TODAY

– September 14, 2014

3 women workers claim Wal-Mart discrimination

 Three women who worked for Wal-Mart more than 10 years are seeking class-action status for current and former female employees. Three women who worked for Wal-Mart more than 10 years are seeking class-action status for current and former female employees.(AP) — Three Tennessee women sued Wal-Mart Inc. on Tuesday claiming they lost pay and promotion opportunities because of their gender.

The Barrett Johnston law firm said the suit is the third of its kind against Wal-Mart in the country in the past year.

Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the company has strong policies banning discrimination.

In 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out a class action lawsuit representing 1.6 million women who worked at Wal-Mart on the grounds that their allegations were too varied to show the company engaged in a specific nationwide pattern and practice of gender bias. Since then, litigation attorneys have been pursuing cases on a regional basis.

The latest represents three women who each worked for Wal-Mart for more than 10 years and seeks class-action status to cover current and former female employees at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi.

Cheryl Phipps of Covington and Shawn Gibbons of Cookeville claim they were denied management training and were paid less than men.

Bobbie Millner of Jackson claims that she inadvertently got the paycheck of a fellow assistant manager with less experience and found that he earned thousands of dollars more per year than she did. She said a Wal-Mart manager told her "men needed to earn more."

Hargrove cited the previous Supreme Court decision in responding to the Tennessee lawsuit.

"As we have said all along, these claims are unsuitable for class treatment because the individual situations are so different and because the claims of these three people are not representative of the hundreds of thousands of women who work at Wal-Mart."

In a statement, Phipps said, "Many of us have waited more than a decade to have our day in court to fight for the pay and advancement opportunities that we rightly deserved."

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Written on 09/12/2014, 4:19 pm by Business Journal staff
The Big Fresno Fair announced its 2014 Hall of Fame inductees and Community Champions Awards recipients.Now in its 8th year, the fair's Hall of Fame honors individuals who have shown exemplary support and passion to making the Big Fresno Fair better. The inductees will be recognized with their names displayed on the Hall of Fame Wall at the fairgrounds and on an official Big Fresno Fair Horse & Jockey Bronze statue. The Community Champions Awards, now in its 7th year, goes to individuals who have given of themselves to make Fresno County better as a whole. Each recipient will receive a special Community Champions Awards plaque at the fair's opening ceremonies in October, while their names will also be displayed at the fairgrounds. Individuals for both the Hall of Fame and Community Champions Awards were nominated by community members, Big Fresno Fair staff or past board of directors and voted on by the current board in August. The 2014 Hall of Fame inductees are:• Carol Chandler• Carol Blasingame• Mr. and Mrs. Loui Brosi, Jr.• Stephen J. Chambers• Alvin Quist The recipients of the 2014 Community Champions Awards are:• Mark Thompson with the volunteer award• Phyllis Jensen Craigan with the humanitarian award• Perry Huffman with the special award• Jerry Turner with the special award
Written on 09/12/2014, 4:11 pm by Business Journal staff
The Fresno Regional Foundation has hired a new CEO to replace Dan DeSantis, who departed in June after nine years at the helm of one of the Valley's largest community benefit organizations. The Fresno Regional Foundation (FRF) board has selected Hugh Ralston, president and CEO of the Ventura County Community Foundation, said David Johnson, interim CEO of the FRF. “We are thrilled to have Hugh join our efforts,” said Carole Andersen, chair of the FRF board of directors in a statement.   Ralston, who begins his work in Fresno at the end of October, was hired as CEO of the Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF) in 2003. He announced his resignation in May, capping a period of record growth where assets quadrupled to $135 million. “It is a privilege to be selected by the Fresno Regional Foundation board as its next CEO,” said Ralston in a statement. “This area of our state is part of the next great chapter of the California dream, and I am thrilled to be working with the board and staff to explore and realize its ambitions for this region and for the work of the foundation.” Ralston, 56, has 16 years as an international, corporate and private banker for Security Pacific and JP Morgan, according to a bio on the VCCF website. Ralston also spent four years as executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation in Los Angeles and 15 years as a director or trustee for a variety of organizations including Scripps College in Claremont, California, the San Francisco Theological Seminary and the Workforce Investment Board of Ventura County. Ralston earned a B.A. cum laude from Amherst College and a MALD from The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, a joint program of Tufts and Harvard universities, with concentrations in international law and U.S. diplomatic history. He is an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church and sings in the Los Robles Master Chorale. He joins FRF on the heels of a banner 2013, with $7 million in gifts and $6.5 million in grants awarded. FRF had $65 million in gross assets at the end of last year.
