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Harvey Weinstein Will Be Extradited to California

BY ASHLEY CULLINS | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren #local-all

An Erie County judge denied Weinstein’s request to stay at the Wende Correctional Facility outside of Buffalo, New York until the start of trial.

Harvey Weinstein will be transferred to Los Angeles, after multiple delays of his extradition, an Erie County New York judge on Tuesday ruled.

Weinstein appeared via Zoom from the Wende Correctional Facility, and his lawyer Mark Werksman also appeared remotely.

Norman Effman, who appeared in the courtroom before Erie County Judge Kenneth Case on behalf of Weinstein, argued that Weinstein was moved to Wende because of the facility’s ability to treat his health issues. Jails aren’t designed for longterm incarceration, Effman said, and because it’s unlikely a trial would occur in the next four to six months Weinstein would be sitting in a jail instead of his current prison during that time. If LA wants jurisdiction, Effman argued, they can do a virtual arraignment.

Effman is also arguing that a copy and paste error on the prosecutor’s request for temporary custody makes it invalid. “We’re challenging the paperwork because it’s not right,” Effman argued. “I realize it’s a legal technicality … That’s what due process is about, following the rules. They did not.”

Weinstein’s lawyers want him to stay where he is for treatment and say he “would be ready to go to L.A. when they’re ready to start voir dire for jury selection.”

Meanwhile, prosecutors contend that their paperwork is in order and disagree that Weinstein can only be treated in New York. “They don’t get to pick when and where they get the treatment,” Erie County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Curtin Gable argued. “It’s Los Angeles. It’s not some remote outpost that doesn’t have any sort of medical care.”

Case sided with the prosecution and also denied a stay.

“Based upon everything that I’ve read and I’ve heard, I believe that I will respectfully deny your petition, Mr. Effman,” Case said. “If California doesn’t come to pick up Mr. Weinstein within a reasonable period of time, certainly, come back to see me.”

Weinstein’s Zoom was the last to be disconnected. “Are we done?” he asked someone in the room. They chatted for a minute before the frame froze on an image of Weinstein with his head in his hands and went dark.

“We are disappointed in this decision today,” a rep for Weinstein said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “Just now, Mr. Weinstein’s attorney filed a writ of Habeas Corpus with the L.A. county Superior Court. We are asking the court to hold off the extradition of Mr. Weinstein to Los Angeles until he can receive his needed medical care here in New York.”

Weinstein is currently serving a 23-year sentence for a conviction of committing a criminal sexual act in the first degree and third-degree rape, which he’s appealing. In California, Weinstein was indicted by an L.A. grand jury and is facing 11 counts of sexual assault.


 

 

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Read Delta pilot’s ‘chilling’ pandemic time capsule message

By Tim Darnell, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Troy Warren #local-all

Delta First Officer Chris Dennis’ short, handwritten letter left on the flight deck of an A321 parked in the California desert at the beginning of the pandemic was discovered by a fellow pilot, more than a year later.

First Officer Nick Perez found Dennis’ note in the flight deck of Delta Air Line’s ship 3009, the last A321 still parked for storage in Victorville, California. As passenger loads and departures decreased at the onset of the pandemic, 435 days prior, Dennis had parked ship 3009 in the California desert. Feeling the surreality of the moment, he penned a note for the pilot who would get to do the return-to-service flight.

As he read the letter, Perez was transported back to feelings from 15 months ago, a chilling reminder of how different things were and how different we feel today. “If you are here to pick it up then the light must be at the end of the tunnel,” the letter read.


 

On March 23, 2020, the world was only beginning to enter the pandemic tunnel. Dennis picked up a trip to VCV. At first glance, he didn’t recognize the airport code and looked it up: Victorville. He knew of the desert airport. The significance of this flight started to sink in.

When he arrived at an empty Minneapolis-St. Paul airport that Monday, he realized this particular trip would be unusual. The airport was empty, quiet. Only one Delta employee greeted him. “We pushed back with the ground crew; the terminal was empty. It felt desolate,” he said.

They took off to Victorville as Minnesota locals heard talks of a two-week lockdown.

“It wasn’t until we were on final approach headed in for landing when it hit me,” Dennis later recalled. “The VCV instructions noted to go behind a ‘follow-me vehicle’ that brings you to a parking spot. As we crossed the runway, it’s hard to fathom how many aircraft Delta has until you see that many of them parked in one place.

“When we got in line, it looked like an optical illusion. It just kept going and going,” Dennis said. “I don’t know how to describe it. It was shocking.

“I thought about how many people’s jobs rely on just one of those airplanes,” Dennis said. “From the reservations agent, to the ticket agent, to the pilot, flight attendants, mechanics, the ramp crew. Then you go a level deeper: the rental car agency, the hotels, the tourism companies.”


