Lawyer for American arrested by Russia on spying charges says he thinks he may be exchanged

WORLD NEWS Lawyer for American arrested by Russia on spying charges says he thinks he may be exchanged

allanswart/iStock(MOSCOW) — The Russian lawyer of an American man arrested in Russia for alleged spying has raised the possibility his client will be convicted and exchanged for a Russian currently in jail in America.

The lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, is representing Paul Whelan, the former Marine, who was arrested by Russia’s domestic intelligence agency on espionage charges last Friday.

Russia has not yet provided any details on the charges, which carry a possible jail sentence of 10 to 20 years. Whelan’s family have said it is impossible for him to be a spy and that he was wrongly arrested while attending a friend’s wedding in Moscow.

Speaking to ABC News on Thursday, Zherebenkov said Whelan intended to fight the charges and plead not guilty. But he then quickly brought up the possibility of an exchange, unprompted, and appeared to suggest he thought it was the most likely outcome. He also said he believed Whelan had been under surveillance by Russia’s security services for “quite a long time.”

“The thing is that in this category of cases, exchanges often happen,” Zherebenkov said by telephone when asked what were the next stages in the case.

“For an exchange to happen, there has to be a court, the court has to examine the case, to prove his guilt, the sentence must come into legal force, after that the president can pardon him and an exchange can happen, for Russians citizens that are in detention in America,” he said.

Asked if that meant he believed Whelan’s case would likely end with such an exchange, Zherebenkov said:

“It is not excluded– such a practice exists. It exists and there are a lot of Russian citizens being held in America. Naturally, our state, our leadership are trying, by some means, to return them to the Motherland,” he said.

He said that he expected the case would last at least 6 months to a year, after which an exchange might be possible.

“But I want to say that it is a long process — minimum half a year, longer even. As far long as all the evidence has not been examined and guilt is not fully established.”

Neither Russia nor the United States as made any suggestion that an exchange is being considered, but the question of one has hung in the background because Whelan’s case follows closely on the heels of Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights activist who last month pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to acting as an illegal foreign agent. Butina admitted to trying to infiltrate American conservative political circles with the goal of influencing Republican policy towards Russia, acting on behalf of a well-connected Russian official.

Russia has denounced Butina’s prosecution as a fabricated witch hunt and the two cases’ proximity has quickly produced speculation around whether the arrest of Whelan might be retaliation by Russia’s government or that it might seek to make an exchange for her.

Asked if he had meant Butina when he had referred to an exchange, Zherebenkov said he did, but also listed two other convicted Russians currently held in U.S. jails and whose release the Russian government has repeatedly called for. He named Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot convicted of trying to smuggle $100 million worth of cocaine into America and Viktor Bout, an arms dealer suspected of working with Russian intelligence.

“I mean Butina, I mean Yaroshenko— that one worries me most of all, in that he is in a bad state of health — and Bout is there, and also many other citizens, unfortunately,” Zherebenkov said.

Zherebenkov, however, rejected the idea that Whelan’s arrest had any connection to Butina’s, saying that, as he understood it, Russia’s domestic security agency, the Federal Security Service or FSB, had been following Whelan long before her case.

“There is absolutely no connection,” he said. “He fell into their field of vision, as far as I understand, earlier.”

It is currently unclear though why Whelan would have attracted the eyes of the Russian security services. Russia has so far provided no details of what Whalen is accused of.

A native of Michigan, Whelan was a staff sergeant in the Marines who served two tours in Iraq in 2004 and 2006, service records show. But in 2008, he received a bad conduct discharge from the military and was demoted to the rank of private over larceny charges, according to the records.

Whelan is now the director of global security for BorgWarner Inc., a large American auto parts supplier, according to a statement from the company.

His family has expressed astonishment at his arrest and said the Russian charges cannot be true.

“He’s got a military background, he’s been in corporate security for years,” Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, said Tuesday. “He was going to be very well aware of the risks of traveling in Russia. I just don’t see him putting himself in a position where he would be considered to break the law by a government like Russia’s.”

Dan Fried, the former top U.S. diplomat to Europe and now a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, said some current U.S. officials see the arrest as a hostage-taking by Russia, comparing it to Andrew Bruson, the American pastor who was seized by Turkey and later released after lobbying by President Donald Trump.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked by reporters on Tuesday if he believed Russia had taken Whelan in retaliation for Butina’s detention.

