Review Category : Top Stories

Object Washes Ashore; Connected to Flight 370?

(PERTH, Australia) — An unidentified object washed ashore in Australia, and investigators are trying to determine if the object is related to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

According to a press release from Australian authorities, the item washed ashore near Augusta, on the country’s southwestern coastline.

The news has been shared with Malaysia officials, who are overseeing the overall search efforts.

Authorities believe the jet landed in the Indian Ocean, but have yet to find any evidence directly connected to the doomed plane.

The 777 jetliner was carrying 239 people when it went missing March 8.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Hotel Industry Fighting Back Against Airbnb

Chris Weeks/Getty Images for Airbnb(NEW YORK) — With hotel prices soaring nearly 20 percent in the last four years, websites such as Airbnb.com that offer short-term rentals, typically at a fraction of the price of hotels, are booming.

For homeowners like Gaston and Alexas de los Reyes, it’s a way to earn a little extra money. Through Airbnb, they rent out a studio in their Philadelphia home.

“It’s very reliable and significant source of income for us,” Alexa de los Reyes said.

For travelers, it’s a way to save money. In New York City, a one-night stay in a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment runs as low as $100 through Airbnb. A hotel room in Times Square, on the other hand, could cost as much as $700 a night.

Now some lawmakers in cities like New York and San Francisco are crying foul, suggesting these types of rentals in their towns are basically “illegal hotels.”

New York’s attorney general faced off with Airbnb in court Tuesday, alleging that many of the rentals in New York City are illegal and that they cost the state tens of millions of dollars in unpaid sales taxes.

Airbnb calls the case a “government-sponsored fishing expedition” and says it is “proud to stand up for our hosts who share their homes and against this over-broad [case].”

Hotels are also joining the fight against Airbnb.

“These illegal facilities are impinging on available housing stock, lost revenue for the city and potential job losses for the tourism industry,” a spokesperson for the Hotel Association of New York told ABC News.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Ukraine Security Chief: At Least 130 Russian Officers Leading Efforts in Eastern Ukraine

Genya Savilov//AFP/Getty Images(KIEV, Ukraine) — At least 130 members of the Russian intelligence service and military are leading uprising efforts in Eastern Ukraine, the director of Ukraine’s national security service said Tuesday.

In a Google Hangout sponsored by the Atlantic Council, security official Valentyn Nalyvaichenko explained there were as many as 30 special troops or officers of Russia’s intelligence service, the GRU, working in the Slaviansk region, plus another 100 in Donetsk.

“They are not alone,” he added, saying that they recruited pro-Russian locals.

The information was provided through three GRU officers detained and questioned by Ukraine, and Nalyvaichenko says they have already identified “two main organizers” responsible for unrest in the region. A criminal investigation has been launched.

The security chief also confirmed reports that a military plane in Sloviansk was hit by gunfire. Addressing Ukraine’s response to the crisis, he explained Kiev’s best option to “calm down the situation” is to obtain more funding from the central government to provide “more support to maintain normal life” for local authorities, according to the Atlantic Council.

Nalyvaichenko also cited reliance on international civilian mediators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to help persuade pro-Russian separatists to stand down.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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American Journalist with Vice News Detained in Ukraine

iStock/Thinkstock(SLOVIANSK, Ukraine) — An American journalist has been reportedly detained by unidentified people in uniform in Eastern Ukraine.

Simon Ostrovsky, a reporter with Vice News, was captured. Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the self-proclaimed “People’s Mayor” of Sloviansk, announced the journalist’s detention, according to media reports Tuesday from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The U.S. Department of State, aware of the incident, released a statement acknowledging reports of a U.S. citizen being detained in Ukraine, but did not specify Ostrovsky.

“The Department of State takes its obligation to assist U.S. citizens abroad seriously and stands ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance,” the statement read.

