Nation roundup for December 21


Snow leads to 25-vehicle pileup

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The first widespread snowstorm of the season crawled across the Midwest on Thursday, with whiteout conditions stranding holiday travelers and sending drivers sliding over slick roads — including into a fatal 25-vehicle pileup in Iowa.

The storm, which dumped a foot of snow in parts of Iowa and Wisconsin, was part of a system that began in the Rockies earlier in the week before trekking into the Midwest. It was expected to move across the Great Lakes overnight before moving into Canada.

The storm led airlines to cancel or delay about 1,000 flights ahead of the Christmas holiday — relatively few compared to past big storms.

On the southern edge of the system, tornadoes destroyed several homes in Arkansas and peeled the roofs from buildings, toppled trucks and blew down oak trees and limbs Alabama.

In Iowa, drivers were blinded by blowing snow and didn’t see vehicles that had slowed or stopped on Interstate 35 about 60 miles north of Des Moines, state police said. A chain reaction of crashes involving semitrailers and passenger cars closed down a section of the highway. At least one person was killed.

“It’s time to listen to warnings and get off the road,” said Iowa State Patrol Col. David Garrison.

Thomas Shubert, a clerk at a store in Gretna near Omaha, Neb., said his brother drove him to work in his truck, but some of his neighbors weren’t so fortunate.

“I saw some people in my neighborhood trying to get out. They made it a few feet, and that was about it,” Shubert said.

Mint tests metals for cheaper coins

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — When it comes to making coins, the Mint isn’t getting its two cents worth. In some cases, it doesn’t even get half of that. A penny costs more than two cents and a nickel costs more than 11 cents to make and distribute. The quandary is how to make coins more cheaply without sparing our change’s quality and durability, or altering its size and appearance.

A 400-page report presented last week to Congress outlines nearly two years of trials conducted at the Mint in Philadelphia, where a variety of metal recipes were put through their paces in the massive facility’s high-speed coin-making machinery.

Evaluations of 29 different alloys concluded that none met the ideal list of attributes. The Treasury Department concluded that additional study was needed before it could endorse any changes.

“We want to let the data take us where it takes us,” Dick Peterson, the Mint’s acting director, said Wednesday. More test runs with different alloys are likely in the coming year, he said.

The government has been looking for ways to shave the millions it spends every year to make bills and coins. Congressional auditors recently suggested doing away with dollar bills entirely and replacing them with dollar coins, which they concluded could save taxpayers some $4.4 billion over three decades. Canada is dropping its penny as part of an austerity budget.

Madoff’s brother receives 10 years

NEW YORK (AP) — The brother of imprisoned financier Bernard Madoff has been sentenced in New York to 10 years in prison for crimes committed in the shadow of his notorious sibling.

Peter Madoff was sentenced Thursday after victims described their anguish at losing their life savings in the Ponzi scheme. The sentence was announced in a crowded Manhattan courtroom by Judge Laura Taylor Swain six months after Madoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy and falsifying books and records. He agreed then to serve 10 years in prison.

It was four years ago this month that his brother revealed his multi-decade fraud that cheated thousands of investors out of their $20 billion investment. Bernard Madoff is serving a 150-year prison term.

Peter Madoff says he did not know of the fraud but committed other crimes.

Not guilty plea in drug lab scandal

BOSTON (AP) — A former Massachusetts drug lab chemist at the center of a scandal that threatens to unravel thousands of criminal cases pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges including perjury and evidence tampering.

Annie Dookhan’s arraignment on 15 charges in Suffolk Superior Court could be the first in a series of arraignments in other counties following a 27-count grand jury indictment Monday.

State prosecutors allege Dookhan fabricated test results and tampered with drug evidence while testing substances for criminal cases. Judges have released about 200 defendants from custody in the last few months and put those cases on hold. Many more cases could be affected.

Authorities say Dookhan tested more than 60,000 samples involving 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the lab. State police shut down the lab in August.

Dookhan, 35, made no comment to the media outside the Boston courtroom after she pleaded not guilty to eight counts of evidence tampering, five counts of witness intimidation, one count of perjury and one count of making a false claim of holding a master’s degree.

In court, the Franklin woman stood behind her lawyer and blinked repeatedly while looking toward the magistrate’s bench. “Not guilty,” she replied to his questions about the 15 counts.

Magistrate Judge Gary Wilson agreed to change Dookhan’s nightly curfew hour from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. after her lawyer said the earlier hour was hampering the social life of a defendant who already was on GPS monitoring and had no criminal record.

“She’s not a flight risk. It’s certainly putting a damper on her ability to have any kind of a social life, interact with the neighbors and family and friends,” defense lawyer Nicolas Gordon said.

Dookhan also remained free on $10,000 bail.

Afterward, Gordon said he hasn’t seen all of the government’s evidence “so it’s too soon to comment” on aspects of the case.

“I’m told there’s thousands of emails out there and I haven’t seen them yet,” he said.

Authorities alleged in court records Thursday that Dookhan once emailed a fake test result to a prosecutor for use in a criminal case, relying on a sample that had been gone from the lab for about six months.

Authorities have said Dookhan admitted to investigators she sometimes would “dry lab” samples, meaning she would test some samples for drugs and assume the others were positive. She also allegedly admitted she sometimes added a known narcotic to a sample to turn it positive if it tested negative.

In addition, authorities claimed Thursday that Dookhan testified 14 times that she had a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts-Boston although investigators found she was never enrolled in classes at that level.

The only potential motive authorities say they can offer in the case is Dookhan’s desire to be seen as a good worker.

Dookhan faced suspension from her lab duties in June 2011. Authorities alleged that dozens of drug samples weren’t properly checked out of a safe and that Dookhan forged a colleague’s initials to try to cover her misconduct.

She resigned in March during a Department of Public Health internal investigation. Amid that probe, state police took over the lab in July as part of a state budget directive.

 

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