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Duncan was a flight attendant aboard Air Florida Flight 90 when it hit the 14th Street Bridge and crashed into the river on Jan. 13, 1982. She was the lone crew member to survive. Seventy-eight passengers, motorists and crew members died. Five people aboard the plane survived the day.
For Duncan, the day was a rebirth, she said. At 22, she had been a self-described party girl. The weekend before the accident, she and some friends drank their way down the Florida Keys.
She was in the Potomac for 20 minutes. At first she was mad at the people on the bank, who were staring helplessly at the six clinging to the tail section.
But then, “I felt like that was the first time I felt God’s presence,” she said.
She returned to Air Florida five months later. The first flight was nerve-wracking, but she found solace in religion.
Soon she settled into the old rhythm and took it in stride when a passenger at National Airport asked her whether his ticket was correct and the flight listed was not destined for the 14th Street Bridge. That had become a stale joke. By 1984 she had left the airline to study early childhood education.
Duncan now works at Christ Fellowship in Miami where she ministers to children and oversees stage productions and skits.
“I don’t know how people could go through something like this without faith,” she said.
Joseph Stiley, now 72, also remembers the day as being transformative. He thought it had started off bad.
Stiley, then a vice president at General Telephone Electronics Corp., had grim news to deliver to employees in Huntsville, Ala. The factory there was about to be sold and GTE would only keep a handful of engineers.
“A lot of people were going to lose their jobs,” Stiley said.
On top of that, he was missing his son’s 12th birthday in Manassas.
He and his assistant, Patricia Felch, were aboard Flight 90 when it crashed. Stiley, who broke more than 60 bones, was the most severely injured of the survivors and, along with Felch, the closest to the front of the plane.
“I remember coming out of the airplane. I remember the [rescue] helicopter. … I remember the ambulance. I remember seeing the lights in the hospital. I remember a lot of other things related to the Air Florida crash, but I don’t know how much of that was because of the coverage.”
Stiley said he often feels odd when he isn’t sure a memory is something he went through or saw on television.
“I get lots of intense dreams, and I can’t separate some of those experiences,” he said.
He does remember the vividness of life after the crash. His divorce. Returning to GTE 18 months later after intense physical therapy.
It was different, though. People stared, and someone had filled his job. He left within two weeks.
He went to work for ComDial in Charlottesville but eventually moved to the West Coast, working at tech firms until the late 1990s.
Currently in semi-retirement, he is building a bed and breakfast in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. He spends about two of every six weeks there and considers it his home. He also spends time in Port Ludlow, Wash., and Ronan, Mont., where he works in a hydroponic greenhouse, a hobby of his. Stiley, a father of six, has eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, one of whom just recently started kindergarten.
“Two of the biggest changes were I got to the ‘Best Coast’ and I’m doing work that is fresh and new and exciting for me,” Stiley said.
Another survivor, Priscilla Tirado, moved to Florida and has been reluctant to talk about the crash.
The other two survivors are no longer living. After the crash, Bert Hamilton moved to Florida and became a motivational speaker. Felch, Stiley’s assistant, married and divorced after the crash, moved to Florida from Northern Virginia and back. They died in April 2002, 16 days apart.
At church, Kelly Duncan ended up meeting her future husband, John Moore, a professional tennis player in Miami. They have been married for 28 years. Had the crash never happened, she might not have met him, she said. They had three children together, all now in their 20s. The oldest, a son, recently wed.
“Oh gosh, I’ve enjoyed my kids,” she said. “I’m waiting for grandkids.”
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — At the start of “Divorce Party The Musical,” a frumpy, middle-aged divorcee named Linda sits on the living room floor, bawling, comforted only by her pint of Chubby Hubby ice cream.
But, recovering in record time, she is transformed by the show’s conclusion into a svelte, liberated woman, celebrating her failed marriage with a clink of mimosa glasses as confetti and streamers rain down.
If only all breakups came and went so effortlessly.
No matter. The show making its debut here Friday at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts taps into the desperation a broken heart can bring, nudging audiences to laugh at their misfortune and move on with a bit of fanfare.
“Don’t get mad,” its motto implores. “Get everything.”
Its creators speak from experience. Mark Schwartz, a veteran theater producer who is twice-divorced, saw the following he garnered with “Menopause The Musical” and was looking for another subject that would appeal to the same demographic.
He met Amy Botwinick, a chiropractor who authored “Congratulations on Your Divorce: The Road to Finding Your Happily Ever After” after her own prolonged breakup, and the two teamed up, convinced people can find humor in one of life’s worst events, as they have.
“A lot of it, if you look back, it’s funny what you went through,” said Schwartz. “Maybe not when you’re going through it.”
“Divorce Party” chronicles a weekend in Linda’s life, in which her sister, a cousin and a college friend sweep in to resurrect their crushed confidante. The story is strung together with song parodies of everything from “I Say a Little Prayer” to “Respect.”
