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Supreme Court takes case on immigration scam case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Friday it will hear a case involving a scam that falsely promoted adult adoptions as a path to U.S. citizenship.

The case tests whether a section of federal immigration law is unconstitutional because it is so broad it violates the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees. The high court two years ago heard arguments on the same issue in a different case, but the court’s ruling ultimately did not reach the question.

The new case the high court agreed to hear involves Helaman Hansen, who operated a Sacramento nonprofit called the Americans Helping America Chamber of Commerce. The government said that between 2012 and 2016 he persuaded at least 471 people to join his adult adoption program even though he knew the adoptions he was promoting would not lead to citizenship. People paid between $550 and $10,000 to participate.

Hansen’s victims included noncitizens already in the United States on visas whom he convinced to remain in the country illegally, and noncitizens outside the United States whom he convinced to travel to and live in the United States illegally to participate.

A jury convicted him of a series of charges and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His conviction, however, included two counts of encouraging or inducing illegal immigration for private financial gain. Hansen argued that those counts should have been dismissed because the section of immigration law he was convicted under is overbroad and unconstitutional. An appeals court agreed. The Supreme Court will review that ruling.

The high court also granted three other cases Friday, including an arbitration case involving cryptocurrency trading platform Coinbase.


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Former Fox News guest charged with exploiting her mom

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A former regular guest on Fox News stole at least $224,000 from her 88-year-old mother and unnecessarily put her into a nursing home twice against her will, including once dragging the woman from her home, Florida authorities said Friday.

Cathy Areu, who provided liberal commentary on several shows, is facing numerous felony charges including kidnapping, exploitation of the elderly and organized scheme to defraud. Miami-Dade County prosecutors say she falsified documents to take control of her mother’s home, took money from her mother’s reverse mortgage and savings account and took out credit cards in her mother’s name and then used them for her own benefit.

“Every incident of alleged elder exploitation or abuse touches our heart and never fails to shock us. It seems particularly harder to understand when the alleged perpetrator of the exploitation is a daughter, or a son or another blood relative,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement.

According to Areu’s Fox News profile, she is a former contributing editor for the Washington Post Magazine, where she did political interviews from 2001 to 2012, and in 2001 founded the magazine Catalina. It sought to “break stereotypes and show a positive side of the U.S. Hispanic community.” She also hosted the “Liberal Sherpa” podcast.

In 2018, Areu, 51, was a regular unpaid guest on conservative commentator Tucker Carlson’s show and appeared on other Fox News shows. In 2020 she sued the network, Carlson, Sean Hannity and others, claiming sexual harassment, but a judge dismissed the suit the following year.

Details of Areu’s arrest were not released, but prosecutors said she had been evading authorities since June, including spending time in Mexico. She was being held without bond Friday at the Miami-Dade County Jail. Court and jail records do not show if she has an attorney.

According to prosecutors, the investigation began in 2019 when state officials received reports that Areu was exploiting her mother. Paperwork had been filed turning over the mother’s house to Areu, but the mother denied the signature was hers.

They say Areu also used a revoked power of attorney to twice place her mother in a nursing home against her will. In the first case, they say Areu tricked her mother into believing she was being taken to have ice cream with her granddaughters, but was instead taken to a home. When the mother tried to call a friend for help, Area allegedly told the staff not to let her use the phone or see visitors.

After doctors and officials found the woman competent to make her own decisions and released her to go home, prosecutors say Areu and another person dragged her from the house and took her to another facility. Again, the woman was released after she was found competent and asked to go home.

Authorities say the investigation is ongoing.


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UN approves exempting humanitarian aid from all UN sanctions

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly approved a resolution exempting humanitarian aid from all current and future U.N. sanctions regimes, a vote the United States hailed as “historic” that will save lives and address longstanding problems of sanctions impeding aid deliveries.

