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Saturday, January 10, 2015

NASA's SMAP: Mapping the Water Under Our Feet

SpaceX CRS-5 mission on This Week @NASA

Weekly Address: America's Resurgence Is Real

MORE AIRSTRIKES TARGET ISIL

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
Inherent Resolve Airstrikes Target ISIL in Syria, Iraq

From a Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve News Release
SOUTHWEST ASIA, Jan. 9, 2015 – U.S. and partner-nation military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported today.

Between 8 a.m. yesterday and 8 a.m. today, local time, fighter and bomber aircraft conducted five airstrikes in Syria, and six airstrikes using fighter and remotely piloted aircraft targeted ISIL elements in Iraq, officials said.
The airstrikes in Syria, all near Kobani, struck an ISIL fighting position and two ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL building and seven ISIL fighting positions.

Airstrikes in Iraq

Officials provided the following details on the Iraq airstrikes:
-- Near Qaim, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL bunker.

-- Near Asad, two airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and a large ISIL unit and destroyed two ISIL vehicles.

-- Near Sinjar, two airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL fighting position, an ISIL vehicle and an ISIL heavy weapon.

-- Near Mosul, an airstrike struck an ISIL building and an ISIL tactical unit.
Airstrike assessments are based on initial reports, officials noted.
Part of Operation Inherent Resolve

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat it poses to Iraq, the region and the wider international community.

Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

FORMER JUDGE IN ARKANSAS PLEADS GUILTY TO ACCEPTING BRIBE

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT  
Friday, January 9, 2015
Former Judge Pleads Guilty for Accepting Bribe During Campaign to be Elected to the Arkansas Court of Appeals

A former state circuit judge in Arkansas pleaded guilty today for accepting a bribe in exchange for reducing a negligence jury verdict against a Conway, Arkansas, company.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and First Assistant United States Attorney Patrick C. Harris of the Eastern District of Arkansas made the announcement.

Michael A. Maggio, 53, of Conway, Arkansas, pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging him with bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.  A sentencing hearing before Chief U.S. District Judge Brian S. Miller of the Eastern District of Arkansas will be scheduled at a later date.

As part of his plea agreement, Maggio admitted that in 2013, he served as an elected circuit judge for the state of Arkansas, Twentieth Judicial District, Second Division, presiding over a civil matter in Faulkner County Circuit Court.  The plaintiff in that matter, the estate of a decedent, filed a complaint alleging, among other things, that a company, its owner, and others had neglected and mistreated the decedent leading to the decedent’s death while the decedent was in their care.  On May 16, 2013, a jury returned a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor, awarding damages against the sole-remaining defendant, the company, in the amount of $5.2 million.  Approximately one month later, the company filed a motion for new trial or to reduce the amount of damages awarded by the jury to the plaintiff.

Maggio further admitted that he formally announced his candidacy for the Arkansas Court of Appeals on June 27, 2013, while the post-trial motions were pending.  On July 10, 2013, Maggio entered an order reducing the verdict against the company to $1 million.  Prior to that order, a fundraiser for Maggio’s campaign told Maggio that the company’s owner had committed money to support Maggio’s campaign.  The fundraiser also communicated with Maggio regarding the pending post-trial motions.  On July 9, 2013, the owner  donated approximately $24,000 to Maggio’s campaign.  As part of his plea, Maggio admitted that his decision to remit the judgment was improperly influenced by the donations that his campaign received from the company’s owner.  Maggio further acknowledged that he attempted to delete text messages between the fundraiser and himself after the media became aware of the illicit contributions to his campaign.

The case was investigated by the FBI’s Little Rock Field Office, and is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Peters of the Eastern District of Arkansas.

West Wing Week: 1/9/15 or, "SOTU Spoiler Alert!"

SECRETARY KERRY'S STATEMENT ON SRI LANKAN ELECTIONS

FROM:   U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT  
Conclusion of Sri Lankan Elections and Election of Maithripala Sirisena
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
January 8, 2015

The Sri Lankan people deserve great credit on the successful conclusion of their elections. They turned out in great numbers to exercise their democratic rights and every vote was a victory for Sri Lanka.

The United States applauds the Sri Lankan Elections Commissioner, the security forces, Sri Lankan civil society, and the candidates themselves for making sure this election was not marred by unrest and for ensuring a significant drop in campaign-related violence. It will be important for that effort to continue in the coming days.

I commend President Rajapaksa for accepting the results of the election in the proud tradition of peaceful and orderly transfers of power in Sri Lanka. His words tonight about accepting the verdict of the people and moving forward are important.

I look forward to working with President-elect Maithripala Sirisena as his new government works to implement its campaign platform of a Sri Lanka that is peaceful, inclusive, democratic, and prosperous.

FORMER ADOPTION AGENCY DIRECTOR PLEADS GUILTY FOR ROLE IN ETHIOPIAN ADOPTION FRAUD SCHEME

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Former International Program Director of Adoption Agency Pleads Guilty to Ethiopian Adoption Fraud Scheme

The former International Program Director of International Adoption Guides Inc. (IAG), an adoption agency, pleaded guilty today to conspiring with others to defraud the United States by submitting fraudulent documents to the State Department for adoptions from Ethiopia and paying bribes to foreign officials.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles of the District of South Carolina made the announcement.

James Harding, 55, of Atlanta, Georgia, admitted as part of his guilty plea that, between 2008 and 2009, he and his co-conspirators submitted fraudulent documents to the State Department to facilitate adoptions of Ethiopian children by U.S. parents.  Harding admitted that, in support of U.S. visa applications for the Ethiopian children, he and others submitted false documentation, including contracts of adoption signed by orphanages that could not properly give the children up for adoption because, for example, the child in question was never cared for or never resided at the orphanage.

In entering his guilty plea, Harding also admitted that he and others paid bribes to two Ethiopian officials so that those officials would help with the fraudulent adoptions.  Specifically, Harding admitted that an audiologist and teacher at a government school was given money and other valuables in exchange for non-public medical information and social history information for potential adoptees.  Additionally, Harding and his co-conspirators provided cash and all-expense paid travel to the head of a regional ministry for women’s and children’s affairs in exchange for his approval of IAG’s applications for intercountry adoptions and ignoring IAG’s failure to maintain a properly licensed adoption facility.

Harding pleaded guilty before Senior U.S. District Court Judge Sol Blatt Jr. of the District of South Carolina, and a sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date.

This ongoing investigation is being conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.  The department appreciates the assistance of the Office of Children’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney John W. Borchert of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie Lea Schoen of the District of South Carolina.\

Friday, January 9, 2015

President Obama Signs a Condolence Book at the French Embassy

WHAT'S UP FOR JANUARY 2015

EPA TAKES ACTION PROTECTING CONSUMERS FROM TOLUENE DIISOCYANATES

FROM:  U.S. EPA 

Today, EPA is taking action to protect consumers from new uses and imports of the harmful chemicals Toluene Diisocyanates (TDI).

These chemicals are currently widely used in residual amounts in the production of polyurethanes and consumer products, such as coatings, elastomers, adhesives, and sealants and can be found in products used in and around homes or schools. Diisocyanates are well known dermal and inhalation sensitizers in the workplace and can cause asthma, lung damage, and in severe cases, death.

The proposed decision would give EPA the opportunity to evaluate and if necessary, to take action to prohibit or limit the use of the chemicals at greater than 0.1% in coatings, adhesives, elastomers, binders, and sealants in consumer products including imported consumer products that make their way into the United States.  For all other uses in a consumer products, EPA would have the opportunity to evaluate the use of the chemicals at any level.

EPA’s proposed action, a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), would require manufacturers (including importers) to notify EPA at least 90 days before starting or resuming these new uses in consumer products.  EPA would then have the opportunity to evaluate the intended use of the chemicals and, if necessary, take action to prohibit or limit the activity.

FORMER ANGOLA PRISON CORRECTIONS OFFICERS SENTENCED FOR ABUSING INMATE, COVER-UP

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Three Former Correctional Officers At Angola Prison Sentenced for Abusing an Inmate and Cover-Up

Three former correctional officers with the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, were sentenced today before United States District Judge James J. Brady for the Middle District of Louisiana for abusing an inmate and engaging in conduct to cover up the criminal conduct.  Mark Sharp, 33, received 73 months.  Kevin Groom, 47, was sentenced to one year probation and a $500 fine.  Matthew Cody Butler, 29, received two years probation and a $3,000 fine.

According to court documents filed in connection with their guilty pleas, on January 24, 2010, defendants Groom, Sharp and Butler were on duty as correctional officials when they learned that an inmate had escaped from his assigned location.  Shortly after the defendants joined the search for the escapee, the inmate surrendered to prison officials.  The inmate was handcuffed behind his back and placed in the back of a pick-up truck to be transported to the medical unit.  Groom, Butler, and Sharp escorted the inmate on the back of that truck.  During the drive to the medical unit, Sharp repeatedly struck the inmate with an baton.  During the ensuring investigation of the inmate’s complaint that officers had abused him, Groom and Butler engaged in various conduct to cover up the assault.

