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Headlines for Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Indictment: US Researcher Working for Chinese University

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal indictment alleges an associate professor at the University of Kansas was secretly working full time for a Chinese university while doing research in Kansas on projects funded by the U.S. government. Feng "Franklin" Tao was charged Wednesday with one count of wire fraud and three counts of program fraud. The 47-year-old Lawrence man has been employed since August 2014 at the university's Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis. The center researches sustainable technology to conserve natural resources and energy. The indictment accuses Tao of falsely claiming to have no conflicts of interest. It alleges he fraudulently received more than $37,000 in salary funded by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. Court records do not list an attorney for Tao, who was arrested Wednesday at his home.

(– additional reporting –)

KU Researcher Charged 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (Kansas News Service) — A University of Kansas researcher whose work is funded by the U-S government is charged with also working full time for a Chinese university. The U.S. Attorney's office said in a statement that Feng "Franklin" Tao of Lawrence was indicted today (WED) on fraud charges. The indictment comes on the heels of the FBI investigating a KU lab earlier this week. Tao is an associate professor at a lab that does work on sustainable technology ... and allegedly received almost 40 thousand dollars in salary from government funding. But he also allegedly signed a contract in 2018 that made him a distinguished professor at a Chinese university. Tao, who faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted, did not tell KU about the Chinese professorship. 

( –earlier reporting –)

FBI Investigating University of Kansas Research Complex

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Federal authorities have launched an investigation at a research facility on the KU campus in Lawrence.  FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton confirmed the agency and Lawrence police were at the Life Sciences Research Laboratories complex yesterday (TUE) but said she could not provide any details.  University spokesman Andy Hyland told the Lawrence Journal-World that law enforcement was investigating alleged criminal activity on the campus.  The complex houses research offices associated with the university's Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis, as well as the Bioscience and Technology Business Center Expansion Facility.  Kim Grunewald, deputy general counsel at the university, said the investigation posed no threat to security or to the campus.  It was not immediately clear which offices or companies were operating in the areas under investigation.  
 
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Court: Electoral College Members Not Bound by Popular Vote

DENVER (AP) — A federal appeals court in Denver says Electoral College members can vote for the presidential candidate of their choice and aren't bound by the popular vote in their states. The court said Tuesday the Colorado secretary of state violated the Constitution in 2016 when he removed an elector who refused to cast his ballot for Democrat Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote. Colorado's current secretary of state, Jena Griswold, said the ruling takes power away from voters and sets a dangerous precedent. She didn't say if she would appeal. The elector's attorneys say the U.S. Supreme Court will likely hear the case because it conflicts with a decision from Washington state's Supreme Court. That court said electors could be fined for not casting ballots for the popular vote winner.

The ruling applies only to Colorado and five other states in the 10th Circuit: Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming.

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Kansas Adds Jobs, Sees Unemployment Rate Dip to 3.3%

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas is reporting that it added private-sector jobs in July and saw its unemployment rate drop slightly to 3.3%.  The state Department of Labor says the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate last month declined from 3.4% in June and was the same as the 3.3% recorded in July 2018. The state's unemployment rate has been below 4% since January 2017.  The department said the state had 14,000 more private-sector, nonfarm jobs in July than in July 2018 to bring the total to more than 1.17 million. The growth was 1.2%.  The state also added about 3,700 private-sector, nonfarm jobs from June to July.  But 28 of the state's 105 counties had an unemployment rate of 4% or higher last month. Atchison County had the highest rate, 7.1%.

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Kansas Fights Claim of Man Wrongly Imprisoned for 23 Years

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is fighting the compensation claim of a man who spent 23 years in prison for a double homicide before a judge vacated his convictions, which were secured despite a complete lack of physical evidence and motive tying him to the crimes. Lamonte McIntyre's case was one of three that helped prompt the state last year to allow the wrongfully convicted to seek compensation. When signing that bill into law, then-Gov. Jeff Colyer publicly apologized to McIntyre and the other men. The state attorney general's office supported the other two men's petitions for compensation and a declaration of innocence, but it issued a statement saying it couldn't do so for McIntyre because it found "the record of prior judicial proceedings" in his case to be "insufficient." It said it will be up to the court to decide and recommended that the court deny McIntyre's claim. McIntyre's lawyer blasted the move, saying the attorney general's office could conduct its own investigation into McIntyre's case.

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Warden of Topeka Women's Prison Transferring to Lansing

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The warden of the state-run women's prison in Topeka has been reassigned to Lansing Correctional Facility, where she will become the state's first female warden of a men's correctional facility. Shannon Meyer, who has been warden at Topeka Correctional Facility for three years, will become warden in Lansing next week. She will replace retiring warden Ron Baker. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Meyer previously was the deputy warden at Lansing before going to Topeka. While at the Topeka prison, Meyer recommended the firing of dental lab instructor Tomas Co after an internal report substantiated claims of sexual harassment and unprofessional behavior with inmates. Her recommendation was overruled. Co has since been fired and charged with having unlawful sexual relations with inmates. Corrections spokesman Randy Bowman said Meyer's relocation to Lansing is unrelated to Co.

