60.9 F
Aberdeen
Home Blog

Former UAW vice president charged in U.S. corruption probe

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors in Detroit on Monday charged a former high-ranking United Auto Workers official in charge of the labor union’s relations with Fiat Chrysler (FCA) of misusing funds for lavish purchases for himself and other union officials.

Norwood Jewell, who headed the UAW’s FCA department from 2014 until his retirement in January 2018, was charged with conspiracy to violate labor laws and accepting improper payments in a criminal information – often a precursor to a plea agreement.

Jewell is the highest-ranking former UAW official charged so far in a wide-ranging investigation into illegal payoffs to UAW officials. To date, seven people have been sentenced in the government’s ongoing corruption investigation.

The court document says Jewell used a National Training Center credit card and approved UAW officials to use their credit cars to make over $40,000 in purchases for himself and others.

Prosecutors say FCA officials conspired to divert over $4.5 million in training center funds intended to pay for training for union members for use by UAW officials.

A lawyer for Jewell did not immediately comment.

The UAW said in a statement it was “deeply saddened” by the court filing, adding it has “implemented many reforms and enacted new policies to prevent any misuse of funds… we will continue to vigilantly review our practices to make sure any lax financial controls are identified and fixed going forward.”

FCA said Monday it “firmly restates that it was a victim of illegal conduct by certain rogue individuals.” The company said those individuals’ actions were “neither at the direction nor for the benefit of the company” and had no impact on collective bargaining.

The fresh charges come at a sensitive time for the UAW, which is gearing up for contract talks later this year with FCA, General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co. The union has tried repeatedly to move beyond the scandal, insisting that the misuse of funds involved just a few people.

The National Training Center is a separate entity from the UAW that receives no union dues.

Prosecutors said Jewell was “responsible for administering and negotiating the collective bargaining agreements” on behalf of tens of thousands of UAW members.

A criminal information is a charging document typically filed before a defendant pleads guilty. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit said no date for an arraignment or plea has been set.

Last year, Alphons Iacobelli, a former FCA vice president of employee relations, was sentenced to more than five years in prison for making at least $1.5 million in improper payments to UAW officials.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Nick Carey)

Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

The Latest: Fire at Texas plant could last 2 more days

DEER PARK, Texas (AP) — The Latest on a fire at a Texas petrochemicals plant (all times local):

12:30 p.m.

Officials say a large fire at petrochemicals terminal near Houston will likely burn for another two days.

The fire erupted Sunday at Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, about 15 miles southeast of Houston. Fire crews continued battle the blaze Monday, and authorities monitoring air quality around the facility say levels are within normal guidelines.

ITC says the risk of explosion at its facility is “minimal” and no injuries have been reported.

The company initially said the fire had spread to eight storage tanks. But on Monday, the company said the fire had spread to seven tanks and that one of the tanks was empty.

The tanks contain gasoline components.

Officials say fire crews are using foam to battle the blaze and to protect the surrounding storage tanks that have not caught on fire.

___

7:19 a.m.

Emergency crews in Texas are working to control a large fire burning at a Houston-area petrochemicals terminal that has spread to eight storage tanks.

The fire started Sunday morning at Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) southeast of Houston. ITC says the risk of explosion is “minimal” and no injuries have been reported.

The company said Monday morning that the fire has spread to a tank that contains a chemical used in nail polish remover, glues and paint thinner. Earlier, the fire spread to separate tanks that contained petrochemical liquids and gases, including fuel oil and bunker oil.

Early Monday, Deer Park lifted its shelter-in-place order for residents but school was canceled Monday in the city.

Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

Fire at Houston petrochemical storage facility rages for second day

HOUSTON (Reuters) – A fire at a fuels storage company along the Houston Ship Channel continued to burn on Monday, spreading to eight massive petrochemical storage tanks, shutting schools in two nearby communities.

The fire, which sent a plume of black smoke across the city’s eastern half and was visible from 10 miles (16 km) away, began Sunday morning in a giant storage tank containing naphtha, a volatile component of gasoline.

No evacuations or injuries were reported.

No employees at the facility were missing and no injuries were reported, Intercontinental Terminals Co (ITC) the operator of the storage facility, said in a statement. The risk of explosion was “minimal” but ITC was attempting to drain naphtha from one of the burning tanks, it said.

