‘Real Housewives’ stars arrested

This image released by Bravo shows Jen Shah, a cast member from the reality series "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City." Authorities announced that Shah and Stuart Smith were arrested Tuesday in Utah on federal fraud charges. (Chad Kirkland/Bravo via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — Two members of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” reality television show appeared in court for the first time Tuesday after being arrested on federal fraud charges alleging they cheated hundreds of people nationwide over a 10-year period in a telemarketing scheme. Jennifer Shah, 47, of Park City, Utah, and Stuart Smith, 43, of Lehi, Utah, were arrested in Utah on charges including conspiracy that were unsealed in New York City. Prosecutors set several conditions for Shah and Smith to be released that bar them from contacting each other, traveling outside of Utah — unless it’s to New York for a court appearance — or engaging in telemarketing. The prosecution also asked that Shah and Smith not spend more than $10,000 from personal or company accounts, except to pay for legal fees. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss noted in a release that Shah portrays herself as a wealthy and successful businessperson on television, while Smith was cast as her first assistant. Shah is in the main cast of the Bravo program, which completed its first season in February. Shah was often at the center of the show’s most dramatic moments and threw a glass during an argument with one of her fellow cast members. She is also the wife of University of Utah assistant football coach Sharrieff Shah. In the alleged scheme, Shah and Smith sold the victims so-called business services such as tax preparation or website designs that they touted as a way to make the people’s companies more efficient and profitable, prosecutors say in the indictment. Many of the victims were over 55 and didn’t own computers. They carried out the scheme from 2012-2021, prosecutors say. Shah and Smith tried to hide their role in the scheme by using third-party names for their business entities, telling victims to use encrypted messages to communicate with them and instructing people to send some payments to offshore bank accounts, the indictment says. The prosecutor said they “allegedly generated and sold ‘lead lists’ of innocent individuals for other members of their scheme to repeatedly scam. In actual reality and as alleged, the so-called business opportunities pushed on the victims by Shah, Smith, and their co-conspirators were just fraudulent schemes, motivated by greed, to steal victims’ money.”

Onlooker anger increased

MINNEAPOLIS — Onlookers grew increasingly angry as they begged Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin to take his knee off George Floyd’s neck, but Chauvin would not let up, and another officer forced back members of the crowd who tried to intervene, witnesses testified Tuesday at Chauvin’s murder trial. Witness after witness described how Chauvin was unmoved by their pleas, with the teenager who shot the harrowing video of the arrest that set off nationwide protests testifying that the officer gave the crowd a “cold” and “heartless” stare. “He didn’t care. It seemed as if he didn’t care what we were saying,” said 18-year-old Darnella Frazier, one of several witnesses who testified through tears. Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd while fellow Officer Tou Thao held the crowd of about 15 back, even when one of the onlookers identified herself as a firefighter and pleaded repeatedly to check Floyd’s pulse, according to witnesses and bystander video. The firefighter, Genevieve Hansen, wept on the witness stand as she recalled how she was not allowed to give any medical assistance or tell the police what to do, such as administering chest compressions. “There was a man being killed,” said Hansen, who testified in her dress uniform and said she had emergency medical technician training. “I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities. And this human was denied that right.” Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter, accused of killing Floyd last May by pinning the 46-year-old handcuffed Black man to the pavement for what prosecutors said was 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Floyd was arrested after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at the convenience store.

FBI enlisted Proud Boys leader

FBI agents recruited a Proud Boys leader to provide them with information about antifa networks months before he was charged with storming the U.S. Capitol with other members of the far-right extremist group, a defense attorney says. Proud Boys “thought leader” and organizer Joseph Biggs (lerft) agreed to provide the FBI with information about anti-fascist activists in Florida and elsewhere after an agent contacted him in late July 2020 and arranged to meet at a restaurant, Biggs’ lawyer, J. Daniel Hull, wrote Monday in a court filing. The two agents who met with Biggs wanted to know what he was “seeing on the ground,” Hull said. Over the next few weeks, Biggs answered an agent’s follow-up questions in a series of phone calls. “They spoke often,” added Hull, who is petitioning a judge to keep Biggs out of jail pending trial. The defense lawyer’s claims buttress a widely held view among left-leaning ideological opponents of the Proud Boys that law enforcement has coddled them, condoned their violence and even protected them during their frequent street brawls with anti-fascists. The Proud Boys even have counted some law enforcement officers among their ranks, including a Connecticut police officer and a Louisiana sheriff’s deputy.

