloomberg News

Sandeep Sharma, a managing director at HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA)’s private banking arm, claimed in a lawsuit he had been defamed by a Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) user impersonating him and making offensive remarks about Singaporeans.

Sharma asked Singapore’s High Court to order Yahoo! Asia Pacific Pte to reveal details including the identity of the person using the moniker “Sandeep” and claiming to be Sharma. A closed hearing is scheduled for today.

“Sandeep” made at least three posts in July on Yahoo’s websites disparaging Singaporeans including calling them “highly incompetent” and saying foreigners are Singapore’s future, according to a lawsuit filed on Aug. 8, the eve of the Southeast Asian city’s 47th National Day.

The complaint highlights tensions that have developed in Singapore between foreigners, who make up a third of the country’s 5.2 million population, and citizens whose anger over the influx contributed to the ruling party’s worst performance since independence in last year’s general election.

Yahoo hasn’t filed its response to the complaint. Yahoo’s Southeast Asia general counsel Siew Kum Hong referred questions to Madhavi Tumkur, the company’s spokeswoman, who didn’t respond to two e-mails and a phone call to her office.

Sharma, who filed a police report last month on the same matter, didn’t reply to two e-mails or return a call requesting comment. Gareth Hewett, a HSBC spokesman, declined to comment.

Foreign Talent

“The issue of foreign talent in Singapore is a touchy one,” Sharma, 44, said in court papers. “I believe these posts will lead to and excite continued ill-feeling and disaffection among Singaporeans to foreigners like me living and working in their midst.”

Sharma moved to Singapore from India in 2007 with his wife and two children and became a permanent resident the next year, he said in court papers. He joined HSBC as the head of Global South Asian Diaspora in March 2010 from Barclays Plc’s wealth management unit, where he was head of its South Asian business.

He doesn’t have a Yahoo account and has no suspects in mind, according to court papers.

At least one person has written to the London-based bank that he will not be a client because of the posts, according to court papers. HSBC’s requests to Yahoo to provide information about the user were rebuffed, according to the complaint.

User Data

“HSBC and Mr. Sharma are victims of this callous post by a person who evidently is happy to hide behind the screen of anonymity,” according to a July 6 e-mail to Yahoo from the bank’s legal adviser Jerome Robert cited in the complaint. “Yahoo can help in putting things right.”

Yahoo said it couldn’t reveal data related to its users unless there was a court or police order, the operator of the biggest U.S. Web portal said in a July 10 e-mail to HSBC and cited in the lawsuit.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong introduced stricter immigration policies and trimmed ministerial pay after his ruling People’s Action Party won the general election last year with the smallest-ever margin of popular votes.

The case is Sandeep Sharma v Yahoo! Asia Pacific Pte. OS750/2012. Singapore High Court.

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Bloomberg Wants Election Debate of Immigration

 Story first reported from AP News

CHICAGO (AP) - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought Tuesday to ignite debate over immigration among the presidential contenders, saying there was no faster or cheaper way to fix the nation's economic problems than by abandoning "self-defeating" immigration policies.

In an editorial published Tuesday and at appearances before business leaders in Chicago and Boston, Bloomberg laid out some of his ideas, saying immigrants and the businesses they create are engines for America's economic recovery.

He spoke alongside William Daley, President Barack Obama's former chief of staff, before heading East to a similar forum discussion with conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

"If Bill and Rupert can find common ground - and they can - there's no reason Democrats and Republicans in Washington should remain burrowed in their partisan foxholes," said the editorial by Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent.

Bloomberg has long argued that the United States is committing economic suicide by sending the nation's top international students and the world's most promising entrepreneurs to other shores. In Chicago, he pointed to a study released Tuesday by a partnership of U.S. mayors and business leaders that he co-chairs, which found, among other things, that immigrants were responsible for one out of four new businesses started last year.

"I know of no ways to help our economy as quickly and as cost-free as opening up proper ways to people who will come here, create jobs, create businesses, help our universities," Bloomberg said. "Immigration is what built the country, immigration is what kept this country going for the last 235 years and now we seem to have walked away from it."

