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120 years for self-hep guru

NEW YORK — Disgraced self-improvement guru Keith Raniere (right), whose NXIVM followers included millionaires and Hollywood actors, was sentenced to 120 years on Tuesday for turning some adherents into sex slaves branded with his initials. U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis handed down the sentence in federal court in Brooklyn after a lengthy hearing featuring statements by victims of a sex-trafficking conspiracy that resulted in Raniere’s conviction last year. Raniere, 60, had shown no remorse, with his lawyers telling the judge before the sentencing that their client wasn’t sorry “for his conduct or his choices.” The sentencing culminated several years of revelations about Raniere’s program, NXIVM, which charged thousands of dollars for invitation-only self improvement courses at its headquarters near Albany, New York, along with branches in Mexico and Canada. Adherents included millionaires and Hollywood actresses willing to endure humiliation and pledge obedience to the defendant as part of his teachings. Prosecutors said Raniere led what amounted to a criminal enterprise, inducing shame and guilt to influence and control co-conspirators who helped recruit and groom sexual partners for Raniere. He was convicted on charges including racketeering, alien smuggling, sex trafficking, extortion and obstruction of justice. They said that among other crimes, Raniere began a sexual relationship in 2005 with a 15-year-old girl and confined another teenager to a room for nearly two years. Raniere had come under harsh attack on Tuesday from former followers during sentencing in his sex-trafficking case. India Oxenberg (below right), the daughter of “Dynasty” actress Catherine Oxenberg, called him an “entitled little princess” and a sexual predator and lamented that she “may have to spend the rest of my life with Keith Raneire’s initials seared into me.” Reniere’s followers called him “Vanguard.” To honor him, the group formed a secret sorority comprised of female “slaves” who were branded with his initials and ordered to have sex with him, the prosecutors said. Women were also pressured into giving up embarrassing information about themselves that could be used against them if they left the group.

Casinos want aid in recovering

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The U.S. casino industry is seeking tax and regulatory relief from the government as it tries to recover from the coronavirus outbreak, which cost states more than $2 billion in lost tax revenue while casinos were shut down for four months this year. While 90% of casinos have reopened, they are operating at restricted levels to try to slow the spread of the virus, and additional financial aid is needed for casinos and their workers, according to the head of the gambling industry’s national trade group. In his State of the Casinos speech Tuesday at the G2E 2020 conference, held online this year because of the pandemic, American Gaming Association President Bill Miller said the industry is coming back but needs a hand. “Gaming has never experienced a disruption like COVID-19,” he said. “Over two weeks in March, every casino in America was closed by government-mandated shutdowns, impacting each of the 1.8 million jobs we support. Gaming workers, their families, and the small businesses that depend on us have all been hit hard. And our states and communities are feeling it, too. In addition to COVID’s impact on businesses, jobs, and the well-being of our families, friends and colleagues, state budgets have been decimated by the pandemic.” Detroit lost $600,000 in gambling tax revenue for every day its casinos were shut, he said. The pandemic wiped out $209 million in gaming tax revenue in Maryland and $323 million in Pennsylvania, he added. The U.S. commercial casino industry took in $43.6 billion in 2019, a figure that is certain to decline this year due to the virus-related closures, the remaining restrictions on occupancy, and the hesitancy of some customers to return to casinos and hotels.

Medicare to cover virus vaccine

WASHINGTON — Medicare will cover the yet-to-be approved coronavirus vaccine free for older people under a policy change expected to be announced shortly, a senior Trump administration official said Tuesday. The coming announcement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services aims to align the time-consuming process for securing Medicare coverage of a new vaccine, drug or treatment with the rapid campaign to have a coronavirus vaccine ready for initial distribution once it is ready, possibly as early as the end of the year. The administration official said Medicare’s announcement will try to resolve several legal technicalities that could conceivably get in the way of delivering free vaccines to millions of seniors, a high-risk group for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Start earlier on colon cancer tests

NEW YORK — A panel of health experts wants U.S. adults to start getting colon cancer screenings at age 45, five years younger than it previously recommended. While overall, colon cancer rates have been declining, the draft guidelines issued Tuesday by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reflect a growing concern about rising rates in people under the age of 50. “We’ve seen more data showing that younger people are getting colon cancer at higher rates,” said Dr. Alex Krist, a family doctor at Virginia Commonwealth University and a member of the task force. “Basically a 45-year-old today has the same risk of getting colon cancer as a 50-year-old from years past.” The task force is a volunteer panel of doctors that regularly reviews evidence and issues advice on medical tests and treatments. The group is proposing that adults of average risk for colon cancer be screened from ages 45 to 75. How often the tests are done depends on the type of screening: a colonoscopy is usually every five to 10 years while stool-based tests are every year. After age 75, the task force says screening decisions should be made on an individual basis.

