Fewer Americans Plan to Visit Stores on Black Friday Weekend

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Many retailers are already offering so-called Black Friday deals, and that may be one of the reasons a new survey shows fewer Americans than usual will be hitting the stores on Black Friday weekend this year.

A survey by Consumer Reports shows some 102 million Americans intend to go to the mall on Black Friday -- that's the Friday after Thanksgiving -- or on the three days following.  But that figure is roughly 16 million fewer than last year.

Additional findings from the Consumer Reports telephone survey of 1,015 U.S. adults:

-- 24 percent of shoppers plan to go to the mall on Black Friday.
-- 42 percent of shoppers plan to scoop up video games on Black Friday, making it the single biggest  item people plan to buy.
-- Just over 54 percent of women and 71 percent of men report they have not yet started shopping.
-- Four percent of Americans claim they have already finished their holiday shopping.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Ireland Seeks 100 Billion Euro Bailout

Image Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street will be watching to see whether Ireland is successful in turning around its economy.  The nation has asked the European Union for as much as 100 billion euros -- the equivalent of nearly $137 billion in American money -- to bail it out of its fiscal emergency.

Ireland's economy is much smaller but its problems may be even more complicated than those of the U.S., at least in one area.  Because it is in the so-called "euro-zone," it has no currency of its own and cannot recapitalize its banks with new money as the U.S. did.

Economist Peter Morici at the University of Maryland said Sunday that if Ireland gets a bailout, it could give the U.S. stock market a lift by removing uncertainty.  Morici says the issue of sovereign debt is a problematic one for markets all over the world.  Morici says Spain and Portugal are the next trouble spots to watch.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Two Florida Shoppers Get Head Start on Black Friday Rush

Photo Courtesy - WFTS Tampa, Fla.(ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.) -- Two Florida shoppers are way ahead of the Black Friday pandemonium.

In fact, it’s been that way since Wednesday, when Lorie Davenport and Tina Thain began their stakeout in front of a St. Petersburg Best Buy store more than a week before doors open Friday at 5 a.m.

"I really didn't think about the days," Thain told ABC News Tampa affiliate WFTS. "We really didn't think about it because we just wanted to be first."

And it’s already paid off. Best Buy this week awarded each couple an Apple iPad for their prime spot in line.

"We didn't think about that in the beginning," Davenport said. "Now it's really sinking in that we really are the first people in line. It's kind of exciting."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Report: Feds Set for Multiple Insider Trading Indictments

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The federal government is reportedly set to wind up a three-year insider trading investigation that could shake the investment world to its roots.

The Wall Street Journal on Saturday previewed what could be multiple charges against consultants, investment bankers, hedge fund and mutual fund traders who allegedly engaged in insider trading rings, reaping tens of millions of dollars.  Some charges could be leveled by the end of the year.

Experts are quoted as saying if the investigation is as large in scope as it appears, it could have the biggest impact of any probe of its kind in history.  It could reveal whether non-public information is routinely passed along by consultants for so-called expert networks, providing an investment edge to hedge fund managers and mutual fund traders.

Charges could be both federal and civil in nature.  The Journal says sources confirm a federal grand jury in New York has heard evidence in the matter but it is not clear what, if any, charges may follow.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


In the Driver's Seat: Obama Plugs Hybrid Technology Overseas

Photo Courtesy - TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(LISBON, Portugal) -- During a break from sessions on NATO and Afghanistan, President Obama got a look at a plug-in hybrid car on display at the convention center in Lisbon.

The electric/gas vehicle is an Opel Ampera, produced in Detroit where the GM Chevy Volt is made.  It has the same technology as the Volt and both will be marketed in Europe starting in late 2011, according to Guillermo Sarmiento, managing director of GM Portugal, and Volker Hoff, vice president of Opel.

The president sat in the driver’s seat and got an explainer on the car from Hoff. The president noted to reporters watching the demonstration that the engine was silent – “Can’t hear it, can you?” he asked.

President Obama noted that Portugal has placed an emphasis on the vehicles, offering subsidies. He said he hopes that GM will market this car “all across Europe.”

“These gentleman are excited about the prospects,” he said of Sarmiento and Hoff.  “This is the future.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Vegas Billionaire Pummeled by Recession Claws His Way Back

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LAS VEGAS) -- Las Vegas is a place where many bet high but few come out on top ... and then there's Sheldon Adelson, who proves that old Vegas saying, "The house always wins." The self-made billionaire behind the Las Vegas Sands Corporation likes things big, including his checkbook.

