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2 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on Stop & Shop Strike Ends

Stop & Shop Strike Ends

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After more than three months of negotiations and 11 days on strike, over 30,000 Stop & Shop workers have reached a tentative agreement with the supermarket chain that they said met their demands for better pay, health care coverage and other benefits.  The employees, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union at more than 240 Stop & Shops across Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, returned to work on April 22 after reaching the deal on Sunday.

During an interview, union spokeswoman Jessica Raimundo said “The new contract does satisfy the different points of contention.  The agreement preserves health care and retirement benefits, provides wage increases, and maintains time-and-a-half pay on Sunday for current members.  Under this proposed contract, our members will be able to focus on continuing to help customers in our communities.”   Details of the proposed three-year agreement will not be made public until the 31,000 union members across five locals ratify the contract.

A previous three-year contract expired on Feb. 23, and workers had protested what they considered cuts in the new contract to health care, take-home pay and other benefits. Stop & Shop continued negotiations with the union throughout the strike.  During negotiations, Stop & Shop employees argued that the chain’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize, reported profits of more than $2 billion to its shareholders last year, and could afford to compensate workers better.

Stop & Shop is a subsidiary of Dutch supermarket giant Ahold Delhaize, with 415 stores across the Northeast. Workers at company stores in New York and New Jersey were not on strike.  Stop & Shop is one of the last remaining union shops in the industry and the largest grocery store chain in New England.

Workers on strike included cashiers, stockers, bakers, deli clerks and butchers.  When the strike began, Stop & Shops across the three states set in motion a contingency plan to keep the stores open. The chain sent out support staff members and temporary replacement workers to several supermarkets but some stores were forced to close during the strike.  The company limited its offerings amid the strikes. Stop & Shop President Mark McGowan said in a letter April 16 that most stores would remain open for 12 hours, seven days a week. However, he said bakery, customer service, deli, seafood counters and gas stations would not be operational.

Stop & Shop released a statement following the end of the strike and said it was thankful for its customers’ patience.  “The tentative three-year agreements, which are subject to ratification votes by members of each of the union locals, include: increased pay for all associates; continued excellent health coverage for eligible associates; and ongoing defined pension benefits for all eligible associates.  Our associates’ top priority will be restocking our stores so we can return to taking care of our customers and communities and providing them with the services they deserve. We deeply appreciate the patience and understanding of our customers during this time, and we look forward to welcoming them back to Stop & Shop.”

 

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3 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on Video Shows Broward County Deputy Assaulting Teen

Video Shows Broward County Deputy Assaulting Teen

 

 

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The Broward County Sheriff’s Department says it will probe the actions of officers caught on camera brutally assaulting teenagers after responding to a call about an after-school fight in a McDonald’s parking lot near their high school in Coral Springs.  Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen said in a statement that the deputy shown in the viral video should be fired.  The incident between the teen and deputy was captured on cellphone video by a group of teens who had gathered at a McDonald’s parking lot after school to watch two teens fight.

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said he would launch a “thorough investigation” into deputies who are shown on video pepper-spraying, tackling and punching teens near J.P. Taravella High.  “It may take some time but we will be transparent, and if folks need to be held accountable, it shall be done,” he said in a video statement.  One of the deputies involved, Christopher Krickovich, has been with the department for six years and is on restricted assignment pending the investigation.  The other deputy, Sgt. Greg LaCerra, has been with the Sheriff’s Office for 17 years and his status is unclear.

The cellphone video appears to show one deputy who responded to the scene restraining a teenager in the parking lot when another deputy pushes away a girl who appeared to grab a phone from the ground.  When another teen intervenes, the same deputy then uses pepper spray on the teen before grabbing him and taking him to the ground.  Two other deputies then jump in, one of them straddles the boy who is face down on the ground, punched him in the head repeatedly before grabbing him by the back of the neck and slamming his face into the pavement.  The victim, a 14-year-old student at J.P. Taravella High School, was left bleeding heavily and was later rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.

