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How the founder of the Saint Javelin charity brand worn by Zelenskyy plans to help rebuild Ukraine

9 hours 7 min ago
Christian Borys (right) founded Saint Javelin before the war started, with a t-shirt making its way to President Zelenskyy.
  • Charity brand Saint Javelin was launched by former journalist Christian Borys before the war.
  • Borys wants nearly all the company's production to come from Ukrainians within the next few months.
  • One of their Ukrainian producers, The Sewing Brothers, is making Saint Javelin tracksuits.

It has been about five months since Christian Borys, a former journalist, started a charity effort by producing $10 stickers based on a meme amid mounting evidence of Russian troops mobilizing on the border of Ukraine. 

Now, with 41,000 orders in 70 countries, $1 million in donations, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's seal of approval, Borys is planning a longer-term push to help rebuild a country that has seen its economy decimated as millions flee and cities are left under siege.

Borys provided financial documentation to Insider that verified his claims.

$39 t-shirts and a bomb-sniffing dog

According to KnowYourMeme, the "Saint Javelin" refers to an image of the Virgin Mary holding a Kalashnikov rifle (named Madonna Kalashnikov), which has been replaced with an anti-tank javelin missile, becoming synonymous with Ukrainian demands for Western intervention in the war.

Borys was a former Ukrainian correspondent and maintained contact with journalists still in the country, who highlighted the growing inevitability of war in December.   

After mulling ways to help, Borys shared the image of Saint Javelin on his Instagram page, asking if anyone was interested in purchasing stickers, raising $1,000 after two days. 

Soon, $39 t-shirts and $40 hats bearing the symbol circulated, as did those showing the "Ghost of Kyiv" and an image of Patron, the bomb-sniffing dog. Borys said he had been responding to trending topics to maintain brand awareness.

"People were looking for ways they could immediately support. And not just donate, but cause awareness, support, and we were there," Borys said.

In March Borys arranged a meeting with Ukraine's defence minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, who eventually gave a Saint Javelin t-shirt to President Zelenskyy.

—Christian Borys (@ItsBorys) April 28, 2022

"I still didn't believe it, because this guy obviously has so much that he's working on, and then he messaged me on Facebook a few hours later and said 'hey, the president has your shirt'," Borys said of his exchange with the defence minister. Reznikov wasn't available for comment.

With donations sent to companies like Help Us Help and the 2402 fund for journalists, Borys is eyeing a longer-lasting impact, starting with moving production to Ukraine. 

"My goal over the next few months is for everything we produce, to literally produce all of it in Ukraine," Borys said. "That way we can support factories that have been affected by all of this." 

'Go fu*k yourself Russian warship'

The first company Borys teamed up with in Ukraine was The Sewing Brothers, which is based in Kyiv. Before the war, it was a high-end fashion retailer designing luxury tracksuits worn by US comedians Bert Krieshchner and Tom Segura of the "2 Bears, 1 Cave." 

Since Putin ordered troops into the country, stylist Ivan Drachenko and his team have been producing anti-war clothing including the "go fu*k yourself Russian warship" t-shirt while they wrestle with war outside their door. 

"In October, we understood our business was going to change and instead of beautiful dresses and suits we would be sewing military ones," Drachenko and Tatiana Pankia of the Sewing Brothers told Insider in an emailed statement.

—Christian Borys (@ItsBorys) April 28, 2022

Borys said Saint Javelin had also ordered hats from a factory in conflict-hit Kharkiv, where he estimates half the staff are fighting between production shifts.

"I can just see that when we place an order people get really excited," Borys said. "Factories there are mostly able to work, they want to, and they need to." 

Initially running on volunteers, Saint Javelin has 10 employees as demand grows.

Borys said: "I want to reframe it from a charitable project to a social enterprise that could potentially last decades and raise tens of millions of dollars, as opposed to half a million dollars."

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Sen. Mitt Romney suggests 'NATO could engage' in Ukraine, 'potentially obliterating Russia's struggling military' if Putin used nuclear weapons

10 hours 19 min ago
Sen. Mitt Romney
  • Sen. Mitt Romney warned a "cornered and delusional" Putin could use nuclear weapons. 
  • In a New York Times op-ed, Romney suggested strategies to face Putin in such a scenario.
  • Romney said continued support of Ukraine was necessary to avoid the subjugation of other countries.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney suggested in a New York Times essay that "NATO could engage" in Ukraine, "potentially obliterating Russia's struggling military" as an option against Russian President Vladimir Putin were he to deploy nuclear weapons.

The Utah senator also suggested that the West confront China and other Russian-allied nations with an ultimatum.

"You are either with us, or you are with Russia — you cannot be with both," Romney wrote. 

"Russia's use of a nuclear weapon would unarguably be a redefining, reorienting geopolitical event," Romney continued. "Any nation that chose to retain ties with Russia after such an outrage would itself also become a global pariah."

Romney warned that a "cornered and delusional" Putin could use nuclear weapons in the war against Ukraine, citing warnings from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Russian ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov, and CIA Director William Burns.

Burns warned in April that Putin's "desperation" could result in the use of "tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons."

Romney also encouraged the US to continue to support Ukraine's war efforts against Russia. If the US stopped sending weapons and pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to concede to Russia, Romney wrote, Putin would continue "invade and subjugate" other nations.

President Joe Biden signed a $40 billion aid package Saturday to assist Ukraine; $20 billion will go towards military assistance.

Romney has been vocal about his disdain of Putin since the start of the war, referring to the Russian president in February as a "small, evil, feral-eyed man" trying to shape Russia into an "empire." He has also called pro-Putin GOP members "treasonous."

This week, Russian political scientist Alexei Fenenko told "60 Minutes" that Putin's invasion of Ukraine was a "rehearsal" for a larger conflict and that they were using the war to "test and go up against" NATO weapons.

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Sen. Marco Rubio avoids saying which national abortion ban Republicans should run on in the midterm elections, predicting states would decide

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 9:32pm
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has called himself "pro-life" but hasn't said what abortion restrictions Republicans should back if they gain a majority in November.
  • Rubio wouldn't specify what restrictions on abortion a GOP-controlled Senate should back.
  • He called himself "pro-life" and has voted to restrict abortion late in a pregnancy. 
  • Republicans haven't unified behind an approach on abortion. 

MIAMI — Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida wouldn't commit to a specific abortion ban on Saturday when asked what types restrictions Republicans should promise to deliver if they gain control of Congress in November. 