Before the economy fell apart two years ago, Adelson's company was making an estimated $20 million per day from his hotels and casinos in Las Vegas and Macau. By 2007, he was worth an estimated $40 billion and was No. 3 on the Forbes list of richest Americans.

But when the market crashed in 2008, his company's market value plummeted more than 90 percent, at one point losing as much as $1,000 per second. To prevent the company from going under, Adelson and his family invested $1 billion into the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. That $1 billion bailed out the cash-strapped company, but much of the senior management was fired.

Even in the depth of the financial crisis, Adelson never backed off from a planned multi-billion-dollar project in Singapore. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel is now open and in its first full quarter of operations, it generated $242 million in profits. His Las Vegas properties, unlike many on the strip, are thriving as well. For the third quarter of this year, they booked record profits of $645 million.

Adelson isn't quite back to his 2007 heyday, but he's working on it: He dropped to No. 26 on the Forbes list in 2009 and now stands at No. 13.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


USDA Is Pleased after Government Approves Funding in Pigford Settlement

Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. Photo Courtesy - USDA dot gov(WASHINGTON) -- The  Senate Friday decided to provide funding as relief to the country's black farmers who have experienced discrimination in the farming industry.

The government approved funding for the settlement agreement on a class action suit originally filed in 1997 by farmer Timothy Pigford, who was later joined in the suit by 400 other African American farmers, against the Department of Agriculture citing instances of descrimination.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture commended the government's "leadership in working to right these wrongs."

"This announcement marks a major milestone in USDA's efforts to turn the page on a sad chapter in our history," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a written statement.

Vilsack added that Civil rights is a "top priority," which has prompted him to implement a program that will ensure customers are treated fairly and equally.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Florida Auto Dealership Offers Controversial Gun Promotion, Triples Business

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SANFORD, Fla.) -- Buyers in the market for a new car are familiar with dealer promotions like zero percent financing or free extended warranties. But a truck dealership in central Florida has a "Buy a truck, get a free AK-47" deal, to the distress of some gun control advocates.

Nations Trucks in Sanford, Fla. began offering $400 vouchers last week for its truck buyers to redeem at a nearby gun store. The general sales manager, Nick Ginetta, said sales have tripled since the start of the promotion.

"First and foremost, we did this to coincide with our customer base," said Ginetta, who said his showroom displays deer heads and other hunting decor with its 4x4, diesel trucks and diesel sport utility vehicles. "My customers are sportsmen. They go hunting, fishing, and four wheel driving."

Ginetta initially scheduled the promotion to run until the end of November, but said he may extend it through the end of the year because of customer response.

Customers who want the semi-automatic firearm may redeem the vouchers at Shoot Straight, a gun store in the nearby town of Apopka. Ginetta said all customers must undergo a standard state and federal background check before doing obtaining a firearm. Instead of receiving a voucher, customers can also receive a $400 markdown on their truck, or purchase other items at Shoot Straight if they choose not to obtain an AK-47.

Ginetta said he chose to highlight an AK-47 weapon in part because of its controversy as a notoriously commanding weapon. Ginetta said he doubts he would receive as much media attention from local and foreign media if he had chosen a less contentious firearm such as a pistol.

"My obvious intention was to sell more trucks, but now it's a Second Amendment issue," said Ginetta, who is a firearm owner, though not of an AK-47.

The reaction to the promotion has been positive overall, but 20 percent of calls to the store are citizens concerned about safety, according to Ginetta.

The Sanford police department has not received any complaints, said Sgt. David Morgenstern, but he is alarmed that the redeemed guns could get into the wrong hands.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Insurers Using Consumer Data for Risk Assessment

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Insurance companies are turning to consumer habits to assess the health of their customers.

According to the Wall Street Journal, insurers are using consumer-marketing data to estimate a person’s risk for illness. Information from online and offline purchases, along with data from public records such as hunting permits and property transfers are all being used to conduct the risk assessment.

One company, Aviva, examined data from 60,000 of its recent insurance applicants, and found that a “predictive modeling” system proved to be convincing in its ability to arrive at similar results that traditional techniques would. That test was conducted by Deloitte Consulting, and estimated the risk for illnesses such as high blood pressure and depression. 

Other companies considering pursuing a similar route for assessment include AIG and Prudential.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Why Are Bernie Madoff's Wife And Sons Still Walking Free, Ask Fraud Victim

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Victims of Bernie Madoff applauded the news Thursday that two close associates of the convicted Ponzi scammer had been arrested, but asked why a group of people even closer to Madoff – his wife, sons and brother -- remained free almost two years after Madoff's multi-billion-dollar investment fraud was exposed.

