Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Los Angeles Sues Imprisoned Street-Gang Leaders

LOS ANGELES -- Attorneys for the city of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit Monday seeking monetary penalties against nine imprisoned gang leaders, alleging that at least some of them continue to oversee their criminal enterprises from inside prison.

The defendants in the Los Angeles state court suit are reputed members of the Los Angeles-based 18th Street gang, which the suit calls "one of the largest and most violent criminal street gangs in the world" with an estimated 30,000-plus members in 15 states and five foreign countries.

In the past, prosecutors have filed criminal cases against imprisoned gang members for continuing to direct criminal operations from their prison cells. The Los Angeles City Attorney's office says it believes this is the first suit that seeks civil monetary penalties for alleged damages to the public caused by such criminal activity.

The city attorney's lawsuit aims to take away any financial benefits the imprisoned gang members are enjoying from their alleged illegal activities, said City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. "We're going to hit them where it hurts, in their wallet."

City officials said they plan to seek damages of more than $1 million. If successful, authorities would then attempt to seize cash, homes, cars and other property connected to the defendants. It remains to be seen how much wealth authorities would be able to find and recover.

The suit is the latest acknowledgment of a long-known problem: Gang leaders' criminal activities don't necessarily stop after they are put behind bars. City attorney officials say they are looking at the behavior of these defendants while they were out of prison and after they were incarcerated.

All nine have been in federal custody since at least September 2006, and two have been in prison since the 1990s with both now serving life terms, says Bruce Riordan, director of the city attorney's anti-gang division. The two serving life terms, Ruben Castro and Frank Martinez, also are alleged members of the Mexican Mafia, a violent prison-based gang that law-enforcement officials say has long been involved in criminal activities inside and outside of jail.

The suit alleges that 18th Street gang members are "vertically integrated" with the Mexican Mafia and funnel criminal proceeds to jailed Mexican Mafia members through various means, including deposits into bank accounts that the men maintain at the prison. Prisoners can have individual bank accounts to buy sundries.

In November, Mr. Castro was sentenced to an additional 327 months in prison as the result of a 2006 federal indictment charging that while incarcerated in a Colorado federal prison, he continued to run some of the criminal activities of the 18th Street gang. Mr. Castro has filed a notice of appeal.

Neither Mr. Castro nor Mr. Martinez could be reached for comment.

Monday's lawsuit is part of a broader attack in recent years by federal and state authorities against violent street gangs in Los Angeles, considered to be one of the nation's spawning grounds for such organizations. Federal prosecutors here have filed criminal charges against more than 1,000 alleged gang members over the past year.

Mr. Delgadillo's office has obtained more than three dozen civil injunctions against more than 60 gangs. The injunctions restrict the ability of gang members to associate with each other or to go into certain neighborhoods. City attorneys have also moved to close houses allegedly used for gang operations and jail gang members for violating the injunctions.

Write to John R. Emshwiller at

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Lebanon farmer grows super-sized spud

Lebanese farmer Khalil Semhat holds his giant potato in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre. The enormous vegetable weighs 11.3 kilos (24.9 pounds) and Semhat says he is planning on contacting the Guiness Book of Records. (AFP null)

TYRE, Lebanon (AFP) A farmer from Lebanon couldn't believe his eyes when he discovered he had grown a prize-winning potato on his land, he told AFP on Saturday, saying he was hoping to enter the Guinness World Records.

"This giant weighs 11.3 kilos (24.9 pounds)," Khalil Semhat said at his farm in the Tyre area, 85 kilometres (50 miles) south of Beirut.

"I've been working the land since I was a boy, and it's the first time I've seen anything like it."

Semhat, 56, said he had not done anything special to cultivate such a super-sized spud. "I didn't use any chemicals at all," he insisted, adding that he had to ask a friend to help him haul the huge tuber out of the ground.

Now he hopes the find will get a mention in the famous Guinness Book of Records, and said he will send in the details for possible inclusion next year.

