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Feb. 4, 2010 at 5:00 PM

10 Americans charged in Haiti orphans case

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Haitian authorities Thursday charged 10 Americans with abducting 33 children being taken to an orphanage in neighboring Dominican Republic, officials said.

The defendants, most of them members of a Baptist church in Idaho, contend they were trying to take care of children they thought were orphans following the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. Haitian authorities, however, said at least several of the children still have at least one parent, and view the attempt to shuttle the children across the border as kidnapping.

The New York Times reported the charges of abduction and criminal association were announced after the 10 detainees were questioned during a closed-door hearing.

The Americans, who were arrested last Friday, could be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted.


Election certified, Brown heads to Senate

BOSTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Massachusetts election officials Thursday certified Republican Scott Brown's election to the U.S. Senate, clearing the way for him to be seated in Congress.

He was expected to take the oath of office administered by Vice President Joe Biden Thursday evening in Washington, The Boston Globe reported.

The independently elected Governor's Council voted 6-0 to accept the official results, which indicated Brown won last month's special election by 107,317 votes over Democrat Martha Coakley, the state's attorney general.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed the official returns and then added his name to official certificates the U.S. Senate requires showing Brown was a properly elected senator for Massachusetts.

Before signing the certification, Secretary of State William F. Galvin, addressed what he called "unfounded speculation" about a delay.

"There has been a diligent effort on behalf of all election officials to honor the rights of Massachusetts' voters," said Galvin, a Democrat.

Brown's attorneys Wednesday requested the certification process be sped up so he could be seated sooner than Feb. 11, as earlier expected, the Globe said. However, officials said Patrick and Galvin had planned to meet the required steps and Brown's new timetable.

Several Senate votes, including ones on several of President Barack Obama's nominees, are scheduled within the next few days, the Globe said.

"He has been advised that there are a number of votes scheduled prior to" Feb. 11, Daniel Winslow, a lawyer for Brown, wrote in his letter to Patrick and Galvin. "For that reason, he wants certification to occur immediately. ... As he is the duly elected United States senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, he is entitled to be seated now."

Brown likely will be assigned the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's office by the Senate Rules Committee as a matter of convenience, sources told CNN. An aide to Senate Rules Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it would be difficult to move senators around because because Brown is arriving mid-session.

Sen. Paul Kirk, D-Mass., who was appointed to fill the seat until the election, moved into Kennedy's office for the same reason


Quinn: Candidate should reconsider running

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn hinted Thursday his running mate, a Chicago pawnbroker with a domestic battery arrest, should consider possibly withdrawing.

While not saying Scott Lee Cohen should abandon the nomination he won in Tuesday's primary, Quinn said Cohen "has an obligation to step aside" if his past becomes problematic for the Democratic Party in November, The Chicago Tribune reported.

"I always appeal to others in politics based on what's good for the people," Quinn said.

Cohen, the surprise winner in the lieutenant governor race, previously revealed his 2005 arrest, the Tribune said. He described the incident Wednesday as an argument with his inebriated girlfriend, saying he didn't strike her even though she called the police and had him arrested.

The case was dropped when the woman did not attend a court hearing.


New indictment has more Blagojevich counts

CHICAGO, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- A federal grand jury in Chicago Thursday issued a new indictment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, including eight new counts.

The "superseding" or replacement indictment takes the place of the previous indictment.

Blagojevich in December 2008 was arrested on federal corruption charges that included bribery and fraud, in particular an allegation he tried to trade his power to name a U.S. Senate replacement for President-elect Barack Obama for personal gain. His trial is set for next June.

The governor was subsequently impeached and removed from office by the Illinois Legislature.

The rearranged architecture in the superseding indictment includes new counts of racketeering, attempted extortion of an unnamed congressman and bribery. Conviction on several of the 24 counts would bring penalties of up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both for each count.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald told the federal court the superseding indictment maintains all of the original charges against Blagojevich, while adding new ones.

Prosecutors said in December Blagojevich could be faced with a new indictment to avoid technical problems. Federal prosecutors said in a filing they would deal with the "honest services" fraud statute question that prompted an appeal in the new charges -- the issue of "intangible denial of honest services" fraud may be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court this term.

Some of the counts against Blagojevich would be dropped if the high court severely limited the use of the federal honest services statute.


U.S. Rep. Murtha in stable condition

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- A spokesman for U.S. Rep. John Murtha said the Pennsylvania Democrat is in stable condition after enduring gallbladder surgery complications.

Murtha spokesman Matt Mazonkey confirmed Murtha, 77, is still being held in intensive care at a hospital in Arlington, Va., as he recovers from complications from having his gallbladder removed last week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said Thursday.

An unidentified source close to the U.S. representative said during Murtha's laparoscopic surgery last Thursday, a portion of the politician's intestine was cut.

The source said the inadvertent injury caused an infection that resulted in Murtha being hospitalized at the Virginia Hospital Center Sunday.

The source told the Post-Gazette if Murtha continues to recover from the infection, the official could return to the U.S. House of Representatives in a number of weeks.

Meanwhile, Murtha's fellow Pennsylvania Democrat, U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, appeared optimistic regarding his ailing friend.

"I hear he is over the hump and it is going good," Kanjorski said.


Obama's aunt facing immigration hearing

BOSTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Kenyan national Zeituni Onyango, aunt of U.S. President Barack Obama, appeared in a Boston court Thursday in a bid to avoid deportation, her attorney says.

The Boston Globe reported Onyango's U.S. Immigration Court hearing was part of her bid to stay in the United States. She was ordered back to her native country in 2004.

Attorney Margaret Wong, who is representing Onyango, said ahead of the hearing at Boston's John F. Kennedy Federal Building, she planned on calling two doctors to support her client's bid for asylum.

Wong hinted her courtroom strategy during the closed-door hearing would be focused on her client's mental status, but offered no specifics.

The Globe said Onyango is the half-sister of Barack Obama Sr., the president's father who died in 1982. Onyango and the president met in 1988 when Obama visited Kenya.

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