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Accused sex trafficker and wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein found dead by suicide in Manhattan jail

370 0 10 Aug 2019

Jeffrey Epstein, the millionaire financier and accused sex trafficker, is dead by suicide, according to three officials familiar with the matter.

The officials told NBC News he was found at 7:30 a.m. ET at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York and that he hanged himself.

He was transported Saturday morning from the Metropolitan Correctional Center to a hospital in Lower Manhattan. Upon arrival, he was in cardiac arrest, people familiar with the matter say.

Epstein, 66, was being held on federal sex trafficking charges.

He was arrested July 6 in Teterboro, New Jersey, as he returned from Paris on a private jet.

He had pleaded not guilty and was denied bail.

The indictment on his case showed that he sought out minors, some as young as 14, from at least 2002 through 2005 and paying them hundreds of dollars in cash for sex at either his Manhattan townhouse or his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, federal prosecutors revealed last month.

Epstein was charged with one count of sex trafficking conspiracy and one count of sex trafficking. He faced up to 45 years in prison if found guilty.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

ATF under fresh Hill scrutiny in the wake of mass shootings

126 0 10 Aug 2019

WASHINGTON — A congressional committee is sharpening their scrutiny of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, questioning the agency’s oversight of gun dealers who sell firearms involved in a large number of crimes.

The inquiry, which comes after back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, has been welcomed by gun rights activists who have been raising questions about the ATF’s ability to do its job amid congressional restrictions that have hamstrung the agency.

In a letter sent Friday, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., asked the agency for a series of documents to “better understand enforcement efforts” of gun dealers that sell a large number of guns that are used in crimes.

The committee is asking for the top five gun dealers of each state that are responsible for the sale of guns recovered in crimes from January 1, 2014 to August 22, 2019 and the relevant information of each purchase, including the name and location of the dealer, the number of guns sold by each dealer involved in crimes and the number of homicides or assaults committed with the guns.

“The Committee is gravely concerned that current law enforcement efforts are not adequately addressing this crisis,” Cummings wrote. “This investigation will inform Congress’s ability to make changes in federal law that saves lives.”

The committee also asked to know what violations ATF found, and how the enforcement mechanisms implemented.

Federal law mandates that licenses are supposed to be inspected on either a three or five year basis — but Congress, which has oversight of the ATF, is unsure if that is happening.

The reason Congress is clueless is in part because of the rules Congress wrote, which have for years watered down its own ability to conduct oversight of the ATF — a policy priority of the National Rifle Association.

“These restrictions [imposed by Congress] protect the gun industry at the expense of the public safety. They prevent the ATF from effectively and efficiently policing the industry and thwart efforts to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” said Josh Scharff, an attorney the Brady Campaign.

In 2003, Congress passed the Tiahrt amendment, named for the sponsor, former Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., which prohibited ATF from releasing trace data — data about the sale of individual guns. Gun dealers are responsible for keeping their own records of gun sales and the Tiahrt amendment protected gun dealers from having to provide that information to the government.

A separate amendment, known as a rider, attached to appropriations bills over the years prohibited the ATF from digitizing their records on gun licenses, which gun rights activists say has made it extremely difficult to obtain any information because an understaffed, underfunded ATF has to manually go through records.

The Tiahrt amendment was added to every Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill, but it was made less stringent in 2008 and 2010 by allowing ATF to provide the trace data to law enforcement and federal agencies in some instances if requested. And it allowed for the ATF to release trace data publicly, but only in the aggregate.

The NRA has not responded to a request for comment.

The ATF has long been under-resourced. Deputy Director Thomas Brandon, defied the White House and told Congress in March that the agency doesn’t have enough money and the president’s budget for 2020 would decimate the agency. “You hear people say, ‘trim the fat.’ Then we trimmed into the muscle and now we’re trimming into the bone,” Brandon told the House Appropriations Committee.

