Epstein accused of raping teen
NEW YORK — A new accuser of Jeffrey Epstein said Wednesday that the wealthy financier raped her in his New York mansion when she was 15. Jennifer Araoz filed court papers seeking information from Epstein in preparation for suing him, and she aired her allegations on NBC’s “Today” show, though she said she hadn’t discussed them with authorities. The 32-year-old makeup artist told “Today” she never went to police because she feared retribution from the well-connected Epstein, who is now facing federal charges of abusing dozens of underage girls in New York and Florida in the early 2000s. He has pleaded not guilty. “What hurts me even more so is that if I wasn’t afraid to come forward sooner, then maybe he wouldn’t have done it to other girls,” Araoz said. “I feel really guilty to this day.” Messages were left with Epstein’s attorneys and New York police seeking comment on Araoz’s claims. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan declined to comment on them.
Whispers, suspicion on island
CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands — Ask about Jeffrey Epstein on St. Thomas and rooms go quiet. Some people leave. Those who share stories speak in barely audible tones. The 66-year-old billionaire bought Little St. James Island off this U.S. Caribbean territory more than two decades ago and began to transform it — clearing the native vegetation, ringing the property with towering palm trees and planting two massive U.S. flags on either end. When guides took scuba divers to spots near the island, security guards would walk to the water’s edge. It was off-putting to residents of St. Thomas — a lush tropical island east of Puerto Rico with winding roads through mountains dotted with dainty Danish colonial-era homes. Then, when Epstein pleaded guilty in a 2008 to soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution, his need for privacy began to appear more sinister. “Everybody called it ‘Pedophile Island,'” said Kevin Goodrich, who is from St. Thomas and operates boat charters. “It’s our dark corner.” Many people who worked for Epstein told The Associated Press this week that they had signed long non-disclosure agreements, and refused to talk. One former employee who declined to be identified said Epstein once had five boats, including a large ferry in which he transported up to 200 workers from St. Thomas to his island every day for construction work.
Powell: Rate cut likely soon
WASHINGTON — Pointing to a weaker global economy, rising trade tensions and chronically low inflation, Chairman Jerome Powell signaled Wednesday that the Federal Reserve is likely to cut interest rates late this month for the first time in a decade. Delivering the central bank’s semiannual report to Congress, Powell said that since Fed officials met last month, “uncertainties around trade tensions and concerns about the strength of the global economy continue to weigh on the U.S. economic outlook.” In addition, inflation has dipped further below the Fed’s annual target level. The chairman’s remarks led investors to send stock prices up, bond yields down and the value of the U.S. dollar lower on expectations of lower interest rates. The S&P 500 index briefly traded over 3,000 for the first time. Testifying to the House Financial Services Committee, Powell was asked, as he has been before, what he would do if President Donald Trump tried to fire or demote him. Powell offered the same terse reply he’s given in the past when asked about Trump’s attacks on his leadership and the president’s insistence that he has authority to remove the chairman: Powell said he intends to serve out his full four-year term, which ends in early 2022. The president has repeatedly accused Powell and the Fed of keeping credit too tight for too long and of thereby holding back the economy and the stock market. Most experts dispute Trump’s assertion that he has authority to either fire Powell or demote him from the chairman’s post, and his attacks have raised alarms that he’s undermining the Fed’s long-recognized independence from political pressure.
UK ambassador to US quits
LONDON — Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. resigned Wednesday after being branded a fool and made a diplomatic nobody by President Donald Trump following the leak of the envoy’s unflattering opinions about the U.S. administration. Storm clouds gathered over the trans-Atlantic relationship as veteran diplomat Kim Darroch said he could no longer do his job in Washington after Trump cut off all contact with the representative of one of America’s closest allies. The break in relations followed a British newspaper’s publication Sunday of leaked documents that revealed the ambassador’s dim view of Trump’s administration, which Darroch described as dysfunctional, inept and chaotic. “The current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like,” Darroch said in his resignation letter. He had been due to leave his post at the end of the year. In the leaked documents, he called the Trump administration’s policy toward Iran “incoherent,” said the president might be indebted to “dodgy Russians” and raised doubts about whether the White House “will ever look competent.”