Written on 09/12/2014, 3:46 pm by Hannah Esqueda
A bill sitting on Governor Brown’s desk this month may lead to significant changes for the franchise industry in California. If passed, Senate Bill 610 will require companies to find a “substantial and material breach” of contract before terminating an agreement with franchisees.Currently, California franchise law allows companies to terminate contracts based on “good cause,” a phrase bill proponents say refers to even minor infractions. Supporters of the bill say increased regulation is necessary in order to prevent companies from taking advantage of their franchisees. “We’re looking at 34 years since the law has seen any kind of change,” John Gordon, consultant with Pacific Management Consulting Group, said. Gordon is working with the team supporting the bill. He said if passed, SB610 will help protect the rights of California franchisees. Local franchise consultant Ali Nekumanesh disagrees, however, and said the bill is unnecessary and will only hurt the state.“SB610 goes against the entire franchise model,” he said in an email. If franchisees don’t want to abide by franchise policies they should not have joined one in the first place, Nekumanesh said. By signing an agreement with a franchisor, owners agree to become part of a system. By selling the company’s particular products and following corporate rules, franchisees are associated with a name-brand business and benefit from consumer loyalty, he said.SB610 wouldn’t change any of that, local 7-Eleven franchisee Serge Haitayan said. The bill doesn’t seek to change the basic rules of the franchise model, rather it helps protect the basic business rights of franchisees.“We follow all the promotions. I understand that I have a 7/11 and I work with that and respect it,” he said. “We have no problem following the franchise agreement. But, it’s when you go behind that, when you start going to bullying tactics and pushing tactics that I have a problem.”Haitayan has managed the 7-Eleven on the corner of Clovis and Belmont in southeast Fresno for more than 20 years. He said he has enjoyed working with the corporation but has noticed a change in the company’s attitude towards franchisees in recent years. He said he has heard of corporate representatives intimidating franchisees into ending their contracts with 7-Eleven even though they have done nothing wrong. “A majority of franchisees are recent immigrants, they are scared, they don’t know their rights and they get bullied easily,” he said. “In the old days [7-Eleven] used to come to you and ask for an explanation [if something was wrong]. Now it’s just bully tactics.”In the past, only extreme breaches of contract like stealing outright, failing to make deposits at the bank or buying bad inventory would warrant sudden contract termination, Haitayan said. Short of bad business practices, franchisees and their franchisors are partners and the store owners should be treated fairly, he said. Instead, 7-Eleven has become so profit-driven it is severing agreements with franchisees with little to no reason.“They look at people who have been in the system for too long and re-franchise the store for $200,000 to $300,00,” he said. The company knows they can make a profit by forcing franchisees out and has no incentive (other than SB610) to stop. Keith Jones, 7-Eleven senior director of government affairs, disagrees, adding that the company is not forcing franchise owners to give up their business. Only three percent of the chain’s 1,600 California locations changed hands last year, a majority of which were on a voluntary basis, he said.“If we’re doing it on a whim, you’d expect to see a whole lot more [turnover],” Jones said. But bill supporters say companies like 7-Eleven have learned they can build their profit at the expense of their franchisees and need to be stopped. “When [companies] make money by taking the store away from people, that’s unfair,” Gordon said. “Franchisees are the ones putting money into the endeavor but they are being mistreated instead of rewarded for their loyalty.”In addition to losing their stores, franchisees rarely see a profit from selling or re-franchising, Haitayan said. When a franchisee ends their contract with the company, it is up to them to sell the store. 7-Eleven gets the new franchise fee and the store operator gets a goodwill fee from the buyer. In recent years, 7-Eleven and others have increased their franchisee fee, making it harder for franchisees to find a buyer. Franchisees are forced to lower their own goodwill fee in order to make the sale, leaving them with little to no profit, Haitayan said. Like many franchisees, Haitayan said he had hoped to eventually sell his store and make enough money to retire, but with store sales bringing in less money all hope of earning a retirement fund has disappeared.The increased regulation offered by SB610 will restore the balance of power between franchisors and franchisees, Haitayan said. But, opponents say the bill is poorly worded, will cost jobs and drive franchise companies out of state. “We’re going to do a lot of thinking about what ‘material and substantial’ means,” Jones said.  “It’s a term that has not been tested but I’m sure will eventually be defined by the courts.”Nekumanesh agreed and said that in addition to undermining franchise growth, the bill’s vague wording will result in costly litigation as franchisors attempt to sever ties with bad franchisees. “It will short change the franchisors by requiring them to tolerate unacceptable business standards,” he said. 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Written on 09/12/2014, 3:45 pm by Hannah Esqueda
