- - Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Local voters reject mine over worries about salmon

JUNEAU — Voters of a small southwestern Alaska borough late Monday narrowly passed a measure blocking a proposed gold and copper mine that critics say would have threatened one of the world’s premier wild salmon fisheries.

The local election, pitting environmentalists against business interests in a bitter feud, gained national attention.

The vote bans large-scale resource extraction, including mining, that would destroy or degrade salmon habitat. The measure was aimed squarely at Pebble Mine, a massive gold and copper prospect near the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

The debate surrounding Pebble has attracted the attention of chefs, actor-director Robert Redford and big-name jewelers who have vowed not to sell any gold coming from the operation. Their concerns support local opponents who fear the mine would fundamentally change the area’s landscape and disrupt, if not destroy, a way of life.

Unofficial results, released by the Lake and Peninsula Borough clerk late Monday, showed 280 in favor of the measure and 246 against.


‘Toughest sheriff’ subdued on witness stand

PHOENIX — The self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America took the witness stand Tuesday and explained in a subdued voice that he had little to do with failed corruption investigations led by his office and one of his allies.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s well-known bluster was nowhere on display at the disciplinary hearing for former county attorney Andrew Thomas.

“I have 4,000 employees. I delegate,” Sheriff Arpaio said when asked whether he had read investigative reports in some of the corruption cases.

Lawyers pressing the discipline case said officials, judges and attorneys who crossed Sheriff Arpaio and Mr. Thomas in political disputes often were targeted for investigations and, in some cases, were criminally charged.

Sheriff Arpaio and Mr. Thomas contend they were trying to root out corruption in county government. County officials say the investigations were baseless.

A federal grand jury is investigating abuse-of-power allegations against the sheriff, and the U.S. Justice Department is conducting a civil rights probe of his immigration patrols.


$201,000 cellphone bill shocks woman

MIAMI — A South Florida woman got a shock when she opened a recent cellphone bill: She owed $201,000.

Celina Aarons has her two deaf-mute brothers on her plan. They communicate by texting and use their phones to watch videos. That normally is not a problem. Ms. Aarons has the appropriate data plan, and her bill is about $175.

But her brothers spent two weeks in Canada and Ms. Aarons never changed to an international plan. Her brothers sent more than 2,000 texts and downloaded videos, sometimes racking up $2,000 in data charges.

T-Mobile told Ms. Aarons the bill was correct. She called Miami TV station WSVN, which contacted T-Mobile. The station reported that T-Mobile cut Ms. Aarons’ bill to $2,500 and gave her six months to pay.


New search begins for missing baby

KANSAS CITY — Police have been working in a wooded area near the home of a baby who has been missing for two weeks.

The Kansas City Star reported that crime scene technicians worked Tuesday in the area a few blocks from the home where the parents of Lisa Irwin reported their 10-month-old daughter missing Oct. 4.

Also Tuesday, police in Riley County, Kan., said they were investigating a report of two women in their 20s who raised suspicions because they were with a baby resembling Lisa.

Capt. Kurt Moldrup said someone called police to say the women left “in a suspicious” manner, but he didn’t elaborate. He said his department notified other agencies in the area to look for the women’s vehicle, a small black car with Missouri plates.


Missing Brazilian boy’s body pulled from river

OMAHA — The body of a 7-year-old Brazilian boy missing for nearly two years and thought to have been killed with his missionary parents in Nebraska has been pulled from the Missouri River, officials said Tuesday.

A dive team pulled Christopher Szczepanik’s remains from the Iowa side of the river on Thursday, Omaha Police Chief Alex Hayes and Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine announced. DNA tests confirmed the identity Monday, Omaha station KETV reported.

The boy and his parents, Vanderlei and Jacqueline Szczepanik, were reported missing in January 2010 in Omaha, where they were staying while Vanderlei Szczepanik, a carpenter, worked on renovating a former school. Friends and relatives in Brazil became worried when their daily contact ended on Dec. 17, 2009.

Three men from Brazil who authorities say worked for the Szczepaniks and ran up thousands of dollars in charges on the family’s credit cards were later charged with murder, although the family’s bodies hadn’t been found. Christopher’s body is the first to be recovered.

Officials said they got a break in the case when one of the men, Valdeir Goncalves-Santos, made a deal with prosecutors to testify against the other two. In exchange, Goncalves-Santos pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.


Conduct board disbars judge accused of belittling defendants

ALLENTOWN — A Pennsylvania district judge accused of belittling defendants and forcing one to call himself a “scumbag” in open court has been barred from sitting on the bench in the state ever again.

The Morning Call of Allentown reported that the state’s Judicial Conduct Board voted Monday to remove District Judge Maryester Merlo from the bench. The board in September found that Judge Merlo’s courtroom conduct violated the state constitution and judicial rules.

Judge Merlo was suspended in December after a complaint filed against her alleged she mistreated defendants and was frequently late or absent from work. On one occasion, the conduct board said Judge Merlo promised to dismiss a traffic violation for a man if he married his pregnant girlfriend.

Judge Merlo had said she was “passionate” on the bench but never acted improperly.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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