Sunday, September 28, 2008

City of Atlanta Statement on Recent Ruling on Guns at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

We are pleased with the court’s ruling and that Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport will continue to remain a safe, secure, gun-free environment, for its almost 90 million passengers a year.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Home Repair Scam Appears to Target Military Families

The letter that appeared in a soldier's mailbox promised an offer almost too good to be true: a home improvement loan approved by Congress and backed up by a government agency.

Officials at the Federal Citizen Information Center fear it's a scam targeting military members that uses the center's credibility to lure victims in.

An eagle-eyed soldier notified the Federal Citizen Information Center after receiving the ad from the "Home Information Center" linked to post office boxes in Dallas and in Owasso, Okla. The letter included a reference to FCIC's Web site in an apparent attempt to show a federal endorsement.

"The thing that immediately sends up a red flag is the fact that [the advertisement] says these loans are approved by the U.S. Congress," said Mary Levy, director of consumer education and outreach in the FCIC's Office of Citizen Services. "Congress would absolutely never approve any particular home improvement loan."

In addition, she said, the Federal Citizen Information Center has no association with the Home Information Center. Levy emphasized that home improvement services are regulated at the state and local level, not by the federal government.

Levy expressed concern that the letter might be one of many floating around that are targeting military homeowners who, like many of their civilian neighbors, are struggling with financial concerns. Many are prime candidates for scams because they're young and relatively inexperienced in handling money, they're away from their extended families, and often have no roots in their new communities, she said. "That may make them particularly susceptible to these kinds of scams," Levy said.

Unscrupulous people have long focused their schemes on servicemembers and their families. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission and American Red Cross warned consumers about an identity-theft scam targeting families of deployed troops.

That scam involved someone calling a military spouse, identifying herself as a representative of the Red Cross, and notifying the woman that her husband was hurt in Iraq and had been medically evacuated to Germany. The caller then said doctors could not start treatment until paperwork including the husband's Social Security number and birth date was completed.

The FTC called this scheme a variation of "phishing" – a technique identity thieves use to get personal or financial information from unwary consumers. The identity thief claims to represent a trusted source – a bank, a government agency, or in this case, the American Red Cross – to get someone to divulge personal information.

"Military families can become targets of scams, especially when the soldier is deployed thousands of miles away and the family is here," Levy said. "That's why it's so important that they have the information they need to protect themselves."

The Federal Citizen Information Center offers consumers tips for selecting a contractor to make home improvements and repairs:

-- Get recommendations and references. Talk to friends, family and others who have used the contractor for similar work.

-- Get at least three written estimates. Insist the contractors come to your home to evaluate what needs to be done. Be sure the estimates are based on the same work so that you can make meaningful comparisons.

-- Check contractor complaint records. Your state or local consumer protection agency or Better Business Bureau can provide this information.

-- Make sure the contractor meets licensing and registration requirements. Your state or local consumer protection agency can help you find out what these requirements are.

-- Get the names of suppliers and ask if the contractor makes timely payments.

-- Contact your local building inspection department to check for permit and inspection requirements. Be wary if the contractor asks you to get the permit; it could mean the firm is not licensed.

-- Be sure your contractor is insured. They should have personal liability, property damage and worker's compensation insurance for workers and subcontractors. Also check with your insurance company to find out if you are covered for any injury or damage that might occur.

-- Insist on a written contract that states exactly what work will be done, the quality of materials that will be used, warranties, timetables, the names of any subcontractors, the total price of the job and the schedule of payments.

-- Try to limit your down payment. Some states have laws limiting the amount of down payment required.

-- Understand your payment options. Compare the cost of getting your own loan vs. contractor financing.

-- Don't make a final payment or sign a final release until you are satisfied with the work and know that subcontractors and suppliers have been paid. Some state laws allow unpaid subcontractors and suppliers to put a lien on your home for bills the contractor failed to pay.

-- Pay by credit card when you can. You may have the right to withhold payment to the credit card company until problems are corrected.

The FCIC warns consumers of red flags that could indicate a fraudulent operator, including soliciting door-to-door, offering a quote out of line with other estimates, using pressure tactics or asking for the entire payment up front.

The Consumer Action Handbook, published annually by the FCIC, offers additional consumer information covering a wide range of topics. The FCIC Web site provides ordering information.
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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Diplomatic Security Investigation Results in 112 Suspects Charged with Federal Passport Fraud

The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s San Francisco and Los Angeles Field Offices and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Sacramento Field Office announced today the results of Operation Deathmatch, the largest ever investigation into the issuance of fraudulently obtained United States passports.

Between July 2005 and August 2008, 112 individuals were charged with federal passport fraud and related offenses around the country. The government also seized three firearms, $650,000 in cash, one Mercedes automobile, and over 80 of the fraudulently obtained United States passports.

During their investigation, Diplomatic Security and FBI agents cross-matched computerized government death records with Department of State passport records. This process identified individuals who fraudulently applied for, and obtained, United States passports using birth certificates of deceased Americans.

Most of the individuals charged were arrested or surrendered themselves to federal courts. Some of the imposters remain fugitives. The passport fraud charges were filed in 23 federal judicial districts in 16 states. Federal passport offenses carry a penalty of up to 10 years confinement in federal prison.

The individuals charged included fugitives, military deserters, delinquent taxpayers, parolees, convicted felons, sex-offenders, habitual drunk drivers, and undocumented immigrants from over 20 countries. All wanted U.S. passports for the purpose of hiding from law enforcement authorities. Many of the individuals charged resided and worked in their deceased identities for decades, and in many cases their neighbors, employers, spouses and children never knew them by their true names.

