US: Feds launch investigation into Jeffrey Epstein’s death

US attorney general says financier’s apparent suicide while in federal custody raises ‘serious concerns’.

US Attorney General William Barr has launched an investigation into Jeffrey Epstein's death [Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]
US Attorney General William Barr has launched an investigation into Jeffrey Epstein’s death [Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]

Federal authorities will investigate how Jeffrey Epstein, a well-connected financier accused of orchestrating a sex trafficking ring that preyed on underage girls, was able to apparently commit suicide in federal custody, the United States attorney general has said.

The FBI and the Department of Justice’s inspector general’s office will conduct the investigation, US Attorney General William Barr said, hours after Epstein was found unresponsive in the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in Manhattan on Saturday.

Barr said he was “appalled” that the apparent suicide happened while Epstein was in federal custody on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy.

“Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered,” he said in a statement.

The investigation into the sex trafficking and conspiracy charges against the 66-year-old will continue despite his death, the federal attorney in charge of the probe also said on Saturday.

The inquiry could still ensnare others involved in the alleged crime, the official said.

Death in custody

The suicide has raised questions over prison authorities’ oversight of Epstein, who had been kept in a special area reserved for high-profile inmates.

Epstein had been placed on suicide watch and given daily psychiatric evaluations after an incident in July in which he was found with bruising on his neck, according to local media. It had not been confirmed whether the injury was self-inflicted or the result of an assault.

He was taken off the watch at the end of July and was not being monitored at the time of his death, the reports said.

Authorities took Epstein into custody on July 6 and he pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking that allegedly ensnared dozens of underage girls, some as young as 14.

The alleged offences took place in his homes in Manhattan, New York and Palm Beach, Florida, between 2002 and 2005, according to prosecutors. If convicted, he faced up to 45 years in prison.

Epstein had previously lived a lavish lifestyle, often socialising with powerful people, including princes and US presidents. His arrest had put a spotlight on those relationships.

His most recent arrest also drew scrutiny to a 2008 deal that allowed Epstein to plead guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution in Florida, while avoiding more serious federal charges.

The outcry led Alex Acosta, the then-US labour secretary who as a federal prosecutor helped Epstein negotiate the deal, to resign.

‘Heads must roll’

Accusers and elected officials expressed dismay that Epstein’s suicide allowed him to escape justice. They hoped the investigation would capture others involved in the alleged crimes.

Virginia Giuffre, an Epstein accuser who had filed a since-settled lawsuit against the financier’s former girlfriend, told the New York Times she was grateful Epstein will never harm anyone again, but was angry that there would be no chance to see him answer for his conduct.

“We’ve worked so hard to get here, and he stole that from us,” she told the newspaper.

Accuser Jennifer Araoz, in a statement, said that Epstein’s alleged victims will “have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives”.

Brad Edwards, a Florida lawyer for nearly two dozen other accusers, said that “this is not the ending anyone was looking for”.

“The victims deserved to see Epstein held accountable, and he owed it to everyone he hurt to accept responsibility for all of the pain he caused,” Edwards said in a statement.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a letter to Barr on Saturday, said that “heads must roll” after the incident.

“Every single person in the Justice Department … knew that this man was a suicide risk, and that his dark secrets couldn’t be allowed to die with him,” Sasse wrote.

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

Swarthmore College fraternities face ban calls over ‘rape attic’ claims

Students hold a "sit-in" at Phi Psi fraternity, Swarthmore College (28 April)The protesters say fraternities have too much power on campus

Dozens of US students are on the fourth day of a “sit-in” protest at a college fraternity after the leak of meeting minutes which referred to buying date rape drugs and a “rape attic”.

Protesters are calling for the two fraternities at Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, to be banned from campus.

Several students have also accused fraternity members of sexual assault.

In response, Swarthmore has suspended the activities of both organisations for the rest of the semester.

It is carrying out further investigations into Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon, following the leak of documents detailing racist, misogynistic and homophobic language used at a Phi Psi meeting.