He said he was "very proud" to have grown the enormous specimen on his farm, which took a pounding in 2006 during the war between Israel and Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement.

© 2008 Agence France-Presse

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Radical design proposed for London bus

Hugh Frost, an industrial designer, reckons he has an answer to London's (and other cities) pollution and congestion problems in one: a new vehicle that consolidates passenger and freight transportation.

At the heart of the "On-Route" concept is the Freight*BUS, a radical new design for the London bus, which Frost has already submitted to Transport for London's "A New Bus for London" competition.

The Freight*BUS is a massive new vehicle featuring advanced technology and the ability to adapt to varying numbers of passengers and freight.

This flexibility is in part due to ceiling-suspended pairs of seats, which can be completely folded out of the way.

At night, or during off-peak times of day, Frost envisages his Freight*BUS being utilised to carry goods around the city, with a capacity of the equivalent to 35 standard 'europallets'. To aid loading and unloading, Frost has designed a palletless system.

The Freight*BUS is designed for several possible propulsion systems, including batteries that are automatically recharged when the bus stops and the potential for fuel cell operation in the future.

Thanks to in-wheel electric motors, the bus can manoeuvre into tight bus stops in a 'crab' like movement.

Although the Freight*BUS did not win Boris Johnson's competition, Frost is looking for partners to fund development of his concept further. More information can be found at

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Krugman: Concentration Of US Auto Industry Will Probably Disappear

Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics Paul Krugman of the U.S signs a chair, at the Nobel Prize museum in Stockholm, Sweden, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008. The laureates signing a chair at the Nobel museum in Stockholm has become a tradition during the Nobel festivities. The Nobel Prize ceremony will take place in Stockholm Wednesday. (AP Photo/Christine Olsson / SCANPIX)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Nobel economics prize winner Paul Krugman said Sunday that the beleaguered U.S. auto industry will likely disappear.

"It will do so because of the geographical forces that me and my colleagues have discussed," the Princeton University professor and New York Times columnist told reporters in Stockholm. "It is no longer sustained by the current economy."

Krugman won the 10 million kronor (US$1.4 million) Nobel Memorial Prize in economics for his work on international trade patterns. Some of his research on economic geography seeks to explain why production resources are concentrated in certain locations.

Speaking to reporters three days ahead of the Nobel Prize ceremony, Krugman said plans by U.S. lawmakers to bail out the Big Three automakers were a short-term solution, resulting from a "lack of willingness to accept the failure of a large industry in the midst of an economic crisis."

Facing massive job losses, the White House and congressional Democrats are negotiating a deal to provide about $15 billion in loans to prevent the weakened U.S. auto industry from collapsing.

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UPDATE: Hefner to Step Down as Playboy CEO

By Jason Fell

Christie Hefner announced today her plans to step down as chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises.

Hefner will stay on as CEO through January 31, 2009, the company said in a statement. Jerome Kern, a member of its board of directors, will serve as interim chairperson while the company searches for a replacement.

Playboy Enterprises Inc. has literally and figuratively been my life and career for more than 30 years,” Hefner said in a statement. “Last month marked my 20th anniversary as CEO; just as this country is embracing change in the form of new leadership, I have decided that now is the time to make changes in my own life as well.”

Hefner steps down from the top executive post during a challenging time for Playboy. The company—which eliminated 80 staffers company-wide in October in a cost-cutting effort—reported a net loss of $10.4 million through the first nine months, compared to a $6 million net income during the same period last year. For the third quarter, the company reported a $5.2 million net loss, down from a gain of $2.6 million during the same period last year.

Year-to-date, revenue was down more than 12 percent to $222.3 million. Playboy attributed the overall losses, in part, to a $6.3 million restructuring charge. Excluding the charges, the company reported a net income of $1.1 million.

The company said it expects ad revenue in the publishing division to be down 17 percent in the fourth quarter.

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