Friday Morning News Roundup
Alleged Operator Of Silk Road 2.0 Awaits Trial
A San Francisco computer programmer accused of running a resurrected version of the black market website known as Silk Road agreed in federal court Thursday to be transferred in custody to New York to face the charges there.
Blake Benthall, 26, was arrested in San Francisco Wednesday by FBI and Homeland Security Department agents and has been in custody since then.
Federal prosecutors claim in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Oct. 29 that between late December and his arrest, Benthall ran an online marketplace known as Silk Road 2.0 that enabled users to buy illegal drugs, false identification, computer hacking tools and money laundering services.
The site was allegedly the successor to the first Silk Road website, whose alleged operator, Ross Ulbricht, 30, was arrested inside a public library in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2013. He is awaiting a trial in New York in January.
The Oct. 29 criminal complaint charges Brenthall with four counts of conspiring to commit drug trafficking, conspiring to commit computer hacking, conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification, and conspiring to carry out money laundering.
He was brought to federal court in San Francisco Thursday, where he waived a detention hearing, clearing the way for his transfer to New York while in custody.
The original Silk Road was shut down after Ulbricht’s arrest, but the complaint alleges that five weeks later, another individual launched a new version of the site with an announcement to users that “Silk Road has risen from the ashes.”
The new operator used the same pseudonym as Ulbricht, Dread Pirate Roberts, and was dubbed DPR2 by the FBI.
FBI Agent Vincent D’Agostino wrote in the criminal complaint that Benthall, using the moniker “Defcon,” emerged as an administrator a week later and took over the site on or around Dec. 28.
The complaint alleges Benthall maintained the hardware and software for the website, managed a small team of online administrators and collected at least $400,000 in profit as of October from commissions received from sales on the site.
The website operated on the Tor network, which makes tracking Internet users extremely difficult by redirecting information through a relay network, according to the FBI.
Mayor Quan Pledges To Work With Libby Schaaf During Transition
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said Thursday that she will collaborate with Mayor-elect Libby Schaaf during the transition period until Schaaf takes office in January.
Schaaf, an Oakland native who has been on the City Council the past four years, said that Quan called her on Wednesday to congratulate her on her victory and offer her full support.
Schaaf said it was Quan’s idea to have a joint news conference at City Hall Thursday where Quan let the community know that she is committed to having “a good transition and a productive relationship” with her.
Quan spoke of her accomplishments in her four years as mayor and Schaaf said, “I’m appreciative of the foundation that she has built” for Oakland.
Schaaf said her “first order of business” as mayor will be to hire a new city administrator, as Oakland has been without a permanent city administrator for many months.
Formerly retired city administrator Henry Gardner has been the interim city administrator since June.
Schaaf said she will conduct a national search for a new city administrator and hopes it won’t take too long.
She said she believes Oakland will attract many top candidate for the job because it is “an incredibly exciting place with many exciting projects and great energy.”
After Quan was elected in December 2010, she didn’t hire a new permanent city administrator until June 2011, when she picked Deanna Santana, who didn’t start work until Aug. 1, 2011.
Santana left the city administrator’s post in early March.
Campos Concedes To Chiu In District 17 Assembly Race
San Francisco Supervisor David Campos has conceded the race for the District 17 state assembly seat, his rival Supervisor David Chiu said Thursday.
Campos called him early Thursday evening to concede, Chiu said in a statement posted to Twitter and Facebook.
“We had a positive conversation and agreed to work together in the future for the good of San Francisco,” Chiu said.
According to the San Francisco Department of Elections, Chiu led with more than 51 percent of the vote as of Thursday evening with all precincts reporting.
Chiu and Campos both currently serve on the 11-member San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Both men are Harvard Law School graduates, both are 44 years old and both are liberal Democrats.
Chiu has served as the president of the Board of Supervisors since 2009.
Campos has served on the Board of Supervisors since 2008. He could not be immediately reached for comment.
East Bay Artist Arrested In Fatal Stabbing Of Alameda Woman In Texas
An East Bay blacksmith and artist was arrested in Austin, Texas after he allegedly killed an Alameda woman, according to police.
