Tag Archive: Alexander Shuster


 

 

 

puerto_rico_usda_flickr.jpgThe White House requested Congress approve $44 billion in disaster relief in what would be the largest single round of disaster aid to address the widespread damage inflicted by hurricanes and wildfires over the last three months.  It is the third request since hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria slammed the Gulf Coast and Caribbean.  The new request would add another $24 billion to the disaster relief this fall and bring the total close to $100 billion.  It would also establish a new $12 billion grant program for flood risk mitigation projects. Smaller amounts would go to small business loans and to aid farmers suffering crop losses.

The White House is proposing the increased funding be offset by cuts to federal programs in hopes to deter members from Congress who might not vote for a disaster assistance package that adds to the deficit.  Two previous disaster relief bills totaling nearly $51.8 billion that Congress approved earlier this year had no such offsets.

And that’s before most of the money to rebuild Puerto Rico’s devastated housing stock and electric grid is added in.  Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has asked the federal government for $94.3 billion in disaster relief funds to help repair critical infrastructure and rebuild housing following Hurricane Maria.  He said the sum will help the U.S. territory adequately recover from Hurricane Maria.  Over half of Puerto Rico is still without power almost two months after Hurricane Maria made landfall.  More than 10 percent of the island is still without running water.

The largest chunk of Rosselló’s request, $31 billion, goes to housing assistance with $17.7 billion to rebuild the island’s power grid and $14.9 billion for health care.  “This is a critical step forward in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico where we’re not only looking to rebuild as was before but we want to make it much stronger and much more resilient and make Puerto Rico a model for the rest of the Caribbean,” Rosselló said.  Ricardo Rosello also urged Congress to adopt a tax overhaul plan that addresses the territory’s specific needs to avoid an exodus of the companies that currently generate 42% of the island’s gross domestic product.

The relief request is over $30 billion more than a $61 billion relief request from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after Hurricane Harvey flooded parts of metro Houston and East Texas.  The Florida congressional delegation has asked for $27 billion.  It is likely that Congress will pare down the amount as they did after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

 

 

 

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A combat pilot shortage has prompted the invoking of the National Emergencies Act as an executive order was signed that allows the Air Force to voluntarily recall up to 1,000 retired aviators for active duty.  The order could help ease the combat pilot shortage in the force and improve military readiness as the administration steps up its new Afghanistan war strategy to defeat the Taliban and terrorists. The new strategy includes additional U.S. troops going to Afghanistan as well as increased U.S. air support for the Afghan military.

According to the Pentagon, the Air Force is currently short by about 1,500 pilots.  Before the order was signed, the Air Force was allowed to rehire up to 25 retired officers under what’s known as the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty program and bring them back to active duty in critical aviation-related staff positions.   The executive order now allows the Air Force to temporarily exceed the limit of 25 rehires.  Other branches of the U.S. military also need more pilots, including the Navy, and the executive order could be used later to help address those challenges.

A release issued by the Air Force said they are now looking to have retired pilots return to the service for up to 12 months in positions that require qualified pilots.  The service is looking for retired fliers of any pilot specialty code — which includes bomber, fighter, helicopter, tanker, and remotely operated aircraft pilots — to fill “critical-rated staff positions” and allow active-duty pilots to stay with units where they are needed to meet mission requirements.

The Air Force is combatting the pilot shortage with various incentive programs to keep officers in uniform longer.  A program launching later this year includes a 100 percent promotion opportunity and an aviator retention pay bonus worth up to $350,000 over a 10-year term that is already in effect.  Pay for officers and enlisted personnel will increase for the first time since 1999.  Incentive pay, also called flight pay, will increase for all officers, with those who have over 12 years of service potentially seeing the biggest boost, up to a maximum of $1,000 a month. Incentive pay will also increase for enlisted aircrew members — up to a maximum of $600 for those with over 14 years of service.

An Air Force official indicated they had no current plans to act on the authority granted to them by the president’s order.  “The Air Force does not currently intend to recall retired pilots to address the pilot shortage,” “We appreciate the authorities and flexibility delegated to us.”

