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The Odd Truth, June 11, 2003

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The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Contempt Of Check

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - A woman's decision to write an offensive comment on her check when she paid a parking ticket has proven costly: She had to pay an additional $100 fine for contempt of court.

Eva Sas, 24, made an anatomical reference in the memo portion of the $22 check she mailed to the New Brunswick Municipal Court. She received the contempt summons last month after Ralph Stanzione, the city's chief judge, refused to accept her check.

"Maybe what I did was a bit immature or disrespectful, but it's my right, and it's not illegal," Sas said.

A 1999 directive from the state judiciary, which oversees municipal courts, prohibits judges from penalizing citizens for writing obscene comments. Court officials would not comment on why the order was not followed in this case.

Sas, a Rutgers University student, initially planned to appeal but instead paid the fine last month — in cash.

Sewer Scam?

FORT PIERCE, Fla. - A homeowner who has been paying a monthly sewer bill since 1979 learned after plumbing trouble that he has a septic tank and has never been connected to the city utility.

Donald Griffith went to court Tuesday with a civil lawsuit against the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority, asking for his money to be returned — with interest.

Griffith, 66, says the utility company has been billing him unfairly since 1979. After his system backed up last year, Griffith said he discovered he has a septic tank, not a sewer connection.

The retired sheet metal and roofing contractor said he tried to work out a deal with FPUA, but the utility turned him down. The company owes him $16,000 in paid bills, the suit claims.

"We tried to resolve this amicably, but that was not possible," said Bud Boudreaux, FPUA utilities director. "If it has to go to court, it has to go to court."

Griffith said FPUA originally agreed to hook his home up to the sewer system and pay him a few thousand dollars for past bills. After Griffith met with an attorney, FPUA took its offer off the table, he said.

Chain Letter In A Bottle

SULLIVANS ISLAND, S.C. - Addie Devine found a pen pal after she put a message in a bottle and tossed it into the sea along the Maine coast last summer.

Now the bottle is being used to carry a sort of seagoing chain letter.

Addie, an 8-year-old who lives in Cumberland, Maine, tossed the bottle into the Atlantic near Maine's Acadia National Park last July.

Mike Rumph found the corked wine bottle last month in mud behind his Sullivans Island house and found two notes inside.

"Hello, who ever gets this note, please write back. This note comes from the Saddleback Island cabin ... Hope you get this," said Addie's note, written July 6, 2002.

The second note was from Kristine and Charlie Perry of Jacksonville, Fla., who found the bottle last August as they were boating near Deer Island off the Maine coast.

Kristine Perry said they thought Addie's note was cute and, on their way back to Florida, added a second note asking whoever found the bottle to write. They tossed the bottle overboard about three miles off the South Carolina coast last Sept. 15.

The Rumphs called both the Devines and the Perrys to tell them they found the bottle. And the youngest of the Rumphs' three daughters, 7-year-old Abby, wrote Addie Devine and included some drawings of her pets.

The Rumphs are putting a third message in the bottle with the others. Mike Rumph plans to drop it into the Gulf Stream during an upcoming fishing tournament.

Hybrid Jungle Cat Spotted In Mass.

WESTFORD, Massachusetts - Someone in northern Massachusetts may be missing a lion. Police in Westford say they've been getting reports about a strange creature roaming the streets. The animal was spotted at least twice last week. Witnesses describe a big cat, about the size of a mountain lion. But the experts say there haven't been any wild mountain lions in Massachusetts for years. Authorities believe it may be a hybrid jungle cat that escaped from its owner. Possession of such an animal is illegal in the state, which could account for why no missing lions have been reported.

China Cracks Down On Clubs, Associations

BEIJING - China has launched a new crackdown. The targets: Accountants, Russian linguists and admirers of a racy Ming dynasty novel.

More than 100 social groups ranging from language study associations to a fan club for ballroom dance music have been told to disband for failing to meet strict registration requirements, state media said Wednesday.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs told 63 national-level groups to shut down or face "serious punishment," according to its Web site. In Sichuan province in the southwest, the newspaper West China City Daily said 50 hobby clubs also were told to close.

The closures highlight the communist government's continuing insistence on closely regulating social, religious and other activities despite two decades of looser economic and social controls.

Elaborate rules require even hobby clubs to register members with the government.

National-level groups have to show a "source of assets" and at least 100,000 yuan ($12,000) in "activity fees" - the equivalent of nearly 20 years' income for the average Chinese.

Groups hit by the latest crackdown include those devoted to studying Russian, German, French and Spanish, the China Fishing Association and fans of "The Golden Lotus," a sexually explicit novel from the 17th century.

"Effective immediately, no person is allowed to hold activities using the names of these groups," said the Ministry of Civil Affairs order.

No one at the ministry was available for comment.

Sri Lanka Top Official Refused Retirement Request

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - After 33 years of service and five heart attacks, Sri Lanka's top election official has this plea: Let me retire. But the government won't let him.

Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake is asking the Supreme Court to overrule a government decree that he must stay in his post until a replacement is found.

"I have suffered five heat attacks and I want to retire," Dissanayake said Wednesday, a day after lawyers filed his petition to the highest court. "I am 61 plus and I have the right to take some rest."

Dissanayake already is past Sri Lanka's usual retirement age of 60. He entered government service in 1970, and assumed his current post in February 1995.

A 2001 constitutional amendment called for a new election commission with more powers to replace the existing one, and stipulated that Dissanayake stay in office until the new agency is formed and a commissioner appointed.

The government, which has yet to set up the new commission, has not commented on the case.

The Supreme Court was scheduled to review the petition Friday.

Sri Lanka has a history of bloody and difficult elections. Violence surrounding the last general elections in December 2001 claimed 61 lives.