"It's about time!" said Madoff victim Adele Fox, reacting to the arrest of Annette Bongiorno and Joann Crupi, who worked for Madoff's investment firm for decades. Both women have been charged with fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion. "But what about Peter Madoff?" asked Fox, 87, who says she lost a large sum to Madoff's pyramid scheme. "What about Ruth and the sons? Do you mean to say they didn't know?"

Bernie's brother Peter worked as the chief compliance officer at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, while Bernie's sons Mark and Andrew were codirectors of trading at the firm. According to a lawsuit filed by Irving Picard, court-appointed trustee for the Madoff victims, Peter's daughter Shana "held herself out" as the company's compliance counsel. Ruth Madoff, Bernie's wife, once worked as his bookkeeper and maintained her own office at the Madoff firm. None of them, however, have been criminally charged in connection with the investment fraud.

Victim Michael DeVita, 60, said he was "literally jumping out of my chair" when he learned Thursday that Bongiorno and Crupi had been charged. "They finally at least got someone who was connected," said DeVita. Prosecutors say that Bongiorno personally handled the accounts of top Madoff clients and helped run the secretive "17th floor" where employees created phony documents.

But DeVita, who invested "high six digits" and "lost everything," said he hoped the arrest of Bongiorno and Crupi was "the tip of iceberg" and that more criminal prosecutions were coming.

"I hope their targets are more people with the name Madoff," said DeVita, "It troubles me that you have Ruth walking around with $2 million. . . . And you've got the sons walking around with who knows how much money, and living a relatively normal life."

Federal authorities are investigating Mark, Andrew and Peter Madoff for possible tax fraud, but no charges have yet been filed. A spokesperson for Shana Madoff Swanson said he did not know whether she had been questioned as part of the investigation. "We do not comment on ongoing investigations," said a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The family members have been sued, however, by Irving Picard, whose job as trustee is to recover assets for Madoff victims. Picard told ABC News he had no comment on the U.S. Attorney's criminal investigation.

Earlier this year, Picard sued three businesses controlled by Madoff family members where he claims more than $30 million may be stashed. In papers filed in federal bankruptcy court, Picard said that Madoff family members had used almost $200 million in investor cash to fund "lavish lifestyles."

"Foremost among the recipients of Madoff's gifts of customer funds," said Picard in the filings, "were his closest family members, including his wife Ruth Madoff, his brother Peter, his two sons Andrew and Mark and his niece Shana."

The lawsuits were filed against an oil and gas company, a family fund and a trading company, alleging that they received funds from Bernie Madoff's investment firm. The suit against the family fund claims that Peter, Andrew, Mark and Shana acted "in complete dereliction of their management duties."

In a lawsuit filed against the Madoff family in 2000, Picard said the Ponzi scheme was "a family piggy bank" that funneled at least $198,743,299 of stolen customers' money to Peter, Andrew, Mark and Shana. The 2009 suit included an allegation that money was funneled to family members through fabricated purchases of stock, which they supposedly then sold for the cash proceeds.

Martin Flumenbaum, a lawyer for Mark and Andrew Madoff, told ABC News in July, "With respect to Mark and Andrew, the lawsuits are without merit both factually and legally."

Flumenbaum did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. Lawyers for Peter, Andrew, Mark and Ruth Madoff also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Through her lawyers, Ruth Madoff has denied any knowledge of her husband's fraud scheme. In a written statement on the day of her husband's sentencing, she said, "to say that I feel devastated for the many whom my husband has destroyed is truly inadequate."

This summer, when she was spotted on a Manhattan street by an ABC News producer, she didn't respond when asked if she had anything to say to her husband's victims.

"She was her husband's bookkeeper for all those years, and we wonder why she has not been prosecuted for all this," said Ronnie Sue Ambrosino, a Madoff victim who works as an advocate for other victims. Ambrosino said she hoped the arrests of Bongiorno and Crupi Thursday were "the beginning of justice being performed, albeit late, but better late than never."

Ambrosino said she felt it was a "travesty" that Madoff family members were not arrested as well.

But victim DeWitt Baker, who said it was "outrageous" that no Madoff family members had yet been criminally charged, was philosophical about waiting. "They're certainly guilty. Everybody knows it. But you can't charge unless you have the kind of evidence that will stand up in court."

Said Irving Picard, "This is not an easy case to unravel."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio