TODAY

– November 26, 2014

In Vegas, eye in the sky guards money, not guests

(AP) — Hotel maid Brandi Patrick was chased down the hallway at the Flamingo casino last year by a nearly naked man. She said she had to lock herself in a cleaning closet and, as the man rattled the handle, fumble around in her pockets to find her cellphone so she could call security.

She said she's haunted by the thought of what might have happened if she hadn't had her phone. "Something could happen and no one would know it 'till the end of the shift," she said.

Las Vegas casinos — some of the most closely-watched spaces in the world — don't have video cameras in guest room hallways, an absence that hotel workers like Patrick, patrons and prosecutors say can act as a green light for crime.

Casino bosses say there is no need for extra security: America's playground boasts more cameras per square foot than any airport or sports arena in the country, with thousands of high-tech lenses watching the gambling floors, lobbies and elevators.

All four major Strip casino operators, however, declined further comment.

Closed circuit "eye in the sky" cameras hidden behind plastic ceiling domes are omnipresent in pop culture portrayals of Sin City. They play a pivotal role during the heist in 2001's "Ocean's Eleven" and in the reconstruction of a crazy night in the 2009 buddy comedy "The Hangover."

Yet, The Associated Press found that 23 of the 27 major Strip casinos have no surveillance in hotel hallways or elevator landings. All but four of the 27 hotels are owned by MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corp., Las Vegas Sands Corp. or Wynn Resorts Ltd.

The AP arrived at the tally by interviewing casino officials and visiting the hotels that wouldn't comment. Only Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, the MGM Grand and Tropicana Las Vegas monitor the halls above the gambling floor.

"People have a false sense of safety when they go to a casino," security consultant Fred Del Marva said. "You think, 'I'm going to Bellagio, they have 2,000 surveillance cameras, so I'm going to be safe.' And you're wrong. The level of security at the hotel level is zero."

Tourist Allyson Rainey said she wishes she'd known no one was monitoring the hallways of Harrah's hotel-casino before her computer was stolen from her room last year. A police detective caught the thief after spotting him clutching her distinctive laptop bag in hotel lobby footage.

But Rainey said more cameras at the Caesars-owned hotel could have prevented the crime.

"The detective told us that the guy had a keycard made, and he was going from hotel to hotel," she said. "He had been doing this for the last eight years, so he obviously knew they didn't have cameras there."

Gary Selesner, president of Harrah's and Caesars Palace, said cameras cannot stand in for vigilance when it comes to preventing "door-push" crimes, where a burglar finds a room to target by pushing on doors until one swings open.

"As a hotel operator, I think what you really need is cameras in the foyer and in the elevator. That said, we are putting cameras in as we complete renovations because of door-push concerns," he said. The company has installed cameras in at least one tower of Caesars Palace.

Hotel room burglaries account for the great majority of casino crimes, and they've been on the rise in recent years, while burglaries have declined in the rest of the city, according to an analysis of police statistics.

Las Vegas Chief Deputy District Attorney James Sweetin said the absence of cameras not only encourages petty offenses such as burglary but makes more serious crimes harder to prosecute.

He wondered whether stepped up surveillance might have prevented the alleged rape of a 13-year-old boy in a hotel room at MGM's Circus Circus last New Year's Eve, or the assault of an unconscious woman at the Cosmopolitan. He said the woman's assailant avoided cameras by taking the stairs.

Housekeepers have their own scare stories. Patrick said she never reported her brush with the man in the hallway to police or her managers. Hotel officials said they would have conducted an investigation had the incident been reported.

Other hotel maids can recall similar situations, though they too say they don't report them.

In 2011, a 65-year-old maid was punched in the face, pushed into an empty guest room and raped at Bally's casino. Again, the assailant used the stairs. A man has been charged in the case, which is ongoing.

The main obstacle to increased hallway security is cost, experts say.

A midsized hotel might pay $2 million to install the system and $100,000 a year to monitor it, according to Art Steele, who directed security at the Stratosphere Las Vegas from 1996 to 2009. The casino, located between the Strip and downtown, is one of the few to install cameras in its hallways. Steele said they helped every day.

