Actress arrested in sex trafficking in 'guru to stars' case

A television actress best known for playing a young Superman’s close friend pleaded not guilty Friday to sex trafficking after federal prosecutors said she worked as a slave “master” recruiting unsuspecting women to a cult-like group led by a man who sold himself as a self-improvement guru to the stars.

Allison Mack was accused in an indictment unsealed by the federal court in Brooklyn. She entered her plea and was remanded to custody after Judge Cheryl Pollak refused a request from Mack’s lawyers to release her without bail. A bail hearing will be held Monday.

Mack, 35, starred in The CW network’s “Smallville.” Since that series ended in 2011, she has played only minor roles. Prosecutors said she helped recruit women for leader Keith Raniere and his cult-like organization called NXIVM. She told the women they were joining what was purported to be a female mentorship group, prosecutors said.

But “the victims were then exploited, both sexually and for their labor,” according to federal prosecutors.

“Mack and other … masters recruited … slaves by telling them that they were joining a women-only organization that would empower them and eradicate purported weaknesses the NVIVM curriculum taught were common in women,” prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said she required women she recruited to engage in sexual activity with Raniere, who paid Mack in return.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Kim Penza said in court that that “under the guise of female empowerment” Mack “starved women until they fit her co-defendant’s sexual ideal.”

Federal authorities raided an upstate New York residence near Albany where NXIVM was headquartered in March. The organization also ran programs in Mexico.

Raniere, 57, was arrested in Mexico, brought to the U.S. on March 26 and is being held without bail in Brooklyn.

The FBI has filed sex trafficking charges against him, saying that with the help of mostly female assistants, he blackmailed and coerced women into unwanted sex. Prosecutors hinted in earlier papers that Mack was one of the co-conspirators; it’s not clear who else may be charged.

Raniere’s attorney has said the facts would show Raniere did not compel or pressure anyone to do anything. He says everyone was acting in accordance with his or her free will at every instant.

Raniere sold himself as a self-improvement guru to the stars and his core disciples who include actresses, wealthy heiresses and a son of the former president of Mexico.

Mack’s “Smallville” co-star Kristin Kreuk says she was involved with one of the group’s self-help programs but left about five years ago. She wrote on Twitter last month that she didn’t experience any “nefarious activity” and was “horrified and disgusted” by the allegations.

Founded in 1998, NXIVM promoted Raniere’s teachings as a kind of mystical, executive coaching designed to help people get the most out of life. Enrollees in its Executive Success Programs paid handsomely for his advice. The organization also drew criticism from people who likened it to a cult.

Last year, the accusations took a new twist, with women who were part of a NXIVM subgroup coming forward to say that they had been physically branded with a surgical tool against their will.

Prosecutors said in court papers that Raniere created a society within NXIVM called “DOS” — an acronym based on a Latin phrase that loosely translates to “Lord/Master of obedient female companions.” Women were required to provide damaging material about their friends and family, naked photos and even sign over their assets as a condition for joining, they said. Many were branded with his initials, they said.

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This story has been corrected to show that “Smallville” ended in 2011, not 2015.

Associated Press Writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.

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CDC expands warning to consumers over tainted romaine lettuce

The Centers for Disease Control is expanding its warning over romaine lettuce tainted with E. coli. The lettuce is responsible for at least 53 people falling ill, including 31 hospitalizations, in 16 states.

The CDC had previously warned consumers only about chopped romaine lettuce, but is now saying anyone who purchased any type of romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona, region should throw it out.

“Based on new information, CDC is expanding its warning to consumers to cover all types of romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region,” the CDC said in a statement. “This warning now includes whole heads and hearts of romaine lettuce, in addition to chopped romaine and salads and salad mixes containing romaine.

“Do not buy or eat romaine lettuce at a grocery store or restaurant unless you can confirm it is not from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region,” it adds.

The warning was expanded on Friday after someone at a correctional facility in Alaska reported getting sick from whole heads of lettuce.

The CDC has not listed any brand or product names affected, just the location, saying “no common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand has been identified.”

Of the 31 people hospitalized due to E. coli, five have developed kidney failure, the CDC said. No one has died. Symptoms of E. coli infections include diarrhea, cramps and vomiting, and severe infections can even be life-threatening.

States which have reported illnesses include Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginian and Washington. Idaho and Pennsylvania have seen the most cases with 10 and 12, respectively.

This is the second time in a week the CDC has warned consumers about tainted food. More than 200 million eggs were recalled by a distributor last weekend over salmonella concerns.

