Prosecutors seek Friday court appearance for Jeffrey Epstein friend Ghislaine Maxwell

By Mark Hosenball and Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – Prosecutors have asked a judge to schedule a Friday court appearance in New York for Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend and longtime associate of the late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Maxwell was arrested on Thursday on U.S. charges of luring underage girls so that Epstein could sexually abuse them.

The FBI arrest of the British socialite was the latest twist in the mystery of Epstein, who went from a high school math teacher to a high-flying lifestyle of private Caribbean islands and powerful connections that his victims say allowed him to abuse minors with impunity.

Maxwell, 58, was arrested in Bradford, New Hampshire, where she had been laying low since December, the FBI said last week.

In a letter on Sunday to Judge Alison Nathan at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, acting United States Attorney Audrey Strauss said Maxwell’s defense lawyer, Christian Everdell, has requested a Friday, July 10, bail hearing.

Maxwell is charged with four criminal counts related to procuring and transporting minors for illegal sex acts and two of perjury, according to the indictment by federal prosecutors in New York.

Epstein was awaiting trial on federal charges of trafficking minors between 2002 and 2005 when he was found hanged in an apparent suicide while in a New York City jail in August. He was 66.

Previously, he pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of solicitation of prostitution from a minor in a 2008 deal with prosecutors that was widely criticized as too lenient.

Maxwell, the daughter of late British media magnate Robert Maxwell, has kept a low profile since Epstein’s death.

She was an Epstein ex-girlfriend who became a longtime member of his inner circle. In a 2003 Vanity Fair article, Epstein was quoted as saying Maxwell was his best friend.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Florida shatters records with over 10,000 new COVID-19 cases in single day

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Florida shattered records on Thursday when it reported over 10,000 new coronavirus cases, the biggest one-day increase in the state since the pandemic started, according to a Reuters tally.

Outbreaks in Texas, California, Florida and Arizona have helped the United States break records and send cases rising at rates not seen since April.

In June, Florida infections rose by 168% or over 95,000 new cases. The percent of tests coming back positive has skyrocketed to 15% from 4% at the end of May.

Florida, with 21 million residents, has reported more new daily coronavirus cases than any European country had at the height of their outbreaks.

To contain the outbreak, Florida has closed bars and some beaches but the governor has resisted requiring masks statewide in public or reimposing a lock-down.

Only one other state has reported more than 10,000 new cases in a single day. New York recorded 12,847 new infections on April 10, three weeks after the state implemented a strict lock-down that closed most businesses. While the state has relaxed many measures, it requires masks in public and mandates anyone arriving from 16 other U.S. states with high infections self-quarantine for two weeks.

Once the epicenter of the U.S. epidemic, New York saw cases rise by about 6% in June – the lowest rate in the entire country.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker)

New York City mayor says will cut $1 billion from police budget

By Maria Caspani and Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed with the City Council to cut $1 billion from the New York Police Department’s funding in the municipal budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which is due to be passed later on Tuesday, even as some lawmakers described the cuts as insufficient.

The budget negotiations were shaped by two crises that have shaken the city.

The coronavirus pandemic created a $9 billion shortfall in revenue, leading to deep cuts across city agencies, including the possibility that some 22,000 municipal workers could be laid off by the mayor later this year if labor unions cannot help find savings elsewhere.

And a month of nationwide protests against police violence gave new political heft to calls to defund police departments, forcing de Blasio to shift from his original April proposal of cutting NYPD funding by less than 1% while slashing youth services. Thousands of protesters began camping outside City Hall last week in what they called an occupation, demanding deep cuts to police funding.

“It’s time to do the work of reform, to think deeply about where our police have to be in the future,” de Blasio told reporters on Tuesday.

The NYPD’s $6 billion operating budget will be cut through overtime reductions, the cancellation of the July class of more than 1,000 new recruits, and the transfer of some responsibilities out of the NYPD, de Blasio said.

He would also restore some summer youth programs he had originally canceled.

