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News November 2008
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Nov 7, 2008 8:35 pm US/Pacific

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Feds Close Los Angeles-Based Security Pacific Bank[/b]

LOS ANGELES Los Angeles-based Security Pacific Bank was shut down Friday by the California Department of Financial Institutions, citing inadequate capital, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was named the receiver.

The FDIC will assume all deposits of Security Pacific and will reopen the bank's four branches Monday as Pacific Western branches.

Customers of the failed bank will automatically become depositors of Pacific Western and their money will continue to be insured by the FDIC.

Customers of Security Pacific should be able to access their funds as usual by writing checks or using ATM or debit cards. The bank says checks drawn on the bank will continue to be processed and loan customers should continue to make their payments as usual.

Security Pacific is the 19th bank to fail in the nation this year, and the third in California. The last bank to be closed in the state was Newport Beach-based First Heritage Bank, National Association, on July 25, according to the FDIC.

As of Oct. 31, Security Pacific had total assets of about $510 million and total deposits of about $440 million, according to the DFI, which supervises more than 700 financial institutions in California.

Pacific Western agreed to assume all of Security Pacific's deposits for a 2 percent premium, and will also purchase about $51.8 million of assets, according to the FDIC, which will retain the remaining assets for later disposition.

The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund will be $210 million, and that Pacific Western's acquisition of the failed bank's deposits was the "least costly" resolution compared to alternatives.

Customers with questions about Security Pacific's failure can call the FDIC toll-free at 1-866-934-8944. That number will be operational through 9 Friday; on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; on Sunday from noon until 5 p.m.; and thereafter from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Information is also available on the FDIC's Web site at http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/fail...fic.html.
09-11-2008 10:15 AM
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Russia Says 20 Suffocated Aboard Nuclear Sub
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Russia Says 20 Suffocated Aboard Nuclear Sub
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Sinking Of The Nuclear Sub Kursk

MOSCOW (AP) ? A new Russian submarine's fire safety system malfunctioned as the nuclear-powered vessel took a test run in the Sea of Japan, suffocating 20 people and sending 21 others to the hospital, officials said Sunday.

It was Russia's worst naval accident since torpedo explosions sank another nuclear-powered submarine, the Kursk, in the Barents Sea in 2000, killing all 118 seamen aboard.

The victims suffocated Saturday after the submarine's fire-extinguishing system accidentally turned on and released Freon gas, said Sergei Markin, an official with Russia's top investigative agency. He said forensic tests found Freon in the victims' lungs.

The submarine itself was not damaged and traveled back to its base on Russia's Pacific coast under its own power Sunday, Russian navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said.

The nuclear reactor that powers the sub was operating normally and radiation levels in the sub were also normal, Dygalo said. He said the accident affected two sections of the submarine closest to the bow.

Seventeen civilians and three seamen died in the accident and 21 others were hospitalized after being evacuated to a destroyer that brought them to shore, Markin said in a statement, revising earlier casualty figures.

Lev Fyodorov, a top Russian chemical expert, said Freon pushed oxygen out, causing those inside to die of suffocation. He also said the scarce official information was making it difficult to understand exactly what happened on the submarine.

It wasn't immediately clear why personnel affected failed to activate the individual breathing kits they were supposed to have, he said.

Markin's agency has launched a probe into the accident, which he said will focus on what activated the firefighting system and possible violations of operating rules.

The submarine returned to Bolshoi Kamen, a military shipyard and a navy base near Vladivostok. Russian television stations broadcast the footage of the submarine sailing toward the harbor.

Dygalo said the submarine had 208 people aboard, including 81 servicemen, and was to be commissioned by the navy later this year.

Russian news agencies quoted officials at the Amur Shipbuilding Factory as saying the submarine was built there and is called the Nerpa.

Construction of the Nerpa, an Akula II class attack submarine, started in 1991 but was suspended for years because of a shortage of funding, they said. Testing on the submarine began last month and it submerged for the first time last week.

First Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Kolmakov and navy chief Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky were heading for the Pacific Coast in the wake of the accident, Dygalo said.

Saturday's accident came as the Kremlin is seeking to restore Russia's naval reach, part of a drive to show off the nuclear-armed country's clout amid strained ties with the West. A naval squadron is heading to Venezuela for joint exercises this month in a show of force near U.S. waters.

Despite a major boost in military spending during Vladimir Putin's eight years as president, Russia's military is still hampered by decrepit infrastructure, aging weapons and problems with corruption and incompetence.

The Kremlin said President Dmitry Medvedev was told about the accident immediately and ordered a thorough investigation.

Putin, now prime minister, was criticized for his slow response to the Kursk disaster.

In 2003, 11 people also died when a Russian submarine that was being taken out of service sank in the Barents Sea.
09-11-2008 10:20 AM
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RE: News November 2008
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Appliance-theft ring cracked in Palmdale
By Karen Maeshiro, Staff Writer
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11/05/2008

PALMDALE - Three men accused of acting as a burglary ring face multiple criminal charges, with sheriff's deputies saying they committed some 50 to 60 thefts of large appliances from houses throughout Palmdale.

