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Two accused ‘Varsity Blues’ parents take aim at one cooperating with the government

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Two accused ‘Varsity Blues’ parents take aim at one cooperating with the government

On the second day of testimony in the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions trial, lawyers for two parents accused of bribing the mastermind of the scheme took aim at another parent who already pleaded guilty.

California businessman Bruce Isackson testified under cross-examination in federal court in Boston that he was not aware of anything illegal the two accused parents — John Wilson, 62, of Lynnfield, and Gamal Abdelaziz, 64, of Las Vegas — had done.

Isackson said he pleaded guilty in 2019 in the hope that his sentence would be reduced. He admitted to paying $600,000 to get his son and his two daughters into their schools of choice.

“You’d pretty much do anything to stay out of prison,” said Brian Kelly, one of the lawyers for Abdelaziz, a former Wynn Resorts executive.

Rick Singer, who is cooperating with the government and is the mastermind behind the scheme, siphoned off the money he was paid to people who could help increase the ACT exam score of one of Isackson’s daughters and get his two daughters into UCLA and USC as athletic recruits, even though they had no interest in the sports their applications said they played.

“This is a man who had threatened you and your wife before he came to your house, is that right?” Kelly asked.

“Yes,” Isackson said.

Kelly said Isackson faced at least 37 months in prison for conspiracy related to taxes, money laundering and honest services, and hoped to reduce his sentence by cooperating with the government’s case against Abdelaziz.

“The truth is you had no idea who Gamal Abdelaziz was, right?”

“Yes,” Isackson said.

Abdelaziz allegedly paid Singer $300,000 to get his daughter into USC as a fake basketball recruit.

Wilson, founder of Hyannis Port Capital, allegedly paid Singer at least $1.7 million to get his three children into Harvard, Stanford and USC, like Isackson’s children as fake athletic recruits.

Both men’s attorneys said they believed they were doing nothing wrong.

Under cross-examination by Wilson’s attorney, Andrew Tomback, Isackson admitted he was a tax evader.

And, Tomback said, “Your daughters could not get into the universities they were applying to.”

“Correct,” Isackson said.

“You committed crimes with Mr. Singer,” Tomback said.

“Correct,” Isackson said.

Thirty-three other parents have pleaded guilty, including television actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, since arrests happened nearly 2 1/2 years ago. The parents have so far received punishments ranging from probation to nine months in prison.

Wilson and Abdelaziz are the first to face a jury in a case that has embroiled 50 other parents, athletic coaches and others. It all exposes the extent to which some parents of means will go to get their children into elite universities across the country.

Defense attorneys even attempted to block how often their clients could be referred to as wealthy, saying it could unduly influence the jury.

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TD Garden to require proof of Covid-19 vaccine or negative test

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TD Garden to require proof of Covid-19 vaccine or negative test

TD Garden, the Bruins and Celtics announced on Wednesday that all paying customers age 12 and over must present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a qualifying negative test to gain access to the Garden. The new protocols begin on Sept. 30 when the B’s play their first home preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Also, in accordance with the current City of Boston restrictions, all fans over the age of 2 must wear a mask, except while actively eating or drinking.

The requirements will remain effective until further notice.

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Council ‘disappointed’ as St. Paul is still negotiating vaccine mandate with labor unions

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Council ‘disappointed’ as St. Paul is still negotiating vaccine mandate with labor unions

Despite a unanimous city council vote in support of an employee vaccination requirement five weeks ago, St. Paul officials are still working on structuring how a COVID vaccine mandate would roll out for some 3,000 city employees. A vaccination deadline could still be more than a month away.

Human Resources Director Toni Newborn told the city council on Wednesday that negotiating the details with the city’s labor unions has taken weeks, and there’s additional considerations regarding how to securely track vaccination status, which qualifies as private medical data.

The city’s Office of Technology and Communications has some tools, but they need “enhancements,” Newborn said, noting the state has some promising software templates that could help.

“There’s legal components that have to be taken into account. We’re still in the process of negotiating with our labor partners,” Newborn said. “We’re thinking on or around November, but that’s not a hard deadline.”

