TIME Crime

Prosecutors Charge 33 in Alleged Criminal Enterprise

The conspiracy spread across Ohio, Minnesota, California and Puerto Rico

(San Francisco) — Nearly three dozen people have been charged in California as part of a criminal network that illegally sold millions of dollars in prescription drugs and engaged in bank fraud, money laundering and racketeering, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

Prosecutors alleged a widespread conspiracy that included numerous companies and activity in California, Minnesota, Ohio and Puerto Rico.

The group — some of them family members with ties to Southern California — got prescription drugs from unlicensed sources and resold them to unwitting customers, prosecutors said.

According to a grand jury indictment, David Miller, 50, ran a drug wholesale business called the Minnesota Independent Cooperative. The business bought about $157 million in drugs from Mihran Stepanyan, 29, and Artur Stepanyan, 38, even though Miller knew they were not licensed to sell drugs and obtained them illegally, the seven-count indictment says.

Ara Karapedyan, 45, another key figure in the enterprise, sold several hundred thousand dollars of drugs, including the antidepressants Cymbalta and Abilify and the cancer drug Gleevec, prosecutors said.

Karapedyan and the Stepanyans were among 32 people arrested Wednesday, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of California. Miller remains at large.

The U.S. attorney’s office said it did not know whether any of the defendants had attorneys who could comment on the allegations. Most of them appeared before federal judges Wednesday but did not enter pleas.

In addition to illegal prescription drug sales, the enterprise is accused of preparing fraudulent tax returns that relied on an unlicensed mailbox business for addresses. Karapedyan and his associates negotiated more than 500 fraudulent checks worth more than $5 million between 2012 and 2014, according to prosecutors.

Karapedyan and another defendant, Gevork Ter-Mkrtchyan, are also accused of paying $1,500 to have someone killed, though prosecutors said the hit was never carried out.

TIME California

See How California Is Using Its Diminishing Water Resources

Farmers, business owners and residents gird for unprecedented cuts to the state's water usage

California regulators imposed sweeping cuts to water usage across the state this week, ordering hundreds of government agencies to meet mandatory reduction targets and urging citizens to stop watering their lawns amid unrelenting drought conditions.

Governor Jerry Brown set a goal to cut urban water use by 25 percent, but the plan still leans heavily on citizens to adopt their own water conservation methods. Above are snapshots of the key players in this crisis, and the challenges they’ve faced as water supplies dwindle to historic lows, as detailed by the Public Policy Institute of California.

TIME California

California Regulators Approve Unprecedented Water Cutbacks

In this April 12, 2015 file photo, water flows from a leaking pipe in a Los Angeles street gutter.
Richard Vogel—AP In this April 12, 2015 file photo, water flows from a leaking pipe in a Los Angeles street gutter.

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — California water regulators adopted sweeping, unprecedented restrictions on how people, governments and businesses can use water amid the state’s ongoing drought, hoping to push reluctant residents to deeper conservation.

The State Water Resources Control Board approved rules Tuesday that force cities to limit watering on public property, encourage homeowners to let their lawns die and impose mandatory water-savings targets for the hundreds of local agencies and cities that supply water to California customers.

Gov. Jerry Brown sought the more stringent regulations, arguing that voluntary conservation efforts have so far not yielded the water savings needed amid a four-year drought. He ordered water agencies to cut urban water use by 25 percent from levels in 2013, the year before he declared a drought emergency.

“It is better to prepare now than face much more painful cuts should it not rain in the fall,” board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said Tuesday as the panel voted 5-0 to approve the new rules.

Although the rules are called mandatory, it’s still unclear what punishment the state water board and local agencies will impose for those that don’t meet the targets. Board officials said they expect dramatic water savings as soon as June and are willing to add restrictions and penalties for agencies that lag.

But the board lacks staff to oversee each of the hundreds of water agencies, which range dramatically in size and scope. Some local agencies that are tasked with achieving savings do not have the resources to issue tickets to those who waste water, and many others have chosen not to do so.

Despite the dire warnings, it’s also still not clear that Californians have grasped the seriousness of the drought or the need for conservation. Data released by the board Tuesday showed that Californians conserved little water in March, and local officials were not aggressive in cracking down on waste.