Vice News tweeted Tuesday: “We are aware of @SimonOstrovsky’s situation and are working to ensure the safety and security of our friend and colleague.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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US Appoints Special Representative for Central African Republic

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — As fighting in the Central African Republic continues, the United States announced the appointment of a special representative to the area on Tuesday.

The Bureau of African Affairs reported the designation of Ambassador W. Stuart Symington as Special Representative for the Central African Republic. In his role, Symington will help shape and coordinate U.S. strategy to assist in ending violence in the region. He will also address humanitarian needs and aid in the establishment of “legitimate governance,” according to a statement from the State Department.

Ambassador Symington served as the U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda and Djibouti, as well as Deputy Chief of Mission in Niger. He is set to work with the African Union, European Union, and United Nations, among other partners, to address issues in the area.

Chaos and extreme violence have plagued the CAR following accusations of government corruption. Rebel groups have fought back in retaliation, and increasing tensions have resulted in the brutal deaths of thousands.

In an effort to combat the ongoing crisis, the United States committed up to $100 million this year to support African Union and French forces working to restore security for residents in the CAR. This is in addition to nearly $67 million in humanitarian aid and $7.5 million for conflict mitigation and human rights programs.

“Ultimately, however, the people of the CAR hold their future in their own hands,” read a statement from the State Department. “We continue to urge all parties in CAR to end the violence, establish judicial mechanisms for ensuring accountability for those suspected of perpetrating human rights abuses, and move ahead toward an inclusive political transition process leading to democratic elections in February 2015 and a better future for all Central Africans.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Bill Ackman’s Secret Deal for Herbalife Whistleblower

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Rubenstein Communications(NEW YORK) — In his year-long campaign against the embattled Herbalife company, Wall Street hedge fund manager Bill Ackman secretly promised a disgruntled former company executive as much as $3.6 million over 10 years if he lost his job after providing information to government investigators and the media.

Ackman’s firm so far has paid the whistleblower $80,000 under the arrangement, according to the former Herbalife executive’s lawyer.

“It was the right thing to do,” Ackman told ABC News.

The hedge fund run by the prominent Wall Street investor, known for his “short” positions, stands to make $1 billion if the price of Herbalife’s stock collapses as a result of his allegations the company is a fraud, a charge the company strongly denies.

The agreement between Ackman and the former executive, Giovanni Bohorquez, was signed in June 2013 but required both sides to keep it confidential.

Two months later, the New York Times published a critical article about an alleged problem in 2011 at an Herbalife manufacturing plant based on internal documents provided by a person described only as a “former employee, who was granted anonymity out of fear of retribution from the company.” The article said the former employee’s legal bills were being paid by Ackman.

Herbalife says the former employee is Bohorquez and that any alleged manufacturing problems were quickly and safely resolved.

In December, after extensive discussions with his attorney, Bohorquez agreed to be interviewed on camera by ABC News for a report about his experience inside the Herbalife executive offices.

During the on-camera interview, which Ackman’s public relations team helped to arrange and which Bohorquez’s attorney attended, Bohorquez flatly denied he was being paid anything by Ackman or receiving any benefit other than his travel expenses and lawyers’ fees and legal costs.

“I’m not getting a benefit,” he said.

Asked last week why he did not disclose the additional arrangement with Ackman during the interview, Bohorquez said his answers were truthful because he had not invoked the provisions at the time and so had not yet collected any money.

“I didn’t tell you because I was not looking at using it,” he said.

His lawyer, Stephen D. Alexander, said ABC News did not ask “the right questions” and should have assumed there was more to the indemnification arrangement for Ackman to cover legal costs than Bohorquez said.

“We described the fact that he was indemnified for litigation,” Alexander said, but added, “We never told you, I admit, about the terms of the indemnification agreement.”

Bohorquez, who left Herbalife in 2011, said he lost his new job at a chain of laundromats before the ABC News interview due to the stress of being a whistleblower. He said he began collecting the $20,000 monthly payments under his arrangement with Ackman a few weeks after the ABC News interview because his wife had also lost her job.

