National roundup: News briefs from around the nation

March 18
GOP picks executiveto run for governor

Wealthy former private-equity executive Bruce Rauner won the Republican nomination for governor of Illinois on Tuesday, setting the stage for a general election showdown against Gov. Pat Quinn (D), viewed by many observers as the most vulnerable Democratic governor running for reelection this year.

Rauner, a first-time candidate, defeated three other Republican officeholders and overcame coordinated efforts from labor and other Democrats designed to weaken him. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press called the race for Rauner, who led state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R) 40 percent to 37 percent, a closer margin than many had anticipated.

Quinn easily won renomination against only a token Democratic opponent Tuesday. Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley dropped his short-lived challenge to the governor last September.

— Sean Sullivan

Rebel pleads guilty to holding U.S. hostages

A former commander of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) pleaded guilty Tuesday to holding three Americans hostage after their plane crashed in Colombia.

Alexander Beltran Herrera faces up to 60 years in prison for his role in holding the American defense contractors, who were detained for more than five years before their dramatic rescue by the Colombian military in 2008.

Members of the FARC kidnapped five people involved in an anti-drug surveillance mission after their plane made an emergency landing in 2003. Two of them were executed at the crash site. Three — Marc D. Gonsalves, Thomas R. Howes and Keith Stansell — were held hostage.

Beltran Herrera, 37, was extradited from Colombia in 2012. His trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors have agreed to ask U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth to sentence him to no more than 27 years. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 25.

— Ann E. Marimow

Manager admits role in bilking of Navy

A manager of a Singapore-based company accused of bilking the U.S. Navy of millions of dollars pleaded guilty Tuesday in the case.

Alex Wisidagama entered a guilty plea in federal court in San Diego to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States with respect to claims.

The former general manager of global government contracts for Glenn Defense Marine Asia, or GDMA, admitted to knowing the company that serviced ships in the Pacific submitted fictitious claims that resulted in losses to the U.S. Navy exceeding $20 million.

Wisidagama is the cousin of Leonard Glenn Francis, the chief executive of GDMA, who is known in military circles as “Fat Leonard.” The two were arrested last year in San Diego during a sting operation by military investigators who say Francis offered pricey vacations and services of prostitutes to naval officers in exchange for information and advice so that GDMA could overbill the Navy. Francis has pleaded not guilty to the charges and remains in custody in San Diego.

— Associated Press

Judge rejects accused Sept. 11 figure’s input

Jurors deciding the fate of a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden will not hear testimony from the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a U.S. judge ruled Tuesday.

Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected as “entirely baseless” a motion by defense attorneys to admit the testimony in the trial of Suleiman Abu Ghaith, 48, a former al-
Qaeda spokesman who is one of the highest-profile people to face terrorism-related charges in a civilian court in the United States.

Mohammed, who is being held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had said in response to written questions from the defense that Abu Ghaith “was not a military man and had nothing to do with” al-Qaeda military operations.

— Reuters


N.Y. lawsuit over bias in firefighter test settled: About 1,500 minority applicants who took the New York City fire department entrance exam that was found to be biased will be eligible to receive back pay totaling $98 million, a black firefighters’ group that had sued the city over racial discrimination said Tuesday. The settlement of the seven-year-old case capped a long and arduous legal fight by the Vulcan Society. Besides back pay, the settlement includes more than $6 million to cover lost medical payments, fringe benefits and interest for those who took the test in 1999 and 2002.

Salvation Army settles N.Y. lawsuit: The Salvation Army’s greater New York division has settled a lawsuit brought a decade ago by now-former employees who accused the U.S. charity of pressuring them to follow its religious mission while they worked on government-funded social service projects, said the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented the plaintiffs. The charity agreed to pay $450,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees to two plaintiffs.

Okla. executions delayed by shortage of drugs: An Oklahoma court Tuesday rescheduled a pair of executions set for this week and next so that state prison officials will have more time to find a supply of drugs for the lethal injections. The decision came in a lawsuit in which two inmates had sought more information about the drugs that would be used to execute them this month.

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