In his editorial, published by the Bloomberg News service he owns, the New York mayor said the U.S. was falling perilously behind other nations in wooing skilled immigrants. He presented some specific proposals: green cards for top foreign graduate students at U.S. colleges, a much higher percentage of green cards awarded on the basis of economic needs, a visa specifically for entrepreneurs and a guest worker program for seasonal labor.

He also advocated a path to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S.

During the Boston forum, Murdoch called it a "scandal" that temporary work visas send highly skilled graduates away after a certain amount of time in the U.S. If an immigrant graduates from college in a science, technology or math field, Murdoch said, he or she should have a green card stapled to the diploma.

Bloomberg and Murdoch pressed the two presidential campaigns to detail proposals on immigration.

Obama pledged in 2008 to push for passage of comprehensive changes in immigration laws, but the effort stalled in Congress. Obama then issued a directive in June that protects immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, exempting them from deportation. The policy grants temporary work permits to those who apply, but it does not provide a path to citizenship.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney has criticized the directive but has not said whether he would reverse it, pledging instead an unspecified "civil but resolute" long-term fix to illegal immigration.

During the Boston forum, Bloomberg, who has belonged to both major parties, called the Republican tendency to oppose immigration changes "one of the dumbest strategies" he had ever heard of.

The Australian-born Murdoch said that if Romney courted a pro-immigration stance, it could actually help his chances of winning the presidential bid because many Hispanic immigrants tend to be socially conservative.

Whoever wins the presidential election, they said, will need to get a handle over Congress and force lawmakers to work together in the interests of the country.

"Brilliant gutsy people, leaders, make investments when times are tough and leaders bring along other people," Bloomberg said.

In addition to pushing political leaders to pursue changes to the country's immigration policies, Bloomberg urged voters to appeal to what "drives" politicians: keeping their jobs.

"What I've got to do is try to make the public understand that if they demand great government, they can have it, but it's up to the public in the end to hold government's feet to the fire," he said.

A spokesman for the mayor would not elaborate on how Bloomberg planned push the message but said the office is optimistic there is enough time to get it out.

Bloomberg, a former entrepreneur who parlayed a Wall Street layoff into a multibillion-dollar financial information services empire, has very publicly flirted with the idea of running for president in the past. As this election cycle solidified, speculation has turned toward whether he might endorse one of the candidates.

Bloomberg also has urged both Obama and Romney to address gun violence - another pet issue of the New York mayor - and has said he would congratulate any candidate who comes forward with a plan.

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Illinois Couple to Stand Trial After Kids Found Bound

Story first reported from AP News

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A judge ruled Tuesday that an Illinois man and his wife will stand trial in Kansas on child abuse charges after two of their children were found in a Walmart parking lot tied up, a practice the father's lawyer described as a religious belief in the family and a way to guard against demons.

Douglas County Judge Paula Martin said at the conclusion of a preliminary hearing there was enough evidence to try Adolfo Gomez, 52, and his wife Deborah Gomez, 44, on two counts each of child abuse. The father also faces an additional count of obstruction for resisting arrest.

The Northlake, Ill., pair have been in custody since June 13 when police found two of the Gomez children, ages 5 and 7, tied up and with duct tape over their eyes outside a Walmart in Lawrence. The couple's three other children, ages 12, 13 and 15, were in the family's SUV unrestrained. The children are in protective custody.

Martin also said the state did not prove its case on five previous aggravated endangerment counts against each parent because of the way the charges were worded. Debby Moody, assistant Douglas County district attorney, said she would amend the five counts and refile them before the couple's arraignment Thursday.

Lawrence police Detective Randy Glidewell testified Tuesday that when he interviewed Adolfo Gomez the day of the arrest, Gomez said he had been listening to an online preacher who was predicting the end of the world and that a "darkness had come over the house" in Illinois.

"And the world was coming to an end, and that's why they left," Glidewell added, referring to the father's comments to police.

The detective also said Adolfo Gomez told him he hadn't slept in nine days, and that Gomez was particularly concerned about one of the younger children. Gomez described the child as "acting like he was possessed," Glidewell said.

"He was scared (the child) would hurt some of the kids," the detective said.

