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Updated: 6 days 8 min ago

Former Boston mob figures being tried in connection with 1993 slaying

May 16, 2018 - 10:02pm

Eight feet of New England dirt covered the body for 24 years. The only reason authorities knew where to find it was due to a marijuana bust.

The old mill building sprawled along Branch Avenue, a sooty brick structure in an industrial area of Providence, Rhode Island. In August 2015, federal and state authorities swarmed the site, discovering 1,400 marijuana plants sprouting inside. The building’s owner, William Ricci, was known by law enforcement to have links to organized crime, the Providence Journal reported.

Facing criminal charges from the raid, he bargained.

There was a secret buried out back, Ricci told authorities.

In March 2016, police arrived at the area behind the mill with a backhoe. After two days of digging, they discovered bones, the remains of a jogging suit, and the possible answer to a question from 1993: what happened to South Boston nightclub owner Steven A. DiSarro.

This week in Boston, federal prosecutors are working to bring DiSarro’s alleged killers to justice. Authorities say DiSarro was killed on orders from Francis Salemme, according to the Boston Globe. The former gangster was arrested along with a former associate, Paul Weadick.

Both men are now on trial in connection with DiSarro’s death. They say they are innocent.

Once the head of the New England Mafia and known as “Cadillac Frank,” Salemme was an organized crime figure in the 1980s and 1990s, ruling the New England underworld in a power balance with James “Whitey” Bulger, the infamous Boston gangster who spent 16 years in hiding before his 2012 arrest.

DiSarro’s killing happened just as those criminal empires were imploding, prosecutors allege.

The days of power are long behind the Salemme. Now 84 and appearing in court in a wheelchair, he has for years been living in witness protection due to his testimony against old crime associates. With the discovery of DiSarro’s body, Salemme was hauled out of hiding.

He denies he had anything to do with the 1993 murder, despite the criminal history that propelled him to the top of Boston’s underworld.

“It was a little bit of kill or be killed back then,” said Steven Boozang, Salemme’s attorney, the New York Times reported. “Just because he’s done these bad things doesn’t mean he’s done this.”

Salemme was raised in Boston’s Jamaica Plain, eventually allegedly working as a low-level foot soldier in the local La Cosa Nostra. According to a Boston.com profile, the young gangster rose in the ranks after attempting to bomb a lawyer in 1968. The victim survived but lost a leg. Salemme ran but was arrested in 1973 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

When Salemme was released, he walked into a power vacuum in Boston’s Italian Mafia. A federal indictment says he was a “capo” or captain at the time. During the 1980s, he forged tight relationships with the Winter Hill Gang, including Bulger and his top lieutenant, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, Boston.com reported.

According to a federal criminal indictment, around 1991 Salemme was made “boss” of the New England family of La Cosa Nostra. Around the same time, Salemme and his son (a “made” Mafia member, according to prosecutors) went in as silent partners on a nightclub in South Boston.

The frontman for the business was Steven DiSarro, a 43-year-old father of five. As investigators began to tighten around Salemme and other organized crime figures, DiSarro’s connection to the mob boss was discovered.

DiSarro’s wife testified recently in court that not long before the disappearance, DiSarro was pulled over by FBI agents on the road, the Globe reported. Agents pressured him to cooperate against his silent partners in the club.

According to prosecutors, Salemme knew this, and on May 10, 1993, the boss called DiSarrro to Salemme’s home. There, Francis Salemme Jr. strangled DiSarro while another man, Paul Weadick, held him down, prosecutors said.

In 1995, Salemme was indicted on federal racketeering charges along with other major players in the Boston underworld, including Bulger and Flemmi, Boston.com reported. Bulger ran, and eventually, Salemme learned a gang boss and Flemmi had been longtime FBI informants. Furious at the betrayal, in 1999, Salemme agreed to plead guilty to a sentence of 11 years. As part of the deal, he helped prosecutors with their case against Bulger and others.

Although Salemme had always been suspected of having a hand in DiSarro’s death, he maintained he knew nothing of the club owner’s disappearance. Salemme’s son died in the 1990s. The former mob boss stood by his innocence, even after pleading guilty in 2008 to lying to investigators looking into DiSarro’s vanishing.

After his release, Salemme was living in Atlanta under a new name as part of the witness protection program, according to the Globe.

Then DiSarro was found beneath eight feet of New England earth behind the Providence mill.

The main witness against Salemme in his ongoing trial is another figure out of the mob boss’s glory days. Former Bulger associate Flemmi is expected to testify against Salemme.

According to prosecutors, Flemmi walked in on DiSarro’s murder as it was happening.

Former President Bush returning to Kennebunkport this month

May 16, 2018 - 9:56pm

Former President George H.W. Bush plans to return to his summer home in Kennebunkport sometime during the week of May 21, a spokesman for the 41st president has confirmed.

Bush plans to arrive next week, but spokesman Jim McGrath told News Center Maine (WCSH-TV) that the exact day and time of arrival are still being worked out.

Bush’s visit to his estate on Walker’s Point will the first since his wife, Barbara, died in April at the age of 92. The Bushes were married for 73 years.

Bush, who is 93, has had some health problems of his own. He was hospitalized shortly after her death with a blood infection and spent some time in intensive care at a Houston hospital before he was released.

Judge rules ranked-choice voting group can’t intervene in lawsuit to block it

May 16, 2018 - 9:32pm

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a statewide committee supporting the use of ranked-choice voting in the June 12 primary election should not be allowed to intervene in a pending lawsuit that seeks to block use of the voter-approved system next month.

In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Jon D. Levy said The Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting’s participation in the lawsuit “would complicate a case that badly needs to be expedited.” Levy said the committee should instead file a friend of the court brief in support of the Secretary of State’s Office by Monday.