Members of the city council said they were not pleased. The council voted Aug. 18 to recommend an employee vaccination mandate, and until this week had received no communication from the mayor’s office, even as other government bodies have rolled out their own vaccine requirements.

“I am deeply disappointed we are talking about a November rollout,” said Council Member Jane Prince, noting employees have children or work with children who cannot yet be legally vaccinated. “It is children in our community who are most at risk — children under 12 years old.”

In mid-August, Hennepin County mandated that their employees provide proof of vaccination by early October or submit to weekly testing. A similar requirement takes effect for St. Paul Public School employees on Oct. 15. Ramsey County expects full vaccinations or weekly testing by Nov. 1. Gov. Tim Walz set an even earlier deadline of Sept. 8 for state employees.

Council Member Chris Tolbert said the city had little excuse for falling behind. “Instead of being a leader on this … it looks like we’re going to be one of the last (area) municipalities to implement a vaccine requirement,” he said.

Federal employees are required to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22, meaning they must get the first of their two Pfizer or Moderna doses by early-to-mid October. With the exception of one-shot Johnson and Johnson, the doses are given three or four weeks apart and take two weeks to take full effect.

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Student fights off would-be rapist near University of Rochester

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Student fights off would-be rapist near University of Rochester

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A suspect was taken into custody Saturday after an attempted rape near the University of Rochester campus. Police say the victim fought him off.

It happened near Genesee Valley Park around 12:35 a.m. Saturday. According to investigators, Courtney Barber, 31, approached a student from behind. The woman fought with Barber, who police say took her cell phone and ran away.

The woman was able to alert University of Rochester Public Safety officers, who found Barber still in the area. Rochester police took him to a hospital for evaluation. Barber is charged with attempted rape, robbery, grand larceny, stalking, and criminal mischief.

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River otter species returns to Missouri waterways

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River otter species returns to Missouri waterways

THE OZARKS, Mo. – The North American river otter, a species once on the brink of extirpation in Missouri, has returned to the state’s waterways.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, otters were nearly wiped out due to “unregulated harvest” a century ago. But starting the 1980s, state and federal conservationists reintroduced more than 800 river otters to the wild.

Thanks to decades of continued efforts to preserve the animal and its habitats, otters can once again be located in most waterways across Missouri.

A video from a park ranger with the National Parks Service shows a family of otters frolicking and doing general otter things in the Big Spring branch of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

While otters don’t have a signicant effect on rivers, the MDC says they can cause problems smaller ecosystems such as ponds.

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Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold wanted private security due to threats. One state board said no.

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Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold wanted private security due to threats. One state board said no.

A political action committee chaired by Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold wanted the state’s approval to pay for private security because she was getting more threats after the 2020 election. On Tuesday, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission unanimously said no.

The commission, made up of current and former Colorado attorneys, said the request violated Article 29 of the Colorado Constitution, which is a code of ethics for government officials.

The proposal was officially filed by from the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State PAC, which urged the commission to not consider the payment of security as a gift, but rather a benefit to the state because of the increasing volume of threats. It also said the payment could be from the association itself, a different political organization, a nonprofit or an individual.

But commission members were concerned that the security would be used for Griswold’s official events — including her re-election campaign or other political events, as Colorado Politics first reported.

Elections officials across the country have reported an increase in threats over the past year, particularly related to unsubstantiated claims about rampant fraud in the 2020 election.

Griswold told The Post on Sept. 15 that female secretaries of state seem to the primary target, including herself, Michigan’s Jocelyn Benson and Arizona’s Katie Hobbs. This summer, the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI launched a task force to investigate physical threats against state and local elected officials.

“I think part of it is that we’ve been standing up for the right to vote, pushing back in a very public way against the voter suppression we’re seeing across the nation,” Griswold said.

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People are listing their Pokémon Oreos on eBay for as much as $15,000

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Mew gets sold for a high amount of money

Some people are attempting to cash in on Poké-fever by offering rare “Pokémon” Oreo cookies on eBay for ridiculous amounts of money — up to $15,000.

Is this for real?: The “Pokémon” x Oreo collaboration was available for pre-order on Sept. 8 for $3.88, but to prevent hoarding, the company only allowed up to three boxes per customer, according to Dexerto.