Deputies began noticing the break-ins around April. Thieves would break into new homes, some of them in escrow, and take pricey new appliances like stainless steel refrigerators.

Officers conducted stakeouts over a period of months but nothing panned out. One house in a new eastside development was hit three times.

A break in the case came in September when Community Service Officer David Ortiz was at the eastside housing tract taking a report about an appliance theft the day before when he spotted a white pickup truck that matched a description of the burglars' vehicle.

"It looked suspicious and I said, `Let me go check it out,"' said Ortiz, 44. "Then they saw me and got a little scared and started driving away."

Ortiz followed the truck and radioed deputies, who upon arriving detained three men who admitted their involvement, according to sheriff's Lt. Cory Kennedy.

The Palmdale City Council planned to recognize Ortiz for his role in capturing the suspects at its meeting Wednesday.

"This is an excellent example of someone who is really paying attention to what's going on in the community," Palmdale sheriff's station Capt. Bobby Denham said.

"Staying alert as he was, he was able to spot the
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vehicle matching the description of these burglars. It was a tremendous heads up on his part."

Noe Gonzalez, 25, his brother Antonio Gonzalez, 23, and Guillermo Martinez, 31, all of Sylmar, are facing charges of burglary and theft.

Investigators believe the trio were responsible for 50 to 60 burglaries in Palmdale, going into new, occupied and vacant HUD homes and taking mainly refrigerators but also microwaves and the occasional stove.

They would sell the stolen items for $300 to $400 each to a man who met them on street corners. "He would show up in a truck. They never gave him up to us," Kennedy said.

The three men have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to appear Nov. 13 in Antelope Valley Superior Court for a preliminary hearing.

karen.maeshiro@dailynews.com 661-476-4586
09-11-2008 10:31 AM
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Man Arrested In Connection With Toddler's Death
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Nov 6, 2008 3:39 am US/Pacific
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Man Arrested In Connection With Toddler's Death

LANCASTER, Calif. (AP) ? A 23-year-old Lancaster man has been arrested on suspicion of killing his girlfriend's toddler daughter. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Dan Rosenberg says Sharieff Brown was being held on $1 million bail Wednesday.

Deputies say 18-month-old Trescion Grace was not breathing when they arrived at a home in northern Los Angeles County early Tuesday morning, and they found signs of abuse on her body.

She was declared dead after being taken to a hospital.

Rosenberg says Brown was arrested after he "provided a story that didn't match up with the evidence."

Authorities say autopsy results on Wednesday should determine how the child died.

Brown is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.

A sheriff's deputy called Wednesday morning did not know if he had hired an attorney.
09-11-2008 10:53 AM
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Downey Savings, PFF Bank seized by federal regulators
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Downey Savings, PFF Bank seized by federal regulators
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Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
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FINANCIAL CRISIS
Government officials say Downey Savings & Loan will continue operating as usual under the ownership of Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank. Shown is a branch in Sherman Oaks.

The Southern California thrifts are the latest to fail in the mortgage meltdown. U.S. officials say the banks' branches will continue operating as usual under Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank.

Federal regulators seized Downey Savings & Loan and PFF Bank & Trust late Friday, saying hundreds of millions of dollars in bad loans from the housing bubble had rendered the Southern California banking fixtures unsound.

The banks' branches will continue operating as usual under the ownership of Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank, one of the country's largest banks, and no depositors will lose any money because of the failures, regulators said.

Newport Beach-based Downey lost $547.7 million in the first nine months of 2008, largely because of risky "option ARM" mortgages -- adjustable-rate loans that let borrowers pay so little each month that their loan balances rose.

PFF, short for Pomona First Federal, specialized in loans to Inland Empire developers and home builders, running up $289.5 million in losses in the January-September period.

"The closing of these two thrifts once again demonstrates the tremendous impact of the housing market distress on the state of California," John Reich, director of the Office of Thrift Supervision, said in a statement announcing the seizure of the institutions.

After seizing the banks, the agency handed them over to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which immediately agreed to have U.S. Bank, a unit of US Bancorp, acquire virtually all their assets and assume all of their deposits.

US Bancorp agreed to shoulder the first $1.6 billion in losses on the two thrifts' loans. The FDIC will be on the hook for losses after that, which it estimates will be $2.1 billion.

Of the $3.7 billion in total estimated losses, $2.9 billion is on Downey's loans and $800 million is on PFF's.

The FDIC said it entertained other offers for the two thrifts. But the agency determined US Bancorp's offer was the least costly to the federal deposit insurance fund, which is financed by premiums paid by banks and thrifts.

US Bancorp, which has largely escaped the mortgage losses plaguing many banks, said acquiring Downey and PFF was part of its strategy of expanding in the West, particularly in California, where it recently completed the acquisition of Mellon Business Bank in downtown Los Angeles.

Before the latest deals, U.S. Bank had 353 California branches, a modest number in contrast with the presence the bank maintains in downtown Los Angeles. Its name appears on the former Library Tower on Fifth Street, the highest U.S. skyscraper west of the Mississippi.

The Downey and PFF branches brings U.S. Bank's California total to 561 branches, compared with more than 1,000 each for Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co.