Flooding swamps New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS — A storm swamped New Orleans streets and paralyzed traffic Wednesday as concerns grew that even worse weather was on the way: a possible hurricane that could strike the Gulf Coast and raise the Mississippi River to the brim of the city’s protective levees. The storm was associated with a broad area of disturbed weather in the Gulf that forecasters said was on track to strengthen into a hurricane by the weekend. The system was expected to become a tropical depression by Thursday morning, a tropical storm by Thursday night and a hurricane on Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center. Lines of thunderstorms associated with the system ranged far out in into the Gulf and battered New Orleans, where as much as 7 inches (18 centimeters) of rain fell over a three-hour period Wednesday morning, forecasters said. Mississippi and Texas were also at risk of torrential rains. In New Orleans, streets turned into small, swift rivers that overturned garbage cans and picked up pieces of floating wood. Water was up to the doors of many cars. Other vehicles were abandoned. Kayakers paddled their way down some streets.
AAppeals court sides with Trump
RICHMOND, Va. — A federal appeals court threw out a lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of illegally profiting off the presidency through his luxury Washington hotel, handing Trump a significant legal victory Wednesday. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the ruling of a federal judge in Maryland who said the lawsuit could move forward. The state of Maryland and the District of Columbia sued in 2017, claiming Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by accepting profits through foreign and domestic officials who stay at the Trump International Hotel. The case is one of three that argue the president is violating the provision, which prohibits federal officials from accepting benefits from foreign or state governments without congressional approval. In the case before the 4th Circuit, the court found the two jurisdictions lack standing to pursue their claims against the president, and granted a petition for a rare writ of mandamus, directing U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte to dismiss the lawsuit. Trump heralded the decision in a tweet, saying, “Word just out that I won a big part of the Deep State and Democrat induced Witch Hunt.” Trump tweeted that he doesn’t make money but loses “a fortune” by serving as president.
Beetle thrives in Mexico City hills
MEXICO CITY — The Beetle is dead. Long live the Beetle. The modern edition of the iconic Volkswagen model ceased production Wednesday, but people in Cuautepec on the outskirts of Mexico City still rely on the original no-frills version, praising it for its affordability, reparability and, most of all, its dexterity at handling the district’s steep streets. High above the valley floor, where the notorious smog turns the surrounding hills into hazy silhouettes, the old-model compacts are popularly used as informal taxis for a place that lacks public transportation. The sputtering, bulbous, rear-engine cars popularly known as “vochos” are ever-present in Cuautepec, an obsession for some after production of the Type 1’s stopped in 2003 and the front-engine New Beetle failed to impress most locals. “The new ones don’t get uphill, and the old ones can climb any incline without problem,” said taxi driver Adri’n MartÌnez. An exception is businessman David Alvarez of neighboring Mexico State who drives a 2008 New Beetle with a roll-down top. Though he has owned older Beetles and admits his newer version isn’t as ideal for hilly terrain, he likes the attention it gets.
Tech worker charged in slaying
SALT LAKE CITY — A tech worker was charged Wednesday with murder and kidnapping in the death of a Utah college student whose body was found in a wooded area with her arms bound behind her. Prosecutors said Ayoola A. Ajayi, 31, was the last person Mackenzie Lueck communicated with before she disappeared on June 17. She died of blunt force trauma to the head, and her body was found with her arms bound with zip ties and ropes, District Attorney Sim Gill said while announcing the charges. He declined to discuss a motive or the nature of the connection between Lueck and Ajayi. He also didn’t say what kind of weapon was used. Gill became emotional as he described the Lueck family’s reaction to the charges.