Related Ranked-choice voting will be used for June primaries, Maine supreme court rules

Earlier this month, the Maine Republican Party announced it had filed a lawsuit in Bangor seeking to block Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap from deploying the new voting system in the Republican primary.

Dunlap’s office has already printed the June 12 primary ballots and posted extensive voter education materials on the state website, putting Maine on track to become the first state in the nation to use ranked choice in a statewide election.

Related Maine Republican Party files federal lawsuit to stop ranked-choice voting in June primary

“In this litigation, the Secretary’s and the Committee’s goals are aligned, as the Secretary is defending the validity of the Ranked-Choice Voting Act, which the Committee supports,” Levy wrote in his ruling. “I see no indication that the Secretary will fail to put forth arguments in support of the Ranked-Choice Voting Act, that the Committee would otherwise make.”

In the ranked-choice system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no one has won more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process continues until one candidate wins a clear majority and is declared the winner. In April, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling ordering that ranked-choice voting be used in the June 12 primary.

Teacher protests spread to North Carolina

May 16, 2018 - 8:57pm

RALEIGH, N.C. — Thousands of teachers filled the main street of North Carolina’s capital Wednesday demanding better pay and more funding for public schools, hoping to achieve what other educators around the country accomplished by pressuring lawmakers for change.

City blocks turned red, the color of shirts worn by marchers chanting “We care! We vote!” and “This is What Democracy Looks Like!” An estimated 19,000 people joined the march, according to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, which based its number in part on aerial photos.

“I feel the current politicians in charge of the state are anti-public education,” Raleigh high school teacher Bill Notarnicola said as he prepared a time-lapse photo of the march. “The funds are not keeping up with the growth. We are seeing cutback, after cutback, after cutback.”

Many teachers entered the Legislative Building, continuing to chant as the Republican-controlled legislature held short floor meetings to start its annual work session. Most teachers quieted down when asked, but a woman who yelled, “Education is a Right: That is why we have to fight,” was among four escorted from the Senate gallery. No arrests were made.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper spoke at a rally across the street, promoting his proposal to pay for higher salaries by blocking tax cuts that Republicans decided to give corporations and high-income households next January. GOP leaders have flatly rejected his idea.

Cooper, who is working to eliminate the GOP’s veto-proof majorities in fall elections, urged teachers to ask lawmakers, “are you going to support even more tax cuts for corporations and the very wealthy, or are you going to support much better teacher pay and investment in our public schools?”

Previous strikes, walkouts and protests in West Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado and Oklahoma led legislators in each state to improve pay, benefits or overall school funding. Wednesday’s march in North Carolina prompted more than three-dozen school districts that educate more than two-thirds of the state’s 1.5 million public school students to cancel class.

But these Republican leaders appear determined not to change course under pressure, and North Carolina educators aren’t unionized, so they have fewer options for organized protest than teachers in some of these other states. Some, in fact, had to seek personal days off Wednesday and pay $50 for a substitute before districts canceled class.

Park program to establish new bison herds

May 16, 2018 - 8:48pm

HELENA, Mont. — Yellowstone National Park is launching a new program to capture and quarantine wild bison with the goal of establishing new, disease-free herds across the nation, park officials said Tuesday.

The program aims to help the conservation of the species by relocating wild Yellowstone bison to “suitable public and tribal lands” after they pass rigorous testing for disease, according to the National Park Service’s decision.

It also would cut down the number of bison that are slaughtered when they wander outside the park over concerns about the spread of disease.

“We’re hopeful that this will significantly reduce the number of animals that are shipped to slaughter,” Yellowstone spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said.

The number of Yellowstone bison reached a record 5,500 in 2016, and about 2,300 of the animals have been slaughtered and hunted since then, according to park officials. The targeted population set by the Interagency Bison Management Plan is 3,000, but park officials are happy with the current estimated population of about 4,200, Warthin said.

The program greenlighted on Tuesday will begin with 91 bison now being held in park facilities with testing for the disease brucellosis, which causes animals to abort their young.

The animals that initially test negative will be repeatedly tested for months before being transferred to another park facility

Two Sherpa guides set records for most ascents of world’s highest mountain

May 16, 2018 - 8:33pm

KATHMANDU, Nepal — A veteran Sherpa guide scaled Mount Everest on Wednesday for the 22nd time, setting a record for the most climbs of the world’s highest mountain, and a female Sherpa made it to the summit for the ninth time, shattering her own record for the most climbs by a woman.

Kami Rita reached the summit on Wednesday morning with a team of foreign climbers and a fellow Sherpa guide and he was already safely descending to a lower camp by the afternoon, said Gyanendra Shrestha, a government official stationed at the base camp. The 48-year-old was among three men – all Nepalese Sherpa guides – who had tied the previous record of 21 successful ascents of the 29,035-foot peak.

Before leaving for the mountain last month, Kami Rita told the Associated Press that he wanted to scale Everest at least 25 times.

Mountaineering has been his family tradition. His father was among the first professional guides after Nepal opened to foreign trekkers and mountaineers in 1950. His brother has scaled Everest 17 times. Most of his male relatives have reached the top at least once.

Kami Rita first scaled Everest at age 24, and has made the trip almost every year since then. He has also climbed many of the region’s other high peaks, including K-2, Cho-Oyu, Manaslu and Lhotse. In the autumn, he guides clients to smaller peaks in Nepal.

Both of the other previous record holders are retired from climbing. Apa, a 58-year-old guide who uses only one name, retired in 2011 and moved to Utah. Phurba Tashi, 47, retired from high-altitude climbing in 2013 but still works at Everest’s Base Camp helping organize expeditions.

From the Chinese side of the mountain, Lhakpa Sherpa, 44, also reached the summit Wednesday for a record ninth time, shattering the record for women she set last year.

