Funds for abstinence education

likely to be reduced sharply

WASHINGTON - Federal funding for abstinence education will likely fall considerably this year as Democratic leaders said yesterday they will let a $50 million grant program expire on June 30.

The program has not proven to be effective, said Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the committee that has jurisdiction over the funding. With a budget deficit and a war, he said, the decision to eliminate funding was not a difficult one.

"Abstinence-only seems to be a colossal failure," Dingell said. He cited a recent report to Congress that showed students in four abstinence-until-marriage programs were just as likely to have sex as those who were not in the abstinence programs. They also had sex at about the same age as students who did not take part in the four programs - 14.9 years, according to Mathematica Policy Research.

Mass. court upholds marriages

of gay couples from New York

BOSTON - The marriages of more than 170 gay couples from New York who wed in Massachusetts before last July are valid because New York had not yet explicitly banned same-sex marriages, a Massachusetts judge ruled.

Couples are barred from marrying in Massachusetts if their marriages would be prohibited in their home states. The New York Court of Appeals ruled against same-sex marriages on July 6, 2006.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders had asked for clarification of the status of New York couples who married in Massachusetts before that ruling. Massachusetts became the first state in the country to allow gay marriage in May 2004.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Thomas Connolly ruled last week that those early marriages are legally valid.

"Just being able to say without any qualifications, 'We're married' - it feels great," said Amy Zimmerman, a New York City resident who married Tanya Wexler in Somerville on May 19, 2004.

A spokesman for New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo indicated his office considers the marriages at issue valid.

Astronomer bilked out of 208G

by bogus nurse with fake cancer

NEW YORK - A New Jersey woman who bilked an 82-year-old widower out of $208,000 by claiming she needed money for treatment of a fatal illness was sentenced yesterday to one to three years in prison.

Prosecutors said Janet Costello, 30, of North Bergen, N.J., began collecting money from Joseph Gossner, a retired astronomer from Manhattan, after she appeared at his home in September 2005 wearing a nurse's uniform and saying she was there to take his blood pressure.

Over the next few months, Costello befriended the man, telling him she needed money for medicines, chemotherapy and surgery for breast cancer treatment because she did not have health insurance, they said.

Between Sept. 1, 2005, and March 15, 2006, Gossner wrote at least 46 checks worth $208,300 made out to "cash" in amounts of $500 to $9,800. Prosecutors said Costello waited outside while the man cashed checks before giving her the money.

In March, the victim's family learned that he was giving Costello money and reported her to the Manhattan district attorney's office. Prosecutors there said the defendant does not have cancer and is not a nurse.

Feds: Long Island millionaires beat, abused and stiffed servants

MINEOLA, N.Y. - A millionaire couple were arrested on federal charges that they kept two Indonesian women as slaves in their Long Island home for more than five years, beating and abusing them and paying them almost nothing.

Authorities uncovered the alleged abuse after one of the women was wandering outside a doughnut shop Sunday morning wearing only pants and a towel.

The couple, Varsha Mahender Sabhnani, 35, and her husband, Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, 51, entered not-guilty pleas Tuesday and were held pending a bail hearing today.

Prosecutors said the women had scalding water thrown on them and were forced to repeatedly climb up and down stairs and take as many as 30 showers in three hours as punishment for perceived misdeeds. Prosecutors said one woman was forced to eat 25 hot peppers.

Is this the right guy for the job?

WASHINGTON - President Bush's nominee to run the Consumer Product Safety Commission is a Washington-based lobbyist for the nation's biggest manufacturers' association, whose members produce many of the items the commission regulates.

Criticism in Congress intensified yesterday with news that the nominee, Michael Baroody, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, will collect $150,000 in severance pay from the association if he accepts the new government regulatory post.

"If you want to guard the interests of the hens, you don't put the fox in charge of the henhouse," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who has placed an official "hold" on Baroody's appointment. *

- Daily News wire services