Former Boston College student charged over boyfriend’s suicide pleads not guilty

BOSTON (Reuters) – A former Boston College student pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges of involuntary manslaughter stemming from what prosecutors said was her role in encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide.

A lawyer for Inyoung You, 21, entered the plea on her behalf during a hearing in Suffolk County Superior Court after she returned from South Korea to face charges brought last month over the May 20 suicide of her college boyfriend, who leaped to his death from a parking garage hours before his graduation.

Prosecutors point to thousands of text messages that You exchanged with Alexander Urtula as evidence showing she was physically, verbally and psychologically abusive to the 22-year-old and told him to “go kill himself” and to “go die.”

“These text messages demonstrate the power dynamic of the relationship,” Assistant District Attorney Caitlin Grasso said in court.

Prosecutors say an investigation found that You used attempts and threats of self-harm to herself to control Urtula and isolate him from friends and family. They say she was also aware of his suicidal thoughts when she encouraged him to kill himself.

Urtula spent the night before his death with You in her dorm room, Grasso said.

After Urtula the next day texted her and his brother saying he was going to take his own life, You used her cellphone to track his location to a parking garage in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston and was on its roof when he jumped, Grasso said.

Earlier this week, You through a public relations firm released to the Boston Globe text messages she exchanged with Urtula the day of his death suggesting she tried to stop him and sought to have his brother intervene.

The allegations bore similarities to the high-profile Massachusetts case of Michelle Carter, who was convicted in 2017 of involuntary manslaughter and accused of goading her teenage boyfriend into committing suicide with text messages and phone calls.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld her conviction in February. Her lawyers call the case an “unprecedented” instance of someone being convicted involuntary manslaughter based on words alone and have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn it.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Trump panel wants to give USPS right to hike prices for Amazon, others

FILE PHOTO - A view shows U.S. postal service mail boxes at a post office in Encinitas, California in this February 6, 2013, file photo. REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files

By Diane Bartz and Jeffrey Dastin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States Postal Service should have more flexibility to raise rates for packages, according to recommendations from a task force set up by President Donald Trump, a move that could hurt profits of Amazon.com Inc and other large online retailers.

The task force was announced in April to find ways to stem financial losses by the service, an independent agency within the federal government. Its creation followed criticism by Trump that the Postal Office provided too much service to Amazon for too little money.

The Postal Service lost almost $4 billion in fiscal 2018, which ended on Sept. 30, even as package deliveries rose.

It has been losing money for more than a decade, the task force said, partially because the loss of revenue from letters, bills and other ordinary mail in an increasingly digital economy have not been offset by increased revenue from an explosion in deliveries from online shopping.

The president has repeatedly attacked Amazon for treating the Postal Service as its “delivery boy” by paying less than it should for deliveries and contributing to the service’s $65 billion loss since the global financial crisis of 2007 to 2009, without presenting evidence.

Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post, a newspaper whose critical coverage of the president has repeatedly drawn Trump’s ire.

The rates the Postal Service charges Amazon and other bulk customers are not made public.

“None of our findings or recommendations relate to any one company,” a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

Amazon shares closed down 5.8 percent at $1,669.94, while eBay fell 3.1 percent to $29.26, amid a broad stock market selloff on Tuesday.

The Package Coalition, which includes Amazon and other online and catalog shippers, warned against any move to raise prices to deliver their packages.

“The Package Coalition is concerned that, by raising prices and depriving Americans of affordable delivery services, the Postal Task Force’s package delivery recommendations would harm consumers, large and small businesses, and especially rural communities,” the group said in an emailed statement.

Most of the recommendations made by the task force, including possible price hikes, can be implemented by the agency. Changes, such as to the frequency of mail delivery, would require legislation.

The task force recommended that the Postal Service have the authority to charge market-based rates for anything that is not deemed an essential service, like delivery of prescription drugs.

BAD NEWS FOR AMAZON

“Although the USPS does have pricing flexibility within its package delivery segment, packages have not been priced with profitability in mind. The USPS should have the authority to charge market-based prices for both mail and package items that are not deemed ‘essential services,'” the task force said in its summary.

