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Nation and World briefs for October 4

DEA’s Colombia post roiled by misconduct probes

BOGOTA, Colombia — New turmoil has roiled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s high-profile office in Colombia, where at least three agents have left in recent months amid investigations into alleged misconduct, including accusations that one passed secrets to drug cartels and another used government resources to hire prostitutes.

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The DEA’s top-ranking official in South America, who was brought in three years ago in the wake of a scandal involving agents participating in sex parties with prostitutes, is under investigation after the agency received an anonymous complaint saying he directed Colombian drivers working for the U.S. Embassy in Bogota “to procure sex workers,” according to a copy of the complaint obtained by The Associated Press and one current and one former law enforcement official. The officials spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation.

Richard Dobrich, a regional director who is retiring from the DEA next month to take a private sector job, said in a statement and interview with the AP that the complaint is without merit and he would have to be a “complete idiot” to have anything to do with prostitution given the office’s history. He also denied his departure has anything to do with the accusation.

“There is nothing to this — zero,” Dobrich said of the anonymous complaint, adding he wants another probe into how it got out. Dobrich said he believes this “attempted assassination on my reputation” is a setup, perhaps by a disgruntled former DEA employee.

Dobrich said investigators from the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General interviewed him at his office in Colombia last month and seized his phone as a matter of routine. Dobrich said he was later told by an investigator that no misconduct was found, but neither the OIG nor the investigator named by Dobrich would comment on the status of the investigation.

US Navy veteran arrested in Utah in suspicious mailings

SALT LAKE CITY — A U.S. Navy veteran in Utah was arrested Wednesday in connection with suspicious envelopes that were sent to President Donald Trump and top military chiefs.

William Clyde Allen III, 39, was taken into custody in in the small northern Utah city of Logan, said Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the state’s U.S. attorney’s office.

The arrest comes after authorities confirmed an investigation into two envelopes once thought to contain ricin and later found to be castor seeds, the substance from which the poison is derived. They can cause injury if swallowed.

The FBI said there were potentially hazardous chemicals involved with their operation in Utah on Wednesday, but declined to give additional details. No attorney was immediately listed for Allen.

The envelopes addressed to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the Navy’s top officer, Adm. John Richardson, were isolated at a mail screening facility and sent to the FBI. No one was injured, and neither envelope entered the Pentagon. Mattis is traveling in Europe this week.

Officer killed, 6 other officers wounded in South Carolina

FLORENCE, S.C. — Seven South Carolina law enforcement officers were shot, one fatally, in a confrontation with a suspect who held children hostage in a home and fired on deputies, officials said. The suspect was taken into custody after a two-hour standoff.

Spokesman John Wukela in the city of Florence, where the deadly encounter occurred, gave an updated total Wednesday evening of officers felled by gunfire, speaking at an emotional news conference.

Major Mike Nunn, with the Florence County Sheriff’s Department, said officers were serving a warrant when the suspect began shooting, wounding three deputies. The deputies had to be removed using a bulletproof vehicle.

Then, four Florence police officers were shot while trying to respond to the initial gunfire, said Allen Heidler, the Florence police chief. It was one of Heidler’s officers who was killed during the confrontation.

“I want you to pray for the family who lost the bravest police officer I have ever known,” Heidler said, visibly overcome by emotion at the news conference.

Chemistry Nobel for using evolution to create new proteins

STOCKHOLM — Three scientists won the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for using a sped-up version of evolution to create new proteins that have led to a best-selling drug and other products.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Science said their work has led to the development of medications, biofuels and a reduced environmental impact from some industrial processes.

Frances Arnold of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena was awarded half of the 9-million-kronor ($1.01 million) prize, while the other half was shared by George Smith of the University of Missouri and Gregory Winter of the MRC molecular biology lab in Cambridge, England.

Arnold is only the fifth woman to win a chemistry Nobel since the prizes began in 1901.

The winners “have taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring the greatest benefit to humankind,” the Nobel committee said.

Emergency alert test sounds off on mobile phones nationwide

WASHINGTON — Electronic devices across the United States sounded off Wednesday as the Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted its first-ever national wireless emergency alert test.

The tone went off at 2:18 p.m. EDT. The subject of the alert read: “Presidential Alert” and text said: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

FEMA officials estimated that about 225 million devices would receive the alert at about the same time, but the message was broadcast by cell towers for 30 minutes so some people got it later than others. Some got as many as four alerts on their phones; others didn’t get any.

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In a real emergency, devices would get the alert at the same time or as close to the same time as possible.

A second alert on television broadcast and radio went off at 2:20 p.m. EDT. The TV and radio alert has been tested for several years.