Fraternities are exclusive, mostly all-male student organisations. Some are based on areas of study, professions, academic credentials, or on specific religious or ethnical backgrounds. Others serve more of a social purpose.

Earlier this month, two student publications – The Phoenix and Voices – published what are alleged to be internal documents from the Phi Psi fraternity.

The redacted, 117-page documents include “meeting minutes” and details of pledging rituals from 2012-16. They feature offensive language and accounts of physical and sexual assaults, and bravado about buying “date rape” drugs.

Presentational white spaceThe “minutes” also allege that Delta Upsilon “have both a rape tunnel AND a rape attic (gotta choose one or the other)”.

Allegations of sexual assault, violence and harassment have also been shared by students on an anonymous Tumblr page named “Why Swarthmore’s Fraternities Must Go.”

In response, student protesters on Saturday began occupying Phi Psi’s on-campus fraternity house and camping outside.

Organizing for Survivors (O4S) and the Swarthmore Coalition Against Fraternity Violence, which arranged the protest, are calling on Swarthmore to terminate the leases of both fraternities and ban them from campus. Instead, they want the properties to be designated for “marginalised” students groups like women and ethnic minorities.

Fraternities are the only student groups able to lease property on campus. Many members also play in college sports teams, and alumni are often important donors for fundraising campaigns. Organiser Morgin Goldberg, 22, told the BBC that this had given fraternities “undue social power that they not only hold, but abuse”.

Ms Goldberg says she has witnessed harassment, racism and homophobia by members.

“If any other student group had this way of conduct, they would be off campus in 10 seconds,” she added.

Presentational white space

Phi Psi, which is not affiliated with the national umbrella group for fraternities, was suspended from Swarthmore in 2016 for violating its alcohol and drugs policy. It reopened for parties a year ago.

In a statement, the group said language used in the leaked documents “[was] not representative of who we are today.

“All our current brothers were in high school and middle school at the time of these unofficial minutes, and none of us would have joined the organization had this been the standard when we arrived.”

Delta Upsilon fraternity told Philadelphia Magazine that it read the documents “with total revulsion” and said they “do not reflect the values” of the group.

In an email statement, a Swarthmore spokesperson said the college was “committed to fully investigating” any allegations, but conceded that “it is very difficult to investigate anonymous [ones].”

A task force was set up last year “to critically examine social life on campus, including [fraternity/sorority] life”. It will deliver its recommendations to college President Valerie Smith on 3 May.

“Isolating a few bad apples will not address the structure,” said Ms Goldberg.

“This is the start of the conversation, not the end of it, about social life at college and which students groups are represented and which are under the bus”.

US synagogue shooting: One person dead in Poway, California

A San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy secures the scene of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 27, 2019Police quickly sealed off the scene of the shooting in Poway

A gunman has opened fire at a synagogue in California, leaving one woman dead and three other people injured, police say.

A 19-year-old man has been arrested after the attack at Poway, north of the city of San Diego.

The synagogue had been hosting a Passover celebration when the shooting took place, reports said.

Police have not suggested a motive but US President Donald Trump said the attack “looks like a hate crime”.

The shooting comes six months after a gun attack killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was the worst anti-Semitic attack in recent US history.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore told reporters that investigators were reviewing the suspect’s social media activity and examining an open letter published online.

“During the shooting, four individuals were wounded and transported to Palomar hospital,” he said. “One succumbed to their wounds. The other three are in stable condition.”

Mayor Steve Vaus said the rabbi had been shot in the hand.

“For this to happen only a week later at the end of the Passover, only a week after Easter is horrific,” he told MSNBC.

How did the attack happen?

Sheriff Gore said officers were called to the Chabad synagogue just before 11:30 (18:30 GMT) after the man opened fire with an “AR-15 type” assault rifle.

He said an off-duty border patrol officer fired at the suspect as he fled the scene in a vehicle, but did not hit him.

San Diego Police secure the scene of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 27, 2019The synagogue had been marking the final day of Passover
San Diego Sheriff deputies look over the Chabad of Poway Synagogue after a shooting on Saturday, April 27, 2019 in Poway, California

The suspect was later arrested by another officer, added San Diego chief of police David Nisleit.