The legally binding resolution was immediately hailed by humanitarian organizations including the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mercy Corps and the Norwegian Refugee Council whose Secretary General Jan Egeland said “it will protect humanitarian action from the crippling impacts of sanctions regimes at a time when needs are skyrocketing” and will be “the difference between life and death” for some people.

The vote on the resolution co-sponsored by the United States and Ireland was 14-0 with India abstaining.

India’s U.N. Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj said her country’s concerns stem “from proven instances of terrorist groups taking full advantage of such humanitarian carve outs and making a mockery of sanctions regimes” as well as “several cases of terrorist groups in our neighborhood … reincarnating themselves as humanitarian organizations and civil society groups precisely to evade the sanctions.”

To prevent such activities, she said, India had called for the resolution to ensure monitoring of humanitarian exemptions by U.N. experts monitoring sanctions and “robust reporting,” which were not fully addressed in the text, so India abstained.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council before the vote that as the world’s leading global humanitarian donor the United States recognizes that “we must all do everything in our power to help humanitarian partners reach the world’s most vulnerable, regardless of where they live, who they live with, and who controls their territory.”

“Our goal is always to stop terrorists and human rights abusers by using a legitimate tool to maintain peace and security, but still allow lifesaving humanitarian efforts to continue for those in need,” she said.

But the humanitarian community expressed concern about the impact of sanctions, especially asset freezes, impeding assistance and asked “for a clear, standard carveout of humanitarian assistance and activities to meet basic human needs for all U.N. sanctions regimes,” which is what the resolution does, Thomas-Greenfield said.

It states categorically that activities of humanitarian organizations and workers “are permitted and are not a violation of the asset freezes imposed by this council or its sanctions committees.”

Thomas-Greenfield told The Associated Press that while humanitarian aid exemptions are already included in some Security Council resolutions that imposed sanctions, “it has not been consistent, it’s not been standardized.” The resolution, she said, standardizes the exemption and will help speed efforts by humanitarian workers to provide aid to people.

After the vote, Ireland’s U.N. Ambassador Fergal Mythen welcomed adoption of the “landmark resolution” saying, “With this resolution, we diminish the unintended consequences of sanctions without diminishing U.N. sanctions themselves.”

He said that as a result of sanctions, sometimes aid can’t be shipped, financed, insured and delivered.

The resolution “provides certainty and clarity” to humanitarian providers, donors and implementing partners that providing aid is permitted. But he cautioned that while it is significant it “is not a panacea,” saying work needs to be done on other aspects of U.N. sanctions including due process.

Today, however, “we can rest assured that the council has taken decisive action in response to appeals by humanitarians worldwide,” Mythen said.

“This resolution will have tangible positive impacts for those working in some of the most challenging environments across the globe, who can now continue helping the world’s most vulnerable in the knowledge that even where U.N. sanctions are in effect, their activities are permitted,” he said.

U.S. envoy Thomas-Greenfield said after the vote that all humanitarian situations the U.N. is engaged in including Afghanistan, Syria and Myamar “will benefit” from the resolution’s adoption.

Mercy Corps Vice President Kate Phillips-Barrasso called the resolution “a game-changer for humanitarian organizations, which have experienced confusion and faced additional risks in providing life-saving aid,” saying “this clarity and the protection it brings are of paramount importance.”

ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric expressed hope that the resolution’s implementation “will significantly assist humanitarian action in many parts of the world.” She encouraged all countries “to put this humanitarian carve-out into practice, including through national laws and regulations.”


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NYC mayor’s $300 fine for rat infestation is dismissed

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City’s mayor has beaten the rat rap.

Days after Mayor Eric Adams appeared remotely at a city administrative hearing to contest a $300 fine for a rat infestation at a townhouse he owns, the fine was dismissed.

Adams said Tuesday that he had spent thousands of dollars on rat mitigation efforts. The hearing officer was satisfied, and the fine was dismissed on Thursday.

The officer ruled that the mayor had “placed rat traps around the property and helped educate and encourage his neighbors to take similar steps to combat infestation,” The New York Times reported.