That would be bad news for Amazon and other online sellers that ship billions of packages a year to customers.

“If they go to market pricing, there will definitely be a negative impact on Amazon’s business,” said Marc Wulfraat, president of logistics consultancy MWPVL International Inc.

If prices jumped 10 percent, that would increase annual costs for Amazon by at least $1 billion, he said.

The task force also recommended that the Postal Service address rising labor costs.

The Postal Service should also restructure $43 billion in pre-funding payments that it owes the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund, the task force said.

Cowen & Co, in a May report, said the Postal Service and Amazon were “co-dependent,” but that Amazon went elsewhere for most packages that needed to arrive quickly.

Cowen estimated that the Postal Service delivered about 59 percent of Amazon’s U.S. packages in 2017, and package delivery could account for 50 percent of postal service revenue by 2023.

The American Postal Workers Union warned against any effort to cut services. “Recommendations would slow down service, reduce delivery days and privatize large portions of the public Postal Service. Most of the report’s recommendations, if implemented, would hurt business and individuals alike,” the union said in a statement.

Amazon, FedEx Corp and United Parcel Service Inc did not return requests for comment.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz and Jeffrey Dastin; editing by Bill Berkrot)

UK charges two Russians for attempted murder of Skripals, blames Moscow

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who were formally accused of attempting to murder former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, are seen in an image handed out by the Metropolitan Police in London, Britain September 5, 2018. Metroplitan Police handout via REUTERS

By Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain charged two Russians in absentia on Wednesday with the attempted murder of a former Russian spy and his daughter, saying the suspects were military intelligence officers almost certainly acting on orders from high up in the Russian state.

British police revealed images of the two men they said had flown to Britain for a weekend in March to kill former spy Sergei Skripal with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent.

Skripal’s daughter Yulia and a police officer who attended the scene also fell ill in the case, which has caused the biggest East-West diplomatic expulsions since the Cold War. A woman later died from Novichok poisoning after her partner found a counterfeit perfume bottle which police believe had been used to smuggle the nerve agent into Britain.

British authorities identified the suspects as Russian nationals traveling on genuine passports under the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Prime Minister Theresa May said the government had concluded they were officers in Russia’s military intelligence service GRU.

“The GRU is a highly disciplined organization with a well-established chain of command, so this was not a rogue operation, May told parliament. “It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.”

Skripal, himself a former GRU officer who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service, was found unconscious with Yulia on a public bench in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4.

Police released security camera images of the two suspects and outlined a three-day mission that took them from Moscow to London to Salisbury, where they sprayed poison on Skripal’s door before flying back to Moscow hours later.

Russia’s foreign ministry said the names given by Britain did not mean anything to Moscow, which has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack.

“We have heard or seen two names, these names mean nothing to me personally,” Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Moscow. “I don’t understand why this was done and what sort of signal the British side is sending.”

Britain and dozens of other countries have kicked out scores of Russian diplomats over the incident, and Moscow has responded tit-for-tat with an identical number of expulsions. The affair has worsened Russian relations with the West, already under strain over Ukraine, Syria and other issues.

May’s spokesman said May had briefed U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening. U.S. Ambassador to Britain Woody Johnson said on Twitter the United States stood with Britain in holding Russia accountable for its “act of aggression”.

Packaging for a counterfeit bottle of perfume that was recovered from Charlie Rowley's home after he and his partner Dawn Sturgess were poisoned by the same nerve agent which was used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, is seen in an image handed out by the Metropolitan Police in London, Britain September 5, 2018. Metroplitan Police handout via REUTER

Packaging for a counterfeit bottle of perfume that was recovered from Charlie Rowley’s home after he and his partner Dawn Sturgess were poisoned by the same nerve agent which was used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, is seen in an image handed out by the Metropolitan Police in London, Britain September 5, 2018. Metroplitan Police handout via REUTERS

“REMARKABLY SOPHISTICATED ATTACK

The “remarkably sophisticated” attack appeared to be a clear assassination attempt, said Neil Basu, head of UK counter-terrorism policing. He described an investigation which involved 250 detectives and analysis of some 11,000 hours of video.

