Manhunt Underway After North Carolina Jail Break

Three men are still at large after five inmates broke out of a North Carolina jail on Monday afternoon.

The five men forced their way through a fence in the exercise yard of the Nash County Detention Center, about 45 miles east of Raleigh. The yard was monitored by a camera, but according to police, the camera was pointed in another direction at the time. Sheriff Keith Stone told local media he has been asking county leaders for facilities upgrades for the past few years.

The men, who range from 22 to 30 years old, had been convicted for various charges including possession of a stolen vehicle, drug possession, and assault by strangulation. Stone told reporters he expected that the search for the escapees, with help from the FBI, would last through the night.

Nashville resident Miranda Peele said she saw the manhunt underway when law enforcement passed her with K-9. They stopped and asked if she’d seen the five men in orange jump suits running by. Peele told ABC7. “It’s a little crazy.”

The inmates slipped through this fence surrounding the exercise yard. #wral pic.twitter.com/bKB4lSfvQt

— Candace Sweat (@WRALCandace) March 26, 2019

Stone demonstrated to reporters how poor the security infrastructure at the jail is. At many facilities, he said, if you shake the perimeter fencing, buzzers will go off. “We don’t have that here,” Stone told reporters as he motioned toward the wide hole in a metal fence. “They’re kicking it, they’re seeing how it moves back and forth. There’s no stability in it.”

The exercise yard was not monitored by a guard, but by a camera that had a “blind spot,” Stone said. “We do have a manpower issue at this time,” he said, according to CNN. “Obviously if we got the manpower you can put manpower in these pod systems where you actually got human eyes there.”

Two of the inmates — David Viverette and Raheem Horne — were captured late Monday night, police said. Police are offering a $1,500 reward for information leading to capture of the remaining men, and are asking the public to call 252-459-1510. Escapees still at large are David Ruffin Jr., Keonte Murphy, and Laquaris Battle, CNN reported.

Stone said community members should lock their doors.

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Appeals Court Says Parents Can't Sue San Francisco Over Immigrant Who Killed Daughter

A memorial site to Kate Steinle is seen on San Francisco’s Pier 14 on Dec. 1, 2017. A federal appeals court has dismissed her parents’ lawsuit against the city for not telling immigration authorities when the man who killed her was released from custody.

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Ben Margot/AP

A federal appeals court in California ruled that the parents of Kate Steinle, a woman fatally shot by an unauthorized immigrant in July 2015, cannot sue the city of San Francisco for failing to notify immigration officials of his release from a local jail weeks before the killing.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, ruled that San Francisco’s then-sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, violated no federal, state or local laws when he released Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, also known as José Inez Garcia Zarate, on a minor marijuana charge without notifying Immigration and Custom Enforcement.

The ruling upholds a lower court in dismissing “a general negligence claim” against the city filed by Steinle’s parents. Their suit alleged that Mirkarimi drew up a memorandum instructing city employees to limit the information shared with federal officials about the release of unauthorized immigrants from the San Francisco jail.

“Our holding today makes no judgment as to whether or not the policy established by the Memo was wise or prudent. That is not our job,” the panel wrote.

The judges said city’s policy did not violate federal law and that Mirkarimi had a right to enforce the memo.

“The tragic and unnecessary death of Steinle may well underscore the policy argument against Sheriff Mirkarimi’s decision to bar his employees from providing the release date of a many times convicted felon to ICE,” wrote Judge Mark J. Bennett, a Trump appointee.

“But that policy argument can be acted upon only by California’s state and municipal political branches of government, or perhaps by Congress — but not by federal judges applying California law as determined by the California Supreme Court.”

Steinle, 32, was killed as she was walking along a San Francisco pier with her father. She was struck by a single shot from a stolen gun the defense argued had been accidentally discharged.

In 2017, Lopez-Sanchez, a five-time deportee, was acquitted by a San Francisco jury on murder charges, but was found guilty of the lesser charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

President Trump called the verdict “disgraceful” in a tweet. He has frequently mentioned the case when criticizing local “sanctuary city” policies.

Lopez-Sanchez is in custody on federal gun charges.

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Man Pleads Guilty To Phishing Scheme That Fleeced Facebook, Google Of $100 Million

Evaldas Rimasauskas pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges on Wednesday for his part in orchestrating a scheme to swindle Google and Facebook out of more than $100 million.