The other concern is lawsuits. If casinos set up hall cameras but ignored the footage, guests might sue for negligence, according to Les Gold, who litigates liability issues for Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp in New York City.

"When they put these cameras in, it deters crime," he said. "But to have a camera that is not monitored is a huge mistake."

Do you support Pres. Obama's executive action on immigration?

Blogs

gordonwebstergordonwebster Gordon Webster - Publisher
gordonwebstergordonwebster Gabriel Dillard - Managing Editor

Latest Local News

Written on 11/26/2014, 10:37 am by Associated Press
(AP) — A Japanese firm said it will go ahead with plans to build light-rail cars in Los Angeles County, a month after threatening to pull out when talks...
Written on 11/26/2014, 10:28 am by Associated Press
(AP) — The number of California students attending charter schools has risen to more than a half million. The California Charter Schools Association announced Tuesday an estimated 547,800 students are enrolled in charter schools for the 2014-15 school year, up from 519,000 the year before. An additional 87 new charters opened this school year, bringing the total statewide to 1,184. Thirty four were closed. Demand for charter schools in California continues to rise; some 91,000 students are currently on wait lists. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded but operate independently of many of the laws and regulations governing traditional public schools. California has more charter schools than any other state in the nation.
Written on 11/26/2014, 10:22 am by Business Journal staff
Community members can play Santa this holiday season for hundreds of women and children affected by domestic violence through the Marjaree Mason Center's Trees of Hope. Four Christmas trees set up throughout the Fresno area have been decorated with ornaments attached to cards listing gifts requested by moms and kids that are utilizing the Marjaree Mason Center's services. Now, anyone can fulfill those wishes by attaching one of the ornament tags to the wrapped gift listed and delivering it to the Marjaree Mason Center at 1600 M. St. in Fresno by Dec. 15. The Trees of Hope are located at the following locations: • Blown Away, River Park Shopping Center, 70 El Camino, Fresno• Sierra Vista Mall, across from Kohl's, 1050 Shaw Ave., Clovis• Westwoods BBQ & Spice Co., 8042 N. Blackstone Ave., Fresno• White House, Black Market, Fig Garden Village, 714 W. Shaw Ave., Fresno More information about the Marjaree Mason Center's Trees of Hope can be found on the organization's Facebook page and clicking the "Events" tab. Established in 1979, the Marjaree Mason Center helps hundred of women and children affected by domestic violence in Fresno County by offering them shelter, counseling, legal assistance and education.  
Written on 11/26/2014, 9:07 am by MATT STROUD, Associated Press
(AP) — Black Friday isn't just when shoppers rush to stores for holiday sales. It's also one of the busiest days of the year for gun purchases. In the U.S., there are nine guns for every 10 people. Someone is killed with a firearm every 16 minutes. And every minute, gun shops make about 40 new requests for criminal background checks on people wanting weapons. On Black Friday, the rush accelerates to nearly two checks a second, testing the limits of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. "We have a perfect storm coming," says Kimberly Del Greco, a manager in the FBI division that helps run the system, known as NICS. Much of the responsibility for preventing criminals and the mentally ill from buying guns is shouldered by about 500 men and women who run the system from inside the FBI's criminal justice center, a gray office building with concrete walls and mirrored windows just outside Bridgeport, West Virginia. Granted a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the NICS, The Associated Press was able to see first-hand why 512 gun sales a day effectively beat the system last year. By federal law, NICS researchers must race against the clock: They have until the end of the third business day following an attempted firearm purchase to determine whether or not a buyer is eligible. After that, buyers can legally get their guns, whether or not the check was completed. This clock ran out more than 186,000 times last year. The problem is the data. States voluntarily submit records, which are often missing information about mental health rulings or criminal convictions, and aren't always rapidly updated to reflect restraining orders or other urgent reasons to deny a sale. It's a particular problem on Black Friday, when so many background checks are done at once. There are more than 48,000 gun retailers in the U.S., from Wal-Mart stores to local pawn shops. Store clerks can use the FBI's online E-Check System, which federal officials say is more efficient. But nearly half the checks are phoned in. Three call centers — in Kentucky, Texas, and Wheeling, W.Va. — take these calls from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day but Christmas. NICS did about 58,000 checks on a typical day last year. That surged to 145,000 on Black Friday 2013. They're