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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

February 28, 2021 - 8:04 PM

Fraud overwhelms pandemic-related unemployment programs

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — With the floodgates set to open on another round of unemployment aid, states are being hammered with a new wave of fraud as they scramble to update security systems and block scammers who already have siphoned billions of dollars from pandemic-related jobless programs.

The fraud is fleecing taxpayers, delaying legitimate payments and turning thousands of Americans into unwitting identity theft victims. Many states have failed to adequately safeguard their systems, and a review by The Associated Press finds that some will not even publicly acknowledge the extent of the problem.

The massive sham springs from prior identity theft from banks, credit rating agencies, health care systems and retailers. Fraud perpetrators, sometimes in China, Nigeria or Russia, buy stolen personal identifying information on the dark web and use it to flood state unemployment systems with bogus claims.

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating unemployment fraud by “transnational criminal organizations, sophisticated domestic actors, and individuals across the United States,” said Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the department's criminal division.

The Labor Department inspector general’s office estimates that more than $63 billion has been paid out improperly through fraud or errors — roughly 10% of the total amount paid under coronavirus pandemic-related unemployment programs since March.

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Trump calls for GOP unity, repeats lies about election loss

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Taking the stage for the first time since leaving office, former President Donald Trump on Sunday called for GOP unity, even as he exacerbated intraparty divisions by attacking fellow Republicans and promoting lies about the election in a speech that made clear he intends to remain a dominant political force.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he has been hailed as a returning hero, Trump blasted his successor, President Joe Biden, and tried to lay out a vision for the future of the GOP that revolves firmly around him, despite his loss in November.

“Do you miss me yet?” Trump said after taking the stage to his old rally soundtrack and cheers from the supportive crowd.

Trump, in his speech, tried to downplay the civil war gripping the party over the extent to which Republicans should embrace him, even as he unfurled an enemies list, calling out by name the 10 House Republicans and seven GOP senators who voted to impeach or convict him for inciting the U.S. Capitol riot. He ended by singling out Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, who has faced tremendous backlash in Wyoming for saying Trump should no longer play a role in the party or headline the event.

While he insisted the division was merely a spat “between a handful of Washington, D.C., establishment political hacks and everybody else, all over the country," Trump had a message for the incumbents who had dared to cross him: “Get rid of ’em all."

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Cuomo sorry for remarks aide 'misinterpreted' as harassment

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo acknowledged for the first time Sunday that some of his behaviour with women "may have been insensitive or too personal,” and said he would co-operate with a sexual harassment investigation led by the state’s attorney general.

In a statement released amid mounting criticism from within his own party, the Democrat maintained he had never inappropriately touched or propositioned anyone. But he said he had teased people about their personal lives in an attempt to be “playful.”

“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that," he said.

Cuomo, one of America’s most prominent governors, is facing the most serious challenge of his decade in office following claims he sexually harassed at least two women who worked for him. Democrats in New York and around the nation aren’t rallying to his side, leaving him increasingly isolated from traditional allies.

His partial admission of wrongdoing came after a day of wrangling over who should investigate his workplace behaviour.

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The Latest: Sacha Baron Cohen wins big at the Golden Globes

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Latest on the Golden Globe ceremony (all times local):

7:55 p.m.

It is biggest night for Borat at Golden Globes!

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is the winner of the Globe for best picture, musical or comedy.

Sacha Baron Cohen directed and reprises the title role of a man from Kazakhstan documenting America in the sequel to 2006’s “Borat” that also stars Maria Bakalova in a Globe-nominated role.

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The Latest: First US J&J vaccine doses shipping Sunday night

WASHINGTON — Nearly 4 million doses of the newest COVID-19 vaccine will be shipped Sunday night, and will begin to be delivered to states for injections starting on Tuesday.

The White House said the entire stockpile of the newly approved single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will go out immediately. J&J will deliver about 16 million more doses by the end of March and 100 million total by the end of June, but the distribution would be backloaded.

Though the new shot is easier to administer and requires only one dose, the administration is not altering its distribution plans.

The White House is encouraging Americans to take the first dose available to them, regardless of manufacturer.

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UN: At least 18 killed by Myanmar forces in several cities

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Security forces in Myanmar opened fire and made mass arrests Sunday as they sought to break up protests against the military’s seizure of power, and a U.N. human rights official said it had “credible information” that at least 18 people were killed and 30 were wounded.

