WASHINGTON — A former attorney for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday pleaded guilty after being accused of stealing immigrants’ identities.
Raphael Sanchez — who served as ICE’s chief counsel in Seattle before resigning on Monday — was convicted of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Justice Department prosecutors say Sanchez stole the identities of seven people who were “in various stages of immigration proceedings” allegedly to obtain $190,000 by defrauding credit card companies including Bank of America and Capital One. He carried out the scheme for over four years, according to prosecutors.
ICE has identified approximately 20 more potential victims whose personal information was found at Sanchez’s residence.
He is likely to receive a four-year sentence under a plea agreement, The Seattle Times reports.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a statement that it is the job of federal immigration authorities to “ensure the honest enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws.”
Sanchez admitted, “I betrayed that solemn responsibility.”
SEC blocks Chinese takeover of the Chicago Stock Exchange
The Securities and Exchange Commission — the top regulator for U.S. financial markets — is barring a Chinese-led group of investors from buying the Chicago Stock Exchange, according to CNN.
The SEC is highlighting various concerns, including whether the deal would allow it to supervise the exchange properly.
The SEC said that during a review, it was unable to obtain all the information it needed from the Chinese-led group of investors, including details about how some of the entities involved in the deal were funded. The regulator said this “raises significant doubts” that it could monitor the exchange if the deal went through.
The deal was first announced in February 2016, and had been in regulatory limbo for two years.
A U.S. panel that vets foreign deals for potential national security concerns had cleared the acquisition. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States said in December 2016 that there were “no unresolved national concerns” related to the takeover.
Trump to visit Parkland, site of Florida school shooting
President Trump will today visit Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in the latest mass shooting that has stunned the nation.
The stop comes two days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and during a previously scheduled visit to Florida for Presidents’ Day weekend.
Trump says he plans to meet with families and local officials and “continue coordinating the federal response.”
The president, who talked about mental illness but made no mention of gun control Thursday in his first public remarks about the shooting, is facing mounting pressure to tighten the nation’s gun laws following the deadliest U.S. school shooting in five years.
Some people are criticizing the president’s visit, saying it is hypocritical because he has not responded to calls to address gun violence in the nation.
Community calls for action after deadly Florida school shooting
More prayer services and candlelight vigils are scheduled today as the grieving Parkland, Fla., community remembers the 17 lives lost in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
A parent organization is demanding gun control legislation after a march on the state Capitol, according to The Hill.
Despite the National Rifle Association’s heavy influence in Washington, several leading Republicans also says it’s time for Congress to finally dive into the issue of gun violence.
Thousands of mourners are expected to pay tribute to the victims of the Wednesday massacre, with friends, family and coaches sharing their memories.
Trump ended a ban on gun sales to the mentally ill a year ago this month
One day after a Florida shooting left 17 people dead, President Trump pledged that his “top priority” will be “making our schools and our children safer” — tweeting that the shooter was “mentally disturbed” and promising to address “the difficult issue of mental health,” according to USA Today.
Trump proposed no specific policies in the wake of the shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school, in which a former student opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle and a big supply of bullets.
USA Today notes that Trump didn’t mention gun laws or that he reversed a rule banning gun purchases by the mentally ill last February.
Republicans worry that the White House’s stumbling response to that controversy will further erode their standing with women ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
Cubs star, Stoneman Douglas alum: ’Something has to change’
Chicago Cubs star Anthony Rizzo issued a broad call for action after a deadly shooting at the South Florida high school that the MLB player attended more than a decade ago.
Rizzo, an alum of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., joined mourners of the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 17 people, saying that such violence has become all too common, saying, “While I don’t have all the answers, I know that something has to change before this is visited on another community, and another community, and another community.”
The accused gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder he allegedly committed with an assault-style AR-15 rifle, he bought legally a year ago. Cruz was himself a former student of Stoneman Douglas but had been expelled for disciplinary reasons.
The attack has prompted renewed calls for stricter gun-control laws, particularly for individuals with mental illness.
