nensuria/iStock(PHILADELPHIA) -- Federal officials made a massive cocaine bust in Philadelphia Tuesday, seizing an estimated 16.5 tons of the drug from a ship there -- with a street value of over $1 billion, officials said.
The historic bust -- the largest in the history of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania -- comes amid a series of large seizures of the drug in the Northeast, including a record seizure of $18 million worth of the drug in March.
New York saw its largest cocaine bust in a quarter century in that months as well with $77 million worth of the drug seized from a cargo ship in the port of New York and New Jersey.
An official said the ship, the MSC Gayane, was headed from Chile to Europe when the drugs were found in Philadelphia at the Packer Marine Terminal. Members of the crew were charged, according to the local U.S. attorney's office.
The drugs were concealed in seven shipping containers aboard the boat, which started its journey on May 31 and stopped in a number of places before landing in Philadelphia. When agents opened up the containers they saw the drugs in bags, the official said.
According to a senior Justice Department official, U.S. Customs and Border executed the seizure based on a joint investigation between the Department of Homeland Security and Drug Enforcement Administration.
In a statement, MSC said it takes the matter "seriously."
"MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company is aware of reports of an incident at the Port of Philadelphia in which U.S. authorities made a seizure of illicit cargo. MSC takes this matter very seriously and is grateful to the authorities for identifying any suspected abuse of its services," the company said in a statement.
"Unfortunately, shipping and logistics companies are from time to time affected by trafficking problems. MSC has a longstanding history of cooperating with U.S. federal law enforcement agencies to help disrupt illegal narcotics trafficking and works closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). MSC is committed to working with authorities and industry groups worldwide to improve the security of the international supply chain and ensure that illegal practices are dealt with promptly and thoroughly by the relevant authorities."
Traffickers have been seeking out a new market for cocaine by mixing it with the powerful drug fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Synthetic opioids, like fentanyl have been responsible for thousands of overdose deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Cocaine, New York’s nemesis of the 90s, is back-indicating traffickers push to build an emerging customer base of users mixing cocaine with fentanyl,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan said at the time of the New York seizure. “This record-breaking seizure draws attention to this new threat and shows law enforcement’s collaborative efforts in seizing illicit drugs before it gets to the streets and into users’ hands.”
A criminal complaint filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Tuesday named two defendants, Ivan Durasevic and Fonofaavae Tiasaga, the ship's second mate and a crew member, respectively.
After boarding the Gayane yesterday morning in Philadelphia, Coast Guard personnel did a cotton swab of the crew members' arms and detected cocaine on Durasevic, according to the complaint.
Durasevic allegedly told investigators that he was told by the ship's chief officer to come down to the deck after it had departed Peru.
Durasevidc told investigators that he saw nets near the ship's crane that contained bags with handles transporting the cocaine, and he and around 4 others hoisted the bags onto the ship and loaded them into the containers after being promised by the Chief Officer that he would be paid $50,000, according to the complaint.
According to Tiasaga, he allegedly assisted in loading bales of cocaine that were brought alongside the ship by smaller boats both before and after they docked in Peru.
Cocaine's resurgence was also linked to an overabundance of cocaine supply in Colombia, after the country stopped eradicating the coca plant.
In the New York case, the drugs were hidden behind boxes of dried fruit on a ship bound from Colombia to Antwerp, Belgium. It wasn't clear if the drugs were headed to Europe or the U.S.
In the Philadelphia case from earlier this year, cocaine was found in duffel bags in a shipping container aboard the MSC Desiree, which was headed from Colombian to Europe.
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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- President Donald Trump kicked off his 2020 reelection bid in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday, launching a campaign that's never really ended.
In promoting Tuesday's festivities at and around the Amway Center, aides indicated that the president's campaign has never really stopped. They told ABC News that this rally in a critical swing state is meant to add to momentum.
"He can't win the White House without Florida, and we're going to step up big time to make sure he gets it," Joe Gruters, chairman of the state Republican Party, said.
In his reelection address, Trump spent most of his speech looking to position himself, not as an incumbent president running on a number of accomplishments, but as an underdog who's been the victim of a number of conspiracies designed to undercut his political movement and dating back well before he took the oath of office.
"Our patriotic movement have been under assault from the first day," Trump told the crowd. "We've accomplished more than any president has in the first two and half years and under circumstances that no president has had to deal with before … nobody has done what we have done."