Lawrence police officer Hayden Fowler testified that one of the older children told him the family believed there were "demons" in their home and outside their SUV in the parking lot, and that the coverings on the vehicle's windows were there to keep the demons out.

Adolfo Gomez's lawyer, Skip Griffy, also said during the hearing that blindfolding and binding the younger children was part of the family's religious beliefs, and that it was not done frequently or as a punishment but as a way to protect the children from demons.

"Their actions were taken out of their religious beliefs, that these children were possessed," Griffy said. He added that the children had no injuries.

Angela Keck, a lawyer for Deborah Gomez, distanced her client from Adolfo Gomez, saying the woman had no control over her husband.

"She was doing her best to protect herself and her children when Mr. Gomez was having a kind of religious experience," Keck said. "You have not heard anything that these children's lives were in any danger in any way."

Moody, however, said the "danger to these children was real."

"These types of bindings and blindfolds come into play when you're talking about ... prisoners of war," the prosecutor said.

Deborah Gomez was involved in the abuse and when presented with an opportunity to help, "she went shopping for duct tape, two tarps and a baseball bat," Moody said, alluding to the list of items police discovered in the mother's shopping cart at Walmart when the children were found.

"It was a team effort, your honor," Moody said. "What happens when kids in the Gomez family are possessed? They get bound and they get blindfolded."

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Watch for Previously Wrecked Used Cars

Story first reported from USA Today

Getting a used car's history report isn't the safeguard many think it is against buying a car that was wrecked and rebuilt. Without a thorough inspection by an independent mechanic, it's almost impossible to tell, consumer experts say.

Each year, about 6 million cars are in crashes serious enough to report to police and insurers. About 12% of these are totaled or "salvage" vehicles, and that doesn't include flood-damaged cars.

Some of these wrecked cars are rebuilt and wind up on used car lots, even at prominent dealers. That can cause problems with the vehicles' performance and safety, along with making them more difficult to resell, crash experts say.

Crash reporting and disclosure is so spotty, some can have "clean" history reports from companies that sell them.

Some examples of problems with these history reports:

• Firefighter Bobby Smith bought a used 2003 Ford Mustang Cobra in 2010 in Indiana. In a lawsuit, Smith claimed the dealer knew the car was in a severe front-end collision. Smith says he discovered the damage when doing work on the car right after buying it. At the trial, which ended in a hung jury, Smith testified the dealership used a clean Carfax report to convince him the car had never been in a crash. The case is scheduled for retrial in January.

• When Florida-based Juan Sanchez tried to trade his 2007 Mercedes E350 in to the dealership he bought it from as a certified used car, Mercedes-Benz of Pembroke Pines showed him a Carfax report indicating he had an accident while he owned it. But in a lawsuit, Sanchez said the crash predated his purchase, and Carfax had the date wrong. In September, an arbitrator awarded Sanchez $3,500 in damages from the dealership for "unfair/deceptive acts," but denied "fraud and negligent misrepresentation" claims.

Dealers say they get duped, too. They were involved in the push for a 2009 law that requires insurance companies to share their data on totaled vehicles with a new Justice Department database, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System.

The National Automobile Dealers Association pushed for the database because "Dealers don't want rebuilt wrecks on their lots," says NADA spokesman Bailey Wood. He says the database will "permanently red-flag severely damaged" vehicles.

Carfax spokesman Larry Gamache says his company gets salvage data from insurers that make up about 80% of the industry, police departments, crash estimators and repair facilities. Carfax doesn't believe its "data is limited in any way," Gamache says, but adds, "No report is going to have everything."

Carfax also offers to buy back any vehicle purchased based on a Carfax report that doesn't mention that its title showed it was a salvage vehicle. The company has bought back 70 cars in the 10 years it has been offering to do so.

Kansas City, Mo., plaintiff attorney Bernard Brown says his law firm has received hundreds of complaints in the last 15 years from consumers who bought cars with clean reports that turned out to have previously been "severely wrecked or flooded."

Insurance Information Institute President Bob Hartwig says insurers aren't to blame: Many older models that are totaled aren't insured, and many people get cars repaired without reporting the crashes to insurers.

