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Former local bank teller pleads guilty to $483k bank theft

A woman who worked at Key Bank branches in Warren and Saratoga counties pleaded guilty to a felony Wednesday for stealing $483,784 from the bank while working as a teller, court records show.

Caitlin Kenney, 33, pleaded guilty to theft by a bank employee for allegedly stealing cash between September 2013 and February 2017 while working at the bank’s branches in Queensbury and Malta, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Albany.

Court records show she removed cash and falsified records to conceal the thefts while working as “head teller” at the bank branches. She worked in the Queensbury branch on Quaker Road until October 2016, stealing $408,784 during that time period. She was transferred to the Malta branch, where she stole an additional $75,000 before the bank discovered the theft there through an audit.

Records show she stole cash by taking it from a vault and indicating it had been placed in the bank’s “cash box” when it had not, then falsifying computer records to indicate the transfers had occurred per bank policy.

It was unclear whether any customers were affected by the theft. A call to Key Bank’s corporate office was not immediately returned Thursday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Barnett said the case was investigated by the FBI, but his office could not comment on how the bank determined the theft had occurred.

Kenney was charged Wednesday and pleaded guilty in federal court the same day.

Her lawyer, Fred Rench, said Kenney was very remorseful and the thefts came when she was under significant “personal stress,” but he said he could not elaborate. He said the money was stolen in increments over a period of years.

“She was a model citizen with no criminal record,” he said. “This conduct was so aberrant.”

He said the case showed a concerning lack of controls at bank branches that allowed the thefts to go on for years.

Kenney is free, pending sentencing May 13 by U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy.

The charge is punishable by up to 30 years in federal prison, although court records show prosecutors would recommend “downward departures” for her “acceptance of responsibility.” Federal guidelines recommend a prison term of 21 to 27 months.

The plea agreement indicates Kenney agreed not to appeal if her sentence is 37 months in prison or less.

She will also have to make restitution.

Bruce Squires, Special to The Post-Star 

No matter what the weather, Donna Orlyk and her dog take a daily morning walk up, then down, the Cary Hill Sculpture Park in Salem, and Thursday was no exception. The hill, featuring outdoor sculptures and a trail system, is operated by the Salem Art Works and open to the public. Looking ahead to the weekend, the forecast is expected to be dry but cold with overnight lows in the single digits with highs struggling to reach the 20s during the day.

No stethoscope for pain: Scientists seek real way to measure

WASHINGTON — Is the pain stabbing or burning? On a scale from 1 to 10, is it a 6 or an 8? Over and over, 17-year-old Sarah Taylor struggled to make doctors understand her sometimes debilitating levels of pain, first from joint-damaging childhood arthritis and then from fibromyalgia.

“It’s really hard when people can’t see how much pain you’re in, because they have to take your word on it and sometimes, they don’t quite believe you,” she said. Now scientists are peeking into Sarah’s eyes to track how her pupils react when she’s hurting and when she’s not — part of a quest to develop the first objective way to measure pain. “If we can’t measure pain, we can’t fix it,” said Dr. Julia Finkel, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, who invented the experimental eye-tracking device.

At just about every doctor’s visit you’ll get your temperature, heart rate and blood pressure measured. But there’s no stethoscope for pain. Patients must convey how bad it is using that 10-point scale or emoji-style charts that show faces turning from smiles to frowns. That’s problematic for lots of reasons.

Doctors and nurses have to guess at babies’ pain by their cries and squirms, for example. The aching that one person rates a 7 might be a 4 to someone who’s more used to serious pain or genetically more tolerant. Patient-to-patient variability makes it hard to test if potential new painkillers really work.

Nor do self-ratings determine what kind of pain someone has — one reason for trial-and-error treatment. Are opioids necessary? Or is the pain, like Sarah’s, better suited to nerve-targeting medicines? “It’s very frustrating to be in pain and you have to wait like six weeks, two months, to see if the drug’s working,” said Sarah, who uses a combination of medications, acupuncture and lots of exercise to counter her pain.

The National Institutes of Health is pushing for development of what its director, Dr. Francis Collins, has called a “pain-o-meter.” Spurred by the opioid crisis , the goal isn’t just to signal how much pain someone’s in. It’s also to determine what kind it is and what drug might be the most effective.

“We’re not creating a lie detector for pain,” stressed David Thomas of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, who oversees the research. “We do not want to lose the patient voice.”

Around the country, NIH-funded scientists have begun studies of brain scans, pupil reactions and other possible markers of pain in hopes of finally “seeing” the ouch so they can better treat it. It’s early-stage research, and it’s not clear how soon any of the attempts might pan out.

“There won’t be a single signature of pain,” Thomas predicted. “My vision is that someday we’ll pull these different metrics together for something of a fingerprint of pain.”

NIH estimates 25 million people in the U.S. experience daily pain. Most days Sarah Taylor is one of them. Now living in Potomac, Maryland, she was a toddler in her native Australia when the swollen, aching joints of juvenile arthritis appeared. She’s had migraines and spinal inflammation. Then two years ago, the body-wide pain of fibromyalgia struck; a flare-up last winter hospitalized her for two weeks.

One recent morning, Sarah climbed onto an acupuncture table at Children’s National, rated that day’s pain a not-too-bad 3, and opened her eyes wide for the experimental pain test.

“There’ll be a flash of light for 10 seconds. All you have to do is try not to blink,” researcher Kevin Jackson told Sarah as he lined up the pupil-tracking device, mounted on a smartphone.

The eyes offer a window to pain centers in the brain, said Finkel, who directs pain research at Children’s Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation.

How? Some pain-sensing nerves transmit “ouch” signals to the brain along pathways that also alter muscles of the pupils as they react to different stimuli. Finkel’s device tracks pupillary reactions to light or to non-painful stimulation of certain nerve fibers, aiming to link different patterns to different intensities and types of pain.