The $2.1-billion loss brings the deposit insurance fund's losses on failed banks to about $15 billion this year, said Arlington, Va., bank consultant Bert Ely.

Ely said that amount could have been far lower if regulators had stepped in earlier to force the operators of big thrifts like Washington Mutual Inc. and Downey to find a buyer or clean up their acts before their loan problems became so severe.

"It's really sad about Downey," Ely said. "It was a great institution with a great branch system and customer base, and it made it through all the bank troubles of the 1980s. In the end, it was just like WaMu. These problems are like a fresh-caught fish, not like a fine red wine -- they don't get better with age."

Downey Financial Corp., parent of Downey Savings, was co-founded in 1957 by developer Maurice McAlister, a bass fisherman and nickelodeon collector who built shopping centers with Downey branches. McAlister remained chairman until July, when Downey's woes were already apparent.

PFF was the oldest banking outfit based in Southern California, founded in Pomona in 1892 to serve towns in what was then the citrus belt. Parent PFF Bancorp Inc., based in Rancho Cucamonga, had hoped to sell itself to Oak Park, Ill.-based FBOP Corp., which owns California National Bank and other community banks.

The seizures are likely to make permanent the disappearance of the stock market value of Downey Financial and PFF Bancorp. Since the end of 2006, when the mortgage meltdown began, Downey's shares have lost 99% of their value. PFF's stock is down 99.8%.

Regulators allowed Downey and PFF to complete their business Friday before stepping in.

At Downey's headquarters, a group of 10 FDIC and US Bancorp officials strode into the lobby of pink granite and marble at 6:06 p.m. and took the elevator to the fifth-floor executive offices to begin the transition to new ownership.

Downey and PFF were the 21st and 22nd FDIC-insured institutions to fail this year. No. 20, a bank in Georgia, was seized earlier Friday.

Other collapses this year have included Pasadena's IndyMac Bank, the largest Southern California S&L, whose failure in July is expected to cost the deposit insurance fund $8.7 billion. The FDIC is operating IndyMac while seeking a buyer for it.

US Bancorp said it would modify home loans for struggling Downey borrowers using as a model an aggressive program the FDIC has adopted at IndyMac.

Downey and PFF's customers are better off than some of IndyMac's because all of their deposits were assumed by U.S. Bank. IndyMac customers whose accounts weren't fully insured haven't gotten, and may never get, access to all of their money.

Before the announcement, Tim Stevenson, 54, a retired construction contractor who was getting money from an ATM at Downey's Burbank branch, said he had considered moving his more than $80,000 at Downey to another bank.

"I heard they were hurting, but what's happening to their stock is not something I wanted to hear," Stevenson said. "I thought they'd cranked things back up."

Joe Schweitzer, 69, a retired teacher and a longtime Downey customer in Sherman Oaks, said Friday afternoon that he had known the thrift was at risk of failing.

"I heard that their stock was below $1, that they had bad loans and that the government wasn't going to help them," he said. "But as long as my money's insured, I'm not scared."

Still, when a certificate of deposit matured two weeks ago, he and his wife transferred the money to Citibank.

Schweitzer said he was frustrated to learn that Citibank's parent company, Citigroup Inc., had its own problems. Its stock plunged 60% this week.

"We moved the CD to Citibank, and now look at where they are in the stock market," he said. "They're where everyone's money is going to, but they're also in terrible shape. It's like jumping from one hot potato to another."

Some Southern California banks whose stock prices have cratered continue to operate.

Temecula Valley Bank Chairman Stephen H. Wacknitz said Friday that Temecula was not in as dire a situation as PFF, Downey or Vineyard Bancorp in Corona. All four banks have seen their stocks punished by investors worried about the banks' loan troubles.

Wacknitz said Temecula had stopped its high-risk lending on speculative buildings seven or eight months ago.

"You show me a bank whose stock hasn't gone down," he said. "Look at Citigroup."

Reckard and Hsu are Times staff writers.

scott.reckard@latimes.com

tiffany.hsu@latimes.com
22-11-2008 11:00 AM
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Metrolink train collides with freight cars in Rialto
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Metrolink train collides with freight cars in Rialto
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Investigators inspect the Metrolink commuter train, left, that was struck by a freight train in Rialto on Thursday.
'But we don't know why,' an investigator says. The collision injured five people Thursday.
By Robert J. Lopez, Rich Connell and Steve Hymon
November 22, 2008


Federal investigators said human error or brake problems may have caused a Metrolink train to run a red light before it slammed into a freight train Thursday in Rialto.

The Metrolink crew noticed two lights before the red signal, said Ted Turpin, the National Transportation Safety Board investigator supervising the inquiry. One was flashing yellow and the other solid yellow, which should have alerted the crew that they had to stop so the other train could move off the single line of shared track and onto a side rail.

"They used the brakes but they didn't stop," Turpin said.

The Rialto crash, which injured five passengers, marked the second time in less than three months that a Metrolink train had failed to heed a stoplight before hitting another train.