Robert Duff, Smith's lawyer, says some people don't find out they bought a rebuilt wreck until they pay off the loan and see the title has been branded as a totaled vehicle.

One of his clients found more than $8,000 worth of repair receipts in the glove box — on the way home from the dealer.

"The best way to know if the car has previously been wrecked is to have a professional inspect it — it really isn't that expensive," says Duff. "It costs between $50 and $200, and it's money well spent."

Tips on buying a used car

Buying a used car doesn't have to mean "buying somebody else's troubles," says Jack Gillis, co-author of The Car Book. Thanks to leasing and some owners' inability to keep up with payments in this economy, Gillis notes, there are many great used vehicles available, many with time remaining on their warranties.

Key steps in the process:

• Go to a dealer or person you have good reason to trust.

• Check Consumer Reports' quality ratings and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's complaint database to see what others are saying about a vehicle you're considering.

• Get a vehicle history report. To learn more about possible crashes and problems, get a report from Carfax, AutoCheck and the Justice Department's new database at

• Have an independent mechanic check the vehicle for mechanical, frame and electronic problems. Flood damage can wreak havoc on a car's electronics.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Standard Chartered CEO Says ‘No Grounds’ to Revoke License

Standard Chartered Plc (STAN) Chief Executive Officer Peter Sands hit back at a New York regulator’s claims the bank broke U.S. sanctions, and said he saw “no grounds” for revoking the lender’s license.

Standard Chartered has tumbled about 16 percent in London trading this week after New York regulator Benjamin Lawsky threatened to strip the London-based bank of its license to operate in the state, alleging it processed $250 billion of deals with Iranian banks subject to sanctions.

“We reject the position and portrayal of facts by the Department of Financial Services,” Sands said on a conference call with reporters yesterday, his first public comments since the regulator’s report on Aug. 6. “It would be disproportionate and wholly inconsistent with the actions of other U.S. authorities in other sanctions matters” to revoke the bank’s New York license, he said.

The dispute is becoming increasingly political. Mayor of London Boris Johnson yesterday accused New York of seeking to damage its biggest competitor as a financial center, while Bank of England Governor Mervyn King criticized the regulator for failing to co-ordinate with its counterparts.

The stock rallied 3.9 percent to 1,367 pence by 9:23 a.m. in London, after gaining 7.1 percent yesterday. The shares fell 16.4 percent on Aug. 7.

‘Very Damaging’

The loss of its New York license would significantly damage Standard Chartered’s corporate banking model and could result in a 40 percent drop in earnings, said Chirantan Barua, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein Research in London. Barua has had an underperform rating on the stock since at least March, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Sands, 50, said the probe has been “very damaging” to the British lender’s brand, and denied that there was anything wrong with the bank’s culture. He added that none of the transactions reviewed by the bank were linked to terrorist organizations.

“There are lots of matters in that order that frankly either we don’t recognize or we don’t understand or are factually inaccurate,” Sands said, referring to the report.

The lender has consulted lawyers and been advised that it may have a case for claiming reputational damage, the Financial Times reported today, citing two people it didn’t identify. Standard Chartered is aware of the sensitivity involved in taking a militant stance toward its regulator, the paper said.

The bank might be asked to pay as much as $700 million to resolve money-laundering allegations filed by Lawsky, New York’s banking superintendent, after the Department of Financial Services grew impatient with inaction by federal regulators, a person familiar with the case said.

‘Complete Surprise’

Lawsky tried unsuccessfully a few months ago to get U.S. regulators to punish the bank for conduct involving disguised Iranian money transfers, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. The transfers have been under investigation by federal agencies for more than two years, according to Lawsky’s statement.

“The order we received from the DFS came as a complete surprise,” Sands said on the call. “The surprise was in the manner of the announcement and that the DFS made an announcement on its own and without giving us prior notice. The resolution of such matters normally proceeds through a coordinated approach by the different agencies.”

King yesterday criticized Lawsky’s order, saying at a press conference that U.K. authorities would “ask that various regulatory bodies that are investigating a particular case try to work together.” Johnson used a column for the London-based Spectator magazine to attack the regulator.

