California Gasoline Demand Flat, Diesel Declines

   SACRAMENTO, Calif.- (BUSINESS WIRE) - 5/31/2011 - Jerome E. Horton, Chairman of the California State Board of Equalization (BOE), on May 27 released California gasoline and diesel consumption figures for February 2011. California gasoline consumption remained flat, while diesel fuel consumption in California declined. “As California gasoline consumption remained flat, higher gasoline prices have resulted in a greater percentage of household income going to gasoline,” said Horton. “Consumers will likely continue to look for ways to use less gasoline in response to the higher prices they are now facing compared to a year ago.”
    California’s gasoline consumption remained flat in February 2011 with 1.131 billion gallons of gasoline, compared to 1.131 billion gallons in February 2010. In February 2011, the average price of gasoline at the pump in California was up 59 cents to $3.58 a gallon, a 20 percent increase, compared to California’s average price of $2.99 per gallon of gasoline in February 2010. The U.S. average price of gasoline in February 2011 was up 56 cents to $3.26 per gallon, a 21 percent increase, compared the U.S. average price of $2.70 per gallon of gasoline in February 2010.
    In February 2011, California’s diesel consumption totaled 176.5 million gallons, which is 19.1 million gallons less than February 2010 when diesel consumption totaled 195.6 million gallons, a decrease of 9.8 percent. However, the February 2010 figures include an additional 11.3 million gallons of diesel fuel due to an audit assessment of prior monthly reporting periods. If the audit assessment of 11.3 million gallons in February 2010 are excluded from the calculations, diesel consumption still decreased by 4.2 percent in February 2011. California’s diesel fuel figures are net consumption that includes the State Board of Equalization’s audit assessments, refunds, amended and late tax returns and the California State Controller’s Office refunds.
    The average price of diesel in California rose 86 cents to $3.80 per gallon in February 2011, a 29 percent increase compared to February 2010’s average price of $2.94 per gallon of diesel fuel in California. The U.S. average price for diesel rose 28 percent in February 2011 to $3.58 per gallon, up 79 cents compared to last year in February when the U.S. average price for diesel was $2.79.
    The State Board of Equalization is able to monitor gallons through tax receipts paid by fuel distributors in California. Consumption figures for March 2011 are scheduled to be available at the end of June 2011. All monthly, quarterly, and annual figures can be viewed at: www.boe.ca.gov/sptaxprog/spftrpts.htm.
    Taxable Gasoline Gallons: www.boe.ca.gov/sptaxprog/reports/MVF_10_Year_Report.pdf
    Taxable Diesel Gallons: www.boe.ca.gov/sptaxprog/reports/Diesel_10_Year_Report.pdf
    Elected in 2010, Chairman Jerome E. Horton is the Fourth District Member of the California State Board of Equalization, representing more than 8.5 million residents in Los Angeles County. He is also the Board of Equalization legislative committee chairman. He is the first to serve on the California State Board of Equalization with over 21 years of experience with the Board of Equalization. Horton previously served as an Assembly Member of the California State Assembly from 2000-2006.
    The five-member California State Board of Equalization is a publicly elected tax board. The Board of Equalization collects more than $48 billion annually in taxes and fees supporting state and local government services. It hears business tax appeals, acts as the appellate body for franchise and personal income tax appeals, and serves a significant role in the assessment and administration of property taxes. For more information on other taxes and fees in California, visit www.taxes.ca.gov.