According to police, the suspects, both around 40 years old, flew to London from Moscow on March 2. They spent two nights in an east London hotel, making two day trips to Salisbury, the first for reconnaissance, the second to kill Skripal. They flew out on March 4, hours after the Skripals were found unconscious.

Security cameras filmed the suspects near Skripal’s house, and traces of Novichok were found in their London hotel room.

The Russians are charged with conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal and with the attempted murder of Skripal, his daughter and police officer Nick Bailey. They are also charged with illegal use and possession of a chemical weapon.

A European arrest warrant has been issued for them, but prosecutors said Britain would not ask Moscow to extradite Russian citizens because Russia’s constitution forbids it.

Basu said the Skripals were making a good recovery.

A woman from a town near Salisbury, Dawn Sturgess, died in July and her partner Charlie Rowley fell ill after Rowley found a counterfeit bottle of Nina Ricci perfume containing Novichok in a charity collection box and brought it home. Basu said police had no doubt the events were linked and were discussing charges over the Sturgess and Rowley case with prosecutors.

The Skripal case has been likened by British politicians to the murder of Russian dissident ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope in a London hotel in 2006. Britain charged two Russians with his murder but both remain in Russia, and one later won a seat in parliament.

May said the Litvinenko case showed there was no point to demanding the Skripal suspects’ extradition. “But should either of these individuals ever again travel outside Russia, we will take every possible step to detain them, to extradite them and to bring them to face justice here in the United Kingdom.”

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Elizabeth Piper, Kylie MacLellan and William Schomberg; Editing by Stephen Addison and Peter Graff)

Maryland man denied bail in newsroom rampage that killed five

A police car blocks the road in front of the Capital Gazette a day after a gunman opened fire at the newspaper, killing five people and injuring several others in Annapolis, Maryland, U.S., June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Warren Strobel

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Reuters) – A Maryland man charged with rampaging through a newsroom in Annapolis with a pump-action shotgun and killing five people was denied bail on Friday after one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in U.S. history.

Jarrod Ramos, suspected of killing five people at the offices of the Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis, Maryland, U.S., June 28, 2018 is seen in this Anne Arundel Police Department booking photo provided June 29, 2018. Anne Arundel Police/Handout via REUTERS

Jarrod Ramos, suspected of killing five people at the offices of the Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis, Maryland, U.S., June 28, 2018 is seen in this Anne Arundel Police Department booking photo provided June 29, 2018. Anne Arundel Police/Handout via REUTERS

Jarrod Ramos, 38, from Laurel, 25 miles (40 km) west of Annapolis, is not cooperating with investigators, authorities said, and did not speak as he appeared by video link from a detention facility for a brief court hearing at Anne Arundel County criminal court.

Ramos had a longstanding grudge against the newspaper that was targeted and unsuccessfully sued it for defamation in 2012 over an article that reported how he harassed a former high school classmate, court records showed.

He is accused of entering the Capital Gazette office on Thursday afternoon and opening fire through a glass door, hunting for victims and spraying the newsroom with gunfire as reporters hid under their desks and begged for help on social media. Prosecutors said he barricaded a back door to stop people from fleeing.

“The fellow was there to kill as many people as he could,” Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare told a news conference, adding that the suspect was identified using facial-recognition technology.

Altomare said evidence found at the suspect’s home showed he planned the attack, and that the pump-action 12 gauge shotgun used by the shooter was legally purchased about a year ago.

Rob Hiaasen, 59, Wendi Winters, 65, Rebecca Smith, 34, Gerald Fischman, 61, and John McNamara were shot and killed. All were journalists except for Smith who was a sales assistant, police said. Hiaasen was the brother of best-selling author Carl Hiaasen.

The Capital newspaper, part of the Gazette group, published an edition on Friday with photographs of each of the victims and a headline “5 shot dead at The Capital” on its front page.

The newspaper’s editors left the editorial page blank with a note saying that they were speechless.

Photographs that were widely shared on social media showed newspaper staffers working on laptops in a parking garage to produce Friday’s edition while they waited to learn the fate of colleagues after the shooting.