Rajeev Shrestha of the Seven Summit Adventure agency in Kathmandu said he received a message from the base camp about the successful climb. She was making her way down to the advanced base camp, he said. She lives most of the year in Connecticut and has a son and two daughters.

Shrestha said a total of 94 climbers reached the summit Wednesday because of good weather conditions. The route to the summit was opened up by a team of Sherpa guides earlier this week.

Meanwhile, a 69-year-old double amputee climber from China flew on a helicopter from Everest to Kathmandu on Wednesday, two days after climbing the mountain.

Xia Boyu is not the first double-amputee to reach Everest’s peak, but he is the oldest. He lost his legs after a failed Everest attempt in 1975.

His son Xia Dengping, who was with him at the airport, told reporters his father is a hero. He was taken to a hospital for a checkup but appeared to be in good condition.

More than 340 foreign climbers along with their local guides are attempting to climb Everest this month.

Ozone-eating chemical on the rise despite 1987 world ban

May 16, 2018 - 8:24pm

WASHINGTON — Something strange is happening with a now-banned chemical that eats away at Earth’s protective ozone layer: Scientists say there’s more of it – not less – going into the atmosphere and they don’t know where it is coming from.

When a hole in the ozone formed over Antarctica, countries around the world in 1987 agreed to phase out several types of ozone-depleting chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Production was banned, emissions fell and the hole slowly shrank.

But starting in 2013, emissions of the second most common kind started rising, according to a study in Wednesday’s journal Nature . The chemical, called CFC11, was used for making foam, degreasing stains and for refrigeration.

“It’s the most surprising and unexpected observation I’ve made in my 27 years” of measurements, said study lead author Stephen Montzka, a research chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Emissions today are about the same as it was nearly 20 years ago,” he said.

Countries have reported close to zero production of the chemical since 2006 but the study found about 14,300 tons (13,000 metric tons) a year has been released since 2013. Some seeps out of foam and buildings and machines, but scientists say what they’re seeing is much more than that.

Measurements from a dozen monitors around the world suggest the emissions are coming from somewhere around China, Mongolia and the Koreas, according to the study. The chemical can be a byproduct in other chemical manufacturing, but it is supposed to be captured and recycled.

Either someone’s making the banned compound or it’s sloppy byproducts that haven’t been reported as required, Montzka said.

An outside expert, Ross Salawitch, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Maryland, is less diplomatic. He calls it “rogue production,” adding that if it continues “the recovery of the ozone layer would be threatened.”

High in the atmosphere, ozone shields Earth from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, crop damage and other problems.

Rapper T.I. ‘wrongfully arrested’ outside Atlanta home, lawyer says

May 16, 2018 - 8:22pm

ATLANTA — The rapper T.I. was arrested early Wednesday as he tried to enter his gated community outside Atlanta and was charged with disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and simple assault – but the artist’s lawyer called it a wrongful arrest.

T.I. is one of the biggest names in hip-hop, with multiple platinum-selling albums and singles, production credits and roles in films like “ATL” and “American Gangster.”

Henry County Deputy Police Chief Mike Ireland said T.I. was arrested about 4:30 a.m. after he got into an argument with a security guard. Media reports say the Grammy-winning artist, whose real name is Clifford Harris, had lost his key and the guard wouldn’t let him into the community.

Ireland said T.I. and a friend were arrested. The rapper has been released on bail.

His attorney, Steve Sadow, said in a statement Wednesday that the rapper was “wrongfully arrested.” He claims the guard was asleep when his client arrived at the guardhouse and it took “some time to wake up the sleeping guard.”

Sadow said T.I. identified himself and sought entry, but the guard refused. The rapper contacted his wife Tameka “Tiny” Cottle, who confirmed that her husband should be allowed inside the community.

“The guard continued to refuse entry without justification,” Sadow said in a statement, referring to T.I. as Tip. “Words were exchanged and apparently the guard and/or a supervisor called the police. When the police arrived, they were not interested in hearing Tip’s side of the story and wrongfully chose to end the situation by arresting Tip.”

The rapper served about seven months in prison in 2009 after his arrest on federal gun charges.

He also spent about 10 months in federal prison on a probation violation in 2010 after he was arrested on drug charges in Los Angeles. The drug arrest violated his probation – he had been ordered not to commit a crime and not to illegally possess any controlled substances – and led to an 11-month prison sentence at an Arkansas prison.

Despite T.I.’s arrest Wednesday, the rapper has stayed out of trouble the past several years. He’s been active in the community, focusing on youth programs for boys and girls, and feels his role continues to grow when it comes to providing help to those that need it most. He is also one of 38 advisers for new Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ first 100 days in office.

Last month, T.I. was among thousands to march in a rally to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The rapper also has taken part in a march in Atlanta against police-involved shooting deaths of African-Americans and in an anti-Trump protest in New York.

T.I. expressed frustration over President Trump’s rhetoric on Twitter, but said he intends to focus on doing things that “affect our communities in a positive light.”

A year ago, the rapper said he only planned to release about two or three more albums, telling The Associated Press in an interview that it was “definitely time to transition.”

T.I.’s hits include “What You Know,” “Whatever You Like” and “Live Your Life.” In 2016, he released the politically charged projects “Us or Else” and “Us or Else: Letter to the System.” They served as inspiration for his short film, “Us or Else,” which subsequently debuted on BET.

Leaders of embattled Massachusetts college may face subpoenas

May 16, 2018 - 8:11pm

BOSTON — Top officials of a Massachusetts college that recently closed its doors declined to appear before lawmakers at an oversight hearing on Wednesday, prompting the head of the panel to warn that it might issue subpoenas.

Mount Ida College, a small, private school in suburban Boston that traces its history to 1899, announced last month that it was shutting down after the spring semester and that its assets and physical campus would be purchased by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in a $75 million deal.