 

 

 

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Hundreds of trials for activists who stood against the Dakota Access Pipeline have seen the courtroom but only two have received jail time so far.  A judge in North Dakota has sentenced two water protectors to jail time after they were convicted on misdemeanor charges over an October 2016 protest at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access pipeline.

Twenty-seven-year-old Alexander Simon, a school teacher from New Mexico was sentenced to serve 18 days in jail for obstruction of a government function.  Mary Redway, a 64 year old retired environmental biologist from Rhode Island was sentenced to six days in jail for disorderly conduct. The sentences were imposed by Judge Thomas Merrick despite the fact that the prosecution had not recommended the two serve jail time.

Journalist Sara Lafleur-Vetter, who was filming for The Guardian at the time of her arrest, was acquitted on misdemeanor charges stemming from her reporting on the protest on October 22.  Hundreds of unresolved criminal cases related to the months-long resistance at Standing Rock remain open.  Hundreds of cases have been

The Water Protector Legal Collective- an indigenous-led legal team defending activists arrested during the months-long Dakota Access Pipeline controversy is currently fighting over 427 criminal cases in North Dakota, according to the legal team’s website.  Another 272 cases have been dismissed due to lack of evidence of any crime being committed.  Morton County has put out warrants, dismissed cases, recharged water protectors, and failed to send mail or contact arrestees regarding scheduled court dates-all resulting in new warrants being issued for accused water protectors without their knowledge.

Three water protectors are currently imprisoned while awaiting trial: Red Fawn Fallis, Little Feather and Dion Ortiz.  Fallis, the most seriously charged water protector, was arrested at Standing Rock on October 27, 2016 accused of possessing and discharging a firearm as she was being restrained by police near construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Fallis, the organizer of the “Frontline Camp” was arrested during the October 27th raid on the camp when over 300 police officers—some carrying M16 rifles and clad in flak vests advanced to remove all remaining protestors.  Four officers left formation and tackled Fallis to the ground, holding her face down.  Four additional officers assisted in trying to handcuff her as she was being tased.   In the course of the raid, the police fired tear gas and concussion grenades and peppered the water protectors with rubber-tipped bullets and bean bag pellets, causing dozens of injuries.  Fallis was held in a Rugby, North Dakota jail until her transfer to a halfway house in Fargo in June 2017.  Her jury trial was originally slated to begin on July 17, but it has now been postponed until December 5.

 

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On October 1st 2017, the deadliest mass shooting in the US occurred at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and injuring 527.  The shooter, identified as 64 year-old Stephen Paddock, broke two windows in his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and sent more than 22,000 country music fans scrambling for their lives.  Between 10:05 and 10:15 pm, Paddock fired thousands of rounds at concert goers, turning the last day of the festival into a massacre.  The headlining performer, country music singer Jason Aldean was giving the closing performance when the first shots were fired.

Several videos of the attack show the terror as countless rounds of gunfire can be heard with intervals of just a few seconds in between.  Many concert-goers and performers still in the area initially thought the sounds were fireworks.  When the second round of gunfire is heard, Jason Aldean ran off the stage and fans realized it was automatic gunfire-but for many, it was already too late.  As terrified fans got down, many noticed people nearby who had already been shot.  Videos of the attack show fans running, and then dropping to the ground as another round of gunfire starts.  As people ran for their lives, many were separated and left not knowing if their friend or loved ones made it out.  The day after the attack, stories circulated of the many brave people helping people to safety, tending to those injured and loading wounded into their vehicles to get them to area hospitals.  Slowly, the identities of those lost were confirmed either through family confirming on social media or reaching out to news outlets.

Six minutes prior to the shooting, Mandalay Bay hotel security guard Jesus Campos was checking an alert for an open door in another guest’s room near Paddock’s room.  Paddock, who had placed security cameras outside his room, shot Campos through the door of his suite, which was outfitted with a camera to survey the hallway, as was a room service cart parked outside. Police said Paddock fired 200 rounds into the hallway, hitting Campos once in the leg.  Campos radioed the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department that the gunman was in room 32135 and began evacuating people from the 32nd floor, including a maintenance worker who entered the hallway moments after he was shot.