“This opportunity to do justice to the things that I saw came up, and Pershing Square [Ackman's hedge fund] indemnified me from what would happen if I were to lose my job,” Bohorquez said.

Ackman said he thought Bohorquez and his lawyer had disclosed the deal.

“He should disclose it, absolutely. Absolutely,” said Ackman.

But Ackman’s own public relations team also failed to reveal the secret arrangement prior to the interview.

Bohorquez’s lawyer, Alexander, finally revealed the secret arrangement to ABC News in March after a New York Times story raised questions about financial ties between Ackman and others speaking publicly against Herbalife.

Ackman said he agreed to the deal after Bohorquez balked at going public because he feared his disclosures could make it difficult for him to find work at an executive level.

“Giovanni could not afford to take the company on. We thought his story was important,” Ackman told ABC News. “Being a whistleblower is a very dangerous thing to do if you want to get a job.”

Bohorquez is one of the few insiders to ever talk critically about Herbalife.

Under the terms of the generous deal, a copy of which was provided by Ackman, Bohorquez was entitled to receive as much as $250,000 a year for 10 years if he lost his then-current job at a national chain of laundromats as a result of his “disclosures” to the media or the government.

The contract provides a five-percent raise every year, and $500,000 more if he loses out on possible public offerings from his then-employer. If he finds a new job that pays him less than $250,000 a year, Pershing will make up the difference. Taken together, the total value to Bohorquez over 10 years could be as much $3.61 million.

The deal requires Bohorquez to actively look for work and to be truthful in all of his statements about Herbalife to the media and government.

“You should judge for yourself whether Giovanni is an honest man or not,” Ackman said. “I think Giovanni will be viewed as a hero.”

Ackman acknowledges spending more than $20 million in a lobbying and media campaign against Herbalife.

“I will pursue Herbalife to the end of the earth,” he told ABC News.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Kim Jong-un’s Baby Photos Foreshadow His Future

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images(PYONGYANG, North Korea) — Kim Jong-un’s baby photos surfaced Tuesday through Korean Central Television, North Korea’s state broadcaster.

The youngest son of Kim Jong-il eventually became his father’s successor as leader of the reclusive country.

The baby photos that surfaced on Tuesday foreshadowed his future as a four-star general and eventually army supreme commander of North Korea. Kim Jong-un is estimated to have been born in 1983 or early 1984 — it is not known for sure.

In North Korea, parents sometimes adorn their children in military apparel and have them compete for badges in school.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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US Sending Troops to Countries Neighboring Russia for Exercises

U.S. Army Photo by Visual Information Specialist Markus Rauchenberger(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. is sending about 600 Army soldiers to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — all Russian neighbors — for bilateral training exercises prompted by the situation in Ukraine.

Company-sized elements of about 150 soldiers from the 173rd Airborne based in Italy will be placed in each of the countries for infantry exercises that will take place between now and the coming months. The first group of troops will arrive in Poland on Wednesday.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday that the goal is to a have “a persistent rotational presence in these exercises,” which will last about a month. The soldiers will then be rotated out with fresh troops for additional exercises that will last the rest of the year.

Kirby acknowledged that these are new exercises that have been developed with the four countries as a result of the situation in Ukraine.

“These exercises were conceived and added onto the — added onto the exercise regimen as a result of what’s going on in Ukraine,” he said.

He said the message was to the people of the four countries “that the United States takes seriously our obligations under Article 5 of the — of the NATO alliance even though these aren’t NATO exercises.”

As for a message to Russia, Kirby said the exercises send the same message: “We take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe.”

He called the exercises “a very tangible representation of our commitment to our security obligations in Europe and the messages to the people of those countries and to the alliance that we do take it seriously.”

He said the U.S. encouraged other NATO countries to do the same.

