Review Category : Top Stories

Calif. Hotel World’s First to Crowdfund

Courtesy Cary Brazeman(PALM SPRINGS, Calif.) — Turns out crowdfunding can be used for way more than the creation of a hands-free cookie dunker.

For the first time, a hotel is using crowdfunding to make guests partial owners and, in the process, expedite improvements the property wants to make. Since announcing the crowdfunding platform on Wednesday, the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs has received hundreds of thousands of dollars — much of which will be used to add a nightclub and update the pool area.

The minimum investment is $10,000. But whether a person invests at the rate, or ten times that amount, the VIP benefits of being a partial owner are the same. Hotel investors will have free use of the hotel owner poolside cabana, 25-percent discounts off the best available room rates, free room upgrades and priority and prime seating at the hotel restaurant.

Hotel crowdfunding, said Andy Carpiac, the hotel’s majority owner, is a “winning formula.”

Sophisticated investors are looking for a home away from home, he said. “They come and visit and spend money and the more they visit, the more their investment appreciates. It attracts the exact kind of customers we want.”

He called the crowdfunding concept “cutting edge” and said that’s why it’s the perfect fit for his hotel.

“We’re a destination hotel, an entertainment destination,” he said.

The crowdfunding for the hotel is being handled by Realty Mogul, a real estate crowdfunding company. Jay Samit, executive chairman, said it’s a way for people to pool investments and diversify, plus get access to something that was previously reserved for the “big boys.”

“It’s going to fundamentally change the hospitality industry,” he said. “The [hospitality] business is perfectly suited to [crowdfunding]. “You go to Palm Springs, go to ‘your’ hotel, and you’re spending money that’s going back into your own pocket.”

Samit predicts this is the next trend in hospitality. Since making the announcement on Wednesday, Realty Mogul’s been “flooded” with inbound calls, from “the biggest chains you can think of” to “famous boutique hotels.” He’s fielding calls from hotels in Las Vegas, New York and Los Angeles. He said he imagines this working especially well for a place with a loyal following and repeat visitors, like a hotel in a college football town that people tend to visit repeatedly anyway.

“It’s another way to diversify and make money from your desktop.” And from your travel.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Lowe’s Settles EPA Lead Paint Violations by Its Contractors

Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Home improvement giant Lowe’s Companies Inc. has agreed to pay $500,000 after federal investigators found its home renovation contractors in nine states had violated safety standards for lead paint. The retail chain was also unable to provide documentation proving some contractors employed by the company were certified to work with the toxic substance, the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department said Thursday.

The investigation by the EPA stemmed from tips and complaints from homeowners who had used Lowe’s renovation contractors. In reviews of company records the government found contractors had not used EPA-approved lead-test kits on projects, or lacked proper training to work with the hazardous element known to cause developmental problems in children and kidney and cardiovascular illness in adults.

The EPA also found contractors had failed to properly clean and contain work areas in three homes, although the agency emphasized they had not found any direct cases of bodily harm in the course of their investigation. The punishment sought against Lowe’s was more cautionary, they said. Officials also stated the violations were not company-wide, but isolated to certain brick-and-mortar stores discovered in their investigation.

“This is not to send an alarm signal that people who have had work repairs done should be alarmed about this,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert Dreher said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

EPA Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles said it sent a clear message to companies to comply with the toxic materials standard.

“Lowe’s is taking responsibility for the actions of the firms it hires, and EPA expects other contractors to do the same,” she said.

The officials pointed homeowners to the EPA website for fact sheets on protective measures and red flags to watch out for when working with lead-based materials.

Lowe’s says they have always sought to comply with the EPA’s Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule standards since they were enacted in 2008, and have “resolved all issues alleged by the EPA.”

“Lowe’s hires thousands of independent, third-party contractors and the EPA identified only a few who failed to meet certain record keeping or work practice requirements regarding lead-based paint,” a Lowe’s spokesperson told ABC News. “There have never been any reports of lead-based paint health issues associated with any projects completed by Lowe’s contractors.”

