Representative Rangel Under Scrutiny About Beach House

September 5, 2008

Rep. Charles Rangel paid no mortgage interest on a beach resort property for about 15 years, a lawyer for the powerful House committee chairman said Friday.

The New York congressman’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, told The Associated Press that Rangel got his no-interest deal for the villa in the Dominican Republic because he was an original buyer in the resort development.

The Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means tax-writing committee has come under scrutiny for his vacation property and apartments he rents in his home district of Harlem.

Davis said Rangel failed to report rental income from the resort property on his taxes, but didn’t realize it was necessary because of the way the deal was structured.

Davis said it is unlikely the congressman owes any back taxes under the federal tax code, although he may owe a small amount to New York State, on unreported rental income of about $75,000.

“It is my understanding that over the 20-year time period there is not likely to be federal tax liability by Mr. Rangel because of offsetting depreciation expenses and tax credits. Therefore, whatever amendments might be necessary do not involve the federal tax code,” said Davis.

Republicans call Rangel ethically challenged and have sought to censure the 78-year-old lawmaker. Even an unintentional tax error is highly embarrassing for Rangel, since he chairs the committee charged with updating the nation’s complicated tax code.

News of Rangel’s no-interest mortgage comes on the heels of damaging reports that two other powerful figures in Congress, Senators Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., got preferential mortgages with lower interest rates through a “VIP” program for friends of former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo. Dodd heads the Senate Banking Committee.

Rangel bought the beach house 20 years ago for about $80,000, with a down payment of $28,000. Instead of making payments himself for the property, Rangel used his share of collective rental money generated by the resort to pay down the mortgage, according to his lawyer. But in an arrangement with the developer, Rangel and other early buyers, called “Pioneers,” were not charged interest on such debt.

Rental income from the property was used directly to pay the mortgage, so Rangel never made any mortgage payments himself, Davis said. Only once, in 2001, did Rangel receive money directly, when the company mistakenly wired him $2,000 in rental income rather than applying that, as it had before and after, to the mortgage.

The mortgage debt of slightly more than $50,000 was paid off fully in 2003, Davis said, and rental income was also used later to pay for a $22,000 home improvement project. That second loan did include interest payments totaling about $1,100, the lawyer said.

The congressman’s personal finances have come under scrutiny and spawned a House ethics committee inquiry, leading to a showdown last month on the House floor between Rangel and Republicans.

The ethics committee is examining Rangel’s use of four rent-controlled apartments in Harlem, including one that was used for campaign work. This week, the New York Post raised questions about Rangel’s beach villa, which it dubbed his “cash cow.” The New York Times reported Friday that Rangel failed to report rental income on the property.

Rangel’s lawyer said he received no sweetheart deal or favoritism in purchasing or renting out the beach house, because it was essentially a financial investment made in a real estate development project.

Currently, Rangel owes no money on the property and has about a $700 credit, Davis said.

“He invested $100,000 over 20 years with a net return of .7 percent as of June 2008,” said Davis. “Some cash cow.”

Yet by their accounting, Rangel parlayed a $28,000 down payment into a vacation home worth ten times that or more today – not unheard of over a 20-year period of real estate boom-and-bust cycles, but certainly very fortunate.

Article by Devlin Barrett

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Defending a VP Candidate Who is Under Investigation

September 2, 2008

Republican John McCain said Tuesday he’s satisfied that Sarah Palin’s background was properly checked out before the Alaska governor joined the Republican ticket. He predicted that public excitement about her candidacy will increase after her address to the GOP convention on Wednesday.

McCain visited fire houses in Ohio and Pennsylvania on Tuesday, and was due to arrive at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., on Wednesday.

Asked about whether Palin’s background was thoroughly checked out before he selected her, McCain told reporters in Philadelphia: “The vetting process was completely thorough and I’m grateful for the results.”

Later, after visiting a firehouse outside Cleveland in Brecksville, Ohio, McCain added: “I just want to repeat again how excited I am to have Sarah Palin, the great governor of Alaska, as my running mate.”

