SEARCH

Thursday
Jun162011

Exclusive: John Edwards Sought Millions from Heiress as Feds Closed In

Thinkstock/Comstock(NEW YORK) -- Just weeks before federal prosecutors charged John Edwards in a six-count felony indictment, ABC News has been told, the two-time Democratic presidential candidate requested millions of dollars from Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, the banking heiress whose financial support of Edwards is at the center of the criminal case.

One person with knowledge of the request confirmed the amount was in the millions of dollars but was unwilling to discuss why Edwards was seeking the money.

William Taylor, an attorney for Mellon, declined to address questions from ABC News. A spokesman for Edwards' legal defense team also refused to comment.

Edwards' ongoing relationship with the reclusive Mellon, who will turn 101 years old in August, was being closely monitored by federal authorities as the investigation into alleged violations of campaign finance laws was wrapping up.

Their concerns were heightened in late April when Mellon dispatched her private jet to a small North Carolina airport to pick up the former senator and members of his legal team. As ABC station WTVD's helicopter hovered above the airport to capture video of the boarding passengers, Mellon's pilot paced around the tarmac before eventually taking off again with no one else aboard.

But a month later, as Edwards' attorneys were engaged in last-minute negotiations with the Justice Department, ABC News learned, Edwards was visiting Mellon for a private luncheon at her sprawling Virginia estate. Taylor, who said he was present for that meeting on May 26, described it to ABC News as a "personal and social" visit.

Rachel Mellon was an early supporter of Edwards' bid for the 2008 Democratic nomination, pouring more than $4 million into political groups and non-profit organizations connected to the Edwards campaign. But the government alleges that Mellon also was the principal source of money that enabled Edwards to conceal his affair.

Identified in the criminal indictment against Edwards only as "Person C," Mellon provided more than $700,000 that the government alleges were unlawful contributions that went to pay the living and medical expenses of Rielle Hunter while Edwards continued his pursuit of the nomination.

Another attorney for Mellon, Alex Forger, has said previously that Mellon was unaware of how her money was being used.

Edwards' defense team is expected to argue that the money from Mellon was a gift and has blasted the government's case as "wrong on the facts and wrong on the law."

ABC News has been unable to determine if Mellon provided the money allegedly requested recently by Edwards. And since the campaign is now long over, even if such a gift were made, it would not be illegal.

At a brief appearance in federal court in Winston-Salem earlier this month, Edwards indicated his intent to plead not guilty to all the charges. A trial date has not yet been set.

One of the conditions of his release from custody was that he have no further direct or indirect contact with Rachel Mellon.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun162011

Forty Names Appear on Terrorists' Hit List

Thinkstock/Comstock(WASHINGTON) -- The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have alerted law enforcement about a terrorist "hit list" that was posted on a jihadi website and names 40 prominent figures from government, the U.S. military and the media who should be attacked.

Among the names on the hit list, which includes photographs of the targets and biographical information, are a member of Congress, Pentagon officials, a conservative pundit, executives of an American company involved in the production of drone aircraft, and two prominent French executives.

According to a bulletin circulated by the FBI, the hit list appeared on the website Ansar al-Mujahideen after one poster highlighted al Qaeda leader Adam Gadahn's call in a June 3 message for lone wolf attacks on American public figures and corporate institutions. "In response to the original posting," says the U.S. government's intelligence bulletin, "other forum members posted the names of over 40 heads of government, industry and media as potential targets." One forum member suggested that booby-trapped parcels be sent to the home addresses of those on the list.

"Though there has been an increase in postings on extremist web forums since [Osama bin Laden's] death on 2 May 2011, these examples are the most target specific threat postings in the forum since that date," says the bulletin. "The depth and breadth of the list provided...represent a familiarity with defense and intelligence contractors and private sector support."

An FBI official who reviewed the notice said the threats were mostly aspirational and described the item as a "wish list" of targets. DHS and the FBI circulated the notice to law enforcement out of an abundance of caution because posters on the website were making threats on a publicly available forum.

In a statement, DHS spokesman Chris Ortman said, "A DHS Open Source Information Report about an online posting by a user of an Arabic-language violent jihadist forum, which listed specific individuals and businesses that the user believed were legitimate targets, was disseminated by the Office of Intelligence & Analysis.

"While we have no information of any imminent terrorist threat to the United States or any U.S. persons, as always, we urge federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as the general public, to maintain increased vigilance for indications of preoperational or suspicious activity," said Ortman.