On the phone when limb kills her

WATERVILLE, Maine — A motorist was talking on her cellphone to her future wife when powerful winds blew a tree limb onto her car and killed her. Rochelle Hager, 31, was an executive chef who posted popular TikTok videos and was engaged to be married this fall. “It happened really quick,” Brittanie Lynn Ritchie said. “She has a phone mounted in her vent. I just heard a crash and then there was nothing.” Hager was driving in Farmington when a storm that produced gusts topping 50 mph toppled the tree limb and killed her instantly. Hager was the sole occupant, and no other vehicles were involved. Hager and Ritchie were both popular on TikTok. Together, they had more than 400,000 followers. Ritchie posted a tearful tribute and said Hager “loved her TikTok fam.”

Just kidding, Volkswagen says

DETROIT — Volkswagen of America issued false statements this week saying it would change its brand name to “Voltswagen,” to stress its commitment to electric vehicles, only to reverse course Tuesday and admit that the supposed name change was a joke. Mark Gillies, a company spokesman, confirmed Tuesday that the statement had been a pre-April Fool’s Day joke after having insisted Monday that the release was legitimate and the name change accurate. The company’s false statement was distributed again Tuesday, saying the brand-name change reflected a shift to more battery-electric vehicles. Volkswagen’s intentionally fake news release, highly unusual for a major public company, coincides with its efforts to repair its image as it tries to recover from a 2015 scandal in which it cheated on government emissions tests and allowed diesel-powered vehicles to illegally pollute the air. The latest fake release could land Volkswagen in trouble with U.S. securities regulators because its stock price rose nearly 5% on Tuesday, the day the bogus statement was officially issued. Investors of late have been responding positively to news of companies increasing electric vehicle production, swelling the value of shares of Tesla as well as of some EV startups. This week’s Volkswagen incident bears some similarity to one in 2018 in which Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he had the funding secured to take the company private — a comment that drove up the stock price. Later, it was revealed that the funding had not been lined up. Musk and Tesla each agreed to pay $20 million in penalties to the SEC. Erik Gordon, a business and law professor at the University of Michigan, said he thought that for the SEC to be interested, it would have to believe that VW knowingly issued the fake news release to manipulate its stock price.

Test rocket breaks apart

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX chalked up another failed landing Tuesday for its futuristic, bullet-shaped Starship, as the prototype Mars rocket broke apart right before touchdown. A camera on the rocket froze not quite six minutes into the test flight, and dense fog in South Texas obscured views of the ruptured rocket. Other video showed debris raining down and explosions could be heard. “At least the crater is in the right place!” SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk tweeted. Musk said “something significant” happened shortly after the engine firings for landing: “Should know what it was once we can examine the bits later today.” In addition, one of the three engines had trouble during the ascent, he noted. This was the fourth full-scale stainless steel model to launch since December to an altitude of more than 6 miles. The previous three exploded at touchdown or shortly afterward. The prototype is 164 feet tall. “Another exciting test, as we say,” SpaceX launch commentator John Insprucker said as he concluded the webcast.

Humans feel for mama bear

WINCHESTER, Conn. — A mother bear caught on video trying to coax four rambunctious cubs across a busy Connecticut road has parents across the internet nodding in sympathy. Hundreds of people responded to a 4-minute video of the bear’s struggles on the Winchester Police Department’s Facebook page. Other videos of the bears also circulated online. “I never had four but I still can relate! So glad the cars waited for them,” wrote one mother from Sedona, Arizona. “The trials and tribulations of all mothers. Poor Momma!” wrote another woman. The video taken Sunday shows the bear trying several times to get the cubs safely across Rowley Street, which has a posted speed limit of 40 mph, as a police cruiser blocks traffic. The mother bear would pick up one cub with her mouth and carry it to a grassy area, only to have another scamper back into the road. Police thanked motorists for being patient and keeping the bears safe, using the video as a springtime warning to drivers. “The weather is getting nicer and the wildlife is coming out to play! Please use caution while driving and avoid interacting with these animals,” the department warned.

French bulldog found safe

LOS ANGELES — A French bulldog puppy stolen at gunpoint last week in Los Angeles was found safe and returned to its owners. Police said they are looking for two male suspects in the latest in a string of dog thefts in the Los Angeles area. The 5-month-old puppy, named Seven, was found late Friday, days after his family offered $12,000 for his safe return. The dog was nabbed outside a Target store in North Hollywood on March 20. The men followed the dog’s owner from the store and into the parking lot where one of the men pulled out a gun. The suspects ran away with the puppy. Last month, two men shot Lady Gaga’s dog walker, Ryan Fischer, and stole two of the singer’s three French bulldogs. Fischer, who was shot in the chest, survived. The dogs were later turned into police but no arrests were made. In another case involving the popular breed, two people were arrested earlier this month in connection with the theft of a French bulldog in Redondo Beach.