It all began with the initial 911 call at 2:55 p.m. reporting that several students had gathered in the Tamarac McDonald’s parking lot, a popular after-school hangout.  A follow-up call at 3:08 p.m. reported that kids were fighting.  Krickovich wrote in a police report that he and LaCerra saw a fight starting but it ended before they got close enough to break it up. They also spotted a student who had been warned not to trespass at the shopping center and arrested him.  “While I was dealing with the male on the ground, I observed his phone slide to the right of me and then behind me.

I observed a teen wearing a red tank top reach down and attempt to grab the male student’s phone,” Krickovich wrote.  The teen “took an aggressive stance” toward LaCerra, “bladed his body and began clenching his fists,” Krickovich wrote. At that point, one of the deputies pepper-sprayed and “quickly jumped on the male with the red tank top,” Krickovich wrote, saying he was fearing for his safety.  The teen’s “left arm was free and next to him, while he placed his right arm under his face. I struck the male in the right side of his head with a closed fist as a distractionary technique to free his right hand. This technique was successful and I was able to place him into handcuffs without further incident.”  Krickovich’s also stated in the police report that the three officers were outnumbered by about 200 students “who were yelling, threatening us and surrounding us, I had to act quickly, fearing I would get stuck or having a student potentially grab weapons off of my belt or vest.”

Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen said the deputy who threw the student to the ground should be suspended at the very minimum and the deputy who punched the student and pushed his head into the ground should be removed.

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1 month ago · by · Comments Off on NY State Files Lawsuit Against Purdue and Sackler Family Members

NY State Files Lawsuit Against Purdue and Sackler Family Members

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New York State announced a sweeping lawsuit against members of the Sackler family, the owner of Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, the highly addictive drug at the center of the opioid epidemic.  A group of over 500 cities, counties and Native American tribes have filed suit against Purdue and 8 members of the Sackler family, which founded and owns Purdue Pharma, for their role in creating “the worst drug crisis in American history” by lying about the dangers of the opioid painkiller OxyContin and deceitful marketing of the drug.

New York Attorney General Letitia James accused the Sacklers of masterminding a scheme that “literally profited off of … suffering and death.”  While announcing the suit, James said “And as Purdue sold more and more opioids, the Sackler family transferred more and more wealth into their personal accounts. And as the lawsuits have piled up against the Sackler family and Purdue for their roles in this crisis, they continue to move funds into trusts and, yes, offshore accounts.”  The suit states that the Sackler family is worth an estimated $13 billion, partly due to the more-than-decade-long marketing campaign to boost sales of OxyContin.  At the same time, the economic cost to the U.S. for the opioid epidemic was $504 billion in 2015, the lawsuit contends.  Former Purdue CEO Richard Sackler allegedly touted the drug for unapproved uses and that Purdue workers were instructed to tell doctors the painkillers were not addictive and could help an “enhanced lifestyle,” according to the suit.

Portions of a lawsuit filed by the state of Massachusetts against Purdue that were made public, allege that the company, the Sackler family, and company executives misled prescribers and patients as they aimed to blanket the country with prescriptions for their addictive medications.  Five years after the drug was released to the market, questions were raised about the risk of addiction and overdoses that came with taking OxyContin and opioid medications.  Richard Sackler outlined a strategy that critics have long accused the company of unleashing: divert the blame onto others, particularly the people who became addicted to opioids themselves.  In a February 2001 email he wrote “We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible.  They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”  The Massachusetts suit claims “By their misconduct, the Sacklers have hammered Massachusetts families in every way possible and the stigma they used as a weapon made the crisis worse.”  The complaint reveals that since 2007, Purdue has sold more than 70 million doses of opioids in Massachusetts for more than $500 million. “And the stigma they used as a weapon made the crisis worse.”

Purdue and the family denied any wrongdoing in a statement “The latest legal action is part of a larger effort to “single out Purdue,” and fault it for the entire crisis.  Purdue Pharma and the individual former directors vigorously denies the allegations in the complaint and will continue to defend themselves against these misleading allegations,” the statement said.