A survey of local water departments showed water use fell less than 4 percent in March compared with the same month in 2013. Overall savings have been only about 9 percent since last summer.

Under the new rules, each city is ordered to cut water use by as much as 36 percent compared with 2013. Some local water departments have called the proposal unrealistic and unfair, arguing that achieving steep cuts could cause higher water bills and declining property values, and dissuade projects to develop drought-proof water technology such as desalination and sewage recycling.

Representatives of San Diego-area water agencies have been especially critical of the water targets, noting that the region has slashed consumption and agencies have spent $3.5 billion to prepare for dry periods after facing severe cuts in earlier droughts.

“San Diego has lived the horror of what the state is going through right now,” Mark Weston, the board chairman of the San Diego County Water Authority, told state regulators Tuesday.

After a 10-hour hearing that included more than 5 hours of public testimony, the water board again on Tuesday rejected calls to create easier targets for communities in drier areas or for cities that have been conserving since before the drought.

An economic analysis of the water board’s proposal commissioned by the board estimated that private water utilities and local water departments would lose a total of about $1 billion in revenue through lost water sales if they meet the board’s targets, meaning they are likely to raise prices to make up the difference.

Residents and businesses use less than a fifth of the water withdrawn from the state’s surface and groundwater supplies. Farms in the state’s agricultural heartland have had deliveries from government reservoir systems slashed and some have been ordered to stop diverting water that is normally available to them from streams and rivers.

Brown said last week he would push for legislation boosting authorizing fines of up to $10,000 for extreme wasters of water, but he needs legislative approval to do so, and no bill has been introduced. Another tool — tiered pricing, in which the price rises as water use goes up — is in question after a court struck down water rates designed to encourage conservation in San Juan Capistrano in Orange County.

TIME

California Fell Far Short of Water-Saving Target

Overall water savings have been only about 9 percent since last summer

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Californians conserved little water in March and local officials were not aggressive in cracking down on waste, state regulators reported Tuesday, saying residents and communities again fell short of Gov. Jerry Brown’s voluntary water savings target.

The State Water Resources Control Board received the update as it considers sweeping mandatory emergency drought regulations to protect water supplies in the parched state.

Brown has argued that the voluntary targets were insufficient and that Californians needed a jolt to take conservation seriously.

A survey of local water departments released at the start of the two-day meeting shows water use fell less than 4 percent in March compared with the same month in 2013. Overall savings have been only about 9 percent since last summer, even though Brown set a voluntary 20 percent target.

The board also has begun tracking enforcement of water rules. Statewide, agencies reported sending at least 8,762 warnings for water waste and issuing 682 penalties.

Most communities reported sending fewer than 20 warnings for violating water rules in March, but a few were aggressive. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power issued 1,364 warnings, while Fresno issued 1,221.

Sacramento, Fresno, Madera, Tulare and the Montecito Water District in Santa Barbara County were the only agencies that reported penalizing more than 20 customers in March, mostly through fines.

Lush lawns and verdant landscapes are first on the chopping block under the rules being considered, which would bar cities from using drinking-quality water on street median grass and encourage homeowners to let lawns go brown to meet local mandatory water reduction targets.

Those conservation targets are among the most contentious provisions of the proposed rules. The board plans to order each city to cut water use by as much as 36 percent compared to 2013, the year before the governor declared a drought emergency.

Some local water departments are blasting the proposal as unrealistic and unfair. They say achieving steep cuts could mean increased water rates, ripped up grass and new restrictions on filling pools and washing cars.

Board officials say they expect to start seeing water savings as soon as June and are willing to intervene to add restrictions and penalties for agencies that lag. Summer is the peak water-guzzling season in California.

The regulations before the board would also ban new California homes and buildings from watering lawns unless they meet new efficiency standards. With public comments, a vote on the rules might not come until Wednesday.

The board has already adopted other water restrictions: Californians cannot water lawns two days after rainfall, wash cars with hoses that don’t shut off or hose down pavement, hotels must offer guests a chance to reuse sheets and towels and restaurants can only serve water upon request.