“He clearly saw the suspect’s vehicle, the suspect jumped out with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody.” he said.

“As the officer was placing this 19-year-old male into custody, he clearly saw a rifle on the front passenger seat of the suspect vehicle.”

What has the reaction been?

US Vice-President Mike Pence condemned the “evil and cowardly” shooting.

Speaking outside the White House, President Trump offered his “deepest sympathies”.

“At this moment it looks like a hate crime, but my deepest sympathies to all those affected and we’ll get to the bottom of it,” he said.

Minoo Anvari, whose husband was inside the synagogue, told the local CNN affiliate that the congregation was “standing together” in the wake of the attack.

“We are strong. You can’t break us,” she said.

Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter that she was “heartbroken” by the news.

US: Convicted ringleader in Texas dragging death to be executed

John William King was convicted of killing James Byrd Jr in 1998 by dragging the Texas black man behind a truck for 5km.

  • This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows John William King [Handout/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/AP Photo]
This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows John William King 

A white supremacist convicted of killing James Byrd Jr in 1998 by dragging the 49-year-old black man behind a truck in one of the most notorious hate crimes in modern times is scheduled to be executed in Texas on Wednesday.

John William “Bill” King, 44, is scheduled to be killed by lethal injection at the state’s death chamber in Huntsville at 6pm local time (23:00GMT).

King along with Shawn Berry and Lawrence Brewer were accused of kidnapping Byrd while he hitchhiked in Jasper, Texas, on June 7, 1998.

Prosecutors said the men dragged him behind their 1982 gray Ford pickup truck for three miles (5 km) before dumping his body in front of an African-American church.

A “KKK” engraved lighter was among the evidence police found at the scene, court documents showed.

Hate crimes

The gruesome killing spurred the passing of the James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Act, strengthening punishments for hate crimes in Texas.

US man pleads guilty to hate crimes in Charlottesville car attack

The murder, along with the killing of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten and left to die tied to a fence, was also the genesis of the federal hate crimes prevention act passed in 2009.

King was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1999.

He was a member of a white supremacist gang and spoke of starting a race war while in prison for a previous crime.

Ricky Jason wears a photograph of James Byrd Jr outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit before the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer [File: David J Phillip/AP Photo]

He also talked about initiating new members by having them kidnap and murder black people, court documents showed.

“Regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history,” King wrote in a letter to Brewer obtained by jail officials after they were convicted of killing Byrd, CNN reported.

“Death before dishonour. Sieg Heil!” the letter continued, using a Nazi salute.

‘You can’t fight murder with murder’

King has always maintained his innocence, saying that he left the two other men before Byrd was killed.

His lawyers filed an appeal to the US Supreme Court after a Texas appeals court denied a request to halt the execution on Monday.

Berry and Brewer were also convicted of murder.

Berry was sentenced to life in prison while Brewer, also a white supremacist, was sentenced to death.

Some of Byrd’s family members have said they would have rather seen the men spend the rest of their lives in prison.

“You can’t fight murder with murder,” his son Ross Byrd told Reuters the night before Brewer’s execution in 2011.

King will be the third inmate in Texas and the United States to be executed in 2019, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Turpin captivity case: Children forgive parents for torture

Turpin child reads statement during sentencing

A California couple’s children have forgiven them for years of torture and starvation as the parents were sentenced to life in prison.

David and Louise Turpin’s children told a court they still loved their mother and father despite all the abuse.

The couple were arrested in January 2018 when their 17-year-old daughter escaped the filthy home in Perris.

The Turpins pleaded guilty to the abuse of all but one of their 13 children for at least nine years.

Photo of the Turpin familyThe couple’s Facebook page contained numerous family photos

They are expected to serve the rest of their lives behind bars, unless granted parole in 25 years.

What did the children say?

The couple wept as they heard victim-impact statements from four of their children at Friday’s hearing.

“I love both of my parents so much,” said one child in words read by her brother.

“Although it may not have been the best way of raising us, I am glad that they did because it made me the person I am today.”