A minority of left-wing lawmakers have criticized the cuts as insufficient and said they would oppose the budget’s passage later on Tuesday at a vote convened by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

They complain the proposal does not reduce the current number of police officers in the city, and that a large portion of what the mayor has called a $1 billion cut consists of transferring responsibility of school safety officers from the NYPD to the Department of Education.

Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of 200 community groups which originally called for a $1 billion cut to the NYPD’s budget, said their demands were still not being met.

“Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson are using funny math and budget tricks to try to mislead New Yorkers,” Anthonine Pierre, a spokesperson for the coalition, said in a statement. “Moving police from the NYPD to other agencies does nothing to reduce police violence.”

New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams also criticized the proposed budget, saying he would invoke an obscure provision in the City’s Charter and refuse to sign tax warrants in order to stop it being deployed in the absence of what he called “a commitment to true school safety reform.”

The total city budget comes to $88.1 billion, de Blasio said, down from $95.3 billion he had proposed earlier in the year.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Eight states added to New York governor’s quarantine order

NEW YORK (Reuters) – People arriving in New York from an additional eight states must quarantine themselves for 14 days amid the coronavirus pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered on Tuesday.

The eight additional states are California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee, all of which are contending with growing caseloads, Cuomo said in a statement.

The order, first issued last week, was already in place for Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Texas.

All the affected states have “growing community spread,” Cuomo said in a statement, which the state’s Health Department has defined as 10 or more people testing positive per 100,000 residents.

The order applies both to visitors and New Yorkers returning home from one of the listed states. Those found breaching the quarantine order could face fines, Cuomo has said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)

NY Fed’s Williams says full recovery will likely take years

(Reuters) – The U.S. economy is showing signs of a turnaround as businesses reopen, but the pace of the recovery is being slowed by large-scale outbreaks in some states and it could be years before the economy is back at full strength, New York Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams said Tuesday.

Increases in consumer spending and in building permits suggest that economic activity is improving in some areas and that the “low point” of the downturn may have passed, Williams said. Manufacturing activity and small business revenues in hard-hit areas such as New York are picking up, he said.

“People have been getting back to work and the unemployment rate has started to edge down,” Williams said according to remarks prepared for a virtual event focused on central banking during the pandemic. “Although this improvement is welcome, the economy is still far from healthy and a full recovery will likely take years to achieve.”

The Fed moved aggressively in March to support the U.S. economy by cutting rates to near zero, buying up trillions of dollars in bonds and launching a slate of emergency lending tools to keep credit flowing to households and businesses.

On Monday the Fed opened a facility that it can use to purchase corporate bonds directly from companies, setting up the last of the several programs created to stabilize financial markets disrupted by the pandemic.

Williams said he believes it’s possible for the U.S. labor market to return to the levels seen before the pandemic, but cautioned that the large-scale outbreaks happening in some states could slow the pace of the economic recovery.

“This is a valuable reminder that the economy’s fate is inextricably linked to the path of the virus,” he said. “A strong economic recovery depends on effective and sustained containment of COVID-19.”

(Reporting by Jonnelle Marte; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

From New York to Houston, flood risk for real estate hubs ramps up

By Kate Duguid and Ally Levine

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The number of properties in the United States in danger of flooding this year is 70% higher than government data estimates, research released on Monday shows, with at-risk hot spots in Houston, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The higher risk identified could have implications for property values as well as insurance rates, municipal bonds and mortgage-backed securities, according to investors and researchers at First Street Foundation, which released the data. (http://www.floodfactor.com)

“This could change the calculus on whether a given property is resalable, or what price you sell it at,” said Tom Graff, head of fixed income at Brown Advisory.

The data, which covers the contiguous United States, found that around 14.6 million properties, or 10.3%, are at a substantial risk of flooding this year versus the 8.7 million mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

FEMA maps are currently used to determine rates on government flood insurance and underpin risk assessments done by mortgage lenders, investors and home buyers. The maps, however, only account for coastal flooding – not rain or rivers – and do not incorporate the ways climate change has made storms worse.