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The meals are meant to take the stress out of dinnertime and therefore serve as a nice gift for new mothers or when a family member is in the hospital, Ochinero said. Currently, she makes all the deliveries herself but plans to hire more help once demand grows. The delivery process takes her several hours each Wednesday, but meals are always delivered warm, she said. That component is what sets these newer meal delivery services apart from others, Vajretti said. “There are numerous restaurants in Fresno that offer delivery but few do it right,” she said. “It’s a great thing if one can receive it hot because then all [the customer] has to do is set the table.”Another local catering company is going one step further and bringing the fire directly to its customers. Clovis’s Teppanyaki 2U offers clients the grilled Japanese fare while also putting on a cooking show.The business has only been operating since June but is already booked for every weekend in September, owner Eric Sunamoto said. Sunamoto said the idea for the business came to him when he was planning his daughter’s birthday party. “I wanted to get a taco truck but my daughter wanted teppanyaki,” he said. That’s when he realized there was a need for the mobile service. While he doesn’t personally cook the meals, Sunamoto said he was trained in a Japanese kitchen and worked for several restaurants before venturing out on his own. Sunamoto said that as far as he knows, his is the only service in the country offering to cook the traditional Japanese cuisine at someone’s home, but the idea is already spreading to other markets in California. “My sister is planning to start one in San Diego and I have a friend in Santa Monica who is also interested,” he said. Sunamoto said the catering services would most likely be independent of each other rather than part of a chain with his Fresno business. For now,  he is focusing on meeting demand in the Central Valley. Teppanyaki 2U has six chefs on call and each one can cook for up to 50 people, he said. “We have a party booked for 250 people in January. That will probably take all my chefs but we can handle it,” Sunamoto said.Based in Clovis, Sunamoto said the business works at parties throughout the area, including parts of Tulare County.“I don’t mind traveling a bit if they’re willing to pay for it,” he said. There is a $300 minimum for the service regardless of party size and the business offers a selection of meat and fish including shrimp, filet mignon, lobster and chicken.  Sunamoto and Ochinero represent how the catering industry is being forced to adapt as Americans change their dinner habits. “No one throws dinner parties anymore. People are busy now and less likely to want to entertain,” Vajretti said. Hiring services like Sunamoto’s Teppanyaki 2U helps kill two birds with one stone as customers get a fresh gourmet meal while guests are entertained with a fiery cooking show.By tweaking the traditional idea of a catering service and emphasizing the convenience for customers, businesses are able to carve out a niche in the market, Vajretti said. The eat local and community supported agriculture movements have also helped set up a client base for businesses like Ochinero’s, she said. “It’s definitely trending right now,” Vajretti said. Hannah Esqueda  |  Reporter can be reached at:490-3461 or e-mail hannah@thebusinessjournal.com
Written on 09/12/2014, 2:46 pm by Leah
Senior Vice President of Middle Markets Business Banking and Market PresidentBank of America What we do:Bank of America’s Middle Market team manages and grows a diverse portfolio of commercial and agribusiness clients, including business and investment banking resources for the Fresno, Madera, Kings, Tulare and Kern County markets.     Education:I’m a graduate of the nationally recognized Pacific Coast Banking School, which is sponsored by the University of Washington’s Graduate School of Management. I was awarded a membership to the honor roll for being in the top ten percent of graduating students. I earned my  MBA and BS from California State University Fresno’s Craig School of Business, and was awarded the Graduate Dean’s Medal given to the graduate with the distinction of highest honors. Age: 44 Family:Wife – Tamara Riley (First grade school teacher); Seth (Son, age 9); and Mischa (Daughter, age 7) How did you come to your position as Fresno / Central Valley Market President for Bank of America?Since I joined Bank of America in 2008, I’ve had a passion for volunteerism and giving back to the community. As I got to know the bank’s partners and various lines of business leaders locally, it was a perfect fit for me to step into the Market President role.   