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American Scene: Lawyer pleads not guilty to aiding drug cartel

- - Thursday, November 8, 2012

TEXAS

EL PASO — A Texas lawyer and former Carnegie Mellon University trustee has pleaded not guilty to laundering more than $600 million for a Mexican drug cartel.

Marco Antonio Delgado entered the plea Thursday during a hearing in federal court in El Paso. He asked Judge Norbert Garney to schedule a bond hearing for Wednesday.

Prosecutors say Mr. Delgado conspired to launder a cartel's drug profits from July 2007 through December 2008. The indictment doesn't say which cartel.

A biography that was recently pulled from the university's website said Mr. Delgado joined Mexican President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto's campaign early this year and was part of his transition team. Mr. Pena's team denies knowing Mr. Delgado.

The university says Mr. Delgado provided the biographical information.

NEW YORK

Officials says Sandy's damage could be $33B

NEW YORK — Damage in New York state from Superstorm Sandy could total $33 billion when all is said and done, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday as the state began cleaning up from a nor'easter that dumped snow, brought down power lines and left hundreds of thousands of new customers in darkness.

A damage forecasting firm had previously estimated that Sandy might have caused $30 billion to $50 billion in economic losses from the Carolinas to Maine, including property damage, lost business and extra living expenses. Mr. Cuomo's estimate will likely push the bill even higher.

A damage estimate of even $50 billion total would make Sandy the second most expensive storm in U.S. history, right behind Hurricane Katrina. Sandy inundated parts of New York City and New Jersey with a storm surge as high as 14 feet, killed more than 100 people and left more than 8.5 million people without power at its peak.

Sandy left more people in the dark than any previous storm, the Department of Energy has said, and it left drivers desperate for gas when it complicated fuel deliveries.

"We are going to have to look at a ground-up redesign," Mr. Cuomo said of the power and fuel supply systems. "With power outages, you paralyze the nation, and chaos ensues."

In particular, Mr. Cuomo noted New York City's problems, largely due to the surge of seawater that inundated utilities lying deep below ground.

"That's a brilliant engineering masterpiece, yes, but if Manhattan floods, you flood all that infrastructure," he said. "We don't even have a way to pump it out."

CALIFORNIA

Televangelist testifies, claims ministry owes him millions

LOS ANGELES — The former host of the televangelist program the "Hour of Power" has testified in bankruptcy court that the ministry he founded owes him for using his creative works in broadcasts and online.

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller testified Wednesday in U.S. District Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles that he never gave up ownership of his written materials and other creative works, although he let Crystal Cathedral Ministries use them for free without receiving royalties.

The 86-year-old Mr. Schuller, once among the best-known televangelists in America, has filed more than $5 million in claims against the ministry in bankruptcy court.

He and his family allege it owes them for unpaid contracts, copyright infringement and intellectual property rights.

Crystal Cathedral Ministries filed for bankruptcy in 2010 citing $50 million in debt.

NORTH CAROLINA

Man found guilty in plot to behead witnesses

RALEIGH — A North Carolina man serving a 45-year sentence for a terror plot to attack a U.S. Marine base and overseas targets was found guilty Thursday in a murder-for-hire plot to behead witnesses who testified against him.

Hysen Sherifi, 28, of Raleigh was found guilty Thursday of nine counts related to the murder-for-hire plot, U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker said. Sherifi will be sentenced in February, when he faces a maximum sentence of life behind bars.

"This conviction is further evidence of our resolve to pursue those who seek to attack our freedoms and destroy the way of life we all cherish," Mr. Walker said.

Sherifi represented himself at the trial, which began Monday in U.S. District Court in Raleigh. After opening statements by prosecutors, Sherifi read religious verses in Arabic and lectured jurors on their meaning in English.

"We fight for Allah. We have authority. Do you have authority to make laws for mankind?" Sherifi told jurors. "We do not make laws. We follow the laws that have been revealed by Allah."

ARKANSAS

Court orders new trial in quintuple killing

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court says a man convicted in the 2009 shooting deaths of five people deserves a new trial because his previous trial wasn't fair.

Samuel Lee Conway was convicted last year on five counts of capital murder plus other charges. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The high court on Thursday reversed Mr. Conway's convictions and sentences and ordered a new trial.

Mr. Conway had argued that he deserved a new trial because a judge didn't dismiss a juror who said during the trial he had already made up his mind about the case.

The state Supreme Court sided with Mr. Conway, saying the judge abused his discretion when he didn't get rid of the juror.

The justices said Mr. Conway was denied the right to a fair trial.

NEW YORK

Flight cancellations still piling up in metro area

NEW YORK — Air travel in the New York area still isn't back to normal after the second major storm in little more than a week.

Major airlines scratched about 600 flights around the U.S. Thursday, according to the flight-tracking service FlightAware. The majority of those are in the New York area, although airports in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere are affected.

More than 1,600 were canceled Wednesday when a nor'easter hit the area with a mix of rain and snow. United and American suspended operations in the region by afternoon, as whiteout conditions developed. Other airlines canceled a handful of flights and encouraged passengers to reschedule.

Superstorm Sandy caused more than 20,000 flight cancellations when it hit Oct. 29, making it the second-most-disruptive storm in the last seven years.

PENNSYLVANIA

Conjoined 8-month-old twins undergo surgery

PHILADELPHIA — Surgeons at a Philadelphia hospital have successfully completed operations to separate 8-month-old twin girls who were joined at the lower chest and abdomen.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia says the seven-hour procedures to separate Allison and Amelia Tucker were completed Wednesday afternoon.

The twins are from Adams, N.Y. They shared their chest wall, diaphragm, pericardium and liver. Officials had said they were "excellent candidates" for separation.

Lead surgeon Holly Hedrick says the complex surgery "went very well and as expected." She says the twins will be monitored closely during their recovery and should be able to live "full, healthy and independent lives."

Officials say the surgery was the 21st separation of conjoined twins performed at the hospital.

MASSACHUSETTS

Fraud? No, spider delays small town's vote count

REHOBOTH — It wasn't hanging chads or voter fraud that delayed the vote count in one Massachusetts town -- it was a spider.

Rehoboth Town Clerk Kathleen Conti says one of the town's aging voting machines malfunctioned Tuesday morning.

She called a technician, who said a spider web apparently prevented the machine's scanner from counting ballots. Ms. Conti tells The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro that all Rehoboth's voting machines received preventive maintenance a month ago.

The vote count wasn't completed until Wednesday afternoon.

Rehoboth voters favored Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney and incumbent Republican Sen. Scott P. Brown, but went for Democratic House candidate Joseph Kennedy III.

Rehoboth, with about 12,000 residents, is about 50 miles southwest of Boston.

Ms. Conti says she has been pressing to have the machines replaced for several years.

MONTANA

Man napping in field run over by combine, survives

BILLINGS — A man napping in a Montana cornfield was startled out of his snooze when he was run over by a large harvesting machine -- and Yellowstone County deputies say he's lucky to be alive.

Sheriff's Lt. Kent O'Donnell says the 57-year-old man had been traveling the country by bus and decided to take a rest three rows deep in a field on the outskirts of Billings, the state's largest city.

A farmer harvesting Wednesday felt his combine hit something. When he turned the machine off, he heard screaming.

Emergency responders found the man's clothing had been sucked into the cutter, ensnaring him in the blades.

Lt. O'Donnell says the man, whose name was not released, suffered cuts requiring stitches and may need skin grafts, but given the circumstances is "incredibly lucky."

• From wire dispatches and staff reports