The names of the individuals identified in the investigation are listed below and are sorted by federal prosecutor, along with selected facts reported in court proceedings and records:

Northern District of California – San Francisco (U.S. Attorney Joseph P. Russoniello)
MATTHEW FORRISTAL of Berkeley, CA, aka the deceased ROBERT YOUNG
RAFAEL RUVALCABA of Baypoint, CA, aka the deceased MAURICIO JIMENEZ
CONCEPCION RUEGES of Belmont, CA, aka the deceased CATHY LEE ALLEN (*)
ROBERT RUIZ of Brentwood, CA, aka the deceased ROBERT RUIZ (*)
ARMAMDO ESTRADA of Fremont, CA, aka the deceased RICHARD BELTRAN
ANGEL OROPEZA of Fremont, CA, aka the deceased JOSE GAMBOA
VERONICA MARIN of Foster City, CA, aka the deceased NANCY GOMES
RAMON INIGUEZ of Gilroy, CA, aka the deceased JUAN CID
RAYNALDO GUERRA of Hayward, CA, aka the deceased ANTONIO CAQUIAS
BRADFORD BUFKIN of Marin, CA, aka the deceased DANIEL LAGOY
JOHN WHITE of Mountain View, CA, aka the deceased KENNETH VOISINET
JOSE FAJARDO of Napa, CA, aka the deceased RAYMOND SANTANA
ROXANNE MISTRY of Oakland, CA, aka the deceased TERRI STOTTLEMIRE
RUBEN GARCIA of Oakland, CA, aka the deceased EFRAIN ORTIZ
BRYAN JONES of Oregon, aka the deceased DAVID MARCUM
ANTONIO REZA of Oxnard, CA, aka the deceased GERARDO AVILA
RUSSELL MAGDYTCH of Roseville, CA, aka the deceased DANIEL GOODMAN
WILLIAM JONES of Santa Cruz, CA, ala the deceased CARY JONES
DARRELL FISK of Santa Rosa, CA, aka the deceased THOMAS MILLER
JADEBLUE ECLIPSE of San Francisco, CA, aka the deceased CATHERINE IZOU
ROBERT VARGAS of San Francisco, CA, aka the deceased ABEL VARGAS
SAUL JUAREZ of San Francisco, CA, aka the deceased DAVID NAGLE
AMAPAL SINGH of San Jose, CA, aka the deceased JAMES SANCHEZ
HENRICK HANSEN of San Jose, CA, aka the deceased GERALD NYREEN
JOSE MARTIN-CHACON of San Jose, CA, aka the deceased GEORGE MURO
ANTONIO FLORES of San Jose, CA, aka the deceased GEORGE MARTINEZ
SERGIO RAMOS HINJOSA of San Jose, CA, aka the deceased CARLOS TORRES
ROBERT MCMARTIN of San Jose, CA, aka the deceased CHARLES KAISER
JOHN DOE of Santa Rosa, CA, aka the deceased MANUEL URIAS (*)
MARIA CORTEZ-NAJERA of Sunnyvale, CA, aka the deceased MARIA BARRAGAN MARIA LLAMAS of Tracy, CA, aka the deceased JOSEFINA SERRANO
JOSE ZUNIGA-TORRES of Watsonville, CA, aka the deceased PEDRO ROSALES

Eastern District of California - Sacramento/Fresno (U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott)
GARY VINCENT of Antelope, CA, aka the deceased MILES HALEY
ALAN CAMPBELL of Atwater, CA, aka the deceased THEORDORE STREETER
REYES TOPETE of Exeter, CA, aka the deceased JOSE MATUS
CYRIL OWENS of Fort Jones, CA, aka the deceased EUGENE BISHOP
CRISTOBAL PEREZ of Fresno, CA, aka the deceased DANIEL RIVAS
MARIANN GUARDADO of Fresno, CA, aka the deceased DIANA CHAVEZ
JOSEPH AJAYI of Fresno, CA, aka the deceased BENEDICT AJAYI
JANE DOE of Lake Tahoe, CA, aka the deceased ROSALES RAMIREZ (*)
DANIEL HENDERSHOT of Las Vegas, NV, aka the deceased ARNIE FIGONE
GUSTAVO PONCE of Los Angeles, CA, aka the deceased CARLOS ARBIZO
RAMON MUNOZ formerly of Porterville, CA, aka the deceased LUIS ROBLES

Central District of California - Los Angeles (U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brian)
JORGE VILLAR of Beverly Hills, CA, aka the deceased KEITH QUINZEL (*)
JANE DOE of Covina, CA, aka the deceased ESTHER MEDINA (*)
JAVIER RIOS of Las Vegas, NV, aka the deceased RODOLFO LUJAN
FREDY OUVED of Los Angeles, CA, aka the deceased JUSTIN BLUE WILSON
GUILERMO CORCUERA of Los Angeles, aka the deceased RUBEN GOMEZ
SANDRA ZELAYA of Los Angeles, CA, aka the deceased JANICE SHERMAN
SILVIANO PINEDA of Los Ángeles, CA, aka the deceased CARLOS LOPEZ
RUDOLF PICHLER of Los Angeles, CA, aka the deceased ERIC EVANS (*)
STEVEN KEITH of Los Angeles, CA, aka the deceased STEPHEN MITCHELL
MARTIN RUEBEN of Manhattan, NY, aka the deceased LONNIE KAUFMAN ARMAN HARTOUSH of Newport Beach, CA, aka the deceased MICHAEL SLOAN
MARTHA LETOURNEAU of North Hills, CA, aka the deceased CATHERINE EVANS
TERESA OROZCO of North Hollywood, CA, aka the deceased NORA CHAIDEZ
JAIME CABRERA of Reseda, CA, aka the deceased JAMES SANCHEZ
JESUS HUERTA of Santa Barbara, CA, aka the deceased MICHAEL LUCERO
ENRIQUE ARVISU of Santa Ana, CA, aka the deceased IGNACIO MALDONADO
MARIA ELENA DE RIOS of Southgate, CA, aka the deceased ISELA MONTES
FRANCISCO REYES of Thousand Oaks, CA, aka the deceased ROLANDO REYES
RAFAEL ARAJUO of Wilmington, CA, aka the deceased JOEL DURAN

Southern District of California – San Diego (U.S. Karen P. Hewitt)
BENJAMIN HERNANDEZ of Chula Vista, CA, aka the deceased FELIPE CAMPOS (*)
CHARLES WARNICK of El Cajon, CA, aka the deceased JAY WARNICK
JULIO DAVILA of Los Angeles, CA, aka the deceased IGNACIO SANDOVAL
ROBINN MARTINN of Palos Verdes, CA, aka the deceased KIMBERLY DAVICH
JUAN REYES-TOVER of Reseda, CA, aka the deceased JOSE YNOSTROS
MARK PITCHES of San Diego, CA, aka the deceased MARK WARNER
MAGIN GUTIERREZ of San Diego, CA, aka the deceased THOMAS AYALA
JOSE FLORES of San Diego, CA, aka the deceased REYNALDO ZAMORA (*)
JANE DOE of San Ysidro, CA, aka the deceased CYNTHIA CLEMENS (*) ROBERT BRUNSON of Washington State, aka the deceased STEVEN ANUNDSON

Western District of Washington – Seattle (U.S. Attorney Jeffrey C. Sullivan)
NATHAN WATERS of Burlington, WA, aka the deceased WILLIAM WINGARD
VICTOR ROJAS of Everett, WA, aka the deceased ARTHUR QUIJAS
RAUL LOPEZ of Seattle, WA, aka the deceased ROMAN FRANTELA
KERRY SMYTHE of Wyoming, aka the deceased HAROLD ADDINGTON
SEAN O’MARA of Seattle, WA, aka the deceased MICHAEL CHURCH