‘LIKE A WAR ZONE’

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said he was so proud of the journalists who had “soldiered on.”

“These guys, they don’t make a lot of money. They do journalism because they love what they do. And they got a newspaper out today,” Buckley told Fox News.

A vigil for the victims was planned for 8:00 p.m. EDT on Friday. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan ordered state flags to be lowered to half-staff.

Ramos brought a defamation lawsuit in 2012 against Eric Hartley, a former staff writer and columnist with Capital Gazette, and Thomas Marquardt, then its editor and publisher, a court filing showed.

Neither Hartley nor Marquardt is still employed by the paper or were at its office on Thursday.

An article by Hartley had contended that Ramos had harassed a woman on Facebook and that he had pleaded guilty to criminal harassment, according to a legal document.

The court agreed the article was accurate and based on public records, the document showed. In 2015 Maryland’s second-highest court upheld the ruling, rejecting Ramos’s suit.

Ramos tweeted at the time that he had set up a Twitter account to defend himself, and wrote in his biographical notes that he was suing people in Anne Arundel County and “making corpses of corrupt careers and corporate entities.”

According to a WBAL-TV reporter who said she spoke with the woman who was harassed, Ramos became “fixated” with her for no apparent reason, causing her to move three times, change her name, and sleep with a gun.

Phil Davis, a Capital Gazette crime reporter, recounted how he was hiding under his desk along with other newspaper employees when the shooter stopped firing, the Capital Gazette reported on its website.

The newsroom looked “like a war zone,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “I don’t know why he stopped.”

Authorities responded to the scene within a minute of the shooting, and Ramos was arrested while also hiding under a desk with the shotgun on the floor nearby, police said.

He will face either a preliminary court hearing or grand jury indictment within the next 30 days.

Capital Gazette runs several newspapers out of its Annapolis office. They include one of the oldest newspapers in the United States, The Gazette, which traces its origins back to 1727.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Doina Chiacu in Washington, and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Jeffrey Benkoe)

First charges filed in U.S. special counsel’s Russia investigation: source

First charges filed in U.S. special counsel's Russia investigation: source

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal grand jury on Friday approved the first charges in the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters.

The indictment was sealed under orders from a federal judge so it was not clear what the charges were or who the target was, the source said, adding that it could be unsealed as early as Monday.

The filing of charges by the grand jury in Washington was first reported on Friday by CNN, which said the target could be taken into custody as soon as Monday.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January that Russia interfered in the election to try to help President Donald Trump defeat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton through a campaign of hacking and releasing embarrassing emails, and disseminating propaganda via social media to discredit her campaign.

Special counsel Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is investigating whether Trump campaign officials colluded with those Russian efforts.

“If the Special Counsel finds it necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a May 17 letter appointing Mueller.

Sources familiar with Mueller’s investigation said he has used that broad authority to investigate links between Trump aides and foreign governments as well as possible money laundering, tax evasion and other financial crimes.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment on Friday.

Trump, a Republican who was elected president last November, has denied allegations that his campaign colluded with Russians and condemned investigations into the matter as “a witch hunt”.

The Kremlin has denied the allegations.

Mueller’s investigation also includes an effort to determine whether Trump or any of his aides tried to obstruct justice.

The special counsel’s team has conducted interviews with former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, former spokesman Sean Spicer and other current and former White House officials.

In July, FBI agents raided the home in Virginia of Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, whose financial and real estate dealings and prior work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine are being investigated by Mueller’s team.

Mueller was appointed to lead the investigation a week after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was heading a federal probe into possible collusion with Russia.

Trump initially said he fired Comey because his leadership of the FBI was inadequate and hurt morale, but in a later interview with NBC he cited “this Russia thing” as his reason.

SHADOW

The Russia investigation has cast a shadow over Trump’s nine-month-old presidency and widened the partisan rift between Republicans and Democrats.

Republican lawmakers earlier this week launched investigations to examine several of Trump’s longstanding political grievances, including the FBI probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails and her alleged role in a sale of U.S. uranium to a Russian firm.

Mueller’s team has also investigated Michael Flynn, who was an adviser to Trump’s campaign and later briefly served as his national security adviser.