Investigators in the catastrophic Chatsworth crash in September have said the engineer raced past a red light before slamming into an oncoming freight train, killing 25 people and injuring 135 others. The engineer was also text messaging before the impact.

The latest accident prompted Metrolink's board of directors on Friday to direct staff to explore what would be required to terminate the agency's contract with the private company that runs the commuter trains.

"If it turns out to be operator error, then it raises serious issues about how [the contractor] is responding to what happened in Chatsworth and the concerns raised by Metrolink," board member Richard Katz said in an interview.

Thursday's crash was similar to the Chatsworth collision, except that the commuter train was moving slowly when it hit the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway train.

Experts said the crash, coming on the heels of the Chatsworth collision and other deadly Metrolink accidents in recent years, raises safety questions about the popular commuter line.

The Rialto collision, experts noted, was especially troubling because the Metrolink train had two engineers -- a measure enacted after the Chatsworth crash to prevent accidents.

"It's just intolerable to have so many accidents on one system in a relatively short period of time," said Barry M. Sweedler, who spent 30 years with the NTSB as an investigator and administrator.

Najmedin Meshkati, a USC engineering professor who has studied rail safety systems, said the accidents point to systemic problems with the agency. "We are dealing with a deep-seated issue that involves the safety culture of the organization," he said.

Part of the problem, Sweedler said, is that Metrolink contracts out for its engineers, creating a layer of bureaucracy that makes it difficult to hold individuals accountable.

A spokeswoman for Veolia Transportation, whose subsidiary employs the engineers, said Friday evening that officials from the firm were unavailable for comment.

Turpin, the NTSB investigator, said the inquiry would continue several more days and investigative teams would be poring over computer data from the trains, signals and the Metrolink dispatch center.

He said the Metrolink train slammed into the freight train about 120 feet past the red light. Investigators interviewed the Metrolink crew and took statements from the Burlington Northern crew, Turpin said.

"We know pretty much where everything was and what was going on," he said, adding that it would probably be months before a probable cause could be determined.

A Metrolink spokesman said Friday that all of the agency's trains would get complete mechanical inspections before beginning service Monday.



Lopez, Connell and Hymon are Times staff writers.

robert.lopez@latimes.com

rich.connell@latimes.com

steve.hymon@latimes.com
22-11-2008 11:12 AM
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Engineer's radio calls investigated in Rialto Metrolink crash
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Engineer's radio calls investigated in Rialto Metrolink crash
The engineer tells investigators that a red light was not announced because the crew was trying to hit its brakes to avoid sideswiping a train.
By Robert J. Lopez and Rich Connell
November 25, 2008
A Metrolink engineer may have violated an internal policy requiring him to announce over the radio that he was approaching a red light before hitting a freight train last week in Rialto, federal investigators said today.

Metrolink engineers are required to call out all signal colors over the radio as a safety precaution to alert other crew members about the lights, as well as other trains operating in the area, according to agency operating guidelines. It's unclear whether failing to call out the signal contributed to the collision, investigators said.

The engineer operating the Metrolink train announced a flashing yellow light before the Rialto train station and a solid yellow light just past the depot, said Ted Turpin, the National Transportation Safety Board investigator supervising the crash inquiry. The lights should have alerted the crew that they had a stop light two miles ahead.

In interviews with investigators, the Metrolink engineer and a second crew member in the cab said the red light was not announced because they were trying to hit their brakes to avoid sideswiping the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway train as it tried to ease off a single line of shared track and onto a siding.

"They said they were too busy trying to stop the train," Turpin said.

He said investigators are trying to determine why the crew did not stop the train in time. The NTSB probe is focusing on possibilities of human error or brake failure, although one test showed that the brakes were functioning properly, Turpin said. He added, however, that additional testing on the brake system is needed.

Last Wednesday's accident, which injured five people, was the second time in less than three months that a Metrolink engineer failed to announce a red light before hitting a freight train.

Investigators probing the Chatsworth collision in September have said the engineer failed to announce a red light over the radio before he collided with an oncoming freight train on a single line of track, killing 25 people and injuring 135 others.

Shortly after the accident, the private contractor that operates Metrolink trains sent out a safety alert reminding employees they "must communicate all signals and their locations via radio," according to a copy of the internal memo obtained by The Times.

"One of the advantages of calling signals via radio is for other trains in that area to hear and compare that information to what they are running on."

Turpin said it would take up to nine months before a probable cause is determined.

Lopez and Connell are Times staff writers.

robert.lopez@latimes.com

rich.connell@latimes.com
24-11-2008 08:01 PM
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12 indicted for running violent trafficking ring in Alaska, Van Nuys Source
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This story is of interest because the drugs were comming from Van Nuys

12 indicted for running violent trafficking ring in Alaska

Mary Pemberton/The Associated Press

Published Tuesday, November 25, 2008

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A federal grand jury has indicted 12 people for running what prosecutors describe as a large drug ring that trafficked in cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine and used violence, including machine-guns, to maintain control over the operation.

According to the indictment returned Tuesday, 27-year-old Juan Manuel Mendiola was the leader of the drug conspiracy and took care of the Alaska end of the business. The drugs were sent from Van Nuys, Calif., and delivered to nine addresses in Anchorage.

