US, Cuba to normalize relations  The United States and Cuba have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking a historic shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island after a half-century of enmity dating back to the Cold War, American officials said Wednesday.

DEVELOPING NEWS
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I-Team Special Report: Hiring Felons

Updated: Friday, May 23, 2014 |
I-Team Special Report: Hiring Felons story image
(NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The Newschannel 3 I-Team is shining a light on an alarming issue.

Within the last decade, Michigan lawmakers passed very strict rules protecting some of our most vulnerable people--homebound patients who are sick or elderly.

The laws we're talking about prevent felons from immediately entering the workforce into the home health care field after they've finished doing time in prison.

Thursday, the I-Team presents the results of an investigation that is now prompting a state investigation.

Alliance Home Health Services, based on Miller Road in Kalamazoo, is a company that sends care providers out to the homes of homebound patients.

The I-Team investigation corroborated what multiple sources have told us for months--that a woman currently working for the home health care company is a felony habitual offender.

From Michigan State Police records, the rap sheet on the woman:

  • Felony attempted breaking and entering
  • Felony larceny
  • Felony stealing
  • Felony credit card theft
  • Felony prison escape

Then, we heard from Jennifer Fleeman, her past supervisor at Alliance Home Health Services.

"My concern was for her working with social security numbers," she said.

Fleeman says Medicare numbers, which in many cases are social security numbers, were readily available to all employees at the company.

She says all the workers--many of them telemarketers--had to collect the information to ensure the patient would qualify for Medicare homebound medical service.

"I still miss it, being able to work with so many elderly people and make them so happy," Fleeman said.

After she left the company in May 2013, Fleeman says the woman in question got promoted and actually took Fleeman's job as a supervisor.

We wanted to find out if the woman was still working at Alliance with direct access to patient information, so we went to the address we confirmed from multiple sources as the company's marketing headquarters.

And we ended up right at the woman's door--which was promptly slammed in our face.

She didn't tell us anything about her apparent current employment with Alliance, but through state documents we did find a reason why she might have locked the door on the I-Team.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, we found that she was disqualified from working in home health care in 2012, but somehow continued working even as the people inside the company promised state regulators last year that she was "not an employee anymore."

In this case, state documents show that she has to wait until 2019 to work at a home health agency.

By law, most felons have to wait 10 years after they're out of the justice system to get in the field--some have to wait 15 years if they've done time for things like criminal sexual conduct and abuse.

Those with qualifying misdemeanor convictions even have to sit out five years.

So we turned to the man who created and owned Alliance Home Health Services from 2006 up until February 2014, Mark Cataldo.

We walked straight into his office at Alliance, and he escorted us out of the building, then waited to hit the road in his vehicle.

After deciding he didn't want to drive away, he got out of his car and walked back inside.

Before he left us, we asked point blank if he had a person with a felony background handling information.

He closed the door on us.

But it seems Cataldo shut the door on us at about the same time regulators at the State Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs opened one for us, to find out what we know about the company.

After we told LARA Director for Health Facilities Larry Horvath what we knew, he promised he would, "determine whether that allegation has substantial information that shows that the provider is willfully and knowingly violating the law."

Horvath says there's punishment in the law for executives at home health agencies that don't follow laws in the public health code.

"A home health agency must stay compliant with state law, so if we found that they are in violation of this part of the act which requires background checks and they and knowingly and willingly violate them--part of this--and we found them in noncompliance with this, we could cite them," Horvath said. "That would risk their federal certification and participation in medicare."

Horvath did this interview with us last week.

Since then, state regulators tell Newschannel 3 that they've investigated the allegations to which we alerted them, and they've forwarded the results of their investigation on for possible prosecution and action.

Carole Engle, Director of Michigan's Bureau of Health Care Services wrote in an email to Newschannel 3:

"The bureau takes these allegations very seriously and after reviewing the information provided, we have referred this matter to the state Attorney General for a more formal investigation and potential enforcement action. We thank the WWMT I-Team for sharing their information with us."

We're told that Alliance has at least 150 patients in multiple counties across West Michigan.

Records show Alliance's former owner, Cataldo, transferred the company in February to one of the company's managers, Patrick Dizon.

This week, we tried contacting Cataldo again, and also tried to contact Dizon.

Neither responded to requests for comment.

In addition to this investigation, there is another home health care company in West Michigan named Alliance.

It's called Alliance Home Health Care Services Inc. and it's based in Holland.

We're not talking about that company at all; this investigation centered around Alliance Home Health Services, which is based in Kalamazoo.
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Business News

Last Update on December 17, 2014 18:36 GMT

UNITED STATES-CUBA

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama has announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and an easing in economic and travel restrictions on Cuba.

Speaking at the White House, Obama said "Isolation has not worked," and "It's time for a new approach."

Licensed American travelers to Cuba will now be able to return to the U.S. with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined. This means the long-standing ban on importing Cuban cigars is over, although there are still limits. The U.S. is also increasing the amount of money Americans can send to Cubans from $500 to $2,000 every three months.

Obama's action marked an abrupt use of U.S. executive authority. However, he cannot unilaterally end the longstanding U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, which was passed by Congress and would require action from lawmakers to overturn.

MENINGITIS OUTBREAK

BOSTON (AP) -- Federal prosecutors say the indictment of 14 people in connection with a meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people nationwide is the largest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine.

During a news conference Wednesday to announce the indictments, prosecutors said some employees of the New England Compounding Pharmacy showed an "extreme and appalling indifference to human life."

Barry Cadden, a co-founder of the pharmacy, and Glenn Adam Chin, a pharmacist, were hit with the most serious charges in a racketeering indictment, accused of causing the deaths of patients in several states.