bringing in 100 more workers than usual for the post-Thanksgiving rush this year. The call centers have no access to privileged information about buyers' backgrounds, and make no decisions. They just type in their name, address, birthdate, Social Security Number and other information into the system. On Black Fridays, the work can be grueling: One woman took a call that lasted four hours when a dealer phoned in the maximum 99 checks. "Rules had to be stretched," recalled Sam Demarco, her supervisor. "We can't transfer calls. Someone had to sit in her seat for her while she went to the bathroom." In the years since these background checks were required, about 71 percent have found no red flags and produced instant approvals. But ten factors can disqualify gun purchasers: a felony conviction, an arrest warrant, a documented drug problem or mental illness, undocumented immigration status, a dishonorable military discharge, a renunciation of U.S. citizenship, a restraining order, a history of domestic violence, or an indictment for any crime punishable by longer than one year of prison time. Any sign that one of these factors could be in a buyer's background produces a red-flag. FBI researchers then investigate, scouring state records in the federal database and calling state and local authorities for more information. "It takes a lot of effort ... for an examiner to go out and look at court reports, look at judges' documents, try to find a final disposition so we can get back to a gun dealer on whether they can sell that gun or not," Del Greco says. "And we don't always get back to them." The researchers must use their skill and judgment, striking a balance between the rights of gun owners and the need to keep would-be killers from getting firearms. Researcher Valerie Sargo says outstanding warrants often come up when they examine a red flag, and that can help police make arrests. "It makes you feel good that this person is not supposed to have a firearm and you kept it out of their hands," she says. It also weighs on them when red flags aren't resolved within three days, which happens about two percent of the time, or 512 checks each day on average. Tacked to a cubicle wall, a sign reads: "Our policy is to ALWAYS blame the computer." These workers have considerable responsibility, but little independent authority. "They won't proceed or deny a transaction unless they are ABSOLUTELY certain the information they have is correct and sufficient to sustain that decision," FBI spokesman Stephen G. Fischer told the AP. FBI contractors and employees oversaw more than 9 million checks in the first full year after the system was established as part of Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1998. By last year, they oversaw more than 21 million. In all, only 1.25 percent of attempted purchases are denied. Denials can be appealed. People can get guns without background checks in many states by buying weapons at gun shows or from individuals, a loophole the National Rifle Association does not want closed. But even the NRA agrees that the NICS system needs better data. "Any database is only going to function as well as the information contained within," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam says. Del Greco doesn't see the states' data improving soon, which only adds to the immense challenge of getting through huge numbers of requisite checks on Black Friday. "It's really critical that we have accurate information," Del Greco says. "Sometimes we just don't."
Written on 11/26/2014, 9:06 am by Business Journal staff
San Joaquin Valley Veterans is currently looking to provide housing services to veterans and their families through its Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant program.  The project offers case management for veterans at risk of losing their housing, short-term assistance with utility bills, rental assistance, deposits, housing counseling and assistance. San Joaquin Valley Veterans (SJVV) is part of WestCare California and ultimately seeks to secure permanent housing for veterans.  Through the SSVF grant, SJVV provides supportive services to low-income veteran families who are either residing in permanent housing, are homeless and scheduled to become residents of permanent housing within a certain time frame, or are seeking other housing that is responsive to low-income veteran family's needs and preferences.  The project is funded by the Veterans Administration and in June, received $6 million from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. SJVV was given the money specifically for use in Fresno and Madera counties over the next three years.  Individuals interested in the program may call (559) 255-8838 or contact one of the three SJVV offices, including the locations in Fresno, Hanford or Stockton.
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:58 am by ANNE D'INNOCENZIO, CHRIS RUGABER, AP Business Writers