Adams’ press secretary, Fabien Levy, said Friday that the hearing process worked as it was supposed to.

“Mayor Adams practices what he preaches,” Levy said. “When he says rats are filthy animals that need to be exterminated, he means it, and that’s why he spent thousands of dollars doing just that at his residence in Brooklyn.”

News of the fine emerged a week after Adams posted a job listing for a rat czar to lead the campaign to eradicate the pests.

But Adams believes rat fighting must be a team effort. “He hopes all New Yorkers join him in the wholesale slaughter of rats across our city,” Levy said.


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‘Aftersun,’ ‘Banshees’ lead AP’s best films of 2022

The Associated Press’ Film Writers Jake Coyle and Lindsey Bahr’s picks for the best movies of 2022:

JAKE COYLE:

1. “Aftersun”: Rarely does such a delicately crafted tale pack such a wallop. Charlotte Wells’ breathtaking feature debut, starring newcomer Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal as an 11-year-old girl and her father on vacation in Turkey, is such a keenly observed accumulation of detail and feeling that you hardly notice the undertow of heartache that will, in the end, absolutely floor you.

2. “Belle”: Though it was a hit in Japan, it was easy to miss Mamoru Hosoda’s glorious anime back in January, when it arrived in North American theaters. It’s a dazzling blend of “Beauty and the Beast,” a girl’s wrenching battle with grief and self-doubt, and possibly the best movie ever made about the Internet. It’s a lot, maybe too much, but “Belle” reaches the most beautiful of climaxes.

3. “The Banshees of Inisherin”: Martin McDonagh’s latest is a lean fable that throbs with existential conundrum. It plays out between a quizzical Colin Farrell, a doom-laden Brendan Gleeson, an exasperated Kerry Condon and a much-cherished donkey. What else could you possibly need?

4. “Decision to Leave”: The Korean master Park Chan-wook marries a police procedural and romance, and the twisty noirish results are at turns delightful and devastating.

5. “Descendant”: Margaret Brown’s expansive, ruminative documentary reverberates with history and stories passed down through time. The central incident is the discovery in Mobile, Alabama, of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to arrive on U.S. shores. But Brown’s roaming, wide-lens film is most powerful for the way it captures the community of Clotilda descendants — a contemplative and compelling cast of characters — as they weigh slavery’s present-day legacy.

6. “No Bears”: Jafar Panahi may be the most vital and courageous filmmaker in the world right now. The Iranian writer-director has been banned from making movies or traveling since he was arrested in 2010 for supporting protesters. Yet Panahi has, ingeniously, continued to find ways to make thoughtful, playful, defiant films that reflect his predicament while slyly capturing the Iranian society around him. “No Bears,” which dramatizes Panahi making a film along the Turkish border, is one of his best. It’s grown only more piercing since Panahi was jailed on a six-year prison sentence earlier this year. In one bleakly stirring moment, Panahi stands on a darkened borderland, contemplating fleeing.

7. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “Nope”: In a movie world where spectacles often come with little within, both of these films were absolutely brimming with ideas and images. You could call the Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s film and Jordan Peele’s latest opus overstuffed. But their sheer cinematic abundance made them nourishing, vibrant exceptions. Much the same could be said of James Cameron’s equally visionary “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

8. “ Lingui, the Sacred Bonds ”: Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s film is one of the year’s most tender mother-daughter portraits. Rihane Khali Alio and Achouackh Abakar Souleymane star in this extraordinarily vivid tale, set in the outskirts of present-day N’Djamena, of abortion, motherhood and female solidarity.

9. “The Fabelmans”: Steven Spielberg’s natural mode as a filmmaker might not be introspective. He’s not historically been one to phone home. And while that awkwardness can sometimes be felt in his movie memoir, there are many scenes here unlike anything he’s ever shot before, and among his very best.

