- - Thursday, March 10, 2011

CALIFORNIA

Trials ordered for ex-city officials

LOS ANGELES | A former city manager accused of masterminding a scam to bilk the blue-collar Los Angeles suburb of Bell of more than $5.5 million was ordered Thursday to stand trial on more than 50 counts of fraud.

Superior Court Judge Henry J. Hall said the evidence presented during a three-week preliminary hearing showed Robert Rizzo paid himself an unauthorized and exorbitant annual salary and compensation package of nearly $1.5 million a year, and falsified city payroll records to hide his pay and benefits from a suspicious public.

Mr. Rizzo’s base salary alone was so high, Judge Hall said, that he made more money in a week than the average Bell resident does in a year.

Mr. Rizzo’s former assistant, Angela Spaccia, now-recalled Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former City Council member Luis Artiga also were ordered to trial on fraud counts. The four, all free on bail, were told to return to court March 24 for an arraignment.

The ruling was handed down two days after angry Bell residents went to the polls and voted in an entirely new City Council.

FLORIDA

Disney World halts Grad Nite tradition

ORLANDO | Walt Disney World is ending its annual Grad Nite festivities for high school seniors from across the country after this year because of concerns about scheduling and handling extra spring attendance at the Florida theme park.

Officials at the park announced the news on the Disney Parks Blog on Wednesday, saying the increased spring attendance has made it difficult to schedule the separate-ticket, after-hours events. The four Grad Nite dates in April and May will take place as scheduled.

Grad Nite is in its 40th year at the Florida park and in its 50th year at Disneyland in California. Disneyland will continue to hold Grad Nite.

MICHIGAN

VW minivans recalled for stalling

DETROIT | Volkswagen is recalling 12,600 minivans because the ignition key could move while the vehicle is in motion and cause the engine to shut off.

Chrysler announced a similar recall last week. It makes the vans for Volkswagen.

VW says the ignition key in Routan minivans from the 2010 model year can move from the run to accessory position on its own, turning off the engine. VW estimates that 378 of the vans have defective ignition switches.

The recall is to begin in April.

NEW JERSEY

Wet Northeast worries about floods

POMPTON LAKES | Residents in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest nervously watched rising waterways Thursday as heavy rain swelled creeks and rivers, damaged houses, detoured commuters and forced amusement park workers to pack up equipment.

In Pompton Lakes, N.J., a pelting rain fell on Liri Zekirovski and a friend as they removed water-damaged furniture and flooring from Mr. Zekirovski’s father-in-law’s house next to the Pompton River.

It was the second time the area had been waterlogged in less than a week. In a small playground across the street, remnants of Sunday night’s flooding could be seen in a bicycle rack that was nearly covered in mud.

“It’s getting ridiculous. It’s like every time it rains this is going to happen,” Mr. Zekirovski said as he pointed to a waterline on the front of the house about 2½ feet high. “It seems like we’re putting in a new kitchen every six months. It might be better just to eat outside.”

Flood watches were in effect across much of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York.

The Mid-Atlantic also geared up for rain-related problems. More than 2 inches of rain in parts of Western Maryland pushed streams over their banks and prompted road closures, while a mudslide closed one lane of a heavily traveled commuter road in Washington on Thursday morning.

NEW YORK

AOL eliminates 900 jobs worldwide

NEW YORK | AOL said Thursday that it will slash 900 jobs worldwide, or nearly 20 percent of its work force, partly to eliminate overlap that stems from its recent purchase of the Huffington Post.

About 200 of the cuts are from AOL’s content and technology departments in the U.S. The remaining 700 are at AOL’s offices in India, which mainly provides back-office support to the U.S. But AOL spokesman Graham James said 300 of those will move to other companies that are taking over support functions.

The cuts leave AOL with 3,500 employees in the U.S. and about 500 overseas. The total work force is a fifth of what the company had at its peak in 2004, when its staff numbered more than 20,000.

OHIO

Inmate executed with new drug

LUCASVILLE | Ohio on Thursday put to death a Toledo store owner’s killer with the country’s first use of the surgical sedative pentobarbital as a stand-alone execution drug.

Johnnie Baston was pronounced dead at 10:30 a.m., about 13 minutes after the 5-gram dose of the drug began flowing into his arms. About a minute into the execution, Baston appeared to gasp, then grimace and wince, but then was quickly still.

In a five-minute final statement, Baston said the governor should have respected the opposition of his victim’s family to the death penalty and commuted his sentence to life without parole. Baston also said he made a bad decision and that he hoped his family and the family of his victim could move on. He asked his brothers, both of whom were witnesses, to watch out for his teenage children as they grow up.

WYOMING

Coulter to speak where Ayers uninvited

LARAMIE | Conservative commentator and author Ann Coulter plans to speak at the University of Wyoming this month, nearly one year after the university canceled a speech by 1960s radical Bill Ayers.

Ms. Coulter’s March 31 speech, titled “Why the liberals are wrong about everything,” will be free and open to the public.

Ms. Coulter’s visit is sponsored by a conservative youth group and the university’s College Republicans.

Mr. Ayers was a co-founder of the anti-war group the Weather Underground, which claimed to be responsible for a series of nonfatal bombings.

The university said concerns about safety surrounding the Ayers speech forced them to change plans.

A judge ruled that the university had to let Mr. Ayers speak.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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