Winter Olympics: Swiss athletes hit by norovirus outbreak
Two Swiss athletes at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea have become the first competitors to be hit by an outbreak of the norovirus, according to the BBC.
The freestyle skiers, Fabian Boesch and Elias Ambuehl, were isolated from the rest of the team after being diagnosed, the Swiss team says.
More than 200 people have been affected by the outbreak of the highly contagious virus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea.
Olympic spokesman Christophe Dubi says that measures had been put in place to avoid a further outbreak of the highly contagious virus, adding “As soon as a case is reported then all the area gets disinfected.”
Business groups pressing for repeal of ObamaCare employer mandate
Business groups are pressing Congress to repeal ObamaCare’s employer mandate to offer health insurance to workers, but getting Republicans to act on the issue will likely be an uphill battle, according to The Hill.
After repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in December, business groups are demanding Congress also take action on the employer mandate — which requires most employers to offer insurance to their workers or face fines — arguing that having one without the other is inequitable.
Business groups aiming to repeal the rule aren’t likely to get action from Republicans during an election year, when health care is an especially thorny issue.
Boston sports radio station goes silent today for sensitivity training
Boston sports radio station WEEI is going off the air today from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. for staff sensitivity training in the wake of recent on-air controversies, including one that led to the suspension of a host after he criticized New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s 5-year-old daughter.
The station says it ordered the mandatory session “to ensure that our programming is never intolerant or harmful to our listeners or our city,” reports USA Today.
Host Alex Reimer was suspended indefinitely last month after calling Brady’s daughter, Vivian, an “annoying little pissant.”
Brady then went on air before the Super Bowl, saying that he would “evaluate” whether he would continue his relationship with the station.
Favorite Mikaela Shiffrin misses out on slalom medal at Olympics
Less than 24 hours after her triumph in the giant slalom came a reminder that Olympic titles do not come easily, not even for phenomenal talents like Mikaela Shiffrin.
The 22-year-old defending champion, the overwhelming favorite, missed out on a medal in the slalom, finishing fourth to end her dream of becoming the first skier to win successive Olympic gold medals in the event.
The talented all-rounder — set to compete in all five Alpine events before these Games began — has already withdrawn from Saturday’s super-G and may now only race in next week’s alpine combined, USA Today reports.
GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures
Republicans are looking for a Plan B on immigration after a series of proposals were rejected in the Senate, leaving little time to act before some 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children could face deportation.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, is floating a proposal to extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program indefinitely in exchange for $25 billion for border security, according to The Hill.
President Trump has opposed any deal that does not also include changes to two legal immigration programs, however.
It is also far from clear whether GOP House conservatives would go along with the plan. GOP leaders in that chamber are trying to build support for a harder-line bill, though an initial version has come up short in whipping efforts.
Still, GOP lawmakers are taking a close look at new ideas after legislation based on Trump’s framework for an immigration deal won just 39 votes— fewer than two other proposals.
VA Secretary Shulkin to pay back some travel expenses after Europe trip faulted
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin told lawmakers on Thursday that he would repay more than $4,000 that was spent on his wife’s airfare for an 11-day trip to Europe last summer, according to Fox News.
A report made public by the VA’s internal watchdog recommends that Shulkin reimburse $4,312 that was spent by the department on a plane ticket for Shulkin’s wife, Merle Bari. The report also finds that Shulkin had improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
Admits Shulkin to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, “I do recognize the optics of this are not good,” adding that he wants to “make things right.”
The report also finds that Shulkin’s chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, altered emails to make it appear that Shulkin was receiving an award to justify his wife’s traveling on the public’s dime.
ACLU challenges Ohio law criminalizing abortion after Down Syndrome diagnosis
The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging an Ohio law that criminalizes abortions if a doctor performing a termination is aware that the woman has received a diagnosis that her fetus has Down syndrome.
The Ohio ACLU filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, arguing the law violates the liberty and privacy clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Cleveland abortion provider Preterm, seeks to delay enforcement of the law, which is scheduled to go into effect March 23. The law was passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. John Kasich last December. Kasich had previously called the law “appropriate.”