Lowe’s declined to provide an estimate on the total number of homes that may have had renovations performed by the violating contractors, or whether the company had sought disciplinary action against them.

The EPA discovered the infractions through review of Lowe’s stores in Alton, Ill.; Kent and Trotwood, Ohio; Bedford, N.H.; Southington, Conn.; South Burlington, Vt.; Rochester, N.Y.; Savannah and Lebanon, Tenn.; Boise, Idaho Falls and Nampa, Idaho; and Muldoon, Alaska.

Thursday’s settlement also mandates the home improvement chain create a new compliance and training program at its more than 1,700 stores in the U.S.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Lowe’s Settles EPA Lead Paint Violations by Its Contractors

Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Home improvement giant Lowe’s Companies Inc. has agreed to pay $500,000 after federal investigators found its home renovation contractors in nine states had violated safety standards for lead paint. The retail chain was also unable to provide documentation proving some contractors employed by the company were certified to work with the toxic substance, the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department said Thursday.

The investigation by the EPA stemmed from tips and complaints from homeowners who had used Lowe’s renovation contractors. In reviews of company records the government found contractors had not used EPA-approved lead-test kits on projects, or lacked proper training to work with the hazardous element known to cause developmental problems in children and kidney and cardiovascular illness in adults.

The EPA also found contractors had failed to properly clean and contain work areas in three homes, although the agency emphasized they had not found any direct cases of bodily harm in the course of their investigation. The punishment sought against Lowe’s was more cautionary, they said. Officials also stated the violations were not company-wide, but isolated to certain brick-and-mortar stores discovered in their investigation.

“This is not to send an alarm signal that people who have had work repairs done should be alarmed about this,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert Dreher said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

EPA Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles said it sent a clear message to companies to comply with the toxic materials standard.

“Lowe’s is taking responsibility for the actions of the firms it hires, and EPA expects other contractors to do the same,” she said.

The officials pointed homeowners to the EPA website for fact sheets on protective measures and red flags to watch out for when working with lead-based materials.

Lowe’s says they have always sought to comply with the EPA’s Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule standards since they were enacted in 2008, and have “resolved all issues alleged by the EPA.”

“Lowe’s hires thousands of independent, third-party contractors and the EPA identified only a few who failed to meet certain record keeping or work practice requirements regarding lead-based paint,” a Lowe’s spokesperson told ABC News. “There have never been any reports of lead-based paint health issues associated with any projects completed by Lowe’s contractors.”

Lowe’s declined to provide an estimate on the total number of homes that may have had renovations performed by the violating contractors, or whether the company had sought disciplinary action against them.

The EPA discovered the infractions through review of Lowe’s stores in Alton, Ill.; Kent and Trotwood, Ohio; Bedford, N.H.; Southington, Conn.; South Burlington, Vt.; Rochester, N.Y.; Savannah and Lebanon, Tenn.; Boise, Idaho Falls and Nampa, Idaho; and Muldoon, Alaska.

Thursday’s settlement also mandates the home improvement chain create a new compliance and training program at its more than 1,700 stores in the U.S.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Stocks End Mixed Ahead of the Holiday Weekend

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Wall Street stocks rolled to a mixed finish to end the short week before a holiday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 16 points at 16,408.54. The Nasdaq Composite finished up 9 points at 4,095.52. The S&P 500 ended the session up nearly 3 points at 1,864.85.

Google, IBM and insurer UnitedHealth were among the biggest losers Thursday, while General Electric and Morgan Stanley were among the session’s winners.

The markets will be closed for Good Friday.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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NATO Commander Offers Evidence of Russian Troops in Ukraine

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) — Professional gun handling, well-trained maneuvers, and military-spec arms are among the reasons NATO’s top commander says the uprisings in eastern Ukraine are clearly “being carried out at the direction of Russia.”

In a blog post entitled “Who are the men behind the masks?” the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Gen. Philip Breedlove, offered the most detailed Western evidence to date that, despite Russia’s claims that the unrest there is an organic, local movement, it was instead the work of Russian troops posing as locals that orchestrated the apparently coordinated takeover of government buildings in eastern Ukraine that has plunged the fragile country into chaos.

