News & Current Affairs

July 28, 2008

El-Hadji Diouf the new hero at Sunderland. Being a fan isn’t easy!

Filed under: Latest — Tags: — expressyoureself @ 12:25 pm

“Diouf is not one of my favourites but if he improves our attacking options then I’ll have to get over it.”

These are the words of a Sunderland supporter on an internet message board following the news that El-Hadji Diouf is on the verge of a £2.5million move to Sunderland from Bolton as Roy Keane continues trying to totally rebuild his side ahead of the new Premier League season.

The Senegal international Diouf, who is still only twenty-seven years old, seems to have been around forever. He has been universally disliked by fans of every club other than those he was actually playing for at the time. He had one season left on his Bolton contract but had expressed his desire to leave and made it quite clear that he would do so.

Diouf, who can play up front or on the wing, spent four seasons at the Reebok Stadium after initially joining the club on loan from Liverpool. He is a mercurial player who can produce moments of sheer brilliance. Unfortunately, he is also incredibly temperamental and is just as likely to spit on someone.

Sunderland manager Roy Keane has been busy in the transfer market in recent days, signing Tottenham pair Teemu Tainio and Pascal Chimbonda. He is still pursuing their former team-mates, Steed Malbranque and Younes Kabul and he is clearly looking to considerably strengthen his squad.

So how are Sunderland fans supposed to react to this news? There is no doubt that El-Hadji Diouf is a decent signing. As the fan at the beginning of the article said, he will definitely increase and improve their attacking options. So, it’s all good news for the fans then? Well, no it isn’t.

There may be one or two Sunderland fans who have always liked Diouf. There may be a couple of hundred who have always admired him. I’m prepared to wager, however, that ninety-nine percent of the thousands and thousands of Sunderland’s passionate and faithful fans have absolutely hated Diouf since he arrived in Liverpool back in 2002. Now, all of a sudden he has to become a hero!

This is, of course, an occupational hazard of being a football fan. The loyalty you have for your team can never be redirected. Whatever the Chairman, Board of Directors, Manager or players might do to drive you absolutely mad, you still have to love the club. You have no choice. You might not want to, but those feelings will always be with you.

For players and managers, of course, it is different. Sometimes players play for the team they supported as a boy and in those few cases, they will know what the fans are going through. In a vast majority of cases, however, the love for the club felt by the players is nowhere near as great as that felt by the fans.

Like most fans, I am fickle enough to support someone that just a few days earlier I had hurled abuse at when they played for someone else. Sometimes the hatred is too great for the gap to be bridged. For example, former Arsenal manager George Graham had no chance of winning over the fans when he took over at Tottenham.

In Spain, the great Portuguese winger Luis Figo was popular at both Barcelona and Real Madrid. He was hated by the fans of each when he played for the other, but loved by the fans when he played for them.

It is not totally impossible to be loved by two sets of fans who traditionally hate each other. It is rare, but it can be done. Peter Beardsley was and is a hero at both Liverpool and Everton.

Can you imagine Cristiano Ronaldo turning out for Liverpool or Steve Gerrard putting on the red of Manchester United? Would the fans of those two clubs be able to forget the past and take to the player to their hearts?

So, whilst there is no particular rivalry between Bolton and Sunderland, the fans of the Black Cats have got to try to take this man, who they will have disliked intensely, to their hearts as a new hero.

Does he suddenly become someone that you can love and admire just because he wears a shirt with the famous red and white stripes on? Will all his past sins be forgiven the first time he scores at the Stadium of Light and kisses the badge on his shirt? In truth, they probably will. It is the club we support, not the individual players. They are simply a means to an end.

It really isn’t easy this fan business is it?

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Carmen Electra & Kim Kardashian dazzle comics fans

Filed under: Latest — Tags: — expressyoureself @ 12:21 pm

SAN DIEGO – The line snaked through the Comic-Con floor. Hundreds of camera-toting fans jockeyed for position, barely able to contain their excitement.

They weren’t trying to see the latest world-saving superhero or never-before-seen footage. They were waiting to see Carmen Electra and Kim Kardashian.

The two beauties made their Comic-Con debut Saturday, signing autographs to promote their new film, “Disaster Movie.” Both wore formfitting, cleavage-bearing dresses as they posed for fans’ photos.

For 18-year-old John Kilgore, attending the signing was the day’s top priority.