 

Dennis parked 3009 for what he thought would be a 14-day stay at VCV. Even then, 14 days was a shocking amount of time to him.

Recognizing the impact of that moment, Dennis penned a letter to serve as a “time capsule” and tucked it away in the tray table for the crew that would take the aircraft out of storage.

The letter reads: “Hey pilots – It’s March 23rd and we just arrived from MSP. Very chilling to see so much of our fleet here in the desert. If you are here to pick it up then the light must be at the end of the tunnel. Amazing how fast it changed. Have a safe flight bringing it out of storage!”

Feeling overwhelmed, Dennis shared photos of his trip and his letter to Facebook. As people tried to come to terms with what was happening across the world and to the airline industry, the post went viral, shared by more than 4,000 people across more than 35 countries.


 

Fourteen days passed, and 3009 stayed parked. Then 100 days, then 300 days.

On June 1, 2021, Perez landed at VCV and started planning his mission to wake up 3009.

Before taking off, Perez and the team went through pages and pages of pre-flight verification. While parked, ship 3009 lent parts to other aircraft, a standard practice for long-term storage. But this loan was more extreme than usual. More than 120 of 3009′s parts went to other aircraft during its unprecedented 436-day stay at VCV.

Mechanic Tom Trenda and his team spent weeks preparing this aircraft, and many others, to fly again as Delta’s loads and schedules picked up. As Perez prepared to depart, Trenda mentioned that he should check the tray table in the flight deck – that he’d find something inside.

When Perez flipped down the tray table, Dennis’ note fell out: 57 words capturing the uncertainty and emotion the nation felt in March 2020. Perez recognized that note. He’d seen it go viral last year.

It was only after reading the note that he understood the gravity of the trip. He immediately began to think about how Dennis must have been feeling when he wrote the letter. “He had to have been thinking he was leaving his job,” Perez said. “Back in March, I was 100% certain I was going to lose my job.”


 

Perez’s pre-flight procedure didn’t include the same worries.

“I kept thinking about my mindset now compared to his when he left this note,” Perez recalled. “[Back then], we were getting good at landing empty airplanes, now we’re going in the right direction. I’m in good spirits. I’m very optimistic. I feel like how I felt in 2017 again, ready to get going.”

“As they get into that airplane, they are going to see the opposite view than I saw,” Dennis recalled. “There’s going to be an open runway in front of them.”


 

 

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Coverage of America’s Racial Reckoning and COVID-19 Lead 2021 Pulitzer Prize Class

BY ALEX WEPRIN | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren #local-all

Katori Hall’s off-Broadway play ‘The Hot Wing King’ won the drama prize, while BuzzFeed News won its first ever Pulitzer for coverage of China’s detention camps.

The 2021 Pulitzer Prizes were awarded by Columbia University on Friday, with two major stories present across the list of winners: the novel coronavirus pandemic and coverage of the police response to protests that followed the murder of George Floyd.

The staff of the Minneapolis Star Tribune won the Pulitzer for breaking news reporting for what the Pulitzer board says was their “urgent, authoritative and nuanced coverage” of Floyd’s death and the protests that followed.

The board also awarded a special citation to Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded the video of Floyd’s murder and sparked the protests around the world.

Andrew Chung, Lawrence Hurley, Andrea Januta, Jaimi Dowdell and Jackie Botts of Reuters won one of two prizes in the explanatory reporting category, for their story and accompanying data analysis exploring the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which often shields police officers from prosecution. The Tampa Bay Times won in the local reporting category for a story on a sheriff who built a secretive intelligence operation, while the staffs of The Marshall Project, AL.com, IndyStar and Invisible Institute won the national reporting prize for their investigation into police K-9 units. Meanwhile, the photography staff of the Associated Press won the photography breaking news prize for their coverage of last year’s protests across the country.

As for pandemic coverage: The New York Times won the award for public service, for what the board said was its “courageous, prescient and sweeping” coverage of the pandemic. Ed Yong at The Atlantic was the other winner in the explanatory reporting category for his series of pieces on the pandemic, and Emilio Morenatti of the AP won the feature photography prize for his photos about how Spain’s elderly struggled during the pandemic.

Elsewhere, BuzzFeed News won its first-ever Pulitzer, for its story on the infrastructure China built to house its mass detention of Uyghur Muslims. The New York Times‘ Wesley Morris won in the criticism category for his writing on the intersection of race and culture in America, and Robert Greene of The Los Angeles Times won in the editorial writing category for his editorials on L.A.’s criminal justice system.

