Friday, December 9, 2011

Elderly woman pleads guilty in the case of suicide kits-Salon

 A 91-year-old woman has admitted failing to file tax returns for her company that made and sold suicide kits.

The U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego says Sharlotte Hydorn pleaded guilty Friday to the charge that dated back to 2007 and was tied to the sale of helium hood kits people can use to kill themselves.

Hydorn has acknowledged making more than $150,000 in income.

During a May raid on her home in El Cajon, east of San Diego, federal agents seized kits that sold for $40 each and essentially consisted of a plastic bag and clear tubing.

As part of her plea deal, Hydorn agreed to pay $26,000 in outstanding taxes.

A judge ordered her released on the condition she not assist suicides. She will be sentenced Feb. 16.

Ultraconservative Party To Push For Islamic Egypt

CAIRO (AP) — Anticipating a strong presence in the new Egyptian parliament, ultraconservative Islamists outlined plans Friday for a strict brand of religious law, a move that could limit personal freedoms and steer a key U.S. ally toward an Islamic state.

Egypt’s election commission announced only a trickle of results from the first round of parliamentary elections and said 62 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the highest turnout in modern history.

However, leaked counts point to a clear majority for Islamist parties at the expense of liberal activist groups that led the uprising against Hosni Mubarak, toppling a regime long seen as a secular bulwark in the Middle East.

The more pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood is poised to take the largest share of votes, as much as 45 percent. But the Nour Party, which espouses a strict interpretation of Islam in which democracy is subordinate to the Quran, could win a quarter of the house, giving it much power to affect debate.

A spokesman, Yousseri Hamad, said his party considers God’s law the only law.

“In the land of Islam, I can’t let people decide what is permissible or what is prohibited,” Hamad told The Associated Press. “It is God who gives the answers as to what is right and what is wrong.”

The Nour Party is the main political arm of the hard-line Salafist Muslim movement, which espouses a strict form of Islam similar to that practiced in Saudi Arabia. Salafis, who often wear long beards and seek to imitate the life of the Prophet Muhammad, speak openly about their aim of turning Egypt into a state where personal freedoms, including freedom of speech, women’s dress and art, are constrained by Islamic law — goals that make many Egyptians nervous.

Salafis object to women in leadership roles, citing Muhammad as saying that “no people succeed if led by women.” However, when election regulations forced all parties to include women, Salafi cleric Yasser el-Bourhami relented, saying that “committing small sins” is better than “committing bigger ones” — by which he meant letting secular people run the government.

In the end, the party put women at the bottom of its lists, represented by flowers since women’s photos were deemed inappropriate.

This week, Salafi cleric and parliamentary candidate Abdel-Monem Shahat caused a stir by saying the novels of Egypt’s Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, read widely in Egyptian schools, are “all prostitution.”

Salafis are newcomers on Egypt’s political scene. They long shunned the concept of democracy, saying it allows man’s law to override God’s. But they formed parties and entered politics after Mubarak’s ouster, seeking to enshrine Islamic law in Egypt’s new constitution.

By contrast, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best organized political group, was officially banned under Mubarak but established a nationwide network of activists who built a reputation for offering services to the poor. After Mubarak’s fall, the group’s Freedom and Justice Party campaigned fiercely, their organization and name-recognition giving them a big advantage over newly formed liberal parties.

Stakes are particularly high since the new parliament is supposed to oversee writing Egypt’s new constitution. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took control of the country when Mubarak fell, has tried to impose restrictions on membership in the 100-member drafting committee. The Muslim Brotherhood has said it will challenge the move, and a strong showing by Islamists in the elections could boost its popular mandate to do so.

Hamed, the Nour Party spokesman, said democracy can’t pass laws that contradict religion.

“We endorse Egyptian democracy,” he said. “However, I don’t give absolute freedom to people to legislate to themselves and decide on what is right or wrong.

“We have God’s laws that tell us that.”

He suggested, for example, that alcohol should be banned and that a state agency could penalize Muslims for eating during the day during the holy month of Ramadan, when the devout fast from dawn to dusk.

The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis have both cooperated and disagreed in the past.

