Nation briefs 01/09/03

Thursday, January 9, 2003

Report: Border Patrol agents padded expenses

WASHINGTON -- Dozens of Border Patrol agents brought into southern Arizona to crack down on illegal immigration accepted kickbacks from hotels and padded expense reports with fraudulent lodging receipts, the Justice Department's inspector general said Wednesday.

The investigation found that 114 vouchers were overpaid by about $16,000 in a two-year period. The Border Patrol is part of the beleaguered U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The report said agents were given discounts for renting rooms, but submitted receipts for reimbursement at the full price. In a few cases, supervisors rented rooms in their homes or rental properties to visiting agents and gave them receipts overstating the rental cost, and one agent bought a home but submitted "suspect" receipts that said he was renting, the report said.

The inspector general forwarded several cases to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tucson. Prosecutors declined to prosecute most cases, but others are still under investigation.

Alcoa Inc. announces it will cut 8,000 jobsPITTSBURGH -- Alcoa Inc. announced a fourth-quarter loss worse than analysts predicted Wednesday and said it will cut 8,000 jobs.

The world's largest aluminum producer said the job cuts will be mostly in Europe and South America. Alcoa ended the year with 127,000 employees.

The company had expected market losses in aerospace and other industries to flatten out, yet sales continued to slide.

"Global manufacturing weakness has persisted longer than we anticipated," said Alain Belda, Alcoa chairman and chief executive officer. "In particular, aerospace, industrial gas turbine and telecommunication markets remained soft, reinforcing the need to increase the scope of our cost savings."

For the quarter that ended Dec. 31, the company lost $223 million, or 27 cents per share, as revenue slipped to $5.06 billion from $5.10 billion a year earlier. The loss was worse than the 25 cents per share predicted by analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call, and far wider than the year-ago loss of $142 million, or 17 cents per share.

Cox to head Homeland Security Committee

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Christopher Cox, a senior member of the House GOP leadership, will head the newly created Homeland Security Committee, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Wednesday.

The California conservative will be the first chairman of the panel responsible for overseeing the giant new Homeland Security Department that President Bush signed into law late last year.

The department, to combine such security-related agencies as the Customs Service, Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Coast Guard, is to take shape this year.

Cox, 50, was first elected to Congress in 1988 and has been the head of the House Republican Policy Committee since the Republicans captured control of the House in 1995.

"Chris is an excellent candidate" to head the new committee, Hastert said. Homeland security "will be one of the largest issues before us" this year, the speaker said.

"I will work to make our government more effective in the fight against terrorism," Cox said. "I will ensure that it is done efficiently, and that Congress and the federal government work together toward this common goal."

Talks resume in Domino Sugar plant strike

BALTIMORE -- Striking Domino Sugar workers and plant managers resumed talks over a proposed contract that would cut two paid holidays and require workers to help pay for health insurance.

The groups met Tuesday at a Baltimore hotel with a federal mediator who is urging an end to the strike.

About 330 of the plant's 500 workers walked off the job Dec. 8 over the proposed contract.

The 80-year-old Baltimore plant refines, packages and ships Domino-branded sugar and syrup. It was bought last year for $165 million by American Sugar Refining Co.-- From wire reports

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