Police find four floors of pot plants

NEW YORK, Feb. 1 (UPI) — New York police said they found a vertical marijuana farm, taking up four floors of a five-story Bronx apartment building.

Police broke down the door of the building Monday and discovered 600 potted marijuana plants filling the top four floors of the building in the Morris Park neighborhood, the New York Post reported, as well as sodium vapor growing lights casting a yellow glow, and modifications to the ventilation system.

“They were using enough electricity, grow lights and such to power an entire city block,” a law enforcement source was quoted as saying.

The newspaper said the 1,500 pounds of pot removed from the building had a street value estimated at $7.5 million. Three men were arrested on drug dealing and possession charges.

Former RBS chief loses knighthood

LONDON, Feb. 1 (UPI) — Sir Fred Goodwin, former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, became plain Mr. Goodwin when his knighthood was taken away Tuesday.

The action was taken by Queen Elizabeth II on the recommendation of a forfeiture committee of five senior civil servants, The Guardian reported. Prime Minister David Cameron supported a campaign to dishonor Goodwin begun by the Daily Mail.

Goodwin received the knighthood for services to banking in 2004 when the Labor Party was in power.

The action was unusual in that Goodwin had not been convicted of a crime. Others who have lost knighthoods have included Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Anthony Blunt, the art historian revealed late in life to have been a Soviet spy.

The committee put out a public statement justifying the decision. It cited the millions of pounds in public money needed to shore up RBS after what is now seen as reckless financial activity. He was described as the “dominant decision maker” in the bank.

“The scale and the severity of the impact of his actions as chief executive officer of RBS made this an exceptional case,” the committee said.

Mark Field, a Conservative member of Parliament, called for a review of peerages, suggesting that sitting in the House of Lords is far more important than the “bauble” of a knighthood.

GOP lawmakers: Cordray appointment invalid

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (UPI) — Republican U.S. senators told Richard Cordray Tuesday his appointment by President Obama as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was invalid.

At Cordray’s first Senate hearing as CFPB head, GOP lawmakers said agency rules will face court challenges, causing uncertainty about which rules businesses need to follow, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“I can’t imagine how anybody could maintain under the circumstances that your appointment and your service is valid,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. “And I can’t imagine then … how the actions you are taking will be upheld, and I think that’s a very, very serious consequence for our nation.”

Republicans had blocked confirmation votes on any nominee to head the agency, whose powers the GOP lawmakers want restricted, and had prevented the Senate from formally taking a recess for more than three days, in an effort to head off a recess appointment.

Republicans asserted Obama’s appointment of Cordray was unconstitutional because it came when the Senate technically was still in session. But the president, with backing from the Justice Department, said the Senate’s pro forma sessions were meant to stop him from making recess appointments.

Senate Republicans had blocked a vote on Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, in December.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said there is “no question there’s going to be constitutional challenges” to Cordray’s appointment.

“I have been appointed as director,” Cordray said. “There may be issues about that … but I now have legal obligations I’m supposed to carry out for this bureau. I’m going to do that.”

Bonamici wins Oregon special election

SALEM, Ore., Feb. 1 (UPI) — Suzanne Bonamici won a special election in Oregon’s 1st Congressional District Tuesday night, keeping the seat in the Democratic fold, election returns showed.

The Oregon secretary of state’s Web site showed unofficial results gave Bonamici 54 percent of the vote to 39 percent for Republican businessman Rob Cornilles in the northwestern district.

The (Portland) Oregonian reported Bonamici, a former state lawmaker who becomes the only woman in the state’s seven-member congressional delegation, will have to run in a primary again in May to reach the regular general election for a full term this fall.

Her campaign expects her to be sworn into office next week, the newspaper said.

Bonamici replaces David Wu, who resigned in August after revelations he was accused of making an unwanted sexual advance to a teenage daughter of a friend.

Cornilles, who lost to Wu in 2010, did not say whether he would make another run at the office.

Dogs maul toddler in back yard

FORT WORTH, Texas, Jan. 31 (UPI) — An 18-month old Fort Worth, Texas, boy was hospitalized after he crawled through a pet door into his back yard and was mauled by four dogs, officials said.

The mixed-breed Boxers bit and chewed the ears and face of the child, the Tarrant County, Texas, Sheriff’s Department reported. They were among seven dogs in the fenced back yard of the home, owned by the boy’s grandparents.

The child was taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. His name and condition were not released.

The dogs, owned by the grandfather, were quarantined at a nearby animal shelter, and be will euthanized, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said.