Instead he stressed that he was "pro-life" and predicted "each individual state would have different laws." In Florida, a law will take effect July 1 to ban abortions after 15 weeks, but this week Oklahoma lawmakers passed a total ban on abortion. 

Rubio is up for reelection in November and his answer suggests the GOP hasn't decided which approach to run on yet as they seek to expand their razor-thin minority in the Senate during the November midterm elections.

A leaked Supreme Court draft from Politico showing that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn its Roe v. Wade decision on abortion has pushed the issue to surface during a high-stakes election year. 

Republicans have long said Roe should be overturned and have supported some type of abortion ban. But it's not clear whether they'll seek an all-out ban or a more incremental approach if Roe is overturned — which would give Congress more power to regulate the issue.

Some, such as GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, are crafting legislation for a six-week ban, according to the Washington Post. Others have indicated the states should take the lead. When Republicans have been in charge of the Senate in recent cycles, they have brought bills to the floor to restrict abortions later in a pregnancy, including a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks. The bill failed because they didn't have the 60 votes needed for passage. 

When asked what specific bill Republicans should support, Rubio said "that's not the way it's going to work" and stressed that lawmakers should wait until an official Supreme Court decision is handed down. 

Though President Joe Biden would veto any legislation that restricts abortion, Republicans could unify behind a ban that would be poised for passage if a Republican is elected president in 2024. 

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress have unified behind the Women's Health Protection Act, a bill that would enshrine Roe and undo state restrictions. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer forced a vote on the bill May 5 but Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia blocked it

Biden has urged voters to go to the polls on the issue to elect "more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House."

Rubio's comments came during a press appearance at Trump National Doral, where he had just received the endorsement of the Florida Police Benevolent Association but took questions from reporters on other topics.

The senator indicated that his personal views on abortion might differ from what was politically feasible. Rubio, who is Catholic, has previously said he believes "life begins at conception." 

"I'm pro-life and I believe that human life deserves protection and I'm in favor of laws that protect it," he said Saturday, "understanding that in a political process those laws would have to accommodate to reach a majority vote in different chambers depending who is voting on it." 

Even if Republicans gain a majority in the Senate, they'd need 60 votes to pass an abortion ban. Senate Minority Leader McConnell initially said a national ban was "possible" but then said he wouldn't do it by abolishing the filibuster — meaning lowering the voting threshold to pass major legislation to 51 votes.  

Ever since the Supreme Court leak, Democratic campaigns have been pressuring Republicans to say whether they support banning abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and Republican campaigns have been pressuring Democrats to say whether they believe abortion should be allowed even in the final stages of pregnancy.

Polling shows both positions are unpopular, and less than 1% of abortions happen in each of these circumstances. 

The Women's Health Protection Act that failed would provide undefined "health" exemptions on abortions after viability. Rep. Val Demings of Florida, the Democratic frontrunner likely to face Rubio November, has called Rubio an "extremist" on abortion and voted for the abortion rights bill.  

On Saturday, Rubio called the legislation "radical and outrageous." 

The Supreme Court previously defined post-viability exemptions in its 1973 Doe v. Bolton decision, allowing for later abortions not just to protect physical health, but emotional and psychological health. The decision also permitted doctors to factor in familial circumstances and age. 

Florida's law would allow later abortions if a pregnancy is life-threatening or would cause serious injury, or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It does not have exemptions for rape, incest, or human trafficking. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has dodged questions over whether the state should restrict abortion even further. 

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Trump has endorsed a Georgia lawmaker who gave a tour of the Capitol on the day before the insurrection

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 9:02pm
Rep. Barry Loudermilk
  • Former President Donald Trump endorsed Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk for Congress.
  • The Jan. 6 committee sent a letter Thursday requesting Loudermilk comply with their investigation. 
  • Loudermilk admitted on Thursday that he led a Capitol tour on Jan. 5, 2021.

Former President Donald Trump gave his "Complete and Total Endorsement" to Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who is being probed by the January 6 committee for a tour he gave the day before the riot. 

"Congressman Barry Loudermilk is a fantastic Representative for the incredible people of Georgia's 11th Congressional District," Trump said, The Hill reported.

"A U.S. Air Force veteran, Barry is working hard to Support our Vets, Grow the Economy, Lower Gas Prices, Secure our Border, Defend the Second Amendment, and Shrink the Size and Scope of the Federal Government by holding it accountable for unacceptable performance – just like we did with Accountability at the VA! Barry Loudermilk has my Complete and Total Endorsement!"

The US House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol requested Loudermilk meet with them in a letter sent on Thursday. In the letter, the commission said they found evidence contradicting Republican claims that there was no evidence of tours occurring on the day before the riot.

Loudermilk admitted in a statement Thursday that he brought a "constituent family" on a tour of the Capitol the day before the riot, but said the family did not enter the Capitol building on Jan 6. 

"The facts speak for themselves; no place that the family went on the 5th was breached on the 6th, the family did not enter the Capitol grounds on the 6th, and no one in that family has been investigated or charged in connection to January 6th," the statement read.

Representatives for Trump and Loudermilk did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Republican voters gush about Marjorie Taylor Greene instead as she stumps for a struggling David Perdue ahead of Georgia primary

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 5:09pm
Republican gubernatorial candidate David Perdue and GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene greet people during a Bikers for Trump campaign event held at the Crazy Acres Bar & Grill on May 20, 2022 in Plainville, Georgia.
  • Marjorie Taylor Greene got a lot more attention than David Perdue at a Friday night rally.
  • Attendees praised Greene's combative attitude, but seemed not to really know Perdue.
  • One observer said they find the obsession with Greene disturbing.

PLAINVILLE, Georgia — "She always draws a crowd," a 52-year-old Gordon County resident said as Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene thundered into the parking lot of the Crazy Acres Bar & Grill flanked by any army of engine-revving bikers. 

The grand entrance riled up everyone there to show Trump-backed candidates some love ahead of Tuesday's GOP primary. Greene joined gubernatorial hopeful David Perdue, who is trying to chip away at incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp's 30-point lead, and attorney general hopeful John Gordon at the Friday night rally, which took place in Greene's congressional district. 

Many of the attendees cheered for Greene as she emerged from the stripped-down Humvee with a campaign sign strapped to its back. Insider spotted at least a dozen people wearing Marjorie Taylor Greene campaign gear in the crowd of about 150 who gathered for the last-minute addition to Perdue's closing weekend sprint. 

Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia chats with Crazy Acres Bar & Grill owner Jerry Stroup after pulling into the parking lot for a Bikers for Trump rally on May 20, in Plainville, Georgia.