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A Lithuanian man pleaded guilty last week to bilking Google and Facebook out of more than $100 million in an elaborate scheme involving a fake company, fake emails and fake invoices.

In an indictment unsealed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York last week, the Department of Justice alleged that Evaldas Rimasauskas and other unnamed co-conspirators impersonated the Taiwan-based hardware manufacturer, Quanta Computer — with which both tech companies do business — by setting up a company in Latvia with the same name. Using myriad forged invoices, contracts, letters, corporate stamps, and general confusion created by the corporate doppelganger, they successfully bamboozled Google and Facebook into paying tens of million of dollars in fraudulent bills from 2013 to 2015.

The payments were wired to bank accounts controlled by Rimasauskas, which he subsequently laundered through several other bank accounts throughout Latvia, Cyprus, Slovakia, Lithuania, Hungary and Hong Kong.

The 50-year-old, who was extradited to New York in 2017, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud on Wednesday and agreed to forfeit $49.7 million. He could face up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced on July 24.

“As Evaldas Rimasauskas admitted today, he devised a blatant scheme to fleece U.S. companies out of $100 million, and then siphoned those funds to bank accounts around the globe,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in a statement. “Rimasauskas thought he could hide behind a computer screen halfway across the world while he conducted his fraudulent scheme, but as he has learned, the arms of American justice are long, and he now faces significant time in a U.S. prison.”

The indictment does not identify Google and Facebook by name, but the two tech giants confirmed to NPR they are Victim-1 and Victim-2, respectively.

Both companies said they recouped all or most of the money, but declined to comment on the exact sum. Bloomberg reported, “The scheme netted about $23 million from Google in 2013 and about $98 million from Facebook in 2015, according to a person familiar with the case.”

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center issued an advisory in June, warning that this type of fraud, called a Business Email Compromise, is up by 1,300 percent since January 2015. The FBI estimates companies have been defrauded of more than $3 billion dollars in recent years.

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Venezuela's Maduro Faces Pressure From Much Of The World, Yet He Persists

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro sings the national anthem during an anti-imperialist rally for peace, in Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday.

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Clad in a dazzling white shirt, Nicolás Maduro is standing at a podium, grinning through his mustache, and waving his hands at his supporters.

“Hands off Venezuela, Mr. Imperator Donald Trump!” he shouts, waving his hands still more, to emphasize his point. “Get out of Venezuela, imperial Yankee!”

Cameras from state-run TV pan across the crowd, carefully picking out people who are applauding and flourishing flags.

Many among the thousands gathered before Maduro are cadres from Venezuela’s socialist party, brought by bus into the country’s capital of Caracas for yet another choreographed rally in support of their beleaguered president. Some belong to a small minority who still genuinely support him.

Two months have elapsed since the Trump administration threw its weight behind a multipronged campaign to oust Maduro, after an economic collapse that has led more than 3 million Venezuelans to move abroad and created widespread hunger and shortages.

Since then, Maduro — who is fond of comparing himself with a boxer in the ring — has been absorbing one body blow after another.

More than 50 nations, including the United States and most of Latin America, concluded that Maduro’s re-election last year was a fraud. They’ve recognized Juan Guaidó, president of the opposition-led National Assembly, as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, endorsing his mission to establish a transitional government and hold fresh elections.

Washington has imposed oil sanctions that deprive Maduro’s government of a large part of the hard currency revenues upon which it depends for most its income.

Nearly three weeks ago, out of the blue, Venezuela was hit by the most severe power outage in its history that left millions of already impoverished people without light, fuel, water, refrigeration, public transport and hospital treatment for up to six days.

Maduro blames the blackout on U.S. sabotage; Washington cites Venezuelan government corruption and ineptitude. The results were deadly: at least 20 people died because dialysis equipment was out of action, according to CodeVida, a nongovernmental organization that monitors health.

Yet, somehow, Maduro remains in the ring — still on his feet, on TV in front of a crowd, cheerfully goading his enemies.

*****

Maduro’s adversaries had hoped for success by now. They are beginning to ask what else they and their international supporters need to do to topple Maduro.

“It’s true we are running out of options,” says Juan Andrés Mejía, an opposition member of the National Assembly. “I do feel that my role is getting to a point where it’s no longer useful.”