A neighbor phoned 911 to report the incident and the recording of the report clearly includes screams from the boy.

The child’s parents were present and asleep in the home at the time of the attack, said Terry Grisham of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office. The mother “got between the child and the dogs, saving him from further injury,” Grisham said.

After police arrived, another neighbor confronted the child’s grandmother about the dogs. The grandmother was arrested after grabbing the neighbor by the throat, police said.

Texas mom accused of prostituting daughter

HOUSTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — “A monster” is how a Texas woman allegedly described herself after her arrest for allegedly forcing her teenage daughter into prostitution, court records show.

The girl, who was 14 at the time, accompanied her 34-year-old mother to apartments where the Pasadena woman was engaged in prostitution, a Harris County District Attorney’s Office complaint stated. Customers asked for sex with girl, whose mother would tell them was 17, the Houston Chronicle reported Monday.

The report from the District Attorney’s office mentioned the girl was engaged in prostitution for several weeks in the summer of 2011. The names of the mother and her daughter were not released.

The mother was charged with child endangerment in 2001, for leaving a son younger than 15 at home unsupervised, and was jailed for six months after probation was revoked. She also pleaded no contest to misdemeanor burglary in September and assault in October.

After the arrest for compelling prostitution of a person under 18 and human trafficking, the woman allegedly confided to a relative, “I can’t believe I did that to my daughter. I am a monster. I deserve anything I get,” the Houston Chronicle said.

Also charged in the case was a 47-year-old man the girl allegedly lived with for a time, Reynaldo Alaniz, who allegedly had sex with her, physically assaulted her and prostituted her.

Alaniz and the mother, who faces a Feb. 23 arraignment, remained jailed.

Michelle Obama: Husband sings all the time

BURBANK, Calif., Jan. 31 (UPI) — U.S. first lady Michelle Obama told Jay Leno Tuesday night her husband, the president, sings to her “all the time.”

In an appearance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” Obama said her husband favors Al Green songs — like the one he sang a snippet of at a campaign event last week (“I’m so in love with you,” the president crooned). He also likes Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder — “the classics,” she told the affable talk show host.

But, she said, his singing in public came as a surprise to her.

“That was completely spontaneous,” she said. “I didn’t even hear about it until I heard about it on YouTube.

“He does have a beautiful voice and he sings to me all the time. He doesn’t hesitate to show off his lungs to his wife.”

The first lady joked that when it comes to such antics their daughters, Sasha and Malia, find “everything we do is highly embarrassing. They just want us to be very quiet.”

Leno asked what she thought of the singing voice of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who recently led a crowd in “America, the Beautiful.”

“Beautiful,” she responded. “It is America’s song and it’s a song that’s meant to be sung by every American.”

Chief IDs suspect in attacks on police

JUAREZ, Mexico, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The police chief in Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday released the identity of a drug cartel member he said was responsible for killing police officers.

Chief Julian Leyzaola said he identified Johnny Morales Gonzalez, a member of the New Juarez Cartel, in hopes it would encourage citizens to report any information about his whereabouts.

Leyzaola said Morales Gonzalez was responsible for a series of attacks, including one Monday in which three suspects were killed and three police officers wounded, the El Paso (Texas) Times reported. Three suspects were arrested.

The chief said city officials have identified nine criminal cells that may be behind attacks against police officers, but did not elaborate. The Times said experts on drug violence believe the New Juarez Cartel is a spinoff of the Juarez Cartel, which suffered heavy losses to its leadership last year.

In the Monday attack, suspects opened fired and threw a grenade at police officers pumping gas at a gas station. The grenade did not detonate.

Juarez police officers have received orders to stay at hotels with 24-hour surveillance.

“I have no choice,” Juarez Mayor Hector Murguia said. “Due to several attacks against Juarez police officers, where some of them have died, they have been sheltered in several motels.”

Officers have been told to wear plain clothes when their shifts end and to take their weapons home.

The safety measures come in the wake of the killing of eight police officers this month and 63 since Murguia took office in October 2010.

Last-minute confession of two murders

HUNTSVILLE, Texas, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A man executed for murder in Texas last week confessed moments before his death to a separate murder in Michigan, authorities in Michigan said.