"Marjorie Taylor Greene brought us out. We have been supporting her since day one," district resident Christie Ellis, 50, said of her affection for the freshman lawmaker. Greene routinely stokes culture wars on Capitol Hill, has voted against nearly every Ukraine-related bill Congress has taken up since Russia invaded the neighboring country, and has taken advantage of the same proxy voting rules she has repeatedly criticized to skip nearly two dozen votes.  

Greene immediately set to shoring up the support she'll need to overcome her five GOP primary challengers. She worked the crowd by stopping to pose for selfies, took swigs of her Shock Top Belgian white ale after clinking bottles with beer-toting patrons, and said hello to the kids that star-struck moms rushed over to meet her. 

"Like Donald Trump, she tells it like it is. You don't have to read her mind," Bikers for Trump founder and rally organizer Chris Cox said to raucous applause as he summoned Greene to the stage to say a few words. Cox also wrapped her in his Trump-branded vest, which Greene proudly sported as she posed for pictures on one of the motorcycles parked in the lot. 

Perdue, who had ditched the blazer he was wearing earlier in the day while jet-setting from Augusta to Savannah for a campaign stop with 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee turned House hopeful Sarah Palin, rolled up his sleeves and mingled as well. Though he'd previously represented the area as senator, Perdue reintroduced himself to guys playing pool, awkwardly fist-bumped tattooed bikers, and snuck sips of his soda as others swigged frosty Coors Lights. 

When it was his turn on the main stage, Perdue tried to fire everyone up by railing about the "rigged and stolen" presidential election, and how Kemp "sold us out." 

Republican gubernatorial candidate David Perdue speaks during a Bikers for Trump campaign event held at the Crazy Acres Bar & Grill on May 20, 2022 in Plainville, Georgia.

Joel Burnz, 24, wasn't swayed one bit.  

"I'm undecided," Burnz said after Perdue finished speaking, telling Insider he planned to spend the weekend "doing homework" ahead of Tuesday's primary. 

The 52-year-old local, who declined to give his name, didn't fault Perdue for trying. But he said he wasn't surprised Greene had stolen the spotlight, adding that he likes to play a game with friends and neighbors who fawn over her: he asks them to name the area's prior congressional representative.

"No one knows," the local said, shrugging off the erasure of five-term lawmaker Tom Graves' public service as a consequence of a political system that rewards celebrity above civic duty. 

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Apple is looking to expand production outside of China amid Beijing's zero-Covid policies, report says

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 4:20pm
Workers in Foxconn's Wuhan factory in central China get tested for Covid-19 on August 5, 2021.
  • Apple is looking to expand its production capabilities outside of China, WSJ reported Saturday.
  • The tech giant cited Beijing's strict COVID-19 policies as one influencing factor, sources told the outlet.
  • Contract suppliers in China manufacture almost 90% of Apple products, analysts estimate. 

Apple is looking to expand its production capabilities outside of China, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. The tech giant cited Beijing's zero-Covid policy as one reason behind the reported push, sources close to the matter told the outlet. 

Analysts estimate that approximately 90% of Apple products are made by contract manufacturers in China, leaving the tech giant's success vulnerable to the whims of the Chinese Communist Party

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Apple suppliers such as Foxconn have been forced to shut down due to rising cases. Earlier this month, Quanta Computer — which produces three-quarters of Apple's MacBook products — shut down despite maintaining a "closed-loop" campus designed to prevent the spread of the virus, Reuters reported. 

Now, Apple is telling suppliers that it wants to expand production in India and Southeast Asia, according to the Journal's anonymous sources. Apple did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment. 

On an earnings call in late April, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company experienced two supply restraints last quarter that impacted Apple's ability to meet consumer demand: pandemic-related disruptions and an industrywide shortage of silicon. Apple CFO Luca Maestri estimated supply chain constraints of between $4 billion and $8 billion for the quarter ending June 30. 

"We are excited to be welcoming employees back to the offices in the US and Europe. At the same time, we are monitoring COVID-related disruptions in China," Cook told analysts. "Our thoughts are with all those in the path of the virus, and we remain as committed as ever to doing our part to help protect people and their communities."

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Prosecutors say Trump ally Thomas Barrack altered 2016 Republican platform to shroud ties of 9/11 hijackers to Saudis: report

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 4:05pm
Thomas Barrack.
  • Barrack altered language about the 9/11 hijackers and Saudis in the 2016 GOP platform, per The Daily Beast.
  • The DOJ recently updated its indictment against Barrack, who was charged with several felonies last year.
  • The indictment showed that an individual listed as "Person-1" sent an email seeking to change the GOP messaging.

Thomas Barrack, a billionaire private equity investor who chaired former president Donald Trump's 2017 inaugural committee, altered the official GOP platform for the 2016 Republican National Convention in an effort to minimize connections between the Saudi Royal Family and the 9/11 hijackers, according to The Daily Beast.

The Department of Justice updated its indictment against Barrack — who in July 2021 was arrested and charged with illegal lobbying, obstruction of justice, and lying to the FBI — to reveal the extent of his role at the party's convention, which was held in Cleveland that year.

Barrack was released shortly after his arrest last year on a $250 million bond.

The revised indictment revealed that an individual listed as "Person-1" sent an email to Barrack to alter the Republican messaging at the convention.

"We need to talk about language for me to put in [the national political party] platform at national convention. Can be much more expansive than what we did in speech," said the individual. "Platform language [should be] based on what you hear from your friends."

Trump sought to disclose roughly 28 pages of information that was absent from the September 11 Commission report that detailed Saudi ties to the hijackers, but "Person-1" was insistent that anything that could be construed as "anti the Saudi Royal Family" needed to be axed from the party platform.

Barrack then sent the email to Rashid Al-Malik, an Emirati businessman who last year was indicted by the Justice Department for relaying information to United Arab Emirates spies, per the report.

"Very confidential but you can share with HH," Barrack said in a message to Al-Malik. "Please do not circulate any further since it is very sensitive."

Federal investigators stated that Al-Malik sent the email to an unspecified Emirati official.

Brian McGlinchey, an independent journalist based in San Antonio who has sought the disclosure of the missing 9/11  documents, told The Daily Beast that the messages reflected "hypocrisy" from those in the Trump orbit.

"It underscores the hypocrisy of the Trump camp, because at that time, there was an active presidential campaign going on," he told the publication. "You've got the candidate out front raising deep suspicions about Saudi involvement, at the same time you have these back channel maneuvers at the Republican convention to help the Saudis avoid embarrassment."