“We’ve made clear to the Russians our expectation that we will learn more about charges and come to understand what it is he is accused of and if the detention is not appropriate, we will demand his immediate release,” Pompeo told reporters at a press conference in Brazil. On Thursday, the State Department declined to comment on the possibility of a swap after it was raised by Zherebenkov.

Zherebenkov said he has been acquainted with the charges against Whelan and some detailed case materials, but said he was not permitted to reveal them because of a non-disclosure agreement.

Zherebenkov said he expected an announcement that Whalen has been formerly charged to be made in the next two days and that they would contest them. He had filed on Thursday, he said, an appeal against Whelan’s pretrial detention, requesting he be released on bail.

Amid the silence from Russian officials, Rosbalt, a Russian news site known to have close ties to the security services ,published an article Wednesday containing what it claimed were the allegations against Whelan.

Rosbalt, citing an anonymous source in Russia’s security services, alleged that Paul Whelan had been caught by FSB agents in possession of a memory card containing a classified list of secret Russian operatives.

On Thursday, Rosbalt published further allegations, asserting that Russia’s intelligence services believed Paul Whelan had worked as a spy for 10 years, seeking to recruit Russians picked by American intelligence agencies as promising sources with access to classified materials by befriending them on internet forums and then, years later, traveling to Russia to meet them.

Russian authorities have not commented on the Rosbalt reports and the claims have not been independently verified. The site is viewed by some experts as a place for sometime-targeted leaks from the security services and some interpreted them as a sign of what Whelan would be accused of, whether true or not.

Zherebenkov said he had read the Rosbalt reports but could not comment on them, citing the case’s confidentiality agreement.

“As for if that will be confirmed, well, there will be an investigation, the criminal case will be investigated, and studied,” the lawyer said, saying everything will be dealt with in court.

Despite that, he said he believed the Russian security services had been conducting surveillance on Whelan for a long time prior to his arrest.

“I suggest that surveillance was being conducted for quite a long time, they were observing his activity,” Zherebenkov said, adding arrests in such cases only come after months of investigation. He did not elaborate on what activity he thought the Russians might have been observing.

A self-identified Russophile and avid traveler, Whalen has visited Russia previously. He has traveled to Moscow as a tourist and for work, according to his brother. Whelan has an account on the Russian social media site, VKontakte, which he appears to have used to mostly post holiday wishes and to express his condolences to Russians following disasters, sometimes in Russian.

Last week, he was in Russia to attend the wedding of an old friend from the Marines, who was marrying a Russian woman, his family said. He had been staying at the upscale Metropol hotel in central Moscow. On the day of Whelan’s arrest, the group had gone sightseeing, touring the Kremlin. But his friends became alarmed when he did not appear for the ceremony a few hours later.

Whelan is now being held in Lefortovo prison, a former KGB detention center in Moscow, which is known for housing spies and other high value prisoners.

Zherebenkov, who visited Whelan on Wednesday, said he was in good spirits and that his rights were being observed.

“He feels entirely fine, he is holding himself with dignity, with confidence,” Zherebenkov told ABC News. “Even with some humor.”

Zherebenkov said Whalen was being held alone in a cell, but expected he would be placed with another inmate later, preferably an English-speaker, since his Russian is poor.

Whalen has been without a toothbrush, underwear or other essentials since his arrest, according to Zherebenkov, but the lawyer said he believed the prison would provide those Thursday. Whalen’s family will have to provide basic toiletries and clothes, as well as improved food, he said, which is standard practice in Russian detention centers.

Zherebenkov said that he was working off the basis that Whelan was innocent because Russia’s constitution guaranteed a presumption of innocence. But he said only a court and a full investigation could determine his guilt.

“I believe that we will, how to say, resist the investigation quite effectively, that is contest the charges and present evidence of his innocence,” Zherebenkov said. “There is a lot of work to do.”

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Posted On 03 Jan 2019

Teen placed in medically-induced coma after trying to break up fight at his own birthday party

Google Map Street View(TOLEDO, Ohio) — A teen has been placed in a medically-induced coma after he was attacked while trying to break up a fight on his 19th birthday on New Year’s Day.

Matthew Gullat was celebrating at a Fairfield Inn in Toledo, Ohio, with a group that included his girlfriend and cousin when a fight broke out in the parking lot outside the hotel before 1 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Toledo Police Department.

At least 10 people were involved in the fight, police said. Investigators are currently searching for three unknown suspects, one of whom they believe goes by the first name Melvin and another who goes by the nickname “Day Day,” according to the police report.

