- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003


Former translator pleads not guilty

WORCESTER — A former Guantanamo Bay translator arrested with classified documents in his luggage pleaded not guilty yesterday in a brief appearance in federal court.

Ahmed Fathy Mehalba, who has been in federal custody since his arrest Sept. 29 at Boston Logan International Airport, was charged in a Nov. 12 indictment with gathering, transmitting or losing defense information and making false statements.

Mr. Mehalba, 31, was arrested as he arrived at Logan after visiting his native Egypt. The government says he lied to federal investigators when he told them he was not carrying any government documents from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Customs agents found 132 compact discs in his luggage, including one that contained hundreds of classified documents labeled “secret,” authorities said.


Aquarium celebrates 65-year-old fish

SAN FRANCISCO — Rome may be the Eternal City, but San Francisco could be home to an eternal fish. On Tuesday, officials at the Steinhart Aquarium honored an Australian lungfish, Methuselah, which arrived at the aquarium in 1938 as a fully grown adult. That makes the fish at least 65 years old.

Aquarium officials had said Methuselah was the oldest fish in captivity, but learned they were mistaken Wednesday. The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has a lungfish, Granddad, which arrived as an adult in 1933.

The Australian lungfish is rare even in its native waters. An eel-like fish with large scales, the lungfish is thought by scientists to be the “missing link” between fish and amphibians because it also breathes air. Methuselah is 3 feet long and weighs about 40 pounds.


State to phase out wine sales

MONTGOMERY — State liquor administrator Emory Folmar said he plans to phase out wine sales in most state-run liquor stores. The agency’s board gave him authority to cease selling wine in the stores.

Mr. Folmar said 96 percent of wine sales are by retail outlets and the state has little expertise compared with private-industry wine sellers.


Telemarketer closes, blames new law

GRAND JUNCTION — Teleperformance USA shut down its Grand Junction call center this week. Last week, Colorado Springs telemarketer FutureCall LLC said it laid off 137 employees.

Both companies blamed the national do-not-call list for a drop in business.


Syphilis rate rises for second year

ATLANTA — The nation’s syphilis rate has climbed for the second year in a row, mostly because of an increase in cases among homosexual and bisexual men, the government said yesterday.

Between 2001 and 2002, the syphilis rate rose 9.1 percent from 2.2 cases per 100,000 people to 2.4 cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The rate had dropped every year between 1990 and 2000 before reversing course.


Ground broken for law school

ORLANDO — Florida A&M; University broke ground for its new law school campus yesterday, closing a circle begun when the historically black school stopped educating future lawyers in 1968.

The school next to the downtown federal courthouse will open in 2005. The four-story, 160,000-square-foot building was designed by architects who graduated from the school.

The public university’s first law school was established in 1949, and the first class entered two years later. But when the civil rights movement won momentous victories, the Legislature decided that a “separate but equal” school no longer made sense, and the school was shut down. In 2000, the Legislature re-established the law school in an effort to create more diversity in the state’s legal profession.

The university’s second law school opened last year in temporary quarters with 201 students.


Homeless rate up 90 percent

HONOLULU — The number of homeless people has nearly doubled since 1999, a report says.

A survey conducted for the state between July 26 and Sept. 20 estimates the number of people living on Hawaii’s public parks, beaches and street at more than 6,000, up 90 percent from the 3,100 homeless people counted in a similar survey in 1999.


Police find cookbooks stolen from library

BETTENDORF — Maybe this scofflaw can pay off library fines in cookies and cuisine.

Police have recovered 117 cookbooks that have disappeared a few at a time from the Bettendorf Public Library since early 2001 — and they found about 300 more books missing from other area libraries in a search of an apartment.

Officers expect to charge a suspect with first-degree felony theft, which in Iowa is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000.

Exactly how the books were spirited out of libraries and why remains uncertain.


Drug deliveries labeled as cookies

MINNEAPOLIS — When a cookie delivery facade crumbled, a marijuana smuggling enterprise went up in smoke.

Now a man is accused of arranging to truck more than 220 pounds of marijuana from Texas to Minnesota for distribution, according to a criminal complaint.

In all, the confiscated drugs have an estimated street value of more than $1 million.

The investigation began when a trucking company clerk noticed suspicious cookie shippings, said Minneapolis police Officer Randy Olson. People had been paying $1,400 cash to send pallets of Mexican-labeled vanilla wafers to Minnesota, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reported.


Schools give parents cellular phones

PATERSON — Parents of elementary school students received cellular telephones as part of a pilot program to discourage truancy and prevent abductions.

The phones will be used to alert parents or guardians if their child doesn’t show up at school. A nonprofit foundation donated the equipment for the Parent Alert System.


‘Sodfather’ dies at age 82

RALEIGH — Jim Graham, North Carolina’s “Sodfather” who as state agriculture commissioner for 36 years pitched tobacco, poultry and pickles, died yesterday. He was 82.

Mr. Graham, who retired in January 2001, died of complications from pneumonia at Mayview Convalescent Home, said his daughter, Alice Underhill.

Before his retirement, Mr. Graham was the ultimate pitchman for North Carolina’s agricultural products.

He was a giant of a man, known for his ever-present Stetson hat, cigar and size 151/2 EEEE cowboy boots. Always colorful, Mr. Graham once kissed a mule’s rear end in payment of a lost political bet.


Archdiocese fined in abuse cases

CINCINNATI — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati pleaded no contest yesterday to charges of failing to tell authorities about sex-abuse charges. Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Richard Niehaus fined the archdiocese $10,000 for five misdemeanor counts.

With Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk representing the church, prosecutor Mike Allen read the five counts of failure to report a felony aloud in court. Each regarded “an institutional knowledge that certain felony sex crimes involving minors occurred.”

Asked by the judge if he understood the implications of the plea agreement, Archbishop Pilarczyk replied, “Yes sir, I do.”

Yesterday’s plea enabled the archdiocese to sidestep a potential indictment.


Motorist chokes on bag of pot

FORT WORTH — A man changing a flat tire choked to death on a bag of marijuana he had stuffed down his throat in an apparent attempt to hide it from police who stopped to help him, authorities said.

Nickolas Sandoval, 24, died Wednesday. Officers were unaware at first Mr. Sandoval had drugs when they spotted him on the highway in Corinth, about 45 miles northeast of Fort Worth, said Corinth police Cpl. Frank Lott.

Mr. Sandoval, of Ponder, was convicted at least three times of marijuana possession, and pleaded guilty two years ago to a drunken-driving charge.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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