The chair of the Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee, Democratic Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, said it was “very, very disappointing” that the college’s president, Barry Brown, and chief financial officer, Jason Potts, did not accept invitations to testify. While Brown had previously told the panel he would not be attending, Potts had been expected to testify but informed the committee otherwise on Wednesday, Ives said.

The panel would consider issuing subpoenas and holding a second hearing, she said. There was no immediate response to efforts to reach the officials through the school.

The chair of Mount Ida’s unpaid board of trustees, Carmin Reiss, was left to answer pointed questions from committee members who pressed her on whether students or faculty at the school were misled about the extent of the school’s financial distress that ultimately led to its demise.

“What baffles my mind is that neither the leadership of Mount Ida nor the board of trustees disclosed the financial problems to the students,” said Republican Sen. Dean Tran, suggesting that if more information had been offered in recent years it may have influenced decisions by students whether to attend or continue studies.

Reiss said the school never tried to deceive anyone. She said Mount Ida had legally required and publicly available financial audits, but did not broadcast its situation to prospective students.

“Did we go out and announce, ‘Hello, interested students, we’re teetering on the brink of insolvency, but come on in?’ No, we didn’t do that because we believed we had a plan that was going to mean the college was going to survive and continue into the future,” Reiss said.

Mount Ida struggled for years with enrollment and student retention and its costs chronically outpaced revenue, Reiss told lawmakers. The school’s last, best hope for survival had been for a merger with nearby Lasell College, but that failed when trustees determined that Lasell’s final terms were not a viable option to protect Mount Ida students, she said.

On April 6, the school announced the arrangement with UMass-Amherst, which intends to use Mount Ida’s campus to facilitate internship programs in the Boston area otherwise not available to students attending the western Massachusetts campus. UMass said it would not use taxpayer money for the deal.

Most Mount Ida students have been offered transfers to UMass-Dartmouth, but that school does not offer some specialized programs taught at Mount Ida.

“I feel betrayed, lost and heartbroken over what has happened in the last month,” said Colleen Moroney, who was finishing her junior year in the school’s dental hygienist program. “Right now I feel discouraged and not sure if I’ll even be able to finish my education.”

Another Massachusetts school, Regis College, has agreed to accept students in dental hygiene from Mount Ida, pending regulatory approval.

Moroney and several other students told lawmakers they had not been made aware of how serious the school’s financial plight was until they received an email from school officials that it was closing.

Senator catches Pruitt in contradiction as he tries to deflect questions at hearing

May 16, 2018 - 8:07pm

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers at a Senate hearing Wednesday hammered Scott Pruitt with his toughest questioning to date amid federal investigations about his spending, bodyguards and ties with lobbyists. The exchanges included the dramatic production of a newly released internal email that appeared to contradict the embattled Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

Pruitt, appearing before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, denied direct responsibility for alleged ethical missteps that have prompted about a dozen investigations, including ones by Congress, the EPA’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office and the Office of Management and Budget. He stuck to his practice in a previous round of congressional hearings of deflecting blame onto subordinates at EPA, including its security agents and public-affairs workers.

Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the panel’s top Democrat and a former state attorney general like Pruitt, led Democrats’ questioning. At one point, Udall asked Pruitt about news reports that the agency head liked his motorcade to switch on flashing lights and sirens to cut through traffic.

“I don’t recall that happening,” Pruitt said, asked repeatedly by Udall if he had ordered lights and sirens. “There are policies that agencies follow. The agency has followed the policy to the best of my knowledge. No, I don’t recall.”

Udall then disclosed an internal email indicating Pruitt did.

The email, written by then-EPA special agent Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta just days after Pruitt’s confirmation in February 2017, has the subject line “Lights and Sirens.” It added “Btw – Administrator encourages the use.”

Pruitt later promoted Perrotta to lead his round-the-clock personal protective detail. Former EPA officials have told the Associated Press that Pruitt made the change after Perrotta’s predecessor refused to use lights and sirens in non-emergencies.

Time and again, Pruitt responded to questions by saying he either couldn’t recall details or was unaware of decisions made by aides. Asked why comment from The Dow Chemical Co. wound up in an agency document, for example, Pruitt suggested public affairs staffers were responsible.

He newly confirmed a few points from recent news stories, including the launch of a legal defense fund, which he said was done by others on his behalf. He acknowledged that an aide, Millan Hupp, shopped for Washington housing for him, although he said it was on her personal time. Udall called it a violation of federal law.

The questioning was notably more aggressive than during appearances that Pruitt made before House subcommittees last month, when at least one Republican chairman repeatedly cut off Democrats the moment their limited time expired and allowed Pruitt not to answer.

In contrast, Republican Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski of Alaska gave the Democrats plenty of freedom to press Pruitt and ask courtroom-style follow-up questions when Pruitt, a lawyer who previously served as Oklahoma’s state attorney general, offered answers that were not as specific as lawmakers wanted.

Murkowski set the tone from the start, opening the hearing by expressing concern that allegations over Pruitt’s missteps were overshadowing the Trump administration’s pro-business regulatory rollbacks.

“I’m being asked, really constantly asked, to comment on security and on housing and on travel. I’m reading about your interactions with representatives of the industries that you regulate,” Murkowski told Pruitt at a hearing normally expected to focus on budget matters.

“There have been decisions over the last 16 months or so that, as I look back on those decisions, I would not make the same decisions again,” Pruitt said.

EPA’s inspector general revealed earlier this week that Pruitt requested and received 24-hour security beginning with his first day in office. That challenges Pruitt’s account that the round-the-clock security was a result of threats against him after taking office.

On Wednesday, Pruitt repeatedly dodged directly answering whether he requested the stepped-up security coverage, saying career EPA officials below him made the final decision.

Perrotta, who wrote the email about the use of lights and sirens, also drafted a memo last year saying Pruitt needed to fly in premium class seats because of security threats.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont mocked that explanation.