What are your main goals and priorities in your new position?My priority, first and foremost, is to seamlessly deliver an appropriate and comprehensive set of solutions to our customers and clients. To accomplish this, we work closely with our local bank teammates who work in all the various lines of businesses in order to deliver the best value to folks here in Fresno and the Valley. Investing in our communities by supporting local nonprofits that address critical needs is also an important priority for me and for Bank of America as a whole. What accomplishments are you most proud of? What goals would you still like to achieve?I truly believe banking will always be a people business focused on personal relationships, trusted partnerships and client satisfaction. I have a deep respect for the small business owner who is willing to take risks, make sacrifices and build a business that impacts the local economy. It makes me excited when we’re able to help local business owners accomplish their goals.    Also, so far this year, the bank has already awarded $373,000 to 28 nonprofits in Fresno and surrounding markets supporting education, jobs, affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization - areas vital to creating healthy communities.                                Some local organizations that received grants include the Community Food Bank FOOD Inc, Reading and Beyond, Pro-Youth and United Way of Kern County.   At Bank of America, we aim to make people’s financial lives better and provide the best solutions to our clients. Our team continues to strive for better and smarter delivery of our brand and resources to the community. We are doing this in several ways including coordinating our employee volunteer group to deepen our impact beyond grant funding and give back to our community in the best way possible. Last year, our local employees volunteered a total of 6,858 hours. What are the benefits for businesses going with national banks like Bank of America compared to local community banks?Bank of America offers a full array of solutions to help our local customers and clients grow and achieve success. For example, if a local business is ready to expand, we can offer treasury management, equipment leasing, commercial real estate financing and help raising capital globally—all while working with someone who is based locally and understands the Valley’s unique business landscape. How has Bank of America’s lending practices changed since the recession?We continue to make every good loan we can, based on the applicant’s ability to repay down the road. Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of the recession has been a higher cost of capital. As a result, we have a renewed focus on simplifying and improving our processes to minimize costs for us and our clients.   What is the most rewarding part of your job? What is the most challenging?The personal relationships are the most rewarding part of my job. I love connecting with all the great people in our community, both from a business and philanthropic perspective, to help them reach their goals.   An ongoing challenge is the struggle to do more with less. The level of need continues to outpace the level of resources available to give back. To help remedy this, we place a much greater emphasis on long-term solutions, as opposed to a short-term fix or band-aid.   What skills do you think will be most important for the next generation of job seekers?In an age of texting and real-time exchanges of information and data, the next generation should strive for excellence in communication. Be a great writer, a great storyteller, a great translator of our history and lineage, and a great listener. Also, develop critical thinking skills that will promote success within a constantly changing environment. Treat everyone you do business with exactly how you would want to be treated. Computers and technology will never be able to replace these traits.    What was your first job and what did you learn from it?Growing up in the Central Valley, I earned $2.85/hour digging ditches and spraying weeds in various row-crop fields. It was this first summer job where I got my initial taste of the working world. I not only learned about the importance of the Central Valley agricultural industry, but this helped shape the foundation of my career. What are your roots in the San Joaquin Valley?When I was two years old, my parents moved to the Central Valley from the San Diego area. My mom and dad were in the medical field, and they were looking for a good environment to raise me and my sister. We’ve been here ever since. Looking back, I can see and understand why they made the decision to move here 42 years ago.    What do you like to do in your spare time?I enjoy spending time with my family and traveling. I also enjoy exercising and weight training. I’m a big sports fan too and one of my favorite teams is our very own Fresno State Football Bulldogs.