A leak in a pipe in one storage tank ignited and flames spread to nearby tanks, ITC reported to a Texas regulator on Monday. Its report did not say what caused the leak to catch fire.

School officials in Deer Park, population 32,000, and nearby La Porte, Texas, with about 34,000 residents, suspended classes and told employees not to report to work on Monday. The city of Deer Park lifted a shelter-in-place order by midmorning.

Tanks containing naphtha and xylene, petrochemicals used to make gasoline and base oils commonly used as machine lubricants, were burning, ITC officials said. On Monday, a tank containing Toluene also caught fire. Toluene is used to manufacture nail polish remover and paint thinner.

The burning tanks are surrounded by other storage tanks within a spill containment dike. Firefighters used a foam fire retardant on nearby tanks to try to limit the fire from spreading.

The fire will likely continue to burn for another two days, a local fire official said.

“ITC officials continue working with local first responders to contain the fire,” the company said in a statement. “The safety of our employees, the surrounding community and the environment is our first priority.”

Ships continued to cross the 50-mile-long channel, which is part of the Port of Houston linking refineries and chemical plants in Houston and Texas City, with the Gulf of Mexico.

“There has been no affect on vessel traffic other than at the two terminals,” said JJ Plunkett, port agent at the Houston Pilots, whose members guide ships in and out of the channel. Ship access to docks at the ITC and Vopak terminals was restricted by the U.S. Coast Guard, he said.

Air emissions tests detected the presence of a volatile organic compound six miles away from the facility. Levels were below those considered hazardous, ITC said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and state and local authorities were responding to the blaze, ITC said.

The fire was not affecting operations at the nearby Royal Dutch Shell Plc joint-venture refinery in Deer Park, said Shell spokesman Ray Fisher.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Additional reporting by Rich McKay and Gary McWilliams; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

Fire at Houston petrochemical storage facility rages for second day

HOUSTON (Reuters) – A fire at a fuels storage company along the Houston Ship Channel continued to burn on Monday, spreading to eight massive petrochemical storage tanks, shutting schools in two nearby communities.

The fire, which sent a plume of black smoke across the city’s eastern half and was visible from 10 miles (16 km) away, began Sunday morning in a giant storage tank containing naphtha, a volatile component of gasoline.

No evacuations or injuries were reported.

No employees at the facility were missing and no injuries were reported, Intercontinental Terminals Co (ITC) the operator of the storage facility, said in a statement. The risk of explosion was “minimal” but ITC was attempting to drain naphtha from one of the burning tanks, it said.

A leak in a pipe in one storage tank ignited and flames spread to nearby tanks, ITC reported to a Texas regulator on Monday. Its report did not say what caused the leak to catch fire.

School officials in Deer Park, population 32,000, and nearby La Porte, Texas, with about 34,000 residents, suspended classes and told employees not to report to work on Monday. The city of Deer Park lifted a shelter-in-place order by midmorning.

Tanks containing naphtha and xylene, petrochemicals used to make gasoline and base oils commonly used as machine lubricants, were burning, ITC officials said. On Monday, a tank containing Toluene also caught fire. Toluene is used to manufacture nail polish remover and paint thinner.

The burning tanks are surrounded by other storage tanks within a spill containment dike. Firefighters used a foam fire retardant on nearby tanks to try to limit the fire from spreading.

The fire will likely continue to burn for another two days, a local fire official said.

“ITC officials continue working with local first responders to contain the fire,” the company said in a statement. “The safety of our employees, the surrounding community and the environment is our first priority.”

Ships continued to cross the 50-mile-long channel, which is part of the Port of Houston linking refineries and chemical plants in Houston and Texas City, with the Gulf of Mexico.

“There has been no affect on vessel traffic other than at the two terminals,” said JJ Plunkett, port agent at the Houston Pilots, whose members guide ships in and out of the channel. Ship access to docks at the ITC and Vopak terminals was restricted by the U.S. Coast Guard, he said.

Air emissions tests detected the presence of a volatile organic compound six miles away from the facility. Levels were below those considered hazardous, ITC said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and state and local authorities were responding to the blaze, ITC said.