“It’s Carmen Electra,” he explained. “What’s not to like about a woman like that?”

David Benker, 46, was embarrassed to reveal exactly how excited he was to meet the two women.

“Aw, come on,” he said. “My son is here and he’ll tell his mom.”

Most fans sheepishly shuffled by collecting their posters, but a few were brave enough to talk to the pinup pair.

“You look even more beautiful in person,” said one blushing fan. “Wow.”

Another whipped out his cell phone to show Electra her own photo. “You’re on my screen saver right now,” he said.

Despite the frenzy of excitement, the fans were well behaved, Electra said: “They were all really sweet.”

A Lionsgate release, “Disaster Movie” — which features a wrestling scene between Kardashian and Electra — hits theaters Aug. 29.

Soap opera shakes customs of Arab married life

Filed under: Latest — Tags: — expressyoureself @ 12:18 pm

RAMALLAH, West Bank – Every evening for the past four months, a tall young man with soulful blue eyes has been stealing hearts across the Middle East, from the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip to the gated mansions of Riyadh.

But it’s not just the striking good looks of Mohannad, hero of the hugely popular Turkish TV soap “Noor,” that appeal to female viewers. He’s romantic, attentive to his wife, Noor, supportive of her independence and ambitions as a fashion designer — in short, a rare gem for women in conservative, male-dominated surroundings.

“Noor” delivers an idealized portrayal of modern married life as equal partnership — clashing with the norms of traditional Middle Eastern societies where elders often have the final word on whom a woman should marry and many are still confined to the role of wife and mother.

Some Muslim preachers in the West Bank and Saudi Arabia have taken notice, saying the show is un-Islamic and urging the faithful to change channels. But all the same, the show may be planting seeds of change.

“I told my husband, `learn from him (Mohannad) how he treats her, how he loves her, how he cares about her,” said Heba Hamdan, 24, a housewife visiting the West Bank from Amman, Jordan. Married straight out of college, she said the show inspired her to go out and look for a job.

“Noor” seems particularly effective in changing attitudes because it offers new content in a familiar setting: Turkey is a Muslim country, inviting stronger viewer identification than Western TV imports. The characters in “Noor” observe the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, and Mohannad and Noor were married in a match arranged by his grandfather.

But it also upholds secular liberties: Protagonists have a drink with dinner and sex outside marriage. Mohannad, while faithful to Noor, had a child with a former girlfriend, and a cousin underwent an abortion.

The nightly soap opera “shows that there are Muslims who live differently,” said Islah Jad, a professor of women’s studies at the West Bank’s Bir Zeit University.

The show’s Turkish producer, Kemal Uzun, added: “We are a little more open, not as conservative as some of these countries, and I think this might have some appeal for the audience.”

Even though some of the racier scenes are sanitized for Arab consumption, clerics have been sermonizing against “Noor.” “This series collides with our Islamic religion, values and traditions,” warned Hamed Bitawi, a lawmaker of the Islamic militant Hamas and preacher in the West Bank city of Nablus.

But the purists seem powerless to halt the “Noor” craze.

In Saudi Arabia, the only country with ratings, about three to four million people watch daily, out of a population of nearly 28 million, according to MBC, the Saudi-owned satellite channel that airs the show dubbed into Arabic for Middle East audiences.

In the West Bank and Gaza, streets are deserted during show time and socializing is timed around it. In Riyadh, the Saudi capital, and in Hebron, the West Bank‘s most conservative city, maternity wards report a rise in babies named Noor and Mohannad. A West Bank poster vendor has ditched Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein for Noor and Mohannad.

Jaro’s Clothing Store in Gaza City is doing brisk business in copies of blouses seen on the show, including a sleeveless metallic number adapted to Gaza standards by being worn over a long-sleeved leotard.

Producer Uzun said the Istanbul villa on the Bosporus, fictional home of Mohannad’s upper-class clan, has been rented by tour operators and turned into a temporary museum for Arab visitors.

A recent cartoon in the Saudi paper Al-Riyadh showed a plain-looking man marching into a plastic surgeon’s office with a picture of Mohannad with his designer stubble. (Kivanc Tatlitug, who plays Mohannad, is an ex-basketball player who won the 2002 “Best Model of the World” award.)

In the West Bank city of Nablus, civil servant Mohammed Daraghmeh said he had MBC blocked at home so his kids couldn’t watch, but the family vowed to watch it at an uncle’s house and he backed down.