In a spoof of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Linda’s visitors try and stir her from her funk.
“I see a little woman wallow in self-pity,” they sing. “Suck it up! Suck it up!”
Some of it directly relates to divorce: the lawyers and haggling over possessions, the heartbreak, the reasons the marriage failed. But there are significant asides dealing with body grooming, sexual fulfillment and other topics that might make some blush.
“This isn’t Sondheim,” Schwartz said.
Though premiering in a 295-seat theater, “Divorce Party” seems destined to garner a larger following. Schwartz hopes to see it follow the model of “Menopause,” which he produced, having the show travel to smaller venues around the country, find a long-standing home at a Las Vegas casino, and become an off-Broadway production once it has garnered sufficient buzz.
Much of its future may lie in the hands of about 100 producers, theater managers and the like from around the country who are expected to pass through “Divorce Party” during its six-week run here, which finishes Feb. 19.
Botwinick was aglow as she watched the first preview performance of the show this week. She was seated beside her mother, who she said heard all the tales of woe as her three-year divorce battle progressed and helped her laugh at it.
“To be able to find the humor in it was a huge turning point for me,” she said.
As the show nears its end, Linda still feels anger toward her ex. “I want to disembowel him with a grapefruit spoon,” she says. But her weekend reawakening has let her see the opportunities ahead.
“No longer a wife now, is my favorite part of life now,” she sings atop a giant cake commemorating her divorce.
January 12, 2012, 3:31 AM EST
By Edvard Pettersson
Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) — Executives facing trial in U.S. courts over accusations of bribing foreign officials may be encouraged to fight charges as prosecutors regroup after two courtroom setbacks and await a verdict in their largest overseas corruption probe targeting individuals.
One of two cases hailed by the government as milestones in its enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was dismissed last year by a judge who said the jury verdict convicting two men at an electricity tower company of bribing Mexican officials was tainted by prosecutor misconduct in “a sloppy, incomplete and notably over-zealous investigation.”
In the first prosecution under the FCPA based on a sting operation, a judge declared a mistrial for four of 22 defendants accused of participating in a fake $15 million weapons deal involving Gabon. A separate trial is under way for a second group of defendants.
The 2011 outcomes will make individual defendants in FCPA cases more confident in contesting charges, in particular because they may face long prison terms under the plea deals the Justice Department offers, even as corporations continue to self-report and settle, said Philip Urofsky, a former FCPA prosecutor who now defends cases at Shearman Sterling LLP.
“If a defendant is able to finance a significant defense, they can really put the government to the test,” Urofsky said in a phone interview.
In a crackdown on overseas bribery that started during the Bush administration, the government settled 57 cases against companies from 2005 through 2011 without trial, reaping $4.1 billion for the U.S. treasury, according to Justice Department data. A push to prosecute more individual defendants during the same period has produced mixed results, with some beating charges outright and others getting less punishment than prosecutors sought.
Of the 93 people charged over the past seven years, including 43 in 2009 alone, 41 pleaded guilty and six were convicted at trial, according to Shearman Sterling data. Four defendants are fugitives, one was exonerated and three had their cases dismissed. Of the remainder, 38 either have a trial date scheduled or are awaiting one. The 31 defendants who’ve been sentenced got an average of 2 years and 2 months in prison.
Bethany Hengsbach, a lawyer with Sheppard Mullin Richter Hampton LLP in Los Angeles, said it’s difficult to investigate these cases and bring them to trial.
‘Number of Challenges’
“FCPA cases present a unique number of challenges, including overseas fact gathering, relying on the cooperation of foreign governments,” she said in an interview.
Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the government has had “great success” against individuals since increasing its enforcement actions in 2009.
“Our record speaks for itself, with numerous guilty pleas and trial convictions, and substantial sentences imposed, including a 15-year prison sentence just three months ago on FCPA charges,” she said in an e-mailed statement. “These many successful prosecutions of individuals are in addition to our numerous corporate prosecutions.”
The 1977 law bars companies or individuals regulated or based in the U.S. from paying bribes to foreign officials to win business. Foreign companies and nationals also can be prosecuted if their corrupt acts were committed in the U.S.
Corporations started to approach the Justice Department about possible FCPA violations and to negotiate settlements beginning about 2003, when, as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, top executives were required to certify that they weren’t aware of any fraud at their companies, Urofsky said.
The multimillion-dollar settlements the Justice Department reached with public companies led to more resources, including prosecutors and FBI agents, getting assigned to FCPA cases, Urofsky said. That in turn brought about more investigations of smaller, closely held companies and individuals and an uptick in FCPA trials the past two years, he said.
“Corporations will look at it as part of business management and settle as long as the costs are reasonable and don’t break the bank,” Urofsky said. “An individual can go to jail — they have a lot more tangible skin in the game.”