Limits placed on protests; sex offender law altered

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By Diane S.W. Lee  and Mary J. Cristobal
               Illinois Statehouse News
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SPRINGFIELD - 5/24/2011 - The Illinois Senate on May 23 approved legislation to toughen existing laws for funeral protesters and registered sex offenders, while the Illinois House loosened laws for small craft breweries.
   Regarding funeral conduct, state lawmakers want protesters to move an extra 100 feet away from grieving families at funeral services.
    Senators unanimously approved House Bill 180 to keep protesters at a distance of 300 feet away from the funeral site. Protesters are not permitted to engage in "disorderly conduct," such as loud singing, playing music and chanting, 30 minutes before and after the funeral or memorial service.
    “I think the 300 feet will …expand the zone slightly so that families who are grieving will be less disrupted and will have the ability to mourn the loss of their loved ones, without this bill failing in court,” said chief sponsor state Sen. A.J. Wilhelmi, D-Joilet, who added that the bill still protects freedom of speech.  
    State Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, said the legislation helps provide respect to military families.
   “It is certainly within the interest of this state to establish peace and order at a funeral site,”said Haine, a co-sponsor.
    Senators unanimously approved the plan and sent it back to the House for concurrence. In March, House lawmakers approved the proposal with an increased distance of 1,000 feet and an hour time limit. House lawmakers will need to approve the shorter distance and time changes, before sending it to governor for consideration.
   Legislation, backed by the Cook County Sheriff's Office, would give law enforcement an extra tool to prevent registered sex offenders from harassing victims and their family members.
   House Bill 277 would make harassment of victims and their families by sex offenders a felony, which carries a two- to five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $25,000.
    The legislation was inspired by a convicted child sex offender in Harvey who harassed a victim and the victim's family at home with repeated phone calls to prevent them from testifying in court.
    “This will allow courts to go after people who victimize people, and then victimize their family,” said state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, a co-sponsor.
    The state Senate voted 57-0 to approve the measure, which returns to the House for approval. 
   The state House unanimously passed a measure that would allow craft brewers to distribute their own beer.
   “(The measure) grants a limited option to Illinois and out-of-state start up breweries, defined in the bill as craft brewers, to self-distribute beer products pursuant to a permit issued by the Liquor Control Commission,” said state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, who sponsored the measure.
Senate Bill 754 would allow craft brewers that manufacture up to 465,000 gallons of beer per year to distribute not more than 232,500 gallons of their own beer in that same year.
   Although the measure had all of the representatives’ support, state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, said this proposal is a Pyrrhic victory for craft brewers.
   “We have several of these small businesses throughout the state, in particular in my area, and I support their growth and their attempts to do business within the state,” Bradley said. “However I don’t think that this is going to settle the litigation, which is taking place throughout the state.”
Anheuser-Busch has taken Illinois to court for interfering with the beer company’s distributor licenses.
   The measure is on its way to the governor’s desk.
   Story published courtesy of Illinois Statehouse News. 

Several Indicted Over Credit Union Fraud Scheme

Charges tied to one of largest credit union collapses in history
   CLEVELAND – 5/19/2011 – A federal grand jury in Cleveland returned a 22-count indictment against six individuals in connection with a major fraud against St. Paul Croatian Federal Credit Union in Eastlake, Ohio, according to a May 13 announcement by Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
   In a related case, a separate three-count indictment was filed against a North Ridgeville, Ohio, man, also stemming from activities at St. Paul Croatian Federal Credit Union. The credit union went into conservatorship and then forced liquidation in April 2011. That resulted in a $170 million loss to the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, making it one of the worst failures in history, according to a subsequent audit.
   “Federal and local investigators continue to peel away at the layers of fraud and corruption that were visited upon this financial institution,” U.S. Attorney Dettelbach said. “This investigation is ongoing, and will not stop until we have run down every lead.”
   The first indictment alleges that Arben Alia fraudulently obtained several loans from St. Paul Croatian Federal Credit Union, with the assistance of Anthony Raguz, its former chief operating officer, totaling approximately $4.5 million from 2006 through 2009. The indictment further alleges that Alia obtained some of these loans in concert with the named co-conspirators, who are Alia’s friends and in-laws. The indictment alleges that Alia obtained these loans, in part, to fund various gambling excursions as well as to purchase and renovate Milano’s Bar and Grill in Willowick, Ohio.
   The indictment further charges Alia with corruptly giving Raguz approximately $100,000 in exchange for Raguz approving and facilitating the issuance of fraudulent loans to himself and his friends and in-laws.
   Raguz, of Mentor, Ohio, is one of nine people who were indicted in March 2011 and accused of bank fraud for their roles in the credit union collapse.
   Those charged in the new indictment, including their ages, last known residences, and the charges filed against them are as follows:
  • Arben Alia, 34, Eastlake, 11 counts bank fraud, 1 count bank bribery and 5 counts money laundering.
  • Ilir Marku, 34, Willowick, 3 counts bank fraud and 2 counts money laundering.
  • Vaso Shani, 36, Eastlake, 1 count bank fraud and 2 counts money laundering.
  • Alban Sulkaj, 35, Clinton Twp., Mich.,1 count bank fraud and 1 count money laundering.
  • Zoge Ahmetaj, 68, Eastlake, 1 count bank fraud and 2 counts money laundering.
  • Qerim Ahmetaj, 74, Eastlake, 1 count bank fraud and 1 count money laundering.
   The indictment charges Alia with five counts of money laundering, including the purchase of Milano’s Bar and Grill in Willowick. Marku, Shani, Zoge Ahmetaj and Qerim Ahmetaj are also charged with money laundering. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of any and all illegal proceeds, including Milano’s Bar and Grill, as well as any substitute assets equal to the amount of illegally obtained loan proceeds.
   In the related case, Skender Demiri was charged with one count of financial institution fraud, one count of bribery in connection with the business dealings of a financial institution and one count of money laundering.
   Demiri, age 36, lives in North Ridgeville according to court records.
   That indictment alleges that from June 24, 2004, through March 2, 2010, Demiri, aided and abetted by Anthony Raguz, the former chief operating officer of St. Paul Croatian Federal Credit Union, fraudulently obtaining several loans totaling approximately $1.6 million from the credit union.
   Demiri obtained most of these loans by making false representations and promises, including that the loan proceeds would be used to start a business, according to the indictment. The indictment also charges that Demiri obtained most of the loans after having already defaulted on previous loans issued to him by the credit union. The indictment alleges that St. Paul Croatian Federal Credit Union lost approximately $1.6 million as a result of Demiri’s fraudulent conduct.
   The indictment also charges Demiri with corruptly giving Anthony Raguz numerous checks and cash payments totaling approximately $50,000 to induce and reward Raguz for approving and facilitating the approval of the fraudulent loans to Demiri.
   The indictment also charges Demiri with three counts of money laundering, including a September 2009 wire transfer in the amount of $150,000 from his Fifth Third account to a bank account at Volksbank Göppingen eG, Germany.
   The indictment also contains three separate forfeiture specifications for all of the fraudulently obtained proceeds and, if those proceeds are not able to be forfeited, any substitute assets that are equal to the amount of those proceeds.
   This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John D. Sammon and Bridget M. Brennan, following an investigation by the Cleveland Offices of the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, with the assistance of the Eastlake Police Department.
   Source: U.S. Department of Justice release and the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.