In Hamas-ruled Gaza, keeping up with “Noor” is a challenge.

Power goes out frequently because of a yearlong blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the violent Hamas takeover. When a blackout disrupts viewing, many set their alarms to catch the pre-dawn repeat.

In the Shati refugee camp, several teenage girls huddled around an old TV set recently, trying to follow the action despite overflights by pilotless Israeli aircraft that can scramble reception.

Ala Hamami, 17, wearing a black robe and head scarf, said she looks up to Noor because she is independent.

“This series gives strength to women in the future,” said Hamami, although she was set on a very traditional path — she had just gotten engaged in an arranged match.

The cultural divide between modern Turkey and traditional Gaza became apparent in a scene where Mohannad and Noor, played by Songul Oden, both end up hospitalized. The girls giggled and Hamami quickly changed channels when Mohannad entered his wife’s room and lay beside her to comfort her. The display of physical contact clearly made her uncomfortable.

Whether the “Noor” effect will be lasting is not known. The season finale falls Aug. 30, the day before Ramadan begins and religious fervor intensifies. Next up on MBC will be “Bab al-Hara,” a Ramadan favorite that looks nostalgically at traditional Arab life.

Lindsay Lohan in scrape with motorbike: report

Filed under: Latest — Tags: — expressyoureself @ 12:14 pm

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) – American actress Lindsay Lohan was taken to a New York hospital early on Saturday after she was hit by a motorbike following a night out in New York, a local newspaper reported.

The New York Post said on Sunday that the “Mean Girls” starlet was sideswiped by a motorcycle, and it quoted her father, Michael, as saying: “She’s not hurt. That’s all I really care about.”

The tabloid said Lohan was treated and released about 4 a.m. local time, citing an employee at Beth Israel Medical Centre in Manhattan.

But Lohan’s publicist, Leslie Sloane, was quoted as telling online Web site E! News that “nothing happened.”

The New York Post said no accident report was filed with the police.

Lohan, who last year was arrested and briefly jailed for drunk driving and cocaine possession, had been out partying with her girlfriend, Samantha Ronson, the paper said.

Cancer warning adds wrinkle to parenting debate

Filed under: Latest — Tags: — expressyoureself @ 12:11 pm

NEW YORK – When Amy Morris’ twin boys, then 11, went on an academic trip to Washington last year, she agreed to give them cell phones at the program’s request. But this summer she was dismayed to learn that girls at her 8-year-old daughter’s day camp were using cell phones they’d taken along in their backpacks.

“We were outraged,” says the Connecticut mother, who adds that the camp didn’t know. “These girls think it’s a cute game. But it’s inappropriate, and it’s unnecessary.”

It’s a signature parenting dilemma of the wireless age: Should kids have cell phones? And how old is old enough? It pits our understandable desire to keep tabs on our offspring — not to mention make them happy — against the instinctive feeling that it’s simply, well, wrong for youngsters to spend their time chatting and texting over the airwaves.

Now, there’s further ammunition for Morris and other reluctant parents like her to stand firm: The warning last week by the head of a prominent cancer research institute to his faculty and staff. Limit cell phone use, he said, because of the possible cancer risk — especially when it comes to children, whose brains are still developing.

The warning from Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, was based on early, unpublished data and came despite numerous studies that haven’t found a link between increased tumors and cell phone use. But it’s struck a nerve among parents who already have other reasons to resist their children’s entreaties.

“Now we hear about this possible medical risk,” says Marybeth Hicks, an author, columnist and mother of four. “I couldn’t possibly know if it’s real or not. But I know that it’s probably not necessary for most children to have a cell phone.”

To her, “it’s part of this whole rush to adulthood — Hello Kitty backpacks for third-graders have cell phone pockets in them! Marketers have skillfully created a groundswell of begging among kids — and we all know that begging can work.”

Hicks, whose book “Bringing Up Geeks: How to Protect Your Kid’s Childhood in a Grow-Up-Too-Fast World,” is about just such problems, has her own personal experience with persistent children.

“My 10-year-old daughter thinks she’s deprived,” says Hicks. “She’s been saying she’s the only one at school without a phone, and it’s actually getting to be true.” And her son, she says, was the only kid in his 8th-grade class without a phone. (He just got one, right before freshman year in high school.)