In the drama category, Katori Hall’s off-Broadway play The Hot Wing King took top honors in the drama category. Hall, who also created Starz’s P-Valley, previously was nominated for a Tony Award for her Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. Meanwhile Stride by Tania Leon won the Pulitzer for music.


 

 

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U.S. economy: Plenty of growth, not enough workers or supplies

By Paul Wiseman, The Associated Press

Troy Warren #local-all

WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy is sparking confusion and whiplash almost as fast as it’s adding jobs.

Barely more than a year after the coronavirus caused the steepest economic fall and job losses on record, the speed of the rebound has been so unexpectedly swift that many companies can’t fill jobs or acquire enough supplies to meet a pent-up burst of customer demand.

In many ways, the news has been cause to cheer: The economy grew from January through March at a red-hot 6.4% annual pace. And in the current quarter, that pace is thought to be accelerating to nearly double-digits.

What explains the shortfall?

Economists point mainly to what they call a short-term mismatch: Companies are posting job openings faster than applicants can respond. After all, many Americans are contending with considerable tumult at home — health issues related to COVID-19, child-care problems with schools slow to reopen, career uncertainty after many jobs permanently vanished over the past 15 months. And some people, earning more from federal and state jobless aid than they did when they worked, are taking their time before pursuing another job.

Some say the labor shortage is nothing that can’t be solved the old-fashioned way: By raising pay and offering more generous benefits and working conditions. In fact, that process appears to have begun: Average hourly wages rose solidly in April and May.

Consumers

After months cooped up at home, millions of consumers have rushed back out again, in buoyant spirits and eager to spend, their finances bolstered by $1,400 federal stimulus payments earlier this year. Among the affluent, sharp gains in home and stock market equity have further emboldened their impulse to spend.

Consumer confidence is high. And Americans stepped up their spending again in April after a powerful gain in March fueled by $1,400 stimulus checks to most individuals.

That said, Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, sees cautionary signs. Confidence and spending, though still healthy, have trended lower. And retail sales were flat in April after having surged in March, suggesting that the positive effect of the stimulus checks might have faded. Similar trends occurred late last year after the effects of earlier federal stimulus money began to wear off.

Inflation

Financial markets endured an unwelcome jolt last month when the Labor Department reported that consumer prices had jumped 0.8% from March to April and 4.2% from 12 months earlier — the largest year-over-year increase since 2008.

Some leading critics, including former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, have been warning that President Joe Biden’s trillions of dollars in federal stimulus money risk igniting inflation and forcing the Federal Reserve to resort to interest rate hikes, which could derail the economic recovery.

But Fed Chair Jerome Powell and many economists say they think the inflation surge will prove short-lived. They say it reflects mainly temporary supply-chain bottlenecks that have forced up prices but that should ease over time. For now, though, shortages of lumber, computer chips and other materials have contributed to inflation pressures.

Housing

The housing market has served as a source of economic strength and resilience during the pandemic, supported by ultra-low mortgage rates and the desire of many locked-down families to move to more spacious digs to accommodate work-from-home needs.

But with prices having risen beyond the reach of many and with the supply of homes for sale severely limited, the housing boom has lately shown signs of fatigue. Home construction tumbled 9.5% in April — a drop that economists attributed, at least in part, to builders postponing projects because of accelerating costs for lumber and other supplies that have contributed to swelling home prices.

In April, sales of new homes dropped nearly 6%, and purchases of existing homes fell 2.7%. Many would-be buyers will remain on the outside looking in as long as a shortage of available homes keeps sale prices elevated.


 

But the full portrait of the U.S. economy is rather more nuanced one. Here is a closer look at five vital signs:

Jobs

Employers last month added 559,000 jobs on top of 278,000 in April. Those would ordinarily be seen as quite healthy numbers. Yet against the backdrop of record-high job openings and free-spending consumers, forecasters had expected much more hiring. Some economists had envisioned the recovery from the pandemic recession driving monthly job growth of 800,000, 900,000, even 1 million or more.

 

 

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Neo-Nazi group members linked to attack plot plead guilty

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press

Troy Warren #local-all

GREENBELT, Md. — Two neo-Nazi group members whose talk of planning an attack at a Virginia gun rights rally was secretly recorded by the FBI pleaded guilty Thursday to gun charges.

Former Canadian Armed Forces reservist Patrik Jordan Mathews, U.S. Army veteran Brian Mark Lemley Jr. and a third member of The Base were arrested on federal charges in Maryland ahead of the January 2020 rally at Virginia’s Capitol in Richmond.

Mathews, 28, and Lemley, 35, pleaded guilty at separate hearings to charges including illegally transporting a firearm and obstruction of justice — they destroyed cellphones when FBI agents raided their apartment.

