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News Briefs

Canadian Man Who Bilked Elderly Americans Gets 7 Years in Prison


Wilson Chucks Okike, a Canadian citizen, was sentenced to seven years in federal prison Thursday for defrauding more than 1,400 American residents, most of them elderly, of at least $1.9 million in an elaborate telemarketing scheme.

Okike, 29, earlier pleaded guilty to two counts of a federal indictment. U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow, summarizing the case, said Okike owned a Vancouver company whose employees told victims they were 99.5 percent likely to be winners of a foreign lottery. The callers then offered to provide the winnings in exchange for a processing fee.

Later, when no winnings were forthcoming, agents of the company would call under false names to tell some of the victims they would seek to recover the fraudulent fees for them -- but only if they paid more fees.

In most cases, the processing fees were anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a little more than $2,000.

But in one case, involving an 80-year-old Montana woman, the fees collected by the Okike operation mounted to $230,000 over a two-year period.

WHO Will Send Doctors to Iraq


The World Health Organization (WHO) will send a team of physicians to Iraq on Monday to determine whether depleted uranium shells used by U.S. troops during the Persian Gulf War have caused an increase in Iraqi cancer rates.

The eight-member team hopes to lay the groundwork for the first major international study since the Gulf War into Iraqi patterns of cancer, kidney diseases and other congenital disorders, according to WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl.

“The Iraqis have been saying for a while that there has been increase in cancers caused by depleted uranium,” Hartl said. “If we have determined there has been an increase, then we will look at possible causes.”

The United States has used depleted uranium in tens of thousands of munitions during the 1990 Persian Gulf War and the 1999 NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia. The extremely dense metal increases the ability of a projectile to penetrate armor.

New Lawsuit Accuses Denny’s Of Racial Discrimination


A Los Angeles County family has filed a $10-million lawsuit against Denny’s, accusing the restaurant chain of racial discrimination for refusing to serve them.

The lawsuit filed this week in Los Angeles Superior Court comes as Advantica Restaurant Group Inc., Denny’s parent company, has received widespread recognition for an unprecedented corporate make-over to erase an image as a company that routinely discriminates against minorities.

“What we have is a clear and blatant act of racial discrimination,” said attorney Melanie E. Lomax, who represents the family of Marcia M. Hooks in the lawsuit. “Denny’s continues to preach that they have reformed, but these things continue to happen. What we have is a pattern of discrimination against black people.”

Hooks says she and 24 members of her immediate family went out for lunch on Feb. 18, the day after the funeral of her husband, Roy Hooks. The lawsuit alleges that the family had called a Denny’s in Torrance, Calif., to arrange accommodations for a large party, but when they arrived they were forced to wait 1 hour, 45 minutes and were ultimately refused service.

Denny’s investigated the complaint and found no discrimination. “There is no evidence whatsoever that the wait for service your clients received was due to their race,” wrote Robert M. Barrett, Denny’s vice president, in a letter to Lomax. “From the evidence we have gathered, efforts were made to serve your clients. While that service may not have been up to their expectations, there were, nonetheless, members of the group who were being seated when others in the group decided to leave.”

The Hooks family disagreed. They said that not only did the restaurant manager refuse to seat them, he refused to acknowledge their presence during much of the long wait for service. They said they were refused seating even after they said they wouldn’t mind if they were not seated together in a group.

Frenchman Is Hung Up on the Statue of Liberty


A publicity-seeking Frenchman’s effort to land a motorized paraglider on the Statue of Liberty came to a tangled end Thursday when his chute got stuck on the statue’s torch, leaving the man dangling 300 feet above New York Harbor.

Thierry Deveaux, 41, steered his paraglider, which uses a fanlike motor for propulsion, toward the outstretched hand of the 305-foot tall national monument Thursday morning.

With hundreds of tourists looking on, he overshot his mark. Deveaux, who uses the name “Terry Do” for his various stunts, did briefly manage to touch the torch with both feet before bouncing off.

Officers from the U.S. Park Police and the city Police Department’s Harbor Unit converged on Liberty Island and dashed to the top of the statue after hearing reports of a man stuck on the torch.

“We just wanted to secure him as best we could because we didn’t know if the parachute was going to give or anything,” said park officer Derrick Amalbert said.

As Deveaux dangled from the torch, scores of people who were either in the 22-story statue or waiting in the lines below were evacuated in case the daredevil’s parachute gave way and sent him crashing to the ground.

“We were inside the statue and we walked up to go to the 10th floor,” said Charlene Damion, who came from Maine to see the statue. “We were told to come down. Someone told me somebody was on the torch with a propellor and a motor.

“‘‘It was pretty intense,” Damion said.

Other tourists who had to wait for three hours before the monument reopened weren’t amused by Deveaux’s stunt.

“It’s terrible,” said Mirta Bayon, who brought two children from a hospital in Springfield, Mass., to see the statue. “I took a day off of work to give them this happiness. They are discouraged.”

Christopher Ballou of the city’s Harbor Unit said that Deveaux was carrying a pack containing a bungee cord and that “he wanted to land in the torch and perform some type of bungee stunt.”

Deveaux also had a sticker calling for the worldwide removal of landmines plastered onto his red jump suit. But police said when pressed about why he was trying the stunt, Deveaux said it was for “pleasure,” according to court records.

Police also said that Deveaux, who has pulled similar stunts, had a film crew in a helicopter working with him and he planned to sell videotape of his bungee dives.

Deveaux, who dangled from the monument for more than 30 minutes, was arrested after he was pulled inside the torch. He was charged with unlawfully entering an archeological and cultural resource, unlawful use of airborne means, trespassing and recklessly creating a harzardous and physcially offensive condition.

Deveaux, wearing khakis and a red, white and blue T-shirt with the Statue of Liberty on it, was ordered to post a $10,000 personal recognizance bond during his arraignment in U.S. District Court Thursday night.

Keith Duval, also of the Harbor Unit, said Deveaux told police he was from Chamonix, France. Duval said Deveaux bragged that he had bungee jumped off the Eiffel Tower and other landmarks.

Thursday’s event was not the high-flying Frenchman’s first assault on Lady Liberty either, authorities said.

In June 1994, Deveaux and a photographer secreted 60-pounds of equipment in the monument including a 12-volt car battery, a winch with steel cable, assorted climbing gear and a bungee cord. They had planned to take pictures of Deveaux making a bungee jump as tourists streamed into the monument. Their plan was cut short when they tripped a security alarm.

A park police officer in that case told officials that he recognized Deveaux from another trespassing incident at the monument in 1993. After being charged with trespassing, defacing the monument and other counts, Deveaux was freed on $5,000 bail in the 1994 case. The disposition of that case was not immediately available Thursday.

^Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service