(AP) — Falling gas prices. Soaring stock market. Unemployment at a six-year-low. All signs point to a successful holiday shopping season. Despite the economic tail winds, though, retailers are finding themselves having to work to get shoppers into stores. Why? Five years into the economic recovery, most Americans still are struggling. Gas prices may be hovering at a four-year low, but Americans are paying more for food, health care and other costs. Unemployment is falling, too, but wage growth has been stagnant. And even though the stock and housing markets have improved, Americans haven't changed their deal-hungry shopping habits. "Retail therapy is out the window for most Americans," said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics LLC, a research firm. Not that this holiday season is expected to be a dud. In fact, the National Retail Federation forecasts holiday sales will grow 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion — the highest increase since 2011. But retailers already have had to resort to discounting to get shoppers into stores. Heavy discounting eats into profits. For example, over the past weekend, online sales rose 18.7 percent, but the average order value was $112.86, down 5.4 percent for the same period a year ago because of promotions, according to IBM Digital Analysts Benchmark, which tracks sales at 800 websites. Reflecting the tough environment, major department stores, including Macy's, J.C. Penney and Kohl's, reported sales shortfalls in the quarter preceding the holiday shopping season. Discounters like Target and Wal-Mart turned in better-than-expected sales, but acknowledged that shoppers are cautious. Take Amanda Simpson, 39, who works in public relations in Denton, Texas. The mother of two young children plans to spend $700 on holiday gifts, down from last year's $1,000. Simpson says now that the economy is improving, she's focusing on building her savings. She and her husband, a government worker, are juggling daycare costs and higher health care expenses. Even the extra $20 a week from falling gas prices is going toward bills. "I definitely feel better," she said. "But as a family, we are trying to be more fiscally conservative."Here are three reasons many Americans plan to spend conservatively this holiday season even though economic factors have improved: SLOW WAGE GROWTHPaychecks have barely stayed ahead of inflation since the recession ended more than five years ago.Average hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, rose just 0.3 percent in September from a year earlier. And many Americans, who once worked full time now have part-time jobs. There are still nearly 2 million fewer people working full time in December 2007, when the Great Recession began. That's one reason shoppers might not spend briskly during the holiday despite the fact that the U.S. jobless rate hit 5.8 percent last month, down 1.5 percentage points from a year ago. "The unemployment number is a bogus number," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy. "What drives spending is income growth." HIGHER COSTSGas prices have fallen 20 percent from a year ago to $2.81. While that puts an average of $50 a month into the pockets of American households, they're still grappling with higher costs on lots of other necessities like food and health care. Overall food prices are up 1.7 percent from a year ago, according to the latest Consumer Price Index. Meat prices are up 8.5 percent, while egg prices rose 6.7 percent. While Wal-Mart noted lower gas prices have helped to fuel more trips to the store, it said shoppers at its Sam's Club stores are trading down from red meat to chicken and ground beef. J.C. Penney's CEO Mike Ullman told investors he expects customers will still be "very savvy" this holiday season even if they have more money to spend because of low fuel prices. SHOPPERS WANT DEALSShoppers may feel a little better about the overall economy, but they're still focused on a deal. And they're still sticking to lists. According to a recent survey of 500 shoppers by Accenture, 29 percent said it would take a discount of 50 percent or more to persuade them to make a purchase. Two years ago, that figure was 21 percent. That's why a number of retailers have been heavily discounting holiday items all month. Many, including Target and Wal-Mart, have pulled forward some of the deals reserved for Black Friday. A survey of 100 retailers by BDO, a consultancy, found that 34 percent will have already run most holiday deals by the time shoppers sit down for their Thanksgiving dinner. "Everyone is still looking for a deal," said Mikael Thygesen, chief marketing officer at Simon Property Group, which operates 228 shopping centers. ___Anne D'Innocenzio reported from New York. Chris Rugaber reported from Washington.
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:56 am by ERICA WERNER, Associated Press