TIME Media

Scholars Discover 150-Year-Old Letters Written by Mark Twain

Bob Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project, shows a letter from Twain to his brother Orion Clemens and sister-in-law Mollie Clemens from October 1865.
Jeff Chiu—AP Bob Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project, shows a letter from Twain to his brother Orion Clemens and sister-in-law Mollie Clemens from October 1865.

The Mark Twain Project found about 110 dispatches written in 1865 and 1866

(SAN FRANCISCO)—Scholars at the University of California, Berkeley have pieced together a collection of dispatches written by Mark Twain when the author was a young newsman in San Francisco.

In the letters, the man who would write The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, likened the city’s police chief to a dog chasing its tail and accused city government of rascality. Some of the letters carried his flair for embellishment and may not be entirely true.

“This is a very special period in his life, when he’s out here in San Francisco,” said Bob Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project on the Berkeley campus.

“He’s utterly free, he’s not encumbered by a marriage or much of anything else, and he can speak his mind and does speak his mind. These things are wonderful to read, the ones that survived.”

Twain was likely 29 years old when he started filing near-daily columns for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1865. He wrote a 2,000-word story, or “letter,” six days a week for a salary of $100 a month, Hirst said.

Many of the letters were in back issues lost to fires, but Twain scholars picked through archives of other Western U.S. newspapers for copies. They have found about 110 columns written in 1865 and 1866.

In one letter, Twain gives detailed dialogue between two gold speculators trapped in a shaft, clinging to rope tied to an old horse named Cotton.

“Johnny, I’ve not lived as I ought to have lived. D–n that infernal horse!” Twain reported one man saying to the other. “Johnny, if we are saved I mean to be a good man and a Christian.”

It’s unclear how Twain acquired that level of detail. Hirst said the story is likely based on some facts.

Twain was also struggling at the time with his career, uncertain if writing humorously was literature, Hirst said.

In an 1865 letter to his brother, Twain wrote of contemplating suicide, partly due to debt. But Twain’s time in San Francisco may have helped change that. The following year, he moved to Hawaii.

TIME Music

Review: Best Coast Go Full Power Pop on California Nights

best coast
Harvest Records

All the fuzz and distance of Best Coast’s previous records has been Lemon Pledged into guitar sparkle

Nothing harshes California’s mellow like California itself. As power-pop lifers Kay Hanley and Linus of Hollywood, who named their band Palmdale for it, once said: “Palmdale sounds like a happy, beautiful place, but it’s actually a bleak, concrete-encased desert town with a very high meth lab-to-people ratio.” It just takes an hour too long at the beach for sun-soaked to turn into sun-sick, after all, and parallel to the carefree music codified by the Beach Boys and pornified by Katy Perry runs a tradition that’s equally indebted to the West Coast, and equally irresistible: the fun-and-sun pop song about dead-end suburbia, sulk-around boredom and bad decisions in sunny weather. California girls, they’re inconsolable—and none more so than the girls who inhabit any given Best Coast song.

Anyone who knows Best Coast probably also knows the Best Coast memes: the cannabis-fueled sulking, the Cathy-approaching levels of pining over boys, the cat Bethany Cosentino wishes could talk, the state of California getting a literal bear hug, the fact that all their songs famously sound the same. As one writer said of the band and its contemporaries, they’re “obsessed with the various qualities of sand, sunshine, friendship, and/or the waves, and they’re too high to take a position on much else.” As a band concept, it’s snappy as a sales pitch, inviting as a June beach and responsible for a lot of fans falling fast in summer love. Still, it’s the sort of thing that, when sustained over more than one album, easily leads to a backlash. As backlashes do, the sniping about Best Coast’s music soon turned into a referendum on their personality, and specifically the personality of Cosentino herself. Her looks, her persona, her relationships (notably with fellow indie kid Wavves) became fodder for sneering-at-best bloggers. These days, even people who like Best Coast tend to liken Cosentino, who is 28, to a “needy, narcissistic teen.”