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Kansas Regulators Investigate Increased Earthquake Activity

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas regulators are investigating the cause of a cluster of 11 earthquakes that hit Reno County in the last five days. The Kansas Corporation Commission announced Wednesday that it is analyzing injection well activity in the county. It will work with other state agencies to examine such factors as well construction, depths, injection volumes and maintenance procedures. The study centers on Arbuckle Formation depth wells, which include oil and gas injection wells regulated by the commission and wastewater wells regulated by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Spokeswoman Linda Barry said the commission will evaluate whether additional action is needed to safeguard Kansans. The commission previously ordered reduced injection rates in Barber, Harper, Kingman, Sedgwick and Sumner counties when earthquake activity rose in those areas in 2015 and 2016.

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Wichita Woman Charged with Murder in 2-Year-Old Son's Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A 23-year-old Wichita woman has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of her 2-year-old son, Zayden.  Kimberly Compass was charged Tuesday in the death of her son (Zayden JayNesahkluah), whose body was found May 31 at a Wichita motel.  Authorities have not said how Zayden died.  The Wichita Eagle reports a criminal complaint filed Tuesday in Sedgwick County says Compass killed her son while committing another felony, aggravated child endangerment.  Compass, who was arrested last week, remains jailed on $500,000 bond for the murder charge and $1 million bond for a probation violation. Her next court date is September 5.  Zayden is at least the ninth child age 5 or younger to die in the Wichita area under suspicious circumstances since 2017.  Several of them died after state welfare officials had contact with their families.

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Lawrence Teen Gets Probation After Bringing Gun to School

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A teenager who brought a gun to Lawrence High School has been sentenced to nine months of probation. The boy was sentenced Wednesday after pleading no contest in June in juvenile court to misdemeanor criminal use of a weapon. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the charges stem from an incident on Feb. 6, when the boy was called to an assistant principal's office when he threw his school-issued laptop at a door. Prosecutor Bryant Barton has said the assistant principal found a loaded handgun in the boy's bag. The district says no students or staff were threatened with the gun. Another teenager who brought a loaded gun to the school a week after this incident pleaded no contest to the same misdemeanor charge and was sentenced in July to six months of probation.

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2 Women Arrested After Deadly Shooting in KC Area Home

RAYTOWN, Mo. (AP) _ Authorities say two women are in custody after a deadly shooting in a suburban Kansas City home.  Police responded early today (WED) to the home in Raytown, Missouri, and found a man dead. Police say the two women were taken into custody at the scene. The shooting remains under investigation.  

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Prosecutors Want 17-Year-Old to Face Adult Charges in Topeka Shooting that Left Woman Dead

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Prosecutors want a 17-year-old to face adult charges in a Topeka shooting that left an 18-year-old woman dead.  WIBW-TV reports that the teen suspect faces a second-degree murder charge in the death of Ashley Usher. She was found Saturday afternoon inside a house suffering from a gunshot wound and died later at a hospital.  Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay says he plans to ask a court to try the teen as an adult. He also faces charges of interference with law enforcement, theft of a firearm and criminal use of a weapon.

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Former Lawrence Banker Convicted in $15.2 Million Fraud
 
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A former Lawrence bank executive has been convicted of participating in a fraud scheme involving 26 Kansas banks.  Federal prosecutors say 52-year-old Troy Gregory was convicted Monday of four counts of bank fraud and two counts of false statements.  The fraud occurred while Gregory was a senior vice president at University National Bank in Lawrence.  In an effort to secure a $15.2 million construction loan for bank customers who wanted to build an apartment complex in Junction City, Gregory and others spread the loan to 25 other Kansas banks.   Prosecutors say Gregory mispresented the financial strength of the borrowers. He also diverted about $1 million of the construction loan for uses other than building the apartments.  The other banks had to write off millions of dollars on the construction loan.

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Man Implicated in Missing Brothers Case Charged in Kansas

FORT SCOTT, Kan. (AP) - A man charged with tampering with a vehicle owned by two missing Wisconsin brothers is facing new charges in Kansas.  The Kansas City Star reports Garland Nelson is charged in Bourbon County, Kansas, with endangering the food supply. Prosecutors say Nelson didn't have proper health papers when he took 35 calves from his family's farm in Missouri to a farm in Fort Scott, Kansas, in May.  In Missouri , prosecutors allege Nelson abandoned a rental truck used by Justin and Nick Diemel, of Shawano County, Wisconsin, after the brothers visited the Nelson farm in Braymer, Missouri. The brothers were reported missing July 21 and are presumed dead.  A Kansas farmer, David Foster, said the 35 calves brought to his pasture were sick . He says he and Nelson bought 131 calves together but the other 96 died.
 