10. “Kimi”: A great benefit of the so-called “pandemic movies” is that they were made fast, loose and of-their-moment. This year, many filmmakers, maybe as a result of all that time shut-in, released inward-looking films. Often better were the ones that more directly dealt with the pandemic reality around us. Steven Soderbergh’s fleet-footed thriller starring Zoë Kravitz as an agoraphobic tech contractor deftly channeled the times into a riveting little pop gem.

Also: “Compartment No. 6,” “Till”, “One Fine Morning,” “The Cathedral,” “The Woman King,” “Saint Omer,” “Apollo 10 ½”, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” “Emily the Criminal,” “Bones and All”

LINDSEY BAHR:

1. “The Banshees of Inisherin”: Martin McDonagh’s film is a sharp, funny and utterly devastating work about the end of a friendship on a small Irish island. Colin Farrell uses his wonderful brows (and acting chops) to ensure ultimate heartbreak as his world and sense of self crumbles and rots. But it’s the ensemble, including Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan and on down, who imbue this deceptively simple set-up with gravity and depth.

2. “Tár”: Todd Field’s brilliant, restless “Tár” reminded me how much I love movies (and tricked me into believing that I was some kind of scholar of classical music for a few hours). Cate Blanchett is transcendent in bringing this flawed genius to life, challenging the audience to consider big questions about power, status and art. It is demanding but immensely rewarding cinema that is not easily defined, which is perhaps why audiences aren’t taking a chance on it in theaters (which is a mistake).

3. “ Women Talking ”: Sarah Polley’s film hasn’t even been released to the general public and it’s already considered “divisive,” which is one of the best reasons to seek it out. Aren’t you curious which side you’ll be on? I’m one who was spellbound by her heady, spiritual vision of a group of abused women in an isolated religious colony questioning their reality and wondering if life could somehow be different than what they know.

4. “Aftersun”: In a year full of autobiographical films from very famous names, it was the one from the unknown that made the biggest impression. You don’t have to know anything about Charlotte Wells to get wrapped up in “Aftersun,” an inspired and fully realized memory piece about an ordinary vacation some 20 years prior that will leave you in pieces (which is somehow possible even when the “Macarena” is also stuck in your head).

5. “ Saint Omer ”: A young woman is on trial for the death of her 15-month-old daughter in this haunting French courtroom drama, a tremendous debut feature from documentarian Alice Diop, that upends your notions of what the genre can be in its examination of trauma, the immigrant experience and expectations of motherhood.

6. “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris”: This is the kind of romantic confection that’s a bit of an outlier on a list like this, but that’s why it’s here. Anthony Fabian’s film about an English housecleaner and war widow (Lesley Manville) in the 1950s who saves up to travel to Paris to buy a couture Christian Dior gown is a balm — heartwarming without being schlocky, reverential of high fashion artistry but critical of its exclusionary ways and just a supreme delight.

7. “Kimi”: Sorry “Top Gun: Maverick,” you were very entertaining too, but Steven Soderbergh’s “Kimi” was my favorite popcorn experience of the year — a taut, paranoid thriller with a modern, Alexa/Siri-inspired spin on the overheard crime scenario of “Blow Up,” with a sharp performance from Zoe Kravitz, who can even make an agoraphobic shut in extremely cool.

8. “ Murina ”: There is rot beneath the punishingly beautiful, sun-soaked Adriatic setting of Croatian filmmaker Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic’s sublimely menacing debut feature about a 17-year-old girl who is starting to question the ingrained misogyny around her. The family dynamics are as rocky and dangerous as the picturesque backdrop.

9. “Corsage”: Beauty, waistlines, aging, celebrity, duty and desire haunt Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Marie Kreutzer’s intricate and interpretive portrait of dynamic mind and soul that’s been stifled by her position and myriad traumas. Vicky Krieps is perfect as the deliriously subversive “Sissi.”

