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Regional Headlines for Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013


Kansas Land Purchases Delayed by Council

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Purchases of two large parcels of land in northeast and southeast Kansas have been placed on hold over concerns about the timing of the sales and lack of legislative input. The state finance council delayed its decision Thursday after several legislators on the council said some of their colleagues questioned the purchases for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. One of the parcels is located near Tuttle Creek Reservoir in Pottawatomie County and is adjacent to land already owned by the state. The second is located in Cherokee County near the Oklahoma border, also near land already owned by the state. Legislators say they will take up the land purchases soon after the 2014 session begins in January to get more answers.


2 Scientists from China Charged with Attempted Theft

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Two scientists from China have been charged with trying to steal seed samples from a company's research facility in Kansas. The office of the U.S. Attorney for Kansas said Thursday that 47-year-old Weiqiang Zhang, of Manhattan, Kansas and 63-year-old Wengui Yan, of Stuttgart, Arkansas are each charged with one count of conspiracy to steal trade secrets. The company they're accused of trying to steal the seed samples from wasn't identified in court records. The federal complaint says Zhang worked as an agricultural seed breeder for the company since 2008. Yan worked or the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a rice geneticist at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Arkansas. They each face up to 10 years in prison and fines. Online court records don't list lawyers for either defendant.


Kansas National Guard Soldiers Heading to Kosovo

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Approximately two dozen soldiers of the National Guard's 35th Infantry Division will soon be heading to Kosovo to fill positions in an ongoing NATO peacekeeping mission. The first of the soldiers will be honored in a departure ceremony Saturday at Fort Leavenworth where the division is headquartered. A second departure ceremony for remaining soldiers is scheduled for January. The division is one of eight within the Army National Guard, made up of units from Kansas,, Missouri, Nebraska and Illinois. Units from the 35th Division have previously deployed to the Balkans region of Europe for ongoing peacekeeping missions in 2003 and 2007. Soldiers will first go to Fort Hood, Texas, for additional training before heading to Kosovo.

Kansans Slow to Embrace Health Marketplace in November

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — New figures show that Kansans remained slow to embrace a federally run online health insurance marketplace in November even though the pace of enrollments in health plans increased. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported Wednesday that fewer than 1,900 Kansans had chosen health plans through the marketplace at the end of last month — less than 10 percent of those eligible. However, the enrollment figure as of November 2nd was only 371. The October rollout of the online marketplace under the federal health overhaul was plagued by problems, and in November, the federal agency was working on fixing them. Kansas declined to operate its own exchange or partner with the federal government. Republican Governor Sam Brownback and many GOP legislators are critics of the health care overhaul.

KS Senator's Foe Gains Conservative Endorsement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A national conservative group has endorsed challenger Milton Wolf in campaign against U.S. Senator Pat Roberts in the Kansas Republican primary. Wolf received the endorsement from the Senate Conservatives Fund. The political action committee was founded by former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. Wolf is a Leawood radiologist and is running against Roberts as a tea party candidate. He's criticized Roberts on budget, tax and health care issues and sees the endorsement as helping him build momentum. Roberts executive campaign manager Leroy Towns said Wednesday that the endorsement of Wolf isn't surprising, because DeMint's PAC has been endorsing challengers against incumbent GOP senators. Roberts has the backing of most of Kansas's elected Republican officials and key groups such as Kansans for Life and the Kansas State Rifle Association.

KS Senator, Foe Spar Over Opposing Budget Deal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — U.S. Senator Pat Roberts has announced he'll vote against a bipartisan budget deal, but the Kansas Republican's primary opponent says Roberts should have spoken up earlier. Roberts said Wednesday that he doesn't think the deal tackles major fiscal problems and represents only more taxing and spending. The deal was crafted by Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Democratic Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray of Washington. Roberts's comments came shortly after GOP primary opponent Milton Wolf called on the senator to vote against the package. Wolf began criticizing a possible deal last week, when it was still being negotiated. Wolf said Roberts hasn't been vocal enough. But Roberts executive campaign manager Leroy Towns said Kansans expect their senator to study legislation before criticizing it.