Written on 09/12/2014, 2:40 pm by gabrieldillard
While many startups aspire to earning a big Silicon Valley venture capital deal, many are more likely to land an angel on their shoulder.Angel investment is less formal than venture capital funding, said Tim Stearns, executive director of the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. While venture capital firms are often backed by pension funds and other institutional investors, angel investors can be groups of people or even an individual.Since angel investors also receive securities or equity in a company, they should meet the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's definition of accredited investors. These include:• Individual or joint net worth that exceeds $1 million• Income exceeding $2000,00 in each of the two most recent years or joint income exceeding $300,000Stearns said most angel investment ranges from $500,000 to $1 million. Especially here in the Central Valley, there aren't many people who can swing that, but it does happen.For instance, Stearns points out, Clovis-based Pelco was helped out in its early stages by an angel investment from Bill Lyles. Pelco would later be acquired by Schneider Electric for about $1.5 billion.As far as the Valley goes, there is one formal angel investor group based in Stockton called the San Joaquin Angels. Formed in 2008, San Joaquin Angels was formed out of a strategic plan from the San Joaquin Partnership planning effort.The San Joaquin Angels evaluate the management team, market opportunity and growth potential of each startup it encounters. It typically hosts investor meeting on the first or second Wednesday of the month.Its next meeting is Oct. 1 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Brookside Country Club boardroom in Stockton.For more information, visit sanjoaquinangels.comBut when it comes to products or services backed by a strong management team and market potential, startups should not have to go far to land angel investment."They are looking for great products," Stearns said. "Investors will find you."Stearns estimates that out of all the business pitches he hears, about 5 percent have a shot at landing angel investment. One of the missions of the Lyles Center is to groom people for such presentations.“Competency of the entrepreneur is important,” Stearns said. “You don’t want someone to screw up a great idea.”While angel investment is an opportunity for the affluent, Stearns said there hasn’t been much angel investment activity from some of the Valley’s wealthiest citizens — farmers.“I guess they would rather invest in farmland,” he said.But Stearns noted that more and more, Silicon Valley is coming across the hill to look at businesses that serve the agriculture industry, especially tech providers.While many would agree that there is an expansion of startup activity in the Central Valley, it’s important that capital is available to make these dreams a reality. Angel investment is a crucial part of that, Stearns said.“Without it, we are going to suffer,” Stearns said. Suncrest Bank healthySuncrest Bank of Visalia was included in a list of the 200 healthiest banks in the country by bank rating website DepositAccounts.com.DepositsAccounts evaluates the financial health of more than 6,500 federal insured bank when preparing its Top 200 Healthiest Banks list.Each bank is graded on factors like capitalization, deposit growth and loan to reserve ratios.Suncrest Bank came in as the 64th healthiest bank on the list. In the past year, the bank increased its total deposits by $49.42 million, resulting in a growth of 57.29 percent for the year for a grade of A+ by DepositAccounts.Suncrest Bank posted $152.36 million in assets in the latest quarter and $17.86 million in equity, resulting in an A grade for a capitalization level of 11.72 percent.The bank was also graded A+ for the Texas Ratio, an indicator of how much capital a bank has available compared to the total value of loans considered at risk.With $409,000 in non-current loans and owned real estate with $17.86 million in equity and loan loss allowances on hand to cover it, Suncrest Bank had an "excellent" Texas Ratio of 2.29 percent.That's down from 