Gullat’s cousin, Danielle Brown, 18, told police that she saw “Melvin,” whom she recognized through mutual friends, sitting in the driver’s seat of a white Chevrolet Impala, the report stated.

After Brown said “Hi” to Melvin, a passenger sitting in the car exited and began yelling at the group, asking Melvin, “What they on?” Brown told police, according to the report.

Brown said that Melvin attempted to calm the passenger, whom he referred to as “Day Day,” advising him that he knew Brown, according to the report. “Day Day” then confronted a male who was with Brown, engaging him in a fight, Brown told police.

When Gullat attempted to intervene, Melvin and the third suspect lifted him up before dropping him to the ground and knocking him unconscious, police said. “Day Day” then approached Gullat and and began “kicking him about the head and face, and stomping on his head and neck,” the police report stated.

“Day Day” continued his assault until Gullat’s girlfriend, Savannah Parker, intervened, and “Day Day” then struck her on her back about three times, police said. Parker and Brown told police that they then laid over Gullat’s body in an attempt to protect him as Melvin and the other suspects “drove around them repeatedly before fleeing the scene,” acccording to the report.

One witness who saw the end of the fight told police she saw that Gullat was unconscious and “needing help from his friends to stand,” the report stated.

When officers arrived to the hotel, they saw about five to six people in the parking lot helping a man to his feet and into an ambulance already on the scene, according to the report. Officers observed him to be “unsteady on his feet” and “Out of it,” according to the report.

Gullat was transported to the hospital, where he was placed in a medically-induced coma, his parents told ABC Toledo station WTVG. He suffered serious head injuries and is now in the intensive care unit, the station reported.

Gullat’s mother, Lisa Gordon, told WTVG that he is on a ventilator and has a drill coming out of the right side of his head.

“Matthew is a fighter, and he’s fighting for his life,” Gordon said.

Gullat’s father, Hosey Gullat, told WTVG that he has “cried so much” since the beginning of the new year.

“Just 42 minutes into his birthday, and now he’s sitting in this hospital barely able to move,” Hosey Gullat said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

No arrests have been made in the case, Toledo Police spokesman Lt. Kellie Lenhardt told ABC News.

Gullat’s parents urged the suspects to turn themselves in.

“I just want them to come forward and admit what they did,” Gordon said. “…I forgive what they did to my son. Everybody makes mistakes, especially when you’re under the influence of alcohol and drugs, you tend to do things that you normally don’t do. I’m a Christian, and I have been taught to forgive.”

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12 seasons, many tears, and one busted elevator: Stars of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ tell ‘EW’ about the final season

Entertainment News  12 seasons, many tears, and one busted elevator: Stars of 'The Big Bang Theory' tell 'EW' about the final season


Michael Yarish/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. © 2018 WBEI.(LOS ANGELES) — The stars of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory are sharing some laughs — and some tears — with Entertainment Weekly as part of the magazine’s Winter TV Preview.  The hit series is ending this spring.

In a video EW’s website, Johnny Galecki, who plays Leonard; Kaley Cuoco, who plays his onscreen wife Penny; and Emmy-winner Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon, share their early impressions of each other, and their hopes for the show’s final episodes. 

“There’s no negative reason to stop doing Big Bang,” Parsons says, adding, “It’s both as complex and as simple as it just felt innately that it’s just…it’s time.”

“None of us are going to be able to keep from crying during the last taping,” says Galecki,  “We’ve got to justify it in the writing somehow, because that’s inevitable.”

As if proving his point, Galecki breaks down. “Sensitive group,” he says, trying to compose himself.

The three separately agreed that they all had one hope for the last episode.

“Other than fixing that God**** elevator, I don’t know what to tackle,” jokes Parsons.

“That would be a great show ending for me!” adds Cuoco.

Galecki says, “The elevator gets fixed, at least for a minute, and then maybe we all get stuck in it.”
Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved

Posted On 03 Jan 2019

Protests rock parts of India after two women enter Hindu temple and break longstanding ban

WORLD NEWS Protests rock parts of India after two women enter Hindu temple and break longstanding ban

ajijchan/iStock(KOCHI, India) — The entry of two women into a temple shrine in India has sparked violent protests and clashes across the state of Kerala and led to hundreds of arrests.

India’s Supreme Court lifted a ban on women of menstruating age in the Sabarimala temple in September. Women between the ages of 10 and 50 had traditionally been banned because Lord Ayyappa, the revered Hindu god who is worshipped in the temple, is a celibate bachelor. More generally, Hinduism forbids women who are menstruating to enter temple complexes, but does allow women to worship when they are not menstruating.