Kansas Senate Majority Leader Hires New Liaison

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce has hired a new staffer who previously worked as an intern for U.S. Senator Jerry Moran. Bruce announced Wednesday that Braden Dreiling will serve as his liaison to the Republican caucus. In the Kansas Senate, the majority leader sets the daily debate calendar and leads caucus meetings. Dreiling recently finished an internship for Moran in the Kansas Republican's office in Washington. He also previously was a student liaison for the Fort Hays State University Alumni Association. Dreiling replaces Katrina Abraham, who will become Bruce's legislative director. Bruce is a Hutchinson Republican and became majority leader in January. He is serving his third, four-year term in the state Senate.


KS Educators Planning to Fingerprint Teachers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas State Board of Education is drafting a plan that would require all teachers in the state to submit fingerprints and undergo extensive background checks, but some school districts are concerned about requiring more costs from their educators. Education Board attorney Scott Gordon says some districts already require fingerprint checks as a condition of employment, but those can't legally be transferred to the state. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that state-required checks would mean new fingerprints would have to be completed — often at the expense of the teachers. The state board in September called for new rules as part of an effort to strengthen enforcement of state laws and regulations prohibiting anyone who has committed certain crimes from receiving or renewing a teaching license.


Topeka Man Convicted of Sexual Exploitation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Shawnee County jury has found a 39-year-old Topeka man guilty on dozens of counts of sexually exploiting children. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Jason Hachmeister was convicted Thursday on 105 counts of sexual exploitation of children. He was found not guilty on three counts of the same charge. Hachmeister's trial began Monday. Prosecutors said Hachmeister possessed 108 illegal photographs of children in sexually explicit conduct. Defense attorney Jim Chappas said Shawnee County prosecutors failed to prove Hachmeister had committed the crimes. Hachmeister also is charged with premeditated first-degree murder in the 2011 strangulation death of his mother, Sheila Hachmeister, at the home the two shared. His trial in that case is scheduled to begin January 21.


Fundraiser Launched for Family of Deceased KU Student

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Friends of the University of Kansas graduate student found dead this week are raising money to help the student's family. Gianfranco Villagomez-Saldana was reported missing Saturday. Police found his body Monday. 6NewsLawrence reports that friends have started a fundraiser on PayPal to raise money. The funds will pay for airfare for his family in Peru, funeral costs and to send his belongings back home. Police say investigators are awaiting autopsy results to determine his cause of death but they do not currently suspect foul play.

Mistrial Declared in Lawrence Brawl Death

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A mistrial has been declared in the trial of a man accused in the death of an Iraq veteran after a fight in Lawrence. The mistrial occurred Thursday in Douglas County in the involuntary manslaughter case against 22-year-old Justin P. Gonzalez of Mission. Gonzalez is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the February 2012 death of 27-year-old Nicholas Sardina of Lawrence. A jury began deliberating the case on Tuesday, but could not reach a verdict. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Gonzalez was accused of hitting Sardina in the head with a beer bottle at a house party, causing his death. Sardina, originally from Clarence, New York, was a sergeant in the Kansas National Guard and had served three tours in Iraq from 2006 to 2007. A status conference was scheduled for next Monday.

KS Businesswoman Indicted in $7 Million Tax Case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A federal grand jury has indicted the former CEO of the National Association of Independent Truckers in an alleged scheme to hide millions of dollars from the federal government. The Kansas City Star reports that the grand jury indicted businesswoman V. Cheryl Womack Thursday for allegedly trying to interfere with the administration of federal tax laws and lying to federal investigators. The 62-year-old Womack, of Mission Hills is accused of not reporting millions of dollars in Cayman Island businesses, trusts and financial accounts. Investigators estimated the tax loss at more than $7 million. She is also accused of lying to FBI agents and a U.S. Justice Department attorney about her Cayman Islands interests. Womack's attorney, Nathan F. Garrett, declined to comment, saying he hadn't seen the charges.


Retired KGS Scientist Denies Plagiarism Allegations

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas has censured a former senior scientist in the Kansas Geological Survey over plagiarism allegations. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that a university committee found Marios Sophocleous, a hydrology scientist, engaged in plagiarism and self-plagiarism in seven journal articles dealing with hydrology and groundwater. Sophocleous denies the allegations. He says he never copied the work of others or his own. Sophocleous joined the Kansas Geological Survey in 1978 as an assistant scientist and was a senior scientist from 1987 to 2013, when he retired. Jill Jess, a university spokeswoman, declined to elaborate on details of the censure, which the university announced Wednesday. Rex Buchanan, interim director of the KGS, referred questions to Jess.