The third co-defendant, William Garfield Bilbrough IV, was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in December to helping Mathews illegally enter the U.S. from Canada in 2019.


 

 

After a prosecutor read aloud a summary of the case against them, the judge asked them the same question: “Did you do the things the government said you did?” Mathews and Lemley replied that they did.

Mathews pleaded guilty to four counts that carry a combined total of 50 years in prison. Lemley pleaded guilty to seven counts punishable by a maximum of 70 years. However, in both cases, federal sentencing guidelines likely will recommend a prison sentence that is significantly lower than the statutory maximum.

U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang, who isn’t bound by the guidelines, is scheduled to sentence Mathews and Lemley on Oct. 28.

The three men also face felony charges in Georgia related to their alleged role in beheading a ram during a meeting of Base members in the fall of 2019 on a rural property in the Silver Creek community outside of Rome. The charges of livestock theft and aggravated animal cruelty carry are felonies that, if they go forward, could carry up to an additional 10 years in state prison time.


 

None of the defendants faced terrorism-related charges, and a “stipulation of facts” signed by Mathews, Lemley and prosecutors didn’t mention the Richmond rally. But prosecutors are reserving the right to seek a so-called terrorism enhancement at sentencing that could lead to a significant increase in a prison term if the judge agrees to apply it.

Matthews and Lemley, who lived in Elkton, Maryland, discussed “the planning of violence” at the Richmond rally, where thousands of gun rights activists later gathered peacefully to protest gun control legislation, Justice Department prosecutors said in a court filing.

Investigators installed a closed-circuit television camera and microphone inside a Newark, Delaware, apartment that Mathews and Lemley shared for several months after Mathews left Canada. The surveillance equipment captured Lemley and Mathews discussing “the next Civil War” erupting in Virginia and talking about committing “targeted acts of violence,” prosecutors said in a Jan. 21 court filing.

“I need to claim my first victim,” Lemley said, according to prosecutors.

The talk of violence prompted Mathews to say, “I’m worried we’re going to become psychopaths,” prosecutors wrote.

Bilbrough, 21, of Denton, Maryland, participated in early discussions about traveling to Richmond but had tried to distance himself from the group shortly before his arrest, a prosecutor has said.

Among other white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, The Base has been a leading proponent of “accelerationism,” a fringe philosophy that advocates using mass violence to hasten society’s collapse. Members often communicated in encrypted chat rooms and attended military-style training camps.

The Guardian identified The Base’s founder as American-born Rinaldo Nazzaro, who formed the group in 2018 using the pseudonym “Norman Spear” and was believed to be living in Russia. The Department of Homeland Security confirmed that Nazzaro worked for the agency from 2004 to 2006, Vice News reported in February.

The case against the three men charged in Maryland was part of a broader investigation of The Base. In January 2020, authorities in Georgia and Wisconsin arrested four other men linked to the group.

In Georgia, local and federal law enforcement arrested Michael Helterbrand, 26, of Dalton; Jacob Kaderli, 20, of Dacula; and Luke Austin Lane, 22, of Silver Creek. They were charged with plotting to kill a Bartow County couple the men believed were antifa activists and for belonging to a criminal gang. They also face charges related to the alleged animal beheading.

Earlier this year, prosecutors added indictments against Duncan Christopher Trimmell, 23 of Austin, Texas, and Brandon Gregory Ashley, 21 of Hayden, Alabama, for their alleged role in death of the ram.

The Base has crumbled amid members’ prosecutions and revelations about Nazzaro’s background, said Joanna Mendelson, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Nazzaro has tried but largely failed to resuscitate the group, she added.

“Many within the movement have attempted to distance themselves from him and his activities, as the group is seen as either a honeypot or destined to attract immediate law enforcement attention,” Mendelson said.

The unraveling of The Base doesn’t eliminate the potential threat posed by extremists who joined the group, she stressed.

“We’re talking about adherents who are deeply steeped in an ideology,” Mendelson said. “They oftentimes direct their deeply embedded beliefs into other neo-Nazi organizations.”

Mathews told investigators that he was living in Beausejour, Manitoba, and working as a carpenter for a construction company before he entered the U.S. Mathews also said he was a combat engineer in the Canadian Army before serving eight years as an Army reservist.

Mathews left Canada after a Winnipeg Free Press reporter exposed him as a member of The Base in an August 2019 article. Bilbrough and Lemley drove to Michigan to pick up Mathews and take him to Maryland.

Mathews and Lemley have remained jailed since FBI agents arrested them in Delaware in January 2020.

Mathews and Lemley were charged in Maryland with illegally possessing and transporting a firearm and ammunition. A grand jury in Delaware indicted them on separate-but-related charges.