Sharp pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of the inmate and to making false statements to the FBI.  Groom pleaded guilty to falsifying records in a federal investigation and making false statements to the FBI.  Butler pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony.

Another former officer, Jason Giroir, also pleaded guilty on May 29, 2013, to falsifying a report and making a false statement to the FBI.  He will be sentenced separately on January 29, 2015.

“The vast majority of American law enforcement officers conduct themselves with honor,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division.  “But when law enforcement officers abuse inmates and attempt to cover-up their misconduct, the Department of Justice stands ready to hold those officers accountable for their conduct.”

“It is unfortunate that the defendants’ criminal activities threaten to overshadow the courageous and outstanding work performed every day by the vast majority of law enforcement officers, both inside and outside the penal system,” said U.S. Attorney J. Walter Green for the Middle District of Louisiana.

“This thorough and patient investigation  not only resulted in the full accountability of all correctional officers involved, but also demonstrated unwavering adherence to the procedural rights of the victim and accused,” said Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Anderson of the FBI’s New Orleans Office.

The investigation in this matter was conducted by Special Agent Taneka Harris of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and prosecuted by Civil Rights Division Trial Attorney AeJean Cha and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert W. Piedrahita.

FBI ARRESTS FIVE INVOLVED IN ALABAMA CRIME ORGANIZATION

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
FBI Arrests Defendants Charged with Trafficking Heroin and Other Drugs in Jefferson County

FBI agents today arrested five of six Jefferson County, Alabama, men indicted by a federal grand jury in November on charges they operated an illegal organization trafficking heroin, cocaine, prescription painkillers and other drugs in the western part of the county.  The sixth defendant already was in custody in Jefferson County on state charges related to the drug-trafficking organization.

U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Haley III, Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale, Hueytown Police Chief Chuck Hagler and Special Agent in Charge Veronica Hyman-Pillot of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division announced today's arrests.

The November indictment charges Ladaryl Keith "Eric" Spriggs, 30, Michael "Mike" Watson Jr., 28, Boris Bernard "Buck" Edwards, 45, and Marquis Rashad "Bobo" Abernathy, 23, all of Brighton, Alabama, as well as Damien Jamaar "Two for 15" Scott, 29, of Bessemer, Alabama, and Antione Rashun "Twan" Bell, 29, of Birmingham, Alabama, with conspiring to distribute heroin, cocaine, marijuana, oxycodone, codeine, hydrocodone, suboxone and alprazolam between August 2013 and Nov. 17, 2014.

Arrested today were Spriggs, Watson, Abernathy, Edwards and Bell.  Scott was already in custody.

"The indictment and arrests of these defendants reflects my office's commitment to work with law enforcement to battle the country's epidemic problem of heroin and opioid painkiller abuse on the supply side," said U.S. Attorney Vance.  "There have been at least 123 heroin overdose deaths in Jefferson County, alone, in 2014.  As a community, we must wage battle on many fronts, including seeking more education and awareness about opiate abuse and more addiction treatment options."

“This investigation shows the FBI’s resolve to target organizations that are bringing heroin and other dangerous drugs into the Birmingham area," said FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Haley.  "Today, along with our law enforcement partners, we were able to remove dangerous people from the streets and take another step toward making our community safer.”

"The drug trade is a deadly business and none more deadly than heroin," said Sheriff Hale.  "This investigation and subsequent number of arrests will certainly have a positive impact in our area, as these are major players in this deadly game.  Lives will be saved because of it.  I want to thank United States Attorney Joyce Vance and her team, along with all of the federal and local enforcement partners for their commitment to this initiative.  We are a powerful force working together and we are committed to continuing this fight.”

"The heroin problem is a metro-wide epidemic that needs a cooperative response from law enforcement, on all levels, across the area," said Police Chief Hagler.  "The leadership shown by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on this issue has been both welcomed and effective.  I’m sure I speak for all my fellow police chiefs when I say we appreciate Joyce Vance’s efforts in helping to spearhead a multi-agency law enforcement strategy to deal with this threat to all our communities."

According to the indictment, Spriggs, Watson and Abernathy are charged with trafficking more than 1,000 grams of heroin as part of the conspiracy, and Scott's, Bell's and Edwards' participation in the conspiracy involved more than 100 grams of heroin.

Count 2 of the indictment charges Spriggs and Watson with possessing and intending to distribute heroin and oxycodone from a Fairfield, Alabama, house located within 1,000 feet of a public school, Fairfield High School, on July 17.

Count 3 charges Spriggs, Scott and Watson with possessing and intending to distribute heroin on August 8.

The remaining 11 counts variously charge all defendants, except Scott, with using a telephone to facilitate a drug-trafficking crime.

The indictment seeks a forfeiture judgment of at least $1 million from the defendants as proceeds of illegal activity.

The maximum penalty for conspiracy to distribute drugs illegally is 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.  Conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 grams of heroin carries a penalty of 10 years to life in prison and a $10 million fine, and conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin carries a penalty of five to 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine.

The maximum penalty for possessing with intent to distribute heroin or oxycodone is 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.  The maximum penalty doubles for distribution within 1,000 feet of a school.

The maximum penalty for using a telephone to facilitate a drug-trafficking crime is four years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The FBI's Safe Streets Task Force investigated the case, in conjunction with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, Hueytown Police and IRS-CID. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory R. Dimler is prosecuting the case.

The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges.  Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

LOUISIANA RESIDENT PLEADS GUILTY TO PIPELINE SAFETY VIOLATIONS AND FALSE STATEMENTS

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Pipeline Corrosion Monitor Pleads Guilty to Pipeline Safety Violations and False Statements

Randy Jones, 44, a former corrosion coordinator for Shell Pipeline Company L.P. (Shell), pleaded guilty in Milwaukee today to failing to conduct bi-monthly voltage readings and an annual survey of a pipeline used to transport jet fuel in violation of the Pipeline Safety Act (PSA) and making a false statement to the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Jones, a resident of Louisiana, pleaded guilty to knowingly failing to conduct required safety test between January and December 2011 and submitting false data to PHMSA. The violations were in connection with a pipeline owned by Shell that delivered commercial aviation jet fuel to General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  In January 2012 a hole was discovered in the pipeline at Mitchell Airport after jet fuel began showing up in soil surrounding the airport and in nearby Wilson Creek.  Fuel eventually reached and melted asphalt on airport property.  Shell reported that approximately 9,000 gallons of jet fuel was released.  The response and cleanup cost for the spill was approximately $19.3 million.    

Jones was employed by Shell from 1992 through 2012. From 2010 until 2012, Jones was employed as a corrosion coordinator and was responsible for Shell pipelines servicing Mitchell and Chicago O’Hare airports. Jones failed to conduct the required testing for 2011 and when advised of an audit by PHMSA scheduled for December 2011, he submitted false data indicating the required test had been conducted.    

Consistent with requirements of the PSA, which establishes standards for the safe operation of the hazardous materials in pipelines, buried or submerged metal pipelines must be protected to prevent corrosion.  This involves the use of a device called a rectifier which applies a negative current to soil near the pipeline to keep corrosion away from the pipe.  The operator of the pipeline is required to conduct bi-monthly readings of the voltage generated from a rectifier and conduct an annual survey of the pipeline to insure that the pipeline is adequately protected from corrosion.  PHMSA is the primary agency responsible for regulating and enforcing the PSA.

An information charging Jones with two counts of violating the PSA and one false statement violation was filed on Nov. 14, 2014.  Under the terms of the plea agreement, each offense charged carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. The sentencing is set for April 30, 2015.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, and FBI, with assistance from PHMSA.  The case was prosecuted by Jennifer A. Whitfield of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice and Tracy M. Johnson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

USFWS VIDEO: WILD BERGAMOT

FORMER HUD EMPLOYEE SENTENCED TO PRISON FOR THEFT OF GOVERNMENT MONEY

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Former HUD Employee Sentenced to 26 Months in Prison for Theft of Over $843,000 of Government Money

Brian E. Thompson, 54, a former loan guarantee specialist for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was sentenced today to serve 26 months in prison for a scheme in which he stole over $843,000 of government money.

The sentencing was announced by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. of the District of Columbia, Inspector in Charge Gary R. Barksdale of the Washington Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and Special Agent in Charge Cary A. Rubenstein of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD-OIG).

Thompson, of Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty in October 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to one count of wire fraud.  He was sentenced by the Honorable Senior Judge Paul L. Friedman.  Upon completion of his prison term, Thompson will be placed on three years of supervised release.  He also must pay $843,400 in restitution to the federal government.  Finally, he is subject to a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of $645,700, in addition to over $150,000 previously seized from his financial accounts.

According to a statement of offense, signed by the defendant as well as the government, Thompson carried out his scheme from May 2013 until March 2014, while he was working for HUD’s Office of Loan Guarantee for Native American programs.  This office handles the reselling of properties that have been acquired by HUD after borrowers defaulted on their HUD-guaranteed mortgages.  Thompson was a loan guarantee specialist.  His duties included selling these HUD real estate owned properties for the best possible price in order to reimburse the government for the payments made to the mortgage lender for the insured loan.  He advised supervisors of the progress of reselling properties, and he also coordinated with the title and escrow agents at settlements.

From June 2013 until March 2014, Thompson sold parcels of such real estate properties on behalf of HUD.  For five of those parcels, he made materially false misrepresentations to third parties and diverted over $843,000 of the sales proceeds to bank accounts under his control.  In order to conceal these thefts from HUD, Thompson used and submitted fictitious settlement statements that falsely listed the buyer, and/or the contract sales prices, and/or the seller proceeds.

“Brian Thompson will be a federal inmate because of his crooked dealings,” said U.S. Attorney Machen.  “He ripped off the taxpayer and harmed the integrity of program designed to help underprivileged Native American homeowners.  Public service is a calling, not a get-rich-quick opportunity.  I want to thank the other public servants at the Office of Native American Programs who came forward and raised concerns about Thompson’s conduct.”

“As today’s sentence demonstrates, those who attempt to defraud the U.S. government will be held accountable,” said Postal Inspector in Charge Barksdale.  “Postal Inspectors applaud the efforts of its law enforcement partners at HUD-OIG.  Our combined efforts brought the individual responsible for this crime, which involved the U.S. mail system, to justice.”

“The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of the Inspector General is tasked with investigating allegations of waste, fraud, and abuse in HUD-sponsored programs,” said Special Agent in Charge Rubenstein.  “When we learn of HUD employees who engage in fraud, and in this instance elect to enrich themselves at the expense of a HUD program designed to ensure that Native Americans are provided the American dream of home ownership, we vigorously investigate these allegations in order to bring the employees to justice and remove them from current and future employment with HUD and the federal government.  We wish to thank our law enforcement partners at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and United States Attorney’s Office for their steadfast efforts, hard work and dedication.  This was a truly collaborative effort that led to the sentencing today.”

In announcing the sentence, U.S. Attorney Machen, Inspector in Charge Barksdale, and Special Agent in Charge Rubenstein commended the work of those who investigated the case from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and HUD’s Office of the Inspector General.  They also acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegal Specialist Kristy Penny, the Asset Forfeiture Section’s staff, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Diane Lucas and Virginia Cheatham.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

WHITE HOUSE VIDEO: PRESIDENT SPEAKS ON RESURGENCE OF U.S. AUTO INDUSTRY

NASA VIDEO| EARTH AT NIGHT

ALL FOUR ACTIVE SERVICES MET OR EXCEEDED RECRUITMENT GOALS

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
Release No: NR-001-15
January 06, 2015
DoD Announces Recruiting and Retention Numbers for Fiscal 2015, Through November 2014

The Department of Defense announced today recruiting and retention statistics for the active and reserve components for fiscal 2015, through November 2014.
Active Component

• Recruiting. All four active services met or exceeded their numerical accession goals for fiscal 2015, through November.
• Army – 10,036 accessions, with a goal of 9,880; 101.6 percent.
• Navy – 5,079 accessions, with a goal of 5,079; 100.0 percent.
• Marine Corps – 4,126 accessions, with a goal of 4,123; 100.1 percent.
• Air Force – 3,177 accessions, with a goal of 3,177; 100.0 percent.
• Retention. The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps exhibited strong retention numbers for the second month of fiscal 2014.

Reserve Component

• Recruiting. Five of the six reserve components met or exceeded their fiscal-year-to-date 2015 numerical accession goals through November 2014. Five of the six reserve components also met or exceeded the DoD quality benchmarks.
• Army National Guard – 7,305 accessions, with a goal of 8,128; 89.9 percent.
• Army Reserve – 5,024 accessions, with a goal of 4,667; 107.6 percent.
• Navy Reserve – 994 accessions, with a goal of 994; 100.0 percent.
• Marine Corps Reserve – 1,341 accessions, with a goal of 1,254; 106.9 percent.
• Air National Guard – 1,346 accessions, with a goal of 1,346; 100.0 percent.
• Air Force Reserve – 1,179 accessions, with a goal of 1,179; 100.0 percent.
• Attrition – Each of the six reserve components met their attrition goals or were within the allowed variance. Current trends are expected to continue. (This indicator lags due to data availability.)

U.S. EXPORT-IMPORT BANK CHAIRMAN'S REMARKS ON EXPORT DATA RELEASE

FROM:  U.S. EXPORT-IMPORT BANK 
Export-Import Bank Chairman Fred P. Hochberg’s Statement on the Release of Export Data from the Commerce Department
U.S. Exports Reach $196.4 Billion in November

Washington, D.C. – Ex-Im Bank Chairman and President Fred P. Hochberg issued the following statement with respect to November’s export data released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) of the U.S. Commerce Department. According to BEA, the United States exported $196.4 billion of goods and services in November 2014.

“Contrary to the old conventional wisdom that the days of the U.S. making things are behind us, these numbers are further proof that the world still demands quality American-made goods—now more than ever, in fact,” said Hochberg. “At Ex-Im Bank, we’re supporting American exporters and workers to bring their goods and services to new global markets and create more middle class jobs here at home.”

ABOUT EX-IM BANK:

Ex-Im Bank is an independent federal agency that supports and maintains U.S. jobs by filling gaps in private export financing at no cost to American taxpayers. The Bank provides a variety of financing mechanisms, including working capital guarantees and export credit insurance, to promote the sale of U.S. goods and services abroad. Ninety percent of its transactions directly serve American small businesses.

In fiscal year 2014, Ex-Im Bank approved $20.5 billion in total authorizations. These authorizations supported an estimated $27.5 billion in U.S. export sales, as well as approximately 164,000 American jobs in communities across the country.

1000TH EXOPLANET DISCOVERED AND MORE HABITABLE PLANETS FOUND

FROM:  NASA 
NASA’s Kepler Marks 1,000th Exoplanet Discovery, Uncovers More Small Worlds in Habitable Zones

NASA Kepler's Hall of Fame: Of the more than 1,000 verified planets found by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, eight are less than twice Earth-size and in their stars' habitable zone. All eight orbit stars cooler and smaller than our sun. The search continues for Earth-size habitable zone worlds around sun-like stars.
How many stars like our sun host planets like our Earth? NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope continuously monitored more than 150,000 stars beyond our solar system, and to date has offered scientists an assortment of more than 4,000 candidate planets for further study -- the 1,000th of which was recently verified.
Using Kepler data, scientists reached this millenary milestone after validating that eight more candidates spotted by the planet-hunting telescope are, in fact, planets. The Kepler team also has added another 554 candidates to the roll of potential planets, six of which are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of stars similar to our sun.

Three of the newly-validated planets are located in their distant suns’ habitable zone, the range of distances from the host star where liquid water might exist on the surface of an orbiting planet. Of the three, two are likely made of rock, like Earth.

"Each result from the planet-hunting Kepler mission's treasure trove of data takes us another step closer to answering the question of whether we are alone in the Universe," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “The Kepler team and its science community continue to produce impressive results with the data from this venerable explorer."

To determine whether a planet is made of rock, water or gas, scientists must know its size and mass. When its mass can’t be directly determined, scientists can infer what the planet is made of based on its size.

Two of the newly validated planets, Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b, are less than 1.5 times the diameter of Earth. Kepler-438b, 475 light-years away, is 12 percent bigger than Earth and orbits its star once every 35.2 days. Kepler-442b, 1,100 light-years away, is 33 percent bigger than Earth and orbits its star once every 112 days.

Both Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b orbit stars smaller and cooler than our sun, making the habitable zone closer to their parent star, in the direction of the constellation Lyra. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

"With each new discovery of these small, possibly rocky worlds, our confidence strengthens in the determination of the true frequency of planets like Earth," said co-author Doug Caldwell, SETI Institute Kepler scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. "The day is on the horizon when we’ll know how common temperate, rocky planets like Earth are.”

With the detection of 554 more planet candidates from Kepler observations conducted May 2009 to April 2013, the Kepler team has raised the candidate count to 4,175. Eight of these new candidates are between one to two times the size of Earth, and orbit in their sun's habitable zone. Of these eight, six orbit stars that are similar to our sun in size and temperature. All candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets.

“Kepler collected data for four years -- long enough that we can now tease out the Earth-size candidates in one Earth-year orbits”, said Fergal Mullally, SETI Institute Kepler scientist at Ames who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. “We’re closer than we’ve ever been to finding Earth twins around other sun-like stars. These are the planets we’re looking for”.

These findings also have been submitted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement.

Work is underway to translate these recent discoveries into estimates of how often rocky planets appear in the habitable zones of stars like our sun, a key step toward NASA's goal of understanding our place in the universe.