A FEMA spokesperson said that First Street’s maps build on those created by the agency and the two are not incompatible.

Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, New York and Cape Coral, Florida top First Street’s list of cities with the most number of properties at risk. At the state level, Florida, Texas, California, New York and Pennsylvania have the most to lose. Florida and Texas also top FEMA’s list, but with significantly fewer properties estimated to be at risk.

Washington, D.C., has the greatest deviation from FEMA’s numbers, 438.4% more properties at risk, because First Street accounts for potential flooding from the Potomac and Anacostia rivers and a drainage basin under the city. Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have the next highest deviations, all between three to four times greater than FEMA estimates.

Commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS), investments that pool loans for office buildings, hotels, shopping centers and more, are among the securities most exposed to flood risk because of the concentration of cities on the U.S. coasts.

“There is a moral hazard within the investment community of not pricing in the risk of something like this happening,” said Scott Burg, chief investment officer at hedge fund Deer Park Road.

Nearly 20% of all U.S. commercial real estate value is located in Houston, Miami and New York, according to CoStar data, each of which has been hit by hurricanes in the last decade.

Hurricane Harvey, which slammed Houston in 2017 and caused $131 billion damage, affected over 1,300 CMBS loans, 3% of the CMBS market in 2017, according to BlackRock research. Hurricane Irma in 2017 affected 2%.

The BlackRock report concluded that 80% of the commercial property damaged by those two storms was outside of FEMA flood zones, indicating that many of the buildings hit may not have been appropriately insured.

Any floods this year could compound the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has sent more than $32 billion of commercial loans into special servicing – negotiations for relief in the event of a default – according to Moody’s.

“For property owners that’s like getting your arm amputated and then your head lopped off,” said Jacob Hagi a professor of finance at the University of North Carolina and a First Street research partner.

(Reporting by Kate Duguid; editing by Megan Davies and Steve Orlofsky)

New York’s Cuomo says Trump should mandate masks in public to fight virus

(Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that President Donald Trump should issue an executive order mandating that people wear masks in public and he should lead by example and cover his face.

“The other states are just starting to do it now, states that were recalcitrant, governors who said ‘we don’t need to do this, masks don’t work,” Cuomo said at a media briefing. “Now they’re doing a 180…let the president have the same sense and do that as an executive order.”

Cuomo once again criticized the federal government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying the White House has been “in denial” from the start of the public health crisis, and that it was not doing enough to tackle a surge in COVID-19 cases in several U.S. states that has emerged over the past few weeks.

The New York governor, who became one of the leading national voices during the pandemic, said that Trump’s focus on reopening the economy was misguided and that it had backfired.

“Yes, we have to get the economy going but reopening fast was not good for the economy,” Cuomo said. “What has been happening is, when that virus spikes, the market goes down, not up.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Chris Reese and Lisa Shumaker)

New York coronavirus positive test rate lowest in U.S., governor says

(Reuters) – The percentage of people in New York state who are testing positive for the novel coronavirus is the lowest in the United States, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday, citing data from Johns Hopkins University.

Cuomo said the 7-day average of the percentage of positive tests in New York was at 1.3 percent, a big improvement from an earlier peak in the state of 50 percent.

(reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Editing by Franklin Paul)

Amid coronavirus, reduced voting sites in Kentucky, elsewhere a ‘recipe for disaster’

By John Whitesides

(Reuters) – Kentucky, New York and four other states face another possibly messy day of voting on Tuesday amid the coronavirus outbreak, as officials try to balance a crush of absentee mail ballots with a reduced number of in-person polling locations.

That combination has led to long lines, delays and confusion during primaries in other states, including Wisconsin and Georgia, offering a preview of possible problems if the Nov. 3 general election is conducted under the threat of COVID-19 infections.

Kentucky and New York, which are conducting statewide primaries, encouraged mail-in balloting as a safe alternative to in-person voting during the pandemic, resulting in record numbers of absentee ballot requests. Both also encouraged early voting, while cutting back on polling locations as a safety precaution.

