- The Washington Times - Friday, August 28, 2009


Report gives racial look at flu

ATLANTA | Swine flu was four times more likely to send blacks and Hispanics to the hospital than whites, according to a study in Chicago that offers one of the first looks at how the virus has affected different racial groups.

The report echoes some unpublished information from Boston that found three out of four Bostonians hospitalized from swine flu were black or Hispanic.

The cause for the difference is probably not genetic, health officials said. More likely, it’s because blacks and Hispanics suffer disproportionately from asthma, diabetes and other health problems that make people more vulnerable to the flu.

The Chicago findings, released Thursday, are thought to be the first published study to detail a racial or ethnic breakdown of swine flu’s impact.


Club’s bankruptcy fees top $10 million

BILLINGS | Attorneys and others involved in bankruptcy proceedings for Montana’s exclusive Yellowstone Club have requested more than $10 million in fees and expenses, including some charges billed at more than $900 an hour.

More than half the fees were billed by the dozens of lawyers, accountants and consultants hired under former club owner Edra Blixseth. She sold the millionaires-only resort last month for $115 million.

Attorneys involved in the case describe their fees as reasonable, given the complexities of the bankruptcy case. Yet the total amount of the claims is sure to reinforce the club’s reputation as a beacon of excess.

Attorneys for Credit Suisse billed $930 an hour. The financial company has so far recovered only a fraction of $375 million in loans it arranged for the club in 2005.

A spokesman for Mrs. Blixseth said most of the legal fees in the case stemmed from efforts to make sure other creditors got paid before Credit Suisse. That’s because Credit Suisse allowed Mrs. Blixseth’s ex-husband, Tim, to divert a majority of the loans to other entities under his control.


Fire tears through fuel storage plant

HAMTRAMCK | A fire that started Thursday near a rail tanker car at a chemical plant spread quickly to silos holding gasoline, causing an inferno that sent huge plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky above Detroit and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of people from the area.

The fire at the Sterling Services Ltd. plant in Hamtramck broke out about 11:30 a.m., and city officials quickly called in help from the Detroit and Highland Park fire departments. Hamtramck is surrounded by Detroit.

The evacuation order was lifted by midafternoon as firefighters worked to put out remaining hot spots.

The company stores gasoline, jet fuel and biofuels at the plant, so authorities evacuated residents from about a half-mile area around the fire, said Kevin Kondrat, executive director of the Hamtramck Housing Commission.


Mom in abduction hoax pleads guilty

DOYLESTOWN | A suburban Philadelphia woman accused of faking an abduction and running off to Disney World with her 9-year-old daughter will spend nine to 24 months in prison.

Bonnie Sweeten, 38, pleaded guilty Thursday in Bucks County Court to identity theft and making false reports to police.

Authorities said the white mother of three called 911 on May 26 and said she and her daughter had been abducted by two black men. Prosecutors said she instead used a stolen driver’s license to fly to Florida and then checked into a Disney hotel.

Outside the courtroom, Sweeten’s father, William Siner, was detained after he slammed a cameraman into a wooden bench.

Federal authorities are also investigating allegations that Sweeten stole money from family members and a former employer.


Sheriff gets prison for helping drug cartel

McALLEN | A former Texas sheriff was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison Thursday for helping Mexican smugglers move drugs through his county on the U.S.-Mexico border in exchange for thousands of dollars in bribes.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced former Starr County Sheriff Reymundo “Rey” Guerra to 64 months in prison and four years of supervised release. The sentence was less than the eight to 10 years recommended under federal sentencing guidelines, but Guerra admitted his guilt early and cooperated with authorities, Judge Crane said.

FBI agents arrested Guerra at his office in October. Prosecutors termed Guerra a “minor participant” in a drug-trafficking conspiracy busted by “Operation Carlito’s Weigh.” So far, 28 people have been indicted in the investigation.


VA raises number of wrong diagnoses

CHARLESTON | The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs now estimates that more than 600 veterans erroneously received letters telling them they had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease,or ALS, VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said Thursday.

As a result of the panic caused by the letters, the agency plans to create a more-rigorous screening process for its notification letters and is offering to reimburse veterans for medical expenses incurred as a result of the letters.

ALS is a rapidly progressive disease that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling muscles and typically kills people within five years.

Since acknowledging the mistake, the VA has increased its estimate about the number of veterans who received the letters in error. Earlier this week, it refuted a Persian Gulf War veterans group’s estimate of 1,200, saying the agency had been contacted by fewer than 10 veterans who had been wrongly notified.

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