“America is excited and they’re going to be even more excited once they see her tomorrow night,” he said. “I’m very, very proud of the impression she’s made on all of America and I look forward to serving with her.”

Questions about the review of Palin came up after news surfaced that her unmarried teenage daughter, Bristol, is pregnant, and that the Alaska governor has retained a private attorney to represent her in an investigation into the firing of the state public safety commissioner.

The lawyer who conducted the background review said Palin voluntarily told McCain’s campaign about Bristol’s’ pregnancy, and about her husband’s 2-decade-old DUI arrest during questioning as part of the vice presidential search process.

The Alaska governor also greatly detailed the dismissal of the state’s public safety commissioner that has touched off a legislative investigation, Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr. told The Associated Press in an interview Monday.

Palin underwent a “full and complete” background examination before McCain chose her as his running mate, Culvahouse said. Asked whether everything that came up as a possible red flag during the review already has been made public, he said: “I think so. Yeah, I think so. Correct.”

McCain’s campaign has been trying to tamp down questions about whether the Arizona senator’s team adequately researched his surprise vice presidential selection.

Since McCain publicly disclosed his running mate on Friday, the notion of a shoddy, rushed review has been stoked repeatedly.

First, a campaign-issued timeline said McCain initially met Palin in February, then held one phone conversation with her last week before inviting her to Arizona, where he met with her a second time and offered her the job Thursday.

Then came the campaign’s disclosure that 17-year-old Bristol Palin is pregnant. The father is Levi Johnston, who has been a hockey player at Bristol’s high school, The New York Post and The New York Daily News reported in their Tuesday editions.

In addition, the campaign also disclosed that Palin’s husband, Todd, then age 22, was arrested in 1986 in Alaska for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Shortly after Palin was named to the ticket, McCain’s campaign dispatched a team of a dozen communications operatives and lawyers to Alaska. That fueled speculation that a comprehensive examination of Palin’s record and past was incomplete and being done only after she was placed on the ticket.

Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser, said no matter who the nominee was, the campaign was ready to send a “jump team” to the No. 2’s home state to work with the nominee’s staff, work with the local media and help handle requests from the national media for information, and answer questions about documents that were part of the review.

At several points throughout the process, McCain’s team warned Palin that the scrutiny into her private life would be intense and that there was nothing she could do to prepare for it.

Culvahouse disclosed details of his examination in a half-hour interview with the AP.

First, a team of some 25 people working under Culvahouse culled information from public sources for Palin and other prospective candidates without their knowledge. For all, news reports, speeches, financial and tax return disclosures, litigation, investigations, ethical charges, marriages and divorces were reviewed.

For Palin specifically, the team studied online archives of the state’s largest newspapers, including the Anchorage Daily News, but didn’t request paper archives for Palin’s hometown newspaper. “I made the decision that we could not get it done and maintain secrecy,” Culvahouse said.

Article by Beth Fouhy and Liz Sidoti

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Blackwater Subject of Justice Department Probe

August 17, 2008

Half a dozen Blackwater Worldwide security guards have gotten target letters from the Justice Department in a probe of shootings in Baghdad that killed 17 Iraqis, The Washington Post reported.

The Blackwater guards are caught up in the investigation of shootings that took place last September when a Blackwater team arrived in several vehicles at an intersection in Baghdad where shooting erupted, leaving numerous Iraqis dead and wounded.

The Post described the six guards as former U.S. military personnel, but did not identify them by name.

Attributing its information to three sources close to the case, the Post said that any charges would be brought against the guards under a federal law used to prosecute cases referred to the Justice Department by the Pentagon for crimes committed by military personnel and contractors overseas.

Target letters often are a prelude to indictment.

The Post story appeared on the newspaper’s Website Saturday night.

The shootings began when a Blackwater convoy, which was responding to a Baghdad car bombing, entered the Nisoor Square traffic circle.

Blackwater says the convoy was ambushed by insurgents, touching off a firefight. Iraqi witnesses, however, described an unprovoked attack in which security guards fired indiscriminately, killing motorists, bystanders and children in the square.