Bomb at seminary in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A powerful bomb blast ripped through an Islamic seminary on the outskirts of the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday morning, killing at least eight students in their 20s and wounding 136 others. The bombing happened as a prominent religious scholar during a special class was delivering a lecture about the teachings of Islam at the main hall of the Jamia Zubairia madrassa, said police officer Waqar Azim. He said initial investigations suggest the bomb went off minutes after someone left a bag at the madrassa. TV footage showed the damaged main hall of the seminary, where the bombing took place. The hall was littered with broken glass and its carpet was stained with blood. Police said at least 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of explosives were used in the attack. Several of the wounded students were in critical condition, and hospital authorities feared the death toll could climb further. Authorities said some seminary teachers and employees were also wounded in the bombing. From his hospital bed, a wounded student, Mohammad Saqib, 24, said religious scholar Rahimullah Haqqani was explaining verses from the Quran when suddenly they heard a deafening sound and then cries and saw blood-stained students crying for help. Another witness, Saeed Ullah, 24, said up to 500 students were present at the seminary’s main hall at the time of the explosion. He said teachers were also among those who were wounded in the bombing.

Company didn’t report tampering

PORTLAND, Maine — A Maine company that produces pizza dough and is the focus of a tampering investigation received three complaints about screws in the dough that were never reported to the Food and Drug Administration. Scarborough-based It’ll Be Pizza produced the dough in which supermarket customers found razor blades October, leading to a police investigation. But there were three other episodes involving dough containing screws that were not reported as the company looked into the matter and ultimately chose to hire a private investigator, the Portland Press Herald reported. The three cases involving screws were disclosed after the newspaper filed a formal request for documents from health officials. It’ll Be Pizza said the screws were not the same type used in its machinery, and the company hired a private investigator to track down a recently fired forklift operator, Nicholas Mitchell, who is accused of tampering and is in jail.

Phone theft from dying jogger

ST. LOUIS — A man is facing charges for allegedly stealing a cellphone from a collapsed jogger who was dying on a St. Louis sidewalk. Brian Davenport, 35, was arrested Monday and is charged with felony stealing,. The 64-year-old jogger collapsed around 1 p.m. Oct. 18 in the city’s Soulard neighborhood. Davenport was arrested after surveillance video showed a man getting out of a van, taking the phone and leaving the woman on the sidewalk. The woman later died at a hospital.

Barrett sworn in at court

WASHINGTON — Amy Coney Barrett was formally sworn in Tuesday as the Supreme Court’s ninth justice, her oath administered in private by Chief Justice John Roberts. Her first votes on the court could include two big topics affecting the man who appointed her. The court is weighing a plea from President Donald Trump to prevent the Manhattan district attorney from acquiring his tax returns. It is also considering appeals from the Trump campaign and Republicans to shorten the deadline for receiving and counting absentee ballots in the battleground states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County filed legal papers at the court Tuesday arguing that Barrett should not take part in the Pennsylvania case. It’s not clear if she will vote in the pending cases, but she will make that call. Barrett declined to commit to Democratic demands that she step aside from any cases on controversial topics, including a potential post-election dispute over the presidential results. At 48, she’s the youngest justice since Clarence Thomas joined the court in 1991 at age 43.

Population of right whales dips

PORTLAND, Maine — The population of North Atlantic right whales, an endangered species that has been the focus of conservation efforts for decades, has dipped to less than 370. The whale numbers at only 366, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday in an estimate that reflects the population as of January 2019. The previous estimate, which reflected January 2018, was 412. The whales have struggled with poor reproduction and high mortality over the last decade, especially the past few years. They’re vulnerable to ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear. The population was more than 480 in 2011. A NOAA team is working on a plan designed to reduce the risk the whales face due to fishing gear. The right whales have been a federally protected species since 1972.