In February, the judge refused to bar prosecutors from using evidence that FBI agents obtained through search warrants. The FBI also had an undercover employee infiltrate the group, visiting the Delaware home and driving with Mathews and Lemley to a gun range in Maryland in January.


 

 

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U.S. unemployment claims fall to 376,000, sixth straight drop

By PAUL WISEMAN, Associated Press

Troy Warren #local-all

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell for the sixth straight week as the U.S. economy reopens rapidly after being held back for months by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jobless claims fell by 9,000 to 376,000 from 385,000 the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The number of people signing up for benefits exceeded 900,000 in early January and has fallen more or less steadily ever since. Still, claims are high by historic standards. Before the pandemic brought economic activity to a near standstill in March 2020, weekly applications were regularly coming in below 220,000.

Nearly 3.5 million were receiving traditional state unemployment benefits the week of May 29, down by 258,000 from 3.8 million the week before.

Businesses are reopening rapidly as the rollout of vaccines allows Americans to feel more comfortable returning to restaurants, bars and shops. The Labor Department reported Tuesday that job openings hit a record 9.3 million in April. Layoffs dropped to 1.4 million, lowest in records dating back to 2000; 4 million quit their jobs in April, another record and a sign that they are confident enough in their prospects to try something new.

In May, the U.S. economy generated 559,000 million new jobs, and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.8% from 6.1% in April. Many economists expected to see even faster job growth. The United States is still short 7.6 million jobs from where it stood in February 2020.

But employers are posting vacancies faster than would-be applicants can fill them. Many Americans are contending with health and child care issues related to COVID-19 and with career uncertainty after the coronavirus recession wiped out many jobs for good. Some are taking their time looking for work because expanded federal jobless benefits pay more than their old jobs.


 

 

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Wife of El Chapo to plead guilty to helping run drug empire

By Alan Feuer, The New York Times

Troy Warren #local-all


 

Emma Coronel Aispuro will admit role in her husband’s criminal activities in court this week

Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of the notorious Mexican drug lord El Chapo, is set to plead guilty this week to charges of helping her husband run his multibillion-dollar empire and then, after one of his arrests, escape in dramatic fashion from a high-security Mexican prison, according to a person familiar with the case.

Coronel, 31, is expected to appear on Thursday morning in Federal District Court in Washington to enter her plea. She was taken into custody in February at Dulles International Airport, near Washington, after a nearly two-year investigation by U.S. law enforcement officials into her role as an accomplice to her husband, whose real name is Joaquín Guzmán Loera.

Guzmán, a onetime co-leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, was convicted in 2019 at a federal trial in Brooklyn and is now serving life sentence in the so-called Supermax in Colorado, the most secure federal prison in the United States. Coronel, his third — or possibly fourth — wife, had remained free even after a jury found him guilty, traveling between the United States and Mexico until her own arrest.

When she taken into the custody by the F.B.I., there was intense speculation over whether Coronel, a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, would seek to offer the government information on her husband’s allies, relatives and business partners in exchange for a lighter sentence. But her plea agreement with prosecutors in Washington does not require her to cooperate with the U.S. authorities, the person familiar with the case said.

It is unusual for law enforcement to go after the spouses of drug lords, but the case of Coronel, a former beauty queen whose family has a storied past in the drug trade, is atypical.

Prosecutors at her husband’s trial offered substantial evidence that she — like many of his mistresses — was deeply enmeshed in his criminal activity, often helping him send messages to her own father, Inés Coronel Barreras, who served as one of Guzmán’s top lieutenants before his arrest in Mexico in 2013.


 

Other messages introduced at the trial showed that Coronel was intimately involved in helping Guzmán evade capture by American and Mexican authorities after a botched raid in 2012 in the Mexican resort town of Cabo San Lucas. In some of the messages, Guzmán wrote to her describing how he had fled from his oceanfront villa just in time as the raiding party broke through the door of a nearby home.

Coronel was also instrumental in helping him break out of the high-security Altiplano prison near Toluca, Mexico, in 2015 after a coalition of U.S. and Mexican law enforcement and military personnel tracked him down the year before in a beach hotel in Mazatlán. Prosecutors say that Coronel, using her visitation privileges, acted as an emissary between her husband and a team of conspirators, including her own brother, who plotted the escape by building a nearly mile-long tunnel into the shower of his cell.


 

In 2016, after Guzmán was recaptured and returned to Altiplano, Coronel sought to help him escape again, hatching a plot to bribe Mexico’s top prison official, according to testimony at the trial. Before the plan could be carried out, however, Guzmán was extradited to the United States.