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Biden says meeting with Kim Jong Un is dependent on whether the North Korean leader is 'sincere' and 'serious'

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 2:37pm
President Joe Biden, left, speaks as South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol listens during a news conference at the People's House on May 21, 2022.
  • President Biden said a meeting with Kim Jong Un would depend on the North Korean leader's seriousness.
  • His remarks came after bilateral talks in South Korea during his first presidential trip to Asia.
  • The administration is prepared for a potential ballistic missile or nuclear test from North Korea.

President Joe Biden on Saturday suggested that he would be open to meeting with Kim Jong Un, but only if the North Korean leader was "sincere" and "serious" in talks regarding the country's nuclear arsenal.

Biden made the comments during a press conference that followed a bilateral meeting with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol after he was asked about the circumstances that could lead to a conversation.

"With regard to whether I would meet with the leader of North Korea, that would depend on whether he was sincere and whether he was serious," the president said.

Biden's remarks came during his first presidential trip to Asia at a time when an increasingly large part of his young presidency has been focused on foreign affairs. International matters have played a significant role in his administration particularly following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, with the G7 continuing to commit billions of dollars in aid to the Ukrainian government.

While US presidents generally have not engaged with North Korean leaders in-person, former President Donald Trump met with Kim and sought to leverage the relationship to create a pathway to North Korea's denuclearization to no avail.

However, in September 2017, Trump called Kim "rocket man," which set off a stream of insults between the two men. The then-president reportedly said that his nickname for the North Korean leader was made in jest and was not meant to be demeaning.

The Biden administration has aimed to have talks with North Korea without preconditions, but Pyongyang has been resistant to the proposition.

North Korea's nuclear program continues to present huge geopolitical issues; the United Nations Security Council since 2006 has issued several major sanctions on the country for its missile activities.

The Biden administration is prepared for a potential ballistic missile or nuclear test from North Korea while the president is in the region, which national security advisor Jake Sullivan announced at the White House on Wednesday.

"Our intelligence does reflect the genuine possibility that there will be either a further missile test, including a long-range missile test, or a nuclear test, or frankly both, in the days leading into, on, or after the president's trip to the region," he said during a briefing.

North Korea last conducted a nuclear test in 2017, but the country this year test-fired a tactical guided weapon system. 

The president also seeks to strengthen its ties South Korea. In a statement, the two countries said they would begin talks "to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean Peninsula."

"President Yoon and President Biden reiterate their common goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and agree to further strengthen the airtight coordination to this end," the joint statement read. "The two Presidents share the view that the DPRK's [Democratic People's Republic of Korea's] nuclear program presents a grave threat not only to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula but also the rest of Asia and the world."

Biden will also visit Japan during his visit to the region.

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Hillary Clinton's ex-campaign manager testified that she approved sharing uncorroborated information of ties between Trump organization and a Russian bank during 2016 election: report

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 1:30pm
Hillary Clinton on December 12, 2021.
  • Clinton's former campaign manager said Clinton herself approved to leak uncorroborated info to press. 
  • In 2016, Slate published a story about a connection between Trump's organization and a Russian bank. 
  • Robby Mook said the campaign did not trust taking the info to the FBI and instead shared it with a reporter. 

Hillary Clinton approved leaking uncorroborated information that there was a backchannel server connection between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank during the 2016 presidential campaign, her former campaign manager testified on Friday. 

Robby Mook, Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign manager, testified in the federal trial of her former lawyer Michael Sussmann who has been accused of trying to "manipulate" the FBI in the run-up to the 2016 election, Politico reported.

Mook testified that he discussed the leak of odd internet data showing communications between servers connected to the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-linked financial institution, with Clinton, who approved of leaking the unproven conspiracy to the press. 

He said he learned about the cyber activity that suggested a relationship between former President Donald Trump's organization and Alfa bank during a meeting with senior campaign officials, CNN reported. 

"We discussed it with Hillary," Mook said, adding that "she agreed with the decision."

A campaigner staffer passed the information along to a Slate reporter, and Mook said the campaign was hoping they'd "vet it out" and write "what they believe is true," CNN reported. 

Clinton's campaign had previously said it did not authorize any lawyers to take that information to the FBI, Politico reported.

According to Politico, Mook testified that he would have opposed taking those allegations to the FBI and instead took the information to the press.

"We did not trust them," Mook said about the FBI. "Two or three of probably the most damaging days of the campaign were caused by James Comey, not by Donald Trump. ... We just did not want to have anything to do with the organization at that time."

Sussmann, who is on trial for a felony false-statement charge, is accused of not disclosing his Democrat links when he filed evidence with the FBI allegedly showing suspicious internet traffic connecting the Trump Organization to Alfa Bank. Sussmann has pleaded not guilty in the trial.

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Pelosi's communion ban by San Francisco archbishop over abortion rights support prompts sharp reactions

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 1:25pm
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a weekly press conference.
  • After a San Francisco archbishop barred Pelosi from receiving communion, reaction from advocacy groups was swift.
  • Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone wrote that Pelosi needed to "publicly repudiate" her support for the procedure.
  • The Catholic Church has been unwavering in its opposition to abortion, which it deems a "grave sin."

After a conservative archbishop in San Francisco told priests in the local archdiocese to bar House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from receiving communion due to her support for abortion rights, reaction from advocacy groups was swift.

Jamie L. Manson, the president of Catholics for Choice — a nonprofit organization that pushes for reproductive freedom — decried the move as one rooted against reproductive rights.

"Speaker Pelosi is devoted to her Catholic faith, and it is not lost on me that, as a woman, she is being singled out in this continued battle," she said in a statement. "It is one more step in a long line of attacks that the Church hierarchy has waged on women and their reproductive rights."

In a letter disclosed on Friday, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone wrote that until California Democrat seeks to "publicly repudiate" her stance regarding the "legitimacy of abortion," she would be blocked from the sacrament of Holy Communion, a core rite of Catholic worship.

" ... By means of this communication I am hereby notifying you that you are not to present yourself for Holy Communion and, should you do so, you are not to be admitted to Holy Communion, until such time as you publically repudiate your advocacy for the legitimacy of abortion and confess and receive absolution of this grave sin in the sacrament of Penance," the letter states. 

Pelosi's office did not immediately respond to Insider's request to comment. 

Cordileone on Friday also tweeted that Pelosi is "risking" a "danger to her own soul" by supporting abortion.

