- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2007

Disney welcomes gay ‘weddings’

LOS ANGELES — Same-sex couples who want to exchange vows in front of Cinderella’s Castle now have the opportunity.

The Walt Disney Co. had limited its Fairy Tale Wedding program to couples with valid marriage licenses, but it is now making ceremonies at its parks available to same-sex couples as well.

“We believe this change is consistent with Disney’s long-standing policy of welcoming every guest in an inclusive environment,” Disney Parks and Resorts spokesman Donn Walker said yesterday.

The company said it made the change after being contacted by a same-sex couple who wanted to use the wedding service, which offers ceremonies at Disneyland in California, Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disney’s cruise ships.

The service offers flowers, dining, music and many optional Disney touches, from ceremonies in front of the parks’ iconic attractions to having Mickey and Minnie Mouse in formal wear as guests. The packages start at $8,000 and can cost more than $45,000.

Betty Ford in hospital before birthday

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Former first lady Betty Ford received birthday messages along with her get-well cards yesterday as she remained hospitalized after surgery.

Mrs. Ford, who turns 89 tomorrow, underwent an unspecified operation earlier in the week and was “recovering well” at Eisenhower Medical Center, her office said.

“The president and Mrs. Bush wish Mrs. Ford all the best and a speedy recovery,” White House spokeswoman Emily Larimore said.

The staff at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Michigan also sent messages.

Education official placed on leave

The Education Department yesterday placed on administrative leave a top department official who owned about $100,000 worth of stock in a student loan company, the Associated Press reported.

Matteo Fontana — who supervises lenders participating in the Federal Family Education Loan Program — held more than 10,000 shares of stock in Education Lending Group Inc., which is now part of a larger investigation into the student loan industry, the Associated Press and the New York Times reported this week. The New America Foundation first reported Mr. Fontana’s ownership and 2003 sale of the stock on April 5.

Mr. Fontana, who has worked for the department since 2002 and held his current position since 2005, was placed on paid leave and the department’s inspector general is looking into the matter, department spokeswoman Katherine McLane said yesterday.

Ecuadorian sent to U.S. for trial

An Ecuadorian national charged with the attempted murder of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent has been extradited from Colombia to the United States to stand trial.

DEA spokesman Garrison K. Courtney said Jairo Motta-Vargas arrived in Miami from Colombia on Wednesday and was transported to Washington, D.C., where he appeared yesterday before a magistrate judge at U.S. District Court for his initial court appearance.

Mr. Courtney said Motta-Vargas was named in a two-count indictment previously returned in the D.C. court on June 20, 2000, charged with the attempted murder of a DEA agent and with unlawfully impeding, with the use of a deadly weapon, a DEA agent in the performance of his duties.

Motta-Vargas is a reputed member of a Quito, an Ecuador-based international drug-trafficking organization. In 1999, law-enforcement authorities in Britain seized 20 kilograms of heroin belonging to Motta-Vargas’ drug-trafficking organization, according to the indictment.

On July 12, 1999, in Quito, Motta-Vargas, believing that a DEA agent was responsible for the seizure, fired at least three shots from a Beretta 9 mm pistol at point-blank range at the agent while the agent was seated in a motor vehicle.

From staff reports and wire dispatches

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