Scientists also are working on the next catalog release of Kepler’s four-year data set. The analysis will include the final month of data collected by the mission and also will be conducted using sophisticated software that is more sensitive to the tiny telltale signatures of small Earth-size planets than software used in the past.
Ames is responsible for Kepler's mission operations, ground system development and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado, developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

REMARKS BY UN AMBASSADOR POWER ON BURUNDI'S ELECTIONS

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 

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U.S. Mission to the United Nations: Statement by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on the UN Integrated Office in Burundi's Closure and Transition to the UN Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi
January 6, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Last week, the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BNUB) formally closed and transitioned to the United Nations Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi (MENUB) with a mandate to support Burundi’s electoral process ahead of the 2015 elections.

In April 2014, I visited Burundi and heard first-hand from political party representatives, members of the opposition, young university leaders, and civil society advocates about their hopes for the country’s political future and how they might contribute to it. But it was also clear then, as it is now, that the shrinking political space for opposition voices, including new, restrictive media and assembly laws, poses a threat to that future. As I stressed during my visit, an environment of open and free dialogue is essential to fulfilling Burundi’s democratic aspirations and preserving its hard-won peace.

The United States welcomes UN efforts to get MENUB up and running quickly, in line with the international commitment to the security and well-being of the people of Burundi, and looks forward to the important role MENUB will play in providing support to the government in the development of an inclusive and transparent 2015 elections cycle. The United States urges the Government of Burundi to engage the new UN mission earnestly to ensure all political and civil society leaders play an active role in the electoral process and that the people of Burundi enjoy a fully free and fair electoral process, one that results in a representative government determined to protect democratic institutions and serve the public’s needs.

WHITE HOUSE VIDEO: PRESIDENT OBAMA ADDRESSES THE NATIONAL GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION

COOLING-OFF RULE CHANGES ANNOUNCED BY FTC

FROM:  U.S. FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION 
FTC Approves Changes to Cooling-Off Rule

The Federal Trade Commission has approved a final amendment to its Cooling-Off Rule that increases the exclusionary limit for certain “door-to-door” sales. The Cooling-Off Rule previously provided that it is unfair and deceptive for sellers engaged in “door-to-door” sales valued at more than $25 to fail to provide consumers with disclosures regarding their right to cancel the sales contract within three business days of the transaction.

Under the final rule, the revised definition of “door-to-door sales” distinguishes between sales at a buyer’s residence and those at other locations. The revised definition retains coverage for sales made at a buyer’s residence that have a purchase price of $25 or more, and it increases the purchase price to $130 or more for all other covered sales at temporary locations.

In retaining the $25 limit for in-home sales, the Commission stated that the rulemaking record reflected significant concern about high-pressure sales tactics and deception that can occur during in-home solicitations. Because the sellers’ practices did not appear to be as problematic when sales were made away from consumers’ homes, the Commission concluded that raising the value to $130 for those sales would reduce compliance burdens for sellers while still protecting consumers who make purchases from sellers located in temporary locations.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

U.S. NAVY COMMANDER PLEADS GUILTY TO TAKING BRIBES INCLUDING CASH AND PROSTITUTE SERVICES

FROM:  U.S. NAVY 
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
U.S. Navy Commander Pleads Guilty in International Bribery Scandal
Second U.S. Navy Officer Indicted on Related Bribery Charges

A commander in the U.S. Navy pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges today, admitting that he provided a government contractor with classified ship schedules and other internal U.S. Navy information in exchange for cash, travel and entertainment expenses, as well as the services of prostitutes.  A second U.S. Navy officer was also indicted today on related bribery charges by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of California.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy of the Southern District of California, Director Andrew L. Traver of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and Deputy Inspector General of Investigations James B. Burch of the Department of Defense, Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) made the announcement.

“Commander Sanchez sold out his command and country for cash bribes, luxury hotel rooms, and the services of prostitutes,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “After today’s guilty plea, instead of free stays at the Shangri-La hotel, Sanchez is facing many nights in federal prison.  The Department of Justice’s Criminal Division is committed to prosecuting those who abuse positions of public trust for personal enrichment at the expense of national security and the American taxpayers.”

“During the course of the investigation into this criminal enterprise, investigators have compiled voluminous evidence identifying multiple persons of interest, generating numerous leads, and establishing and corroborating connections,” said Director Traver.  “NCIS and our law enforcement partners are committed to seeing this massive fraud and bribery investigation through to its conclusion, so that those responsible are held accountable.”

“This outcome yet again sends the message that corruption will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted,” said Deputy Inspector General of Investigations Burch.  “This is an unfortunate example of dishonorable Naval officers who recklessly risked the safety of our troops by trading classified information for cash, extravagant gifts and prostitutes.  Cases such as these are not motivated by need or other difficult personal circumstances; they are the product of simple greed.  This investigation should serve as a warning that those who compromise the integrity of the United States will face their day of reckoning.  DCIS and our law enforcement partners will pursue these crimes relentlessly.”

Jose Luis Sanchez, 42, an active duty U.S. Navy Officer stationed in San Diego, California, is one of seven defendants charged – and the fifth to plead guilty – in the corruption probe involving Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), a defense contractor based in Singapore that serviced U.S. Navy ships and submarines throughout the Pacific.  Sanchez pleaded guilty to bribery and bribery conspiracy before U.S. Magistrate Judge David H. Bartick of the Southern District of California.  A sentencing hearing was scheduled for March 27, 2015, before U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino.

According to his plea agreement, from April 2008 to April 2013, Sanchez held various logistical positions with the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet in Asia.  Sanchez admitted that, beginning in September 2009, he entered into a bribery scheme with Leonard Glenn Francis, the CEO of GDMA, in which Sanchez provided classified U.S. Navy ship schedules and other sensitive U.S. Navy information to Francis and used his position and influence within the U.S. Navy to benefit GDMA.  In return, Francis gave him things of value such as cash, travel and entertainment expenses, and the services of prostitutes.  Sanchez admitted that this bribery scheme continued until September 2013.  Francis was charged in a complaint unsealed on Nov. 6, 2013, with conspiring to commit bribery; that charge remains pending.

In his plea agreement, Sanchez admitted to seven specific instances in which he provided Francis with classified U.S. Navy ship and submarine schedules.  He also admitted using his position and influence with the U.S. Navy to benefit GDMA and Francis on various occasions.  Further, Sanchez admitted that he tipped Francis off about investigations into GDMA overbillings and briefed Francis on internal U.S. Navy deliberations.

Sanchez further admitted that, in exchange for this information, Francis provided him with cash, entertainment and stays at high-end hotels.  For example, in May 2012, Francis paid for Sanchez to stay five nights at the Shangri-La, a luxury hotel in Singapore, and, two months later, Francis paid for Sanchez’s travel from Asia to the United States, at a cost of over $7,500.  Additionally, Francis arranged and paid for the services of prostitutes for Sanchez while Sanchez was in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia.

In addition to Sanchez, two other U.S. Navy officials – former NCIS Special Agent John Beliveau and Petty Officer First Class Dan Layug – have pleaded guilty in connection with this investigation.Two former GDMA executives, Alex Wisidagama and Edmond Aruffo, have likewise pleaded guilty.

Also today, an indictment was returned against U.S. Navy Captain-Select Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz, 47, of San Diego, California, charging him with a bribery conspiracy and seven counts of bribery.  According to allegations in the indictment, from at least as early as July 2011 until  September 2013, Misiewicz provided classified U.S. Navy ship schedules and other sensitive U.S. Navy information to Francis and used his position and influence within the U.S. Navy to benefit GDMA.  In return Francis allegedly gave him things of value such as cash, travel and entertainment expenses, and the services of prostitutes.

The charges contained in a criminal complaint and indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The ongoing investigation is being conducted by NCIS, DCIS and the Defense Contract Audit Agency. The case is being prosecuted by Director of Procurement Fraud Catherine Votaw and Trial Attorney Brian R. Young of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark W. Pletcher and Robert S. Huie of the Southern District of California.

1/6/15: White House Press Briefing

President Obama Meets with President Nieto of Mexico

SECRETARY KERRY'S REMARKS ON PARIS ATTACK

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT 
Remarks on the Terrorist Attack in Paris
Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
January 7, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m very pleased to welcome Polish Foreign Minister Schetyna here to Washington today. He’s come here especially to meet with us and talk about the important relationship between Poland and the United States – a very important NATO member – and we are working on many, many issues in a very, very close bilateral way.

Before I do talk, however, about our relationship, both of us were just talking about the horrific attack in Paris today, the murderous attack on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. I would like to say directly to the people of Paris and of all of France that each and every American stands with you today, not just in horror or in anger or in outrage for this vicious act of violence, though we stand with you in solidarity and in commitment both to the cause of confronting extremism and in the cause which the extremists fear so much and which has always united our two countries: freedom.