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Explainer – Will the Bank of England raise rates in May after Carney dampened expectations?

LONDON (Reuters) – Bank of England Governor Mark Carney dampened widespread expectations for an interest rate hike in May, pointing out there were also “other meetings” this year.

FILE PHOTO: The Bank of England is seen in London, Britain, April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

WHAT CARNEY SAID:

“I don’t want to get too focused on the precise timing, it is more about the general path,” Carney told the BBC.

He said Britain should prepare for “a few interest rate rises over the next few years.”

“I am sure there will be some differences of view but it is a view we will take in early May (at the next meeting of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee), conscious that there are other meetings over the course of this year.”

WHY IS THERE DOUBT ABOUT A MAY HIKE?

Carney described recent economic data as “mixed”.

Figures this week showed the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since the 1970s during the three months to February, but overall wage growth failed to pick up as expected and retail sales fell sharply due to snow last month.

Also, a measure of wage growth Carney cited a few months ago as evidence of firming inflation pressure has weakened lately.

In February he told lawmakers it was an “important point” that three-month annualized wage growth had been running above 3 percent for several months. But the latest data show this cooled to just 0.8 percent in February.

(For a graphic on ‘Has wage growth shifted Carney’s view?’ click reut.rs/2HeXArz)

WHAT THE MARKET SAYS:

British government bond prices jumped on Friday.

Expectations of a UK interest rate increase in May have shrunk to below 50 percent from 70 percent earlier in the week, according to estimates derived from the swap markets. BOEWATCH

Sterling took another leg down on Friday to $ 1.4030 after falling nearly 1 percent in the New York session. GBP=D3 [GBP/]

Finance minister Philip Hammond said on Friday it looked like financial markets had been “out of line” with Carney’s thinking, based on the reaction of sterling.

HOW IS THE MPC SPLIT?

In March, the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee voted 7-2 to keep rates at 0.5 percent.

Ian McCafferty and Michael Saunders – who were the first officials to call for rates to rise in 2017 – said it was time for rates to increase again for only the second time since the 2008 financial crisis.

Saunders on Friday said the BoE no longer needed to keep its foot firmly on the accelerator at a time of rising domestic inflation pressure.

He reiterated the BoE’s joint position that “any further tightening is likely to be at a gradual pace and to a limited extent” but added that “a key point is that ‘gradual’ need not mean ‘glacial’.”

Saunders also said the range of views about interest rates among MPC members may be no wider than usual.

EXPECTATIONS

A firm majority of economists in a Reuters poll taken before Carney’s comments and published earlier this week said they expect the BoE will raise interest rates to a new post-financial crisis high of 0.75 percent in May.

WHAT THE ANALYSTS SAID

ANDREW SENTANCE, PWC SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISER, EX-MPC MEMBER

“Quite likely that all 4 external MPC members will vote for a May rate rise. Can they get 1 or 2 internal votes to support them? If Carney is opposed, Broadbent and Haldane are main candidates to push through a rate rise – so watch their statements in the next week or so.”

ALLAN MONKS, JPMORGAN ECONOMIST:

“(Carney’s commentary) opens the possibility of the BoE passing on May and instead hiking later in the year as the data improve.

“The data have not been uniformly weak, especially at the start of the quarter, and it is hard to believe the BoE will delay a rate rise because of bad weather. Should the April surveys bounce decisively this would help reassure the BoE that growth is set to improve this quarter.”

BANK OF AMERICA MERRILL LYNCH ANALYSTS:

“Then last night Governor Mark Carney suggested delay. In a BBC interview he said the BoE was conscious of ‘other meetings over the course of the year’ when they could hike. As hints go, we think it’s as strong as we get. The data justify delay in our view. We have been skeptical of the need for a May hike.”

JORDAN ROCHESTER, FX STRATEGIST AT NOMURA:

“(Carney’s) interview last night has rocked the boat and introduced a much higher level of uncertainty (over) whether the BOE will decide to raise rates in May or not. We still expect a hike in May, structural reasons to be short front end remain.”

UNICREDIT ECONOMISTS

“His comments suggest the vote on whether to hike in May is now on a knife-edge, and next week’s 1Q18 GDP report (we expect growth of just 0.2 percent (quarter-on-quarter), in part due to a hit from adverse weather) could be decisive. A hike in May is still likely but, as we had previously warned, it is a much closer call than financial markets were expecting.”

MARC OSTWALD, MARKET STRATEGIST AT ADM INVESTOR SERVICES:

“Carney struck back against any doubters that he is still king of the ‘unreliable boyfriends’, with his comments casting a whole (load) of doubt that a further 25 bps rate hike is a slam dunk.”