9.48 percent in March 2013 for a Texas Ratio Trend also graded at A+.Suncrest Bank reported a net income of $42,000 as well as $97.45 million in loans and $135.67 million in deposits.Established in 2008, Suncrest Bank has 32 employees at bank locations in Visalia and Porterville.DepositsAccounts also rated the 200 healthiest credit unions in the country.On that list, San Joaquin Power Employees Credit Union of Fresno ranked No. 74 with an A+ capitalization level of 17.12 percent, a B+ for deposit growth at 2.69 percent in the year and an A+ Texas Ratio of 0.24 percent, down from 4.39 percent the year before.Established in 1934, the credit union has one branch in Fresno and another in Sandy, Utah serving 5,910 members. Valley Commerce Bancorp dividendValley Commerce Bancorp, parent company of Valley Business Bank of Visalia, announced an eight-cent cash dividend to its shareholders for the third quarter.The dividend, payable to shareholders on record as of Sept. 5, will be distributed on or about Sept. 26.With just more than 2.92 million shares outstanding, the dividend totals approximately $233,614, an increase of 5 percent from the bank's previous dividend paid in June 2014 and a 40 percent increase from the dividend paid in March 2014.The board of directors will consider future cash dividends following the end of each calendar quarter. Last year, the company issued two six-cent dividends.Valley Commerce Bancorp reported a net income of $1.5 million in the second quarter of the year, down slightly from $1.6 million during the same quarter in 2013.However, the company had record profits in 2013, earning $4.05 million in the year compared to $3.23 million the year before.Established in 1985, Valley Business Bank operates branches in Visalia, Fresno, Woodlake, Tipton and Tulare.
Written on 09/12/2014, 2:28 pm by Business Journal staff
Fresno Pacific University President Dr. Pete Menjares announced his resignation effective Sept. 11, citing a desire to be closer to family and explore new opportunities in Southern California.Menjares was appointed as the 11th president of the private Christian university in March 2012, replacing Dr. Merril Ewert who retired after 10 years on the job. Prior to that, he worked for 16 years as a teacher and administrator at Biola University, another Christian university in La Mirada, California. At Fresno Pacific University, Menjares has been involved in several new initiatives, including a new scholarship between West Fresno Ministerial Alliance, a new health administration degree and thelaunch of the university's first business contest focusing on social enterprises. Under his watch, the university improved its budget from $51 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year to $54 million in the latest year. As a result, the Board of Trustees set an enrollment goal to grow from 3,460 students to 5,000 studying on the main campus in Southeast Fresno and regional centers in Merced, North Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield by 2018. Plans are also underway for a $8-to-$12 million fine arts center on campus. Fresno Pacific also recently jumped two spots to 40th best western regional universities by U.S. News & World Report. Menjares' wife, Virginia Menjares, served as ambassador for the university, working with students, staff and others within the Fresno Pacific community. Menjares also has a daughter, Nicole, and son-in-law Jonathon, as well as three grandchildren, Jonah, Jase, and Eden. "We have resigned our positions at Fresno Pacific and look forward to the next season of life that God has purposed for us,” Menjares said in a release. “The university is well-positioned for a very bright future under the leadership of an extremely competent team of vice presidents and other senior leaders. Virginia and I wish the people of Fresno Pacific and the Valley—many of whom have become trusted and lifelong friends—the very best. The last two years have blessed us in many ways, and for this we are thankful.” Fresno Pacific's Provost Dr. Stephen Varvis will direct day-to-day university operations. The Board of Trustees will address future leadership of the university at a special meeting Sept. 16.