No country knows better than France that freedom has a price, because France gave birth to democracy itself. France sparked so many revolutions of the human spirit, borne of freedom and of free expression, and that is what the extremists fear the most. They may wield weapons, but we in France and in the United States share a commitment to those who wield something that is far more powerful – not just a pen, but a pen that represents an instrument of freedom, not fear. Free expression and a free press are core values, they are universal values; principles that can be attacked but never eradicated, because brave and decent people around the world will never give in to the intimidation and the terror that those seeking to destroy those values employ.

I agree with the French imam who today called the slain journalists martyrs for liberty. Today’s murders are part of a larger confrontation, not between civilizations – no – but between civilization itself and those who are opposed to a civilized world. The murderers dared proclaim “Charlie Hebdo is dead,” but make no mistake: They are wrong. Today, tomorrow, in Paris, in France, or across the world, the freedom of expression that this magazine, no matter what your feelings were about it, the freedom of expression that it represented is not able to be killed by this kind of act of terror. On the contrary; it will never be eradicated by any act of terror. What they don’t understand – what these people who do these things don’t understand – is they will only strengthen the commitment to that freedom and our commitment to a civilized world.

I’d like to just say a quick word, if I may, directly to the people of France.

(In French.)

We wish our friends in France well, and we stand in strong solidarity with them.

I know our friends in Poland understand these acts of terror and this challenge as well as any people, not just in Europe but on the planet. And so I’m pleased to be standing here with the foreign minister today. Poland is a strong, stalwart advocate for and supporter of freedom and of democracy, and they’ve stood on the front lines for a long time in that effort. They understand the price of freedom and they understand the cost.

We are delighted to have their support and to work with them in their commitment to Ukraine, to the freedom and sovereignty of that nation; to the rule of law that has stood us so well in all of our global affairs, that was defined by World War II, in which Poland paid such a price for freedom. And we value enormously the very robust economic relationship that we share, the investment in defense modernization, the commitment to NATO. And we restate once again our commitment to Article 5 and to our NATO obligations and to the important relationship between Poland and the United States with respect to the rule of law. And finally, we appreciate Poland’s strong commitment to the TTIP, to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which is such a key component of our future in terms of jobs and our economies.

So Poland is a very important ally and an important guest today. And I think symbolically to have Poland standing by our side as we talk about the events that have taken place in Paris is something that should not be missed.

So thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister. We appreciate you being here. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER SCHETYNA: Thank you. First of all, let me express my condolences to France and its people. We are deeply touched by terrorist act in Paris a few hours ago. We stand together with France today. But we will talk – we arranged our meeting a couple weeks ago and we established that we will talk about the – our fight against terrorists and terrorism. And we – I’d like to talk that it’s the – last year it was really fruitful with our relations between Poland and the United States. And I’m convinced that it will continue for the next months and years we’ll be talking about.

And Warsaw and Washington are close allies, intensively cooperating bilaterally and within a NATO framework. And it’s for us very important. We will be talking about decisions made in (inaudible), about implementation these decisions; about NATO summit in Warsaw, which we’ll head to 2016; and about all these issue – about the supports for international force in other regions all over the world like Ukraine, Middle East, Afghanistan – all the place where is a problem with terrorists and terrorism – with directness. And for sure we can say today that Washington can count on Warsaw, and I’m confident that Warsaw can count on Washington also.

Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER SCHETYNA: Thank you.

NASA VIDEO: THE OCEAN WORLD OF EUROPA

ODOMETER TAMPERING AUTO DEALERS INDICTED FOR ODOMETER TAMPERING AND MONEY LAUNDERING

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Used Motor Vehicle Dealers Indicted for Odometer Tampering and Money Laundering

A Queens, New York, man and his Israeli brother were charged in indictments unsealed today in federal courts in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, New York, with offenses related to a long-running odometer tampering and money laundering scheme, the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York announced.

Chaim Gali aka Mike Gali and John Triculy, 40, of Queens Village, New York, and Shmuel Gali aka Sam Gali, 42, of Israel, are charged in a 15-count indictment in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (EDPA) with conspiracy, securities fraud and false odometer statements.  The Galis are also charged in a related two-count indictment in the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) with mail and wire fraud conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy.  If convicted of the charges in the EDPA indictment, the defendants face a statutory maximum of five years in prison on the conspiracy charge; a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison for each securities fraud charge and up to three years in prison for each false odometer statement charge.   If convicted of the charges in the EDNY indictment, they face a statutory maximum of 20 years in prison for each of the charges.

“Mileage is one of the most important factors in a consumer’s decision to purchase a used car,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Misrepresenting the mileage on a used car fraudulently induces a consumer to pay more money for less value, and it hides necessary information that will affect how a consumer maintains and repairs that vehicle.”

The indictments allege that the Galis devised a scheme to defraud buyers of used motor vehicles by misrepresenting the mileage of approximately 690 vehicles they sold beginning as early as 2006 and through at least 2011.  The indictments charge that the Galis used fictitious dealer names to purchase high-mileage, used motor vehicles from a national vehicle leasing company.  The defendants are charged with conspiring to alter the odometers in these vehicles, which they purchased in Florida, Maryland, Missouri and elsewhere, to reflect false lower mileages.  The indictments allege that the Galis then fraudulently altered the motor vehicle titles to reflect the false lower mileages and as a result, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania issued motor vehicle titles reflecting the altered mileages.

The defendants subsequently sold the vehicles at wholesale automobile auctions in Pennsylvania and New Jersey using various dealerships, including Chase Auto Center and Conestoga City Autos.  At the auctions, the Galis provided the buyers with Pennsylvania vehicle titles bearing the false lower mileages.  The EDPA indictment alleges that in some instances, the title indicated mileage more than 100,000 miles less than the true mileage of the vehicle and as a result, the defendants received inflated sales prices for the vehicles they sold.

The defendants deposited the proceeds of the sales of the rolled-back vehicles into various bank accounts, mainly in Brooklyn.  Among other things, the defendants then used this money to purchase additional used vehicles and continue their fraud scheme.

“As alleged, the defendants created an elaborate odometer tampering and money laundering scheme to con would-be buyers into purchasing used cars at inflated prices,” said U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch for the EDNY.  “They then used the proceeds of their crimes to continue their fraud against additional unsuspecting consumers.  This case demonstrates our commitment to protect consumers from fraud.”

Acting Assistant Attorney General Branda and U.S. Attorney Lynch commended the investigative efforts of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Office of Odometer Fraud Investigation.

Chaim Gali was arrested today in New York.  Shmuel Gali is in Israel and the government will seek his extradition.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Kathryn Drenning and Senior Litigation Counsel Linda I. Marks of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine M. Mirabile of the Eastern District of New York.    

NHTSA has established a special hotline to handle odometer fraud complaints.  Individuals who have information relating to odometer tampering should call (800) 424-9393 or (202) 366-4761.

An update on the status of the case is available on the Consumer Protection Branch’s website.  More information on odometer fraud is available on NHTSA’s website, and tips on detecting and avoiding odometer fraud are also available on the NHTSA website.

The charges in the indictments are merely allegations, and do not constitute proof of guilt.  Every defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.

U.S. NAVY PHOTOS DURING OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 

An E-2C Hawkeye from the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 116 launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as the ship conducts flight operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, Jan. 2, 2015. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class John Philip Wagner Jr.

U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornets from the Strike Fighter Squadron 81 conduct a high speed fly-by of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as the ship conducts flight operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, Jan. 2, 2015. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class John Philip Wagner Jr.

CARDIOLOGIST SUED FOR ALLEGEDLY MAKING UNNEEDED PERIPHERAL ARTERY INTERVENTIONS AND KICKBACKS

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Monday, January 5, 2015Government Intervenes in Lawsuit Against Florida Cardiologist Alleging Unnecessary Peripheral Artery Interventions and Payment of Kickbacks

The government has intervened in two lawsuits against a Florida cardiologist, Dr. Asad Qamar, and his physician group, the Institute for Cardiovascular Excellence PLLC (ICE), alleging that Qamar and ICE billed Medicare for medically unnecessary peripheral artery interventions and paid kickbacks to patients by waiving Medicare copayments irrespective of financial hardship, the Justice Department announced today.

“Performing medically unnecessary procedures puts patients at risk and contributes to the soaring costs of health care,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Today’s action evidences the Department of Justice’s efforts both to safeguard federal health care program beneficiaries and to protect public funds.”

The lawsuits allege that Qamar and ICE performed excessive and medically unnecessary peripheral artery interventional services and affiliated procedures on Medicare patients.  One of the lawsuits further alleges that Qamar induced patients to undergo those unnecessary procedures by routinely waiving the 20 percent Medicare copayment, regardless of the patients’ financial need.

“Physicians should make medical decisions on the basis of their patients’ needs,” said U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III for the Middle District of Florida.  “Performing medically unnecessary procedures solely to line a physician’s pockets strains our nation’s health care system, and can also jeopardize the health and safety of patients.  Fighting Medicare and other health care fraud is one of our office’s most important priorities.”