"After numerous attempts to speak with Speaker Pelosi to help her understand the grave evil she is perpetrating, the scandal she is causing ... [and] the danger to her own soul she is risking, I have determined that she is not to be admitted to Holy Communion," he said.

Brian Burch, the president of the conservative advocacy group CatholicVote, lauded the decision made by the archbishop.

"For too long Catholic public officials have created confusion and disunity by advocating for policies that destroy innocent human life – in direct contradiction of the teachings of the Catholic faith," he said in a statement. "The persistent disobedience of these public officials is a source of enormous sadness and scandal that begged for a response."

He added: "The Church has no choice but to protect itself and to encourage all of its members to live in communion with its teachings."

Cordileone's action comes as the nation grapples with the fallout of a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, which suggested that the nearly 50-year-old ruling legalizing abortion rights would soon be overturned.

Pelosi — a lifelong Catholic who has spoken openly about how her faith has shaped her worldview — said in a 2008 interview on C-SPAN that being denied communion would be a difficult proposition for her.

"Fortunately ... it has not been withheld and I'm a regular communicant so that would be a severe blow to me if that were the case," she said at the time.

The Catholic Church has been unwavering in its opposition to abortion, which it deems a "grave sin."

The Vatican has not been warm to the idea of church leaders denying communion to politicians over their stance regarding abortion rights.

Pope Francis said last June that communion "is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners."

However, many conservative bishops have pressed forward, while also amplifying their frustration with President Joe Biden — the nation's second Catholic president — over his stance on abortion rights.

Biden at one time supported the Hyde Amendment, but reversed course during the 2020 presidential campaign.

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Russian oligarchs and companies aren't invited to Davos for the 2022 World Economic Forum annual meeting, marking their first absence since the fall of the USSR

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 1:09pm
Davos ski resort at sunrise ahead of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in January 2020, the last time the conference was held in-person.
  • Russian oligarchs are known for throwing lavish parties at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
  • But this year, zero Russian businessmen or companies received the invite, according to multiple reports. 
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will deliver a virtual keynote address on Monday. 

Russian oligarchs — and their lavish parties — will be noticeably absent this year from the World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual meeting in Davos as Putin's war on Ukraine nears its fourth month.

Not one Russian official, executive, or company received an invite to the exclusive conference, which kicks off on  Monday. Meanwhile, a philanthropic group has turned the site's "Russia House" into an exhibition called the "Russia War Crimes House," Reuters reports. 

It's the first time the conference will exclude Russians among its elite attendees since the collapse of the Soviet Union, as Bloomberg first reported. In 2020, Russians were the third most-represented billionaires in attendance, per the outlet. 

"We are not engaging with any sanctioned individual and have frozen all relations with Russian entities," Amanda Russo, a WEF spokesperson, told Politico back in March. WEF did not immediately respond to Insider's request for further comment.

After two years of virtual-only events, the grand meeting of the world's political and economic elite is attempting to reclaim its place in a post-pandemic, war-torn world. The boycott is a far cry from WEF's response to Russia's invasion of Crimea in 2015, after which they invited President Vladimir Putin to speak at the event. 

Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who is currently sanctioned by the US, EU, and UK, is known for throwing opulent after-parties at the conference. In 2018, the billionaire aluminum magnate hosted a bash featuring a performance by Spanish pop artist Enrique Iglesias. Two years prior, models dressed as flight attendants reportedly spoon-fed guests caviar and vodka shots, according to the Politico report. 

Ukrainian officials have quickly filled Russia's spots at Davos, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy scheduled to deliver a virtual keynote address on Monday. 

The World Economic Forum condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, adding that it "will do whatever is possible to help and actively support humanitarian and diplomatic efforts."

"We only hope that — in the longer-term — reason will prevail and that the space for bridge-building and reconciliation once more emerges," the statement continues. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

A Florida man is accused of faking a presidential pardon from Trump while he was under investigation for fraud

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 12:57pm
Former U.S. President Donald Trump shakes his fists as he makes his entrance into a rally held in Washington Township, Michigan, U.S. April 2, 2022.
  • A Florida man showed officials investigating him for fraud a fake pardon signed by Donald Trump.
  • The US government seized $337,000 from Alexander Leszczynski, 22, the Justice Department said.
  • Leszczynski is charged with wire fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering and faces up to 30 years in prison.

A Florida man who was under investigation for fraud tried to vindicate himself by producing a fake presidential pardon signed by former President Donald Trump, according to the Justice Department.

Alexander Leszczynski, 22 and from North Redington Beach, Florida, has been charged with wire fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering, a release from the Justice Department says. 

"The United States ultimately seized $337,000 from an account Leszczynski controlled and, when he discovered that the money had been frozen, he attempted to have it released by producing a fabricated pardon purportedly signed by former President Donald Trump," the release says.

Presidential pardons offer "executive clemency, which is a broad term that applies to the President's constitutional power to exercise leniency toward persons who have committed federal crimes," the Justice Department says.

Leszczynski used fake charities such as Love & Bliss, Inc. to facilitate various fraudulent activities, according to the release. He, for example, applied for and successfully received two Payroll Protection Plan loans, given by the US Treasury during the course of the pandemic to offset financial burdens brought on by the coronavirus. 

He also attempted to "deposit $2.7 million of worthless checks into the Love & Bliss, Inc. business account" and "laundered the proceeds of the PPP and check kiting schemes through multiple accounts in an effort to conceal those proceeds from the United States and forestall its recovery," according to the release.

Additionally, he filed multiple fraudulent deeds collectively valued at more than $300 million. 

"When property owners and attorneys attempted to correct the fraudulent deeds, Leszczynski responded by sending harassing and threatening letters, emails, and faxes," the release says.

If convicted on all counts, Leszczynski could face up to 30 years in prison. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

Georgia Republicans who despise Gov. Brian Kemp threaten to stay home this November if Trump-backed challenger David Perdue loses Tuesday's primary

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 12:21pm
Georgia gubernatorial hopeful David Perdue poses alongside a cardboard cutout of former President Donald Trump during a campaign stop in Augusta, Georgia on Friday, May 20.
  • David Perdue is challenging incumbent Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in a May 24 primary.
  • Trump has suggested that MAGA world may stay home in November if Perdue loses.
  • MAGA voters denounced Kemp as a "Judas," "betrayer," and "liar."

AUGUSTA, Georgia — Republicans in Georgia still seething about the 2020 presidential race say they would rather sit out the election in November if Trump's candidate, former Sen. David Perdue, loses an upcoming GOP gubernatorial primary than ever support incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp.  