Rodrigo Hernandez died Jan. 26 by lethal injection in Huntsville (Texas) for the 1994 rape and murder of a San Antonio woman, Susan Verstegen. While he was on death row, it was determined his DNA matched evidence from the 1991 homicide of Muriel Stoepker in Michigan, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

He denied killing either woman, but spoke with a Texas Ranger assigned to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice immediately before his own death, and admitted accidentally shooting and killing Stoepker and “admitted to his involvement in the 1994 homicide of Susan Verstegen in San Antonio,” WZZM-TV, Grand Rapids, Mich., reporting, citing a news release from the Kent County (Mich.) Metropolitan Police Cold Case Team.

Although the Texas Rangers did not verify the confession, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Hernandez did speak with a Ranger before his execution.

Pakistan investigating pills in 117 deaths

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Pakistani authorities said they were awaiting results of tests of samples of a drug blamed for the deaths of 117 heart patients.

The samples of the drug Alfagril have been sent to Switzerland, Belgium and England because no lab in Pakistan was able to determine the cause of the deaths by examining the samples, The Express Tribune reported.

An interim report on the case is to be submitted to the Supreme Court Feb. 6, Punjab Advocate General Ashtar Ausaf said at a Punjab Institute of Cardiology hearing Tuesday.

Ausaf said autopsies of the victims would be necessary to determine the causes of death.

In the latest Alfagril-related deaths, three people died Tuesday at the Services Hospital and Mayo Hospital, including a 51-year-old and a 55-year old, while 400 people are being treated in hospitals in Lahore after taking the medication.

Investigations show 100,000 faulty pills have been given to heart patients in Lahore, the Express Tribune said.

Because of a manufacturing problem, the faulty pills developed brown spots and caused a bone-marrow disease.

Federal Investigation Agency sources say the three companies suspected of supplying the hazardous medications did not purchase some of the raw materials used from licensed chemical sellers.

Virginia poised to pass ultrasound bill

RICHMOND, Va., Jan. 31 (UPI) — The Virginia state Senate Monday debated a bill to require pregnant women to have an ultrasound procedure before terminating a pregnancy.

Several bills that would restrict access to abortion are proceeding through the state legislature, their chances of success improved by the gains of social conservatives in the 2011 election, giving the Republican Party effective control of the Senate, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot said.

The proposed legislation under consideration would modify Virginia’s informed consent law to require women to undergo and see the results of an ultrasound before making a choice regarding the fetus, newspaper reported.

Critics have called it a tactic to add cost, delay and inconvenience to any decision, and a ploy to persuade women to forgo abortions.

Sen. Janet Howell, a Democrat, attempted to amend the bill to require men seeking erectile dysfunction medication to undergo a rectal exam and cardiac stress test, calling it “only fair, if we’re going to subject women to unnecessary procedures and we’re going to subject doctors to having to do things they don’t think are medically necessary.”

Howell’s amendment failed Monday, leaving the bill on the verge of passing, with a vote likely Wednesday, the newspaper said.

AI: 2 dead in Senegal protests

DAKAR, Senegal, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Thousands of protesters, upset Senegal’s president is seeking a third term, clashed with police in Dakar Tuesday and activists said two people died elsewhere.

Voice of America reported protesters threw rocks, and police fired tear gas and hot water cannons police into the crowd that gathered in Dakar’s central squares to urge 85-year-old President Abdoulaye Wade to drop out of the Feb. 26 election.

Senegalese singer and opposition candidate Youssou N’Dour implored the crowd to remain peaceful, telling the demonstrators Senegal is “our nation” and not to ruin it, VOA said.

Cheikh Alasane, an academic who was among the protesters who were angered by a court ruling last Friday that allowed Wade to pursue another term, said “the time has come for each of us to confront ourselves these problems that have been given to us.”

“This is a flagrant violation of the Constitution,” he said. “When someone wants to tear this apart, people are obliged to take their courage in their hands and fight this regime which wants to put us on our knees.”

Amnesty International said in a release that two people were killed during protests in Podor. The rights group said a young male protester and an elderly female bystander were shot dead by police.

“Today’s bloodshed marks a dramatic escalation in the violence that has plagued Senegal in the run up to its elections,” said Salvatore Sagues, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher. “As further protests are planned for tomorrow, we call on the authorities to refrain from using live bullets against peaceful protesters.”

Affidavit: Mom left child in field to die

COLORADO SPRINGS, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A Colorado mother left her 3-year-old son in a field to die after burying him under 4 feet of tumbleweeds, authorities allege in court documents.