The lawsuits were filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the government when they discover evidence that defendants have submitted false claims for government funds and to receive a share of any recovery.  The False Claims Act also permits the government to intervene in such lawsuits, as it has done in these cases.  The cases are captioned United States ex rel. Doe v. Institute of Cardiovasular Excellence, PLLC, ICE Holdings, PLLC, Dr. Asad Qamar, & Dr. Humera Qamar, Case No. 5:11-CV-406-OC-KRS (M.D. Fla.) and United States ex rel. Taylor & the State of Florida v. Institute of Cardiovascular Excellence & Dr. Asad Qamar, Case No. 8:14-CV-1454-T-35-EAS (M.D. Fla.)

“Physicians who try to enrich themselves and their practices by performing medically unnecessary, invasive procedures can cause patients very serious health issues, waste millions in taxpayer dollars each year, and undercut the public’s trust in the medical profession,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG).  “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to protect beneficiaries and hold health care providers accountable for such outrageous fraud schemes.”

This matter illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and marks another achievement for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced in May 2009 by the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation.  One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act.  Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $23.3 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $14.9 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.

The investigation was conducted by HHS-OIG, the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.  The claims asserted by the government are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.

CITY OF FORT WORTH. ARKANSAS. WILL UPGRADE SEWER SYSTEM IN SETTLEMENT

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Friday, January 2, 2015
Fort Smith, Arkansas, Agrees to Upgrade Sewer System to Reduce Discharges of Raw Sewage into Local Waterways

The Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of Arkansas announced that the city of Fort Smith, Arkansas, will spend more than $200 million over the next 12 years on upgrades to its sewer collection and treatment system to reduce discharges of raw sewage and other pollutants into local waterways.  Under a settlement filed in federal court in the Western District of Arkansas, Fort Smith will also pay a $300,000 civil penalty and spend $400,000 on a program to help qualified low-income residential property owners to repair or replace defective private sewer lines that connect to the city collection system.

“This settlement will achieve long overdue improvements in the city’s sewer system that will substantially reduce the number of sewage discharges and help assure that the citizens of Fort Smith reside in a safe and clean environment,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resource Division.

Today’s agreement resolves alleged Clean Water Act violations related to Fort Smith’s failure to properly operate and maintain its sewer collection and treatment system.  Since 2004, Fort Smith has reported more than 2,000 releases of untreated sewage from its municipal sewage system, resulting in more than 119 million gallons of raw sewage flowing into local waterways, including the Arkansas River.  These types of releases, known as sanitary sewer overflows, cause serious water quality and public health problems.  Fort Smith also violated limits for discharges of various pollutants from its Massard and P Street wastewater treatment plants numerous times over the last decade.

“This agreement means cleaner water for the residents of Fort Smith by reducing pollution flowing into local waterways,” said Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.  “EPA works with communities like Fort Smith to develop cost-effective and pragmatic solutions to protect residents from exposure to raw sewage.”

Many of the manholes and pump stations from which Fort Smith’s sanitary sewer overflows occur are located in low-income and minority communities.

To reduce sanitary sewer overflows Fort Smith will conduct a comprehensive assessment of its sewer system to identify defects and places where stormwater may be entering the system.  The city will also repair all sewer pipe segments and manholes that are likely to fail within the next 10 years, develop projects to improve its sewers’ performance and implement a program to reduce the introduction of fats, oil and grease into its system, to reduce root intrusion, and to clean the system of debris which can cause sanitary sewer overflows.  Fort Smith will also implement a program to determine whether human waste is entering and being released from the city’s stormwater system.

The implementation of the consent decree will reduce releases of approximately 3,492 pounds of total suspended solids, 3,343 pounds of biological oxygen demand, 543 pounds of nitrogen, and 78 pounds of phosphorus from the Fort Smith sewage system each year.  High levels of these pollutants can reduce oxygen levels in water bodies, which can threaten the health of aquatic plants and animals.  Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water cause algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle.  Large growths of algae, known as algal blooms, contribute to the creation of hypoxia or “dead zones” in water bodies where oxygen levels are so low that most aquatic life cannot survive.

Sanitary sewer overflows and backups of raw sewage onto private property pose a risk to human health and the environment.  Untreated sewage contains organic matter, bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxics and metals, which may cause illness or even death when humans come into contact with them.  Most illnesses that arise from contact with sewage are caused by pathogens, which are biological agents that cause disease or illness in a host.  The most common pathogens in sewage are bacteria, parasites, and viruses.  They cause a wide variety of acute illnesses including diarrhea and infections.

Keeping raw sewage and contaminated stormwater out of the waters of the United States is one of EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives.  EPA is working to reduce sanitary sewer overflows by obtaining commitments from cities to implement timely, affordable solutions.

USFWS VIDEO: HOW TO IDENTIFY ASIAN CARP

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

VP HOSTS U.S.-MEXICO HIGH-LEVEL ECONOMIC DIALOGUE

FROM:  THE WHITE HOUSE 
January 06, 2015
FACT SHEET: U.S.–Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue

This morning, the Vice President is hosting the Mexican government for the second meeting of the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue (HLED) in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. HLED is a flexible platform that allows the U.S. and Mexican governments to advance our economic priorities, foster growth, create jobs, and improve competitiveness. Cabinet officials from the U.S. and Mexico meet annually, while sub-cabinet officials work toward these goals year-round. Private sector and civil society representatives are an important part of this process.  Together, the two countries discuss the best way to develop our economic relationship with a view toward strengthening the North American economy while supporting our workers and companies.

HLED will also help advance our efforts to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, a 21st-century historic trade and investment agreement that includes 12 Asia-Pacific countries, intended to further deepen regional economic relations and boost economic growth, development, prosperity, and job creation in both countries.

The HLED dialogue was launched through a cabinet-level meeting in September 2013 in Mexico. Vice President Biden hosted the January 6, 2015 meeting in Washington – the second cabinet-level meeting of the dialogue – giving us the opportunity to take stock of our accomplishments to date and establish new priorities for 2015.

 Who Participates in HLED

 On the U.S. side, the HLED is co-chaired by the Departments of State and Commerce, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and also includes the participation of other agencies, such as the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor, Transportation, and Treasury, together with the U.S. Agency for International Development and other governmental entities.  On the Mexican side, it is co-chaired by the Secretariats of Economy, Finance, and Foreign Relations, and includes the participation of the Secretariats of Agriculture, Communications and Transport, Education, Energy, Labor, and Tourism, together with Mexican Customs, the investment promotion agency ProMexico, the National Institute for Entrepreneurship, and others.  Stakeholder input is key to making the HLED a dynamic platform and we welcome input from the private sector and civil society on our website: www.trade.gov/hled.

HLED Goals

To elevate the economic relationship and in order to open opportunities for consumers, employees, private sector representatives, and business owners on both sides of the border, the United States and Mexico have developed a work plan with three pillars:

Promoting Competitiveness and Connectivity;
Fostering Economic Growth, Productivity, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation; and
Partnering for Regional and Global Leadership
Within these pillars, our governments have committed to the priorities below for 2015:

Energy and climate change cooperation.  At the January 2015 meeting, for the first time, our governments agreed to add energy and climate cooperation to the HLED work-plan.  The United States and Mexico will enhance communication and collaboration between our energy agencies, facilitate cross-border flow of energy-related equipment, improve information on U.S.-Mexico energy flows, create a binational business-to-business energy council, increase regulatory cooperation, and enhance safety and capacity-building programs, including training energy regulators, to support Mexico’s energy reform.  We will also continue efforts that help our governments meet our climate change goals, including by promoting renewable energy, sharing strategies for low-emission development, and working together through technical cooperation and information exchange on how best to implement our shared climate objectives, before and after 2020.  In support of broader regional energy and climate collaboration, Mexico is hosting in 2015 the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas and the Clean Energy Ministerial.

Deepen regulatory cooperation.  Regulatory cooperation can increase economic growth in each country; lower costs for consumers, businesses, producers, and governments; increase trade in goods and services; and improve our ability to protect the environment, health, and safety of our citizens.  Our governments have pledged to collaborate in priority areas and continue the work of the High-Level Regulatory Cooperation Council.

Strengthen and modernize our border.  Our governments have agreed to focus not only on the infrastructure and the facilitation of trade and legitimate travel, but also the social, economic, financial, and environmental elements for the adequate development of the region.  Also, through complementary processes like the 21st Century Border Management Initiative, our governments have pledged to identify priority projects and reduce bottlenecks at the border.

 Increase educational exchanges and boost workforce development.  The U.S. and Mexico created the Bilateral Forum on Education, Innovation, and Research (FOBESII) to increase educational and professional exchange programs, promote joint science and technology research, and spur innovation.  FOBESII complements President Obama’s “100,000 Strong in the Americas” initiative, which seeks to increase student mobility between the United States and the countries of the Western Hemisphere, including Mexico.  By investing in our citizens, this initiative creates a stronger workforce and regional economy for the benefit of both of our nations.

