USA

The Consumer Confidence Index plunged to a five-year low in March, falling from a revised 76.4 in February to 64.5, The Conference Board, a business-backed research group, reported Tuesday. Lower confidence generally leads to less consumer buying.

The state of Virginia has offered $100,000 settlements to each of 32 families who lost a relative in last year's Virginia Tech massacre, as well as to the families of dozens of surviving victims, media sources learned Monday.

The Justice Department said Monday that it approved a proposed $5 billion merger of two satellite radio rivals, Sirius and XM, because the deal won't hurt consumers, who benefit from ever-expanding media options. The transaction still requires approval from the Federal Communications Commission.

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Three licensed mortgage brokers and 16 associates face charges of cheating homeowners across the country, US officials said Monday in announcing the results of "Operation Homewrecker," one of the largest FBI/IRS mortgage fraud probes ever. The defendants allegedly scammed 115 homeowners facing foreclosures into turning over the titles of their houses.

The FBI said Monday it had recovered the remains of two US contractors missing in Iraq for more than a year in separate kidnapping incidents. Details were not provided. Four other contractors remain missing.

The accidental discharge of a pilot's gun in the cockpit of a US Airways flight about to land in Charlotte, N.C., last weekend never endangered the aircraft or its occupants, a federal air marshal said Monday. It was the first time a weapon issued under a federal program to arm pilots in the cockpit was fired. The bullet pierced the fuselage.

In a cost-cutting measure, one of two twin Mars rovers will be put in sleep mode for now and the other limited in its science gathering, NASA said Monday. Scaling back will save $4 million of the $20 million needed annually to operate the robots.

Although all-star outfielder Torii Hunter of the Los Angeles Angels never attended college, he has decided to donate $500,000 toward building a new ballpark at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in his hometown. The $9 million facility will be called Torii Hunter Baseball Complex.

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