"We went through the greatest witch hunt in political history, the only collusion was committed by the Democrats, the fake news media and their operatives and the people who funded the phony dossier, crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC," he said.
"It was all an illegal attempt to overturn the results of the election, spy on our campaign, which is what they did, and subvert our democracy," Trump added.
Vice President Mike Pence took the stage prior to the president and said, "We’re here for one reason and one reason only. America needs four more years of President Donald Trump."
The crowd began chanting, "Four more years!"
"It's on everybody," Pence said. "Time for round two."
While the vice president didn’t name any of the 2020 Democrats running for president, Pence looked to define the Democratic opposition as far left radicals who want "more taxes, more regulation, and less freedom."
"Today, Democrats openly advocate socialism. An economic system that has impoverished millions of people around the world and stole the liberty of generations," Pence said.
"The choice in this election will not just be a choice between two candidates, but a choice between two futures," he added.
First lady Melania Trump walked out with the president and briefly spoke to the crowd.
"It has been my honor to serve this country for the past two years. And I’m excited to do it for six more," she said. "I’m proud of all that my husband, this administration, and our entire family have done on behalf of the American people in such a short time. He truly loves this country and will continue to work on your behalf as long as he can. All of us will."
Starting Friday, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have been hosting a "National Week of Training" across the country for 16,325 attendees at more than 970 events, including, "Trump Victory Leadership Initiative" training sessions and "MAGA Meet-Ups," according to numbers provided to ABC News by the campaign.
America First Policies also kicked off its voter registration drive in Orlando on Tuesday with the aim of spending more than $20 million and registering voters in Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia.
"There are millions of patriotic Americans who believe in the America First movement, but aren't registered to vote," America First Policies President Brian O. Walsh said.
Trump flipped Florida red in 2016 with just 1.2% more votes than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. It was the first time the state voted Republican since President George W. Bush won it during his reelection in 2004.
While they've taken a beating from Republicans in the Sunshine State since 2016, Florida Democrats don't believe the state has slipped out of their grasp in 2020.
"Democrats are still very competitive here," Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., told ABC News.
Trump beat Clinton for Florida's 29 electoral votes by 112,911 votes, a greater margin of victory than President Barack Obama's 2012 win over now-Sen. Mitt Romney., R-Utah.
Last year's hard-fought midterm election -- so close that it prompted a recount -- ended with Democrats losing every statewide race except agriculture commissioner: Rep. Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial race, and then-Gov. Rick Scott unseated Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the only Democrat besides Obama to win statewide since the 1990s.
Despite the recent string of defeats, state Democrats point to their success in flipping two House seats in South Florida, and the razor-thin margins in the last few statewide contests.
"At the end of the day, it will be a close race, and it will be dog-eat-dog," said Nelson, who has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden. "The state has been influenced by Trump, utilizing the powers of the president as well as Republican administrations in Florida. You combine all of that in what is effectively a 50-50 state, and you see the trends that occurred in the last two elections."
As part of their push to take back Florida, Democrats are investing in the state earlier than ever before.
In a call with reporters on Monday, Democratic National Committee officials said the party already has 90 field organizers on the ground and has spent millions to register 200,000 voters ahead of 2020.
The party is also centering its message against Trump on health care, including the administration's decision not to defend the Affordable Care Act in court, a winning issue for the party in 2018 and one that wasn't on the table in 2016.
Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC, has launched a six-figure digital advertising campaign in Florida ahead of Trump's visit on Tuesday, targeting the president on health care and the Republican tax cut that he signed into law in 2017.
For Our Future, a progressive super PAC backed, in part by billionaire Tom Steyer, is directing its $80 million budget toward organizing in Florida and other battleground states. The group, modeled on some of the conservative organizing groups funded by the Koch Brothers, has worked to keep Democratic voters engaged in between cycles and around issues.
One of the group's focuses in Florida will be activating some of the 1.4 million ex-felons who are now eligible to vote in the state, according to CEO Justin Myers.
Multiple 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Biden, have traveled to the state. The party plans to hold its first round of primary debates in Miami later this month.
In Orlando, only 20,000 attendees were allowed inside the Amway Center, so there were Trump supporters lined up nearly 40 hours early.
The Trump campaign was tight-lipped regarding the president's remarks, but aides said to expect a rousing performance that only the president could deliver. First lady Melania Trump and Pence, along with Trump's adult children, were in attendance, campaign officials told ABC News.