In Gadahn's June 3 video, he calls on Muslims living in America to carry out deadly one-man terrorist acts using fully automatic weapons purchased at gun shows, and to target major institutions and public figures.

"What are you waiting for?" asks Gadahn in English, and then adds that jihadis shouldn't worry about getting caught, since so many have been released. "Over these past few years, I've seen the release of many, many Mujahideen whom I had never even dreamed would regain their freedom."

Called "Do Not Rely on Others, Take the Task Upon Yourself" and produced by al Qaeda's media arm, as Sahab, the tape mixes Gadahn's new message with clips from old videos of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other al Qaeda leaders praising one-man attacks. They call on jihadis in the West to carry out lone wolf operations.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun162011

Everything Must Go: Closed Sahara Casino Selling Historical Items

Ethan Miller/Getty Images(LAS VEGAS) -- It was an iconic Las Vegas casino that opened in 1952.  But the Sahara closed its doors last month, and through Sunday the owners are selling off all of its contents at a massive liquidation sale.

On Thursday, the first day of the sale, dozens waited in line outside of the Sahara in temperatures approaching triple digits for their chance to buy a piece of the landmark. Inside, Terry Ching was purchasing a pair of chairs from the casino floor.

"This is a piece of history," Ching said. "This was a palace at one time."

Barb Kuhla, on vacation from Florida, had her eye on one of the most popular items of the day -- a camel lamp.

The sale's organizer, Don Haze, says virtually everything is up for grabs -- from pool chairs to bedding and kitchen equipment.

Among the big-ticket items, there's even a $12,000 chandelier.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun162011

Girl Scouts' Prosthetic Hand Device to Get Patent

Design Pics / Leah Warkentin(WASHINGTON) -- If there was a way for trees to talk, then a big, old fir residing in Ames, Iowa, would tell a magnificent story about six Girl Scouts who meet in its branches and last year hatched a splendid idea.

Thursday, the team of six who call themselves "The Flying Monkeys" were in Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Patent Office to be recognized for their idea -- a prosthetic hand device that helped a three-year-old to write.

"It's a really big deal to be getting a patent," said 13-year-old Kate Murray, a.k.a. "Monkey 2." "Almost no one at our age has one and it's very special. It means our invention is really worth it."

"They came up with what turned out to be a heck of a project," said Kate's mother, Melissa Murray, and one of the team's coaches.

In 2010, the girls entered the worldwide FIRST LEGO League science and engineering challenge, which focused on robotics applied to medical issues. Having decided to work on hand and arm prosthetics, they met with prosthetics manufacturers and doctors.

After Melissa Murray met Dale Fairchild of Duluth, Ga., online and found out that Fairchild's daughter Danielle, 3, had been born without fingers on her right hand, the Flying Monkeys decided to dedicate their concept to assisting her.

The project took the girls at least 180 hours of work and research between the fall of 2010 and spring 2011.

Using Danielle's measurements, they were able to create what they call "the BOB-1," made from moldable plastic, a pencil grip and Velcro. The device cost them less than $10 to build.

Melissa Murray said the contest judges were stunned with the team's invention. "They didn't know what to do with them [the girls]," she said.

The girls won the $20,000 FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award from the X Prize Foundation in April, in addition to a provisional patent.

"I never thought I would have a patent," said 12-year-old Mackenzie Grewell, a.k.a. "Monkey 4." "When I first found out, I didn't even know what the word meant."

Melissa Murray said they used the money for patenting the BOB-1 and creating a slightly improved version called BOB-1.2. She said it could take up to three years to secure the final patent.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun162011

Single-Sex Dorms Curb Binge Drinking and Hookups, College President Says

James Woodson/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A college president has a new/old idea for curbing binge drinking and hooking up on campus -- going back to single-sex dorms, even though it bucks current trends in campus housing.

John Garvey, president of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., wrote in The Wall Street Journal this week that next year, all freshmen would be assigned to single-sex dorms, and the following year, sophomores would be too.

"Our students will be better off," said Garvey, citing research that suggested students in coed dorms binge-drink twice as often as those in single-sex housing, and are more likely to have had multiple sex partners.

Garvey said he's not surprised about the sex but was taken aback about the drinking. "I would have thought that young women would have a civilizing influence on young men," Garvey wrote.

Some students believe Garvey needs to get real. "If students want to drink, they're going to drink," said Madison Taylor, 19, of Santa Barbara, Calif., who just finished her freshman year at the University of Chicago.