The state of Oklahoma recently reached a $270 million agreement with Purdue Pharma—settling a lawsuit that claimed the company contributed to the deaths of thousands of Oklahoma residents by downplaying the risk of opioid addiction and overstating the drug’s benefits.  More than $100 million of the settlement will fund a new addiction treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University.  The settlement is the first Purdue has made amid more than 2,000 pending lawsuits connecting its painkiller OxyContin to the opioid crisis-which U.S. government data estimates is responsible for nearly 50,000 deaths per year.

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2 months ago · by · Comments Off on Boeing Facing Scrutiny After Crashes

Boeing Facing Scrutiny After Crashes

 

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The Ethiopian transport minister has announced that early investigations have revealed clear similarities between the crashes of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and October’s Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia.  The Transportation Department has launched investigations into regulators’ approvals of the Boeing 737 MAX 8, as well as into the development of the aircraft. Just after take-off, both flights, which killed all crew and passengers on board, experienced unpredictable climbs and descents before crashing.  Both pilots immediately recognized a problem and tried to return to the airport.

The United States and many other countries have grounded the Max 8s and larger Max 9s as Boeing faces the challenge of proving the jets are safe to fly amid suspicions that faulty sensors and software contributed to the two crashes in less than five months.  Both Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 lacked an optional safety feature that could have saved the lives of 346 people.  The safety feature, called an “angle of attack indicator” and an “angle of attack disagree light”—are indicators that Boeing offers only at an additional cost.  Another similarity believed to have played a role in both crashes is that the planes’ automated “anti-stall” systems inadvertently pushed both planes’ noses downward.

Pilot training requirements on this software came under scrutiny in the days after the March 10th crash with reports that the pilot and co-pilot had never received updated training on a Boeing 737 Max 8 simulator, even though the airline had the technology available since January.  A cockpit recording indicates that the pilots of the doomed Flight 302 were referencing safety manuals but were unable to fix the problem before they crashed.  Officials are probing why pilot manuals did not address the feature.  Reports are now emerging that the Lion Air flight almost went down the day before the deadly accident, but an off-duty pilot riding in the cockpit knew how to disable a malfunctioning flight control system, which was likely pushing the nose of the plane down.

U.S.-based manufacturer Boeing, which is now under heightened scrutiny around the world, has said previously pilots who have flown earlier models didn’t need additional training.  Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao ordered an audit of the training and certification process for Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 aircraft.  U.S. prosecutors are also looking into the development of Boeing’s 737 Max jets and a Justice Department probe will examine the way Boeing was regulated by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Boeing has said it has “full confidence” in the planes’ safety. Engineers are making changes to the system designed to prevent an aerodynamic stall if sensors detect that the jet’s nose is pointed too high and its speed is too slow.  American Airlines pilot and  spokesman for their union, Dennis Tajer said that airline officials told the unions that Boeing intends to offer pilots about a 15-minute iPad course to train them on the new flight-control software on Max jets that is suspected of playing a role in the crashes.  He called that amount of training unacceptable.  “Our sense is it’s a rush to comply — ‘let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,'” Tajer said. “I’m in a rush to protect my passengers.”

These disturbing updates come as families of victims of last October’s Lion Air crash say they were pressured by the airline to sign a pledge not to pursue legal action against the company, in exchange for about $90,000 in compensation which was the minimum amount the families were entitled to under Indonesian law.

 

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2 months ago · by · Comments Off on Parkland Shooting Survivor Commits Suicide

Parkland Shooting Survivor Commits Suicide

 

 

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On the day Nicholas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School he killed 17 classmates and teachers and wounded 17 others.  Many students escaped with their lives but have emotional wounds that they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.  For Sydney Aiello, 19, the grief of losing her classmates and teachers, including close friend Meadow Pollack, weighed heavily on her. A little over a year after the shooting took place, she took her own life on March 17th.  Heather Galvez of the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office said Aiello died from a gunshot wound to the head.  Aiello’s funeral was held Friday and she was buried at Temple Beth El Memorial Gardens in Davie, Fla.  She is survived by her parents, Cara and Joseph, and older brother Nick.