Two lose limbs in shark attack

CAIRO — A young Ukrainian tourist lost an arm and an Egyptian tour guide a leg in a rare shark attack over the weekend off Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. The attack took place Sunday when two tourists — a mother and her son –and their tour guide were snorkeling in Ras Mohammed national park, the Environment Ministry said in a statement. The injured were taken to a nearby hospital and an initial investigation showed that the attack involved a 2-meter (6-foot) long Oceanic Whitetip shark, the ministry said. The 12-year-old boy was in intensive care, and that surgery had failed to save his arm. An Egyptian health official said that the family’s guide had lost a leg, and the mother suffered light injuries. Officials have closed the area of Ras Mohammed National Park where the attack took place. Shark attacks have been rare in the Red Sea coastal region of Egypt in recent years. But in 2010, a spate of shark attacks killed one European tourist and maimed several others off Sharm el-Sheikh. The resort at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula is one of Egypt’s major tourist destinations, that offers European tourists a warm and quick escape from frigid winter temperatures on the continent. Divers are drawn by the steep drop-offs of coral reefs just offshore that offer a rich and colorful sea life.

Wind adds to SoCal fire risk

LOS ANGELES — Crews tried to beat back two out-of-control wildfires in Southern California on Tuesday that have kept tens of thousands of people out of their homes even as another round of dangerous fire weather raises the risk for flames erupting across the state. Fierce winds that drove twin fires through brushy hills near cities in Orange County a day earlier were expected to pick back up, although not to the earlier extremes, according to the National Weather Service. Southern California Edison reported to regulators that it was investigating whether its equipment might have sparked the Silverado Fire near the city of Irvine. With utility equipment blamed for several destructive fires in recent years, Edison was among the utilities in California that deliberately cut power to customers to prevent equipment from being knocked down or hit with debris in the winds and sparking wildfires. Irvine residents had to evacuate after a fire broke out early Monday, while later and a few miles away, another blaze, the Blue Ridge Fire, sent people fleeing from the Yorba Linda area. More than 100,000 people were under evacuation orders. At least 10 homes were damaged and crews protected hundreds more as winds pushed flames down ridges toward neighborhoods. There was little containment of the fires, which continued to grow throughout the day. Forecasts call for Santa Ana winds to keep blowing over much of Southern California, with some of the strongest gusts howling through Orange County, where the major blazes are. The winds were expected to be lighter than a day earlier and die down by nighttime. The gusts were so strong Monday that they toppled several semi-trucks on highways and forced firefighters to ground their aircraft, though they got back up by late afternoon and were expected to fly Tuesday.

200-pound tortoise back home

SARDIS CITY, Ala. — A 200-pound tortoise named Sparkplug that escaped from a pen in Alabama is back home after a journey across two counties and at least one soybean field. Sparkplug, a 60-year-old African spurred tortoise that lived in an enclosure in Etowah County, pushed its way out of the fenced pen on Thursday. A motorist who spotted the animal on the side of the road took it to his 200-acre (81-hectare) spread in Marshall County, owner Ty Harris told The Gadsden Times in a story Monday. Harris found out what had happened after using social media to spread the word about Sparkplug, but there was still the matter of finding the tortoise on the land where he’d been released. A big, roaming tortoise leaves tracks, and area farmers were able to see where Sparkplug had plowed through soybean fields. The man who initially released Sparkplug into the wild found the tortoise and returned it to Harris on Saturday. “He just had a couple of days out on the town,” said Harris. Harris used to operate a wildlife sanctuary in the area and got Sparkplug from a family in New Jersey that couldn’t keep the animal.

Ex-king finally receives daughter

BRUSSELS — The long-running royal scandal that has riveted Belgium and damaged those involved has achieved a new milestone after former King Albert II reunited with the daughter he fathered out of wedlock more than half a century ago — and stubbornly refused to recognize. Capping a momentous few weeks, the ex-king and his wife Queen Paola received the former Delphine Boel at their residence, the 18th Century Belvedere Castle outside Brussels. Boel, a 52-year-old artist, last month won recognition as Her Royal Highness Princess Delphine following a bitter two-decade paternity fight. “After the tumult, the suffering and the hurt, it is time for forgiveness, healing and reconciliation,” the three said in a joint statement issued by the Royal Palace on Tuesday, two days after the meeting. “Together, we decided to take this new path. It will require patience and effort, but we are determined,” they said. In September a Belgian court ruled in Princess Delphine’s favor and officially recognized her as the daughter of King Albert II, something the aging monarch had fought tooth and nail to avoid ever since paternity rumors became public in 1998. Princess Delphine is an artist known for her quirky, sometimes outrageous, statues that could even have references to her royal father. Albert II, 86, was king until 2013.

21 million already cast ballots

COLUMBIA, Mo. — With coronavirus cases spreading rapidly across her state, Samantha Allen laments that Missouri does not allow voters to cast their ballots in person before Election Day. More than 21 million voters across the U.S. have taken advantage of early in-person voting amid record-breaking early turnout, according to Associated Press elections research.

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