Farmer campaigns against Schwarzenegger water plan
SACRAMENTO | A wealthy farmer who once gave lavishly to promote Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s political fortunes and spent time with him smoking cigars has become one of his most outspoken critics.
Dino Cortopassi, 71, has spent at least $100,000 bankrolling an ad blitz targeting one of the governor’s main policy initiatives: upgrading the state’s water delivery system.
Mr. Cortopassi said he’s convinced that Mr. Schwarzenegger, Southern California water districts and agricultural interests that farm land south of his in the Central Valley are conspiring to build a canal that would pipe fresh water around California’s fertile delta region, the heart of California’s water system.
He said doing so would irreparably harm the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’s ecosystem, which he says is just as important to the state as the water it provides for cities and farmers.
Ex-professor found guilty of passing military data
KNOXVILLE | A federal jury convicted a retired University of Tennessee professor Wednesday of passing sensitive information from a U.S. Air Force contract to two foreign research assistants from China and Iran.
Jurors deliberated about six hours before finding plasma physics expert J. Reece Roth guilty Wednesday on 18 counts of conspiracy, fraud and violating the Arms Export Control Act.
Prosecutors said Roth gave the two graduate students access to sensitive information while they researched a plasma-guidance system for unmanned aircraft.
Roth, 70, testified last week that he didn’t break the law. He faces up to 160 years in prison and more than $1.5 million in fines. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 7.
Jury selection starts in shooting spree
PHOENIX | Jury selection began Wednesday in the murder trial of a man who is accused along with two accomplices of terrorizing the Phoenix area with a series of shootings that preyed on people, dogs and horses as he fired from his Toyota.
The first set of potential jurors in the trial of “Serial Shooter” suspect Dale Hausner has been pared to about 40 people, but hundreds more are expected to go through the initial vetting process in coming days.
The process could take weeks, because several hundred potential jurors in the highly publicized case will have to be screened before a panel is finally seated.
Mr. Hausner has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder and dozens of other charges.
Utility violations led to deadly fires
SAN DIEGO | Improperly maintained utility lines were to blame for three wildfires that swept through San Diego County last fall, killing two people and destroying 1,347 homes, state regulators said.
The California Public Utilities Commission said the October fires were started because San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and Cox Communications violated state regulations regarding the maintenance of power lines.
Two of the fires started when utility wires touched in strong winds, the commission said in a report released Tuesday. A third started when a tree limb fell onto one of the utility’s power lines, the report said.
Two of the October fires merged to scorch more than 307 square miles, destroying 1,141 homes, killing two people and injuring more than 40 firefighters. The Witch Creek Fire was the largest of five major fires that ravaged San Diego County last fall, charring some 2,000 residences, causing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes and killing nine people.
The fire purportedly started by a tree limb destroyed 206 homes and burned more than 14 square miles.
The commission accused the utility of failing to cooperate with investigators who were sent to probe the wildfires, hindering the release of a more timely report.
Trash hauler gets 7 years in prison
NEW HAVEN | A Connecticut trash hauler accused of having links to the Genovese crime family was sentenced Wednesday to more than seven years in prison after he admitted to witness tampering, accepting kickbacks and trying to rig a bid.
James Galante pleaded guilty in June to racketeering conspiracy and fraud.
He was sentenced to 87 months in federal prison in what prosecutors said was a price-fixing conspiracy supported by mob violence and extortion.
Authorities said Galante paid a quarterly mob tax to the Genovese family in exchange for coercion to stifle competition and drive up rates for customers.
Top horse’s owners face new charges
LOUISVILLE | A federal grand jury has issued new indictments against two part-owners of 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin.
Attorneys William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr. are accused of defrauding clients of $94 million after winning a settlement from manufacturers of the diet drug fen-phen.
A jury couldn’t reach a verdict against them in July during a trial on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The new indictment charges the men with eight counts of wire fraud.
Mr. Cunningham’s attorney, Steven Dobson, questioned whether Wednesday’s indictment was a result of vindictiveness from prosecutors who failed to get a conviction.
The two defendants bought Curlin, winner of last year’s Preakness, in 2004 before selling an 80 percent interest.
Fake ape missing; owner mystified
EAST MACHIAS | An 8-foot mechanical gorilla standing outside a flea market store could move its arms but not much else, and it was heavy.
Now it’s disappeared - in broad daylight - and owner Lowell Miller wonders how anyone could move it so easily.
The gorilla was last seen Sunday in front of Sandy’s Sales, and Mr. Miller realized it was missing when he started to close up at the end of the day. He thought his clerk had wheeled it inside, and the clerk thought Mr. Miller had moved it.
He didn’t say how heavy it was, but that it had a concrete base with electric motors inside that moved the arms up and down and turned it sideways.
“Who … would ever steal a gorilla as heavy as that thing was?” Mr. Miller asked Tuesday.