On the initial conspiracy count she was charged with, Coronel faced 10 years to life in prison. But under her agreement with the government, the person familiar with her case said, she will be designated as a “minimal participant” in the conspiracy and is likely be sentenced to far less time.


 

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Colonial Pipeline CEO apologizes to Congress for cyberattack

By Tim Darnell – Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Associated Press

Troy Warren #local-all


 

Joseph Blount says hackers infiltrated company’s network through legacy VPN system

The CEO of metro Atlanta-based Colonial Pipeline told Congress on Tuesday morning that Russian-based hackers known as DarkSide infiltrated the company’s IT systems through a legacy VPN system that was not intended to be in use.

“We are deeply sorry for the impact that this attack had,” Joseph Blount said in the first of two days of scheduled testimony before Congress. “We quietly and quickly worked with law enforcement in this matter from the start, which may have helped lead to the substantial recovery of funds recently announced by U.S. Department of Justice.”

Blount is detailing his company’s response to the cyberattack and explaining his decision to authorize a multimillion-dollar payment to the hackers. He faced the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday, one day after the Justice Department revealed it had recovered the majority of the $4.4 million ransom payment the company made in hopes of getting its system back online. A second hearing is set for Wednesday before the House Homeland Security Committee.

Blount said his company was not involved in discussions with the FBI about paying the ransom. “They don’t encourage the payment of ransom,” Blount said. “It is a company decision to make,” adding Colonial is now in “full compliance” with new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) pipeline cybersecurity regulations.

Blount’s testimony marked his first appearance before Congress since the May 7 ransomware attack that led Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline, which supplies roughly half the fuel consumed on the East Coast, to temporarily halt operations. The attack has been attributed to a Russia-based gang of cybercriminals using the DarkSide ransomware variant, one of more than 100 variants the FBI is investigating.

The company decided soon after the attack to pay ransom of 75 bitcoin, then valued at roughly $4.4 million. Though the FBI has historically discouraged ransomware payments for fear of encouraging cyberattacks, Colonial officials have said they saw the transaction as necessary to resume the vital fuel transport business as rapidly as possible.

Blount told senators the company was in the process of accepting a TSA offer for a comprehensive cybersecurity review when the pandemic struck.

When asked by U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) if he regretted not undertaking the review, Blount replied, “Anything that you could do is always helpful.”

The operation to seize cryptocurrency paid to the Russia-based hacker group is the first of its kind to be undertaken by a specialized ransomware task force created by the Biden administration Justice Department. It reflects a rare victory in the fight against ransomware as U.S. officials scramble to confront a rapidly accelerating threat targeting critical industries around the world.

“By going after the entire ecosystem that fuels ransomware and digital extortion attacks — including criminal proceeds in the form of digital currency — we will continue to use all of our resources to increase the cost and consequences of ransomware and other cyber-based attacks,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a news conference announcing the operation Monday.

In a statement Monday, Blount said he was grateful for the FBI’s efforts and said holding hackers accountable and disrupting their activities “is the best way to deter and defend against future attacks of this nature.

“The private sector also has an equally important role to play, and we must continue to take cyber threats seriously and invest accordingly to harden our defenses,” he added.

Cryptocurrency is favored by cybercriminals because it enables direct online payments regardless of geographical location, but in this case, the FBI was able to identify a virtual currency wallet used by the hackers and recovered the proceeds from there. The Justice Department did not provide details about how the FBI had obtained a “key” for the specific bitcoin address, but said law enforcement had been able to track multiple transfers of the cryptocurrency.

The Bitcoin amount seized — 63.7, currently valued at $2.3 million after the price of Bitcoin tumbled — amounted to 85% of the total ransom paid, which is the exact amount that the cryptocurrency-tracking firm Elliptic says it believes was the take of the affiliate who carried out the attack. The ransomware software provider, DarkSide, would have gotten the other 15%.

“The extortionists will never see this money,” said Stephanie Hinds, the acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, where a judge earlier Monday authorized the seizure warrant.

Ransomware attacks — in which hackers encrypt a victim organization’s data and demand a hefty sum for returning the information — have flourished across the globe. Last year was the costliest on record for such attacks. Hackers have targeted vital industries, as well as hospitals and police departments.

Weeks after the Colonial Pipeline attack, a ransomware attack attributed to REvil, a Russian-speaking gang that has made some of the largest ransomware demands on record in recent months, disrupted production at Brazil’s JBS SA, the world’s largest meat processing company.

The ransomware business has evolved into a highly compartmentalized racket, with labor divided among the provider of the software that locks data, ransom negotiators, hackers who break into targeted networks, hackers skilled at moving undetected through those systems and exfiltrating sensitive data — and even call centers in India employed to threaten people whose data was stolen to pressure for extortion payments.