As for Russian intentions for the Baltic region, Kirby said, “You need to ask [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin what his intentions are. What I’ll tell you is that nothing we’ve seen out of Moscow, nothing we’ve seen out of Russia or their armed forces, is de-escalating the tension, is making things any more stable in Ukraine or on the continent of Europe.”

Kirby also announced that in coming days the frigate USS Taylor will replace the destroyer USS Donald Cook that has been sailing in the Black Sea for exercises with partner nations. He was hesitant to use the term replace as he noted that the U.S. does not have a continuing presence in the Black Sea.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Mt. Everest Hopeful Saw Friend Killed, Now Works for Sherpas

Esther Lee(NEW YORK) — Ed Marzec spent two years and more than $100,000 in an attempt to climb Mount Everest, only to get as close as a high altitude base camp where an avalanche killed his friend and crushed his ambition to reach the peak.

Marzec, 67, watched as a behemoth sheet of ice cracked on Friday and buried the Sherpa, his close friend, who was to lead him to the mountain’s top. At least 12 others were also killed in the avalanche, the most deadly climbing accident in Everest’s history. Three additional Sherpas are missing and presumed dead.

“We heard this crack and everyone’s head went up,” a tearful Marzec told ABC News in a phone call from the base camp in Nepal. “I saw a probably 150-foot section of ice just break loose and come straight down.”

“This huge piece of ice broke into other pieces — the sizes of buses, houses, cars — and there was nothing they could do. They couldn’t go forward, they couldn’t go back,” he said.

Four days after the avalanche, Marzec is still at base camp, determined to help the Sherpas’ families and see to it that the government begins paying them a fair wage.

On Friday, the Sherpas had left ahead of Marzec and other foreigners to set up camp, carrying tents and equipment.

One of the bodies presumably buried in the ice belongs to Ash Gurung, 28, a Sherpa and father of two who had saved Marzec’s life on an earlier trek when the retired Los Angeles attorney slipped off a trail at Yala Peak in Nepal.

“All of a sudden I see this body jumping at me. He went out of his way, grabbed me and pushed me back on the trail. It saved my life,” Marzec said. “I was so shocked by this. Even your family members — think about it, who would do that for you?”

Now Marzec is plagued by guilt.

“I think of my close friend, lying up there and I can see where he is at,” Marzec said. “I am looking from my tent and I can see the dark spot where he was buried under the ice.”

Marzec had hoped to become the oldest man to summit Everest.

“I’ve worked two years getting in shape, spent large amounts of money, but my sacrifice is nothing compared to the sacrifice of those 16 men for all of us,” he said.

Sherpas told The Guardian they have decided to abandon climbing season this year after the horrific deaths.

Marzec respects their wishes and has shifted his focus to helping the families of the fallen Sherpas.

“That’s more important than just climbing the mountain,” he said.

Sherpas are boycotting for Nepal’s government to provide more insurance money and financial aid for victims’ families.

Marzec has launched an online fund to raise cash for Gurung’s family, and another to support Sherpas who will be out of work this season.

“I’m sitting right here looking at bags in front of his tent that belong to Ash, and have all of his worldly belongings in them,” he said. “They’re taking them back to his wife and family. And it’s very difficult to deal with this and to see this.”

“Everest is a very raw place. There is no room for emotions. But this is hard for me,” Marzec added.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Limited Supply Responsible for Drop in March Home Sales

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Home sales fell in March to the lowest level since 2012 thanks to a limited supply of homes and relatively higher prices, according to the National Association of Realtors.

In a positive sign, first time home buyers made up 30 percent of home sales. This is still below historical standards, but the highest in a year.

What the housing market now needs is more home construction.

A combination of a lack of loan availability and a shortage of labor is among the reasons holding back new construction, says NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.

Yun says that a lack of migrant workers is among the reasons for the shortage. During the boom years a lot of migrant workers were on construction sites, but during the bust many of them left. And now home builders say they are having a hard time finding those same sorts of workers.

We may also want to keep in mind that March was very cold in much of the country, and that weather likely had an impact as well.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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