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In WashingtonSocial Security uncovers schemes to rob...


In Washington

Social Security uncovers schemes to rob beneficiaries

Social Security recipients who get help managing their benefits may be targets for con artists.

The Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General says it has uncovered schemes by designated intermediaries -- known as representative payees -- who have robbed beneficiaries of $7.5 million since October 1997. The agency estimates about $3 million of the $30 billion in Social Security benefits disbursed through representative payees each year are misused.

"The abuses are completely unacceptable. ... The victims here have fixed incomes. They rely on a monthly benefit check to pay the rent and buy their groceries. They may end up hungry and homeless," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. A hearing on the problem is scheduled today.

U.S. to allow civilians more accurate navigation

Global positioning devices used to steer cars, fly planes or find missing skiers and hikers will be given pinpoint accuracy previously available only to the military under an order President Clinton signed yesterday.

Until now, civilians using a U.S.-built network of satellites for navigation got a less accurate reading than the military out of fear that potential enemies could use the system to target missiles.

At midnight, the United States will stop jamming the signal for civilian users, but it can still selectively block the improved Global Positioning System over any given region at will, Clinton administration officials said. The military will still use an encrypted, highly accurate version of the system for guiding precision weaponry such as the missiles used in the Persian Gulf war and the Balkan airstrikes last year.

Officer killed in line of duty in 1792 added to memorial

Deputy Sheriff Isaac Smith, killed in a tavern brawl on May 17, 1792, in what is now the Bronx, was the first American law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty. Yesterday, Smith's name -- and those of 279 other officers killed in the line of duty -- joined more than 15,000 others already engraved on the marble walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington.

About half of the 280 officers whose names were seen chiseled into the walls yesterday morning died last year. The rest, including two dozen killed before the 20th century, were recently discovered by memorial researchers.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund's candlelight vigil honoring officers killed in the line of duty will be held May 13.

Bill to expand health care for veterans gains support

Legislation to vastly expand prescription drug benefits for military retires older than age 65 won the crucial endorsement yesterday of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner.

The Virginia Republican announced sponsorship of a bill that would extend to all 1.3 million Medicare-eligible military retirees the same benefits that are now available to 450,000 of them. That includes an $8 co-payment if the prescriptions are filled by mail order and a 20 percent co-payment when acquired in retail pharmacies.

Unusual track design blamed for Metro fire

Transit officials released yesterday a preliminary report into last month's fire on the Washington Metro, in which they blamed an unusual design along the stretch of track between Farragut West and Foggy Bottom, where the fire broke out.

The report said the cable to the electrified rail is embedded in a concrete slab running under the tracks. Two pieces of metal on the ends of the slab cut into the casing and insulation surrounding the wire, grounding the cable and causing the fire April 20 in a subway tunnel downtown.

The grounded cable then opened high voltage fuses, which shut off power and stranded a Virginia-bound train carrying 273 passengers. It took more than 2 1/2 hours to evacuate them.

In the Nation

200 Red Cross workers in Conn. go on strike

FARMINGTON, Conn. -- About 200 American Red Cross workers who collect blood donations and deliver them to hospitals went on strike yesterday, leaving the organization understaffed but still operating.

A Red Cross spokeswoman said any collection shortfall would be made up from national resources. Meanwhile, managers were making deliveries and conducting a blood drive.

The strike, the first by Red Cross workers in Connecticut in 25 years, could reduce daily blood collection in the state by as much as 80 percent, spokeswoman Lynn Townshend said. The Red Cross had about 6,500 units, approximately an 11-day supply, when the strike began.

Judge who took on ACLU is front-runner in Ala. race

GADSDEN, Ala. -- A small-town judge who gained a national following by hanging a plaque of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom is the front-runner in a four-way Republican race for Alabama Supreme Court chief justice.

"I feel I have a responsibility to take what I have learned to higher office," said Circuit Judge Roy Moore, who in 1995 took on the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged his display of the Old Testament laws at the Etowah County Courthouse.

Moore argues that American law is based on nature's laws, "and nature is God." In Moore's view, that means God cannot legally be removed from public life. A survey taken April 10-17 of 265 registered voters who are likely to participate in the GOP primary June 6 showed nearly 38 percent backing Moore in the four-way contest.

Giuliani's wife postpones run in off-Broadway play

NEW YORK -- Donna Hanover, the wife of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, said yesterday that she's postponing her performance in a sexually suggestive off-Broadway play because of unspecified family circumstances.

Giuliani, who is running for the Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton, announced Thursday that he has early stage prostate cancer. Hanover issued a terse statement that said: "Due to personal family circumstances, I have decided to postpone my performance in 'The Vagina Monologues.'"

Hanover, an actress and television correspondent, was scheduled to appear from May 30 through June 11 with Kirstie Alley and Hazelle Goodman.

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