Prosecutors say during the investigation over 6 kilograms of cocaine, 500 grams of heroin, 1 kilogram of methamphetamine, over a dozen firearms and over $100,000 in cash were seized.

Christine Thoreson, special assistant U.S. Attorney, said the drug operation was sizable when one considers the many packages that were shipped to Alaska. The street value of the drugs has not been determined, she said.

The joint federal/state investigation determined the drug ring had been in operation since at least 2005.

Thoreson said the arrests have gone a long way to put the drug dealers out of business.

"I think that it is fair to say this crew was dealt a severe hit," Thoreson said.

Capt. Gardner Cobb with the Anchorage Police Department said in a release that "the community is safer today than it was two years ago."

Four of the defendants were arraigned Tuesday before Judge Ralph Beistline in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. The others will be arraigned in coming days, Thoreson said.

Authorities are still searching for two defendants.

The indictment says the drugs were concealed in packages and shipped to Alaska by United Parcel Service and FedEx. Once the packages were received, the drugs were sold and distributed throughout Alaska.

Mendiola allegedly coordinated and organized the drug ring. He also cooked the cocaine to make crack cocaine, prosecutors said. Diego Sebastian Munoz, 27, allegedly coordinated the shipments and worked primarily out of the Van Nuys area.

The drug dealers coordinated the operation mostly through the use of prepaid cell phones.

According to the indictment, Jose Ruis, 22, and Seirosa Sia Milo, 27, were in charge of receiving and shipping packages, which contained drugs, money and sometimes both.

Distribution was left to Milo, Phonesavanh Vongthongdy, 22; Timothy Ray Moore, Jr., 27; Kenese Sene, 35; Bernard Yamura White, 27; Miguel Robles, 23; Vaughan Erickson, 29; Harold Cogo Graham, 22; and Patrick Allen Osburn, 26, prosecutors said.

The defendants are accused of using intimidation and violence to keep the drug ring's operations from being revealed to law enforcement. In March, Milo, the only woman charged, ordered one of the men to assault another as discipline for violating "house rules." Thoreson said she couldn't elaborate beyond what was contained in the indictment while the case was still active.

In addition to two machine-guns, authorities seized a dozen guns, including numerous semiautomatic handguns.
26-11-2008 10:04 AM
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Suspect in attack on deputies arrested
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claper Suspect in attack on deputies arrested
Updated: 11/26/2008 11 34 PM PST
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LANCASTER - A teenage boy was arrested on suspicion of firing several shots at an unmarked patrol car driven by two sheriff's deputies who were following a suspected gang member.

Two rounds struck the passenger side of the police car but the anti-gang detectives inside were not hurt in the 11:42 a.m. incident Tuesday at Avenue J-8 near 22nd Street East. Deputies said they believed the gang member they had been tailing called the suspect to ambush and shoot at the detectives.

The boy was arrested about 3:20 pm, hours later, after a sheriff's dog found him hiding inside a travel trailer that he had broken into in the Hacienda Mobile Home Park. The suspect was bitten by the police dog and treated for his injuries. Deputies said they recovered a handgun inside the trailer.
28-11-2008 11:10 AM
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Shots fired at unmarked patrol car in Lancaster
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Shots fired at unmarked patrol car in Lancaster
Daily News Wire Service
Updated: 11/25/2008 08(42 PM PST
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LANCASTER -- An unmarked patrol car following a known gang member in Lancaster Tuesday was shot at by a passerby, who may have been an accomplice, authorities said.

The patrol car was hit twice in the passenger side door on Avenue J-8 near 22nd Street East. No one was injured, a deputy at the Lancaster Sheriff's Station said.

As gang detectives were following the Honda, they called for a marked black and white patrol unit to make a traffic stop. After the shooting, additional deputies set up a containment area and searched for the shooter.

The driver of the Honda was detained.

Deputies used a dog, helicopter and patrol units in the search for the shooter.

About 3:20 p.m., a juvenile was arrested inside a travel trailer he had broken into at the Hacienda Mobile Home Park.

A handgun was recovered that was believed to have been used by the shooter.

The juvenile suspect also sustained injuries from a bite by the police dog.
28-11-2008 11:17 AM
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EARLY BIRD: Highlights in history . . . and a thought for the day
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EARLY BIRD: Highlights in history . . . and a thought for the day
BC-History-Nov 28,0665?
Today in History?
By The Associated Press?
Today is Friday, Nov. 28, the 333rd day of 2008. There are 33 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Nov. 28, 1942, nearly 500 people died in a fire that destroyed the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston.
On this date:

In 1520, Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan reached the Pacific Ocean after passing through the South American strait that now bears his name.

In 1907, future movie producer Louis B. Mayer opened his first movie theater, in Haverhill, Mass.

In 1919, American-born Lady Astor was elected the first female member of the British Parliament.

In 1943, President Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin began conferring in Tehran during World War II.

In 1958, Chad, Gabon and Middle Congo became autonomous republics within the French community.
In 1964, the United States launched the space probe Mariner 4 on a course to Mars.