More than 750 people in 20 states were sickened and 64 died after they contracted meningitis and other infections from tainted steroids made by the company.

CHEMICAL SPILL-WEST VIRGINIA

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A grand jury has indicted four former executives of a chemical company on pollution charges in a spill that prompted a drinking water ban for 300,000 West Virginia residents.

An indictment unsealed Wednesday charges ex-Freedom Industries presidents Gary Southern and Dennis P. Farrell and two others with failing to ensure that Freedom operated the terminal that leaked in a reasonable and environmentally sound manner.

Southern also faces fraud charges related to the company's bankruptcy case. Freedom filed for bankruptcy eight days after the spill of coal-cleaning chemicals into the Elk River in Charleston.

The others charged are William E. Tis and Charles E. Herzing, who along with Farrell owned Freedom until December 2013. They sold it to Chemstream Holdings, after which Southern became president.

SONY HACK

NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York premiere of the comedy "The Interview" has been canceled following threats of violence against theaters carrying it.

The Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy is about a CIA plot to kill North Korea's Kim Jong Un, and security fears have spurred Sony to allow theater chains to cancel showings.

The New York premiere was scheduled for tomorrow night and the movie is expected to debut Christmas Day.

The Department of Homeland Security says there's "no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters," but it says it's still analyzing messages from a shadowy group calling itself Guardians of Peace, which has escalated its attack beyond the hacking of private Sony emails.

The group had released a trove of data files including 32,000 emails to and from Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton.

SPRINT-CRAMMING LAWSUIT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal regulators are accusing Sprint Corp. of illegally billing its wireless customers tens of millions of dollars in unwanted charges for text message alerts and other services.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Wednesday it has sued the telecom company over billing for unauthorized charges, a practice known as "cramming." The agency said Sprint failed to oversee third-party companies, allowing illegal charges to be put on customers' bills.

The bureau said the charges ranged from one-time fees of 99 cents to $4.99, to monthly subscriptions costing $9.99 a month. It said Sprint received up to 40 percent of the revenue from the charges.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Federal Communications Commission is expected to fine Sprint a record $105 million for the alleged violations.

CONSUMER PRICES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Plunging gasoline costs caused U.S. consumer prices to drop in November, muting inflation across the entire economy.

The Labor Department says the inflation reading fell 0.3 percent last month, after prices were flat in October. Gas costs plummeted 10.5 percent in November, the steepest decline in nearly six years.

Core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, rose 0.1 percent in November. For the past 12 months, overall inflation has risen 1.3 percent while core inflation has increased 1.7 percent.

Both annual gains are well below the Federal Reserve's 2 percent inflation target. This gives Fed officials who end their policy meeting Wednesday afternoon significant leeway to keep a key interest rate at near zero, which helps infuse the economy with capital to boost economic growth and hiring.

CURRENT ACCOUNT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. current account trade deficit widened slightly in the July-September quarter, largely due to foreign institutions paying less in fines and penalties to the U.S. government.

The Commerce Department says the deficit in the current account rose to $100.3 billion in the third quarter, up 1.9 percent from the revised $98.4 billion deficit in the April-June period.

The increase occurred despite a drop in the trade deficit for goods and services, reflecting cheaper oil prices and a stronger dollar. The deficit widened because fines collected by the U.S. government fell to $27.8 billion from $40.1 billion in the previous quarter.

The current account is the broadest measure of trade, covering not only the flow of goods and services but also investment flows.

FEDERAL RESERVE

Fed meeting wraps up

Eds: Statement expected at 2 p.m. EST; Yellen news conference at 2:30 p.m. EST.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. economy is doing better, and the Federal Reserve may be ready to acknowledge that fact.

Fed policymakers wrap up their latest meeting with a statement on interest rates this afternoon. Analysts are expecting they will drop a promise to keep rates low for a "considerable time."

Dropping that language would be viewed as a signal that the Fed is moving closer to an interest rate hike, though no immediate change in monetary policy is expected.

The Fed has said monetary policy will return to normal sometime next year following its history-making stimulus in the aftermath of the 2008 global crisis. Most economists expect it will wait at least until June to raise short-term rates.

The Fed will also update its economic forecast today, and Fed Chair Janet Yellen is scheduled to hold a news conference this afternoon.

EARNS-FEDEX

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- FedEx's second-quarter earnings jumped 23 percent, but the package delivery company missed Wall Street forecasts and left its expectation for the full fiscal year unchanged.

FedEx said a jump in plane maintenance costs blunted gains the company reaped from managing costs, lowering its pension expense and growing its export package revenue. The company expects the increase in aircraft maintenance costs to subside starting in the fourth fiscal quarter.

Shares of the Memphis, Tennessee, company fell more than 4 percent in midday trading.

FedEx and rival UPS are heading into their busiest period of the year and hoping to avoid a repeat of last December, when an ice storm and a surge in last-minute online shopping caught them off-guard. About 2 million packages promised for delivery by Christmas Eve didn't make it. This time, FedEx planned to hire 50,000 seasonal workers and invest in its ground-shipping network to make deliveries on time.

BLACKBERRY-CLASSIC

NEW YORK (AP) -- BlackBerry is returning to its roots with a new smartphone called the Classic, featuring a traditional keyboard at a time when rival Apple and Android phones -- and most smartphone customers -- have embraced touch screens.

BlackBerry is courting its core customer, the business user. The physical keyboard is something traditional BlackBerry users prefer because they find it easier to type on than the touch screen devices. The company is also emphasizing battery life and security as a way to set its phone apart from competitors.

The company is trying to stay relevant on the hardware side of the business as it attempts to pivot toward becoming an enterprise security and consumer software company. Whether the Classic will sell enough to keep it in the hardware business is unclear.

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