David TurpinDavid Turpin broke down as he learned his fate

Another sibling recounted being haunted by their ordeal.

“I cannot describe in words what we went through growing up,” said his statement.

“Sometimes I still have nightmares of things that had happened such as my siblings being chained up or getting beaten.

“That is the past and this is now.

“I love my parents and have forgiven them for a lot of the things they did to us.”

But not all the children were so conciliatory.

One daughter, visibly shaking, said: “My parents took my whole life from me, but now I’m taking my life back.

Louise Turpin occasionally smiled during Friday's sentencingLouise Turpin occasionally smiled during Friday’s sentencing

“I’m a fighter, I’m strong and I’m shooting through life like a rocket.”

She added: “I saw my dad change my mom. They almost changed me, but I realised what was happening.”

What did the parents say?

David and Louise Turpin also cried as they apologised for the treatment of their children.

The 57-year-old father’s lawyer read a prepared statement on his behalf, saying: “My home schooling and discipline had good intentions.

“I never intended for any harm to come to my children.

“I love my children and I believe my children love me.”

He was an engineer for major US defence contractors Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

David Turpin and Louise TurpinDavid and Louise Turpin have agreed to lengthy prison terms after pleading guilty to torture, child abuse and false imprisonment

Speaking directly to court, housewife Louise Turpin, 50, said she was “truly sorry” for what she had done.

“I love my children so much,” she said. “I really look forward to the day I can see them, hug them and tell them I’m sorry.”

What did the judge say?

The couple sat stony-faced as the judge rebuked them for their “selfish, cruel and inhuman treatment”.

Judge Bernard Schwartz said: “You have severed the ability to interact and raise your children that you have created and brought into this world.

The Turpin family with an Elvis impersonator in Las VegasThe Turpin family with an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas, where the parents renewed their vows

“The only reason that your punishment is less than the maximum time in my opinion is because you accepted responsibility at an early stage in the proceeding.

“And you spared your children having to relive the humiliation and the harm they endured in that house of horrors.”

What did the children endure?

The tidy exterior of the middle-class family home 70 miles (112km) south of Los Angeles offered a veneer of respectability that masked the squalor and stench of human waste found by authorities within.

The children, between the ages of two to 29 at the time of the police raid, were severely malnourished.

A 22-year-old son was discovered chained to a bed. His two sisters had just been released from shackles.

The victims were forbidden to shower more than once a year, were unable to use the toilet and none of them had ever seen a dentist.

The Turpin family in a Facebook picture dated 2011The Turpins on a family trip to Disneyland – it was apparently a favourite destinationPresentational white space

Some of the adult siblings’ growth had been so severely stunted by starvation that authorities at first mistook them for children.

Newly released audio of their daughter’s call to 911, obtained by ABC, provides a hint of the conditions in which the children lived.

“Two of my sisters and one of my brothers… they’re chained up to their bed”, the 17-year-old girl, who did not know her own address, told the emergency operator.

“Sometimes I wake up and I can’t breathe because how dirty the house is.”

The girl was also unaware of the year or month, or meaning of the word “medication”.

The children – whose names all begin with the letter J – were kept indoors, but were allowed out for Halloween, or on family trips to Disneyland and Las Vegas.

About 20 people from across the country, including nurses and psychologists, have offered to care for the seven adult siblings and six children.

Maine: Recent votes in the US Senate by Susan Collins and Angus King.

(Notice how they both voted against the Green New Deal, and for National Emergency measures.)

download (11)

Susan Collins

National Key Votes

Date Bill No. Bill Title Outcome Vote
April 11, 2019 PN 503 Confirmation of David Bernhardt as the Secretary of the Interior Senate Yea
March 26, 2019 S J Res 8 A joint resolution recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal Cloture Invoked – Senate Nay
March 14, 2019 H J Res 46 Relating to a national emergency declared by the President on February 15, 2019 Bill Passed – Senate
(59 – 41)
Yea
March 13, 2019 S J Res 7 A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress Bill Passed – Senate
(54 – 46)
Yea