Nyesha Hall-Gonzales, 28, of El Paso County was arrested on suspicion of first-degree attempted murder and child abuse after allegedly taking the boy into a vacant field Saturday, bundling him in her coat and leaving him. The arrest affidavit states she was then spotted by Colorado State Patrol personnel wandering a highway in her nightgown, she admitted she left her son Carmelo in the field and that he is “probably deceased by now,” The (Colorado Springs) Gazette reported.

The boy was found several hours later, unharmed except for scratches on his legs.

The court documents mention the woman was involved in a divorce, and that she had informed a friend of her plans to kill herself and her son. She was held in the county jail in lieu of $50,000 bail following a Monday hearing the boy was placed in his father’s custody, KRDO-TV, Colorado Springs, reported.

Crystal Cathedral joins Catholic diocese

SANTA ANA, Calif., Jan. 31 (UPI) — The Crystal Cathedral, a Southern California landmark, will be sold to Orange County’s Catholic diocese, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled Tuesday.

The architectural treasure in Garden Grove, designed by architect Philip Johnson and built in 1981, will be sold for $57.5 million to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County within several days, The Orange County Register reported.

A last-minute attempt by the now-bankrupt Crystal Cathedral Ministries to stop the sale of the church and popular tourist site ended Monday.

Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman, daughter of founding pastor Robert H. Schuller, testified the congregation paid $99 for a 99-year lease on the property in 1987, but attorneys for the ministry were unable to locate any record of the lease.

Testimony in court centered on why the church’s congregation board was not encouraged by the ministry board to bid on the property. Board member Jim Penner said each group operated independently of each other, and added “I think I did my job as a Crystal Cathedral Consistory member poorly.”

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kwan ordered the sale to proceed. The diocese will allow the congregation to use the space for three more years.

Obama raises cash in D.C.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — While Republican presidential hopefuls waited to learn the outcome of Florida’s primary Tuesday, President Obama added to his campaign war chest in Washington.

The Democratic incumbent told about 70 supporters — who paid $35,800 per couple to attend the fundraiser in an intimate, dimly lit dining room at the St. Regis Hotel — he is proud of his administration’s record in the face of serious economic and global challenges.

Among the successes, he said, were 22 consecutive months of private sector job growth, healthcare and Wall Street reform and the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Still, he said, much more needs to be done.

“What led me to run in 2008 was a sense that there had been a fundamental shift in the social compact” that was hurting too many Americans who struggled through the recession, he said. “In addition to dealing with crises, our goal since before I came into office was ‘How do we restore that sense that any American, no matter where they’re from, no matter what they look like, that they’ve got a shot to succeed?’

“Now I think what we’re really struggling for is the kind of America that most of the people here believe in, and I believe that most Americans believe in. But we’re going to have to fight for it because the other party has a fundamentally different vision about where to take this country.

“Their basic argument is that if we strip out regulations, if we disregard environmental concerns, if we take away protections for workers, if we lower taxes even further for the kind of folks who are in this room, that somehow growth and the American dream will be restored. I fundamentally disagree with that vision.”

From the St. Regis, Obama traveled by motorcade to another big-ticket fundraiser at a private residence.

Indiana’s Burton retiring from U.S. House

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., said Tuesday he will not seek re-election this year, giving up the seat he has held since 1983.

In announcing his decision to retire, Burton, 73, said in a statement posted on his official Web site it has been “an incredible honor” to serve in both the Indiana State House and the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I want to thank all of those who have given me the great honor to serve in the legislative branch of government for all of these years,” Burton said. “To go from humble beginnings to meeting with presidents, kings, princes and some of the world’s most powerful leaders, it has been an experience that I cherish. I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the Earth!”

The chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee also thanked his colleagues, who he said, “made this an experience I will never forget.”

Muslim inmate sues for right to beard

AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 31 (UPI) — An inmate at a Texas prison is suing the state’s Department of Criminal Justice preventing him from wearing a beard in line with his Muslim faith.

Kenneth Hickman, 49, first complained in November that officials at the McConnell Unit, where he is imprisoned, have demanded he shave his facial hair, which he required to wear as a Muslim, the Austin American-Statesman reported Tuesday. A court had given Hickman permission to wear a quarter-inch beard in May, but officials still harassed him and was told “only one Muslim convict [Willie Garner] could exercise his right to wear a beard,” Hickman wrote in his suit.

The corrections department’s offender handbook requires all prisoners to be clean-shaven with the exception of Garner, who had previously filed a federal civil lawsuit seeking “declaratory and injunctive relief” to wear a beard.

The corrections department said beards could be used to hide weapons and could hinder officials’ abilities to identify prisoners.