The fire was not affecting operations at the nearby Royal Dutch Shell Plc joint-venture refinery in Deer Park, said Shell spokesman Ray Fisher.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Additional reporting by Rich McKay and Gary McWilliams; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

Isolation, evacuations in U.S. central Plains as floods kill three

(Reuters) – Flooding that killed three people in Nebraska and Iowa has cut roads to a nuclear power plant and inundated a large portion of a U.S. Air Force base, forcing it to work with a skeleton staff on Monday, while more of region’s residents possibly faced evacuation.

The floods, which have prompted each state’s governor to declare a state of emergency, are the result of last week’s “bomb cyclone” winter storm, a winter hurricane that blew in from the western Rocky Mountains. Three people died in the flooding and at least one person was missing after hundreds of weekend rescues.

The floodwaters forced the operators of the Cooper nuclear plant, near Brownville, Nebraska, to fly in staff and supplies by helicopter, and covered one-third of that state’s Offutt Air Force Base, near Bellevue, home to the U.S. Strategic Command. The nuclear plant continued to operate safely and was at full power, its operator said.

The National Weather Service reported that some of the region’s larger rivers were running at record highs above flood level, causing levy breaks. Some small towns and communities have been cut off by floods while others have seen fresh drinking water become scarce. Floodwaters destroyed many homes and businesses over the weekend.

The NWS reported that temperatures across the hardest-hit areas will reach above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 C) through midweek and exceed 60 Fahrenheit by Friday. That would speed the pace of snow melt across the region and contribute water to already swollen rivers, the NWS said, possibly forcing evacuations in communities along the Missouri River on the Nebraska and Iowa border, as well as along the Elkhorn and Platte rivers in Nebraska.

“There could be issues across portions of Nebraska and Kansas for the next seven days,” NWS meteorologist Jim Hayes said.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, who declared a statewide emergency last week, said on Monday that emergency officials have rescued about 300 people but that at least one person was missing.

At Offutt Air Force Base, 30 buildings had been flooded by up to 8 feet (2.4 m) of water and 30 more structures had been damaged, according to reports by the Omaha World-Herald, citing a base spokeswoman. Base officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The flooding covered 3,000 feet of the base’s 11,700-foot runway, the World-Herald reported.

The weather was blamed for three deaths, including one person who died at home after failing to evacuate, and a man swept away while trying to tow a trapped car with his tractor.

In Iowa, one man died after he was submerged in floodwaters on Friday in Riverton, according to the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds also issued an emergency proclamation at the outset of the flooding.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone)

Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

U.S. prosecutors charge former UAW vice president in corruption probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal prosecutors in Detroit on Monday charged a former United Auto Workers vice president with conspiracy to violate labor laws.

Norwood Jewell, who headed the Fiat Chrysler department at the union, was charged in a criminal information. He is the highest ranking former UAW official charged in the wide-ranging investigation into illegal payoffs to UAW officials. To date, seven people have been sentenced in the government’s ongoing criminal investigation.

A lawyer for Jewell, the UAW and Fiat Chrysler did not immediately comment.

(Reporting by David Shepardson)

Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

Fire engulfs eight massive petrochemical storage tanks in Houston

HOUSTON (Reuters) – A fire at a fuels storage company at the Houston Ship Channel spread on Monday to eight massive petrochemical storage tanks, shutting schools and forcing residents in the suburb of Deer Park to stay indoors.

The fire, which sent a plume of black smoke across the city’s eastern half and was visible from 10 miles (16 km) away, began in a giant storage tank containing naphtha, a volatile component of gasoline, at about 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.

No evacuations or injuries were reported.

School officials in Deer Park, population 32,000, and nearby La Porte, Texas, with about 34,000 residents, suspended classes and told employees not to report to work on Monday.

Tanks containing naphtha and xylene, petrochemicals used to make gasoline and base oils commonly used as machine lubricants, were burning, officials of the Intercontinental Terminals Co (ITC) said.

The company said on Monday that a tank containing Toluene also caught fire. Toluene is used to manufacture nail polish remover and paint thinner.

The burning tanks are surrounded by several other storage tanks within a spill containment dike. Firefighters used a foam fire retardant on nearby tanks to try to limit the fire from spreading.

“ITC officials continue working with local first responders to contain the fire,” the company said in a statement. “The safety of our employees, the surrounding community and the environment is our first priority.”

Ships continued to cross the channel linking refineries and chemical plants in Houston and Texas City, with the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Coast Guard ordered ships not to dock at ITC or an adjoining terminal.