Will Illinois Education Reforms Become Model?

   SPRINGFIELD — (Illinois Statehouse News) - 5/14/2011 - Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's desk is the next destination for the state of Illinois' education reform measure, but the governor may not be the last stop.
   Illinois lawmakers and education advocates say the reforms, which passed the Illinois House, 112-1, Thursday, could become a national model.
   Robin Steans, executive director for Advance Illinois, whose website bills the group as an independent voice to promote the public education system in Illinois, said she watched the vote in Springfield, but knows top officials in Washington, D.C., were watching too.
   "The United States Department of Education has been following this closely. And my understanding is that the president was interested in how the vote went today," said Steans. "So this (measure) is getting, appropriately, attention for both the substance and the process."
   Steans said she's been answering calls for weeks from education advocates in other states as to how they can copy Illinois' path to education reform.
   The reforms make it tougher for teachers' unions to strike. Seventh-five percent of teachers would have to vote to go out on the picket line. The plan also would make it easier to fire teachers by streamlining the process. Supporters say the two-year process to fire a teacher would be condensed to three to four months.
   And Chicago schools likely will see a longer school day, and longer school year because of the new measure. Chicago's public school day runs from 9 a.m. until 2:45 p.m., one of the shortest in the country. Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel has said he wants to add at least an hour to the day.
   But Ken Swanson, president of the Illinois Education Association, one of Illinois' major teacher unions with 133,000 members, said the real take-away from Illinois' reforms was the way that all sides — lawmakers, schools, unions and advocates — worked together.
   "Look at what happens when everyone can come together at the table and talk," said Swanson. "That's something that colleagues in other states have not been given the opportunity to do."
   Swanson also downplayed the national potential of Illinois' reforms.
   "I think the Department of Education monitors the goings on in every state," said Swanson.
   But others cannot help but compare Illinois, and the state's successful move to reform, with other states. State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), said Illinois should get credit for coming to an agreement without protests and runaway lawmakers.
   "You have Wisconsin, the drastic one end," Chapa LaVia said. "And Illinois where we got it together as Democrats."
   Chapa LaVia said she expects to hear folks from Illinois talking about that on Capitol Hill sooner rather than later.
   "You'll see some of our people going to Washington and testifying in front of (the U.S. Department of Education) and Arne Duncan, seeing how we got this done. Seeing how to maybe duplicate this in other states," Chapa LaVia said. Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.
   Steans could be Illinois' educational advocate on the panel. But she warned that no one should be looking for a cookie-cutter solution from Illinois' reforms.
   "They've got to understand in their states what they have to work with," Steans said. "Where do they have leaders on the management side, on the union side, at their state agencies and legislatively? Who do they have to work with that buys the concept that we should be making decisions, fundamentally, based who's performing best for our kids?"
   Collin Hitt with the Illinois Policy Institute said that question remains unanswered, even in Illinois, and everyone should wait a bit before trying to export the "Illinois model."
   "Political consensus is less important than policies that actually work for kids," Hitt said.
   Hitt noted Quinn has yet to sign the legislation, though all signs are that he will.
   IPI is a nonpartisan research organization that supports free-market principles and liberty-based public policy initiatives in the state, according to its website.
   "If Governor Quinn signs this into law, then we can say that a Democratic Legislature and a Democratic governor did something that was unexpected a year ago," Hitt said.
   But State Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, said these education reforms should not be all that unexpected. He said Illinois started on the road to reform as part of the federal Race to the Top program. The state never saw the $500 million from the Obama administration pilot program that awarded grants to states for innovative, comprehensive educational reforms.
   But Eddy said Illinois did start having conversations about education reform.
   "In a lot of states, as they begin to discuss reforms related to education, you see this clash that takes place," he said. "In this case we came to an agreement with the major players. That's not been done around the country."
   Still, Eddy agreed a bit with Hitt, saying Illinois needs to actually implement the education reforms before the state can "spike the football."
   The only "no" vote came from State Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, who said she could not support a plan that could weaken the Chicago Teachers' Union.
   "I'm not going to be a union buster," Davis said. "Especially starting in my own city."
   Story courtesy of Illinois Statehouse News.

UBS AG Agrees to Pay $160 Million In Restitution

   WASHINGTON – 5/5/2011 - UBS AG has entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice to resolve anticompetitive activity in the municipal bond investments market and has agreed to pay a total of $160 million in restitution, penalties and disgorgement to federal and state agencies, the Department of Justice announced on May 4.
    As part of its agreement with the department, UBS admits, acknowledges and accepts responsibility for illegal, anticompetitive conduct by its former employees.
    According to the non-prosecution agreement, from 2001 through 2006, certain former UBS employees at its municipal reinvestment and derivatives desk and related desks, entered into unlawful agreements to manipulate the bidding process and rig bids on municipal investment contracts. These contracts were used to invest the proceeds of, or manage the risks associated with, bond issuances by municipalities and other non-profit entities.
    “UBS and its former executives engaged in illegal conduct that corrupted the competitive process and harmed municipalities, and ultimately taxpayers, nationwide,” said Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney. “Today’s agreements with UBS ensure that restitution is paid to the victims of the anticompetitive conduct, that UBS pays penalties and disgorges its ill-gotten gains. The Antitrust Division will continue to use every tool at our disposal to root out illegal activity in financial markets that disrupts the competitive process.”
   Under the terms of the agreement, UBS agrees to pay restitution to victims of the anticompetitive conduct and to cooperate fully with the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division in its ongoing investigation into anticompetitive conduct in the municipal bond derivatives industry.
    To date, the ongoing investigation has resulted in criminal charges against 18 former executives of various financial services companies and one corporation. Four of these charged executives are former UBS employees: Mark Zaino, Peter Ghavami, Gary Heinz and Michael Welty. Nine of the 18 executives charged have pleaded guilty, including Mark Zaino.
    The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and 25 state attorneys general also entered into agreements with UBS requiring the payment of penalties, disgorgement of profits from the illegal conduct and payment of full restitution to the victims harmed by the manipulation and bid rigging by UBS employees.
    As a result of UBS’s admission of conduct; its cooperation with the Department of Justice and the SEC, the IRS and the state attorneys general; its monetary and non-monetary commitments to the SEC, IRS and state attorneys general; and its remedial efforts to address the anticompetitive conduct, the department agreed not to prosecute UBS for the manipulation and bid rigging of municipal investment contracts, provided that UBS satisfies its ongoing obligations under the agreement.
    In December 2010, Bank of America agreed to pay a total of $137.3 million in restitution to federal and state agencies for its participation in anticompetitive conduct in the municipal bond derivatives market.
    The department’s ongoing investigation into the municipal bonds industry is being conducted by the Antitrust Division, the FBI and the IRS Criminal Investigation. The department is coordinating its investigation with the SEC, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    The Antitrust Division, SEC, IRS, FBI, state attorneys general, OCC and Federal Reserve Bank are members of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. For more information about the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.

The Arms Debate

Not All American's Have the Right to Bear Arms

Photo by Steve Rensberry (c) 2018