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NEW YORK (AP) — A Venezuelan tourist who said she was wrongfully accused of shoplifting at Macy's flagship store was acquitted Monday in a case that came to light amid concerns that shoppers were being racially profiled at prominent New York stores, her lawyer said.
 
A judge cleared Maria Paez, who said she was just carrying items around the store when she put them in a Macy's bag during a Sept. 12 trip. She soon found herself handcuffed, held in a store detention cell for hours, and pressed to sign a confession and pay $500, while her 12-year-old son waited in the store uninformed of where she was, according to her attorney, Daniel Hochheiser.
 
Court records weren't immediately available Monday evening, and Manhattan district attorney's office representatives had no immediate information on the case. Paez faced misdemeanor charges that carried the potential for up to three months in jail.
 
Paez, whose family owns real estate and a pet-food company in Venezuela, maintains that Macy's security guards targeted her because she spoke Spanish and had words with an impolite fitting-room attendant.
 
"She stuck up for herself, and they didn't appreciate that a foreigner was actually going to talk back to them, and they were going to teach her a lesson," Hochheiser said.
 
A Macy's spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
 
Paez and her attorneys drew attention to her case at a news conference in November, when a series of complaints by black shoppers had spotlighted long-simmering questions about security practices and profiling at Macy's and other major retailers in the city. One shopper, Robert Brown, an actor on the HBO drama "Treme," said he was held for almost an hour and grilled about a $1,300 watch he had bought his mother for her college graduation. He was eventually released without charges.
 
He and at least eight other customers have filed lawsuits saying the store made famous by "Miracle on 34th Street" wrongly targets minorities and holds customers for hours. Macy's has said it doesn't tolerate discrimination.
 
The allegations — which came years after Macy's paid a $600,000 fine and promised to change practices to settle similar claims raised by the state attorney general— sparked an outcry among civil rights advocates. In December, Macy's and several other major retailers agreed to create and publicize a customer bill of rights that explicitly prohibits profiling and unreasonable searches.
 
"I think we're making excellent progress," Ed Goldberg, a senior Macy's executive, said then.
 
But Hochheiser suggests there hasn't been enough progress.
 
"One of the hopes is that there are more Maria Paezes out there who will actually fight these cases and, perhaps, eventually, Macy's will change," he said.
 
Laws in at least 27 states give stores the right to hold and fine shoplifting suspects and allow stores to try to recoup some losses, even if a person isn't convicted.
 
During the more than six hours Paez spent in a store holding cell and a police precinct, she wasn't allowed to call her son, her attorney said. He said the boy didn't learn what had happened until store employees ultimately found him in a shoe department at closing time and took him to a security office.
Published in National News

NEW YORK (AP) — A man says his 86-year-old grandfather shot him in the head, killed his girlfriend and then took his own life out of frustration that the couple was living in a family home in New York City.

Michael Feliciano spoke to the Daily News from his hospital bed for a story published Sunday.

Police say Feliciano's grandfather, Heriberto Pagan, unleashed the gunfire on the couple and himself Friday.

The 47-year-old Feliciano and his 28-year-old girlfriend, Claritle Huerta, were living in a Staten Island home owned by Feliciano's ailing mother. Feliciano says his grandfather wanted them out because of Feliciano's past drug problems.

He says Huerta called him Friday to tell him his grandfather wanted to talk to him. He says he opened the door, "and that was it."

The couple's 4-month-old son was found unharmed inside the house.

Published in National News
   NEW YORK (AP) — Rescue workers are using back hoes and a bulldozer to search for any victims still buried after an explosion demolished two Manhattan buildings. Meanwhile, questions are swirling about the gas leak that triggered the blast and whether complaints about gas odors had been ignored.
   The explosion Wednesday morning killed at least six people and injured more than 60, with searchers still trying to locate others. At the site on Park Avenue and 116th Street, thermal imaging cameras are being used to identify heat spots — bodies or pockets of fire.
   City officials say searches of the street are complete and no victims have been found there. Workers initially were hampered from fully accessing the building space because of a sinkhole caused by a subsurface water main break.
Published in National News

HUNTINGTON STATION, N.Y. (AP) — Officials investigating a carbon monoxide leak at a New York mall are concentrating on the heating system of a restaurant following the death of the eatery's 55-year-old manager and more than two dozen others being sent to hospitals.

