Nation and World briefs for March 14

‘He’s shady’: Ringleader in college scandal irritated others

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — For 25 years, William “Rick” Singer was in the business of helping high school students get into some of the country’s top colleges, gaining a reputation as a master salesman who got results, but also someone who came across as devious and way too slick, say some of those who knew him professionally.

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High school guidance counselors in Sacramento, where Singer started his career as a college admissions consultant, used to trade “Rick stories” and warned each other, “He’s shady. Be careful,” according to one of them.

Now, Singer, 58, is at the center of one of biggest college admissions scandals on record, accused of conspiring with wealthy parents to pay bribes to get their children into prestigious schools such as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and UCLA.

Some of those who encountered him professionally said they were not surprised to see Singer in the middle of the scheme. His popularity with wealthy families in the Sacramento area was not shared by school counselors and educators, who said they had no clue about any illegal practices but found him untrustworthy.

“He was a slick talker and people believed him,” said Jill Newman, who has worked as a high school counselor in Sacramento schools for decades and had several well-to-do students who hired Singer. “But every high school counselor in the area knew about him. He was sneaky from the get-go.”

O’Rourke tells Texas TV station he’s running for president

AUSTIN, Texas — Democrat Beto O’Rourke has told a Texas TV station that he’s running for president in 2020.

The former Texas congressman sent a text message to KTSM Wednesday afternoon confirming the news that he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination.

He wrote: “I’m really proud of what El Paso did and what El Paso represents. It’s a big part of why I’m running. This city is the best example of this country at its best.”

O’Rourke was little-known outside his hometown of El Paso until he challenged Republican Sen. Ted Cruz last year. He got within 3 percentage points of upsetting Cruz in the nation’s largest red state and shattered national fundraising records while using grassroots organizing and social media savvy to mobilize young voters and minorities.

UK lawmakers vote against no-deal Brexit, now aim for delay

LONDON — In a tentative first step toward ending months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted Wednesday to block the country from leaving the European Union without a divorce agreement, triggering an attempt to delay that departure, currently due to take place on March 29.

Parliament is scheduled to decide Thursday whether to put the brakes on Brexit, a vote set up after lawmakers dealt yet another defeat to Prime Minister Theresa May amid a crisis over Britain’s departure from the EU.

The lawmakers’ 321-278 vote has political but not legal force, and does not entirely rule out a chaotic no-deal departure for Britain. But it might ease jitters spreading across the EU after lawmakers resoundingly rejected May’s divorce deal on Tuesday. Exiting the EU without a deal could mean major disruptions for businesses and people in the U.K. and the 27 remaining EU countries.

In chaotic scenes that revealed how May’s authority has been eroded by Brexit battles, more than a dozen pro-EU government ministers abstained rather than vote with her against ruling out no-deal.

Speaking with a raspy voice after weeks of relentless pressure, May hinted that she plans to make a third attempt to get lawmakers to support her Brexit deal, which they have already rejected twice.

Manafort gets 7 years in prison, then faces fresh NY charges

WASHINGTON — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to a total of seven and a half years in prison on federal charges Wednesday, then was hit almost immediately with fresh state charges in New York that could put him outside the president’s power to pardon.

In Washington, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson brushed aside Manafort’s pleas for leniency and rebuked him for misleading the U.S. government about his lucrative foreign lobbying work and for encouraging witnesses to lie on his behalf.

“It is hard to overstate the number of lies and the amount of fraud and the extraordinary amount of money involved” in the crimes, Jackson told Manafort, 69, who sat stone-faced in a wheelchair he has used because of gout. She added three-and-a-half years on top of the nearly four-year sentence Manafort received last week in a separate case in Virginia, though he’ll get credit for nine months already served.

The sentencing hearing was a milestone in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election campaign. Manafort was among the first people charged in the investigation, and though the allegations did not relate to his work for candidate Donald Trump, his foreign entanglements and business relationship with an associate the U.S. says has ties to Russian intelligence have made him a pivotal figure in the probe.

Prosecutors are updating judges this week on the cooperation provided by other key defendants in the case . Mueller is expected to soon conclude his investigation in a confidential report to the Justice Department.

Brazil wonders why after school shooters kill 8, themselves

SUZANO, Brazil (AP) — A Sao Paulo suburb prepared to bury its dead Thursday while looking for reasons why two masked former students armed with a hand fun, knives, axes and crossbows killed five teenagers and two adults at a school before killing themselves as police closed in.

Authorities said the pair also fatally shot the owner of a used car business nearby before launching the attack Wednesday on the Professor Raul Brasil school in Suzano, a suburb of Brazil’s largest city.

Brazil has the largest number of annual homicides in the world, but school shootings are rare. In 2011, 12 students were killed by a gunman who roamed the halls of a school in Rio de Janeiro.

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Besides the five students killed Wednesday, the dead included a teacher and a school administrator, said Joao Camilo Pires de Campos, the state’s public secretary. Nine others were wounded in the school attack, he said.

“This is the saddest day of my life,” de Campos told reporters outside the school in the Sao Paulo suburb of Suzano.

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