“We are all for gender equality, but Sabarimala is not about gender equality. It is only a matter of age regulation because of the nature of the deity, Lord Ayyappa, who is eternally celibate,” said Rahul Easwar, a high-profile local activist who has opposed entry of women of menstruating age into the temple.

On Wednesday, two women, identified by police as Bindu, 41, and Kanaka Durga, 40, both residents of Kerala, successfully entered the shrine early in the morning dressed in black. Their entrance was captured on a video that was posted to social media.

The women were the first to successfully enter the temple after the Supreme Court’s ruling. Despite the ruling, other women who tried to enter the shrine over the past few weeks were stopped from doing so by devotees and other groups who strongly oppose the entry of women of menstruating age into the temple complex. The issue is a deeply emotive and divisive one in the state of Kerala stemming from a centuries-old tradition.

“We are extremely hurt that they [the Kerala government] did this midnight drama. This is a betrayal,” Easwar said of the women’s entrance into the temple.

Attempts by ABC News to contact the women were not successful.

Reports that the women entered the shrine lead to right-wing political parties like the BJP, among others, to call for a state-wide shutdown of businesses and other government organizations.

“The police took two ladies, early in the morning, they brought them into the temple. Immediately Hindu organizations, including the BJP, have called for a hartal [shutdown]. Today is the hartal [shutdown],” explained B. Gopalakrishnan, a spokesperson for the BJP in Kerala.

Incidences of violence have also been reported across the state, but VP Pramod Kumar, a Kerala Police spokesperson, told ABC News authorities are prepared.

“The police is prepared to meet any type of eventuality. The Kerala police have launched ‘Operation Broken Window,’ this is a special drive across the state to deal with the situation,” Kumar said.

Over the past two days, the police have arrested 256 people and 334 others have been taken into “preventive custody,” a precaution often taken by the police to prevent the spread of the violence, the police said.

In some sporadic incidents, tear gas was also used.

Meanwhile, the chief minister of Kerala condemned the temple authorities for carrying out a “purification ritual” after the women had entered the temple, in violation of the court’s ruling.

“A strange thing happened at the Ayyappa temple yesterday. The tantri [priest] closed the shrine and performed the purification rituals. This was a violation of the Supreme Court verdict,” the chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, said during a press conference, according to local outlet NDTV reported. “The tantri should have quit, if he had any objection to the apex court order as he was also a party to the case.”

The Supreme Court is set to review a plea against the ruling on Jan. 22.

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Posted On 03 Jan 2019

“I’m the one who does the killing”: ‘The Punisher: Season 2’ hits Netflix on January 18

Entertainment News  "I'm the one who does the killing": 'The Punisher: Season 2' hits Netflix on January 18


Netflix(NEW YORK) — On January 18, Frank Castle will get back to work cleaning up the streets of New York City in Netflix’s The Punisher: Season 2.

The streaming service released via Twitter on Thursday a sneak peek at the new season that shows Jon Bernthal’s vigilante character and his comic nemesis Jigsaw.

For those who haven’t watched season one, be warned: spoilers follow. 

Jigsaw is the alter-ego assumed by Castle’s former best friend and Marines squadmate Billy Russo, played by Ben Barnes, who betrayed Frank and caused the murder of his family.

At the climax of the first season, Castle, in return, scarred the formerly handsome character by giving him what might best be described as a shattered mirror facial.

But unlike the Jigsaw in the pages of Marvel Comics, the Netflix series’ character wears what appears to be a painted porcelain mask, and much of the scarring is emotional.

“It’s like a bomb went off inside my mind, scattering all the pieces,” he says.

With the camera spinning around both men in the moody preview, a rifle-toting Punisher gets down to business, saying, “You need to let me be what I’m meant to be: I’m not the one who dies. I’m the one who does the killing.”

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Posted On 03 Jan 2019

Domestic charge against Redskins linebacker Reuben Foster dropped

Sports News Domestic charge against Redskins linebacker Reuben Foster dropped

Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images(TAMPA, Fla.) — The domestic violence charge pending against Washington Redskins linebacker Reuben Foster has been dropped.

The State Attorney’s Office dropped the misdemeanor charge, which stemmed from an incident in Tampa, Fla., between Foster and his ex-girlfriend on the night of Nov. 24, according to a Hillsborough County filing. Prosecutors said evidence in the case was insufficient to follow through with the charge.

