Cash-strapped Italian Mafia cuts spending on drug pushers and family support

On the streets of Rome crime doesn’t pay – or at least not like it once did.

One of the city’s most feared local mafia clans has been forced to cut spending after 37 of its alleged members were arrested by police in recent raids.

The Cordaro clan has cut daily payments to drug pushers and financial aid for jailed members and their families, according to prosecutors involved in the latest chapter of Rome’s ‘Mafia Capitale’ investigation.

The clan, known for its violent domination of Rome’s Tor Bella Monaca district, has been linked to several murders and major drug trafficking by police and prosecutors.

Disgruntled associates have been recorded by police complaining about cutbacks ordered by Natasha Cordaro, who took over the clan’s financial operations after her husband, Valentino Iuliano, was arrested on July 5.

Thirty-year-old Cordaro began by cutting clan payments to the families of jailed members from €150 a week to only €50 a week, according to the Italian daily, Il Messaggero.

“€150 plus 150 makes €300 a fortnight,” Michela Bucceri complained on a visit to her jailed mother, Elena, in a telephone tap recorded by police. “I am missing out on €200, they have taken it off me.”

Cordaro also cut daily payments from €80 to €70 per day to drug pushers who work for the clan in the crime-ridden neighborhood on the city’s outskirts.

“I have responsibilities,” Cordaro reportedly told pushers. “I am counting on €3,000 but you are only bringing me €900, what should I do? I have 15 families I’m carrying on my shoulders.”

She was recorded threatening one subordinate who complained.

“It is a crisis, it’s better you realise that. If not I will cut your throat,” she said.

Thirty-seven alleged members of the clan were arrested in dawn raids in the crime-ridden neighbourhood on July 5.

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Yelp Issues Consumer Alert On Business Pages That Threaten Legal Action Against Reviewers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Yelp is trying to ease consumers’ worries about posting a negative review of a business online.

CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported Yelp issued a new type of consumer alert of the pages of businesses that have threatened customers with legal action.

The alert reads in part: “This business may be trying to abuse the legal system in an effort to stifle free speech. Reviewers who share their experiences have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on Yelp.”

Last summer, Dr. Nima Dayani, an endodontist, filed a defamation lawsuit against a reviewer after the patient called the doctor “curt” and “dismissive,” said there was a long wait time and gave a three-star review. However, the reviewer also stated the doctor was genuinely interested in finding a cause of the pain.

It wasn’t the first time Dayani sued a reviewer.

In a statement, Dayani said he readily accepts criticism, but when he sees a review that contains an assertion that he says is not true, he first asks the reviewer to take it down, and if they don’t, then he takes legal action.

Dayani’s listing on Yelp is the third to get this kind of consumer alert.

A Texas pet sitting service and a Florida moving company also have them. Michelle Douchouquette and her husband were sued when Prestigious Pets in Dallas said the couple violated a non-disparagement clause.

“When I say it out loud, saying I’m getting sued up to $1 million over this review, I can’t believe it,” she said. “I don’t think it was hateful. It didn’t have bad intent. It’s my opinion of a business.”

Civil rights attorney Normal Siegel said what Yelp is doing is a good thing.

“We need to encourage people to speak their mind,” Siegel said.

However, Siegel added that reviewers must be stating the “absolute truth.”

“When you’re speaking your mind make sure what you’re saying is the absolute truth,” he said. “It it’s not truthful, they do run a risk that a business can claim their reputation has been injured and they could bring a defamation lawsuit, although it’s hard to win a defamation lawsuit.”

Siegel also said that Yelp should change its wording of the alerts and take out First Amendment.

“Because the First Amendment is only applicable to government action, so when you’re dealing with a private business the First Amendment doesn’t kick in,” he said. “What kicks in is our concept of the right to express yourself.”

Two bills have been introduced in Congress: the “Right to Yelp Bill,” also known as the Consumer Review Fairness Act, and the Speak Free Act. It would prevent businesses from suing over negative reviews.

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Complaint says MBTA violated civil rights by ending late-night service

By Nicole Dungca GLOBE STAFF 

The T’s fiscal control board in February ended weekend late-night service, saying it wasn’t cost-effective and drew few riders.

A coalition of three advocacy organizations alleges that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority violated civil rights guidelines when it axed late-night bus and subway service, incorrectly analyzed how the cancellation would affect minority and low-income riders, and failed to implement alternative services to mitigate the impact, according to a federal complaint filed Tuesday.

Rafael Mares, a vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation, said he filed the complaint because the MBTA needs to make up for the loss of late-night service as soon as possible.

“Some of the T’s most vulnerable customers were affected by the termination of late-night service,” he said. The MBTA “chose not to do anything about it. The service that’s so important for late-night shift workers has been terminated since March, and nothing else has been put in place.”

The complaint doesn’t ask the MBTA to restore late-night service, but the coalition wants it to fully vet alternative routes that could help the minority and low-income riders affected by the cancellation. Until a permanent decision is made, the complaint asks the MBTA to temporarily put other services into place to help those riders.

Spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the T does not comment on pending litigation, but wrote that the Federal Transit Administration “has informed the MBTA that the equity analysis on Late Night Service is properly documented and has met their requirements.”

The FTA in May responded to a complaint about the cancellation, saying that the MBTA “demonstrated the need to eliminate late-night service, and explained why alternative proposals were not feasible.”

Federal officials wrote that the MBTA would not have to take further steps to mitigate the cancellation, and that the service was eliminated in a way that complied with federal rules.

The MBTA initially offered late-night service on a trial basis, and then extended it for nearly two years. Under federal guidelines, a transit system must complete a civil rights analysis before cutting service if the service has been in place for more than a year.

In February, the T’s fiscal control board voted to end late-night service, saying it was not “cost-effective.” The T spent about $14 million annually to extend service for subway lines, popular bus routes, and the paratransit service from 12:30 a.m. to about 2 a.m. every Friday and Saturday night.

Initially, The Federal Transit Administration rebuked the MBTA for voting to get rid of the late service without completing a required analysis that would have shows whether minority and low-income riders would be hurt disproportionately. That research is supposed to determine whether the T must take extra steps to make up for the effects on those riders.

The T completed the analysis later, but said that it found “mixed results” as to whether the cuts would be discriminatory.

Tuesday’s complaint, however, says the T’s civil rights analysis was flawed because of the way it used population data to measure who would be affected. Instead of limiting data to smaller geographic areas with larger concentrations of minority and low-income riders, the study included all of Boston’s population, for example, which includes many higher-income and less-diverse areas.

The advocacy organizations allege that if the T had used the proper federal guidelines, it would have found that canceling the service placed a disparate burden on minority riders and a disproportionate burden on low-income riders.

MBTA officials have said they plan to revisit alternatives for late-night service, including an all-night bus service. But Tuesday’s complaint says the T should consider such changes to be mandatory, not voluntary.

The Conservation Law Foundation is joined in the complaint by Alternatives for Community & Environment, a Boston-based environmental advocacy organization that opposed T fare hikes, and the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, also of Boston.

Supporters of late-night service said they do not expect the same hours and levels of service to be restored. But Stephen Clark, director of government affairs at the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said late-night workers who have fewer transit options deserve some help.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.

Julian Assange: ‘A lot more material’ coming on US elections

Updated 3:32 AM ET, Wed July 27, 2016

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said Tuesday his whistleblowing website might release “a lot more material” relevant to the US electoral campaign.

Assange was speaking in a CNN interview following the release of nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee by suspected Russian hackers.
However, Assange refused to confirm or deny a Russian origin for the mass email leak, saying Wikileaks tries to create ambiguity to protect all its sources.
“Perhaps one day the source or sources will step forward and that might be an interesting moment some people may have egg on their faces. But to exclude certain actors is to make it easier to find out who our sources are,” Assange told CNN.
The Kremlin has rejected allegations its behind the hacking, calling suggestions it ordered the release of the emails to influence US politics the “usual fun and games” of the US election campaigns.
“This is not really good for bilateral relations,” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, added.

Argentina probes ties between ex-presidents, Miami real estate empire


Offshore corporations have one main purpose – to create anonymity. Recently leaked documents reveal that some of these shell companies, cloaked in secrecy, provide cover for dictators, politicians and tax evaders. Sohail Al-Jamea and Ali Rizvi McClatchy

Where did a mystery man from Argentina get nearly $65 million to spend on ultra-luxury Miami condos, New York apartments and South Florida strip malls?

That’s what Argentine prosecutors want to know, especially because Sergio Todisco doesn’t seem to have a fortune of his own — and because he once acted as an offshore corporate front-man for a top aide to former president Néstor Kirchner.

The controversy again shows how Miami’s gleaming condos attract secret and potentially illicit money from around the world.

Between 2010 and 2015, Florida companies registered in the names of Todisco and his now ex-wife, Elizabeth Ortiz Municoy, a real estate agent in Miami and Buenos Aires, spent about $21 million on luxury condos at some of South Florida’s best-known towers, including Icon Brickell, St. Regis, Turnberry Ocean Colony, Apogee Beach and 900 Biscayne. The crown jewel was a $10.7 million, four-bedroom unit at the Regalia in Sunny Isles Beach. The companies later sold most of the units.

Other companies that listed Todisco and Municoy as officers invested $30 million in South Florida bank branches and a pharmacy, as well as a $13 million unit at Manhattan’s stately Plaza Hotel.

Only two of the transactions involved mortgages, according to public records, meaning the other deals were likely for cash.

In Argentina, major corruption investigations are swirling around ex-president Kirchner, who died in 2010, and his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who subsequently became president. Now, an Argentine federal prosecutor has opened an inquiry to determine if Todisco and Municoy were laundering money for Kirchner associates — or even the Kirchners themselves, although they’re not yet an official target of the investigation.

At the very least, there’s compelling evidence that Todisco and Municoy were buying properties for people who wanted to keep their identities hidden.

“The tax position of Todisco and Municoy revealed by documents obtained [by the prosecutor’s office] makes it impossible to associate them with the million-dollar transactions carried out abroad,” reads a complaint filed as part of the investigation into the Todisco affair.

Here’s why Argentine law enforcement is so suspicious: At the same time Todisco was snapping up luxe Miami condos, he acted as the director of Gold Black Limited, an offshore company based in the British Virgin Islands. Gold Black’s stated purpose was “real estate investment” in the United States, according to documents in the massive leak of confidential offshore files known as the Panama Papers.

The company’s owners? Néstor Kirchner’s personal secretary and close friend, Héctor Daniel Muñoz, who died of cancer earlier this year, and Muñoz’s wife, Carolina Pochetti.

A lawyer for Fernández de Kirchner did not respond to questions and Pochetti could not be reached.

The president’s shadow

Muñoz had been a debt collector at the Kirchners’ law firm before they came to power.

During his time in government, he served as Kirchner’s “body man,” a sort of valet and jack-of-all-trades who answered the president’s phone, handled his medication and stayed by his side when he was hospitalized. Kirchner affectionately called him el gordo (“fatty”) and, according to a press account, once slapped him during an argument. The pair was also fond of play-wrestling. When Kirchner couldn’t sleep, he would wake up his friend to keep him company.