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Coroner: Leader of Organic Fraud Scheme Dies by Suicide

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - A coroner says a Missouri man blamed for running the largest organic food fraud scheme in U.S. history has died by suicide, days after he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.  On Tuesday,  Livingston County Coroner Scott Lindley confirmed the death of Randy Constant in Chillicothe, Missouri.  A federal judge sentenced Constant to 122 months in prison at a hearing last week for leading what prosecutors dubbed the "field of schemes fraud."  Constant was planning to report to prison in coming weeks after the Bureau of Prisons decided where to place him.  Prosecutors say Constant falsely marketed non-organic corn and soybeans certified organic on a massive scale from 2010 to 2017.

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Sedgwick County Bans Wind Farms, Restricts Commercial Solar

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Commissioners in Kansas's second most populous county have banned large-scale wind power development because of concerns that it could harm aviation. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Sedgwick County Commissioner also approved restrictions Wednesday on commercial solar power installations. Planner Dave Yearout told the commission that large windmills can affect airport operations for a 5-mile radius. Commissioner Jim Howell says the county supports wind and solar. But he says "aviation is so important to the community that I think this is a good balance." The county's largest city is Wichita, which is a major aircraft production hub. The new limitations don't generally prohibit home or business installations of small-scale solar energy systems, or privately owned windmills up to 45 feet tall, provided that regular zoning standards are met.

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Family of Slain Kansas Inmate Files Federal Lawsuit

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The family of a slain Kansas inmate has filed a federal lawsuit alleging a systemic disregard for the health and safety of prisoners housed at the Meade County jail.  A complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas stems from the August 2017 death of Joshua DeVilbiss after he was attacked by another inmate. The prisoners were among those transferred to the Meade County facility to alleviate overcrowding in the Sedgwick County jail.  The lawsuit filed against various county officials alleges DeVilbiss died "a horrible and preventable death." The inmate who attacked him was later charged with involuntary manslaughter.  The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, and the Meade County sheriff also had no immediate comment.

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24 Cattle Killed When Tractor-Trailer Overturns Near Emporia

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a tractor-trailer hauling cattle overturned south of Emporia, killing two dozen of the animals. Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Justin Wallace says the driver was transporting the cattle to Arkansas City to be slaughtered when he fell asleep just after midnight Wednesday and went off the side of Interstate 35. Besides the 24 cattle that died when the rig overturned, 13 were pulled from the wreckage alive. Wallace says the surviving cattle are in a pen waiting to resume their journey. Wallace says the driver was taken to a hospital with minor injuries. No one else was hurt. The crash disrupted southbound traffic as crews worked to get the rig upright and repair damaged asphalt.

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Crop Duster Killed in Plane Crash South of Hays

HAYS, Kan. (AP) - Authorities say a crop duster has been killed in a plane crash south of Hays.  The Kansas Highway Patrol says the bi-wing plane went down around 9 am yesterday (TUE) in a ditch shortly after taking off from a private runway.  Seventy-year-old John Werth, who lives near the small Ellis County town of Schoenchen, was pronounced dead at the scene.   Fire crews responded because chemicals were aboard the plane. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

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Wichita Man Dies After Being Hit by a Car August 2

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Police say a 46-year-old man who was hit by a car in downtown Wichita earlier this month has died.  Police spokesman Charley Davidson said in a news release that Kestrno Rodriguez died Saturday at a hospital.  Rodriguez was hit by a car August 2 while he was walking in the street near the Wichita Downtown YMCA.  The investigation is continuing but police say they don't suspect drugs, alcohol or speed were factors in the incident.

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Marijuana Farm Found During Suspect Chase

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) - Authorities have found a marijuana farm worth more than $1.7 million while chasing a suspect.  The discovery was made Sunday when deputies with the Butler County Sheriff's Office responded to a residential burglary near El Dorado.  Law enforcement officials seized more than 1,700 cultivated marijuana plants.  

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Topless Doll Mistaken for Unconscious Woman

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City, Missouri police say a shirtless man reportedly dragging a topless, unconscious woman through downtown Kansas City was actually lugging around a life-size doll. Police said in a tweet that callers reported Tuesday that the man looked like he wanted to throw the woman over a bridge, that he had dropped her and that he appeared to be trying to dress her. One caller said he was yelling "savior" while holding the woman. Police said that when officers learned the woman actually was a doll that the man had found in a trash bin, he was told "not to carry it around in public anymore." Police titled the tweet: "And here is today's episode of "Not What We Expected Going Into That." A traffic camera captured some of the incident.

(Editor's note: You can follow the Kansas City, MO police on Twitter, where they tweet as @kcpolice.)

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