Alleged Marriage Scam Operator Arrested

SACRAMENTO, Aug. 2 (UPI) — Federal officials arrested a man in Sacramento who is allegedly the mastermind behind a bogus marriage scheme, authorities say.

Sergey Potepalov was arrested last week on immigration fraud charges, The Sacramento Bee reported Monday.

Potepalov allegedly received tens of thousands of dollars from Russian and eastern European nationals for setting up marriages to American nationals and making them candidates for citizenship in the United States. Potepalov has arranged 39 sham weddings, investigators say.

Some of the immigrants who sought Potepalov’s service “were successful in obtaining residency in the United States and some were not,” says U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner. “For those who did, subsequent proceedings by CIS [Citizenship and Immigration Services, a branch of Homeland Security] may result in the revocation of their status.”

The arrest of Potepalov and 13 others named as co-conspirators followed a 5-year-long investigation by the Department of Homeland Security, and a crackdown on marriage fraud across the country.

While the U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento was getting ready to go public with the Potepalov case, two men in Idaho were sentenced in a fraud wedding case and three members of an Orange County family were charged with assisting in sham marriages in April.

Missing Prosecutor Declared Dead

BELLEFONTE, Pa., Aug. 2 (UPI) — A Pennsylvania district attorney who vanished six years ago has been declared legally dead.

The ruling last week on Ray Gricar allows the missing man’s daughter to settle his estate but does not end speculation about what happened in April 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday. Gricar, who was 59 at the time, was planning his retirement after 20 years as the elected district attorney in Centre County, a rural region that is home to Penn State.

A few hours after Centre County District Judge David Crine issued his ruling July 25, online speculation began about a man arrested for trespassing in Utah who had refused to identify himself. He has since been determined not to be Gricar.

Gricar told his girlfriend, who shared his home in Bellefonte, he was on a trip in search of antiques in Lewisburg, 50 miles away. His car turned up in a Lewisburg parking lot and his laptop computer was found in the Susquehanna River.

Investigators are split between suicide, homicide and a voluntary disappearance. One defense lawyer suggested to the Inquirer that Gricar is in the federal witness protection program.

Amos Goodall, who represents Gricar’s only child, Lara, believes the district attorney is dead.

“I can’t believe that he would have spent the last six years causing his family to be in the real purgatory that they have been in,” he said. “If he were alive, he would’ve contacted his family.”

Mounties Hunt Suspect In Brutal Assault

PENTICTON, British Columbia, Aug. 2 (UPI) — Mounties in British Columbia are working with police forces nationwide on a manhunt for a man suspected of a brutal assault, officials say.

David Wesley Bobbitt, 35, is charged with the attempted murder of a 22-year-old woman who was found Sunday morning, tied up and savagely beaten inside of Bobbitt’s second-hand store, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported. The woman’s 2-year-old child was discovered nearby, unharmed.

Police say the woman entered the Penticton, British Columbia, store sometime Saturday morning and was forced into confinement until she was discovered at 3 a.m. Sunday. Bobbitt had fled the scene.

British Columbia mounted police were working with police agencies across Canada in case Bobbitt attempts to leave British Columbia.

“With national attention on this case, given its brutality, it’s going to be pretty difficult for Mr. David Wesley Bobbitt to move anywhere, and certainly we’re making every effort to locate this man,” said Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cpl. Dan Moskaluk.

Police said they were interested in talking to anyone who may have been in Bobbitt’s store, Dave’s Second Hand Store, Saturday.

“We might even have had customers that may have been into the store prior to this woman entering, so we’re looking at establishing a timeline as to what exactly occurred on Saturday,” Moskaluk said.

The woman was hospitalized with serious injuries but was expected to recover, the report said.

Ford Issuing Major Recall

DEARBORN, Mich., Aug. 1 (UPI) — Ford Motor Co. is recalling more than 1 million pickup trucks because a fire hazard related to corrosion, the automaker said Monday.

Road salt in colder climates causes corrosion on straps that hold the fuel tank in place, which can potentially lead to a fire should the tank slip and leak, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Ford said the problem has caused one injury and three fires so far.

The recall will affect 1.22 million truck owners across 21 colder-climate states, Washington, D.C., and Canada.

The company said it will be notifying owners of 1997-2003 Ford F-150, the 2004 F-150 Heritage, the 1997-1999 F-250 and the 2002-2003 Lincoln Blackwood of the recall in mid-September and will be repairing the trucks for free.

This is the second major recall Ford has made this year. The first came in April, when Ford recalled 1.2 million F-150 pickups because airbags could deploy without impact.

Woman Falls, Dies In Yosemite

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif., Aug. 1 (UPI) — A hiker from San Ramon, Calif., fell hundreds of feet to her death while descending Yosemite’s Half Dome, officials say.

The emergency communications center at the park received a 911 call about noon PDT Sunday, informing them a climber slipped from the cables leading up to Half Dome, San Ramon Express News reported.

When National Park Rangers arrived on the scene, they found Hayley LaFlamme, 26, dead.

Yosemite Park Ranger Kari Cobb said it appeared LaFlamme fell while climbing down a 400-foot cable system that allows hikers to reach the top of Half Dome, a nearly 5,000-foot summit, without using personal rock-climbing gear. She then fell off a cliff, landing about 600 feet below.

Rangers were still investigating the fall, but noted there had been a severe thunderstorm earlier in the day, the newspaper said.