Two weeks later, Brandon announced his retirement, providing no reason. There is currently no director, with an acting deputy director running the agency. President Donald Trump announced nominated Kenneth “Chuck” Canterbury, the current president of the Fraternal Order of Police, to run the ATF in May. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on his nomination in July.

The House of Representatives, in its fiscal year 2020 funding bills, has attempted to reverse some of the trends. The most recent measure provides $1.44 billion for ATF, $122 million more than what was provided in 2019.

The appropriations bill also commissions a new study at the ATF on weapons trafficking and directs the FBI to study mass shootings. The last time that research was done was in 2000, when it found that 60 percent of guns used in crimes came from just 1 percent of gun dealers.

And for the first time in more than 20 years, the House has provided funding for the CDC to study the use of gun violence.

But those provisions still have to be approved by the Senate.

Ohio family using DNA kit learns dad and daughter not related, sues fertility clinic

103 0 10 Aug 2019

An Ohio family using a home DNA test found that their 25-year-old daughter is not related to her father, according to a lawsuit they filed against a hospital and two fertility practices.

Joe Cartellone said his family made the discovery earlier this year after buying an Ancestry DNA kit to learn more about their Italian heritage, the family’s lawsuit filed Wednesday in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas said.

“I never would have imagined the Christmas gift of a home DNA kit would unveil this kind of abuse of our trust,” Cartellone told reporters this week. “It’s hard to explain the shock and agony when you find out someone you love and care for — your own daughter — is not genetically related to you.”

Joe CartelloneNBC News

He and his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Rebecca, are suing three Cincinnati defendants — the Institute for Reproductive Health, The Christ Hospital and Ohio Fertility Providers.

DNA tests showed that Rebecca is related to five men she has never met before, and one of them “previously worked as a doctor at The Christ Hospital,” family lawyer Adam Wolf told NBC affiliate WCMH in Columbus.

Wolf said his clients want to know the identity of Rebecca’s biological father and whether Cartellone’s sperm was used for another patient.

“If you provide sperm to create an embryo and you find out that sperm was not used for your daughter, you have to wonder, where did your sperm go?” Wolf said. “We are questioning if they were negligent or engaged in intentional misconduct, and whatever it is, it is horrifying.”

Cartellone said the emotional fallout has been difficult.

His wife, Jennifer, “has to deal with the fact that this clinic and doctors fertilized her egg with a complete stranger’s sperm and placed them in her body,” he said. “These clinics need to be held accountable and suffer real consequences.”

After using the Ancestry kit, the family underwent further DNA testing to confirm the results, the lawsuit says.

The Christ Hospital said in a statement, “While we are evaluating the allegations surrounding events alleged to have occurred in the early 1990s, it is The Christ Hospital Health Network’s practice to not publicly comment on pending litigation.”

The Institute for Reproductive Health issued a statement saying it was not involved with the treatment for the Cartellones as neither it nor its IVF laboratory existed at the time of the alleged incident. “IRH is a practice group of reproductive endocrinologists and is a completely separate entity from Christ Hospital.”

The statement further said that the institute maintains strict protocols “‘to verify patient identity and maintain the chain of custody of all specimens involved in the IVF process,” and that its lab protocols have been inspected and accredited by various organizations.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio Fertility Providers also said it was only founded in the early 2000s, and thus has no connection to the Cartellones.

The Cartellones’ case illustrates a lack of oversight that could help prevent mistakes at fertility clinics, the family’s lawyers said in a release Wednesday.

“As an increasing number of people use fertility services, the industry has outpaced regulation. There is clearly a need for additional governmental oversight,” the release said, quoting Naomi Cahn, professor at George Washington University Law School and author of a book on the fertility industry.

In one well-known case in 2014, home DNA tests revealed that a local fertility doctor in Indianapolis had secretly used his own sperm to impregnate his patients in the ’70s and the ’80s, The Atlantic reported.

More recently, in Canada, a fertility doctor was formally reprimanded in June for inseminating at least 11 women with his own sperm and giving the wrong sperm to dozens more women beginning in the 1970s.

