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Australia deports Novak Djokovic for being unvaccinated

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Australia deports Novak Djokovic for being unvaccinated

MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia on Sunday after losing a bid to stay in the country to defend his Australian Open title despite not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

A masked Djokovic was photographed in a Melbourne airport lounge with two government officials in black uniforms before he left for Dubai. It’s not clear where he will go from there. Among the possibilities are Spain, Monaco or his native Serbia, where he has an almost iconic status and would likely be greeted with a hero’s welcome.

The No. 1-ranked tennis star has spent the past 10 days at the center of a dizzying drama over his vaccination status that has polarized opinion worldwide and struck a chord in Australia, where coronavirus cases are surging.

The 34-year-old said he was “extremely disappointed” by a court’s decision Sunday that led to his deportation. But he added that he respected the ruling and would cooperate with authorities.

The saga began when Djokovic was granted an exemption to strict vaccination rules by two medical panels and Tennis Australia in order to play in the Australian Open. That exemption, based on evidence that he recently recovered from COVID-19, apparently allowed him to receive a visa to enter Australia. But upon arrival, border officials said the exemption was not valid and moved to deport him.

The ensuing back-and-forth raised questions of whether Djokovic was unfairly given special treatment or unfairly singled out because of his celebrity status and saw many complain that the drawn-out battle at the very least made Australia look bad.

A court initially ruled on procedural grounds that Djokovic could stay, but Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who has wide powers, later decided to deport him. In addition to not being inoculated against the coronavirus, Djokovic is a vocal vaccine skeptic, and the government said his presence could stir up anti-vaccine sentiments.

Three Federal Court judges unanimously upheld the immigration minister’s decision.

Djokovic said he was “uncomfortable” that the focus had been on him since his visa was first canceled on Jan. 6.

“I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” he said. “I will now be taking some time to rest and to recuperate, before making any further comments beyond this.”

The decision dashes Djokovic’s hopes of winning a record 21st Grand Slam title. He is currently tied with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most Grand Slam singles trophies in men’s tennis.

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Ex-White House press secretary Jen Psaki hired by MSNBC

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Ex-White House press secretary Jen Psaki hired by MSNBC

By MARK KENNEDY

NEW YORK (AP) — Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki has officially landed at MSNBC, where she is expected to make appearances on the network’s cable and streaming programs as well as host a new original show.

The program, set to debut in the first quarter of 2023, will “bring together her unique perspective from behind the podium and her deep experience in the highest levels of government and presidential politics,” the network said in a statement Tuesday.

Psaki will also appear on NBC and during MSNBC’s primetime special election programming throughout the midterms and 2024 presidential election.

Psaki most recently served as White House spokesperson for the first 16 months of the Biden administration. She previously served as White House communications director under former President Barack Obama and as the spokeswoman for the Department of State.

“Her extensive experience in government and on the campaign trail and perspective as a White House and Washington insider is the type of analysis that sets MSNBC apart,” MSNBC President Rashida Jones said in a statement. “She’s a familiar face and trusted authority to MSNBC viewers, and we look forward to her insight during this consequential election season.”

At MSNBC, on-air personalities are mostly sympathetic to Biden and the Democrats. During Psaki’s White House tenure, Democrats saw her as a champion of their causes, while conservatives found her combative and standoffish.

MSNBC has also hired Symone Sanders, former chief spokeswoman for Vice President Kamala Harris. NBC News has taken pains to draw distinctions between its journalists and MSNBC, which has beefed up its opinion programming.

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Ukraine: 200 bodies found in basement in Mariupol’s ruins

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Ukraine: 200 bodies found in basement in Mariupol’s ruins

By ELENA BECATOROS, OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and RICARDO MAZALAN

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Workers digging through the rubble of an apartment building in Mariupol found 200 bodies in the basement, Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday, as more horrors come to light in the ruined city that has seen some of the worst suffering of the 3-month-old war.

The bodies were decomposing and the stench hung over the neighborhood, said Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor. He did not when they were discovered, but the sheer number of victims makes it one of the deadliest known attacks of the war.

Heavy fighting, meanwhile, continued in the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that Moscow’s forces are intent on seizing. Russian troops intensified their efforts to encircle and capture Sievierodonetsk and neighboring cities.

Mariupol was relentlessly pounded during a nearly three-month siege that ended last week after some 2,500 Ukrainian fighters abandoned a steel plant where they had made their stand. Russian forces already held the rest of the city, where an estimated 100,000 people remain out a prewar population of 450,000, many of them trapped during the siege with little food, water, heat or electricity.

At least 21,000 people were killed in the siege, according to Ukrainian authorities, who have accused Russia of trying to cover up the horrors by bringing in mobile cremation equipment and by burying the dead in mass graves.

During the assault on Mariupol, Russian airstrikes hit a maternity hospital and a theater where civilians were taking shelter. An Associated Press investigation found that close to 600 people died in the theater attack, double the figure estimated by Ukrainian authorities.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused the Russians of waging “total war” and seeking to inflict as much death and destruction as possible on his country.

“Indeed, there has not been such a war on the European continent for 77 years,” Zelensky said, referring to end of World War II.

Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbas for eight years and hold large swaths of territory. Sievierodonetsk and neighboring cities are the only part of the Donbas’ Luhansk region still under Ukrainian government control.

Russian forces have achieved “some localized successes” despite strong Ukrainian resistance along dug-in positions, British military authorities said.

Moscow’s troops also took over the town of Svitlodarsk and raised the Russian flag there, Ukrainian media reported. Svitlodarsk is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southeast of the strategically important city of Kramatorsk.

Two top Russian officials appeared to acknowledge that Moscow’s advance has been slower than expected, though they vowed the offensive would achieve its goals.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council. said the Russian government “is not chasing deadlines.” And Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of a Russia-led security alliance of former Soviet states that Moscow is deliberately slowing down its offensive to allow residents of encircled cities to evacuate — though forces have repeatedly hit civilian targets.

As Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, recovers from weeks of weeks of relentless bombardment, residents formed long lines to receive rations of flour, pasta, sugar and others staples this week. Moscow’s forces withdrew from around Kharkiv earlier this month, pulling back toward the Russian border.

Galina Kolembed, the aid distribution center coordinator, said that more and more people are returning to the city. Kolembed said the center is providing food to over 1,000 people every day, a number that keeps growing.

“Many of them have small kids, and they spend their money on the kids, so they need some support with food,” she said.

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Becatoros reported from Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Danica Kirka in London and other AP staffers around the world contributed.

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Former South St. Paul basketball coach dies by suicide, two days before sentencing on federal fraud case

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Undated courtesy photo, circa January 2022, of Matthew McCollister, head boys basketball coach at South St. Paul High School. (Courtesy of South St. Paul Public Schools)

Former South St. Paul boys basketball coach Matthew McCollister died by suicide on Monday, two days before he was to be sentenced for fraud in federal court.

McCollister, 40, leaves behind his wife and three young children.

He pleaded guilty in January for his role in a scheme to defraud car insurance companies with false medical claims while working as a personal injury attorney.

Matthew McCollister (Courtesy of South St. Paul Public Schools)

Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy said officers were called around 3 p.m. Monday for a possible suicide in the 3600 block of Wesley Court and found McCollister dead in his home.

McCollister was charged in December in U.S. District Court with felony conspiracy to commit health care fraud from 2016 to 2017. He was charged by felony information, a process by which a defendant agrees to waive a grand jury indictment and instead plead guilty.

McCollister resigned from the team and his student support assistant job at South St. Paul High School on Jan. 12, the day the Pioneer Press first reported the accusations and just hours before he was scheduled to plead guilty at the federal courthouse in St. Paul. That hearing was postponed after his attorney fell ill.

McCollister entered his plea on Jan. 19. Sentencing guidelines called for 10 to 16 months in prison. McCollister remained free on his own recognizance pending his sentencing, which was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright.

“We ask that you give his family time and space to grieve,” his attorney, Ryan Pacyga, said in a statement Tuesday. “There will not be a sentencing hearing tomorrow. I have no further comments.”

McCollister had been South St. Paul High School’s head basketball coach since November 2019, and was credited with leading a turnaround of a once-struggling program. Prior to joining South St. Paul, McCollister had been a head coach at Breck, St. Croix Preparatory Academy and Brooklyn Center.

FRAUD SCHEME

McCollister was admitted to practice law in Minnesota in 2009. Starting around 2015, McCollister began his own law practice that focused primarily on pursuing personal injury claims on behalf of people who had been in car accidents.

About a year later, a chiropractor introduced McCollister to a confidential informant who was working with the Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau and posing as a “runner,” according to federal prosecutors. A runner is someone who gets paid to recruit people who supposedly were injured in car crashes and then receive chiropractic treatment paid for by auto insurance companies.

McCollister met with the runner at the Red Cow restaurant in St. Paul on March 1, 2016, and asked the individual to find people who supposedly were injured, prosecutors said. McCollister’s idea was to then have them go to chiropractors for care and that he would represent them in bringing claims against auto insurance companies for the purported injuries, according to the plea agreement. McCollister offered to pay the runner $300 or more for each person recruited.

Prosecutors allege McCollister then directed one of the two undercover patients to be “treated” by chiropractor Huy Nguyen, who is currently serving a prison sentence for his role in the conspiracy.

In December 2015, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Nguyen’s chiropractic clinic, Healthcare Chiropractic, in Brooklyn Park, where McCollister maintained an informal office and spent considerable time, according to U.S. Attorney David MacLaughlin.

“Huy Nguyen’s notoriousness could not have escaped Mr. McCollister’s attention,” MacLaughlin wrote in an April 26 memorandum that argued for a 16-month sentence for McCollister.

McCollister’s “brazen use of a known crooked chiropractor” continued throughout 2016 and into 2017, the memo read. On March 16, 2016, the undercover runner had lunch with McCollister, Nguyen and another now-convicted conspirator/MRI specialist named Quincy Chettupally at Fogo de Chao in downtown Minneapolis. The lunch was video recorded without McCollister’s knowledge and the conspirators openly discussed the scheme, according to prosecutors.

A grand jury in December 2016 indicted Nguyen in the conspiracy to which McCollister would later plead guilty. In August 2017, the grand jury added Chettupally to the conspiracy count.

Despite the indictments, McCollister sent two letters to Liberty Mutual Insurance, demanding a $25,000 bodily injury settlement for two separate bogus claims, prosecutors say.

DISBARRED

McCollister was the second Minnesota attorney charged and convicted through what was dubbed “Operation Back Cracker,” an effort by the state Commerce Fraud Bureau, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office to combat personal injury protection fraud cases.

In November 2020, Minnetonka attorney William Sutor was sentenced to 16 months in prison after being convicted of the same offense as McCollister.

Pacyga, McCollister’s attorney, planned to argue for a five-month prison sentence followed by home confinement or community supervision.

McCollister “promptly accepted responsibility” by forgoing an indictment, Pacyga noted in his April 25 sentencing memorandum. “McCollister has lost not one, but two careers,” he added.

McCollister in February was disbarred by the Minnesota Supreme Court for professional misconduct unrelated to the federal charge. He had admitted to intentionally misappropriating more than $16,300 in client funds from his trust account between July 2020 and December 2020.

“Besides the father and husband that he has been and continues to be, he continues to work on himself with therapy and stays sober, even in the face of a federal criminal sentencing and the loss of both his law and coaching careers,” Pacyga wrote in his memo.

When McCollister left the team, South St. Paul was 14-0 and among the top-ranked teams in Class 3A. Assistant coach Darren Edwards took over as head coach and the team went on to win 14 straight games before falling to DeLaSalle 69-67 in the Section 3 final. It was South St. Paul’s second straight loss in the section final.

Prior to resigning, McCollister was a full-time student support assistant at the high school. In that role, he worked with student-support specialists who focus on student behavior.

To get help for thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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