First Drip (12/17/14): McCrory took payouts, Cuba frees American, more

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Soon after taking office, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina accepted six-figure stock payouts from an online mortgage broker accused by regulators of deceiving its customers. More than a dozen securities lawyers and ethics experts told the AP that such stock payouts are uncommon for elected officials, and raise significant concerns. These experts gave differing opinions about whether laws were broken, but "there is no question (this) raises a host of red flags for prosecutors and regulators," said Jacob Frenkel, who handled corruption cases as a federal prosecutor and served as senior counsel in the Securities and Exchange Commission's Division of Enforcement.

American Alan Gross has been released from a Cuban prison after five years, as part of an agreement that also includes the release of three Cubans jailed in the United States. Gross was detained in December 2009 while working for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Cuba considers USAID’s programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government, and Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Militants from the Pakistani Taliban have attacked an army-run school in Peshawar, killing 141 people, 132 of them children, the military say. In response, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to lift a moratorium on the death penalty in terrorism cases.

Concerned about threats to moviegoers, theater owners are starting to pull "The Interview" from their holiday lineups amid a relentless cyberattack that has wreaked havoc on Sony Pictures Entertainment. The dropping of the film from the lucrative holiday season delivers yet another blow to Sony Pictures, which Tuesday was hit by a lawsuit on behalf of current and former employees whose confidential information was exposed in the attack.

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