The first 911 call was at 10:08 pm but police officers were initially confused as to where the shooting was coming from.  Officers eventually spotted multiple flashes of gunfire on the northern side of Mandalay Bay and responded to the hotel.  At 10:12 pm, two officers on the 31st floor reported the sounds of gunfire on the floor above them.  Between 10:26 and 10:30pm, eight officers reached the floor but didn’t hear anymore gunfire.  They systematically searched and cleared rooms, evacuating any remaining guests using a master key provided by Campos.   At 10:55pm officers reported all guests had been evacuated and at 11:20pm, police breached Paddock’s room with explosives.  Paddock was found dead, having shot himself in the head before the police entered.

Police found 22 rifles and one handgun inside Paddock’s hotel room that he had occupied since September 28.  Police believe Paddock’s surveillance cameras and additional evidence found in the room suggest that Paddock intended to escape after the shooting.  Police, relatives, and neighbors described him as a wealthy, high-stakes gambler who kept to himself -with no political or religious affiliations.  They say he frequently gambled tens of thousands of dollars-earning him valuable comps from Vegas area casinos.  Paddock had no criminal record or known history of mental illness.  Police believed he acted alone but have not determined his motive.

 

 

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Tension between North Korea and the U.S. along with its allies are at an all-time high right now.  Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for pressure to be put on North Korea as he warned diplomatic attempts have failed.  Prime Minister Abe said diplomatic attempts to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear aspirations have failed over two decades.  China and Russia have repeatedly called for international diplomacy to deal with North Korea’s crisis of its weapons program.  Prime Minister Abe said diplomatic attempts to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear aspirations have failed over two decades.

On September 11, the UN Security Council increased sanctions against North Korea over its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, imposing a ban on the isolated nation’s textile exports and capping imports of crude oil.  China said it would ban exports of some petroleum products to North Korea, as well as imports of textiles, to comply with new sanctions by the United Nations Security Council. China’s support of the sanctions would be insufficient to cripple the North Korean economy and force it to the negotiating table, Chinese experts have said.

South Korea opposes the use of force, fearing war on the peninsula and an attack on Seoul. China also does not want war on its border, hoping that North Korea will remain a Communist buffer against South Korea and its ally, the United States.  Tensions rose when President Trump warned North Korea in his speech to the U.N. that the United States would “totally destroy” the country if threatened, adding that while the US has “great strength and patience,” its options could soon run out.  North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President Trump escalated when the US chief said at the UN: “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

Both the president and Defense Secretary James Mattis have said all options are on the table for dealing with the threat from North Korea.  While the U.S. could take military action, Trump urged the U.N. to join together in curtailing North Korea’s nuclear efforts.  “We meet at a time of both immense promise and great peril,” Trump said, issuing a call to action that hinged on the responsibility of governments to their citizens.

Days after the U.N. speech, the Pentagon said the Air Force had sent B-1B bombers and F-15C fighters over waters north of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, in response to what it called the North Korean government’s “reckless behavior.” It was the farthest north any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century.  Dana W. White, the Defense Department’s chief spokeswoman, said in a statement.  “This mission is a demonstration of U.S. resolve and a clear message that the president has many military options to defeat any threat.”

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho gave a General Assembly address in which he called Trump’s  threat to “totally destroy” North Korea an irreversible mistake.  He also said the North’s nuclear program was a deterrent intended to avert an invasion, with the ultimate goal being “balance of power with the U.S.”  “We do not have any intention at all to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the countries that do not join in the U.S. military actions against” North Korea, Mr. Ri said.

A federal appeals court has thrown out the prison sentences of former Blackwater contractors who were involved in a 2007 massacre in Nisoor Square in central Baghdad that left 17 civilians dead and 20 injured when they opened fire with machine guns and threw grenades into the crowded public space.   The appeals court ruled three of the contractors could be resentenced, meaning their 30-year prison sentences could be dramatically shortened. A fourth contractor’s murder conviction was thrown out entirely, so he’ll now face a new trial.