10. “White Noise”: The supermarket dance to LCD Soundsystem’s “New Body Rhumba” might not come until the very end of Noah Baumbach’s Don DeLillo adaptation but there is a dazzling rhythm to the entire epic, from the controlled chaos of the overlapping dialogue to the hectic choreography of a family making breakfast. But maybe the most surprising thing is that behind all the wit, the style, the commentary on American society and the banal and the profound in the everyday, there is a real emotional weight too.

Also: “ Happening, ” “ The Eternal Daughter,” “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “ Fire of Love,” “ Catherine Called Birdy,” “EO,” “ Bodies Bodies Bodies,” “ All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” “ Cyrano. ”


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Griner case latest in string of high-profile prisoner swaps

Associated Press (AP) — Delicate negotiations between the United States and Russia led to basketball star Brittney Griner’s return Friday in exchange for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death.”

It’s the latest in a series of high-profile prisoner swaps involving Americans detained abroad. Here is a look at some of the most notable exchanges.

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FRANCIS GARY POWERS, 1962

Perhaps the most famous one came at the height of the Cold War when Powers, a high-altitude U-2 spy plane pilot who was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, was exchanged on a German bridge for Russian spy Col. Rudolph Abel.

The swap was depicted in Steven Spielberg’s 2015 movie “Bridge of Spies.”

Powers was criticized by some for allowing himself to be captured but cleared of wrongdoing. Documents declassified in 1998 show that Soviet intelligence gained no vital information from him, according his biography on the National Air and Space Museum’s website.

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NICHOLAS DANILOFF, 1986

In August 1986, Gennadiy Zakharov, a 39-year-old Soviet physicist and United Nations employee, was arrested by the FBI on federal espionage charges.

Days later Daniloff, the Moscow bureau chief for U.S. News & World Report, was arrested by the KGB after a Soviet acquaintance handed him a closed package containing maps marked “top secret.”

The administration of President Ronald Reagan called Daniloff’s detention a “setup,” though Moscow denied it was retaliation for Zakharov’s arrest.

That September, Daniloff was released and Zakharov was allowed to leave the U.S.

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BOWE BERGDAHL, 2014

Bergdahl, a U.S. Army sergeant, was handed over to U.S. special forces in May 2014 after nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan and arrived at at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio the following month.

In exchange, the United States released five Taliban prisoners being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Bergdahl had vanished from a base in Afghanistan’s Paktika province near the border with Pakistan in June 2009 and was called a deserter by some. He pleaded guilty to desertion and endangering his comrades in October 2017 and was dishonorably discharged, but was not imprisoned.

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TREVOR REED, 2022

Earlier this year Reed, a Marine veteran imprisoned in Russia for nearly three years, was swapped for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who had been serving a 20-year federal sentence for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the U.S.

Reed was arrested in summer 2019 and later sentenced to nine years in prison after Russian authorities said he assaulted an officer while being driven to a police station following a night of heavy drinking.

The U.S. government said he was unjustly detained, and his family maintained his innocence.

Yaroshenko was arrested in Liberia in 2010 and extradited to the U.S on drug trafficking charges.

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US-IRAN SWAP, 2016

Four Americans including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari were released from prison by Iranian authorities in January 2016.

The U.S. pardoned or dropped charges against seven Iranians.

Rezaian and Hekmati, who were both charged with espionage by Tehran, said they were tortured while in custody. Abedini was detained for compromising national security, presumably because of Christian proselytizing.

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RUSSIAN SLEEPER AGENTS, 2010

In what was called the biggest spy swap since the end of the Cold War, 10 sleeper agents who infiltrated suburban America were sentenced to time served and deported in July 2010 after pleading guilty to conspiracy.

They included Anna Chapman, whose sultry photos on social media sites made her a tabloid sensation.

They were exchanged for four Russian prisoners convicted of spying for the West.

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List compiled by Associated Press writer Mark Pratt in Boston.