KS Governor Applauds Sporting KC Soccer Victory

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Wearing a light blue Sporting Kansas City scarf, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said he's proud of the state's first team to win a major professional sports championship. Brownback said Thursday that winning the Major League Soccer title put the Kansas City region firmly in the center of the United States soccer map. Sporting KC defeated Real Salt Lake on penalty kicks to claim its second MLS title. The governor says there could be more soccer on the way with Sporting KC's owners working with U.S. Soccer to bring a national training and coaching development center to the area. Brownback says he is also still waiting for his honey and taffy that was promised in a friendly wager with Utah's Governor Gary Herbert on the outcome of the MLS championship game.


County Seeks More State Funding of KS Boys Ranch

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County officials want the state to increase funding for a ranch for juvenile offenders, but the top Kansas corrections official says that might be a tough sell because of all the surplus bed space in other facilities. The Wichita Eagle reports County Manager William Buchanan told Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts on Wednesday that unless the state increases the $126 it pays per boy each day, he will recommend closing the Judge James V. Riddel Boys Ranch near Afton on July 1. Buchanan says it costs about $206 per day to run the facility, which serves medium- to high-risk juvenile offenders on 63 wood acres 23 miles west of Wichita. The facility nearly closed this year before the state provided a one-time infusion of $750,000.


Former IRS Employees Charged in KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A federal grand jury in Kansas City has indicted 10 former employees of the Internal Revenue Service for unemployment benefits fraud. The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri said in a release Thursday that the 10 former IRS employees are accused of receiving more than $112,000 in unemployment benefits while they were working for the IRS. All 10 are from the Kansas City area and were charged in a 20-count indictment that was sealed until all had made their initial court appearances. They're each accused of taking anywhere from about $6,000 to $21,000 in fraudulent benefits, totaling $112,609. The defendants are each charged with one count of theft of government property and one count of bank fraud.


Volunteers Sought for Cheyenne Bottoms Bird Count

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Kansas environmental officials are seeking volunteers to help count birds at Cheyenne Bottoms near Great Bend from Saturday through the first week of January. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Christmas Bird Count is an annual tradition across the U.S. More than 40 such counts are held across Kansas. The Kansas Wetlands Education Center and the Nature Conservancy are asking for help counting birds at Cheyenne Bottoms, an important migratory stopover for thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl. More than 148 species of birds have been recorded spending their winters in the area. Volunteers are asked to help count the numbers of bird types Saturday from 8 am to 4 pm. Anyone interested in preregistering to help with the count should call the education center, 10 miles northeast of Great Bend.

Fire Forces Large Kansas City Family Out of Home

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City family of 11 escaped without injury when a fire damaged their home. Someone in the home woke up and discovered the fire about 2:30 am Thursday. KCTV reports that the children, who ranged in age from 1 to 16, escaped by crawling through a window in the master bedroom onto the roof of a sunroom. The home belonged to Matt Hannah, a 21-year veteran of the Kansas City Police Department, and his wife. The Red Cross is offering assistance. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

Big Blue KS Statehouse Crane Coming Down

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A giant blue crane that has been a big part of the renovation of the Kansas Statehouse for more than three years is coming down. Project Manager Jim Rinner said Tuesday that general contractor JE Dunn Construction expects the crane to be dismantled by the end of the week. Workers are using an equally large red crane to take down the blue crane. The towering blue crane was used to carry building materials to the Capitol roof and dome, including massive steel beams used to support scaffolding. The steel beams have been removed, and the scaffolding is coming down. The $330 million renovation project began in 2001. State officials are planning a ceremony marking its completion to coincide with the January 29th anniversary of Kansas statehood.

