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National

    A New Jersey couple’s Valentine’s Day was made extra special with the earlier-than-expected arrival of their triplet daughters. >> Read more trending news  Alicia and Jim Brown knew they were having three daughters, but didn’t think they would arrive so soon, the couple told WABC-TV. The girls were born one minute apart Thursday, starting at 3:33 a.m. The babies were due in April, so they’re currently growing stronger in Virtua Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The Browns said the babies are doing “excellent” despite their early debut. Jim Brown joked that Valentine’s Day will never be the same in their house. 'Not only is Valentine's Day much more expensive, now I have to buy stuff for three daughters and wife,' he said. 'But also birthdays now, as well.' The babies are expected to remain in the NICU until April.
  • Evidence collected over months and being unveiled Monday could reveal whether the nation's last undecided congressional election was either tainted by so much ballot-tampering that a winner cannot be declared - or that that the actual winner was unfairly denied the seat. North Carolina's state elections board — reassembled last month after an unrelated legal challenge found the previous version unconstitutional — holds at least two days of hearings when investigators will describe their findings into allegations that a political operative may have tampered with or even discarded mail-in ballots. The State Board of Elections said it could decide after hearing the evidence whether to certify Republican Mark Harris as the winner over Democrat Dan McCready. It also could order a new election in the 9th Congressional District. The previous elections board twice refused to declare Harris the winner after hearing reports of irregularities just before the November 2016 election in rural Bladen County, home of a political operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. Dowless' vote-getting work has drawn attention for years. But with Harris leading McCready by only 905 votes out of nearly 278,000 cast, Dowless has come under intense focus. 'You likely wouldn't know as much about these allegations if it hadn't been such a close race,' said Martin Kifer, the political science department chairman at North Carolina's High Point University. One of the methods participants said Dowless used was to hire workers to collect absentee ballots from voters who received them and then turn them over to Dowless, according to an elections board investigation of the 2016 campaign. One witness interviewed by investigators last year said he saw Dowless handling a sheaf of blank ballots and others that may have been completed and held to turn in later. Workers took the ballots, whether completed or not, and handed them over to Dowless, according to sworn affidavits signed by multiple voters after the November election. In addition, two Bladen County women told WSOC-TV in Charlotte last fall that Dowless had directed them to do the same. State election law prohibits anyone other than a guardian or close family member to handle mail-in ballots. Former Bladen County sheriff's deputy Kenneth Simmons told The Associated Press that he met Dowless at a meeting of local Republicans ahead of the May 2018 primary. Simmons said he was given a list of voters to approach on behalf of the candidate for sheriff he supported. He said he was also handed blank absentee ballots with sections highlighted in yellow that Dowless said needed to be completed. 'He highlighted it, for where to fill it out, and he said as long as they got that much of it he'd do the rest,' Simmons said in a phone interview. Dowless declined an interview request and his lawyer did not respond to messages. Harris' team said in a legal briefing submitted to the elections board last week that the board should certify him the winner no matter what Dowless did for the campaign. 'Technical irregularities —like ballot harvesting — do not provide enough reason to order a new election,' the attorneys said. The elections board also is expected to hear about the unusual number of absentee ballots that voters requested but never returned. A Harvard University elections expert is expected to testify that absentee ballots in Bladen and neighboring Robeson counties disappeared at a rate 2 ½ to three times higher than the rest of the congressional district or elsewhere in North Carolina. Of the absentee ballots that were returned, Harris 'greatly overperformed' in Bladen and Robeson counties when compared to what might have been expected based on patterns elsewhere in the state. McCready 'greatly underperformed,' said Prof. Stephen Ansolabehere. 'Statistical tests show that these deviations are extremely unlikely to have arisen by chance,' Ansolabehere said in an affidavit filed on behalf of McCready. Dowless' activities could lead the state elections board to 'order a new election if the results are in doubt even if the candidates had nothing to do with any malfeasance,' or wrongful conduct, said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine. Four of the five members on the board — composed of three Democrats and two Republicans — would need to agree a new election is necessary. If that doesn't happen, McCready's lawyers said state officials should send their findings to the Democrat-dominated U.S. House and let it decide whether Harris should be seated — arguing that the U.S. Constitution gives the House authority over the elections and qualifications of its members. ___ Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery%20dalesio .
