In Brief: May 15, 2021

Gaetz associate agrees to cooperate in federal investigation

WASHINGTON — A Florida politician who emerged as a central figure in the federal investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz has agreed to cooperate with federal investigators and admits paying an underage girl to have sex with him and other men, according to court documents filed Friday.

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Joel Greenberg is expected to plead guilty to six federal charges — including sex trafficking of a child — during a court appearance in Orlando on Monday. His cooperation as a close associate of Gaetz signals a significant escalation in the Justice Department’s investigation and potentially raises the legal and political jeopardy the Florida congressman is facing.

Federal prosecutors have been examining whether Gaetz and Greenberg paid underage girls or offered them gifts in exchange for sex, according to people familiar with the matter. The plea agreement makes no mention of Gaetz, who has vehemently denied the allegations and any wrongdoing and has insisted he will not resign his seat in Congress.

As part of his plea agreement, Greenberg admitted he recruited women for commercial sex acts and paid them more than $70,000 from 2016 to 2018, including at least one underage girl he paid to have sex with him and others.

Prosecutors say Greenberg met the girl online — from a website where she was posing as an adult — and had a first meeting with her on a boat, paying her $400. He later invited her to a hotels in Florida, where he and others would have sex with her and also supplied the girl and other people with ecstasy, according to the plea deal. In total, prosecutors say Greenberg had sex with the girl at least seven times.

China lands on Mars in latest advance for its space program

BEIJING — China landed a spacecraft on Mars for the first time on Saturday, a technically challenging feat more difficult than a moon landing, in the latest advance for its ambitious goals in space.

Plans call for a rover to stay in the lander for a few days of diagnostic tests before rolling down a ramp to explore an icy area of Mars known as Utopia Planitia. It will join an American rover that arrived at the red planet in February.

China’s first Mars landing follows its launch last month of the main section of what will be a permanent space station and a mission that brought back rocks from the moon late last year.

“China has left a footprint on Mars for the first time, an important step for our country’s space exploration,” the official Xinhua News Agency said in announcing the landing on one of its social media accounts.

The U.S. has had nine successful landings on Mars since 1976. The Soviet Union landed on the planet in 1971, but the mission failed after the craft stopped transmitting information soon after touchdown.

US calls reports of migrant children in buses ‘unacceptable’

Reports of unaccompanied migrant children being forced to stay overnight in parked buses at the Dallas convention center are “completely unacceptable” if true, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Friday.

Dr. Amy Cohen, a psychiatrist and executive director of the advocacy group Every Last One, said a 15-year-old Honduran boy she is working with was held on a bus from Saturday to Wednesday, using the bus bathroom during that time and unable to move about freely or communicate with family. The boy encountered at least three other children who were held as long in the parking lot of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, said Cohen, who also has been in contact with another child who was confined earlier to a bus for an extended period.

It is unclear how many children were kept on buses overnight.

“This is completely unacceptable,” Becerra said. “We’re quickly investigating this to get to the bottom of what happened, and we’ll work to make sure this never happens again. The safety and well-being of the children is our priority.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “there’s no excuse for this kind of treatment.”

Philadelphia now says MOVE victims’ remains weren’t cremated

PHILADELPHIA — A day after Philadelphia’s health commissioner was forced to resign over the cremation of partial remains belonging to victims of a 1985 bombing of the headquarters of a Black organization, the city now says those remains were never actually destroyed.

Mayor Jim Kenney released a statement late Friday saying that the remains of MOVE bombing victims thought to have been cremated in 2017, under orders from Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, were located at the medical examiner’s office that afternoon. Among the 11 slain when police bombed MOVE’s headquarters, causing a fire that spread to more than 60 row homes, were five children.

“I am relieved that these remains were found and not destroyed, however I am also very sorry for the needless pain that this ordeal has caused the Africa family,” Kenney said, adding that “many unanswered questions” surround the case — including why Farley’s order wasn’t obeyed.

Kenney compelled Farley to resign Thursday, the 36th anniversary of the MOVE bombing, after consulting the victims’ family members. At the time, the mayor said Farley’s decision to order the cremation and disposal of the remains, without notifying the decedents’ family members, lacked empathy.

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In a statement released by the mayor’s office Thursday, Farley said that he was told by the city’s medical examiner, Dr. Sam Gulino, that a box had been found containing materials related to MOVE bombing victims’ autopsies. The box turned out to contain bones and bone fragments.

From wire sources

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