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself interim president, goes to the National Assembly for a meeting with a coalition of opposition parties and civic groups in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 18.

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At 32, Mejía — like Guaidó, who’s 35 — belongs to a coterie of young Venezuelan democratic politicians who have spent their lives working to oust Maduro, and before that, his mentor Hugo Chávez, the late former president who launched a self-styled socialist Bolivarian revolution in 1999.

“I am trained for that,” says Mejía. “However, I am not trained to take up arms and fight against a trained army.

“That time may come, and it won’t be my time. It will be the time of others. I pray that we can find a different solution before that. But it is true that we cannot avoid talking about this at this point.”

Mejía is quick to reply when asked why he thinks Maduro is still in power: “He holds power because he has the support of a group within the military. Anywhere in the world, that is called a dictatorship.”

*****

No one doubts that Maduro would fall if the men in charge of Venezuela’s armed forces withdraw their support.

Some heavy hitters on the world stage continue to back him — notably China, Iran, Turkey and Russia. This weekend, Russia flew two planes to Caracas, reportedly carrying Russian military personnel and supplies. The U.S. State Department condemned the deployment as a “reckless escalation of the situation,” Reuters reported.

Yet there is a consensus that, if Maduro loses his generals at home, it is game over.

Fractures have appeared in the lower ranks. These grew markedly after an opposition attempt on Feb. 23 to deliver 280 tons of humanitarian aid, much of which the U.S. parked on the Colombian border, hoping Venezuela’s security forces would disobey orders to block it.

That effort failed, but according to Colombia’s Foreign Ministry, about 1,000 Venezuelan police and soldiers have recently crossed the border and handed over the weapons.

Yet Venezuela’s military high command has remained loyal, despite Guaidó’s offer of amnesty to armed forces that abandon the government.

Maduro’s opponents explain the continued support by saying senior army commanders pocket millions from illicit black-market activities, including food and currency rackets and narcotics and gold smuggling.

Venezuelans also frequently attribute their generals’ dogged loyalty to the role played by Cuba, Maduro’s closest foreign friend.

“I believe [the Cubans] are the real power in Venezuela right now,” says José Toro Hardy, an economist and oil expert who is advising Guaidó’s team on transition, should he assume power.

Large numbers of Cuban agents operate within the Venezuelan military, monitoring the ranks for signs of betrayal.

Toro Hardy does not believe the military’s top ranks have faith in Maduro’s government, but he says: “I believe they are very afraid of the Cubans, because they know Cuban intelligence is watching over their shoulders all the time.”

The National Assembly voted to block the government’s long-running shipments of heavily discounted oil to Cuba, in the hope this will encourage the Cubans to withdraw their spies. But the state-run oil company is not expected to abide.

*****

As Guaidó’s U.S.-backed campaign to assume power enters its third month, Maduro appears to be stepping up the use of force against his opponents.

Last week, agents from Venezuela’s intelligence service, SEBIN, raided the home of one of Guaidó’s closest aides, a lawyer named Roberto Marrero, and detained him.

Maduro’s Information Minister Jorge Rodríguez is accusing Marrero of being part of a “terrorist network” planning to assassinate the leaders of the Bolivarian revolution — a claim dismissed as nonsense by the opposition and its allies.

Maduro and his government are “surviving through terror because they want to maintain a narco-state,” says Jaime, 45, an accountant who spoke to NPR inside a multi-story parking garage to avoid being seen by the authorities. Like many Venezuelans, he declines to give his full name for fear of reprisals.

After Venezuela’s huge power outage, Maduro called for the mobilization of colectivos, an armed pro-government motorcycle militia with a reputation for using extreme violence.

This worries Jaime. “The fear is that they will kill you. They shoot at you and there is no law that defends you, because they are the government’s system for terrorizing people and stopping protests,” he says. “They are stronger than the police.”

Many Venezuelans feel the same about other security forces: 37 people were reported killed in Caracas during house raids in January by the national police’s special force, FAES, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

Most of the victims were from poor neighborhoods, and were suspected of participating in anti-government protests, she said.

*****

“I am a communist since I was in my mother’s womb,” says Alejandro, 65, a retired member of Venezuela’s National Guard who is among Maduro’s dwindling band of supporters.

He lives in poverty in a crumbling house in Los Teques, a town about 20 miles west of Caracas. He and his family of 10 depend partly on heavily subsidized government food boxes.