Amid a balloon drop, a "retrospective" video of the president's first years in office and possible indoor pyrotechnics, the event aims to be more than just a rally. Within the campaign, aides have described it as a "mini convention" and a "huge party" scheduled to go on, rain or shine, as the area prepares for possible showers.
The festivities began well before the president even traveled to Florida, with "45 Fest," an outdoor event at the Amway Center beginning in the morning and featuring food trucks, live music and massive TV screens for the overflow crowd that was expected to descend on downtown Orlando.
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Niklas Storm/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A pair of Utah high school football players found themselves at the center of a police investigation after video surfaced of a player allegedly burning a pride flag while laughing and yelling "all gays die."
The Granite School District in Northern Utah asked police to open an investigation this week as the controversial Snapchat video sparked outrage on social media, school officials told ABC News on Tuesday.
Concerned community members notified school district officials on Monday, demanding action when a football player at Kearns High School in Salt Lake City shared the offensive video on social media. Some called for the incident to be investigated as a potential hate crime.
Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said the district opened an independent investigation immediately and notified local police.
"We are having police look at it to ensure that there is no criminal implications," Horsley told ABC News in an interview on Tuesday. "Looking at the video, whether if it was intended as a joke or as a serious and broad threat against LGBTQ individuals, it's still a reprehensible act. We need to condemn hatred and bigotry wherever we see it."
Horsley declined to offer specific details about the two students involved, but he said they were both associated with the football team. He described the student who initially posted the video as an incoming freshman, thought to be about 15 years old, and said the other player was already a student.
It’s too early to say if either student will face criminal charges, but the district said it reserves the right take its own disciplinary actions. The Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake, which are investigating, did not return ABC News' request for comment.
Horsley said punishment by the school district could range from mandated community service to suspension.
“We want those two individuals to understand the implications of their actions and educate them on why it's inappropriate," he said. "Ultimately, at the end of the day, the goal of our football team, the goal of our schools, is to create respectful, caring, empathetic individuals with high character and moral standards. And obviously, this type of activity is not conducive for that."
Some people have called on the school to expel the students, while others urged the school to cancel its football program over the incident.
Kearns High School's head football coach, Matt Rickards, called it a potential hate crime in an on-camera interview, but he did not say how the students should be penalized.
"There’s no place for that in our program at all, and it won’t be tolerated," Rickards, who took over the program seven years ago, told Salt Lake City Fox affiliate KSTU on Tuesday. "It’s potentially a hate crime, so it sickens me."
“We have one rule in our program and that is not to embarrass yourself, your family or your team and, obviously, that rule was broken. So, there’s got to be consequences for that," he added.
Horsley said the high school and the community had been "dragged through the mud as part of this process," but said the incident does not reflect the community.
The video surfaced during the heart of Pride Month and amid a rash of pride flag burnings and other hate-fueled crimes in major cities like New York City, pointing to a broader trend of increased hate crimes nationwide.
Police are investigating a similar incident in Burlington, Vermont, where Christopher Vaccaro and Jimmie Searle, a gay couple, said a person torched a pride flag on their front porch earlier this month.
“There’s no question that nationally, cities, towns and states are receiving more reports and are connecting more investigations of reported hate crimes," said Julio Thompson, assistant to the Vermont attorney general, told the Burlington Free Press last week. "If we look at the numbers that have been publicly reported by the FBI in terms of voluntary reporting from law enforcement, we’ve seen a rise of reported hate crimes by law enforcement in Vermont over the last couple of years."
Vaccaro and Searle said the city’s police department gifted them with a new pride flag, along with a handwritten note in the wake of the incident -- signaling that the city would stand in solidarity with them.
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wellesenterprises/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Agriculture conglomerate Monsanto has started contacting journalists, politicians and activists it was keeping tabs on and documenting via “watch lists,” its parent company Bayer announced this week.
An international group of journalists, politicians and activists whose information, including their views on pesticides, was tracked by the agribusiness giant, and placed on 'watch lists' by the company, were informed of the company’s surveillance activities, Monsanto's parent company Bayer has announced.
Bayer disclosed details on Monday about the “watch lists” as part of a widening probe into the company’s practice of keeping tabs on people who it perceived as critics or supporters of the company’s products, amid global efforts to rehabilitate its reputation.
