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U.S. company is accused of sale of Chinese-made surveillance gear

NEW YORK (AP) — A Long Island firm sold tens of millions of dollars in Chinese-made surveillance and other sensitive security equipment to customers, including the U.S. military to use on aircraft carriers, by falsely claiming that the goods were manufactured in America, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

The fraud that prosecutors allege by Aventura Technologies Inc. raised "a grave concern" over cybersecurity, U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said.

Though there was no allegation of breaches involving the Chinese government, emails and other evidence from the investigation showed "individuals in China were well aware of what was going on," Donoghue said.

The equipment made in China and sold by Aventura "as purportedly U.S.-made has been installed on dozens of Army, Navy and Air Force bases, Department of Energy facilities and, among other places, on Navy aircraft carriers," prosecutors said in the criminal complaint.

Of the $88 million Aventura made since 2010, $20 million came from federal government contracts promising it would provide only U.S.-made products, they said.

Prosecutors accused the company of a cover-up involving systematically relabeling its merchandise to say it was made at its U.S. plant. It also circulated a photo that an Aventura executive, Jack Cabasso, said showed the company's assembly line, but it was actually an image of workers in a Chinese facility, the complaint said.

Last year, Cabassoemailed an employee of a Chinese manufacturer stressing the need to take steps to make sure its products couldn't be traced, prosecutors said. He wrote that "the biggest problem" was that customers might notice the company's initials on circuit boards and asked them to conceal them, prosecutors said.

The scheme began to unravel after the company sold 25 body cameras to the U.S. Air Force. Security analysts discovered downloaded images including a logo of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security on the devices, the complaint said. A software analysis found indications that the camera's manufacturer in China "had been aware that the U.S. Air Force was the intended end user of the camera."

Seven current and former Aventura employees, including Cabasso and other top managers, were charged with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. The government also froze bank accounts and seized a 70 foot yacht it said is owned by Cabasso and his wife.

Aventura is based in Commack, New York. A company website touts it as having "a reputation for being an innovative designer, developer and manufacturer of security hardware, software and peripheral products for government, military and enterprise since 1999."


Juul halts sale of mint, its top flavor

Juul Labs said Thursday it will halt sales of its best-selling, mint-flavored electronic cigarettes as it struggles to survive a nationwide backlash against vaping.

The voluntary step comes days after new government research showed that Juul is the top brand among high schoolers who use e-cigarettes and that many prefer mint.

In the latest government survey, 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month, despite federal law banning sales to those under 18.

Also, new federal figures out Thursday showed more than 2,000 people have been diagnosed with vaping illnesses in the still-unsolved U.S. outbreak.— AP

Secret Service: School attacks preventable

Most students who committed deadly school attacks over the past decade were badly bullied, had a history of disciplinary trouble and their behavior concerned others but was never reported, according to a U.S. Secret Service study.

The study by the Secret Service's National Threat Assessment Center looked in depth at 41 school attacks from 2008 through 2017. The information gleaned through the research will help train school officials and law enforcement on how to better identify students who may be planning an attack and how to stop them before they strike.

"These are not sudden, impulsive acts where a student suddenly gets disgruntled," Lina Alathari, the center's head, said in an AP interview. "The majority of these incidents are preventable."— AP

Woman sent to jail for slamming door

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The slam of a courtroom door has led to time in the slammer for a Virginia woman.

The Virginian-Pilot reports Sonnia Gaston, 18, went to a Virginia Beach courtroom on Wednesday to support her boyfriend in a probation violation case. When he was sentenced to jail, Gaston slammed one of the double wooden doors as she left the courtroom. For her outburst, Gaston was found in contempt of court and sentenced to 10 days in jail.— AP

Trump denies that he wanted Barr to absolve him over Ukraine call

William Barr

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump wanted Attorney General William Barr to hold a press conference to declare that he broke no laws during his July phone conversation with Ukraine's president in which Trump pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Democrats, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Trump lashed out at the revelation, first reported by the Washington Post.

He tweeted Thursday that the claim "is totally untrue and just another FAKE NEWS story with anonymous sources that don't exist."

Barr rebuffed the president's request, which came in September, around the time that the White House released a rough transcript of the July 25 call at the center of the House impeachment probe.

The person familiar with the matter spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions.

House Democrats are investigating Trump's pressure on Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter as aid money was being withheld from the Eastern European country.