“What a silly reason to fly first class,” Leahy said. “Nobody even knows who you are.”

Despite the mounting investigations into Pruitt’s actions, President Trump has said he still supports his EPA chief. Asked Friday if he still had confidence in Pruitt, Trump told reporters, “I do.”

During the hearing, protesters sitting behind Pruitt silently rose up, waving signs suggesting that Pruitt should be fired. Others wore green T-shirts with white lettering that read “Impeach Pruitt.”

As Pruitt left the hearing room, protesters trailed him through the halls of the Senate office building shouting “Mr. Pruitt, you should be fired!” and “You should be ashamed, Mr. Pruitt.”

The EPA chief, ringed by his staff and security team, appeared to ignore them. He briskly made his way out to a waiting black SUV with tinted windows and drove away.

Hamas: Most slain in Gaza were members

May 16, 2018 - 8:06pm

JERUSALEM — Most of the protesters killed this week by Israeli fire along the border with the Gaza Strip were members of Hamas, the militant group said Wednesday, an assertion that deepens the starkly different narratives on both sides over the deaths.

Israel, which has faced blistering international criticism over its response, is likely to latch on to the remarks to bolster its claims that Hamas has used the weekly border protests as cover to stage attacks.

But human rights groups say the identity of slain protesters, including a possible affiliation to a militant group, is irrelevant if they were unarmed and did not pose an immediate threat to the lives of soldiers when they were shot.

In an interview with Baladna TV, a private Palestinian news outlet that broadcasts via Facebook, senior Hamas official Salah Bardawil said 50 out of the nearly 60 protesters killed Monday were Hamas members, with the others being “from the people.”

Bardawil did not elaborate on the nature of their membership in the group and his claim could not be independently verified. It was unclear if the protesters he was referring to were militants or civilian supporters of the Islamic group, which rules Gaza and opposes Israel’s existence.

The affiliation may matter little to those who have deemed Israel’s response to the protests to be heavy-handed.

For Israel, it was enough to cement its narrative.

“It was clear to Israel and now it is clear to the whole world that there was no popular protest. This was an organized mob of terrorists organized by Hamas,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had tallied similar numbers to Hamas and “won’t let those who call for our destruction to breach our borders and to threaten our communities.”

Maine Democrats to descend on Lewiston for state convention starting Friday

May 16, 2018 - 7:36pm

LEWISTON — Maine Democrats will gather in Lewiston for their annual convention Friday, intent on energizing their voters for upcoming primary elections on June 12.

The convention is expected to draw over 1,500 Maine Democratic Party loyalists with a keynote rallying speech delivered by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, on Saturday. Castro is known for his advocacy for public schools and universities, health care and good-paying jobs, according to a release from the party.

Also in the lineup will be all seven Democratic candidates running for the chance to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Paul LePage. The docket also features three candidates running to represent the party against U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican seeking his third term in the 2nd District.

Organizers were touting the record number of Democrats pre-registered for the convention at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in the state’s second largest city – where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a more than a 2-1 margin, according to the most recent voter data from the Maine Secretary of State’s Office.

The Maine Republican Party held its convention at the Augusta Civic Center earlier this month.

With a theme of “Victory Starts Here,” Democrats hope to retake the governor’s office in 2018 as well as capture enough seats to give them congressional majorities.

Phil Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said the convention will focus on Democrats’ desire to improve the economy, create jobs, expand health care access and affordability and end the state’s ongoing opioid crisis, which claims on average one life a day to overdoses.

Related Meet the candidates in Maine’s race for governor

“With a record-breaking number of Democrats prepared to attend our convention, it’s clear that we have energy and momentum on our side and we are ready to elect Democrats up and down the ballot this year,”Bartlett said.

The Democratic candidates hoping to replace Poliquin include state Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston resident and Marine Corps veteran; Craig Olson, a rare bookseller from Islesboro and Lucas St. Clair, a small businessman from Hampden, the son of philanthropist Roxanne Quimby and a key player in the creation of the Katahdin Woods and Water National monument.

Related Maine Republicans gather at state convention to adopt a platform

Also in the lineup for Friday evening is 1st District U.S. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, running for her fifth term, and Zak Ringlestein of Portland, who hopes to unseat incumbent independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, who also faces a Republican challenger.

The candidates for governor include former state Rep. Diane Russell of Portland; former state Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick; former Biddeford Mayor Donna Dion; Maine Attorney General Janet Mills of Farmington; state Sen. Mark Dion of Portland; Adam Cote, a Sanford attorney, businessman and Army veteran; and lobbyist Betsy Sweet of Hallowell. They will each take the podium for 10-minute speeches Saturday afternoon.

They will be followed by Castro, who is scheduled to speak at 4:15 p.m.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

Trump vows to press ahead with summit plan despite North Korea’s threat to scrap it

May 16, 2018 - 7:35pm

WASHINGTON — Amid fresh uncertainty over his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Trump said Wednesday that he is committed to pressing for the country to abandon its nuclear program as part of any meeting.

North Korea threatened earlier in the day to scrap the historic summit between Trump and Kim, saying it has no interest in a “one-sided” affair meant to pressure the North to abandon its nuclear weapons. But Trump appeared to shrug off the warning, saying the U.S. hadn’t been notified.

“We haven’t seen anything, we haven’t heard anything,” Trump said as he welcomed the president of Uzbekistan to the White House. “We will see what happens.”

The warning from North Korea’s first vice foreign minister came after the country abruptly canceled a high-level meeting with South Korea to protest U.S.-South Korean military exercises that the North has long claimed are an invasion rehearsal.

Behind the scenes, White House aides tried to soothe South Korean frustrations over the canceled meeting with the North as they continue to plan for the summit, set for June 12 in Singapore, as if nothing had changed. U.S. officials compared the threat to Trump’s own warning that he might walk away from the summit if he determines Kim is not serious about abandoning his nuclear program.