Support transparency and anti-corruption efforts.  We support measures to enhance government transparency, including under the global Open Government Partnership, chaired this year by both the Mexican government and civil society. In 2015, we will continue to work with our OGP partners around the world to support advances in open government, open budgeting, access to information, transparency and anti-corruption.  This includes support for government efforts to implement commitments contained in their OGP National Action Plans.

Promote entrepreneurship and innovation.  The U.S. Department of State and the Mexican National Entrepreneurship Institute (INADEM) launched the Mexican-U.S. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council (MUSEIC) to foster the role that entrepreneurship and innovation play in economic growth.  The goal of this unique, binational public-private partnership is to enhance regional competitiveness by boosting North America’s high-impact entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Promote investment.  Investment promotion agencies on both sides of the border - SelectUSA and ProMéxico – are building on their agreement signed in 2014.  They have started to share information and collaborate at investment promotion events in order to leverage our shared economic strength to achieve competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

Promote women’s economic empowerment. Both governments recognize women’s empowerment and economic participation are essential for competitiveness.  When promoting entrepreneurship, educational exchange, or regional competitiveness, Mexico and the U.S. have integrated gender as a top program priority.

HLED Successes

The HLED has produced tangible results.  We have initialed an air transport agreement which will benefit travelers, shippers, airlines, and the economies of both countries with competitive pricing and more convenient air service.  Our two countries have increased cooperation to more efficiently manage our telecommunications systems.  Infrastructure improvements at the border have cut wait times significantly for people crossing into the United States at San Diego, CA, and Nogales, AZ.  We signed an agreement for mutual recognition of our “trusted trader” programs to ease the flow of goods across borders and we signed a Memorandum of Intent to promote investment.  Together we created the Bilateral Forum for Higher Education, Innovation and Research (FOBESII), which held a series of six workshops that included over 450 stakeholders from government, private, and academic spheres – all working to propel the studies and careers of hundreds of students and professionals.  With academia and the private sector, we facilitated sending more than 27,000 Mexican students and teachers to the United States in 2014 and signed 23 new bilateral education agreements.  We signed a Memorandum of Understanding to begin a consular exchange program between our foreign ministries.  We formed the Mexico-U.S. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council (MUSEIC) and held events designed to improve access to finance for businesses and launched entrepreneurship training sessions.  We connected Small Business Networks in Mexico and the United States to share innovative practices and support entrepreneurs on both sides of the border.

These actions are only the beginning, and 2015 promises to be another successful year for the HLED.  With the HLED, we prosper together.

1/5/15: White House Press Briefing

NASA VIDEO: 93 MILLION MILES

DOJ ANNOUNCES FORMER CYBER SECURITY DIRECTOR AT HHS SENTENCED TO PRISON IN CHILD PORNOGRAPHY CASE

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Monday, January 5, 2015
Former Acting HHS Cyber Security Director Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison for Engaging in Child Pornography Enterprise
Five Others Previously Sentenced to Substantial Prison Terms for Participation in the Same Tor-Network-Based Child Pornography Website

The former acting director of cyber security at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison today for engaging in a child exploitation enterprise and related charges in connection with his membership in a Tor-network-based child pornography website.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Deborah R. Gilg of the District of Nebraska and Special Agent in Charge Thomas R. Metz of the FBI’s Omaha Division made the announcement.

“Using the same technological expertise he employed as Acting Director of Cyber Security at HHS, DeFoggi attempted to sexually exploit children and traffic in child pornography through an anonymous computer network of child predators,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “But dangerous criminals cannot be allowed to operate on-line with impunity.  Today’s sentence shows that the Department of Justice will bring criminals and child predators to justice, even when they employ anonymous networks like Tor.”

“Today's sentence and the others imposed earlier demonstrate that those who exploit children will be aggressively pursued and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said U.S. Attorney Gilg.  “Those who think they are acting anonymously on the Internet will be found and held accountable.”

“The production and distribution of child pornography is one of the most saddening, tragic crimes the FBI investigates,” said Special Agent in Charge Metz.  “Today’s sentencing sends a message to those who advertise, distribute, possess, and trade child pornography that the FBI will look for you, will find you and will make sure you are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Timothy DeFoggi, 56, formerly of Germantown, Maryland, was convicted on Aug. 26, 2014, following a four-day jury trial before Chief U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp in the District of Nebraska of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, conspiracy to advertise and distribute child pornography and accessing a computer with intent to view child pornography.

According to evidence presented at trial, DeFoggi registered as a member of the Tor-network-based child pornography website on March 2, 2012, and maintained his membership and activity until Dec. 8, 2012, when the website was taken down by the FBI.  The website’s users utilized advanced technological means in order to undermine law enforcement’s attempts to identify them.  The website was accessible only through Tor, an Internet application specifically designed to facilitate anonymous communication.  Acting under the cloak of anonymity, users advised others on best practices to prevent detection by law enforcement, including advice about the proper use of encryption software, techniques to hide or password-protect child pornography collections, and programs to remove data from a user’s computer.

Through the website, DeFoggi accessed child pornography, solicited child pornography from other members, and exchanged private messages with other members in which he expressed an interest in the violent rape and murder of children.  DeFoggi suggested meeting one member in person to fulfill their mutual fantasies to violently rape and murder children.

DeFoggi was the sixth individual to be convicted as part of an ongoing investigation targeting three Tor-network-based child pornography websites.  The websites were run by a single administrator, Aaron McGrath, who was previously convicted in the District of Nebraska of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise in connection with his administration of the websites.  On Jan. 31, 2014, McGrath was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bataillon.

Four other members of the same website as DeFoggi were previously convicted and sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge Bataillon in connection with their illegal activity on the site:

Jason Flanary, then 42, formerly of Chicago, Illinois, the Philippines, and Guam, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on June 30, 2014.

Wesley Cameron, then 22, formerly of Ashford, Alabama, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Oct. 24, 2014.

Zackary Austin, 28, formerly of Reno, Nevada, was sentenced to 16 years in prison on Nov. 6, 2014.

Charles MacMillan, 29, formerly of Rockville, Maryland, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Nov. 7, 2014.

These cases were brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice.  Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.  For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

This case is a result of investigative efforts led by the FBI’s Omaha Field Office and the FBI’s Violent Crimes against Children Section, Major Case Coordination Unit, and Digital Analysis and Research Center.  The FBI was assisted in its investigation by Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, as well as members of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children International Task Force.  This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Keith Becker and Sarah Chang of CEOS and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael P. Norris of the District of Nebraska.

DOD HAS "ZERO TOLERANCE" FOR CONTRACTORS INVOLVED WITH SLAVERY AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 
Official Reports Progress in Awareness of Human Trafficking
By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2015 – Defense Department awareness of slavery and human trafficking issues is paying off significantly because of mandatory employee training, the program manager for DoD’s Combating Trafficking in Persons program has reported.

As DoD observes National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in January, Sam Yousef noted how annual training for DoD’s military, civilian, and contractor workforce is driving home the department’s “zero tolerance” for slavery and human trafficking.

DoD defines human trafficking as using fraud, force or coercion to recruit, harbor, transport or obtain a person for commercial sex, or labor services.
Increase in Workforce Awareness

Surveys indicate a jump in DoD workforce awareness of slavery and human trafficking issues, from 72 percent in 2008 to nearly 90 percent today, he said.
Yousef said when people hear the term human trafficking, they often relate it to sex trafficking, but he noted that DoD’s training emphasizes that people also can be susceptible to labor trafficking.

Occurring particularly overseas rather than stateside, labor trafficking has led DoD’s Combating Trafficking in Persons program to develop new specialized training for acquisition professionals.

“The training is primarily for contractor officers and contracting officer representatives” on foreign soil, Yousef said. “It gives them highlighted awareness of their responsibilities in managing contracts as they relate to human trafficking.”

Using the phrase, “If you see something, say something,” he said awareness training helps all DoD employees identify potential victims of the crime.
Common practices in labor trafficking, for example, include confiscating workers’ passports, withholding wages and creating “inhumane” living conditions.

Training Helps to Alert Employees

While such indicators might not be obvious to some, DoD’s training helps to alert employees to the potential of such scenarios, Yousef said. “You might not think much of it before you take our training,” he added. “But through increased awareness, you’re able to connect the dots a little more.”



Leadership Plays a Role

In addition to DoD’s mandatory annual training, the military’s leadership also plays a critical awareness role in preventing such crimes, Yousef said.
The 7th Air Force in South Korea, for example, issued a policy earlier this year restricting service members from buying drinks for “juicy bar” workers and patronizing establishments that have been connected to prostitution and human trafficking, he said, adding that the policy now covers all of U.S. Forces Korea.
“It’s a very significant accomplishment,” Yousef said of the policy. “In a 2003 DoD-wide survey, we reported that 52 percent of our service members were aware of bars placed off-limits by their leadership, but in 2013 we reported it at 92 percent.”