The animosity towards Kemp, whom several MAGA Republicans described as a "Judas" and "betrayer" for certifying Joe Biden's win in 2020, is unlikely to affect the outcome of the May 24 primary. But it may hurt Kemp's chances this fall in an anticipated rematch with presumed Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams, the woman he narrowly beat in 2018 — with Trump's support.

"I don't want Stacey Abrams. But I don't think I can vote for Brian Kemp," a 27-year-old Gordon County resident who declined to give his name told Insider at a "Bikers for Trump" rally about an hour north of Atlanta. 

The local Republican, who accused Kemp of "rolling over and letting the country get crucified" during the last election, said he planned to vote for Perdue on Tuesday because the Trump-endorsed former senator from Georgia had vowed to hold everyone involved in the "rigged and stolen" presidential contest accountable if he gets elected. 

Earlier in the day, an 81-year-old Georgian who said he's voted Republican since 1964, couldn't even bring himself to say Kemp's name or that of Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger. 

"I wouldn't vote for either one of them. They're not Republicans. They're liars," David, who declined to provide his last name, said at Perdue's May 20 event at a rural airfield. He added that Kemp and Raffensperger "did Trump in in Georgia" by not investigating the results to the twice-impeached former president's satisfaction. 

Kemp and Raffensperger conducted a statewide audit and oversaw recounts of the more than 5 million votes Georgians cast in the 2020 presidential election. Biden beat Trump there by about 12,000 votes. 

Amy Steigerwalt, a professor of political science at Georgia State University, said the 2020 race is over for everyone but the Trumpiest locals. "Most voters know that the recounts and audits all showed that the election was conducted fairly and transparently, and that there was no evidence of fraud or malfeasance," she told Insider. 

Still, Trump mentioned the possibility of his devotees sitting out the governor's race earlier this month. CNN reported that he said "many Republicans are just not going to vote for Kemp" during a call-in rally he did for Perdue. 

David Perdue supporter Robert Weinger hoists his custom shofar at a campaign event in August, Georgia on Friday, May 20.

That prediction is closer to becoming reality as Perdue, who is pushing back against recent polling showing that Kemp has a 30-point lead heading into Tuesday's primary, keeps trying to drive GOP voters to the polls. 

"I'm encouraging anybody that's concerned about the future of our state and our country to get out and vote — whichever side you're on," he told supporters Friday, adding, "If you don't vote, it is absolutely a vote for the other side."

Regardless of the outcome on Tuesday, Perdue rally attendee Robert Weinger, 70, said his mind is made up about November. 

"I will not vote for Gov. Kemp," he said, brushing aside gloom-and-doom scenarios about Abrams carrying the state this fall. 

"Anybody can beat Stacey Abrams," Weinger said. "She's a fraud."

Read the original article on Business Insider

NYC Mayor Eric Adams thinks he has 'a platform to win' a bid for president in 2024: report

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 12:03pm
New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D).
  • New York City Mayor Eric Adams is eyeing a 2024 presidential run, sources told the New York Post
  • Unnamed sources told the Post that Adams "thinks New York is a national platform." 
  • Mayors Bill de Blasio, Michael Bloomberg, and Rudy Giuliani also launched unsuccessful bids for president.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams may be considering a run for president in 2024, according to The New York Post

"Eric has told me repeatedly that he thinks that he has a platform to run for national office, for president in 2024," an unnamed source close to the mayor told The Post.

"He thinks New York is a national platform. He thinks the national party has gotten too far to the left and he thinks he has a platform to win," the source added.

Adams' office did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment on Saturday. In a statement to Insider, public relations consultant Evan Thies said the claims are "one-hundred percent false."

"There's a difference between gossip and news—and the truth is that the mayor is completely focused on bringing New York City back by lowering crime, growing our economy and reversing inequality," Thies told Insider. 

In a statement to the Post, Thies said Adams "has not had any conversations with anyone about running for president."

According to The Post, an elected Democrat official from Brooklyn said that Adams is "considering a White House run in 2024 if Biden doesn't seek re-election." 

President Joe Biden has told aides that he is more likely to run for re-election in 2024 if Donald Trump announces his candidacy as well. Biden said earlier that he expects to run again in 2024 with Vice President Kamala Harris. 

Adams, an NYPD veteran who ran on a center-left campaign, has only been in office since January 1. Recent polls have him sitting at 43% approval with 37% disapproval, according to Spectrum News NY1

While Adams has portrayed himself as a "tough on crime" mayor, some 54% of respondents disapprove of his handling of crime, compared to a 49% approval in February. 

He has repeatedly called for a higher police presence to combat subway violence, despite criticism that city residents need better resources, not more police. He also argued that a homeless person made a "conscious decision" to live on the street while defending his decision to clear homeless encampments in the city. 

The controversial mayor was hit with accusations of nepotism in January after he appointed his brother to a high-paying NYPD role. In April, while touting his first 100 days in office, Adams compared himself to former President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. 

Former Mayors Bill de Blasio, Michael Bloomberg, and Rudy Giuliani also launched bids for the presidency to no avail. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

An Oklahoma state rep proposed legislation that would mandate young men get mandatory vasectomies

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 11:43am
CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 25: A surgeon with surgical tools in an operating theatre on May 25, 2017 in Cardiff, United Kingdom.
  • Oklahoma state Rep. Mickey Dollens proposed mandatory vasectomies for boys once they hit puberty.
  • Dollens, speaking before a floor of legislators on Thursday, asked GOP lawmakers to consider his proposal.
  • Dollens made his remarks as the Oklahoma legislature debated a law that bans abortion from conception.

An Oklahoma state rep proposed an idea for legislation that would make vasectomies mandatory for young men in the state. 

Speaking before a floor of legislators, state Rep. Mickey Dollens said on Thursday that he is thinking about introducing the legislation next year. 

"I would invite you to co-author a bill that I'm considering next year that would mandate that each male, when they reach puberty, get a mandatory vasectomy that's only reversible when they reach the point of financial and emotional stability," he told GOP lawmakers.

"If you think that's crazy then I think that maybe you understand how 50 percent of Oklahomans feel, as well," the Democrat said.

—The Recount (@therecount) May 20, 2022

Dollens' remarks were made as the Oklahoma legislature debated HB 4327, a restrictive law that effectively bans abortion from the moment of "fertilization." The legislature on Thursday passed the bill, and Gov. Kevin Stitt is expected to sign it into law. 

If enforced, Oklahoma's law would be one of the strictest abortion restrictions in the country. 