Aiello was a senior and on the high-school campus the day of the mass shooting but was not in the freshman building where the shooting occurred.  Many said she was never the same after the February 14th shooting claimed the lives of her classmates.  After graduating, she enrolled at Florida Atlantic University but her mother, Cara Aiello said she struggled to attend class because she was afraid to be back in a classroom.  She said her daughter was consumed with survivor’s guilt and recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from the massacre.  She said Sydney couldn’t shake the devastating trauma of the mass shooting last year and the death of her longtime friend, Meadow Pollack.  She seemed sad in recent days, her mom said, but never asked for help before taking her own life.  Cara Aiello said that she hopes Sydney’s story can help save others who are struggling with their mental health in the aftermath of the shooting.

The horrific circumstances of Meadow Pollack’s death show the unrelenting savagery of shooter Nicolas Cruz that day and would understandably haunt anyone who loved her.  Meadow was shot 4 times in the hallway on the third floor.  She crawled down the hallway to another student, Cara Loughran and covered her to shield her from the bullets.  Cruz pointed his assault rifle at Meadow’s back and shot her four more times.  The bullets pierced through Meadow and into Cara beneath her, killing both students.   Cruz then shot Meadow once in the head.

Pollack’s father, Andrew Pollack, who has become an outspoken activist for more security at schools across the country since his daughter death, retweeted a photo of Sydney Aiello and his daughter posing together in fancy gowns with the heartbreaking caption, “A little more than a year after this photo was taken, both are gone.”  Pollack said his heart goes out to her “poor, poor parents.  It’s terrible what happened. Meadow and Sydney were friends for a long, long time,” he said. “Killing yourself is not the answer.”  Pollack added “If anyone feels like that they have no one that can understand their pain, if there’s any student out there that’s having a hard time, please reach out to me on Twitter. I understand you. You aren’t alone.”

Meadow Pollack’s brother, Hunter, also weighed in on Aiello’s death on Twitter.  “Beautiful Sydney with such a bright future was taken from us way too soon,” he wrote.  Ryan Petty, who also lost his daughter Alaina in the Parkland shooting, stressed the importance of suicide prevention for Stoneman Douglas students.  “It breaks my heart that we’ve lost yet another student from Stoneman Douglas.  My advice to parents is to ask questions, don’t wait.”

Cruz, 20, has pled not guilty and his lawyers have said he’ll plead guilty in return for life in prison but prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.  His trial is tentatively scheduled for next year.

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2 months ago · by · Comments Off on Christchurch Mosque Shootings

Christchurch Mosque Shootings

 

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At least 49 people were killed and 48 seriously injured in mass shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on March 15, 2019.  The attack occurred around lunchtime when the mosques were full of worshipers. Footage of the massacre was streamed live online, and a rambling 87 page manifesto laced with white supremacist references was published just before the shootings unfolded.  Police also neutralized two improvised explosive devices attached to one vehicle near the mosque.

The suspected shooter, Brenton Tarrant, 28, live-streamed 17 minutes of video which included footage of himself inside the first mosque, going room-to-room, victim to victim, shooting the wounded from close range as they struggled to crawl away.  In the 6 minutes Tarrant was inside, forty-one people were killed at the Al Noor Mosque.  The live streamed footage also showed the gunman casually talking and laughing as he walked out of the mosque where he shot at people near the area before driving away at high speed, heading for the Linwood Islamic Centre, about 3 miles away.  Another 7 people were killed at the Linwood Mosque, an eighth victim later died in the hospital. Tarrant was apprehended as he fled the Linwood Mosque when two police officers ran his car off the road.

Tarrant has been charged with murder and two other men remain in custody, although their link to the attack is unknown.  None of the men in custody have a criminal history.  Tarrant is an Australian-born former personal trainer who is believed to have been radicalized during his travels abroad. According to the Independent, Tarrant met with right-wing extremists while taking a trip to Europe in 2017, and also traveled to Pakistan and North Korea.  Authorities have said that Tarrant had become obsessed with terrorist attacks committed by radical Islamists in Europe in 2016 and 2017.

According to his manifesto, he started planning a revenge attack about two years prior to the attack and chose his targets three months in advance.  The manifesto expresses several anti-immigrant sentiments including hate speech against migrants, white supremacist rhetoric, and calls for non-European immigrants such as Roma, Indians, Turkish people, Semitic people and others allegedly “invading his land” to be removed.  Tarrant describes himself as an ethno-nationalist and refers to revenge for European civilians who were casualties in Islamic terrorist attacks within Europe as motivation for his attack.  He repeatedly mentions revenge for Ebba Åkerlund, a victim in the 2017 Stockholm truck attack.