Maine State Police Sgt. Jeff Ingemi said he thinks the primate is decorating some college student’s apartment.
‘Rockefeller’ charged over false name
BOSTON | A man calling himself Clark Rockefeller, who is accused of kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter and is being investigated in a California couple’s disappearance, was charged Wednesday with giving a false name to police.
Investigators said Mr. Rockefeller is really German citizen Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who came to the U.S. as a high school student in 1978 and has been living under aliases ever since.
The new charge was added during a brief appearance by Mr. Gerhartsreiter in Boston Municipal Court. He remains jailed without bail after pleading not guilty to charges of kidnapping a minor relative, assault and battery, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
Mr. Gerhartsreiter’s lawyer said his client did nothing wrong by identifying himself to police in the kidnapping case as Clark Rockefeller, a name he had used for years, including during his marriage.
Club settles case of girl hurt in pool
ST. LOUIS PARK | A Minneapolis golf club says it has reached an $8 million settlement with the family of a 6-year-old girl who was fatally injured in a swimming pool.
Abigail Taylor died in March of injuries she suffered last summer when she sat on the drain of the club’s wading pool.
The powerful suction ripped out part of her intestinal tract.
Minneapolis Golf Club President Herb Houndt said Wednesday the amount exceeds the limits of the club’s insurance, so the members had to vote to get a loan to pay the difference.
Mr. Houndt said the club and its members are glad to have reached the settlement for the sake of closure for both the club and Taylor’s family.
Ruling upheld for whistleblower
RENO | A federal panel has upheld an administrative law judge’s ruling that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management illegally fired a former supervisor for speaking out about the health and safety dangers at a toxic mine site.
The judge had ordered the BLM to pay Earle Dixon two years worth of back pay and benefits totaling more than $120,000 after concluding Mr. Dixon was fired four years ago in retaliation “for his whistleblowing activities” at the former Anaconda copper mine in Yerington, about 60 miles southeast of Reno.
The BLM appealed that decision to the U.S. Labor Department’s Administrative Review Board, which upheld the decision in an order issued last week.
The board also upheld the judge’s order for the BLM to reimburse Mr. Dixon for $10,000 in moving expenses after he was fired in October 2004 as well as attorney fees and costs expected to exceed $50,000.
NASA seeks next Sagan and E.T.
NEW YORK | NASA is searching for new Carl Sagans - and extraterrestrial life.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, famous for its manned missions to the moon, announced the creation of the Carl Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowships in Exoplanet Exploration on Wednesday.
The fellowship is named after the late astronomer who popularized science through his books and television appearances.
The fellows will search for life on planets outside our solar system, the so-called exoplanets, more than 300 of which have been discovered since 1994.
Many of the planets discovered orbiting distant stars are gaseous and icy giants thought unsuitable to support life. The challenge is to find Earth-like planets orbiting sunlike stars.
That search will be aided by NASA’s Kepler mission, due for launch next year, that will survey 100,000 stars looking for smaller planets.
ACLU sues to halt immigration order
PROVIDENCE | A civil rights group filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to block Gov. Donald L. Carcieri from enforcing an executive order requiring private employers to electronically check the immigration status of new hires.
The lawsuit, filed by the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, challenges an executive order that Mr. Carcieri, a Republican, signed in March to clamp down on illegal immigration.
Mr. Carcieri’s order requires state police and prison officials to identify illegal immigrants for possible deportation. It also forces state agencies and companies doing business with the state to use a federal database to check the immigration status of new employees. Companies that refuse to comply could lose their state contracts.
The ACLU argues that the database, E-Verify, disproportionately identifies foreign-born employees as ineligible to work and that the database could encourage employers to discriminate against workers who appear foreign.
Perry asked to stop execution next week
HOUSTON | Twenty-two former judges and prosecutors on Wednesday asked Gov. Rick Perry to stop an execution set for next week because an important hearing in the condemned inmate’s case is scheduled for two days after the execution date.
State District Judge Robert Dry in Collin County has set a Sept. 12 hearing on the request from attorneys for convicted killer Charles Dean Hood for arguments on whether a former judge and district attorney were in an unethical romantic relationship during Hood’s trial.
Hood is set to die Sept. 10 for killing a couple in Plano in 1989.
Mr. Perry, a Republican, has the authority to block executions with a one-time, 30-day reprieve for condemned prisoners.
Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle confirmed the governor’s office had received the letter. Mr. Perry, who was in east Texas on Wednesday visiting Hurricane Gustav evacuees preparing to return home, had made no decision on the request, Miss Castle said.
Hood’s lawyers contend the purported secret relationship between now-retired Judge Verla Sue Holland, who presided over Hood’s capital murder trial in 1990, and the prosecutor, former Collin County District Attorney Tom O’Connell, tainted the trial.
From wire dispatches and staff reports