They tried to form an electoral alliance, which broke down over disagreements about including Christians and women in their electoral lists. However, the two parties campaigned together in some areas and declined to contest certain seats so as not to split the Islamist vote and allow liberal candidates to win.

The strong Islamist showing worries liberal parties who fear the two groups will work to push a religious agenda. It has also caused many youth activists who launched the anti-Mubarak uprising to feel that their revolution has been hijacked. Still, the liberal Egyptian Bloc coalition, which is competing with the Salafis to be the second-largest parliamentary bloc, could counterbalance hard-line elements.

Cooperation between the Brotherhood and Salafis in parliament isn’t guaranteed, said Shadi Hamid, Middle East expert with the Brookings Doha Center. The Brotherhood is a pragmatic organization that will work with other parties to achieve its goals, while the Salafis shun compromise.

Once the parliament is seated, Hamid expects the Brotherhood to focus on establishing a strong parliamentary system, reforming state institutions and boosting the economy — goals they share with liberal groups.

“Banning alcohol or passing laws on women’s dress are not on their priority list, and they see these issues as a distraction from the issues at hand,” he said.

Still, a strong Salafist bloc in parliament will have a “massive effect,” he said, by giving the group a larger platform for its views.

“The Salafis are going to insert religion into the public debate in a way that would not have happened otherwise,” he said.

Many in Egypt’s Coptic Christian population, which makes up 10 percent of the country, fear the Salafis will push for laws that will make them second-class citizens.

Even some religious Egyptians see the Salafi as too extreme.

“I am religious and don’t want laws that go against my beliefs, but there shouldn’t be religious law,” said Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, a geography teacher. “I don’t want anyone imposing his religious views on me.”

The election commission said Friday that more than 8 million eligible voters — 62 percent — participated in the first round. But it announced final results in only a few races. It remains unclear when complete final results will be released.

This week’s vote, held in nine provinces, will determine about 30 percent of the 498 seats in the People’s Assembly, parliament’s lower house. Two more rounds, ending in January, will cover Egypt’s other 18 provinces.

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Federal Agency To Hold Hearing On Air Shows, Races

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A federal hearing will examine the safety of air races and air shows after a horrific crash killed 11 people and injured more than 70 at an event in Reno.

The hearing announced Friday by the National Transportation Safety Board is not solely related to the Sept. 16 disaster at the National Air Race Championships, but the 47-year-old competition will be included in the review, agency spokesman Terry Williams told The Associated Press.

Chairman Deborah Hersman and all five agency board members plan to participate in the Jan. 10 hearing at NTSB headquarters in Washington, D.C., indicating the issue is considered especially important.

It is aimed at gathering information on safety regulations and oversight in the planning and execution of air races and shows, Williams said.

Testimony at the hearing will come from regulators, aviation organizations, industry groups and airport authorities. They will be questioned about safety practices, procedures and protocols.

Williams said there is not yet a witness list, and he could not say whether any Reno officials would be invited to testify.

The hearing is separate from one that will be held to determine what caused a modified World War II-era aircraft dubbed “The Galloping Ghost” to crash into the apron of the grandstand filled with thousands of people at Stead Airport.

The victims included the pilot, Jimmy Leeward, 74, of Ocala, Fla., a veteran movie stunt pilot and air racer who competed at the Reno air races since 1975.

Photos showed a tail part known as an elevator trim tab missing as the P-51D Mustang climbed sharply then rolled and plunged nose-first at more than 400 mph into box seats.

It was the first time spectators had been killed at a national competition since the races began 47 years ago in Reno. But 20 pilots, including Leeward, have died in that time, race officials said.

Reno Air Races spokesman Mike Draper said the organization has not had any direct contact with the NTSB about the hearing on races and shows and did not know if CEO Mike Houghton would be invited to testify. Houghton was not immediately available for comment.

Officials for the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which leases the property to the group for the competition, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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Lee Enterprises Moves To Complete Refinancing Plan

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — The publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and more than 40 other newspapers is close to completing a complex debt refinancing plan that includes a prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

Lee Enterprises Inc. disclosed details of the plan on Friday. The prepackaged Chapter 11 filing, which Lee expects to initiate in about 10 days, is designed to force uncooperative lenders to go along with a refinancing arrangement that Lee reached with a majority of its lenders in September.