Suffolk County police have identified the man who died Saturday as Steven Nelson. He's the manager at the Legal Sea Foods restaurant at the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station on Long Island. Officials say an autopsy will to determine the cause of death.

Authorities say at least 27 others were taken to five area hospitals. WABC-TV has reported that all but a handful of the patients had been treated and released.

Police responding to a call about a woman who had fallen and hit her head at the restaurant started to feel lightheaded and nauseated and suspected a carbon monoxide leak.

Police say the incident seems to have been confined to the basement of the restaurant and that the leak appeared to originate with the heating system.

Published in National News
   NEW YORK (AP) — Police have identified the body of a man found floating on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River as that of a fashion designer who was reported missing last week.
   Police say 55 year old Michele Savoia's body was discovered off Chelsea Piers Sunday afternoon not far from where he lived aboard his boat. The cause of death has not yet been determined.
   It wasn't clear how Savoia ended up in the river, but police do not suspect foul play. He was last seen alive leaving a nearby nightclub early Thursday morning.
   Savoia reportedly designed hand-crafted suits for celebrities and had a boutique on the Lower East Side.
Published in National News
NEW YORK (AP) - The New York City medical examiner's office says that human remains found along the East River are those of an autistic teen missing for three months.
 
The office said Tuesday that DNA tests confirm the remains found Thursday are those of 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo. He was last seen walking out of his school on Oct. 4. His disappearance prompted a search that included hundreds of police and volunteers.
 
The medical examiner says the cause and manner of death are pending further study.
 
A teenage girl shooting photos in a Queens park noticed a left arm, leading to the discovery of legs and lower torso. A part of a skull was also later recovered.
 
Authorities made the identification through DNA given by his family.
Published in National News
   NEW YORK (AP) — For more than 15 years, there were signs something was amiss with what federal prosecutors in Manhattan call the "703 account" at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
   Money was being transferred back and forth for no reason. The account holder was recording double-digit returns on investments that were too good to be true. The bank itself was worried enough about possible fraud to withdraw its own investments from him.
   The name on the account was Bernard Madoff and on Tuesday JPMorgan paid a steep price for keeping quiet about its suspicions.
   Federal authorities announced the nation's largest bank will add to its other costly financial woes by forfeiting a record $1.7 billion to settle criminal charges alleging it turned a blind eye to the Madoff fraud, plus pay an additional $543 million to settle civil claims by victims. It also will pay another $350 million civil penalty for what the Treasury Department called "critical and widespread deficiencies" in its programs to prevent money laundering and other suspicious activity.
   The bank failed to carry out its legal obligations to guard against money laundering while Madoff "built his massive house of cards," George Venizelos, head of the FBI's New York office, said at a news conference.
   Madoff banked at JPMorgan through what court papers referred to as the "703 account." In 2008, the bank's London desk circulated a memo describing JPMorgan's inability to validate his trading activity or custody of assets and his "odd choice" of a one-man accounting firm, the government said.
    In late October 2008, it filed a suspicious activity report with British officials. In the weeks that followed, JPMorgan withdrew about $300 million of its own money from Madoff feeder funds. The fraud was revealed when Madoff was arrested in December 2008.
   "Despite all these alarm bells, JPMorgan never closed or even seriously questioned Madoff's Ponzi-enabling 703 account," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. "On the other hand, when it came to its own money, JPMorgan knew how to connect the dots and take action to protect itself against risk."
   In a statement, JPMorgan said it recognized it "could have done a better job pulling together various pieces of information and concerns about Madoff from different parts of the bank over time."
   It added: "We do not believe that any JPMorgan Chase employee knowingly assisted Madoff's Ponzi scheme."
   Prosecutors called the $1.7 billion the largest forfeiture by a U.S. bank and the largest Department of Justice penalty for a Bank Secrecy Act violation.
   The settlement includes a so-called deferred prosecution agreement that requires the bank to acknowledge failures in its protections against money laundering but also allows it to avoid criminal charges. No individual executives were accused of wrongdoing.
   The agreement resolves two felony violations of the Bank Secrecy Act in connection with the bank's relationship with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, the private investment arm of Madoff's former business. The civil penalty was imposed by the Treasury Department's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
   Criminal charges will be deferred for two years as JPMorgan admits to its conduct, pays the $1.7 billion to a fund established for victims of Madoff's fraud and reforms its anti-money laundering policies, prosecutors said.
   A statement of facts included in the agreement describes internal communications at JPMorgan expressing concerns about how Madoff was generating his purported returns. As early as 1998, a JPMorgan fund manager wrote that the returns were "possibly too good to be true" and there were "too many red flags."
   In more recent years, executives were disturbed by the fact that Madoff wouldn't let the bank examine his books, the statement of facts says.
   "How much do we have in Madoff at the moment?" a bank analyst wrote in a 2008 email. "To be honest, the more I think about it, the more concerned I am."
   When Madoff finally revealed to the FBI that his investment advisory business was a Ponzi scheme, fictitious account statements for thousands of clients showed $60 billion in assets. Of the roughly $17.5 billion in principal that was real, most of it was gone.
   Since then, a court-appointed trustee has recovered more than $9.78 billion — including a portion of the JPMorgan civil payout — to redistribute to clients that invested directly with Madoff. The $1.7 billion criminal forfeiture and will go to a second victims' pool, already with $2.35 billion, that is processing claims from clients of so-called "feeder funds" that also invested heavily with Madoff.
   The JPMorgan settlement is the latest in a series of major deals it has made to resolve its legal troubles. In November, the bank agreed to pay $13 billion over risky mortgage securities it sold before the financial crisis — the largest settlement to date between the Justice Department and a corporation.
   The more than $2.5 billion that JPMorgan is paying comes from a company that reported $21.3 billion in net income for 2012. JPMorgan already has set aside $23 billion this year to cover settlement and litigation costs — including the $13 billion.
   The settlement of criminal charges "is good, but still inadequate to stop what can only be called a one-bank crime spree," said Dennis Kelleher, the president of Better Markets, a group that advocates strict financial regulation.
   "Once again, not a single individual working for JPMorgan Chase has been held accountable. Banks do not commit crimes; bankers do," Kelleher said in a statement. "Until individuals, including executives, are held personally liable, fined and jailed, the crime spree will continue."
   Asked why no individual bankers were charged, Bharara said the settlement was the best option under the law.
   "Obviously, the statement of facts recites in great detail some of the roles that various individuals played with the overall systemic failure," he said. "But in the interest of justice, you've got to look at every case individually and our view was at this point the obvious charge was against the bank. ... This is a statute directed against institutional failure and institutional deterrence and that's why it was brought the way it was today."
Published in National News