It shouldn’t have to happen this way. When Best Coast debuted with Crazy For You they were quickly lumped in with what was at the time a surfeit of lo-fi, all-women or at least female-fronted garage bands. This was always an awkward fit, less a scene than a trendpiece, and most of these acts soon abandoned the fuzzy girl-group sound for other lands, like ‘80s mall goth, or breakups. Meanwhile, Best Coast have quietly found themselves in the zeitgeist. Haim, by channeling California cool, have earned a besotten following of music heads and, increasingly, celebrities. Weed, quarter-life crises and power-pop gloss make up Colleen Green’s excellent and much-feted I Want to Grow Up, to name one of a bouquet of flower-powered California acts. The sad-girl act has been lately embraced as an Internet aesthetic (take the 200K follower-strong tweeter @sosadtoday, from—where else?—L.A.). That other California drear-er of note now tops the mainstream charts. Improbably, Best Coast have become underrated.

Luckily, the band’s well-positioned to drop that “under.” California Nights—sharing a name with a track by the late Lesley Gore—is the band’s major-label debut, on Capitol’s Harvest Records, and it sounds it. If The Only Place was Best Coast’s big pop move, then by comparison California Nights is the size of the Hollywood sign. All the fuzz and distance of Best Coast’s previous records has been Lemon Pledged into guitar sparkle; the result’s almost unrecognizable as the product of two people who used to be in a drone-folk band. A lot of the credit here goes to producer Wally Gagel, who produced Best Coast’s last EP Fade Away as well as the power-pop likes of Superchunk, Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donelly’s post-Belly debut, the underrated Lovesongs for Underdogs. Unlike Jon Brion, who helmed The Only Place, Gagel’s not afraid to go for the hook, and where The Only Place didn’t sound polished so much as sprayed stiff, California Nights sparkles like pavement and sounds great: one shining hook, directed right at your heart.

We’re in the realm of power-pop, in other words, where the band’s always belonged. “When Will I Change” tweaks the riff from Blondie’s “Dreaming”; “Fine Without You” is a dead Letters to Cleo ringer; “Heaven Sent” sounds, gloriously, like half the radio did in 1995. Bobb Bruno races through fast tracks, while Bethany Cosentino pulls syllables like bubblegum, deploys words like punctuation—which is key. The average Best Coast lyric (representative: “why don’t you like me / what’s with the jealousy / sha la la, sha la la…”) can be rewritten with no more than three emoji, and you’d probably end up re-using the same three. But you could say the same of the best power-pop acts—think Shonen Knife, or the Ramones even—and there’s a method to Cosentino’s single-mindedness. The themes are largely unchanged: bad boyfriends, friend breakups, more weed—concentrated on the title track, a psychedelic reverb trip without a scrap of irony—and the push-pull inertia of wanting to grow up and not really wanting to move. By track two Cosentino’s bouncy and hooky, telling herself to stop wasting time and sounding convinced; by track 12 (“Wasted Time”) she doesn’t sound convinced of much of anything but the soporific drift, as easy to get lost in as one slept-away afternoon, then five more.

It’s tempting to call this maturity, but neither the sounds nor the shrugs are anything Best Coast hasn’t dwelled upon since Crazy For You. Go back and re-listen and it’s all there, like re-runs of the same show on the same TV, watched in the same apartments during the same long summers. That’s the point, and it always was. Being 28 and having meandered for years through variations on the same love and life limbo is, to put it lightly, not an unfamiliar scenario for most of Best Coast’s listeners, old or new. California, as it does in so much fiction, becomes a stand-in for the whole country; the California blues turn out to be not that different than any given listener’s own personal inertia. But the trick of this music—a trick Best Coast are very near perfecting—is that it sounds like so much fun.

TIME Photojournalism Links

The 10 Best Photo Essays of the Month

A compilation of the 10 most interesting photo essays published online in April, as curated by Mikko Takkunen

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world, including The New York Times staff photographer Damon Winter’s stunning aerial pictures documenting the ongoing drought in California.

Damon Winter: California Drought (The New York Times)

Bryan Denton: 100 Years Later, a Genocide Haunts the Armenian Psyche (The New York Times) These compelling pictures capture sites related to the Armenian genocide that took place one hundred years ago.