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Tennessee eyes $2M in contracts to test 1000 rape kits

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s lead investigative agency is seeking $2 million in contracts with outside labs to process 1,000 rape kits it says need to be tested before the end of June.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued the request for proposals for up to three contractors, as the state’s turnaround times for sexual assault kits continue to face scrutiny after the high-profile killing of teacher Eliza Fletcher in September. The contractors would also need to testify about the tested rape kits as needed in court cases.

As of October, the agency said the average turnaround time for a rape kit was 43 weeks at the Knoxville lab, 42.3 weeks at the Jackson lab and 32.7 weeks at the Nashville lab. The bureau wants the contractors signed on by the end of January.

The agency has attributed the delays to staffing woes and low pay agency-wide that complicates recruiting and keeping scientists, in addition to other professionals. The issues are likely to drive plenty of conversation during the legislative session that begins next month.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee announced in late September that he and lawmakers were fast-tracking funding to hire an 25 additional forensic lab positions. The agency had requested 40 more special agent/forensic scientist positions and 10 more technicians in the budget that is now in effect, but Lee and lawmakers initially funded half that amount.

Eighteen new special agent/forensic scientists have started since September, while 22 are in the hiring, background or relocation process, agency spokesperson Keli McAlister said.

There are several different roles for forensic scientists at the agency other than DNA, ranging from toxicology to forensic chemistry. In the first wave of positions approved for the current budget, for example, the 20 new special agent/forensic scientist positions funded included eight forensic biology/DNA positions.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch has said the agency has several other approaches in the works, as he aims to reduce turnaround times to eight to 12 weeks within a year for all evidence. Some efforts include: offering overtime for lab workers; operating the labs on weekends; and contracting with retired TBI workers to help provide training so current scientists can shift their time training employees to more case work.

The problems with Tennessee’s rape kit testing were laid bare after Fletcher’s killing.

Authorities confirmed that the man charged with abducting and killing Fletcher had not been charged in the 2021 case of the rape of a woman due to the delay in processing the sexual assault kit.

Cleotha Henderson was eventually indicted in the case just days after he was arrested in the death of Fletcher, a mother of two and a kindergarten teacher.

In the earlier case, Memphis police say they took a sexual assault report on Sept. 21, 2021 but it wasn’t analyzed in a state lab until nearly a year later. When the 2021 DNA was entered into the national database, it returned a match for Henderson on Sept. 5. Fletcher disappeared on Sept. 2.

TBI said police in Memphis had made no request for expedited analysis of the kit, which can cut the wait to only days, and no suspect information was included in the submission.

Henderson made a brief appearance before a judge in Shelby County Criminal Court on the rape charge Friday. His defense attorney said she is receiving evidence from prosecutors and a judge set a report date for Feb. 3. Henderson has pleaded not guilty.

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Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee contributed to this report.


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USDA: Florida orange crop down 36% after twin hurricanes

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Production of oranges in Florida this season is forecast to be down 36% from earlier estimates, in part a reflection of twin hurricanes that battered growing regions, according to U.S. Agriculture Department figures released Friday.

The latest forecast calls for about 18 million boxes of oranges to be produced in 2022-23 in the state, compared with agency estimates of 28 million in October that did not account for damage caused by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole.

The most recent numbers show a drop of 56% in Florida orange production compared with last season, agriculture officials said. The boxes generally weigh about 90 pounds (40 kilograms).

Other citrus crops are also forecast to be down, with grapefruit production coming in at 200,000 boxes fewer than estimated in October and 100,000 fewer boxes of tangerines and tangelos.

The decline in orange production would make the 2022-23 season one of the lowest since World War II. The harvest was 41 million boxes in 2021-2022 and more than 67 million the season before that.

“This is a gut punch. There’s no doubt about it,” said Matt Joyner, CEO of the Florida Citrus Mutual trade association.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Hurricane Ian damaged about 375,000 acres (152,000 hectares) of commercial citrus when it roared across the state in late September. While Nicole did far less damage, it also struck some of the same areas in November

For consumers, this already means higher prices for orange juice, the main product made with Florida oranges. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports prices for juices and nonalcoholic drinks are over 57% higher in 2022 compared with 1997.

