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    The World Health Organization says progress in reducing the number of people contracting malaria has stalled after several years of global declines. The WHO said Monday that there were about 219 million cases of malaria in 2017, up 2 million from the previous year. In contrast, the number of malaria cases had dropped from 239 million in 2010 to 214 million in 2015, according to the United Nations agency. The WHO's annual report on malaria says 70 percent of cases (151 million) and deaths (274,000) in 2017 happened in India and 10 African countries. It says there were 3.5 million more malaria cases in the 10 African nations than in 2016, while India made progress in reducing cases of the deadly disease.
  • Poor countries around the world are facing a dangerous shortage of toilets that puts millions of live at risk, according to campaigners marking World Toilet Day by urging governments and businesses to invest more in sanitation. The toilet crisis is most severe in parts of Africa and Asia facing extreme poverty and seeing a population boom. One in five primary schools and one in eight secondary schools globally do not have any toilets, the group WaterAid said in a new report to mark the U.N.-designated toilet day, observed on Monday, as part of efforts to end the global sanitation crisis. An estimated 4.5 billion people across the world lack access to proper sanitation, said the report. Some 2.5 billion among them do not have adequate toilets, according to U.N. figures. The lack of toilets forces many to defecate in the open — in the streets, in the bushes and by rivers and other water sources. Among the development goals set by the U.N. in 2015 is a target to ensure everyone has access to a safe toilet by 2030. But campaigners warn this goal will be hard to meet if governments and businesses do not put more money into the sanitation economy. Sanitation is 'the business of the decade,' said Cheryl Hicks, chief executive of the Geneva-based business group Toilet Board Coalition. She told The Associated Press that the group is urging commercial investment to help reduce toilet shortages in countries where governments cannot afford such infrastructure. 'Half the world needs toilets. They don't have them because the infrastructure is too expensive for governments,' she said. African countries are among the neediest. The new report by WaterAid cites an estimated 344 million children in sub-Saharan Africa who lack a toilet at home, leaving them vulnerable to diarrhea and other water-borne infections. In the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau, one of 101 countries surveyed by WaterAid, eight in 10 schools there lack adequate toilet facilities. The same study reported that 93 percent of households in the East African nation of Ethiopia lack a decent toilet. Joel Ssimbwa, an entrepreneur who has put up two low-cost facilities in impoverished parts of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, said he launched his business in 2016 after several times he needed to ease himself but had 'nowhere to go.' In September 2007 a Ugandan lawmaker told reporters he was 'badly off' and helpless after being photographed urinating against a wall outside the Ministry of Finance in Kampala. He was later charged and fined, despite protesting the lack of sanitation facilities nearby. There are fewer than 20 free public toilets in Kampala, a city of over 3 million people. Toilets in buildings across the city are often kept under lock and key, apparently to ward off unwelcome users. Ssimbwa acknowledged that the Shs300 (8 cents) he charges may still be unaffordable to many, the reason he is working on a business model that would allow his clients to pay a uniform monthly fee instead of having to pay each time they check in. 'It is a drop in the ocean, but it creates awareness' of what the government and others must do, he said, talking about his services.
  • The annual Leonid meteor shower peaked this weekend, offering a stunning natural light show. >> On AJC.com: Leonid Meteor Shower 2018: How to see this weekend’s celestial spectacle Skygazers took to social media to share their photos of the celestial phenomenon. Here are some of our favorites: >> Read more trending news  1. Llyn Padarn, Snowdonia, Wales, United Kingdom Photo by @gareth_mon_photography, Instagram 2. South Stack, Wales, United Kingdom Photo by @bigolivesphoto, Instagram 3. Cannon Beach, Oregon Photo by @lestertsaiphotography, Instagram 4. Coleman, Alberta, Canada Photo by @bound_for_mountain, Instagram 5. Blauen, Germany Photo by Stephane Vetter, Facebook 6. Lone Mountain, Big Sky Resort, Montana Photo by @davepecunies, Instagram 7. The Rumps, Cornwall, United Kingdom Photo by @chrisfletcherphotography, Instagram 8. Oregon Photo by @thezachhayes, Instagram 9. Llyn y Dywarchen, Snowdonia, Wales, United Kingdom Photo by @_belial, Instagram