Taylor, a chemistry major who lived in a dorm that had coed floors and bathrooms, said the bathroom setup "seemed a little weird" before she arrived at college. "It turned out fine. A lot of my best friends are boys. By the time people go to college, they're mature enough to live with the opposite sex and not have it be a big deal."

Not everyone's so sure. Sally Rubenstone, a college adviser for collegeconfidential.com, said single-sex dorms are a good idea for freshmen. "It provides a safe haven in the first year. When you remove all the noise of that sexual energy, you're just giving them that chance to say, 'Whew,' and close the door -- at least for 10 minutes until their boyfriend shows up."

Garvey's back-to-the-future plan goes against a movement toward coed campus housing, which started in the late 1960s, and has become the norm.

About 90 percent of U.S. college students in on-campus housing now live in coed dorms, according to a study in the Journal of American College Health. The study, which influenced Garvey's decision to move to single-sex housing, looked at five universities across the country, controlling for students' religious affiliation, sex and race, and found that in both big and small colleges, students in coed dorms drank and hooked up more.

Few colleges have resisted the move to coed housing, although the University of Notre Dame, which is Catholic, and Brigham Young University, which is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have stuck with single-sex housing.

There is now a move led by such schools as Oberlin College in Ohio to allow "gender neutral housing" in which a male and female student could share a room. James Baumann, a spokesman for the Association of College and University Housing Officers International, said that practice is "growing," although it's not yet commonplace. Coed dorms predominate, said Baumann, but many colleges will reserve a dorm or a portion of one for single-sex housing -- generally for women. "They know there's a demand for that," he said.

Some students do see Garvey's point. Jill Bridges, 21, from Michigan, who graduated this year from the University of Michigan, lived first in a coed dorm and then in a women's dorm. "I definitely preferred the all-female dorm. They had a stronger sense of community there. It was like sisterhood," she said. "Girls are nicer to each other when there aren't any guys around to compete over."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun162011

Earthquake Rattles Area Southwest of Anchorage

U.S. Geological Survey(ANCHORAGE, Alaska) -- A 5.2 magnitude earthquake shook an area approximately 50 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska on Thursday.

The extent of damage caused by the earthquake was not immediately known, nor were the number of injuries.

 Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun162011

Casey Anthony Trial: Dad and Brother Tested for Paternity

Orange County Government, Florida(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- Casey Anthony's father and brother were tested by the FBI to see if they were the father of Caylee, the 2-year-old daughter Casey Anthony is accused of murdering, a witness said Thursday.

What began as a tedious morning of scientific testimony in the Casey Anthony murder trial ended with an explosive question by defense attorney Jose Baez. Baez asked FBI analyst Heather Seubert if she had conducted a paternity test to see if Lee Anthony, Casey Anthony's brother, was the father of Caylee Anthony.

The prosecution immediately objected and Judge Belvin Perry quickly sent jurors to lunch. With the jury out of the room, the prosecution and defense argued over the appropriateness of this line of questioning about Caylee's paternity and whether it could continue.

Seubert, a DNA analyst at the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., told the court that both George Anthony, Casey Anthony's father, and Lee Anthony had been excluded from being Caylee's father through paternity testing.

The jury, however, has yet to hear the answer to the question whether Lee Anthony was tested for paternity and the prosecutor angrily asked that the judge order the jury to disregard the question when they return from lunch.

Perry also warned Baez, "You are not to ask questions that will lead to an inference...I'm not even going to venture a guess...as to your motivation."

The defense claims that Caylee accidentally drowned in the family pool and that Casey Anthony hid her daughter's death in a bizarre coping mechanism she'd learned from suffering years of sexual abuse at the hands of her father and brother.

George Anthony has denied the accusation.

Thursday marked the third anniversary of Caylee's disappearance.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun162011

Alleged NYC Synagogue Bomb Plotters Plead Not Guilty

Lucas Jackson-Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Two Muslin men pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges related to what prosecutors say was a terrorist plot targeting New York synagogues.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office says Ahmed Ferhani, 26, and Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, “conspired to bomb synagogues and churches in Manhattan to send a message of violence to non-Muslims, including Americans, Christians, and, primarily, Jews.”

Prosecutors say the two men planned to “dress up as Jewish worshipers, attend a service at a synagogue, and leave a bag containing a bomb inside the synagogue before departing.”

According to the criminal indictment, between October 2010 and May 2011, the suspects planned to blow up 10 synagogues at one time and use grenades to blow up churches.