Article by Associated Press

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Case File for Missing Child Madeleine McCann Made Public

August 4, 2008

A Portuguese police file containing almost 30,000 pages of evidence from the investigation into the disappearance of British girl Madeleine McCann was made public Monday.

A court clerk in the southern Portuguese town of Portimao, near where the child vanished last year in the Algarve region, said the file was available to journalists who filed a written request and appeared in person at the court.

Officials would then copy the file onto DVDs, which journalists would have to provide, the clerk said on condition of anonymity in line with department rules.

She said the file is divided into 17 volumes and comprises close to 30,000 pages.

Madeleine McCann vanished May 3, 2007, a few days before her fourth birthday, from a hotel room during a family vacation in Praia da Luz, a coastal Algarve town.

Last month, Portugal’s attorney general ordered police to halt their 14-month investigation because detectives had uncovered no evidence of a crime.

The case will remain closed unless new evidence emerges.

Portuguese lawyers acting for Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry, gained official access to the files last week. The McCanns have said they hoped to find leads that private investigators could follow up on.

The McCanns have waged a far-reaching international campaign to find their daughter, but there has been no reliable indication of what might have happened to her despite numerous reported sightings from around the world.

Article from AssociatedPress.com


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NBA’s Biggest Nightmare

June 11, 2008


As David Stern stood surrounded near a loading dock at the Staples Center, with all the beautiful people waiting courtside, with the return of a glamour NBA Finals, the commissioner had to consider the possibility that he had delivered an invitation for Tim Donaghy to embarrass the NBA again, to usurp its starry stage.

“He picks his spots,” Stern grumbled. “This guy is dancing as fast as he can to throw as much against the wall so his sentence won’t be as hard.”

There’s a chance Donaghy’s attorney, John Lauro, had long ago chosen to release wild stories of league corruption during the Finals, but there’s a possibility, too, that the league needlessly provoked it. The NBA wanted this Donaghy circus on Tuesday night about as much they wanted the San Antonio Spurs back in the Finals.

Within the past week, the NBA filed a letter with federal probation officials calling for Donaghy to pay restitution of $1 million, a sum that the league says it invested in investigating the rogue ref. When the government asked the NBA – considered the victim of Donaghy’s crimes – for a figure on its damages, the league should’ve shown restraint and taken a pass.

Donaghy is no sympathetic figure. He’s a bad guy, but he is also a broken man who has lost his family and his career. Whatever his prison sentence, his life is in ruins. He deserves everything he gets, but make no mistake: The blood money is beneath the NBA.

Let it go. Just let it go.

So, Donaghy had one dart left for Stern before the felon’s sentencing in July, and empowered with the feds requesting the judge grant Donaghy probation over prison because of his cooperation in the prosecution of his co-conspirators, Lauro fired on the commissioner who has trashed his client’s credibility for months. What’s more, Lauro tried to provide the judge details of disclosures that the feds didn’t include in the recommendation letter.

Nevertheless, the timing seems more about exacting revenge on Stern and his league than leveraging the judge for a shorter sentence. The lawyer waited until there were suspicions of strange officiating in Game 2, until the series had moved to Los Angeles for Game 3, and let loose these sordid stories of NBA corruption, compromises and fixes.

Still, Stern is right when he says – so far, anyway – that, “Mr. Donaghy is the only one here that’s guilty of criminal activity.”

Did the league and referees conspire to get the Lakers past the Sacramento Kings and into the 2002 NBA Finals? Did Yao Ming get unfairly targeted in the 2005 playoffs at the behest of the league? Were NBA referees punished for throwing superstars out of games? Do relationships among team officials, coaches and players with refs compromise calls on the floor?

There’s a chance there’s some chards of truth on the smaller ones, but the biggies? Do you truly think league executives would expose themselves to criminal prosecution for better television ratings, better matchups?

Enough with the conspiracies, enough.

Within the NBA, there’s a belief that Donaghy was always planning to file these papers in New York on Tuesday, but the recent timing of the league’s demand of $1 million restitution makes it look like Lauro and Donaghy were furious and struck back.