Prime Minister Ardern called the incident an “act of extreme and unprecedented violence” and said “this is one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”  She also described it as a well-planned terrorist attack.  Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel stated that she never thought “anything like this” could happen in New Zealand, saying “everyone is shocked”.  Many other politicians and world leaders have condemned the attacks and world leaders attribute the attack to rising Islamophobia.

Prime Minister Ardern announced: “Our gun laws will change, now is the time… People will be seeking change, and I am committed to that.”  Attorney-General David Parker was later quoted as saying that the government will ban semi-automatic guns but later said the government had not yet committed to anything and that regulations around semi-automatic weapons was “one of the issues” the government would consider.

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2 months ago · by · Comments Off on FDA Finds Asbestos In Makeup From Claire’s and Justice

FDA Finds Asbestos In Makeup From Claire’s and Justice

 

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The Food and Drug Administration has confirmed that makeup products from two popular brands of cosmetics contain the carcinogenic substance asbestos.  FDA tests of three powdered makeup products from Claire’s, and one from the brand Justice, tested positive for asbestos, which can cause cancer.   Both retailers market their products to young girls and teens.

Asbestos is believed to cause mesothelioma, a type of cancer affecting the lining of the chest and abdomen, and is linked to an increased risk of other forms of cancer and lung disease.  The FDA released a safety alert about the products and called for more expansive authority to regulate cosmetics, saying the law about its role has not been updated since it first entered into force in 1938.  Americans spend some $60 billion a year on cosmetics, though the industry is largely unregulated.

“The current law does not require cosmetics to be reviewed and approved by the FDA prior to being sold to American consumers,” it said, adding that total responsibility for the safety of these products now rests with the companies that make them.  “To be clear, there are currently no legal requirements for any cosmetic manufacturer marketing products to American consumers to test their products for safety,” the FDA said.   Because of the lack of regulation, the agency says that in this case, it did not have the authority to force Claire’s to pull the potentially dangerous products off store shelves.  The F.D.A. called on the industry to be more forthcoming about its safety procedures, especially in relation to how it sources and tests talc. The agency said it had used the most sensitive methods available to test 34 cosmetic products from four talc suppliers in 2010 and found no traces of asbestos.

The FDA said the Justice product, a shimmer powder, had already been recalled from the market in 2017.  Claire’s says that “out of an abundance of caution,” it has removed the three products — eye shadows, compact powder and contour powder — from stores and is also removing any remaining talc based cosmetic products (talc sometimes contains asbestos).  Claire’s disputes the test results, saying they “show significant errors” and claims its “products are safe.”  The retailer says the tests “have mischaracterized fibers in the products as asbestos.”

Independent testers dispute Claire’s claim that these products are safe. Consumer advocacy group, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, released results last March that said its testing showed that the same three Claire’s products contained asbestos.  After the U.S. PIRG report, the Dutch government said they also found asbestos in two of Claire’s products.

Regulators are trying to keep a closer eye on companies after the New York Times and Reuters reported late last year that Johnson & Johnson had known for decades about the risk of asbestos contamination in its popular baby powder and other talc-based body powders, but tried to keep negative information from reaching the public. The company received subpoenas for more information last month from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department.

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2 months ago · by · Comments Off on Boulder Police Draw Gun On Man Cleaning His Yard

Boulder Police Draw Gun On Man Cleaning His Yard

 

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Police in Boulder, Colorado, have launched an internal affairs investigation after video surfaced showing a police officer drawing a pistol on a black man who was picking up trash outside his own home on March 1st.  The police officer, who called other officers to the scene, is on paid administrative leave while the investigation continues.

According to the police department, an officer observed a man sitting in a partially enclosed patio area behind a “private property” sign and asked if the man was allowed to be there.  The man said he lived and worked at the building and produced an identification card but the officer continued to question the man.    The unidentified man is a student at Naropa University in Boulder, and the building is listed as a school residence.