The Blackwater guards claimed that the convoy was ambushed and that they fired at the attackers in defense of the convoy. The Iraqi government and Iraqi police investigator Faris Saadi Abdul stated that the killings were unprovoked.  The Iraqi government claimed that as the convoy drew close to Nisour Square, a Kia sedan carrying a woman and her adult son was approaching the square from a distance, driving slowly on the wrong side of the road, ignoring a police officer’s whistle to clear a path for the convoy. The security team fired warning shots and then lethal fire at the Kia. They then set off stun grenades to clear the scene. Iraqi police and Iraqi Army soldiers, mistaking the stun grenades for fragmentation grenades, opened fire at the Blackwater men, to which they returned fire.

The Blackwater guards contend that the Kia continued to approach even when fired upon and after an Iraqi policeman went over to the car, it looked as if the policeman was pushing it.  They feared they were under attack by a car bomb so they fired at the car, killing both occupants as well as the Iraqi policeman.  Iraqi police officers began to fire at the Blackwater men. The guards felt they could not be sure they were dealing with actual police since insurgents often disguise themselves by wearing police uniforms.

A military report appeared to corroborate “the Iraqi government’s contention that Blackwater was at fault.  Blackwater Worldwide’s license to operate in Iraq was temporarily revoked.  An FBI investigation found that, of the 17 Iraqis killed by the guards, at least 14 were shot without cause.

In 2008, the U.S. charged five Blackwater guards with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and a weapons violation.  On December 31, 2009, a U.S. district judge dismissed all charges on the grounds that the case against the Blackwater guards had been improperly built on testimony given in exchange for immunity.

In 2011, a U.S. federal appeals court reinstated the manslaughter charges against Paul A. Slough, Evan S. Liberty, Dustin L. Heard and Donald W. Ball after closed-door testimony. A fifth guard had his charges dismissed, and a sixth guard -Jeremy Ridgeway pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.

On October 22, 2014, a Federal District Court jury convicted Nick Slatten of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison.  Three other guards Paul A.Slough, Evan S. Liberty and Dustin L.Heard were found guilty of all three counts of voluntary manslaughter and using a machine gun to commit a violent crime.  They were each sentenced to 30 years in prison.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed Slatten’s murder conviction and ordered the other defendants to be re-sentenced. A new trial was also recommended for Slatten, on the grounds that it was unjustifiable to try him with his co-defendants, and that he should have been tried separately.

Longtime Arizona senator and former presidential candidate John McCain has been diagnosed with primary glioblastoma, a malignant form of brain cancer.  Senator McCain’s office said the diagnosis came after McCain had surgery last week to remove a blood clot above his left eye at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. Lab results from the surgery confirmed the presence of glioblastoma.

McCain is reportedly weighing whether to undergo an aggressive treatment of radiation and chemotherapy, and has not said when he might return to Capitol Hill. Glioblastoma is the most common of all malignant brain tumors, representing 15.4% of all primary brain tumors, according to the American  Brain Tumor Association (ABTA), who estimate there will be over 12,000 cases before the end of 2017.

With the permission of McCain’s family, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta spoke to doctors involved in the senator’s care.  Gupta learned McCain had felt tired over the last few months and had a bout of double vision, but blamed it on his intense travel schedule.  Doctors ordered a CAT scan and an MRI scan of McCain’s brain that revealed the tumor.

The symptoms of glioblastoma are usually a result of increased pressure on the brain.  The ABTA lists headaches, nausea, vomiting and drowsiness as symptoms for the tumor. Depending on where the tumor is, however, weakness on one side of the body, memory and speech difficulties and visual changes can all be developed as a result.

The ABTA labels the prognosis for glioblastoma survival in terms of median survival — the length of time at which an equal number of patients do better and an equal number of patients do worse. Depending on the type of glioblastoma and treatment used, this can range from 14 months to three years.  The association also cites a 2009 study that found 10% of patients with glioblastoma may live five years or longer.  The average survival time for malignant glioblastoma is around 14 months with treatment.