But officials and activists are concerned about the potential for trouble in Kentucky, where polling locations statewide were cut to fewer than 200 from more than 3,000 normally, leaving one each for the biggest counties of Jefferson and Fayette.

“It’s just a recipe for disaster. I fear there will be a lot of people who want to vote but won’t,” said Jason Nemes, a Republican state legislator who joined an unsuccessful lawsuit trying to force the largest counties to open more polls.

A competitive Democratic U.S. Senate nominating battle between progressive Charles Booker and establishment choice Amy McGrath has driven up voter interest in Kentucky. They are vying to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November.

Nearly 900,000 absentee ballots were issued, or about 27% of registered voters, the Kentucky secretary of state’s office said.

Fayette County Clerk Don Blevin said Kentucky officials pushed mail-in voting in hopes of keeping the numbers down at polling places.

“We have warned people from day one – please don’t do this. It’s not safe,” Blevin, a Democrat, said of voting in person on election day.

New York has seen a similar explosion of interest in absentee ballots, issuing nearly 1.9 million, the board of elections said. In the 2016 primary, about 115,000 absentee ballots were cast.

The board did not provide the number of polling places closed across the state, but activists said consolidations had not been as widespread as in Kentucky and some other states.

There are also primary elections for some congressional, state and local offices in areas of South Carolina, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.

(Reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)

Some scold, others cheerlead: U.S. states tackle reopening differently

By Maria Caspani and Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The two most populous U.S. states took markedly different approaches to reopening on Monday with New York scolding local governments for not enforcing social distancing and California encouraging counties to restart economies if they met criteria.

Scenes of merrymakers gathering outside bars prompted the governor of New York, the state hardest hit along with New Jersey by the coronavirus pandemic, to urge local officials and businesses on Monday to strictly enforce reopening guidelines.

“To the local governments I say, ‘Do your job,'” Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters. Over the weekend he criticized New York City street crowds outside bars and asked people to adhere to six feet (two meters) of distance from others.

Both Cuomo and neighboring New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said they were keeping open the option of reimposing restrictions if officials fail to stop large public gatherings that risk leading to a second wave of infections.

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom has left it up to individual counties on when to reopen once they meet state guidelines. He reminded county officials of the risks of not restarting economies, as well as reopening them.

Newsom told a news briefing on Monday people could not be “locked away for months and months and months,” especially those among the 5.5 million Americans who have lost their jobs since mid-March. He said some had also lost health coverage and were among the many people suffering severe mental and physical health problems during the pandemic.

In enforcing coronavirus restrictions, he said the state and counties could not “see lives and livelihoods completely destroyed without considering the health impact of those decisions as well.”

“As we mix, as we reopen, inevitably we’re going to see an increase in the total number of cases; it’s our capacity to address that that is so foundational,” said Newsom.

NEW FORECAST

California is one of four states that is projected to see the biggest spike in deaths in the months ahead, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

Its new forecast on Monday forecast over 200,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States through the beginning of October, mainly due to reopening measures underway.

The IHME, whose estimates are cited by many health experts, projected Florida will see its deaths nearly triple to 18,675 deaths from 6,559 on June 10, while California can expect to see deaths increase by 72 percent to 15,155 from 8,812, it said.

Georgia and Arizona also have sharp increases in deaths forecast by the institute.

New York and New Jersey between them account for more than a third of the nearly 116,000 U.S. deaths, but deaths and hospitalizations have been on the decline of late. Both have followed strict health guidelines for reopening businesses when all measures of infection drop – new cases, deaths, hospitalizations and positive rates among those getting tested.

Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration director who has advised the White House on the coronavirus, said on Monday that flare-ups needed to be addressed with aggressive contact tracing and targeted responses.

“We’re not going to be able to shut down the country again this summer. We’re probably not going to be able to shut down the country again this fall,” he said on CNBC.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, Jonathan Allen and Maria Caspani in New York, Lisa Shumaker in Chicago, Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall and Andrew Hay; Editing by Howard Goller, Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)