In May, Bayer disclosed that FleishmanHillard, an outside public relations firm hired by Monsanto before Bayer acquired the fertilizer maker, had drawn up lists of "stakeholders in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and United Kingdom" according to a statement released by the company . It described the stakeholders as "journalists, politicians and other interest groups" who had a position on pesticides.
On Monday, the Bayer said that people on the French and German “watch lists” had been notified they had been monitored by FleishmanHillard. Bayer addressed the lists after "a French television channel revealed the existence in France of files on prominent backers and opponents of pesticides and genetically modified crops," according to Agence France-Presse (AFP), which reported there were 600 people who were kept track of from those two countries.
"By the end of last week, everyone on the German and French lists had been notified. This process will soon be completed in the remaining countries," Bayer said in a statement.
The company added that it hired U.S.-based law firm Sidley Austin to investigate whether information was gathered on people considered to be opponents of Monsanto in other counties as well.
The law firm has found that "in contrast to France several weeks ago,” it "has neither found journalists nor sensitive private data on the German lists," Bayer’s head of corporate communications, Christian Maertin, told ABC News.
Sidley Austin declined to respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
AFP has filed a complaint with French data protection regulators after discovering that some of its journalists were on the watch lists. Once the lists were revealed in May, Bayer immediately severed ties with FleishmanHillard regarding the tracking project and other public relations campaigns, Bayer said.
"Corporations, NGOs and other clients rightfully expect our firm to help them understand diverse perspectives before they engage. To do so, we and every other professional communications agency gather relevant information from publicly available sources,” FleishmanHillard wrote in a statement released in May. “Those planning documents are fundamental to outreach efforts. They help our clients best engage in the dialogue relevant to their business and societal objectives."
The German pharmaceutical giant Bayer bought Monsanto last year for $63 billion, and has since dealt with several high-profile controversies in connection with the company. Last week, Bayer addressed Monsanto’s allegedly troubled legacy by announcing a new commitment to "transparency, sustainability and engagement."
“We’re making good progress on integrating the acquired agriculture business, and are now starting to implement a series of measures to drive transparency and sustainability across our business,” Werner Baumann, chairman of the board of management of Bayer, said on Friday.
"These measures address questions and concerns Bayer has heard about its role in agriculture in the year following its acquisition of Monsanto," according to a statement on the company's website.
Statements about transparency come amid a broader image rehabilitation effort by Bayer after remarkably large civil court verdicts against Monsanto in the U.S., connecting a key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup fertilizer, glyphosate, with cancer, and holding the company liable for damages. The company is facing lawsuits from approximately 11,200 plaintiffs as of Jan. 28, according to the company's annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
At least three recent lawsuits in the U.S. have resulted in huge jury awards against Monsanto.
Last year, a California jury awarded $289 million to a California groundskeeper after ruling that Roundup caused his cancer. The award was later reduced to $78 million, and is being appealed, according to the company’s annual report.
In March of 2019, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded $80 million to a different California man after determining that Roundup caused his cancer. The company said it would appeal that decision.
In May, another California jury awarded $2 billion in damages to a couple who said Roundup caused both of them to contract non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
On Monday Bayer appealed the latest verdict. In a statement, a company spokesman said the trial “focused not on ascertaining the truth regarding the state of the science, causation, and compliance with legal duties, but instead on vilifying Monsanto in the abstract.”
Monsanto has repeatedly said that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.
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ANNECORDON/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer said before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday that the U.S. is ready to place more tariffs on China if it can't agree to a new trade deal.
“The economic trade relationship with China has been unbalanced and grossly unfair to American workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses for decades,” Lighthizer told the committee. “We put tariffs on certain Chinese products, and are preparing to do more if certain issues cannot be resolved satisfactorily.”
It’s the first time Lighthizer — the chief U.S. negotiator on China — spoke with lawmakers after trade talks between the U.S. and China broke down late last month.
Talks between the two nations are expected to resume when Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet at the G-20 Summit in Japan next week.
For months now, the world’s two largest economies have engaged in trade disputes that have put financial markets on edge.
“Had a very good telephone conversation with President Xi of China,” Trump announced on Twitter. “We will be having an extended meeting next week at the G-20 in Japan. Our respective teams will begin talks prior to our meeting.”
Markets immediately surged at that news. Earlier this year, President Trump announced tariffs on $250 billion dollars of Chinese goods. The Chinese retaliated with a counter tariff on $110 billion worth of U.S. goods.