Any mention of Maduro’s rival, Juan Guaidó, draws a contemptuous response. “He means nothing to us,” says Alejandro. “I’d throw him in jail and leave him to rot. He’s a puppet of the U.S.”

Many Venezuelans believe — and often hope — the U.S. will lead a military intervention that will finally drive out Maduro. That conviction is reinforced by the Trump administration and Guaidó: both regularly emphasize that “all options are on the table.” Yet the idea is widely opposed in the international arena, and there is little sign of enthusiasm for it in Washington.

Even so, Alejandro says Maduro’s foot soldiers are ready. “Let them [the Americans] come. The thing is — how will they get out?”

If you press him about why he still supports Maduro, despite his nation’s economic catastrophe, Alejandro concedes Venezuela “has problems.” But, he says, “Nicolás will continue, because it is his mission.

“This is the task Chávez gave him. There’s no one else.”

Maduro’s hard-core support is small: just 14 percent, according to a February survey by the Caracas-based polling company Datanalisis. Guaidó scored 61 percent.

The same survey included another striking statistic: 47 percent still support Chávez, who died of cancer in 2013.

The late president’s followers, known as Chavistas, consider him a hugely charismatic leader and praise his efforts to lift Venezuelans out of poverty

“Almost half of our population still think that Chávez was a good president,” says Luis Vicente León, head of Datanalisis. “Maduro is destroyed in terms of popularity — not Chavismo. A lot of Chavistas don’t like Maduro, but they like the Chávez legacy.”

León cites this as evidence that, in the long term, the so-called Chavistas could eventually make a comeback in Venezuela, “even with transparent and clear elections.”

*****

Maduro now faces an even tougher test. Blows are raining down on him, as he dodges and weaves in an effort somehow to keep his broken economy running.

The oil sanctions the U.S. imposed on Venezuela in late January are making an impact. With the world’s largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela’s production dropped by 142,000 barrels per day from January to February, according to OPEC. That is far below Venezuela’s output from a few years ago.

The industry’s infrastructure is falling apart; many thousands of engineers have left; the state-run oil company finds it increasingly difficult to import diluents needed to raise Venezuelan crude to export grade. The Maduro government is scrambling to find fresh clients for crude oil that it is no longer exporting to the U.S.

The fact that Maduro’s survived this so far is a “complete mystery,” says Toro Hardy, the economist and oil expert. “Maduro is like a plane without fuel. He cannot fly anymore. … Unfortunately we, the Venezuelans, are all passengers on that plane,” he says.

Despite this, it is far from certain Maduro will fall. That concerns rights groups, which fear U.S. sanctions are deepening the hardship of a long-suffering population and weakening their ability to organize against Maduro’s government.

Crashing an economy alone does not always bring a government down. Pollster León recalls: “Everyone thought the same with Cuba, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe and North Korea.”

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Trump Formally Recognizes Israeli Sovereignty Over Golan Heights

President Trump stands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a ceremony to sign a proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, on Monday.

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President Trump signed a proclamation Monday that recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, formalizing the Middle East policy shift he announced over Twitter last week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was with Trump at the White House as he signed the presidential proclamation. Prior to the signing, Netanyahu made remarks lavishing praise onto Trump that drew comparisons between the president and the Persian emperor Cyrus as heroic defenders of the Jewish people.

“Israel has never had a better friend than you,” Netanyahu said, enumerating several instances in which the administration has delivered on campaign promises favoring the Israeli leader, including U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran, restoration of sanctions on that country and the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital leading to the relocation of American embassy there.

“This is truly an historic day,” Netanyahu exclaimed, saying it has taken half a century “to translate our military victory into a diplomatic victory.”

“Your recognition is a two-fold act of historic justice. Israel won the Golan Heights in a just war of self-defense, and the Jewish people’s roots in the Golan go back thousands of years,” he added.

Following the signing, Trump said, “This was a long time in the making.”

The latest move reverses the position U.S. administrations have held for more than 50 years, when Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War. The region was annexed by the government in 1981, officially making it part of Israel and serving as a strategic military and agricultural post.

Netanyahu called the high ground “invaluable” to the national security of the nation, as did Trump’s proclamation.