In 1979, an Air New Zealand DC-10 en route to the South Pole crashed into a mountain in Antarctica, killing all 257 people aboard.

In 1987, a South African Airways Boeing 747 crashed into the Indian Ocean with the loss of all 159 people aboard.

In 1990, Margaret Thatcher resigned as British prime minister during an audience with Queen Elizabeth II, who conferred the premiership on John Major.

In 2001, Enron Corp. collapsed after would-be rescuer Dynegy Inc. backed out of an $8.4 billion deal to take it over.

Ten years ago: Some Republicans expressed disappointment and outrage over President Clinton's written responses to 81 questions from the House Judiciary Committee concerning the Monica Lewinsky affair, with one accusing the president of "word games."

Five years ago: President Bush returned to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, after a secret, nearly 36-hour journey that took him to Iraq for a Thanksgiving visit with U.S. troops.

One year ago: A day after an international Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Md., President Bush told the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian territories he was personally committed to their mission of peace. Republican presidential rivals Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney clashed over immigration in a provocative, no-holds-barred CNN/YouTube debate. O.J. Simpson pleaded not guilty in Las Vegas to charges of kidnapping and armed robbery stemming from a confrontation with sports memorabilia dealers. (Simpson and a co-defendant were convicted last month.) Broadway stagehands and theater producers reached a tentative agreement on ending a crippling 19-day-old strike.

Today's Birthdays:
Recording executive Berry Gordy Jr. is 79.
Former Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., is 72.
Singer-songwriter Bruce Channel is 68.
Singer Randy Newman is 65.
Movie director Joe Dante is 62.
CBS News correspondent Susan Spencer is 62.
"Late Show" orchestra leader Paul Shaffer is 59.
Actor Ed Harris is 58.
Actress S. Epatha Merkerson is 56.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is 55.
Country singer Kristine Arnold (Sweethearts of the Rodeo) is 52.
Actor Judd Nelson is 49.
Movie director Alfonso Cuaron is 47.
Rock musician Matt Cameron is 46.
Actress Jane Sibbett is 46.
Comedian Jon Stewart is 46.
Actress Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon is 42.
Rhythm-and-blues singer Dawn Robinson is 40.
Hip-hop musician apl.de.ap (Black Eyed Peas) is 34.
Actress Aimee Garcia is 30. Rapper Chamillionaire is 29.
Actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead is 24.
Actress Scarlett Pomers ("Reba") is 20.


Thought for Today: "I am not sure that God always knows who are His great men; He is so very careless of what happens to them while they live." -- Mary Hunter Austin, American novelist and playwright (1868-1934).
28-11-2008 11:59 AM
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shirley Offline
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Cyber-attack on Defense Department computers
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Cyber-attack on Defense Department computers raises concerns
The 'malware' strike, thought to be from inside Russia, hit combat zone computers and the U.S. Central Command overseeing Iraq and Afghanistan. The attack underscores concerns about computer warfare.
By Julian E. Barnes
November 28, 2008
Reporting from Washington -- Senior military leaders took the exceptional step of briefing President Bush this week on a severe and widespread electronic attack on Defense Department computers that may have originated in Russia -- an incursion that posed unusual concern among commanders and raised potential implications for national security.

Defense officials would not describe the extent of damage inflicted on military networks. But they said that the attack struck hard at networks within U.S. Central Command, the headquarters that oversees U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and affected computers in combat zones. The attack also penetrated at least one highly protected classified network.

Military computers are regularly beset by outside hackers, computer viruses and worms. But defense officials said the most recent attack involved an intrusive piece of malicious software, or "malware," apparently designed specifically to target military networks.

"This one was significant; this one got our attention," said one defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing internal assessments.

Although officials are withholding many details, the attack underscores the increasing danger and potential significance of computer warfare, which defense experts say could one day be used by combatants to undermine even a militarily superior adversary.

Bush was briefed on the threat by Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mullen also briefed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Military electronics experts have not pinpointed the source or motive of the attack and could not say whether the destructive program was created by an individual hacker or whether the Russian government may have had some involvement. Defense experts may never be able to answer such questions, officials said.

The defense official said the military also had not learned whether the software's designers may have been specifically targeting computers used by troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, suspicions of Russian involvement come at an especially delicate time because of sagging relations between Washington and Moscow and growing tension over U.S. plans to develop a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. The two governments also have traded charges of regional meddling after U.S. support for democratic elections in former Soviet states and recent Russian overtures in Latin America.

U.S. officials have worried in recent years about the possibility of cyber-attacks from other countries, especially China and Russia, whether sponsored by governments of those countries or launched by individual computer experts.

An electronic attack from Russia shut down government computers in Estonia in 2007. And officials believe that a series of electronic attacks were launched against Georgia at the same time that hostilities erupted between Moscow and Tbilisi last summer. Russia has denied official involvement in the Georgia attacks.

The first indication that the Pentagon was dealing with a computer problem came last week, when officials banned the use of external computer flash drives. At the time, officials did not indicate the extent of the attack or the fact that it may have targeted defense systems or posed national security concerns.