Joseph Frederick Karr, 53, was arrested Saturday in connection with the fatal stabbing of Kelly Turner, 43, according to Austin police.
Turner, an Austin native, was found dead in a home in the 5200 block of McCarty Lane on Saturday morning around 1 a.m., according to police.
There had been reports of a disturbance at the address prior to her discovery, and her body showed obvious signs of trauma, police said.
Karr, who crafts items including furniture, stage and movie sets and hand-forged knives and swords at his Bohemian Blacksmith workshop located on San Pablo Avenue in Emeryville, initially fled the scene in a stolen yellow 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser, police allege.
A $2 million warrant was issued for his arrest and he was located and arrested in northern Hays County later Saturday, police said.
Karr’s web site describes him as a professional steel fabricator, sculptor and artist with 20 years experience.
Helicopter Evacuating Chp Officer Involved In I-680 Crash
A California Highway Patrol was seriously injured Thursday evening in a three-vehicle collision on Interstate Highway 680 in San Ramon, according to the California Highway Patrol.
CHP Officer Peter van Eckhardt said officers responded to a report of a three-vehicle collision at 5:20 p.m. on northbound I-680 near the Crow Canyon Road off-ramp.
Van Eckhardt said the officer, who was riding a motorcycle, was involved in the crash with a white van and a third vehicle.
The CHP held traffic on all northbound lanes to allow a medical evacuation helicopter to land. All lanes reopened around 7:45 p.m.
The officer was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not considered life threatening.
Jogger Fatally Struck By Golden Gate Transit Bus Identified
A jogger was struck and killed by a Golden Gate Transit bus on San Francisco’s Van Ness Avenue Thursday morning, a police spokesman said.
The collision was reported around 6:15 a.m. at Van Ness Avenue and Lombard Street, said San Francisco police spokesman Officer Gordon Shyy.
The jogger, a woman in her 50s, was taken to San Francisco General Hospital and was pronounced dead about an hour later, Shyy said.
The vehicle involved in the collision was a Golden Gate Transit bus, according to transit agency spokeswoman Priya Clemens.
The bus was turning left from Lombard onto Van Ness when it struck the jogger, Clemens said.
She said the bus driver is “obviously shaken up” and that he is one of the agency’s “most senior drivers with an excellent safety record.”
Bart Station Reopened After Woman Killed On Tracks
The San Leandro BART station reopened Thursday after a woman was struck and killed by a train, an agency spokeswoman said.
The incident was reported at 9:31 a.m. involving a train traveling from Fremont to Daly City, said BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost.
Trost initially reported that the victim was a juvenile, but has since clarified that she was an adult. Trost said witnesses reported seeing her jump in front of the train.
The death shut down service at both the San Leandro and Oakland Coliseum stations, with BART trains turning around at the Fruitvale and Bay Fair stations, Trost said.
Service was restored at the Oakland Coliseum station by 11 a.m. and the San Leandro station reopened at about 11:45 a.m., Trost said.
Earthquake Assistance From State And Feds Tops $2.4 Million
State and federal assistance now exceeds $2.4 million for residents of Napa and Solano counties who were affected by the 6.0-magnitude earthquake in August, according to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
Victims of the Aug. 24 earthquake became eligible to apply for individual assistance on Oct. 27.
Nearly 1,900 homeowners and renters have applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to the state Office of Emergency Services.
The assistance includes grants for temporary housing, home repairs, medical expenses not covered by insurance and other serious disaster-related needs.
Low-interest disaster loans also are available from the U.S. Small Business Administration for homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes and private non-profit organizations. The loans cover losses not covered by insurance.
San Franciscans Consume Less Water, Lead State In Water Conservation
San Francisco residents use less water than any other urban area in California, according to a report released by the State Water Resource Control Board this week.
On Tuesday, the board released the first-ever monthly estimates of daily per capita water use by residential customers for almost 400 urban agencies in California, showing San Francisco residents used the least amount of water.
On average, San Franciscans used just over 45 gallons of water per person per day in September.
The San Francisco Bay region as a whole averaged about 85 gallons per person per day in September, according to the state board estimates.
