- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

Former US House Speaker Hastert accused of evading banking laws to hide hush money payments

CHICAGO (AP) - Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million in hush money to keep an unidentified person silent about “prior misconduct” by the Illinois Republican who was once second in line to the U.S. presidency, according to a federal grand jury indictment handed down on Thursday in Chicago.

The indictment, which does not describe the misconduct Hastert was allegedly trying to conceal, charges the 73-year-old with one count of evading bank regulations as he withdrew tens of thousands of dollars at a time to make the payments. He is also charged with one count of lying to the FBI about the reason for the unusual bank withdrawals.

Each count of the indictment carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Hastert, who had worked as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., since shortly after he left Congress in 2007, resigned from the law firm of Dickstein Shapiro LLC, a spokesman for the lobbying group said Thursday.

The firm’s website had described Hastert as a “featured attorney” as late as Thursday afternoon, but his contact details appeared to have been removed from the website hours later. Firm spokesman Jason Huntsman did not have further details.


The Latest on Dennis Hastert: Ex-House speaker resigns from DC lobbying and law firm

7:50 p.m. (CDT)

A spokesman for the lobbying and law firm where Hastert worked in Washington, D.C., says the former House speaker has resigned.

The website for Dickstein Shapiro LLC had Hastert’s biography as a “featured attorney” as late as Thursday afternoon, but Hastert’s contact details appeared to have been removed from the website hours later.

Firm spokesman Jason Huntsman did not have further details.

Hastert was charged Thursday with withdrawing $952,000 in cash in small amounts to evade the requirement that banks report cash transactions over $10,000. The former U.S. House speaker is also charged with lying to the FBI.


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A federal indictment alleges that the 73-year-old Illinois Democrat paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars, seeking to conceal unspecified misconduct.


Defiant soccer chief resists calls to resign, pledges to restore trust in FIFA amid scandals

ZURICH (AP) - As defiant as ever, Sepp Blatter resisted calls to resign as FIFA president Thursday and deflected blame for the massive bribery and corruption scandal engulfing soccer’s world governing body.

“We, or I, cannot monitor everyone all of the time,” Blatter said in his first public remarks on the crisis that has further tainted his leadership on the eve of his bid for a fifth term as president.

The 79-year-old Blatter insisted he could restore trust in world soccer after a pair of corruption investigations brought “shame and humiliation” on his organization and the world’s most popular sport.

“We cannot allow the reputation of football and FIFA to be dragged through the mud any longer,” he said. “It has to stop here and now.”

Despite a tide of criticism and pressure on him to leave, Blatter is moving ahead with a presidential election Friday that is likely to bring him another four years in office as one of them most powerful men in sports.


In contrast to the failures of the Iraqi army, Kurdish fighters in Syria on march against IS

BEIRUT (AP) - In contrast to the Iraqi army’s failures, Kurdish fighters in Syria are on the march against the Islamic State group, capturing towns and villages in an oil-rich swath of the country’s northeast under the cover of U.S.-led airstrikes.

As the Kurds close in on Tel Abyad, a major commercial center on the Turkish border, their advance highlights the decisive importance of combining airstrikes with the presence of a cohesive and motivated ally on the ground - so clearly absent in Iraq.

In Syria, a country now split mostly between al-Qaida-style militants and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, the U.S. has found a reliable partner in the country’s main Kurdish fighting force, known as the YPG. They are moderate, mostly secular fighters, driven by revolutionary fervor and deep conviction in their cause.

Since the beginning of May, they have wrested back more than 200 Kurdish and Christian towns in northeastern Syria, as well as strategic mountains seized earlier by IS. Along the way, they have picked up ammunition, weapons and vehicles left behind by Islamic State fighters.

The push has gotten them closer to Tel Abyad, a major avenue for commerce for the extremist group through which it smuggles foreign fighters and sells black-market oil to help fund its conquests. The city is also a key link between Turkey and the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State group’s de-facto capital in its self-declared caliphate.


CDC investigating error that caused live anthrax shipments from Utah weapons testing site

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Army’s top general said Thursday that human error probably was not a factor in the Army’s mistaken shipment of live anthrax samples from a chemical weapons testing site that was opened more than 70 years ago in a desolate stretch of desert in Utah.