District of New Hampshire – Portsmouth (U.S. Attorney Thomas P. Colantuono)
CHIH-FONG CHEN of Atherton, CA, aka the deceased LORENA LEW
THOMAS DOUGLASS Jr. of Bakersfield, CA, aka the deceased EARL HUNTER
DENNIS HAMMONS of Medford, OR, aka the deceased ROBERT HAMMONS
ROBERT CITROEN of Palm Desert, CA, aka the deceased NOAH RICHARDSON
ROGER SCHILLEWART of San Diego, CA, aka the deceased DAVID KENT

District of Nevada – Las Vegas/Reno (U.S. Attorney Gregory A. Brower)
PHILLIP MANIATIS of Incline Village, NV, aka the deceased DAVID SMITH
PAUL JENSEN on Incline Village, NV, aka the deceased JEFFREY SMITH
DANIEL MAZZA of Reno, NV, aka the deceased ROBERT YOUNG
MARIA LOPEZ-ROSALES of Reno, NV, aka the deceased LUPE MENDOZA
ROBERT MARTIN of Salt Lake City, UT, aka the deceased BONNER CODY
EDWARD GOOLD of San Diego, CA, aka the deceased DAVID CHAPMAN

Northern District of Georgia – Atlanta (U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias)
BERNARD RENZ of Michigan, aka the deceased GARY WUEST

District of Colorado – Denver (U.S. Attorney Troy A. Eid)
JOHN CHOI of Manhattan, NY, aka the deceased STEPHEN LEE
JOHN DOE of Silt, CO, aka the deceased JACK PEREIDA

Southern District of Florida – Miami (U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta)
MARK MOWATT of Brooklyn, NY, aka the deceased DENNIS DESMEUCHET
GEORGE ENGLAND of Fort Lauderdale, FL, aka the deceased STEPHEN SEAGOE
BRAULIO MENDOZA of Miami Beach, FL, aka the deceased GERARDO LEDESMA

Eastern District of New York – Brooklyn (U.S. Attorney Benton J. Campbell)
PATRICK LYNCH of the country of Jamaica , aka the deceased JONATHAN JAMES
JAMES ESTES of Los Angeles, CA, aka the deceased JEFFREY SEELIG

District of New Mexico – Albuquerque (U.S. Attorney Gregory J. Fouratt)
WILLIAM DICKAU of Tijeras, NM, aka the deceased JERRY COPE

Northern District of Illinois – Chicago (U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald)

Western District of North Carolina - Charlotte (U.S. Attorney Gretchen C. F. Shappert)
EUDALDO GUITERREZ of Charlotte, NC, aka the deceased ALEJANDRO REGLADO

District of Kansas - Wichita (U.S. Attorney Eric F. Melgren)
TED FLOYD of Lakewood, NJ, aka the deceased NATHANIEL LEVI

District of Oregon – Portland ( U.S. Attorney Karin J. Immergut)
JOSE COBIAN of Portland, OR, aka the deceased JOSE MENDOZA

Southern District of Texas – Laredo ( U.S. Attorney Donald J. DeGabrielle, Jr.)
JUAN CABRERA-ALCOCER of Indiana, aka the deceased SERGIO CABRERA

Northern District of Texas – Dallas ( U.S. Attorney Richard B. Roper)
BARRY WOOD of Dallas, TX, aka the deceased AARON ADAMS

Southern District of New York – Manhattan (U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia)
JOHN CHOI of Manhattan, NY, aka the deceased SHERMAN CHAN

Northern District of Iowa – Cedar Rapids (U.S. Attorney Matt M. Dummermuth)
MARINO MEDINA-VALENCIA of Waterloo, IA, aka the deceased JOSE CEBALLOS

Middle District of Florida – Orlando (U.S Attorney Robert E. O'Neill)
WAI TAK MA of Ormand Beach, FL, aka the deceased ADAM JOHN LEE

Middle District of Tennessee – Nashville (US Edward M. Yarbrough)
JOHN DOE a/k/a J.G. of St. Louis, MO, aka the deceased JESUS GARIBAY

(*) Denotes Current Fugitive who remains Wanted on Federal Passport Charges


JADEBLUE ECLIPSE of San Francisco, CA, aka the deceased CATHERINE IZOU. ECLIPSE, an alleged undocumented acrobat from Japan, was arrested in August of 2006 at a San Francisco café. ECLIPSE pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense, but fled before her scheduled sentencing in January of 2007. ECLIPSE remains a fugitive.

MATTHEW FORRISTAL of Berkeley, CA, aka the deceased ROBERT YOUNG. FORRISTAL, a 16 year deserter from the United States Navy’s Enterprise Aircraft Carrier, was arrested in September of 2006. FORRISTAL pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to probation in November of 2006. FORRISTAL also resolved his status with the Navy.

CHRISTOPHER CLARKSON of Weston, FL, aka the deceased STEPHEN DUFFY. CLARKSON, a 32 year Canadian drug fugitive and member of the “Stopwatch” heist gang, was arrested in October of 2005. CLARKSON pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to 14 months in prison in May of 2006. $500,000 and a Mercedes automobile were also seized from CLARKSON, and he was extradited back to Canada.

MARTHA LETOURNEAU of North Hills, CA, aka the deceased CATHERINE EVANS. LETOURNEAU, a Canadian citizen and ex-wife of fugitive CHRISTOPHER CLARKSON, was arrested in October of 2005. LETOURNEAU pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to probation in March of 2006.

JOHN WHITE of Mountain View, CA, aka the deceased KENNETH VOISINET. WHITE, a convicted drunk driver who admitted in court that he wanted to conceal this from employers, was arrested in February of 2006. WHITE pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to probation and community service in January 2007.

DANIEL HENDERSHOT of Las Vegas, NV, aka the deceased ARNIE FIGONE. HENDERSHOT, a previously convicted armed bank robber from Sacramento, was arrested in September 2007. HENDERSHOT pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to time served (approximately two months) in prison in December 2007.

NATHAN WATERS of Brulington, WA, aka the deceased WILLIAM WINGARD. WATERS, a 25 year King County fugitive who allegedly stole $140,000, was arrested in September 2007. WATERS’ pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to time served (approximately 8 months) in prison in May 2008.