Lawrence Commission OKs Concealed Carry Exemption

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence city commissioners have approved a resolution seeking a four-year exemption from the Kansas concealed carry law, giving officials time to sort out where guns will be allowed in the future. The 6News in Lawrence reports the commission voted Tuesday to approve an exemption to prohibit concealed carry permit holders from bringing their guns in to any city building until 2018. A new state law requires municipalities to allow people with concealed carry permits to bring guns into buildings unless adequate security measures are in place. Numerous cities and counties statewide have approved resolutions giving them more time to determine which buildings would get security improvements. Groups argued to the Lawrence commission that concealed carry permit holders are responsible individuals and should be allowed to protect themselves.

KS Supreme Court to Hear Carr Brothers Appeals

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court will hear arguments next week in the appeals of two brothers sentenced to death for murders committed in December 2000. Justices have scheduled two-hour hearings on Tuesday for Jonathan Carr and his brother, Reginald Carr. The Carr brothers were convicted for killing three men and a woman on December 15th, 2000, as the victims knelt side-by-side on a snow-covered soccer field. The four friends and another woman who was shot in the head but survived were at a Wichita home when two armed intruders made them withdraw money from automated teller machines before killing them. Attorneys for the Carrs argue that the convictions should be set aside over numerous issues raised at their trial.

KS Man Pleads Guilty in Contraband Case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 67-year-old suburban Kansas City man has pleaded guilty to federal charges related to buying $1.8 million in contraband cigarettes. The U.S. Attorney's office for western Missouri said in a release Wednesday that Randall McColley of Overland Park, Kansas waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic in contraband cigarettes. The prosecutor's office says McColley admitted that he bought contraband cigarettes from undercover agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The undercover agents sold him more than 100,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes between May 2011 and February 2012. The prosecutor's office says the cigarette packages did not bear the tax stamps required by federal and state laws. McColley faces up to five years in prison.

KSHOF President Steps Down

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Ted Hayes, president and CEO of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, is resigning after more than 20 years with the organization. Tim Daniel, chairman of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, said in a release Wednesday that Hayes submitted his resignation to the Board of Directors earlier this week. Hayes started as the executive director for the Hall of Fame in 1991. The Kansas Sports Hall of Fame was founded in 1961 as a part of the Kansas Centennial celebration. Bob Hanson, president and CEO of the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission, says the Sports Hall of Fame wouldn't have lasted without Hayes. Hayes will stay with the Hall of Fame through the end of the year. The Hall of Fame hasn't announced plans to replace Hayes.

Escaped Flamingo Seen in Texas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A flamingo that escaped from the Sedgwick County Zoo in 2005 has been spotted again, this time in Texas. A Massachusetts birder says the flamingo, known as No. 492 because of the number on its leg band, was seen last week off the Texas Gulf Coast. The bird was with a companion, a Yucatan-born Caribbean flamingo with a band reading "HDNT." Two flamingoes escaped from the zoo in Wichita after employees did not clip their wings to prevent them from flying. No. 492 has been spotted many times since then, from Wisconsin to Louisiana. No sightings of the other flamingo have ever been made. The Wichita Eagle reports that No. 492 was born in Africa before being shipped to the Sedgwick County Zoo in 2004 with 39 other flamingos.

US Farm Equipment Sales Remain Strong in November

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new report says sales of farm equipment remained strong in November. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers reported Tuesday that U.S. farmers bought 10,925 tractors last month for an increase of almost 6 percent compared to the same month a year ago. Some 644 combines were also sold for a 25 percent jump for November. Retail sales figures released by the industry group show that for the first 11 months of this year, U.S. producers bought some 167,431 farm tractors, an increase of nearly 10 percent over the same period last year. Some 9,487 combines were also sold for an increase of almost 7 percent.

Nixon to Urge MO Campaign Contribution Limits

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Governor Jay Nixon and several Missouri lawmakers are calling for ethics legislation that includes limits on campaign donations. Nixon had called for reinstating campaign contribution limits during his State of the State speech this past January. He said unlimited contributions erode public trust. State lawmakers return to the Capitol on January 8 for their legislative session. Missouri's campaign finance limits were eliminated by legislation passed in the closing hours of the 2008 session. Supporters contend capping campaign donations creates an incentive to circumvent the limits and thereby obscure from where money has flowed. Nixon was traveling Thursday to Kansas City. He is to be joined by Republican Sen. Will Kraus, of Lee's Summit, and Democratic House members Kevin McManus, of Kansas City, and Jon Carpenter, of Gladstone.


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