  • Florida is suing the nation's two largest drugstore chains, Walgreens and CVS, alleging they added to the state and national opioid crisis by overselling painkillers and not taking precautions to stop illegal sales. Attorney General Pam Bondi announced late Friday that she has added the companies to a state-court lawsuit filed last spring against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and several opioid distributors. Bondi said in a press release that CVS and Walgreens 'played a role in creating the opioid crisis.' She said the companies failed to stop 'suspicious orders of opioids' and 'dispensed unreasonable quantities of opioids from their pharmacies.' On average, about 45 people die nationally each day because of opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 'We will continue to pursue those companies that played a role in creating the opioid crisis,' said Bondi, who has been mentioned as a possible replacement by President Donald Trump for recently ousted U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 'Thousands of Floridians have suffered as a result of the actions of the defendants.' CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis called the lawsuit 'without merit' in a statement Saturday. He said the company trains its pharmacists and their assistants about their responsibilities when dispensing controlled substances and gives them tools to detect potentially illegal sales. 'Over the past several years, CVS has taken numerous actions to strengthen our existing safeguards to help address the nation's opioid epidemic,' DeAngelis said. Walgreens said Saturday it doesn't comment on pending lawsuits. Until a law enforcement crackdown at the beginning of the decade, Florida was known for its so-called pain mills. Drug dealers from throughout the country would send associates to store-front clinics where unscrupulous doctors would write opioid prescriptions for bogus injuries and illnesses. At one point, 90 of the nation's top 100 opioid prescribers were Florida doctors, according to federal officials. After receiving the prescriptions, the phony patients would buy the pills from Florida pharmacies — state law says pharmacists must refuse to fill prescriptions they suspect are not for a valid purpose. Most of the opioids would then be taken out of state to be resold illegally at huge markups, creating a drug crisis in many communities throughout the Eastern United States. According to the lawsuit, Walgreens has dispensed billions of opioid dosages from its Florida pharmacies since 2006. The Illinois-based chain is the nation's largest drugstore chain and has more than 13,200 stores globally. The company distributed 2.2 million opioid tablets from its store in Hudson, a Tampa-area town of 12,000, and in one unidentified town of 3,000, sold 285,000 pills in a month, the lawsuit says. In some stores, its opioid sales jumped six-fold in two years. The company paid $80 million five years ago to resolve a federal investigation that centered on inadequate record keeping of its Florida opioid sales that allowed the pills to reach the black market. Florida's accusations against CVS were more general, saying it sold 700 million opioid dosages between 2006 and 2014, including outsized sales in Hudson and two other nearby towns. The Rhode Island-based chain has more than 9,800 stores.
  • A 73-year-old Colorado grandmother is considering legal action after doctors at the University of Colorado Hospital removed both of her healthy kidneys in May, KDVR reported. >> Read more trending news  Linda Woolley, of Englewood, said doctors told her surgery was necessary because she likely had kidney cancer, the television station reported. However, KDVR obtained a copy of a March 2018 biopsy that showed 'no evidence of malignancy' and results 'consistent with a benign process.' “I’m not real happy,” Woolley told the television station. Because both kidneys were removed, Woolley requires four hours of dialysis three times a week, KDVR reported. 'My life was totally changed,” Woolley told the television station. “Dialysis is no picnic. No matter how used to it you get, it robs you of your life.” Woolley now needs at least one healthy kidney, and the average waiting time for a transplant is seven years, KDVR reported. More than 95,000 people are on a waiting list, the television station reported. At least five people have contacted KDVR, telling reporters they were willing to offer a kidney. 'People are wonderful. It’s wonderful to see good things happen,' Woolley told the television station. Woolley said she is not necessarily looking for an apology from the hospital, which has not commented on the incident.  “(But) I feel like they owe me a kidney, that's for sure,' Woolley told KDVR.
  • Russian investigators have opened a criminal case after finding pollution levels in a local river far exceeded norms, with ethyl alcohol levels charted at 5,400 times the acceptable limit. This was just one of several indicators reported Friday by the North-Western Transport Investigation Department that the Novaya river in St. Petersburg is over-polluted. Investigators found high levels of butyl alcohol, isopropanol, and acetone as well as ethylene glycol. These chemicals are flammable, solvent or used in anti-freezes and can be toxic. Regional authorities recently filed a case against the local Pulkovo airport to cease sewage runoff into nearby rivers and canals. Officials believe the airport is responsible for high levels of harmful substances. Bad smells as well as dead fish and ducks have been reported in the river.