 

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3 teens arrested in deadly shooting at Florida graduation party

By ArLuther Lee, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Troy Warren #local-all


 

State corrections officer among 3 dead; 5 others wounded

Three teenagers have been arrested in connection with a weekend shooting at a South Florida graduation party that left three people dead and at least five others wounded.

Yahtayvius McCutcheon, 17, Quantayvius McCutcheon, 19, and Keyshad Richardson, 19, were each charged with attempted murder with a deadly weapon in a separate shooting on Florida’s Turnpike, which came after the deadly drive-by at a hookah bar in the suburb of Kendall, according to the Miami Herald.

None of the suspects are believed to have opened fire in the earlier shooting at the graduation party, the Herald reported. However, police said they spotted the group in a red Chevrolet Malibu that had been casing the party “for a significant amount of time” but left the scene before shots rang out about 2 a.m. Sunday.

On the turnpike, the suspects in the Malibu ran down a gray Nissan Altima, whose occupants had just left the graduation party, Miami-Dade police said.

That’s when two passengers in the Malibu allegedly opened fire on the Altima, wounding the driver in the leg, the Herald reported.

The pair of shootings were the latest in a deadly surge of violence in the Miami area over the past two weeks.

As the hookah bar party was ending, another vehicle “pulled up and began to fire into the crowd,” said Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo “Freddy” Ramirez.

Two of those killed were found inside a bullet-riddled Toyota Camry that opened fire and sped away, only to crash into a nearby wall. Police have not yet revealed their identities nor exactly how they died. At least one gun was found inside the Camry, but investigators are still working to determine its exact connection to the shooting.

Authorities say an ongoing gang feud may have led to the gunfire which also killed a state corrections officer later identified as 20-year-old Tyleisha Taylor, an employee at Dade Correctional Institution since January 2020, according to state officials.

“We are devastated to learn a member of our FDC family, Officer Taylor, was killed in a fatal shooting,” Florida Secretary of Corrections Mark Inch said in a statement. “Our prayers are with her family as they navigate this unimaginable loss.”

The driver wounded on the turnpike was listed in stable condition at Jackson South Memorial and expected to survive.

The identities and conditions of the other wounded were not immediately available.

Authorities expressed frustration about the sudden uptick in gun violence.

“Every weekend, it’s the same thing. We have to band together,” Ramirez said. “There’s a lot of work to do. We have to come together as a community and make this stop.”

The shooting happened less than a week after another mass shooting at a banquet hall in the Miami area that left three people dead and 20 wounded. So far, no suspects have been identified or arrested.

Another shooting May 28 in the Wynwood area killed one and injured six others.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said she was “horrified” by the ongoing bloodshed.

“We will not allow a small group of violent actors to terrorize our community, and violent offenders will face the full weight of the law,” she said in a statement.

“I’m fully committed to making sure Miami-Dade Police Department has all the resources they need to end this cycle of gun violence and prevent more tragedy by getting violent criminals off the street,” she added.

Information provided by The Associated Press was used to compile this report.


 

 

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GOP sees opening to revive attacks on Fauci in email trove

By JILL COLVIN and ZEKE MILLER, Associated Press

Troy Warren #local-all


 

White House praises Fauci as ‘undeniable asset in our country’s pandemic response’

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci has been a political lightning rod since the early days of the pandemic, lionized by the left as a beacon of truth in an administration that badly mismanaged the pandemic and villainized by the right as a misguided, spotlight-seeking bureaucrat seeking to undermine former President Donald Trump.

But with the release of a trove of Fauci’s emails this week, Republicans’ attacks on the nation’s top government infectious-diseases expert have gone into overdrive. On conservative news channels, Fauci — who now serves as President Joe Biden’s pandemic adviser — has been pilloried as a liar who misled the American people about the origins of COVID-19 to protect the Chinese government. In Congress, Republican calls for his resignation have grown louder, as have demands for new investigations into the origins of the virus.

“Given what we know now, I don’t know how anyone can have confidence that he should remain in a position of public trust and authority,” said Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a potential presidential hopeful who is calling for Fauci’s resignation and a full congressional inquiry.

The moves by Republicans represent a new effort to find a reliable foil in the first few months of the Biden administration, as they have struggled to turn public sentiment against the new president. So far, Biden has enjoyed widespread job approval, buoyed by the public’s broad backing of his handling of the pandemic, which 71% of Americans support, according to a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.

Fauci, who has a security detail because of ongoing threats and who did not respond to a request for comment for this story, has repeatedly defended his work, saying he received thousands of emails and has never ruled out any theory.

“I still believe the most likely origin is from an animal species to a human, but I keep an absolutely open mind that if there may be other origins of that, there may be another reason, it could have been a lab leak,” Fauci said Thursday on CNN.