KERRY SMYTHE of Wyoming, aka the deceased HAROLD ADDINGTON. SMYTHE, a previously convicted child sex offender, was arrested in February 2008. SMYTHE’s federal passport case is in progress.

CHIH-FONG CHEN of Atherton, CA, aka the deceased LORENA LEW. CHEN, a Chinese citizen, was arrested in April 2006, at her place of employment, the Jocelyne J. K. Lew Immigration Law Firm. CHEN pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to probation in April 2007.

DENNIS HAMMONS of Medford, OR, aka the deceased ROBERT HAMMONS. HAMMONS, a previously convicted federal felon for manufacturing and distributing drugs, was arrested in June 2006. HAMMONS’ pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and awaits sentencing.

GEORGE ENGLAND of Fort Lauderdale, FL, aka the deceased STEPHEN SEAGOE. ENGLAND, a 28 year fugitive for sexual assault in California, was arrested in May 2005. ENGLAND pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to 14 months in prison in September 2005. SEAGOE was also returned to California.

WILLIAM DICKAU of Tijeras, NM , aka the deceased JERRY COPE. DICKAU, a previously convicted felon concerning weapons, was arrested in January 2008. DICKAU pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and awaits sentencing.

ENRIQUE ARVISU of Santa Ana, CA, aka the deceased IGNACIO MALDONADO. ARVISU, a Mexican citizen, was arrested in September 2006. ARVISU pleaded guilty to a related immigration offense was sentenced to 27 months imprisonment in March 2007.

ROBERT BRUNSON of Washington State, aka the deceased STEVEN ANUNDSON. BRUNSON, a 21 year fugitive for drugs in South Carolina, was arrested in June of 2007, while trying to re-enter the United States at a San Diego border checkpoint. BRUNSON pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to time served (approximately nine months) in March 2008.

DANIEL MAZZA of Reno, NV, aka the deceased ROBERT YOUNG. MAZZA, a delinquent taxpayer owing over $140,000, was arrested in December 2007. MAZZA pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to three years probation in May 2008.

ROBERT CITROEN of Palm Desert, CA, aka the deceased NOAH RICHARDSON and the deceased WILLIAM BURROLA. CITROEN, a licensed California attorney involved in financial and identity crimes, was arrested in August 2007. CITROEN pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to home-confinement in March 2008. CITROEN also forfeited $150,000 under related federal seizure laws.

BRADFORD BUFKIN of Marin, CA, aka the deceased DANIEL LAGOY. BUFKIN, a convicted drug offender in Thailand who was completing his sentence in the United States through a prisoner exchange, self-surrender in August of 2006. BUFKIN’s federal passport case is in progress.

BRYAN JONES of Oregon, aka the deceased DAVID MARCUM. JONES, a convicted child sex offender, was taken into federal custody in June 2008. JONES’ federal passport case is in progress.

GARY VINCENT of Antelope, CA, aka the deceased MILES HALEY. HALEY, a former 15 year fugitive from an Idaho drug conspiracy, was arrested in November 2007. VINCENT pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to six months imprisonment in March 2008.

BARRY WOOD of Dallas, TX , aka the deceased AARON ADAMS. WOOD, a parolee, was arrested in August 2007. WOOD pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to twenty-seven months imprisonment in April 2008.

BERNARD RENZ of Michigan, aka the deceased GARY WUEST. RENZ and his wife HANALORE RENZ, both German citizens, were arrested in May 2008, while trying to re-enter the United States at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport. HANALORE RENZ pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to five years probation in June 2008. BERNARD RENZ’ federal passport case is in progress.

Dr. JOHN CHOI of Manhattan, New York, aka the deceased SHERMAN CHAN and the deceased STEPHEN LEE. CHOI, a Medical Doctor, was arrested in December 2005, and charged with obtaining two false passports. CHOI pleaded guilty to federal passport offenses in both Colorado and New York, and was sentenced to a combined four years of probation and 100 hours of community service. CHOI also agreed to not practice medicine during his probation.

ROBINN MARTIN of Ranchos Palos Verdes, CA, aka the deceased KIMBERLY DAVICH. MARTIN was arrested while trying to re-enter the United States at the San Diego border checkpoint. MARTIN’s federal passport case is in progress.

EDWARD GOOLD of San Diego, CA, aka the deceased DAVID CHAPMAN. GOOLD was arrested in September 2007, while trying to re-enter the United States at Las Vegas’ Airport using a fraudulently obtained passport. GOOLD admitted to having a false identity to avoid paying alimony and taxes. GOOLD pleaded guilty to a federal passport offense and was sentenced to two years of imprisonment in July 2008.

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175 Alleged Gulf Cartel Members and Associates Arrested in Massive International Law Enforcement Operation

Today Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey announced that 175 individuals were arrested today and on September 16, 2008, on charges related to an international drug trafficking cartel in a coordinated enforcement action by hundreds of international, federal, state and local law enforcement officials throughout the United States and Italy. Including the operations announced today, a long-term investigation of one of Mexico’s largest drug trafficking cartels and its U.S. and international distribution networks has resulted in the arrest of more than 500 individuals in the United States, Mexico and Italy to date.

“Project Reckoning,” a multi-agency law enforcement effort led by the DEA, targeted the Mexican drug trafficking cartel known as the Gulf Cartel. Among those indicted are the three alleged leaders of the Gulf Cartel: Ezequiel Cardenas-Guillen, Heriberto Lazcano-Lazcano, and Jorge Eduardo Costilla-Sanchez. These individuals, each designated as Consolidated Priority Organization Targets (CPOTs) by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), have been indicted in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia on charges that they conspired to import drugs into the United States from Mexico. A CPOT designation is reserved for significant narcotics traffickers who are believed to be the leaders of drug trafficking organizations responsible for the importation of large quantities of narcotics into the United States.

The Gulf Cartel is responsible for the transportation of multi-ton quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana from Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, and Mexico to the United States, as well as the distribution of those narcotics within the United States. The Gulf Cartel is also believed to be responsible for laundering multiple millions of dollars in criminal proceeds. Individuals indicted in the cases are charged with a variety of crimes, including: drug trafficking charges related to cocaine and marijuana; solicitation and conspiracy to kidnap; attempted murder; conspiracy to use a firearm in a violent crime; conspiracy to kill and kidnap in a foreign country; interstate and foreign travel in aid of racketeering; money laundering; and other related crimes.