Says Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, “This ban is just a thinly-veiled attempt to criminalize abortion in Ohio.”
Under the law, doctors would lose their medical licenses in the state and face a fourth-degree felony charge if they were to perform an abortion with that knowledge.
Pruitt faced profanities from fellow passengers when he flew coach
The Environmental Protection Agency reveals that Administrator Scott Pruitt faced profanities and confrontations while traveling after controversy surrounding his use of first-class flights, according to The Hill.
The director of the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Henry Barnet, tells Politico that Pruitt was “approached in the airport numerous times” and had profanities “yelled at him” during his travels.
Barnet tells the publication a person approached him, and shout “Scott Pruitt, you’re f—ing up the environment” while recording it on a cellphone.
The EPA’s defense of the administrator’s traveling habits comes after The Washington Post reported Pruitt frequently flies first-class on official trips, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.
CBS News reports that Pruitt flew business class in June on an Emirates flight back from Italy after obtaining a waiver to rules that require official travel to be on United States-flagged airlines.
Pruitt blames his first-class flying on interactions that have “not been the best,” telling the
The New Hampshire Union Leader reports that his security detail dictates his travel choices, and he plays no role in the decisions.
Russian bots flood twitter with pro-gun messages after Florida shooting
Tweets from Russia-linked accounts related to the deadly school shooting in South Florida spiked after the attack, Wired reports.
Hamilton 68, a website that tracks Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence campaigns, identified trending hashtags and topics, including Parkland, guncontrolnow, Florida and guncontrol, as well as Nikolas – the name of the accused shooter –according to the magazine.
The findings came a day after a shooter opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 people.
Russian bots are being used to spread misinformation about who the shooter was and what groups he belonged to with the goal, according to Wired, not to promote one side over another but “to amplify the loudest voices in that fight, deepening the divisions between us.”
According to Wired, some bot operators create hashtags and push them until they are picked up by human users. Other bots seize on hashtags already in use to hijack the conversation.
Bannon talks to Mueller, but balks at some congressional questions about Russia probe
Steve Bannon, the combative former chief strategist for President Trump, testified for 20 hours as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation this week, an unnamed source familiar with the testimony tells the Associated Press.
Bannon allegedly answered every question that was put to him by Mueller’s team, in contrast to his appearance before the House intelligence committee, where he declined to answer some of lawmakers’ questions, despite a subpoena.
In questioning Bannon, Mueller is investigating whether there was any coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russians who meddled in the 2016 election, and whether there have been any efforts to obstruct the ongoing FBI probe into those contacts. The House panel is investigating the meddling and whether Trump’s campaign was involved.
South Africa’s new president Cyril Ramaphosa, a favorite of Mandela
Cyril Ramaphosa, a protégé of Nelson Mandela before becoming one of South Africa’s richest men, is South Africa’s fifth president, vowing to address gaping inequality, The New York Times reports.
The 65-year old Ramaphosa, who was the lead negotiator in the transition from apartheid to democracy in the early 1990s, promises to take a hard line on corruption and clean up the government after the corrosive period of decline and division under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.
In an indication of the challenges facing Ramaphosa, who delivered a measured and conciliatory speech to lawmakers, the two main opposition parties refused to participate in the National Assembly vote that made him president, arguing it was a sham process because the ruling African National Congress party was tainted by its association with corruption scandals during the Zuma era.
Red Stripe comes to the rescue of Jamaican bobsled team at Olympics
The Jamaican bobsled team desperately needed a new sled before competing next Wednesday in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
And, in an amazing twist, a Jamaican beer company steps in to provide it.
Red Stripe, which is based in the nation’s capital of Kingston, has supplied a sled for the Jamaican bobsled team to use in competition early next week after the dramatic departure of driver coach Sandra Kiriasis left the team without a sled.
Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation spokesperson Kathleen Pulito tells USA Today Sports that the team has accepted Red Stripe’s offer of a new sled and is preparing it for competition.