Criminal justice experts told the newspaper it’s likely the lawsuit, which was filed in state District Court in Travis County, will be thrown out — in the past, courts have sided with the state agency.

Nine states, including Texas, currently have grooming policies without any religious exemptions.

“Change will inevitably come, but these things take decades,” Chaplain Gary Friedman, spokesman for the American Correctional Chaplains Association, said.

Hickman is serving 40 years for murder and a 1988 conviction for assault on a peace officer.

Environment Canada winter forecast way off

OTTAWA, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Environment Canada’s forecast for a colder-than-normal winter in western Canada has turned out to be way off-base so far, the agency’s top meteorologist admits.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. noted Tuesday the 2011-2012 winter has thus far been one of the mildest on record — so warm, in fact, the only people it has been tough on are those trying to maintain ice rinks and businesses, such as ski areas, that rely on a cold and snowy winter.

“Boy, never have we been more wrong in the West as this year,” Dave Phillips, chief climatologist for Environment Canada, told the news network. “I mean, you know, to have just been normal would have been a real error.

“But my gosh, when you come out of December and January to be the second-warmest on record, I mean, it really is embarrassing almost. I mean it truly, when you look at it, it’s been sort of the non-winter.”

The weather service says the average daily high ran more than 6 degrees Celsius higher than average in Winnipeg, while snowfall for the month was nearly 6 inches below normal.

Phillips said the pre-winter forecast had been based on the expectation that the La Nina weather pattern over the Pacific Ocean would hold down temperatures in western Canada, but it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, Arctic air that usually moves south has been kept north by a strong jet stream.

Girl denied transplant gets second chance

PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The Philadelphia hospital that initially denied a kidney transplant for a 3-year-old girl is now willing to consider the procedure, the girl’s parents said.

Chrissy and Joseph Rivera said they met with medical personnel at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Friday about the possibility of a transplant for their daughter Amelia, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Tuesday. The Riveras said they were not told if Amelia would be medically eligible for the transplant.

“As of now, we’re taking this as a positive sign,” Chrissy Rivera said.

Amelia, who has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, received national attention when Chrissy wrote a blog post accusing the hospital of denying the kidney transplant because of the girl’s mental disability. Chrissy said the girl’s chart initially listed mental retardation as a reason not to perform the procedure, though those words were later removed.

“If there’s a medical reason” a kidney transplant would be a bad idea, Chrissy said, “of course we’re not going to do it.”

She said Amelia’s case will be further reviewed to determine if she’s a good candidate for the procedure.

As of Monday, 37,000 people had signed a petition on change.org, asking the hospital to allow the transplant, the Inquirer reported.

Ecstasy-like drug killing Canadians

CALGARY, Alberta, Jan. 31 (UPI) — An Ecstasy-like drug known as “Death” is linked to eight deaths in southern Alberta in recent months, authorities in the Canadian province say.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Tuesday the latest known victim of the toxic amphetamine was a 38-year-old man who died Dec. 10.

The “Death” users who died in the six-month period apparently believed they were taking Ecstasy (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) but actually ingested paramethoxymethamphetamine, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Ecstasy also can prove deadly, the CBC said, and is being blamed for a death in Strathmore. There have been more than 450 Ecstasy-related emergency room admissions in Alberta since April, the network said.

The two drugs also are proving dangerous in neighboring British Columbia, where 19 people have died after ingesting either Ecstasy or “Death.”

Mediterranean Sea most deadly for refugees

GENEVA, Switzerland, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Migrants and refugees are more likely to die in the Mediterranean Sea than any other body of water in the world, a United Nations agency said Tuesday.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates more than 1,500 people drowned or vanished while attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to reach Europe in 2011, the deadliest year in the region since the agency started keeping the statistics in 2006.

“Our teams in Greece, Italy, Libya and Malta warn that the actual number of deaths at sea may be even higher,” UNHCR spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Wilkes said the estimates were based on interviews with migrants who reached Europe, communications from relatives, and reports from Libya and Tunisia from survivors whose boats either sank or were in distress.

There has been a surge of refugees trying to reach Europe since pro-democracy protests began in North Africa and the Middle East early last year.

Wilkes said her office has learned one of three boats that attempted the Mediterranean crossing this year is missing at sea.

The agency said 56,000 migrants/refugees landed in Italy last year, with 1,574 more reaching Malta and 1,000 landing in Greece. Meanwhile, an estimated 55,000 irregular migrants crossed the Greek-Turkish land border, the agency said.