And it means food companies likely will need to increase imports of oranges from countries such as Brazil and Turkey. California’s orange production for 2022-23 is expected to top 47 million boxes, far surpassing Florida’s expected total.

In Florida, overall agriculture losses from Hurricane Ian have been pegged at at least $1.56 billion, according to the University of Florida. In total, counting cattle, vegetables and other agriculture interests, the Category 4 hurricane affected about 5 million acres (2 million hectares) in the state.

Before the storm, citrus production in Florida was already forecast to drop by a third compared with the year before, in part because of winter freezes and ongoing disease problems. Growers say the hurricanes are yet another obstacle to overcome.

“If you eat, you’re part of agriculture,” said Roy Petteway, a fifth-generation Floridian, said during a recent tour of his groves. “We were anticipating a very good crop this year. Sadly, there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s just a devastating thing.”


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Prosecutors say Murdaugh killed wife and son to cover crimes

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Disbarred South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh killed his wife and son to gain sympathy, thereby providing a cover from damning financial crimes, prosecutors alleged Thursday as they provided their most detailed theory in a saga that has drawn worldwide attention for its bizarre twists.

Questions around motive came to a head in recent weeks as both sides prepare for Murdaugh’s double-murder trial. The disgraced heir to a Lowcountry legal dynasty stands accused in the June 2021 shooting deaths of his wife, Maggie, 52, and their son, Paul, 22. Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty and repeatedly denied any involvement in their deaths.

Recent court filings suggest a Friday afternoon hearing will feature arguments over whether prosecutors’ theory is sufficient to justify the submission of over a million pages of evidence around the alleged financial misdeeds — and whether a bloody T-shirt should be considered as well.

According to prosecutors, at the time of the killings, Murdaugh was terrified about a pending motion that threatened to expose years of substantial debts and illicit financial crimes by revealing his personal records. Such a move would have spelled “personal, legal, and financial ruin” for Murdaugh, state grand jury chief prosecutor Creighton Waters wrote in a filing Thursday.

Prosecutors said Murdaugh was a drug addict who helped run a money laundering and painkiller ring and stole millions from settlements he secured for mostly poor clients.

With the looming motion threatening to reveal his crimes — plus his law firm’s pursuit of answers to bypassed fees he had already spent and health troubles for his father, who had previously loaned him money — prosecutors argue that Murdaugh needed more time to cover his tracks. To secure the pity necessary to avoid what prosecutors called his “day of reckoning,” Waters says Murdaugh killed his wife with a rifle and youngest son with a shotgun on June 7, 2021.

A motive is not necessary for a prosecutor to win a murder conviction — a point Waters made in the state’s latest filing. But Murdaugh’s lawyers asked the state to spell out the motive in order to justify including a mountain of evidence related to over 80 counts of alleged financial crimes.

The defense has criticized what they see as the slow release of evidence linking Murdaugh to the killings and so-called vague promises of the financial crimes’ relevance to the murder charges.

Central to the defense’s concerns is the presence of blood stains on a white T-shirt allegedly worn by Murdaugh the night of the killings. In a Nov. 28 filing, attorney Dick Harpootlian argued that South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agents successfully persuaded a forensic consultant to reverse his initial judgment and instead say the stains must be backspatter from a bullet wound. Harpootlian argued in a Nov. 23 filing that SLED destroyed the shirt and had evidence suggesting the stains were not a human’s blood.

The legal wranglings provided an additional glimpse into what is expected to be a closely watched trial beginning next year. Prosecutors shared inklings of new details this week. Within a minute of his first conversation with responding officers on the day of the killings, Murdaugh allegedly claimed the slaying must have been connected to the February 2019 boat wreck that killed teenager Mallory Beach.