Hicks, who lives in East Lansing, Mich., is aware that some parents feel cell phones are an essential security tool for their kids. But, she says, “I always know where my kids are. A cell phone is a tool to negotiate the world once you have the responsibility to be out in the world on your own.”

Morris, of Weston, Conn., has decided that for her own kids, middle school is about the right time. “My boys are starting to walk home alone sometimes,” she says. “I want them to have a phone.” Being boys, though, they tend to forget the darned things all the time — especially in situations when they actually need them.

So far, Morris has avoided giving one to her younger child, she says, not an easy thing in a society where kids, especially girls, are so sensitive to social pressures. “I think a lot of parents in this country just give in,” she says. She’s especially concerned about the rampant text messaging among the younger set.

Statistics from the Pew Research Center show just how deeply ingrained in our daily lives cell phones have become: Fully 78 percent of all adults own them, including 86 percent of 18-29 year-olds and 55 percent of Americans 65 and older. Pew doesn’t compile statistics on those under 18.

Text messaging, on the other hand, is the province of the young: 74 percent of 18-29 year-olds do it but only 6 percent of the 65-plus crowd.

It’s harder to gauge the tween set (usually defined as between 9 and 13) but it’s telling that in 2004, 21 percent of those aged 8 to 10 and 36 percent of the 11 to 14 group had phones, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — a number sure to have ballooned since then.

Should the latest medical news cause huge concern among parents who HAVE given in? “If you’ve got good reasons for them to have it, I’d go ahead,” says Frank Barnes, a professor who chaired a recent report on the subject. However, he added, “they’ve probably got other things they should be doing.”

As for whether it’s a health hazard, Barnes, who teaches electrical and computer engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said it’s more a question of “How do you deal with the unknown? We just don’t have the data.”

Ultimately, parents have to make their own rules — but that’s difficult when the social pressure is so strong, notes Lisa Bain, executive editor of Parenting magazine. “The age is creeping down,” she says. “Girls tend to get them younger. It’s become a status symbol — it makes them feel grown up.”

Bain can see both sides of the argument. Parents really need to set limits, she says, especially because so many phones these days are also cameras and have Web access. On the other hand, she said, the first time she dropped her middle-school aged daughter off at the mall, “I thought, thank God she has a cell phone.”

Of the recent medical warning, Bain says: “So many scary studies come out. This will give some parents second thoughts, and other parents ammunition. But for the vast majority, it’s not going to mean a lot.”

After all, says Bain, “It’s like standing up against a tidal wave.”

Big Trouble with an 8-Year-Old

Filed under: Latest — Tags: — expressyoureself @ 12:08 pm

DEAR MARGO: My wife and I have a loving marriage. We have been through more than our share of hard times. One problem that keeps coming up in our relationship is her 8-year-old son. He is Oedipal — extremely jealous of any attention his mother gets and inappropriate around her. He touches her breasts and her behind, and constantly tries to invade her space if she’s showering or changing clothes. He also walks nude into the room where she is and touches himself in front of her. I have been trying to tell her these are unnatural behaviors, but she says “Mike” is just more in touch than his contemporaries and doesn’t hide his curiosity. Who is right?

FREAKED OUT STEPFATHER

DEAR FREAK: What this kid is in touch with is emotional disturbance. To think that the youngster is “not hiding his curiosity” suggests to me that Jocasta, I mean the mother, has oatmeal cookies for brains. Nothing you describe is in the realm of normal child development. You somehow have to get your wife to a session with a child specialist who can convince her that the kid is off the rails — and it’s possible she is feeding his neurosis. Believe me, there is nothing customary about an 8-year-old boy who’s in the habit of touching his mother’s breasts and behind and taking every chance he gets to see her naked. Displaying himself and attempting what sounds like masturbation is a red flag for psychiatric intervention. That your wife thinks all this is normal means there are two people in your house who need help.

— MARGO, ASSUREDLY

Things One Need Not Put Up With

DEAR MARGO: I have been married to my husband for three years. We have two baby girls, as well as my daughter from a previous marriage whom he loves as his own. We have a pretty happy marriage, but there is one issue that never seems to be resolved. My husband is still friends with his ex-fiancee. It’s not like they are just on good terms; they talk to each other two to three times a week. She is married with her own children, so I’m not sure why it bothers me, but it does. A big part of it is that my husband rarely talks to her in front of me. I have met her a few times, but then I feel like the third wheel. When he does talk to her in front of me, he is a completely different person — happy, fun, etc. He had pictures of her in our closet up until recently. I told him I am not comfortable with their level of closeness. To answer an obvious question, yes, I did know that he was friends with her before we were married, but I was told that he talked to her “once in a while.” It wasn’t until after we were married that I found out how close they really are.