The direction from the Oval Office to White House aides and other U.S. national security agencies Wednesday was to downplay the North Korean threats and not “take the bait” by overreacting to the provocation, said a senior U.S. official.

National Security Adviser John Bolton told Fox News Radio on Wednesday that “we are trying to be both optimistic and realistic at the same time.”

Bolton, who the North called out by name for saying the U.S. is seeking an outcome similar to Libya’s unilateral nuclear disarmament, said the personal attack raised the question of “whether this really is a sign that they’re not taking our objective of denuclearization seriously.”

North Korean first vice foreign minister Kim Kye Gwan said earlier in a statement carried by state media that “we are no longer interested in a negotiation that will be all about driving us into a corner and making a one-sided demand for us to give up our nukes, and this would force us to reconsider whether we would accept the North Korea-U.S. summit meeting.”

In its commentaries published through the state-run news agency, North Korea steered clear of criticizing Trump himself and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who last week met with North Korea’s Kim for the second time in little more than a month and brought home three American prisoners. That suggested the North still wants the summit to go ahead.

But it also took the opportunity to air its own negotiating position and take aim at Bolton, who has suggested that negotiations in 2004 that led to the shipping of nuclear components to the U.S. from Libya under Moammar Gadhafi would be a good model for North Korea as well – although Gadhafi was deposed seven years later after a NATO-led military campaign. The North on Wednesday described that proposal as a “sinister move” to bring about its own collapse.

North Korea also may have been responding to aims for the summit aired by Bolton and Pompeo in Sunday morning talk shows last weekend.

Bolton told ABC that denuclearization means getting rid of all the North’s nuclear weapons, dismantling them and taking them to Oakridge, Tennessee, where the U.S. developed its atomic bomb during World War II and retains a nuclear and high-technology research laboratory. Bolton said North Korea would have to get rid of its uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing facilities, reveal its weapons sites and allow open inspections.

The toughest of North Korea’s statements was issued in the name of Kim Kye Gwan, who was a leading negotiator of an aid-for-disarmament deal that collapsed under then-President George W. Bush’s administration at a time when Bolton was serving as undersecretary of state for arms control and North Korea was suspected of secretly seeking to enrich uranium.

Meanwhile, the State Department emphasized that North Korea’s leader had previously indicated he understood the need and purpose of the U.S. continuing its long-planned military exercises with South Korea. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. had not heard anything directly from North or South Korea that would change that.

“We will continue to go ahead and plan the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un,” Nauert said.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier Wednesday that preparations for the summit were ongoing despite the cancellation threat and that Trump is hopeful the meeting will still take place.

“If it doesn’t, we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign that’s been ongoing,” she told Fox & Friends.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said he is concerned that talks are “really being oversimplified” by the White House.

“This is not like a condo deal where two people sit down and hash out a number of outstanding issues and then they say ‘Well, some lawyers can write it up,’ ” he said.

‘Rock around the Park’ is theme for this year’s Great Falls Balloon Festival

May 16, 2018 - 6:58pm

Elvis Presley? Pal Hop rockers? Keystone cops?

Three months ahead of this year’s Great Falls Balloon Festival, clues are starting to emerge as to this year’s theme.

“We are sooooo excited we cannot keep it a secret any longer!” screeched a Wednesday morning post on the festival’s Facebook page. “Live, on the main stage Saturday night, August 18 – A PAL Hop Reunion! The Travelers and The Rockin’ Recons will be performing. Mark your calendars – don’t miss it!”

An image posted on the page reveals the theme “Rock around the Park” in announcing this year’s festival, slated for Aug. 17-19.

Additional images of Keystone Cop-shaped balloons appeared with the declaration: “Keystone Willy and ConAir will also be joining us! Watch the skies for Willy chasing ConAir!”

A little farther down the page, a photo of a balloon in the shape of The King himself.

“Elvis will be here!” festival organizers promised.

An official calendar of events was not available Wednesday.

With an estimated 100,000 people attending the festival each year, organizers say the event brings more than $2 million into the Twin Cities community – 73 percent of which comes from outside Lewiston-Auburn.

Rupert Murdoch’s eldest son to run downsized 21st Century Fox

May 16, 2018 - 6:28pm

21st Century Fox Inc.’s Lachlan Murdoch, the eldest son of media magnate Rupert Murdoch, plans to take the helm of the remaining business in the wake of a proposed deal to sell most of its entertainment assets to Walt Disney Co.

The executive will assume both the CEO and chairman jobs at the company, which is being referred to as New Fox. Rupert Murdoch will become co-chairman alongside his son. John Nallen, currently Fox’s chief financial officer, will take on the expanded role of chief operating officer.

The widely expected move comes as Fox tries to complete the Disney deal, which involves selling about $52 billion of entertainment assets. But the matter may not be settled. Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. cable channel, is said to be preparing financing for a potential counterbid for the Fox operations.

Fox is preparing for a future without its film and TV studios, as well as cable channels such as FX and National Geographic. It looks to focus on Fox News, cable sports networks and local TV. Toward that end, it agreed to acquire seven stations from Sinclair Broadcast Group this month.

Rupert Murdoch, 87, has spent decades as one of the world’s most influential media moguls. The future of his vast holdings has long been debated within the industry.

Lachlan Murdoch has been Fox’s executive chairman since 2015.

Uber Eats launches its food delivery service in Portland on Thursday

May 16, 2018 - 6:25pm

Uber Eats launches in Portland on Thursday, bringing one more food delivery option to the city.

So far, five local food businesses have signed up with the service: The Truffle Truck, a new Italian food truck that is also making its debut Thursday; Thai Esaan; Bill’s Pizza; Blue Rooster; and Gelato Fiasco.