Sentenced for stealing Marilyn
LOS ANGELES — A man who stole a statue of Marilyn Monroe from atop a Hollywood public art installation has been sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to pay more than $14,000 in restitution. Austin Mikel Clay, 25, on Tuesday entered an open plea of no contest to felony grand theft and vandalism. The Monroe statue depicts the actress in an iconic pose from the 1955 film “The Seven Year Itch” and went missing June 16. Last year Clay pleaded no contest to a felony vandalism charge for smashing President Trump’s Walk of Fame star with a pickax. He was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay damages to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in that case.
Man eaten by his own dogs
DALLAS — A Texas man who had been missing for months was eaten, bones and all, by his pack of dogs. Medical examiners said Tuesday that DNA testing determined that pieces of bone recovered from the dogs’ feces were those of 57-year-old Freddie Mack. Deputy Aaron Pitts said the 18 mixed-breed dogs apparently devoured all of Mack’s body, his clothing and his hair, leaving nothing larger than 2- to 5-inch bone fragments. “Never have we ever, or anyone we’ve spoken to, heard of an entire human being consumed,” Pitts said. “The bones were completely broken up and eaten.” Mack had serious health problems, and it’s unclear whether the dogs killed their owner or consumed his body after he died from a medical condition. “Either way, it is a very gruesome event and we extend our sympathy to Freddie Mack’s family,” Sheriff Adam King said.
Windfall from toll machine
MULVANE, Kan. — Some drivers got a surprise windfall when a malfunctioning toll machine spat out coins instead of accepting money near a Kansas casino. The Kansas Turnpike Authority inadvertently divulged details about the mishap when it sent a text alert to its public subscribers. The note said there was “NO WAY” to know the exact dollar amount that was taken.
Sheetz puts Bitcoin ATMs in 6
ALTOONA, Pa. — A convenience store chain is putting Bitcoin ATMs in six shops around the state and one in North Carolina, giving customers the ability to buy and sell the cryptocurrency with U.S. dollars. Sheetz, based in Altoona,announced Tuesday it has teamed up with Coinsource to put the ATMs in the five Pennsylvania stores and a shop in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Customers must enroll with Coinsource before they can use the ATMs. Then, they’ll be able to make transactions from $5 to $5,000 per day from the machines. Family-owned Sheetz operates over 585 stores in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and North Carolina. Last month, Arizona-based convenience store Circle K partnered with DigitalMint to install Bitcoin ATMs in 20 shops in Arizona and Nevada.
$143M in antiquities smuggled
NEW YORK — An art dealer who authorities called one of the most prolific smugglers in the world and seven others were charged with trafficking more than $140 million in stolen antiquities. Authorities described the case as one of the largest of its kind, saying the conspiracy began more than three decades ago and involved more than 2,600 recovered artifacts, including statues and ancient masterworks.A criminal complaint filed in Manhattan state court said the smuggling was orchestrated by Subhash Kapoor, a New York art gallery owner who was arrested in Germany in 2011 and later extradited to India, where he faces similar charges. The prosecution involves artifacts stolen from Afghanistan, Cambodia, India, Pakistan and other countries that were sold for profit to dealers and collectors around the world. Some of the items appeared in world-renowned museums without officials realizing they were ill-gotten gains.
2 dead in freeway bridge jump
SAN DIEGO — Two teenagers were killed and two critically injured when they jumped off a 75-foot freeway bridge after a crash on California’s central coast. Acar spun out and crashed into a bridge guardrail on State Route 56 in Carmel Valley at about 11 p.m. Tuesday. The CHP says six people left the stalled car, possibly out of fear that oncoming cars might hit it. Sgt. Brent Lowry says four of the six ran across the road and jumped what they may have thought was a wall. It was the side of the bridge. An 18-year-old man and a younger male teen were killed. Two girls, ages 14 and 15, were critically injured. The other two people from the car are being sought.