The doctor’s newly released emails, which span the early days of the pandemic and were obtained by BuzzFeed News and The Washington Post, show no evidence of any kind of cover-up about the origin of the virus. Indeed, many of the discussions reflect the science at the time. But Republicans, including Trump, have seized on the emails as proof of a conspiracy to obscure the source of the virus.

“A note to Fauci critics. For years, he has been working tirelessly on the development of the mRNA vaccine in anticipation of a potential major viral outbreak. And on Jan 11, 2020, his team downloaded the gene sequence & on the 13th began work on the vaccine. So keep it down.”

– Andy Slavitt, Biden’s outgoing senior COVID-19 adviser, in a tweet

In one email, from Feb. 1 of last year, Kristian Andersen, a researcher at the Scripps Research Institute, wrote to Fauci, the longtime director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about ongoing efforts to decipher the origin of the novel coronavirus.

At the time, the lab leak hypothesis was largely dismissed by experts. It has recently gained traction, though the origins of the virus remain unknown.

“The unusual features of the virus make up a really small part of the genome (0.1%) so one has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look engineered,” Andersen wrote. He said he and his colleagues “all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory. But,” he added, “we have to look at this much more closely and there are still further analyses to be done, so those opinions could still change.”

By the next month, it turned out, they had. He and his colleagues published an article in Nature Medicine in which they concluded that it was “improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus.”

In another email, Fauci was thanked by the head of a nonprofit that helped fund research at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, “for publicly standing up and stating that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin,” which he said ”will help dispel the myths being spun around the virus’ origins.”

Andersen, the scientist who wrote the “engineered” email, has tried to offer further explanation.

“As I have said many times, we seriously considered a lab leak a possibility. However, significant new data, extensive analyses, and many discussions led to the conclusions in our paper. What the email shows, is a clear example of the scientific process,” he tweeted amid the backlash.

“It’s just science,” he later added. “Boring, I know, but it’s quite a helpful thing to have in times of uncertainty.”

The former president disagrees. While in office, Trump, who disdained the scientist’s popularity, frequently flouted Fauci’s recommendations on battling COVID-19 by playing down the severity of the pandemic and often touting unproven scientific remedies, including a malaria drug and even injecting disinfectant. And he frequently tried to undermine Fauci’s credibility by refusing to acknowledge the evolution in scientists’ understanding of the virus and how it spread, which informed guidance about policies such as masking.

“Given what we know now, I don’t know how anyone can have confidence that he should remain in a position of public trust and authority.”

– Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who is calling for Fauci’s resignation

Trump is expected to yet again go after Fauci when he returns to the public stage in a speech in North Carolina on Saturday night. He sees the emails as further vindication that he was right about the doctor, according to an adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

“There are a lot of questions that must be answered by Dr. Fauci,” Trump said in a statement this week. “What did Dr. Fauci know about ‘gain of function’ research, and when did he know it?”

“Gain of function” refers to enhancing the severity or transmissibility of a virus.

House Republican Whip Rep. Steve Scalise said on Fox Business Network on Thursday that Fauci “needs to be brought in under oath to answer questions” about the emails, while Elise Stefanik, R-New York, now the No. 3 Republican in the House, blasted out a fundraising email with the subject line “FIRE FAUCI.”

“Anthony Fauci’s recently released emails and investigative reporting about #COVID19 origins are shocking. The time has come for Fauci to resign and for a full congressional investigation into the origins of #COVID19 — and into any and all efforts to prevent a full accounting,” Hawley tweeted after recently voting along with Scalise and Stefanik to block a full congressional investigation into the origins of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

But the White House has made clear that it is standing with Fauci, despite the onslaught of criticism.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki this week praised Fauci as “an undeniable asset in our country’s pandemic response,” and Biden felt compelled to poke his head back into a room full of reporters he’d departed Friday to say that he was, indeed, “very confident in Dr. Fauci.” In a sign of support, Fauci will join first lady Jill Biden for a visit Sunday to a vaccination clinic in New York.

Biden administration officials and allies point to polling showing that Fauci is still one of the country’s most trusted public health communicators. Privately, they see the GOP’s focus on Fauci as a ploy to energize their base that likely will not resonate with moderate voters. And they are happy to compare Fauci’s record on public health with Trump’s.

“A note to Fauci critics,” tweeted Andy Slavitt, Biden’s outgoing senior COVID-19 adviser. “For years, he has been working tirelessly on the development of the mRNA vaccine in anticipation of a potential major viral outbreak. And on Jan 11, 2020, his team downloaded the gene sequence & on the 13th began work on the vaccine.”

“So keep it down,” he wrote.