The obstacles to compiling evidence may have caused prosecutors to overreach in the case of Lindsey Manufacturing Co., an Asuza, California-based maker of emergency electricity towers that was accused of bribing Mexican officials with a state utility, Hengsbach said.
Prosecutors persuaded a federal jury in Los Angeles to render a guilty verdict in May against Lindsey’s president and finance chief, as well as the closely held company itself. In November, U.S. District Judge Howard Matz threw out the convictions after finding eight instances of government misconduct, including using false information to get a warrant, conducting unauthorized searches and lying to a grand jury.
It was the first time in about two decades that FCPA prosecutors were forced to go to trial against a company — in this case a business whose president, Keith Lindsey, is the son of the founder, according to the company’s website.
One of the biggest hurdles prosecutors face is to prove knowledge and intent, John Davis, a lawyer with Miller Chevalier said in a phone interview. Since many foreign bribery cases turn on payments that are handled through middlemen, prosecutors often need to rely on circumstantial evidence that executives knew bribes were paid, Davis said.
In the Lindsey case, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent had falsely testified before the grand jury that one of the defendants told investigators that he “didn’t want to know” what the Mexican middleman did with the unusually high sales commissions he was paid, according to Matz’s findings.
Another Misconduct Claim
Now, a former manager at a Texas unit of Zurich-based ABB Ltd. is claiming the misconduct in the Lindsey investigation also undermines the bribery case against him. He’s accused of using the same intermediary to bribe the same Mexican utility officials identified in the Lindsey case, according to court filings.
The trial of the ex-ABB manager, John Joseph O’Shea, began with jury selection yesterday in federal court in Houston. O’Shea last month cited the Los Angeles judge’s ruling dismissing the Lindsey case in his bid to block the government from introducing evidence at trial of a Ferrari and a yacht, both of which were identified as bribes in the Lindsey case, according to court records.
The Justice Department has been so successful in developing a culture in which companies self-investigate and self-report that some prosecutors may have forgotten they have to prove there was corruption and criminal intent when a case goes to trial, said Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor now with DLA Piper LLP in Washington.
“They’re talking in a different language,” Zeidenberg said in a telephone interview. “Out in the real world, a lot of people don’t understand the FCPA. They don’t understand the law and its prohibitions.”
In June, a federal jury in Washington deadlocked on charges against four security-industry executives ensnared in a sting operation.
Justice Department prosecutors had touted the case as a cutting-edge example of the government using wiretaps and other undercover techniques to pursue white-collar criminals. One juror said after the mistrial that others on the panel were troubled that the defendants might not have participated willfully but for the government’s enticement. The government is now seeking to retry the four men.
The case, involving alleged bribes to agents posing as government representatives of Gabon, sub-Saharan Africa’s fifth- biggest oil producer, is the biggest yet FCPA prosecution of individuals, with a total of 22 defendants. Three of the defendants pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon grouped the remaining 19 defendants into four trials.
A second group of defendants who went to trial won dismissal last month of conspiracy charges against them, resulting in one executive’s acquittal. A Washington jury is expected to begin deliberating this week whether to convict the other five defendants of bribery charges.
Urofsky said prosecutors may have erred in charging all 22 defendants with taking part in a single conspiracy, which stemmed from a dinner at a Washington restaurant that the government itself invited them to as part of the sting operation.
Among government upsets in FCPA prosecutions of individuals, one case that stands out is that of Jim Giffen, an oil consultant who worked as a go-between for oil-rich Kazakhstan and energy companies including Chevron Corp. and the former Mobil Oil Corp., negotiating payments for exploration rights.
U.S. prosecutors in 2003 accused Giffen of funneling $78 million in bribes to leaders of the former Soviet republic in what was then the largest case ever brought under the FCPA. Seven years later, instead of a prison term for money laundering and bribery, he received no punishment, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor tax charge. Rather than reprimand him, the federal judge overseeing his case thanked him Nov. 19 for “his service” to America during and after the Cold War.
Giffen denied wrongdoing and said some of his still- classified activities were done at the behest of the U.S. government. For years, the case stalled as the government refused to turn over documents that Giffen said would exonerate him. In the end, prosecutors agreed he shouldn’t be imprisoned and the judge called it an “embarrassing” conclusion to the case.
Even when the government secures a conviction, some judges have been disinclined, over the objections of prosecutors, to impose significant sentences for foreign bribery crimes.
The U.S. sought 10-year prison terms for a Hollywood couple convicted in 2009 of bribing a Thai government official to get a contract to run a Bangkok film festival.
In August 2010, U.S. District Judge George Wu in Los Angeles said while sentencing Gerald Green and his wife, Patricia, to six months behind bars that their crimes weren’t as serious as other foreign bribery cases. That was after a Justice Department lawyer argued that it defied logic for the couple to get a more lenient sentence than other defendants in foreign bribery cases who pleaded guilty and cooperated.