“We have an untenable situation with China one that should have been addressed, frankly, a couple of decades ago,” Lighthizer told senators. “It's a long history of them violating the norms of intellectual property moving forward and making promises and not keeping their promises.
Lighthizer pressed senators to take action on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USCMA) that's meant to replace NAFTA. Congress has yet to ratify the new trade agreement.
But committee Democrats presented a united front arguing that the USMCA needs to have a more clear enforcement mechanism between all the signing countries.
“Commitment from other countries aren’t any good if there’s no way of holding countries to them,” said ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon). “The new NAFTA retains a weak enforcement system from the old NAFTA, which too often gave a free ride to the trade chief.”
The Trump administration is also hoping for Congress’ signoff on the USMCA in order to shore up its trade relations with Mexico. President Trump threatened a 5% tariff on Mexican goods — which he backed down from — if the nation did not control the influx of migrants illegally crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.
“I think if you get to the point where you think it's a national crisis — a national security problem — you do what you have to do, absolutely," said Lighthizer. “And I would suggest any member would do that.”
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Will Heath/NBC(NEW YORK) -- Idris Elba recently took a trip down memory lane while in New York City.
On Monday night, Elba made a surprise visit to Caroline's on Broadway, where the actor and DJ previously worked as a bouncer in his pre-stardom years.
According to Page Six, Elba stopped by with his family at 9:30 p.m. to take in a show.
“He was gracious to everybody and very low-key. He talked to a couple of the employees that are still here from when he worked here,” a source told the gossip site.
During his Saturday Night Live hosting gig in March, Elba first revealed that when he first moved to the U.S. from London, he ended up as a bouncer.
“About twenty years ago I was working down the street from this building on Broadway — not as an actor — but as a doorman," he said.
"I was a bouncer at Caroline's Comedy Club on 49th and Broadway,” he continued, adding that he made some “decent contacts” by selling weed.
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Ladislav Kubeš/iStockBY: VANESSA CUTLER
(NEW YORK) -- In a groundbreaking study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Virginia Tech, Yale and Harvard may have found a reason why some people who get Lyme disease still have the crippling symptoms years after treatment with no sign of the disease still in their blood stream.
Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) occurs in about 10% of people with Lyme disease following standard treatment with antibiotics, and is associated with symptoms like muscle aches, fatigue and neurological symptoms that appear to defy explanation, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The medical community has been divided on whether or not Lyme disease symptoms can show up well after treatment ends. The diagnosis is controversial as there is often no detectable infection coexisting with the symptoms.
Dr. Brandon Jutras, an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Virginia Tech and lead author of the study said that "it might be time to look for other sources that could be contributing to the symptoms.”
“For patients who have documented cases of Lyme disease, it's reasonable to consider why they are having these kinds of unrelenting responses," he said.
The in this recent study, research suggests that inflammation from a specific particle shed by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria -- the bacteria that causes Lyme disease -- may provide an explanation for these cases.
Jutras and his team took samples of joint fluid from a group of patients who had previously been treated with antibiotics for a confirmed Lyme infection and then had persistent Lyme arthritis -- tightening of the joints -- which is one of the most common ways the long term symptoms shows up.
Researchers found that these people had a specific kind of inflammation from a certain particle shed by Borrelia, though none of them had any evidence of active infection in the blood or in the joint. To confirm their suspicions, they looked for the same kind of inflammation in people who had other kinds of arthritis, but were unable to detect it. They also injected the same particle into mice, which caused immediate arthritis within 96 hours.
“We think that the body’s response to the particle is going to be important for understanding post Lyme abnormalities” says Dr. Jutras.
For patients with PTLDS, additional IV antibiotic treatment after standard care has shown no additional benefit and may actually cause more harm than good, leading to unwanted side effects. There is no cure for PTLD, leading many to seek out alternative treatments that are not validated by the FDA, according to the Center for Disease Control.
But Dr. Jutras hopes that these findings will help people with PTLD.
“We are trying to figure out how to intervene to prevent the inflammation, to eradicate the particle causing the inflammation, and to find better screening tools,” he said.
Similarly, Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not involved in the study, agrees that these are promising findings.
“We will need more trials, but these results offer a clear target for drug development as well as promise for this debilitating and chronic disease,” he said.
Lyme disease is spread by ticks, and has a high prevalence in the northeast and in specific areas in the Midwest, according to the CDC.
Vanessa Cutler, MD is a resident physician in Psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center working with the ABC News Medical Unit.
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