  • Fifteen years after tossing her twins off a bridge into the Mississippi River, a Minnesota woman is using her story to raise awareness about mental illness, KARE reported. >> Read more trending news  Naomi Gaines was 24 when she threw her 14-month-old sons, Sincere Understanding Allah and Supreme Knowledge Allah, into the river near St. Paul on July 4, 2003, and then jumped into the water, the Star Tribune reported in 2003. Sincere drowned, and Gaines was convicted of second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder, KARE reported. Gaines, now 39, served 15 years in prison and spent time at a mental health treatment center,  After the death of her son, Gaines was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, bipolar and schizoaffective disorder, the television station reported.Now, Gaines is reaching out to help people with similar mental conditions. “If there is another Naomi Gaines out there, you are not alone. Mental illness is not a character flaw. It is not a weakness to ask for help. It is a strength,” Gaines told KARE. “What I wouldn't give to go back and say, 'I am not OK, and I need help.'” Gaines now works part-time at the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Minnesota. “I got the most help for my mental illness while incarcerated,' Gaines told KARE. 'That is when the prevention classes, groups, therapy and medication happened, after it was already too late for my son.
  • A lawsuit filed on behalf of a New Mexico author alleges that a Santa Fe hospital revived the woman in violation of her “do not resuscitate” directive while she was in the facility’s care in 2016, the Albuquerque Journal reported. >> Read more trending news  The lawsuit filed in New Mexico state district court against Santa Fe's Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center alleges that the hospital was negligent twice in its treatment of Jamie Sams, a writer known for her books about spirituality.  The lawsuit also alleges that Sams was given the painkiller Dilaudid, a medicine she claims she is allergic to, the Journal reported. Sams suffers from Dercum’s, a rare disease that produces tumors all over the body, the newspaper reported. According to court documents obtained by the Journal, Sams went into cardiac arrest after receiving the drug in the emergency room on Feb. 5, 2016, and the hospital’s negligence was compounded when she was resuscitated -- something she did not want. Sams had signed a “Double DNR (do not resuscitate)” form, the newspaper reported. “As a result of being revived, Plaintiff continues to experience severe pain, disability and limitations and further, will incur extensive expenses throughout the remainder of her life,” the lawsuit against the hospital and emergency room doctor Jamie Gagan states. “This condition is extremely debilitating and painful and, moreover, requires frequent hospitalization and medication at great expense.” Christus spokesman Arturo Delgado told the Journal that Gagan works for HealthFront, which does emergency services work for the hospital. He said he could not comment on the lawsuit. Sams is a Native American author who co-wrote “Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals.” According to her author biography on the Amazon website, she is a member of the Wolf Clan Teaching Lodge. Sams is half French and half American Indian, with ancestors from the Cherokee, Seneca, Choctaw, and Mohawk tribes according to her profile at Spirituality & Practice. 
  • A New Mexico woman who was brought back to life is suing the hospital for violating her rights. The Albuquerque Journal reports lawyers for Jamie Sams filed a lawsuit this week in New Mexico state district court against Santa Fe's Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center. The lawsuit filed on behalf Sams, a writer known for books on spirituality, says the hospital and a doctor who was treating her are to blame for her going into cardiac arrest. The lawsuit says Sams was given a painkiller even after she told staff she was allergic to it. Court documents say the negligence was compounded when hospital personnel resuscitated her — something she did not want. Christus spokesman Arturo Delgado declined to comment. Sams is seeking an unspecified amount in damages. ___ Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com
  • A Texas corporation that runs behavioral health hospitals is accused of illegally holding four patients, two of whom were voluntary patients who were allegedly prohibited from leaving. SAS Healthcare Inc. was indicted Wednesday on nine counts of violating the Texas Mental Health Code, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. The indictment alleges the corporation known as Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System detained two patients involuntarily at its Arlington facility longer than the 48 hours allowed without a court order. It also accuses the company of not allowing two voluntary patients to leave. The health care system offers inpatient and outpatient treatment specializing in mental health, chemical dependency and detoxification, according to its website. 'People turned to what they thought was a trusted medical facility and were not allowed to leave as the law requires,' said Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson in a statement. 'These offenses were a corporate failure, and the corporation must be held accountable.' Prosecutors on Thursday filed a notice saying they will introduce extraneous offenses, including allegations the corporation didn't conduct welfare checks on a patient who died by suicide in the facility's care last month and later lied about it. Prosecutors also claim that the company delayed or failed to report assaults and sexual assaults to authorities. A law firm for SAS Healthcare, Varghese Summersett, said the 'unprecedented' criminal prosecution 'ignores legislatively enacted blanket immunity' that gives medical professionals discretion in treatment. 'Sundance is a longtime accredited mental health and psychiatric facility whose professionals' good-faith actions were in the best interest of their patients,' the law firm said. The corporation faces up to a $100,000 fine for each of the 33 days that the mental health code violations were alleged to have occurred, which could total up to $3.3 million.