Major pain for the president

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s younger dog Major this week was involved in his second biting incident of the month, the White House said Tuesday. The dog “nipped someone while on a walk” on Monday, said Michael LaRosa, press secretary to first lady Jill Biden, adding that the dog “is still adjusting to his new surroundings.” The individual was seen by the White House Medical Unit “out of an abundance of caution” and returned to work without injury. The dog had been seen by reporters on a walk around the White House South Lawn before the president and first lady traveled to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial early Monday evening. The german shepherd only just returned to the White House last week, along with his sibling Champ, after causing a minor injury to an employee of the U.S. Secret Service on March 8. After that incident, the president said Major was “a sweet dog.” Biden explained the biting by saying that the dog had “turned a corner, there’s two people he doesn’t know at all, you know, and they move and moves to protect.” Biden added at the time that “85% of the people there love him.” Major, a 3-year-old rescue dog, and Champ, who is 12, were moved to the Bidens’ Delaware home after the incident. The president said Major was being trained in Delaware but disputed the idea that the pup had been sent away. He said the dogs went to Wilmington because the first couple was going to be out of town. “He was going home,” Biden said. “I didn’t banish him to home. Jill was going to be away for four days. I was going to be away for two, so we took him home.”

Redwood falls on car, kills parents

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. — A towering California redwood tree fell on a car as a couple drove on a scenic highway of the state’s northern coast, killing the parents of five children. The accident happened last week when the 175-foot-tall tree fell on Highway 199 in an area heavily forested with the trees near Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Jessica and Jake Woodruff were taking the drive to celebrate her 45th birthday when the tree fell on March 25. Officials did not know why the tree fell Winds were light at the time and there is no wind sensor where the accident happened, but a nearby sensor had recorded winds of 9 mph. “This is a very forested area,” officer Brandy Gonzalez said. “We have trees everywhere. It’s in the middle of the redwoods. It’s just old growth and we have no idea why the tree fell. It was Mother Nature.”

20 years for locker room camera

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A former janitor at a Florida high school has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for hiding a camera in a girls’ locker room. Jason Brian Goff, 45, of Starke, pleaded guilty in September to attempted production of child pornography. Two 14-year-old girls reported a suspected camera in August 2019 at Clay High School in Green Cove Springs. Officials found a cell phone taped to the inside wall of an unassigned locker. A video on the phone showed girls changing, along with a shot of Goff’s school identification badge. Goff was arrested the next month and acknowledged trying to film girls in the locker room at least three times. Other electronic devices belonging to Goff contained additional images from the girls’ locker room and a collection of child pornography.

SSA recipients to get stimulus

Social Security recipients and other federal beneficiaries who don’t normally file a tax return should expect their coronavirus relief payments soon. The federal government began distributing the third round of economic impact payments in mid-March to millions of Americans. But a paperwork delay temporarily held up payments to Social Security, Supplemental Security Income and Railroad Retirement Board beneficiaries who did not file a 2019 or 2020 tax return or did not use the tool made available on IRS website for non-filers. The IRS said Tuesday that it expects payments will be sent to those beneficiaries on April 7. The government needed updated beneficiary information to begin distributing the latest round of payments. After receiving data from the Social Security Administration on Thursday, the IRS began reviewing, validating, and testing tens of millions of records to ensure eligibility and proper calculation of the payments. If no additional issues arise, the IRS said it expects to complete that work and to begin processing these payments at the end of this week.

