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American Scene

- - Monday, May 9, 2011

CALIFORNIA

Man gets 25 years in first post-9/11 case

LOS ANGELES — The first person indicted under a federal anti-terrorism law adopted after the Sept. 11 attacks was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison for attempting to smuggle anti-aircraft missiles into the U.S. from his native China.

Yi Qing Chen of Rosemead was convicted in October of attempting to ship the shoulder-fired QW2 missiles as well as launch and operational hardware to a man who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent. He was arrested in 2005 before the missiles could be delivered.

U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said Chen, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was the first person indicted under a federal anti-terrorism statute adopted in 2004 as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Chen, 49, was among dozens of people arrested as the result of Operation Smoking Dragon, an undercover FBI investigation that targeted those suspected of trying to smuggle counterfeit currency, drugs and other contraband into the United States.

Authorities said the arrests have resulted in nearly three dozen convictions in Los Angeles.

ILLINOIS

Two charity hospitals reach brink of closure

CHICAGO — Two charity hospitals in Illinois are facing a life-or-death decision. Not much is left of either of them — one in Chicago's south suburbs, the other in impoverished East St. Louis — aside from emergency rooms crowded with patients seeking free care. Now they would like the state's permission to shut down.

The institutions, which have served low-income people in the state for more than 100 years, represent a significant development that has gone largely unnoticed as the nation climbs out of the recession. Many charity hospitals, already struggling with rising costs, are on the brink of failure because of looming budget cuts, increasing numbers of uninsured patients and a slow economic recovery.

"With economic downturns, you can finesse them for 12 months or 24 months," said Jim Tallon, president of the nonprofit United Hospital Fund of New York, a research and philanthropic organization. "But now everybody's used up all their tricks. That's when people throw their hands up in the air and say we're not going to be able to continue operating."

Safety net hospitals have closed in Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New York in recent years. Of the 15 hospitals that shut down in New York City during the past decade, five were safety net hospitals; another filed for bankruptcy.

NEVADA

Absolute Poker lays off U.S. pros after indictments

LAS VEGAS — The parent company of online poker websites Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet announced that it laid off 11 sponsored poker professionals in the United States as two of its executives face charges of tricking banks into processing illegal gambling payments.

Antigua-based Blanca Games said Monday that it had severed ties to players including Joe Sebok, Prahlad Friedman and Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian.

The company said in a statement that the legal circumstances dictated the layoffs and that it was "saddened" by the situation.

Blanca announced last week that it significantly reduced its staff as it fully moved away from its U.S. business.

The indictments unsealed last month targeted 11 executives and alleged associates of Absolute, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.

NEW YORK

Megabus driver charged in fatal crash

SYRACUSE — The injured driver of a double-decker Megabus that smashed into a low bridge in upstate New York in September, killing four passengers, was charged Monday with criminally negligent homicide.

John Tomaszewski, 60, of Yardville, N.J., made a wrong turn off an interstate highway late at night just outside downtown Syracuse, and the 13-foot-1-inch-tall bus failed to clear the railroad bridge's 10-foot-9-inch span.

The Philadelphia-to-Toronto bus was carrying 29 people, including the driver, when it crashed Sept. 11 on Onondaga Lake Parkway in Salina. The crash killed a New Jersey teenager, a Philadelphia college student from Kansas, a Malaysian preacher and an information technology specialist from India.

After months of review, a grand jury indicted him on four counts of criminally negligent homicide plus one count of failing to obey a traffic control device. At an arraignment in Onondaga County Court, attorney Scott Brenneck entered a not guilty plea for Mr. Tomaszewski.

TEXAS

Police: Man set mom aflame, held teacher hostage

FORT WORTH — A Texas man set fire to his mother, then went to a nearby school and held a teacher at knifepoint in a locked office before the superintendent broke down the door and helped free her, police and school officials said Monday.

George James Bradley, 32, was arrested on attempted murder and aggravated assault charges after the morning incident at the Rise Academy school, Lubbock police spokesman Sgt. Jonathan Stewart said.

Mr. Bradley's mother was listed in critical condition at a Lubbock hospital with third-degree burns on her upper body, Sgt. Stewart said. Superintendent Richard Baumgartner said he was grazed by the knife, and the teacher was not harmed.

Mr. Bradley walked into the school office about 9 a.m., announced that he had killed his mother and asked the secretary to call 911, Audrey Saldivar, a school administrator, told the Associated Press by phone. Then he became agitated, locked the office door, pulled out a knife and forced a teacher into the Mr. Baumgartner's office, she said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports