Baltimore Real Estate Fraud Targeted

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. will investigate fraudulent real estate practices in Baltimore that involve selling run-down houses for huge profits.

Curran (D) has set aside money from Maryland's settlement with the tobacco companies to investigate the tactic known as "flipping," a practice in which houses are bought and quickly resold--sometimes on the same day--for large markups.

More than 2,000 houses in Baltimore have been sold for more than a 100 percent increase in the past three years, according to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Maryland U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia planned to gather federal officials today for an investigation of the practice. FBI agents, postal inspectors and the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development will be involved, she said.

State Officials to Reconsider Bay Ferry

Sometimes an old idea seems better the second time around.

One old idea that is getting new consideration this week is a ferry to cross the Chesapeake Bay and connect the Eastern Shore town of Crisfield with Point Lookout.

Several state lawmakers want the Maryland Department of Transportation to reconsider its 1994 rejection of ferry service. They say the time is right to link Somerset and St. Mary's counties because of the brighter economy.

The DOT made its 1994 decision based on an economic feasibility study, but transportation officials recently said they'd reconsider.

Babbitt Wants Frederick Sites Protected

U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt urged local leaders this week to fight to protect 260 acres near the Monocacy National Battlefield and other historic Civil War sites outside Frederick.

Babbitt visited the battlefield, one of many he says are threatened by encroaching development.

President Clinton has asked Congress to allocate $1.5 million as a down payment for the purchase of the Thomas farm, where much of the fighting took place.

Congress is offering $500,000, and Babbitt says that's not enough.

"This battlefield has been here for 150 years, but we don't have much time," he said.


Fairfax PTAs Plan Suit to Get Test Items

The Fairfax County Council of PTAs will go to Circuit Court to attempt to force state education officials to release all test items from the Virginia Standards of Learning exams that have been given to students statewide over the past two years, council President Rosemary Lynch said yesterday.

The decision follows the state's rejection of a request filed by the council under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. State officials argue that releasing all the questions would compromise the integrity of the tests because they must reuse many of the questions. Officials agreed to release hundreds of questions from the 1998 exams that they don't intend to use again and this week posted about 200 questions on the state Department of Education Web site,

State officials say they intend to release questions from all previous SOL tests by the end of the 2000-2001 school year, provided the General Assembly allocates money to increase the pool of test questions.


Russians Arrive to Study AIDS Programs

Representatives from three Russian organizations that help people with HIV and AIDS arrived in Washington yesterday to spend a week observing the Whitman-Walker Clinic's education and outreach programs.

HIV cases increased 70 percent in Russia last year, to 19,000.

The eight visitors, including medical personnel and outreach workers, are from the cities of Saratov and Balakova, about a 10-hour drive southwest of Moscow. Whitman-Walker is working with these groups--two private and one government--to help educate drug users, prostitutes and youth in Russia who are at risk of HIV infection.

Campaign Set to Involve Latinos in Census

Activists in the District's Latino community and several city officials are scheduled today to kick off a campaign urging Hispanic residents to participate in the 2000 Census.

The Council of Latino Agencies says the 1990 Census failed to count 7.5 percent of the city's Latino population, and the city lost more than $130 million in federal funds as a result.

Community organizers will distribute Census information and recruit people to work as Census enumerators during today's event, which begins at 4 p.m. in Unity Park between Columbia Road and Champlain Street NW.

Rally Planned for Peace in Colombia

Hundreds of demonstrators are expected to gather on the Ellipse near the Organization of American States building tomorrow afternoon for a rally in support of the peace process in Colombia.

The rally, one of several scheduled in cities around the world, will begin at noon in the southwest portion of the Ellipse. Demonstrators will urge members of paramilitary and guerrilla groups to stop kidnappings and to leave civilians out of the conflict.


Metro to Open Early Sunday for Marathon

Metro will open earlier than usual Sunday in order to accommodate runners, volunteers and spectators for the annual Marine Corps Marathon. Trains will start running at 6:30 a.m.

About 23,000 people are expected to use Metro to get to the race, which begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Iwo Jima Memorial. Rosslyn and Arlington National Cemetery stations are likely to be the busiest, Metro officials said.

Passengers are advised to buy round-trip fare cards when they first enter Metro to avoid having to wait in lines after the marathon ends. As it is every weekend, parking will be free at Metro lots.


"If you could just imagine for a minute openly venting a huge sewer in Yellowstone, or the Grand Canyon or one of the other well-visited national parks. It's horrendous."

-- Matthew Logan, executive director of the Potomac Conservancy, on the stench along parts of the C&O Canal because of gases vented from a sewer line.