Apocalypse Mall

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Sign of the apocolypse: Alcohol abuse

 I had to touch base with our tax preparer, and the outfit is located at one of the local shopping malls, which has been decimated by a decade of online shopping and Walmart.

Even with the pandemic, my take was that the mall is a safe place despite the edict against gatherings of 10 people of more. 

I was met by a notice on the door that mall walking was prohibited because of the virus. Apparently, the mall would meet the definition of a “health club” if people were walking around inside, and health clubs are closed under state order.

Also apparently banned — mall sleeping. The guards caught a guy who took advantage of the closures to take a nap in a sleeping bag a few days earlier.

Inside, only the tax place and a clothing store were open (since closed). Maybe At Home — the lights were on, but the glass doors were closed. The mall is usually at less than 50 percent occupancy, but this was surreal. It was hard to tell the difference between the stores that had been shuttered for months from the ones closed because of the upcoming outbreak.

Growing up in the ’80’s, malls were a focal point, more so for me because I lived a block from one. When I got bored, I simply walked over, walked around. The mall was also a de facto refuge a few years back when a massive ice storm knocked out power to parts of the city. People left their frozen homes a hung out at the mall to soak up some warmth and let their kids run around in the play area. 

No such natural disaster camaraderie this time.  

I did a quick lap around the mall taking it all in, trying to not be noticed by the two security guards. I couldn’t help but think the security industry will be booming. So much closed property to be guarded until the virus blows over.

Paper Apocalypse

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  The apocalypse started with toilet paper.

Actually, it started with germs half way around the world, but for most Americans, it didn’t become real until the Charmins began disappearing off the shelves of their favorite big box stores.

Sure, there was news of China shutting down entire cities and locals stuck on cruise ships that were quarantined upon entering port. But our leaders were downplaying it, making fun of it, calling it a hoax.

Not long after that, cases and deaths started popping up in distant states inside the union, then in nearby states and finally in home states…

My teen son loads groceries part time at the local Big Box, and he told tales of people buying cases of toilet paper and pallets of bottled water.

The onset of the toilet paper panic hit just as spring break was staring for the kids. I already took the week off to hang out with them, so I was at a safe distance while work struggled with how to function in the pandemic. The CDC guidelines are to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, and my take is that work would be a safe place because corporate cuts had already throughly decimated our staff.

My plans for spring break had been modest. Drag the kids out once a day for a little fun. We don’t have any money in the budget for travel, and my wife is working through to figure out some computer coding. But everything is closed. No movies, no museums, The indoor pool closed. The restaurants only have carry out, if they are open at all. And it’s the Midwest, where spring is called “second winter.” Nothing to do outside. It actually snowed on the first day of the break, and it’s been cold and rainy ever since.

I was able to score a four-pack of off-brand paper at a downtown gas station that was immune to the hype a few days in. There were two on the shelf, but I only bought one. Only as much as we reasonably need.

The Big grocery store still hasn’t been able to keep it in stock. Yesterday, I dropped by the small, independent neighborhood grocery — the one with the healthy selection of Eastern European and Pacific Island and Southeast Asia fare. They had paper, but not on the shelves. I had to ask for it at the register. And then they only sell it one pack at a time. As the clerk went to the locked cabinet to retrieve it, she told me there was almost a fight over the stuff the previous day.

Photo: Tracks in the snow

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(c)2020 J.S.Reinitz


Man arrested for smuggling endangered birds

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From the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont:

 Jafet Rodriguez, 39, of Hazleton Pennsylvania, has been charged with unlawfully smuggling tropical birds into Vermont from Canada, in violation of the Endangered Species Act and the federal anti-smuggling statute. 

photo courtesy US Department of Justice

According to court documents, the Government alleges that on December 30, 2019, at 10:30 A.M., the defendant walked across the Canadian border near the Haskell Free Library in Derby Line, Vermont and approached a car parked in Stanstead, Quebec.

 According to the Government’s allegations, the defendant retrieved a black duffle bag containing the birds from the vehicle parked in Quebec and then walked back into the United States. United States Border Patrol Agents intercepted Rodriquez after he entered another vehicle (with Pennsylvania license plates) in Derby Line, Vermont. The agents recovered seven live tropical birds from this vehicle. 
According to court records, the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory determined that five of the birds were Yellow-headed Amazons (Amazona oratrix) and two birds were White-bellied Parrots (Pionites leucogaster). 

These birds are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (commonly referred to as “CITES”). Under the Endangered Species Act, species which are protected under CITES cannot be imported without the appropriate permits. The birds were turned over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and transported to the New York Animal Import Center in Rock Tavern, New York for a period of quarantine. 

Man shoots bear in self defense, sentenced for taking claws

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  MISSOULA—A Marion man who admitted illegally transporting grizzly bear claws to Washington after shooting the bear in the Bob Marshal Wilderness in 2017 was sentenced today to three years of probation and ordered to pay $5,000 restitution to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Bryan Berg, 35, pleaded guilty and was sentenced Jan. 16, 2020, for illegal transportation of grizzly bear claws, a Lacey Act Violation.