During that same period, the Colorado River region averaged about 252 gallons per person per day. This area includes much hotter inland areas such as Palm Springs and the Mojave Desert.
State board chair Felicia Marcus said in a statement released Tuesday that the daily per capita information helps communities get a better sense of their water use and should lead local agencies to consider further conservation efforts.
The board measures per-capita daily water use by finding the total water sales in the city and dividing it by the total population served.
Among the factors that allow San Francisco to conserve so much water in comparison to other cities in California is its dense urban landscape, which cannot accommodate many lawns or pools.
According to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the per capita water consumption has decreased over the past few decades due to the city’s commitment to and investment in water conservation programs and policies.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission announced last week that Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System customers have met their 10 percent voluntary conservation goal for 2014, more than two months ahead of schedule, and saved about 8 billion gallons of water.
According to the control board, however, more needs to be done to reduce water consumption.
The control board pointed to major Australian cities further ahead than San Francisco, with residential per-capita per-day water use levels maintained below 45 gallons.
County To Prohibit Flavored Tobacco In Unincorporated Areas
Santa Clara County has become the first jurisdiction in the western United States to adopt a law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products that are often marketed towards young people, a county spokeswoman said Thursday.
The county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a law prohibiting general retailers from selling flavored tobacco in unincorporated county areas and businesses will be notified this week, county spokeswoman Gwen Mitchell said.
Retailers selling tobacco will have to comply with the ban within 90 days and thereafter the Department of Environmental Health will conduct annual inspections to make sure the flavored products are no longer being sold except in adults-only tobacco businesses, according to county officials.
Following the 90-day implementation period, the county will launch its Tobacco Violations Reporting Line, at (408) 885-4466, for members of the public to report retailers that are still selling flavored tobacco, Mitchell said.
The intent of the new Tobacco Retailer Ordinance is to restrict the sale to children and teens of products that mask tobacco’s harsh taste in cigars, cigarillos, electronic, hookah, pipe and chewing tobacco with flavors such as apple, chocolate, grape, mint and other selections, Mitchell said.
The ban would not apply to businesses that sell tobacco products to adults only, defined as those generating more than 60 percent of their gross revenues from tobacco and tobacco paraphernalia and that do not allow minors in without a parent or guardian and do not sell alcohol or food for consumption on the premises.
Construction Starts On GGP Soccer Fields Project Despite Opponents’ Protests
An opponent of a soccer fields renovation project that was the subject of a ballot measure in Tuesday’s election staged a sit-in protest Thursday in response to the start of construction on the fields.
San Francisco Recreation and Parks officials quickly launched construction on the Beach Chalet soccer fields Wednesday after a measure supporting the project appeared to win a solid majority and a measure opposing it looked set for failure.
“Work permits for the project had been issued months ago, prior to the measures being placed on the ballot,” officials with the City Fields Foundation, the project’s chief supporter, said in a statement Thursday.
While construction was postponed until after the election, “the renovation began yesterday morning after it was clear the voters had approved the fields and the outcome of the election would not change,” the statement said.
“We are grateful to the voters of San Francisco for voting to let our kids play,” San Francisco Recreation and Parks spokeswoman Connie Chan said in a statement issued Thursday. “We will now proceed with a much-needed renovation that will allow thousands of kids to play sports in our city.”
Opponents of the project, which included environmental and neighborhood groups, have objected, saying that the ballots had not all been counted when construction started and the election results had not yet been certified.
In addition, at least one legal appeal in a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club challenging the project’s environmental impact report has yet to be heard, according to a statement from SF Ocean Edge, a group that opposes the project.
Critics of the artificial turf and nighttime lighting in Golden Gate Park said nighttime lighting on the fields would be visible from Ocean Beach and would spoil one of the few natural spaces left in the city. In addition, they voiced concern about the long-term safety of artificial turf.
One opponent, Kathleen McCowin, who identifies herself as the president of Soccer Parents and Coaches for Grass in Golden Gate Park, staged a protest outside the project Thursday, holding a sign reading “No artificial turf, No stadium light in Golden Gate Park.”
Chan referred questions on the handling of McCowin’s protest to San Francisco police, saying they would be in charge “if and when the protestors threaten personal and public safety in our public space.”