News

  • One of the nation's largest student loan servicing companies may have driven tens of thousands of borrowers struggling with their debts into higher-cost repayment plans. That's the finding of a Department of Education audit of practices at Navient Corp., the nation's third-largest student loan servicing company. The conclusions of the 2017 audit, which until now have been kept from the public and were obtained by The Associated Press, appear to support federal and state lawsuits that accuse Navient of boosting its profits by steering some borrowers into the high-cost plans without discussing options that would have been less costly in the long run. The education department has not shared the audit's findings with the plaintiffs in the lawsuits. In fact, even while knowing of its conclusions, the department repeatedly argued that state and other federal authorities do not have jurisdiction over Navient's business practices. 'The existence of this audit makes the Department of Education's position (on the Navient lawsuits) all the more disturbing,' said Aaron Ament, president of the National Student Legal Defense Network, who worked for the Department of Education under President Barack Obama. The AP received a copy of the audit and other documents from the office of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who has been a vocal critic of Navient and has publicly supported the lawsuits against the company as well as questioning the policies of the Department of Education, currently run by President Trump's Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Warren is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2020. Navient disputed the audit's conclusions in its response to the Department of Education and has denied the allegations in the lawsuits. One point the company makes in its defense is that its contract with the education department doesn't require its customer service representatives to mention all options available to the borrower. However, the five states suing Navient — Illinois, Pennsylvania, Washington, California and Mississippi — say the behavior breaks their laws regarding consumer protection. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says in its own lawsuit the practices are unfair, deceptive and abusive and break federal consumer protection laws. Of the five states that filed lawsuits against Navient, only Illinois and Pennsylvania were even aware of the audit, and they said they did not receive their copies from the Department of Education. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau declined to comment on whether it had a copy of the report. The Department of Education said withholding the report was intentional, repeating the argument it has made in court and in public that only it has jurisdiction over student loan servicing issues, through its Federal Student Aid division, or FSA, which oversees student loans. 'FSA performed the review as part of its own contract oversight, not for the benefit of other agencies,' said Liz Hill, a Department of Education spokeswoman. When student borrowers run into difficulties making payments, they can be offered forbearance, which allows them to delay payments for a set period of time. But under a forbearance plan, in most instances, the loan continues to accumulate interest and becomes a more expensive option in the long run. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alleges in its lawsuit against Navient that between 2010 and 2015 Navient's behavior added nearly $4 billion in interest to student borrowers' loans through the overuse of forbearance. It is a figure that Navient disputes. A 2017 study by the Government Accountability Office estimates that a typical borrower of a $30,000 student loan who places their loan into forbearance for three years — the maximum allowed for economic-hardship forbearance — would pay an additional $6,742 in interest on that loan. 'This finding is both tragic and infuriating, and the findings appear to validate the allegations that Navient boosted its profits by unfairly steering student borrowers into forbearance when that was often the worst financial option for them,' Warren said in a letter to Navient last week. As part of their inquiry, DoE auditors listened in on about 2,400 randomly selected calls to borrowers from 2014 to 2017 out of a batch of 219,000. On nearly one out of 10 of the calls examined, the Navient representative did not mention other options, including one type of plan that estimates the size of a monthly payment the borrower can afford based on their income. Auditors wrote that many customer service representatives failed to ask questions to determine if such a plan, known as an income-driven repayment plan, might be more beneficial to the borrower. There is no public record of how many struggling borrowers serviced by Navient may have been impacted by these practices. In its most recent annual report, Navient says it services 6 million student loan borrowers, of which 12.7 percent are more than 30 days past due. That would be roughly 762,000 customers who are struggling in some fashion to pay their student loans. If one out of every 10 of those customers were pushed into forbearance instead of an income-driven repayment plan, as the department's audit found, that would be 76,200 of Navient's borrowers. The DoE report contains recommendations for how Navient could fix its practices but makes no mention of firm requirements or sanctions. The education department's Federal Student Aid division decided to do a review of Navient's forbearance practices after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed its lawsuit against the company in January 2017, department spokeswoman Hill said, to see if there were any compliance issues. She said DoE officials came to the conclusion that Navient was not improperly steering borrowers. 'Nothing in the report indicates forbearances were applied inappropriately — the observations noted focused on suggested improvements regarding how to best counsel' a small minority of borrowers, she said. In response to questions over the 2017 audit, Navient pointed to the fact that nine out of every 10 borrowers on the calls were offered all their options and that this audit is just one piece of a broader story. 'This (audit), when viewed as a whole, as well as dozens of other audits and reviews, show that Navient overwhelmingly performs in accordance with program rules while consistently helping borrowers choose the right options for their circumstances,' said Paul Hartwick, a company spokesman. Navient, formerly known as Sallie Mae, is a publicly traded company. In calls and presentations with investors, Navient has said a company priority is to lower the its operational costs. As a student loan servicing company, Navient has one primary operating cost: its employees, including the hundreds of customer-service agents who man Navient's telephones every day. The fewer customer-service agents Navient employs, the more money Navient puts in its pocket. Doing calls to determine whether a borrower should be in an income-driven repayment plan takes longer, student loan industry experts say. In fact, that is exactly what Navient said in its response to the Department of Education's audit. 'We (are not) aware of any requirement that borrowers receive all of their repayment options ... on each and every call,' the company said, adding that if the Department of Education chose to require all servicers to discuss income-driven repayment plans with all borrowers, the Department of Education needs to redo its contract with Navient. Seth Frotman, who was the highest-ranking government official in charge of student loans until he quit in August in protest over how the Trump-controlled Department of Education and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau were handling the issue of student loans, said Navient's response was outrageous. 'In short, Navient, when confronted with evidence of its bad practices, is telling the government, 'Pay us more money or take a hike.' And It looks like the Department of Education took a hike,' Frotman said. ___ Ken Sweet covers banks and consumer financial issues for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @kensweet.