Motivated by Jealousy

“You can’t help wondering whether all this beating up of British banks and bankers is starting to shade into protectionism,” he wrote. “And you can’t help thinking it might actually be at least partly motivated by jealousy of London’s financial sector -- a simple desire to knock a rival center.”

There was also friction with the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department, the Financial Times reported, citing another person it didn’t identify. The two, and the Justice Department and Manhattan district attorney’s office, are probing the bank’s links to Iran, it said.

“The federal authorities have been quieter because they understand they have to work this out at international level, where Lawsky has gone ahead,” Syed Kamall, a U.K. Conservative member of the European Parliament and member of its Economic and Finance Committee, said. “And it’s a nice story, Iran-bashing, at the moment, given the current concerns internationally.”


The investigation is focusing on so-called U-turn transactions, which could allow an Iranian bank to access the U.S. banking system indirectly through a third-party bank.

Standard Chartered hired an external consultant to probe about 150 million payment transactions conducted between 2001 and 2007, Sands said.

Transactions had to be initiated offshore by banks that were neither U.S. nor Iranian and only passed through the U.S. financial system on the way to other non-Iranian, non U.S. banks. Standard Chartered broke the rules by stripping wire transfer orders involving its New York branch of any reference to the involvement of Iranian banks, the regulator said.

Fewer than 300 of the transactions, amounting to about $14 million, weren’t valid U-turns, Sands said yesterday.

‘Clearly Wrong’

“That is clearly wrong and we’re sorry that those mistakes occurred,” Sands said. “There was no systematic attempt to circumvent sanctions.”

The regulator in its report quoted Standard Chartered’s then executive director of risk as asking “who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we’re not going to deal with Iranians?”

Sands said the quote was based on an individual’s recollection of a meeting rather than an e-mail or document. Finance Director Richard Meddings was executive director of risk at the time, he said.

“No-one at that meeting claims to have made that statement, so we don’t believe the quote is accurate,” he said.
A settlement of $700 million would match the amount that HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA) set aside last month after a Senate committee found the bank gave terrorists, drug cartels and criminals access to the U.S. financial system.

“Despite widespread distaste for the New York State Department’s conduct, a settlement may yet be seen as expedient,” said Ian Gordon, an analyst at Investec Plc (INVP) in London with a buy rating on the stock. “Any settlement on broadly the above terms would, relative to alternatives, be taken with considerable relief by the markets.”

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Romney Aide's Health Care Remark Spark Flap

Story first reported from USA Today

Conservatives were up in arms on Wednesday after an attempt by Mitt Romney's spokeswoman to defend the candidate against a negative ad seemed to turn into a tacit endorsement of the Affordable Care Act.

The comments came as Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul responded to a recent controversial ad by Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super PAC, that linked Romney to a woman's death.

The ad contends that the woman died of cancer because her husband lost health insurance when he was laid off by a Bain-owned steel company. The Romney campaign has called the ad "dishonest and discredited."

Saul's response enraged the right.

"To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Gov. Romney's health care plan, they would have had health care," Saul said in an interview with Fox News. "There are a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President Obama's economy."

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called the comment "a potential gold mine for Obama supporters," according to Talking Points Memo.

"They can say, 'Romneycare was the basis for our health care,'" Limbaugh said.

The remarks prompted editor Erick Erickson to write a post titled "The Moment All the Doubts About Romney Resurfaced on the Right."

"Conservatives have put aside their distrust of Romney on this issue in the name of beating Barack Obama," he wrote. "They thought he and his campaign team had gotten the message and the hints. Consider the scab picked, the wound opened, and the distrust trickling out again."

Saul did not comment for this report.

The similarity of the Massachusetts health care law Romney passed as governor of the state and the Affordable Care Act was a main line of attack from his opponents during the Republican primary and remains a concern among some conservatives.

Romney has placed the repeal of President Obama's health care law as one of his first priorities if he is elected president.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Texting Claims Lives of Drivers

Story first reported from

Judging by stories in just the past few weeks, texting while driving has become America's most urgent public safety issue, filling local television screens across the country with stories of crashes, near-misses and dire warnings. What's less clear is whether a brace of new laws will do much, or how many drivers will be willing to turn off their phones completely while driving.