NEW YORK (AP) — The Fire Department of New York says there are "multiple injuries" in a Metro-North passenger train derailment, but the extent of the injuries is unclear.

The FDNY says the train derailment in the Bronx was reported at 7:20 a.m. Sunday near the Spuyten Duyvil station. The fire department says 130 firefighters are on the scene.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority says four or five cars on the seven-car train derailed about 100 yards north of the station on a curved section of the track. But the MTA says none of the cars entered the Hudson or Harlem rivers, which are adjacent.

The agency says the crash was reported by the engineer and it wasn't clear if any crew members are injured.

Published in National News
Saturday, 23 November 2013 08:00

Parents: NY teacher note said kids were 'dirty'

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A New York teacher could be in hot water after sending a note home with her pre-kindergarten students saying some of them were showing up to school so dirty she didn't want to touch them.

Parents say the handwritten note was sent home by a teacher at the Buffalo School District's BUILD Academy. The Nov. 14 letter says several of the 3- and 4-year-old children "also give off unpleasant smells."

The letter also requests the signatures of parent and child to confirm it was received.

The Buffalo News reports the school board concluded the teacher should face disciplinary action.

Kimberly Wells says she was shocked by the letter her granddaughter brought home. She says it made the girl ask if her teacher thinks she stinks.

Published in National News
Tuesday, 29 October 2013 17:19

NY Sandy babies celebrate 1st birthdays

NEW YORK (AP) - When Sandy left much of New York City in the dark, some residents were only hours old.

On Tuesday, the anniversary of the killer storm, babies filled a Manhattan hospital room during a celebration of their first birthdays.

Kenneth Hulett III weighed only 2 pounds when emergency medical workers rushed him out of a New York hospital intensive care unit. He was carried down stairs while hooked up to an oxygen tank.

His mother, Emily Blatt, says her faith carried her through. She was evacuated from her hospital room on an orange sled.

That day, more than 40 babies were safety moved from the hospital on Manhattan's East Side to other facilities.

On Tuesday, parents and hospital staff lighted candles on cupcakes and sang, "Happy birthday, dear babies."

Published in National News
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