  • If you're planning on purchasing gift cards this holiday season, then there are some important policy changes that you'll need to know about.  Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced nationwide gift card policy changes at a news conference Tuesday.  Three major retailers Walmart, Target and Best Buy have all agreed to new restrictions. There will be reductions in gift card limits, as well as restrictions on using gift cards to buy other gift cards. There also will be more employee training for people who work in the stores to help recognize scams when they are happening. >> Read more trending news  Shapiro said gift card scams have quadrupled in recent years.  Check back for more on this developing story, or click here.
  • With Black Friday just hours away, here is a look at some of the best deals of the 2018 holiday shopping season. Computers Apple iPad 2018 with 32GB for $249 – Jet  Apple iPad 2018, 128GB: $329 – Best Buy Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch 2018 for $1,150 – Best Buy Acer Aspire with the latest Core i5-8400 processor for $399.99 – BJ’s Acer 24-inch FHD FreeSync gaming monitor for $100 – Newegg  Dell Inspiron Chromebook 11 for $199.99 - Dell Dell G3 15.6-inch gaming laptop for $899 - Office Depot  Dell Inspiron 15.6-inch laptop for $319 – Dell  Dell Inspiron Small Desktop for $249.99 – Dell Dell Inspiron tower with Core i5 for $399.99 – Dell Dell XPS 13 for $1,500 – Costco Google Pixelbook laptop for $699 – Google Store HP 15.6-inch laptop for $349 – Office Depot  HP 1.6-inch Chromebook for $119.99  - Target HP Pavilion x360 14-inch with Intel Core i5 for $549 – Best Buy HP Pavilion 15 for $499 - Staples Lenovo Ideapad 330 Core i5 1TB HDD for $450 – Costco Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8-inch model for $129.99 – BJ’s Samsung Chromebook 3 for $99 – Walmart Surface Go base model for $399 – Microsoft Store Home technology Amazon Echo for $69 - Kohl’s Beats Powerbeats3 Wireless Earphones for $90 - Target Bose SoundSport wireless headphones for $99 - Walmart Canon imageClass MF244DW laser printer for $99 – Staples Fire HD 10 for $99.99 - Amazon Fire TV Cube 4K for $59.99 - Amazon Google Home Hub for $99 – Jet  Nest Hello Smart Doorbell for $129 – Google Store Ring Doorbell 2 +amazon Echo Dot 3rd gen for $140 – Best Buy Home goods 60 percent off select office chairs – Office Depot Keurig K-Mini single-serve coffee maker for $49.99 - Target KitchenAid Artisan 5-quart stand mixer for $279.99 - J.C. Penney Twin sheet sets for $5.99 - Macy’s Bath towels for $2.99 each - J.C. Penney Kenmore French door 26.1 cubic foot refrigerator for $889.99 – Sears  Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Gen (matching Target) for $119 (was $199) iRobot Roomba 670 robot vacuum for $194.99 – Jet Televisions Element 55-inch smart UHD TV for $199.99 - Target 65-inch TCL 65S4 4K Roku TV for $398 - Walmart Samsung 32-inch Smart LED HD TV for $175 – eBay Samsung 75-inch 4K UHD TV and Xbox One S for $1,279 – Sam’s Club LG 70-inch 4K UHD Smart TV for $869 plus a $100 gift card – Sam’s Club LG 65-inch 4K UHD Smart TV for $599  - Sam’s Club Watches Apple Watch Series 3 (32mm) for $229 – Best Buy Fitbit Versa smartwatch for $149 - Target Samsung Galaxy Watch for $254.99 – eBay Miscellaneous Canon T6 DSLR Camera Bundle for $399 – Sam’s Club Potensic GPS FPV RC Drone, D80 with 1080P Camera Live Video and GPS Return Home for $199.99 – Amazon  