Is a friendship like this appropriate for a married man? Am I being irrational? How can I bring this up to him again without it coming down to an ultimatum? I used to think he would choose me over her, but now I’m not so sure.

— SALLY

DEAR SAL: What’s wrong with an ultimatum? Your husband, whether he knows it or not, is clobbering you over the head with his feelings for this woman and, most likely, his regret that he didn’t marry her. If my husband had pictures of an ex in his closet, I would invite him to take the pictures — and the clothes — elsewhere. Nobody’s ex-fiancee (as opposed to an ex-wife) should be an issue in a marriage. Good luck with getting it your way.

Details missing from Obama’s Social Security plan

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama‘s bid to place a new Social Security tax on very high incomes is either a bold or foolhardy plan, depending on who critiques it.

But its potential impact is almost impossible to gauge because he is providing few details on basic questions such as what the tax rate might be, what types of income would be taxed and how the taxpayers’ benefits would be affected.

The Democratic presidential candidate says he would work with lawmakers from both parties to resolve such matters. Voters generally applaud bipartisan cooperation, but they apparently will go to the polls this fall with only a vague notion of what Obama has in mind.

Obama made headlines June 13 when he called for a Social Security payroll tax on incomes above $250,000 a year. Currently, the tax is levied only on the first $102,000 of each worker’s income. That covers the entire salary of most Americans.

Obama would not apply the Social Security tax to annual incomes between $102,000 and $250,000, a move meant to avoid alienating several million upper-income voters. His proposed change would apply only to those earning more than $250,000 a year, or about 3 percent of all taxpayers.

When he outlined his idea in the battleground state of Ohio, Obama said it is unfair for middle-class earners to pay the Social Security tax “on every dime they make,” while millionaires and billionaires pay it on “only a very small percentage of their income.” He also said the Social Security program needs revamping to bolster its long-term viability.

With Obama offering few details, several news accounts suggested that his proposed tax on very high incomes would be applied just as the existing Social Security tax is levied on incomes up to $102,000.

All workers pay a 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax on such income. Their employers match it, for a total tax of 12.4 percent. The tax applies only to earned income, not to passive income such as dividends and interest.

In recent weeks, Obama aides have quietly indicated that the proposed tax on incomes above $250,000 might be different in key aspects. The rate probably would be about 2 percent to 4 percent, not 6.2 percent, they said. It’s also possible that it would apply to more types of income, including dividends and investments.

As for benefits, the campaign has not said how the proposed tax on very high incomes would translate into new retirement income, if any, for those who pay it.

The campaign “has not put forth a specific plan” for Social Security, Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee said in an interview.

Perhaps because so many details are missing, Obama’s Social Security proposal has generated relatively little debate on the campaign trail. But any change to the massive program could have far-reaching effects.

Many Americans rely on Social Security for much or all of their retirement income. Some workers, meanwhile, do not realize how much is withheld from each paycheck for Social Security and, to a lesser degree, Medicare.

Nearly three-fourths of all workers pay more in these payroll taxes than in federal income taxes, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The center assumes that workers pay the full 12.4 percent in Social Security taxes, contending that employers would devote their half of the total to salaries if they did not have to make the 50-50 match.

Given the dearth of details about Obama’s plans, some Republicans have criticized it, using assumptions that Democrats reject. Lawrence B. Lindsey, a former economic adviser to President Bush, argues that high earners would pay the full 12.4 percent tax rate on income above $250,000 while receiving no added benefits.

“A high-income entrepreneur would see his or her federal marginal tax rate rise to 53 percent from 37.7 percent,” Lindsey wrote in a June 20 Wall Street Journal op-ed column.

The marginal tax rate is what a person pays on each additional dollar earned. Lindsey wrote that Obama’s plans would provide a powerful incentive for the highest-earning Americans to work less, invest less and contribute less to the economy.

Former Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles, a Republican, agreed. A person who owns two restaurants and makes $500,000 a year would have little incentive to open a third restaurant under Obama’s tax plans, and might even close one, Nickles said in an interview. “He’s not going to be hiring more people,” Nickles said.