Trump says he did nothing wrong.

"Just read the Transcript," he wrote Thursday. "The Justice Department already ruled that the call was good."

That appears to be a reference to a statement from the Justice Department saying the phone call did not break any campaign finance law.

Also Thursday, House investigators released another transcript of testimony in the Trump impeachment inquiry.

The testimony was from George Kent, a career official at the State Department. He testified that he was told to "lay low" on Ukraine policy as the Trump administration, and the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, were interacting with Ukraine outside of traditional foreign policy channels.

House investigators are pushing out transcripts from hours of closed-door interviews in the inquiry as they prepare for public sessions with witnesses next week.

Kent also raised concerns about the Trump administration's recall of its ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

Kent said he memorialized in writing the conversations he was having with other diplomats amid his concerns of "an effort to initiate politically motivated prosecutions that were injurious to the rule of law, both in Ukraine and U.S." The memorandum was submitted to the State Department.

Kent, Yovanovitch and diplomat William Taylor are expected to appear in the public sessions next week. An aide to Vice President Mike Pence, Jennifer Williams, testified behind closed doors Thursday in the investigation. Williams is a career foreign service officer in the State Department who is detailed to Pence's office as an adviser for Europe and Russia.

Williams is one of several White House aides who were listening in on the July phone call between Trump and Zelensky in which Trump asked the new leader to investigate Democrats, according to an administration official who requested anonymity to discuss the conversation.

Former national security adviser John Bolton failed to appear for an interview with impeachment investigators Thursday, making it unlikely that he will provide testimony to the House. Democrats say they will simply use the no-shows as evidence of the president's obstruction of Congress.

The White House has said it will not cooperate with the probe.

Trump admits to misusing his charity's funds

A New York judge on Thursday ordered President Donald Trump to pay $2 million to an array of charities to resolve a lawsuit alleging he misused his own charitable foundation to further his political and business interests. Judge Saliann Scarpulla said Trump breached his fiduciary duty to the Trump Foundation by allowing his campaign staff to plan a fundraiser for veterans' charities in the run-up to the 2016 Iowa caucuses. The event was designed "to further Mr. Trump's political campaign," Scarpulla said.

The judge also signed off on agreements between Trump's lawyers and the New York attorney general's office to close the Trump Foundation. In the agreements, Trump admitted to personally misusing Trump Foundation funds.— AP


Bosco Ntaganda

Congolese warlord gets prison for atrocities

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court passed its highest ever sentence Thursday, sending a Congolese warlord known as "The Terminator" to prison for 30 years for crimes including murder, rape and sexual slavery.

Bosco Ntaganda was found guilty in July of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role as a military commander in atrocities during a bloody ethnic conflict in a mineralrich region of Congo in 20022003.

Ntaganda showed no emotion as Presiding Judge Robert Fremr announced his sentence.— AP

Drought, hunger threaten millions of Africans

JOHANNESBURG — An estimated 45 million people are threatened with hunger by a severe drought strangling wide stretches of southern Africa.

Emergency food deliveries are planned for parts of South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other countries hard hit by a combination of low rainfall and high temperatures.

"The scale of the drought devastation across southern Africa is staggering," said Nellie Nyang'wa, southern Africa director for the international aid agency Oxfam.— AP

Iran alleges misdeeds by U.N. inspector

VIENNA — Iran alleged Thursday that the U.N. inspector it blocked from a nuclear site last week tested positive for suspected traces of explosive nitrates. The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, disputed Iran's claim.

The allegation made by Iranian representative Kazem Gharib Abadi came as Iran injected uranium gas into centrifuges at its underground Fordo nuclear complex Thursday, taking its most significant step away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the deal, promising a pact that would cover more of Iran's misdeeds.— AP

U.S.-led coalition starts policing Mideast oil routes

A U.S.-led coalition created to secure sea lines vital to oil shipping in the Middle East formally launched operations in the most concerted international response yet to months of tensions in the region.

Formed in response to a series of attacks on vessels and onshore facilities that some coalition members blamed on Iran, the International Maritime Security Construct, formerly known as Operation Sentinel, will protect ships crossing the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and Bab el-Mandeb.

"Over the last six months, we have seen increased threats in these waters," said U.S. Vice Admiral James Malloy, commander of America's Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain. The naval force will only attack if attacked, he said Thursday at a ceremony in Bahrain.— Bloomberg