The legislation comes as the Supreme Court weighs overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that legalized abortion in the United States. Politico earlier this month published a draft Supreme Court opinion signaling a reversal of Roe v. Wade. In the draft, Associate Justice Samuel Alito characterized abortion as "egregiously wrong from the start."

Abortion will remain legal in the United States until the court hands down a final verdict, which could come as early as June. But the leaked draft opinion was enough to put reproductive rights activists and doctors who perform abortions on high alert.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Maternal death rate isn't as bad if you don't count Black women, GOP senator says

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 11:17am
Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
  • Sen Bill Cassidy said his state's high maternal death rates are more standard if you "correct for race," Politico reports.
  • Louisiana has a high Black population and one of the worst maternal death rates in the US.
  • Experts called this framing "disturbing," arguing the state must improve healthcare for Black women.

Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy said that the state's poor maternal mortality rate is only an "outlier" because of the high proportion of Black women in the state, according to Politico

Cassidy's comment was featured in Politico's in-depth exploration of Louisiana's maternal death rates, which are among the worst in the country. The state ranks 47 out of 48 states assessed for maternal deaths, state officials said

Cassidy told the outlet that this is partly because "about a third of our population is African American; African Americans have a higher incidence of maternal mortality.

"So, if you correct our population for race, we're not as much of an outlier as it'd otherwise appear."

He continued: "Now, I say that not to minimize the issue but to focus the issue as to where it would be. For whatever reason, people of color have a higher incidence of maternal mortality."

Overall, according to Louisiana's Department of Health, "four black mothers die for every white mother" in the state. It outpaces a three-to-one ratio nationwide, which is already the worst in the developed world, Politico reported. 

Dean Michelle Williams of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health discussed Cassidy's comments in a blog post. (The Politico article was produced as part of a series partnership with the school.)

Williams said: "It's no mystery why maternal mortality rates are so high among Black women. They are high because of the devastating impacts of structural racism and individual bias."

According to the CDC, Black women are disadvantaged in their "access to care, quality of care, prevalence of chronic diseases, structural racism, and implicit biases" in healthcare.

Williams said she found Cassidy's framing "disturbing."

"This is not a moment to quibble about how states are ranked," Williams wrote.

"It's not a moment to correct for race. It's a moment to assert that Louisiana — precisely because it has such a large population of Black women — must seize a leadership role in making pregnancy and childbirth safer for all."

She noted that Cassidy has supported numerous public health measures, including those that protect pregnancies. 

Cassidy's comment comes soon after Politico's publishing of a leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a measure that the Senator supports. 

Anti-abortion organization Louisiana Right To Life says that Cassidy has a "100% pro-life voting record." Louisiana is also one of 13 states with "trigger laws" that would come into effect to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade, as looks likely, is overturned. 

Following the Roe leak, top British medical journal The Lancet warned in a stark editorial statement that "women will die" if the decision is overturned. Furthermore, Black women will be the group most affected by the move, ABC News reported.

Asked by Politico how maternal death rates may be affected by the measure, Cassidy said: "If we're using abortion to limit maternal deaths, that's kind of an odd way to approach the problem."

Read the original article on Business Insider

Four babies have been hospitalized in South Carolina due to the national formula shortage

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 11:04am
By Heart infant formula.
  • At least four babies have been hospitalized in South Carolina due to a national formula shortage.
  • The babies are receiving nutritional treatment at the Medical University of South Carolina.
  • Parents around the country are struggling to feed their children as the shortage continues.

Four babies in South Carolina have been hospitalized because of the nationwide formula shortage, according to local news outlet The State.

At least four babies were checked into the Medical University of South Carolina for nutritional deficiencies connected to the shortage, according to hospital spokesperson Heather M. Woolwine. Woolwine told The State that "pediatric dietitians are working with the individual child's care team to find a formula or nutrition that works for him or her based on allergy and caloric needs." 

The hospital is one of several around the country responding to an increase in hospitalizations of babies seeking nutritional treatment due to the infant formula shortage.

Earlier this year, Abbott Laboratories closed its formula plant following complaints that infants had contracted infections after consuming bacteria found in Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare products. The Michigan-based company recalled the brands, plunging the country further into an infant formula shortage.

As parents struggle to secure formula for their infant children, some are attempting to substitute with homemade formula or other alternatives. Doctors, however, are warning against using substitutes because baby formula has to be made with certain specifications to ensure infants can digest it properly.

Last week, President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act, forcing suppliers to prioritize and manufacture baby formula.

"Directing firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs will help increase production and speed up in supply chains," a statement from the White House said.

Part of the effort involves using military resources to fly in ingredients or supplies from overseas. Commercial aircrafts contracted by the Defense Department, for example, will bring in Nestlé S.A. formula from Switzerland

Read the original article on Business Insider

Russian state TV guest says the Ukraine war is just a 'rehearsal' to 'test and go up against NATO weapons'

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 10:37am
Ukrainian troops inspect a wrecked Russian Mi-8 helicopter near Makariv, in the Kyiv area, April 9, 2022.
  • Russia considers its invasion into Ukraine a "rehearsal" for a larger conflict with NATO, a Russian professor said.
  • The goal is to "see on the battlefield how much stronger our weapons really are," said Alexei Fenenko.
  • "Maybe it will be a learning experience for a future conflict," he added.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a "rehearsal" for a larger conflict with the countries that make up NATO, according to a Russian political scientist. 

Alexei Fenenko, a research fellow at the Institute of International Security Studies, made the remarks on Thursday while speaking on the Russian-state TV talk show "60 Minutes," according to Daily Beast Russian State TV Reporter Julia Davis.

—Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) May 19, 2022


"For us, the war in Ukraine … is a rehearsal for a possibly larger conflict in the future," Fenenko said. "And that is why we'll test and go up against NATO weapons, and will see on the battlefield how much stronger our weapons really are compared to theirs."

"Maybe it will be a learning experience for a future conflict," he continued.

Russia has been bragging about developing high-tech weaponry during its invasion of Ukraine. A senior Russian official made unsubstantiated claims earlier this month that Russian forces have a laser weapon system in Ukraine that can take out a miles-away drone within seconds. 

Last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the conflict will "eventually hit everyone."

"Russian aggression was not intended to be limited to Ukraine alone," Zelenskyy said. "To the destruction of our freedom and our lives alone. The whole European project is a target for Russia."

There's also concern that Russia might leverage cyber activity to conduct data attacks, Insider's Stravros Atlamazoglou reported

There are "perceptions of a cyber Armageddon bricking US and European computers or destroying Ukrainian critical infrastructure. That probably didn't happen because Putin wanted to fight a limited war in Ukraine," said former Russia analyst Michael E. van Landingham.