Report: Antonio Brown won’t play football again if he doesn’t get to wear his helmet of choice

99 0 10 Aug 2019

Getty Images

Mr. Big Chest is threatening to take his helmet and go home.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Raiders receiver Antonio Brown has informed team officials that, unless he gets to wear his old helmet, he will not play football again.

Schefter also reports that Brown believes that the new helmet he is supposed to wear “protrudes out and interferes with his vision as he tries to catch [the] football.” Brown has refused to wear other approved helmets offered to him by the Raiders.

As PFT has reported, the model of Brown’s specific helmet is among those that can be worn. Apparently, however, that model has sufficiently changed in the past decade to make Brown not interested in wearing it.

It’s unclear whether Brown means what he says. But, again, he’s used to getting his way — and he’ll apparently keep trying to get the NFL to bend to his wishes.

At a time when the NFL seems to be willing to do whatever it has to do to ensure that highly-talented football players are available to play football, maybe the NFL will find a way to let Brown do what he wants, if he truly is serious about not playing football.

In the interim, it would probably be smart to keep an eye on Brown’s social-media feeds for a late-night, shirtless press conference from an elliptical machine.

FBI arrests Las Vegas man who allegedly wanted to shoot Jews, LGBTQ bar patrons

108 0 10 Aug 2019

A 23-year-old Las Vegas man who allegedly wanted to attack Jews and patrons of an LGBTQ bar was arrested on suspicion of possessing parts to make a bomb, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada said Friday.

Conor Climo, who was arrested Thursday, was connected to white supremacists though encrypted online conversations, federal prosecutors said.

After Climo’s arrest, FBI agents said he told them he had acquired electronic components to build a bomb and that he wanted to mobilize an eight-man sniper platoon to shoot Jewish people either at a Las Vegas synagogue or some other location.

According to charging documents, an FBI bomb technician found bomb-making components and chemical compounds in Climo’s bedroom. Federal agents said they also seized an AR-15 style rifle and a bolt-action rifle from the room.

Climo tried to recruit a homeless person to engage in “pre-attack surveillance” on a house of worship and wanted to target patrons of an LGBTQ bar on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, federal prosecutors said in a statement.

Agents say Climo sketched images of such an attack in drawings that included two infantry squads attacking the bar with guns from the outside and one attacking it from the inside.

He allegedly told agents, according to FBI officials, that over the past two years he thought of several ideas to carry out an attack on Jews.

FBI officials said they received information that Climo was communicating with individuals who identified with the white supremacist extremist group Atomwaffen Division. Prosecutors said in their statement that he also communicated with people who “identified with” the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group.

Climo could face up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted, prosecutors said. His next court date is scheduled for Aug. 23.

Climo was featured on a local TV report in 2016 that described him as a “local citizen on patrol” who openly carried an assault-style weapon and a large knife.

Authorities said Climo was a security guard.

Where is Daddy?: Children suffering in aftermath of mass Mississippi ICE raids

168 0 09 Aug 2019

MORTON, Miss. — Ever since his father was rounded up in the massive immigration work site raids in Mississippi this week, Nery, who is 6 and autistic, has refused to eat, according to his older sister.

“He hasn’t eaten anything, he looks at the food and he doesn’t eat,” Stefany, 18, told NBC News on Friday.

Both Stefany’s father and aunt were among the almost 700 arrested during work site raids in Mississippi targeting food processing plants Wednesday — an operation officials have said is the largest single-state enforcement action in U.S. history.

In the aftermath of the raids, hundreds of families like Stefany’s are grappling with an uncertain future as their loved ones face deportation proceedings.

Stefany, 18, and her sister Ingrid, 3, whose dad and aunt were taken right in front of Ingrid, who was sitting in the back seat of the car.Annie Rose Ramos / NBC News

Stefany, who asked that her family name not be used because of safety concerns, said she does not know where her father and aunt are and she was becoming increasingly worried about her brother Nery, who relied on his father.