The scene comes from Aberdeen, Wash., where a teenager at the wheel of a Dodge Ram pickup on Sunday ran off the road into a wooden fence, sending one slat through the windshield where his head should be. According to KOMO-TV, the driver only suffered minor injuries, but the Washington State Police say witnesses saw the driver texting in the moments before the crash.

Last month, a Houston man revealed that moments before a serious crash, he had texted "I need to quit texting because I could die in a car accident." And last week, Alabama became the 39th state to make it a crime to enter text into a phone while behind the wheel; in 10 states and the District of Columbia, it's illegal to pick up your phone at all while driving. A Chicago car accident lawyer says there has been an up-tick in legal ramifications as a result of traffic accidents due to texting while driving.

While such laws are still relatively new, some police agencies are already saying they're not effective enough. The problem is the great unanswered question among safety advocates: Is texting that much more or less dangerous than anything else people do with their phones while driving? Alabama's law, like most states, still allows drivers to dial numbers, look at maps and otherwise use the phone, but not text. Telling the difference between the two from outside a car moving 70 mph isn't a job most troopers or anyone else can do, as WCNC-TV in Charlotte, N.C., found when it sent two cameramen out to surreptitiously bust drivers in the act.

And the Alabama law also highlights a mismatch between the furor over texting and what's known about its actual impact. While cellphones have become ubiquitous over the past two decades, deaths in accidents and crashes have declined to record lows. Research has shown time and again that driving with a cell phone reduces concentration and can lead to crashes, but has yet to put a firm link on just how many crashes might be caused directly by electronic distractions. Alabama authorities say their record show that in 2010, drivers distracted by cellphones or other electronic devices contributed to 1,256 crashes and five deaths. It's a sad statistic, but that same year, alcohol-related accidents killed 279 people in Alabama, a figure that did not lead to any new laws.

Whatever the studies say, it's clear that not paying attention behind the wheel for any reason makes driving less safe, even with modern aids like Bluetooth and voice commands. Driving can be tedious, and the need to stay connected so strong that far too many drivers think they can get away with it -- right until the fence comes through the windshield. Once upon a time, people were forced to travel without concern for e-mails and telephone calls they could be missing. Try it on your next drive, and stay off the local news.

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Mystery Man's Arrest Leads to Stash of Fake IDs, Uniforms

Story first reported from

To some, Florida resident Roy Antigua may have been a decorated member of the U.S. military, a CIA agent or a member of NASA.

However, authorities in Florida say the only thing they know for sure is Antigua is a phony, and they are asking the public for help in identifying his possible cons and lies. They are trying to unravel the mystery surrounding Antigua after discovering an enormous stash of fake IDs and uniforms in his home.

"We need to know, from start to finish -- who is Roy Antigua?" New Port Richey Police Chief James Steffens said at a news conference Monday according to The Tampa Bay Times.

New Port Richey Police Officer Edward Campbell tells he had a feeling something was amiss when Antigua gave him a U.S. Coast Guard identification during a routine traffic stop last week.

"It had a gold chip that was missing," Campbell told the station. "The back of the ID resembled a hotel card."

It was only the tip of the iceberg. Antigua, 52, had uniforms from NASA , U.S. Customs, the Navy, the CIA, the Secret Service and Homeland Security, The Tampa Bay Times reports. He also had dozens of military medals, a flight helmet and flight instructor badge and a Boy Scout troop leader uniform.

"It's actually scary. You see these Boy Scout uniforms, who knows if he's been around young children and what his intentions were," an official tells

He also had a bag filledl with doctor's equipment and a physician's assistant's badge and, chillingly, a photo of himself in scrubs holding a newborn.

Now authorities are saying the best-case scenario is that Antigua is someone who has stockpiled his collection for play or dress-up.

"Is he really a threat or is he someone who is living a very involved fantasy life?" Steffens said, according to The Tampa Bay Times.