Foster was due to appear for his arraignment on Thursday before the charge was dropped.

Police in Tampa had said at the time of the incident that Foster and Elissa Ennis were involved in a verbal altercation when “Foster slapped her phone out of her hand, pushed her in the chest area, and slapped her with an open hand on the left side of her face.”

Ennis later told her story to ABC’s Good Morning America in December.

“We’re disappointed. The prosecutor’s choice is yet another slap in the face to Miss Ennis, just like the one Mr. Foster gave her in Tampa,” Ennis’ attorney, Adante Pointer, told ABC News Thursday. “Elissa Ennis was fully ready to participate and hold him accountable. This is not a situation where she recanted, nor that the prosecutor had new evidence that it didn’t happen.”

Foster and Ennis had previously been involved in another domestic incident in February 2018. In that case,  a domestic abuse charge against Foster was also dropped after Ennis retracted her allegations that the football player had hit her.

Foster was sentenced to two years of probation due to a gun possession charge connected to the February incident.

As for the impact to Foster’s football career, Washington had already received criticism after picking up Foster three days after his arrest in Tampa, ESPN reports. He remains on the NFL commissioner’s exempt list.

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Posted On 03 Jan 2019

Lil Rel and Trevante Rhodes praise their “hysterical” and “cool” ‘Bird Box’ co-star, Sandra Bullock

Entertainment News  Lil Rel and Trevante Rhodes praise their "hysterical" and "cool" 'Bird Box' co-star, Sandra Bullock


Trevante Rhodes and Sandra Bullock; Merrick Morton/Netflix(NEW YORK) — Lil Rel and Trevante Rhodes star alongside Sandra Bullock in the hit Netflix suspense-thriller, Bird Box.

While the apocalyptic film is often heavy and ominous, Rel and Rhodes say that thanks to their hilarious co-star, the atmosphere while filming was surprisingly light.

“[Sandra’s] hysterical,” Rel tells ABC Radio. “And she don’t stop, which is very interesting. And she’s way funnier than I thought she would be.”

Rel says that he was so surprised by Bullock’s great sense of humor and timing that it led him to revisit some of her previous work.

“After we did the movie I started watching stuff,” he explains. ” I saw… Miss Congeniality. Just to be like, ‘Oh yeah, she’s hysterical.’ I remember seeing it at the time like, ‘Did they write that for her, or…’ Nah, she’s just really funny.”

In addition to Sandy’s funny bone, her co-stars also shared that the Oscar-winning actress is simply an all-around “good person.”

“The quality of person she is something that I think has helped her sustain for so long,” Rhodes says. “Along with the creative that she is… that’s just something I took from her.”

Rel agrees and adds that Bullock’s humility was also another surprising but welcome attribute.

“Yeah, and specially to be as big of a star she is,” he says. “It almost felt like at some point, like, you know, did we start together or something? Because that’s how cool she was.”

Bird Box is now available on Netflix.

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Posted On 03 Jan 2019

Two single moms who each lost half their body weight share secret to success

Rostislav_Sedlacek/iStock(NEW YORK) — Losing weight is at the top of many people’s New Year’s resolutions, but two women are already celebrating having lost more than 100 pounds before 2019 even began.

“The program gave me the tools I needed,” Reid told People magazine, where she is featured in the annual “Half Their Size” issue. “I learned about portion control and how to make better food choices, which is extremely important in losing weight.”

“I now use food as a tool to achieve maximum health,” she told People. “My weight-loss journey didn’t happen overnight but I wouldn’t trade the process for any fast, quick fixes in the world.”

People magazine editor Zoe Ruderman said Reid’s transformation stood out because it was emotional as well as physical.

“She grew up the ‘fat one’ and was picked on and [she] talked about how it affected her self-esteem,” Ruderman said of Reid. “It was about feeling better on the inside.”

Another weight loss success story featured in People‘s “Half Their Size” issue is Elizabeth Hronek, a single mom of two daughters from North Carolina who grew up overweight and was also bullied as a child.

Hronek’s daughter became her motivation to lose weight. She has since lost 150 pounds.

“I knew I had to make a change,” she said. “I could not have my daughter grow up overweight and getting bullied.”

Hronek’s weight loss has led her to a new career as a body empowerment coach. She also became certified in personal training and nutritional therapy and has competed in figure competitions.

“[I am] on a mission to empower millions to live happy, healthy lives,” she said.

People magazine’s “Half Their Size” issue hits newsstands on Friday, Jan. 4.

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