“I’m really scared because I don’t know what to do,” said Stefany, the oldest of six children.

She said every time someone comes to visit their home, Nery tries to peer into the car as if he were looking for his father.

“He really needs my dad, my dad is the only thing he needs,” she said, adding her father is the only one who could keep Nery calm as he took him to therapist appointments, because Nery is sensitive to noises like that of other cars.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Thursday that of the approximately 680 people detained and suspected of being undocumented, about 300 have been released from custody and placed into proceedings before federal immigration courts. Those who remained detained were being held in Louisiana and Mississippi, the officials said.

The administration has defended the tactics of the raids and said it took precautions to ease the burden on families, but one ICE official added, “We are a law enforcement agency, not a social services agency.” Immigration advocates have condemned the operation and pointed to images of sobbing children leaving their first week of school to find their parents were gone.

Stefany said her father was driving his sister to work Wednesday morning, with his 3-year-old daughter Ingrid in the car. They then saw that the food processing plant in Morton, where they both worked was being raided by ICE.

Stefany, a high school senior in Morton, said she was in school when she heard the news.

Her aunt called crying and told her that immigration authorities had found them hiding in their car, she said.

She said she could hear her father telling someone that “he has six kids and one with autism.”

“I just heard screaming, people screaming at him that they’re going to take him to jail,” she said. “I was just crying.”

Her father and her aunt were detained in front of Ingrid, who was sitting in the back seat of the car, Stefany said. It wasn’t until about two hours later that the little girl was released to another aunt, she said.

Stefany said her little sister now keeps saying, “Daddy, where is Daddy?”

“It was the only thing she was saying,” she said.

Stefany added she hoped President Donald Trump and immigration officials would think about the families devastated by the raids.

“I just want them to know that kids are suffering,” she said.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Morton, Brenda, a mother of five who also asked her last name not be used, was still waiting to hear from her husband. She said in Spanish that she found it strange when her husband had not yet returned home from work at the time he usually does, and she heard a helicopter flying overhead.

Then, a friend called and told her immigration authorities had come to the food processing plant where she and her husband worked.

“He is the father of my children, who has supported me in everything,” Brenda said through tears from her home. “I don’t know what I am going to do without him.”

Gabe Gutierrez and Annie Rose Ramos reported from Morton, Mississippi, and Daniella Silva reported from New York.

Im the shooter: Accused El Paso gunman told police he was targeting Mexicans

101 0 09 Aug 2019

The man accused of gunning down 22 people at an El Paso Walmart last week confessed to the grisly crime and admitted he was targeting people of Mexican descent, according to unsealed court documents on Friday.

“I’m the shooter,” suspect Patrick Crusius told officers who pulled him over, according to the arrest warrant written by El Paso police Det. Adrian Garcia obtained by the Associated Press.

Crusius emerged out of his car and raised his hands, the warrant said.

Later, Crusius waived his Miranda Rights against self-incrimination and spoke with detectives, telling them he was targeting Mexicans during his attack.

Just before Saturday’s attack, a hate-filled racist screed, linked to Crusius, was posted on extremist online forum 8chan. The rant decried the “invasion” of Mexican immigrants to the United States and hailed the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shooter, an anti-immigrant white supremacist who left 51 dead in March.

The writer said he was angry about Mexican immigration long before the election of President Donald Trump, who based much of his 2016 campaign on building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

El Paso police originally said 20 people were killed on Saturday but then two more died from their wounds in coming days. About two dozen others were injured in the attack.

The El Paso shooting preceded another mass shooting the following day in Dayton, Ohio, where nine people were killed in a popular downtown entertainment district.

Associated Press contributed.

Were a totally peaceful racist group, says Straight Pride organizer to a California city council

111 0 09 Aug 2019

A man behind a planned Aug. 24 “Straight Pride” rally in Modesto, California, said at a city council meeting there that the organizers were a “totally peaceful racist group.”

