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News Brieds II

Dozens Arrested in Crime Bust

Los Angeles Times

A major international crime ring that traded heroin, stolen cars and computer chips was broken Thursday with the arrest of 24 alleged group members in the Los Angeles, Sacramento, Calif., San Francisco, New York and Washington areas, according to Justice Department and FBI officials.

An 18-month federal probe linked those arrested to armed robberies of high-tech firms across the country, heroin trafficking and the shipment of stolen cars from the United States to China.

"What we're dealing with is a sophisticated, mobile organization that had the capacity to go interstate" to commit crimes, said Michael J. Yamaguchi, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California.

FBI, Sheriff's and Justice Department agents found firearms and computer chips, believed to be stolen, at the various houses.

The alleged leaders of the cross-country network are three Sacramento, Calif., area residents, John That Luong, Huy Chi Luong and Mady Chen; and Bing Yi Chen of New York.

In total, 24 men and women were charged in the federal indictment, and three have been charged by federal complaint.

Scientists Say Artificial Flooding of Grand Canyon a Big Success

Los Angeles Times

Like a giant mixmaster, the artificial flood unleashed in the Grand Canyon last month did what it was designed to do, according to experts, churning up tons of sediment, restoring estuaries and enlarging beaches and wildlife habitat.

"The success exceeds the most optimistic hopes of the scientists," said U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who triggered the week-long gusher that totaled 360,000 acre feet of rushing water - about the amount that the city of Los Angeles consumes in seven months.

Joined by environmental scientists from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who were in charge of the flood, Babbitt made his remarks during a Washington, D.C., news conference Thursday.

Canyon beaches and sand bars grew by about 30 percent, say scientists who observed the flood from different vantage points along the 290 mile stretch of the Colorado River that flows through the Grand Canyon from Glen Canyon Dam to Lake Mead.

While the river rose by more than 13 feet, capsizing some of the rafters who rode the flood tide, scientists said they found little damage to any of the endangered birds, fish or snails that dwell in the canyon.

Initially opposed by hydropower interests, which saw it as a waste of water, the huge release represented the first time the federal government has opened the floodgates of one of its own dams in order to repair some of the damage done to river canyons denied their natural flows for many years.

IRS Reports Bigger, Faster Refunds

The washington post

Going into the final week of the tax filing season, American taxpayers have been filing their returns a bit more slowly than last year but getting faster and larger refunds.

The Internal Revenue Service had received slightly more than 67 million of the 118 million returns it expects this year, down 1.1 percent from last year, as of a week ago, the latest numbers available.

The number of refunds approved stood at 46.5 million, up 6.6 percent, and the average refund so far has been $1,245, up 14.5 percent from last year's $1,087.

Many laggards, of course, face a taxing weekend and a check to Uncle Sam, but for the IRS, all has been quiet this spring, and the agency is holding its breath that it stays that way.

"By any standard, this has been an excellent filing season," IRS Commissioner Margaret Milner Richardson said in a statement.

A controversy-free April 15 would be most welcome at the IRS, which spent much of last spring dealing with taxpayer complaints and trying to explain to Congress why millions of refunds were being delayed.

Those delays were the result of an agency crackdown on refund fraud, which officials said saved the government a half-billion dollars and caused 1.5 million "dependents" to disappear from tax returns.

Rockwell Pleads Guilty, Pays Fine

Los Angeles Times

Rockwell International pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to three felony counts of hazardous waste mishandling and cut a record $6.5 million check to the U.S. government to pay fines for the 1994 chemical explosion that killed two scientists at the company's open-air field lab in southeastern Ventura County.

John Stocker, Rockwell's legal vice president, stood before Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer and admitted that the company's Canoga Park-based Rocketdyne division had illegally stored and burned an exotic chemical called triaminoguanidine nitrate, or TAGN, at the Santa Susana Field Lab.

And he agreed that the company would pay the U.S. Treasury a $6.5 million fine, the largest sum ever won in a hazardous waste case in California and the maximum penalty for two counts of illegal disposal and one count of illegal storage of hazardous wastes.

In exchange, Rockwell receives immunity from federal criminal charges in any case of illegal handling, disposal, generation, storage or transportation of hazardous wastes that may have occurred since 1991. After hearing full details of the far-reaching plea agreement, Pfaelzer approved it.

Moments later, Stocker handed over to Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Hochman a $6.5 million check drawn on Rockwell International's corporate account, for deposit in the U.S. Treasury's general fund. He also turned over the first of three thick reports on the company's internal investigations of the July 26, 1994, explosion that killed physicists Otto K. Heiney, 53, and Larry A. Pugh, 51 as they were burning TAGN to get rid of it.

As prosecutors focused their investigation more heavily on past and present Rocketdyne employees who may have ordered the illegal burning, U.S. Attorney Nora Manella declared Rockwell's plea "a very successful resolution to this case."