DES MOINES, Iowa

Mega Millions jackpot hits $586 million – and climbing

The Mega Millions jackpot inched toward a U.S. lottery record Monday as it soared to $586 million amid a frenzy of ticket purchases, raising the possibility that the prize could pass the once-unthinkable $1 billion mark by Christmas Eve should nobody win before then.

Paula Otto, executive director of the Virginia Lottery and lead director for Mega Millions, said ticket sales are ahead of projections for Tuesday’s drawing, increasing the likelihood it could shatter the current record of $656 million, set in a March 2012 Mega Millions drawing.

The large Mega Millions prize is the product of a major game revamp in October that dramatically lowered the odds of winning the jackpot. If a winner isn’t selected Tuesday night and it rolls over past the next drawing scheduled Friday night, Otto predicts the jackpot will reach $1 billion – an unheard of amount for Mega Millions or Powerball, the nation’s two main lottery games.

MINNEAPOLIS

Iraq War vet who allegedly stole IDs to remain in custody

An Iraq War veteran accused of stealing identification information of roughly 400 members of his former Army unit so he could make fake IDs for his militia was ordered Monday to remain in federal custody.

Prosecutors say Keith Michael Novak, who is charged with fraud in connection with identity theft, is a self-described commander of a militia. Court testimony on Monday revealed the investigation into the 25-year-old Novak began after he allegedly talked with an FBI source at Camp Williams in Utah – where he was training for the National Guard – about blowing up a National Security Agency facility.

In addition, FBI Special Agent Christopher Crowe testified, Novak told undercover FBI employees that he had a “target package” on billionaire Warren Buffett. Crowe did not elaborate on why Novak may have been targeting Buffett. An explanation of a “target package” was not disclosed.

An affidavit unsealed last week said Novak threatened violence if arrested, allegedly telling an undercover FBI employee he had “5000 rounds, a thousand of it is in magazines, ready to go.”

WASHINGTON

FBI helps would-be gunmen get mental health treatment

The FBI says it has helped to disrupt or prevent nearly 150 shootings and violent attacks this year, in part by steering potential gunmen toward mental health professionals. It’s an achievement that stands out during a year when President Barack Obama made curbing gun violence a priority, yet has had little success in getting new restrictions enacted.

There have been hundreds of these disruptions since 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder recently told an audience of police chiefs, touting the behind-the-scenes work of a small FBI unit based out of Quantico, Va. In most cases, the FBI has helped potential offenders get access to mental health care.

Preventing mass shootings through threat assessments and treatment is an unusual tactic for an agency known for its crime fighting and not for interventions. One year after the deadly mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, the White House’s biggest efforts to curb gun violence – attempts to reinstate the assault weapons ban and expand background checks for all gun purchases – failed without congressional support.

NEW ORLEANS

Jury begins deliberations in trial of former BP engineer

A federal jury on Monday started weighing whether a former BP engineer broke the law or harmlessly swiped his finger across a cellular phone when he deleted hundreds of text messages in the aftermath of the company’s massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Jurors met for about an hour-and-a-half before asking to go home for the night. They were scheduled to resume deliberations Tuesday morning.

Prosecutors argued that Kurt Mix, 52, of Katy, Texas, was trying to destroy evidence when he deleted two strings of text messages – one with a supervisor and another with a BP contractor.

“It’s a crime, and Kurt Mix should be held accountable,” Justice Department prosecutor Leo Tsao said in his closing arguments before the jury began deliberating.

But a defense lawyer, Michael McGovern, told jurors that the charges against Mix are “unfair and baseless” and the product of investigators’ “rank incompetence.”

Mix didn’t testify at his two-week-long trial on two counts of obstruction of justice. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

JOHANNESBURG

Fake signer at memorial accused in 2003 mob attack

The bogus sign language interpreter at last week’s Nelson Mandela memorial service was among a group of people who accosted two men found with a stolen television and burned them to death by setting fire to tires placed around their necks, one of the interpreter’s cousins and three of his friends told The Associated Press on Monday.

But Thamsanqa Jantjie never went to trial for the 2003 killings when other suspects did in 2006 because authorities determined he was not mentally fit to stand trial, said the four. They insisted on speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the fake signing fiasco, which has deeply embarrassed South Africa’s government and prompted a high-level investigation into how it happened.

SAN FRANCISCO

Google buys companies that specialize in robotics

Google may build robots that resemble props in science-fiction movies as the ambitious Internet company expands into yet another technological frontier.

To gather the expertise and research it needs, Google has purchased eight companies that specialize in robotics this year.

Google Inc. completed its latest deal late last week with the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, a military contractor that has raised intrigue by releasing videos of a four-legged robot called “Cheetah,” which is capable of galloping past Olympian sprinters.