The national food delivery service uses a separate smart phone app from its car-driving cousin, Uber. Diners on the Uber Eats app browse local restaurants that are on its site, order, then track delivery of the food to their home.

Like all food delivery services, there is a surcharge – Uber Eats calls it a “booking fee” – added to the bill. In Portland, that fee will be $4.99 per order.

Uber Eats is available in more than 140 cities in North America, Portland now among them.

Facebook CEO Zuckerberg expected to testify in Europe on data scandal

May 16, 2018 - 6:16pm

BRUSSELS — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is expected to speak with leaders of the European Parliament next week about the data protection scandal that has engulfed his company – but might avoid a public testimony like the one he endured in the U.S.

The EU and British parliaments have been calling for Zuckerberg to submit to an on-air grilling since it emerged earlier this year that a company, political consultants Cambridge Analytica, had been allowed to misuse the data of millions of Facebook users.

Although Zuckerberg testified last month to the U.S. Congress, he had long been noncommittal about an appearance in Europe, sending his chief technical officer to speak to the British parliament and delaying confirmation of any visit to Brussels.

On Wednesday, EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani confirmed that Zuckerberg “will be in Brussels as soon as possible, hopefully already next week” and would meet with parliamentary leaders and an expert on civil liberties and justice. That suggests he will avoid an uncomfortable public appearance and instead meet only with the legislature’s top brass behind closed doors.

Facebook came away largely unscathed from Zuckerberg’s testimony to the U.S. Congress in April. Shares in the company even rose after his appearance. And several U.S. lawmakers often appeared unable to grasp the technical details of Facebook’s operations and data privacy.

He might get tougher questions in Brussels, where an assertive new European data protection law goes into effect May 25. The law will give Facebook’s millions of European users more control over what companies can do with what they post, search and click.

Yet the question of whether Zuckerberg should explain himself publicly remains a point of contention.

The president of the ALDE liberal group, Guy Verhofstadt, has already said he would not attend the meeting if it was held in private. “It must be a public hearing – why not a Facebook Live,” he asked in a tweet.

Tajani said that simply showing up to explain himself was already a good move. “It is a step in the right direction towards restoring confidence,” he said. “Our citizens deserve a full and detailed explanation.”

On Monday, Zuckerberg will also attend a meeting organized by French President Emmanuel Macron aimed at pressuring tech giants to use their global influence for public good.

Zuckerberg’s EU visit will be his first since a whistleblower alleged that Cambridge Analytica improperly harvested information from over 50 million Facebook accounts to help Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election. Cambridge says none of the Facebook data was used in the Trump campaign, and Facebook is investigating.

Damian Collins, head of the U.K. parliament’s media committee, has said he hopes Zuckerberg would take advantage of his trip to Europe next week to visit London and testify there as well.

Zuckerberg has so far declined to appear, to the British lawmakers’ annoyance. Collins warned Zuckerberg last month that if he does not come voluntarily, he could be issued a formal summons, which would force him to appear before the parliament when he next enters the U.K.

NCIS actress says CBS ‘had her back’ after assaults

May 16, 2018 - 6:07pm

LOS ANGELES —Actress Pauley Perrette thanked CBS for its treatment of her, days after saying she suffered “multiple physical assaults” without describing them before leaving “NCIS” after 15 seasons.

“I want to thank my studio and network CBS They have always been so good to me and always had my back,” Perrette tweeted late Tuesday.

“Neither Perrette nor CBS have offered any specifics on what happened to her or who was responsible. A CBS spokesman declined further comment Wednesday, and Perrette’s publicist did not immediately respond to an email seeking more information.

Former Miss Maine Teen USA calls 911, ends up charged in domestic assault

May 16, 2018 - 5:26pm

The wife of 2009 U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover made the first call to 911 and claimed she was attacked by her mother-in-law, according to a tape of the call released Wednesday that provided another bizarre twist in the wife’s arrest on a domestic violence charge.

Glover answered when the St. John’s Sheriff’s Office in Florida called back and said his wife was lying.

“Yeah, hi, I think we got our lines crossed here. This is the husband, the sane one of the bunch,” Glover says in a calm voice. “My wife has called you. … Now she’s trying to blame it on my mother, which is not the case at all. … My wife has gone crazy.”

Krista Glover, the former Krista Wakefield of Cumberland, Maine, was arrested Saturday night and taken to the St. John’s County jail. She was released Sunday on a $2,500 bond and faces misdemeanor charges of domestic violence battery and resisting arrest without violence. She has a May 31 court date.

Krista Wakefield was the 1998 Miss Maine Teen USA and a standout on Greely High School basketball teams in the late ’90s. She and Lucas Glover married in 2012 and have two children together.

According to the arrest report , Glover told the deputy that his wife yells at him, stating he is a “loser” and other choice words, when he plays poorly in a tournament. Earlier in the day, Glover shot 78 and missed the 54-hole cut at The Players Championship.

Glover also told the deputy his wife had been drinking, according to the report.

Krista Glover told the 911 operator she had been attacked by her mother-in-law, who had locked herself in her room. When asked how she was attacked, Glover’s wife hung up and Glover answered when 911 called back.

When asked if the sheriff’s office should send a rescue squad, Glover politely said that won’t be necessary.

The operator then asked if she could speak to Glover’s wife.

“No, you cannot,” Glover says. “She’s in the house with my daughter. And when deputies get here, they need to talk to the male — that would be me — because these other two are out of their heads at the moment.”

When the operator points out that his wife is who called, Glover replied: “Well, she’s going to lie to you. That’s what I’m telling you. That’s why I answered the phone. She’s telling lies.”

Glover confirmed on Twitter there was an altercation.

“Everyone is fine,” Glover said. “Regrettably, although Krista was charged, we are comfortable that the judicial system is able to address what actually happened and Krista will be cleared in this private matter.”