Wet weather can make trails in the park quite dangerous, particularly the granite slope along the cable route, Cobb said, adding there are numerous signs alerting visitors to this issue throughout the park and on the permit required for hikers to access Half Dome, which LaFlamme had.

LaFlamme is the 14th person to die within the park this year, nearly triple the average in recent years, KABC-TV, Los Angeles, reported.

China Defense Ministry Web Site Opens

BEIJING, Aug. 1 (UPI) — China’s Ministry of National Defense has begun operating its official Web site, saying it will help modernize China’s armed forces and promote transparency.

The start-up of the site www.mod.gov.cn was part of the 84th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

A ministry statement said the Web site, authorized by the powerful Central Military Commission, is “a significant step in promoting transparency” and “an important move in the modernization of China’s national defense and armed forces” and will carry features, up-to-date defense information, including defense expenditures, national defense white papers and transcriptions of new conferences.

A month ago, Chinese President Hu Jintao, who also chairs the military commission, had proposed implementing a “major strategic thinking” model of military development, urging priority be given “to accelerating the development of methods through which troops’ combat effectiveness is raised.”

The PLA Daily newspaper, in an editorial Monday, urged officers and soldiers to enhance risk awareness, noting international military competition has become increasingly fierce and modern wars are swiftly evolving.

China already has confirmed launching an aircraft carrier program which includes refitting a carrier originally built by the former Soviet Union.

Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, in his remarks about modernizing the military forces, said the army will continue to oppose and deter secessionist activities for “Taiwan independence,” and make due contributions to the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.

22 Debt Bill Protesters Arrested

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1 (UPI) — U.S. Capitol Police arrested 22 protesters Monday for disrupting the House of Representatives’ debt-ceiling debate.

Police spokeswoman Kimberly Schneider said the noisy protesters in the visitors’ gallery were taken into custody about 3:20 p.m. EDT and cited with “disruption of Congress,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

The protesters expressed disapproval of corporate tax breaks that were not eliminated in the compromise deal worked out by congressional leaders and President Barack Obama, the newspaper said.

The House later passed the deficit-cutting and debt ceiling-raising measure. The Senate is to take it up Tuesday.

Nicotine Protects Against Parkinson’s

PARIS, Aug. 1 (UPI) — Nicotine protects the brain from Parkinson’s disease, researchers in Paris found.

Study co-author Patrick P. Michel of the Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Epiniere, Hopital de la Salpetriere, in Paris, says to make this discovery, scientists used mice genetically engineered without a specific nicotine receptor — the alpha-7 subtype — and mice with a functional receptor.

Using tissue from mouse embryos, the researchers prepared brain cultures using conditions that favor the slowly progressing loss of dopamine neurons — a hallmark of the disease.

The scientists found nicotine had the potential to rescue dopamine neurons in cultures from normal mice, but not in cultures from mice without the nicotine receptor.

“This study raises the hope for a possible neuroprotective treatment of patients at an early step of the disease or even before at a stage where the disease has not been diagnosed according to motor criteria,” Michel says in a statement.

The findings suggest it may be feasible to develop novel therapies for Parkinson’s disease that target nicotine receptors.

“If you’re a smoker, don’t get too excited,” Dr. Gerald Weissmann, editor in chief of The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, advises. “Even if smoking protects you from Parkinson’s, you might not live long enough to develop the disease because smoking greatly increases the risk for deadly cancers and cardiovascular diseases. But now, we should be able find non-toxic ways to hit the same target.”

The findings are published in The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal.

Doctors Warn Of Hot Dogs Via Billboard

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1 (UPI) — A U.S. physicians’ group sponsored a billboard near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway warning NASCAR Sprint Cup fans “Hot dogs can wreck your health.”

The billboard shows an image of hot dogs sticking out of a cigarette pack with the skull and crossbones and “Warning: Hot dogs can wreck your health.” It directs race fans to www.CancerProject.org.

The billboard is sponsored by the Cancer Project of the non-profit group the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

“A hot dog a day could send you to an early grave,” Susan Levin, nutrition education director of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says in a statement.

“Processed meats like hot dogs can increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease and various types of cancer. Like cigarettes, hot dogs should come with a warning label that helps racing fans and other consumers understand the health risk.”

At the Indianapolis 500 races, concession stands at the speedway, last year, served more than 1.1 million hot dogs, Levin says.

The American Institute for Cancer Research reports one 50-gram serving of processed meat — about one hot dog — consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer, on average, by 21 percent.

Fire Destroys Campaign HQ In Wis.

LA CROSSE, Wis., Aug. 1 (UPI) — Fire officials in La Crosse, Wis., said they were investigating a fire that destroyed six apartments, a warehouse and a political advocacy group headquarters.

The fire Saturday destroyed the La Crosse offices of We Are Wisconsin 10 days before a Wisconsin state Senate recall election, the La Crosse Tribune reported Monday.

Kelly Steele, a spokeswoman for We Are Wisconsin, said the liberal advocacy group’s offices were destroyed. She told the newspaper it was too soon to know whether the fire will have an effect on the Aug. 9 recall election in which Democratic state Rep. Jennifer Shilling is challenging Republican state Sen. Dan Kapanke.

Shilling’s campaign staff had to evacuate its headquarters, which is adjacent to the building that burned. The campaign said it expects workers will be able to return to the office “very soon,” the Tribune reported.

Capt. John Helfrich, a La Crosse Fire Department inspector, said it will be days before investigators can determine a cause, the newspaper said.

Residents of the apartments escaped unharmed, said Dave Vaslow, who manages the building.