The prosecution said in court records that law enforcement received a tip in September 2017 that Berg shot a grizzly bear, which is a threatened species, in the Hart Basin area of the Bob Marshal Wilderness in Montana. Agents flew to the scene and found a dead grizzly bear that was pushed down the mountain. The bear’s front claws had been removed.

In an interview with law enforcement officers in March 2018, Berg said he shot the grizzly bear in self-defense, which the investigation confirmed to be accurate. Berg, however, did not report the grizzly bear shooting as required by law. Berg then removed the claws and took them to Washington. 

Berg cannot legally possess or transport the claws. Berg knew that taking the grizzly bear claws was illegal and turned them over to law enforcement during the interview. Berg also provided law enforcement with photographs and video of him near the grizzly bear after the shooting.

Ancient points returned to museum

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recovered projectile points. Photo courtesy ICE

 PROVIDENCE – An historic collection of 34 stone projectile points, some determined to be more than 1,000 years old, were returned Jan. 15, 2020, to Rhode Island’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology more than 30 years after they first vanished from the museum’s collections.
The stone projectile points, used primarily for hunting, were unearthed by Harrie M. Wheeler, a noted Rhode Island collector and amateur archeologist, during excavations that he conducted between 1928 and 1950 in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

Harrie M. Wheeler, a Rhode Island native with a passion for pre-Columbian archaeology and anthropology, sold part of his collection of artifacts to Rudolf F. Haffenreffer Jr. in 1928 for the sum of $1,000. Haffenreffer was a local brewer, entrepreneur and philanthropist who subsequently founded the museum that bears his name, and that became a part of Brown University in 1955 following his death. A second set of artifacts gathered by Wheeler, including the stone projectile points returned today, were acquired by the Museum in 1985.

Two years later, in 1987, the Museum’s assistant curator noticed that the stone projectile points, along with a number of other items, were missing. They were reported stolen to Brown University and Bristol Police. While a number of the stolen items surfaced over the course of the next three decades at flea markets or private sales, the fate of this particular group of missing artifacts remained a mystery until early 2019, when an adroit observer noticed a listing on eBay offering a “collection of museum quality arrowheads” for sale for $500.

The listing included photos, one of which showed the stone projectile points in their original display box, bearing a label reading: “Arrowheads from a Rhode Island Archaeological dig in East Greenwich, Kent County, Rhode Island, 1928-1950, Ex Wheeler Collection, Haffenreffer Museum, All Authentic.”

One of the items was marked with the number “85-827,” which matched the Haffenreffer’s catalog number for the artifacts. Contacted by the individual who first observed the listing, curators at the Haffenreffer reached out to the Brown University and Bristol Police Departments, who in turn requested the assistance of HSI. Federal investigators were able to quickly locate the eBay seller, secure the items, and confirm their provenance.

Based on the investigation by HSI special agents who worked on the case, it was discovered an eBay seller acquired the stone projectile points for a case of wine from an individual who listed them on Craigslist. HSI’s investigation, and efforts to determine the whereabouts of other items stolen from the Haffenreffer collection in 1987 remains ongoing, and anyone with potentially relevant information is urged to contact the HSI Tip Line at (866) 347-2423.
Using a provision of federal law that allows the government to recover stolen goods that travel across state lines, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rhode Island filed a lawsuit to forfeit the stone projectile points. Following completion of that lawsuit, and a review of Brown’s petition for return of the projectile points to the Museum, federal authorities today were able to return them to where they properly belong.

Occult hand

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(C) 2017 J.S. Reinitz


I was looking through some old photos and came across this panorama shot of vintage WWII aircraft from a fly-in at the local airport. I had never noticed the dismembered hand artifact floating in the air before. These type of anomalies pop up when doing panorama and other types of layered photography.

As an aside, this photo was taken in July 2017. The B-17 Flying Fortress at the left crashed during a fly-in in Hartford, Connecticut, in October 2019.

IMG_5693 edit

(C) 2017 J.S. Reinitz

Pumpkin Cannon vs School Bus  

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Happy Halloween !

First looted art repatriation to Libya

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photo courtesy Amanda Mason, ICE

 WASHINGTON – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations International Operations Division Chief Leo Lin returned a sixth century marble statue known as the “Head of a Veiled Woman,” during a repatriation ceremony at the Libyan Embassy, Thursday.

The repatriation marks the first reparation ceremony between Libya and the United States.

The return of the statue was the culmination of an 11-year investigation led by HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities Unit, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In June 2008, HSI New York initiated a cultural property investigation in response to information indicating that looted antiquities were shipped to the United States from Dubai. The investigation revealed an antiquities dealer illegally shipped 50 items of cultural property originating from various nations to major museums, galleries and art houses in New York City.