Read the original article on Business Insider

'Casanova Scammer' faces jail for defrauding more than 30 women of $1.3 million on dating apps

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 10:33am
The "Casanova Scammer" posed as a doctor for nearly five years, promising to pay off victims' loans.
  • Brian Wedgeworth posed as a doctor for nearly five years and defrauded dozens of women.
  • Wedgeworth was given cash and gifts like a Rolex watch worth $14,000 and tickets to a football game.
  • He faces up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud and up to 10 years for money laundering.   

A man nicknamed the "Casanova Scammer" has pleaded guilty to defrauding more than 30 women of $1.3 million in an extensive dating-app scam, Florida's Justice Department announced

In a case similar to the "Tinder Swindler," court documents show Brian Brainard Wedgeworth, from Tallahassee, Florida, posed as a doctor for nearly five years to defraud women, asking them to send him money, watches and jewelry. 

According to the Justice Department, Wedgeworth, 46, was arrested in November on charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering.

Documents show Wedgeworth targeted women on dating apps including Plenty of Fish, Hinge, Christian Mingle, and Elite Singles, promising to pay off their loans and other debts to access their financial information. 

He would tell false stories to get them to send him money, including that he had no money after supposedly paying off their debts, and that his accounts were frozen due to a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Gifts Wedgeworth received from his victims included a Rolex watch worth more than $14,000 and tickets to a college football playoff game between Clemson and Alabama in 2018.

Wedgeworth is reported to have used more than a dozen aliases, including "Dr. Edward Chen" and "Dr. Brian Wilson." He claimed to have attended a number of prestigious colleges including Harvard Medical School and Duke University. 

The Justice Department said Wedgeworth faces up to 20 years in prison on wire fraud charges, 10 years for money laundering, and a minimum mandatory sentence of two years in prison.  

Jason Coody, US Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, said: "Our citizens should not be preyed upon by fraudsters who steal through overtures of affection. With the assistance of our dedicated law enforcement partners, we are committed to investigating and vigorously prosecuting those who engage in all acts of fraud."

The Justice Department didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for further comment.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A 36-year-old chess prodigy built a software to speedily buy homes from afar for big investors, beating out everyday buyers. Now he's Atlanta's top broker.

Sat, 05/21/2022 - 10:04am
A.J. Steigman wins "top producer by unit" at the 2022 Atlanta Realtor Association awards.
  • Former chess prodigy A.J. Steigman is the top residential real estate broker in Atlanta. 
  • He created a software that scans large data sets to find undervalued homes. 
  • But his clients aren't your typical family buyer — they're hedge funds and private equity firms. 

A.J. Steigman sold more houses in Atlanta last year than any other broker — despite the fact that he lives in Florida and has no full-time staff. 

He's able to sell residential properties from thousands of miles away thanks to a $20,000 computer and a proprietary software system called "Steignet" that he launched at the University of Pennsylvania in 2018.

The system's algorithms scan large data sets to identify undervalued single-family homes before the human competition. Its name is a reference to the Terminator's villainous artificial intelligence network "Skynet," as The Wall Street Journal first reported

But you won't find any mom and pop homebuyers on Steigman's client roster. Instead, he works with investors that flip the homes or rent them out for profit.

Steigman declined to name his clients, but told Insider they include hedge funds, high-net worth family offices, and billion-dollar-plus private equity firms. Institutional investorswhich can range from small time landlords to major players on Wall Street bought a record high of 18.4% of US homes in the fourth quarter of 2021, Redfin announced in February.  

"While record-high home prices are problematic for individual homebuyers, they're one reason why investor demand is stronger than ever," Redfin economist Sheharyar Bokhari said in response to the growing trend. "Investors buying up a record share of for-sale homes is one factor making this market difficult for regular homebuyers."

That's because big investors can often afford to put down all-cash offers, whereas regular homebuyers rely on mortgages and financing. As far as the seller and listing agent is concerned, cash buyers are a lot less complicated to deal with. 

Last year, Steigman sold 300 properties in Atlanta for a total of $86 million, according to the Atlanta Realtors Association. He said this is just a "fraction" of his total closings (including Florida sales), which he estimates to be around $130 million. 

The high-tech broker credits his success in the real estate game to a childhood spent training as an international chess champion. Steigman earned a national chess master title by age 13 and was ranked the #1 US player in his age group for eight consecutive years, according to Steignet's website. 

"I would analyze my games with the computers at the time, and always try to spot all the different moves and sequences," Steigman, who is now 36, told Insider. "So I take that very scientific and quantitative approach to real estate."

Those pattern recognition skills are how Steigman predicted residential real estate would become a scalable investment early on, he told Insider. While other firms focused on manpower, Steigman said he doubled down on the data. 

"Just like a chess supercomputer can obliterate 50 Grandmasters, if you build a very powerful system you don't need to have a large headcount to be able to do it," he added.

In Atlanta, nearly one-third of homes that sold in the fourth quarter of 2021 were bought by investors, according to Redfin data.

Until recently, the largest player in algorithmic real estate was Zillow's iBuying arm, which shut down in November. The company poured millions into developing advanced algorithms to value homes, purchase properties, and quickly flip them for profit.

Zillow CEO Rich Barton said on an earnings call that the iBuying models couldn't handle the unpredictability of the pandemic-era housing market, which led them to overpay for listings. Zillow, Redfin, and Opendoor stock have all crashed since last autumn because of the failed iBuying efforts.

Steigman said there's not one key characteristic that differentiates his algorithms from competitors,' comparing the process of designing the software to Elon Musk building a rocket. 

"It's not like the fuel is the secret sauce," he told Insider. "It's all of the iterations that are constantly being perfected."

In Atlanta, nearly one-third of homes that sold in the fourth quarter of 2021 were bought by investors, according to Redfin data. That's the highest percentage of any state in the US. Meanwhile, out-of-town buyers with bigger  budgets than local residents are driving up property costs, fueling fears of a housing bubble. 

As homeownership becomes increasingly out of reach for many Americans, some people fear that Wall Street's move into residential real estate has priced ordinary folks out of the market. But while the presence of investor homebuyers has become more prominent in cities like Atlanta and Charlotte, consumers still greatly outnumber investors, as Vox has previously reported.

"To be honest with you, consumers are the largest proportion of the market," Steigman told Insider, adding that corporations are strictly limited by the types of properties they can buy. "They will squash all of the institutions combined."

Read the original article on Business Insider

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