(AP) — President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration left out some of the business community's top priorities, disappointing business leaders who might have stepped up to defend his policies in the face of Republican attacks. Months of lobbying by high-tech businesses failed to persuade the administration to make allotted but unused green cards available for foreign workers — probably the top item on the executive action agenda for business. And the administration only partially answered pleas to increase the length of time foreign students can stay in the U.S. before or after graduating to work in their fields. The administration announced plans to expand the program at some point in the future, but it offered no details on timing or scope. Business lobbyists contended that these and other "asks" were fairly modest to begin with, since all acknowledged that the big-ticket items on their agenda — such as increasing the number of high-tech visas available for foreign workers — could only be done by Congress. Even so, they were deflated to find their priorities overlooked as Obama announced plans to curb deportations for 4.5 million people in the country illegally and make them eligible for work permits. "We didn't ask for the moon to begin with. There's just not an opportunity for the administration to deliver the moon for us — that's a congressional action," said Scott Corley, executive director of Compete America, which represents high-tech companies including Google, Intel and Microsoft. "But we asked for some terrestrial things, things within reach, and we didn't see the detail we hoped for." A White House spokesman didn't respond to requests for comment. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who represents the Silicon Valley, said Obama was constrained by the legal advice he received. "There's what you want, and what's possible to do, and people do understand that what you might want him to do is constrained by the law," Lofgren said. Lofgren had been among those saying Obama could take executive action to allow businesses to "recapture" permanent resident green cards that had been authorized by Congress but never issued. Obama can't issue green cards on his own, but business officials say that more than 200,000 that have already been authorized by Congress never have been distributed, and the administration could redistribute them. The administration did not take that step. Instead, Obama directed the secretaries of the State and Homeland Security departments to come up with recommendations within 120 days to ensure that all the green card visas allotted by Congress get used. A senior administration official briefing reporters on the announcement last week said the White House and Homeland Security Department had looked at the green card recapture issue but determined that the time period for issuing the visas had passed. The official said the administration hasn't given up on taking action on the issue in the future. With congressional Republicans vowing to try to overturn Obama's executive actions, full-throated backing from the business community could have provided some insulation for the administration. But instead, a number of business leaders were lukewarm in their public remarks. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said in a statement that "executive actions cannot adequately fix our broken immigration system, and they raise important legal and constitutional questions." Among the other business-specific changes the administration made: —Directed expanded use of a "national interest waiver" that allows green cards to foreigners with exceptional abilities. —Announced a new program to allow inventors, researchers and startup founders to stay in the U.S. in a provisional "parole" status. —Announced plans to make it easier for people in the U.S. on high-tech work visas to change jobs. —Renewed previously announced promises to allow work authorization to spouses of high-tech visa holders. In some cases, such as the planned expansion of a program allowing foreign students and graduates to work in the U.S. for a year or more, business buy-in will depend on the details of what the administration ends up announcing. "It's still not at a fully baked stage so I can't say they delivered for business, but they still could," said Bob Sakaniwa, associate director for advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.___AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:55 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Connecticut police say a hospital allowed a nursing assistant to continue working there for three months after a patient reported being raped by him. The Connecticut Post reports (http://bit.ly/1uG3Bi9 ) that Gonzalo Flores was charged Tuesday with raping a paralyzed male patient in March at St. Vincent's Medical Center. He was already awaiting trial on charges he sexually assaulted another patient in June. An arrest warrant says Flores admitted having other sexual encounters with patients. The affidavit says the hospital's director of safety and security told police he knew about the allegation in March but could not substantiate it. Flores' lawyer declined to comment. Hospital spokeswoman Caryn S. Kaufman said Tuesday that St. Vincent's takes complaints by patients and staff very seriously and investigates all claims.
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:53 am by TERRY TANG, Associated Press