Obama economic adviser Jason Furman, responding to Lindsey in a letter published by The Wall Street Journal, said Obama would “work with Congress on a bipartisan basis to design the details” of his Social Security plan, “including the tax rate, how it is phased in over time, the linkage between these tax payments and benefits, and other critical design elements of this plan.”

Furman wrote that Obama “has not proposed a 12.4-percentage point tax increase on earnings above $250,000.”

Nigerian militants say 2 more pipelines sabotaged

LAGOS, Nigeria – Nigeria‘s main militant group sabotaged two more oil pipelines Monday during its two-year campaign of attacks on the country’s oil industry, a leader of the group told The Associated Press.

The overnight attack in southern Rivers State was against two pipelines believed to be owned by a unit of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta leader said on condition of anonymity to avoid capture by authorities.

Shell said in a statement to The AP that its local joint venture had been informed of an “incident” on a pipeline. It said it had no more details pending an investigation.

The militants’ campaign against oil infrastructure and staff in Africa’s biggest oil industry have cut production by about one quarter, helping send crude prices to all-time highs in international markets.

The militants say they’re acting to force the Nigerian federal government to send more oil-industry funds to the southern region, which produces all of Nigeria’s crude oil but remains impoverished after decades of corrupt and wasteful governance.

The militants ended a unilateral cease-fire in recent weeks after what they branded interference by foreign governments offering to help the Nigerian government quell unrest in the southern Niger Delta. The group also seeks the release of one of its leaders who is on trial for terrorism and treason.

The government acknowledges a need for development in the Niger Delta, but considers the militants little more than criminals who profit from the highly lucrative theft of crude oil, which is siphoned from pipelines and shipped overseas for resale.

AP IMPACT: Buried loot a mystery for authorities

Filed under: Latest — Tags: — expressyoureself @ 12:01 pm

WASHINGTON – The businessman arrived at the Treasury Department carrying a suitcase stuffed with about $5.2 million. The bills were decomposing, nearly unrecognizable, and he asked to swap them for a cashier’s check. He said the money came from Mexico.

Money like this normally arrives in an armored truck or insured shipping container after a bank burns or a vault floods. It doesn’t just show up at the visitor’s entrance on a Tuesday morning. But the banking habits of Franz Felhaber had stopped making sense to the government long ago.

For the past few years, authorities say, he and his family have popped in and out of U.S. banks, looking to change about $20 million in buried treasure for clean cash.

The money is always the same — decaying $100 bills from the 1970s and 1980s.

It’s the story that keeps changing:

_It was an inheritance.

_Somebody dug up a tree and there it was.

_It was found in a suitcase buried in an alfalfa field.

_A relative found a treasure map.

No matter where it came from or who found it, that buried treasure stands to make someone rich.

It could also send someone to jail.

___

Felhaber is a customs broker, a middleman.

His company, F.C. Felhaber & Co., is just minutes away from the bridge between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Tens of billions of dollars of Mexican goods cross that bridge each year, aided by people such as Felhaber who navigate the customs bureaucracy.

Customs brokers don’t own the stuff that comes into the United States. They just make sure it gets here.

So it is with the $20 million. Felhaber says the money is not his. A Mexican relative, Francisco Javier Ramos Saenz-Pardo, merely sought help exchanging money that had been buried for decades, Felhaber says.

“To be very clear on this matter: In the beginning, I was not told what it was,” Felhaber said in one of several telephone interviews with The Associated Press.

Money petrifies after sitting underground that long and Felhaber said it looked like a brick of adobe. The Treasury will exchange even badly damaged money, but Felhaber said Saenz-Pardo did not want to handle the process himself.

“Imagine a Mexican family bringing money that is damaged and the government calling it a drug deal,” Felhaber said.

If the goal were to avoid unwarranted attention, he went about it all wrong. Rather than making a simple — albeit large — exchange at the Treasury, Felhaber allegedly began trying to exchange smaller amounts at El Paso-area banks, raising suspicion every time.

The first stop was the Federal Reserve Bank in El Paso, where authorities say Felhaber appeared with an uncle, Jose, and an aunt, Esther. In her purse, Esther carried $120,000. She told bank officials there were millions more, discovered while digging to expand a building in Juarez, according to U.S. court records filed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Banks normally refer such requests to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, an arm of the Treasury. But employees worried that, with so much cash, the three might be robbed on their way home. So, the bank accepted the money and wired $120,000 to an account in his uncle’s name, Jose Carrillo-Valles, according to a government affidavit.