Newsha Tavakolian: Women Taking the Battle to ISIS (TIME LightBox) Powerful series on a cadre of female Kurdish soldiers fighting Islamic militants in Syria.

David Guttenfelder: Harnessing the Mekong (National Geographic) National Geographic Photography Fellow Guttenfelder’s work documents life along the Mekong River in five different countries.

Adriane Ohanesian: Inside Sudan’s War-Torn Darfur (TIME LightBox) These rare pictures capture rebels and fleeing civilians in Darfur.

Wayne Lawrence: Taking Back Detroit (National Geographic) Portraits and audio of Motor City residents.

James Mollison: Playground (Wired) Fascinating, insightful photographs of children’s playgrounds around world.

Moises Saman: Digging for Gold in the Andes (The New Yorker Photo Booth) Magnum photographer documents the unregulated gold mining in the Peruvian Andes.

Katie Orlinsky: Taken at the Border (The New Yorker Photo Booth) Orlinsky documents the U.S.-Mexico border from empty stash houses to young migrants who have been extorted.

Christopher Griffith: Foot Soldiers (The New York Times Magazine) Excellent photographs of Manhattan shoe shiners’ hands.

MONEY Food & Drink

Starbucks’ Bottled Water Comes From Thirsty California

A report from Mother Jones found that Starbucks' Ethos water comes from some of the areas hit hardest by California's drought.

TIME Law Enforcement

Family of Homeless Man Killed in L.A. Police Shooting Files $20 Million Claim

Heleine Tchayou
Tami Abdollah—AP Heleine Tchayou, second from right, the mother of Charly Leundeu Keunang, a homeless man who was shot and killed during a confrontation on Skid Row by Los Angeles police, speaks at a news conference outside LAPD headquarters in Los Angeles, Thursday, April 30, 2015. The family of Keunang has filed a $20 million claim against the city. (AP Photo/Tami Abdollah)

"He did not have to die!"

The family of a homeless man who was shot and killed during a scuffle with Los Angeles police in March is suing the city, attorneys said Thursday, and seeking a $20 million for wrongful death.

“He did not have to die!” said Heleine Tchayou, mother of 43-year-old Charly Keunang, through a French translator, Reuters reports. “Charly was a thoughtful and caring son.” Keunang, originally from Cameroon, was shot and killed on March 1 after police say he reached for an officer’s gun as they tried to arrest him for suspected robbery.

The family’s claim labeled Keunang’s death “a cop-created killing in which six heavily-armed, highly-trained law enforcement officers initiated a conflict with an unarmed homeless man and then less than three minutes later, shot him six times in the chest, killing him as they held him down on the sidewalk.”

The incident, which was caught on video, came amid greater scrutiny of police tactics nationwide and sparked protests in Los Angeles.

[Reuters]

TIME Environment

Starbucks is Selling California Spring Water For $1.95 a Bottle Amid a Historic Drought

California's Central Valley Heavily Impacted By Severe Drought
Justin Sullivan — Getty Images Well water is pumped from the ground on April 24, 2015 in Tulare, California.

A bottled-water company owned by the coffee giant is drawing on precious springs in the bone-dry state

A Starbucks owned bottled-water company in California is continuing to sell locally sourced spring water, as the Golden State battles one of the worst droughts in recent memory, according to a report in Mother Jones.

Starbucks acquired Ethos Water, an enterprise that gives a nickel of every $1.95 bottle sold to water charity projects around the world, in 2005. Ethos has reportedly raised around $12.3 million for water charity projects to date.

However, the company partially relies on water from private springs in central California’s Placer County and also operates a factory further south in Merced, where it uses local water sources at its production facility. Both areas are in territories that are experiencing “exceptional drought” conditions, according to federal authorities.

The Merced Sun-Star reports that locals are increasingly irritated that the company is continuing to tap the area’s scarce water resources amid the blistering dry spell.

A Starbucks spokesperson told Mother Jones that Ethos water came from “a private spring source that is not used for municipal water for any communities.” However, the magazine also spoke to a geologist with the state’s Department of Water Resources, who said that local communities downstream could still be adversely affected “if you capture and pull it out before it ever makes it.”

Read more at Mother Jones.

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