  • A week later, people began posting listings on eBay to sell the rarest Pokémon Oreo cookie, which features the character Mew. Prices vary for Mew listings on the e-commerce site, which go from as low as $5.50 and up to $15,000.
Image via eBay
  • A Twitter user, who goes by the handle name @effnaaron, decided to place a listing on eBay for his Mew Pokémon Oreo cookie as a joke. However, he was later surprised to see someone had placed a $51 bid on his auction. The final bid was $5,000.

Limited edition: The cookies come in 16 different designs that feature iconic “Pokémon” characters such as Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle. Those who would like to collect them all will have to buy multiple packages as the cookies were packed randomly.

Featured Image eBay (left), Oreo Cookie (right)

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MIAA: Power rankings still a concern

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MIAA: Power rankings still a concern

Reporting is essential.

That was the message from MIAA Associate Director Sherry Bryant at Tuesday’s MIAA Field Hockey Committee meeting.

Bryant urged schools to input their scores in a timely manner so the MIAA can accurately roll out its initial power rankings. Bryant said the rankings would be posted at some point in the week of Sept. 27.

Despite pessimism that schools would report scores adequately, Bryant said in discussions with other states using power rankings that if schools aren’t holding up their end of the bargain, it’s going to be obvious when the rankings go public.

The meeting began with Mary Ryan being re-elected as the chairperson of the committee, with Katherine Hennessy of Marlboro nominated to serve as vice chairperson.

One concern affecting the commonwealth on a daily basis is a transportation shortfall. Gov. Charlie Baker activated the National Guard to help with the shortage of drivers, but many sub-varsity events are being called off for that very reason.

The majority of postseason field hockey games have a 2:30 p.m. faceoff. Several committee members expressed the need to be flexible with inviolable start times.

As the meeting wound down, committee member Patti Rowe spoke about the recent death of Janice Bruce. In Rowe’s word, Bruce was an essential member of the field hockey community and was a key cog in getting the state tournament started in 1975.

The MIAA Ice Hockey Committee held its meeting and discussed several of the same topics that came up in the field hockey meeting, namely power rankings and the necessity to input scores in a timely manner.

What was discussed was the length of time in a regular season hockey game. Leagues have the option to play 17-minute periods, though many are planning on remaining with 15-minute periods. If the game is tied at the end of regulation, then there will be a five-minute overtime in which both teams play 4-on-4.

In a regular season tournament, should teams play a scoreless overtime and require a shootout to determine a winner, the game would go into the MIAA record book as a tie for record purposes.

Ice Hockey Committee vice chairman David Lezenski, the athletic director at Lowell, said that 42 schools appealed their placement in the new statewide realignment and all but one were approved.

Speaking of Lowell, Lezenski said the school is looking for another team to compete in a season-opening hockey tournament being played at the Tsongas Arena Dec. 11-12. Those interested can contact coach Brian Akashian at [email protected]

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Other voices: Biden must investigate Kabul drone strike that killed family

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Other voices: Biden must investigate Kabul drone strike that killed family

The suicide bombings that ripped through Kabul’s airport in late August and killed 13 U.S. troops and more than 160 Afghans upped the ante for the U.S. to thwart more terrorist attacks in the final days of its withdrawal.

The Biden administration said it prevented another suicide bombing a few days later with a drone strike that officials said killed a suspected Islamic State group driver and an associate near the airport. U.S. officials told reporters that the target had been under surveillance for hours and that people were seen loading explosives into the trunk of his car.

But two separate investigations by The New York Times and The Washington Post cast doubt on that narrative. These news reports must elicit a fuller explanation than what the Biden administration has offered so far.

Relatives and co-workers of the target, engineer Zemari Ahmadi, told journalists that he was an aid worker with a California-based nonprofit in Afghanistan. Video obtained by The Times shows Ahmadi and a colleague loading canisters of water into his trunk to bring to his family on the day he was killed.

Ahmadi’s family members said 10 people were killed, including seven children. The relatives showed reporters photos of burned bodies belonging to children, and neighbors confirmed that children’s bodies were removed from the site.

The Biden administration must conduct a thorough investigation.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that the administration is looking at the matter “very, very, very carefully.” However, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that while officials are investigating, he’s not aware of a plan to put investigators on the ground in Kabul. If two American newspapers can check out information on the ground, why can’t the U.S. government?