For the league, the money isn’t the issue. It can find that million between the cushions of couches in its midtown Manhattan tower. For the NBA, this was a self-defeating exercise, useless. And yes, Donaghy is responsible for his felony acts, for betting on games, providing gamblers inside information and, as Stern said, “a convicted felon who really violated probably the most sacred trust in sports.” Nevertheless, Donaghy had been an employee with a pattern of disturbing behavior, whose acts should have invited a more probing league investigation into his double life.

Who has paid the price in the NBA? Who lost their job over Donaghy? Perhaps the NBA wouldn’t have had to pay $1 million for this investigation – if it did spend that much – had it gone deeper in its original probes.

From the beginning, Stern engaged in a relentless campaign to isolate the corruption to Donaghy. He cast doubts on Donaghy’s credibility with constant refrains that he’s a “convicted felon.” Stern started in the summer, calling him a “rouge, isolated official.” All along, his instincts were right: As long as the scandal was contained to this creep, the sport could survive the scandal.

As it turned out, the story never had the legs that the NBA feared. The league was still moving quietly toward Donaghy’s sentencing in mid-July, when it looks like it took a foolish risk.

Stern doesn’t need restitution out of Donaghy. He needs him out of the news, out of his life. And how many millions of dollars would the NBA have paid for that crook to be out of sight, out of mind, on a night the starry Hollywood stage at Staples should’ve belonged to Kobe Bryant?

This was originally found @ Yahoo Sports

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Top Secret Documents Left On Train in London

June 11, 2008


Two secret government documents about al Qaeda and Iraq were left on a train. A police investigation was under way likely after a senior intelligence official left it on the train by accident. A citizen found the documents and gave them to a journalist who specializes in Intelligence and Government reporting. That reporter then turned them over to police.

In a statement, the government’s Cabinet Office said that “two documents which are marked as secret were left on a train and have subsequently been handed to the BBC.”

He said London’s Metropolitan Police was investigating the security breach and confirmed it was making inquiries about the loss of documents on Tuesday.

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FBI Investigating Kidnapping For Ransom

April 25, 2008

The FBI is investigating an alleged kidnapping for ransom of a 26-year-old Florida private pilot who has been missing since April 1, an FBI spokesman told CNN Friday.

The bureau identified the man as Robert Arthur Wiles, of Lakeland, Florida, who runs his family’s aircraft maintenance business, National Flight Services, at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.

Wiles’ parents first suspected something was wrong when they couldn’t reach their son, whom they had visited a few days before he was reported missing, said FBI Tampa, Florida, spokesman Dave Couvertier.

“They were sent a ransom note,” he said. “A threat was made. His parents were told to follow directions, but they heard nothing back.”

For now, the bureau won’t elaborate on exactly what the note said or how much money was demanded — only that the note was signed in a “unique” way, Couvertier said. It is not clear why Wiles would have been targeted, he said.

Agents believe that revealing specifics might compromise the investigation, he said.

Couvertier said that while the bureau has no evidence to indicate the kidnapping could have been staged, “we’re exploring every lead, every possibility.” But he added, “We’re treating this as the real thing.”

Investigators won’t explain why they waited so long to go public with the case except to say the parents hope that talking about it now might generate new leads in the case, he said.

“The parents are offering a reward. They hope someone will be able to help them and come forward with information,” he said.

At an FBI-organized news conference Friday afternoon in Tampa, the parents announced they are offering $10,000 to anyone who can provide them information.

“Our son knows how to reach us; he has our phone numbers,” they said. “The only thing that matters to us is that our son comes home safely.”

So far, the bureau has followed leads involving Robert Wiles’ “activities and associations” in several Florida cities as well in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, he said. One friend was contacted in Thailand.

Kidnappings for ransom in the United States are considered rare, especially of adults.

The agency says it investigated 161 kidnappings in the nation last year involving custody disputes, cults, drug rip-offs and sexual assaults.

National Flight Services has other locations in Florida, Texas, Ohio — where its headquarters are — and in Toronto, Canada. A company Web site lists the owner as Thomas Wiles

This was found @ CNN.com

The follow-up story can be read here

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