CEO Mary Junck described the refinancing plan as welcome news because it will give the company more time to repay its debt while protecting the interests of shareholders. Junck is on The Associated Press’ board of directors.

Lee’s stock rose 10 cents to 63 cents after the company disclosed its plan.

Iranian Diplomats Arrive In Tehran After Expulsion

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s official IRNA news agency says Iranian diplomats expelled from London in retaliation for attacks on British compounds in Tehran have arrived home.

About 150 hard-liners gathered at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport to give the diplomats a hero’s welcome but the Iranian government has reportedly opposed any high-profile welcome.

IRNA says the plane landed at early Saturday morning.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran prepared a high-profile welcome for its diplomats expelled Friday from London in retaliation for attacks on British compounds in Tehran that Western leaders claim were sanctioned by Tehran’s ruling elite.

The official reception planned for the roughly two dozen diplomats and their families — including a rare invitation to foreign media to cover the airport event — apparently was designed to send a message that Iran will not seek quick measures to heal the most serious diplomatic fallout with the West since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy after the Islamic Revolution.

Germany, France and the Netherlands have recalled their ambassadors, and Italy and Spain summoned Iranian envoys to condemn Tuesday’s storming of the British Embassy and residential complex.

Britain withdrew its diplomatic staff and their families, shuttered its ransacked embassy and ordered the Iranian diplomats expelled by Friday afternoon.

The larger blow may be to Iran’s relations with the West and others. The diplomatic freeze from Europe, including key trading partner Germany, further isolates Iran just weeks after a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency that alleged Iran was making strides toward mastering critical elements for atomic weapons.

Iran claims its nuclear program only seeks reactors for power and research. But the current breakdown in relations with the West could embolden hard-liners who want a tougher stance against the International Atomic Energy Agency, which they accuse of being manipulated by the U.S. and allies.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Iran will certainly “retaliate” for the British expulsions.

The British Foreign Office said “all diplomatic staff of the Iranian Embassy in London took off from Heathrow airport” on Friday afternoon. They were to be welcomed back by a group of Iranians early Saturday at the Tehran airport, Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency reported.

The offer for foreign media to cover their arrival stands in sharp counterpoint to an order Thursday banning non-Iranian outlets from reporting on rallies in front of the now-vacant British diplomatic sites in the capital without specific permission.

Britain’s ambassador to Iran, Dominick Chilcott — now back in Britain — offered new details about the attacks, saying the experience had been “frightening.”

“We had no idea how it was going to end,” he said, describing how the mob trashed rooms, damaged furniture, scrawled graffiti and tore up a portrait of Queen Victoria, as staff took shelter in a secure area of the embassy.

“It felt like very spiteful, mindless vandalism, but it wasn’t quite mindless,” Chilcott said. “They removed anything that was electronic — mobile telephones, personal computers — anything that might give information about who you were talking to or what you were doing.”

He said seven staff at a separate residential compound that was also attacked were seized and “quite roughly handled” by the invaders.

Hard-liners in Iran have said the attack was an outpouring of the wrath of the Iranian people who believe Britain is a hostile country seeking to damage and weaken the Islamic Republic. Mohammad Mohammadian, a representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised the attackers, saying they had targeted the “epicenter of sedition.”

Iranian government officials, meanwhile, said the storming of the embassy by angry protesters was unexpected and Iranian police intervened to protect the British diplomats and get the attackers out of the buildings.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has led the accusations that the rioters had a green light from Iranian authorities, including the powerful Revolutionary Guard. On Thursday, he said the attacks were “clearly premeditated” by high-ranking officials.

The demonstrations had been organized by hard-line groups on university campuses and Islamic seminaries and included denunciations of the latest sanctions on Iran over its nuclear efforts. Such major anti-Western rallies are rarely allowed to occur without official approval and often include state-backed forces including a paramilitary group known as the Basij, which is part of the vast security network controlled by the Revolutionary Guard.

Images broadcast around the world showed demonstrators tearing down Union Jack flags, brandishing a looted picture of Queen Elizabeth II and tossing out looted documents.

The deepening tensions with Britain and others may also trigger further rifts within Iran.