Flynn was fired from that post in February after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak last year.

While he was on Trump’s campaign team, Flynn also had a $600,000 contract from a Turkish businessman to help discredit U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkey’s government of instigating a failed coup in July 2016.

Former CIA director James Woolsey, who was also an adviser to the Trump campaign, has alleged that Flynn discussed with the businessman and two Turkish government ministers the idea of covertly spiriting Gulen out of the United States to face charges in Turkey.

Jonathan Franks, a spokesman for Woolsey, said on Friday that Woolsey and his wife have been in communication with the FBI and Mueller’s team about the claim.

Woolsey and his wife, Nancye Miller, “have responded to every request, whether from the FBI, or, more recently, the Office of the Special Counsel,” Franks said in a statement.

Flynn has previously denied through a spokesperson that such a plan was ever discussed.

Reuters reported on Thursday that Woolsey and his wife last year pitched a $10 million project to the same Turkish businessman who had agreed a smaller contract with Flynn. They did not win a contract.

Bidding for a lobbying or consulting contract with a foreign company or government is not illegal but Flynn came under scrutiny because he waited until March to retroactively register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for the work he did on the Gulen project.

(Additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech; Editing by Kieran Murray and Nick Macfie)

Michigan to charge top medical official in Flint water deaths

A sign is seen next to a water dispenser at North Western High School in Flint, a city struggling with the effects of lead-poisoned drinking water in Michigan, May 4, 2016.

(Reuters) – Michigan’s top medical official will be charged with involuntary manslaughter for her role in the city of Flint’s water crisis, which was linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that caused at least 12 deaths, state prosecutors said on Monday.

Dr. Eden Wells, who already faced lesser charges, would become the sixth current or former official to face involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with the crisis.

The state intends to add involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office to the other charges of obstruction of justice and lying to police that Wells already faces, a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said.

An attorney for Wells, the state’s chief medical executive, could not immediately be reached by Reuters but Jerold Lax, one of her attorneys, told the Detroit Free Press they only learned of the proposed additional charges at a pre-trial hearing on Monday.

The charges stem from more than 80 cases of Legionnaires’ disease that were believed to be linked to the water in Flint after the city switched its source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014.

Wells was among six current and former Michigan and Flint officials charged in June. The other five, including Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, were charged at the time with involuntary manslaughter stemming from their roles in handling the crisis.

Involuntary manslaughter is a felony that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

In court documents, prosecutor had previously said Wells lied to police about when she became aware of the Legionnaires’ outbreak and that she threatened a team of independent researchers who were studying the source of the disease.

Special prosecutor Todd Flood said Monday he was seeking the new charges based on new review of documents and testimony that came out last week, the newspaper said.

The crisis in Flint erupted in 2015 when tests found high amounts of lead in blood samples taken from children in the predominantly black city of about 100,000.

The more corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes and into the drinking water. Lead levels in Flint’s drinking water have since fallen below levels considered dangerous by federal regulators, state officials have said.

 

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Bill Trott)

 

Kansas man curt as he faces charges over Indian engineer’s murder

Adam Purinton, 51, accused of killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, and wounding Alok Madasani, 32, as well as an American who tried to intervene, appears via video conference from jail during his initial court appearance in Olathe, Kansas, U.S.,

By Karen Dillon

OLATHE, Kan (Reuters) – A white U.S. Navy veteran charged with murdering an Indian software engineer at a Kansas bar gazed at a camera from jail and gave curt answers to a judge by video during his initial court appearance on Monday over the shooting, which federal authorities are probing as a possible hate crime.

Adam Purinton, 51, is accused of killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, and wounding Alok Madasani, also 32, as well as an American who tried to intervene during Wednesday evening’s incident at Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, a Kansas City suburb.

At least one bystander told the Kansas City Star he shouted “get out of my country” before shooting. The incident led news bulletins in India, where some suggested on social media that a climate of intolerance in the United States had been fueled by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration.

Purinton, appearing via video conference from jail, asked the court to appoint him an attorney and waived the reading of the formal charges against him of one count of premeditated first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder during the five-minute hearing in the Johnson County District Court in downtown Olathe.