In August 2008, HSI seized the Libyan marble statue during its shipment from the Dubai-based antiquities dealer to a collector in Queens, New York. The seized statue is the fragmented head of a veiled woman statue that is measured 13 inches tall by 10 inches wide. Ongoing efforts in this investigation led to the identification of several key players in a transnational criminal organization, engaging in the illicit trafficking of cultural antiquities.


photo courtesy Amanda Mason, ICE

The statue originated in the ancient city of Cyrene, Eastern Libya, and is part of the rich cultural heritage amongst the Libyan community.

In February 2018, Libya signed a historical memorandum of understanding with the United States to protect Libya’s cultural property from illegal smuggling and highlight the principle that culture truly unites people.

Customs agents seize looted Cambodian sculpture

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photo courtesy ICE

 SAN FRANCISCO ― On Sept. 12, 2019, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations San Francisco Special Agent David Keller, with assistance from HSI New York Special Agent John Paul Labbat, seized an ancient Cambodian sandstone sculpture dating back to 921-945 AD and valued at approximately $350,000.
Described as a Shiva and Uma statue, the artifact was discovered during an ongoing HSI New York investigation dubbed “Indochinese Peninsula Plunder” in the Southern District of New York. The investigation focuses on the smuggling activities of Douglas Latchford, a private collector linked to numerous looted Cambodian antiquities.
Originally purchased by a private collector in California, the statue was discovered for sale at a prominent San Francisco auction house following the collector’s death in 2015. It will be returned to the Cambodian people at the conclusion of this HSI-led investigation.

Two charged with timber theft in 2018 forest fire

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  Seattle – Two former Hood Canal area residents are charged with stealing to wood of big leaf maple trees from Olympic National Forest.

The indictment alleges that between April and August 2018, Justin Andrew Wilke and Shawn Edward Williams felled and sold publicly-owned maple trees, according to the US Attorneys Office for Western Washington.

The indictment alleges that, in August 2018, the two started a forest fire in an attempt to burn out a bees’ nest when they  were trying to unlawfully harvest from the National Forest land. The resulting fire – known as “The Maple Fire” – burned more than 3,300 acres between August and November 2018 and cost approximately $4.5 million to contain..
According to the indictment, as early as April 2018, the defendants traveled into areas of the Olympic National Forest to scout for big leaf maple trees that might contain ‘figured’ wood – wood that is highly prized for musical instruments. The men looked for maple trees they could steal in areas around Elk Lake and Lena Lake. The men then cut the maple trees, took blocks of wood from the trees to a property near Lilliwaup, Washington, and sold the blocks to a lumber mill in Tumwater, Washington. The conspirators presented the mill owner with permits claiming the maple had been harvested on private land, when in fact it had been illegally cut and stolen from the National Forest.

In early August 2018, after selling thousands of dollars’ worth of maple to the mill, the two identified a big leaf maple they wanted to steal. However, the large tree contained a bee’s nest, which made it difficult to fell. After unsuccessfully attempting to get rid of the bees with wasp killer, the men decided to kill the bees by burning the nest. Wilke poured gasoline on the nest and lit it on fire. The men tried to put the fire out with water bottles but were unsuccessful. The fire grew into a 3,300-acre forest fire, damaging public lands in Olympic National Forest and costing $4.5 million to extinguish.

Wilke is charged with eight federal felonies: Conspiracy; two counts of depredation of public property; theft of public property; trafficking in unlawfully harvested timber; attempted trafficking in unlawfully harvested timber; setting timber afire; and using fire in furtherance of a felony. Williams is charged with conspiracy, depredation of government property, and attempted trafficking in unlawfully harvested timber.

Conspiracy, setting timber afire, and trafficking in unlawfully harvested timber are each punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Theft of public property and depredation of government property are punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Using fire in furtherance of a felony is punishable by a mandatory ten-year sentence of imprisonment

Nedjemankh’s gold coffin headed back to Egypt 

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photo courtesy ICE

 From Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

NEW YORK — A repatriation ceremony took place Wednesday following the recovery of a stolen Egyptian artifact previously on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This following an investigation with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations New York and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. 

The Gold Coffin of Nedjemankh was presented to the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Hassan Shoukry who accepted the piece on behalf of the people of Egypt.

In February 2019, HSI New York and the D.A.’s Office executed a search warrant and seized the Gold Coffin of Nedjemankh from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on display, as part of an ongoing joint investigation with law enforcement partners in Egypt, Germany, and France. The extraordinary coffin, crafted in Egypt between approximately 150 and 50 B.C.E., once held the remains of high-ranking priest Nedjemankh. It was stolen from the Minya region of Egypt in the aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution in October 2011. It was then smuggled out of Egypt and transported through the United Arab Emirates to Germany, where it was restored, and to France, where it was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in July 2017.

Once presented with evidence of the theft, the Metropolitan Museum of Art fully cooperated, culminating in Wednesday’s repatriation ceremony to return the artifact to Egypt, where it will be on public display. It has an estimated value of €3.5 million, or approximately $4 million.

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