For months, Iran’s ruling system has ordered arrests and intimidation against political allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has sharply fallen from favor after challenging decisions by the head of the theocracy, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Ahmadinejad has remained silent since the attacks, but his supporters have raised questions about whether Iran’s interests are served by a diplomatic battle with the West.


Associated Press writers David Stringer, Jill Lawless and Cassandra Vinograd in London contributed to this report. Vinograd can be reached at

Continue ReadingArt-theft Suspect Pleads Not Guilty In NYC

NEW YORK (AP) — A wine steward suspected in a bicoastal art-theft spree lifted pricey art from New York hotels simply by walking out with the works in a canvas tote bag and then used them to line his own walls, prosecutors said Friday.

Mark Lugo, who just spent more than four months in jail for grabbing a $275,000 Picasso off a San Francisco art gallery wall, was being held without bail after pleading not guilty Friday to grand larceny and other charges in a Manhattan court.

“In an effort to display stolen art in his apartment, this repeat art thief boldly walked out of two Manhattan hotels in broad daylight” with valuable works, District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement.

Lugo’s New York lawyer, James Montgomery, said the 31-year-old was a “pleasant, engaging” man “who’s been struggling with particular difficulties,” which he wouldn’t detail.

“When the dust settles, and the DA’s office calms down a little bit, we’ll find that Mr. Lugo is a man who had no commercial motive at all” in the alleged thefts, Montgomery said.

The charges relate to two thefts of a total of six artworks, including what prosecutors called a $350,000 sketch by the French Cubist painter Fernand Leger. But prosecutors said a search of Lugo’s former apartment in Hoboken, N.J., turned up four other pieces — including a Picasso work — that may have been stolen from Manhattan venues, and they said the investigation was continuing.

Lugo was publicly identified as a suspect in several New York heists since shortly after his July arrest in San Francisco, where police identified him as the man who walked into the Weinstein Gallery, lifted the 1965 Picasso drawing “Tete de Femme” (“Head of a Woman”) off the wall, strolled down the street with the sketch under his arm and hopped into a taxi. Police tracked Lugo to a friend’s Napa County apartment, where the Picasso was found unframed and prepared for shipping.

At his Hoboken apartment, investigators then found a $430,000 trove of stolen art, carefully and prominently displayed, as well as high-priced wine, authorities said.

Among some 19 artworks at the apartment was Leger’s 1917 “Composition with Mechanical Elements,” Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast told a judge. The drawing disappeared June 28 from an employee entrance area at a gallery in the Carlyle Hotel; prosecutors pegged its value at $350,000, though Montgomery said that figure warranted investigating.

Lugo also is charged with stealing a group of five works by the South Korea-born artist Mie Yim, known for her disconcerting images of toy bears and other toy-like creatures, from the Chambers Hotel on June 14. The hotel had bought the Yim works, together called “Pastel on Board,” for $1,800 apiece, prosecutors said.

Representatives for the hotels didn’t immediately return calls Friday.

The San Francisco district attorney’s office has said Lugo also was suspected of several other New York art heists, including the theft of a $30,000 Picasso etching from the William Bennett Gallery on June 27.

While artworks can be equipped with electronic tags that sound alerts when they’re moved, some galleries don’t use the technology because they sell works and change their exhibits frequently, said Robert K. Wittman, a former investigator for the FBI’s national art crime team.

Most art thieves sell or try to sell what they snatch, but a few have stolen to enhance their own collections — sometimes “for bragging rights,” said Wittman, now an art-security consultant based in Chester Heights, Pa.

Lugo, a sometime sommelier and kitchen server at upscale Manhattan restaurants, also is charged in New Jersey with taking $6,000 worth of wine – in the form of three bottles of Chateau Petrus Pomerol – in April from Gary’s Wine and Marketplace in Wayne. He hasn’t appeared in a New Jersey court yet to answer those charges.

Lugo pleaded guilty in October to grand theft for the San Francisco heist. He finished his 138-day sentence Nov. 21 but was being held until he could be transferred to New York.

Lugo’s San Francisco attorney, Douglas Horngrad, has called him “more like someone who was in the midst of a psychiatric episode” than a calculating art thief.

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