  • In early November, word began to leak that Amazon was serious about choosing New York to build a giant new campus. The city was eager to lure the company and its thousands of high-paying tech jobs, offering billions in tax incentives and lighting the Empire State Building in Amazon orange. Even Governor Andrew Cuomo got in on the action: 'I'll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that's what it takes,' he joked at the time. Then Amazon made it official: It chose the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens to build a $2.5 billion campus that could house 25,000 workers, in addition to new offices planned for northern Virginia. Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Democrats who have been political adversaries for years, trumpeted the decision as a major coup after edging out more than 230 other proposals. But what they didn't expect was the protests, the hostile public hearings and the disparaging tweets that would come in the next three months, eventually leading to Amazon's dramatic Valentine's Day breakup with New York. Immediately after Amazon's Nov. 12 announcement, criticism started to pour in. The deal included $1.5 billion in special tax breaks and grants for the company, but a closer look at the total package revealed it to be worth at least $2.8 billion. Some of the same politicians who had signed a letter to woo Amazon were now balking at the tax incentives. 'Offering massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong,' said New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris and New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Democrats who represent the Long Island City area, in a joint statement. The next day, CEO Jeff Bezos was on the cover of The New York Post in a cartoon-like illustration, hanging out of a helicopter, holding money bags in each hand, with cash billowing above the skyline. 'QUEENS RANSOM,' the headline screamed. The New York Times editorial board, meanwhile, called the deal a 'bad bargain' for the city: 'We won't know for 10 years whether the promised 25,000 jobs will materialize,' it said. Anti-Amazon rallies were planned for the next week. Protesters stormed a New York Amazon bookstore on the day after Thanksgiving and then went to a rally on the steps of a courthouse near the site of the new headquarters in the pouring rain. Some held cardboard boxes with Amazon's smile logo turned upside down. They had a long list of grievances: the deal was done secretively; Amazon, one of the world's most valuable companies, didn't need nearly $3 billion in tax incentives; rising rents could push people out of the neighborhood; and the company was opposed to unionization. The helipad kept coming up, too: Amazon, in its deal with the city, was promised it could build a spot to land a helicopter on or near the new offices. At the first public hearing in December, which turned into a hostile, three-hour interrogation of two Amazon executives by city lawmakers, the helipad was mentioned more than a dozen times. The image of high-paid executives buzzing by a nearby low-income housing project became a symbol of corporate greed. Queens residents soon found postcards from Amazon in their mailboxes, trumpeting the benefits of the project. Gianaris sent his own version, calling the company 'Scamazon' and urging people to call Bezos and tell him to stay in Seattle. At a second city council hearing in January, Amazon's vice president for public policy, Brian Huseman, subtly suggested that perhaps the company's decision to come to New York could be reversed. 'We want to invest in a community that wants us,' he said. Then came a sign that Amazon's opponents might actually succeed in derailing the deal: In early February, Gianaris was tapped for a seat on a little-known state panel that often has to approve state funding for big economic development projects. That meant if Amazon's deal went before the board, Gianaris could kill it. 'I'm not looking to negotiate a better deal,' Gianaris said at the time. 'I am against the deal that has been proposed.' Cuomo had the power to block Gianaris' appointment, but he didn't indicate whether he would take that step. Meanwhile, Amazon's own doubts about the project started to show. On Feb. 8, The Washington Post reported that the company was having second thoughts about the Queens location. On Wednesday, Cuomo brokered a meeting with four top Amazon executives and the leaders of three unions critical of the deal. The union leaders walked away with the impression that the parties had an agreed upon framework for further negotiations, said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union. 'We had a good conversation. We talked about next steps. We shook hands,' Appelbaum said. An Amazon representative did not respond to a request for comment for this story. The final blow landed Thursday, when Amazon announced on a blog post that it was backing out, surprising the mayor, who had spoken to an Amazon executive Monday night and received 'no indication' that the company would bail. Amazon still expected the deal to be approved, according to a source familiar with Amazon's thinking, but that the constant criticism from politicians didn't make sense for the company to grow there. 'I was flabbergasted,' De Blasio said. 'Why on earth after all of the effort we all put in would you simply walk away?' ___ Associated Press Writers Alexandra Olson and Karen Matthews in New York, and David Klepper in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.