Beach was killed when authorities say an intoxicated Paul Murdaugh wrecked his father’s boat — an event that ultimately led to dozens of charges accusing Alex Murdaugh of stealing nearly $5 million in settlement money from lawyers who sued him over the death. Murdaugh now faces additional charges involving money laundering, a narcotics ring, a staged attempt on his life and millions of additional stolen funds.

And while Murdaugh seemed wealthy, prosecutors said Thursday that it was a series of land deals worsened by recession that “permanently changed his finances.”

The past 18 month’s events have marked a steep fall for the Murdaughs. The family founded a massive civil law firm over 100 years ago in tiny Hampton County, where — alongside four surrounding counties — Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather dominated the legal scene as the area’s elected prosecutors for more than eight decades.

“The jury will need to understand the distinction between who Alex Murdaugh appeared to be to the outside world — a successful lawyer and scion of the most prominent family in the region — and who he was in the real life only he fully knew — an allegedly crooked lawyer and drug user who borrowed and stole wherever he could to stay afloat and one step ahead of the detection,” Waters wrote Thursday.

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James Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.


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AP seeks to protect access to records of death row inmate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Associated Press has filed a motion seeking to protect public access to records detailing the treatment of a Tennessee death row inmate who cut off his penis while on suicide watch.

Henry Hodges has accused the state of cruel and unusual punishment for keeping him tied down with restraints on a thin vinyl mattress over a concrete slab after his return from the hospital, where surgeons reattached his penis. He was immobilized — at one point for six hours straight — despite discharge orders from Vanderbilt University Medical Center that he avoid sitting for more than two hours at a time, according to court filings, which don’t mention whether that also includes lying down.

Hodges ended up having to return to the hospital to have his penis surgically removed after necrosis set in, according to filings. The state maintains that Hodges was not mistreated and that he has received appropriate care.

Attorneys for the state are seeking a protective order to prevent the public disclosure of records that include any video of Hodges taken inside the prison. That includes footage from the cell where Hodges severed his penis with a razor and the cell where he was held in restraints after discharge.

“The disclosure of any such photographs, videos, or other recordings could pose a severe security risk to both inmates and staff,” according to an affidavit by Ernest Lewis, the associate warden of security at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institute. Specifically, the recordings might show the interior layout of the prison, including windows and doors, Lewis said.

Hodges opposes the protective order. In a court filing Wednesday, his attorneys claim the state’s motion is an attempt to “hide their bad behavior from the public.” The document describes one episode in graphic detail.

“These videos depict Mr. Hodges in 4-point restraints, laying in an obviously painful spread eagle position with nothing but a black cloth thrown over the middle of his body,” according to the objection filed by Kelly Henry, an assistant federal public defender. “In the video, Mr. Hodges is left to defecate on himself and lie in his own feces instead of being offered an opportunity to go to the toilet.”

“The overwhelmingly horrific nature of these videos is the exact reason why Defendants want to hide them from the public under a protective order,” the objection reads.

It includes a declaration from Ben Leonard, an investigator with the federal public defender’s office. Leonard states that much of what the state seeks to protect, such as the layout of the prison or location of security cameras, is already public on the Tennessee Department of Correction’s own YouTube channel.

The AP on Thursday filed a motion to intervene in the case to protect public access to the records that document Hodges’ treatment. The AP wants the court to consider its motion at a Monday hearing, which Hodges supports but the state opposes.

The state cannot simply claim a broad security risk, but must show that specific harms would come from disclosing the records, Paul McAdoo, an attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press who is representing the AP, wrote to the court. The fact that the defendants are public officials and that the case is of public interest also weigh against granting a protective order, according to the memorandum.

“Widespread news coverage of Mr. Hodges’ hunger strike, mental health crisis, and treatment by correctional staff underline the compelling public interest in his case, in particular,” the memorandum states.

A Nashville jury in 1992 convicted Hodges of murdering telephone repairman Ronald Bassett two years earlier and sentenced him to death. He also was sentenced to 40 years in prison for robbing Bassett.


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