We hope the Biden administration follows through on its word to be transparent about its findings. Without troops in Afghanistan, the U.S. will have to rely even more on drone technology to hit terrorists. A strike on the family of an aid worker who may not have done anything wrong should prompt our military to seriously examine its drone policies and decisions.

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Roads closures in Pittsfield scheduled for photoshoots this week

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Roads closures in Pittsfield scheduled for photoshoots this week

PITTSFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) — Several roads will be closed to traffic this week in Pittsfield for a series of photoshoots from Gregory Crewdson.

Crewdson is an American photographer known for his tableau vivant photography of American homes and neighborhoods. Through the week, Crewdson will be staging a series of photoshoots at several locations throughout Pittsfield, according to the Mayor’s office.

Road closures are already underway. Check out the current schedule:

  • Wednesday to Thursday: Mill Street (under the railroad bridge). A segment of Mill Street will be closed by Hawthorne Avenue through the 130 block from approximately 5 to 7 p.m. each day.
  • Friday: Former Jim’s House of Shoes. The parking spaces and bike lane on that block of North Street, from Summer Street to Columbus Avenue, will be closed off from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The southbound lane of North Street will remain open.
  • Saturday: Former Lach’s Lounge. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fenn Street will be closed at First Street to the city parking lot (the entrance closest to Fenn). Please note, businesses in that block are aware of the filming and will remain open and accessible.
  • Sunday: Fourth Street Bridge. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fourth Street will be closed from Lincoln Street to Silver Lake Boulevard.

MAP: Pittsfield, Mass.

Photoshoots are expected to be scheduled in Pittsfield for the next several weeks, through mid-October. road closures can be expected then as well.

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Additional Missouri counties surpass 40% full vaccination against COVID-19

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Additional Missouri counties surpass 40% full vaccination against COVID-19

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Though the rate of COVID-19 vaccination has slowed considerably in Missouri in recent weeks, more counties have eclipsed the threshold of 40% full vaccination.

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the state has recorded 666,214 cumulative cases of SARS-CoV-2—an increase of 1,506 positive cases (PCR testing only)—and 11,290 total deaths as of Wednesday, Sept. 22, an increase of 24 over yesterday. That’s a case fatality rate of 1.69%.

Please keep in mind that not all cases and deaths recorded occurred in the last 24 hours.

State health officials report 53.2% of the total population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. Approximately 64.5% of all adults 18 years of age and older have initiated the process.

The state has administered 62,572 doses of vaccine in the last 7 days (this metric is subject to a delay, meaning the last three days are not factored in). The highest vaccination rates are among people over 65.

Boone County, the city of Joplin, St. Louis County, and St. Charles County are the only jurisdictions in the state with at least 50% of its population fully vaccinated. Eighteen other jurisdictions in the state are at least 40% fully vaccinated: Atchison, Cole, Jackson, Franklin, Greene, Jefferson, Cass, Nodaway, Andrew, Cape Girardeau, Ste. Genevieve, Carroll, Callaway, Gasconade, and Christian counties, as well as St. Louis City, Kansas City, and Independence.

Vaccination is the safest way to achieve herd immunity. Herd immunity for COVID-19 requires 80% to 90% of the population to have immunity, either by vaccination or recovery from the virus.

(Source: Missouri Dept. of Health and Senior Services)

The Bureau of Vital Records at DHSS performs a weekly linkage between deaths to the state and death certificates to improve quality and ensure all decedents that died of COVID-19 are reflected in the systems. As a result, the state’s death toll will see a sharp increase from time to time. Again, that does not mean a large number of deaths happened in one day; instead, it is a single-day reported increase.

At the state level, DHSS is not tracking probable or pending COVID deaths. Those numbers are not added to the state’s death count until confirmed in the disease surveillance system either by the county or through analysis of death certificates.

The 10 days with the most reported cases occurred between Oct. 10, 2020, and Jan. 8, 2021.

The 7-day rolling average for cases in Missouri sits at 1,545 yesterday, it was 1,604. Exactly one month ago, the state rolling average was 1,888. 