According to the report, Glover said his wife began the altercation when he was on the back porch and then began attacking his mother, Hershey Glover, when she tried to intervene. The deputy said in the report she was arrested based on injuries on Lucas Glover’s arm and his verbal statements.

The deputy also observed cuts and bleeding on both arms of Hershey Glover. According to the report, she refused to pursue a battery charge against Krista Glover.

The Glovers have a daughter who turned 5 Monday and a 2-year-old son. He has three PGA Tour victories, including the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. He also has played in the Presidents Cup twice. Glover earned nearly $2 million last season and finished No. 43 in the FedEx Cup. He currently is No. 104 in the world ranking.

Press Herald Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

What’s that smell? California flower town’s shift to pot creates stink

May 16, 2018 - 5:22pm

CARPINTERIA, Calif. — This picturesque coastal town cradled by mountains and sandy shores is a scene out of a Southern California postcard. Residents of Carpinteria say they feel lucky to live in what they consider a slice of paradise.

But change is in the air. And sometimes, they say, it stinks.

That’s because marijuana has become a new crop of choice in the farmlands surrounding this tight-knit community of 14,000, which has long helped fuel the U.S. cut flower industry.

Residents say a thick, skunk-like odor from the marijuana plants settles over the valley in the evenings and before dawn. To keep out the stench, they have tried stuffing pillows under doors, lighting incense and shutting windows, a reluctant choice since it also keeps out the cool ocean breezes that are part of the town’s allure.

“We don’t want a marijuana smell,” said Xave Saragosa, a 73-year-old retired sheriff’s deputy who was born and raised in the town and lives near a greenhouse that grows marijuana. “We want fresh air.”

Saragosa said the odor pervades his hillside home at night and keeps his wife up coughing.

Carpinteria, about 85 miles  from Los Angeles, is in the southeast corner of Santa Barbara County, a tourist area famous for its beaches, wine and temperate climate. It’s also becoming known as a haven for cannabis growers.

The county amassed the largest number of marijuana cultivation licenses in California since broad legalization arrived on Jan. 1 — about 800, according to state data compiled by the AP. Two-thirds of them are in Carpinteria and Lompoc, a larger agricultural city about an hour’s drive to the northwest.

Virtually all of Carpinteria’s licenses are for small, “mixed-light” facilities, which essentially means greenhouses.

The result is a large number of licenses but small total acreage. Only about 200 acres of the county’s farmland is devoted to marijuana, compared with tens of thousands sown with strawberries and vegetables, said Dennis Bozanich, who oversees the county’s marijuana planning.

The area’s greenhouses have their roots in Carpinteria’s cut flower industry, which was sapped after the U.S. government granted trade preferences to South American countries in the 1990s to encourage their farmers to grow flowers instead of coca, the plant used to make cocaine.

In an ironic twist, some California flower growers weary of import competition have started trying to grow cannabis, a plant that, like coca, is deemed illicit by the federal government. Others have sold their greenhouses to marijuana investors.

“We have literally no carnation production in the United States any longer because South America grows them so cheaply,” said Kasey Cronquist, chief executive of the California Cut Flower Commission. “Farmers had to move crops, and that is what we have seen happen over time — they’ve gone to crops that are more valuable or more difficult for Ecuador and Colombia to ship.”

Domestic cut flower growers saw their share of the U.S. market drop to 27 percent in 2015 from 58 percent in 1991. Sales of imported cut flowers grew to more than $1 billion during the same period, according to data compiled by the commission.

Greenhouses that once produced flowers are seen as ideal for marijuana. In Carpinteria’s climate, the greenhouses heat and cool easily and inexpensively, and the plants thrive. It takes only about three months to grow cannabis in pots of shredded coconut husks, so farmers can get multiple harvests each year.

In the hills of the so-called Emerald Triangle of Northern California, where most of the state’s pot is grown, there is a single harvest each year.

Some farmers see cannabis as a plant that can help preserve the area’s farming culture, said Mollie Culver, a consultant for the Cannabis Business Council of Santa Barbara County. Many growers live locally and welcomed the county’s recently crafted regulations requiring odor abatement, she said.

“Santa Barbara isn’t like cannabis run amok,” said Jared Ficker, a partner at advocacy group California Strategies who consults with local cannabis growers. “It is actually the most compliant market we’ve seen in the state.”

Some residents said the stench has decreased in recent months as some growers installed systems aimed at reducing the smells. Others said the problem persists.

The county passed rules in February requiring growers to submit odor abatement plans and designate a representative to handle complaints. They are expected to take effect in some county areas this year and in Carpinteria following a review by state coastal regulators.

Californians voted to legalize marijuana in 2016, but counties and cities have a say on whether they allow cannabis production, distribution or sales.

Even before the ballot measure, Santa Barbara County recognized a number of farmers were growing marijuana to supply the state’s medical market. So officials started looking at establishing odor, security and other rules.

“We have a lot of people who are interested in being compliant and getting into the regulated market,” Bozanich said. “If we can continue that kind of relationship where they’re going to stay in the regulated market,” it will be easier to target and eliminate black market growers, he said.

All of the county’s licenses are to grow medical marijuana, Bozanich said, though the state allows some crossover into the adult market.

In Carpinteria, some residents worry property values will fall if the town keeps reeking of pot. They hope the smell will fade as more growers install odor control systems and those who don’t are shut down.

Toni Stuart, an 80-year-old retired Episcopal priest, said the odor doesn’t creep into the area near the beach where she lives, but she worries about the community changing.

“I would not like Carpinteria to be the ‘cannabis capital’ of Southern California. I like it the way it is. It’s a very quiet, unpretentious beach town,” she said.

“If people want to grow cannabis instead of flowers or avocados or macadamia nuts — I suppose that’s their right. But they’ve got to think about their neighbors.”