Get select doorbusters free after mail-in rebate - Macy’s Want to check out the Black Friday ads? Here are some links: Amazon Bass Pro Shop Best Buy Belk BJ's Wholesale Costco Dell Dick’s Sporting Goods eBay GameStop Google Store Groupon JCPenney’s Jet Kmart Kohl’s Lenovo Macy’s Microsoft Store Meijer’s Nintendo Newegg Office Depot/OfficeMax Overstock Sam’s Club Samsung Sears Sony Staples Target T-Mobile Verizon Walmart Also see: >> Which restaurants are open on Thanksgiving? Here’s a list >> Which grocery stores are open on Thanksgiving Day 2018? >> Black Friday 2018: Walmart ad features deals on iPhones, TVs, laptops and more >> Oprah announces her 2018 favorite things; here’s what made the cut, where to buy  >> Black Friday 2018: Target, Kohl’s, Costco leak ads promising deals for the day after Thanksgiving
  • “Friendship and money: oil and water.” >> Read more trending news  Michael Corleone told that to a priest in the 1990 movie “The Godfather: Part III” when the prelate confessed that he trusted friends with the Vatican Bank’s money, and it had a disturbing ring of familiarity to a South Dakota woman who was victimized in a lottery scam by a friend that cost her more than $600,000 over a 16-year period. A California woman who won $5.2 million in a 1989 lottery pleaded guilty in a South Dakota federal court last week for scamming six people -- including her friend, Kelly Lhotak -- out of more than $1 million, the Rapid City Journal reported. Judy Carroll, 59, of El Cajon, and her husband won the California lottery in 1989. According to court documents, Carroll scammed Lhotak and five other people out of money in part by telling them the IRS had frozen her assets. Carroll pleaded guilty at the federal courthouse in Rapid City on four counts of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion, the Journal reported. Carroll was originally charged with 35 counts of wire fraud, but that indictment was dropped as part of her plea deal, the newspaper reported.  Each of Carroll's wire-fraud counts carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, while the tax-evasion charge has a maximum of five years in prison. As part of the plea deal, Carroll must pay $1.55 million in restitution. Of that total, $622,236.01 must be paid back to Lhotak, who loaned her the money over a 16-year period, the Journal reported.  It was the classic case  “It’s been a long time coming, and she deserves punishment for what she did for several victims,” Lhotak, who was Carroll’s neighbor in California during the mid-1990s and moved to South Dakota in 2002, told the newspaper. “My heart is broken. I have had the worst betrayal of a friendship that anyone can ever experience.”Lhotak loaned Carroll money beginning in November 2000 through October 2016, according to court documents obtained by the Journal.  Carroll told Lhotak the IRS froze all her assets and she owed the agency money, according to court documents. However, the IRS only froze assets and levied Carroll’s accounts once during that time, in 2007-2008, the Journal reported. She also told Lhotak she needed money, falsely claiming he was a victim of identity theft. Lhotak said she didn't doubt Carroll's stories until she called the IRS in October 2016 to ask if her friend owed tax liens, the Journal reported. When the IRS said it had not, the agency launched an investigation. 'I did it because I loved her with all my heart,' Lhotak told the newspaper.
  • Ohio police officials have released the chilling 911 call made by the sister of a disgraced former Cuyahoga County judge Saturday, in which she reported her brother stabbed his ex-wife to death in his driveway. Lance Mason, 51, of Shaker Heights, was removed from the bench in 2014 after he viciously beat his then-estranged wife, elementary schoolteacher Aisha Fraser, in front of the couple’s two children.  Fraser, 44, died in a pool of blood Saturday morning as her children, Audrey, 11, and Ava, 8, screamed and sobbed inside their father’s Chagrin Boulevard home. The older girl has Down syndrome. As of Tuesday morning, Mason had been charged with felonious assault on suspicion of striking a police officer with his vehicle as he tried to flee the scene. Charges had not been filed in Fraser’s death.  The former state legislator and common pleas court judge, who allegedly tried to kill himself after the fatal stabbing, remains in the hospital. He is being held without bond.  Related story: Ohio judge removed from bench for beating wife in 2014 accused of stabbing her to death The audio released by Shaker Heights authorities begins with Mason’s distraught sister, Lynn Mason, telling her nieces to “come here.” The 911 dispatcher asks about her emergency. “I need the police immediately,” Lynn Mason says. “My brother is attacking his ex-wife.” She gives the dispatcher her brother’s address on Chagrin Boulevard before tearfully telling her they will also need an ambulance.  The dispatcher asks if both Lance Mason and Fraser are still there. “They’re outside. I… I… I don’t know. I heard her screaming,” Lynn Mason says.  “OK, are there any guns or knives involved?” the dispatcher asks.  “I don’t know. I think there might be,” Lynn Mason says. “Please hurry.” Listen to Lynn Mason’s 911 call below, courtesy of WKYC in Cleveland. Warning: The call may be too disturbing for some listeners. The dispatcher asks the caller to stay on the phone and relay to her what is happening. Lynn Mason says she can’t tell what is going on because she is inside the house with the couple’s children.  “I’m inside with the daughter. I don’t want her to see anything,” she says.  The dispatcher tells her to keep the girl inside and try to stay calm so the girl doesn’t get upset. “I’m going to get my guys started out that way, OK, so just stay on the phone with me,” the dispatcher says.  After a few moments, Lynn Mason can be heard telling her niece to stay where she is while she goes and checks outside to see what’s going on. The dispatcher can be heard relaying information to responding officers while Mason’s sister checks on Fraser and her brother.  “Ma’am? Ma’am,” Lynn Mason says upon her return. “Yes ma’am?” the dispatcher says. “He stabbed her and he said she’s dead,” Lynn Mason says.  “Oh my gosh,” the dispatcher responds.  The dispatcher relays information of a “possible stabbing and DOA” to responding Shaker Heights police officers. There are several moments in which the dispatcher and officers talk back and forth about the logistics of the police response. After a while, Lance Mason is heard coming back into the house. The dispatcher gets a description of his clothes from his sister and asks if he still has the knife or if he left it outside.  “I don’t know. He walked in and there’s blood everywhere,” Lynn Mason says as at least one of her nieces wails in the background. Lance Mason walks out again and the audio consists for a while of the dispatcher talking to officers, the back and forth punctuated by the shriek of sirens.  “Oh my God,” Lynn Mason whispers to herself at one point.  Lance Mason comes back inside the house as officers start to pull up to the scene. The dispatcher relays that information to the officers.  “Ten-four, we know,” an officer says.  “OK, are my officers there?” the dispatcher asks him.  An officer comes on and says there is a female down at the scene.  “She does look like she’s been stabbed,” the officer says.  A little while later, another officer comes on the audio. “Radio, send a squad to my location. The guy rammed me from behind,” says the officer, who was later identified by Shaker Heights police officials as Officer Adam Flynt. News 5 in Cleveland reported Monday that the officer suffered serious injuries to his legs and ribs. Court records obtained by Fox 8 in Cleveland indicated Mason was driving “fast enough to cause multiple airbag deployments and disabling damage to both vehicles.” Flynt and Lance Mason were both hospitalized.  The dispatcher asks Lynn Mason if she knows where her brother is. “He’s walking around,” she responds. “He’s walking around. I think he wants to die to, so…” The dispatcher asks Lynn Mason where she and the girls are in the house because three officers, plus a detective, are about to enter. She tells the woman they are in the living room, facing the street out front.  Lance Mason paces around the kitchen for a while before going into the living room with his sister and daughters. An officer comes over the radio and says Fraser is down and not breathing. The dispatcher tells him paramedics are on the way.  A few seconds later, officers can be heard yelling as they get inside the house.  The children can be heard crying. One girl is talking to her aunt, though WKYC edited the audio to remove things the children said during the call. News 5 reported that the girl, sobbing, said, “He killed her.”  “I know, baby. I’m so sorry,” Lynn Mason responds.  A former babysitter for Fraser and her ex-husband told Cleveland.com Monday that the little girls were Frazer’s life. She also loved her job at Woodbury Elementary School, where a candlelight vigil was held Monday evening to remember the longtime teacher.  The Shaker Heights Teachers’ Association organized the vigil and established a GoFundMe page for Fraser’s children. As of Tuesday morning, the fundraising page had raised nearly $110,000.  “We are in deep mourning,” read a post on the association’s Facebook page. “Aisha exemplified the best of Shaker Heights teachers: smart, amazingly caring of her students and her colleagues, active in her profession and in our association. She is loved by many.” Hundreds of people gathered Monday night to remember Fraser, whose photo was displayed at the school’s entrance as family members, colleagues, students and friends recalled her spirit. Cleveland.com reported that Woodbury Principal Danny Young remembered her kindness, compassion and love, as well as her sense of humor. “We have lost an angel, as well as a phenomenal educator,” Young said.  Fraser’s pastor, Chip Freed, of Garfield Memorial Church, told the crowd they have all been left with questions about why her life was ended.  “Aisha’s light is now shining on another shore,” Freed said. “As for the rest of us, we can either curse the darkness, or we can light candles.” WKYC reported that Mason was removed from the bench about a month after an Aug. 2, 2014, assault on Fraser, in which he punched Fraser about 20 times and slammed her head repeatedly against the dashboard of his SUV. He also bit her and choked her as he drove, Cleveland.com reported.  The estranged couple were driving back from a family member’s funeral with their daughters. According to a 911 call Fraser made, which was obtained in 2014 by Cleveland.com, Mason kicked her out of the SUV and, after beating her some more outside of the vehicle, drove away with the children.  Fraser, who feared for the safety of her daughters, begged dispatchers to find her children.  “I’m afraid he’s going to hurt my daughters,” a frantic-sounding Fraser said. “Please find my kids!” Click here to listen to Aisha Fraser’s 2014 911 call, courtesy of Cleveland.com. It may be too graphic for some listeners.  Mason was arrested at his home, where officers found smoke grenades, semi-automatic rifles, more than 2,500 rounds of ammunition, a bulletproof vest and a sword, Cleveland.com reported.  After serving nine months of a two-year prison sentence for the beating, which left Fraser needing surgery to repair a fractured eye socket, Mason was hired last year by Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson, who named Mason the city’s minority business development administrator.  Jackson issued a statement Saturday in which he said city officials were aware of Mason’s arrest and that the former judge had been terminated, effective immediately. City officials were cooperating with Shaker Heights investigators in the homicide case.  “I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Ms. Aisha Fraser, especially to her children,” Jackson said.  Fox 8 reported Monday that Jackson stood by his hiring of Mason following his prison stint, saying he had no way to predict the future. He also stood by his policy of giving people second chances.  “We’re gonna look at it as a policy. Our policy is second chances unless there is something that would prevent us from doing it,” Jackson told the news station. “For example, you wouldn’t hire a convicted felon and put them around children. You wouldn’t hire an embezzler and put them in the finance department.”
  • At the end of every fiscal year, a spending spree of billions of federal tax dollars occurs in a matter of days. But not all of that money goes to essential items. We found examples of federal purchases for wine, snowboards, pianos, guitars and fancy gym equipment. We dug through thousands of federal contracts for September, the last month of the fiscal year. In just one month, the U.S. government spent more than $6.2 million dollars on gym equipment. That includes millions spent on CrossFit equipment, one of the country’s hottest fitness trends. The State Department specified in a contract for jump ropes that they specifically needed the brand endorsed by CrossFit star Rich Froning. We also found orders for music equipment, like a $20,000 grand piano, Fender guitars and saxophones. Other contracts included $10,000 for snowboards and dozens of iPads. >> Read more trending news  The end-of-year spending is part of a practice called “Use it or Lose it” budgeting. Federal agencies worry they will not receive as much money in the next year’s budget if they don’t spend every penny they currently have. One out of every nine dollars spent by the federal government occurs in just the last seven days of the fiscal year, according to Adam Andrzejewski of Openthebooks.com, a government watchdog group. “When the bureaucrats cannot even spend all the money that Congress is sending them, there's a problem,” Andrzejewski said. We looked at spending in the nearly two months since the fiscal year ended. So far in October and November, only two contracts were issued for gym equipment, totaling $20,000. That is compared to the more than $6.2 million dollars spent the month before. Openthebooks.com has been tracking government purchases as well. They placed an ad in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal listing more than one hundred examples of wasteful federal spending. Last year, they found thousands of dollars in year-end spending specifically on fidget spinners, liquor and wine. “We identified in the last fiscal year that $50 billion dollars of contract spending went out the door in the last 7 days of the fiscal year,” Andrzejewski said. Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, introduced a bill that would award bonuses to federal employees who cut budgets. We first reported on that legislation two years ago, and so far it has gone nowhere. We asked the Defense Department why they needed these purchases in a short period of time, and they referred us to individual branches of service. The Army, the largest spender among the military, has not yet responded to our questions.