“You pulled the race card,” Don Grundmann, a chiropractor from the Bay Area said as he pointed at one council member at the meeting Wednesday, according to a video uploaded by the Modesto Bee. “You pulled the race card to pull in attacks against us, to justify attacks against us in that park, and when they come you’re going to turn right around and say we deserved it. We haven’t done anything, we’re a totally peaceful racist group.”

Meeting attendees who oppose the rally erupted in laughter and began to shout and clap. “He said it,” some could be heard exclaiming. A member of the council put her palm to her face and swiveled her chair away from the crowd, apparently paralyzed with laughter, while the rest of the council stared unblinkingly at Grundmann.

Grundmann then turned away from the microphone and engaged with the crowd. When he returned to the microphone, he said, “We’re here to defend all races and colors. I started the WAR alliance — the Whites Against Racism alliance.”

Gay marriage opponent Don Grundmann, left, argues with a supporter of gay marriage outside the California Supreme Court in San Francisco on March 4, 2008.Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP file

“If you want to find a hatred group against blacks who killed 20 million Americans, look at Planned Parenthood,” Grundmann said, echoing a popular conservative talking point. The crowd hissed in response.

When the Straight Pride rally was announced last month, Grundmann told NBC News that the event would express ““a very specific religious view of Christianity and its cultural foundations” and that he hoped for more such events “in all states and all counties.”

Last week, Matthew Mason, an estranged, adopted son of Grundmann’s organizational partner, Mylinda Mason, told NBC News that when she home-schooled him from kindergarten through 12th grade, she taught him a history of America that was laced with “white supremacy.”

Matthew Mason said that he was taught that America was a “God-blessed nation,” and that the lessons completely ignored “the genocide, slavery, and white nationalism that built it.”

Mylinda Mason told NBC News in response, “Let’s get the quote correct — it’s Western civilization that was built by European males that came here to establish the greatest nation on earth.”

Straight Pride organizers in Boston have been linked to far-right groups, according to NBC News.

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Trump: Serious discussions taking place on meaningful background checks

105 0 09 Aug 2019

President Donald Trump on Friday said he had “tremendous support” for possible new measures to tighten background checks on gun buyers, claiming that even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a traditional opponent of such laws, was “totally on board.”

His comments marked the latest sign that gun control measures — or at least, the discussion of the legislation — had fresh momentum following the most recent round of horrific mass shootings.

“On background checks, we have tremendous support for really common sense, sensible, important background checks,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn.

Trump said he’d spoken recently with “the people at the NRA” — which has aggressively fought all proposed gun control legislation in recent years — as well as McConnell and several other senators who have been “hard-line” on gun rights.

“I spoke to Mitch McConnell yesterday. He’s totally on board, he said ‘I’ve been waiting for your call,’” Trump said. “I spoke to Senators that in some cases, friends of mine, but pretty hardline senators… hard-line on the Second Amendment.”

“And they understand, we don’t want insane people, mentally ill people, bad people, dangerous people, we don’t want guns in the hands of the wrong people,” Trump said.

During more than 30 minutes of comments, Trump also predicted that Republicans would “lead the charge, along with the Democrats” in attempting to get a package of gun control bills passed.

“We have to have meaningful background checks,” he said. “I really believe that the NRA, I’ve spoken to them numerous times … I really think they’re gonna get there also.”

Hours earlier, Trump had tweeted that “serious” talks were in progress among top congressional lawmakers on background check measures.

“Guns should not be placed in the hands of mentally ill or deranged people. I am the biggest Second Amendment person there is, but we all must work together for the good and safety of our Country,” he wrote.

His deluge of comments come just days after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Gilroy, California, that left dozens dead and that have reignited debate over gun laws in the U.S.

While Trump has spoken of tightening background checks following previous mass shootings — only to later abandon those efforts — there are modest signs things could be different this time, with

On Thursday, McConnell said a law expanding background checks and “red flags” would be on the table after the Senate returns from its August recess.

“Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass,” the Republican leader said on a Kentucky radio station, speaking about a bipartisan bill from Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., which would expand background checks to cover online and gun show sales, and a so-called red flag law, legislation that allows courts and police to confiscate firearms from people who are believed to be a threat to themselves or to others.

“But what we can’t do, is fail to pass something. By just locking up, and failing to pass, that’s unacceptable,” McConnell said, marking a significant departure from his past handling of gun legislation in the wake of tragedies.

McConnell has fiercely opposed gun restrictions throughout his 35-year Senate career, consistently resisting calls for gun control measures after massacres and reaping the benefits of a close relationship with the NRA, which has already begun to fight the new push for gun control.

More than 200 House Democrats wrote a letter to McConnell earlier this week urging him to end the August recess and pass stricter gun control legislation. The Democratic-controlled House passed two background check measures in February.

What ICE did and did not do for kids left behind by Mississippi raids

91 0 09 Aug 2019

WASHINGTON — In the wake of the largest ever immigration raid in a single state, child welfare services are left grappling with children who came home from school to find their parents had been arrested at one of the seven Mississippi food processing plants targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday.

The agency said it took some precautions to ease the burden on families, but as one ICE official said, “We are a law enforcement agency, not a social services agency,” noting that any advance notice to welfare agencies or schools could have given undocumented immigrants advance warning and botched the operation.

The raids swept up nearly 700 workers. Because of the lack of preparation for the impact of missing parents, local authorities had to improvise. One school district said it instructed bus drivers to make sure they saw a parent or guardian at the bus stop before dropping off a child. In that district, children without parents at home were taken back to school to spend the night.

“What I saw was traumatic, painful,” said Elizabeth Iraheta, who witnessed the raid on a food processing plant where she works in Morton. “I’m thinking of the separated families, fathers and mothers deported, children left alone because their parents were arrested.”

The stories echo similar actions by the Trump administration, such as separating children from their parents at the border and leaving children in unsanitary conditions in border stations, that have had an outsized impact on young children and families.

Two ICE officials told NBC News they took the following steps out of concerns for families:

  1. Some parents of young children released: About 30 people were released at their work, rather than being taken into custody. The officials said many of these releases were done out of concerns that the parents had “tender age,” or children under the age of five, living at home with no one else to care for them. But the officials could not guarantee that all parents with tender age children were released.
  2. A phone call: Immigrants taken in for processing were each given a phone call. The officials said they believed this would be the opportunity for parents to call neighbors or relatives who could provide childcare.
  3. Over 270 parents released quickly: While over 300 immigrants remain in custody from the raids, roughly 270 were given court dates and released within a day. The ICE officials said many of the decisions to release were made because of “custody determinations,” such as the parent explaining no one else was home to take care of their children.
  4. Notifying schools: As soon as the raids were underway, schools across the area were notified that some of their students could be affected.

What they did not do:

  1. Notify child protective services: Mississippi Child Protective Services has said it was not notified in advance of the raids and that it should have been told in order to do their job. The ICE officials said they were under no obligation to notify the agency and said doing so might have tipped off immigrants of their plans. Another ICE officials told NBC News that ICE officers have taken a child welfare worker with them to homes during raids if they know a child may be left unaccompanied. Health and Human Services, which takes in unaccompanied migrant children, most often at the southern border, also said it has not received any referrals related to the raids in Mississippi.
  2. Tell schools in advance: Tony McGee, a school superintendent in a district where approximately 15 families were affected by the ICE raids, said his school was not given notice in advance. He said some parents were not at home when children left school that day. Local organizations stepped in to make sure the children had a safe place to go after school. It was the first day of school for many school districts across Mississippi.
  3. Guarantee that every child went home to a house with a guardian: The ICE officials said ICE could not make sure all parents of children had been released or that all children had a safe place to go after school. There were no plans in place to alleviate this risk entirely. “We are not a humanitarian agency, but we are trying our best to ameliorate the humanitarian concerns,” one of the officials said.