Latest Southern California news, sports, business and entertainment

CROSS DISPUTE

Judge orders removal of San Diego war cross

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A federal judge in San Diego says a 43-foot war memorial cross must be removed from the top of a mountain in 90 days because it violates the principle of separation of church and state.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said Thursday that it's time for the long-running case to end.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2011 that the cross atop Mount Soledad violated the Constitution. After the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, the case went back to Burns to consider any alternatives.

Burns says it might have been a closer call if the federal government was on the verge of transferring the property to a private owner. He says the order to remove the cross would be put on hold if there is an appeal.

CITY CORRUPTION-TAX FRAUD

Ex-city manager agrees to plead guilty in tax case

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The disgraced former city manager of the Los Angeles suburb of Bell has agreed to plead guilty to charges that he filed a false federal income-tax return to illegally reduce his tax liability.

Federal prosecutors say a plea agreement filed Thursday shows Robert Rizzo agreed to plead guilty to one count each of conspiracy and filing a false federal income-tax return. He faces up to eight years in prison.

The 59-year-old Rizzo admitted he created a corporation to fraudulently claim losses on his income-tax return. The losses to the Internal Revenue Service totaled more than $300,000.

Rizzo pleaded no contest in October to 69 counts of fraud, misappropriation of public funds and other charges for allegedly orchestrating a brazen corruption scandal that drove Bell to the brink of bankruptcy.

GIANT LOBSTER CAUGHT

Swimmer nabs monster lobster off California coast

(Information in the following story is from: The Orange County Register, http://www.ocregister.com)

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Joseph Ali says onlookers thought he was drunk when he dove into the nighttime waters around a Southern California pier. But he came away with a monster of a lobster and the catch of a lifetime.

Ali tells the Orange County Register he was closing his father's business, Zack's Pier Plaza in Huntington Beach, on Monday when he saw the ocean was calm and decided to dive for dinner.

He was down about 15 feet going after a smaller lobster when he saw the giant. He says it was too big to grab properly, but it latched onto him, and he wrestled it to shore.

The lobster weighed nearly 18 pounds — even a 5-pounder is considered trophy-sized — and was likely at least 30 years old.

OC REGISTER-LOS ANGELES

Orange County Register owner plans daily LA paper

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The parent company of the Orange County Register is looking to further expand its regional reach by launching a new daily newspaper in Los Angeles.

Aaron Kushner, the CEO of Freedom Communications, told The Associated Press on Thursday night that the new paper will be known as the Los Angeles Register.

Kushner didn't give many specifics about plans for the paper, but he says it will be launched "quickly," produced seven days a week, and widely distributed in Los Angeles County.

Kushner says the paper will share Orange County Register content in sports and other areas with region-wide relevance, but he emphasized it will be a distinct entity with a Los Angeles office and a staff made up of existing Register employees and new hires.

DEADLY BREAKUP

Jurors reach penalty decision in OC killings

(Information in the following story is from: The Orange County Register, http://www.ocregister.com)

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — An Orange County jury has reached a verdict on whether to recommend death or life in prison for a man who killed his ex-girlfriend's father and sister and slashed her mother's throat.

The Orange County Register says a Superior Court jury reached the verdict on Thursday but the judge postponed its reading until next Monday.

Iftekhar Murtaza of Los Angeles was convicted last month of murder and other crimes.

Authorities say Murtaza killed the relatives of Shayona Dhanak in 2007 after she blamed her decision to break up on her Hindu family's objection to Dhanak dating a Muslim.

Prosecutors said Murtaza attacked Dhanak's mother, who survived, torched the family's home in the Anaheim Hills, and killed Dhanak's father and sister, whose burned bodies were found in a park.

CAL POLY-MENINGITIS

Cal Poly is 3rd state school with meningitis case

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (AP) — A student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has viral meningitis, making the school the third state university to report a case in recent months.

The university said in a statement that the student, who lives off campus, was diagnosed Thursday and is receiving treatment.

School health staffers are notifying others who may have been in contact with the student, but say it appears to be an isolated case that doesn't pose a major risk to the rest of the campus.

No details about the student or the severity of the case were released.

Four students were diagnosed with meningitis last month at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where a freshman lacrosse player had both feet amputated.

And UC Riverside announced this week that a staffer has the disease.

FRAT PARTY FUROR

Central Cal frat party didn't violate policies

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (AP) — A Central California university says an off-campus fraternity party with the theme "Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos" (Brohs and Nah-vuh-HOHZ') was offensive but didn't violate any campus policies.

The Nov. 16 party was held away from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. It urged women to wear racy attire with a Native American theme and sparked complaints that it was sexist and ethnically offensive.

The San Luis Obispo Tribune this week says university President Jeff Armstrong released results of a campus review that found no policy violations.

However, Armstrong's letter to the campus community calls the party behavior "deplorable" and says the school will try to address sensitivity and diversity issues.

Similar theme parties held by fraternities from Harvard and elsewhere have drawn similar criticism.

DRUG TRAFFICKING CHARGES

Feds indict 24 for SoCal drug trafficking ring

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Law enforcement officials have unsealed three federal indictments charging 24 alleged gang members and their associates with operating a widespread narcotics network throughout the Southern California area.

The announcement and 12 arrests on Thursday capped an 18-month multi-agency drug trafficking investigation dubbed "Operation Rose Bud." The arrests are in addition to two suspects already in custody, two who were deported, three still under investigation and five remaining fugitives.

The operation targeted the Varrio Pasadena Rifa street gang, which allegedly sold and distributed crystal methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin in the San Gabriel and Antelope valleys. Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez says the drugs came from the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel.

Investigators seized meth, heroin and cocaine with a street value of $2.5 million.

LAFD INFORMATION BLACKOUT

LA Fire Department lifts news blackout

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Fire Department has reversed course after abruptly beginning to withhold all but the most basic information about emergencies.

A department spokesman says the blackout went into effect early Thursday under a sweeping order by the city attorney's office involving concerns about violation of federal health privacy law.

The interpretation also blocked the Fire Department's social media messages and potential release of 911 tapes from the recent deadly shooting of a TSA officer at Los Angeles International Airport.

The order regarding emergency information had the immediate effect of throwing roadblocks in the way of news media reports on a fire that raged through an apartment building, killing two people, injuring others and displacing two-dozen people.

The order was rescinded before noon.

FAWCETT-WARHOL DISPUTE

O'Neal lawyers rest case over portrait by Warhol

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ryan O'Neal's attorneys have concluded their defense of the actor in a lawsuit aimed at making him relinquish an Andy Warhol portrait of Farrah Fawcett that he says he has owned since 1980.

The actor's case ended Thursday with brief testimony from his son, Redmond O'Neal, and a chiropractor who watched Fawcett work on sculptures.

Closing arguments are expected Friday.

The University of Texas at Austin is suing O'Neal to gain a silkscreen portrait of the actress created by Warhol for a television special.

The lawsuit claims Fawcett left all her artwork to her alma mater and that O'Neal improperly took the artwork out of her condominium days after her death in 2009.

O'Neal says he had permission from the trustee of Fawcett's estate to remove the portrait.

Warhol created two portraits of Fawcett and the university was given one after her death.