Written on 09/12/2014, 2:06 pm by MARYCLAIRE DALE, Associated Press
(AP) — The NFL estimates that nearly three in 10 former players will develop debilitating brain conditions, and that they will be stricken earlier and at least twice as often as the general population.The disclosure Friday comes in separate actuarial data the league and players' lawyers released as part of their proposed $765 million settlement of thousands of concussion lawsuits. Both the league and lead players' lawyers expect 28 percent of the men will develop Alzheimer's disease or at least moderate dementia. There are more than 19,000 living former players, meaning nearly 6,000 of them will fall into those two groups. Dozens more will be diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's or Parkinson's disease during their lives, according to the data. The reports were prepared for Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody, who is presiding over the class-action lawsuit in Philadelphia that accuses the NFL of hiding information that linked concussions to brain injuries. The NFL report said the ex-players' diagnosis rates would be "materially higher than those expected in the general population" and would come at "notably younger ages." The proposed settlement includes $675 million for player awards, $75 million for baseline assessments, $10 million for research and $5 million for public notice. It wouldn't cover current players. Both sides have insisted that $675 million would be enough to cover awards for 21,000 former players, given fund earnings estimated at 4.5 percent annually. Brody initially had concerns the money might run out, while critics complained the NFL's offering is a pittance given its $10 billion in annual revenues. The NFL, in its report, said its estimates were "reasonable and conservative," and erred on the side of "overstating the number of players who will develop (illnesses)" to ensure the fund would be sufficient. The league agreed this summer to remove the cap on its contributions, saying it would pay out more than $675 million if needed, and pay more over time if needed. Brody then granted preliminary approval of the plan and scheduled a fairness hearing on the proposed settlement for Nov. 19, when critics can challenge the parties on their calculations or award scheme. Lawyers for some players have complained that the negotiations have been cloaked in secrecy, leaving them unsure of whether their clients should participate or opt out by next month's deadline. With an Oct. 14 looming, "we still lack 'an informed understanding of the dynamics of the settlement discussions and negotiations.' Indeed, we have zippo understanding," lawyer Thomas A. Demetrio, who represents the family of Dave Duerson, wrote in a motion Thursday. Duerson, the popular Chicago Bears safety, committed suicide in 2011. The family of former linebacker Junior Seau, who also committed suicide, has announced plans to opt out. He and Duerson are among about 60 former players diagnosed after their deaths with the brain decay known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Known as CTE, it can only be diagnosed after death. Friday's release of the actuarial data is designed to address some of the complaints. Critics also lament that the settlement plan offers no awards to anyone diagnosed with CTE in the future, and that the Alzheimer's and dementia awards are cut by 75 percent for players who also suffered strokes. The plan would pay up to $5 million for players with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease; $4 million for deaths involving CTE; $3.5 million for Alzheimer's disease; and $3 million for moderate dementia and other neurocognitive problems. However, only men under 45 who spent at least five years in the league would get those maximum payouts. The awards are reduced, on a sliding scale, if they played fewer years or were diagnosed at a more advanced age. The players' data therefore predicts the average payouts, in today's dollars, to be $2.1 million for ALS, $1.4 million for a death involving CTE, and $190,000 for Alzheimer's disease or moderate dementia. The average ex-player being diagnosed with moderate dementia is expected to be 77 with four years in the NFL. About 28 percent of all retired players are expected to be diagnosed with a neurocognitive injury that is eligible for compensation under the plan. But only 60 percent of them are expected to seek awards, based on prior class-action litigation. The 21,000 class members include 19,400 living men and the estates of 1,700 others.