(AP) — Spa treatments don't stop with people. You won't see any aromatherapy candles around, but animals get massages, too, and it's become a regular service that many pet owners value as more than just glorified petting. "People call me because their dogs are having problems," said Shelah Barr, a San Francisco dog massage therapist. "The work I do is important for animals so they have a high quality of life." Practitioners say massage can be a preventive measure for younger animals and rehabilitative for older ones by boosting flexibility, circulation and immunity. As its popularity continues to grow, primarily among dog and horse owners, so does the debate about regulation. Some veterinarians argue that pet massage is a form of veterinary medicine that requires a license, but whether therapists need one varies by state. The issue has sparked a lawsuit in Arizona, where three practitioners are suing the state veterinarian licensing board. Pet owners spent $4.4 billion last year on "other services," a category that includes grooming, training and services such as massage, according to the American Pet Products Association, which tracks national spending trends in the pet industry. That is a 6.1 percent jump from 2012. Massage sessions can last 30-40 minutes, and therapists travel to homes, hotels and even an owner's workplace, said Barr, who has been practicing in San Francisco since 2006. "There are a couple of tech companies I go to. They have a quiet office I can go into and work on the animal," said Barr, who typically sees about 15 pets a week. The treatments don't necessarily mean incense burning around a massage table. Barr is guided by what the dog desires, which sometimes means the pet chews on a bone the whole time. Grace Granatelli, an animal masseuse in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, said she would play new-age music or "spa sounds," which help relax dogs. In her sessions, Granatelli would have the dog lie down on the floor or its bed and start by massaging its neck. She would then move to other areas, including legs and hips. But it's not crucial that the dog lie down or sit still. "There are times where the dog is either very distracted or anxious or isn't quite receptive," Granatelli said. "So I just do the best I can doing the strokes while they're standing — whatever I can do to get the strokes in and get some relaxation in their muscles." That was until Granatelli became one of three animal massage practitioners who received cease-and-desist letters from the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board earlier this year. The trio has sued the board, arguing that the statute is overly broad in defining veterinary medicine. They aren't practicing while the lawsuit moves through the courts. The board says "I was doing more than just pampering dogs and that was breaking laws," Granatelli said. The American Veterinary Medical Association classifies animal massage as a form of veterinary care that should require a license. It is up to each state's veterinary licensing board whether to categorize it that way. "We do consider them veterinary procedures, and we feel the same standards should be used because a lot of harm can come from them," association assistant director Adrian Hochstadt said. Carol Forrest, a former client of Granatelli's, said her Dachshunds, Maxie and Lucy, got regular massages for five years. The two, who have since passed away, were able to relax after a massage despite dealing with issues such as arthritis. Forrest said she truly believes massage benefits dogs as much as people. "It's like if you go to one regularly that you like, they get to know you and you get a better treatment out of it," she said. "The same goes for the dogs ... versus going to the vet — my dogs aren't relaxed at the vet."
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:51 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — The Obama administration is bringing the Affordable Care Act to the mall for the busiest shopping days of the holiday season. The Department of Health and Human Services is announcing Wednesday a partnership with Westfield Shopping Centers in seven states. Starting on Black Friday, Westfield will set up tables, chairs and other needed items for HHS enrollment workers and post information about enrollment services on its website. Outreach workers will hand out information at malls in Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Washington. The effort will continue through Feb. 15, the end of the current enrollment period for private insurance coverage under the health care overhaul.

Latest State News

Written on 11/26/2014, 10:37 am by Associated Press
(AP) — A Japanese firm said it will go...
Written on 11/26/2014, 10:28 am by Associated Press
(AP) — The number of California...
Written on 11/25/2014, 1:43 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — The first 3-D printer in space...
Written on 11/25/2014, 12:09 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — The U.S. Department of Education...

Latest National News

Written on 11/26/2014, 9:07 am by MATT STROUD, Associated Press
(AP) — Black Friday isn't just when...
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:58 am by ANNE D'INNOCENZIO, CHRIS RUGABER, AP Business Writers
(AP) — Falling gas prices. Soaring...
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:56 am by ERICA WERNER, Associated Press
(AP) — President Barack Obama's...
Written on 11/26/2014, 8:55 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Connecticut police say a...