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Dispatches The Buzz

  • Hey, want free HBO? That was part of the pitch of a sting operation that sold more than 3,000 illegal satellite TV smart cards to dealers. They let people grab signals off DirecTV without paying for them. The investigation, still under way, has resulted in charges against seven individuals, according to officials at the Justice Department and U.S. Customs Service. They said another four have pleaded guilty to charges of violating laws protecting satellite television transmissions. Authorities said there is a large underground market for counterfeit cards, at a black-market price of $325 to $425. Officials estimate that use of the illegal cards in the sting alone cost the satellite TV industry $6.2 million in lost revenue. The practice, however, is becoming increasingly difficult. Security codes and scrambling mechanisms are constantly changing, so what might work one day won't work the next.
  • A federal jury last week awarded $1.4 million to seven white police sergeants in a Miami suburb who sued the Hispanic chief of police for discrimination. The suit claimed Hialeah Police Chief Rolando Bolanos favored Hispanic officers over whites when staffing prized units such as homicide and narcotics. Mr. Bolanos denounced the officers as defiant, militant malcontents, and he claimed that two are racist.
  • Federal investigators last week announced that they are looking into complaints from members of the United Auto Workers that their union leaders at Local 594 in Pontiac, Mich., demanded jobs for relatives and improper overtime payments for ending a costly 1997 strike at GM's Pontiac truck plants. Twenty-one autoworkers are suing the automaker and the union, alleging fraud, collusion, and extortion. Assembly workers lost an average of $10,000 in salary and skilled-trades workers closer to $20,000 during the 87-day strike, according to the Detroit Free Press.
  • A Waukegan, Ill., 16-year-old hockey player, who knocked a rival player into the boards after a Nov. 3 game and left him paralyzed, accepted a plea bargain last week on criminal charges. He pleaded no contest to simple battery, a misdemeanor, and received probation and public service. Defense lawyer Jeffrey Steinback said the game was extremely rough, with 16 separate acts that could be described as violent, and that his client was only charged because of the injury.