“The pro-Russian ‘activists’ in eastern Ukraine exhibit tell-tale military training and equipment and work together in a way that is consistent with troops who are part of a long-standing unit, not spontaneously stood up from a local militia,” Breedlove wrote.

He specifically cited how the forces handled their weapons, used tear gas and stun grenades, and even how they man checkpoints as evidence that the troops are well-trained, not a civilian mob.

“The way these forces target government buildings, hit them in coordinated strikes and quickly secure the surrounding area with roadblocks and barricades is similar to what we’ve seen in Crimea. Again, indicative of a professional military force, acting under direction and leadership, not a spontaneous militia,” Breedlove wrote.

His comments confirmed what U.S. officials have privately told ABC News, that a well-oiled team of elite troops appeared to storm the building ahead of the local mob. That team did the heavy lifting, seizing the buildings before melting back into the population and leaving the buildings in control of the pro-Russian crowd.

It’s a textbook example, the officials said, of the military art of deception that Russia calls “maskirovka,” or masking their appearance to blend in with local forces. The Russians have historically been very good at it and are proud of their capabilities. Last year, Russian state-run television news aired a story about the elite teams that train for exactly this kind of cloaked missions abroad.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday again vigorously denied Western claims that Russian forces were operating in eastern Ukraine. But he also finally confirmed what had long been suspected and that he had repeatedly denied: that the well-armed forces with no insignia on their uniforms that took control of Crimea last month were in fact Russian troops.

Breedlove suggested that was reason to doubt Putin’s denials about Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine.

In recent days U.S. officials have also circulated unconfirmed photos of forces in Ukraine that appear to show them armed with Russian military-issue weapons. ABC News reporters in Ukraine also spotted similar equipment on the separatist fighters, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers that appeared to be brand new.

Breedlove also cited this as evidence of Russian meddling.

“The weapons and equipment they carry are primarily Russian army issue. This is not the kind of equipment that civilians would be likely to be able to get their hands on in large numbers,” he wrote on his blog.

Members of the militias have insisted to journalists for days that they are locals and are now instructed or bankrolled by the Kremlin. Many, they say, are former riot police or army veterans.

Still, U.S. officials point to leaked calls, like one released this week by Ukraine’s security services, known as the SBU, that claims to show evidence of Russia guiding the separatists. The SBU also claimed to have captured several Russians it alleges are agents sent to foment unrest in Ukraine. Those claims have been impossible to verify.

“Any one of the points above taken alone would not be enough to come to a conclusion on this issue, but taken in the aggregate, the story is clear,” Breedlove wrote on his blog.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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‘Deeply Ashamed’ Ferry Captain Among First to Abandon Ship

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) — The captain of a ferry that sank off the coast of South Korea Wednesday, leaving nearly 300 people missing, is under investigation as a possible criminal, and was one of the first people to escape the doomed vessel, Coast Guard officials said.

Lee Joon-seok, 69, left the ferry on a lifeboat 32 minutes after reporting an accident, officials said.

The captain appeared on Korean television Thursday, his face covered by a gray hoodie.

“I am really sorry and deeply ashamed,” he said, as he was being questioned at the Mokpo Coast Guard Office.

It’s unclear which of his actions could be considered criminal.

About 270 people remain missing, with 25 fatalities confirmed and the death toll expected to rise. Hundreds of Navy and Coast Guard divers are battling murky conditions Thursday, searching for survivors. But as the hours pass, relatives of the missing passengers are losing hope.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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San Francisco Creamery Offering $3.3K Sundae for the ‘One Percent’

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) — Get out your checkbooks: a San Francisco creamery is offering an ice cream sundae that costs $3,333.33.

Yes, you read that right. Three Twins Ice Cream coined the treat, which is just three scoops of organic ice cream with an organic banana topped with three syrups made from extremely rare dessert wines, the “World’s Most Expensive.”