Purinton, who could only be seen from the chest up on the court’s television screen, is being held on $2 million bond in the adjacent Johnson County Jail. In clear language, he replied to a handful of questions from the judge, mostly with curt answers.

Michael McCulloch, who was named by the court to be Purinton’s attorney, declined to comment after the hearing.

Purinton wore an Army green, sleeveless suicide-prevention smock and stared straight at the camera the whole time. His reddish-brown hair was short on the side and spiked on top. He had sideburns to his jawbone and the shadow of a beard.

His next hearing is set for March 9.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Monday called reports about the shooting and more acts of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries “disturbing.” On Friday, he said any loss of life in the shooting was tragic, but it was absurd to link the killing to Trump’s “America First” stance.

The Indian Embassy in Washington has expressed India’s deep concern over the incident to the U.S. government and requested a “thorough and speedy investigation.”

Purinton was arrested hours after the shooting at an Applebee’s restaurant in Clinton, Missouri, about 80 miles (130 km) south of Olathe.

According to a recording of a 911 call made by a female bartender at the Applebee’s, Purinton said he needed to hide because he had killed two Iranian men, local NBC affiliate KSHB-TV reported.

“He wouldn’t tell me what he did. I kept asking him and he said he would tell me if I agreed to let him stay with me. I finally got him to tell me,” the bartender tells a dispatcher, according to the tape obtained by KSHB-TV. “He said he shot and killed two Iranian people in Olathe.”

Both the gunman’s Indian victims worked as engineers with navigation device maker Garmin Ltd.

(Additional reporting and writing by Gina Cherelus in New York and Tim Ahmann in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Andrew Hay and David Gregorio)

U.S. accuses Chinese citizens of hacking law firms, insider trading

A map of China is seen through a magnifying glass on a computer screen showing binary digits in Singapore i

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Three Chinese citizens have been criminally charged in the United States with trading on confidential corporate information obtained by hacking into networks and servers of law firms working on mergers, U.S. prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Iat Hong of Macau, Bo Zheng of Changsha, China, and Chin Hung of Macau were charged in an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court with conspiracy, insider trading, wire fraud and computer intrusion.

Prosecutors said the men made more than $4 million by placing trades in at least five company stocks based on inside information from unnamed law firms, including about deals involving Intel Corp and Pitney Bowes Inc.

The men listed themselves in brokerage records as working at information technology companies, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said in a related civil lawsuit.

Hong, 26, was arrested on Sunday in Hong Kong, while Hung, 50, and Zheng, 30, are not in custody, prosecutors said. Defense lawyers could not be immediately identified.

The case is the latest U.S. insider trading prosecution to involve hacking, and follows warnings by U.S. officials that law firms could become prime targets for hackers.

“This case of cyber meets securities fraud should serve as a wake-up call for law firms around the world: you are and will be targets of cyber hacking, because you have information valuable to would-be criminals,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said.

Prosecutors said that beginning in April 2014, the trio obtained inside information by hacking two U.S. law firms and targeting the email accounts of law firm partners working on mergers and acquisitions.

Prosecutors did not identify the two law firms, or five others they said the defendants targeted.

But one matched the description of New York-based Cravath, Swaine Moore LLP, which represented Pitney Bowes in its 2015 acquisition of Borderfree Inc, one of the mergers in question.

The indictment said that by using a law firm employee’s credentials, the defendants installed malware on the firm’s servers to access emails from lawyers, including a partner responsible for the Pitney deal.

Cravath declined to comment. In March, Cravath confirmed discovering a “limited breach” of its systems in 2015.

Prosecutors also accused the defendants of trading on information stolen from a law firm representing Intel on the chipmaker’s acquisition of Altera Inc in 2015.

Intel’s merger counsel on the deal was New York-based Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. The law firm declined to comment.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she was aware of the reports about the case but knew nothing about it.

The case is U.S. v. Hong et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-cr-360.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Richard Chang)

Former Flint officials criminally charged in water crisis

The Flint Water Plant tower is seen in Flint, Michigan, U.S.