  • Chicago police released without charges two Nigerian brothers arrested on suspicion of assaulting 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett and said they have new evidence to investigate as a result of questioning them. 'The individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete,' Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a brief statement late Friday. He gave no details of the new evidence. Smollett, who is black and gay, has said two masked men shouting racial and anti-gay slurs and 'This is MAGA country!' beat him and looped a rope around his neck early on Jan. 29 before running away. He said they also poured some kind of chemical on him. Smollett, 36, said he was out getting food at a Subway sandwich shop in downtown Chicago when the attack happened. A spokeswoman for Smollett said she had no comment on the release of the two men Friday. The two men, identified only as Nigerian brothers, were picked up at Chicago's O'Hare Airport on Wednesday on their return from Nigeria after police learned at least one worked on 'Empire,' Guglielmi said. He said he did not know what the man's job was. Guglielmi also said police searched the Chicago apartment where the men lived. But he said he had no information on what was found. Police have said they found no surveillance video of an attack but continue to look. Investigators also said they were contacting stores in the hope of finding out who bought the rope that was around Smollett's neck. But police earlier this week said there was 'no evidence to say that this is a hoax' and that Smollett 'continues to be treated by police as a victim, not a suspect.' In an interview with ABC News, the singer and actor said he didn't remove the rope from around his neck before police arrived 'because I wanted them to see.' Smollett also said he initially refused to give police his cellphone because the device contained private content and phone numbers. He later gave detectives heavily redacted phone records that police have said are insufficient for an investigation. ___ See AP's complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case: https://www.apnews.com/JussieSmollett
  • The frantic calls started pouring in at 1:24 p.m. A gunman was shooting people inside a sprawling manufacturing warehouse in Aurora, Illinois. Within four minutes, the first police officers rushed to the 29,000-square-foot building in the suburban Chicago city and were fired on immediately; one was struck outside and four others shot inside. By the time the chaos ended Friday afternoon, five male employees of Henry Pratt Co. were found dead and the gunman was killed in a shootout with police after a 90-minute search of the sprawling warehouse. Five male police officers were hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening. 'For so many years, we have seen similar situations throughout our nation and the horrible feeling that we get when we see it on the news. To experience it first-hand, is even more painful,' said Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin. Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman said the gunman, 45-year-old Gary Martin, was being fired from his job Friday after 15 years with the company. It was not immediately known why Martin was being fired. 'We don't know whether he had the gun on him at the time or if he went to retrieve it,' Ziman said. She also said that authorities don't yet know if the employees firing him were among the victims. The names of those killed were not immediately released. In addition to the five employees killed, a sixth worker was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening. A sixth police officer suffered a knee injury while officers were searching the building. The shooting shocked the city of 200,000 that is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Chicago. Christy Fonseca often worries about some of the gang-related crimes and shootings around her mother's Aurora neighborhood. But she never expected the type of phone call she got from her mom on Friday, warning her to be careful with an active shooter loose in the town. Police cars with screaming sirens revved past her as she drove to her mother's house, where the Henry Pratt building is visible from the porch stoop. It was only when they flipped on the television news that they realized Martin had killed people just a few hundred feet away. 'In Aurora, period, we'd never thought anything like this would happen,' Fonseca, a lifelong resident, said as she looked out at the warehouse where Henry Pratt makes valves for industrial purposes. At Acorn Woods Condominiums where Martin lived, a mix of brick apartments and condos nestled on a quiet street just a mile and a half from the shooting, neighbors gathered on sidewalks near Martin's unit talking and wondering among themselves if they knew or had come in contact with him. Mary McKnight stepped out of her car with a cherry cheesecake purchased for her son's birthday, to find a flurry of police cars, officers and media trucks. 'This is a strange thing to come home to, right,' she said. She had just learned that the shooter lived close by and his unit in the complex had been taped off by police. Asked if Martin's rampage had been a 'classic' workplace shooting, police chief Ziman said: 'I don't know. We can only surmise with a gentleman that's being terminated that this was something he intended to do.' .
  • Union County sheriff’s detectives were staking out an area Thursday near Wesley Chapel, North Carolina, when they saw two males leave a red vehicle. >> Read more trending news The suspicious people put on ski masks and hoodies and kicked in the front door of a residence. Detectives 'noticed they started putting on ski masks covering their faces putting hoodies on their heads, then they made their way toward the house and kicked the front door in,' said Tony Underwood with the Union County Sheriff’s Office. Patrol officers were called in and after a short time, the intruders left the house carrying a bag and got back into a vehicle where a driver was waiting. Authorities stopped the vehicle near Goldmine Road and Corporate Center Road. 'I heard sirens, and I saw a lot of Sheriff's Office deputies driving really fast down the street,' neighbor Shannon Skiscin said. Two of the suspects were taken into custody and the third fled on foot but was apprehended a short time later. Inside the vehicle, authorities found a 9 mm handgun, Taser, cellphones, ski masks and about 1,100 Xanax bars. The three suspects were Gabriel Alexander Oyuch, 20, of Matthews, Jaydan Burwell, 20, of Charlotte, and Michael Lamonte Byrd, 24, of Charlotte.  'I've never (sic) known nothing to happen,” neighbor Tammy Heath said. “I've fallen asleep with my door unlocked.' Detectives then executed a search warrant for the home and found marijuana, about 200 Xanax bars, Roxicodone and more than $2,400 in cash. The two people arrested in the home were Michael Joseph Tabbit, 18, of Wesley Chapel, and Jonathan Troy Sierski, 20, who lives at the house. Oyuch was charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit a felony, felonious breaking and entering and possession with intent to sell and deliver a Schedule IV controlled substance.  Burwell was charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit a felony, felonious breaking and entering, felony larceny and possession with intent to sell and deliver a Schedule IV controlled substance.  Byrd was charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit a felony, felonious breaking and entering, felony larceny and possession with intent to sell and deliver a Schedule IV controlled substance.  Tabbit and Swierski also face numerous drug charges. “Outstanding police work,” Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said. “Deputies were in the right place at the right time to apprehend armed criminals who boldly entered an occupied residence in the middle of the afternoon. A situation like that could have ended much differently.”  The home invasion was not a random crime, authorities said.