Federal prosecutors in New York sought the maximum 10-year prison term after winning a conviction against Frederic Bourke for conspiring to pay bribes to leaders in Azerbaijan in what they called one of the most corrupt investment schemes in the former Soviet Union. Instead, Bourke, the co-founder of handbag maker Dooney Bourke, got one year and one day in prison.
At Bourke’s sentencing in November 2010, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin cited Bourke’s “lifetime of good works” for a sentence that was far less than the 57 months to 71 months recommended by U.S. sentencing guidelines. The judge said that while she agreed with prosecutors that Bourke helped promote a deal he knew was corrupt, there was “slim proof” that bribes were ever paid.
Two executives charged under the FCPA didn’t fare as well when they fought back. The former president of Miami-based Terra Telecommunications Corp., Joel Esquenazi, was sentenced in October to 15 years in prison after he was found guilty at trial of bribing officials at a state-owned Haiti company. The sentence was the longest ever in an FCPA case. A co-defendant received a seven-year sentence.
Choosing to Settle
Many individual defendants still choose to settle, rather than fight, and avoid the risk of a trial. In September, the former chief executive officer of Latin Node Inc., a Miami-based telecommunications company, was sentenced to 46 months in prison after pleading guilty to bribing Honduran government officials, and last month, a United Arab Emirates man, who was extradited to the U.S., got 30 months after pleading guilty to bribing Iraqi officials and paying kickbacks under the UN oil for food program.
“They probably have had more successes than failures,” Davis, the Miller Chevalier attorney, said of the Justice Department’s FCPA unit. “They’re still very committed to charging individuals because of the deterrent effect.”
In December, eight former executives of Siemens AG, Europe’s largest engineering company, were charged by the U.S. with conspiring to bribe Argentine government officials to land a $1 billion contract to make national identity cards. None of the accused live in the U.S. and it wasn’t known whether they will be extradited.
The Lindsey case is U.S. v. Aguilar, 2:10-cr-01031, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles). The Gabon case is U.S. v. Goncalves, 09-cr-00335, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
–With assistance from David Glovin in New York, Tom Schoenberg in Washington and David Voreacos in Newark, New Jersey. Editors: Peter Blumberg, Charles Carter
To contact the reporter on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com.
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“We’re maintaining that when people get divorced, the standards of living for both people have to change. There’s no way to maintain it as to when they were married,” Frisher said. “Nowadays, it takes two incomes to live, but when you get divorced, the judge is ordering one income to pay for two households. That doesn’t make sense.”
Frisher said the group isn’t asking to eliminate alimony.“We believe there’s an amount of payment necessary to get them on their feet, back into society and employable,” he said, “but the permanency of alimony, we need to eliminate. We need to have durations and amounts that are much more predictable.”
Divorces make up 70 percent of Melbourne attorney Clay Morgan’s practice. “You can try a case with five judges down here and come up with five numbers from each judge,” he said. “It’s not like child support, which has guidelines…Alimony is a litigious area for us.”
Morgan says 25 percent to 30 percent of his divorce cases deal with alimony.
Morgan wondered whether the proposed 20 percent payer’s cap on alimony awards isn’t just as arbitrary.
“How’d they come up with that?” he said. “Do you put ‘arbitrary’ in the Legislature’s hands or in the judge’s hands? I think reform is needed, and the reason is that it’s so arbitrary you can’t advise people what they’re going to get hit with. It could be anything in front of these judges. Maybe reform would limit litigation.”
Rhoda Pierre Cato, an associate professor who teaches family law at Florida AM University College of Law in Orlando, said Florida is one of a growing number of states looking at alimony reform. Unlike 50 years ago, an ex-wife today could just as easily be ordered by the court to pay alimony to her former husband.
Cato called alimony reform a “backlash on women.”
“For years, women have been seeking equality under the law and also seeking some recognition for the value of their contribution to the marriage, particularly stay-at-home mothers. In recognizing there is this value, this is part of what’s happened. It’s opened the door for this reform to take place,” she said. “What we’ve seen is an erosion in public policy concerns that put in place these alimony and rehabilitative alimony statutes. It’s interesting these bills are offered by men, many of whom are feeling the sting of the system.”
Workman, who is recently divorced but says he isn’t paying or receiving alimony, said his chief concern is how current laws leave it to judges to determine how much alimony should be paid.
“This state is a no-fault divorce state, and alimony should be the same,” Workman said. “ Judges use it to punish the spouse the judge feels wronged the other spouse.”
Workman said he wants his bill to be a tool that financially helps a non-wage-earner in a marriage until they get their life on track. “My bill requires the receiver in court, while going through a divorce, to say why they need alimony and for how long. It’s gender neutral and non-punitive,” he said.