“The World’s Most Expensive Ice Cream Sundae was originally created as something fun for people to read while waiting in line,” Three Twins founder Neal Gottlieb said. “I really hate the ‘most expensive …’ when most of the expense is for the serving dish, like the most expensive cocktail that comes in a crystal chalice. We serve the most expensive sundae, but the food cost is one-third of the price.”

Another third is donated to a local land trust, and we have to assume the last one-third goes to Three Twins.

In addition to ice cream, banana and syrups — which are made from a 1960s vintage Port, a Chateau D’Yquem and a German Trockenbeerenauslese, by the way — customers can eat the ice cream with a spoon from the 1850s and listen to a private cellist play anything they want while they eat.

“Be sure to wear your ‘I’m part of the 1 percent’ card on your chest when you order it,” Gottlieb said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Weak Barbie Sales Lead to First Quarter Loss for Mattel

David McNew/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — The corporate earnings season is still young, but the latest reports are already revealing some striking trends. Troubles in toyland are among them.

Mattel’s report reveals that weak Barbie sales are one reason for its unexpected first-quarter loss. Toymakers are facing problems globally, largely because of fierce competition from tablets and other electronic gadgets.

Mattel, the largest U.S. toymaker, says it lost $11.2 million in the first quarter of this year. Sales dropped 5 percent.

Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels cars and Disney Princess dolls are among the best known of hundreds of Mattel toy brands.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Security Scare for Prince William and Duchess Kate

Pool/Samir Hussein/WireImage(KATOOMBA, Australia) — The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge‘s otherwise picture-perfect tour Down Under was marred Thursday by two men who were detained for allegedly acting aggressively as the royals paid a visit to the Blue Mountains in Australia.

The two men, ages 21 and 37, were stopped and searched by police after they were allegedly harassing fellow royal-gawkers in the village of Winmalee as they awaited William and Kate’s arrival, according to Australian newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

The men were later released and not charged but moved from the area where William and Kate’s motorcade was set to arrive, the Daily Telegraph reports.

William, 31, and Kate, 32, arrived to the Blue Mountains range by helicopter Thursday, which is day two of their visit to Australia. The range, west of Sydney, is one of the country’s most scenic sites and was nearly destroyed by bushfires a few months ago.

The royal couple met with first-responders and fire survivors, planted a tree and did their own bit of sightseeing, which included William’s giving his wife, and all those watching, a scare.

The prince, a former Royal Air Force helicopter pilot, peered dangerously over the edge of a steep cliff as the couple stood atop the mountains’ Narrow Neck Lookout.

“He took a bit of a lunge and a few people held their breath, gasped and readied their hands to grab him,” Damien Cooper, manager of the Blue Mountains Youth Service, told the Daily Telegraph. “He was fine, of course. He knew what he was doing. I think his military background prepared him well for it.”

Not on hand for his dad’s perilous glimpse over the cliff was the couple’s son, 8-month-old Prince George.

The young prince, who has been a star of the family’s first official overseas trip together, may make an appearance this weekend at the Sydney Zoo.

His mother, Kate, however, reportedly told one young girl Thursday that Prince George is very cute but very loud and likely to scare the animals at the zoo.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Putin ‘Hopes’ He Won’t Have to Send Troops into Eastern Ukraine

ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images(MOSCOW) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he hopes Russia will not have to use force in eastern Ukraine.

Speaking during a marathon question and answer show on live television, Putin reminded viewers that Russia’s upper house of parliament had authorized the use of force in Ukraine.

“I very much hope I will not have to use this right,” he said.

Putin denied Western claims that Russian troops are already operating inside Ukraine and that the unrest there has been orchestrated by the Kremlin. He warned that if the situation continues, Russia will not recognize the results of next month’s Ukrainian presidential election.

Putin slammed the new government in Kiev for sending troops to quell the unrest in the east. He blamed them for failing to engage the Russian-speaking population there to calm concerns that the new pro-Western government was not out to get them.

“They are sending tanks, armored personnel carriers and cannons there. Who are they sending these tanks against? Are they out of their minds?” he said.