Rat poison plan criticized
SAN FRANCISCO — Federal wildlife officials were urged Wednesday to withdraw a proposal to drop 1.5 tons of rat poison on remote islands off the coast of California to kill a mice infestation until they address questions on the impact to wildlife. The California Coastal Commission heard public comment on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan, which has drawn criticism from local conservation groups. The commission is seeking to determine whether the plan complies with state coastal management rules. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a report presented to the commission in March that a massive house mice population is threatening the whole ecosystem on the rugged Farallon Islands, 27 miles off the coast of San Francisco. The archipelago is home to the largest seabird breeding colony in the contiguous United States, with approximately 300,000 to 350,000 birds of 13 species, including the rare ashy storm petrels. The islands are also used by marine mammal species for resting and breeding and by migratory birds. Federal wildlife officials proposed using helicopters to dump 2,900 pounds of cereal grain pellets laced with brodifacoum, an anticoagulant that causes rodents to bleed to death. The substance is banned in California. Officials acknowledged the plan will kill some seagulls and other species but argue that the benefits of eliminating the invasive species will heal the whole ecosystem.
School to offer free condoms
MADISON, Wis. — Madison West High School will provide condoms for free to students upon request as part of a pilot program this year. Students will be told about reproductive health, proper condom use and sexual consent when they request the contraceptives. According to Dane County’s health department, the number of sexually transmitted infections at West increased from about 40 in 2015 to more than 90 in 2017. Of the 305 sexually active West students who responded to a 2018 survey, 21 percent reported never using a condom. The state estimates only about 7 percent of Wisconsin high schools offer free condoms.
Lottery scammer gets 4 years
BISMARCK, N.D. — A federal judge in North Dakota on Wednesday sentenced a Rhode Island woman to four years in prison for funneling lottery scam money between the U.S. and Jamaica, prompting a prosecutor to question the ruling. Melinda Bulgin, 29, of Providence, received a sentence that was 10 years less than prosecutors had sought. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland said Bulgin’s role in the scam was not on the level of others who received lesser sentences than the 14 years requested by prosecutors. A jury in September convicted Bulgin of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering in a scam that authorities say bilked more than 100 mostly elderly Americans out of more than $6 million. It’s believed to be the first large-scale Jamaican lottery scam tried in the U.S. The scam involved 31 defendants, including 14 Jamaican nationals, most of whom accepted plea deals with the government. The scam’s alleged kingpin, Lavrick Willocks, was among those who accepted a plea deal. Prosecutors say he ran the scam out of a Jamaica mansion where he lived with his mother. Hovland in October sentenced Willocks to six years, crediting him with cooperating. Authorities say Bulgin funneled scam proceeds via cheap flights she got through her airline job. She eventually was caught at a Jamaican airport in 2015.
Principal’s job now in jeopardy
BOCA RATON, Fla. — A Florida school superintendent is recommending that a recently reassigned high school principal should lose his job for telling a student’s mother that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.” Palm Beach County Superintendent Donald Fennoy said in videotaped statement Wednesday that he is recommending that the school board not renew former Spanish River High Principal William Latson’s contract when it expires June 30, 11 months from now. U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, local members of Congress and other politicians have called for Latson to be fired. “Our children need to be taught the facts of our history, period,” Fennoy said. He added that “our schools can never be fact-neutral environments.”
Car swept away, woman dies
HASTINGS, Neb. — A woman has died after her vehicle was swept away by rushing water in flooded south-central Nebraska, making her the first death attributed to the flooding this week. Warnings were issued after up to 9 inches of rain fell in some spots during storms that struck Buffalo, Dawson, Frontier, Gosper, Kearney and Phelps counties overnight Monday. Floodwater entered several communities, including Kearney, where several people were stranded in their homes or vehicles. Shelly Masoner, 46, of Eustis, died Wednesday from injuries she received Tuesday when her vehicle was caught in moving water on Highway 21 and was swept away. Authorities say her car ended up rolling into a ditch filled with water.