Approximately 49.4% of all reported cases are for individuals 39 years of age and younger. The state has further broken down the age groups into smaller units. The 18 to 24 age group has 82,646 recorded cases, while 25 to 29-year-olds have 56,991 cases.

People 80 years of age and older account for approximately 43.7% of all recorded deaths in the state.

Month / Year Missouri COVID cases*
(reported that month)
March 2020 1,327
April 2020 6,235
May 2020 5,585
June 2020 8,404
July 2020 28,772
August 2020 34,374
September 2020 41,416
October 2020 57,073
November 2020 116,576
December 2020 92,808
January 2021 66,249
February 2021 19,405
March 2021 11,150
April 2021 12,165
May 2021 9,913
June 2021 12,680
July 2021 42,780
August 2021 60,275
September 2021 35,187
(Source: Missouri Dept. of Health and Senior Services)

Missouri has administered 6,927,360 PCR tests for COVID-19 over the entirety of the pandemic and as of Sept. 21, 16.9% of those tests have come back positive. People who have received multiple PCR tests are not counted twice, according to the state health department.

According to the state health department’s COVID-19 Dashboard, “A PCR test looks for the viral RNA in the nose, throat, or other areas in the respiratory tract to determine if there is an active infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. A positive PCR test means that the person has an active COVID-19 infection.”

The Missouri COVID Dashboard no longer includes the deduplicated method of testing when compiling the 7-day moving average of positive tests. The state is now only using the non-deduplicated method, which is the CDC’s preferred method. That number is calculated using the number of tests taken over the period since many people take multiple tests. Under this way of tabulating things, Missouri has a 9.9% positivity rate as of Sept. 19. Health officials exclude the most recent three days to ensure data accuracy when calculating the moving average.

The 7-day positivity rate was 4.5% on June 1, 10.2% on July 1, and 15.0% on Aug. 1.

As of Sept. 19, Missouri is reporting 1,730 COVID hospitalizations and a rolling 7-day average of 1,887. The remaining inpatient hospital bed capacity sits at 22% statewide. The state’s public health care metrics lag behind by three days due to reporting delays, especially on weekends. Keep in mind that the state counts all beds available and not just beds that are staffed by medical personnel.

On July 6, the 7-day rolling average for hospitalizations eclipsed the 1,000-person milestone for the first time in four months, with 1,013 patients. The 7-day average for hospitalizations had previously been over 1,000 from Sept. 16, 2020, to March 5, 2021.

On Aug. 5, the average eclipsed 2,000 patients for the first time in more than seven months. It was previously over 2,000 from Nov. 9, 2020, to Jan. 27, 2021.

The 2021 low point on the hospitalization average in Missouri was 655 on May 29.

Across the state, 449 COVID patients are in ICU beds, leaving the state’s remaining intensive care capacity at 19%.

If you have additional questions about the coronavirus, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is available at 877-435-8411.

As of Sept. 21, the CDC identified 42,234,211 cases of COVID-19 and 675,071 deaths across all 50 states and 9 U.S.-affiliated districts, jurisdictions, and affiliated territories, for a national case-fatality rate of 1.6%.

How do COVID deaths compare to other illnesses, like the flu or even the H1N1 pandemics of 1918 and 2009? It’s a common question.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), preliminary data on the 2018-2019 influenza season in the United States shows an estimated 35,520,883 cases and 34,157 deaths; that would mean a case-fatality rate of 0.09 percent. Case-fatality rates on previous seasons are as follows: 0.136 percent (2017-2018), 0.131 percent (2016-2017), 0.096 percent (2015-2016), and 0.17 percent (2014-2015).

The 1918 H1N1 epidemic, commonly referred to as the “Spanish Flu,” is estimated to have infected 29.4 million Americans and claimed 675,000 lives as a result; a case-fatality rate of 2.3 percent. The Spanish Flu claimed greater numbers of young people than typically expected from other influenzas.

Beginning in January 2009, another H1N1 virus—known as the “swine flu”—spread around the globe and was first detected in the US in April of that year. The CDC identified an estimated 60.8 million cases and 12,469 deaths; a 0.021 percent case-fatality rate.

For more information and updates regarding COVID mandates, data, and the vaccine, click here.

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