By Steve Friess

FLINT, Mich. (Reuters) – Michigan prosecutors on Tuesday charged four former government officials with criminal conspiracy to violate safety rules in connection with the Flint water crisis, which exposed residents to dangerous levels of lead, the state’s attorney general said.

Former state-appointed emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose and former city employees Howard Croft, a public works superintendent, and Daugherty Johnson, a utilities manager, were the latest to be charged in the case, Attorney General Bill Schuette said.

He told a news conference in Flint that the defendants conspired to operate the city’s water treatment plant when it was not safe to do so.

“The tragedy that we know of as the Flint water crisis did not occur by accident,” Schuette said. “Flint was a casualty of arrogance, disdain and failure of management, an absence of accountability.”

Asked whether the investigation would lead to charges against higher-placed state officials, Schuette reiterated that no one was off the table.

Some critics have called for high-ranking state officials, including Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, to be charged. Snyder has said he believed he had not done anything criminally wrong.

Court documents did not list attorneys for the four men. An attorney who had previously represented Earley could not immediately be reached for comment.

Michigan has been at the center of a public health crisis since last year, when tests found high amounts of lead in blood samples taken from children in Flint, a predominantly black city of about 100,000.

Flint’s water contamination was linked to an April 2014 decision by a state-appointed emergency manager to switch the city’s water source to the Flint River from Lake Huron in an attempt to cut costs.

The more corrosive river water caused lead to leach from city pipes into the drinking water. The city switched back to the previous water system in October 2015.

The initial change in the city’s water source was made while Earley, 65, was emergency manager.

At hearings in Washington last March on the crisis, lawmakers criticized Earley for failing to ask enough questions about the safety protocols in place at the time of the switch. In his testimony, Earley blamed city and federal officials for the problems, and said the decision to switch was made before his tenure.

“A broad net is certainly being cast,” said Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards, a water engineer who first raised the issue of Flint’s lead contamination.

Lead can be toxic, and children are especially vulnerable. The crisis has prompted lawsuits by parents who say their children have shown dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.

(Additional reporting by Laila Kearney in New York and Timothy McLaughlin in Chicago.; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Two juveniles charged with arson in Tennessee wildfires that killed 14

Firefighters stand by a destroyed home after a wildfire forced the mandatory evacuation of Gatlinburg, Tennessee

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – Two juveniles were charged with arson on Wednesday in connection with the eastern Tennessee wildfires that broke out last month in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in which 14 people died, officials said.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Josh DeVine declined to release details about the juveniles, who have been arrested, citing their ages and the ongoing investigation.

The fires have been centered in Sevier County just east of Knoxville and have damaged or destroyed more than 1,750 structures, local and federal authorities said in a statement.

It was the highest death toll from wildfires in the United States since 2013, when 19 firefighters died near Prescott, Arizona.

“Our promise is that we will do our very best to help bring closure to those who have lost so much,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said in a statement.

The two youths were charged with aggravated arson and were held at a juvenile detention center in Sevier County, the bureau said in a statement.

It added that authorities from the National Park Service, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office participated in the probe.

The largest of the blazes, the so-called Chimney Tops 2, broke out on Nov. 23 in a remote rugged area dubbed Chimney Tops in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, authorities said.

Fed by drought-parched brush and trees and stoked by fierce winds, the flames quickly spread, turning into an inferno that roared out of the park. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses.

Authorities have said since last week that the fire was human caused.

A large amount of the damage was in Gatlinburg, known as the “gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains,” in eastern Tennessee, about 40 miles (64 km) southeast of Knoxville.

At one point, residents of Pigeon Forge, which is home to country music star Dolly Parton’s theme park Dollywood, were forced to leave the area. Dollywood has since re-opened.

Parton and other performers will put on a show Dec. 13 on the Great American Country channel to raise funds for people affected by the fires, Parton’s company said in a statement.

The Chimney Tops 2 Fire is 64 percent contained after burning more than 17,000 acres (6,880 hectares), according to the government tracking website InciWeb.

Rainfall over the last week has helped firefighters control the blazes.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Hay)