Felhaber was back at it again weeks later, this time at a Bank of America branch. Customs officials say he unsuccessfully tried to persuade a bank vice president to dispatch an armored truck to the Mexican border to pick up millions of dollars.

Felhaber denies that conversation took place. But he is tough to pin down on details. At times he seems specific on a point (“There is a $20 million inheritance,”) only to contradict himself minutes later, saying the amount is “nowhere near that” and he has no idea where the money came from.

Soon after the Bank of America visit, a man bearing a striking resemblance to Felhaber walked into a Bank of the West branch. This time, however, authorities say the customer identified himself as Ken Motley and said he discovered millions while excavating a tree in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Bank employees refused to exchange any money, despite two follow-up phone calls — once with a Spanish accent, once without — try to set up an exchange.

The mysterious Ken Motley also appeared at the First National Bank, telling employees that a friend had discovered $20 million buried in an alfalfa field, investigators say.

Felhaber says he is not Ken Motley.

Customs investigators say a Bank of the West employee identified Felhaber’s picture as that of Ken Motley.

“That’s an absolute lie,” Felhaber said. “That would be a horrendous miscarriage of justice.”

It’s unclear which transaction caught investigators’ attention. Most of the tens of thousands of exchanges of mutilated money each year are routine. Natural disasters create a lot of inquiries. Children of the Depression have kept money out of banks, only to see it eaten by rodents in their attics or destroyed in fires. A surprising number of people accidentally shred greeting cards with money inside.

But authorities say there are warning signs that trigger investigations. Making a series of small exchanges is one. Bringing mutilated money from abroad is another.

“That is one of the things we are extra concerned about: This process being used to launder money from illegal activities,” said Leonard R. Olijar, the chief financial officer of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. “That’s one of our factors that we use to make a case suspicious.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents questioned Felhaber in October 2005. According to a government summary of that interview, Felhaber said he believed the money was the result of a 1970s Mexican land deal. The money was buried in a coffin, he said, until Saenz-Pardo — the relative who brought him the money in the first place — discovered a map leading him to the buried treasure.

Felhaber said he didn’t want to do anything illegal and was merely getting a cut of whatever he exchanged.

He now says he was mistaken in his interviews with investigators.

“I told them, ‘I suspect this is where it’s from but I didn’t know,'” he said. “They take you to your word like you’re supposed to remember every single thing every single time.”

___

Maybe it was the visit from investigators or maybe someone realized the bank visits weren’t working, but Felhaber apparently changed strategies.

In January 2006, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing received a package containing about $136,000 from Jose Carrillo-Valles, Felhaber’s uncle. Felhaber’s business was listed as the return address. The letter explained the money had been stored in a basement for 22 years.

Though customs officials were suspicious by then, there was no clear evidence of a crime, just a lot of unanswered questions. So, two months later, the Treasury mailed a check, which was deposited into Carrillo-Valles’ account.

Following the money, investigators interviewed Carrillo-Valles and his wife. Each denied ever sending or receiving the money, according to a government affidavit.

As for the $120,000 wired to Jose’s account from the Federal Reserve a year earlier, they allegedly said it was an inheritance. Esther said Jose’s mother had recently died.

Authorities don’t believe the inheritance story. For starters, they say Jose’s mother was still alive when the $120,000 was exchanged. They also traced a wire transfer from Jose’s account to someone named Saenz-Pardo shortly after it was deposited.

Customs investigators now believed Carrillo-Valles was acting as an intermediary, taking a cut of the money and sending the rest to Saenz-Pardo or someone else in Mexico.

Twice, reporters called Carrillo-Valles on his cell phone to ask about the arrangement and confirm his discussions with investigators. First, he said he did not speak English. When a Spanish-speaking reporter called back, he said he could not hear her, and hung up.

In April 2007, the case moved from being suspicious to becoming a criminal investigation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials called the Justice Department, saying Felhaber had just arrived in person at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing with about $1.2 million.

It’s not illegal to find money. Depending on where it’s found, there might be a bureaucratic process to follow or taxes to be paid, but the discovery itself is not a crime.