Steffens tells the paper he can vouch that Antigua impersonated a Coast Guard officer at least once. He recognized Antigua from a Memorial Day event at a cemetery, where he says Antigua introduced himself as a Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander and was wearing a uniform. He then sat next to the police chief in a special section for officials.

"Everybody around there thought that he was the real deal," Steffens told the paper.

The only ID that ended up being real was an identification card saying Antigua was a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Miami, a volunteer unit, but Antigua was kicked out in 2011 after being arrested on a grand theft charge. Antigua is a licensed respiratory care practitioner, according to the Department of Health, but detectives aren't sure if or where he was employed.

Antigua was arrested for driving without a license and a parole violation after the traffic stop, but was further investigated once officers noticed the fake ID. He is now being held without bail.

Steffens asks anyone who might have dealt with Antigua to call his agency at (727) 841-4550. He says authorities are investigating his possible ties to federal law enforcement agencies, the military, hospitals and other groups.

"You don't have this collection just to keep it in your house and look in the mirror," Steffens told The Tampa Bay Times.

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Monday, August 6, 2012

US Unemployment Applications Rise to 365,000

Story first reported from

WASHINGTON — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose last week, though the data was likely skewed higher by seasonal factors. A Denver employment lawyer says although the news seems discouraging, unemployment applications are actually down from a month ago.

Weekly applications increased by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 365,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell for the sixth straight week to 365,500, the lowest since March 31.

The decline in the four-week average suggests the job market could be improving a bit. But economists are viewing last month's figures with some caution because the government struggles every July to account for temporary summer shutdowns in the auto industry. This year was even more complicated because some automakers skipped the shutdowns, resulting in fewer layoffs.

A Labor Department spokesman said the latest figures should be the last affected by the auto shutdown issues.

Even so, some economists saw positive signs in this week's report.

Separately, the Commerce Department said businesses placed fewer orders with U.S. factories in June compared to May, another sign that manufacturing is weakening. Factory orders fell 0.5 percent in June and a measure of business investment plans declined by 1.7 percent. Demand dropped for heavy machinery, computers and cars. A separate Denver labor and employment lawyer suggests that other sectors of the economy may finally be picking up.

Weekly unemployment applications are a measure of layoffs. When they consistently fall below 375,000, it suggests hiring is strong enough to pull the unemployment rate down.

Consumers are holding back on spending and the economy is showing other signs of weakening. But the dip in applications shows that companies aren't laying off workers in response.

The seasonal distortions could affect the July employment report, which the Labor Department will release on Friday.

Economists predict employers added 100,000 jobs last month. That would be slightly better than the 75,000 a month average from April through June but still below the healthy 226,000 average in the first three months of the year. The unemployment rate is expected to stay at 8.2 percent.

The economy isn't growing fast enough to lower the unemployment rate.

Growth slowed to an annual rate of just 1.5 percent from April through June, down from a 2 percent rate in the first quarter and a 4.1 percent rate in the fourth quarter of 2011.

The Federal Reserve cited the slowdown in growth after its two-day policy meeting, which concluded Wednesday. While the Fed took no new action at the meeting, it appeared to signal a growing inclination to take further steps to lift the economy out of its slump.

The overall number of people receiving benefits fell. Almost 6 million people received jobless aid in the week ended July 14, the latest data available. That's about 70,000 fewer than the previous week.

Consumers have grown more cautious about spending, a key reason growth faltered. Manufacturing shrank in July for the second straight month, according to a survey by a trade group of purchasing managers. A Philadelphia labor and employment lawyer says that without more promising job growth, consumers will likely continue being wary about spending, thus preventing growth furthermore.

Europe's economic crisis, which has already dampened demand for U.S. exports, could slow manufacturing further.

Worries have also intensified the U.S. economy will fall off a "fiscal cliff" at the end of the year. That's when tax increases and deep spending cuts will take effect unless Congress reaches a budget deal. A recession could follow, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has warned.

Many economists believe the Fed could launch another program of buying government bonds and mortgage-backed securities at its September meeting if the economy doesn't show improvement. The goal of the program, known as quantitative easing, would be to drive long-term rates, which are already at record lows, even lower.

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