Probe into Suez blockage begins

SUEZ, Egypt — Experts boarded the massive container ship Tuesday that had blocked Egypt’s vital Suez Canal and disrupted global trade for nearly a week, seeking answers to a single question that could have billions of dollars in legal repercussions: What went wrong? As convoys of ships again began traveling through the artery linking the Mediterranean and Red Seas, a canal service provider said more than 300 vessels carrying everything from crude oil to cattle were still waiting for their turn in a process that will take days. Egyptian government officials, insurers, shippers and others similarly waited for more details about what caused the skyscraper-sized Ever Given to become wedged across the canal on March 23. When blame gets assigned, it will likely lead to years of litigation to recoup the costs of repairing the ship, fixing the canal and reimbursing those who saw their cargo shipments disrupted. Since the vessel is owned by a Japanese firm, operated by a Taiwanese shipper, flagged in Panama and now stuck in Egypt, matters quickly become an international morass. “This ship is a multinational conglomeration,” said Capt. John Konrad, the founder and CEO of the shipping news website gcaptain.com. There could be significant damage to the the ship, Konrad warned. Stuck for days across the canal, the ship’s middle rose and fell with the tide, bending up and down under the tremendous weight of some 20,000 containers across its 400-meter length. On Monday, when workers partially floated the ship, all that pressure came forward to its bow. “Structural integrity is No. 1. You know, there was a lot of strain on that ship as it was sagging in the waterway,” Konrad said. “They have to check everything for cracks and particularly that rudder and the propeller in the back that’s connected to the engine room.”

Phishing scam target colleges

The Internal Revenue Service issued a warning Tuesday about a phishing scam targeting students and staff at educational institutions who have an .edu email address. The IRS said it has received complaints about the scam aimed at students at both public and private, profit and non-profit institutions. The fraudulent emails display the IRS logo and use various subject lines, such as “Tax Refund Payment” or “Recalculation of your tax refund payment.” The emails ask people to click a link and submit a form to claim their refund. The phishing website then requests people provide personal information, such as their name, date of birth and Social Security number. People who receive this scam email should not click on the link in the email, but they can report it to the IRS. The IRS said taxpayers who believe they may have provided identity thieves with their information should consider immediately obtaining an Identity Protection PIN. An IP PIN is a six-digit number that helps prevent identity thieves from filing fraudulent tax returns in the victim’s name. Taxpayers who attempt to e-file their tax return and find it rejected because a return with their social security number already has been filed should file an Identity Theft Affidavit reporting themselves as a possible identity theft victim.

Two die in ISU boating accident

AMES, Iowa — Two Iowa State University students who died when their school crew boat capsized on a lake were identified. Yaakov Ben-David, 20, a sophomore accounting major from Washington D.C., and Derek Nanni, 19, a freshman chemistry major from Normal, Illinois, drowned in the boating accident Sunday. Their boat capsized on Little Wall Lake. Three other crew members were rescued by people who lived around the lake. The students were part of the Iowa State Crew Club, a recognized student organization.

Accused of kidnapping, assault

MIAMI — A man arrested by police early Tuesday is accused of abducting, sexually assaulting and shooting a 12-year-old boy who had snuck out of his home to walk to a friend’s house in South Florida. A passerby saw the boy wandering along a Miami street before 3 a.m. Saturday and alerted authorities. The boy later told police he had heard a loud bang and was pushed out of a car. He had been shot in the jaw and was temporarily blinded. “He had lost his sight and he was using his touch trying to find his way around to seek help,” Miami-Dade detective Alvaro Zabaleta told news outlets. Police said they arrested Aliex Santiesteban, 43, early Tuesday. He’s charged with sexual battery with a deadly weapon, kidnapping a child under 13 and attempted murder. Major Brian Rafky of the Miami-Dade police’s Special Victims Bureau said detectives were able to track down the suspect through “good old-fashioned police work and DNA evidence.”

Crews gaining control of wildfires

NEMO, S.D. — Firefighters on Tuesday began to gain control of wildfires in the Black Hills of South Dakota that have forced the evacuation of more than 400 homes and closed the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Three separate wildfires were burning near Rapid City, with the largest near Schroeder Road in the Nemo area. That fire has burned nearly 3.3 square mile. But officials said they expected to contain about half of the fire by the end of the day. “It’s not over yet, but we’re in a pretty good spot,” said Gov. Kristi Noem, who traveled to Rapid City to help oversee the fire response. But the Republican governor acknowledged that fire danger had not passed, declaring a state of emergency until June. She cited “widespread drought conditions, low humidity, high wind and high temperatures that create serious peril for our state.” The order allows state agencies to assist in tackling the wildfires.

Alabama Shakes drummer charged

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The drummer for Grammy Award-winning rock band Alabama Shakes is in custody on child abuse charges. Steven William Johnson, 35, was arrested Wednesday after being indicted on charges of willful torture, willful abuse and cruelly beating or otherwise willfully maltreating a child under the age of 18. Johnson pleaded guilty in March 2020 to violating a domestic violence protection order in Limestone County. He received a suspended sentence of a year in jail, with 24 months on probation. The Athens, Alabama-based band has been on hiatus since 2018, when lead singer Brittany Howard decided to focus on her solo project.


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