The 16 minute video shows the officer approaching the man, who was using a trash picker and bucket to clean up his yard.  The officer is shown talking with the man and has his hand on his hip, near his gun.  As the video continues, several other officers arrive at the scene as the man is shouting “You’re on my property with a gun in your hand, threatening to shoot me because I’m picking up trash. I hope that camera is on.”  The man’s roommate, who is filming, is shouting “He’s picking up trash, and you have your hand on your gun? He lives here, go home!”  The officer repeatedly tells the man to drop his weapon and both the man and his roommate respond that he does not have a weapon.

The man is shouting that he lives there, on private property and is picking up trash outside his dorm.  He refuses to sit down and tells police to get off his property before asking if they are going to shoot him, tase him or beat him up for picking up trash outside his own home.  The man holds the trash picker in the air saying “you’re calling this a weapon?” and the officer responds that it can be used as a weapon.  The man argues that it is not ok for them to harass him with their hands on their guns for picking up trash in his front yard and repeatedly tells them to leave.  His roommate who is filming comments that one of the officers is holding a shotgun.

A total of eight officers responded, including a supervisor and it was later confirmed by police that the object the man was holding was used to pick up trash.  Boulder police released a statement saying “Officers ultimately determined that the man had a legal right to be on the property and returned the man’s school identification card,” the release said. “All officers left the area and no further action was taken.”  In a police report, the officer claimed the man was uncooperative and “unwilling to put down a blunt object”—even though the man and his roommate repeatedly identified the object as a trash picker.  The officer who drew his weapon has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation.

The video has gone viral and sparked outrage throughout the community.  During a city council meeting, Police Chief Greg Testa told the crowd: “All aspects of this incident, specifically the actions of the initial officer, are being investigated… in contrast to what was stated in the video that is on social media, body-worn camera video indicates that only one officer had a handgun out, and it was pointed at the ground.”

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2 months ago · by · Comments Off on Report Accuses Saudi Government of Helping Nationals Flee Before Criminal Proceedings

Report Accuses Saudi Government of Helping Nationals Flee Before Criminal Proceedings

 

 

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The State Department has said it will not intervene in the case of a Saudi man accused of killing a 15-year-old American student in a hit-and-run in Portland, Oregon.  Twenty year old Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah is believed to have fled the United States back to Saudi Arabia, with the help of Saudi officials, who reportedly helped him obtain a fake passport in order to fly him out of the U.S.  An Oregonian reporter has revealed there are several similar cases of Saudi nationals accused of crimes that are suspected of receiving assistance fleeing the US by Saudi officials.

In October 2018, reporter Shane Dixon Kavanaugh received a tip from federal law enforcement about the case involving Abdulrahman Noorah, the Saudi national accused in the fatal hit and run death of 15-year-old Fallon Smart in Portland, Oregon.  Noorah had lived in Portland since 2014 on a student visa living off an $1,800 monthly stipend paid for by the Saudi government.  In August 2016, he was driving with a suspended license when he struck Fallon Smart as she tried to cross at 43rd Avenue in Portland.  Witnesses told police the driver was speeding and did not attempt to stop.  Noorah was arrested the next day and charged with manslaughter, felony hit and run and reckless driving.

Noorah was considered a high flight risk and likely would have remained in custody had the Saudi government not paid the $100,000 bond set on his $1 million bail.  He was put on house arrest and ordered to wear a GPS monitoring system.  According to Kavanaugh’s report, on June 10th, Noorah received permission from his release supervisor, Deputy Kari Kolberg, to study at the community college’s Southeast 82nd Avenue campus.  That afternoon a GMC Yukon XL arrived outside the host home where he had been living and picked him up.  GPS data from Noorah’s monitor bracelet shows he never went to the campus but instead traveled east along Southeast Division Street until the SUV arrived at Portland Sand & Gravel on 106th Avenue.