Consider the shooting hip and leg pain of sciatica: “Everyone knows someone who’s been started on oxycodone for their sciatic nerve pain. And they’ll tell you that they feel it — it still hurts — and they just don’t care,” Finkel said.

What’s going on? An opioid like oxycodone brings some relief by dulling the perception of pain but not its transmission — while a different kind of drug might block the pain by targeting the culprit nerve fiber, she said.

Certain medications also can be detected by other changes in a resting pupil, she said. Last month the Food and Drug Administration announced it would help AlgometRx, a biotech company Finkel founded, speed development of the device as a rapid drug screen.

Looking deeper than the eyes, scientists at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital found MRI scans revealed patterns of inflammation in the brain that identified either fibromyalgia or chronic back pain.

Other researchers have found changes in brain activity — where different areas “light up” on scans — that signal certain types of pain. Still others are using electrodes on the scalp to measure pain through brain waves.

Ultimately, NIH wants to uncover biological markers that explain why some people recover from acute pain while others develop hard-to-treat chronic pain.

“Your brain changes with pain,” Thomas explained. “A zero-to-10 scale or a happy-face scale doesn’t capture anywhere near the totality of the pain experience.”

Government shutdown stymies immigrants' asylum cases

The partial government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demand for a border wall is playing havoc with the nation’s already backlogged immigration courts, forcing the postponement of hearings for thousands of immigrants.

For some of those asking for asylum in the U.S., the impasse could mean years more of waiting — and prolonged separation from loved ones overseas — until they get a new court date.

But for those immigrants with little chance of winning their bids to stay in this country legally, the shutdown could help them stave off deportation that much longer — adding to the very delays the Trump administration has railed against.

“It is just dripping with irony,” said Sarah Pierce, policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. “This administration has put a lot of emphasis on speeding up court cases, and the shutdown obviously is just going to cause massive delays.”

The shutdown has furloughed hundreds of thousands of government employees and halted services that aren’t deemed essential, including, in many instances, the immigration courts overseen by the Justice Department.

Hearings involved detained immigrants are still going forward. But untold thousands of other proceedings have been postponed. No one knows for how long; it depends on when employees return to work and hearings can be reset.

Immigration experts said cases could be delayed months or years since the courts have more than 800,000 pending cases, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, and many courtrooms are tightly booked.

Immigration Judge Dana Marks, former president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said she has at least 60 hearings a day in her San Francisco courtroom and no space on her docket for at least the next three years.

“The cases that are not being heard now — there is no readily available place to reschedule them until at least 2022 or beyond,” Marks said of her courtroom.

Immigration judges hear a wide range of complex cases from immigrants from across the world, some who have recently arrived in the United States, others who have lived in the country for years and the government is seeking to deport.

Immigration judges have long sought more staffing to handle the ballooning caseload, which has roughly doubled in five years following a surge in Central American children and families arriving at the southern border. The Trump administration has tried to speed up the courts by assigning immigration judges quotas and stopping them from shelving cases.

Some of the toughest cases immigration judges hear are claims for asylum, or protection from persecution. And long wait times can be especially difficult for asylum seekers, since they can’t bring spouses or children to join them in the United States unless their asylum requests are approved.

Since the shutdown began in December, immigrants have had to prepare for their scheduled court hearings and in many cases travel to court, knowing the proceedings might be postponed. In Northern states, that can mean hourslong car trips through ice and snow and taking days off from work.

The delays are painful for many immigrants, especially those who have strong asylum claims or green card applications and want to get their lives on solid footing in the United States.

Those with the weakest asylum claims actually benefit from the delays, because they are able to remain in the U.S. in the meantime and hold out hope of qualifying for legal status by some other means down the road.

In the 2017 fiscal year, immigration courts decided more than 52,000 asylum cases. About 1 in 5 were approved, according to statistics from the courts.

This isn’t the first time immigration courts have been crippled by a government shutdown. More than 37,000 immigration hearings were delayed by one in 2013.

And it isn’t just immigration courts that are affected. Since Justice Department attorneys are allowed to work in limited circumstances only, some high-profile civil cases have been put on hold, including a lawsuit in Oregon by the widow of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a man shot by police in 2016 after the takeover of a wildlife refuge.

Government attorneys have also sought to put on hold environmental cases, including challenges to logging projects and wild horse roundups in Montana and a lawsuit over the disposal in Oklahoma of toxic coal ash from power plants.

Most major criminal cases are expected to stay on track because of federal requirements for a speedy trial.

AP sources: Gillibrand eyes Troy for 2020 campaign base

WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is looking at basing a potential 2020 presidential campaign in Troy, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions.

The search for a headquarters is the strongest signal yet that the New York senator will soon enter a presidential race that could ultimately draw dozens of candidates. The selection of Troy, could allow Gillibrand to highlight her roots in upstate New York, where she was born and later represented in Congress before being appointed to the Senate.

The sources spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. They cautioned that a final decision hadn’t yet been made.

Gillibrand’s representatives didn’t comment Thursday on her choice of headquarters.

If Gillibrand enters the race, she will join what is expected to be a historically large field, and one that could include many of her Senate colleagues. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has already formed an exploratory committee and is moving quickly with trips across the landscape of early primary states. Other members of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, including California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, are all weighing their own presidential bids and are expected to announce decisions in the upcoming weeks.

Several Democrats, including billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, have declined to run in 2020.

Gillibrand easily won re-election to her Senate seat in 2018 with more than $10.6 million in campaign money left over that she could funnel toward a presidential bid. In recent weeks, she has worked to expand her fundraising network and to improve her standing among critical voting blocs, including African-American voters.