Angus King

National Key Votes

Date Bill No. Bill Title Outcome Vote
April 11, 2019 PN 503 Confirmation of David Bernhardt as the Secretary of the Interior Senate Yea
March 26, 2019 S J Res 8 A joint resolution recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal Cloture Invoked – Senate Nay
March 14, 2019 H J Res 46 Relating to a national emergency declared by the President on February 15, 2019 Bill Passed – Senate
(59 – 41)
Yea
March 13, 2019 S J Res 7 A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress Bill Passed – Senate
(54 – 46)
Yea
Feb. 28, 2019 PN 22 Nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency Senate
(52 – 47)
Nay

Trump signs orders making it harder to block pipelines in US, in support of “Big Oil.”

Trump’s orders direct the EPA to change a part of the US clean water law to speed up gas, coal and oil projects

Storage tanks at a refinery along the waterway are shown in Port Arthur, Texas [David J Phillip/AP Photo]
Storage tanks at a refinery along the waterway are shown in Port Arthur, Texas [David J Phillip/AP Photo]

US President Donald Trump issued two executive orders in the heart of the Texas energy hub on Wednesday that seek to speed gas, coal and oil projects delayed by coastal states as he looks to build support in the run-up to next year’s election.

Trump’s orders direct his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to change a part of the United States‘s clean water law that has allowed states, on the basis of environmental reasons, to delay projects such as pipelines to carry natural gas to New England and coal export terminals on the West Coast.

Trump issued the orders at a training centre for union members in the petroleum industry in Houston, an event sandwiched between fundraising events in Texas for the 2020 campaign.

“Outdated federal guidance and regulations issued by the EPA have caused confusion and uncertainty leading to project delays, lost jobs and reduced economic performance,” a senior administration official told reporters in a conference call.

“We are not trying to take away power from the states, but we are trying to make sure that state actions comply with the statutory intent of the law,” the official added.

Study says air pollution killing more people than smoking

‘In favour of Big Oil’

But environmentalists have decried the orders.

“Trump can try to rewrite regulations in favour of Big Oil, but he can’t stop people power and our movement,” May Boeve, the head of 350.org, told Reuters news agency.

The orders will direct the EPA to review and update guidance issued during the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama on the so-called 401 provision of the Clean Water Act.

The measure required companies to get certifications from states before building interstate pipelines approved by the federal government.

New York state used it to block pipelines that would send natural gas to New England, forcing the region at times to import liquefied natural gas from countries including Russia.

In 2017, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat and 2020 candidate for president, denied a water permit for the Millennium Bulk Terminal, a coal export facility that would have expanded the ability of companies to send Western coal to Asian markets.

Inslee, who has centred his campaign on tackling climate change, slammed Trump’s latest tactic on energy.

YouTube comments disabled during US hate crime hearing

“If Donald Trump is proposing it, it a) violates science and b) probably violates any sense of economic growth, because we know the largest economic growth is now coming from the development of new energy technologies,” Inslee said on the sidelines of a conference in New York.

‘Energy dominance’

The executive orders are part of the Trump administration’s policy of “energy dominance” to increase oil, gas and coal production, but forcing the EPA changes will take time.

The official said the agency would have to follow normal procedures, including a comment period, and that projects already tied up in litigation “are obviously a much longer-term issue”.

One of the orders will direct the transportation secretary to propose allowing liquefied natural gas, a liquid form of the fuel, to be shipped in approved rail cars, a change that could increase its flow between terminals and markets.

The executive orders could also speed projects in Texas.

Trump praises Sisi as critics reiterate concern for human rights

Energy investors vying for permits to build oil export terminals along the Gulf Coast say they have worked closely with Trump officials in a bid to speed regulatory reviews of facilities capable of loading supertankers.

US and state agencies overseeing permit applications have taken too long to approve projects, the investors said, adding they were worried their projects would miss the most profitable years of the US crude export boom.

Four energy groups led by Trafigura AG, Carlyle Group, Enterprise Products Partners LP and Enbridge Inc have applied to build terminals in Texas.