After the show, journalists asked Putin what might cause Russia to send troops into Ukraine. He declined to say, explaining that it might affect the situation on the ground, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

For the first time, however, Putin acknowledged that the heavily armed troops with no insignia on their uniforms who suddenly appeared on the streets of Crimea ahead of last month’s referendum to join Russia were Russian troops. Those troops, he said, were necessary to prevent exactly the type of chaos that is taking place in eastern Ukraine now.

Western and Ukrainian authorities say Russia fabricated reports of threats to Russian speakers in the region in Crimea to scare the population into voting to leave Ukraine. Putin, however, said Thursday that those threats were “real and palpable.”

He insisted Russia’s annexation of Crimea was not planned in advance, but was rather a response to the overwhelming results of the referendum.

“It was highly important for me to see the results of this expression of the people’s will,” he said.

He appeared to dismiss former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who until he was ousted in February, was a Kremlin ally. But said Yanukovich told him that while he thought about ordering the use of force against the protesters who forced him from office, he could not bring himself to do it.

The wide-ranging call-in show lasted nearly four hours as Putin fielded questions from a studio audience of prominent Russians, questions that had been submitted in advance, and questions from Russians appearing live from select cities. In a change from previous years, most of the questions were about Ukraine and Russia’s standing in the world, though some villagers across this vast country inquired about the rising costs of bread and compensation for natural disasters.

A 6-year-old girl wrote in to ask Putin if he thought President Obama would save him if he were drowning. Putin replied that, while he did not have a close relationship with Obama, he considered him a good man and thought that Obama would save him.

Asked if he had plans to annex Alaska next, Putin asked rhetorically “What would you need Alaska for?” Russia, he said, already has enough cold territory.

Earlier in the show, Putin said the U.S.-Russian relationship lacks trust. He blamed the United States, claiming it employs a double standard by intervening in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan while criticizing Russia for, in his words, protecting its own interests.

The head of Russia’s new state-owned media company Russia Today, a man dubbed the Kremlin’s new propaganda chief, told Putin he felt suffocated by NATO expansion into eastern Europe and asked where the red line will be drawn.

Putin said there is no need to be afraid, but said that geopolitics could force Russia to act. He insisted NATO’s plans for a missile defense shield in eastern Europe, which the United States says is aimed at defending against Iran, was instead aimed at Russia. He warned the system’s deployment could spark an arms race.

He seemed to confirm suspicions that his takeover of Crimea was due in part to fears that Ukraine could become part of NATO and would limit Russia’s influence in the Black Sea, where it has a substantial naval presence.

“If NATO troops go there and deploy their assault weapons, then it will have a geopolitical significance for us and Russia will be practically forced out from the Black Sea region,” he said.

The Russian leader brushed aside suggestions that Europe might soon wean itself off its dependence on Russian gas, suggesting it would harm their economies and devalue the U.S. dollar. He warned Ukraine that, unless it repays the billions of dollars it owes for past gas deliveries within a month, Russia will begin demanding payment up front and only ship what has been paid for in advance. That may be an enormous challenge for the fledgling government in Kiev, which is struggling to pay its bills and is begging the international community for a bailout.

In a surprise move, NSA leaker Edward Snowden also submitted a question via video, asking Putin whether Russia employed mass surveillance systems similar to ones used by the U.S. National Security Agency.

The ex-KGB agent (who earlier in the show said that job taught him to be “absolutely loyal”) began his response by telling Snowden he was speaking as one spy to another. Putin denied Russia had a mass surveillance program and said any electronic surveillance was used only for law enforcement purposes. Experts on Russian surveillance, however, said Putin was vastly understating the scope of Russia’s surveillance program.

Snowden has been hiding at an undisclosed location in Russia after receiving asylum last year while on the run after leaking classified information about American spying.

Asked when Russia might have a new first lady, the newly divorced Putin responded wryly that he’ll have to help his ex-wife get re-married first.

The marathon call-in show has become a regular feature in the nearly decade and a half since Putin first became president.

Asked if he planned to remain president for life, Putin briskly responded “No” and moved on.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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