There are strict rules, however, about bringing money into the United States. Import documents identified the $1.2 million as belonging to Jose Carrillo-Valles. Based on their investigation so far, authorities believe that was a lie — a violation that carries up to five years in prison.

But Washington federal prosecutor William Cowden decided to wait. Maybe Felhaber would return with even more.

It paid off. This April, Felhaber was back at the Treasury, this time with a suitcase containing $5.2 million. Investigators say they have found no import documents filed for this deal, a violation of cash smuggling laws that also carries up to five years in prison.

Prosecutors moved in. Felhaber’s two Treasury visits gave them probable cause to seize the money — both the $1.2 million and the $5.2 million.

They told a federal magistrate in June that they suspected it was all drug money that had been buried or hidden inside a wall for decades.

“Given that the money is coming north from Mexico, that both conflicting and cockamamie stories have been told about its origins, and that all the stories of how it got to be found are fantastical, I strongly suspect that the Felhaber currency is the proceeds of illegal bulk narcotics sales,” ICE investigator Stephen A. Schneider told the magistrate.

___

Felhaber says he’s still not sure what all the fuss is about. At times he says he has no idea where the money came from, but he is always certain it has nothing to do with drugs.

None of the documents filed in federal court accuses Felhaber or his relatives of being involved in drugs. They leave open the possibility that somebody merely came across a cache of drug money, forgotten or abandoned in the Mexican desert.

In the coming weeks, the Justice Department plans to seek criminal forfeiture of the seized $6.4 million. That means Felhaber and his family will have the opportunity to come to Washington to ask for their money back.

If they do, they’ll have to explain where it came from. And they’ll have to sort through some of the inconsistent stories for a federal judge. Felhaber bristles at the suggestion there have been inconsistencies.

“The story has never changed,” he said. “I don’t know how it’s changed.”

Cowden, the federal prosecutor, said he doesn’t know what to expect.

“Some of these cases, nobody ever comes forward,” he said.

If so, the buried treasure will become government property.

Or at least some of it. Perhaps there is another $14 million out there, muddy and waiting to be exchanged.

Does Felhaber know if there’s any money left?

On that, it’s hard to get a straight answer.

LaBeouf booked for DUI after late-night wreck

Filed under: Latest — Tags: — expressyoureself @ 11:58 am

LOS ANGELES – Shia LaBeouf was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving Sunday after an early morning wreck in which the “Indiana Jones” star injured his hand and knee, authorities said.

LaBeouf was trying to make a left turn at a West Hollywood intersection around 3 a.m. when his pickup collided with another vehicle, rolling the truck over, Los Angeles County Sheriff‘s Sgt. Scott Wolf said.

“It was immediately apparent to officers responding on the scene that LaBeouf was intoxicated and he was subsequently placed under arrest,” Wolf said.

Wolf said LaBeouf was booked then released for misdemeanor DUI. The 22-year-old actor was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and was being treated for injuries to his left hand and a knee, as well as a minor head injury, Wolf said.

A woman passenger in LaBeouf’s truck and the driver of the other vehicle were not seriously injured. Wolf did not know the identities of the woman or the other driver.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation, Wolf said. Two attorneys listed for LaBeouf did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press on Sunday.

Melissa Kates, a publicist for the actor, said LaBeouf underwent hand surgery and plans to return to work within a month. She declined further comment.

The accident occurred when LaBeouf, who was headed northbound on La Brea Avenue, tried to turn onto Fountain Avenue, Wolf said. The intersection is the location of “High Voltage,” the tattoo parlor where the TLC reality show “LA Ink” is filmed.

LaBeouf starred in last year’s summer smash hit “Transformers,” and this year appears opposite Harrison Ford in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

LaBeouf has had previous brushes with the law, but until now they’d been relatively harmless — to the degree that they only served to reinforce his image as a Hollywood good guy with an edge.

A drunken confrontation with guards at a Walgreens in Chicago late last year led to misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges. Arresting police in that incident noted that LaBeouf was “very courteous and polite,” and the charge was dropped because the drug store didn’t want to pursue the matter.

In a lighthearted retelling of the incident to David Letterman on the “Late Show,” LaBeouf said: “Drinking and driving is one thing, but drinking and shopping … it’s just as bad.”

LaBeouf was separately cited in February for smoking where he shouldn’t in Burbank, but a judge later dismissed the charge.

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