To date, Project Reckoning has resulted in the arrest of 507 individuals and the seizure of approximately $60.1 million in U.S. currency, 16,711 kilograms of cocaine, 1,039 pounds of methamphetamine, 19 pounds of heroin, 51,258 pounds of marijuana, 176 vehicles, and 167 weapons. Project Reckoning, a 15-month investigation, combined into one centrally coordinated effort several multi-district enforcement operations that all involved individuals with close ties to the Gulf Cartel. Operation Dos Equis, Operation Vertigo, Operation Stinger, and Operation The Family, as well as numerous local operations combined to form Project Reckoning.

“By spreading dangerous drugs and resorting to brutal violence, international drug cartels pose an extraordinary threat both here and abroad,” said Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey. “The scope of the threat demands a deliberate and sustained response and the success we have had, such as the takedowns announced today, is due to the combined efforts of federal, state, local, and international law enforcement. Although I am pleased with the efforts so far, we cannot and will not rest on these successes. The threat posed by international drug cartels is too great. It will take all of us working together to prevail.”

“We successfully completed a hard-hitting, coordinated, and massive assault on the powerful and extremely violent Gulf Cartel,” said DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “We have arrested U.S. cell heads, stripped the cartel of $60 million in cash, imprisoned their brutal assassins, and significantly disrupted their U.S. infrastructure. DEA will continue our relentless attack against this cartel, aiming to dismantle them and stop the violence they inflict on Southwest Border communities.”

“Metro Atlanta unfortunately continues to be a major drug distribution center for the Southeast and beyond. The DEA and our many other law enforcement partners continue to aggressively investigate all aspects of the drug trade,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia David E. Nahmias. “This major case is another example of their effective, coordinated efforts. The two cartel cells indicted in Atlanta acted like many shipping businesses, coordinating the transportation of truckloads of hidden drugs and millions of dollars in currency across the country and to and from Mexico. Through our sophisticated investigation and prosecutions, we have disrupted these organizations, seized large amounts of their poisons and proceeds, and now will work hard to lock up their members for many years to come.”

“This operation exemplifies the European vision of the international fight against drug trafficking,” said Dr. Nicola Gratteri, Italian Public Prosecutor for the Anti-mafia District Attorney's Office of Reggio Calabria, Italy.

These cases are being handled by attorneys in the Northern District of Georgia; Southern District of Texas; Northern District of Texas; Western District of Texas; District of New Jersey; Eastern District of Louisiana; District of New Mexico; Southern District of Florida; Eastern District of North Carolina; Southern District of New York; and the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and Office of International Affairs. In addition, local prosecutions in this case will occur in the states of California, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri.

The investigative efforts in Project Reckoning were coordinated by the Justice Department’s Special Operations Division, the DEA, FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Marshals Service, and attorneys from the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section. More than 200 federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement agencies contributed investigative and prosecutorial resources to Project Reckoning through the OCDETF. Significant assistance was also provided by a coalition of international investigative agencies spearheaded by DEA offices located in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, and Italy, with assistance from foreign counterparts in each of those countries.

An indictment is merely an allegation and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Dangers at Home in the Aftermath of Hurricane Ike Carbon Monoxide from Generators Can Kill in Minutes

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns consumers on the Gulf Coast to protect themselves and their families against dangers in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

Portable gasoline generators quickly produce high levels of poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) and should never be used indoors, including inside a home, basement, shed or garage, even if doors or windows are open. CO is an invisible killer. It's a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. CO from a generator used indoors can kill you and your family in minutes.

"Heeding this warning can mean the difference between life and death," said CPSC Acting Chairman Nancy Nord. "Consumers should use portable generators outside only, far from windows, doors, and vents to their homes."

CPSC issued these additional safety tips for consumers in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike:

Read the label on the generator and the owner's manual, and follow the instructions.

Install CO alarms with battery backup in the home outside each sleeping area.

Get to fresh air immediately if you start to feel sick, weak or dizzy. CO poisoning from exposure to generator exhaust can quickly lead to incapacitation and death.

Never use charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal in an enclosed space can produce lethal levels of carbon monoxide.

Use caution when burning candles. Use flashlights instead. If you must use candles, do not burn them on or near anything that can catch fire. Never leave burning candles unattended. Extinguish candles when you leave the room.

Look for signs that your appliances have gotten wet. Discard electrical or gas appliances that have been wet because they pose electric shock and fire hazards.

Before using your appliances, have a professional or your gas or electric company evaluate your home and replace all gas control valves, electrical wiring, circuit breakers, and fuses that have been under water.

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Hit-Air Riding Gear -- From Stylish Airbag Jacket to Lifesaving Device in a Split Second

BUSINESS WIRE - The Atlanta, GA based and its parent company PEDCO, LLC have announced that they have an agreement with Mugen Denko to market the Hit-Air motorcycle jackets and vests in the U.S.

The “Hit-Air” motorcycle jacket incorporates an airbag system that inflates in one half second when a rider is accidentally ejected from a motorcycle or scooter to protect the neck, torso and hip. It also uses CE certified armor to protect the shoulders, elbows, and the spine. Activation is simple and automatic. A coiled wire is attached to the motorcycle and the jacket. Once the rider and the motorcycle are separated, the coiled wire pulls a “key” out of a gas release system and inert gas inflates the air bag. The inflated jacket provides the necessary impact protection. After a few seconds the gas is automatically released through the gas release valve.

Rueben Jackson, PEDCO's CEO, notes, “Motorcycle popularity has increased due to high gas prices but so has the number of accidents. We were invited by NBC’s KFOR TV (see video with IE) in Oklahoma City to do a feature story about the safety benefits of Hit-Air in April 2008. This feature story had the highest ratings of any feature story for that ratings period.”

Jackson continues, “We believe that the market for innovative safety gear is exhibiting rapid growth in the powersports industry and has equal value for the equestrian industry. We examined several airbag safety jackets and decided to select Hit-Air as our preferred product because of its long history and it offers consumers the best value in terms of product quality, ease of use, and attractive styling.”
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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Beware Of Phony Voter Registration Schemes

(SPM Wire) While many Americans are showing civic pride and registering to vote, scammers see opportunities to ply their trade.

The experts at the Better Business Bureau (BBB) are warning Americans to be cautious with personal information to avoid phony voter registration drives.

"Voter registration laws vary by state and changes take place regularly, which creates the confusing environment that ID thieves thrive on," said Steve Cox of the BBB.

Such theft can be perpetrated through e-mail, phone and even in person:

Beware of phony e-mails appearing to be from government agencies, telling you to click to register to vote or resolve registrations issues. These links direct recipients to sites that install viruses or ask for personal information such as Social Security or bank numbers.

Remember, state government officials don't telephone you if there is an issue with registration, nor do they need bank account or credit card numbers to confirm your identity.

