Maybe Former Officials Should
Have Seen Indictment Coming
They allegedly paid almost $54,000 for a psychic's help, but it seems they didn't get the information they needed the most: The tarot card readings could send them to jail.
The former mayor and bookkeeper of tiny La Grulla, a city of 1,300 in deep-south Texas near the Mexican border, were indicted and arraigned last week on charges they used $53,700 in federal funds for psychic consultations. The consultations included but were "not limited to tarot card reading," according to the U.S. attorney's office in Houston, which announced the indictment of former mayor Diana Cortez, 48, and former bookkeeper, Sandra Lopez, 45. From May 2001 to May 2003, Cortez was mayor of the city of mostly migrant workers, where the median household income is slightly less than $17,000 a year.
The indictment alleges that the two women spent U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds on the psychic and then tried to conceal their activities by signing and approving "fraudulent invoices, vouchers, work orders and contract agreements . . . for services never performed and supplies never purchased."
Mayor Alejandro Solis, who took office last year, said he knew the FBI was investigating fraud involving city funds but that he didn't know the details until the indictment was announced. One thing he does know, he said: He doesn't believe in psychics.
"Psychics really don't know how to read the future. . . . They can try to guess," Solis said. "But to actually know what's going to happen, I think only God knows that."
-- Sylvia Moreno
Modern Stone-Age Bank Is
Now Just a Page of History
Don't expect to see Fred Flintstone waiting to cash his paycheck at the First National Bank of Bedrock anytime soon.
Federal regulators recently shut the bogus Internet bank claiming to be located in Bedrock, a Colorado town near the Utah border.
The First National Bank of Bedrock offered an array of banking services through its Web site, including accounts and investments, along with debit and credit cards. But the company is not licensed to operate as a bank or offer banking services, federal and state banking regulators say.
The bank's address -- 7729 S. Granite Ave. -- doesn't exist. And the closest bank to Bedrock is more than 20 miles away.
Regulators aren't sure whether the bank's Web site was a joke paying homage to Bedrock, the cartoon town that the Flintstones call home, or an attempt to dupe people into giving financial information.
With just a handful of residents, Bedrock, Colo., was thrust into the spotlight in 1960 when the cartoon show "The Flintstones" debuted.
Fred and Wilma Flintstone and their neighbors Barney and Betty Rubble still get mail at the Bedrock post office, including preapproved credit card applications, postmaster Ruth Swain said. She stamps them "Return to Sender: Fictitious Cartoon Character."
-- Kimberly Edds
In Philly, WiFi Could Be Served
Philadelphia city officials want to make Internet access as available as electricity.
Last week, Dianah Neff, the city's chief information officer, introduced a proposal to blanket the 135-square-mile metropolis with wireless transmitters, perhaps located atop lampposts.
"We want to help boost economic development, social development, close the digital divide and make Philadelphia more attractive in the global economy," said Neff, in a telephone interview. "This city has had many firsts, and we think this is another area we should be first in. I truly believe it's a transformational technology."
Neff said officials are still seeking to determine whether the city would oversee development of such a plan -- estimated to cost $10 million -- or whether management should be contracted to a private company. Researchers at local universities Temple and Drexel are helping to develop a business plan.
Officials are considering whether the service would be free or whether a nominal fee would be charged to offset maintenance costs pegged at $1.5 million per year.
Depending on construction density, about eight to 16 transmitters would be required per square mile in a city of 1.5 million residents, Neff said.
Dozens of other municipal governments have weighed proposals to expand Internet access, including Chaska, a suburb of Minneapolis, which now offers cut-rate Web access over a 20-square-mile area.
-- Jonathan Finer
Girls Are Given a Foundation
In Science at Summer Class
With many studies showing that girls lose interest in science in middle school and high school, administrators of a Minneapolis summer program aimed at keeping girls involved in science figured they had better make it relevant to their interests.
Hence MakeUp Your Mind, part of the Girls in Engineering, Mathematics and Science program run by Augsburg College in Minneapolis and local public schools.
Students visited a beekeeper to learn about beeswax, a key ingredient in many cosmetics, and concocted their own lip gloss and lotion, testing different formulas on friends and family. Teachers said they had never seen such high levels of participation and interest among students.
"We wanted to do something in the physical sciences that really related to them," said Augsburg associate professor and program liaison Jeanine Gregoire. "They learned about the molecular theory behind what they put on their lips, hands and faces. We talked a lot about emulsions. And they learned about product development: Do people like a citrus lip gloss? Do they like heavier or lighter lotions?"
Teacher Jennifer Rose developed the program and said the appeal has been widespread.
"We had some saying: 'I'm not that kind of girl; I don't like makeup.' But they were the ones who responded to it the most, because they liked the science of it."
-- Kari Lydersen