Additional reporting by Jamie McGeever, Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Toby Chopra

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Chemical weapons experts collect samples from Syrian city

April 21 (UPI) — International chemical weapons inspectors retrieved samples Saturday from a Syrian town two weeks after the suspected attack.

The fact-finding team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons left Damascus for the nearby town of Douma. In a release, OPCW said the samples collected will be transported to its lab in Rijswijk, Netherlands, and then dispatched to the OPCW’s designated labs for further analysis.

The OPCW, which has been investigating use of toxic chemicals in Syria’s civil war since 2014, said it will decide whether to return to Douma for additional samples. Its report will be submitted to the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Syria and Russia have denied they were responsible for the attack, which killed more than 80 people. On April 13, the United States, Britain and France fired 105 missiles at three Syrian government sites in retaliation.

“Early on April 21, a special OPCW mission for finding traces of chemical weapons left for the city of Douma to the place of suspected use of toxic chemicals on April 7,” Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement. “We consider such delays in a notable case like that, for whatever reasons, to be unacceptable, since the security of the OPCW staff was ensured not only by the Syrian side, but also by the command of the Russian military forces in the Syrian Arab Republic.”

The nine-member OPCW team had been waiting in the Syrian capital for clearance to visit the town. They were supposed to enter the town on Wednesday but the visit was delayed because U.N. risk assessment team came under fire while checking sites Tuesday.

“We appeal to western colleagues to refrain from actions obstructing efforts to establish the truth regarding the provocation in Eastern Ghouta on April 7,” Zakharova said.

Jaish al-Islam group controlled the city on the day of the suspected chemical attack.

After the attack, the rebels withdrew under a deal with the Russian military.

Zakharova said Moscow expects OPCW’s investigation to be impartial.

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Scientists capture video of cells as they function inside organisms

April 20 (UPI) — Scientists have adapted an optics technique used by astronomers to render biological processes at both the cellular and sub-cellular level in unprecedented detail.

Researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School worked together to build a next-generation microscope powered by “guide star” technology.

“For the first time, we are seeing life itself at all levels inside whole, living organisms,” Tom Kirchhausen, a professor of cell biology and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a news release.

The new microscope can be used to study almost any biological process or system in any kind of living organism. Scientists can use the microscope to render 3D images of a range biological phenomena in real-time.

The technology was originally designed to help large telescopes observe faraway galaxies, stars and planetary systems. The guide star refers to an artificial light source, a laser, that helps the adaptive optics system correct for atmospheric distortion.

Scientists successfully adapted the technology to work with a lattice light sheet microscope on much smaller scales. The hybrid technology allows scientists to probe deeper into tissue and cells by scanning a less-powerful layer of diffused light across biological samples.

As part of the initial tests, scientists used the microscope to survey the cells of a zebrafish. For the first time, scientists watched an immune cell swimming through the zebra fish’s ear, scooping up sugar particles along the way.

Until now, it was necessary to deploy high-powered lasers for such high-resolution images — but powerful beams can damage biological samples. The new technology allows scientists to study biological systems in vitro. Scientists were also able to watch human cancer cells migrating through the bloodstream of a zebrafish model.

Scientists say studying cells inside natural biological systems, inside real tissue and real organisms, is essential to truly understanding how cells and cellular processes function and evolve.

“This raises the nagging doubt that we are not seeing cells in their native state, happily ensconced in the organism in which they evolved,” said lead researcher Eric Betzig. “It’s often said that seeing is believing, but when it comes to cell biology, I think the more appropriate question is, ‘When can we believe what we see?'”

Betzig and his colleagues detailed their technological breakthrough in a new paper published this week in the journal Science.

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Report: Texans' Foreman potential PUP candidate

Houston Texans running back D’Onta Foreman is not expected to be ready for the start of training in camp.

In fact, the Houston Chronicle reported that Foreman may not be recovered from a torn Achilles in time for Week 1 and could open the season on the physically unable to perform list.

Such a designation would keep the second-year running back out of action for at least the first six weeks of the 2018 season.

Foreman, a third-round draft pick out of the University of Texas, finished his rookie season with 327 yards on 78 carries. He also caught six passes for 83 yards.

The injury occurred on Nov. 19 against Arizona, when Foreman was in the midst of his best game with 10 carries for 65 yards while scoring his first two NFL touchdowns.

Foreman had double-digit carries in five games while serving as the backup to starting running back Lamar Miller.

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