It is believed that his GPS monitoring device was removed on this day but his release supervisor didn’t discover he was missing until two days later on June 12th.  Investigators later discovered a bag packed at the home.  After the U.S. launched an international manhunt for Noorah, the Saudi government reached out to the Department of Homeland Security in July and told officials Noorah returned to Saudi Arabia on June 17th, five days after the SUV at picked him up.  Federal law enforcement believes that the Saudi government helped Noorah escape prosecution and return to Saudi Arabia by getting him a fake passport and flying him out of the country on a private plane.

While investigating this case, Kavanaugh uncovered four similar cases in Oregon and more cases in other states, where young Saudi students were accused of serious crimes, from rape to possession of child photography.  Many of them were bailed out by the Saudi government and all of them have since disappeared.  After Kavanaugh’s report started receiving national attention the Saudi government released the following statement “The notion that the Saudi government actively helps citizens evade justice after they have been implicated in legal wrongdoing in the U.S. is not true,” said the statement issued by the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. “Contrary to some media reports, Saudi diplomatic missions in the United States do not issue travel documents to citizens engaged in legal proceedings.”

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3 months ago · by · Comments Off on Patriots Owner’s Arrest Spotlights Sex Trafficking Investigation

Patriots Owner’s Arrest Spotlights Sex Trafficking Investigation

 

 

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The billionaire owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, was charged with two counts of soliciting sex during a wide ranging sting operation investigating prostitution and human trafficking at day spas in South Florida.  The charges against Mr. Kraft, 77, in Jupiter, Fla., came after the police used video surveillance to observe activity inside several day spas and massage parlors.  Prosecutors say they have video evidence of Kraft engaging in the criminal acts.  While Mr. Kraft lives in Massachusetts, he has owned property in Palm Beach, Fla., for a number of years.  Kraft is accused of patronizing a spa in Jupiter called Orchids of Asia, a small storefront business in a strip mall on two occasions.

All of the sexual encounters that have resulted in charges were videotaped as part of the prostitution investigation.  Investigators had been conducting surveillance of massage parlors in the area for 6 months and have charged nearly 200 people, though only a fraction have been arrested so far.  The police said that the massage parlors and spas had been used for prostitution and that many of the women involved were considered to be victims.  Many of the women involved in the case came to the U.S. from China on temporary visas, and some reportedly had sex with 1,000 men a year.  The investigation involved several law enforcement agencies and resulted in raids and arrests connected to nearly a dozen businesses in the region.  At least one person was charged with human trafficking while others, including several women, are accused of racketeering and money laundering. More than two dozen customers, men ranging in age from their 30s to at least one in his 80s, have been arrested.

Acting on a tip, the police began their investigation of Orchids of Asia by searching online reviews for the business, several of which used a slang term for a sex act that was available to male customers.  After conducting 24-hour video surveillance in November, the police noticed that only male clients had entered.  A Florida Department of Health investigator inspected the business on behalf of the police and noticed several indications that women were living there, including beds, dressers with personal items and a refrigerator containing food and condiments.

One day in January, the police stopped men leaving the spa and the men told police officers that they had taken part in sex acts during their visits. Using that information, the police obtained a search warrant allowing them to monitor and record conduct inside the spa on video.  At 11:30pm on January 17th, the police entered the Orchids of Asia massage parlor under the pretense of investigating the report of a suspicious package.  They evacuated the parlor and set up surveillance cameras to capture what went on inside.  For five days, starting on Jan. 18, the police monitored the video, and they said they had observed more than 20 men receiving manual or oral stimulation during massage sessions.  Police say they did not observe sexual intercourse in any of the instances.

It is extremely difficult for law enforcement to takedown the rings that operate these types of parlors and even more difficult to prove human trafficking charges because of workers’ reluctance to testify, cultural barriers and an international business structure that makes identifying the masterminds next to impossible.  In the last several years, law enforcement has started to view the women in these situations as victims and have cracked down on arresting johns in an effort to eliminate the demand.  In many cases, they refer these women to social services after a parlor is raided.  Many of the women who are working in these establishments are recruited from rural parts of China with promises of legal employment in the US.  Some are fleeing domestic abuse, have little education or their families are heavily in debt.  Agencies in China charge them thousands in travel fees to the US and they agree to work off the debt, eventually being forced into the sex trade with little to no other options for housing or income once in the US.

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