“Today, aggressive acts by Iran and terrorist groups, including Hizballah, in southern Syria continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks on Israel. Any possible future peace agreement in the region must account for Israel’s need to protect itself from Syria and other regional threats. Based on these unique circumstances, it is therefore appropriate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” the document reads.

The decree puts the U.S. at odds with much of the international community, which considers the Golan occupied territory.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry rejected Trump’s decision to legitimize Israel’s claim over the contested land, calling it “a flagrant aggression of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, turning a blind eye to all international reactions that condemned such resolution,” according to an official interviewed by the Syrian Arab News Agency.

“The US president has no right or legal capacity to legalize the occupation or usurp the others’ land by force… and this US hostile policy makes the region and the world subject to all dangers,” the official said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said it is “clear that the status of Golan has not changed,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Monday, Reuters reported.

“The UN’s policy on Golan is reflected in the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and that policy has not changed,” Dujarric said.

Critics, including the U.N., contend U.S. recognition of Israel’s control over the disputed Golan is an irreversible break from the long-held principle of territorial integrity, prohibiting the acquisition of territory by war, that will inevitably have global consequences; they argue it weakens America’s ability to oppose Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as well as, pave the way for the Trump administration to recognize any future Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

The timing of the policy shift comes at an opportune time for Netanyahu, who faces a difficult election on April 9 and has been lobbying the Trump administration for several weeks to recognize the Golan as Israeli territory.

As NPR’s Daniel Estrin reported, “This Golan decision is a political gift for Netanyahu.”

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To Curb Kids' Sugary Drink Habits, Pediatricians Now Call For Soda Taxes

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association, in a joint statement, endorsed taxes on sugary drinks, restrictions on marketing to kids and incentives for healthier purchases.

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Pediatricians have long warned parents about the risks of consuming too many sugary drinks — including the link to Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Now, the nation’s leading group of kids’ doctors, the American Academy of Pediatrics, together with the American Heart Association, has endorsed a range of strategies designed to curb children’s consumption — including taxes on sugary drinks, limits on marketing sugary drinks to kids and financial incentives to encourage healthier beverage choices.

“For children, the biggest source of added sugars often is not what they eat, it’s what they drink,” says Natalie Muth, a pediatrician and the lead author of the new joint policy statement. By one estimate, kids and teens get about 17 percent of their calories from added sugars — and about half of those calories come from drinks.

While consumption of sugary drinks has declined in the U.S., kids and teens still consume about 150 calories a day, on average, from them. That’s about 12 ounces per day. But the American Heart Association recommends that children consume no more than 8 ounces per week.

“There’s a huge difference between what a typical child is drinking …. and what the recommendations are,” Muth says. By one estimate, sweetened beverages account for at least one-fifth of the weight gained between 1977 and 2007 among people in the U.S.

The new statement calls on local, state and national policymakers to consider raising the price of sugary drinks. Muth says taxes on sugary drinks have been shown to be successful. She says taxes are “a great example of a way to increase the price of sugary drinks, which we know decreases consumption.” The AAP and the American Heart Association note that such taxes are already in place in U.S. cities including Berkeley, Calif., and Philadelphia.

As we’ve reported, a study published last year found that Philadelphians were about 40 percent less likely to drink sweetened beverages daily after the tax went into effect, compared with people in surrounding areas that didn’t have a sugary drink tax. (One caveat: Other studies suggest that people in cities with soda taxes will go outside the city to buy sugary drinks.)

The soda industry has spent millions of dollars to fend off soda taxes. And the American Beverage Association argues there’s a better way to reduce the amount of sugar consumers get from beverages. “We are supporting parents who want less sugar in their kids’ diets by creating more drinks than ever before with less or no sugar,” says William Dermody, spokesperson for the ABA.
“Today, 50 percent of all beverages sold contain zero sugar as we drive toward a goal of reducing beverage calories consumed by 20 percent by 2025,” Dermody says.

The new joint policy statement also called on federal and state governments to support efforts to decrease the marketing of sugary drinks to children and teens. “As a nation we have to say ‘no’ to the onslaught of marketing of sugary drinks to our children,” Rachel Johnson, a professor emeritus of nutrition at the University of Vermont and the former chair of the AHA’s nutrition committee, said in a statement. “We know what works to protect kids’ health and it’s time we put effective policies in place that bring down rates of sugary drinks consumption, just like we’ve done with tobacco.”

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