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World Briefly

Lenders continue ‘Robo-signing’

Mortgage industry employees are still signing documents they haven’t read and using fake signatures more than eight months after big banks and mortgage companies promised to stop the illegal practices that led to a nationwide halt of home foreclosures.

County officials in at least three states say they have received thousands of mortgage documents with questionable signatures since last fall. Lenders say they are working with regulators to fix the problem but cannot explain why the practice, known collectively as “robo-signing,” has continued.

Last fall, the nation’s largest banks and mortgage lenders, including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and an arm of Goldman Sachs, suspended foreclosures while they investigated how corners were cut to keep pace with the crush of foreclosure paperwork.

Critics say the new findings point to a systemic problem with the paperwork involved in home mortgages and titles. And they say it shows that banks and mortgage processors haven’t acted aggressively enough to put an end to widespread document fraud in the mortgage industry.

“Robo-signing is not even close to over,” says Curtis Hertel, the recorder of deeds in Ingham County, Mich., which includes Lansing. “It’s still an epidemic.”

London police broaden hacking scandal probes

LONDON (AP) – Britain’s tabloid phone-hacking scandal enveloped the London police force Monday with the rapid-fire resignations of two top officers amid claims of possible illegal eavesdropping, bribery and collusion. U.K officials immediately vowed to investigate.

Prime Minister David Cameron, feeling the political heat from his own close ties to individuals within Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, cut short his trip to Africa and called an emergency session of Parliament for Wednesday so he could address lawmakers on the scandal.

U.K lawmakers on Tuesday will grill Murdoch, his son James and Rebekah Brooks, the ousted chief executive of Murdoch’s U.K. newspaper arm, in a widely anticipated televised public hearing on the scandal. Lawmakers hope to learn more about the scale of phone hacking by U.K. journalists and who – if anyone – in Murdoch’s empire was aware of what allegedly took place at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid.

One of the first voices to blow the whistle on the phone hacking – former News of the World journalist Sean Hoare – was found dead Monday in Watford, about 25 miles northwest of London. Police said the death was being treated as unexplained but was not considered suspicious, according to Britain’s Press Association.

Hoare was quoted by The New York Times saying that phone hacking – listening to the voice mail of celebrities, politicians, other journalists or even murder victims – was widely used and even encouraged at the News of the World under then-editor Andy Coulson, Cameron’s former communications chief who was arrested this month in the scandal.

Petraeus yields command of Afghan war drawdown

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Gen. David Petraeus handed over command of the Afghan war to Marine Gen. John Allen on Monday as the U.S. and its international partners prepare to withdraw over the next few years.

Petraeus, widely credited with turning the tide in Iraq, left to take over the CIA with his signature counterinsurgency strategy having yet to deliver a safer Afghanistan or push the Taliban to reconcile with the country’s Western-backed government.

Allen is known for helping turn Sunni insurgents against al-Qaida in Iraq in one of that war’s most pivotal stages. In Afghanistan, he will be tasked with the overseeing the start of the American troop withdrawal this month even as insurgents step up the violence and attacks on high-profile Afghans, including the assassination last week of President Hamid Karzai’s powerful half-brother and the slaying of a close Karzai aid on Sunday.

Allen said the drawdown of U.S. forces and the transition of some areas to Afghan control this week does not mean international forces are easing up in their campaign to defeat the Taliban insurgency, though he acknowledged that the fight won’t be easy.

“It is my intention to maintain the momentum of the campaign,” Allen said at the handover ceremony in the Afghan capital. “There will be tough days ahead. I have no illusions about the challenges.”

2012 GOP candidates face pressure on pledges

WASHINGTON (AP) – Republican presidential contenders may be feeling nostalgic for the days when a candidate could focus on just one pledge: the oath of office.

With pledges spreading like kudzu on the campaign trail, candidates this year are being asked – in some cases, pressured – to profess their fealty to a whole host of positions: supporting marriage, opposing taxes, reducing the deficit, fighting abortion and gay rights and more.

And these aren’t just bland statements of support for broad ideals.

There’s a 14-point “marriage vow,” a three-pronged “cut, cap and balance” declaration on the national debt, a four-point “pro-life leadership presidential pledge” and a deficit-reduction promise tied to the “Lean Six Sigma” method of reducing wasteful spending.

The pledges, many advanced by right-leaning interest groups, are roiling the race, boxing candidates in to positions that could hurt them in the general election, and pushing contenders to make promises they might come to regret if ever seated in the Oval Office.

Lawyer touts plans to safeguard Casey Anthony

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Casey Anthony’s whereabouts for her first week of freedom were a closely guarded secret Monday, known only to a select few as she tries to start a new life after being acquitted of killing her daughter. One of her lawyers says an elaborate plan was made to protect her from people with “the lynch-mob mentality.”