  • One man was arrested after police in Florida said he allowed an underage girl to take the wheel during a trip to the store, according to the Brevard County Sheriff's Office. >> Read more trending news Officials said a vehicle was observed be driven into the opposite lane and into dirt off the side of the roadway Thursday in the area of North Tropical Trail at about 6:15 p.m. Police came in contact with the vehicle, where 62-year-old Mark Papczynski said he allowed the girl to drive to the store 'to get her a snack and himself another 18 pack of beer,' according to an arrest report. Papczynski admitted that letting the girl drive was dangerous. In a post-jail interview Papczynski said, 'I was brought up in the old school, where parents always taught their children the ways of life,' in regards to the incident. He also said that 'it wasn't like she was doing it for the first time.' He faces two charges of child neglect without great bodily harm and permitting an unauthorized person to drive, according to jail records.
  • It was a busy day for Atlanta rapper 21 Savage Friday, starting with a pretaped appearance on “Good Morning America,” followed by being booked into a South Georgia jail on a felony theft by deception warrant. He was later released, according to the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office. >> Read more trending news The Friday legal matter is connected to a concert booking from 2016 for which a promoter paid the musician, whose real name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, $17,000, TMZ reported. The rapper kept the money but did not perform, so the promoter filed paperwork to get a warrant issued for his arrest, according to TMZ’s report. “The warrant is from some years ago, and he went through the process and addressed the issue,” Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes told the Coastal Courier newspaper in Hinesville.
  • A Florida man said he was going through his morning routine when he walked out of his apartment bathroom and realized his Nest security camera was on. >> Read more trending news Adam King said he then heard a voice he did not recognize. 'The light came on and caught my attention, and I believe he said, 'No one wants to see that,'' King said. 'He had an accent, proceeded to do some shuffling of the microphone. When I left the bedroom, some music or audio of some (sort) came on.' King said someone was using a computer or cellphone to watch him through the Nest app. He said he walked into his living room to search for his cellphone or his iPad so he could turn off the camera, but he was unable to, because the other person had control of the app. 'I had no choice but to come right back inside and unplug the camera,' King said. Nest, which is owned by Google, provided WFTV with the following statement: 'Nest Security has not been breached or compromised. Customers may be vulnerable because their email addresses and passwords are freely available on the internet. If a website is compromised, it's possible for someone to gain access to user email addresses and passwords, and from there, gain access to any accounts that use the same login credentials.' Jason Cook, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement cybercrimes supervisor, said it is important to use a secured network. 'It's your thermostat. It's your home surveillance system, your washer and dryer, Wi-Fi, controlled outlet sometimes,' he said. 'They're all running through your network, and if your network isn't secured, all of that stuff is vulnerable.' Nest said that it encourages users to utilize its two-layer authentication process. King said he is unwilling to put his privacy at risk again. 'I don't want to put my camera back up on the wall in fear it could be hacked again,' he said. The company spokesman would not estimate how many customers have experienced similar issues.
  • A federal judge in Montana has largely kept in place an injunction that blocks a Canadian company from performing preliminary work on the stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris on Friday denied a request by Calgary-based TransCanada to begin constructing worker camps for the 1,184-mile pipeline that would ship crude from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. However, Morris said TransCanada could perform some limited activities outside the pipeline's right-of-way. Those include the construction and use of pipe storage and container yards. TransCanada attorneys had argued the injunction issued by Morris in November could cause it to miss the 2019 construction season and further delay the project. An appeal of November's ruling is pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.