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American Scene

- - Wednesday, January 25, 2012

NEW YORK

Prosecutors ordered to identify terror witness

NEW YORK | A judge gave federal prosecutors until a week from Wednesday to give up the name of a witness they say was recruited for a chilling, al Qaeda-sanctioned plot for suicide bombers to attack the New York City subways with explosives made from beauty supplies.

Lawyers for alleged plotter Adis Madunjanin had demanded to know the identity of the man, referred to only as John Doe in court papers, before Mr. Madunjanin goes to trial later this year.

At a pretrial hearing on in Brooklyn federal court in Wednesday, prosecutors initially resisted identifying the government witness - "Mr. John Doe" one called him - citing concerns about his safety. But U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie said Mr. Madunjanin's lawyers had a right to know the name.

However, the judge also agreed to allow the government to provide the name under a protective order barring the defense from disclosing it to the public.

In a revised indictment filed last week in Brooklyn, Mr. Medunjanin was confronted with a new allegation that he, along with former high school classmates Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, tried to recruit Mr. Doe to travel to Pakistan "to wage violent jihad."

CALIFORNIA

Muslim guard gets $465K in harassment suit

SAN FRANCISCO | A jury awarded $465,000 to a Muslim security guard who says his co-workers and supervisors called him a terrorist and an al Qaeda member.

Jurors added $400,000 in punitive damages Monday to their earlier award of $65,000 to Abas Idris for lost wages and emotional distress, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday.

The jury found that Los Angeles-based Andrews International was responsible for harassment and a hostile work environment experienced by Mr. Idris, 27.

An attorney for Andrews, Madonna Herman, said the company had promoted Mr. Idris to a supervisory position and accommodated his requests for changes to his schedule. It plans to appeal the verdict.

"Andrews does not condone discrimination or harassment of any kind," Miss Herman said in a statement.

Mr. Idris claimed a supervisor told him that Muslims kill people and that a fellow security guard referred to him in a conversation with a co-worker as a "goddamn terrorist" and an al Qaeda member who couldn't be trusted.

FLORIDA

Religious prep school a victim in $135M fraud

MIAMI | A prominent businessman pleaded guilty Wednesday to fraud in a $135 million real estate scheme that fleeced hundreds of investors, including the Roman Catholic prep school he once attended.

Gaston Cantens, 73, faces up to five years behind bars after pleading guilty to a single count of wire and mail fraud conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams set sentencing for April 4.

Cantens also lured investors from Miami's close-knit Cuban-American community, many of them elderly and some Roman Catholic priests.

Federal prosecutors said Cantens operated his company, Royal West Properties Inc., like a Ponzi scheme in which he paid older investors with money raised from newer ones. The company sold real estate investments in southwest Florida since 1993 but fell on hard times beginning in 2002 and was forced into bankruptcy in 2009, according to court documents.

WASHINGTON

Airlines to retire meal tray prayer cards

SEATTLE | After 30 years of giving passengers spiritual words to reflect on while they eat their meals, Alaska Airlines is retiring the prayer cards from meal trays.

Airline spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said the decision was made after hearing from customers who preferred not to mix religion with transportation.

She said the cards began as a marketing ploy to differentiate the regional airline from its competitors. The cards offer a rotating message of different psalms from the Old Testament.

For a long time, Alaska Airlines got more positive comments than negatives ones. But lately, opinion has shifted.

Miss Egan said the decision was made out of respect for all of their customers.

The airline sent email to its frequent flyers on Wednesday explaining the change, which will take effect Feb. 1.

NEW YORK

Homeless science whiz isn't finalist in contest

BRENTWOOD | A New York high school student who attracted national attention after it was reported that she was living in a homeless shelter is not among the 40 finalists in the prestigious Intel Science contest.

Brentwood High School senior Samantha Garvey was named a semifinalist last month. The finalists were announced Wednesday.

After Miss Garvey's situation came to light, Suffolk County officials announced they were arranging for her family to move into a house. She also appeared on the "Ellen" show, where she received a $50,000 college scholarship.

On Tuesday, she was an invited guest at President Obama's State of the Union address.

In an appearance Wednesday on the "Today" show, Miss Garvey said the presence of so many "historic figures" made her want to combine her studies in science with policy.

OHIO

Orangutan 1st in U.S. with birth control device

CLEVELAND | An orangutan at a Cleveland zoo has become the first such animal in North America to receive an implanted birth control device.

The Plain Dealer reported that a Cleveland Clinic women's health specialist made a house call at the zoo Tuesday to demonstrate how to implant the contraceptive. It's about 1 1/2 inches long, slightly thicker than pencil lead and is meant for humans.

General curator Geoffrey Hall said the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo doesn't want the young Bornean orangutan named Kira to breed, at least not yet. The procedure went well, and Kira was back on her feet within hours.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports