Nation roundup for January 25


Kerry grilled on Iran, Syria, Hagel

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. John Kerry, President Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of state, collected pledges of support Thursday and testified at his confirmation hearing that U.S. foreign policy should be defined by a helping hand as well as military strength.

The Massachusetts Democrat discussed Iran, Syria, climate change and a variety of issues with members of the Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing that recalled an unusual American life — son of a diplomat, Navy lieutenant who volunteered for Vietnam, anti-war protester, five-term senator, unsuccessful nominee for president, and Obama’s unofficial envoy.

The nearly four-hour hearing also provided an odd juxtaposition as Kerry, a member of the panel for 28 years and its chairman for the last four, sat alone in the witness chair. At one point, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the incoming chairman who presided, mistakenly referred to Kerry as “Mr. Secretary.”

The current secretary, Hillary Rodham Clinton, introduced Kerry, calling him “the right choice.” She is stepping down after four years.

The committee is expected to approve Kerry’s nomination early next week, and a full Senate vote could occur before the month is out.

Obama chooses leader of SEC

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama sent his strongest signal yet Thursday that he wants the government to get tougher with Wall Street, appointing a former prosecutor to head the Securities and Exchange Commission for the first time in the agency’s 79-year history.

Mary Jo White, former U.S. attorney in Manhattan, has an extensive record of prosecuting white-collar crime, won convictions in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1998 terrorist attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa, and put crime boss John Gotti away.

If confirmed, she will have the job of enforcing complicated regulations written in response to the worst financial crisis since the Depression.

“You don’t want to mess with Mary Jo,” the president said at the White House with White at his side. “As one former SEC chairman said, Mary Jo does not intimidate easily, and that’s important because she’s got a big job ahead of her.”

White would take over at the SEC from Elisse Walter, who has been interim chairwoman since Mary Schapiro resigned in December.

Teacher accused of molesting 20

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A fourth-grade teacher who worked nearly 40 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District has been arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing 20 students, a year after another veteran teacher accused of molesting nearly two dozen pupils brought national attention to the district and the problem of classroom sex abuse.

After a 10-month investigation, eight felony counts of continual sexual abuse and seven counts of lewd acts upon a child were filed Wednesday against Robert Pimentel, of Newport Beach, for abuse that allegedly took place at George De La Torre Jr. Elementary in the Wilmington area, officer Christopher No told The Associated Press.

Woman blinded by hitmen dies

NEW YORK (AP) — Linda Pugach, who was blinded in 1959 when her lover hired hit men to throw lye in her face — and became a media sensation after later marrying him — has died, her husband said Thursday. She was 75.

The infamous New York City crime was detailed in the 2007 documentary “Crazy Love.”

Pugach, who hid behind dark glasses for the rest of her life, died Tuesday at the Long Island Jewish Hospital in Queens.

The cause was heart failure, said her husband, Burton Pugach, who spent 14 years in prison for hiring the thugs to attack his then-girlfriend Linda Riss after she spurned him. He was married at the time, and the heinous attack became an instant tabloid sensation.

After his release, Pugach divorced his first wife and convinced Riss to marry him in 1974.

He proposed to her on live television.

“This was a very fairy tale romance,” a sobbing Pugach told The Associated Press on Thursday.

After the release of “Crazy Love,” Pugach praised filmmaker Dan Klores for revealing a story that for the first time “has colors — it was no longer black and white.”

Two decades after his release from prison, Pugach was accused in another case with chilling similarities but acquitted of the charges in 1997. He had been accused of threatening and harassing another lover after she tried to end their five-year affair. That woman testified that he threatened to make it “1959 all over again.”

He told the AP in an interview at the time: “Haven’t you ever threatened to kill your husband? Did you mean it? Of course not. … This has been blown out of proportion like I’ve never seen.”

Linda Pugach testified at that trial, describing her husband as a good man. Under cross-examination by Pugach, a disbarred lawyer who defended himself, she said couldn’t have sex with him after undergoing heart surgery in 1990.

“He was a naughty little boy and he was caught,” she said as she left the courtroom on his arm. She said he was an adulterer, not a criminal.

Pugach said his wife went into the hospital on Dec. 26, 2012, two days before they had scheduled a trip to Florida to buy a property in Boca Raton.

“I don’t know how I’m going to go on without her,” he said.

On Thursday he again denied that he was ever involved in the attack.

“If I had told anyone to throw lye at her, would she have married me? A monster does that,” he said.

Linda Pugach was being laid to rest in a crypt in Paramus, N.J. on Thursday.

“There’s a place for me there. We’ll be together,” he said.

 

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