There is no specific treatment used for glioblastoma but there are a few different approaches doctors can take.   Gupta said “This is a malignant cancer, what that means in this case is that you operate on this,” “It needs to be treated as well with chemotherapy and radiation.”

When a cancer is malignant, cells are dividing uncontrollably and can invade nearby tissues. The cancer cells may also spread to other parts of the body through the blood stream or lymph system in the body.  Gupta added because of the nature of the tumor, McCain will likely need more procedures in the coming weeks.  “The concern is that it will come back. That’s the big concern with these types of tumors,” he said. “In order to try to give him the best chance at that, it is likely he’ll undergo further treatments over the next several days.”

McCain’s cancer is the same form that claimed the lives of Senator Ted Kennedy and Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Beau Biden.   This is not McCain’s first battle with cancer; in 2000 he underwent a procedure to remove a type of skin cancer called melanoma from the left side of his face.  McCain, 80, also had a melanoma removed from his left arm in 2000 and another removed from his nose in 2002. Both were determined to be the least dangerous types of melanoma.

Former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver has been indicted by a grand jury on murder charges for killing 15-year-old African-American student Jordan Edwards.  Police body cam video shows Oliver fired his assault rifle into the moving car that Edwards, his brother and two friends were in as they were driving away from a party on April 29.

Jordan Edwards was shot in the head as he sat in the front passenger seat of the vehicle.  One of the car’s passengers says the officer never even ordered the boys to stop driving before opening fire.

Originally Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber said the officer fired his gun after the car drove “aggressively” toward both officers but he later said he misspoke after reviewing the body cam footage.  Oliver was fired for violating several department policies and procedures in the shooting and charged with murder.  He posted his $300,000 bail that evening.  If convicted of murder, he faces up to life in prison.

Jordan’s parents filed a lawsuit shortly after the shooting against the city of Balch Springs, the Balch Springs Police department, and Roy Oliver, the police officer who shot and killed him.  They claim Oliver used excessive force and lacked proper training to be on duty, also alleging Oliver used a racial slur while detaining Jordan’s stepbrother, Vidal Allen, who was driving the car the night of the shooting.

Shortly after the indictment, the Edwards’ family lawyer, Lee Merritt tweeted  “A murder indictment for Roy Oliver is appropriate but the fact is it’s been +40 years since a cop was convicted in TX.” Merritt also made a statement referring to how he felt the officers and the Balch Springs Police Department handled the events following the shooting improperly. Not only did a cop fire a weapon in a car full of unarmed teenagers unnecessarily, he also suggested that the boys were mistreated instead of being offered proper medical attention – as is protocol.  “They were immediately treated as common criminals by other officers; manhandled, intimidated and arrested while their brother lay dying in the front seat,” Merritt added.

Roy Oliver, who had been with the department for six years, is an Army veteran who served in the Middle East.  He was also indicted last month on two charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after allegations that he pulled a gun on a woman and her sister after a road-rage incident two weeks before Jordan’s death. No trial dates have been set.

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A Kansas City, KS toddler who was abducted while sleeping in the back seat of a car has been found safe.  On July 12th, 2017, a man left his girlfriend’s car running while he went inside a Kansas City gas station to get her three-year-old daughter a drink. The little girl remained in the backseat, asleep.  Police say that’s when Tyler Letzig, 28, and Karri Reich, 29, took the car with the girl inside.

Police cordoned off the Valero gas station at 7th and Riverview and quickly released surveillance of the two suspects to the media.  The video shows the suspects — a man in a green T-shirt and a woman in a blue one-piece short set — enter the gas station separately on more than one occasion and later converse near a gas pump.

The woman re-enters the store while the car with the child pulls up beside an older model white utility van the suspects allegedly drove.  The man in green can be seen on video canvassing a silver 2016 Ford Focus as the driver exits the vehicle.  The driver of the Ford enters the store, and the woman in the blue short set exits. The woman briefly speaks with the male suspect then jumps in the Ford and drives away.