Air emissions tests detected the presence of a volatile organic compound six miles away from the facility. Levels were below those considered hazardous, ITC said.

The fire was not affecting operations at the nearby Royal Dutch Shell Plc joint-venture refinery in Deer Park, said Shell spokesman Ray Fisher.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Additional reporting by Rich McKay and Gary McWilliams; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

Top U.S. court spurns Georgia death row inmate’s racist juror claim

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday paved the way for a black Georgia death row inmate to be executed, turning away his bid to challenge his death sentence for the 1990 murder of his sister-in-law on the basis that the trial was tainted by a racist white juror who questioned whether black people have souls.

Keith “Bo” Tharpe was convicted and sentenced to death by a jury of 10 white people and two black people in Georgia’s Jones County. The allegations of racial bias arose from an interview with one of the jurors years later, not comments made during the trial.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a statement agreeing with the court’s decision not to hear the case, noting that it turned on whether Tharpe could appeal and not the merits of his claim. But Sotomayor said she was “profoundly troubled” by the evidence Tharpe had uncovered.

“These racist sentiments, expressed by a juror entrusted with a vote over Tharpe’s fate, suggest an appalling risk that racial bias swayed Tharpe’s sentencing,” Sotomayor wrote.

Tharpe, 60, had been scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection in 2017 but the Supreme Court granted him a last-minute stay of execution.

Tharpe’s lawyers, as they were preparing an appeal in the case in 1998, spoke with the trial jurors including a man named Barney Gattie, who has since died.

“After studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls,” Gattie told Tharpe’s lawyers in an affidavit, according to court papers.

Gattie also told the defense lawyers that there are two kinds of black people, one who he called “regular black folks” and another group he referred to using a racial slur.

“Because I knew the victim and her husband’s family and knew them all to be good black folks, I felt Tharpe, who wasn’t in the ‘good black folks’ category in my book, should get the electric chair for what he did,” Gattie added.

Tharpe kidnapped and raped his estranged wife, Migrisus Tharpe, and used a shotgun to kill Jaquelin Freeman, her sister, in September 1990, according to court records. He was sentenced to death in 1991.

This marked the second time Tharpe’s appeal had reached the Supreme Court. In January 2018, the justices in a 6-3 unsigned decision – without hearing oral arguments – threw out a lower court’s ruling that had rejected Tharpe’s biased jury assertion. Tharpe again appealed the Supreme Court after the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August 2018 refused to let him pursue his claim.

His appeal was built upon a March 2017 Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Hispanic man over a juror’s racist comments. The justices on a 5-3 decision in that case threw out a Colorado state court decision that upheld the conviction of Miguel Pena Rodriguez, who was accused of sexually groping two teenage sisters in 2007.

A juror in that trial said during deliberations that Pena Rodriguez, a Mexican-born lawful permanent U.S. resident, “did it because he’s Mexican, and Mexican men take whatever they want.” The question Tharpe’s lawyers had raised was whether that decision applied retroactively to his case, meaning he could raise the same claim.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

U.S. Supreme Court takes up Kansas identity theft case

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider a bid by Kansas to revive the state’s policy, blocked by a lower court, of prosecuting people for identity theft for using other people’s Social Security numbers in order to gain employment in a case linked to immigration issues.

The justices will hear the state’s appeal of a 2017 ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court that voided the convictions of three restaurant workers, finding that a 1986 federal law, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, prevents states from pursuing such prosecutions.

The three men – Ramiro Garcia, Donaldo Morales and Guadalupe Ochoa-Lara – had provided their employers Social Security numbers that were not their own before being prosecuted for identity theft.

Lawyers on both sides refused to comment why the three men did not have or did not use their own Social Security numbers, saying it was not relevant to the legal question. People who enter the country illegally do not get assigned Social Security numbers, which are assigned by the U.S. government to all legal residents.

The number is primarily used to identify people for employment and tax purposes. Its original purpose was to track each person’s payments into the Social Security program, which provides money for retirees and people eligible for other social welfare programs.

The state appeals court found that the federal law defined the circumstances under which immigrants can be penalized for providing incorrect information to employers. The law required employers to fill out a form, known as the I-9, attesting that they have reviewed prospective employees’ documents and can confirm they are authorized to work in the United States. The law also stated that the form “may not be used for purposes other than for enforcement of this act.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Brought to you by www.srnnews.com