Samples from the anthrax lot ended up at 18 labs in nine states and an Army lab in South Korea, leading more than two dozen people to get treatment for possible exposure.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told reporters the problem may have been a failure in the technical process of killing, or inactivating, anthrax samples.

Odierno said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating what went wrong at Dugway Proving Ground, the Army installation in Utah where the anthrax originated.

Officials said the government labs that received the suspect anthrax were at the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland and the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Virginia. The rest were commercial labs, which the Pentagon has declined to identify, citing legal constraints.


Lucrative stints as corporate director, adviser earned Bush millions, may invite 2016 scrutiny

WASHINGTON (AP) - During his transition from Florida governor to likely presidential candidate, Jeb Bush served on the boards of or as an adviser to at least 15 companies and nonprofits, a dizzying array of corporate connections that earned him millions of dollars and occasional headaches.

Bush returned to corporate America after leaving the governor’s mansion in early 2007, and his industry portfolio expanded steadily until he began shedding ties late last year to prepare a run for president.

Executives who worked alongside Bush describe him as an engaged adviser with an eye for detail.

Yet experts question how anyone could serve so many boards at once effectively.

“Board of directors and advisory boards are in charge of high-level oversight,” said law professor Elizabeth Nowicki, a former Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer. “You cannot possibly do that simultaneously for 10 or 15 entities.”


Android’s next version to offer new ways to fetch information, pay merchants, protect privacy

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Google’s next version of its Android operating system will boast new ways to fetch information, pay merchants and protect privacy on mobile devices as the Internet company duels with Apple in the quest to make their technology indispensable.

The upgrade will give Android’s personal assistant, Google Now, expanded powers of intuition that may be greeted as a great convenience to some and a tad too creepy for others.

Most of the renovations unveiled Thursday at Google’s annual developers’ conference won’t be available until late summer or early fall, around the same time that Apple is expected to release the latest overhaul of the iOS software that powers the iPhone and iPad.

The annual changes to Android and iOS are becoming increasingly important as people become more dependent on smartphones to manage their lives. Android holds about an 80 percent share of the worldwide smartphone market, with iOS a distant second at 16 percent, according to the research firm International Data Corp.

Both Google and Apple are vying to make their products even more ubiquitous by transplanting much of their mobile technology into automobiles and Internet-connected televisions and appliances. Google hopes to play a prominent role in the management of home security and appliances with a new operating system called Brillo that will interact with Android devices.


Iconic Martha’s Vineyard lighthouse begins move inland to protect it from eroding cliffs

AQUINNAH, Mass. (AP) - A Martha’s Vineyard lighthouse that is among the most endangered historic landmarks in the U.S. began its gradual march back from a rapidly eroding cliffside on Thursday.

Powerful hydraulic pistons inched the 160-year-old Gay Head Lighthouse about 5 feet at a time along steel rails lathered with soap, starting just before noon. By midafternoon, it had moved more than 25 feet.

The 52-foot-high, 400-ton brick-and-mortar structure is expected to arrive at its final destination - a concrete pad about 135 feet due southeast - as soon as Friday.

“We’ve got plenty of time. We’re not in any rush,” said Jerry Matyiko, a seasoned mover of large structures whose crews have relocated five lighthouses, including the famed Cape Hatteras Light in North Carolina. “Preparing it was the hard part. Moving it is the easy part.”

Workers spent weeks painstakingly digging under the lighthouse to lift it a few short feet off the ground, using dozens of hydraulic jacks supported by a network of wood-and-steel beams.


Demi Lovato discusses bipolar disorder as the face of mental health for Be Vocal campaign

LOS ANGELES (AP) - When Demi Lovato was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she was actually relieved.

“Growing up, I felt very, very depressed,” she said. “Even though I was playing concerts and living out my dream, I couldn’t tell you why I was upset.”

After a family intervention, she sought treatment and learned she has a mental illness.

“I remember smiling and thinking great, OK, so there’s not anything wrong with me as a person,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s actually just a condition that I have and I can do something to fix it. I don’t have to be like this forever.”

Lovato is sharing her story and encouraging others to do the same through Be Vocal: Speak Up For Mental Health, an initiative launched Thursday by a pharmaceutical company, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and other mental-health advocacy groups. Its aim is to improve treatment options at all levels and erase the stigma around mental illnesses.

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