The invasive software, known as agent.btz, has circulated among nongovernmental U.S. computers for months. But only recently has it affected the Pentagon's networks. It is not clear whether the version responsible for the cyber-intrusion of classified networks is the same as the one affecting other computer systems.

The malware is able to spread to any flash drive plugged into an infected computer. The risk of spreading the malware to other networks prompted the military to ban the drives.

Defense officials acknowledged that the worldwide ban on external drives was a drastic move. Flash drives are used constantly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many officers keep them loaded with crucial information on lanyards around their necks.

Banning their use made sharing information in the war theaters more difficult and reflected the severity of the intrusion and the threat from agent.btz, a second official said.

Officials would not describe the exact threat from agent.btz, or say whether it could shut down computers or steal information. Some computer experts have reported that agent.btz can allow an attacker to take control of a computer remotely and to take files and other information from it.

In response to the attack, the U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the military's cyberspace defenses, has raised the security level for its so-called information operations condition, or "INFOCON," initiating enhanced security measures on military networks.

The growing possibility of future electronic conflicts has touched off debates among U.S. defense experts over how to train and utilize American computer warfare specialists. Some have advocated creating offensive capabilities, allowing the U.S. to develop the ability to intrude into the networks of other countries.

But most top leaders believe the U.S. emphasis in cyberspace should be on improving defenses and gathering intelligence, particularly about potential threats.

On Tuesday, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff, received a specialized briefing about the malware attack. Officers from the Air Force Network Operations Center at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana outlined their efforts to halt the spread of the malware and to protect military computers from further attack.

Schwartz, praising those efforts, said that the attack and the military's response were being closely monitored by senior military leaders.

The offending program has been cleansed from a number of military networks. But officials said they did not believe they had removed every bit of infection from all Defense Department computers.

"There are lots of people working hard to remove the threat and put in preventive measures to protect the grid," said the defense official. "We have taken a number of corrective measures, but I would be overstating it if I said we were through this."

Barnes is a writer in our Washington bureau.

julian.barnes@latimes.com
28-11-2008 12:12 PM
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shirley Offline
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Gold Line extension to L.A. Eastside stirs hopes, fears
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Gold Line extension to L.A. Eastside stirs hopes, fears

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Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times
A worker in a tunnel on the Eastside Gold Line extension.
Some residents say they would welcome more upscale retailers. Others worry the character of the neighborhoods will change.

By Hector Becerra
November 30, 2008

David Contreras sits alone in his rockabilly clothing shop in Boyle Heights. At first, he explains, he wanted an "atomic age" theme for his store, with Cadillac fins mounted on walls, stars on the ceiling -- sort of like a glamorous 1950s department store.

But he figured that would scare people away in the working-class neighborhood he grew up in before moving away to New York and then Silver Lake. So he went with a tiki-bar look instead, thinking it would be warmer and humbler. Some people still freak out when they walk in, he said, raising his clenched hands and contorting his face as if to impersonate a doomed woman on a vintage horror movie poster. People still stumble into his store, wondering where Frank's TV repair shop went.

"Everyone thinks we're gentrifying, but we don't want to gentrify. We just want to be a cool place for people to hang out," said Contreras, 49. "We're like the Neiman Marcus of Boyle Heights! Everyone likes glamour. What's wrong with that?"

Contreras' store sits in an old, wedge-shaped brick building at Boyle Avenue and Whittier Boulevard, a crossroads of impending change on the Eastside. By next year, a new light rail line will be running a few blocks from his store -- the first foray of L.A.'s rail system into the eastern neighborhoods beyond downtown's skyscrapers.

The Gold Line extension has long been hailed as a turning point for the predominantly Latino areas, "transit equity" for residents who heavily use mass transit but until now have had only one option: the bus.

But as the opening of the line draws closer, there is growing angst about how it will change development patterns in Boyle Heights and East L.A.

The construction of rail across Los Angeles over the last three decades has helped transform some neighborhoods. The area around the Red Line subway terminus in North Hollywood has become a hip arts and theater district with a growing skyline of loft and condo projects. The Red Line has also helped fuel the revival of Hollywood, with dense mixed-use developments popping up next to subway stations. The Blue Line helped foster downtown Long Beach's resurgence.

But the Eastside is different. Residents there have much more ambivalent feelings about gentrification than the neighborhoods to the west and north. Some have high hopes for the Gold Line, expecting it to bring some of the better chain shops -- Borders, Trader Joe's -- that have avoided the Eastside. Others are more suspicious, fearing that an influx of money and outsiders will change the area's character and push out the poor.

"I would love to have a yoga studio that's affordable," resident Sandra Martinez, 40, said with a half-guilty laugh. "The problem with a yoga studio is when that moves in, that's the end -- that's the definition of gentrification."

Even before the Gold Line started nearing completion, there were growing signs of change.

There's a controversial proposal to knock down the working-class 1930s Wyvernwood Garden Apartments to make room for mostly market-rate condominiums and retail space. Developers have also been talking about transforming the 14-story Art Deco Sears, Roebuck & Co. building into a complex of condos, retail space and restaurants.