If registering in-person, always ask for proof of which organization the volunteer is with before providing information. While some states require Social Security numbers to vote, they never require bank account or credit card information.

If you think you've become an ID theft or voter registration fraud victim, contact your BBB ( and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 877-FTC-HELP or

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission Web site ( offers information on state voter registration guidelines.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Department of Justice Announces Grants to Enhance Efforts to Fight Human Trafficking

PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Associate Attorney General Kevin J. O'Connor today announced almost $10 million in additional funding to supplement existing task forces and to expand the number of task forces working with community-based organizations to combat human trafficking. The Associate Attorney General made the announcement at the 2008 National Conference on Human Trafficking, where more than 350 representatives from federal, state, and local organizations gathered to discuss methods of investigating human trafficking and servitude and how best to provide services to trafficking victims.

"Human Trafficking is a serious crime and deserves the focused attention of law enforcement and victim service providers," said Associate Attorney General O'Connor. "The task forces receiving funding today are made up of both of these important elements. We will continue to use all of the resources at our disposal to make sure that traffickers are convicted and that victims receive the assistance they need to recover."

Since 2001, the Department has partnered with state and local law enforcement, and victim service organizations to convict 342 traffickers and assist 1,300 victims from 80 countries. In 2007 alone, the Department opened 154 new trafficking investigations.

Of the funds announced today, more than $4.1 million will go to task forces in: Washington, D.C.; Hawaii; Boston, Mass.; Suffolk County, N.Y.; New Jersey; Nassau County, N.Y..; San Jose, Calif.; Saint Paul, Minn.; Lee County, Fla.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Multnomah County, Ore..; Westminster, Calif.; Homestead, Fla.; Pitt County, N.C..; Harris County, Texas; Seattle, Wash.; and Clearwater, Fla. Three new task forces will be established in Westminster, Calif.; Homestead, Fla; and Pitt County, N.C. To date, the Department has provided more than $70 million in total funding to these task forces.

In addition, the following victim service organizations have received funding to work with the task forces:

Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance

International Rescue Committee, Miami, Fla.

North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Salvation Army, Orange County, Calif.

Bilateral Safety Corridor
San Diego, Calif.

YMCA of Greater Houston Area
Houston, Texas

Heartland Alliance for Human Needs
Chicago, Ill. area

Safe Horizon, Inc.
New York City and Nassau County, N.Y. areas

Salvation Army Hawaiian and Pacific Island Division

Justice Resource Institute, Inc.

Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST)
Los Angeles, Calif.

Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach

International Rescue Committee
Phoenix, Ariz.

International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis
St. Louis, Mo.

Tapestri, Inc.
Atlanta, Ga.

Catholic Charities of Venice, Inc.
Lee County, Fla.

Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pa.

Catholic Charities Oregon

Salvation Army Alaska

Refugees Services of Texas

Northeastern University

The Department also announced more than $400,000 to fund two studies conducted by Abt Associates, Inc. and San Diego State University Research Foundation. The studies will assess criminal justice strategies and collaborative programs across the country and internationally that focus on reducing the demand for commercial sex.

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice and assist victims. More information about OJP's work on human trafficking can be found at More information about the efforts of the Civil Rights Division to combat human trafficking can be found at

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City of Atlanta, Atlanta Police Department and Private Sector Launch Panhandling Strategy to Educate, Enforce and Redirect Giving

Give Change That Makes Sense is the tagline of the three-tiered strategic campaign to address aggressive panhandling throughout the city of Atlanta with focus in the Downtown area, and it will launch today by Central Atlanta Progress (CAP), Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB), the Mayor’s office, the Atlanta Police Department (APD) and other public certified law enforcement jurisdictions with full participation of the private sector.

The goal of this comprehensive campaign is to convince residents, employees, customers, students and visitors that giving money to panhandlers is not an authentic act of charity, and to make panhandlers aware that their actions are against the law. According to Greg Giornelli, City of Atlanta Chief Operating Officer, the strategy evolved from a public safety report recently completed by CAP and the ACVB, which consequently resulted in rounds of meetings with city personnel, APD, and the private business owners and hospitality officials.

The strategy calls for:

o Stepped-up enforcement/interaction/intervention – At the public level (APD and other sworn police jurisdictions) and private level (private business security, hired off-duty police and the Downtown Ambassador Force)

o Education/supply-demand management – Urging visitors, conventioneers, residents, students, and employees, through tailored information campaigns, that giving to panhandlers is counterproductive; and further, to educate the panhandlers that it is against the law to verbally solicit money in the “Downtown Tourist Triangle” and after dark throughout the City, as defined by the existing commercial solicitation ordinance

o Directed giving/homeless services – Coordination of convenient avenues where those who wish to give can do so efficiently by giving those in need directions to service providers who can assist

“We’re pleased that the Mayor’s office weighed-in on this approach,” says AJ Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID) that field the Downtown’s Ambassador Force®. The strategy has to have many levels of participation, from the public and private sectors, for it to work. It can’t just be an APD problem, because panhandling is happening on private property too, and that’s the responsibility of private business owners to help monitor. Aggressive panhandlers prey on everyone – visitors, conventioneers, residents, employees and students. Along with stepped-up enforcement and monitoring, we’ll include an education component urging well-intentioned people to redirect their giving to provide services. That’s why we tested this strategy with [The International Woodworking Fair] in August to determine if we could actually affect the supply-demand side of the equation.”

Because of the large numbers of visitors that the city welcomes on a regular basis, one of the most important sectors to get behind this strategy is the hospitality industry in Downtown Atlanta. Spurgeon Richardson, president and CEO of ACVB, says, “The hospitality industry fully supports this strategy. Convention groups have told us that panhandling is damaging to their attendees experience and to our reputation, despite all of Atlanta’s assets. That feedback has the potential to affect the $11.4 billion dollar in economic impact that this industry generates for the city each year.”

Robinson goes on to say, that “giving avenues” are identified to help channel funds to legitimate sources that provide actual services to those in need: “If people want to give, that’s great, but we’re asking them not to be part of funding a drug or alcohol habit. Fund something that helps people or as they say ‘give a hand up’ not a ‘hand out”. According to Robinson, the education portion is patterned after campaigns used in cities like Nashville whose campaign simply advised, ‘Please Help. Don’t give’.

Long term, according to Debi Starnes, the Mayor’s policy advisor on homelessness, there are plans to install “giving meters” on the street similar to programs in a number of communities throughout the country as a way to direct funding to the provision of service rather than professional panhandlers. “The legislation is already in place. All that’s left is the implementation,” said Starnes. “This is a perfect time to consider a legitimate avenue for giving, if one is so inclined.”