In addition, programs with nongovernmental organizations also are increasing awareness, he noted.

One such effort will partner the Defense Health Agency with the nonprofit Polaris Project, which combats human trafficking around the world. During January in the national capital area, DHA and the Polaris Project will conduct a drive to benefit international victims of slavery and human trafficking, Yousef said.

HHS BLOG ON BIRTH DEFECTS IN YOUNG CHILDREN

FROM:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN RESOURCES 
Recognizing Young Children Living with Birth Defects
Jan 05, 2015
By: Coleen A. Boyle, PhD, MSHyg

Did you know that birth defects affect one in every 33 babies born in the United States? Those aren’t just numbers—they represent real babies and families.
Elley was born with spina bifida, a birth defect of the spinal cord.  She relies on a wheelchair to move around. Her mom, Maryanne, says, “Yes, heads turn when a wheelchair rolls into a room, but she uses that attention to force people to talk to her. She is a social butterfly!”

Elley’s family encourages her to do everything that anyone her age can do. Maryanne says, “We have to make alterations here and there to maneuver her around, but we try to treat her as normal as possible and not make her feel as if she is a burden in any way! We take family vacations and get her out of the house as much as possible. She loves to go to church, and we try to include her in all the activities with her age group  She is extremely brave and although she has times of anxiety about the unknowns that may be facing her, she presses on with a courageous heart.”

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), babies with birth defects who survive their first year of life can have lifelong challenges, such as problems with physical movement, learning, and speech. We know that early intervention is vital to improving the health for these babies.

Elley’s story underscores CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD)’s work to identify causes of birth defects, find opportunities to prevent them, and improve the health of those living with birth defects.  NCBDDD’s mission is to promote the health of babies, children, and adults and enhance their potential for full, productive living.
Take a moment to learn more about how you can support a child and family living with a birth defect as well as steps that you can take to prevent birth defects if you are thinking of getting pregnant in the near future.

Coleen Boyle serves as Director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) at the CDC.

FTC SAYS TWO DIRECTORY SCHEME BUSINESSES BANNED FROM BUSINESS DIRECTORY BUSINESS

FROM:  U.S. FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION 
FTC and Florida Close the Book on Fraudulent Business Directory Schemes
Defendants In One Case Will Pay $1.7 Million for Return to Small Businesses and Non-Profits

The defendants in two online business directory schemes, one based in Montreal, the other in Oklahoma City, have been banned from the business directory business under settlements with the Federal Trade Commission.

Both operations were charged with defrauding small businesses and nonprofits by charging them for online business directory listings they had not ordered or received – their deceptive tactics included unsolicited telemarketing calls and bogus invoices with the walking fingers image often associated with local yellow page directories.

In June 2014, the FTC and the State of Florida filed a complaint against Francois Egberongbe, Robert N. Durham, Sr., and 7051620 Canada Inc., based in Montreal, and a federal court subsequently halted the operation and froze its assets pending litigation.

Under a settlement announced today, the defendants are banned from telemarketing, and they will pay $1.7 million to reimburse consumers who lost money to the scam.

In July 2014, the FTC charged Your Yellow Book Inc (YYB), Brandie Michelle Law, Dustin Robert Law, and their father, Robert Ray Law, based in Oklahoma City, with defrauding small businesses, doctors’ offices, retirement homes, and religious schools. The defendants asked consumers to “verify” or “update” information in YYB’s Internet business directory and to pay up to $487. Many consumers paid, believing their organization had agreed to be listed in the directory.

The settlement order imposes a $715,476 judgment against the defendants, causing surrender of certain bank accounts, and proceeds from the sale of a vehicle, boat, and camper owned by Dustin Law. The judgment against Brandie Law is suspended, but the full judgment will become due immediately if she is found to have misrepresented her financial condition.

Under both settlement orders, the defendants are also prohibited from making the kinds of misrepresentations alleged in the FTC’s complaint, and from profiting from customers’ personal information, failing to properly dispose of customer information, and collecting money from customers.

The Commission vote approving the proposed stipulated order for permanent injunction against in Egberongbe, Durham and 7051620 Canada Inc. was 5-0. The proposed order was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on December 12, 2014. The Commission vote approving the proposed stipulated order for permanent injunction against Your Yellow Book Inc. and the Laws was 5-0. The order was entered by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Division on December 2, 2014.

NOTE: Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.

USFWS VIDEO: COMPASS PLANT

Monday, January 5, 2015

U.S., PARTNERS CONTINUE AIRSTRIKES AGAINST ISIL

FROM:  U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT 

Combined Joint Task Force Continues Airstrikes Against ISIL
From a Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve News Release

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Jan. 5, 2015 – U.S. and partner-nation military forces continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported today.

Fighter and bomber aircraft conducted 14 airstrikes in Syria, and fighter aircraft conducted six airstrikes in Iraq, officials said, noting that the strikes took place between 8 a.m. yesterday and 8 a.m. today, local time.

Airstrikes in Syria

The Syria strikes took place in two locations:
-- Near Kobani, eight airstrikes struck two large ISIL units and an ISIL fighting position and destroyed 11 ISIL fighting positions.

-- Near Dawr az Zawr, six airstrikes struck five ISIL crude oil collection points and an ISIL crude oil pipeline and destroyed two ISIL armored vehicles and an ISIL shipping container.

Airstrikes in Iraq

Iraq airstrikes took place in four locations:
-- Near Mosul, an airstrike struck a large ISIL unit.
-- Near Qaim, two airstrikes destroyed two ISIL excavators.
-- Near Ramadi, an airstrike struck a large ISIL unit.
-- Near Asad, two airstrikes struck two ISIL tactical units and destroyed three ISIL vehicles.

Part of Operation Inherent Resolve

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community.

Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Airstrike assessments are based on initial reports, officials said.

TWO CHARGED FOR ROLES IN ATTEMPTING TO OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT OF GAMBIA

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Monday, January 5, 2015
Two Defendants Charged for their Role in an Attempted Coup in The Gambia
Defendants Charged with Conspiracy to Violate the Neutrality Act and Conspiracy to Possess Firearms in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence

United States Attorney General Eric Holder, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, United States Attorney Andrew M. Luger for the District of Minnesota, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Richard T. Thornton of the Minneapolis Division today announced a criminal complaint charging Cherno Njie, 57, and Papa Faal, 46, for their role in a recent attempted coup in The Gambia.  Both men are in custody and are expected to have initial appearances in court today.  Njie will appear in United States District Court in Baltimore, Maryland.  Faal will appear in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Both defendants are charged with conspiring to violate the Neutrality Act by making an expedition against a friendly nation from the United States and conspiring to possess firearms in furtherance of a crime of violence.

On Dec. 30, 2014, there was an unsuccessful attempted coup against the government of The Gambia.  The Gambia is a country in West Africa bordered by Senegal and the Atlantic Ocean.

“These defendants stand accused of conspiring to carry out the violent overthrow of a foreign government, in violation of U.S. law,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.  “The United States strongly condemns such conspiracies.  With these serious charges, the United States is committed to holding them fully responsible for their actions.”

According to the criminal complaint and documents filed in court, in December 2014, Cherno Njie and Papa Faal separately traveled from the United States to The Gambia for the purpose of overthrowing the Gambian government.  Faal is a dual U.S./Gambian citizen and a resident of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.  Njie, a U.S. citizen of Gambian descent and a resident of Austin, Texas, is a businessman who served as financier and leader of the conspiracy.  Njie and his co-conspirators expected that Njie would have served as the interim leader of The Gambia had the coup attempt succeeded.

According to the criminal complaint, approximately 10-12 members of the conspiracy entered The Gambia to carry out the coup attempt, with the expectation that others in the country would join and assist them.  Prior to departing for The Gambia, between August and October 2014, Faal and other co-conspirators purchased multiple firearms, including M4 semi-automatic rifles, and shipped them to The Gambia for use in the coup attempt.  Members of the conspiracy also acquired night-vision goggles, body armor, ammunition, black military style uniform pants, boots, and other personal equipment.

According to the criminal complaint, on Dec. 30, 2014, a number of the co-conspirators, including Faal, met in the woods near the State House in Banjul, which is the home of the Gambian president, and split into two assault teams.  Njie was not present at that meeting, instead waiting in a safe place until the assault teams took control of the facility.  However, when one of the assault teams approached the State House and fired a shot into the air, the team began taking heavy fire from the guard towers.  Although numerous conspirators on the assault teams were killed or injured during the failed attempt to take control of the government building, Faal was able to flee the scene and he ultimately returned to the U.S.  Njie also returned to the U.S.  Both men have since been arrested.

This investigation is being led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its partners on Joint Terrorism Task Forces in multiple field offices.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota is prosecuting this case, with assistance from Richard Scott, a Deputy Chief in the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department's National Security Division.  A number of other U.S. Attorney’s Offices, including those in the District of Maryland and the Western District of Texas provided critical support during the investigation.