Experts said the addition of the light rail line, which will run from Union Station to East L.A., will accelerate development.

Rail lines mean access, which is valuable, said Lisa Schweitzer, a professor in the USC School of Policy, Planning and Development. Rail also means a bump in property values, she said, with land around the line becoming "perpetually valuable."

Some developments are already planned with the Gold Line. That, experts say, will in turn become a catalyst for more development -- though the toughening economy could temporarily slow that down. Then there's the fact that traffic is worsening in L.A. and people might want to move closer to the core of the city.

"Naturally, these neighborhoods will be gentrified," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who represents much of the Eastside. "But they will be gentrified overnight if we allow developers to."

Diversity long gone

At various points, going back to the early 20th century, Jews, Russians, Italians, Japanese and Mexicans all called Boyle Heights and East L.A. home. The neighborhoods' more than half a dozen old cemeteries -- including the Serbian Cemetery on 3rd Street, along the Gold Line route -- speak to the long-gone diversity.

By the 1960s, Boyle Heights and East L.A. had begun to cement themselves as the motherland for L.A.'s growing Mexican American community. The neighborhoods, always working-class, remained vibrant but became poorer with the infusion of immigrants.

Although Boyle Heights and much of the Eastside have been pocked with gangs, crime has declined sharply for several years. The housing boom that hit many parts of Southern California -- before the bust -- arrived in these neighborhoods a bit later, but they remained largely affordable.

Change didn't stop, though; it only happened at a slower pace than in places including Silver Lake and Echo Park, cultural cousins to the neighborhoods east of the L.A. River. In recent years, large housing projects along 1st Street in Boyle Heights have been converted into town houses, with a mix of market rate and affordable housing. And a popular wine bar opened at Mariachi Plaza, which is being renovated as part of the Gold Line project.

East L.A.'s first Starbucks opened a few years ago.

Diana Tarango, 73, remembers when neighbors on her East L.A. street included Germans and Japanese. A third-generation Mexican American, Tarango said she misses the diversity and thinks the Eastside has too many discount stores, flower shops and taco trucks.

The Gold Line, Tarango said, will put the neighborhood on a fast track to change. "To me this is one of the best things that could happen to East L.A," she said.

"Why do we have to go to Pasadena for a Borders? Don't give me second-class retail," she said. "Does everything have to be low-income? Why not build for people who can own homes now -- condos, town houses? Because when you own something, it becomes yours and you take pride in it."

Tarango said that when she told her husband that maybe Trader Joe's could come to East L.A., he replied, "You would be the only one shopping there."

"I don't think so," she said. "I think if you offer it to people, I think they would buy into it. But if you don't offer it, you're being complacent. I'm 73, but I'm not complacent."

But Lydia Avila-Hernandez, 25, of Boyle Heights worries that for all the good the rail line will bring, it will also highlight differences between many Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans over issues that include affordable housing, street vending and even taco trucks.

"Even my own friends I grew up with, I told one of them about the Gold Line and she said, 'That's good, then white people can come and make the neighborhood better,' " said Avila-Hernandez. "I told her, 'How could you say that? Just because they're Mexicanos doesn't mean they're bad.' "

Avila-Hernandez said the Gold Line, beyond its mass transit benefits, could be a very good thing as long as the community is involved and has a voice. Otherwise, she said, it could get divisive -- even without the wholesale movement of people from other parts of L.A.

Molina said it will be important that no matter what changes take place, there be "opportunities for people living there today."

Whatever one calls it, change is necessary, she added. Molina said there's no reason that over time people in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights and East L.A. should not be able to partake of some of the things that people in places like Arcadia and Temple City do.

"People don't like always going to the corner liquor store for food products," she said. "Everyone likes a Trader Joe's. But change and opportunities have to be incorporated within the framework of the community there today, families that have been there forever."

Sandra Martinez can see both sides of the gentrification debate. A Salvadoran American who works for a health foundation, she was priced out of Echo Park. A real estate agent was able to find a duplex for her and her sister in Boyle Heights, next to the new County-USC Medical Center.

Martinez quickly grew to like her new neighborhood, with its good eateries, which included not just Mexican restaurants but also a Salvadoran one and a Middle Eastern restaurant just a few blocks away.

She discovered the new wine bar, Eastside Luv, at 1st and Boyle. The trendy, popular homegrown bar represents a kind of meeting of the past and possible future of Boyle Heights -- a place where young professionals socialize next to Mariachi Plaza with its for-hire musicians.

Next to the wine bar, itself a reminder that what people call gentrification isn't always an outside thing, is an old-school cantina, where lonesome-looking immigrant men with 10-gallon hats can be found hunkered over beers.

But though she liked some of the changes that happened in Echo Park, she found others unsavory and wouldn't want them to befall her newly adopted neighborhood. She cites the time a record store opened in her Echo Park neighborhood and she went in to look for some Latin music.

"I was struck by the fact they didn't have any, and I thought to myself, 'That's just rude!' " Martinez recalled. "I thought, 'Where do you think you are?' "

Becerra is a Times staff writer.
hector.becerra@latimes.com
29-11-2008 07:09 PM
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