Washington (CNN) – Federal authorities Thursday indicted 26 suspects in nine states in a wide-ranging scheme to defraud a program intended to help the deaf.
Officials said they arrested conspirators in New York, New Jersey,
Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Maryland.
"The individuals charged in connection with today's operation are alleged to have stolen tens of millions of dollars from an important government program that is intended to help deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans communicate with hearing persons," said Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Criminal Division.
Breuer told reporters the defendants allegedly generated fraudulent call minutes by making it appear that deaf Americans were engaging in legitimate calls with hearing persons. "In reality, the defendants were simply attempting to steal money from an FCC program that is funded by every single American who pays their telephone bills," he said.
The FBI was deeply involved in the investigation, authorities said.
Washington (CNN) – In the 2004 election, "new media" was defined by blogs. In 2008, it was defined by Facebook and Twitter. In 2012, those social media tools will move from your computer screen to your pocket, as mobile technology helps define the new terms of campaign engagement.
Political strategists are getting ready for the new era - testing new uses for mobile technology, and generating massive contact lists. Last week, Harry Reid's re-election campaign launched a text messaging program surveying constituents on their feelings about health care. Those results were then sent out for all to see on Reid's campaign Twitter account.
"Last campaign was almost, but this campaign will be, a tipping point for mobile," says Todd Ogasawara, who writes the blog Mobile Content Today. "A lot of these tools are not only maturing, but the people using these tools are maturing."
A third of Nevada's voters registered after Reid's last re-election bid in 2004. Thirty-seven percent of those are under the age of 30, a demographic that began texting not long after they learned to talk.
They may not pick up a newspaper, but they never put down their cell phone.
"The campaign recognizes cell phones are a primary mode of communication and we need to go communicate with voters on their turf," Reid campaign manager Brandon Hall told CNN. The new technology, he says, is driving traditional political organizing. "Instead of having someone knock at someone's door, it allows you to do all the traditional political organizing online," he said.
CEDAR CREEK, Texas (CNN) – Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, the soon-to-be-governors of New Jersey and Virginia, both deflected questions Wednesday about why Sarah Palin did not appear with the two Republicans during their respective campaigns.
Christie said he only had three GOP heavyweights visit New Jersey during his campaign - Rudy Giuliani, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney - and each came for a specific reason.
“I had a long standing relationship with Mayor Giuliani,” Christie explained. “Gov. Pawlenty and Gov. Romney both faced the same type of crises financially in their state when they took over that we did.”
Washington (CNN) - Abortion rights opponents made clear Thursday that they are adamantly against language regarding coverage for reproductive services in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's health care bill.
"Senator Reid's bill provides for an unprecedented expansion of federally funded abortion," said Charmaine Yoest, head of the group Americans United for Life. "The majority of Americans who oppose federal funding of abortion will not stand for policies that force them into paying for abortions under the guise of health care reform."
The Senate plan would allow abortion coverage through privately funded premiums in both a government-run public insurance option and private plans purchased with the assistance of government subsidies.
The more conservative House of Representatives plan, in contrast, would bar abortion coverage under both the public option and private policies purchased with government subsidies. House Democratic leaders opposed the measure, but added it to win critical support from anti-abortion members.
Washington (CNN) – Two of every three dollars federal authorities recovered from frauds against the government come from health care fraud, a top Justice Department official disclosed Thursday.
As the cost of proposed health care programs is front and center for the president and the Senate, Assistant Attorney General Tony West told reporters that $1.6 billion of the $2.4 billion recovered through lawsuits during the past year was the direct result of fraud against federal health care programs.
The $2.4 billion in settlements and court judgments against defendants
accused of fraud is the second largest annual recovery of civil fraud claims in history, West said.
The Justice Department has stepped up enforcement of health care fraud through the use of regional strike forces.
West said of the 1,040 cases currently under investigation, about 600 deal with health care fraud. A much smaller number deal with defense procurement fraud and other claims.
Most health care fraud charges in recent months have focused on people accused of overcharging Medicare for wheelchairs and other medical devices.
CEDAR CREEK, Texas (CNN) – Virginia Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell on Wednesday would not disavow Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson’s recent claim that Islam is not a religion, but “a violent political system.”
McDonnell, though, stressed that he reached out to Muslims and visited mosques in Virginia throughout the governor’s race and will continue to do so when he takes office in January.
Muslim groups have called on McDonnell to condemn the remark because Robertson is a longtime political benefactor of the Republican, who won a blowout victory in this year’s closely-watched gubernatorial election.
McDonnell attended law school at CBN University (now Regent University), founded by Robertson, and has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the televangelist along with appearing on his show, “The 700 Club.”
Havana, Cuba (CNN) – A metaphorical timeout has been in place between the United States and Cuba for nearly 50 years. But that could all be changing with the help of sports.
Fifty-six Americans flew to Havana this week for a series of games with Cuban counterparts. The games are friendly, But these veteran players take their softball seriously.
"Well we sort of got a handle on softball diplomacy and big things start in small places and maybe this will be the spot for it," said U.S. softball player Stu Gray.
For the opposing pitcher, it's working.
"This bolsters ties between the two countries ... There's a real friendship between us," said Cuban softball player Roberto Castelo.
Players from the two baseball-crazed nations are all over 55.
"I'd like to see more Americans have the opportunity to come to Cuba and see what Cuba is today. And I think the Cubans appreciate Americans," said U.S. softball player David Brissen.
And that idea is gaining traction in Congress.
Washington (CNN) – The House voted Thursday to prevent cuts in coming years in Medicare reimbursements to doctors.
However, the so-called "doc fix" bill was defeated earlier this year in the Senate, which is unlikely to reconsider the measure until after it completes work on an overall health care reform bill.
The House approved the $210 billion bill on a 243-183 vote, mostly on partisan lines. Democrats called it a necessary step to address an annual problem under a 1997 formula that limits increases in Medicare reimbursement costs.
(CNN) – A new poll of New York state voters indicates Rudy Giuliani leads incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in a hypothetical Senate race.
According to a Marist College survey released Thursday afternoon, 54 percent of registered voters in New York support the former New York City mayor for Senate, with four in 10 backing Gillibrand, a Democratic congresswoman from upstate New York who was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton's former Senate seat. Gillibrand is running in 2010 to serve the final two years of Clinton's term.
The poll indicates that Giuliani would top former New York State Gov. George Pataki 71 percent to 24 percent in a hypothetical Republican Senate primary next year. In September, Pataki wouldn't say if he was interested in making a bid for the senate seat held by Gillibrand. Earlier this year, fellow Republican Rep. Peter King officially announced that he would not challenge Gillbrand next year.
According to the poll, Giuliani leads Gillibrand overwhelmingly among registered Republicans, tops her by 14 points among independents, and trails her by 26 points among registered Democrats. The survey indicates that New York City voters are divided between Giuliani and Gillibrand.
Cedar Creek, Texas (CNN)– Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Thursday that he hopes Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison remains in the Senate and acknowledged that he has spoken with her about challenging Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP primary.
Barbour, head of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), would not elaborate on his conversation with Hutchison, but did say he personally hopes Perry wins another term.
"I would just hate to lose Kay Bailey in the Senate," Barbour said at a news conference during the RGA's annual meeting. "She has been a great senator. I would just hate to lose a great senator like that when we have a fine governor."
Barbour did note that the RGA, which is the campaign arm for GOP governors, would not be taking a side in the primary. Still, this week's conference is being held in Perry's home state and he has played a prominent role as host of the event.