As part of the stepped-up enforcement efforts, the City’s COMNET radio frequency (links the police and private businesses) will transition to “plain-talk” to report and monitor the movement of panhandlers on public and private areas. “If a hotel security officer sees panhandling on their private property, they will confront the panhandler, monitor their movements and report the description and direction of their travel so that they can be picked up by the next property owner, Ambassadors or the police,” said David Wardell, CAP/ADID VP for Public Safety and Operations.

The Give Change That Makes Sense campaign will last through March 2009 and at that time, will be evaluated.
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Thursday, September 4, 2008

New Plug In for Children's Data Could be a Life Saver

GPSN Note: Visit the website for more information.

PRNewswire/ -- Given the increasingly number of kids that get injured or go missing each day, SafetyNet4Kids Inc., a leading technology provider of solutions that give parents the ability to keep the critical information about their child close at hand, introduces the FamilyGuard(TM) USB Keychain. This third-generation child identification solution allows parents to store detailed information including medical information, digital fingerprints, and digital photos for all of their children on one easy-to-carry USB keychain.

"The first generation of child ID solutions were simply a laminated card with at most one picture and one ink fingerprint of the child on the back," said Katharine Francis, Founder & CEO of SafetyNet4Kids. "We launched SafetyNet4Kids to bring the second generation of child ID solutions to market -- a CD-ROM that stored 2 digital photographs and 10 digital fingerprints. With FamilyGuard(TM), we are moving to a third-generation solution."

The FamilyGuard(TM) USB Keychain provides parents with a secure digital repository that allows them to store digital pictures, 10 digital fingerprints, and detailed medical information about all of their children. This information is stored on a rugged USB keychain that can be plugged into any Windows computer -- allowing the data to be accessed at a moment's notice in case it is needed. In case of a missing child, parents can use FamilyGuard(TM) to create a missing child poster and send a digital dossier of their child to the media or law enforcement.

For those times when a child needs a medical waiver form -- whether staying with a relative or going on a school field trip -- FamilyGuard(TM) produces a standard medical waiver form that can be printed and signed by the parent.

Since accurate, up-to-date information is critical in the search for a missing child, FamilyGuard(TM) allows parents to easily and securely update all of the information about their children. Pictures can either be updated by the parent, or at a local SafetyNet4Kids partner or event in their community. At these events, parents can also update their child's fingerprints. SafetyNet4Kids has partnered with L-1 Identity Solutions to produce FBI-compliant digital fingerprints that are stored on FamilyGuard(TM).

FamilyGuard(TM) is available through local SafetyNet4Kids locations, or through the SafetyNet4Kids website.


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Disaster Preparedness Tips for Businesses in Paths of Tropical Storms Hanna and Ike

BUSINESS WIRE --Agility Recovery Solutions, a provider of disaster recovery and business continuity services, issued its top-five disaster preparedness tips every business in hurricane-prone states should take in advance of a storm:

1. Create an employee communication plan.

Create a phone and e-mail tree for all employees and their spouses or closest relatives, including personal e-mail addresses and phone numbers at potential employee evacuation sites. Make sure employees know ahead of time how to exchange or obtain information should standard lines of communication fail.

2. Assess your critical business functions.

Evaluate and document company functions and determine what processes, employees, equipment and materials are critical for your daily operations. Prioritize these functions and determine a process for restoring them.

3. Plan for an alternate location.

Devise a plan for recovery if your office is inaccessible. Where would you go to continue basic operations? Alternate site options include your home, a branch or second location, the site of a similar business or a vendor that provides mobile office recovery.

4. Back up your data and plan to restore your technology.

Make sure to store your data in an off-site, safe and secure location, preferably 50 miles or more from your site. Verify that you are able to retrieve your data. Outline a plan to replace PCs, software, servers, printers and fax machines should your office be affected.

5. Assemble an emergency disaster recovery kit.

An emergency kit should contain items such as fresh water, non-perishable food, flashlights, extra batteries, battery-powered radio, first aid kit and copies of important documents and records.


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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Red Cross Help for Those Returning Home After the Storm

With close to 800,000 people without power and many with wind and water damage, Hurricane Gustav continues to make life hard for the people of the Gulf Coast. After the storm, the American Red Cross is offering assistance and information to keep people safe as clean-up efforts begin.

The Red Cross will provide emergency assistance in the following ways:

-- Sheltering for people who have lost power or otherwise find their homes unlivable

-- Mobile feeding trucks and kitchens in the hardest hit areas for people who need water and a meal while cleaning up or because they have lost power

-- Emergency financial assistance based on significant structural damage to someone's home. Assessment teams will start visits to the affected areas, surveying the damage. That damage assessment will become the basis for our emergency financial assistance.

-- Clean-up kits including: mop, broom, cleaning supplies, work gloves and similar items.

-- Emotional counseling and support. We recognize this has been a very difficult time for the people of the Gulf Coast.

Red Cross will be cautious not to duplicate any services the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be providing, but will help people register for FEMA assistance.

"When people come back home, the Red Cross will be there too," said Gail J. McGovern, President and CEO of the American Red Cross. "If shelters are needed, we will provide them. Our mobile kitchens will feed those who have lost the food they had on hand. We will hand out clean-up kits. And, if someone needs to talk to someone, we will have counselors available."

All American Red Cross assistance is provided free, made possible by donations from the American people.

Those who have evacuated are advised to return home only after authorities advise that is safe to do so. Follow these suggestions to stay safe when you return:

-- Drive only if absolutely necessary and avoid flooded roads and washed-out bridges.

-- Use telephone only for emergency calls. Keep phone lines open.

-- Wear protective shoes, long pants, long sleeve shirts and gloves to protect you from sharp edges and other hazards.

-- Avoid loose or dangling power lines, reporting them immediately to the power company, police or fire department.

-- Before entering, check the outside of your home for damage such as cracks in the foundation or broken utilities that make it too dangerous to enter.

-- Enter your home with caution. Look for sagging in the ceiling that may indicate water trapped there. Check for loose flooring.

-- Smell for gas. If you detect a natural gas or propane odor or hear a hissing noise, leave immediately and contact the fire department or utility company.

-- Avoid using sinks, showers and toilets if you suspect sewage lines are damaged.

-- Beware of snakes, insects or animals driven to higher ground by floodwater.

-- Open windows and doors to ventilate and dry your home.

-- Throw out all food, beverages and medicine exposed to floodwaters and mud, including canned goods, capped bottles and sealed containers. When in doubt, throw it out.

-- Take pictures of the damage to the house and its contents for insurance claims.

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Gwinnett Police Get Wireless ID

Gwinnett Police and other law enforcement officers will soon be able to check photos and fingerprints in the field using a new wireless system called Rapid ID. County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to join a $1.28 million regional system being established in the metro Atlanta area.

Grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) will provide workstations and handheld units to 23 agencies. In Gwinnett, those agencies include Gwinnett Police, Gwinnett Sheriff and city police departments in Duluth and Lawrenceville.

Commissioners also voted to continue their partnership with GEMA that provides $32,000 annually to help fund the Gwinnett Emergency Management Agency. GEMA also provides training for local emergency response personnel as well as information and resources for dealing with critical weather or other emergency situations.

“The new identification and information-sharing system is just one of many benefits we get from GEMA. By participating with other agencies on the state and regional levels, we are strengthening public safety for all Gwinnett residents,” said Board Chairman Charles Bannister.
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Have Emergency Communications Plans Ready as Hanna Stalks Georgia

PRNewswire/ -- With Tropical Storm Hanna threatening the Georgia coast, Verizon Wireless urges residents to have their emergency communications plans in place. The company offers the following tips:

-- Keep wireless phone batteries fully charged - in case local power is lost - well before warnings are issued.

-- Have additional charged batteries and car-charger adapters available for back-up power.

-- Keep phones, batteries, chargers and other equipment in a dry, accessible location.

-- Maintain a list of emergency phone numbers - police, fire, and rescue agencies; power companies; insurance providers; family, friends and co- workers; etc. - and program them into your phone.

-- Distribute wireless phone numbers to family members and friends.

-- Forward your home phone calls to your wireless number if you will be away from your home or have to evacuate.

-- Limit non-emergency calls to conserve battery power and free-up wireless networks for emergency agencies and operations.

-- Send brief text messages rather than voice calls for the same reasons as above.

-- Check weather and news reports available on wireless phone applications when commercial power is out.

Tropical Storm Hanna is expected to reach landfall by Friday of this week. The storm already has begun to churn the ocean waters off the Southeast coast. Over the Labor Day weekend, numerous rescues by lifeguards were carried out along the beaches of South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina all due to the dangerous rip currents.

"It's clear that Hanna will have some impact on our region, but preparation and communication will help lessen any problems the storm throws at us," said Jeff Mango, region president for Verizon Wireless Georgia/Alabama. "We prepare our network all year long, spending more than $110 million across these two states in 2008 to date, to be ready for storms and other emergencies. We work hard to ensure Georgians can use their phones when and where they need it."

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Man Pleads Guilty for Role in Scheme to Defraud Department of Veterans Affairs

PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The ex-boyfriend of a former Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) social work associate pleaded guilty today for his role in a scheme to defraud the United States of the associate's honest services in connection with her work finding suitable housing and daily care for mentally ill and disabled military veterans, Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias of the Northern District of Georgia announced.

Darrick O. Frazier, 33, of Atlanta, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story in Atlanta to one count of honest services mail fraud. At sentencing, Frazier faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and $20,200 in restitution. A sentencing date has not been scheduled. Frazier was indicted on Nov. 14, 2006, along with his ex-girlfriend, Bridgette L. Davidson, 37, who was employed as a social work associate with the VA during the time the alleged criminal scheme occurred. A trial date for Davidson has not been set by the court.

In his guilty plea, Frazier admitted that from approximately November 2001 through March 2002, he and Davidson rented a home in Marietta, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, to house mentally ill and disabled military veterans in Davidson's care in exchange for monthly federal subsidy payments. Frazier admitted that he and Davidson then falsely represented to VA officials and to the military veterans' legal guardians and custodians that the home was independently owned and a certified personal care home suitable to house and care for the veterans. Frazier also admitted he and Davidson used the rental income obtained from the veterans housed at the facility to pay some of the rent, utilities and related expenses on the rental property, and then kept the excess revenue for their own personal benefit. The facility was shut down in April 2002.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Armando O. Bonilla of the Criminal Division's Public Integrity Section, headed by Section Chief William M. Welch II, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Teresa D. Hoyt of the Northern District of Georgia. The case is being investigated by the VA Office of Inspector General.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Guard Aids New Orleans Evacuation, Braces for Storm Mission

8/31/08 With the full force of the Louisiana National Guard activated, more than 7,000 citizen-soldiers and -airmen are assisting local authorities with evacuation and security efforts in New Orleans and performing dozens of other missions across the state as Hurricane Gustav approaches. As the Guard and the state brace for the powerful storm, each day brings new challenges that all agencies involved must work together to overcome.

"Louisiana citizens and our governor needed the Guard, and we were there immediately, redirecting hundreds of troops to assist New Orleans with their evacuation plan," Army Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau, Louisiana's adjutant general, said.

Guard soldiers began patrolling the streets of New Orleans yesterday, assisting with security as the area began evacuating citizens. They were scheduled to begin helping the state police with "contraflow" operations today, a process that converts normally inbound roads to handle outbound evacuation traffic.

About 400 National Guard soldiers and airmen are driving buses, transporting citizens to shelters across the state.

In other areas, convoys carrying more than 900 soldiers from the 225th Engineer Brigade arrived in Lake Charles, Napoleonville, Iowa, Breaux Bridge, Lake Charles and Rayne yesterday to assist civil authorities with evacuation and security of citizens moving from southwestern Louisiana on contraflow routes.

"One of our greatest strengths is that we are citizen-soldiers and live in the communities we serve, Landreneau said. "We are able to transition from our civilian careers to military roles quickly when called upon."

The activation of the 225th Engineer Brigade calls into service soldiers who are responsible for boat search-and-rescue missions, engineer assessment teams that will deploy to support coastal parishes, security teams and contraflow support.

As the Louisiana Guard activation has reached full potential, officials have called on sister states to support additional requirements created by Gustav's landfall, expected tomorrow afternoon. Battalions from Kentucky and Tennessee and 28 aircraft arrived in Louisiana yesterday, thanks to the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a mutual-support agreement among states.

A Guard military intelligence battalion already serving in hurricane operations has provided a Spanish-speaking soldier to relocate to New Orleans and assist residents in understanding instructions being given by the governor and other agencies.

In an advisory issued at 1 p.m. EDT today, the National Weather Service said Gustav was 270 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, moving toward the northwest at 17 mph. Though maximum sustained winds had dropped to 115 mph with higher gusts, forecasters said, it could regain Category 4 status tonight or tomorrow. A Category 4 hurricane has maximum sustained winds of 131 to 155 mph.
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