Prosecutors say a seven-month investigation began when the two men were recorded planning the attacks.  Authorities say they were arrested in May during a sting operation after they purchased weapons from an undercover agent.

Both men have been charged with numerous weapons possession and terrorism offenses.  Each faces up to 32 years in prison if convicted.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun162011

Idaho Family Flees 'Snake House'

Courtesy of Amber Sessions(REXBURG, Idaho) -- Even in this economy, a picture-perfect five bedroom rural home that lists for just over a $100,000 might seem like a real deal.  Except for the fact this home is known by locals in Rexburg, Idaho as the "snake house" because it apparently sits on a nest of non-poisonous garter snakes.

The home has had a fraught history of owners leaving in haste.  Now owned by Chase bank, it was on the market briefly in January and then taken off again.

In September 2009, it seemed like the ideal home for the growing Sessions family.  Ben and Amber Sessions got it for what seemed like a steal, paying less than $180,000.  But soon after moving in, they found snakes slithering inside the residence and all around the property.

"After we moved in, it was really horrible," Amber Sessions told ABC News.  "There were snakes in the walls. We could hear them and then our water tasted like how they smell."

Sessions said they trusted their real estate agent, who, she claimed, told them the snake problem was "made up" by the previous owners so that they could leave their mortgage behind.  He assured them that every precaution was made to keep the snakes away, she said.

But shortly after they moved in, Amber Sessions saw eight snakes in one day.  She texted her agent, she said, and he told her he was going to help them take care of it with traps.

The problem just kept getting worse and three months after they moved in, Amber Sessions, who was pregnant at the time, had enough of what seemed like the serpent house of horrors.  She said she got so scared about coming across a surprise snake in the house that she was worried she would miscarry.

"One day, we caught 43 snakes in total and that was it. The next morning I almost stepped on one in our house and I had enough, we can't do this anymore," she told ABC News. "I don't know how we stayed there as long as we did."

The Sessions family eventually abandoned the home in December 2009, a day after their daughter was born and three months after they moved in.

Real estate experts say the Sessions' story is a hard-learned lesson in the importance of due diligence when searching for your dream home.

"This is a buyer beware nation," New York City broker Brian Lewis told ABC News.  "You have to do your research because if you don't do your research, you end up with a house full of snakes."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun162011

Casey Anthony's Father Fights Back Allegations

Orange County Government, Florida(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- Casey Anthony's father is fighting back after weeks of being accused by his daughter's lawyers of sexually molesting Casey Anthony when she was a child and helping to hide the body of his dead granddaughter, 2-year-old Caylee Anthony.

An angry statement issued by George Anthony's lawyer refers to his daughter as "the Defendant Casey Anthony," and insists he had nothing to do with her actions "established by the State of Florida in the presentation of their case."

What prompted George Anthony to publicly break with his daughter during her Florida murder trial was an attempt by her lawyers to introduce a surprise witness to their list of people who will take the stand when they start presenting their case Thursday.

The witness list includes Vasco Degama Thompson, an ex-convict who served time for kidnapping, ABC News affiliate WFTV reported.  The defense alleges that Thompson had phone conversations with George Anthony on July 14, just days before Caylee was reported missing, according to a statement issued by George Anthony's lawyer.

In their opening statement, Casey Anthony's defense said that Caylee drowned in the family pool, that the body was discovered by George Anthony and that he helped dispose of Caylee's body.  Casey Anthony never told the truth about Caylee's death, they claimed in their opening statement, because she was trained to lie to cover up her father's sexual abuse.

The reason for having Thompson as a witness was not explained by the defense, but it prompted an angry statement by George Anthony's lawyer Mark Lippman in which he denied his client ever knew or spoke with Thompson.

The family feud erupted hours after Casey Anthony's lawyers ridiculed the prosecution's murder case, saying they did not even prove that Caylee was murdered.  Defense lawyer Cheney Mason trashed the forensic evidence and the testimony of Casey Anthony's friends and family, which was intended to build a circumstantial case proving that she killed 2-year-old Caylee in the summer of 2008.

Casey Anthony's defense team was fighting for an instant acquittal, but Judge Belvin Perry denied that motion.  On Thursday, the defense will call their first witness on the third anniversary of Caylee's disappearance.  She was last seen alive on June 15, 2008.

Defense lawyers must also decide whether to take the risky step of having Casey Anthony testify in her own defense.  If she does take the stand and the tactic backfires, she could be convicted of killing Caylee, a charge that carries the possibility of a death sentence. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio