Former prosecutor says corrupt congressman got ‘great’ deal
SAN DIEGO (AP) — California Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty Tuesday to a single charge of conspiring with his wife to use at least $150,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses under a plea deal that a former federal prosecutor called “great” for the congressman who had faced 60 counts.The six-term Republican showed no emotion in the courtroom when he changed his plea to guilty and admitted he and his wife Margaret misused at least $25,000 in campaign money every year from 2010 to 2016. The charge carries up to a five-year sentence, but the deal calls for prosecutors to recommend much less when a judge sentences him in March.Former prosecutor Jason Forge said under the terms of the deal it’s likely Hunter will serve about a year in prison and perhaps less."I think if you decide to do a high-profile public corruption case, you have to set up an impervious example and they fell far short of this with this plea agreement," said Forge, who in 2005 prosecuted another San Diego-area congressman, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, in one of the biggest bribery scandals in congressional history."Ï would rather go down fighting than agree to this," he added. “He got a great deal.”Prosecutor Phillip Halpern defended the agreement, saying it held Hunter accountable."Appropriately today's plea is to the major count of the indictment and effectively puts an end to his political career"," he said. "Mr. Hunter now faces resignation, disgrace and imprisonment."Hunter said he and his wife dipped into the election funds between 2010 and 2016 more than 30 times and falsely reported the expenses as campaign related from their daughter’s birthday party at the posh Hotel Del Coronado to an outing with friends at a french bistro.“I failed to monitor and account for my campaign spending,” Hunter, 42, said outside the courthouse.He promised to discuss his future later and refused to answer questions about when he would leave the congressional seat he has held for more than a decade.An early supporter of President Donald Trump’s 2016 election bid, Hunter is the second Republican congressman to plead guilty to federal charges this year.Accompanied by his father, the former combat Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan left the courthouse to jeers of “Lock him up!”Hunter’s pending departure will mark the end of a political dynasty in Southern California’s most Republican district. His father represented the district for 28 years before Hunter’s 2008 election.For more than a year, Hunter had insisted that criminal charges against him and his wife were the result of a conspiracy of the “deep state” meant to drive him from office in Democrat-dominated California.Halpern noted Hunter’s honorable military service and his family’s place in the 50th congressional district. But he had a sharp rebuke for the congressman’s claim that he was targeted because of politics.“No figure, regardless of what office they occupy, should be allowed in this country to cry witch hunt or fake news and attempt to deflect their criminal wrongdoings," Halpern said.Halpern said he would seek a minimum of one year in jail for Hunter.Prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of eight to 14 months, taking off time because of his military service in war zones and unspecified medical conditions. A judge will ultimately determine his sentence and could impose the maximum of five years.Hunter and his wife were initially charged with 60 criminal counts and prosecutors accused them of spending about $250,000 in campaign funds including for family vacations to Italy and Hawaii, private school tuition for their children, airline tickets for their family’s pet rabbit. They said the couple was broke and bankrolled their lives with the campaign money.Prosecutors also revealed Hunter spent some of the money on romantic relationships with lobbyists and congressional aides.His wife accepted a plea deal in June. In that deal, prosecutors indicated they would not seek a sentence longer than eight months, though Halpern said Tuesday her cooperation helped the prosecution and they had not determined if they will seek any jail time. She also faces a maximum of five years.Hunter told San Diego TV station KUSI in an interview that aired Monday that a trial would be tough on his three children. He said he hopes his wife is spared jail time.In October, former four-term Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York pleaded guilty in an insider trading case, a day after he resigned from Congress._____This story corrects that Hunter pleaded guilty to misusing $150,000 not $250,000.
Mugabe left $10 mln, a farm and two houses
Harare (AFP) - Zimbabwe's late former president Robert Mugabe left US$10 million, 10 cars, a farm and two houses, details of his estate released on Tuesday revealed.The state-owned Herald newspaper said his daughter, Bona Nyepudzai Mutsahuni-Chikore, disclosed these assets to the High Court after the family had been unable to locate his will.The $10 million (nine million euros) was in a foreign currency account with a local bank, the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ), the report said.It did not identify the make or model of the 10 cars.During his presidency, Mugabe, who styled himself as a leftwing radical, was reported to own several farms that were seized during his controversial land reforms.Only one farm is listed on the inventory of his assets.His other properties, according to the list given to the High Court on October 21, include two houses in posh suburbs of the capital, Harare; his rural homestead in Zvimba; a two-hectare (five-acre)farming plot in Zvimba and a five-acre orchard.Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe from the country’s independence from British colonial rule in 1980 until being ousted in November 2017, died on September 6 at the age of 95 in Singapore, where he had been receiving treatment for prostate cancer."Mrs Grace Mugabe was listed as the sole surviving spouse while Bona, Robert, Bellarmine and stepson Russel Goreraza were listed as surviving children," The Herald reported.Mugabe once said in jest that he would remain in power until he turned 100.He was ousted after 37 years in power and replaced by his former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa, whom Mugabe had fired weeks earlier.The later years of his rule were characterised by food shortages, massive joblessness and the use of brutal force against his opponents.Many had hoped Mnangagwa would fare better but the hardships that Zimbabweans suffered under Mugabe have returned to haunt the country.According to the World Bank, extreme poverty is likely to affect 5.7 million Zimbabweans this year -- equivalent to 34 percent of the population, after 29 percent in 2018.Gross domestic product is likely to contract by 7.5 percent in 2019, it says.
The billionaire who bought the LA Times: 'Hipsters will want paper soon'
Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong, a former surgeon, is ushering the legacy newspaper into a new era. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the GuardianPatrick Soon-Shiong has spent decades trying to cure cancer and made a biotech fortune in the process, making him one of California’s most successful, enigmatic billionaires.Born in South Africa to Chinese parents, he rose from humble origins and ended up in Los Angeles where he has thrived as a surgeon, scientist and entrepreneur. “The richest doctor in the history of the world,” Forbes magazine declared in 2014.A bright, restless mind, Soon-Shiong is now seeking to remedy a very different source of malignant metastasis: news.Sign up to the Media Briefing: news for the news-makers Read moreFake news, superficial news, clickbait news, shrill, shouty, polarising news, he plans to tackle all these ailments in his latest incarnation as a media mogul.Soon-Shiong has bought the Los Angeles Times and a handful of other California newspapers for $500m, vaulting him into an exclusive club populated by Rupert Murdoch, Jeff Bezos and a handful of other proprietors.“I’m a news junkie number one, a complete news junkie,” he told the Guardian in an interview at the LA Times’s new home, a still-under construction 10-acre campus in El Segundo, 20miles south of downtown. “It’s got nothing to do with the business analysis. It’s got to do with an analysis of what’s important for humanity.”A flamboyant claim from a businessman who trails plaudits as well as controversies. He is widely seen as brilliant and at times bombastic, with promises outstripping reality. Can we compete with the New York Times and the Washington Post? Not can, we mustThe LA Times is a once-great newspaper battered and hollowed by its former corporate master, a Chicago-based company called Tronc. Cutbacks, layoffs and a revolving door of executives left the 136-year-old daily enfeebled and rudderless earlier this year. Journalists voted to unionise for the first time.Soon-Shiong bought it in April for twice what Bezos paid for the Post. He also got the San Diego Union-Tribune, Spanish-language Hoy and several small community papers, now grouped under a corporate moniker, the California Times.Soon-Shiong, 65, wants to turn his flagship daily into a multimedia leviathan of independent, innovative journalism in the Trump era – a font of essential reading, viewing and listening to rival the Washington Post and New York Times.“Can we compete with them? Not can, must, we must compete with them,” he said. Compete in a positive way so that all thrive. “All of us have to be the bastions of democracy in this country. We have to be this fourth estate – institutions that will tell the news.”The doctor-turned tycoon has an ambitious agenda to redress not only fake news – the “cancer of our time” – but also short-attention spans and hyper-partisan discourse.“Because of this mobile device you have now an absence of what I call leisurely reading,” he said, tapping his phone. “You have a generation (whose) brains have been wired to look at short pieces with not long attention spans – part of a physiological change in your brain, literally.”FacebookTwitterPinterest The old LA Times building in downtown Los Angeles. Photograph: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty ImagesBite-sized news and information was worsening attention deficit disorders, especially among young people, he said. “This is now an addictive phenomenon that gives you short pieces of paragraphs, Twitter, that then makes it impossible to separate true information, unbiased information, from what is considered fake news.”Curing such maladies is a lot to ask of any media organisation, let alone a barely profitable newspaper with a newsroom of about 400, down from 1,300 in the late 1990s.Soon-Shiong, worth an estimated $9bn, has moved fast. He is relocating the LA Times from its historic art-deco tower downtown – where rent was soaring – to a custom-made campus near a coastal tech hub nicknamed Silicon Beach.High-speed fibre-optic cables, solar power and zinc air batteries will power a state-of-the-art newsroom, e-sports centre and other parts of the campus, he said. “It’s like a new generation here now. We’re at the crux of the city.”Workmen were still painting and hammering in the main building but several floors were operational when the Guardian visited last week. A version of the LA Times’s masthead adorned the roof, the Gothic-style lettering visible from the 105 freeway and, staff said, from planes landing at adjacent LAX. Trump has turned words into weapons. And he's winning the linguistic warGeorge P Lakoff and Gil Duran Read moreAfter trying in vain to lure Dean Baquet from the New York Times and Martin Baron from the Post, Soon-Shiong hired Norman Pearlstine, a 75-year-old veteran of Bloomberg, Time and the Wall Street Journal, to be the paper’s editor-in-chief.A solid choice to stabilise the LA Times and chart a new course, Ken Doctor, a media analyst, noted in a NiemanLab article. “With Pearlstine, the Times’ staff and readers should be assured that the Times’ coverage won’t be bent to fit the owner’s own interests or beliefs.”LA Times journalists celebrated the end of the Tronc era – nightmare, some said – with champagne. And they have given a warm but wary welcome to the new owner.“Here’s hoping Soon-Shiong comes through on the promise to grow the paper’s staff and reach, because the city and state need more watchdogs, more eyes and ears in places where today there is no witness to the daily dramas that shape our lives,” wrote the columnist Steve Lopez. “We’ll work hard. We’ll hope for the best.”‘I’m looking at a hundred year plan, literally’Soon-Shiong, a trim, dapper figure with an anglicised South African accent, declined to detail future spending and staffing levels or the precise revenue model. He said he envisaged the LA Times not as a philanthropic or business venture but an “institutional public trust in a private setting” akin to Harvard or Stanford.To endure it must be profitable, he said, citing his Catholic missionary teachers. “I was told by the nuns: ‘no money, no mission’. We need to find ways to actually value the content ... it means people understanding cloud computing, software architecture, gaming, livestreaming, podcasting. I’m looking at a hundred year plan, literally.”FacebookTwitterPinterest Patrick Soon-Shiong inside the company’s new office. ‘I’m a complete news junkie.’ Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the GuardianHe intends to keep printing. As a boy in Port Elizabeth he delivered newspapers and fell in love with printing presses and the tactile, inky experience of reading on paper, which he considers an antidote to shortened attention spans. “Hieroglyphics started, I don’t think it’s going to end. I’m determined that printing, that paper, must continue to exist.”Print generated lucrative advertising revenue. And it may come back into fashion. “Kids today want to buy vinyl records. So you’ll have hipster kids wanting to see paper soon,” he said, a half-joke. “I don’t think touching paper and reading will actually go away. There will be a need for leisurely reading and the tactile feel.”There is also urgent need to tackle blinkered partisanship by providing balancing viewpoints on op-ed pages, a novelty for many Fox News and MSNBC devotees, said Soon-Shiong, who calls himself a political independent. He envisages liberal and conservative views expressed with “great civility” in a “dual echo chamber”.For instance if the immigration debate were framed differently both sides would surely agree on granting asylum to a battered, fearful woman and toddler, and barring a rapist. “It’s fixable without anybody screaming at anybody, right?”My audience is the reader. I can engage you and you will pay for the value and you will comeThat is questionable – many readers and viewers like inhabiting ideologically fixed information bubbles – and arguably naive. But Soon-Shiong did not build a fortune being naive.He overcame discrimination in apartheid South Africa to become a doctor before moving to Canada in the 1970s and then the US where he became a transplant surgeon and joined UCLA medical school, becoming a professor of microbiology and immunology.He pioneered a wildly profitable cancer drug, Abraxane, and founded biotechnology and data-crunching computing firms. Supporters hailed him a humanitarian and generous philanthropist. Detractors said his medical innovations were hyped and pointed to multiple lawsuits and business feuds.Soon-Shiong said a desire to sound the alarm about “calamities” such as climate change and drug-resistant infectious diseases influenced his move into media. “I see myself very much as an engineer-scientist-physician.”Journalists are like scientists, he said. “Journalists love the idea of discovery, of finding news, understanding it ... they are passionate about what they do.” Despite his aversion to social media he expects his journalists to use Twitter and cultivate audiences. “I want our reporters to be stars.”Deep investigations will bring engaged readers and with them subscriptions and advertising, he said. “Clickbait and chasing clicks is absolutely not going to be the vision of what we do. I don’t want itinerant 10-second eyeballs.”He does not read Buzzfeed or Mashable or care for cat videos. “Their audience is the advertisers. My audience is the reader. I can engage you and you will pay for the value and you will come.”Media’s holy grail. But how, exactly?The answer was confident, if vague. “I can get there in entertainment, sports, healthcare, bringing value in different ways. Getting into the attention economy is what we’re going to be doing.”