- - Monday, January 10, 2011

CALIFORNIA

Laos conspiracy case dropped

SACRAMENTO | Federal prosecutors on Monday dropped all remaining charges against 12 defendants accused of plotting to overthrow the communist government of Laos.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento filed a motion to drop the charges “in the interests of justice,” according to court documents obtained by the Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell Jr. granted the motion.

The move follows the death of Hmong leader and Vietnam War-era Gen. Vang Pao, 81, last week. Vang Pao was dropped from the case in 2009. The general led Hmong guerrillas in their CIA-backed battle against communists during the Vietnam War and was revered as a father figure by the Hmong.

A federal judge in November dismissed key parts of the case against the 11 members of the Hmong community and a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. That included the government’s charge that the men violated the federal Neutrality Act. The act prohibits people in the United States from taking part in a military action against the government of another nation with which the U.S. is at peace.

MASSACHUSETTS

3 passengers taken from JetBlue plane; no charges

BOSTON | Three people were removed from a JetBlue plane at Boston’s Logan International Airport after a flight attendant became “uncomfortable,” but the passengers were not arrested and the airline booked them on a later flight.

Massachusetts State Police said the behavior of the three men Monday morning “did not rise to the level of criminal charges.” Sgt. Matthew Murray said it was not clear what made the flight attendant uncomfortable.

JetBlue said three passengers were removed from Fight 1600 for “security reasons.” The plane was about to depart Boston for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. The company said the passengers were later cleared to depart on a later JetBlue flight.

MICHIGAN

Not guilty pleas in corruption case

DETROIT | A federal judge Monday entered not guilty pleas to racketeering, extortion, and a slew of other charges on behalf of imprisoned former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father and three co-defendants.

Kilpatrick, a 40-year-old Democrat who was considered a rising star before resigning as mayor in 2008, stood mute when asked for a plea to the charges in a wide-ranging 38-count federal indictment that could send him to jail for 30 years.

U.S. Magistrate Mark Randon entered not guilty pleas on behalf of Kilpatrick and the others, and released all but Kilpatrick on bond.

Kilpatrick is in the midst of serving a 14-month sentence for violating the terms of his 2008 probation on state convictions for perjury and obstruction of justice, said a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Detroit.

The federal charges brought last year allege Kilpatrick rigged millions of dollars in sewer, security, demolition and other city work for friend and contractor Bobby Ferguson, who is also charged.

MISSOURI

Governor spares man facing execution Wednesday

ST. LOUIS | Gov. Jay Nixon has spared the life of a man who was scheduled to die by injection Wednesday, commuting his death sentence to life in prison without parole.

The governor’s office made the announcement Monday afternoon in the case of Richard Clay. Clay was convicted in the 1994 killing of a southeast Missouri man, but has maintained his innocence.

Mr. Nixon said in a brief statement that he’s convinced Clay is guilty of the killing of Randy Martindale of New Madrid. The statement does not say why he commuted the sentence.

The execution would have been the first in Missouri since 2009 and just the second since 2005 as courts have considered whether Missouri’s three-drug execution method could potentially result in cruel and unusual punishment.

NEVADA

Police: Ex-boyfriend dismembered Vegas dancer

LAS VEGAS | The former boyfriend of a missing Las Vegas burlesque dancer told police that he choked her, chopped her into pieces and then covered her naked body with cement, according to an arrest report released Monday.

Jason Griffith, 32, said he killed Deborah Flores-Narvaez, 31, in the heat of the moment after an argument at his home Dec. 12. He was arrested Friday after police found Miss Flores-Narvaez’s body in a downtown Las Vegas home.

Mr. Griffith was due in court Wednesday to face a murder charge. His lawyer, Patrick McDonald, didn’t respond Monday to a message.

Miss Flores-Narvaez was reported missing Dec. 14 after she didn’t show up a rehearsal at the burlesque show “Fantasy” at the Luxor hotel-casino where she had worked for a year.

NEW YORK

Playboy agrees to Hefner buyout offer

NEW YORK | The publisher of Playboy magazine has agreed to accept a sweetened buyout offer from a partnership headed by founder Hugh Hefner, allowing the original playboy to fulfill his plans to take the company private.

Mr. Hefner is Playboy’s largest shareholder with about 70 percent of Playboy Enterprises Inc.’s voting shares and 28 percent of the nonvoting stock. By leading a buyout for a larger portion, the 84-year-old known for his penchant for silk pajamas and young blond women is betting that the racy magazine he launched in 1953 can still reap profits in the digital age.

The printed Playboy has struggled with rivals from the Web and has lost both readers and advertisers. In November, the company reported a wider third quarter loss than a year ago as its revenue fell 7 percent to $52.1 million.

To stem its losses, Playboy’s management has been trying to transform the company from a publishing and TV business into a “brand management” company, leaning more on revenue from licensing out the Playboy name and bunny ears for a range of products, such as lingerie, handbags and sunglasses.

OREGON

‘Wowie-cakes’ the Eagle gets a new name

EUGENE | It was supposed to be a dignified name for an eagle. But it wasn’t —at least, not the way people were pronouncing it. So now, the bird has a new name.

The eagle at the Cascades Raptor Center in Oregon is now named Celilo — named for an Indian fishing village on the Columbia River.

At a rehabilitation center in South Dakota, it had been given a Lakota name that’s supposed to be pronounced woh-wee-jah-kah.

But in Oregon, a lot of people were pronouncing the name the way it’s spelled — which looks like “Wowie-cakes.”

RHODE ISLAND

School district that fired teachers wins $1.3 million

CENTRAL FALLS | A Rhode Island school district that fired all the teachers at an underperforming high school has been awarded $1.3 million to continue its reform process.

The money comes from a $4 billion U.S. Department of Education fund aimed at helping transform 5,000 low-performing schools around the country.

Central Falls High School made national headlines last year when it fired its teaching staff. President Obama appeared to endorse the firings, saying drastic action may be warranted when schools show no signs of improvement.

The teachers later struck a deal to get their jobs back. But the current school year has gotten off to a rocky start, with teachers calling in sick or quitting.

The money for the Central Falls School District will be used to buy new computers, pay professional staff and develop a performance management system.

VIRGINIA

Proposal to keep state in charge of liquor sales

RICHMOND | Gov. Robert F. McDonnell wants Virginia out of the business of retail liquor sales, but his revised plan would keep the state in charge of wholesaling, legislators told the Associated Press.

The governor is expected to announce his reworked privatization plan later this week as he discloses his agenda for the 2011 General Assembly that convenes Wednesday.

Mr. McDonnell proposed last year to end Virginia’s 77-year-old government monopoly on liquor sales. The proposal collapsed after the administration’s own estimates showed it would cut about $50 million a year from the state budget.

House and Senate leaders from both parties told the AP that Mr. McDonnell still wants Virginia’s 332 state-owned Alcoholic Beverage Control stores sold.

From wire dispatches and staff reports