Kiriasis wrote in a post that, among other things, she had secured sponsors for the Jamaican team and rented its sled in Winterberg, Germany, for use in Pyeongchang, The BBC reports that she claims to be legally responsible for the sled and was seeking payment for it.
FCC Chair Ajit Pai being investigated for Sinclair ties, lawmakers say
Ajit Pai, the controversial chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is under investigation by the FCC Inspector General for his ties to a broadcaster, according to lawmakers.
Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey and Elijah Cummings of Maryland requested the investigation, saying that Pai and aides improperly pushed for rule changes to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting in its attempt to acquire Tribune Media.
Last April Pai suggested rule changes about how many stations broadcasters could own. Sinclair followed up with a $3.9 billion deal and snapped up Tribune, thanks to the new rules.
The question for the Inspector General: was Pai’s push for the new rules improper and were they timed to benefit Sinclair.
Sinclair is already the largest U.S. broadcaster with 191 stations. Tribune brings another 42 stations to the deal.
Tom Ashbrook, host of NPR’s ‘On Point,’ fired over workplace abuse allegations
Tom Ashbrook, host of one of National Public Radio’s most successful programs, has been fired over allegations of workplace abuse.
Boston radio station WBUR says that On Point host Ashbrook was cleared of sexual misconduct but created an abusive environment for staff. He’s been on leave since last yDecember.
Ashbrook says he’s “deeply disappointed” and calls his firing “profoundly unfair.” He apologized to colleagues who found him and the show’s pace “just too much.”
The station received complaints from 11 men and women who previously worked on the show and accused Ashbrook of verbal abuse, bullying and unwanted touching.
Outside firms hired to investigate say Ashbrook didn’t violate sexual misconduct policies but was abusive in other ways. On Point is carried by more than 290 NPR stations.
Transgender woman breastfeeds baby after hospital-induced lactation
A transgender woman has become the first recorded to successfully breastfeed her baby, The Washington Post reports, citing a study published last month in Transgender Health.
The 30-year-old says she decided to breastfeed her then-unborn baby. Her partner was pregnant with the baby, but didn’t plan on breastfeeding, The Post reports.
According to the study, the woman underwent a three-and-half month treatment that included a drug to stimulate lactation and hormone therapy to suppress testosterone.
Stamford High students’ yeast experiment wins NASA nod
A science experiment by New Jersey’s Stamford High School students is launching into space in June, the Associated Press reports.
Traveling on a SpaceX Dragon rocket, their project will land at the International Space Station as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program sponsored by NASA.
Stamford High was among the 30 finalists for the spaceflight program chosen last summer from a pool of about 11,000. The program asks students to think critically about problems encountered by humans in space, from retaining vision in low pressure to eating and making food — each topics that Stamford students proposed studying.
Special education teacher Sue Dougherty, who also teaches chemistry and physics, is overseeing the spaceflight projects of 13 junior and senior boys, including the winning project about how yeast breeds in space, according to the Stamford Advocate.
This week, the Toshiba America Foundation awarded the school $4,000 for a bioreactor that students can use to simulate space conditions.
Happy Lunar New Year!
Millions around the world will celebrate Chinese New Year today, ushering in the year of the Dog, reports USA Today.
The biggest celebrations will be held in China, where 1.3 billion people will travel to be with family and friends, but there are festivities in many Asian countries, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Korea.
Lunar New Year celebrations last 15 days, beginning by cleaning the house to sweep away bad luck and culminating in the spectacular Lantern Festival.
Popular traditions include fireworks, the dragon dance, the giving of money in red envelopes and eating traditional foods.
Welcome to Wakanda: ‘Black Panther’ is here
Black Panther, the most high-profile black movie superhero yet, hits theaters today, USA Today reports.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, the highly anticipated film has already broken Marvel’s pre-sale records and is expected to pull a box-office opening of $100 million to $120 million.
The movie, starring Chadwick Boseman as the titular African king and masked warrior, is poised to royally rock pop culture, and fans are already praising the film for celebrating black excellence at an unprecedented level.
The all-star cast includes Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Martin Freeman and Daniel Kaluuya.