Within an hour of the abduction, investigators say the boyfriend’s cell phone pinged several miles away in Leavenworth County. Officers from the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department, Wyandotte County sheriff’s deputies, troopers from the Kansas Highway Patrol, and federal agents all aided in the search.  When the pinging stopped in the area of Interstate 70 and 206th Street, police requested help from other law enforcement agencies with an aircraft but none were immediately available.

The little girl, 3 year old Amaya Vestor was found safe near the abandoned vehicle around 8pm in a rural area of Tonganoxie after a local television station’s helicopter spotted the stolen car in Leavenworth County.  Responding to the initial reports of a child abduction and stolen vehicle, SkyTracker headed to Leavenworth County to track down the location from the cell phone ping.  SkyTracker pilot Captain Gregg Bourdon and photographer James Moore scanned the area and noticed an abandoned, silver vehicle matching the description of the car stolen.  A quick call back to the station to update the newsroom, and 41 Action News Assignment Editor Steve Kaut alerted law enforcement.

A sheriff deputy came right under the helicopter and made his way down the road until he could see the child get out of the car.   SkyTracker captured the reunion from 2,000 feet in the air.  The male suspect, Tyler Letzig-reportedly was apprehended Thursday by authorities in Leavenworth County. The female suspect, Karri Reich-is still on the run.  Tyler Letzig and Karri Anne Reich were each charged Friday with one count of kidnapping, child endangerment and theft.

Update:  Karri Reich turned herself in and was booked into the Wyandotte County Jail Tuesday morning.

 

 

 

Popular craft chain store Hobby Lobby has agreed to pay a $3 million fine and return thousands of artifacts smuggled from Iraq.  Hobby Lobby’s owners are conservative Christians who plan to open a Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., this fall.

Federal prosecutors say Hobby Lobby spent over $1.5 million in December 2010 to purchase more than 5,000 Iraqi artifacts from a dealer based in the United Arab Emirates. The sales violated a ban on the sale of Iraqi cultural artifacts in place since 2004.

According to the complaint, Hobby Lobby began collecting a range of historically significant manuscripts and other antiquities in 2009. The following July, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green traveled with a consultant to the United Arab Emirates, where they inspected a large cache of cuneiform tablets and other artifacts.

Two Israeli antiquities dealers and one from the United Arab Emirates attended the July 2010 inspection with Hobby Lobby’s president and consultant. At the meeting, the complaint says, the artifacts were displayed informally, “spread on the floor, arranged in layers on a coffee table, and packed loosely in cardboard boxes, in many instances with little or no protective material between them.”

The dealers claimed the items were from the family collection of a third dealer who was not present, according to the complaint. They later sent Hobby Lobby a provenance statement — a guarantee of authenticity — indicating that the artifacts were legally acquired in the 1960s from local markets.

After returning to the United States, the complaint says, Hobby Lobby’s president and in-house lawyer spoke with an expert on cultural property law who warned them that antiquities from ancient Iraq may have been looted from archaeological sites. In a memo, the expert told them that any items of Iraqi origin that were not properly declared could be seized by customs officials.  Hobby Lobby proceeded with the sale despite the numerous “red flags”, buying hundreds of cuneiform tablets and thousands of other artifacts.  According to a civil complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the deal was “was fraught with red flags” and was consistent with a “clandestine” operation.  According to the complaint, Hobby Lobby got conflicting information about where the artifacts had been stored and never met or communicated with the dealer selling them. When it came time to pay, the company wired money to seven separate bank accounts.

A dealer based in the United Arab Emirates shipped packages containing the artifacts to three different corporate addresses in Oklahoma City. Five shipments that were intercepted by federal customs officials bore shipping labels that falsely declared that the artifacts’ country of origin was Turkey.  In September 2011, a package containing about 1,000 clay bullae, an ancient form of inscribed identification, was received by Hobby Lobby from an Israeli dealer and accompanied by a false declaration stating that its country of origin was Israel. The packages bore shipping labels that described their contents as “ceramic tiles,” the complaint said.