Written on 09/12/2014, 1:52 pm by 
ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press
(AP) — Criminals from around the world buy and sell stolen credit card information with ease in today's digital age. But if they commit their crime entirely outside the United States, they may be hard to prosecute.Now Justice Department officials are seeking a tougher law to combat overseas credit card trafficking, an increasingly lucrative crime that crosses national boundaries. Authorities say the current law is too weak because it allows people in other countries to avoid prosecution if they stay outside the United States when buying and selling the data and don't pass their illicit business through the U.S. The Justice Department is asking Congress to amend the law to make it illegal for an international criminal to possess, buy or sell a stolen credit card issued by a U.S. bank no matter where in the world the transaction occurs. Though prosecutors do have existing tools and have brought international cybertheft cases in the past year, the Justice Department says a new law is needed at a time when criminals operating largely in Eastern Europe are able to gobble up millions of stolen credit card numbers and commit widespread fraud in a matter of mouse clicks. Companies and banks, too, have been stung by faraway hackers who have siphoned away personal information. "It's a very simple fix, and it makes perfect sense to fix it," Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, the Justice Department's criminal division chief, said in an interview. "This is a huge law enforcement issue when it's our financial institutions and our citizens' credit card data that's being stolen ... by overseas people who never set foot in the United States." The problem, though certainly not new, has evolved to the point that "a lot of these folks who are trafficking in these devices are overseas," Caldwell said. The issue is more than hypothetical, Caldwell told a Senate subcommittee, as law enforcement agencies have identified criminals in other nations who are selling large quantities of stolen credit cards without passing the business through the U.S. Officials say the crime is facilitated by online marketplaces where participants, cloaked in the anonymity of the Internet and trading data with the ease of eBay commodities, advertise, buy and sell credit card information stolen in data breaches. The credit cards are valued at different prices, generally depending on the balance, and swapped on Web forums that often operate in foreign languages and are primarily hosted in non-U.S. countries. The cards are sometimes used to purchase valuable goods and sometimes converted into gift cards, Caldwell said. Some schemes dispatch bands of criminals to make withdrawals from automated teller machines. "It's a well built-up and sophisticated marketplace," said Chris Wysopal, a computer security expert and chief technology officer of the software-security firm Veracode. The legislative request comes as prosecutors deal, more generally, with a growing cybercrime threat. Several recent cases illustrate the ease with which cybercriminals have managed to steal personal information. In June, prosecutors brought charges against a prolific Russian hacker accused of running an operation that infected computers with malicious software, captured bank account numbers and passwords and then siphoned away millions of dollars. The man, Evgeniy Bogachev, remains at large. The following month, authorities arrested the son of a Russian lawmaker on charges that he hacked into computerized cash registers and stole hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers. Roman Seleznev has pleaded not guilty in federal court in Seattle. The Justice Department is hardly toothless in fighting the illegal sale of credit cards and has been able to make do with current statutes. Existing law would cover, among other crimes, anyone abroad who hacks into a U.S. computer, uses a stolen credit card inside the U.S. or transfers money into the country. And prosecutors can still bring a conspiracy charge when they can prove the suspect is part of a broader operation that reaches into the U.S. But authorities say the loophole surfaced in the case of Vladislav Horohorin, an international credit card trafficker arrested in France in 2010 for his role in the theft of more than $9 million from an Atlanta-based credit card processor. He was ultimately convicted for crimes committed in the United States, including selling stolen credit cards to an undercover agent, but the 2.5 million credit cards he had at the time of his arrest were not, by themselves, enough for a prosecution. "The likelihood that a hacker in Russia can be brought to prosecution in the United States is very low," said Thomas Holt, an associate professor and cyberhacking expert at Michigan State University. "Any mechanism that can be employed to improve the potential for prosecution is absolutely a necessity at this point." Caldwell laid out the dilemma in a July appearance before the Senate Judiciary crime and terrorism subcommittee. The panel's chairman, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., was interested in addressing the problem as part of a bill targeting "botnets" — networks of computers infected with malicious software — he was drafting with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., his office said. Even though the criminal conduct occurs outside the country's borders, its impact is still felt by U.S. banks and financial institutions, Caldwell said in the interview. "These credit cards are basically the key to the American financial system for these people, and they can just unlock people's accounts and take their money," she said.

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