Her options for starting a new life could be limited by lawsuits pending against her, the scorn of multitudes who think she was guilty of the killing and a criminal record from her convictions for lying to police. She walked out of jail on Sunday, shortly after midnight.

Her attorney Cheney Mason told NBC’s Today Show on Monday that he’s confident in Anthony’s safety, but declined to answer questions about where she was.

“She’s gone, she’s safe and elaborate plans had to be made to keep the people away from her,” Mason said. “Her life is going to be very difficult for a very long time as long as there are so many people of the lynch-mob mentality.”

Asked about how Anthony was paying for her fresh start, Mason replied that many volunteers have offered their help.

Paralyzed as bridesmaid, N.C. woman to wed

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A year after she was paralyzed in poolside horseplay at her bachelorette party, Rachelle Friedman knows one thing she would change about her life before the injury.

“I wish we had danced together more because I love dancing so much, and we didn’t do it enough,” she says of her soon-to-be husband. “Looking back, I would have done it every night.”

Friedman will finally make it down the aisle on Friday, marrying the man who has waited with her to exchange vows since the accident. She is wearing the same gown she chose for the first ceremony but with her father pushing her wheelchair down the aisle instead of walking her down it, arm in arm.

Also joining her will be the bridesmaid who shoved her into the shallow end of a pool on May 23, 2010 – causing a freak accident that changed their lives. The 25-year-old from Knightdale has stuck with her friend and refused to reveal her identity even as newspapers, television and Internet sites carried the story around the world.

“She was tragically hurt, mentally and emotionally. And I was tragically hurt, physically,” Friedman says on a day that a tailor is altering her strapless, simple wedding dress to fit her new, thinner, less muscular body. “It’s harder to deal with when you’re hurt emotionally sometimes than when you’re hurt physically.”

U.S. couple charged with kidnapping Israeli

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – A New Jersey rabbi and his wife surrendered to the FBI on Monday on charges that they abducted an Israeli man, beat him and threatened to bury him alive if he didn’t give his wife a religious divorce.

The case against David Wax and his wife in U.S. federal court marks a strange twist in a chain of events that started with a divorce dispute in Israel’s Rabbinical Court over the victim’s refusal to give his wife a “get,” an Orthodox Jewish divorce document permitting a wife to remarry.

It also entangles a prominent religious figure and publisher of Jewish texts, described as a “pillar of the community” of Lakewood, N.J., a large Orthodox enclave and center of Jewish learning.

David Wax, 49, and Judy Wax, 47, made a brief appearance in federal court Monday before being released on $500,000 bond each. A grand jury will decide whether to indict them on kidnapping charges, which could result in a life sentence if they are convicted.

“We’re confident that when all the facts are made public, he’ll be cleared of these charges and his good and honorable name will be restored,” Mitchell Ansell, David Wax’s attorney, told The Associated Press.

Jailed Rapper Ja Rule gets prison in tax case

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) – Rapper and actor Ja Rule was sentenced Monday to more than two years in federal prison for failing to file income tax returns, and said a combination of youthful inexperience, bad advice and an inability to manage fame and fortune lead to his financial troubles.

“I in no way attempted to deceive the government or do anything illegal,” he said, minutes before being sentenced in a New Jersey federal court. “I was a young man who made a lot of money – I’m getting a little choked up – I didn’t know how to deal with these finances, and I didn’t have people to guide me, so I made mistakes.”

The multiplatinum-selling artist, whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins, admitted in March that he failed to pay taxes on more than $3 million that he earned between 2004 and 2006 while living in Saddle River. Although he pleaded guilty to three counts of unfiled taxes, he admitted he hadn’t filed for five years, according to U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.

Ja Rule was sentenced in New York City last month to up to two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to attempted criminal weapon possession. The case stemmed from a gun found in his car in 2007.

Nolan Ryan hospitalized with heart pain

HOUSTON (AP) – Texas Rangers President Nolan Ryan is in a Houston hospital undergoing tests on his heart. The Rangers said in a statement Monday the 64-year-old Ryan is “resting comfortably and reports he is feeling better.” He is expected to be released from the hospital in a few days.

Ryan had a double-bypass operation in 2000. Doctors at that time also discovered another, undisclosed condition. The team’s news release said the discomfort began while at his home in Georgetown on Sunday morning and “is believed to be a recurrence of the heart condition which he has previously experienced.”

Ryan had been expected to join the Rangers in Anaheim, Calif., on Tuesday night for the start of a three-game series between his AL West-leading club and the Angels, who are in second place, four games back. He was scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and to take part in a ceremony inducting Gene Autry, the Angels’ late owner, into the team’s Hall of Fame.

Ryan is a member of the baseball Hall of Fame, holding the records for most no-hitters (seven) and strikeouts (5,714). He’s been running the Rangers since 2008 and became part-owner last summer. Texas went to the World Series for the first time last fall.