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News Briefs Two

14 People Charged in $100 Million National Credit Card Fraud Case

Los Angeles Times

In one of the United States' largest crackdowns on credit card fraud, federal authorities raided homes and businesses throughout Southern California early Thursday, arresting 14 people on charges they helped bilk financial institutions of as much as $100 million.

A task force of 135 Secret Service and FBI agents along with local police in Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties carted away hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gold bullion, jewelry, Las Vegas gambling chips and cash. A moving van stopped at the sites to collect big screen TVs, electronic equipment and other expensive goods.

In addition, federal authorities expect to arrest 28 more Southern Californians in the coming weeks on federal indictments and criminal complaints that have been issued but remain sealed.

Among those alleged to have taken part in the scheme is an employee for Orange County who ran up a credit card bill of $615,000 while only taking home $1,000 a month from her job, according to bankruptcy records and Secret Service affidavits.

"This bust is unprecedented anywhere in the world," said Stan Belitz, director of security for MasterCard's Southern California region. "This is the first time we've been able to convince prosecutors that this is a major problem."

James E. Bauer, special agent in charge of the Secret Service's Los Angeles district, said two separate rings operating out of Orange County's Little Saigon were shut down Thursday and they accounted for $40 million of the money that banks nationwide have lost.

"When all is said and done, probably 90 percent of the people involved in the total loss nationwide will be related to this core group," Bauer said.

The scheme, operated largely out of a storefront in Westminster, took advantage of a federal law that gives cardholders credit before their payment checks clear the banks, authorities said.

Saudi King Fahd Suffers Stroke

Los Angeles Times

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, the 73-year-old ruler of the world's richest oil-producing nation, was taken to a hospital Thursday after suffering a stroke, according to senior U.S. officials.

The king, who is also custodian of the two holiest Islamic shrines for the world's 1 billion Muslims, has long suffered weight, heart and leg problems as well as diabetes. He also underwent gall bladder surgery last year.

The status of King Fahd's health is almost certain to spark questions about succession and the kingdom's stability. The next two in line for the Saudi throne - Crown Prince Abdullah and Prince Sultan - are both also in their 70s.

Saudi insiders have told U.S. envoys that the king, one of the world's last absolute monarchs, is expected to recover from the stroke and that he has not suffered permanent impairment - a report so far not independently confirmed.

A senior U.S. official noted: "It's tough to make a full comeback from a serious stroke, especially in light of his health record."

Speculation about the king's health has regularly circulated in international oil circles. His condition is especially important, however, after a bomb blast at U.S. headquarters for a Saudi National Guard training program 17 days ago shattered the kingdom's image of tranquillity and order that made it a stark contrast to the endemic violence elsewhere in the region.

The Riyadh bombing, which U.S. officials now suspect was the work of new underground dissidents, killed seven, including five Americans, and injured some 60.

Senate Panel Examines Inconsistent Accounts on Foster

The Washington Post

The former personal lawyer for President and Hillary Rodham Clinton has provided an account of the handling of documents taken from Vincent Foster's office that appears to conflict with a sworn statement given by the first lady's chief of staff, Margaret Williams.

The account contained in a letter released Thursday prompted an immediate decision by the Senate Whitewater committee to interview the lawyer, Robert Barnett, and to recall Williams next week for her third round of testimony before the panel.

Republicans on the committee also said they will recall the Clintons' friend Susan Thomases for a third interview, and they sent a written request for information to Hillary Clinton, asking about a 10-minute phone call she made in the hours after the July 20, 1993, suicide of Foster, who was deputy White House counsel.

The committee acted after receiving new information from the White House, including a letter from the Clintons' lawyer, David Kendall, Barnett's partner at the firm Williams & Connolly.

In the letter, Kendall described Barnett's recollections about the afternoon of July 27, 1993, when he took custody of some 24 files found in Foster's White House office that concerned personal matters of the Clintons.

The Kendall letter said Williams was with Barnett when he reviewed the files. It said Barnett does not recall seeing Thomases or Hillary Clinton that day.

Williams, however, told the committee in a deposition this summer that she bumped into Barnett that day and opened a locked closet for him where the box of files was stored, but that he otherwise spent his time in a meeting with Hillary Clinton. She did not say she had been with Barnett when he reviewed the files, or even that he did so while at the residence.

"Mr. Barnett conducted a cursory review of the files in the box to determine their nature," said a statement from Williams & Connolly yesterday. "He returned to the box all materials that he reviewed and taped it up."

The White House said Hillary Clinton never examined the contents of the box and does not recall meeting with Barnett on July 27.