That would be the highest single-day death toll among protesters who are demanding that the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi be restored to power after being ousted by a Feb. 1 coup. About 1,000 people are believed to have been detained Sunday.

“Deaths reportedly occurred as a result of live ammunition fired into crowds in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pokokku,” the U.N. Human Rights Office said in a statement referring to several cities, adding that the forces also used tear gas, flash-bang grenades and stun grenades.

An Associated Press journalist was taken into police custody on Saturday morning while providing news coverage of the protests. The journalist, Thein Zaw, remains in police custody.

The AP called for his immediate release.

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Some GOP state lawmakers help spread COVID-19 misinformation

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Many Republican lawmakers have criticized governors’ emergency restrictions since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. Now that most legislatures are back in session, a new type of pushback is taking root: misinformation.

In their own comments or by inviting skeptics to testify at legislative hearings, some GOP state lawmakers are using their platform to promote false information about the virus, the steps needed to limit its spread and the vaccines that will pull the nation out of the pandemic.

In some cases, the misstatements have faced swift backlash, even getting censored online. That's raised tough questions about how aggressively to combat potentially dangerous misinformation from elected officials or during legislative hearings while protecting free speech and people's access to government.

Last week, YouTube pulled down a video of committee testimony in the Ohio House after a witness inaccurately claimed COVID-19 wasn't killing children. The platform said the video violated its community standards against the spread of misinformation.

Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology project, said YouTube went too far.

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Biden team readies wider economic package after virus relief

WASHINGTON (AP) — Looking beyond the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, President Joe Biden and lawmakers are laying the groundwork for another top legislative priority — a long-sought boost to the nation's roads, bridges and other infrastructure that could run into Republican resistance to a hefty price tag.

Biden and his team have begun discussions on the possible outlines of an infrastructure package with members of Congress, particularly mindful that Texas' recent struggles with power outages and water shortages after a brutal winter storm present an opportunity for agreement on sustained spending on infrastructure.

Republicans say if the White House approach on the COVID relief bill — which passed the House Saturday on a near party-line vote and now heads to the Senate — is a sign of things to come for Biden's plan on infrastructure and other initiatives, it could be a difficult road ahead in Congress.

A White House proposal could come out in March.

“Now is the time to be aggressive,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a former South Bend, Indiana, mayor who knows potholes.

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Prince Harry: Split from royal life 'unbelievably tough'

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Prince Harry says the process of separating from royal life has been very difficult for him and his wife, Meghan.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Harry invoked the memory of his late mother, Princess Diana, who had to find her way alone after she and Prince Charles divorced.

“I’m just really relieved and happy to be sitting here talking to you with my wife by my side, because I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for her going through this process by herself all those years ago,” Harry said, adding, “because it’s been unbelievably tough for the two of us.”

“But at least we have each other,” Harry said, in a clip from the interview special, which is scheduled to air March 7 on CBS and the following day in Britain. Diana was shown in a photo holding toddler Harry as he made the comments. His mother died in 1997 of injuries suffered in a car crash.

Harry and Meghan sat opposite Winfrey and side-by-side, holding hands during the interview that was conducted in a lush garden setting. The couple lives in Montecito, California, where they are neighbours of Winfrey. Meghan, who recently announced she is pregnant with the couple’s second child, wore an empire-style black dress with embroidery. Harry wore a light gray suit and white dress shirt, minus a tie.

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Welcome back: Optimism abounds as MLB's spring includes fans

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Brian Delaney checked his ticket, found his seats and then sat down for a minute in the sunshine. It wasn't a typical late February day in Arizona — a little cool, a little breezy — but Delaney didn't complain a bit.

“You ever been through a Colorado winter?” the Colorado Rockies fan said with a grin.

The good humour and smiles were easy to find as baseball fans streamed into Sunday afternoon's spring training opener between the Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. A downward trend in COVID-19 cases throughout most of the country has meant that a limited amount of fans are allowed back in spring training facilities throughout Arizona and Florida.

At Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the crowd was capped at about 2,200 fans, which is 16% of the usual capacity. Delaney said he never hesitated to get tickets for himself and Debra Mierzwa once they went on sale a few weeks ago.

“Oh yeah,” Delaney said. “We were never worried. This is great.”

News from © The Associated Press, 2021
The Associated Press

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